Die Hard; or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism and How to Blow It Up

My First Film Seen in 2010: Die Hard.  Until the other night, I had never seen Die Hard.  This is because when I was a teenager, I would only watch movies that were in foreign languages or British accents or had River Phoenix in them or were directed by John Hughes or were The Lost BoysDie Hard belongs to none of these categories. 

John McClane attempts to save LA’s fictional Nakatomi Plaza building right around the same time Fredrick Jameson was turning his observations on LA’s actual Bonaventure Hotel into a theory of postmodernism as "the cultural logic of late capitalism."  WAIT DO NOT LEAVE.  I am not going to perform some hackneyed Marxist reading of Die Hard, I swear.*  But here’s what’s interesting to this 21st-century girl watching Die Hard for the very first time.  Jameson argued that the Bonaventure represented an entire cultural movement toward "hyperspaces" that obscured their actual material embeddedness in the world: the Bonaventure’s mirrored facade acts like a Hogwarts invisibility cloak, rendering the hotel itself invisible behind a distorted reflection of the rest of the city.  The entrances are more like secret passageways that dump you deep in the interior of the hotel before you even realized you’ve entered it; when you find your way back to the lobby, it is actually a shopping arcade.  This kind of corporate space, Jameson claimed, works like Disney World—it is not in the world, but rather substitutes for it.

John McClane finds himself in a very similar space.  It is cavernous and shiny and sterile in that way that very, very expensive things are in the late 80s.  He, in contrast, exudes a miasma of New York City grit and essence of Real Man.  He takes his shirt off to "clean up" upon arrival at his estranged wife’s company’s Christmas party, but then German terrorists show up so he never puts it back on.  Thank god!  The dirt and sweat of McClane’s tank-topped, muscle-y trunk are the source of his superpowers!  He is fake hyperspace’s most visceral nightmare.  While the Eurotrashy terrorists, who are actually just robbers, attempt to break through Nakatomi’s new-fangled internal security system run by these crazy things called "computers," which breaking in is thus a newfangled thing called "hacking," and must be performed by a smart-mouthed black brainiac à la Dwayne Wayne, but we don’t really understand the drama of "hacking" because this is 1988 and The Net doesn’t come into our lives until 1995 so the "hacking" must be supplemented by the melting of various layers of metal vaults with laser beams or something so we understand that "breaking into" the non-space of "computers" is equivalent to actually breaking into something very difficult to break into, anyway, while the terrorists-who-are-actually-just-robbers do all this, McClane goes about mapping and navigating REAL SPACE in this seemingly virtual corporate world, because guess what folks, even in LA, A BUILDING IS JUST A FREAKING BUILDING.  It is made of metal and glass and other hard, breaky stuff.  You can shoot it up!  The camera gives us a good look at the structure’s top floors which are still under construction (Adventures in Babysitting, anyone?), as if to say SEE GUYS IT IS A CONSTRUCTED THING.  You don’t even need to read Jameson!  You just need to watch Die Hard.  I do realize that this is exactly what everyone in the world who is not me actually did.

So McClane saves the day (and his wife’s sexual attraction to him) by saying screw your "hyper" this and "virtual" that LOS ANGELES, your shit BLOWS UP just the same as everybody else’s.  I bet Jameson wets his pants when he watches this movie.  The curtains coming down on the exhilarating finale are the drifting leaves of office paper falling from now demolished corporate heights, as if to remind you that all that time, real people were typing up real TPS reports in the hidden veins of the Nakatomi machine.  Yes, it was strange to be the only person in the world for whom Die Hard looked like 9/11 rather than the other way around.  But it reminded me of how horrifying it was in 2001 when we realized the Towers had collapsed, that they were, or had been, just buildings.  I wonder if we’ve been escaping back into the shiny haven of "information intrigue," simulacra of break-ins and blow-ups that leave all our actual stuff safely intact.  However villainous the hackers of the 21st century, is anyone afraid the internet is going to, like, fall down?

*This is a lie.  The remainder of this post is, in fact, a hackneyed Marxist reading of Die Hard.  Sorry.

10 thoughts on “Die Hard; or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism and How to Blow It Up

  1. nicely done. I’ve always, well and by always I mean since 1998, read Die Hard as a Regeneration through Violence (a la Slotkin) movie.

    However, as far as action flicks go, it’s one of my faves. πŸ™‚ I can’t believe neither me nor the SB own it.

  2. History time

    Actually, although the net did enter most people’s lives in a big way until 1995, “hacking” existed long before that. See the movie “War Games,” which was, what, 1984? ’85?

    There was even hacking when I was in undergraduate, 1973-’74. Hacking then had a different, non pejorative meaning. It just meant getting unauthorized access to a computer system, not necessarily screwing things up. In the early ’80s, some of the “white hats” decided to try to name the “black hats” “crackers.” It didn’t work.

    OK, that’s all the history for this afternoon. Have a good recess, guys!

  3. blade runner

    have you seen blade runner??? i saw it for the first time in college but found it incredibly boring and derivative. i now realize this is only so because i saw other action movies before that were basically rehashing it and the concept of post-modern.

    i bet mr jameson loves it too.

    i am going to show blade runner to my contemporary art, because, apparently, it s actually really good and it will eat up 2 class periods. also i need to figure out what it s about bc the guy i like really likes it and i want to impress him.

    (what wave feminism are we in again????)

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