I am joined by screenwriter, director, and producer, Helen Rollins. We talk about what she means when she says modern life is underpinned by the ideology of promise.
I wanted to chat with Helen about some of the concepts I’ve seen her explore through her films and heard her talk about on her podcast (The Lack). She has particular interests in psychoanalysis, continental philosophy and film and literature from the French and Spanish-speaking world.
Yes, this is one of those kind of conversations! And I love it! You might need to listen a few times – like I did – in order to get your head around what Helen is saying…
The Ideology of Promise
What comes to mind when you hear the term ‘Ideology of Promise‘?
Does it sound familiar?
Helen talks about ‘Ideology of Promise‘ as a way to describe the air we breathe under the clouds of modern capitalism.
We’ve all experienced it. In fact, we swim through it every day.
It’s the message that keeps us holding to the future promise of wholeness and completeness, if we can eliminate the obstacles that holds us back from achieving our desires.
Wrapped up in this ideology is a simple (unspeakable and hidden) truth…the lack can never be filled. Even when we acquire an object of desire, it soon becomes apparent that it fails to fulfil its promise of true satisfaction.
I was recently struck by a TV advert that seemed to capture the essential characteristics at the heart of this Ideology of Promise. The advert shows a well-dressed attractive man driving through empty sun-kissed streets in a generic city down-town. He stops for a short photo shoot in a sparse warehouse studio before he gets back in the car and drives on.
This is underlaid by epic string-driven electronic, lens flare, and these words…
“For me one of the best things about life is that we keep moving forward. I love that we’re constantly evolving. We progress. Every day we discover exciting new technologies. Redefine who we are and how we want to lead our lives. Basically we choose what we want our future to look like…so what’s yours going to be?”
Yes I know, most car adverts are complete nonsense. But something about this one really grabbed me. The music, the aesthetic, the pacing, yes. The warm fuzzy feeling…Yes! The warm fuzzy feeling.
On the surface this seems fine. It feels like it’s delivering some comforting words of reassuring truth about the future.
And yet, beneath that surface it’s unsettling. It’s not reassuring or comforting. It speaks to the heart of this ideology of promise. Bad infinity and unattainable satisfaction. The never-ending growth towards nothing. There is no foothold. Nothing to grab hold of.
Anxiety and Empty Progression
It pokes our fantasy. This life, this car along these streets, this aesthetic, freedom and attention. But it presents us with a utopia, which can’t exist.
The utopian future world, where the roads are empty, we are gliding through the streets in with silent ease, alone. The sunset glow gently through the window, as we gaze into the rear view mirror to see a perfectly sculpted face, flawless smile, and eyes that could melt a thousand suns. And these words reverberate around our isolated world…
Keep moving forward. Constantly evolve and progress. Discover new technologies and redefine who you are. Choose what you want your future to look like.
In other words, never stop progressing…
Progressing towards what?
Towards the ever present itch that can’t be scratched.
In the podcast Helen (and “I”) discuss:
- The nature of lack and excess in our lives as subjective beings of language
- The positive side of our propensity as humans to excessively over-invest in things
- Utopia as the fantasy created by the shadow of our ‘enemy’ (and why belief in utopia sustains misery)
- The transcendental disappointment of success, and how we are sustained by the satisfaction of failure
- The holy matrimony of Productivity and Creativity under the eye of The Ideology of Promise
- What we can learn from and enjoy in the beautiful arbitrary pointlessness of sport
- What the infinite zeros in Jeff Bezos’ bank account tell us about the failure to fill the lack that haunts us
- The relationship between lack and self-sabotage
- Differences between art that consoles, confronts, and philosophises us…and commodified creativity that ideologically soothes and pacifies
- What inspired Helen to make a film about the Buddhist parable of the mustard seed, and how this story confronts the lack/darkness, and speaks to the heart of what it means to be human
- What it means to accept ordinary unhappiness
- And loads of other stuff that I’m still trying to digest!
- Helen’s Films
- The Lack is the podcast Helen does with philosopher Nina Power, and political theorist Benjamin Studebaker. Together they examine a cultural work (film, poem, essay, song, or book), and relate it to a philosophical concept, exploring ideas about culture and society.
- Peter Rollins
- Why Theory Podcast (Soundcloud)
- Capitalism and Desire (Todd McGowan’s work of absolute genius)
- The Extended Play Episode on Patreon (I share the full advert and talk about my takeaways from this conversation)