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Published on Jul 31, 2012
The Pleasure of Defeat Charles Mudede's Twilight of the Goodtimes By James Latteier
"Good Times" was a bittersweet TV sitcom that aired throughout the 1970s and was premised on life in Chicago's notorious Cabrini Green projects. It was intended to have a salubrious effect, we can suppose. Yet there was something uncanny about the show, as if it were nostalgic for a time that preceded the collapse, which it, in itself, had only partially experienced. Or better, that it had survived the very disaster that it had predicted and come smilingly out the other end.
It wasn't long in waiting. In 1972 St. Louis' Pruitt-Igoe project went down, in 1996 Techwood Homes in Atlanta were destroyed, Cabirini Green itself in Chicago was shortly to follow. In 1973 the CIA turned loose the ravages of neoliberalism upon the world in the form of a model government in Chile.
"Good Times" was also a free-floating item of commercial exchange, carried on the airwaves to Harare, Zimbabwe where Charles Mudede sat absorbed in front of the family TV. A clip from "Good Times" circulates within the debris of "Twilight of the Good Times," a 15 minute video produced by Mudede for installation at the European Manifesta biennial held in Spain this year.
The collapse of the Pruitt-Igoe was only the first of a series of iconic freefalls that American super abundance had to endure. We can add to that Beirut in 1983, Oklahoma City in 1995, the World Trade towers in 2001, the housing market in 2008. Four decades consumed almost exclusively by flailings and failings. And as things fall apart there is a rapacious scramble by neoliberal elements to claw back something of their own. But "Twilight of the Good Times" isn't about all that.
To be sure, there is nothing either nostalgic nor extraordinary in calamity. We have Hegel's expression, "the butcher bench of history," to remind us. It depends on the light in which it is seen. And in Mudede's video it is evening light. A stately soundtrack drawing hints from Ravel's Pavane conducts a promenade. In "Twilight of the Good Times" the fallout, the pieces, are perpetually suspended against the evening sky. There is a kind of grandeur to it. And this is the paradoxical thing that we shouldn't dismiss too lightly, that there is a certain pleasure in defeat, and in twilight a kind of clarity that isn't achieved in the day.