Notebook Primer: Nokiawave

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Introducing a subgenre of American action movies depicting state-surveillance, espionage, network technologies, and perpetual motion.

By Jacob Lindgren

A boxy, European sports car races through the medieval street-layout of Paris in pursuit of "THE PACKAGE." A hacker using a black, plastic-heavy Thinkpad laptop connects to "THE UPLINK" via cellular phone while sitting on a Eurostar train speeding from London to Brussels. A puffy-jacketed secret agent trying to look inconspicuous exchanges grainy photographs of "THE TARGET" with their "HANDLER" in Berlin’s bustling Alexanderplatz square. Meanwhile, in some nondescript, CRT-clad control center, green dots mark everyone’s position on an oversized map.

What do these characterizations, so specific to a certain time in moviemaking, have in common? Call it Nokiawave. Across a non-conclusive set of films—amongst them GoldenEye (1995), Mission: Impossible (1996), Ronin (1998), and the first three movies of the Bourne series (2002-2007)—and inside an admittedly porous container, Nokiawave describes a subgenre investigating common cinematic motifs and tropes such as borders and motion, espionage and paranoia, city grids and network infrastructures, technology, and the role of administration. This might be a nighttime parked-car rendezvous on a wet, cobbled Budapest side street (Spy Game, 2001), or a “Terrorist Arms Bazaar” at an unspecified location at the “Russian Border” (Tomorrow Never Dies, 1997). Post-Cold War US/Europe, and in particular the “Schengen Area,” simultaneously becomes setting and character in these silver-screen narratives about the existential angst of empires losing control. In a world of dissolved dichotomies and struggles to reclaim dominance via interconnected systems of surveillance, the protagonists of these films—moving within, through, and against the infrastructure of a seemingly borderless Europe—manage to briefly lift the veil on the “control-grid,” a new order of maintaining control and administrating power that has replaced the old East-West opposition.

Essential to the fabric of Nokiawave films is the time of profound identity crisis and disorientation during which they were produced. The 1990s and early 2000s, from a Western point of view, were the post Cold War, pre 9/11 years, in which balances of geopolitical power and with them identity narratives were profoundly destabilized. With this struggle as backdrop, Hollywood, the greatest exporting entity of American cultural imperialism, played a crucial role in attempts at constructing new narratives to fill the void. In need of updated plot devices amongst these newly dissolved geopolitical certainties, Nokiawave films construct allegories which project their protagonists (often preemptively—hence the often over the top and unconvincing technology scenes) onto emerging digital networks, geopolitical ruptures, and yet to be determined rhizomatic infrastructures, suggesting new ways of enacting statecraft and influencing the built environment in their wake.

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