Mixing personal anecdotes with historical and political criticism, Image Control explores art, social media, photography and other visual media to understand how our culture and actions have been manipulated, creating the conditions for and reflecting a society in the throes of fascism. But if fascism emerges as aesthetics, then so too can anti-fascism.
... unmistakably, the work of an autodidact. Nathan's curiosity is evident on every page; so, too, is the breadth of his interests ... objects of study may seem scattered, but Nathan effectively weaves them into a sharp, passionate, and frequently scathing plea for artistic ethics in what he calls 'fascist times' ... Not all his jumps are easy to follow, but every one works. His intellectual roving, chaotic though it may sometimes feel, renders Image Control not only fascinating but genuinely exciting. It can be a real pleasure to watch Nathan build scaffolding between his ideas ... Image Control can be frustrating at times: polemical, hyperbolic, messy. But the book's aggravating moments stem from, and are redeemed by, its intelligence, originality, and heart. Cultural critics rarely frame their work as explicitly ethical, and Nathan's insistence on doing so is refreshing. He transforms the idea that images need linguistic context—which could be reduced to a defense of wall text in art museums—into an ethical system that defends human complexity against the ever-flattening pressures of both consumer capitalism and creeping fascism. As proof of concept, Image Control more than succeeds.
... fiercely argued, fascinating, brilliant. It is also sometimes maddeningly abstruse. Nathan is good at getting us angry about fascism’s darkly insidious ways and means. He is less convincing about how we might counter it. Being made to understand the mechanisms of a deadly problem when we have so little ability to affect them is, to this reader at least, depressing in the extreme ... packed with insight, digression, observations both original and rehashed, exegesis of a spectrum of works from Greek myth to Twin Peaks; it is passionate, disorganized, philosophical in both the best and worst ways. Its rants are written as if Trump were still president, which is more true than most of us would like to admit. It’s a 'difficult' book, tough to read and at times tough to make sense of. But that is another way of saying necessary: what are we here for but to confront every difficulty? Proponents of fascism are masters of making life a trial for anyone who doesn’t fall in line. To resist is to start by comprehending the mechanisms by which they do so. That is the purpose that Patrick Nathan’s book fulfills. Not that he gets there straightforwardly. The author often arrives at stunning interiors through broken doors. In a discussion of music apps’ playlist function—its tendency to package and bland down music into a form of aural décor, yet another way the untidy, organic, or thoughtful is capitalistically 'gentrified' ... Image Control is more successful when it is descriptive than when it attempts to be prescriptive, but that might be my cynicism talking.
... [a] provocative, sometimes jarring book ... Each image is described in rich, defamiliarizing language, re-presenting iconic photographs and their contexts, cultural impacts, aesthetic significance, and commercial value ... In spite of the serious implications of its arguments, the book is timely, glib, and wry ... Humor mitigates the blunt impact of the book’s implications ... a whip-smart text—the kind of brain candy that never loses its sweet tanginess.