Posts Tagged ‘yapping bout culture’

Suppose Foucault and similar critical theorists are correct, and we are controlled and directed by repeated discourses. Suppose that the repeated phrasings of political leaders create new realities.* ** Is it so far-fetched to believe that World War Z contributes to a kind of discourse which will make apocalypse inevitable?

The most recent decline of the big budget film may be traced to the mid-90s schlock Independence Day, in which a president of the United States, a fresh prince, and a drunk saved the world from brainless predatory aliens who vaporized cities.*** To survive, it was clear that no one must think. Random mass death and special effects became the primary concern. Star Trek: Into Darkness confirms that major sci-fi has been irrevocably divorced from thought. Where The Wrath of Khan featured obsession and calculation and several tangled webs of human relation, Into Darkness features mindless CGI fights that are impossible for the human mind to follow.

The fight scenes of just about all contemporary films, and not just sci-fi flicks, seem impossible to follow. I was first lost in The Bourne Ultimatum, when Bourne fought this Algerian guy in a fast-forward sequence that would have been comedic twenty years ago, but was made seriously now. This is done, I think, in the interest of realism. It is hard enough to understand the impulse to the drudgery of pure replication in any medium. It’s much harder l to understand when attempt to replicate the fighting ability of engineered super-soldiers. We despair of reason altogether when you attempt to replicate real life action when you’re shooting on blue screens with thousands of digitally projected laser beams and zombies.

I recommend slowness.

*”Weapons of mass destruction,” etc.

**The latter may be an easier-to-understand rephrasing of the former supposition.

***It was also the beginning of dumb ass propagandistic movies in which American presidents are not soft-handed liars, but action heroes. The most recent iteration of this here phenomenon seems to involve Jamie Foxx.

It would be nice if this meant the end of conventional liberal politics, but it would have been nice if the Libyan bombings or drone strikes or the massive transfers to banks had been the end of conventional liberal politics. It would be nice, but conventional liberals will continue to vote for Democratic politicians. They will feel smarter than Republicans, I guess, because at least they know their guy’s a crook, while the Republicans are delusional.

Assuming that’s true, and I don’t assume that, liberals ought to at least wonder what their vote has earned them, exactly. Obama has done just about everything Bush has done, but in a different style. The War on Terror continues. Domestic surveillance has been expanded. So have drone strikes—against American citizens. A dumb war has been waged, this time in Libya. Obama’s healthcare plan was dug up from the Heritage Foundation archives, negotiated with insurance companies, and can be seen as an enlargement of Bush’s Medicare Part D. On abortion, he’s been rendered impotent by Republican state legislatures and, like every Democrat of his generation, he’s scared to bring it up. Unions have been smoked. Gay marriage is about the only notable near achievement, though it took him till his second election run to endorse the long-standing liberal position. Everything else, crap.

Before the 2008 election, liberals said that if they could just get more Democrats, they could accomplish all these wonderful things. They got majorities in Congress plus the presidency, and found themselves stymied at every turn by a minority of supposedly moronic Republicans.

Liberal Democrats might want to rethink a couple of premises: a) that these Republicans are dumb b) that Obama meant well, but was foiled by those morons.

Consider the possibility that Obama has gotten the job done, the job he wanted done. His friends got jobs and money. You lost both, but he did wink and nod in the direction of gay marriage.

One thing I’ve read on Facebook today regards the sadness of certain committed liberals: all those young people will be disenchanted, they won’t vote, and oh, God, then what? Dude, you should all consider disenchantment. Your last twelve years (at least!) of organizing and voting and believing have delivered you precisely this: just about all of George W. Bush’s programs have been promoted and expanded by the head of the Democratic Party. That means he has saddled you with this junk just as much as George W. Bush saddled his party with this junk. Both parties are saddled. If you continue to vote for that party, you will continue to wear that saddle.

You have, really, three options. One is to keep on being the horsey. You could protest, but that would probably require you to remember how impotently people protested the Iraq War or Wall Street. I recommend withdrawal. Try out a garden, Voltaire style. You can have, really, a full and wonderful life. You will never again regret your vote.

We are characterized by our economic activity: consider the way children’s education is discussed on the news. Marx and Rand (influential if not exactly great thinkers) both saw us as vessels of productivity. The exploitation of that productivity was Marx’s concern; the reward of (some) productivity was Rand’s.

The constant talk of men and money—of men as money—makes aspects of Kierkegaard’s view of the individual attractive. It is important, first, to recognize that K writes from a Christian perspective that is largely alien to me as a secular Jew, probably alien to all non-Christians, and a large percentage of people who call themselves Christian because well, hey, Jesus.

K starts from the idea that the relationship between each of us and God is the most important relationship of our lives. Everything else is less than secondary: it is of no importance. Abstractions about race and politics mean jack: “The race, mankind, differs from an animal race not merely by its general superiority as a race, but by the human characteristic that every single individual within the race (not merely distinguished individuals but every individual) is more than the race.” He writes in reaction to thinkers like Hegel, who introduced the concept of the “World-Historical Man” and developed to a high degree the idea of all history as a kind of process in which the rest of us are either abstracted out of identity or made into bit cogs of the machine.

Such wide-reaching systematizing and mechanizing is anathema to K.  To counter it, he counsels a break with crowds and conventional political participation. These sorts of relationships, regardless of cause, build the system at the cost of the individual: “… every individual who flees for refuge into the crowd, and so flees in cowardice from being an individual … such a man contributes his share of cowardliness to the cowardliness which we know as the crowd.” You know what he means if you have ever felt a sense of diminishment of self in crowds, whether at theme parks or football games. The mediation of a TV screen elevates the sense that crowds are alien—non-human—events at which the Gator chomp is performed uselessly. But I hadn’t thought of cowardice before, and now I imagine the crowd as a many-eyed blob of cowards who can’t play ball—can’t do—while the pathetic rest of us look to add our own eyes to the blobby mass.

K contrasts my vision with, natch, the example of Christ, who “repelled people absolutely, would not found a party, did not permit balloting, but would be what He is, the Truth, which relates itself to the individual.” This sort of withdrawal is heckled constantly by regular voters, but it has my full sympathy. It does not mean a lack of involvement with the world. (Whatever else, Jesus went to that temple. He had his say.) It means the involvement is qualified first by the individual relationship with God and second by the individual’s confidence in himself, a willingness to draw a contrast between himself and the crowd, a strength to flip off the system, the way everybody does it.

I do not have the God-relationship K described. I can never have it. Someday, maybe I’ll figure what I might have to replace it. Right now, though, it’s that second qualification that interests me most. It has the veneer of cliché: stand out, etc. But everybody knows that you can’t be an individual by going to business school. You can’t by buying commenting on blogs or listening to underground bands either. You have to find less comfort in your economic and political choices. You have to worry less about finding people to agree with.

To be this sort of individual requires a kind of constant reevaluation of your position in the world, your relationships with others. It’s an integrity to which I must constantly aspire.

after all this

Posted: January 21, 2013 in but whatever

i am staggered by the number of otherwise intelligent people who are inspired by the speeches of politicans.

am i the first to wonder whether disney movies are propaganda for the windsors? perhaps those princess movies explain our preposterous fascination with british royalty.

The Coup’s Genocide and Juice came out in my first year or two of college, I think. The mid-to-late nineties was the high point of my rap fandom. It’s never ended, exactly. As a style of music, I still enjoy it well done. The problem is that it’s rarely well done.

I’ll discuss reasons for that another time.

The Wife bought me a new copy of this album for my birthday. I’d been telling her about it and had shown her a YouTube clip of “Fat Cats, Bigga Fish.” She thought it was interesting and wanted to hear the album herself.

Some albums you buy and keep forever. Some albums get lost in moves. Some albums get stolen by roommates or lovers. Some albums end up sucking with time. Some albums you sell for food money. Other categories must exist, but who cares? Genocide and Juice got sold for food money in the mid-nineties.

The album is brilliantly descriptive:

The streetlight reflects off the piss on the ground

Which reflects off the hamburger sign that turns round

Which reflects off the chrome of the BMW

Which reflects off the fact that I’m broke—

Now what the fuck is new.

“Fat Cats, Bigga Fish” really is the album’s jewel. It’s told from the point of view of a wannabe hustler who steals bus passes and scams free burgers off ugly girls. But when he poses as a butler at a rich man’s party, he learns how small-time he really is. In this and many other songs, we see the various economic ropes which bind us and choke us. By “us,” I really mean poor people.

The album’s vision is both funny and bleak: “If everybody in the hood had a phd, you’d say, ‘Doctor, flip that burger hella good for me.’”

The prescription is far less interesting, though. In 94 or 95, I probably thought violent revolution was the obvious road to travel, but home invasions and fairly random murders described in “Takin’ These” and “Gunsmoke” seem like copouts today.

Of course they do, Pactor. You’ve always been white, and now you’re middle class. True, true, but that doesn’t mean my response is purely white and middle class. But I’ve been reading Aristotle lately. He thinks of ethics not just as a system of action, but as a system of reaction. We let the world affect us in a variety of ways, and when we let it provoke our most violent, savage responses, we are not only revealing our character but shaping our character for later action and reaction.

Violent revolution has a definite, clear history. Rarely do the masses get to enjoy the spoils. A new elite takes revenge on the old. Regular people get new orders. They get trapped in a new system which they have not designed. The revolutionaries become the cruel psychos they wished to depose. This can’t be the answer for kids in the hood.

I don’t know the answer.

I do think it’s much easier for me to offer these critiques as a white, middle class adult in little personal danger from the cops.

Anyway, regardless of their faults, you should listen to The Coup. Drake sucks infinitely more.

I have relatives who are born again Southern Baptists. I have others who are Lubavitcher Jews. At times, their beliefs made life hard for the rest of us. Our beliefs probably made life hard for them. We learned something, over time: on religion, maintain silence.

This is not an American value. Quite the opposite. We are counseled regularly to talk, to share, to discuss, to argue, to confess. These are ways to heal. These are ways to maintain a society and to become happy.

That’s unfortunate, because this counsel is often wrong.

In religion, for instance, talking brings no good. The continual humiliation of missionaries and haranguing by missionaries generates daily tension and mockery on campuses across the country. The regular misinterpretations of religions’ holy books has led to wrong conclusions.  Modest believers must have it quite hard. Non-believers must deal with a different sort of foolishness.

An honest, curious question can be welcome, but the questions are rarely honest and rarely provoked by curiosity.

It’s voting day, and no one will shut up. No one has shut up for many months now. People are not curious about others’ beliefs. They do not wonder about the roots of alternative thoughts. They think those roots are godless or God-drenched or otherwise pernicious. They are on their crusades.

I’ve been on one myself. It has been limited in both scope and effectiveness. It hasn’t been any more honest or pure or than anyone else’s. It’s been motivated mostly by a general malice toward the system, a malice I’ve felt most of my life. I’ve voted a couple of times. Afterward, I’ve always felt dirty.

Anyway, I’ve mocked the vote and the aspirations of voters every which way. Among them, indirectly (always indirectly: I never talk directly this way to anyone), I’ve mocked a professor whom I’ve always loved and respected, a professor who has been kind and helpful and encouraging to me at every turn. She believes very much in her vote and everything that implies. After a recent Facebook post of mine, she called me “smug” (indirectly, of course).
It probably was smug. There’s enough smugness to go around—everybody feels certain they’re correct and everybody’s talking about it.

But it isn’t worth a shekel.

The constant talking about voting is quite the same as constant talking about religion, especially with friends and relatives. People who care about each other nearly lose their relationships over belief systems. The rhetoric can only escalate.

I give that up. I’d rather have friends than be correct.