Its your daughter’s 5th birthday. Would you rather give her…
[via reddit & dad]
The problem lies in the fact that institutions devoted to preserving and promoting documents tend to think in terms of a legacy of objects. They see their work as part of a long chain of objects, and what counts to them is things with faces attached- not events or experiences. Their world is the world of paintings, and books; manifestos and letters of intent; things to be hung up, shelved, counted, sorted and named. They draw a circle around some, and not others- giving labels where perhaps none belong- and in doing so eliminate everything contradictory, ephemeral, and fragile.
Their imposed coherence can never do justice to something that is in fact unlimited, wild and unpredictable- something indefinitely growing and changing.
Something dangerous. This is a thing called culture- moments and shared experiences for the “us” who are watching, listening and making.
It is the mandate of art institutions to manufacture art out of this culture- like taking corn and making corn syrup, or “discovering” indigenous medicinal plants and turning them into expensive pharmaceuticals. Institutions must make art objects out of culture, because art persists over time- and culture cannot. Art can be stored, it can be shelved, it can therefore be sold. Culture cannot.
Culture is alive- it can no more survive a mass exodus due to rising rents then it can be bottled up in a flat file with penciled-in toe tags .
If you pursue anonymity, if your act is in the production of moments to be experienced in real-time and not again- if you charge donations at the door rather than apply for grants- and if you never ask permission from anyone for anything- you must write your own history or expect this strange forced coherence and commodification to follow you from behind. Expect it to pass you on the highway going 90. It will reach the future before you do.
I don’t have the patience to be a true conspiracy theorist, but I do believe the following: that the government is not to be trusted; that the elite are sketchy, secretive and often psychotic bastards; and that humanity has much to gain by ditching theistic religions, nationalism, and corporatism. But above all, I enjoy a good story. And for that reason alone I recommend taking two hours to watch Zeitgeist, preferably with a couple friends and your preferred paranoia-inducing substance.
[via alex o.]
For proof that these bundled minor virtues don’t amount to freedom but are, instead, a formula for a period of mounting frenzy climaxing with a lapse into fatigue, consider that “Where do you want to go today?” was really manipulative advice, not an open question. “Go somewhere now,” it strongly recommended, then go somewhere else tomorrow, but always go, go, go—and with our help. But did any rebel reply, “Nowhere. I like it fine right here”? Did anyone boldly ask, “What business is it of yours?” Was anyone brave enough to say, “Frankly, I want to go back to bed”?
Maybe a few of us. Not enough of us. Everyone else was going places, it seemed, and either we started going places, too—especially to those places that weren’t places (another word they’d redefined) but were just pictures or documents or videos or boxes on screens where strangers conversed by typing—or else we’d be nowhere (a location once known as “here”) doing nothing (an activity formerly labeled “living”). What a waste this would be. What a waste of our new freedom.
It took me ~4 hours to read this article because I was simultaneously working, chatting, listening to & downloading music, sorting through 50+ firefox tabs, emailing, eating. I multitask compulsively, and I’ve been doing it since at least middle school, when my brain was particularly vulnerable. These days I have to remind myself to go to bed and to eat breakfast (not that I was ever particularly good at those things), as checking email (which of course leads to web surfage) is so much more natural for me.
The only good news is that last paragraph is that a) I finally recognize that as a human (as opposed to a brain in cyberspace) being I need sleep and food and b) at least one of those 4 hours this morning was spent getting brunch with friends, eating outside, delighting in real human contact.
How pathetic is it that I can get cheap thrills just by leaving the house without my cell phone, no credit card, just a couple dollars in my pocket. How daring, to slip my hand into my pocket and not be greeted by my trusty time piece and communication device! It actually feels like I’m doing something vaguely dangerous. What if someone tries rapes me and I can’t call the police? What if someone tries to mug me but I have no wallet so they decide to rape me instead? What if I get lost and can’t call a friend to google map it, or pay a cab to take me home? What if I engage in conversation with someone attractive but can’t check my text messages, thus proving I have friends, during the awkward pauses? What if if the trees and the clouds get boring?
But I could easily give up the phone, on an emotional if not practical level. I hate phones, their intrusion on the outdoors and public spaces, their closed networks and the big corporations who run them. I resisted the phone as long as possible, until more than halfway through high school, when my mind was a little more durable. I’m a social phone user, I do it so I can interact with my peers, I can stop when I want.
Its the Internet I abuse: Email, IM, Web. Such delicious freedom, the ultimate home for my nocturnal, curious, cowardly mind. She’s given me so much that I didn’t realize what I’ve been missing. My only hope is for my laptop to get destroyed, and to not have enough money to replace it.
Its not the computer’s fault though. Its the culture. Recently I’ve had these moments where I have some revelation about life that seems so fucking profound. Then a couple days later I’ll realize that to most anyone in the past my brilliant thought would have been so obvious as to not even warrant a mention. This phenomena is perfectly captured by a review of Michael Pollan’s new book:
Do we really need such elementary advice? Well, two-thirds of the way through his argument Pollan points out something irrefutable. “You would not have bought this book and read this far into it if your food culture was intact and healthy,” he says.
Its not just our food culture thats fucked beyond belief. We interact with each other through screens, even when we share a physical space, selecting from a menu of avatars and then dueling with each other in our living room. We are surrounded by lies, both factual– the US government– and emotional– the airbrushed images of pseudo-happy pseudo-people trying to sell us shit. We probably spend more time looking at pseudo-people than at actual people. Food is something with a cartoon character logo that you buy in the store and marriage is about being a princess for a day and smiles are for selling toothpaste.
So look, until all this is fixed, I’m gonna have a hard time abandoning the seedy but sincere streets of craigslist and youtube. It takes about 50 tabs (of firefox, silly), some music, a couple IM windows, and an email client to keep me my mind simultaneously stimulated enough to not be bored and distracted enough to not feel lonely, aimless, or anything else. Totally stimulated, totally numb.
Anyway, read that article about multitasking. Really well written, almost like turning on the webcam in your computer and just watching yourself, except ocassionally the cam slips into xray vision mode.
To all my family & friends,
I am so insanely lucky to have you in my life. A blog post feels massively inadequate for expressing my gratitude, appreciation, and love for all of you, but to not use this space to say something seems wrong. Because of you, I think it is fair to say that I have had the most exciting, educational, and life-affirming year of my life. I hope that your 2007 was wonderful too, but more importantly, that your 2008 is even better. May the new year bring you peace, health, love, growth, and happiness.
To Marjane Satrapi and Vikram Seth,
Thank you for making art. Marjane, thank you for reminding me how powerful and beautiful animation can be. Vikram, thank you for writing a novel about San Francisco in verse. To both of you, thank you for demonstrating the importance of not compromising as an artist, for giving me a reason to look forward to tomorrow’s cross-country flight with a 2 hour layover, and for helping me view life with some reverence (the good kind). May the new year bring you success and inspiration, and may your work influence our culture.
To the weather,
Thank you so much for snowing today in Cambridge. I really needed that. May the new year keep you safe from global warming.
At 67, Hochschild has noticed the way these treatments have gone from being “a luxury to a tentative necessity; it’s a redefinition of needs.” And she wonders aloud about what all this means. “Are we subtracting intimacy from other areas of life, in order to get it in this controlled and titrated, professionalized way?” asks Hochschild. “Is there a subtraction, as well as an addition? That would be the question I would ask. Are the women who go to salons just not getting it anywhere, in which case, they’re getting it here? I think we all need a kind of a connection, we need to be touched. But that we’re getting touched for money, in a medicalized, spiritualized way, seems to me something as a culture we could be thinking about. I don’t want to go the route of moralizing this; I think it’s good to be touched, to relax, to be stress free. But it does seem like a symptom that something’s amiss that people actually pay for this.”
[Emily Nussbaum – A Stranger’s Touch. New York Magazine.]
A more serious reflection on being a middle-schooler & the awesomeness of my kid sis. I read this to my sister in front of a small collection of family members the night before her Bat Mitzvah. Gets a little corny at the end, but I’m entitled.
Congratulations on your Bat Mitzvah. Though I hold much ambivalence towards organized religion (and this coming-of-age ceremony in particular), I am so proud of you and so happy to return home to share this day with you. You have thus far maneuvered through puberty with a grace I find remarkable, especially in light of my own memories of that time, and I am confident that you will continue to mature with the same elegance. You are an intelligent, beautiful and loving young woman, not to mention much cooler than a 12 year old has any right to be.
But as much as I, along with the rest of your family and friends, want to celebrate you, the Amazing A. Relkin Rojer, princess of November 3rd, I’d like to pause first, amidst the festivities, and meditate a bit on this notion of “coming-of-age.” First, lets examine the ritual you are just about to complete, and call it out on what it is.
Congressman Kucinich, I believe you’re the only person on this stage who had a chance to vote on the Patriot Act right after 9/11, who voted against it, right away.
That’s because I read it.
I’ve yet to decide who to support for the primary, and political blogging is a slippery slope. But fuck it.
Hearing Kucinich say that in the debate felt incredible. Maybe he’s unelectable, another classic victim of a self-fulfilling big media lie. But thats not gonna stop me from giving mad props to the candidate who doesn’t compromise on things that should be uncompromisable, like the Constitution. The candidate who is sensible and passionate and calls the game out on what it is. Who doesn’t base his policy on what’s gonna get him elected, but instead gets out there on national television/youtube to honestly articulate how broken everything is, and how we could start to fix it. Who recognizes not just how bad the US government is for its citizens, but for the entire world.
Who is almost single-handedly trying to impeach Dick Cheney.
There’s a campaign “to get 100,000 people to commit to donate $100 each to Dennis Kucinich on December 15, 2007, for a total one-day contribution of $10 million.” Even if you don’t think Kucinich would make a good president, $100 is worth it just so that he can keep speaking out at these debates. Worth it just to say suck it to big media.
Now, at the moment I don’t have $100 to spare. Maybe I will by December 15. But I do have a blog, and I think some people read it. So perhaps I can encourage you to throw some cash behind the candidate who is small but mighty. And peaceful! Or maybe 10 of us broke-ass students can get together and pledge $10/each.
We now return to our regularly scheduled programing of drug-induced animation and things that you haven’t already seen on reddit.
A genuine first-hand religious experience like this is bound to be a heterodoxy to its witnesses, the prophet appearing as a mere lonely madman. If his doctrine prove contagious enough to spread to any others, it becomes a definite and labeled heresy. But if it then still prove contagious enough to triumph over persecution, it becomes itself an orthodoxy; and when a religion has become an orthodoxy, its day of inwardness is over: the spring is dry; the faithful live at second hand exclusively and stone the prophets in their turn. The new church, in spite of whatever human goodness it may foster, can be henceforth counted on as a staunch ally in every attempt to stifle the spontaneous religious spirit, and to stop all later bubblings of the fountain from which in purer days it drew its own supply of inspiration. Unless, indeed, by adopting new movements of the spirit it can make capital out of them and use them for its selfish corporate designs!
-William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience
(via Mystics and Messiahs: Cults and New Religions in American History by Philip Jenkins. A good read if you get the chance.)
David Denby’s essay in this week’s New Yorker tackles the “new” romantic comedy: the “slacker-striver romance.” This pop-culture staple of my adolescence and young adulthood tells the story of hot, ambitious chick falls for a witty, going-nowhere-fast dude. As both a young female filmmaker (these movies are almost always directed by males) and someone with a thing for slacker-boys, this topic is of particular interest to me. Why am I attracted to slackers? Why are the women in these movies always so lame?
To my disappointment, Kevin Smith was absent from the article. If I had to blame my slacker fetish on anyone, the award would definitely go to Brody from “Mallrats,” with Daria’s Trent is a close second. The 12 year old girl inside me still gets all excited just thinking about them. What a disappointment it was to discover, a couple years later, that not every (or perhaps any) video-game nerd converses in a constant stream of humorous but insightful one-liners. Nor are they as cute as Smith would lead one to believe. At least Trent was a bit less deceptive in that department; boys with guitars do tend to be hotter than average.
But its not just that I wanted to do these fictional slacker boys. While there was a definite sexual element to their appeal, more than anything I wanted to be friends with them. Its no contest: Bong rips are more fun than lip gloss. Girls got to pluck their eyebrows, guys got to tell dirty jokes. Girls did homework, guys formed bands.
Judd Apatow’s “Knocked Up” is the moment’s preeminent example of the slacker-striver rom-com. I thoroughly enjoyed “Knocked Up,” but it also upset me. Apatow is the creator of Freaks and Geeks, a show featuring one of television’s best female characters ever, in the form of a brainy girl who finds her place with a group of “burnouts”. Lindsay Weir is strong yet vulnerable, reluctantly both beautiful and badass. How could someone with the capacity to create such a nuanced and realistic teenage girl on a fucking television series make the heroine in their film so empty?
Sure, for an “E! Hollywood” reporter, Knocked Up’s Allison is remarkably down to earth, but that’s kinda like saying that for fast food, Wendy’s is surprisingly nutritious. As Denby writes, Allison “has a fine fit of hormonal rage, but, like the other heroines in the slacker-striver romances, she isn’t given an idea or a snappy remark or even a sharp perception.” Come on Judd, was getting your show canceled really that bad? That from now on the best we can hope for in regards to female leads are tasty-looking, manufactured, corporate babes who are celebrated for leaving one only mildly nauseated after consumption?
Sadly, things aren’t looking much better on the dude front. Its one thing for guys not to have their shit together in high school, even college. But Knocked Up’s Ben is such a loser that even I can’t build up the slightest desire for him. Is society doomed for perpetual middle school?
Maybe I should stop being so critical and just take “Knocked Up” for what most are lauding it as: a Hollywood movie that is both genuinely sweet and funny and doesn’t suck. After all, its just a movie. But there remains the issue of why, Ben aside, I’m still into slackers. And I’m gonna take a guess that I’m not the only one.
Why don’t we dig boys who have their act together? Is it some kind of perverse maternal urge, perhaps as a result of delayed childbearing in college girls? That coming of age in the shadow of the 90s means the slacker archetype will be forever imprinted on our libido? That Hilary Clinton is such a terrifying bitch, and that with all the pressure of school and a career and looking good, if we don’t date someone chill we’ll become one too? That ambition today is just so horribly revolting?
Maybe some better role models would help. Since the real world doesn’t seem to be too forthcoming, I turn to movies. Where is this decade’s “10 Things I Hate About You?” Directed by a man but written by two women, its characters of both genders are intelligent, unconventional, and sexy. For those of us growing up with it, it probably did for bisexuality what “Clerks” and “High Fidelity” did for slackers. 10 Things answers Denby’s plea for a romantic comedy where women “challenge the men intellectually and spiritually, rather than simply offering their bodies as a way of dragging the clods out of their adolescent stupor.” We need more of that.
[A Fine Romance, The New Yorker, July 23, 2007]
PPS. What’s with my moving to California and reading all these New York periodicals I used to (not so) secretly avoid? Might I be a tad homesick?