Showing posts with label Popular Culture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Popular Culture. Show all posts

Saturday, January 16, 2016


People who are cool are those who don't professionalize their names and become the odious species called "professional celebrity". Johnny Lyndon became a celebrity, famous for being the former Johnny Rotten. Grace Slick is cool because she retired from being a rock star when she realized she was too old too silly singing those old songs about the problems of youth. It seemed to her, shall we say, inauthentic. People who are cool are not, by default, nonconformist or anti-social or any of the other rebellious bullshit that is actually an identity we buy into by corporate marketing departments. Being cool is doing what you want to do, liking what you like, listening and reading and seeing what you want because they truly mean something to you; cool people really have no interest in trying to appear cool. I would ask why are writers for online magazines and pop culture sites so eager to condemn their fellow citizens for not being just like them. The Sex Pistols were the result of clever marketing no less than the Monkees were back in the day. There was an unrepresented generation in the music marketplace and Malcolm Mc Laren, in his fashion, created a product, of which Lyndon was part of, to fulfill a need. Or at least create a "want", as Chomsky would argue. Lyndon bright enough to be aware of the contrived nature of the Pistols, a band that wanted to destroy the machinery that produced manufactured entertainment that was no less manufactured by the same methods and reasoning, but on the cheap. Being a real punk, ie, a habitual jerk, he set out to destroy his meal ticket. He asked if the audience felt cheated, a manner of pulling back the curtain on a variation of the star-maker machinery, but his willingness to expose the hype became an essential part of what became his act (or shtick). He made a living a being the former Johnny Rotten, a low-rent Oscar Wilde. He may have been speaking his truth, and bully, but he wasn’t wit and he wasn’t especially enlightening. 

He was guest VJ on MTV decades ago, post –Rotten and Pill and here he was easing into the one marketable guise he had remaining, the go-to “survivor” of a heady period at the popular culture margins. He was to introduce clips from newer bands and comment briefly when they were done, a negative bon mot before the station cut to one of their endless streams of commercials. After a Jesus and Mary Chain video had played, the image faded and the camera opened up on Lyndon’s constipated visage. “Oh, that was awful. They are so derivative of the Velvet Underground…” I might agree with Lydon if I knew more about the JAMC songbook, but the remark had no impact, no sting, it cut to nothing at all; he seemed bored with his whole act of being the cynical, seen-it-all rock and roll revolutionary who must manage simulacra of disgust to sustain a paycheck. Not hip, not cool. Capitalism wastes nothing, even the shards of the artifice someone has blown up with some subdued version of the truth. Remember Marcuse's idea of "repressive tolerance"? That was the idea that democratic capitalism is so insidious that it has an organic function to nullify the revolutionary potential of various cultural and social upheavals by permitting those ostensible enemies of order full legal expression of their style, their manner, their ideology. The goal is fairly obvious, you negate revolutionary change by allowing those who expose and espouse radical transformation to vent and argue their position and allow the creative expressions they generate to emerge more or less unmolested. Everything we create is transformed into product or material that can be used to manufacture variations of the false utopia we bought into in the first place. Nothing is wasted. The smashed idealism we tossed out is reassembled and given a new coat of paint and then sold to someone else who is trying to trust the authority of their senses. Che, Lenin, Mao, Trotsky and Karl Marx himself adorn t-shirts, mugs, and keychains  manufactured in Free Trade countries at what amounts to slave wages, the rebel-yell tradition of rock and roll is codified and neutered with a Hall of Fame, and what could be instructive criticism for those of us to change our behavior and get involved in the politics of their lives is made irrelevant by being turned into feel-good cynicism suitable for coffee mugs, shirts, greeting cards and witless situation comedies. Johnny Lyndon is a tool, a professional celebrity, and his greatest accomplishment is in creating a generation that had no greater desire than to be professional celebrities as well.  

The whole withering -away- of- the -state endgame in Marxist theory was a pie in the sky, I think, a trope that replaces Christianity's doctrine of Eternal Life in Heaven with a promise that amounts to the same thing. Happiness and fulfillment are forestalled until certain unattainable and unverifiable conditions are met. The transformation is never witnessed as advertised. This seems to be same with how things are sold to customers--you are not perfect or really at ease until you own this. Again, we never really see the transformation of ordinary people into extraordinary ones, but we can witness the accumulation of useless things, received wisdom, dime store attitudes displayed as philosophical distinctions. Being hip or cool, it seems, seems to part of this whole mentality that there is an exclusive club one must pay to join in order to get a glimpse of the heaven they’ve taken out a prescription to. This is the reverse of what being cool was all about, which was living a life that was modulated to not absorb the static, babble and decaying artifices society put upon you, to conduct oneself with a knowledge that horrible violence and obliteration can be visited on you any second and, with knowledge of that, make life meaningful by making authentic choices as to what you want to do and to take responsibility, full claim, to the results (and consequences) of those actions. Creative commitment is what that is called, an element in the overly abstruse doctrines of existentialist thought.

Friday, July 24, 2015

This is just my opinion,

 Came across a great rant, of sorts in the Houston Press about the habit of many of the hair-trigger opinion mongers in the world to dash behind the phrase "this is just my opinion" as way of giving themselves permission to suck the air the air from whatever proximity they happen to be in and replace it with misrepresentations, unsubstantiated blather, corrosive gossip, dubious science , historical inaccuracy and the like. More than a rant , to be sure, as author Jef Rouner measures his obvious distate with  examples of the evasive practice is made, and demonstrates the fallacies in the reasoning ,  or exposes the lack there of. 

"This is just my opinion" is a cop out in truth, an addendum to a comment that is meant to inoculate both remark and remarker against a closer inspection of their views. It is a lazy swerve into a convenient and know-nothing relativism that maintains that opinions that put forth dubious criteria as immutable fact are , it seems to them, all the same. I get especially irritated by conversations where I have knowledge of and strong views about the subject--literature, poetry, politics, films, --where the person I'm disagreeing with responds with "that's just your opinion". 

It's a go-to strategy that works as an attempt to both diminish my view point to the babbling chorus that have already opined on whatever the subject might be, and to get the opponent off the hook and relinquish from offering a cogent response. I don't know why this is, but the person who opts out of conversation with "just your./just my opinion" segues are, in my experience, the ones who raised the subject and pressed me for an opinion. In essence, it's a irrational swerve for someone who first approaches a topic with a head full of factoids (Norman Mailer's original definition of factoid, those things that are false that are not sufficiently vetted and which get repeated so often that everyone, including responsible news media, take them as true , at face value) with it mind to set you set you straight and then retreat into the marsh of uncertainty when presented with a srong counter proposal. 

Not all opinions are equal. Some are more interesting than others, some are better stated, some are better supported. Mailer himself was wrong and offensive on a host of issues, and he was spot on and righteous on others. He was, though, never dull in his what he said, and even in pursing a line of thought that was contrary to conventional wisdom, he provoked a conversation, a debate among the readership that , I think, made people smarter for remaining intrigued by the details both sides presented, wanting more than snarky summaries or pathetic sarcasm . That seems to be a quality we are being robbed of; the internet, of course, has made it possible for millions to have heard of a great many things, from authors, obsure wars, theories of economics and the like, and to know exactly nothing about them in any socially or creatively useful way. That is a shame.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Put Your Ipod in the Microwave

I neither own an iPod nor wish to get one. As a user of public transportation to work, it's an expected sight to witness row after row of collage students , gang bangers and men and women in various states of middle age creep sitting or hanging on to rails with the earplugs in, long white wires filtering down to the nearest pocket, staring off into some spot on the bus where there is no gaze coming back, looking nothing less than already defeated and depressed by the day ahead of them, there thumbs dialing the volume of their 85,000 song list up and down. Contrary to what the expectation of solitude they think headphones assure them, they are in fact sharing their music with everyone on the bus; muted bass lines, screaming guitar solos, muffled vocals, thudding drums, sounding as if the iPod were in tin can at the bottom of a storm drain,
blasting away under the batteries went dead. Not a pleasant sound. On one ride a passenger trying to read a newspaper had had enough with this ugly sound and stood up to lean over the aisle and poke a student wearing the device to turn the music down. "Fuck off," said the punk, "I will fuck you up".

"Turn your shit down" the newspaper reader repeated, and at the point I got off the bus to get to work, thinking that it was a low irony that music hadn't soothed the savage beast, but rather only pissed him off royal, all before 8 o'clock in the morning.

I'm not an erstwhile   Luddite,  but I would venture that folks hunched in a seat wearing iPod headphones don't look as if they're having a "more active, enjoyable inner life " as a result of technology. To a man and a woman, they look withdrawn, wan, depressed, and for all the joy having instant access to every song ever recorded is supposed to confer upon them, they, as a class, fidget and twitch. More often than not their music is simply too loud, and the muffled hizzzzzzzzzle of music is forced upon all seated near them while they damage their hearing, oblivious to the rights of others. Music is then merely a garish or inane wallpaper that puts the world in a position to talk to the hand, speak to the fist, mumble into one's Styrofoam cup rather than interact with the world. This isn't to say that each of us needs to greet and discuss their issues with those they don't know in some mistaken idea of participatory democracy; iPods, cell phones, anything form of  headphones frees one from the common courtesies that make life in the city bearable; the small things that keep us civil--the nod, the thank you , the excuse me, the small things that keep our hands unclenched and our limbs relaxed, are taken  from our  interaction toolkit, leaving little else but blunt, stumbling, aggression. As with the cell phone yakkers who fill every public space with the blare of their voice detailing every inane detail of their day , iPods are
evidence that what technology makes it easy for consumers to do is inoculate themselves against the world and convince themselves that there's no need to give a flat fuck about whether others think you're a jerk for imposing your gadget-happy fetishes on their fellow citizen.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Gibson Drinks,I Don't

Mel Gibson Hits The Bar In Costa Rica
Tonight I celebrated twenty years of continuous sobriety, and it's instructive to see that photo of Gibson, fortified with copious amounts of goon juice, smirking like the clueless nitwit who'd drank again to silence the noise that's clamoring between his ears. Gibson is an artist and all that claptrap, but no one really buys that it is a condition we must accept and tolerate if we're to see him continue making films. The mad artist who is so sensitive to life's crushing awfulness that he or she has to drink and take drugs just to stay alive and reach the soulful part of themselves is a romantic crock fans and some critics have used to excuse the drunk, slovenly assholism of Kerouac, Bukowski and a slew of other sloshed scribes, a generational habit of mind that was enabling in two distinctive ways; it made the artist feel that they had to drink, that it was their responsibility to drink in order to stay true to their art and audience, and it give a perfect escape for the audience from confronting the blunt fact that alcoholics , when they drink, are jerks, assholes, reprobates, completely unpleasant people when they part take of hooch. Gibson, of course, is a disturbing personality and artist whose continuous stream of good reviews has more to with financial matters than with merit, and he's someone given to some problematic religious beliefs that can't help but get him into controversy. The actor/director might well be a creep sans alcohol, but it must be said that having it in his system brings that character trait to full volume. This is why it's instructive for me to see his smirking drunkenness this night of a landmark anniversary, as I have several photographs of myself with that same graceless grin, that same
look that makes one appear that they're being propped up, lest one's face wind up in the chips and guacamole. And lest I take too much credit for the felt miracle of my sobriety, I can see that face and that bottle can be mine again anytime. posted 07/17/2007 at 01:31:41

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Camille Paglia's back at Salon: a floundering wallow of self-regard

Erstwhile firebrand Camille Paglia , a maverick humanities professor who chose some time ago to be equal parts genius and fool in an effort to get a general public to think outside their flimsy catagories and frames of reference, has returned to an old writing gig, as a columnist for Salon. She wrote the column from 1995 to 2000, and then left the gig to concentrate on writing her 2004 book, the punchy collection of poetry criticism Break , Blow, Burn, and now returns to Salon's cyber pages, declaring herself in the first column that she was a pioneer of all that internet geeks and pundits and blogoholics take for granted. She essentially provides the "About the Author" box in the column's first paragraphs rather than at the end of the piece, where it traditionally appears. She has written important monographs, she has appeared on C-Span, she was in the advance guard in speculating our the cyber realm will effect politics and culture, she is a lesbian liberatarian Democratic pro choice aethiest, she wants you to know who she is. It is tiresome, of course, and yet you keep reading knowing that parsing Paglia isn't a waste of time. For all the prate and prolix , there are the fabled "flashes of brillance", ' though I fear, as the late Molly Ivins has said about this claim, that any such glimmers are lost in the yammering.

I'm a fan of Paglia when she gets beyond herself and writes about the culture and the arts it produces. It's here, and nowhere else, where the claims of her intellectual virtuosity and originality have merit. Sexual Personae had more outrageous and wonderfully defended propositions than any bit of academic criticism I've read, and Break, Blow,Burn brought an old school rigor to discussions of poetry , prate and self-consuming criticalese and connecting her selection of poems to the world. With those two books she makes the life of the mind exciting and attractive to someone wondering whether they should bother with Great Books and avant gard posturings. As a columnist, though, Paglia tries her hand at being the public intellectual, or worse,the celebrity intellectual,and comes up seeming comic rather than compelling. Doubtless she has Norman Mailer in mind as the self-aggrandizing firebrand, but strange as it seemes she lacks Mailer's charm and musical finess as a prose stylist.

Mailer might have been a boor and a lout, but he could write rings around his peers and segue into a metaphor rich discussion of war, poverty, women's rights, sexuality , theology, architecture with an intoxicating urgency. One need only compare Mailer's essay collections like Advertisements for Myself and The Presidential Papers to realize that Paglia has modeled her public persona on his amazing self confidence. What she lacks in this fast-paced world of instant opinion, though, is grace or a sense of her own absurdity, a quality that Mailer had , expressed and which endeared him even to this critics. He had a sense of irony about his attempts to light a fire in the conciousness of a post war generation he knew had been seduced by television.Paglia, I'm afraid, is just another typing head as this stage; pioneer she may be as an ur-blogger, but her return to Salon is not a return to form. An extended bout of self-congratulation makes her sound like she's interviewing for a entry position in a new media company. The remarks about Hillary, Obama, John Edwards, et al ,are likewise unremarkable.She sounds like she's the last one to have heard the news; she sounds several beats behind the rest of the band she's trying to join. I hope that Paglia's columns yet to come are better than this slogging mass of egomania and trite conjecture. Sad to say for someone of her daunting intellect, but she seems out of her depth.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Say it, don't splay it

Talking to people about their problems makes for frequent miscues of speech and grammar, a habit stemming from something no more profound than that most of us don't know how to talk about ourselves and our personal problems to another human being. Hence, we come to the habit of trying to sound clinical, distanced, as if we have some clear grasp on what's the matter with our inner lives or internal organs. Either way, it makes for low grade comedy, and it is struggle not to laugh out loud or lecture someone on sloppy usage. I want to keep the friends and acquaintances I have.

One of the most egregious uses I can think is the promiscuous use of "potentiality" when the simpler, punchier, less ambiguous "potential" would do a better job. There's a confusion of the number of syllables in a word with the precision of expression; the more trills the tongue has to
glide over, the clearer the communication.

Another coinage that sends static crackling through my ear is the frequent use of the bizarre formation "uncomfortability". Again, there's that self-concious nervousness that mistakes terms with centipede rhythms to be superior to more succinct words, but this instance is further problematized,(that is to say made more confusing) by an unintended, unEmpsonesque ambiguity. Are we to think the speaker is in a state of "discomfort", which is what one arrives at through context, or is he addressing his ability to be uncomfortability at will?

The literary possibilities are rich, but this is of no aid to someone who needs to make it clear that he needs an aspirin, a therapist, or a
licensed saw bones to alleviate the particular disorder, physical or psychic.

It's not that I object to multisyllabic words in everyday use, since one needs certain words to convey more elaborate ideas, but I do require that
the words exist, in the dictionary if not in nature.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Over Cooked

Discussing how unfunny Dane Cook's rubber-limbed stage pacing and artless mugging is to belabor the obvious after a paragraph. What he has is that callow yet bottomless self confidence of a Drama Club President who convey every character with the same mannerisms , ticks and gestures without giving off any sense that they've bothered with their presentation beyond the creation of a shtick. I watched his HBO special and kept waiting for his monologues to connect with an idea , a perception that hadn't occurred to me, a laugh to smack me upside the head. All that I got was his voice rising and falling, accelerating and slowing down crazily to instill some sense of comedy momentum and urgency, and that face of his, smirking stupidly,
oblivious. Perhaps he'll do better with a film career. Cook's freakish presentation of self --all mugging, no set up, no timing, no payoff or punchline in the slightest-- makes it clear that the only thing funny is his apparent conviction that he can get a laugh that isn't a nervous reflex.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Paris Pops The Weasel

Slate's pop music writer Jody Rosen makes a case for Paris Hilton potentially amounting to being something more than a smirking Barbie Doll with her foray into pop divahood. You can already feel the incredulity grabbing the back of your neck, right? Paris Hilton's attempt to become a pop diva or to otherwise break into the pop music game is fraught with peril and doomed to failure. Not grand, flaming failure, but ignoble, quickly forgotten failure, like Tim Leary's attempts to become a stand up comic. It's one thing to view Madonna these days, remembering when she was making her name as a musical performer, and view her now as spent, irrelevant, the sort of used up Professional Celebrity who used to populate games shows like Beat the Clock or What's My Line? We can still trace her career back to when she was
doing something innovative and marginally interesting, just as the curious can actually discover a list of films that Kitty Carlyle or Orson Bean had made when they were working actors. There is some dignity in their station as Has Beens. Paris Hilton, though, is a Never Been, foisted upon the world Famous and Useless from the start, a brightly colored box, full of air. She'll try her hand at various show biz niches--movies, reality shows, now music--and there will be core of
pundits who'll hyperventilate with superlatives about her emerging force, but no one will buy it beyond the next commercial. History is a Big Broom, ruthlessly applied to the likes of Paris Hilton. She can sit next to Dagmar when she ascends to Celebrity Heaven.