Okay, since I'm really bored and impatient today, I'll kill time by posting the 100 Most-frequently banned books of the last decade and (my guesses as to) why they were banned.
1. Scary Stories - Alvin Schwartz (Scary.)
2. Daddy's Roommate - Michael Willhoite (Daddy's roommate doesn't pay his half of the rent, setting a bad example. Also, they fuck a lot.)
3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou (Don't want children to know why the caged bird sings)
4. The Chocolate War - Robert Cormier (The U.S. military has never verified that there was, in fact, a Chocolate War and prefers to call it The Chocolate Kerfuffle.)
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain (Because he's not called "African American Jim" you know. Also, Huck and Tom fuck a lot.)
6. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck (I dinint wanna ban it George. I just wanted ta pet it.)
7. Harry Potter (series) - J.K. Rowling (May encourage a lifetime of reading crap.)
8. Forever - Judy Blume (Way too girly. Makes you want to wear a frilly dress like a freakin' girl or something!)
9. Bridge to Terabithia - Katherine Paterson (suggests that boys and girls can be friends, which only leads to trouble)
10. Alice (series) - Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (Went way too far with "Drippingly Alice")
11. Heather has Two Mommies - Leslea Newman (and they fuck a lot.)
12. My Brother Sam is Dead - James Lincoln Collier (He's just sleeping. Stop asking questions)
13. The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger (Offensive to American Association of Phonies.)
14. The Giver - Lois Lowry (Unfairly suggests that socially engineered attempts at utopia might not work out.)
15. It's Perfectly Normal - Robie Harris (No, it's most certainly not normal!)
16. Goosebumps (series) - R.L. Stine (Goosebumps is a derogatory term for Germans)
17. A Day No Pigs Would Die - Robert Newton Peck (Librarians hate pigs. Want them to die.)
18. The Color Purple - Alice Walker (Given what's happened to Whoopi Goldberg in the years since the movie, it's too painful to read)
19. Sex - Madonna (Offensive to the act of sex)
20. Earth's Children (series) - Jean M. Auel (Those cave-people just run around with their hoo-has and ding-dong's flopping all over the place!)
21. The Great Gilly Hopkins - Katherine Paterson (She's just not that great)
22. A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle (Readers in danger of joining drama club, playing D&D, lose virginity at 32 in hotel room at "Dr Who-Con 2013")
23. Go Ask Alice - Anonymous (Alice is just really sick of being bugged)
24. Fallen Angles - Walter Dean Myers (It's a black thing. We don't understand.)
25. In the Night Kitchen - Maurice Sendak (Pretty sure there's some sort of gay thing going on with those little bakers and that giant milk bottle. Like maybe gay guys really like milk or something.)
26. The Stupids (series) - Harry Allard (Offensive to Stupids)
27. The Witches - Roald Dahl (The politically correct term is "non-Judeo-Christian sluts")
28. The New Joy of Gay Sex - Charles Silverstein (The old gay sex was perfectly fine for your grandparents.)
29. Anastasia Krupnik (series) - Loise Lowry (Parents who wear mis-matched socks are not funny- they need serious help and should be locked away!)
30. The Goats - Brock Cole ("Goats" is slang for females who like to recieve anal sex while eating garbage.)
31. Kaffir Boy - Mark Mathabane (Already too many books about triumph of the human spirit. How about a few on the defeat of the human spirit for a change? Huh?)
32. Blubber - Judy Blume (Offensive to fat children, who otherwise would have no idea that being overweight makes them different than other kids)
33. Killing Mr. Griffin - Lois Duncan (Kids should know that killing never solves anything. If you have a problem with a teacher, you should simply maim them.)
34. Halloween ABC - Eve Merriam (Book teaches children about ancient occultish devil-worshipping traditions, such as the alphabet.)
35. We All Fall Down - Robert Cormier (Jesus doesn't)
36. Final Exit - Derek Humphry (If you follow his instructions, it takes forever to kill yourself!)
37. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood (Casts a negative light on patriarchal totalitarian dystopias. Also, written by a Canadian.)
38. Julie of the Wolves - Jean Craighead George (Cuz damn! Them wolves got all up in that grill!)
39. The Bluest Eye - Toni Morrison (Not Blue enough)
40. What's Happening to my Body? Book for Girls - by Lynda Madaras (If Jesus wants to tell you what's happening to your body, he will.)
41. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (Casts a negative light on southern American racial history)
42. Beloved - Toni Morrison (Too anti-lynching)
43. The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton (Just too hard to decide which boy is the cutest!)
44. The Pigman - Paul Zindel (They prefer to be called Swine-men)
45. Bumps in the Night - Harry Allard (FBI convinced that "Bumps in the night" is code for "Louie-louie, ah-woh, we gotta go!")
46. Deenie - Judy Blume (Scoliosis is just so icky! Also, Judy Blume is still a total girl!)
47. Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes (Wye is th mowse so smrt?)
48. Annie on my Mind - Nancy Garden (Alice is on her mind and her name is Nancy? Tell me there's not some gay thing there!)
49. The Boy Who Lost His Face - Louis Sachar (Because then everyone's going to want to lose their face!)
50. Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat - Alvin Schwartz (What-What-What?! Spit in your what!?)
51. A Light in the Attic - Shel Silverstein (For wantonly exposing children to poetry)
52. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley (Banned by the American Council of Irony)
53. Sleeping Beauty Trilogy - A.N. Roquelaure (Copies constantly stolen by overweight teenaged goths who return them with coffee stains, cigarette burns and someting on page 34 that we hope to God is dairy creamer!)
54. Asking about Sex and Growing Up - Joanna Cole (Because the religious right is opposed to both)
55. Cujo - Stephen King (Because Stephen King can do a lot better)
56. James and the Giant Peach - Roald Dahl (We just banned it to be funny really)
57. The Anarchist Cookbook - William Powell (The recipe for devilled eggs never works out right- they're runny!)
58. Boys and Sex - Wardell Pomeroy (Because the "Pile-driver" position on page 143 can lead to leg cramps. Also, totally against our moral beliefs.)
59. Ordinary People - Judith Guest (Offensive in suggesting that rich people can die.)
60. American Psycho - Bret Easton Ellis (Actually, because the chapter on Whitney Houston was boring.)
61. What's Happening to My Body? Book for Boys - Lynda Madaras (This Linda Madaras really thinks she knows what's happening to everybody else's body, doesn't she?)
62. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret - Judy Blume (God's sick of being bugged too)
63. Crazy Lady - Jame Conly (Offensive to feminists, who prefer to be called "Crazy Womyn")
64. Athletic Shorts - Chris Crutcher (Athletic shorts equal boners. Everybody knows that)
65. Fade - Robert Cormier (Just can't stand allegory)
66. Guess What? - Mem Fox (I Can't guess)
67. The House of Spirits - Isabel Allende (Too Chilean, if you know what I mean)
68. The Face on the Milk Carton - Caroline Cooney (Offensive to that boy who lost his face)
69. Slaughterhouse Five - Kurt Vonnegut (Forgets that Dresden was bombed for its own good)
70. Lord of the Flies - William Golding (Offensive to asmar sufferers)
71. Native Son - Richard Wright (All negative about racial inequality and social injustice and shit! I mean, come on! We gave them projects!)
72. Women on Top - Nancy Friday (Women on top of what? ...Wait! Oh my god! I don't think I want to know!)
73. Curses, Hexes and Spells - Daniel Cohen (Curses are okay. Hexes we have no problem with. But spells?!)
74. Jack - A.M. Homes (For jacking)
75. Bless Me, Ultima - Rudolfo A. Anaya (How the hell would I know? I've never heard of it either)
76. Where Did I Come From? - Peter Mayle (Seriously, you don't want to know. Let's just say that Mommy likes sailors. A lot.)
77. Carrie - Stephen King (Do you think we want a bunch of kids running around making things burn with their minds?!)
78. Tiger Eyes - Judy Blume (Okay, fine. The thing is, we just really hate Judy Blume)
79. On My Honor - Marion Dane Bauer (Hello! We're trying to boost our kids' self-esteem! Not tell them that they should feel guilty every single time they cause the death of a close friend!)
80. Arizona Kid - Ron Koertge (You know what an "Arizona kid" is, don't you? Oh, come on! I know you know! You look like you know all about it! Ow!)
81. Family Secrets - Norma Klein (You get all excited to know what the secrets are and then it just turns out to be adultry! What a rip off!)
82. Mommy Laid an Egg - Babette Cole (Because that's fucking weird! Also, a mother shouldn't be laying anything!)
83. The Dead Zone - Stephen King (Makes us think of Christopher Walken and have always thought he was creepy.)
84. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain (Discourages children from whitewashing.)
85. Song of Solomon - Toni Morrison (Just to piss off Oprah)
86. Always Running - Luis Rodriguez (For stopping running)
87. Private Parts - Howard Stern (Because, he should really stick with radio.)
88. Where's Waldo? - Martin Hanford (The invisible nature of Waldo confronts us with the anonmity and fluidity of modern urban alienation. Also, we can never fucking find him.)
89. Summer of my German Soldier - Bette Greene (...Who fucks a lot!)
90. Little Black Sambo - Helen Bannerman (offensive to little people. African-Americans are cool with it.)
91. Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett (Wait! "Pillars"? Oh, we thought it was another goddamn Pilates book! Never mind.)
92. Running Loose - Chris Crutcher (Apparently, he means "freeballin' "dude!)
93. Sex Education - Jenny Davis (Censors are opposed to both)
94. The Drowing of Stephen Jones - Bette Greene (Banned by people who prefer stabbing)
95. Girls and Sex - Wardell Pomeroy (For refusing to discuss "the bukkake option")
96. How to Eat Fried Worms - Thomas Rockwell (Everyone knows they're supposed to be baked, not fried.)
97. View From the Cherry Tree - Willo Davis Roberts (Teaches kids to not be cool about murders they witness)
98. The Headless Cupid - Zilpha Keatley Snyder (Because eeeeewww!! That's SO gross!)
99. The Terrorist - Caroline Cooney (The terrorist pays almost no attention whatsoever to proper tooth care.)
100. Jump Ship to Freedom - James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier (You'll do no such thing!)
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Okay, since I'm really bored and impatient today, I'll kill time by posting the 100 Most-frequently banned books of the last decade and (my guesses as to) why they were banned.
"I want to tell you about a story I heard around the time of the American invasion of Iraq. A man and his wife found themselves in a very difficult situation... The woman was about to give birth to their first child, in the middle of the bombs and the explosions, but had no doctor to assist her. So, the man ran out into the streets at night in the middle of the chaos, to try to find someone, anyone, to help them.
"He returned to his home and decided to try to deliver the child himself. 'It will be easy,' he thought, 'the baby will just come out and everything will be fine.' But, everything was not fine. Something was wrong.
"Standing there, holding this new child, over the (dead) body of the mother, I can imagine what this man felt. We all felt this way, all Iraqi people. This movie is about what happened to that child, to the new Iraq."
So begins The Dreams of Sparrows, a compelling documentary shot by Iraqi filmmakers during the first months of the American occupation of Iraq. The film rides a wave of muckraking lefty documentary films, and yet its heart isnt really with the demogogues. Instead, the film gives the viewer a sense of the very different lives and experiences interrupted, enriched, and in some cases cut short by the overthrow of the Hussein regime. We hear from people who love Bush, those who loved Saddam, those whose lives were destroyed by the regime, even a woman who loves Bush with all of her heart but hates Americans. What the film documents is the supreme diversity of the Iraqi street in all its richness and alterity, a diversity that audiences on this side of the world have likely never seen. I had never seen it.
We hear the eerie silences that are edited out of the nightly news, and feel the strangeness of life that seems to go on where there should be no life. We see the endless lines for gas in a petroleum-rich country, parades of children screaming "Fuck Saddam!" for the first time, girls school children scribbling pictures of war or crammed in makeshift orphanages, the Palestinean refugee camps, the "mental institution" crammed with enemies of the Hussein family, the police struggling to end the suicide bombings, the Fallujah insurgants, American soliders struggling to fit any of this into their frame of reference, and finally the makeshift cemetary with its tombstones reading, "A big man with a blue robe and a set of keys,"; a life reduced in the end to a day's choice of clothing.
It would be hard to make an impartial film in this situation, but the polarized opinions of the group of filmmakers provide a sort of balance. In an irony so bitter that it could only have been scripted by random chance, Sa'ad Fakhar, the filmmaker whose love for Bush and the American people never faltered, is ambushed while driving through Baghdad and flees, only to be shot to death by American troops at a checkpoint. Another writer recalls having faked insanity for six long years to escape the regime, only to be freed by the Americans he had been raised to hate. Ironies flourish in a world turned upside down.
One can argue that the New York editors may have shaped the narrative of the film through their cutting and oriinal music. Nevertheless, the film will likely disturb viewers of all stripes; those who opposed the occupation will be confronted by the slow murder through routine that is totalitarianism, a totalitarianism that post-Enlightenment cultures have always opposed, and that in this case, prevented many Iraqis from beginning their lives; but the pro-war side will see a new Iraq asked to tolerate timelessness, madness and widespread bloodshed so that a foreign government can be satisfied with the job it has done. There is a sorrow over this world that threatens to rain down and flood everything else. The oceanic complicatedness of an entire people is layed out here, and there is absolutely no instruction manual for turning this frightened mob that just wants to go home back into a nation.
Talk about impatient! You know how hard it was to sleep on Christmas Eve when you were a child? Imagine that times 100 and you're still not at how hard it is to relax when your wedding party is arriving the next morning!
My best friend Emily will be arriving by plane tomorrow morning with her friend Min, and then my friends Evan and David Curtis will be showing up in the afternoon. Then, the next afternoon is the wedding rehearsal. It is entirely too exciting! What am I supposed to do today? Read?
My various difficulties with posting about Levinas have gottten me thinking about specialization. The real problem for me in explaining Levinas is that I'm just not that great in philosophy. I love philosophy, but I'm pretty much self-taught in this and all sorts of areas, so I'm sort of a jack of all trades, master of none. Feel free to ask me about Leopold von Ranke or Edward Gibbon or whatever other historian interests you though. I know my historiography.
I'd say my knowledge base works out a bit like this:
History: About five years really
Literature: About a third-year level
Philosophy: One and a half years
Classical History: Second year
Biology: Second year
Antropology: First year
Math and Physics: First or maybe second year
Psychology: Second, maybe third year
What this means is that there are a lot of things that I'm interested in that I really shouldn't shoot my mouth off about! Actually, if I were to stick to things that I know really well, I'd have to only post about the 19th century in France! But, I'm terrified of specialization. It's rampant in the academy, but I feel like it's small-minded and puts one at risk of being totally useless. I'm under the impression that the business world is moving away from it too. Are there other options besides sounding like a know-nothing pisher and being a specialist who can only communicate with 20 people on earth? Or will it just take a few decades to get there?
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
This collection of writings by the French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas furthers his attempt to restore the centrality of ethical relations to phenomenology. Specifically, Levinas discovers the ethics behind ontology in the face of the Other. The encounter with the Other forces us to acknowledge the primacy of the transcendent, infinite and alterior, which removes us from the closed totality of Being that Levinas felt, rightly I think, Western philosophy had traditionally been obsessed with.
Levinas studied under Husserl and Heidegger, and most of his work shows the influence, and negative-influence of these two men. There is something tragic in this early relationship to two of the most brilliant philosophers of the twentieth century, the dual father figures; one of whom, Heidegger, would deliver the Judas Kiss to his brilliant colleague. Levinas remarked that it was hard to forgive Heidegger, and we can see in his work an attempt to get beyond Heidegger's central obsession with Being. The Other is, by nature, beyond the subjectivity of Being and our responsibility to the Other unsettles our nascent subjectivity.
What he is doing in these essays is startlingly humane. Ethics suffer in Western thought from perhaps the 1700s onward. Humanity, for good or ill, finds itself cut loose from the great chain of being and gradually looses its embedded status in traditional ethical or social systems, turning instead to political structures. Levinas realizes that the state is a terrible replacement for conviviality; the social goes towards the Other as such, while the political goes towards the Other as type. One simply can't have a deep personal relationship with "France", or "the German nation" or "the American spirit". His fear is that, ulitimately the political may be in eternal opposition to the social, an understandable fear considering the fact that Levinas spent the war years in a prison camp while several members of his family were exterminated. What Levinas realizes is that philosophy, or what he calls ontology, has no answer to totalitarianism. Even the categorical imperative has been called into question. It is no surprize that Heidegger composes several volumnes about Nietzsche, or that he comes to say that the Holocaust was a tragedy, "but then so was mechanized agriculture." Metaphysics have been called into question along with everything outside of "finite forms" in a sort of return to Hellenic philosophy. Without metaphysics, without God, there is no real grounding for ethics, and so the phenomenology of the era lacks even an interest in ethics.
Levinas finds ethics, simply yet brilliantly, in a direct face-to-face confrontation with the Other. The strangeness of the Other, his inability to be reduced to I, his autonomy, produces metaphysics, and ultimately transcendence. We literally find the word of God in the face of our neighbor. We must acknowledge him as a finite being and accept the horrible truth of his death. With that, we become ethical beings. We cannot be complicit in his death, or allow it to pass in silence. He becomes teacher, and we become student. "Peace as awakening to the precariousness of the Other." This moves beyond charity, merely a sort of marketplace of decent acts, to love. For Levinas, philosophy is not simply the "love of knowledge"; but should become the knowledge of love.
This is somewhat abstract, but it is rooted in direct human experience. In this collection, Levinas points out that "saintliness" is acknowledged as a good by all men. Our belief systems seem arbitrary from the vantage-point of other cultures. But, every culture recognizes the innate goodness of committing a selfless act for another person. The recognition of saintliness as a virtue defines us as humans. Even for the soixante-huit generation, for whom "all values were 'up for grabs'" Levinas reminds us, there was never a question as to the "value of the other man". The simple truth of this is stirring. In our responsibility to the Other, we find the basis of all ethics or ethical social structures; in totalitarianism we simply find a refusal to acknowledge the face of the Other.
Levinas was a devout Jew, and yet his ethical ideas transcend any belief structures, distrust any philosophical distinctions and simply illuminate a common human desire to achieve unity with other beings. One wonders what sort of worlds would be possible if children were encouraged to spend quiet hours in contemplating the faces of others, instead of communicating over a faceless Internet. Seeing how quickly disputes flare-up in the anonymity of the psuedo-world, it makes one wonder if we adults don't need more time contemplating each other as mortal beings in the real world. And what sort of wars would we have if our leaders were responsible for nursing each other back to health in times of illness?
We just to view the DVD slide-show that a friend put together on his mac for our wedding. It shows Claire and I growing up and finally our time together. Both of us were choked up. But, I gotta tell you, one thing that becomes very clear when looking at pictures of the two of us is the fact that she must be crazy to marry a goofball like myself.
Well, Canadians will be pissed if the world doesn't notice this... Canada is about to become the third nation to legalize gay marriage. So, if any gay readers are wondering, we can recommend a great wedding planner in the Toronto area.
Okay, actually gay marriages have been legal in Ontario for quite some time. But, she's still a great planner.
So, I'm pretty much geeking out about this wedding. It's going to be wonderful! People are starting to get here tomorrow, and the wedding party will show up Thursday. It's been a lot of work, but everything is falling into place and I'm so totally happy about marrying the woman I love.
Just wanted to say that.
Okay, now this is a pretty good prank! A group has applied for a permit to build a hotel on the land owned by Justice Souter, which is now legal because of the Kelo ruling that Souter voted for! The "Lost Liberty Hotel" would include a "just deserts cafe" and each room would have a copy of Atlas Shrugged instead of the Bible! Didn't Jello Biafra once say "A prank a day keeps the dog leash away"? Here's proof!
Monday, June 27, 2005
On our regular walk this evening, Claire and I saw a cat lying in the middle of a lawn. We stopped to pet him, but frankly, he wasn't terribly interested in us. He was too busy monitoring the scent matrix around him, which is virtually unknown to us. Humans have about 5 million scent receptors, but cats have 200 million. Since their vision is about a tenth of ours, their sensorium is not particuarly linear, but surrounds them entirely and extends much further than our own. Admittedly, our sense of hearing has a wide-range. But, cat's hearing is even more accute than dog's hearing. Their senses are so accute that they can differentiate between locations of sounds at less than 5 degrees appart, and still the sensorium is uni-directional.
Therefore, cat is a node in a scent and noise network that is non-centralized, and even perhaps non-localized in the physical sense, making the cat Schroedinger's cat, if only in spirit. Schroedinger actually said once that the sum total of all minds is one, and the biosphere seems to act as one mind in a larger version of the way that a colony of ants moves together as one body. Applying non-locality (admittedly the strangest idea in physics) to the biological world is a "crackpot" idea, but some are starting to do just that. For instance, Rupert Sheldrake's Morphogenetic Field Theory is beginning to catch on in European scientific circles and may finally be accepted by the scientific community, just as soon as he's dead. Does this cat live in a sensory matrix that is affected by Singapore, for example? It's too fantastic to believe, but if it were true it would mean that this cat senses us in the same way that parts of the same body sense each other. He wouldn't be terribly interested because he doesn't experience alterity.
Seeking to produce or enforce strict conformity by ruthless or arbitrary means.
[After Procrustes, a mythical Greek giant who stretched or shortened captives to make them fit his beds, from Latin Procrustēs, from Greek Prokroustēs, from prokrouein, hammer out, to stretch out }
Procrustean bed (n.): a scheme or pattern into which someone or something is arbitrarily forced.
Procrustean string (n.): In computer programming, a fixed-length string. If a string value is too long for the allocated space, it is truncated to fit; and if it is shorter, the empty space is padded, usually with space characters.
The, uh "Honorable" Senator Rick Santorum recently wrote this editorial in which he argues that liberals... well, support pedophilia. So, apparently, we're not just hugging trees in Santorum's mind. What's really revolting is that he's actually arguing that the Catholic Church may seem to be responsible for pedophile priests, but ultimately liberals outside of the church are to blame for the existence of pedophilia.
How do you respond to shit like this? To people who believe that any other political point of view than their own is equivalent to moral depravity?
I've long said that liberals need to redefine liberalism, if only to distance oursleves from creeps like Michael Moore. But, fuck. What difference does it make in an era in which an elected official can claim that the other side supports fucking children and 2,000 bloganderthals can be expected to cheer, in unison, "Finally! Somebody tells it like it is!"
I have a friend back in DC who works for Ralph Nader. (One thing about Washington, DC is that you end up with friends who work for just about every politician.) Anyway, my friend used to laugh about Nike, because the Nader office would get letters from the company every other week. Apparently, somebody at Nike thought it would be a good idea to do a commercial with Ralph Nader holding up a Nike shoe and saying: "Another shameless attempt at marketing." The company kept offering to pay $5 mil. to Nader's favorite charity if he would shoot this ten second commercial.
What's funny about it is that, when you think about it, that's a terrible idea for an advertisement! Who in the world would say: "Oh look, honey- it's crazy old Ralph Nader! Let's go buy some Nikes!"?
Actually, William S. Burroughs for Nike was a pretty weird idea too... "What running shoes allow you to take heroin, shoot your wife in the head and have sex with Tangiers boys, all in total comfort?"
Sunday, June 26, 2005
Just read an essay by Eric Hobsbawm about the Fabian socialists. It made some pretty interesting points. In the first place, they weren't actually socialists because they believed in private property (according to EJH, although I find that a bit hard to believe). Secondly, they weren't actually very radical. They supported both the British imperial project and war (in the case of WWI). They saw themselves as a sort of counter/alternative to the Marxism that was popular on the British labour left of the time.
The ideas Hobsbawm cites don't actually sound that unreasonable:
1) "a certain conception of what constitutes a becoming livelihood in a given class of society and an income representing that standard."
2) "a life of fascinating interest to the faculty and in the consciousness of service rendered, rather than in accumulating riches for themselves and their descendents."
3) Most famously, the progressive and gradual elimination of poverty in society through education.
Of course, I'm not sure Hobsbawm, who makes the Fabians sound like middle-class moderates, isn't overstating his case to cast aspersions on anti-Marxists. However, since Marxism failed so dramatically and horribly, maybe the Fabians are worth re-reading.
Wow! Nike really sunk low this time! To promote their line of skateboarding shoes, they've ripped off one of the most iconic punk album covers of all time. Essentially, they shot a dead-on imitation of Minor Threat's "Flex Your Head" record. The band Rancid ripped the cover off too, but that was an homage amongst friends. This is just a scam.
And, it's just lame because Ian and Jeff from Minor Threat are exactly the sort of guys who bitch about corporations a lot. Which can get a bit silly. But, it's like Nike wants to fuck with them solely because they hate corporations like Nike.
It's a bit too close to call it a "parody". Dischord Records is planning a lawsuit. They'll probably get crushed by Nike's lawyers. But jeez, there's playful imitation and then there's outright theft.
Yet another article about how sick everyone in the humanities is of theory. It's funny. I thought that Foucault and Derrida and the rest were both pretty boring when I read them, and so I stopped. But, apparently, the 70s generation just loved that stuff.
But, where can you go once you've adopted their ideas? Apparently, straight into a rut.
"For, while Theory has become a humdrum intellectual matter within the humanities and a nonexistent or frivolous one without, it has indeed acquired a professional prestige that is as strong as ever. This is the paradox of its success, and failure."
The paradox of the the success and failure of humanities departments in general is that we have achieved a "professional prestige" that is totally suitable for the corporate world, but which makes no sense whatsoever in the intellectual world. Theories are like blue chip stocks- everyone wants them, but nobody can explain just why. They're yuppie prestige items for the sort of people who scoff at yuppie prestige items.
“What are they talking about?” she asked.
“Is there any new theory?”
“Yeah, in a way,” he answered. “It’s called ‘erudition.’”
“What’s that?” she wondered.
“Well, you read and read, and you get your languages, and you go into politics, religion, law, contemporary events, and just about everything else.” (He’s a 16th-century French literature scholar who comes alive in archives.)
She was puzzled. “But what’s the theory?”
“To be honest, there isn’t any theory,” he said.
“That’s impossible.” He shrugged. “Okay, then, give me the names, the people heading it.”
“There aren’t any names. Nobody’s heading it.”
So, I guess this means I'll be an international man of something-or-other. Officially, I'm solely a Buffalonian. But, off the record, I'll live in Hamilton, Ontario half the week. Unfortunately, I don't get any immigration benefits because I'm not willing to give up my, ahem, "sweet" paycheck from the state of New York, or my job for that matter. But, for the next four or five years, I'll be shuttling between Mutt and Jeff.
Well, I'm getting married on Saturday and moving in a few months. Life changes constantly, doesn't it? I'm overjoyed about both changes. Still wondering what's in the future for me. A person's identity is composed of all these different roles and parts in external systems. All of mine have changed in the last year of so, and will change again soon. So, who knows who I'll be next year.
Okay, we have a house. It's very good news. However, the people selling the house raised their asking price by another $1,000 and Claire's mother put in the deal without asking us if, you know, we're okay with that. Sort of annoying. Especially since it means that we'll have a higher monthly morgage payment, so we actually might well have said no. Ack. Well, it's done now. But, I really have to get used to... um, parents who are so involved.
Saturday, June 25, 2005
Some of you may be wondering, "Didn't you used to be funny, Rufus?"
Actually, I'm making a blog for random non sequitors and jokes. Please link to this as "Pets of the Damned II" and let other people know who like to laugh. And we all like to laugh.
Our wedding rings are here, and frankly I think they're beautiful. Claire's is a gold band with an etching of a trist of ivy and diamonds layed in. Mine is plain white gold. Anyway, I just love them and I'll try to post pictures as soon as we get married.
First off, to quote Quentin Tarantino's take on Land of the Dead: "It fucking rocked!"
Secondly, I didn't cry during the movie, but if I had, I wouldn't be surprised. It feels really good to have Romero back among the living (dead) after 20 years.
Thirdly, the film is action-paked and very gory, but it's also the most trenchant satire of post-911 America yet made by an American filmmaker. Seriously, Romero has guts... so to speak.
The film begins with the old Universal Pictures logo, which confused some reviewers, but us nerds know is Romero's tip of the hat to the Universal Monster films that he grew up on. Then we get a clever stock-footage montage letting us know that "some time ago" the dead started inexplicably coming back to life. Nature is mysterious and bloody in Romero pictures.
Suddenly, we're dropped into Romero country. The zombies have taken over and since they're just not dying, have started to learn a few things and "evolve". The heros are mercenaries who round up supplies from the abandoned suburbs for the remaining humans in a walled-off city. The city has developed social divisions- most of the poor live outside the gates of a luxury complex called Fiddler's Green and watch bloodsports provided to placate them, while the rich live inside the exclusive complex and pretend as if nothing is happening outside. Meanwhile, their hired soldiers have surrounded the city with electric fences and checkpoints to keep the zombies out and the living trapped inside. See what I mean about social satire?
At the top of this is Dennis Hopper as the plutocrat Kaufman, giving an understated performance. John Leguizamo is Cholo, who wants into Fiddler's Green (Yes, it's obviously a gag on "Fiddling while Rome burns" but, so what?) but who just isn't the right type. Simon Baker does a very good job as the hero Riley and Asia Argento is equally good as the heroine Slack. Nerds will remember that Romero is great friends with her father, legendary Italian horror-filmmaker Dario Argento; the two of them made Two Evil Eyes together and Argento produced Dawn of the Dead. Anyway, Kaufman denies Cholo access to the yuppie paradise and tries to have him killed, so Cholo steals the bad-ass military vehicle known as "Dead Reckoning" in order to fire missles on the tower if his demands are not met. Kaufman's response "We don't negotiate with terrorists" got a big laugh from the audience. Riley is sent to capture Cholo, but he just wants to go "up North, to Canada, where there aren't any people". Also a big laugh from the Toronto audience.
Meanwhile, the zombies, led by a huge zombie named "Big Daddy" (Eugene Clark) are approaching the city in order to eat the rich. There is a fantastically creepy scene in which they jump in the river (A few blocks from out house actually) to emerge on the other side from under the water. Finally, when the humans want to escape, they really can't because of the electrified fences. Things collapse, civilization crumbles, all the regular Romero plot twists.
Was it as good as Dawn of the Dead? Well, no, but it didn't have to be. I wish it was a bit longer and had a bit more dread than it does. Basically, it's an action picture with a starkly satirical aspect. The ending is also a bit flat. But, look- it's a lot better than 28 Days Later or Shaun of the Dead (whose makers have cameos here) were. Also, there's something thrilling about seeing a filmmaker like Romero do whatever the hell he wants. The movie just keeps the pace up for an hour and a half. The jokes were surprisingly clever and the effects were state-of-the-art. This movie has the spirit of 70s independent filmmaking, which Romero clearly retained while he was out in the wild.
As we left the theatre into the mobs on Queen Street, I thought to myself: "Yuppies baracading themselves from the rest of the world? Downtown Toronto filled with zombies? Nah, couldn't happen..."
Before I get to Land of the Dead, I think I should explain the previous zombie films that George A. Romero shot. As the trailers point out, he invented the genre, and he's pretty much the man.
The dead films have always been about how we live in the semi-zombified world. Night of the Living Dead (1968) was nomially about a handful of survivors holed up in a farmhouse, dealing with the fact that the dead are inexplicably rising (Romero never explains why in any film). But, beneath the surface, the film played with the idea that the family was collapsing, that Vietnam era violence was coming home, that mobs of rednecks were driving around killing off undesirables, that people would have as hard a time accepting the authority of a black man as they would being eaten alive, and that the world was being turned upside down causing the remaining survivors to flee to the countryside. Strangely, it has all this under the surface, but the movie still plays as a tense, straightforward horror film. It's a perfectly constructed work of art, and one of the true classics of American film.
When Romero made Dawn of the Dead (1978) I think he realized that he couldn't make a film as grim as Night of the Living Dead. So, he went over the top and made an action-adventure film about a bunch of survivors holed up in a shopping mall. People laugh when the characters first see the mall and one of them asks: "What the hell is that?", but remember that indoor shopping centers were a new thing in 1978. The film is a vicious satire of me-decade consumerism; you'll never be able to walk through a mall full of Christmas shoppers without thinking of zombies after this film. As if you could before. The movie is faster-paced than Night, and more amusing, but the characters are quite, ahem, fleshed-out and the idea that the dead would wander around a shopping mall all day because it was the happiest part of their life is just as sardonic as the idea of a few humans holed up in a consumer's paradise slowly realizing how lifeless and constricting it is. Oh, and this one was extremely gruesome for 1978. When a zombie's head is blown up five minutes in, you pretty much know the brakes are off.
Romero had tweaked the 60s and 70s, so with Day of the Dead (1985) he attacked the military as well as science. Here we have a group of soldiers and scientists holed up in an underground bunker trying to make some sense of the zombie problem. The scientists want to condition the dead and turn them into some sort of pets, while the soldiers want to blast them. Meanwhile, Cpt. Rhodes is quickly becoming a fascist dictator and Dr. Logan is quickly finding excuses to kill off soldiers in the name of science. This one is grim. The humans have no hope, but are clinging to straws. Also, it's a bit slow-moving with about an hour of dramatic scenes and a last act that's suddenly gorier than anything Romero has ever done. A lot of people didn't like this one as much, including me, but it's very well put together and it really, really grows on you. After a few viewings, I came to really enjoy it. It is, again, very grim though.
Friday, June 24, 2005
One of those rare studies that deserves the epithet "tour de force" (usually, a book that everybody thinks should be widely read, as long as that doesn't have to start with them), Bernard-Henri Lévy's Who Killed Daniel Pearl? is a startling murder mystery in which we begin with knowledge of the killer's "identity" and then watch as hidden aspects of that identity unravel and flourish outwards like swarms of insects from an underground hive. With deep humanism Lévy, or BHL as he is known in France, argues that the death of one seemingly insignificant man has far greater magnitude in the political and ethical realms as well as providing a sort of test as to how we will live in these wretched times. Moreover, BHL makes us feel as if the planet has been robbed of something inestimable in this death.
Daniel Pearl's murder was shocking and brutal; an execution on videotape re-shot and lovingly edited by hack directors who wanted to boost their own star power. The world rightfully mourned and Pakistani intelligence eventually captured the man who was responsible- Omar Sheikh. BHL has no doubt that Sheikh was guilty, and that the man is a terrifyingly cruel religious fanatic. But, he asks: why this reporter? Why kill someone whose death would bring so little reward and such sure retribution? The question is not one of justification; ultimately, BHL wants to know Who else helped to Kill Daniel Pearl?
To answer this question, BHL does what few of us would have to courage to do- he simply walks into some of the most dangerous places in the middle east... as a "Westerner" and a Jew, and starts asking questions. He begins with the killer, Omar Sheikh: born in London, studied at private schools, including the London School of Economics, fond of Samuel Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations (although, one suspects, rooting for the other side), participated in pub arm wrestling competitions; seemed to hate the opponents; radicalized by a documentary entitled Destruction of a Nation about Bosnia, travelled to Sarajevo and probably fought for Islam, arrested for kidnapping in India, served a year in jail before being released as part of a bargain with hijackers. Ulitmately, Omar seems the textbook fanatical rich kid who lives in the decadent West and finds that it doesn't live up to his entitled expectations and so decides to hit the "Delete" button. Omar finally became a fundamentalist, and so, lost faith. The fundamentalist resorts to imposing his will on others because, ultimately, he is the least spiritual of religious believers. He has no faith in religion as such and resorts, instead, to whatever gets his job done. This is egotism, not spirituality; faith in one's own will and none in God's.
But, why did this textbook fanatic seem to get a free pass for so many years from the Pakistani secret service, the ISI? Why did they ignore him when a hijacking secured his release from jail? Was it really a coincidence that Danny Pearl was murdered in a house that was rented from an al-Quaida front organization? How in the world did he hide out in Rawalpindi, which Christopher Hitchens rightfully describes as like discovering "the Unabomber had been found hiding out in the environs of West Point or Fort Bragg." The thrill of the book is in watching BHL untie these knots, so I won't give away much. But, let's say that he soundly proves his major thesis that Pakistan is "the most rogue of the rogue states". He draws out the connection between corruption and fanaticism and shows radical Islamist movements as, if nothing else, big business. Moreover, he easily eviscerates anti-Americanism and what he aptly calls "neo-anti-Judaism". Here the excuse for Jew-hatred is pseudo-compassionate, but it boils down to the same shitty stew. Finally, there's a sardonic joy in watching this classical liberal smash the shibboleths of Western liberalism. Almost as much joy as in watching this anti-Iraq war "French philosopher" make more headway in the war on Islamist terrorism than the current administration.
Okay, they've rejected our first offer. That's okay- it's what usually happens.
They asked for X dollars, to keep their appliances and for us to pay off the efficiency heater that they signed a contract for.
We said, okay we'll pay you six thousand less than x, we want the appliances and you have to pay off the heater (about $8,000. They are locked into a contract that we would have to pay off).
They said, "Nope."
We have now said, "Okay, we'll pay you five thousand less than x (they originally bought the place for $25,000 less than x two years ago, so it's still a profit), you can keep the appliances, and we still want you to pay off that heater."
So, we'll see what they say.
You know, I was talking to my father the other night and he said something striking. My dad's pretty working class, fairly traditional conservative, altough he supports gay marriage and hates this war. Anyway, he said something that I'm guessing he heard on conservative talk radio: "We're going to lose this one because of the media. Just like Vietnam."
I'm guessing that the Republicans are greasing the tracks for the end of the war. How else to explain Karl Rove's bullshit remarks about "liberals"?
I'm guessing that we're losing.
And they're gearing up the old "stabbed in the back" lie.
I'm pretty much like a kid at Halloween today. I sat up watching Dawn of the Dead last night and rented Day of the Dead earlier in the week. It's pathetic. But, you know, this is our Woodstock. It's just, in this case, the hippies are dead and they're cannibalizing the squares.
Thursday, June 23, 2005
I can't help it- I'm geeking out about seeing Land of the Dead tomorrow. I suppose that everybody on the Internet has something that they're geeks about. I love horror movies. I love Claire more. But, if she wanted me to give up horror movies... well, I'm not sure the relationship would work.
Look, I had my subscription to Fangoria when I was about ten, saw The Gates of Hell at eleven and would pretty much drop out of school if Tom Savini needed a housekeeper. Horror fans are worse than sci-fi geeks because we're geeks and, generally, we hate you.
So, I'm happy as can be to see George A. Romero back in action. There's something inspiring about a guy in his sixties getting a chance to get back to doing what he loves. Especially if what he loves is making ultra-violent, grimly satirical horror films. Romero's been unable to get funding for years, and it's a crying shame too because everybody has ripped him off in the last ten years! 28 Days Later was based on Romero's films, Shaun of the Dead was a loving tribute to Romero's films, is basically a direct rip off of the movies and Dawn of the Dead was a very inferior remake of Romero's classic. The secret is that Romero is most fascinated with society and how it can collapse in the face of disaster. His films have intellectual undercurrents that you can mull over for years. Most of his contemporary imitators have brains that were formed by music videos, so their films are strikingly banal by comparison. But, George, he's the man.
Incidentally, Universal deserves a sharp stick in the eye for failing to promote this film.
Well, the government can now privatizate your home as well! The Supreme Court has decided that local governments can sieze individuals' homes against their will to make way for commercial interests, such as shopping malls and fast-food restaurants. Do we matter at all anymore?
The U.S. Military is working with a private marketing firm to create a database of high school and university kids; their race, age, email address, grade point average, turn-ons and turn-offs to, you know, get to know them better.
"Johnny, are you sure you don't want to join the marines? I mean, it's not like a guy like you, who flunked woodshop three times in a row and who has hotdude_styxfan94 for an email address, has a lot of options in life."
Privacy advocates are pissed because apparently the government can't do this legally, but the private firm can. Seriously, does anybody know what the government is allowed to do and not allowed to do to private citizens anymore? Is it like second base is okay, but third base is out of the question? Do I have to put out for the FBI if they bring dinner to my house?
My favorite line:
"Some information on high school students already is given to military recruiters in a separate program under provisions of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act."
Which, of course, gives a whole new meaning to "no child left behind".
Again with the flag burning! I love how Democrats are afraid of the Republicans, who are pandering, yet again. It's desperation people! Rats on a sinking ship! Of course, they're sinking to a new low and moving in for the winter. How's that war going?
Look, those of us who get off on free speech don't take vacations from that when someone does something as repulsive as burning a flag. If the flag stands for anything, it stands for the right to burn the flag. And yes, I find it disgusting. There's just such a braying stupidity and nihilism to the act of burning the flag. But, you know what? Still free speech. If the KKK has the right to march in their stupid Casper the Friendly Ghost gear, then the Chomsky left has the right to burn their flags. And I have the right to flip them both the bird. Free speech! Gotta love it!
Canadians are free to email this... um, fair and very nuanced writer who would like to compare Canadian health care to the gulags. Is this how you write editorials these days? Just fly completely off the handle and circle the planet stupid? "The President is like Emperor Palpatine!" "Oh, yeah, well Hollywood is like the Mongols!" "Well, Kerry looks French!"
Of course, Canadian health care has its problems. Claire will attest that I bitch quite a bit about her having to wait for things like an MRI. But, the gulags? Does this guy even worry at all about sounding stupid? Or, is he trying to capture that ever-growing stupid market?
Major league fuckup Donald "The Duck" Rumsfeld is facing "grilling" from House Democrats over his inability to, you know, not screw over the troops. But, given the Democrats, I'm guessing that this grilling will be as "intense" as when the Skipper would yell at Gilligan. Of course, in this case, the Democrats would be Gilligan.
We put in a bid on a house. This is very exciting to me. I love the place. The house is perfect. I would only repaint one room, which is nothing. We looked at places where we would have to completely rebuild entire rooms.
Then there was the house that was pretty much perfect in a perfect neighborhood at a very low price... except, the previous owner had been murdered in the house by her boyfriend. I tried not to be superstitious. When the real estate agent asked, "Okay, now I have to let you know that the previous owner was murdered in the house. Do you want to skip this house?" I said something like, "Well, only if she was killed by the neighbors." But, once we got in there, it was really weird because even if you tried to ignore that fact, all you could think about when you were in there was "Is this the room?" Also, the murder was apparently a real blow to the community, so forget about us ever selling the house back to anybody from Hamilton. I'm guessing the Ramsey house won't be a quick sale either.
Anyway, the house we're bidding on is, again, beautiful. The street is wide, which a lot of Hamilton streets aren't. The next-door neighbor seems nice. She's apparently a reporter for the local news, which hopefully won't lead to any awkward silences between us, as I pretty much only watch television once a week (Sunday Family Guy.) On the other side is an old upholstery factory that walls off two sides of the yard. That sounds strange, but it's quiet and the old brickwork is really quite nice.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Monday, June 20, 2005
Romans built the roads in 43 AD to conquer Celtic Britain. The highway was a military endeavour intended to connect all that the Roman army ruled. As dispirate regions came under the same network, their cultures blended into one another. They became standardized and homogenized. Everyone spoke Latin.
*The eye projected a straight line where none existed.
*The Highway was a military endeavour to bring dispirate areas under a central control.
*The areas became standardized and homogenized.
*Yet, they also freely traded goods, ideas, people and genetics.
*Travel displaced identity, broke the awareness of continuous time, unified space.
Which was replicated with the print medium. Language became standardized, identity was completely displaces, time became mediated and no longer immediate.
Which was replicated with the Internet. Language became standardized. Thought became fragmented, split into packets, unreflexive. Identity was displaced. What began as a military campaign became a tool for gnosticism, for escaping the boudaries of space, certainly, but also continuous time in the universal connectedness of rural life.
"These vagrants, these second-class citizens, find their way back to the nation thanks to their decisive, militant action. Unchanged in the eyes of colonial society or vis-a-vis the moral standards of the colonizer, they believe the power of the gun or the hand grenade is the only way to enter the cities. These jobless, these species of subhumans, redeem themselves in their own eyes and before history."
-Frantz Fanon, 1961
"The loss of individual and personal meaning via the electronic media ensures a corresponding and reciprocal violence from those so deprived of their identities; for violence, whether spiritual or physical, is a quest for identity and the meaningful. The less identity, the more violence."-Marshall McLuhan, 1976
"I kill, therefore I am."
Okay, so first off, we have to understand that the social structure hardly every changes. By this, I mean that there are always “elites” and “non-elites”, haves and have-nots, the rich and the wretched. From at least 5,000 BCE in the first cities of Mesopotamia we have seen the same pattern; division of labor, a professional priestly class, maintenance of public resources, and most importantly, a clear division between a working class, what could roughly be called a lumpenproletariat, who essentially handle all the manual labor, building walls, herding goats and so on, and a nobility, who are in charge of organizing labor, collecting taxes, and maintaining the religion. At the top of this was the King and, we can tell from texts like the Epic of Gilgamesh that his role was justified because he was understood to be a god. Of course, this idea may sound ridiculous to today’s reader, but hang on a bit. We have ridiculous ideas of our own.
Ultimately, most societies develop into this basic structure fairly quickly. The elites solidify their position and maintain it by keeping the wealth in their own family, and the poor can do little about the ossification of their own position. Let’s make no mistake however; the nobility or the bourgeoisie (ultimately the same animal) is noble because it has a monopoly of wealth. The peasantry is peasant because it has no money. This basic fact never changes, although it is considered boorish to acknowledge it.
While the basic social structure never changes, or never changes much, what does change is its justification. The nobility never really claims to be noble simply because they have a monopoly of wealth and resources. To do so would be crass and dangerous. But, they do not continue to call themselves gods either, thankfully. So, in the Roman and medieval context, the justification is no longer some secret connection to the gods, or God; it is valor. Because the nobility are willing to strap on armor and duke it out every few years, they justify their position through their supposed martial qualities. What is called a “nobility of the sword” develops; and understandably “valor” becomes the most important value in this society. The nobles have valor and the peasants are cowards, and the twain seldom get together for drinks.
Of course, the shift from a nobility of the supernatural to a nobility of the sword is relatively meaningless. Fairly wealthy families will be considered supernatural in one context and valorous in the other. Again, the justification changes, but the basic social structure does not. And, in a society based around martial values, the poor will not be able to take up arms themselves. In fact, the “fact” of their cowardice must be maintained to such an extent that they will be arrested or killed at any time that they attempt to prove themselves valorous.
Of course, the martial values permeated the lower classes in the form of bear baiting, brawls and so forth. These Medieval societies were rough places to live, peasants often beat each other up, nobility lopped each others’ heads off on the battlefield and, for fun, the nobles would ride around on their trusty steeds bashing the peasant’s heads in with croquet mallets. It was a time only a knight could love.
Not surprisingly, the nobility eventually got sick of battling one another and seem to have realized that they could more easily pay someone else to do the fighting. Finally, peasants got their chance to lop each others’ heads off, all anyone ever wants really. One might suspect that, at this point, the peasants would become noble and the nobility decline, but it was not so. What developed instead were other justifications for nobility. Lawrence Stone has detailed how the English aristocracy became obsessed with family trees and shields. Descent became the justification for nobility. Similarly, in France, there was the traditional nobility that justified itself by its supposed descent from the Gauls, and a nobility that entered the legal profession. However, the nobility of the sword, who still called themselves the nobility of the sword even though most of their swords were hanging above their fireplaces, was rather hostile towards the nobility of the robe, who they considered to be illegitimate, in an example of the pot informing the kettle of its color.
Another point that the historian demands be made here is that the rise of absolutism severely crippled the sword nobility for the simple reason that kings were no longer happy having a nobility that controlled private armies running around, possibly threatening them, and in France and England, legislated against such armies. Perhaps many of these nobles would have liked to keep warring with each other, but the growth of the central government required that they lose their primary justification, martial valor, for being nobility.
However, the nobility of the sword attempted to preserve their status in the society. As I have stated above, status never really changes in a society. The rich have status by virtue of the fact that they were smart or valorous enough to be born into a rich family and the poor have no status because they were not. Status is generally tied to whatever idea the nobility is using to justify its existence this month, and its values inevitably form the core values of the society.
This really is not a particularly radical interpretation of society; simply level-headed. I would imagine that the most right-wing conservative would be willing to admit that the rich stay rich, and the poor stay poor, for the most part. Quite boring really.
At any rate, this emphasis on descent and bloodlines eventually forms into basic racism. One bloodline is destined to rule and the other is destined to serve and never the twain shall have drinks together. Of course, these races are virtually indistinguishable, but it’s worth noting that race is the justification, flimsy though it might be, and not the first principle.
All of these debates were taking place in Europe between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, and so it is not surprising that “blood” becomes the justification for colonial expansion. One race is destined to rule and the other to serve. There is no better example of how nobility works than the American plantation economy. We have a planter class who is dominant for simple economic reasons and a slave class that is enslaved for even simpler economic reasons and the justification for this, racism, forms one of the core values of the society for the simple reason that everyone wants to become the master and nobody aspires to be the slave.
So, the general pattern seems to be that the economy shapes how the nobility becomes noble or stays noble. Their justifications change for various reasons, but often it seems to be in relation to very real economic shifts. Perhaps the American planters would have justified their existence based on valor if their economy was still growing via plunder. However, its economic existence relied on slavery, and so the justification was essentially racist.
Naturally, the situation also changes in the nineteenth century with the rise of a capitalist economy. Whereas previous generations had considered trade to be dishonorable, now there was a merchant class whose wealth was rivaling that of the nobility and who desperately wanted the status of the nobility. After the European revolutions ended the idea of hereditary nobility, these capitalists enshrined themselves as a sort of industrial nobility. The values of the capitalist countries reveal this; hard work and sacrifice and the entrepreneurial spirit become the paramount values and the belief in a “meritocracy” becomes central to social life. We see this in the Netherlands, Great Britain, and finally the United States of the twentieth century; the man in the gray flannel suit reigns supreme.
The idea of a meritocracy is strange because it asserts that everyone is born poor, and that the rich are rich because of their intrinsic abilities. This is perhaps why noblesse oblige is relatively unheard of in the United States. However, it seems ridiculous to expect the elites to not pass on their wealth and status to their children, and perhaps inhumane. In fact, the family is the core unit of unequal social structures, which is probably why the Khmer Rouge spent so much time trying to deprogram the Cambodian people’s belief in Confucian ideals of filial piety. So, we should understand that, were we to wipe out social inequality, we would have to wipe out the family; a move that I personally do not feel is worthwhile.
And so, most meritocracies have nepotism. Paris Hilton, for example, would likely be a crack whore if she had been born into a different family. Luckily for her, her great-grandfather was an entrepreneurial genius. She would be the third generation to be born lucky. And so, the social structure is basically the same as it was during the Middle Ages; a small wealthy elite that is relatively closed off to outsiders and a large peasantry that is largely inescapable. A recent article in The Economist even argued that there is less social mobility in America today than there has been at any other time since the Gilded Age.
However, we can’t forget that other economic system of the twentieth century, Communism. In Communist countries, in fact, we see the same basic social structure repeating itself; a tiny elite which we can call the apparatchik nobility and a large underclass, which we can call the proletariat, or if we want to be snotty, the gulag class. At any rate, the justification for this social inequality is that old French Revolution gag, “the people”. The elite claim to be working for the people and the masses to be suffering for the people. Ultimately, the society decides that “the people” can be best served by arresting great numbers of the people and keeping them in gulags. And so, ironically, it is much easier for the average person to live their lives in a nation that values a belief in “every man for himself” than it is to live in a nation that claims to fight for social equality. Foucault once said that there was no real difference between Truman’s America and Stalinist Russia, but I think that this statement says more about Foucault than it does about historical fact. Personally, I would much rather suffer the indignity of being looked down upon by the man in the gray flannel suit than die in the killing fields. But, that’s just me.
So far, of course, much of this sounds like watered-down Marxism. The major differences are that I do not see any of these things as being inevitable, I do not have faith in historical stages, and I do not particularly see any way that high societies could be organized otherwise. Certainly, I know that tribal economies tend to be “gift based”. However, I can’t imagine that we could return to a gift economy without destroying much of our own society in the process. I would argue however that file-sharing, bootlegging, and other increasingly common hobbies constitute a return to gift economics. But, notice that the Department of Homeland Security now considers bootleggers to constitute a terrorist threat, and with good reason- the current society in which we live cannot survive the existence of a gift economy. If we want a gift economy, which many of us do, we have to consider a return to tribes, tribal warfare, and all else that goes along with the economy and stop pretending that we could have a highly developed prosperous tribal economy.
At any rate, things have changed since the Cold War in two ways that have been little analyzed.
The first change has been Hegelian. Actually, it has been analyzed, first by Francis Fukuyama in 1989. Fukuyama wrote an article, and then a book, entitled The End of History, in which he argued that, with the end of the Cold War, history, in the Hegelian dialectical sense had come to an end. Naturally, he was ridiculed. Leftists refused to take him seriously, probably because he is a conservative. Many people, including many of us in the historical profession, sneered, “But that’s ridiculous! History hasn’t come to an end! Why we just elected a new President!” This was all quite embarrassing for the simple fact that, if anybody, historians should know that the Hegelian dialectic has little to do with actual events and so, if we have reached the end of history, it would not presuppose the end of events. Anyway, Fukuyama addressed this in his essay, writing:
This is not to say that there will no longer be events to fill the pages of Foreign Affairs's yearly summaries of international relations, for the victory of liberalism has occurred primarily in the realm of ideas or consciousness and is as yet incomplete in the real or material world. But there are powerful reasons for believing that it is the ideal that will govern the material world in the long run.
What he was suggesting was quite simple really. Namely that Communism is no longer a viable alternative to capitalism and so there is no dialectical other to capitalism at all. Hakim Bey phrased it perhaps more crudely as “Communism has shot its load”, and suggested that anarchism could be a second way to capitalism. But, anarchism has a long way to go to constitute a way of thinking that can dialectically oppose capitalism. As it is now, there is not the same theoretical core to anarchism that there was to communism, which is part of the charm of anarchism, but also why it cannot really oppose capitalism.
In fact, there really is little that does oppose capitalism now. The right seems to believe in a sort of unfettered, laissez-faire, fuck ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out turbo-capitalism. The left now believes in a moderated capitalism. Sure, it will rely on sweatshops, but ones that have reasonable hours, and no exploited under the age of 13. Also, maybe a dental plan. However, the left does not oppose capitalism and, in fact, shares the values of capitalism, which are now the mainstream. Note how the boycott has become the prime tool of the left- the boycott never boycotts capitalism, in fact, it is a vote for the capitalist economy.
All this is not to judge, but it is to suggest that we have reached a point in which it is largely impossible to think outside of capitalism. The nihilistic death-instinct of Al Quaida is no alternative to the pleasure instinct of capitalism, and thank god for that.
However, there has been a second change in the last few decades that has also been little analyzed; namely, the rise of the “creative class”, or what I will call “the nobility of the image”. As the industrialized nations have shifted to an “information economy”, there has been a significant increase in elites whose role seems to be simply to create information, to create “content”. Today, the yuppies work at magazines, or design clothing lines, or WebPages.
I first noticed this in Toronto, when I found that every professional that I met at a party handed me a business card with a title like “Creative Solutions” on it. They were invariably “consultants” or “web designers” or “advertising executives”. I never ran into any rich person who said “Oh, I own a factory”. The factories have moved to Mexico, and therefore, the wealthy have had to find new ways to keep their children in money.
So, what you see in Toronto is dozens of young rich kids whose parents are funding their “creative” business ventures. Walk down Queen Street and you’ll find top dollar prime real estate storefronts manned by 23 year old hipsters selling the tee-shirts that they printed in their apartment. Or fully furnished stores that sell nothing but obscure “tribal trance” records, and in most cases, don’t sell them. Ultimately, this economy is the same as the old economy- the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor. But, it justifies itself by arguing that “Well, we’re rich because we’re well-educated and creative!” And you’re not.
And so, the Nobility of the Image has enshrined its core value “hipness” as the prime value for living. Get a group of young people together and ask them how to improve the urban environment. What about a free clinic? What about youth centers? How about fixing some of the abandoned buildings and returning them to the community? Hell, what about a soup kitchen? Nope. Likely they'll suggest an ad campaign to spur tourism.
Of course, hipness is really not far removed from the Ancien Regime ideas of style, or class, or wit. Ultimately, it is a superficial way of distinguishing the haves from the have-nots. Yet, the core of the class structure is still economic. Who can afford to have their parents fund a tee-shirt shop? Who can afford to found a record label in their basement? Who can afford to attend the Ivy League schools that are so central to the image of an “educated elite”? People who are already elite, of course. Is it any wonder that Paris Hilton is now branching out into “creating music and perfume”?
What this means is that the Nobility of the Image is simply the traditional nobility with a different justification. However, it also means that the values of this decadent class are transmitted to the peasantry. For perhaps the first time in history the contempt that the nobility has always felt for the peasantry is actually sold to the peasantry. Mass media is created, in the United States, exclusively in Los Angeles and New York. These cities disagree on much, but they generally agree that something called “Middle America” exists and that it consists of idiots, bigots and fanatics.
Of course, this is how the nobility has always seen the lower classes. Just read Voltaire. However, they have seldom been as upfront about it. Working class Americans from Middle America are never seen in 90% of the mass media. In the other 10%, they are shown as imbeciles. Try if you will to find a character in a major American film who has a southern accent and who is not; A) A bigot, B) A kindhearted moron such as Forest Gump, or C) An incestuous monster.
And so, the resentment that many Americans feel for “Hollywood” or “the media” is much less strange than it might seem. It is basically class resentment. Working class Americans realize that the Nobility of the Image hates their way of life, their existence, and the core values that they shape their life around. In fact, they get to see what the Nobility of the Image thinks of them in the “small-town hick” characters that seem to have stepped out of Breughel and into mainstream films, television shows, and books. There is a way of communicating that seems prevalent in most media today; it is sarcastic, sneering, ironic and shallow. Comedy consists of the social outcast being unaware that his clothes are outdated; a sort of mean-spirited ridicule exemplified by Napoleon Dynamite passes for wit. Vain materialism and profligate sexuality is passed off as “sophistication” and elite narcissism as “self-esteem”. Of course, little thought is given to the fact that 51% of the country makes less than $18,000 a year and so cannot afford “sophistication” or “self-esteem”. Again, the values of the elite are the values of the society.
And so, I think that working class hatred for hipsters is quite justified. Imagine that you work sixty hours a week to barely scrape by and support your family. You have no hopes of becoming rich, but you have the things that you invest value in, such as religion and tradition, that buoy you in times of hardship. Because your life does not revolve around money (you’re well aware that that game is fixed) it revolves instead around a deeper understanding of the world. And so, when your child becomes convinced that you’re a bigot because you’re religious, a moron because you work for a living and come from the South, and terribly unsophisticated because you don’t encourage them to develop a loose sexuality, of course you resent the Nobility of the Image. Why wouldn’t you?
Thomas Frank recently wrote a book entitled “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” His point was that Kansas has been economically devastated by the policies of twenty years of Republican politicians, yet still votes Republican. He could not figure this out and so he finally came to the conclusion that Kansas residents have been hoodwinked. Of course, this was a satisfying conclusion for the urban elites who bought the book; they always suspected that people in the Midwest are morons.
The problem is that Frank doesn’t realize a very simple fact- Republican and Democrat do not mean anything anymore. There is just a top and a bottom now, and never the twain shall get together for lunch. Of course, people in Kansas hate the media- have you ever seen what the media thinks of people from Kansas?
So, the media is “liberal”. Who cares? They’re also the entrenched elite that liberals claim to oppose. The perfect example of this is Michael Moore. Liberals love Michael Moore’s films and cannot seem to understand why working class people don’t love them. After all, Michael Moore speaks in a dumbed-down way and he is fat- shouldn’t those stupid, fat Middle Americans love him as one of their own? Almost no liberals ever pick up on the fact that Michael Moore’s films invariably ridicule the working class people he claims to triumph. Every single film contains a core in which the “hicks” get theirs. Sure, it may be unfair to ambush some $7.00/hour secretary at work and make her look stupid in a major motion picture, but gosh, that’s insightful social satire for you!
The worst example of this was the morally reprehensible film Bowling for Columbine. I remember when the Columbine massacres happened watching a television preacher admonishing his audience. “This happened because society has strayed from God! This happened because we do not pray enough!” What gall the man had! What sort of Pharisee exploits the suffering of others to push their own agenda? How dare he tell people whose children were murdered that they got what they had coming to them?! What a monster!
Yet, this was the same reason that Michael Moore made Bowling for Columbine- to let these people whose children were murdered know that they got what they had coming because they don’t agree with him about the arms industry. And this shows how deeply the Nobility of the Image resents these people. They literally expect them to “learn a thing or two” from this sort of paternalistic hate-speech directed against them.
And this is “leftist activism”! What about a film like “Super-size Me” which sneers at McDonald’s explicitly, and the working class people who eat at McDonald’s implicitly? And yet, what do we expect in a society that cannot see outside of capitalism? Of course class-based snobbishness would be held up as “leftist”. Of course, the left would turn its guns on Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and the like. Don’t get me wrong- these are exploitive companies. But, is there any doubt that the left’s “activism” is little more than sneering class-based superiority?
Or what about a feminist establishment that expects working class women to worry not about the fact that the factory owner won’t let them take bathroom breaks, but about the fact that Sharon Stone and female executives don’t make as much money as rich males, or that rich white women still find it hard to say “pussy” in mixed company?
So, of course working people hate celebrities. Celebrities hate them!
Which brings us to Bosh. Liberals simply cannot understand why Middle Americans would vote for someone who sends them to war, poisons their environment, and allows their jobs to be sent to Mexico. Of course, liberals forget that Bill Clinton did all of the same things! Again, it is just the top and the bottom now; same as it ever was.
What Bish does is to respect these people. He respects their lives, and their values, and their existence. And he doesn’t suck up to celebrities like Mr. Bill did. Of course, he is full of shit. But, after a steady diet of contempt from the Nobility of the Image, why wouldn’t these people side with someone who stands up for them?
Finally, of course many “working class values” are worth questioning. But, the left’s inability to understand that people may be Christian because they love Christ, and not simply because they hate gays, or that they might vote for Bush because he speaks their language, and not because they are stupid, is arrogant. Also, the left has to wake up to the fact that there is no tangible benefit for these people in voting Democrat. They are going to be fucked either way; why not be fucked by someone who calls you “sweetheart” instead of someone who calls you “bitch”? For most people, the difference between the left and the right is as significant as wallpaper in a prison.
Moreover, the Nobility of the Image needs to realize that it exists because of an unequal class structure, and so can never call itself radical. The same goes for the Universities. We exist because the rich want to ensure that their children, and not the children of the working class, will become rich. We critique the unequal society that we are the lynchpin of.
Lastly, it is high time that we realize that contempt for the mainstream media is class contempt and, for many, is more valid than contempt for the government. The figure in the deodorant ads has a more tangible effect on people’s lives than the figure in the White House. Wars in the future will be fought over images, or over adjectives. Those who consider themselves to be oppressed will have to gain control over the production of images, and reclaim mental space through violence. Expect the random and senseless act of cruelty to punctuate the boredom of meaninglessness. Forever.
Apparently, Hollywood is having its worst summer in decades. People don't want to go to the movies. But, didn't I say that they need to stop making movies solely for 14 year olds?
Also, sadly, I said that the house is becoming the technology by which people experience the world. Both points are applicable apparently.
Sunday, June 19, 2005
I missed Juneteenth too, but there are some great pictures up at Buffalo Rising. For the uninitiated, Juneteenth was the first celebration of the end of slavery in the US. It's over 100 years old, and still celebrated in many cities. Including Buffalo.
Saturday, June 18, 2005
Imagine that you looked in the window of your neighbor's house and saw that he was keeping members of his family tied to chairs in the living room. What would be your moral obligation in this situation? Would you have any responsibility at all?
The thing is, I still feel that the world has an obligation to help overthrow tyrants. But, look at how it's been done! Over 20,000 civilians killed?! Was this worth it? Saddam was nuts and the sanctions were probably worse than the war. But, isn't the situation now as bad as it was under Saddam? Or worse.
Imagine that one of the neighbors decided not to wait for the police, or to apply pressure on the man to let his family go, or even to form a committee to negotiate. Imagine instead that he ran into the neighbor's house firing a machine-gun wildly. What is the possible moral value of such an action?
The Conservative Weekly Human Events has asked a group of scholars to rank the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th centuries. It's noteworthy that these professors have nothing better to do than make up a list of books to avoid. It's as if liberals are opposed to conservatives and conservatives are opposed to everyone. Andrew Sullivan correctly called these sort of lists "morbid". I might also add that there's something profoundly nihilistic and even Stalinist about listing off books that are innately "harmful".
So, here's the list, for the curious.
1) The Communist Manifesto (No surprise there really)
2) Mein Kampf (Because it's impossible to read without inevitably forming a 1,000 year reich)
3) Quotations of Chairman Mao (Very harmful towards insomnia)
4) The Kinsey Report ("The reports were designed to give a scientific gloss to the normalization of promiscuity and deviancy." Yes. Or this list is designed to give a "deviant" gloss to science)
5) Democracy and Education (By John Dewey. For being humanist and secular. Also advocating "skills" education. Apparently, skills are deviant as well.)
6) Das Kapital (Of course, if you can make it through 3 volumnes of Marx's turgid prose, you're probably already a bit unhinged.)
7) The Feminine Mystique (What "problem"? There is no "problem"!)
8) The Course of Positive Philosophy (Yep, Comte was very dangerous. As was "positivism", and actually all optimism.)
9) Beyond Good and Evil ("What?! There is nothing beyond good and evil! Ignore the man behind the curtain! I am the great and powerful Oz!" As if Dick Cheney hasn't boned up on the will to power.)
10) General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (Keynes is "harmful" because : "When the business cycle threatens a contraction of industry, and thus of jobs, he argued, the government should run up deficits, borrowing and spending money to spur economic activity." Uh... yeah. No, uh, Conservative government would ever do that...)
The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich (As if overpopulation is a bad thing!)
What Is To Be Done? by V.I. Lenin (Well, not reading! That's for sure!)
Authoritarian Personality by Theodor Adorno (Probably hit a little close to home)
On Liberty by John Stuart Mill (Free will? What kind of Communist shit is that?!)
Beyond Freedom and Dignity by B.F. Skinner (For spawning all those 'behaviorist' dictatorships)
Reflections on Violence by Georges Sorel
The Promise of American Life by Herbert Croly
The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (Holy fucking shit indeed! Why is it that the biggest opponents of evolution are those people who you look at and start to wonder if the laws of evolution shouldn't be a bit more strongly enforced.)
Madness and Civilization by Michel Foucault (Well, harmful to grad students mostly)
Soviet Communism: A New Civilization by Sidney and Beatrice Webb (Yeah, there never would have been a USSR without this book. No, seriously. Really.)
Coming of Age in Samoa by Margaret Mead (Because if kids read this book, they're quite likely to return to a tribal gift economy and stop wearing pants.)
Unsafe at Any Speed by Ralph Nader (Yep, they really do think that seatbelts are harmful.)
Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir (For arguing that there are two sexes instead of the Ralph Reed approved: "Men and sub-men".)
Prison Notebooks by Antonio Gramsci (For suggesting that hegemony might have a downside)
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (Yes. They also really do feel that getting pesticides removed from sources of drinking water was a "harmful" thing to do as well. I'm guessing that they're also against "Mr. Yuck" stickers because they discriminate against poison.)
Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon (Lord knows everybody was a lot happier with colonialism and slavery before this book)
Introduction to Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud (For suggesting that what's bugging these professors is not really gamma rays that are projected into their skull by left-wing Martians.)
The Greening of America by Charles Reich (Actually, just anything with the word "green" in it)
The Limits to Growth by Club of Rome (There are limits to growth!? I say Good day Sir!)
Descent of Man by Charles Darwin (Why is it that the biggest opponents of... oh, wait.)