Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Two types

A woman at the bar said to me last night: "There are two kinds of people in this town: the ones who will talk about you and the ones who will talk to you." It's a perfect description of the small town where we live. Also, it's a pretty good description of most places.


Tuesday, December 06, 2011

How would you historicize sexual repression?

This question came to mind recently when discussing the subject with a friend who is trying to reduce her feelings of shame around sex and sexuality. I’d discussed similar topics with other friends recently; it probably says something that they were all females; and I’ve gotten the feeling that it’s not at all abnormal. In fact, there seems to be a consistent discourse of sexual repression running as a thread throughout history. The common theme seems to be that sex is healthy, even good, but only in small doses. A high sex drive is associated with some sort of intemperance or selfishness. There is something offensive or repulsive about a female voluptuary. The problem is that “too much” lust is roughly the normal level for human beings.

As a history geek, I wonder how you would historicize what likely amounts to an oral discourse. There are manuals on sex from the Renaissance that warn about overindulging. Rudolph M. Bell wrote a delightful study of these manuals, where we learn that sexual “overindulgence” can lead to: “headaches, nervousness, chest pains, kidney problems, backaches and sore legs; facial paleness ensues, along with rapid aging and even death”. If that wasn’t bad enough, it “damages the eyes and all of the five senses” and causes, “loss of memory, tremors, aches in the extremities, especially the legs, along with kidney and bladder problems,” “causes loss of appetite, shortens life span, destroys natural virtue, makes bones brittle, and brings on senility”. Unfortunately, the manuals agreed that married people should be having sex regularly and did not actually specify how much was too much. Apparently, you’d know by the facial paleness.

I’ve never met anyone who worried about an early death, but the fear of sexual overindulgence still seems to be common. There’s something irresponsible and self-indulgent about non-procreative sex that rubs against our need to be “productive” at all times. I’ve had female partners ask me if I thought they were “abnormal” in their sexual desires. The answer was always no.

But the official story, if you were to judge by our books, movies, and marriage manuals, is that we’re none of us sexually timid. This is one area in which I agree with the college chastity movement: the mass media gives the impression that every young person is indulging in largely meaningless sexual experiences with whoever comes along (not to say that meaningless sex isn’t its own form of repression). You watch these programs especially and nobody ever seems to suffer from sexual hang-ups or insecurities and you would have the impression that ours is an age of Sex and the City style freedom, as opposed to one of the most fearful, conservative, and repressed cultural eras since the 1950s.

People talk about the “pornification” of society with widespread access to hardcore pornography on computers. And yet, this is not sexual behaviour, which requires the interaction of two people. Logging on and jacking off is a salve for sexual repression that makes it easier to endure. It’s not an indication of sexual freedom; much the opposite. What seems to have happened is that sexual behaviour was once private and scorned in public, leaving a nice, neat historical record behind; now, it’s much the opposite: sexual behaviour of all sorts is publically celebrated and repression is something shameful and private. In other words, the “historical record” should be expected to lie.


I'm back

In the sense of living with my wife since the late summer and doing well at that. Probably going to post here a bit more frequently than every half-year too. Maybe back to normal, whatever that might mean.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Record Store Day

As someone who spends, and has always spent, a great deal of time in record stores, I have not been able to avoid hearing about the fast approaching “death of the record store” after a long and heroic battle with the Internet. There are now documentaries on the subject and an international Record Store Day to which several musicians and record labels lent their support. Nevertheless, in much of what is said or written on the subject, it is taken as sadly apparent that these shops are doomed if we just take current consumption patterns and project them into the future. Young people can buy music online, and that’s where they live now, so they will keep doing so into the future, which by the way will be exactly like today, only more so.

This argument becomes somewhat contradictory when it comes packaged in laments about the vanishing record store: to wit, record stores are doomed because music can be purchased easily elsewhere; but record stores, it is argued, offer consumers many benefits and meet many needs aside from mere music distribution. So, either future generations will lack those needs for no clear reason, or simply not recognize an obvious resource for meeting them. This shift in consciousness will either be universal or so widespread as to make the stores untenable and quixotic. It’s worth looking at the needs that record stores are supposed to meet.

The first such need is social: record store devotees describe the convivial pleasures of hanging out in record shops talking about music. Here we should note they’re clearly talking about independent record stores since the mall chain stores tend to actively discourage consumers from hanging out. They’re also oddly overlooking music related message boards where people can discuss music for hours. Perhaps though they are touching on the very different nature of face-to-face socializing from what we do here online- its off the cuff spontaneity, awkward pauses, body language, moments of boredom, funny off-hand comments, flirtations, and natural brainstorms. Possibly, the underlying fear is that socializing itself will die out. However, it seems highly unlikely that man will cease to be the social animal in the future; and certainly young people seem not to have lost any taste for hanging out together.

A secondary concern is that there is some sort of decline in music fandom going on. Record stores serve as a meeting place for the sorts of music fans that obsess over their favorite bands with a devotion bordering on cultishness. The era of groupies, magazines like Rock Scene, Deadheads and the like, and music appreciation as a lifestyle might be ending. And maybe the music just doesn’t demand that sort of devotion now. For all of the industry hype about artists like Lady Gaga and Kanye West as pivotal and their albums as epochal, it’s hard to imagine any of those albums as really being the Metaphysical Graffiti, Sgt Pepper’s, Exile on Main Street, Pet Sounds, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, or, hell, even the Rocket to Russia or Appetite for Destruction of 2011. Bands and labels now think primarily in terms of singles instead of albums, a trend reflecting how music is bought online, but strangely bringing us back to a 1950s style of marketing music. What this means is that many, if not most music fans are content to pick out those great songs if the band is not concerned with making a great album. Bands like the White Stripes recorded some excellent songs, but never really made a great album without filler. The people who bought only those songs were probably right.

In fact, it’s become a bit of a lame game among music snobs to ask what was the last great album. Nevermind? OK Computer? Back to Black? It’s a bit of a meaningless exercise, especially since we could probably think of a great album from the last few years; but certainly the old process of recording that reached its nadir in the 14 years and over $13 million to finish Chinese Democracy will most likely never be repeated. A scenario like Brian Wilson going mad trying to perfect Smile is one it’s hard to imagine anyone actually wanting to repeat, but the desire to create a monumental and lasting work of art in a recording studio is one that nobody has the time or money to peruse anymore. It is worth asking if the quality of pop music hasn’t declined in general and whether musicianship hasn’t been replaced in many cases with slick overproduction. But, contrary to the assumption, there still are plenty of music fanatics left and they would likely disagree with the question.

Finally, it’s often suggested that record stores offer the benefit of expertise, which might be devalued in the age of Wikipedia. A good record store clerk can point you in the direction of great music you’ve never heard of and away from junk. Expertise is increasingly taken as “elitist” (along with many other things that threaten an individual’s inflated sense of self-importance). “Why should anyone tell me what to like?” Regardless, wide, repeated, thoughtful, and extensive exposure to any art form will cultivate expertise over time. A music fan of thirty years will have better informed tastes than a newcomer, even if their tastes might lack the freshness of the newcomer. What is elitist is instead how they express those tastes. While the “stuck up record clerk” is nowhere near as widespread as rumored, I’ve certainly met some music fans who dismissed me as a “poseur” for expressing enthusiasm about the same music I’ve been listening to enthusiastically for the last twenty-two years. With so many independent record stores closing though one would imagine that store owners would discourage such behavior. (Also, I’ve yet to meet an aloof record clerk who didn’t brighten when I either expressed enthusiasm about the music they were playing or just asked if they had anything by the Pretty Things.) Besides, the flip side of the surly record store snob is the cute store clerk who gushes about the record you’re thinking of picking up that she just loves. Little can top that.

What seems more likely to happen than a total extinction of record stores is an end to the widespread local stores but plenty of stores surviving in more dispersed locations as specialty shops; more a winnowing down than the shopocalypse. I’m also curious to see if independent shops will start selling books, music, magazines, and DVD rentals in the same location. A friend’s weird little DVD rental place has actually morphed into a movie rental/antiques/records/books/fine hats store! Buying music online is certainly convenient and many of the benefits of hanging out in a record store can be obtained elsewhere. But a point I’ve not heard made yet is that a world in which music (not to mention movies and books) could only be purchased online would be briefly novel and eventually very boring. It’s not that a good number of half-assed local record shops won’t close, but the shopocalypse argument rests heavily on the idea that whatever a lot of people are doing right now is what they’ll all be doing in the future and nothing else. Record stores will thus go the way of burlesque dancing, roller derby, and records themselves, all of which vanished as expected and no longer exist. As someone who has been buying vinyl records for about twenty-six years, and had people much hipper than me tell me for twenty-six years that nobody would be manufacturing records by the following year, I’m skeptical.

Or, perhaps, human beings, particularly the young ones, will continue to seek out novelty, variety, new experiences, and kicks- what leads young people to music in the first place. You never can predict what teenagers and music fans will do next year- Rolling Stone has consistently embarrassed itself by trying to make such predictions. For all we know the next generation might even go so far as to “tune out” from the internet- just to piss off their parents!


Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Nunsploitation is a genre unto itself. I remember once entering the abandoned home of a hoarder who had passed away and her family didn't want her stuff. Every single room of the house required you to walk hunched over because the "floors" were about four feet of stuff above the actual floor. Anyway, she had bags of nurse romance novels in there. There were more pulp fiction versions of the genre however, such as this one.


Monday, February 07, 2011

Going "home"

Done with an exhausting, but rewarding, day of instruction. Now, I'm going to sleep in my new place. Le sigh. I went with the house full of dudes renting a small, cheap room. Was going with a place that is a bit thrash really a good idea? No idea. I'm still trying to figure out if getting my own place was a good idea.


Sunday, February 06, 2011

Oh, how I wish I could join...

No offense to the "Greater Toronto Area" or upstate New York, but they're not exactly hotbeds of unusual people. Sure, Toronto is a creative mecca in Canada, but let's be honest, Canadians are sort of beige people anyway. You know what I mean? Quiet, polite, and conventional.

So where do you go to find abnormals? And don't say the Internet! Talking shop with a weirdo in Desmoines, Iowa is not the same as, well, hanging out in a living room, knitting and smoking cigars with other abnormals. If you're strange, do you eventually have to move to San Francisco?


Friday, February 04, 2011

I guess this is the best pulp novel cover I've found.


Rate this

Wow, teaching is hard. This is my first time teaching my own course and it's a bit like watching your kid play little league baseball- thrilling, nerve-wracking, very rewarding, but you could also rip the lungs out of the naysayers. Of course, here, I feel a bit guilty because the naysayers are the one or two 'difficult' students in the class, and I was once a difficult student myself. Well, in high school anyway.

This reminds me that the website "Rate Your Students" just shut down. I didn't much like it. The idea was to respond to sites like "Rate Your Professor" in which students bitch about their profs. Here, instructors, adjuncts and profs would anonymously post stories about terrible students in order to blow off steam. I guess they ran out of that steam eventually.

The problem I had with the site was the weird power imbalance- students are already being 'rated' by their instructors, so why rate them again? Part of why students can be so insufferable is that they're stressed out, frustrated, worried, and not really enjoying college in the first place. They all seem to want to be in grad school, which is probably a mistake. So, they bitch and complain. And some of them behave insufferably in class. The answer is not to behave as childishly online.

Of course, with universities phasing out tenure and replacing profs with temp workers, being liked by the students is more important for people's continued employment, so the stress goes both ways. To be honest, what would be best overall would be to do away with grading and rating for everyone and just have salons and discussion groups and learn together. But that wouldn't prepare the students to face the same stupid shit in the working world that they now face in college.


Lots of Questions, Not A Lot of Answers

I came across this article about the effects of porn consumption on relationships, and I found it interesting. It's incomplete, and very biased, and not at all scientific. But it articulates, from the male point of view, something I have observed myself. Namely, the bond between a man and his porn can damage the bond between a man and his woman.

Also... the pictures cracked me up.


Thursday, February 03, 2011


Depression humor

Been feeling down, so I called the suicide prevention hotline. Apparently they're outsourcing now. I got a guy in Mumbai who told me if I killed myself, I'll be reincarnated into a lower caste.

I went and told the priest I was depressed. He reminded me that, if a man commits suicide, God does not allow him into the kingdom of heaven. He then suggested some ways I could make it look like an accident.


Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Invention of Dating

So my friend broke up with his girlfriend recently when he found out she was cheating on him. And I felt bad for him, but still, you have to admit that we men got away with murder on his whole monogamy concept. How did we ever convince women to go along with that?

Imagine the first man that ever proposed this idea.

Some caveman talking to a cavewoman...

"Okay, so here's the thing. As a woman, you're going to be strikingly atttractive to every single man you meet. Pretty much every one of them is going to turn into a Tex Avery cartoon wolf if you wear anything slightly form-fitting. Every one of them would crawl across broken glass for the chance to have sex with you. A surprising number of girls would too. And you know, eventually we'll create magazines and movies to try to convince you that it's only like that for the really hot women- but, the truth is, all of you women are beautiful and could have sex with about 60% of the other human beings you encounter. Sound good?

"Okay, now here's the next thing- you can have multiple orgasms- you can come like 12, 15 times in an hour and be fine. Meanwhile, men have to take a nap after jerking off. And, unlike men, you'll reach your sexual peak as you get older. So, you're sexually superior and attractive to about half the population. Hypothetically, you could spend all day having all sorts of sex with all sorts of interesting individuals or groups of individuals."

"Okay, now don't get so excited! Here's what we were thinking: instead of having all sorts of incredible sex with lots of different people, how about you commit yourself to one man for life and he'll just get older and fatter and balder as the years go by and eventually want to pop off on you about once a week. All this could be yours! What do you say? I'll get my secretary to get the paperwork together.

"You don't want this? Oh, boy. Let's go to Plan B. If you do anything else, we'll call you a 'slut'. Slut? It's a word we just made up for a woman who does what any man would do if he had breasts and a vagina. It's terrible. You don't want to be called that.

"Oh... you're not worried about being called a slut? Oh, boy...

"Hey, Larry! It's not working! Why don't you start writing that Bible we were talking about!"


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Seriously, I think this is the shit that's keeping me going right now.


Today in Pulp Novel Cover Art


Beautiful women

And here's the thing about beautiful women: they're all beautiful. Every last one of them is strikingly, ridiculously gorgeous. If you took 1,000 women in our society and put them all together in a big room, you'd be hard-pressed to find one who isn't gorgeous. But, the majority of them will believe that they're not- that they would be beautiful if only they spent more time at the gym, or ate better, or had better skin.

We were at a party the other night and I made a comment to my wife and friends that a girl there was really sexually attractive. And this was an objective fact I was stating, as controversial as saying, "Man, the sky is big" or "this milk tastes really milky". But our friend says, "You guys should tell her that she's attractive because she thinks she isn't and she's trying to lose 40 more pounds so she'll be attractive."

And, you know, I realize that, on the scale of terribleness, a majority of women not knowing how attractive they are is maybe not as important as a majority not knowing how smart they are- although plenty of them don't know that either, it's just our society doesn't value intelligence.

But, how do people live in a society like this without losing their shit about it.


Status Update

Okay, so, here's the thing about being married: we're not good at it. At least, not like you're supposed to be. Oh, we love each other passionately and we don't fight or bicker. We're not bad at it that way. We're best friends. Yep.

But, when you're married, you're part of an enterprise- Married Couple, Inc. So, you have to work on that full time. And, if you want to work on your shit, it's not so easy to do that without rocking the boat. I think that's the issue with us. My wife wants to work on her shit, figure out who she is, and get her life together. Which she probably can't do with me. So, we're splitting up. Probably. The thought is painful for us, and the reality probably will be too. But this isn't working anymore.

And what if she does get it together? I don't know. She has no idea if she will, and I just can't see waiting around for her, frankly. So, I have to start over my life again, which isn't what I feel like doing at 36. This doesn't feel good. But, what can ya' do?


Thursday, January 27, 2011


Is this thing still on? I might start posting here again. My life is in a state of turmoil- teaching my own course for the first time, clumsily; trying to shape my dissertation into something worthwhile, also clumsily; and likely reshaping my marriage, painfully. So, plenty of things to get off my chest, here, in a less public forum than the other places I write. Blogging here is a bit like writing on water. Right now, that is inviting.