This New American Life
I write this in a booth waiting for my current delivery order to be prepared in an empty restaurant that ten years ago would have been crowded. The music is a soft bossa nova and the kitchen while busy is careful to avoid clangs. The decor is standard a medium brown stain colors the wood and the carpet is green and clean. A mother and her retired son are the only other customers. She is dancing while waiting for the spring rolls to arrive. The owner hands me a thai tea on the house while I wait. I can’t help but worry for the fate of America. I can’t help but wonder where do we go from here.
The internet has redefined what and why we eat. It’s less about what we like and having haunts we return to but posting from the current trends to be considered a cool kid. Even those who do not post on social media still Google and Yelp their choices based on the impression that the best rated by those apps have more value experience wise for their dollars. The hive mind that is social media causes attention inequality and narrows culture especially food culture.
Speaking of the Hive Mind. What do we talk about when we say we shouldn’t give someone a platform. As in the current uproar over Megyn Kelly interviewing Alex Jones, a man who has been paid to spew filth since my childhood. He long ago built his alternative media platform and give a place for wayward views. He helped Trump win without a doubt and his org Infowars will have white house press credentials. He doesn’t need an interview on NBC but NBC and those who oppose his views do need these kinds of interviews. Darkness cannot be allowed to fester. Pre-internet denying mainstream outlets was a good way to slow repulsive thought but now mainstream media is one if the last shared spaces in American life and is more effective as a means of exposing.
The tendency of the internet to drive conformity from food and fashion trends to preventing public discourse is disconcerting to say the least. Humanity’s story is one driven by innovation through diversity not just the kind on a college application check box. How much have we lost? What will it take next?
Since the beginning, America has struggled between two destinies: God and Gold. The Virginians and southern colonies birthed by Corporations and Massachusetts and it’s offshoots birthed by the Cloth. Later Slave and Free. Internal migration has shifted the strongholds as we grew and the struggle continues. In the Pax Americana, God is embodied in American Values and physical gold has become the intangible notion of Capital.
American Values have become endangered in the 21st century. The change from liberalism to neoliberalism was mostly removing the morality from the pursuit of profit. Sweat shop child labor became acceptable again for low low prices. Factory shuttering and relocation to countries where worker exploitation is still in vogue has damaged not just an American’s earning potential but our integrity. American world power is more than the number of aircraft carriers we have. It is that the international community is held to our standards and those that fall short are not rewarded. The current administration has voiced that profits are more important than human rights, the cornerstone of Americanism. This has been unspoken policy for some time.
How else can we explain American business’ dependence on China as anything other than selling out our values?
The Great Firewall blocks the truth and free speech maintained in large thanks to American companies. Google gave the Chinese government the data of dissents who are now jailed or executed. How do we explain a major arms sale to Saudi Arabia? A country that practices gender apartheid. A woman last month was detained in the Philippines while fleeing to Australia to escape a forced marriage who was beaten and tied up like a slave by the relatives sent to retrieve her. Our former territory is just as horrific under the murderer Duarte.
The American Way isn’t just a marketing phrase for comic books. It is why the Union won, why the Reich fell, and why Americans are still dying in the desert. It would be an incomprehensible tragedy for Freedom and Justice to survive the jihad to be slaughtered in the boardroom.
– E. C. Fiori
A common cry of the Left is that the West is experiencing a new prosperous high in wealth and quality of life. While nationally that may be the case, it comes at near historically levels of unequal distribution. Yet the Left is inactive on that subject, instead they lash out over trivial matters.
A great recent example is the Chanel boomerang. A handful tweeted against the “cultural appropriation” as if the boomerang hasn’t been mass produced for western audiences for over a century. Chanel selling or not selling the boomerang won’t change Aboriginal treatment. It won’t affect the past in any direction. In fact all so called cultural appropriation is just meaningless outrage on some level. Leftists are okay with Christ in piss and other atheist appropriation of Christian symbols. The top culture critics praise the vulgar usage as brilliant. I don’t think these works should be banned because I disagree with them. I think that if cultural appropriation didn’t occur we would have never left the dark ages. Cultures sharing and being inspired by each other creates growth and innovation. Two things our current world needs dearly.
The left’s use of social media is aimed at controlling the news cycle. It finds pop culture moments to entertain us with outrage. Chanel is a symptom not a cause of inequality in America. It allows the super rich to be on “the right side” of public opinion making it less likely people will consider their wealth. Us vs Them is not a phenomena restricted to the right. Too often it is used as a tool to muddy the water. Intersectional politics always devolves into whataboutism against the plight of the average American.
As long as race and class are treated as opposing forces, neither can change.
It has been a struggle to post this last week. To find a purpose in doing so. In a world so determined to end itself, I feel attempting to stop the suicide to be a grain of sand caught in the oceanic drift.
On the right, a crowd whose empathy ends with their outer dermal layer. On the left, a crowd who see empathy as an end or rather see no further than feeling.
AHCA is a bad bill. It hasn’t been scored by the CBO and as such there is no analysis what it will do. It will cause people to lose coverage and thats enough for it to not live up to the GOP promise. They forgot the dead can’t vote.
P.C. Culture is a failed solution to real problems in society. After 27 years of academic witch hunts, it fractured the Dems coalition. Pushing former leftists into the Alt-Right. Kids still get gunned down by cops for no reason everyday.
The Alt-Right a vague coalition of reactionaries to whom 1950 is still hell. They are the product of the bubbles we built. Rejected by all, they have come to raze and pillage and rape. Armored in our beloved Irony, they are immune to shame and guilt. They are the priests and flocks of whataboutism and the ultimate product of the internet. They are something new. They wish to supplant democracy and install a CEO, one without a board to answer to.
Those of us outside their circle must decide if we wish to live in a society that self-governs or to bow. That decision must begin with real bipartisanship from both sides. ACA was always more conservative in its solution than progressive. The GOP could repair it and show alternative to single payer healthcare. Progressivism needs to promote concrete quantifiable solutions and worry less about when an ally trips. Those would be baby steps.
Art doesn’t function as a window and politics isn’t a football game. We can either accept the world and save democracy or drown in our own shit.
Cultural critique has become irrelevant to modern society as a whole. There are occasional reviews worth the words but the garbage heap has grown thick around them. At some level, the increase of cultural production (mostly garbage) is a cause of worse critique as well as content devaluing, if people pay less for culture, they won’t spend more to hear New Yorkers talk about it. Deep though I believe the decline is from stasis within the field.
Lacan has become a plague. What was once a fresh lens 60 years ago has become the intellectual equivalent of duck tape. Lacan’s sentences support themselves so well, they can support almost any other thesis. Like an Ouroboros, his prose circles back on itself. This isn’t against Lacan but against the abuse of his work. I shouldn’t feel the need to grab a red pen and email “come see me during office hours” with the mark up.
I get the sense that most reviewers hate their job as well. The long rambling tangents on current events, musings on societal opinions, plain old academic discourse has become the focus. The actual piece being reviewed will have a synopsis often feeling like the wikipedia entry being rehashed. While 500 words on casting choices sounds like it is about the film, it is more about the political beliefs of the reviewer. Actual discussion of the piece that exists gets peppered in to appease their editor. The reviewer knows the reader’s opinion has been set before clicking through.
One failure is the continued reliance for reviewers to be living in New York. Before the millions of remote working options, it makes sense to hire writers near the main office. Now that the laptop is the writer’s screening room and a conference room not so much. This creates a bubble best shown by “Girls”, a show on averaged watched by 1.5% of HBO subscribers and with ratings below that of other canceled HBO shows. However it was a must watch for critics who would spend the next Monday pushing out praise and roundtables. It might be possible to find the number of employed reviewers through viewership numbers. Critics loved seeing their neighborhood and friends on screen, their current definition of a cultural moment.
In an age of seemingly infinite content, critique has become inefficient. The major cultural commentary outlets waste their resources screening pieces with major distribution making the article, a free ad for the production. Whether franchise, remake, adaptation, or the elusive original property modern audiences know if they will see it thanks to targeted social media campaigns and mass publicity blitzes. Before Google and the marketing delivery systems of the iPhone and Facebook, these reviews did serve as an informative method of discovering recent major releases. The challenge for critics now is to not be the emperor in the Coliseum but Shackleton in Antarctica. The internet is dark and full of terror to paraphrase Game of Thrones/ A Song of Ice and Fire. If I like Vice, what’s another lesser known but similar quality option? What indie films blocked out of major festivals deserve my attention? What soundcloud/bandcamp pages should I book mark? These are the questions critique should be answering.
A lifetime ago, Jack Delaney recounted to me the exchange in writing of Fitzgerald and Hemingway regarding the rich. Fitzgerald wrote “the rich are different than you and me” and Hemingway responded in Snows “they have more money”. Fitzgerald in “The Rich Boy” said more than that line. His observation is true today, the minds of the rich work differently. As do the middle class (each chamber its own variation) and the poor. I am reminded of this each morning and evening while I read the New York Times.
Especially this evening reading Kyle DeNuccio’s essay on his gap year. It wouldn’t be unseemly to question why the NYTimes is in the business of publishing personal essays. It is a vapid bit of fluff from the child of a man who earns 1.3 million a year. His struggles are none. He overcomes the challenge of going to an overpriced liberal arts university for free by simply completing the required work and now thanks to the NY Times can call himself an author. He proposes that the government should loan kids more money they have to pay back so they can understand the value of a dollar not understanding that they already do. Kids on loans can tell you how much each class session costs them and must wring the last penny’s worth out of each of them.
I don’t just mean to knock on that one ridiculous essay but shine a light on something ignored by the media: Class. We talk about poverty and falling wages but we don’t talk about how more and more young stars and behind the camera talent are children or friend’s children of those that came before. Our media is frightened by the intellectual and cultural diversity of Americans. They certainly didn’t champion “Hell or High Water” as awards worthy as “Moonlight” even though “Hell or High Water” actually addressed the world it was set in. Give them degrees is the new Let Them Eat Cake because in the rich liberal view if you fail with a degree, you are without merit. Or that many crowdfunded project succeed not because of the internet but the social layer the creator was born too. Yet we hail the successes as pure merit.
The media endears itself to the rich who in turn keep the institutions afloat as they drift into irrelevance to most of society. Not that journalism is irrelevant but the churn that surrounds it. The essays of luxury both belittle the plight of the people in this economic era but belittle them by ignoring their existence. One can not walk away thinking the Times cares more about the rich. No one can look at the rise of alternative media and not see that besides alternative facts, the focus is on what is left off the Grey Lady and the other mass media icons. Whether it is DIY tutorials or comparisons between bargain brands, the articles address the needs of the community not just those in the penthouse.
In the online age, there is no excuse for mass media to be so class focused. There is infinite room in cyberspace. Perhaps, it is time for the rich to not be heralded as the only worthy lifestyle.