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?
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.
I love this country. I know Americans are the greatest people in human history. I say this because digital disruption has been gunning for the nation state. I see how apps under the banner of connection divide us from our families and communities.
I’ve never understood Yelp. Choosing based on the amassed opinions of those who are either desperate to be heard or assume others wish to hear their thoughts as much as they do. We don’t research the reviewers and compare their opinion to our own. We assume we all feel the same way. An assumption against all evidence. Yet we listen to these contextless opinions and give them the power to control what businesses succeed in our community.
I’ve always loved the film adaptation of “High Fidelity”. The theme of love being beyond shared likes has stuck with me over the years. I feel it becomes more important as our digital lives grow. Tech sells us on the idea that shared likes are the only foundations for bonds that truly matter. Yet as I grow older, other bonds like geography seem to have developed stronger relationships. My high school friends are no less cherished than college friends despite what mass media teaches us. My internet friends vanished as they came once my posts lost their sheen.
We outwardly praise our universality in the face of differences on macro issues but have checkboxes for those closest to us. Does cultural taste matter? I doubt so. I think care matters. It remains after the dreams run dry and the shows are cancelled and after we become feasts for worms. After the dirt is put back, it isn’t your works that warms the cold home in which they gather but the recollections of faux pas and moments of love.
We must strive to innovate and build but will your legacy be a resume or a life?
America long stood for life. Life was the reason for freedom. It was why we fought our greatest conflicts. The Revolution that life was not granted by a king but by God. The civil war that all humans are people who own their own lives. The great depression that employers do not have greater rights to life than those they hire. Civil Rights reaffirmed the lessons of the Civil War. Yet in the globalized age, life has succumbed to luxury.
When Louie CK mocks people who complain about slow loading smartphones, he mis-understands the frustration. It isn’t from a place of entitlement instead it is a dirge for the life they have sacrificed for that moment. We traded good lives to be meatcogs in another’s paradise. All we got was a stupid phone that lasts two years. It is hard to say the masses had much choice in their fate as the current conditions for digital holdouts show. They just scrambled for the first lifeboat they could find.
The one delight in Trump is reading and watching the reactions of the global elite. How he dismisses anything he wishes (mostly their wishes). They crow and caw in their lofty penthouses. Much like how they reshaped America in their own image against the will of the people for the past decades. It would be a more enjoyable experience if he boosted the people but as we’ve been told beggars can’t be choosers.
Can America return to greatness? Can one chose life over consumption?
I can’t answer these. A ballot can’t answer these. Tomorrow can’t be avoided but we still have time to change it. To buy less online, call over text, chat with the neighbor instead of eavesdropping on television. We can act as we want to be treated. We can stop worrying about where else we can be and enjoy where we are. We can go to places, we not the crowd think looks good. In other words, we can act free to become it.
“Children of Men” is a great movie but I disagree with the notion it is representative of 2016 is wrong or more accurately why the left says it is accurate is wrong. Just like the 2016 election, Brexit, and the anger of the poor. Especially the Vulture article, as much as the author claims that the solution can only come from new ideologies. I cannot disagree more.
We have a crisis of humanity. The Global Elite to which a majority of critics belong to point the death of compassion on the white poor and religion. It is simple and easy to label their fear as xenophobic or racist. First xenophobia is a medical condition and to be an armchair doctor from high without certification or actual medical knowledge never has cured a soul. Second the modern refugee is not the professional class Jew of antebellum Germany, they are a manual skill laborer. A class that the Western professional class has waged war against for 46 years. Robbed of living wages, the current wave of rage began in earnest with the election of Clinton in 1992 who pandered to the deindustrialized people on the campaign. Once in office, their quality of life was ignored for the P. C. culture wars. Now the few jobs that they are allowed to work due to the investment in their communities that makes the cost of college and credit rating needed for fair loans out of reach. Even jobs that don’t require education or specialized skills such as data entry are reserved for the privileged conferred degrees as a consolation to the damage digital disruption is wreaking on our world. Now the professional class wants to further dilute the opportunities by increasing working class competition without sacrifices of their own.
The worshipped tech “geniuses” who take from those with the least to trickle up luxury to the anointed upper class look at us from their environmentally friendly manors sitting on their hoards. They bestow gifts on those who believe in their dogma without question or defiance. Charter schools selective in the children to be saved and the majority go to global causes to expand their influence and control on new populations. They ignore the communities who raised them because we are not islands. The false interpretation of the enlightenment as the individual above the world ignores the wisdom of our predecessors. Kings exist beyond job titles and the tech and financial worlds have returned aristocracy and fiefdoms into our lives long before Trump declared his candidacy. It is the loss of morals not the inadequacy that created this moment. Cuaron is not immune to luxury take “Gravity” a decadent experience that was not revelatory as much as indulgent.
There are no quick solutions to the challenges of climate change and overpopulation but some of the most inspiring innovators live by traditional values like Elon Musk. Investing in the future rather than paying out short term profits. Will the critics who spend their days judging mostly forgettable entertainment that needs no comment ever use their existence to better humanity? Of course not they would have to give up their celebrity chef curated tasting experiences and gilded bars with bartenders who frame themselves as scientists. Television and amusement in all forms especially pop culture academia have narrowed our worlds. There is no global pillars rather the peoples of the world were sold snake oil. Bending the knee and toppling the temples that carried them through the ages for the false idol that is cosmopolitanism. Falsely accused of being the true vision of enlightenment cosmopolitanism is the antithesis. Consider the difference between “Yes, We Can” vs “I’m with Her” and “Make America Great Again”. To the contrary of Trump’s later speeches his slogan is a call to action that offered an ignored people a hand in their faith. Clinton’s slogan was a pledge of fealty that asked people to give into the will of the elite, perhaps even further degraded a fashion statement.
The modern elites to which every member of the mainstream media is apart of (important note: local media such as small circulation newspapers are not the same as much as the titans of attention try to frame them as such) view us the people as malfunctioning machines. Think about how the jargon the media uses to explain psychology and sociology is borrowed from tech. We are “programmed” beings “wired” to “function”. We are not machines but souls born. We are not “designed” to serve but created by God to live and exist. Even the notion of the individual stems not from writing but the shift on architecture and technology. In the age of Socrates ideas needed more than one to be thought through discussion. The advance of the written world through the convenience of the printing press created a new medium of conversation. Rooms began to separate us. Our ancestors shared a space with each other and their livestock. The individual bedroom made the self which found itself in writing. The expansion of the world that writing allowed for was far beyond the seven mile radius that existed in the feudal villages. This new world connected by ideas allowed the new individual to group and create without the intimacy of proximity. That was the birth of the Enlightenment. Film continued the same, premeditated images shared.
Television ended the Enlightened world no longer was the audience separated by time from the idea and image. We all could share the events of the world as they happened disconnected from location. McLuhan’s global village. More than 90% of Americans knew that JFK died within 2 hours. Most of the country watched the live coverage of his funeral 3 days later. A moment almost literally shared by the nation. Now with smartphones and the livestream have completed the village. We are no longer ever alone. We are no longer selves as in the Age of Enlightenment. Our actions known to all as we act. The elites have used this to prey on the people for profit. Now the people understand the new age and have come for control of the village.