Monday, January 30, 2006

Sell-outs or Pragmatists?

This entry is in response to a dialogue that's been ongoing chez mikelwin's blog. I thought a full entry would be entirely necessary to address a range of issues that were evoked in the largely three-way discussion that was conducted.

The first important point that I wish to cover is that political/ideological orientation is mostly a function of an individual's psychological inclinations. Those who advocate a pragmatic, centrist approach to politics with a focus on certain interest groups tend to endorse such a strategy because this is where they feel most comfortable and this is where they have found it most convenient to contribute. I am no exception. I will be forward about my biases towards certain ideas and against others based on how I fit into this vast world and how I feel I am most capable of "making waves." In this above-mentioned discussion, the pragmatist-idealist and moderate lefty-extreme lefty distinctions were drawn up to identify where the participating individuals stood along these simplified ideological spectrums.

The second and perhaps most relevant line of argument I seek to mention revolves around the potential for extreme or revolutionary change. While it is indeed highly unlikely that individuals can effect significant political/economic changes single-handedly, our system does allow for radical advances to be achieved in the artistic and scientific domains. Our political and economic superstructures are certainly stable, and there is little to no hope for a drastic revolution of the people, barring unforseen biological or social catastrophes. However, the most sweeping changes to how we operate and how we view our existences arise from art and science. These fields provide the tools for contemporary revolutionaries to alter their universes through biotech, music, physics, literature, etc. In sum, the world of ideas shifts drastically and fundamentally alongside the political and economic spheres, which of course in turn must make rather significant accomondations to the technological and theoretical changes that occur in the cultural and scientific realms. Merely focusing on the political and economic aspects of societal change understates the true power of conceptual advances in many different fields. Without a doubt, the success of many ideas depends on how they work into the existing social framework, but it's not healthy to focus too much on the concrete, material, and formal structures that govern our universe. The cultural, psychological, intellectual, and social domains cannot be seen as the mumbo-jumbo playground for idealistic pseudo-philosopher-kings who alternate taking rides in their liberal limos and laying down their John Hancock on bi-montly donations to Greenpeace and Move-On.

The space for innovation in science and culture is indeed occupied by those people who have been granted the linguistic, sociocultural, and material tools to contribute to this domain. Cats who don't have enough bread to put on the kitchen table don't generally get involved with the techies and hipsters. Yet, the so-called struggle is fought by both Jesse Jackson in the street and Michael Eric Dyson in his ivory-tower (these two guys debated for hours about how they both managed to contribute to the struggle in opposite ways). Both avenues are necessary for the "revolution" to proceed. Either way, there is certainly a tremendous gulf between certain traditional Democratic groups. Grimy industrial labor and the so-called moneyed liberal Hollywood cabal don't always see eye-to-eye. Yet, let's not fall prey to these ridiculous, caricatured portraits of leftwing political life in America. There are loads of poor Americans who harbor "extreme" notions vis-a-vis universal healthcare, the environment, corporate welfare, American imperial power, racial equality, etc. Moreover, there is no shortage of "corporate" or intellectual centrists who exist somewhere near the center and support Democratic politicians.

The rightwing also faces divisions that are often a function of class, but moreso reflect spiritual convictions than economic disparities. Obviously, there's no point in saying that people of a certain economic background don't occupy a particular ideological position. There are rich and poor on both sides of the aisle. However, I do agree with certain materialist declarations. I do think both parties need to focus a bit more on concrete, economic results of the industrial meltdown. So many parts of this country have been left to rot due to formidable, international economic forces that are far beyond any individual's control. Blacks and labor have suffered disproportionately in this paradigm shift. That does not mean that they should be shortchanged in our corrupt election financing system. The system can indeed always be made fairer, more open, more tolerant.

I'm not going to pretend that I'm immune from the limo liberal characterization. I fall square into the stratum of hypereducated, affluent, Volvo-driving society that has been blamed for the failure of liberal politics. I also actually believe in the value of culture (dirty fucking proletariat culture, middle-of-the-road mainstream rag, and elitist hipster bullshit). I don't think it's particularly sophisticated or intelligent to exclude any of these dimensions from the politico-culture wars. I'm sick of people talking smack about treehuggers and their irrational fears of environmental catastrophe. Godamn, this earth is getting ravaged. And, I've also had enough about how the working-class should just suck it up and deal with corporate culture and economic change. Forreal, the flight of industrial jobs to other countries has absolutely wrecked huge areas of this country, both urban and rural. Everyone tries to fit in somehow to this whole notion of identity politics and figure out what to be victimized for. The religious right fancies itself as the victim of a vast leftist protocol to eliminate Jesus and the white man from the discourse. I contend that the turn towards spiritual politics is a direct result of the industrial decline and the drop off in material wellbeing for so many blue-collar families.

I have a few specific answers to big political problems. However, I don't have a coherent ideology about how to fix the world. I don't believe the world is to be fixed. The world is, the world was, and the world will be. Fixing it is a matter of perspective and is relative to one's position and relation to everything else that is either broken or functional. I certainly can't create huge political or economic solutions to the world's problems. I just try to suggest that the material realm is supremely important but also that it's not important at all. That's the ultimate truth about our universe, and it's also not the ultimate truth. I enjoy talking shit about other peoples' ideologies, but I'm fully aware that whatever system I appear to endorse is full of contradictions, hypocrisies, and hyperboles. And, I try not to fall into the extreme subjectivity of the solipsistic trap. Also, I'm not into dissing hippies (make love not war!) and hipsters (even though I can't be one cuz I'm a lumberjack).

However, I don't see the need to "burn off this youthful angst," well at least not quite yet. I hope I'm aware of this decision if this is ultimately the one I make. I'm thoroughly and profoundly aware that I live in a bubble and that I'm entirely spoiled and unprepared to deal with the material demands of this world. The privilege that I've been born into is something from which I've beneifited, but it is also something for which I feel almost insurmountable guilt. It's abundantly clear that this affluent youth culture is sustained by people who use their material advantage to condemn the possibility of possessing such material advantage in the first place. This is a curious phenom, and it's not something that can be denied.

Nonetheless, I try to be pragmatic when I think that suits my situation, but I think I'm inclined to dream, idealize, and theorize because it's comforting to think that things COULD be different. I don't think anyone has to choose whether to be a exclusively a "sell-out" or a dreamer. Everyone has to be a little bit of a "sell-out" to get his piece of the pie. But, I'm going to retain my dreams about all these multitudinous cultures I'm surrounded by, all this damned socio-economic injustice, and all my peoples that are just tryin' to do the damn thing.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Who's YOUR Favorite Dictator?

Let's conduct a poll on an issue that's increasingly relevant for this world. Dictator chic has become an undeniable aspect of international fashion, a disturbing yet severely amusing form of cult worship, and a undying political reality. If we try to be honest for a second, we might realize that all of us were ruled by dictators (or kings, elder tribesmen, lords, dukes, gentry, priests, etc) at some very recent point in our history. Wherever your family originates, I guarantee that a single merciless human being ruled over your people with little regard for either the rule of law or political equality. This is not to say that all societies were always ruled by shameless dictators, but there's something rather common about what we now call the "dictator."

I don't want to condone the infinite number of moral transgressions committed by every strongman as he abuses his power and attempts to wield influence over his subject people. In consolidating political power, Leviathans generally do not exhibit much sympathy. This is an obvious point of human history. Moreover, the augmented breadth of technology makes it ever-more possible to control and to oppress large numbers of people. Without a doubt, I would prefer to live in a society other than one ruled by an authoritarian dictator, but the ill-conceived malevolence and shifty power trips that make dictators so impudent and loathsome also may create a saintly ethos that surrounds the ruler. Are some of these rulers shapeshifters? Perhaps some are card-carrying Free Masons? What would you do to become a 3rd World dictator?

Take the almighty Fidel, any of the Ayatollahs, or Hu Jintao, and you will find millions upon millions of humans who not only lionize these figures but would shed blood for them in an instant. This might be mere worship of power and those who wield it, but many so-called dictators also promise their subject peoples better lives ahead and even suggest that maybe the American way isn't optimal. Virtually all the dictators below are outside of the West and tend to reject a lot of the Western value system, even if their countries are in the midst of some degree of Westernizing. A lot of these dudes are on the American shortlist for regime change. Either way, I want to know which is YOUR favorite dictator! Here's a few to choose from, but feel free to pick your own:

Muammar al-Qaddafi, Libya
Fidel Castro, Cuba
King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia
Aleksandr Lukashenko, Belarus
Omar al-Bashir, Sudan
Kim Jong-il, North Korea
Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe
Hu Jintao, China
Seyed Ali Khamane’i, Iran
Than Shwe, Burma
Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan

Parade Magazine's List - (this blog inspired by the release of the 2006 listing).

Spectacle, Sports, and Superstars

So, I would have to point out first, that I'm not the most avid sports fanatic on the block. Admittedly, my fanaticism for watching most professional American sports waned sometime in Middle School. Nonetheless, I've got a few key things to mention about the control that sports have over the imaginations of most ordinary American males (and some females as well). In general, I am not of the commonly-held opinion that real men must in fact be thorough sports fans. Observing professional sports is an entertaining activity in many different ways, but most sports have become such big business that the classic purity of 100 yard interception returns and 360 dunks almost cannot overcome the mindless and irrational perspective that so many guys have about the sportsphere.

First, I should state that I'm not sure sports are objectively more important to follow for guys than celebrity gossip is to obsess over for girls. Could one suggest that "real" girls have an obligation to know the state of Angelina's marriage with Brad or that Jonathan Taylor Thomas once got a hand job from Jennifer Aniston in a port-a-potty at the Kentucky Derby (that one might have originated in a pulp publication). Of course, there's the omnipresent desire to feel that we participate in the lives of those we admire and seek to emulate, but there's a limit to the power that this idolatry should reach.

Next, I'm not about to compare Halle Berry's make-up job to the feat of Kobe scoring 81 points last Sunday. I have no wish to equate such things or denigrate the artistic and athletic awe that I have for truly incredible sports accomplishments. It's just that I think that in most sports watching, people get carried away with worshipping something which gives them an illusory sense of involvement in a world that is too vast, too distant, and too powerful for their daily struggle. I can't dispute that sports are a way for people to relate to one another. I would be the last person to criticize something which brings people of different backgrounds together, since I generally believe that social lubricants are a plus.

Another significant point is that there a huge difference between watching NASCAR drivers crash into each other, chortling over hockey hits, and lauding out-of-the-park homeruns - and actually engaging in these sports oneself. The spectacle of observing distracting images either in an arena or on a screen provides evanescent enjoyment. I would say that actually playing sports and expanding one's knowledge through the physical exertion and spirit that goes into competitive excitement is of a much higher order than the purely visual nature of ogling over images on a screen. And, the value of excerise is undeniable in living a healthy and fulfilled existence. I just think that the watching of professional sports has attained a ridiculous level of prominence. In general, the celebrity worship that transpires in American culture in sports, media, and other domains simply fashions gods out of mere mortals. Call me a killjoy, tell me I seek to deprive the masses of their sources of distraction. But, if people sought to make themselves more healthy and wise rather than letting their entire outlooks be controlled by the fortunes of their favorite sports franchises, they would be better off.

It's obvious that some cities do well certain years, and other don't do so well. I guess that means the net emotional effect is probably about zero since sports cause people great hardship when their teams fall into serious ruts. Well, I should declare that one of the happiest moments in my life was when I was hugging homeless bums and reveling in the communal joy of the Ravens' 2001 Super Bowl Victory. But, it just seems like the victories are balanced out by all those defeats that really make people feel powerless.

In sum, I think atheleticism is worthy of admiration. And, I think sports are a decent form of entertainment, business, and spectacle. But, to claim that interest in watching sports makes the man or that professional sports form a sort of trickle-down cure for social ills, is myopic.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Ode to Venus

Here's a poem I wrote my senior year of high school:

Ode to Venus

Mother-earth, I hear your bleeding, your monthly suffering.
I have empathy for the struggle that begins a flood
Of dark-colored life-force and a sensitive emotional barrage.

The battle to impregnate the vulnerable seed within you
Commences every waking day, as the orange disk in the sky
Sluggishly rolls across the heavens and lights up your skin.

Bright surface colors signal subterranean readiness
For the most potent volcanic intrusion into your fleshy canal.
The shrubbery that guards the entrance to eternal time
Gives beauty to a cyclical process that knows no cessation.

Natural waters emanate from the pleasure oases lining your crevice
And soothing, beating rhythms find oneness in this juicy bath.
No pollutant can damage or destruct the sanctity of your temple,
Its defenses ensure delightful absorption of certain intruders-
The plunging attackers find soft pinkness to receive their drilling.

Oh, mother-earth, you withstand onslaught by penetrating objects,
Even deviance approaches your fortitude with fright, for
It, too, understands feminine mystique and natural prowess.

Suppose some omnipotent cell collection came into your shores,
Would you allow the nettle to sting the sides of your hole?
Would you submit to the dragon’s fire and cry to Aphrodite?
Your shouts would resound throughout the skies,
Your screams would fill the oceans-
Red and white, primitive cadence, both solidify rebirth.

Yet the great allure arises from your amazing beauty,
Whose wings bear feathers not of innocence or guilt,
But of continuous history, adapting and declining
And also, degrading and ameliorating, to another cyclical rotation.

The wheel spins onward, its axis a perfect geometric form,
While hell-bent snakes slither from dirt to moist cavity
Seeking the fruits of their ongoing pursuit in a special resting place
Their final destination being a euphoric state of ejaculation into mother-earth.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Vicarious Homeric Experience

These days we all get unlimited access to the craziest experiences through various pop culture media. Perhaps because our everyday lives have become more sterile and predictable, movies and the internet have had to make up for the outrageous stories and exchanges that are no longer possible in hyper-organized, regimented existences. Take this picture of a young woman with Homer Simpson tatooed upon her nether region. This tatoo artist's rendition of those Homeric lips is pretty fly. I assume that this is indeed a permanent tatoo and that this young woman probably didn't know hundreds of thousands of strangers across the weblogistan would have visual access to her genital region. Thanks young Betty for providing us the pleasure of viewing your tatoo artist's illustration. You allow us to see phenomenal art on the internet that we would otherwise never have had the opportunity to peep.

This is the beauty of pop culture these days. Every instance that we submit to the power of entertainment media, we encounter episodes that are created precisely because we would likely not run into such events or images elsewhere. Interpersonal violence and pornography are two broad categories of experience that generally broaden our horizons as we are exposed to them in the media. For better or for worse, our entertainment options today permit us to indulge ourselves in sights that range from absolutely horrendous and shockingly gruesome to fanatically arousing and absurdly tantalizing. Either way, the vast majority of what we perceive on beaming screens is beyond the pale of our caveman ancestors.

There are a few examples of gruesome images in movies that I've viewed over the course of the past week. Capote features both gangland-style shotgun killings and a mildly conclusive act of capital punishment by hanging, which rapidly contorts the spine until it snaps. Munich, despite all its excessive sentimentality and over-produced inducements, provides cheap action thrills, replete with blood smattering walls and body parts rolling around on the ground. These two movies derive their cinematic energy from the shock and disbelief that goes into the witnessing of violent behavior. Regardless of how sophisticated the descriptive mechanisms are to embellish the tales, both films hinge on primordial violence and the subsequent reaction of political and literary agents.

There are three more examples that I wish to cite. Dancer in the Dark also is resolved in the brutal hanging of a blind Bjork, whose mystical aura is stamped out by heartless punishers and an uncompromising criminal justice system. Next, the Hungarian film Kontroll depicts the savagery encountered by subway employees as they check for peoples' tickets. With bodies shoved into the tracks and mutilated appendages galore, the movie cleverly portrays the struggle of Budapest metro workers to perform their daily grind. Lastly, Million Dollar Baby features a sliced tongue that leads to a geyser of blood, nastily broken noses, and a series of other viscerally horrific boxing-related injuries.

Given these five films I've just seen that deal in seriously gory images, I'm not really sure what to conclude about my cinematic preferences. Do I preselect movies that are bound to be visually extreme? Is there a basic standard of nastiness that must be displayed for a movie to excite? Are these specific films even that extreme in their depictions, relative to other films? Most of these images are definitely extreme enough that normal people would not encounter them in the course of a lifetime. Maybe the role of our entertainment culture is to provide us with enough vicarious experience that we don't actually seek to replicate such scenes in our own actual lives. Maybe humans emotionally need to be exposed to an extreme level of disgusting physical pain and suffering so that we can psychologically limit such experience to the realm of the imagination. Does this fantasy world represent a universal human aspiration? I suppose the violence of our movies does not directly correlate with our problems with gun culture and international militarism. But, it is certainly an expression of something deep within our zeitgeist.

Back to skin. Sexually amusing or enthralling images are certainly an outlet for much of the repression that characterizes American sexuality. Does the media consciously seek to provide us with enough vicarious experience (sex and gore) so that we remain distracted and immersed inadvertently in the spectacular convergence of drama and technology that we cannot possibly seek extreme pleasures in the real world? The virtual experience accessible to the modern-day media consumer is incredible. Dilbert can go to sleep happy because he was thoroughly fufilled by looking at his cousin Homer Simpson tatooed onto the underside of a comely young lady. If only Dilbert could see Homer's lips in person...then he wouldn't need the internets. And, if we fed heretics to the lions in Madison Square Garden, then Hollywood would be out of business.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Camps, Magoo, and Scummo

Ok, the time has come to define a few words, interjections, modifiers that have become very commonplace amongst a select group of corny people that I know. If someone else dares to define any other of our oddball jargonized terms, please drop it like it's hot. Here we go with 3 of the finest and flyest:

Camps: Generally a noun but also certain other parts of speech. Usually refers to a species of postmodern American east coast male whose favorite movie is Brokeback Mountain or who once played with pogs. Camps can currently be of the terrorist training, summer, or internment variety. This term originated with such titles as Camps Luther King, Martin Luther Camps, Camps Junior, and Scamps. Though many derivations of these terms exist, they are all said to originate in the surname of a friend of Michael X. Stanksworth. Evidently, this fellow Jason Camps from Miami is that chump getting his breasties felt.

Magoo: Most typically an interjection uttered in the following manner "mck mck mck mahhhgooo." A Krulesque reference to the downright disgustingly dingy life of Sir Wesley Barrow, the term encompasses a wide range of uses. In common parlance, the word can be modified by adjectives such as "big" or used simply as a verb followed by "it up." Examples are: "That rauso character is a big magoo." Or, "Did you magoo it up again, splurgery?" Magoo usually connotes a sense of incompetence and a lack of aptitude in dealing with the trials and tribulations of life. Magoos tend to be relatively greasy, of low-to-average intelligence quotient, and often sport rather mangey facial hair. Those labeled Magoo sometimes harbor serious online gambling addictions. Moreover, Magoos usually possess an exaggerated sense of self-worth when deciding that members of the opposite sex are all over their stuff. Magoos sometimes spread the scourge of Magoovarian cancer or engage in the highly illicit trade of nonexistent iPods as Quizzo prizes. Those Magoos originating around Mt. Ararat in modern-day Turkey tend to carry the surname Magooyzarian, in the Armenian tradition. In addition, some of the northern European Magoos take on the surname Maguber.

Scummo: Any phylum of lowly vertebrate hailing from the eastern edge of downtown Manhattan that acquired both (1) its dumminess and (2) its scumminess from bottom-feeding in the East River. Tending to form both chemical and camps-like bonds to scummotubes and scummoblogs, scummo is considered the diminutive form of either sculliam or scumgullion. "Scuppers and scummos are genetically very similar beasts," according to Isaac E. S. Schwizzleton, of Schwizzleton and Bros. Investment Associates. Schwizzleton's firm, which recently invested in both high net worth flying camps and Hollywood managerial camps, specializes in underrated food service companies that manufacture generic Doctor Pepper, caramel flan, and chicken wings. Schwizzleton claims that the P/E ratio of scuppers will overtake that of scummos sometime after summer 2007, when the market capitalization of all manner of camps will have far exceeded even the bull market's wildest dreams. Scummos have been known to attend nerd camps, space camps, and most recently hipster camps. There has been speculation that the eventual merger between scummo and camps will produce an un-American, science-mongering thug called scamps, whose grime and material slime far outweigh the ability of a four-time Olympic champion of magooing it up at sleep-away camps to slither or even shapeshift past David Icke at his world-renowned humanoid training camps.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Enlightened Struggle

I sit here slightly torn between reality and a dream. My dreams have always lead me to believe that it was possible to escape the long-term commitment to a permanent job and a permanent spouse. It is abundantly clear that most of the people I know now seek to shore up the necessary career and social resources to settle down into a stable and viable lifestyle.

Doing this dance in the dark, I cannot quite perceive of where I'm headed. I have just parted ways with my lover, and my views on the future have turned dangerously cynical. I am compelled to accept economic and biological necessity, which means that monogamy and a gainful job are the best long term prospects for success. However, it seems like everyone is caught up in a rat race to add points to their resumes (both of romantic and employment ventures). Is every relationship just a stepping stone to the next one? Must every job simply prepare us for that dream job sometime down the road?

All too often, I hear people talk about relationships as if they were, more than anything else, useful tools to life-advancement. I guess our society is constructed upon certain foundations, namely predictability and personal stability. And, I suppose, for example, that after a healthy, loving relationhip with Layla Tomarchio, Billy Bob Berezovsky is competent enough to carry on the same sort of rapport with Zoe Ataturkey. Human relationships are indeed about comeptency and acquired skills and functional patterns. And, in this same vein, our employment futures link us up with workplaces where our interests, professional capabilities, cultural affinities, and psychological proclivities mesh with the structures already in place. Judging by both the highlights and difficulties of the relationship that I've just been experiencing, I suppose I am all the more primed for the next sort of rapport, should I seek one out. It's supremely important to even out the so-called expectations gap (thanks, Dobson) in order to figure out what can reasonably be demanded of one's partner or job.

So, I retain a lingering suspicion of the settled life and all the rigors of being confined to this "whipped" existence. Even though I've just participated in an enthralling and entirely satisfying intimacy that is ongoing, I harbor fears that I will merely reap the benefits of this relationship to become more enlightened about myself and my needs and then progress teleologically onto the next one. I'm all about enjoying life's ride, right, but I resist the temptation to construct an organized, linear, and methodical journey towards something gradually bigger and better. My issues with commitment are manifold and surely have as much to do with my ability to trust myself as with my willingness to trust someone else.

In some ways, it seems that I desire to map things out so that there is little room for spontaneity. Yet, in most things, I have attempted to preserve a sense of quotidian unpredictability in my struggle. While spontaneous adventures are thoroughly appealing to observers and the observed, they do not lend themselves to the dimensions of civilized, bourgeois existence circa 2006. In this new year, shall I let my reality of being loved be forsaken because it's not practical? When I think about my life and the notion of progress, I fear that I'm perennially getting caught up in trying to move on, move up, and get my piece of the pie.

With this feeling of broken numbness, I'm trying to force myself into redemption. I've just been intensely involved in a relationship with a very insecure future. Perhaps this type of relationship is so natural for me precisely because it's so unpredictable and because there is no definitive end in sight. Continuing on this path of open-ended relations with the second sex guided by dubious long-term strategies, I feel bogged down by emptiness. This struggle catapaults me hyperbolically towards a reality characteristically a mystery yet convincingly some higher form of optimal excitability.

Goodbye sweet thang...
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