Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Your Presence is Not Required

This is going to end badly.
Here I am slouching through middle-age; sexually I am hors de combat, as if by some secret but final decree. I lament it but the sentence is just--and just as well (I wouldn't join any club that'd have me for a member, and I wouldn't conjoin with anyone who'd have my member); I haven't earned any better.
It's time for a hobby, perhaps. But what the hell is a hobby? A man does a thing, or he doesn't. Me, I don't do anything.

I cannot help but see the futility in all forms of action. There is nothing I feel is better done than not done; all is a wash. The moment I take up a thing is the moment I lose interest in it. I am losing my ability to distinguish worth; everything is blending together in an unindividuated mass. Society is a great burlesque; garish, farcical, and in bad taste. Beneath "reality" some equilibrium sustains itself as sure as water finding its level, and humanity is but fodder; we are the inactive ingredient. Now don't start on me. One doesn't choose to believe such things; such things choose him. I'm not a cheerless man, and I don't envy your engagement with humanity.

I find organizations inherently sinister. I despise collective action. Concern sickens me. All men are foreigners to me, speaking nonsense. I am nauseated by the pace of time--I have temporal motion sickness. The less of it that remains the more mysterious it is. Its passage, the grinding, erosive consistency of it, is beyond my capabilities of understanding. Thus my default position--petrified immobility.

It's a congenital condition; you should see the rest of the family. Our indolence is sinful. How the hell this desultory line propagated is a mystery. We are a living refutation of evolution--and God. No logic or divinity could produce this. My family's existence is a profanation. My existence, in a world of heroism and suffering, is an obscenity. Yet we endure. Yet here I am. Still standing and pointlessly defiant. And there you are.

Nonetheless I keep an eye on the horizon for something I don't expect and wouldn't recognize; I am open to the prospect of meaning. Still, it cannot change a thing, because whatever comes:
This is going to end badly.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

In Memoriam

Originally posted on June 25, 2009

The Multitude Killed the Video Star

But I am invented too for your entertainment and amusement. And you, poor creatures, who conjured you out of the clay? Is God in show business too?
–"Arthur Frayne", Zardoz

We played the grooves off of that record. My girlfriend had Michael Jackson's Off The Wall on vinyl. For a post-adolescent white trash burnout, steeped in rock and leavened in punk and new wave, listening to something so mainstream felt downright subversive. But it would have taken a deliberate act of cultural bigotry to dismiss that album. Not that I pretend to be free of such bias; selective cultural inhibition is always operative in each of us, not only in determining what we won't allow, but what which we force upon, ourselves. Witness installation art, postmodern architecture, public sculpture. It is not by accident that the more public the work the more deliberately it offends reason and beauty; if you live in a major city, there's probably more than one monument to aspirational credulity within walking distance.

Later Jackson would transcend the simple genius of his early career with the Thriller album. The unmatched commercial success of Thriller was due mostly to its associated videos. Jackson's innovation of employing experienced filmmakers using production values previously unseen in that still raw art form would pay off in orders of magnitude. But something was lost. The Thriller video struck me, as everyone around me, with its technical wizardry. But privately I couldn't help noticing how glittering and trite it all was. While achieving something new by aspiring to music-as-cinema, it was still overrated as music and not very good as cinema. Michael Jackson, for me, was over and done with. But I was glad, with a pretentious snobbery I've yet to escape, that I was maintaining a healthy critical distance from what I saw as soulless commercialism. I was still deluded in thinking that music should remain immediate and a little raw, not co-opted. I still harbor that hopeless delusion, contrary to all experience. It was always just show business, emphasis on business. The trick is to discard the pointless bias against business, as such. Easier said than done.

Michael Jackson was not the first superstar, but he may be the first to publicly renounce personhood itself in favor of renown. Michael Jackson didn't lose his individuality, he discarded it as a hindrance to celebrity. What was always unnerving about him was the absence behind the mystique. He did not start out as a "personality", real or fabricated; there was never anything there to begin with beyond the remarkable talent. Through the years I've become convinced that the absence of personality, and eventually the grotesquerie that was offered in its place, amplified that talent. We never got to know him, even as we watched him grow up. It wasn't just that he was private--lots of celebrities are "private"--it's that he deliberately crafted a persona without personhood. He cobbled together a few cliches he found romantic--the eternal child as a result of being robbed of childhood, the lonely genius, the besieged eccentric--all bathetic in their self-pitying grandiosity. Michael Jackson made himself into a comic caricature of egomania.

He refused even to accept the limits of nature, treating his physical body as if it were as malleable as his public persona. Had he been less delusional, and perhaps more ably befriended by those around him, he might have been made to see that neither of these things were very much within his control. Michael Jackson, in his repeated disfigurement under the knife, took on the vanity of the nation. In this, his most ridiculed aspect, that which is considered most "abnormal" about him, he is in fact most like us. He was, if anything, a pioneer in the realm of plastic surgery. When he started out on his gruesome way, the practice was far less common than it is now. Michael took on our vanity the way Christ takes on our sins.

After his ascension into the heavens of transformative celebrity his career itself became a work of art as imagined by the People and expressed through commerce--something both more and less than art, somehow. His public persona and the transcription of his private life in the press and on television, his representation across the modes of media, morphing along the way like his physical appearance, increasingly as grotesque caricature, became our ongoing work of performance art, with an individual as our canvas and clay. Even now, after his death, the performance continues. We are not done with Michael Jackson. He "lives" on, as he wished.

Michael's desperate megalomania and personal emptiness made him the ideal instrument of the multitude. There are many more to come. This is one more consequence of our newly global village. Contrary to our intuition, despite the boasts of those who celebrate the new placeless and personless order they are so eager to acquiesce to, the individual is losing if not lost. Individuality is less possible, more illusory than ever. Those who manage to escape the ground of obscurity for the heavens of celebrity will light this new reality as they burn out--like stars. No longer does the artist conceive for the People, but he is conceived by the People. Poor Michael Jackson, both brilliant and simple, cunning but callow, never had a chance. Whoever he was.

New Chemical Brotherhood


Chemical Brothers, K+D+B

Kind of chokes you up, doesn't it? Ah, youth! We're no match for it! These guys are pretty impressive too:

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Alternative America Phrasebook

"Your guide to the idiom of mass delusion."

Pragmatism, n. blogspeak
The murder of principle by expedience.
See also compromise; bipartisanship.

Consensus, n. hackspeak
An agreed upon delusion.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Cadence Song

Me? I hope to go out singing, defiantly. Like DeNiro's redneck Nemesis in Cape Fear, warbling in tongues as the rising tide consumes him. I want to play myself over this way, a segue between shows, until the dirty water fills my lungs. It's not bravery, it's denial; and denial gets a bad rap. Denial is essential. Here's to denial! Without it life would not be possible.

I had a moment of clarity--terror, that is--recently, regarding the reality of death. You may know what I'm talking about. These moments when the veil lifts, for no apparent reason. You stumble into the misty vale; you are suddenly lost. The unwelcome result of too much time alone. Solitude is dangerous. Solitude is a faint whiff of death. Solitude is death's annex. I didn't choose solitude, it chose me.

I think about death all the time, but from a cowardly psychological remove; indeed, the thinking and talking about death are just skirting about the reality, as if to appease it, or perhaps find some soft point of entry. We turn a thing over in our mind endlessly, compulsively, as if to discover it anew; we think our gaze has transforming powers. How can a thing be seen, named, obsessed over, so familiar, so present and still taunt us with its opacity and mystery?

Death is an impermeable thing because oblivion, or non-existence, is necessarily beyond comprehension. The mind cannot step outside itself in the end. You can't imagine, much less know, it; we make do with the possibility of a thing called oblivion; an alternative to the fire of redemption, before which we alternately cower or warm ourselves. But then, perhaps non-existence simply isn't possible. If energy never really dissipates, but merely transfers, morphing endlessly in an ultimately meaningless burlesque, why then should we cease to exist? Vapor, too, is a state of existence. Immortality is no less plausible than mortality. But the question cannot be answered. Each will learn--or not--for himself, alone, and only upon passing. Curious? You first.

This is why religion is a necessary constant of human behavior. Death is why the organized atheists can only piss into the wind endlessly. Theirs is a sterile zeal. Death is the darkened face of nature's mocking mystery; death will forever be the abyss, the reason why the Known will always be but a sheen over the far greater Unknown.
Buck up, friend! Come along with me! We'll sing together the tune we know by heart. We'll sing like the hopeless do, like the doomed and the damned will, when there's nothing left but the breath in their lungs. We'll shed our heartaches along the way. Think not of death but life. Death will abandon discretion to reveal himself soon enough. He's already here with us.

Basketball is Basketball, Equality is Excellence, War is Peace

Boldly now comes the WNBA's television campaign for its new season, to accompany the NBA playoffs. Interspersing footage from both leagues the spot creates the illusion the men and women are playing together. For example, a WNBA player makes a pass; we cut to an NBA player hauling it in on his way to the basket. Several such iterations and the tag-line:
Basketball is Basketball
It is agreed. Basketball is basketball.

As a self-contained system of rules, the game is its own standard and ideal; its quality is its only valid measure. The players' identities are incidental--they are only represented by their competitive success. Why would you concern yourself with who plays, as long as they play well? I offer this as the best interpretation of the WNBA's slogan.

But how is this not precisely the WNBA's problem? It is basketball we go to see, not basketball played by X. The WNBA has the unfortunate circumstance of competing with its far superior parent league in delivering to market basketball. The women are way out of their league. Yet here they are, at once drawing our attention to and contradicting the purely sentimental nature of their appeal. Basketball is basketball, sister.

Any league not open to all is a novelty act. Akin to a six-foot-or-under league, of which we would make no pretense of parity with the NBA. Why, then, does the WNBA exist? If there is some demand for off-season professional basketball, why not another open league (which in turn might not be too competitive for the better female players)?

But "basketball is basketball" can have another meaning besides that which I've assumed thus far. So just to be thorough. It can also mean:
discernment in basketball is unwarranted because quality is trivial or uniform.
If you've seen one game you've seen them all. Call it the "parts is parts" fallacy. This exhausts reasonable interpretations of the slogan at two, and they are mutually exclusive.

Thus we have a phrase that is literal nonsense yet holds in potential two contradictory meanings; it is and isn't. What a perfect foil for the encouraged chaos of cut-and-paste. Here it blends together the superior with the inferior deliberately to conflate them, to the benefit of the inferior over the superior. As the advertisement's visual creates the illusion of one game by splicing together two, likewise the text splices together one meaning from two. The WNBA offers, as needed, two fluid options to guide us to the Nirvana of egalitarian bliss: ignore inferiority or disregard excellence.

Not that anyone is paying attention, much less defending the integrity of the language, but the slogan, mild doublespeak that it is, is the inclusion argument boiled down to its essence; all the energy they concentrate in their concise palindrome backfires and only serves to reveal that equality degrades excellence ("equality" as defaced by the modifier "social"; alternatively "inclusion," or "anti-discrimination"). In any given instance, more of one ensures less of the other. Yet we are conditioned to believe the effect is non-existent, trivial or even opposite. Why?

Our elite is divided between those invested in and those cowed by the advance of a federally administered regime of equality. Thus too-evident instances of of equality degrading excellence and impoverishing the common good are collective embarrassments, not only as individual failures of policy, but as evidence of the constant--equality degrades excellence. The more "equality" the equalitarian gets the greater its cost, the plainer its effects, the more he must hide. He is not alone, however; the need to conceal this corrosive process has as many allies as excellence has enemies, always ready to take up pitchfork and put torch to the affronts to vanity and pride that are Truth, Beauty, God. Only here the rabble is roused on behalf of power and the status quo. We have drifted into a historical novelty: we have an elite that demands disdain for tradition, custom, history. What then do they consider their mandate? A certain definition of excellence, ironically.

Meanwhile, the NBA is a singular story of merit by excellence overcoming social and sentimental bias, justly celebrated as a civil rights accomplishment yet, less noted, demolishing the queer premise upon which civil rights law and culture is based. That premise: American culture degrades and represses minorities and all groups are equally blessed with the host of human talents.

A group representing some seven percent of the US population (before accounting for age), setting out with every social and many legal conventions against it and armed only with exceptional ability, took one generation to to dominate professional basketball--transforming the game in the process. Today black American men still represent eighty percent of the NBA, even as they've made it so successful it draws talent from around the world. This attests equally to the unprecedented fairness of the league and nation on one hand and the racial diversity of human talent on the other.

Not only has white America rejected sentiment in favor of the superiority of the black game, the stunning display of racial disparity on display is itself largely responsible for the success of the league--white fascination with black physical talent as a superior and therefore good thing. A recognizably Western impulse. Western (and if the following carried negative connotations we would be allowed "white") creativity propels the story through various media, its ingenuity delivers it in high definition to your home, its industry daily manages the logistics of filling arenas with the reverential. African athleticism made transcendent by American imagination and industry. Is there anything comparable in history? A little respect, please.

It is not forthcoming. The celebration of this story grows progressively shriller, as if in inverse proportion to the improving material condition of its beneficiaries. The narrative focuses almost entirely on the storming of the barriers--not of their creative dismantling. Taken as part of the larger civil rights narrative it is presumed the barriers remain, their latency here contingent on our militant stance against them, active most everywhere else. But the true lesson lies in the relative ease with which longstanding social prohibition gave way permanently to excellence.

But the broader cultural emanations from this frank display of what still seems like a mystical talent to white America transcend basketball, combining with black excellence in popular music to level an entire complex of traditional barriers to blacks; once habitually taken as inferior, now considered superior in many aspects; envied, emulated, exploited into cultural preeminence.
The milieu demands however the writer frame the cracker here, yet again: the nation is uniquely neurotic regarding race, what with all this fascination with it! This sort of thing often from sportswriters, as if to absolve themselves of that they so conspicuously ridicule or abhor, shocked, shocked. But the story is not told. Racist exploitation has made Black America a cultural colossus.

Indeed, it is not an imagined human uniformity but racial diversity, and its complementary nature, that acts as a catalyst to excellence in an exploitative process that nonetheless empowers the exploited. This could only happen in an overarching culture with the energy, creativity and fairness--the excellence--of America. Ironically, when we are compelled to pledge "diversity is strength" the meaning is opposite (roughly: diversity is our strength because we're all the same and no culture is superior--a patent absurdity!) and the intention is to scandalize this reality in the popular mind, contradicting as it does elite convention--rather, convention prescribed for us by the elite.

Equality is a conceit only societies made wealthy through discrimination can afford (or a disease only wealthy societies contract). We have so long been wealthy and thus conditioned to humor this sentiment that it has become an unexamined article of faith. That conditioning is evidenced by the oblivious confidence of the accusation (women!) implicit in the WNBA slogan: that we aren't giving the women a fair shot! They truly know not what they say.

None of this of course means the WNBA hasn't the right to exist, or that its athletes aren't worthy, or that it might not carve out an economic niche and justify the NBA's subsidy; it just means we would do well not to allow them the affront that is this slogan. If people will create and nourish the WNBA God bless them. But that does not entitle them to abuse the language or logic. You can have your ladies' league and I wish you well; but you cannot then have your "basketball is basketball" pretense. No ma'am.

As demonstrated by the NBA's example, excellence and equality are at odds. In the case of the NBA's wardship of the WNBA, excellence humors equality, because it can afford to. American history in aphorism! Long may she wave!

Pessimistic as we imagine we've become about the nation's economic prospects, we nonetheless dutifully assume an endless summer of rising tax revenue to fund the ever-increasing cost of our condescension. We presume the creativity and industry of the resented will outrace the demands of resentment in perpetuity. This resentment is far more nurtured than confronted by our creative class, as jealously as if it were their own. Which it is, of course; as an artistic form, the civil rights genre now is where class bigotry goes to masquerade as enlightenment.

If it seems the narrative has become indulgent, pornographic even, that's because it has. Self-interested but still less rational than emotional. We now have an elite that not only doesn't care what is good for the common, it doesn't know what is good for itself. Our modern inversion: an excitable, bigoted and irrational elite in need of the calming influence of a wise and engaged population. Ah, to have one!

Where might our defensive wisdom begin? By critical examination of just such Orwellian tropes as the WNBA slogan. The fact that it is merely an advertisement, or "just basketball", shouldn't pardon it. This is where merit should make its stand, out here on the front line of the assault on excellence, where language and logic are the collateral damage. Exposure, examination, ridicule; these are the weapons of the insurgency.

The WNBA's egalitarian experiment is a tap stuck into the broad trunk of the NBA--the very bounty of human inequality--diverting a trickle for the purpose of sentimental inclusion. Embarrassed by this fact, the WNBA distracts from its inferiority through artful subterfuge and chides us for our bias even as it claims privilege. Is there a better model of the Token State?

Can it suggest something of the costs of that state and its definition of equality, out here in the world where the individual's spoils are humbler and the collective consequences graver? After all, the law is the law, engineering is engineering, firefighting is firefighting, medicine is medicine. That disparity in quality the WNBA wants you to ignore isn't an anomaly, but a small, exposed section of something vast and deliberately misunderstood.

Of course, what the WNBA is really about is making women more like men. Which prompts a whole new why?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Alternative America Phrasebook

"Your guide to the idiom of mass delusion"

Thoughtfulness, n., blogspeak:

1. Cowardice or careerism taken or presented as reflection, meditation, or contemplation.
2. Deference to convention or power; self-censorship to avoid offense or the degradation of one's professional prospects.
3. Intellectual conformance driven by a fear of social ostracism.


Thoughtful, a.
Milquetoast; mealy-mouthed; compliant; harmless; irrelevant; boring; lemming-like; chicken-shit; etc.

see also Seriousness/Serious