“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Thursday, August 16, 2007

politics

Infinite Thought’s latest post from Berlin is a heartfelt cry against the pyjamarization of the world. Adam Gopnik wrote a similar piece in Paris to the Moon. Now, some people can’t stand Adam Gopnick – Renata Adler, baby, I’m lookin’ at YOU – but I thought Paris to the Moon had some of the funniest american in paris pieces since the battling Thurbers settled in the berg in the 20s while Jimmy tried to work on his sketches.

Gopnik wrote about trying to dress as an adult in Paris – which was a very unamerican thing to do. He makes the same point in this little essay:

“The first great difference [between Parisians and Americans] is the one already mentioned—the preference in Paris, puzzling to an American, for adulthood over adolescence. There are very few Americans—and very little American culture—not haunted by youth and the idea of the superior happiness of teenage life, by memories of happiness found and lost (or happiness just lost, and now too late to recover). Americans like to remain seventeen for as long as they possibly can, they grant enormous credit to whatever seventeen-year-olds believe, and they have built a culture around the needs—and, some might say, reflecting the wisdoms—of adolescents.

This is because Americans are generally very happy when they are young: teenagers have sex, freedom, drugs, music, some money, and not very much schoolwork. Things tighten only a little in college, there is a summer off, and then suddenly they are plunged into a brutal, insecure work world. There are few shocks as great for an American at twenty-two as the first day of work, when arbitrary power and rampant insecurity invade a largely carefree Eden. This is why careworn Americans listen again and again, unto death, to the music they heard when they were teenagers. It explains a sight so ludicrous to Parisians: middle-age Americans strolling in the city in sneakers and shorts or jeans, dressed like the children they wish they were. They are not immature; they've just been knocked cold by the realities of grown-up life that their culture hides even from itself. “

I think this ludicrous outfit – my outfit, actually, sneakers and jeans – also bugs IT. (Although try to do without shorts on a hot Austin summer day). In one of her posts a while ago, she linked to a bande a part Godard video that, I imagine, is close to her view of how humans should dress. And, incidentally, what they should do in bars. And who can resist Anna Karinen in a black fedora? I too think that all politics should flow out of choreography, although I’m more of a West Side Story man. That there isn't more mass spontaneous dancing in the world points to the sad state of our present decay.

19 comments:

Brian said...

Well..I don't really like jazz all that much (the music borders on the banal faux-elegantisme of Kenny G, in my undereducated experience), and that sweater is hideous, aqnd is the shoving everyone around any less "adolescent" behavior than the worst of Americanism? :)

Living in the Central Valley of California, there is no way in hell I am going to wear that goofy suit, either.

Color me...unconvinced....even if the overall ideas may be valid. :)

Scruggs said...

In the less visible America, you are no longer young at seventeen. The odds are you have been employed for a couple of years already, or have at least learned how to scramble a bit when things are tight at home. The nostalgia for the music of that youth reflects the importance of coming of age. The appearance and trappings of adulthood can be protective camouflage -- highly desirable, and not just for passing the ID check at bars ;-)

In Europe, I understand the kids are relegated to an enduring set of economic circumstances at what would be an early age, compared to our school system. Both paths -- tech or liberal arts -- are quite hard. To opt out imposes another set of strictures.

What may look like maturity in both those seems to me to be 1) closer to reaching an accommodation with drudgery and 2) closer to assuming adult socialization.

This is because Americans are generally very happy when they are young: teenagers have sex, freedom, drugs, music, some money, and not very much schoolwork.

In that America, kids are primed to remain infantilized consumers. Those who fall off the rails get disinherited, in a manner of speaking, and develop the sagesse of the less visible kids in a hurry. Those that stay on them generally wind up throwing temper tantrums in cheese moving occupations and blighting the streets of ancient cities with loud, invidious comparisons to cheese moving "reality".

roger said...

Brian, I think the jazz is simply supposed to be delinquent, as in Touch of Evil.
However, if you want a different sound track, try this.

So you prefer the leather jackets in West Side Story?

Brian said...

Good question. Probably. As I sit here in sweat pants and a black, solid tee-shirt, engaged ina profession (city planning) that is an archetype of cheese moving, what do I know?>

Scruggs said...

You can't be in cheese moving unless you begin every sentence with, "so what you're trying to say. . . " and then accuse your interlocutors of being evasive before they can finish a sentence.

love and terrorism said...

Roger and Infinite sitting in a tree
P-o-l-i-tici-n-g.
First comes the love,
Second comes the marriage,
Then comes the question
'Who must be disparaged?'

roger said...

LT, I like the Politicing line! I would never have thought of it. I would have said, l i n k i n g or something dull.

amie said...

LI, a couple of coincidences with their strange flow. While walking about in NYC earlier this eve, came across a bar, aptly named Coyote Ugly, with a sign outside which said: GET DRUNK IN YOUR JAMMIES, COME IN AND HAVE A PAJAMA PARTY!
The other one is about the JLG film you posted a clip from. There's another scene in the film where the threesome in the clip sprint through the Louvre. If memory serves, one of the paintings that is in focus as they whiz by is by David - Oath of the Horatii!

roger said...

Amie, you have the best memory for Godard films! Having seen the film twice recently - on dvd - I can attest, yes, that the race through the Louvre does linger on the David painting. Although of course the thing that makes that sequence absolutely is the blissful expression on Anna Karenin's face, holding hands with Arthur and Franz. Arthur is right when, at a certain point, he tells Franz not to worry that they are involving her in a crime, because they were saving her from a life of drudgery. Crime liberates!

ktismatics said...

Results from a 2006 survey of happiness in America, as reported here:

"The survey found that young adults, 18 to 24, are especially likely to be unhappy. Only 37 percent of this age group said they are happy. A clear majority of all other age groups report contentment."

dejan said...

Roger, I was as annoyed by standard French chic as I am annoyed by fortyish Americans in fluorescent colors and baggy pants. American Disneyland and Eurodisney often simply mirror each other instead of being the opposites they pretend to be. In Paris, everyone is sporting a black turtleneck and a 19th century style coat. French snobbery is just as much a label as is Disney. Notice how every second avant garde film is about a perverse burgeoisique threesome with a bit of nihilism thrown in. I did notice however in Paris that they tend to be thin in general, which is wiser simply for health reasons. That probably comes from eating good food, instead of solely McDonald's.

roger said...

Dejan, I'm partial to the black shirt thing myself, although of course without any turtleneck attached. Turtlenecks are best left to turtles.

The white colonies of the 19th century - South Africa, Canada, Australia, and the U.S. (not a colony, but identifying with the Anglosphere) seemed to all evolve a form of casualware, perhaps as a class protest. Doris Lessing's African novels are full of big red legged rhodesians wearing shorts and providing a nice negative image for your communist activist.

I think the prevalence of shorts in Austin is understandable - stripping everything off after 90 degrees is the manifest destiny out here in the hill country. Yet there is something atrociously lazy about the American males' failure to really care. Bad taste or good taste is less the issue than no taste. I worry that the coddled life style has overshot its moment of class revolt, and symbolizes not the black boot stomping on a face, Orwell's nightmare, but the fat pair of buttocks, attired in short of a colorful Haiwaian print, sitting on my face - which is mine.

roger said...

ps - oops, I meant to say, in my confusing second graf, that the colonies in the twentieth century codified that casual ware in some twisted ways. Thus Lessing's redlegged rhodesians. On one reading, the current fad for refusing to distinguish between home, school, office means - in the dreadful words of Thomas Friedman - that we are living in the horizontal world. This is what business writers mean by democratization - everything becomes business.

ktismatics said...

Implementing technologies of job satisfaction -- perky office decor, relaxed-fit attire, team projects, an ethos of self-management, high-speed internet -- serves to distract the bourgeois worker from the (at best) meaninglessness of the work itself. So work is transformed into play -- they pay me to enjoy myself. As you say, everything becomes business, but also business becomes pleasure -- leveraging the drives rather than fighting and disciplining them.

dejan said...

yes dr Doyle, i am struck by that ghastly paradox myself - in the midst of all that ''work'' there is no actual (meaningful) work taking place, because that's done in the colonies. the situation was very similar in self-managing yugoslavia, by the way. and if i ever see one more banner, bumper or internet ad telling me to look for my inner self via some useless commodity item, i think i am going to shoot myself.

roger i guess i was trying to say that there's nothing elitarian or even remotely classy about french style because that, too, has been commodified by capitalism, and all you're left is nostalgia for catherine deneveuve or something.

i think american clothing style comes from calvinism, by the way, the dutch variety - there are so many uncanny parallels between the two countries which when you think about it aren't all that surprising given Holland's pivotal presence in the migrations. In Holland every second citizen looks like a downtrodden hippie, and baggy pants or shorts are almost de rigeur. Serious debates are held about whether young people may or may not wear nose piercings at work et cetera. it has something to do with the calvinist sense of embarrassment: don't show your beauty, or your money, or your power.

roger said...

I just wrote a comment on your comment, Dejan, and this haloscan thing ate it. Damn. I'm going camping now, and can't reproduce my truly incredible insights! Hmm. They had to do with clothes as, after all, the ur-commodity (from the sheep that the fields of england were enclosed to graze to the mighty hunt for beaver that made my continent a paying proposition) to my nostalgia for Anna Karenin. I know there was an amazing insight in there somewhere, basically about nuance, and having some costuming sense - a little more high school drama, please. But it is gone, now. Let's hope this comment doesn't just get swallowed.

ktismatics said...

In my youth the only professional-type people who didn't wear a shirt and tie were culture industry workers -- university professors, artists, etc. They didn't seem to give a shit what they looked like, and they worked only when inspired.

During the time we lived on the Cote d'Azur we saw swimwear fashion change from Speedos to the long baggy trunks favored by American kids. Not such a bad thing, I didn't think, especially on the pensioners.

amie said...

Ktismatics, so you had the op to hang at Côte d'Azur beaches and went to the ones where they wear anything at all, seems a shame! :)

Ithaca said...

I'm baffled by Gopnick's American adolescent pastoral. Start work at 22???? Summer off???? So, no summer internships, no summer jobs as a temp, no summer jobs waiting tables. Nice non-work if you can get it. Not everyone can. I guess if you could the world of work could come as a shock.