Friday, December 18, 2015

the subculture of those who could care less about Star Wars

This month, I have felt very much my sub-culture status. Or, to put it another way, the media is making me feel as lonely as Eleanor Rigby.
 I am one of the members of a group that is completely and absolutely and infinitely indifferent to Star Wars.
When the series first arrived on the scene, I did not hurry out to see it. In fact, I have only once had the pleasure of viewing one of the infinite sequels or prequels – someone dragged me to it. My memory is not at all of the movie, but of the headache that I felt as I watched amateurish muppet like creatures cavort across the screen, and heard much dialogic bombast.  If only it had really been a Muppets movie!
Of course, where I heard bombast, others, millions of them, heard the siren’s song. Such is life.
I am not hostile to the franchise, as I am to, say, the James Bond franchise, which I consider a pernicious machine for spreading racism, imperialism, sexism and all the rest of the rotten isms that are like facets of our national psychosis. It’s the James Bond cancer, and its coming our way in your local multiplex plus as American foreign policy, dudes!
It is almost impossible to be a fully subscribed member of the American media hookup without absorbing mucho Star Wars lore. Darth Vader is perhaps the most famous fictional devil figure in modern culture. But I don’t know whether the Empire is good or bad, or exactly what it is. And the details of George Lucas’s creation, which are debated with connoisseurial froth on twitter, facebook, Slate, Salon, etc. make my eyes glaze over. A non-fan in a world of fans is in a curiously embarrassing position, like a non-involved person witnessing a domestic squabble: one has the sense of being de trop, of  being put, by sheer accident, in the position of a voyeur.

I wonder if Adam will someday want to see these movies? And I wonder if they will seem less irrating to me as an old man than they seemed to me as a young sprout? I’m prepared, I think. Adam, like Andy Warhol, is a proponent of the school that says that the essence of art is not uniqueness but repetition. Thus, there is a version of the GingerBread man (“I want the one with the old woman in it”) that I have now heard a good twenty times. So if I am forced to actually watch Star Wars, so be it. I plan, though, to enjoy to the full my subculture until then.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The outsider candidate

"I’d have to work at learning the job every hour of the day,” he said. “It would not be easy for me to learn, because I hacve a head that is bombed out by marijuana. I cannot remember names. I cannot remember numbers.  I don’t have a particularly good reputation in this city. I don’t have a political machine. So if I get elected it seems people want my ideas.  And if I get elected, this town will be more alive thanit has been in fifty years.”

This was Norman Mailer in 1969, running for mayor, and explaining himself to a bunch of no doubt puzzled high schoolers.
Mailer’s big idea in that campaign was to make NYC the fifty first state. It is still an ace idea.  It would bring a little more democracy to the Senate, and shake up the House. It would make politics on the national level – which leans to the Dems – mirror politics on the off year, state level – when a lesser percent of the voters lean strongly GOP.
In the sixties, there were a number of outsider candidates. Most of them were on the left – although Mailer called himself a left conservative. Some were on the right – Buckley, in the election cycle of 1965, had also run for mayor.
In 1969, the traditional political machines had broken down, and the new media based political technologies were in their infancy. Joe McGuinness wrote a book about how Richard Nixon was packaged and sold like cigarettes or pop, and this was considered some kind of indictment. Today, this is what the elites expect and want. The odd tone of melancholy around the failure of Jeb Bush’s campaign, for instance, has to do, primarily, with how beautifully machined it all was. The money! The advertisements! The meaningless endorsements! It is the rocket that gets the awe – the astronaut inside, in this case Bush, is a sort of afterthought.
Mailer’s idea were fruity, and yet rather nice. For instance, Sweet Sunday – once a month all vehicular traffic, including planes, would be banned, and New Yorkers would experience the city’s birdlife. On crime, Mailer leaned to a solution grounded in Renaissance Florence – the creation of autonomous neighborhoods. In these neighborhoods, urban anonymity – which Mailer thought was at the root of crime – would be dispelled. Of course, he presented it more floridly than that, claiming that some neighborhoods might allow fucking on car hoods and some might keep fucking private.
The outsider candidate is now in a sad state. From Mailer to Trump is not the arc that leads to greater enlightenment. This is what I truly find depressing about Trump, for in terms of form – dispensing with the pr technology, getting on the news constantly, becoming an issue of conversation – is what I would like to see. I wanted it to be Bernie Sander’s gig. I think, in a way, Sanders will last longer, but Trump has put a very ugly cast into this election, and into a national mood that is characterized by the self-evidence of the slogan, Black Lives Matter, in a society where the powers that be show – that old Jim Crow state - this isn’t true every day.
There’s a long, submerged connnection between the two vocational types: artist and politician. Both began to take shape in the 14th and 15th century, within a system of patronage generated by the court and Church. Both have followed a historical logic in which the struggle for autonomy has defined the language and inner experience of both types. And both are exhausted.  Just as the Party has drained out its differentiating substance at the same time that it is the defining reference for the politician, so, too, the various schools and trends that define the artist seem, at the moment, both pointless and indispensable – we can’t talk about the artist except by way of that grid. We, or at least I, long for the outsider, the disrupter, the amateur, as a way of kicking to the curb this dead form. But the dead form seems to be overwhelming, it seems to be everywhere, and the outside that, at least, I long for, has no footing, no note it can seize and join the chorus.


olivier blanchard and the free lunch: a comedy of errors

  The neolib economist Oliver Blanchard tweeted a very funny comedy bit, in which he played the part of “social democrat”. And he wrote: “As...