Monday, July 13, 2009

Shame without Shame

 Nine out of ten frontier psychiatrists agree, the internet is only 1/4 real.  The parts that swirl around money, crime, and politics are the only places that have a true and calculated effect on the tangible world.  The rest is all intangible newness, a pillar of smoke doing impressions of Ricky Ricardo through Charles Taylor on its way to becoming solid.

The intangible pieces of the internet seem hinged on fulfillment of desires.  A better source for design inspiration, an endless tunnel of porn, a place to shout, a place to snark, a better way to stay in touch with family and friends. A portion of this intangibleness is hinged on the way the media used to interact with us.  

Censorship created a nest of odd desires. The arbitrary shape of certain slices and standards works like an inverted Tourrettes and manufactured some odd desires. The holy grail of a nipple, the strange cloisters of sexual performance.  The choreography of violence. The absence of true feelings and in all the total dismissal of difference and the assumption of agreement and conformity.  These absences provide for what I'll call the Chandler effect.

Chandler from Friends always seemed to be pulled through some abject horror.  His tone was acerbic and sarcastic, but the content of that tone was always bland, petty observations and his life was more or less fine. Yet the horror in his tone rang true.  As a viewer of late- 90's-00's sitcoms, one had already wandered through an odd conceptual landscape, the already buggered notion that every idea has already been done (don't get me started on the splatterhouse of Jerry Seinfeld's voice).  I like to think that Chandler, instead of simply replying to Phoebe's latest confession of anodyne quirkiness,  was in fact reacting to what wasn't there, what would show up a half-hour later on the evening news, what everyone else in the world seemed to be watching.  

The viewer fills in logical gaps.  Without thinking about it.  The characters on TV lead torturously abrogated lives.  Our brains fill in everything unseen and the unspoken.  In such a way TV interacts with our sense of normalcy, decency and perversity at the same time.  Depending on how willing we were to make the leaps in judgment that would allow us to believe that people act the way Chandler acted whenever he walked into a room, TV was interactive.  The interactivity was just subliminal.

The interactivity of the internet historically fulfilled the need for army bases to talk to one another should a thermonuclear attack wipe out phone and telegraph lines. But the mass appeal for the internet's interactivity is the direct result of that mute, one-sided TV interaction. The subliminal unsprung, the viewer unbound.  In the unconscious catch-all of American TV, the desire for normalcy was the viewer's true object.  Every show designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator, watched by millions and always pregnant with the notion that this was what everyone was watching.  And with family oriented programming, those among us with working imaginations, libidos, etc managed to back fill each antiseptic set with the nesting oddities of our unconscious drives. See the early years of South Park for the overture to the unhinging. Conversely, if the networks had decided to program porn, non-stop everyday, perhaps we would back fill the stories with our own impressions innocence, bathos and sentiment and feel flayed all the same.  Either way TV's basis of interaction produced a demiconsciousness that relied on the viewer's subliminal mind.  

Racing to the ever more liminal, our lives have come to include the unconscious of the collective to an unprecedented degree.  The internet today presents itself as an ad hoc system where individuals have the same thrall and power as multi-national corporations and governments. I wish to speak of systematic tendencies and not of scary end game prophecies (though I'm aware the template for non-affiliated internet essays is the conspiracy theory and so proceed with that baggage in hand).  There is a gigantic negotiation underway in the growing communities, one might hear the murmurs of Babel, one might see the outset of a multi-lingual means of communication.  As a friend pointed out to me recently, the use of extreme videos online is a means of communicating without words.  It is a way of effecting dialogue in an equalizing manner for those who do not come from English speaking countries.  It is also a way of bringing about quorum, if we can agree upon the extremes we can then move closer in.  

The internet as a system has potentially all other media as a reference point.  It is a place of rhetorical extremes, establishing a vocabulary based on new adjacencies. For the haves perhaps this could be called the creation of a flat language.   It is a vocabulary of search and discovery, skewed by the high prevalence and availability of material once defined as shocking or uncommon but that is now brought more and more into the semi-public discourse of online life.

We entertain ourselves now by questioning social mores with more and more of an acerbic and sarcastic tone.  We are Chandlers racing towards our epiphanic moment.  When this phase of the internet stalls and takes a final shape, when that last grandma watches Two Girls One Cup, and the rest of us grow bored with everyone else's sexual and social strangeness (i.e. when the next great platform arises and we forget or are distracted from this vein of thought) we will be left with a de facto system of American ethics.  Shame without shame because nothing is ever quite real until it is.    

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Cold War Solutions to Post Cold War Lifestyles

Not so long ago, it was difficult to find certain things: movies, art and music one with a collector's mindset might describe as rare. It is no longer difficult to find most things.

Part of the enjoyment of these rarities was the search. To feel rarefied, separate, clued in, unique, superior, elite. Not to be too reductive about the whole thing, because quite frequently the search was worth it. The obscurity was in direct proportion to the non-commercial value of the work, which in the end normally means it was at the very least thought provoking, if not enriching on an entirely separate order of magnitude.

It was expected among friends that when the subject of movies or music came up, you would bring forth some deep hidden gem for the group to gather round and love or hate or meh in concert. The discussions were what made it worthwhile. In bringing some piece or other to your friend's attention you could relive it through them, or you could think about it from a different perspective, or you could think about it for the first time and astonish yourself with an off-the -cuff critique, no part of which had previously existed in your head. It was great stimulation.

Now the game seems more to find a means of editing. The world arrives with unswept edges, expanding and center-less every time you open your eyes.  The search is still around, abrogated to a single fill-in field. But those accidents incidental to the search are far less frequent. Things no longer suggest themselves from the near-by aisle. The search queries are finite and described entirely by one's own desires. A great cubbying is underway, where people can pinpoint their own desires and follow them thoroughly through to the end of the day.

Francis Bacon's famous maxim about people finding the evidence that proves their own prejudices (paraphrased) seems to have inspired the design of the search engine. Momus has been discussing this phenomenon for a while and a number of web 2.0 folks have followed suit. The conversation has changed to one of assumption. Theoretically anyone anywhere can see anything at any time, so what's stopping you from downloading the collected films of Alain Resnais then commenting through the night on a Resnais discussion board? Technology has intereceded in the pattern of consumption. Aside from replacing the myopic denizen of the rental counter, it has usurped the follow up, the place for friends.

The conversation has migrated to platform. The frame is now more important than the art. Form is substance (or so some dialectical artists may have us think). The technique or design of the delivery is our common tongue. Platforms are the new popstars. They took the place of trends. MySpace traded out for Facebook traded out for Twitter (in the linear model of things). The problem (if there must be a problem) is that while we are capable of commenting on our lives with greater and greater precision (whether anyone reads those comments is another question) there is the persistent feeling that everything is intermediate. Erasure is as imminent as scheduled platform upgrades.  Try not to grow attached.

A Jogger

Let's say his name was Chip, or if not Chip something in the Chip family. The International Fraternity of Chips really missed out if this guy's name wasn't Chip. So a man, this Chip and certainly a man, runs. He looks like this is maybe the first time he has run. He looks like this is maybe something someone else has put him up to, this running. His form is awkward. He runs like he is continually trying to side-step out of his own gait, a rhumba-ish hip. 

Made even more odd by his hair. Well his hair, and face and skin. He has smooth, tan skin and an untroubled face.  Long salt and pepper hair tucked back behind his ears has come free and hangs over part of his face.  He is doubtless forty to forty-five. At the same time he is a teenager, a baby-face, a young 'un. His expression is somewhat clueless, though easy in that Chip-ish way. I don't know why, but he appears free of social phobias: friended, familyed, healthy. This jogging is his most complicated act.

An untutored jogger, a jogger trying to side-step his own gait. Looking both middle-aged and childish. Jogging not down Central Park West, but along the ridge in his own appearance.

Serious as Ice Cream

My mistake was walking down the path past the north end of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, by the hill where people like to sun themselves in full view of the Temple of Dendur. My mistake because a girl, maybe 8 or 9 years old, in a floral print dress was running and I was in her way. Up the hill towards the ice cream cart, perennially present and sold out of Rocket Pops by 3 pm on hot days, and I was in her way. A look passed over her face, brief but intense. A quarter my size, but she wouldn't hesitate to knock me over, to take me out. A look reserved for obstructions, normally accompanied by a growl. A look that eased into another look that reminded me of that line from the Armour hotdogs theme song, "kids who climb on rocks," like maybe she would just clamber over my useless self and rocket off my shoulders, drop first in line at the ice cream cart and sing a happy song on her way back to her parents.
But she swerved around me, up the path, allowing me to disappear.

A French Child in Crisis

He took the seat offered by a gracious commuter with imperious insouciance, as a matter of course, and proceeded to color in his coloring book, tsking and dolorous at the herky-jerky movements of the bus.  He colored-in a building and broke through to the sky with a bright yellow highlighter that his mother had handed him and showed his annoyance as his mother--still standing--bent and cooed over his seat neighbor, his younger brother.  
Then, a pot hole, a jolt so large he lost the highlighter and screamed, "Mama!"  

His mother, unmoved, still focused on the younger brother, left the act of retrieval to a man who stooped and lost his balance, teetering over and into the legs of his fellow office bound morning commuters. Momentarily like a dead crab, he righted himself, found the highlighter and handed it back to the pouting boy, who snatched it back without a hint of thanks.  

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Airport Fauna & Flora

From time to time I find I have exorbitant amounts of time to kill. This is more and more the likelihood whenever I fly.  I have been known to take this time to read or to create mammoth mixes on my iPod (my record is the 13+ hour mix I made for my flight to Beijing-- all solid gold, by the  way).  

There are times however when no amount of printed or sonic matter can keep me from pacing up and down the moving walkways or from slowly unthreading the broadloom carpeting.  At these times I am usually grateful for a travel partner to pull into my time lapse and then I am even more grateful for having remembered to pack my camera because it is at these times that I remember that the airport is its own ecosystem and it is good to interact with the natural environment. 

The animals in the pictures above were otherwise absent from my trip to Patagonia.  Thankfully the airport in Buenos Aires was shrouded in smoke from a nearby wildfire and so we got to rediscover the wilds of Argentina from el aeropuerto Puerto Madryn. 


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Subway Withdrawals

I no longer have to take the subway to work.  I can walk.  I can take the bus.  I can ride my bike. Or I can take a bus to the subway.  I now have an embarrassment of options. 

The walk is normally gorgeous.  Populated in the mornings by canines and their caretakers, Central Park takes me in.  The change in the seasons refreshes, but I switch up my path in order to keep it fresh, to try to lose the familiarity (which is impossible without allowing years to pass). A creature trying to destroy all habits, like a squirrel saving cigarette butts, is unnatural so more often than not I default down the same wide walks, hearing every morning that one dog who sounds like an alarm (Arooo, arooo, arooo-- in perfectly timed intervals).   

In the rain, I take the bus to the subway.  The populous bus, the fed accordion bending around wide turns. Quite. Out the windows: the city.  A more or less polite experience.  People seem far less likely to ____ you on the bus.  Fleeting, accessible bus.  

Just a few months away from the subway and I already feel like a foreigner.  Do I stand here or there? Underground the pressures build. Outside the windows: tunnels, darkness.  Inside the car someone let leak the hostility that comes with being trapped among strangers.  The subway is a case study in claustrophobia, paranoia, fear of the dark and agoraphobia all at once.  A body is weighed on the subway, measured and ignored all at once.  Swipe the Metrocard and submit. Or act out. People seem much more likely to _____ you on the subway.

That conditioning lies dormant.  The jostle, hustle and anxiety of it all.  The publicity of strap-hanging and anger management. Here we go, leg to leg with the rain-wet masses.  The unpleasantness creates its own range of desires, it's own moral compass.  Revisiting the subway makes me realize I miss it, like a retired cop misses his spot on the bomb squad.  That little touch of morning adrenalin as the cars clatter and screech.  People can grow accustomed to all kinds of unsavory things.  I miss the subway.