It was maybe 11pm, deep into a Northern BC January Saturday night. We were both falling-down drunk, and we were 17 years old. We were sitting on crusty snow, leaning back against the side of somebody’s car, gazing up into the snowflakes falling gently out of the pitch-black sky. Everything was muffled and peaceful in the way it gets when the snow falls after dark. Clean, cold, quiet, even though we could hear the distant thump of Hell’s Bells coming from the basement party we’d left a few minutes ago. Lazy Christmas lights were still twinkling here and there. Fifteen minutes earlier, she’d asked me to hold her hair back while she puked into the toilet, something that in my hometown was tantamount to asking a guy to go steady. After, she’d asked me to walk her home. I wasn’t anywhere near sober, but she was plastered, and her parents’ house was a good 3 blocks away. I was in love with her. I had been for years. I’d never told her.
[Crossposted from Full Glass Empty Clip] It’s 1977. I’m 12 years old. It’s a gorgeous Northern BC summer day, one of those glorious fleeting perfect days that are all the sweeter in the frozen north, because the memories of mud and slush barely fade before the leaves have already begun to turn again. Utterly pure blue sky, sun warm on the skin, grass a deep impatient green, a light breeze off the lake that is so invigoratingly packed with oxygen and piney perfume it might as well be aerosolized cocaine. I’m playing third base, it’s what we’d call little league if we called it that in Canada back then, I’m just beginning to feel the awkwardness of adolescence, but the sheer pleasure of being alive and standing on that dirt under that gigantic bowl of sky on that day is more than enough to let me ignore my self-consciousness. I’m a big, strong kid, and even if I’m more bookworm than jock, I enjoy sports.
One of the kids on the other team strikes out, and our gang begins to jog back to the chickenwire fence behind home plate for our time at bat, where there are a few parents hanging out, maybe drinking a beer or three in the sun. I get about three or four loping steps along the baseline before my left leg folds up, with no warning whatsoever, and I go down into the dirt. I try like hell to get up, but my leg just doesn’t seem to want to bend correctly. I don’t remember it hurting as much as I remember being confused, trying to figure out why my leg suddenly didn’t do what I told it to do any more, and then horrified and embarrassed, when my stepdad came out onto the diamond, picked me up, and carried me off.
Turns out that I had Osgood-Schlatter syndrome. I was just growing too damned fast, apparently, and bits and pieces of me couldn’t keep up. The dumbass semicompetent smalltown doctor told us that I’d have to have the left leg put in an ankle to hip cast for six months, and then the other leg — once again, ankle to hip — for another six months after that.
That was pretty much the end of sports for me, at least team sports. That was the beginning — after that long, itchy year, when my first my left and then my right leg emerged, atrophied, pale, and, to my horror, looking like a limb grafted on from a much smaller, sicklier young man — of my lifelong habit of riding bikes with my headphones on down empty highways. And that summer, when the doorway to baseball and swimming and many other things I loved closed, at least temporarily, that the door into computers and the games you can play on them opened. When I learned that it was possible to go places without actually going anywhere. That was the summer my parents bought me my first computer, a TRS-80 Model III.
I say this as a once-proud Canadian: fuck you, Canada. Stephen Harper and his brigade of destroyers, again? A fucking majority? What could you possibly have been thinking, Canada? What the hell is wrong with you?
I know you’re not completely stupid, Canada. In the half of my 45 years that I lived there, I met lots of people who weren’t stupid. My mom, who’s mayor of my hometown: she’s one smart lady. But I’m not going to ask her if she voted Conservative. I fear her response would break my heart.
I don’t want you to apologize to me, Canada. That would be silly. But it will be heartbreaking when you come to me weeping, with fresh bruises across your face, because you believed him when he said he wouldn’t hit you any more, and you went back. Again. For the sake of the kids.
I don’t want to feel a tingle of schadenfreude when I see the smoking, cratered economic wasteland after the Great Real Estate Disaster that is coming, Canada, your people shambling and blistered, draped in scorched rags, clutching the tattered paperwork for your 40 year mortgages, or for you to learn a lesson about greed from that.
I don’t want you to be the nation I so loved when I was a boy, the country I was so proud of.
I don’t want you to wake up and realize that by emulating the worst, you become the worst. America’s so exciting, so vibrant, they have the best drugs and the shapeliest fake tits, the shiniest teeth and the porn, have you seen some of that crazy porn they make down there? And the great big servings of curly fries? Holy shit! Everybody loves America, except that Bin Laden creep, and hell, they finally took him down Rambostyle, right? So all aboard the USA train!
Those boring frigid Scandinavian countries, where they have the highest standard of living, the best education and health care, the lowest infant mortality rate, even — who needs all that? Who wants to be like them, all dour and shivering and strong and secure and beloved, when America! is just next door and has that flashy car and gold tooth?
I don’t want you to look in the mirror and realize you’ve become a disappointment, an also-ran, a minor-key sidekick to a lumbering misguided giant, a mockery of the great men and women who built you. I don’t need you to understand that the toxic Network News American Political Buzzword Culture that has colonized your media and infected your discourse has distracted your people and corrupted your leaders and is destroying you. I don’t want you to embrace the principles that made you great. I don’t want you to take a step back and think about what kind of nation you want to be, and then live up to those principles.
No, wait, what the hell am I saying?
I want all of those things.
But it looks less likely with every turn of the screw that I’ll ever be seeing them.
I just read Patton Oswalt’s Wake Up, Geek Culture. Time to Die, which I enjoyed, and I’ve got something to say. Several somethings, in fact. As I set out, I’m not entirely certain what those somethings are, but I’m sure we’ll have some fun finding out.
I’m a little uncomfortable with it as a semi-serious piece of word stuff, and with the inevitable ensuing Metafilter thread. Underlying everything is an assumption that goes for the most part unquestioned: that nerds, or geeks (or otaku, but to hell with that, William Gibsonisms notwithstanding
The otaku, the passionate obsessive, the information age’s embodiment of the connoisseur, more concerned with the accumulation of data than of objects, seems a natural crossover figure in today’s interface of British and Japanese cultures. I see it in the eyes of the Portobello dealers, and in the eyes of the Japanese collectors: a perfectly calm train-spotter frenzy, murderous and sublime. Understanding otaku-hood, I think, is one of the keys to understanding the culture of the web. There is something profoundly post-national about it, extra-geographic. We are all curators, in the post-modern world, whether we want to be or not.
because I’m weary so weary of the appropriation and repurposing of poorly-understood Japanese words) are to be defined by the cultural products they (possibly obsessively) consume. It’s the common usage, sure — we talk about star wars nerds and comics nerds, about gaming geeks and movie geeks. We’ve wired into our brains a default mode where a nerd is someone who nerds out over some New Bauble, and a geek geeks out about their Precious Thing. We’re a little too accustomed to defining ourselves by what we consume, which is just what The Business of Entertainment wanted. Except for that whole part where we can get almost anything made of information these days without really trying. Or paying.
The men who planned and carried out the bombings in Bali in 2002, the ones that killed one of my oldest and dearest friends (but only after he suffered with burns over most of his body for nearly two weeks) along with 201 other people, were executed last month.
You’d think I’d be happy about that.
Let me tell you a little story that may not seem to have much to do with this, but does, somehow, in a way that’s not entirely clear to me. Maybe in the telling, I can work it out a bit.
It was the mid-70s, I think, another glorious short clean summer in Northern BC, one of the ones that stay with me in my memory, and my aunt, uncle and two cousins were visiting us.
We had taken our river boat ten or fifteen kilometers up the lake, up to one of the rocky beaches under the ridge of Mount Pope, inshore from Battleship Island. We set up our outpost on a long expanse of thumb-size pebbles rattling under a broad unclouded vault of sky, stands of jackpine and spruce at our backs clustered beardlike around yellow stone cliff outcroppings. Clear deep dark green water, hot dogs cooked on whittled birch sticks over a fire pit. It was the kind of day that makes you feel glad to be alive, especially when you’re 8 or 10 years old and all is right with the world.
I remember at one point my cousins and I were ranging up the shingly beach, just exploring, when we came across the biggest snake I’d ever seen. It was glistening and black and in the water, and it took off like a shot as soon as it saw us, undulating frantically as it headed along the rocky verge, trying to escape.
We were curious, or at least I was, and we started throwing driftwood and rocks in its path, trying to get it to turn around, or slow down, so we could get a better look. I’m not sure, of course, what my cousins were thinking, but I don’t think they had any more malicious intent than I did. We were curious. The missiles we hurled at the poor beast got progressively larger and we got more excited, and the inevitable happened. One of the rocks or sticks landed square on the snake, and killed it. It uncoiled and floated, light belly up.
As we’d been hollering and chasing the snake, my uncle, presumable alerted by our excitement, had come up behind us just as the fatal stone did its work. All he saw was hooting boys killing an innocent creature.
He wasn’t furious, he was disgusted, disappointed. I still remember, as clearly as if it were yesterday, the look on his face. I don’t think anyone had ever looked at me like that before.
Several people have sent me links to news items about the execution of the Bali bombers in the past few weeks, and each time, I’ve had to tell them that I just didn’t know what to feel about it, much less what to think.
I find as I grow older that every year I am certain about less and less.
I’ve said to some folks who asked that although I do not believe that more killing is a good response to killing, if I were handed the gun, or set down in front of the switch behind the one-way glass, or just put into a room with the bastards, I wouldn’t hesitate to exact vengeance for the death of my friend. Pull the trigger, press the button, beat them with my fists. I’ve said to my friends that I am an ape masquerading as a man.
I don’t know if that’s true or not, I really don’t. It sounds good, I suppose, and I’ve always been about the dramatic pronouncement over the measured interpretation.
Is the world a poorer place without my friend Rick Gleason living in it? Yes, it is, and the same is no doubt true for the friends and family members of each and every of the other 201 people killed in the bombings. Is the world a better place without their killers living in it? I think it probably is.
We tell ourselves a lot of stories about ‘the sanctity of human life’. We seem to mean the lives of those we know and love when we talk about it, and that’s not surprising or wrong. We find it hard to care about strangers, and harder to care about strangers whose tribe is different, and even harder to care about those strangers who would do us harm if they could, or leave us to die without compunction. People get all misty about their Jesus and his injunctions to love one’s enemies and turn cheeks.
But we don’t really believe that human life, in the abstract, is sacred, even if we’re willing to go the extra mile and define what we mean by sacred, do we? Not really. We make war, we ignore the roots of violent crime and turn away, we spend millions on blood-fiesta movies and video games and tell ourselves that it’s about catharsis. The best we can reasonably claim to believe is that some human life is sacred.
We’re not bad people, of course, most of us. Actual, personal violence we find shocking, unacceptable, abhorrent. We are traumatized by the headless corpse behind the steering wheel sitting in the puddle of blood and piss in the twisted plastic and metal of the Friday night wreck. We’re dutifully frightened by the TV news items about violent crime that are intended to keep us dutifully frightened and at home watching the sponsor’s messages. But we do love our serial killers and the movies about them, we love our torture porn, we love our Schwarzeneggerian one-liners before the shotgun skullpop, even while we guard our vulnerable citizens against violence domestic and corporal and sexual and even emotional. We righteously and rightfully do our best to end the social conditions that allow such things to happen. And we support our troops. You know, if we have any. We compartmentalize.
I don’t think most of us are all that clear on these things, and I suppose I’m no better than anyone else. See, if we admit that by executing those bastards, and we accept that violence has its place in our attempts to make the world better, we have accepted that violence has its place. This has consequences.
And if we’re not trying to make the world better, then we’re just acting out another episode of the woeful old Jehovahriffic vengeance.
I’m not against vengeance, though I’d rather be a man than an ape. I have to admit that there are times when I want to bare my yellowed fangs and rip out a throat and feel the hot pulse of blood wash across my cheek.
Thirty years later, having returned to the memory many times over the years, I don’t think I wanted to kill that snake. But I’m not certain that that was actually the truth at the time.
When you grow up in the far north in Canada, if you’re at all curious about the world and the people in it, you can’t wait to get out. As soon as you’re able, you head out to the big city, for work or school or whatever you can get. It isn’t such a different story from kids growing up in the boonies anywhere, where it’s Montana or Gangwon-do in Korea, western New South Wales or the Cyclades.
I grew up, for the years that counted at least, in Fort Saint James, British Columbia. During those years — the early 70′s to the early 80′s — it was the End of The Road. Vanderhoof was the asshole of the world and we were forty miles up it, we said, recycling that old standby. The paved highway ended in the Fort, and to go further north meant logging roads and endless washboard and pothole gravel, dusty in summer, solid ice in winter, and slicker than snot the rest of the time. There were a couple of reservations further up there, and a few scattered fishing lodges and mines and logging camps. Wilderness, though, for the most part. Endless dense forest carpetting mountains, nap worn smooth in spots by crystal-clear cold lakes and rivers. Germanson Landing. Takla Landing. Leo Creek. Deese Lake. I’d like to say I hunted bear in these places wearing nothing but a breechclout and bowie knife, but with parents who were grappling with living on the frontier after moving from southern Ontario and a little shellshocked by family tragedy, the names of these tiny, isolated places were almost as exotic to me as Tokyo or Timbuktu. We didn’t stray too far.
But our own tiny town of 2500 or so was frontier enough for anyone, and, in what feels all these decades later like a deliberate, considered balance to the more bookish side of my nature, but was probably just imposed on me by the environment, I spent a lot of my time outdoors. In the summer especially, I’d spend 5 or 6 hours a day just behind our house swimming in the cold runoff-fed waters of Stuart Lake, or buckling on my first-gen Sony Walkman and riding my bicycle further and further out along the limited network of paved roads that snaked out along it, or to the south towards Vanderhoof, or the 10 or 15 kilometers north to the saw mills, after which the asphalt just stopped. Looking for something.
When I was a teenager, I thought a lot about the end of the world. In particular, the rain of nukes that always seemed just around the corner. I was fascinated and terrified. I suppose that’s not an unusual thing for kids that age, and might even have been the usual for m-m-m-my generation. I grew up in the 70s, came of age in the early 80s. I was convinced that nuclear war was near-inevitable. I had no doubt that doddering dimwitted Ronald Reagan (read ‘his handlers’) and whichever doddering Soviet supremo was currently being propped up and jerkily animated with electric current (read ‘his handlers’) were going to blow the crap out the world. I dreamed about it. I can remember a grand total of one wet dream from my pubescent years; I can remember literally dozens of atomic holocaust dreams.
I remember Helen Caldicott and her Canadian-made If You Love This Planet. They showed it to us in high school. I remember the TV movies Threads and The Day After. Two and half decades after seeing Threads, I still remember the camera lingering on the puddle of urine at the woman’s feet as the mushroom clouds rose. I watched The Road Warrior when it was first released. I remember reading A Canticle for Leibowitz. I sucked up all the ’50s bomb-shelter paranoiac sci-fi juvenilia I could get my mother to buy for me at the bookstores on our shopping trips to the nearest city. I read what little I could find about the growth of the Cold War arsenals. It was… a hobby of mine.
Not that I was the archetypal Weird Kid or anything, muttering head-down through greasy locks about the ‘end of the world’. I had normal hobbies, too: comics and computers, swimming and biking, booze and friends’ fast cars. Girls. I showered regularly. But I did dream a lot about the end of the world.
And they weren’t all nightmares by any means. See, I grew up in a tiny town more than 1000 kilometers north of Vancouver. I was completely confident that when the bombs fell, we’d be safe and secure. When I was in Grade 5, my gifted-group teacher had had a meteorologist boyfriend who’d lent me (and the other smart kid they’d cut from the herd to study what and how we liked) his weather maps. I’d learned about the prevailing wind currents of north-central British Columbia. We’d be all good when the balloon went up. The nearest mushroom cloud might sprout and rain its deadly ash 500km away, at worst, accidental mistargetings notwithstanding, and leave us basically unscathed.
We had moose and squirrel salmon, we had farms and ranches, we had endless forest. Fruit might get a little scarce, but hell, I didn’t much like fruit anyway. My house had a deep well, and the lakes and rivers were sweet and clear. Nuclear winter? No worries. We lived through -45°C spells every damn year. We’d get by. Let the mad bastards down south kill each other off en masse. We’d be the inheritors of the earth, us hardy northern canucks, ululating our diesel-powered ways down out of the arboreal wastes, antlers strapped to the hoods of our Barracudas and pickup trucks, to rebuild things in our own Royal Reserve-powered image. Proud Canadians. There’d finally be some kind of payoff for living 40 miles up the asshole of the earth for so many years.
Armageddon didn’t seem like such a bad thing. Not the best result in a lot of ways, sure, but Ouroboros the world-turd was spinning at the bottom of the bowl, anyway. Time for cleansing holy nuclear fire! It’d be a shame, all those innocent people getting torched, but we kept reading how overpopulation was going to kill the planet even if the nukes didn’t.
So talk these days of a coming economic armageddon with Ground Zero in America’s bubble have actually put me in a nostalgic mood. Headlines like China threatens ‘nuclear option’ of dollar sales take me right back to 1982. Media tidbits like Jim Cramer’s recent howling monkey-boy histrionic meltdown — ‘It’s Armageddon out there!” have fascinated me in the kind of way that (metaphorical) nuke-porn did back in the day.
It’s far from certain, of course, that the blow up is going to happen, or even that things will fall apart. But I’ve been watching the whole thing for years now, after decades of conditioned ignorance about economics, and the New Great Depression feels as likely to me as nuclear tennis did back in the early ’80s.
Then again, that didn’t end up happening, did it? There’s some comfort in that, I guess.
A comment from the sometimes-overheated Malor in a recent Metafilter thread (among many others about the subprime mortgage mess, the yen carry trade, the liquidity dry-up, and all the rest) lays out genesis of the worst case scenario pretty well, I think. Is it a Minsky Moment? Yeah, probably.
We should have gone into a horrific recession after the stock market bubble popped in 2000. The size of that bubble was far bigger than the one in 1929, so the consequences should have been even more severe… something on the order of severity of the Great Depression, although I think a 1970s-style stagflation writ large was the likeliest outcome.
What happened instead is that the Fed panicked and hit the liquidity button, flooding the system with incredibly cheap money. New money chases inflation, and causes more of it, so it went into housing, and then people started leveraging themselves up into massive debt to buy more of it.
Bubbles have been called the fiscal equivalent of a nuclear weapon; the only way to avoid the fallout is by not having one in the first place. The stock market bubble was a huge deal, though probably survivable.
But the Fed, which set off the original bubble with easy money, tried to fix the fallout with more of the same medicine that got us sick in the first place. To stop the fallout from one atomic bomb, they set off two fusion weapons instead…. and we didn’t even dodge the fallout from the first bomb, we just delayed it. The explosion of the other two bombs just sent the fallout into orbit, but it’s still up there, and we’re still gonna eat every rad.
At the very least, we’re going to have a full generation of very hard times, tougher than anything in living memory. I think we will be exceptionally fortunate if the United States continues to exist as the same legal entity.
In terms of likely outcome, my operating theory is that we’ll go into a short-term deflationary crunch, but the Fed will open the floodgates and send us into an inflationary death spiral. Not just nasty horrible stagflation for two decades like we would have had from the Y2K pop, but an actual hyperinflationary death spiral for the dollar.
With fiat currency, I just don’t think a true deflationary collapse is possible… although with the unbelievably massive leverage in the derivative positions, I suppose it could happen. Money could be destroyed from debt default faster than the Fed can lend new dollars into circulation.
There’s one name you should remember in the coming crisis: Greenspan. This is all his doing. His refusal to ever allow a recession, ever, led us directly into this mess. He never met a problem he couldn’t cover up with liquid paper.
I think Malor might be overstating the case when he talks about a generation of hard times. On the other hand, if China pulls the economic trigger, he might be understating it.
Anyway, the winds taste the same to me because as the tension builds I’m once again far from the places where the corpses will litter the ground if and when the hammer falls. Two and half decades ago I was in the far north of Canada, confident that we’d be able to sustain ourselves while the rest of the world went to hell. Now I’m in Korea, and if economic armageddon happens, once again I’m not directly in the line of fire. Once again, if it all goes to hell, I’ll feel sorry for all the people (even the stupid ones who went for their two year no-money-down teaser-rate no-declare ARM mortgages for a McMansion they knew they couldn’t afford) who lose it all. The rich will make it through, as they always do, this time with Bushy legislation and offshore accounts rather than hardened bunkers and hidey holes.
Well, I like to say I’ll feel sorry about the end of days. I said to myself when I was 17 that I’d be sorry about all those crispy corpses down in CanadAmerica South. But not entirely sincere the sentiment, I have to admit, then or now. The truth is, of course, in some ways, on some days: I think I’d feel like pumping my fist, taking a deep breath, and shouting ‘That’s what you get for shortsighted greed and systematic stupidity, you bastards!’ Or more succinctly, ’cause my wind is not what it once was, ‘Suck it, dummies!’
I’m a bad man that way. Or part of me is and was, at least.
Bad things are going to happen to the Korean economy, certainly, if and when America’s economy goes tits-up and takes the rest of the world with it. But if I lived in North America, if I was mortgaged to the hilt, if I was living from paycheck to paycheck, I’d be a lot more worried about it than I am here in Korea with my life savings in won and no debt.
Maybe we ought to buy some gold, though.
So I am back where I was when I was young — a cleansing fire might just be what’s needed to clean out the corruption and cauterize the wounds. Part of me almost looks forward to it. I’m not sure if I really believe that, or if it’s just the romantic teen I was surfacing again for a last misanthropic gasp before he goes down into that dark cold water for the last time.
Either way: armageddon schadenfreude. It’s not just a good name for a postmodern superhero.
[Update: more background material and some excellent explanations of the IMPENDING DOOOOOOOM in this MeFi thread.]
We grew up watching. If you’re 50 or 40 or 30 or younger, you’ve spent thousands of hours watching. You still watch — you watch on YouTube, or you watch your DVDs, or you watch the TV. Maybe you use a PVR to timeshift yourself so that you can watch on your own schedule, congratulate yourself on cheating the advertisers, denying them the eyeballs they crave. Maybe, like me, you fire up bittorrent on boot, and swarmload all your video automagically from the RSS feeds of illicit darknet bulletin boards.
Howl Twitter (with abject apologies to Allen Ginsberg)
I saw the best posters of my generation destroyed by blogging, commenting hysterical naked,
scrolling themselves through the n-word threads at dawn looking for a snarky fix,
trucker-hatted hipsters burning for the cheapest DSL connection to the bitwise dynamo in the datastream of night,
who pizza and tater-tots and poopsocking and high sat up typing in the supernatural whiteness of rented condos surfing across the tubes of internets
who bared their breasts on MySpace under fake names and saw Mohammedan bombers threatening in video streams illuminated,
who played through universities with radiant eyes hallucinating Second Life and Warcraft tragedy among the scholars of war,
who were banned from the websites for crazy & posting batshitinsane on the Windows™ of Mr Bill,
who farted in unshaven rooms in underwear, tossing their tissues in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror on CNN…
Watching and being watched has started to feel like the default human state in these mediated days. You know how characters in video games will go into their idle animation if you wait too long to interact with them? Yeah, like that. Unwatched, they nonetheless go through the motions as if they were.
The last half a century or more is remembered, at least by me, as a succession of moving images — lumpy raspberry red Kennedy brains sprayed out across the trunk of the convertible, phallic twin towers collapsing like nationscale erectile dysfunction. Watching makes manifest our reality, makes more real our memory. Two or three generations now, we’ve been immersed eyedeep in it. Hawkeye Pierce and Fonzie, they’re signifiers of my childhood as evocative to me as cold lake water and the northern lights. If you spend as much time on the internet as I do, if you’re one of the geek-approved flavour of obsessive-compulsives we call ‘early adopters’, if you’ve bought a big flat panel TV or covet HD video, if your appetite for bandwidth is insatiable, if you feel compelled to buy ever more complex mobile phones, you’re probably in the same boat as me. You swim in the same advertising cesspool in which our media meals float — eyeballs watch, watching is intentional, intention means awareness, awareness is all when someone wants something from you or when you want something from them. Tree falls in the forest, but it doesn’t matter shit unless somebody’s watching. We’re Schrödinger and his cat, both at the same time.
If you live in London, your picture is taken 300 times a day, but not because someone want to sell you something.
You’re being watched, and you’re meant to feel safe.
We’ve had another lesson drummed in to us, too, it seems; one that cuts in the other direction. It’s a weak inverse solipsist lesson we felt in our bones from the time we were toddlers, of course: you’ve seen it on America’s Funniest Home Videos, maybe. The child falls, howls while the parents with the camera are looking at him and pointing the camera. They move off, out of sight — the observing eye umbrated — and the child quiets, sniffs, draws shuddery breath, and follows. As soon as he knows he is once more in the range of the observer’s gaze, he busts out into full wails again.
Here: It’s easier for you to watch the video than for me to explain it. Watch.
Our thoughts, our feelings, our selves are never as real as when someone else is observing them.
So we used to make home movies, we took Polaroids, we sent cards to distant relatives at Christmas so we’d be alive in their minds. It’s a natural and a human impulse. Hell, we painted on the walls of Lascaux. With the technology at hand, we were only able to do it occasionally. We laughed at the Japanese tourists back in the 1970′s who lugged cameras around and photographed everything. Remember those jokes? Me, I’m in some Japanese family’s album somewhere because they asked me in pantomime to pose with them, back in 1976 in Banff, presumably because I was wearing a sweatshirt with a big red maple leaf and Olympics logo.
We’re rubberneckers slowing down to peer at the wreckage flung from the dizzying welter of ‘reality TV’ programs, where it is purported that we are watching ordinary people raised up or struck down by our collective whim or their own strengths and failings, willing participants watchers and watched alike, sanctified and made flesh by the power of our collective gaze. American Idols are made of people! Barechested rednecks are hilarious and a little sad, reminding us of what me might have been, at least on Cops. Oh, man, that’s clever: those fat bastards on the Biggest Loser aren’t really losers at all, are they? It goes on and on.
[ripper] I told u I was hardcore
Larger than life as we bask in the collective gaze starts to feel like a necessary platform of life services to achieve Normal, to stand out from the undifferentiated herd in the way that we’ve been told we should by companies who want us to buy their products. But buying those jeans whose commercials identically mass-marketed the promise of individualist flair to everybody just doesn’t carry the same cachet any more for us media-steeped folks. We’ve gotten too smart and self-aware for that, some of us.
Bud: Look at ‘em, ordinary f–king people, I hate ‘em.
And so online journals like this very one you’re reading right now, and the canonical cheese sandwich post. So weblogs, where what we’ve seen is posted, so that others can see it, and then go and see the thing seen. So audioscrobbling. So Second Life. So YouTube. So MySpace. So Flickr, where we can upload cellphone pics minute-by-minute, if we want. So Odeo and Twitter. So new, so immediate: so we spread the minutiae of our minute-to-minute existence out over the wires, so that others — someone — will notice and pay attention. We are alive to reality when we watch, we feel more real when we are paid in the attention-currency of attentive eyes.
I’m thinking it’s a new pornography of the self. We willingly prostitute our privacy, and we accept payment in the form of attention. We always have, of course. But the slickly sexy 2.0 toolset we have makes it so effortless, and the reward such a crackpipe hit of Warholian fame, that it’s hard to know when to stop. We become gleeful self-pornographers.
The word originally signified any work of art or literature depicting the life of prostitutes. Though pornography is clearly ancient in origin, its early history is obscure because it was customarily not thought worthy of transmission or preservation. Nevertheless, in the artwork of many historic societies, including ancient India, ancient Greece, and Rome, erotic imagery was commonplace and often appeared in religious contexts. The Art of Love, by Ovid, is a treatise on seduction and sensual arousal. The invention of printing led to the production of ambitious works of pornographic writing intended to entertain as well as to arouse. In 18th-century Europe, pornography became a vehicle for social and political protest through its depiction of the misdeeds of royalty and other aristocrats, as well as those of clerics, a traditional target. The development of photography and motion pictures in the 19th and 20th centuries contributed greatly to the proliferation of pornography, as did the advent of the Internet in the late 20th century.
And as we do so, we live less in the actual moment, perhaps, less with the actual people around us. We don’t need to seek out people to be with us here, to be our audiences: if we post, they will come, or at least their eyes will, we hope. Do we lose more than we gain? I don’t know the answer to that.
Maybe I’m just an old curmudgeon. I don’t use instant messaging and other ‘presence apps’, I don’t carry a cell phone. I have no desire for people to know what I’m doing and when, and I don’t care to be at anyone’s beck and call when I am enjoying being alone. Or any other time, for that matter.
I certainly don’t think that it’s all bad, all this Twittering and Flickring, all this eyeball mongering. I have nothing against prostitution, in principle. But we may underestimate what it’s done to us, and what it’s doing. And I wonder what it will mean for people who have never known anything different.
[Update: Hey, Bruce liked my Ginsberg repurposing! And so the circle is complete.]
You know what? I’m a little weary of hearing about your conferences, your camps, your cozy cash-on-the-barrelhead confabs. I don’t want to know what web-shaking new thoughts percolated through the sponsored-by-Starbuck’s IRC backchannel while some Internet Smellovision™ rep droned and powerpointed onstage. I don’t really need to see more Flickr pictures of grinning gaggles of bloggers glistening with teraflopsweat, a little too eager to prove that they socialize in other venues besides World of Warcraft.
Don’t try and tell me that ‘business weblogs’ or ‘the business of weblogs’ are anything but business. Go ahead and do your business. Make your money: we’ve all got to. Convene with your peers and drive your value propositions down the ROI highway. It’s all good. We’re lucky if we can make a living doing something we love. But if what you do and what you say in this shared textual space of ours is about selling something, then it’s about selling something. Don’t bullshit us. Lines blur; everything gets a price tag slapped on it.
I’m not looking at your ads, and there’s no way I’m clicking them, unless I’m right-clicking on them to add them to my Adblock list, and I’m cursing you for making me go through that small tribulation.
Then my nose opens up and the fingers begin to flex when I read again how you were talking to that netfamous guy about this other well-known weblog guy, because that’s what famous internet guys do — they network. They do it publicly, and dignify it by calling it ‘conversation’. Networking obviates the need for latex gloves while giving a socialmedia reacharound.
Conversation as intercourse. Intercourse as commerce. You know somebody’s getting f–ked. I think it might be us. Ad copy tattoed on our lover’s forehead, and we’re so inured to it that we don’t even notice anymore. We’re trying to make love in the middle of the marketplace, but we’re just getting screwed.
Conferences are where salesmen go. Because that’s what salesmen do — they network. They sell. They place ads where we’ll see them, so they can sell us something. Salespeople. Salespersons, I guess. Salors and salestresses. They sell. Lomans, not shamans.
We’ve got the salesman archetype etched into the cultural DNA by now — we see cheap suit a little sad, a little desperate, the armpit-stained Flying Dutchman of the strip malls. We hear faux-friendly NLP-creepy patter, we cringe, even if we’re not sure why. Salesman selling something at us makes our sphincters tighten in a pre-fight-or-flight reflex. Does mine, anyway. And thanks at least in part to the blithely worshipful way that your average blogjockey has of beating the bones together at the foot of the Google Monolith, Adsense has infiltrated our online culture, has made slightly sad dry-haired Holiday Inn revenants of all of us, trapped in a coach seat next to some guy trying to sell us some shit we don’t need, waiting to get a word in edgewise so we can sell him some shit he doesn’t want.
My god, it’s full of ads! Ads by Goooooooooogle. There’s something hidden in that inviting string of ‘ooooooooooo’s waiting to be teased out by a modern day steganographic Nostradamus. While making his ‘o’ face.
(Yeah, I flog Dreamhost here, and I run Adsense on one of my other sites. I’ve become as guilty of this sort of whoring as the next poor rube. I’m squatting as deep in the shit as you are, pants around my ankles, ‘raising the level of discourse’.)
‘But wonderchicken, my cranky friend,’ you may well object. ‘If you don’t like it, just stop reading it! Nobody’s holding your feet to the fire here. Let those who can and want to spend their time and money sitting in threadworn conference centres with others of their adoptive sept and clan do so, and do not begrudge them their participation in the Monetary Blogdustrial Complex. It is an Engine of The New Economy! It is a bitwork bulwark against the Old Media Hegemony, from which we can together launch our Social Media Enfilade! A rising tide of advertising and self-promotion lifts all boats! We need the evangelists and the shills to Get The Word Out! The Long Tail will always be there wagging the Big Dogs, rich strata of abandoned and automated weblogs, linkfarms and pr0n, and lonely people bellowing out across the virtual rooftops to their audiences of search bots, googlenauts and bemused relatives. The human experience, made hyperlinked. Google will index it all, and get rich on the carrion-clicks that it sells to the office cubicle fools who Aren’t Us! It’s a Brand® New Day!’
Yeah, I know. But I felt like I needed to launch a barbaric yawp into the aether, because I miss it sometimes. And these things can be bad for you if you just let them build up inside. Hi Dave!
Google, despite the fact that they are clearly the evolutionary precursor of the Borg or Skynet or the Matrix or whatever Evil Tech Hive Mind your dystopian leanings favour, can be instructive and educational as well as entertaining and terrifying.
From the inquiry into the global zeitgeist below
we learn, for example, that
- Bermuda goes positively apeshit over Coke, but has no interest in Pepsi
- New Zealand is also a Coke Nation, but hasn’t yet completed the Pepsi drinker genocide
- Canadians don’t care much about the minute differences between sugar water brands, but are fond of bum
- …but not nearly as fond of it as the Kiwis
- Suprisingly, perhaps, Commonwealth nations are keener on the buttsecks than Americans
In today’s globalized economy, borders become transparent to markets, and death is once again a spectator sport, with images shot ’round the globe in realtime to Feed The Need™. Civilization is sooo cool, man! It’s mashup time, and you get to choose whether you want to eat that mash with fork or spoon, because the Customer Is Always Right.
Of course, it is entirely possible that there is no Spoon, and we’re all Forked.
Share and enjoy.
I was somewhere between point A and point B, as I had been for most of the decade in question. For most of my life, when it came to it. Wait, that’s not the way to start it. Let me try again.
I’ve never been as fascinated by sex as most people seem to be, but there was a lost few days that I remember….
No, that’s not how I want to tell this story either.
One more time.
There was this girl in high school. She was attractive, splendidly put together, but clumsy somehow. Unpopular, invisible. And smart. Too smart, and too interested in making sure that people knew it. Me, I was smart too, but I spent as much time as possible trying to rebrand it, at least to those elements of the cabal that didn’t appreciate that kind of thing. I was as kind to her as I was to most people, because I was a nice guy, especially when I was sober, even as I was limping unsuccessfully after other, unobtainable young women, stealth erection tucked down my leg.
Most of a decade after high school, I had decanted myself back into the Old Home Town after a time drinking and sailing in Mexico, skinny tan squinty pickled and worldy-arrogant, and we met again, and drank together, and she was magnificent. Gorgeous, and grace had replaced teen clumsiness. Apparently, she’d been in teenage love with me. Oh.
We screwed like minks on the floor at the foot of her parents’ bed after the bar closed. Her parents were in a nearby town dealing with the aftermath of her grandmother’s death, which was why she was also back in town. It was one of those things that happen, and it was nice, and fleeting. And hotter than hell, I tell you now.
Months later, and I was making my way back down to the big city. I’d saved a couple of thousand dollars working mill and was ready to buy a ticket out again, to wherever. Wherever had treated me pretty damn well before. She’d left an open invite to come and stay with her, anytime, and I decided to take her up on it.
That’s where the whole ‘I’ve never been dick-led’ thing that I mentioned comes in. I didn’t love her, sex was a thing that I liked but didn’t crave: I didn’t know what the f–k, but I was 20-something, and I wanted to walk through whatever doors opened up in front of me, on principle if nothing else. And that illicit carpet sex had been… good.
So I rolled into her town on the Greyhound, called her, and she picked me up, and we went to the liquor store, and she bought half a dozen bottles of liquor, and we went to her house, and we f–ked a lot.
We drank — or, mostly, I drank, at the arborite-and-aluminum table in the kitchen of her small, neat apartment — and then we f–ked. Mornings, she went to work, and I stayed, and wrote, and smoked, and waited until the afternoon to drink again. I don’t remember eating during those 4 or 5 days but I suppose we must have.
It wasn’t love driving the lust, which was a new thing, at least for me. It was an echo of love for her, maybe, a salute to an unrequited one a decade old. It was good for both of us, I supposed and I liked to think, in completely different ways.
The night before I left — and this was the memory that started me telling this story, this story I couldn’t figure out how to start, and now, having started, have reservations about telling its denouement — it was Saturday night and Canada-cold, we were drunk as lords, and I was going down on her, and her muscles were a-twitch and her transported. I was proud as hell that I was making her come. I’d never known a women before who had her own apartment and all.
As the orgasm rolled over her, she let a massive fart out on my chin. It was a ripper. I took it with aplomb — I had at least a bottle of scotch in me — and looked up after it had finished, over the smooth terrain of her belly. Staring at the ceiling, as the muscles on the insides of her thighs quivered and quieted against my ears, she said “I didn’t get to see my grandma before she died.”
We drank some more that night after we got dressed. I left the next day, and we parted friends.
I don’t know what this story means, but the memory came to me tonight as I drank my beer, and I thought I’d tell it, because I miss writing shit down sometimes.
For some reason, this post from a few years back — Uncle f–ka Exegesis — has been getting hits like a proper weblog motherf–ker lately. Not as much as the weirdly-popular-in-Europe Web 2.0 Bullshit Generator, but pretty damn close.
I re-read the exegesis for the first time in a long time just now, and I’m kind of thinking it’s the best damn thing I’ve ever written. Then again, I am drinking beer because tomorrow’s Buddha’s Birthday — that bastard — and I’ll admit that the juice might possibly have coloured my perception and delaminated my judgement.
I’m still on the road, though, and I’m still gunning for the Buddha (that bastard). That’s got to count for something.
Anyway, sometimes I make myself laugh. Your mileage may vary, as they say in the halls of power, those petrol weasels, them.