Singing the Bite Me Song

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August 08, 2002

Salon's Take on Toby Young

"How to Lose Friends and Alienate People" by Toby Young. A would-be member of the media elite describes his hilarious misadventures trying to succeed in the shallow, celebrity-obsessed world of glossy magazines. []

You know, fun in a kind of obverse way. Forgive me for not having time to get through A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius yet. It is on my shelf. Summer reading, I guess.

What? Inverted Tina and Harry Come to America crossed with Bret Easton Ellis (sp?) Bright Lights, Big City?

I'm not sure. I'm not sure I would like Toby Young's book, but I like thinking about it from a distance. Some parts of this review I liked, and a bit of quirky analysis:

"On the simplest level, Young's book is about totally fucking up at Condé Nast. But it's also about a country -- or at least a city -- where all other values have been subsumed by ambition and status. "Why do New Yorkers attach such importance to the state of your career?" he asks. "To a certain extent, they define each other according to the usual demographic categories -- gender, ethnic origin, religious background, etc. -- but these things pale into insignificance besides the jobs they do. It's as if there are no alternative sources of identity."

How to totally fuck up at Conde Nast. I suppose. Like I mentioned, a variant of Bright Lights, Big City. Conde Nast. Tina and Harry etc.

Someone named Miasma would know about totally fucking up. The version on academia has been done to death, however. Wanted: alternative sources of identity.

Another paragraph that struck me:

"He is very good at detailing the process whereby smart, philosophically sophisticated people learn to nihilistically celebrate flash and triviality. For Young, it's precipitated by irritation with the recondite enthusiasms and ironic disdain for mass culture of his college friends. "Popular culture was strictly divided between stuff it was okay to like -- independent films, alternative rock, any form of cultural expression associated with minorities -- and the mindless pap produced by the American entertainment industry," Young writes. If mainstream pop culture was "enjoyed at all," he says, "it was strictly in a spirit of camp condescension."

Pop culture. Like who? Camp condescension. I tend to like camp anything, but I'm not sure exactly what "camp condescension" is. Well, yes I am, but I don't like it, so I pretend not to know. To love camp, to REALLY love it, is NOT to condescend to it, but to embrace it wholeheartedly and with utmost serious unseriousness. Yeah, I know most people don't get that far in. Their loss.

But this really struck me, these two views of pop culture. I wish some of my journalism co-workers could get this idea somehow, but I don't expect it. The folks I'm around right now think pop culture is simply celebrity adulation and not nearly fringey "entertainment industry pap." They got the "pop" part, but miss the "culture."

What I get for hanging around people with massive mass media blindspots. They only conceptualize a passive audience, and thus, have less frame of reference for participatory cultures.

Feeling like a mental somersault? It feels good to stretch a little. (no comment on why I ain't been stretching much lately):

"Of course, this pose is itself a kind of post-ironic irony, a Warholian irony that cloaks itself in gee-whiz earnestness. Yet Young's carefully calibrated faux-enthusiasm for celebrity culture becomes indistinguishable from the real thing. "Some form of transference had taken place and I'd ended up fully embracing the belief-system I'd only flirted with before," he writes. "I couldn't wait to strut around in my Armani dinner jacket, waving around the gaudy symbols of my success for all the world to see. Check out my Rolex! Get a load of the tits of my girlfriend! Am I cool, or what?"

Post ironic irony cloaked in gee-whiz earnestness? Is that something like being serious about the non-serious embrace of camp? Postmoderns R Us. Transference, to embrace the thing you once hated. OK, I got that real good. I been hating mass media corporate journalism monopolies since the late 80s. I'm not quite ready for that full body embrace and crotch grind just yet tho.

I guess that would be the "anti-culture-snob snobbery, cheerful embrace of hype and refusal of all distinctions save degrees of hotness defined the '90s." Nope. Hope to never go there.

In the end, I feel less like I would like this book at all, even as in the second part, the author tries to convince me of its charm. I ain't getting charm at all. I feel like he is describing half of Dave Eggers, with half the talent. I'll get through Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius first, I guess.


August 8, 2002 at 12:36 AM in Best Essays | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Miasma Gets Philosophical

How ought one respond to threats beyond one's control? What would the shrinks say? Like the 5 stages, denial, anger, something, something, acceptance, blah blah blah? Maybe.

The continuity of the bend over and kiss your ass goodbye philosophy, which came out of the 1950s "Duck and cover" exercises. It is realism. It is like fatalism. Some fatalism is bad, like the Indian caste system, or the Puritan obsession with names written in the "Book of Life." In reading Tarot cards, I'm not comfortable with fatalism at all. I like to think people can make choices, can direct their own lives. And they can, to a point. Then we are not islands, are part of the main, even when the center cannot hold.

Other alternatives? Cower like a daschund under the bed during 4th of July fireworks? Obsess and excessively prepare, like the people building bunkers in the hills? That has a certain appeal for me, since my dad took me camping and taught me all that "be prepared" boy scout philosophy. But it ain't no way to live. Go to Sedona and chant and wait for Scotty to beam you up? Just another version of the same thing as the bunker people, methinks. One favors Christian survivalists and the other New Agers, but they are responding at the same level of fear, or stage of dealing with it.

Wise preparation, that should be a given. You know, shit like they advise on the Red Cross site . Lots of people don't do those things, and then there is a hurricane or fire flood or something, and they don't have fresh water, or all their important papers in a safe place ready to go, or plans made cuz they can't take their dogs into shelters. Denial means over-relying on the system to care for you as well, and not preparing. If you had a child who was a diabetic, you would not respond that way--you could not afford to. You would have your stock of insulin, all the stuff you needed to care for the child in case of emergency. But how many of us wouldn't take care of ourselves as well as we would that diabetic child?

Some schools are making evacuation backpacks for each kid--an interesting variation of a life preserver in a boat, eh? School as boat. The kids don't have to see them or be scared. They can sit in a closet--but they are there.

Then there is fatalism. Knowing that one can only do something up to a certain point--so maybe you make a kind of peace with it. Or think you have, but really just push the thought away, a variation of denial too, but it works most days.

And on? Is there some deeper philosophical truth to be gained from people in civilized, first world places where the refrigerator is always running, having to live with one foot in the wild world of tooth and claw?

Did civilization slay all the dragons, to the point that we don't know how to deal with dragons anymore? Eloi from H.G. Wells's The Time Machine?" Lulled ourselves into lambs for the slaughter?

What if there were some lesson to be learned by living under a threat--lessons Israelis could tell us loads about?

I'm struck by the scenes of the movie Brazil, where the main character is around his mother, and always there is some bomb going off. Gilliam probably put that in there from IRA craziness more than anything. But it is there. The people sit at a restaurant. A bomb goes off several tables over. They continue eating after the wounded are carried away.

I don't think we want to live inside that fatalistic space. Don't want the other extreme either, constant fear and an armed camp. Where is the wisdom? What sort of attitude toward this stuff do the wise grow into? We should watch and learn from them.

Tibetians? Surely prosecuted. Exiles. Strong religious and monastic traditions, traditions that while fatalistic at time, can also be activist (I am thinking of Buddhist monks during Vietnam War). Do they have wisdom while under siege, at least enough to learn from?

just spinning,

August 8, 2002 at 12:32 AM in Best Essays, War/Terrorism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Day the Constitution Died Parts I & II

Witness Monday. The beginning of the very end. Like the end of the Roman Republic, and the beginning of the Empire.

Monday John Ashcroft ruled that a US citizen can be assigned a "military combatant" and deprived of the rights of citizenship, to be tried in a secret trial, if at all.

I haven't seen anyone bring up the freakiest thing about this dude. Note the dates. He's been in custody for about a month, right?

For a guy who has been held for a month, what was the urgency of the zoo created on Monday, all the people scared, probably trying to get their hands on potassium iodine (which, coincidentally, was being passed out in several American cities over the weekend in little pills), whatever the fuck. All the news reports about panic being worse than the dirty bomb itself (does this actually ring true to you? I start sneezing bullshit on the spot. We must all really be idiots if we will destroy ourselves in panic if a dirty bomb goes off. I guess I'd just drive somewhere pretty and wait to start puking).

Ashcroft interrupts a trip to Moscow to make the announcement FROM Moscow? Isn't that a little freaky? All these dudes got press handlers, flak catchers. Every announcement is crafted in such a way for a kind of "play" in the media and a particular spin with the public. Speakers in GOP admins at least are all drilled to stay "on message," (in Dem admins as well, but without the party line control--maybe we are already seeing the absence of Karen Hughes here--see that Esquire article where Andrew Card was telling tales out of school.)

Karen Hughes would have never let Ashcroft take the script from Moscow, no matter how embattled the FBI is. This announcement could have been made any time in the last month, and it is made when he is in Moscow, where miscommunications can occur, where handlers would have to work harder at damage control if shit got out of control? (meaning a garbled message, or an unexpected public reaction--that is how PR people think about control)

If this thing was announced in this way at this point in time, it was done for a VERY specific reason. OBJECT LESSON: al Qaeda controlling the world's attention by diverting it AWAY from the areas it wants to hide through actions in Israel and India-Pakistan.

Was the Bush admin looking to divert our attention AWAY from something? The announcement was guaranteed to become the lead story in every news outlet. What stories were being upstaged? Hearings in the Senate about FBI failures? Yeah, but if that was all they wanted to divert us from, it wouldn't require such drastic action. UNLESS something really big were about to come out on whatever path the senators were pursuing.

Still, would that be worth the risk and lack of convention of Ashcroft making the announcement from Moscow, when he could have made it from the US days before, or a flak or a White House spokesperson could have made the announcement?

If they just wanted to detain the guy a little longer and suspend his constitutional rights, such a drastic action was not needed either. Was the dude's lawyer threatening to go to the press if his client were not released? Well duh, let him get in line with all the other lawyers of people who have been detained coming from Pakistan or places like it. The world didn't need to be turned upside down just to hold this guy.

OK, so rule out all those reasons. What remains? Why would they do such a curious thing?

Is the dirty bomb threat way worse than we'd already been told? Is that why the American public needed that exact moment to be told to start shitting its pants? The urgent timing of the Ashcroft announcement--if all those other reasons are ruled out--would mean what, a dirty bomb has already gone off somewhere, and until we start puking, we won't know it? Mid-air weather balloon or something? Are we being softened up for some worse news? Is there something going on that the govt has been keeping quiet about--an imminent threat--and the timing of the Ashcroft announcement was needed to cover its ass? In that case, I'd say expect that bad thing, whatever it is, within a week.

Personally, I'd rather believe their motives are crass and political, a simple but awkwardly executed campaign to divert the Senate from something, sort of like sending a bulldozer to do something that could have been accomplished with a shovel. Just because it was stupid and risky, a gamble that PR people would not normally make (you don't want a mouthpiece talking so far away you can't control him if he decides to shoot off his mouth--esp in Ashcroft's case, cuz his use of the law in a inconsistent fashion is so idiosyncratic--the flak catchers and spin doctors would want to be prepared to correct something wrong he might say, without being surprised by it themselves--imagine the movie "Wag the Dog, if you will. Not the circumstances, but the role of the handlers, also like in the show "Spin City." The mop up they are always having to do after the Mayor's blunders. Imagine if you were Prince Philip's flak catcher. Not an enviable job.)

I mean, most of us would not fare so well talking in interviews or press conferences. We'd step in something stinky and some flak catcher would have to spring into action and do damage control.

Which is why there is NO WAY they would have let Ashcroft, of all people, a man with a history of giving his flak catchers a workout, make the statement so far away from DC and his full staff--unless something about the situation were not extraordinary. But the dude was in jail for a month. Ashcroft could have made the announcement anytime, and from DC. It is truly a puzzle.

Or we will find out something else extraordinary by the end of the next couple of weeks. Either what they were REALLY trying to warn us about, or what they were trying to hide.
We might say, well, OK, this was a very bad guy. I agree. He probably is a really bad guy.

But even really bad guys are considered by our law as innocent until proven guilty. A silly little document called the Bill of Rights applies to them, PERIOD. Even if we don't like them. Rules of evidence apply. Due process applies. Government in the open applies.

August 8, 2002 at 12:24 AM in Best Essays, Privacy & Free Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)