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Sunday, Aug 3, 2008

Two noteworthy articles about using a pay-model for the Net.  First is this article from the Maui Time Weekly (reprinted in Alt Weekly) about how to solve the problems of the newspapers by pulling their material offline, copyrighting everything and killing off the wire services.  At the point, Net users would be forced to pay up for papers and their services.  The problem is that unless EVERY paper out there signed on (which they wouldn’t because it’s too risky), a project like this would be a failure- Net users would then just go to whatever news source they can find online that they like and just use that instead.  The genie’s outta the bottle, as they say, and trying to yank all publications offline isn’t going to happen- papers have already invested too much in their online presence and are seeing their ad revenue grow online (as opposed to offline). 


A saner approach comes from Christie Hefner of Playboy who suggests in this Portfolio article that an ala carte pricing menu for publications might be a solution for them, letting them offer individualized choices like iTunes does.  The revenue from such an idea might not be great but if it gets users in the habit of paying for some material that they really want and getting exactly what they want from a publication, that might make them more loyal readers.  While the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal were the last major hold-outs for this model, it might thrive elsewhere on a smaller scale and is at least worth a try, especially in these desperate times.


Finally, a tip of the hat to an article about one of my favorite parts of the Net which found itself sliding off the cultural map with the advent of the World Wide Web.  This PC Magazine article about the death of Usenet made me think of all the times I’ve used newsgroups, even up to this day.  It’s a wonderful, specialized place to chat, gab and argue with fellow enthusiasts about any topic you could think of (of course, I favored the music ones).  Luckily, the newsgroups do survive now in some form thanks to Google Groups, where you should go to check them out.  By the way, you can thank the misguided NY attorney general Andrew Cuomo who decided that ALL newsgroups are evil and support kiddie porn, even though that’s not true- he convinced many ISP’s to stop carrying them all and effectively killed off access to newsgroups to many people.  If you’d like to tell the AG what a misguided knucklehead he is, you can contact him at his website.


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Sunday, Aug 3, 2008


As a deeply-committed peripatetic, I recognize the indispensible role that serendipity plays in travel. In fact, eight times out of seven, it is serendipity—rather than deep ratiocination or meticulous planning—that is going to determine whether the day’s foray will ultimately be deemed successful or not.

Others might call it “happenstance”, or “luck”, or “fortune”—good or bad. But whatever name you attach to it, it is something that travelers have to get used to; we voyagers can’t live without it. Nor would we want to . . . since serendipity is what makes the journey so pleasureable; so deep-meaningful.


Even when it is not. Which is what I will explain next . . .


 


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Sunday, Aug 3, 2008

Wright Mills’s The Power Elite is pretty dated now, especially the first 200 pages of so, which elucidate the specifics of the nascent 1950s military-industrial complex in mind-numbing detail. But it’s worth plodding through all that to get to the thundering denunciations of American complacency that follows, which have lost none of their sting over the years. He laments the loss of a Habermasian public sphere (though the degree to which this ever existed is debatable) and blames a media-sponsored celebrity cult for keeping the public, disintegrated into a mass of alienated individuals capable of thinking only of their own limited self-referential interests, stupified and distracted from the workings of the true “power elite”—the Ivy League-educated managerial class who come from the established rich families. The media fosters a “psychological illiteracy” that encourages stereotyping over thinking, making it harder for us to perceive the totality of society in its functioning (as Lukacs laments about in History and Class Consciousness). “The man in the mass does not gain a transcending view from these media; instead he gets his experience stereotyped, and then he gets sunk further by that experience.” This in turn makes us more vulnerable to media manipulation, since we lack the basis to critique its representations.


The media provide much information and news about what is happening in the world, but they do not often enable the listener or the viewer truly to connect his daily life with these larger realities. They do not connect the information they provide on public issues with the troubles felt by the individual. They do not increase rational insight into tensions, either those in the individual or those of the society which are reflected in the individual. On the contrary, they distract him and obscure his chance to understand himself or his world, by fastening his attention upon artificial frenzies that are resolved within the program framework, usually by violent action or by what is called humor. In short, for the viewer they are not really resolved at all…. There is almost always the general tone of animated distraction, of suspended agitation, but it is going nowhere and it has nowhere to go.


This leaves people in a state of semi-helplessness, incapable of complex thought. “Rather than that internal discussion we call reflection, he is accompanied through his life experience with a sort of unconscious, echoing monologue. He has no projects of his own: he fulfills the routines that exist. He does not transcend whatever he is at any moment, because he does not, he cannot, transcend his daily milieux. He is not truly aware of his own daily experience and of its actual standards: he drifts, he fulfills habits, his behavior a result of a planless mixture of the confused standards and the uncriticized expectations that he has taken over from others whom he no longer really knows or trusts, if indeed he ever really did.” And since the media is controlled by the elite, its effectiveness enriches them further.


As a consequence of the degraded citizenship, democracy is a hollow illusion, an ideological alibi for the status quo. Voting is a mere expression of nationalism as opposed to a true political choice. And a “conservative mood” overtakes intellectuals who are disillusioned by the failure of liberalism to preserve a thinking public. At the heart of this mood “there is a knowledge of powerlessness without poignancy, and a feeling of pseudo-power based on mere smugness. By its softening of political will, this mood enables men to accept public depravity without any private sense of outrage, and to give up the central goal of western humanism—the presumptuous control by reason of man’s fate.” The word smugness serves as a trigger for me, and it makes me want to link this conservative mood with today’s hipsters, as per the previous post. The problem with hipsters is not their fashion-following phoniness; it’s their smug abdication of responsibility in favor of an egocentric apathy. Hipsters are conservatives posturing as progressives, often professing to be liberals while their practice refutes the claim. Mills’s description of the 1950s conservative mood suits hipsterism to a tee:


it is not a snobbery linked with nostalgia, but on the contrary, with what is just one-step-ahead-of-the-very-latest-thing, which is to say that it is a snobbery based not on tradition but on fashion and fad. Those involved are not thinking for a nation, or even about a nation; they are thinking of and for themselves. In self-selected coteries, they confirm one another’s mood, which thus becomes snobbishly closed—and quite out of the main stream of the practice of decision and the reality of power.


(This reminds me of my own indifference to the business world when I was a graduate student, and thought I was well informed on everything important—you know, semiotic theories of gender and decentered subjectivities in 18th century novels and that sort of thing. My arguments about these subjects with my peers were so vital. Mills saw the conservative mood as facilitating “historical development without benefit of idea.” This is the sense, perhaps, in which hipsterism is the dead end of Western civilization. Mills’s book is useful for linking hipsters to the larger problem of the meaningless political sphere, which seems to have spawned them. But it doesn’t shed much light on how to reinvigorate political involvement, how to make the basic acts of citizenship in a democracy not seem trivial or merely self-referential. Could “youth” culture—in reality the culture of grown adults who can affect the structures of society in a meaningful way—form for itself a politically literate, unified, and efficacious sphere of action? Is there anything else to do but resist what is currently dominant, or does any positive action stand only to be co-opted and reassimilated by the forces of conservative “smugness”?


The relation between hipsterism and conservatism-in-effect apathy makes it almost ironic that McCain’s campaign is trying to paint Obama as a kind of king of the hipsters. Andrew Sullivan makes the obvious point that this is no substitute for actually crafting policy positions (the Republicans are the dead end of Western Civilization). But this of course makes them the natural allies of hipsters, who also stand for nothing. These attacks are just another feat of projection, as when McCain plays the race card by accusing Obama of playing it.


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Friday, Aug 1, 2008

Rob Walker and PSFK both point to this Adbusters article about hipsters. You’ll be shocked to hear that the author of the article, Douglas Haddow, doesn’t approve of them.


An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the “hipster” – a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.


I’ve done my share of hipster bashing on this blog, because the word offers a shorthand way of referring to a nebulous but nonetheless nefarious phenomenon that is related to emptying out progressive and transgressive and subversive movements in culture of their power. Whenever something countercultural gets cooking, a squad of arrivistes appears to forcibly reintegrate the breakaway sect into the prevailing commercial culture, reducing any political intentions expressed into fashion statements by mouthing them vacuously or directly contradicting the upshot of the politics with the way they practice their everyday life. But like yuppie and poseur, the term hipster has exhausted itself, and now it’s hipper to proudly proclaim you are a hipster then it is to pretend you aren’t one. That is to say, the term at this point yields semantic arguments rather than social critique, as Dan Gould at PSFK noted in linking to the Adbusters piece.


As the excerpt above makes clear, Haddow doesn’t see hipsters as parasitical arrivistes but as the people who now make up the ersatz counter-cultural movements from the start. And he regards them as harbingers of the end of creativity. “The hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture so detached and disconnected that it has stopped giving birth to anything new.” This is because hipsters allegedly are ecumenical in their appropriations from culture and don’t subscribe to traditional notions of authenticity.


Hipsterdom is the first “counterculture” to be born under the advertising industry’s microscope, leaving it open to constant manipulation but also forcing its participants to continually shift their interests and affiliations. Less a subculture, the hipster is a consumer group – using their capital to purchase empty authenticity and rebellion. But the moment a trend, band, sound, style or feeling gains too much exposure, it is suddenly looked upon with disdain. Hipsters cannot afford to maintain any cultural loyalties or affiliations for fear they will lose relevance.



The aggressiveness of advertising forces hipsters into aggressive countermoves, quick shifts in allegiance to avoid seeming like marketing’s dupes. Eventually, collaborating with the forces of marketing, or conceiving of yourself as a brand, becomes an even more sophisticated strategy for evading marketing’s manipulation. Becoming collaborators becomes a kind of advanced subversive strategy. It seems unfair to blame hipsters for this when the degree to which life has become media saturated has made marketing that much harder to escape. Hipsterism is a symptom of a larger cultural disease.


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Friday, Aug 1, 2008
by PopMatters Staff

Robyn Hitchcock
Bad Case of History [MP3]
     


Lykke Li
Breaking It Up [Video]


 

Lee “Scratch” Perry
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Cockles [MP3]
     


Brimstone Howl
A Million Years [MP3]
     


Takka Takka
Everybody Say [MP3]
     


Vampire Weekend
Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa [Video]



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