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by Rob Horning

24 Nov 2009

The idea that consumer choice is freedom is perhaps the quintessential piece of consumerist ideology, so perhaps it is no surprise that economic pundits like Tim Harford, writing in the FT, would be eager to report the evidence against it.

The average of all these studies suggests that offering lots of extra choices seems to make no important difference either way. There seem to be circumstances where choice is counterproductive but, despite looking hard for them, we don’t yet know much about what they are. Overall, says Scheibehenne: “If you did one of these studies tomorrow, the most probable result would be no effect.” Perhaps choice is not as paradoxical as some psychologists have come to believe. One way or another, we seem to be able to cope with it.

Interesting that the paradox of choice is here presented as something the psychologists merely want to believe—is this projection at work? Tyler Cowen, who declares that “the so-called paradox of choice is one of the most overrated and incorrectly cited results in the social sciences,” links to Harford’s story approvingly.

Whether you accept the refutation (or the original observation) seems a question of whether you trust the methodology of these sorts of studies. Mine is undermined by the fact that the studies themselves have yielded contradictory results: Harford reports, “Neither the original Lepper-Iyengar experiments nor the new study appears to be at fault: the results are just different and we don’t know why.” I’m skeptical generally of efforts to replicate real-world psychology in artificial lab experiments. The arbitrariness of the tasks subjects are asked to participate in, and their abstraction from lived social reality, means they have turned off their self-consciousness to a degree and are behaving artificially, different from how they would act in a situation with true social implications and ongoing ramifications for their self-concept.

Determining the psychological impact of the number of choices is a proxy war for whether or not restrictions should be placed on markets in order to benefit consumers—or to even encourage them to be less of consumers. I don’t think any amount of research can ultimately arbitrate what is an ideological question.

by Tyler Gould

24 Nov 2009

Citay
Dream Get Together
(Dead Oceans)
Releasing: January 26

I couldn’t remember a single note from “Careful With That Hat” after I listened to it once through, but when there are a gaggle of people in your band and your most salient characteristic is guitar fuzz, that sort of comes with the territory. After another go, it’s less monotonous and muddled than I had originally thought. The groove is insistent, but there are a few morsels of goodness nestled in there, making it about as benign and harmless as their last record, Little Kingdom.

SONG LIST
01 Careful With That Hat
02 Return From Silence
03 Dream Get Together
04 Secret Breakfast
05 Mirror Kisses
06 Hunter
07 Fortunate Sun
08 Tugboat

Citay
Careful With That Hat [MP3]
     

by Meghan Lewit

24 Nov 2009

In an article on Prospect.org, writer Sady Doyle posits that the backlash against the wildly popular Twilight series of books and film adaptations isn’t so much based on the poor writing, overwrought performances and anti-feminist message, as it is on the fact that its fan base is almost exclusively female.

Doyle concedes the series’ many faults, but also points out that Twilight engenders a different kind of derision than nerdy fan-boy fare.

Twilight is more than a teen dream. It’s a massive cultural force. Yet the very girliness that has made it such a success has resulted in its being marginalized and mocked. Of course, you won’t find many critics lining up to defend Dan Brown or Tom Clancy, either; mass-market success rarely coincides with literary acclaim. But male escapist fantasies—which, as anyone who has seen Die Hard or read those Tom Clancy novels can confirm, are not unilaterally sophisticated, complex, or forward-thinking—tend to be greeted with shrugs, not sneers. The Twilight backlash is vehement, and it is just as much about the fans as it is about the books. Specifically, it’s about the fact that those fans are young women.”

It’s an interesting take on the Twilight phenomenon—one that I hadn’t really considered because, well, there are plenty of perfectly valid reasons to scorn Twilight: the central message of the story aimed at teen girls seems to be that if you really, really, really like a boy, you should seriously consider giving up your soul for him. Franchise stars Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson spend most of their time together onscreen staring dolefully at each other for interminable stretches. Author Stephenie Meyer never met an adjective she didn’t like and her prose is uniformly awful. (The sentence, “He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare,” simply should not occur in the English language. Ever.) Gender issues aside, all of this makes the series ripe for mocking.

Still, it’s undeniable that entertainment aimed specifically at women is often relegated to a fluffy, pink ghetto. For years, I listened to male friends carp about the vapidity and silliness of Sex and The City, although it never occurred to them that their beloved Entourage was essentially the same show re-packaged and targeted to a different gender. Doyle raises a good point in questioning whether Harry Potter would have been such a universally embraced phenomenon if it had a more feminine perspective.

I may not understand theTwilight obsession, but I can empathize with it. After all, I was once a 16-year-old who saw Titanic three times in the theater. I know a little something about falling head-over-heals for a cinematic hero who is tailor-made to appeal to adolescent girls and bored housewives.

What is also undeniable is that The Twilight Saga: New Moon, the second installment in the saga, made $140 million last weekend—the third highest opening ever behind The Dark Knight and Spider-Man 3. If there were any lingering questions, it’s now clear that the vampire-loving ladies now have just as much power to set the cultural agenda as the superhero-worshipping lads.

The rest of us had better either get on board, or get out of the way.

by Tyler Gould

24 Nov 2009

The Polvo reunion was better than we could have imagined. In Prism is out now on Merge, and the album opener, along with its new video, oozes a refreshing quality of being from another time.

by AJ Ramirez

24 Nov 2009

dookie

All the recent name-checking of classic albums from 1994 on this blog got me thinking: wow, wasn’t that a great year for rock music?  Thinking about the Sound Affects posts on Blur and “Soundgarden” as I chowed down at a fast food joint, I instinctively rattled album titles off the top of my head: Definitely Maybe, The Downward Spiral, MTV Unplugged in New York, Vitalogy, and so on. After several titles ran through my brain, I couldn’t help but think I’d missed something blindingly obvious.

And then I remembered: well, of course Green Day’s Dookie was the best rock album of 1994.

Fifteen years ago, scores of critics admitted that yes, this 14-track album full of speedy pop punk tunes about panic attacks, boredom, and masturbation was quite catchy, but no one would’ve held it against them if they doubted that Dookie would have had staying power. It’s too unassuming, too fidgety, and too juvenile to fit the standard mold of a “Classic Rock Album”. But then again, rock started simply as good-time music for teenagers to lose themselves in, not to incite pop culture critics to stroke their beards in contemplation. Dookie was such a massive success (with ten million copies shipped in the United States alone since its release) because not only was it an unpretentious, remarkably consistent hit package with tons of great hooks, it was also fun as hell.

Which is not to sell Dookie short as an artistic achievement. In addition to being the Californian punk trio’s best album, it may also be its most culturally relevant. Sure, American Idiot (2004) captured the zeitgeist of discontent and uncertainty of those who felt weighed down by the Bush Jr. era and conveyed that sentiment through all the rock opera trappings listeners love to dissect for years on end, but Green Day’s major label debut is more universal and far more profound. It’s a record that speaks of the frustrations, anxieties, and apathy of young people (be they Generations X or Y) with an artistry and empathy few would have credited Green Day with possessing before it yielded its “Big Important Album” with American Idiot. At its core, Dookie is an album about coming to terms with one’s self and one’s failings in a manner that is not often triumphant or celebratory, but is nonetheless reaffirming to the underachievers of the world. Dookie is an album that says “Yeah, I’m a fuck-up” in a way that millions of people wish they could express themselves in, and that’s why it’s so great.

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