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I’ve been reading Swedish economist Staffan Linder’s The Harried Leisure Class, which examines the impact of time constraints on consumption. Linder argues that the time it takes to consume and maintain the goods a larger income allows us to acquire must be taken into account when evaluating our decisions regarding whether to save or spend, whether to work more or seek more leisure. These sorts of concerns have returned to prominence recently, but under a new name—such is our customary passivity and our habit of pathologizing and psychologizing social problems with regard to consumption that the problem of time scarcity has been reintroduced as the “attention economy,” with many of us suffering from an “attention deficit.”

Linder foresaw this turn of events, recognizing that we would struggle to find time to make use of all the goods we acquire, and that we would be easily seduced into believing that we could make fertile exchanges between productive work time and consumption time in the search for more marginal utility from the expenditure of our precious moments. In other words, if we can increase our income and buy more things, we would take our utility that way and figure we’d actually consume the stuff later, when presumably we’d have more time to do so and wouldn’t have as much capability to earn. Hence working and shopping replaces the actual enjoyment of leisure. Collecting books replaces the pleasure of reading them, and so on. “One may possibly buy more of everything, but one cannot conceivably do more of everything…. The purchase of more expensive golf clubs is taken as an indication that golfers are devoting themselves more to their sport.” I suddenly understand my absurd music collection in a new light.

We are too deprived of time to do any better—we think that working and earning the money to buy a bunch of books is better quantitatively than working less, buying one book and reading it carefully. And because conserving time is of the essence, it makes more sense to buy more things thoughtlessly and discard the rubbish than to consider every purchase carefully—we have a surfeit of goods and money, what we lack is time. That is why the 99-cent store is such a suitable emblem of our culture—an overwhelming avalanche of cheap goods that we can even begin to process the true worth of.

As Linder explains it,

The yield on time spent in acquiring information on different decisions would gradually deteriorate in relation to the yield on time spent in production. This must lead to a reallocation of time. The time used to acquire information must be reduced per decision. One has to concentrate on acquiring information only of such value that the yield on time spent for this purpose will be as high as in the production of goods. It pays to make a larger number of mistakes in expenditure, instead of preparing all decisions very carefully—and thus having correspondingly less time to acquire income. As the scarcity of time increases, we can expect a decline in the quality of decisions.

This in turn reinforces the appeal of the throwaway society, and the idea that the moment of purchase is where the pleasure is achieved, not the moment of use. The moment of use is where the inevitable disappointment comes when we realize we just acquired more crap. Linder speculates that planned obsolescence can be better understood as the consumer’s preference, since it means the product will ultimately make fewer time and maintenance demands on the consumer.

Similarly, advertising is appealing to us because it limits the time we spend in decision making, regardless of whether it steers toward a wise one. “People can be made the victims of persuasion not because they are irrational but because they are rational. Since they are rational, they are not prepared to spend all their time gathering information on what are the best things to buy”—service journalism notwithstanding. “The increase in the volume of advertising can hardly be attributed to sales departments having become increasingly malevolent or the customers increasingly irrational.” Instead, we’d rather save time and risk being mislead by advertising then research all our purchasing decisions—the number of which are continually increasing, as we substitute acquisition for usage of goods. I have tended to see the appeal of advertising as the vicarious enjoyment it enables—it helps us frame the fantasies that makes goods seem useful to us, particular in shaping the identity and lifestyle we want to project. But this same inducement to vicarious consumption is compelling in relation to our own goods even after we own them—ads help save us time by doing the consuming and enjoying of the goods for them. We can just buy them and know through the ads that we could in theory enjoy them, probably sometime down the road (that will never come). Linder argues that “one actually wants to be influenced by advertising to get an instant feeling that one has a perfectly good reason to buy this or that commodity, the true properties of which one knows dismally little about.” If that is the case, then we are consuming decisiveness as an end in itself, as the pleasurable commodity that ads are able to supply. As usual, the item itself around which the decision making is staged is superfluous, a souvenir of the pleasure of choosing.

This song is a guilty pleasure for me.  Guilty because The Kills are the Marquis de Sade’s of skeletal alleyway rock wreckage, artists whose image has always felt a little too arch, constructed and Warholian for me.  A lyric like “I want expensive sadness”, regardless of the labored New York aesthetic is exactly the kind of thing I’d expect Paris Hilton to say.  Nihilism and empty heiress blather tend to meet on the extreme ends of the circle.  But there’s something about the gutter blitheness that makes The Kills a band that gets you in touch with your dirtiest, darkest most decadent impulses even if it is a hand-crafted collection of ironically non-ironic cliches.  Not to mention, they can concoct grooves that sound assembled from tenement litter with guitar little more that sparse, fierce punches.  I like them, but always fell like I should have my caveats handy. 

Imagine my surprise to see that the video for a song celebrating the destructive, melodramatic and snide aspects of human nature that has almost no creative energy behind its images.  We have tattered drum corps that really just looking like a methadone line forced to play band camp for day.  Splashes of paint smear the screen but the effect is campy, psychedelic, the antithesis of their sound.  If this is itself a cheeky inversion of their image, then I’m afraid I have to give up out of the sheer exhaustion of following such Olympic level posturing.  Allison Mosshart forgoes her pitch black mane for Flo’s wig from Alice making a perfunctory stab at the retro junky look that serves the video only in the sense of adding another decade to the slopped pastiche.  This song sounds sexy and dangerous, but the video is simply lazy, limp and tame.  They may as well have done it on a mountain top with someone’s “eyes on fire” for all the energy put into tossing this half-assery together.

So first Associated Press tells a liberal site that they can’t quote some 2 dozen words from a release and then they back off on it and say that they’re rethinking their policy. 

Not surprisingly, some website reacted harshly, saying that they’re not going to use any AP material at all (i.e. Techcrunch) while Daily Kos took the opposite tact, saying that they’ll quote as they please from AP, no matter what they say. 

As you read through the articles, particularly the Times article at the beginning of this post, you see that not only had AP made a bone-headed, short-sighted move but that they also probably don’t even have the law on their side.  Like record companies, they’re confused by the digital age and don’t know how to handle appropriation of their material so they over-reacted. 

I’ve quoted AP material before and will continue to do so in the future though I do like to make a point to link to them and not to over-quote.  They’re a great and valuable resources but again, going back to the label comparison, they need to be smarter about how to protect their material while also keeping their service alive- they’ve even been compared to Metallica (not musically of course but in terms of short-sighted net policy).

by PopMatters Staff

18 Jun 2008

Ave.To
Bahia [MP3]
     

Ave.To - Sand to the Beach

Hercules & Love Affair
You Belong [Video]

Tab the Band
Where She Was on Monday [MP3]
     

Sergio Mendes
Funky Bahia [Video]

Peter Hadar
Painted [MP3]
     

Sam Champion
Be Mine Everyone [MP3]
     

KaiserCartel
Oh No [MP3]
     

Remote Control Frequencies
The Negotiator [MP3]
     

Sanctuary [MP3]
     

Mates of State
My Only Offer [Video]

In the late summer of 1982, two distinct entities from outer space infiltrated planet earth. One was a prehistoric creature with the ability to kill, then imitate its prey: it could attack its victims while remaining disguised amongst them by, in effect, becoming them. The other was an unusual looking but friendly creature, a voyager from another place with god-like powers of healing, an odd voice, and an affinity for Reese’s Pieces.

Guess which one fared better?

Of course, Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was the hit of ’82, and John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing had the famously unfortunate timing of opening two weeks later. That many people did not see it is a shame; that many critics dismissed it is typical. To be certain, it didn’t help matters that the assembled brain trust agonized over the relatively brief, but exceptionally gory special effects. Inevitably, they aged quickly—and rather poorly. While one can appreciate the attention paid to these ostensibly “scary” scenes, they are (ironically? inexorably?) the weaker moments in the film. It being a Carpenter production, cohesion and plot are occasionally undermined in ways that seem half-assed or ham-fisted. Still, after repeated viewings it manages to work on multiple levels, and despite any nitpicking it seems impossible to improve upon. The definition of a classic, perhaps, but it is something more, something more complicated than that. It is a unique and enigmatic movie; in hindsight it is easy to understand how it evolved, over time, from a cult classic to its current status as must-own DVD material (alas, no 25th anniversary deluxe edition arrived in 2007, but the existing Collector’s Edition—from 1998—is quite satisfactory): it needed time to truly find its audience.

So, aside from bad timing and a final product that feels, at times, oddly forced despite the obvious (and well documented) care and consideration that went into it, what is it that remains so right about this movie? For starters, it is to Carpenter’s credit that he assembled such a spectacular cast: virtually all of the actors make the absolute most of their relatively limited screen time, but Keith David, Richard Dysart, Donald Moffat and Richard Masur are in particularly fine form. As for Kurt Russell, it is amazing to recall that his role as R.J. MacReady came only a year after his testosterone-athon as Snake Plissken in Escape from New York (also directed by Carpenter), making this quite the one-two punch for both men. Considerable credit must also be given to Bill Lancaster’s excellent screenplay (to read John W. Campbell’s novella Who Goes There? is both to appreciate where the spirit of this film comes from—more so than the sci-fi classic The Thing from Outer Space that it was ostensibly updating—and appreciate how much Lancaster did with relatively little, in terms of actual plot, character development and drama).

It is, as intended, Kurt Russell’s film, but special mention must be made for the near miraculous performance of Wilford Brimley—a man who is perhaps best known as the wise-cracking senior citizen from Cocoon or as the Quaker Oats guy, or recently (and, thanks to the brilliant monkeys working around the clock on youtube, amusingly), the spokesperson with a tendency to mispronounce the most unamusing word in the English language, diabetes. As Dr. Blair, Brimley’s presence provides an austere integrity and the necessarily brainy moral grounding for events that would otherwise be in constant jeopardy of degenerating into parody. His dead-serious assessment of what is going on—before anyone else has figured things out—invests the growing unease inside the camp with a gravitas that makes it painfully clear, to the viewer, what is at stake. Later, after being secluded in a storage shed, the men visit him in a scene that manages to be sad, disturbing and comical.

One scene in particular offers perhaps the best illustration of why this movie continues to resonate, and why it was not fully successful as either a slam-bam action flick or a serious drama: Blair sits alone, at his desk, running a computer simulation of the diabolically efficient way the alien is infecting his team. In less than thirty seconds, the look on his face turns from world-weary stoicism to resigned acknowledgment of the likely consequences—for the men, and the rest of the world. Interestingly (and again, ironically?) it is probable that the impetus for this particular sequence, in addition to the obvious and necessary advancement of the plot in as succinct and clear a manner as possible, was to show-off the high-tech computer programming, circa 1982. Like the over-the-top transformation scenes, it is more hilarious than harrowing to look at the extraordinarily primitive technology, today. And yet, it worked, then, and works now, because of its stark imagery: in its way, it’s ten times more terrifying to watch the simulated organism at work, one blob on a screen capturing and assimilating its prey, than it is to watch the scattered “money shots” when the creature reveals itself.

Perfection is a word that should never be used lightly, but no other word will suffice for the wonders Ennio Morricone works, scoring this film. The name Morricone is—and should be—associated with brilliance, variety and superhuman productivity, just to pick a few obvious choices. While the list of only his very best efforts is not short, his work here must be considered amongst the top tier: The Thing would be unimaginable without it. Rather than overwhelming, or distracting the action on the screen—as film scores do with distressing regularity these days—Morricone’s music exists mostly on the periphery, in the corners and inside the shadows. Its effectiveness serves an almost opposite purpose to the handful of over-the-top alien transformations: the real horror of the story lies in the tension of not knowing, the dread of isolation and the fear of being assailed by an inexplicable enemy. Morricone subtly embellishes the otherwise silent scenes, where the only sounds are the Antarctic winds, the silence and the darkness. As the paranoia increases, strings are plucked like raw nerves, while stark, almost soulless keyboard drones mirror the growing desperation: the music exists as a wind chill factor, making everything colder and more forlorn than it already is.

And last but certainly not least: The Thing provides one of the best endings of any movie, ever. To use the word perfect, again, would seem silly, but there is no getting around it: the ending is perfect. Indeed, it’s even better than perfect, considering the pressure Carpenter must have felt to inject the type of horseshit heroic conclusion American audiences usually require. Carpenter’s decision to go with the ambivalent ending (which, actually, is truly heroic as opposed to some manufactured deus ex machina sequel-ready sendoff) very likely killed his chance at commercial viability. Carpenter knew this and did it anyway, saving both the movie’s integrity and his soul in the process. The fact that The Thing has attracted video sales ever since is wonderfully poetic justice, and confirms that you can occasionally scoff at the big studio machine and come out okay. Bottom line: Spielberg’s alien may have won the box office battle, but everyone knows that his maudlin Peter Pan wouldn’t have stood a chance at Outpost 31.

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