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by Rob Horning

12 Jul 2009

Matt Yglesias makes a point about cultural display in response to this James Wolcott essay, which explores the ways in which it is threatened by technology. Wolcott believes that rather than show our personality through the culture we consume, we’ll indulge instead an ethical poseurdom—“I suspect that once this downturn plateaus and shrinks in the rearview mirror, we’ll just stock up on other possessions, which will be arrayed and arranged to show off not our personal aesthetics or expensive whims but our ethics—our progressive virtues.” (Like I was arguing yesterday, consuming conservation.)

But Yglesias is obviously right that cultural display is not simply going to disappear.

I note that one thing a lot of people, myself included, sometimes do is use the Adium feature that automatically sets your IM chat status to the title and artist of the song currently playing on your iTunes. One way to think about that is as a substitute for the old game of visually displaying the physical records or CDs you own in your house. It’s a way to turn your music consumption into something quasi-public. Perhaps reading books in groups and writing blogs about what you’re reading will be the new way to share your cultural consumption with the world.

As much as I joyously do the last thing he mentions—blog about what I read and listen to, try to solve what interested me about it in public—I can’t imagine doing the other, that is, deliberately show off what I’m listening to with no analytical value added by me, as though to advertise the degree to which I am reliant on the symbolic power of the cultural product to define myself. I wonder if my distinguishing between those two sorts of behavior is a generational difference, a residue from having been a music listener in a pre-digital time. Perhaps I’m too old to appreciate how “showing off” has now become “sharing.” If I made an effort to let people know what I was listening to, I would only be able to see what I was doing as trying to score points, trying to beat out whoever was paying attention by one-upping them with something cooler than what they were listening to. Maybe that kind of competition is a contemporary potlatch, but to me it just seems weird. It seems to supplant the pleasures of me in my apartment listening to the music, which should theoretically be enough, with a different and more uncertain pleasure of showing others up—I mean, sharing with them my superlative tastes. But pop culture consumption ultimately has little to do with sensual qualities and more to do with signaling, with participating in a zeitgeist, with nailing down one’s social identity for a particular moment in time. Wolcott suggests that new media forms are undermining that signaling function—but it’s instead forcing us to think of consumption display differently. It seems more likely that technology will make an even larger part of our consumption into signaling (‘sharing”) rather than extracting whatever utility is in the work itself.

It would be a delightful consequence as far as I am concerned if the changes in media-consumption technology end up requiring us to have to add something from ourselves—our reaction, our interpretation, our pleasure, something—before we can carry out a signaling gesture with some piece of culture. You can’t just carry a copy of The Rainbow around on the subway and have people think you are in touch with the elemental, passionate human soul as captured by D.H. Lawrence. You would not be able to wear a book like it’s a T-shirt and get away with it. In other words, it would be great if everyone came to understand “sharing” as adding something significant and interesting to the public conversation about the things we are doing (though “doing” typically means “consuming”), instead of merely preening. With all tthe information readily available to us, it’s easier than ever to make that attempt.

But unfortunately, I think we are far more likely to see add-ons to the new media forms, along the lines of Adium, to allow for pure signaling displays that require no input from the one making the display. It’s part of the imperative to share, of which Facebook and Twitter are the current cultural harbingers. I don’t believe our culture would allow for a technological development that makes being a poseur harder rather than more convenient. Poseurdom is too seductive and useful an opportunity; it lets us deploy cultural capital without risk. I can carry around The Rainbow without losing points for having no clue what the hell Lawrence is talking about 95 percent of the time.

by PopMatters Staff

12 Jul 2009

The State of Jones
by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer
(Doubleday)
Hardcover, 416 pages, $27.50
Released: 23 June 2009 (US)

The State of Jones is a true story about the South during the Civil War—the real South. Not the South that has been mythologized in novels and movies, but an authentic, hardscrabble place where poor men were forced to fight a rich man’s war for slavery and cotton. In Jones County, Mississippi, a farmer named Newton Knight led his neighbors, white and black alike, in an insurrection against the Confederacy at the height of the Civil War. Knight’s life story mirrors the little-known story of class struggle in the South—and it shatters the image of the Confederacy as a unified front against the Union.”—Doubleday

The State of Jones
Chapter One [PDF]

by PopMatters Staff

12 Jul 2009

Starlight Mints
Change Remains
(Barsuk)
Releasing: 21 July 2009 (US/UK)

SONG LIST
01 Coffins ‘R’ Us
02 Natural
03 Paralyzed
04 Zoomba
05 Black Champagne
06 Power Bleed
07 Gazeretti
08 Sesame (Untie the Wrath)
09 Snorkel with a Turtle
10 40 Fingers

Starlight Mints
“Paralyzed” [MP3]
     

“Zoomba” [MP3]
     

by Jason Gross

12 Jul 2009

Right now, my favorite two articles are Chris Ruen’s "The Myth of DIY" (Tiny Mixtapes) and Glenn Peoples’ "Analysis: Everything Is Wrong With Free Moby MP3 Story" (Billboard).  It’s probably no coincidence since both deal with the same subject- challenging the idea that free music is the best thing for the industry now.

In Ruen’s article, he questions fan’s commitment to artists that they supposedly love when they download their music for free.

“If you find meaning and beauty from a musician’s work and you want them to continue creating it — then you are obliged to support them. If you like the idea of record stores, the people they employ, the values and spirit they promote — then you also are obliged to support them. If you’re consistently doing one without the other, then on some level you, not Metallica, are the asshole.”

by Bill Gibron

12 Jul 2009

Amazing feats of human athleticism, no matter the category, always seem to inspire. Whether it’s a time-tested pro making one last attempt at twilight career redemption, or a spunky band of newcomers lighting up the sport with their brash untainted verve, we just can’t seem to get enough. Every time we think Hollywood has tapped out the genre, giving us the random clichéd tales of underprivileged swimmers, culturally ill-equipped bobsledders, or any number of misfit teams, they find a new source of sentimentality, and we sit back and swallow every “will they or won’t they” drop. As a self-proclaimed entry in the long running “True-Life Documentary” series, Roy Disney has decided to live out his aging sailor’s dreams by finding a crew of privileged college kids to man his high tech boat, the Morning Light, in the annual Transpac yacht race. Sadly, what should have been compelling competitive theater comes up a little short.

After a sneak peek at an audition process that seems more like American Idol (or better yet, MTV’s Real World) than the tryouts for a 10 to 12 day endurance test, a ragtag group of clean cut kids travel to Hawaii to prepare for the big day. In a move that is, again, taken straight out of a reality series script, the 15 advancing candidates will have to choose the 11 who will actually make the cut. That’s right, over the course of 30 minutes we get superficial sketches of everyone involved (the Harvard queen with boating in her blood, the arrogant Aussie who’s a master at manning the helm) and then wait for the moment when four of them get the boot. There are a couple of surprises along the way, including one stand-out participant who’s either a very lucky kid or a token representation of diversity. When the crew is finally selected, its overall make-up sure does resemble the House of Mouse…circa 1964.

With its technical jargon, indecipherable maneuvers, and overall level of procedural mystery, boating is a tough cinematic sell. We never really understand how this well trained crew actually works together, constantly question the calls for “trim” and “jibe”, and see a plaintive pattern of steering and struggling. None of this makes for compelling fiction or understandable intrigue. Morning Light hopes to combat this lack of procedural acumen by offering up the thoughts of our well-groomed crew. Sadly, they are as dense as the directives needed to get from California to Hawaii. It’s not that they are unlikeable or aggravating, but these are young people ill-prepared to have their every action captured on camera. When push comes to shove, they put on their well-to-do Ivy League airs and respond politely to the lens.

Besides, it’s not like Morning Light loaded the cast with unique and/or dashing personalities. Genny Tulloch, the only girl chosen for the journey, breaks her arm during a freak snowboarding accident. Of course, she turns the stupid move on her part into a minor pity party, especially when she doesn’t earn the longed-for Captain’s chair. Mark Towill turns his Downunder accent into a bit of personal subterfuge, inspiring confidence while occasionally slipping into dictator mode. One particular sailor is dubbed “the silent, dependable type” and he upholds that derivative description rather well. In fact, the rest of the party is so generic that the film has to constantly put their names onscreen to remind the audience as to who they actually are.

Indeed, the most compelling person here is young African American candidate Steve Manson. Uncomfortable in the water and carrying the burden of his mother’s recent death on his scrawny city boy shoulders, this Baltimore son seems destined to be the film’s mandatory feel good story. This is especially true when he fails one of the first tests and is still brought on to the Hawaii part of the program. But like most of this underwhelming movie, what could have been a knockout story of courage under fire and rising to the occasion turns into a tepid slice of upper crust calculation. Even the music tries to mimic the tried and true Disney formula. Instead of compelling classical or ambient soundscapes, the score is littered with the kind of Jonas/Miley wannabes that already give the company a crass corporate rock label.

And the sad thing is, the backdrop is beyond gorgeous. Hawaii is filmed in true travelogue style, and every training exercise becomes a voyage into nature’s spellbinding liquid heart. During the race, we see amazing sunsets and awe-inspiring cloudbursts. The white foam of the every wave glistens in the ever-present rays of a gorgeous sun, and when wildlife comes along to accompany the crew, we see every dolphin diving moment. But there are times when Morning Light becomes just another episode of Big Boats on ESPN2. The night vision footage is uninspiring, and we don’t get enough “action” sequences, moments when man and machine merge together to form a perfect union of power and perfection. Instead, we get lots of voiceover sentiments and more shots of people in expensive sunglasses.

It would be nice to report that this labor of love for Roy and his yachting compatriots reminds one of the glory days of Disney, a time when such seminal (if often staged) True-Life adventures like The Painted Desert and The Vanishing Prairie earned critical raves and Oscar gold. It would be equally polite to say what a compelling and ultimately uplifting experience it all is. Indeed, buried somewhere between all the good will and best intentions lies this land lubber of a production. It takes a lot to make a two week, 2200 mile-plus journey across the open sea seem like a boring trip to Cancun during Spring Break, but somehow, Morning Light manages said entertainment strategy quite well. In fact, this may be one of those achievements in human endurance that doesn’t elicit cheers, but sneers. It’s just too picture perfected to be powerful.

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