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by PopMatters Staff

9 May 2009

Whatever Works
Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Larry David, Ed Begley Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Conleth Hill, Michael McKean, Evan Rachel Wood
Opening: 19 June 2009
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

 

Plot summary: An eccentric New Yorker played by Larry David abandons his upper class life to lead a more bohemian existence. He meets a young girl from the south and her family and no two people seem to get along in the entanglements that follow. Run time: 92 minutes. Rated: PG-13 [Sony Pictures Classics]

by PopMatters Staff

9 May 2009

John Mellencamp’s latest video from Life Death Love and Freedom was shot in his hometown of Bloomington, Indiana and features a duet with country singer Karen Fairchild from Little Big Town.

by Rob Horning

8 May 2009

Via Barry Ritholtz comes this chart, depicting trends in consumption in China:

As Ritholtz notes, a similar chart for the U.S. would be somewhat different. Economists who are concerned about global trade imbalances have long wonder when the Chinese consumer will emerge and begin to soak up its share of the world’s output, instead of the Chinese Central Bank stockpiling foreign currencies. This chart seems to suggest that it won’t happen anytime soon. What data like this makes me wonder is how the Chinese experience their own relative prosperity, how the consequences of rampant economic growth are experienced if not in terms of increasing purchasing power and more goods and more choices.

Sometimes the argument is made that the Chinese must save more because the social safety net there is extremely tenuous—they don’t even have the comfort of titles to property and social services are spotty and the bureaucracy presumably needs to be greased with many bribes and that sort of thing. This sort of logic would then be flipped to argue that a low savings rate is proof of a just, confident, and well-functioning society—it’s not a matter of impulsive consumers as the wrongheaded moralists and anachronistic puritans would have you believe. It strikes me as a conundrum of consumerism that the failure to save could be read blithely and myopically as the accomplishment a successful economic equilibrium, as though the fund for future investment to sustain those consumption levels were entirely irrelevant. Consumerism—an economic order based on maximizing consumer spending—must encourage the idea that savings are a kind of “glut,” a residual that proves an inefficient sort of budgeting has taken place somewhere. Personal savings can then feel like a personal failure to find enough stuff to spend one’s earnings on, to be sufficiently full of desires, to make having worked worth it. In a culture in which we are basically compelled to spend to keep the world as we know it going, accruing savings can leave us feeling guilty for not wanting enough. It’s possible that at this point, we would feel too guilty to ever believe that we are satisfied with what we have.

by Rob Horning

8 May 2009

This is not a post about online pornography (though I expect it will attract a lot of comment spam). Rather it’s about this essay by Llewellyn Hinkes, which wonders about the status of fetish objects—he seems to have in mind the phenomenon of being seduced by the tangibility of an object for reasons above and beyond its usefulness—when digitization is making culture more and more virtual.

Having something like this stored digitally, where a single hard drive failure can destroy years of hoarding in an instant, is frightening. It’s as if mother-destroyer can enter your house at any moment, chop off the super-ego, and then throw it in the garbage. For a time, I hoarded gobs and gobs of mp3s of obscure psychedelic music: Japanese-Brazilian lounge albums, avant-garde noise compositions, anything by Gary Wilson. Then one day, I saw it all disappear. I made a stupid mistake when moving files from an external hard drive that cost me my entire music collection. And what frightened me was that it didn’t really mean that much.

I completely relate to this and not because I am also a fan of Gary Wilson. Still, I am trying hard not to be frightened by this new intangibility but to instead revel in it, experience it as liberation, or at least a step toward freeing myself of the hoarding impulses.

by Nick Dinicola

8 May 2009

There’s been news of a survey going around asking if a karma system in the next Grand Theft Auto would make the game more enjoyable. I’ve recently become a bit cynical towards karma systems. It seems that giving the player a moral choice is an ever increasing trend in gaming, but does it really make the game more interesting? It certainly did a few years ago, but since then I fear they’ve become so common that simply giving players a choice between good or evil has lost its emotional punch. Richard Clark on Christ and Pop Culture suggests the next logical step, “What I would like to see instead is for games to present us with these moral choices that have real consequences on the game world and the gameplay, but that don’t have an opinion on whether we did the right thing or not.” I like where he’s going, but I don’t think it’s necessary to abandon the karma system completely. Players still need a set of guiding morals in order to give their choices a weight within the game world. One possible solution is adding more ambiguous choices; this will naturally lead to a karma system that’s less overt, if even there at all. Another possibility is to use story to express the guiding morals, keeping the “karma” but ditching the “system.” (Spoilers abound for both Fallout 3 and GTA IV)

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