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by Rob Horning

23 Oct 2008

Megan McArdle links to this post at The American Scene by Matt Frost about what Frost calls the Nothing But Flowers fallacy: “the tendency to count on economic disruption to bring about salutary social change.” (“Nothing But Flowers,” if you don’t know it, is structured a little like Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” in reverse: Instead of paving paradise and putting up a parking lot, David Byrne sings about modern society falling apart and parking lots devolving into paradise as we get back to the natural way of things.) He finds Joel Kotkin committing this fallacy in a Washington Post article (reposted here) in which Kotkin celebrates the possiblities for a “new localism” in the breakdown of the financial system and the coming recession. He is not afraid to cheer for the possibility that the complacent, isolating consumerism we all know and love may be involuntarily displaced at last by hardship. And presumably he assumes that the fact we will no longer having to bowl alone will compensate for no longer being able to afford to go bowling.

Preaching the silver lining of austerity is the inevitable result of mistaking nostalgia for possible progress; or rather it is the result of failing to recognize the complications that troubled the past golden ages. (McArdle quoted Frost’s best comment: “according to Kotkin, our anomic communities will also be knit back together by high energy and food prices. A good pandemic flu, presumably, is all we need to complete the rebirth of American localities.”) Obviously you don’t have to read Studs Terkel’s Hard Times to know that the Great Depression was no one’s idea of a good fun. And suddenly changes in our standard of living is probably going to introduce more anxiety and friction into everyday life as opposed to open a space for us to be more involved with the community. For better or worse, when given the opportunity to detach from the community, our parents seized it. It’s not clear why we would feel any better about being forced to reverse that choice. As Frost succinctly puts it,

If we arrange our families and our living spaces poorly when affluence gives us choices, we are unlikely to suddenly flourish when those decisions are forced upon us. Hard times won’t compel Americans into becoming their better selves, and if we are heading into some bleak days, it’s best that we all understand that in advance.

As consumers began cutting back on spending, I wondered if they might not embrace the Aldi alternative—stripped-down shopping that makes the activity a humdrum chore again rather than an entertainment experience. But it’s as likely that luxury shopping will be remystified and reglamorized by its sudden impracticality and remoteness from ordinary people’s lives—after the democratization of luxury was threatening to totally extinguish the mystique of Tiffanys, et. al. Prosperity is not the problem with consumerist societies; prosperity doesn’t necessarily lead to consumerism, because consumerism, at least how I’m thinking of it, is not automatically synonymous with a lot of consumption. The problem with consumerism is the infrastructure of persuasion shaping our values and curtailing our freedom by narrowing the scope of experience and channeling us into certain kinds of consumption. Consumerism is an ideology, a destructive one that leads to environmental abuse, intensified stress, political inertia and, yes, isolated individuals who are perpetually unsatisfied. But these problems won’t be cured by our all being denied the potential to consume.

by PopMatters Staff

23 Oct 2008

The Verve
Rather Be [Video]

Frightened Rabbit
Old Old Fashioned (live) [MP3]

Secret Machines
Atomic Heels [MP3]

Stephen Malkmus
Gardenia [Video]

Electric Six
Formula 409 [MP3]

Parts & Labor
Nowheres Nigh [MP3]

Idiot Boksen [Video]

by L.B. Jeffries

22 Oct 2008

It’s something of a personal fantasy (and subject of a blog post meant to be posted in 2 weeks) to begin pushing video games into relevancy by having them discuss topics besides escapist fantasy. Different games have struggled with this in different ways. My now excessive knowledge about World War 2 aside, most games opt to attain relevancy by discussing emotion or philosophical debate. Braid’s sense of the futility of pursuing goals, Planescape: Torment’s questions about human nature and how our conduct reflects it. Or, as the Global Kids Media Initiative has done, you can just set the game someplace important. Like New Orleans, the day after Katrina hit.

It’s always interesting to play an educational or informative game because you immediately recognize that their goal is not necessarily having fun. Instead, it’s fun with a side of vegetables. Video games, by their nature, are more engaging than watching a film or reading a book. I actively absorb information given because there is a chance it’s relevant to play. I pay attention to what’s going on because something dangerous might hurt me. Whereas a game solely about fun or accomplishment will fine-tune that into generating a sense of reward by delivering chunks of plot or quaint jingles, an educational game is instead using all of these elements while slipping in bits of information about a topic. You learn inadvertently as you progress, although there have not been too many games that delivered a true melding of these goals.

In that regard Katrina: Tempest in Crescent City succeeds with a good mixture of dialogue in a standard platforming game. Certain people that you speak to will give a mission of delivering bottled water or first aid. Others will relate a true amazing story about the aftermath of the storm, such as Jabar Gibson’s hijacking of a school bus and shuttling survivors out of the city before F.E.M.A. arrived. Your character is a survivor herself, re-experiencing the storm through a dream as she rushes around saving the people she wishes she’d helped during the actual events. Each level is set to a timer that is gauged by the setting sun, which creates a real sense of conflict as you realize that you can only help so many people per level. Some survivors must be abandoned in order to help yourself. And as you progress to each level, the broken levies take their toll and the waters slowly rise. The final person you rescue, your mother, is revealed to have passed in the storm at the very beginning of the game. It’s a clever analogy for drawing in people who were not personally involved in Katrina themselves: our dreams of helping the survivors during the disaster carries on into today. The website provides more information and suggestions on what other can do to help after you finish the game. It takes about fifteen minutes to play through and will leave you knowing more about New Orleans and the aftermath of Katrina than before you started playing.

by Vijith Assar

22 Oct 2008

I’m a latecomer to what is arguably New York’s most hyped band at the moment, and despite a perfectly competent set of delightfully incompetent messy punk-lite, there’s just no way they could have possibly lived up to the hype. Guitarist and lead singer Cassie Ramone riffed around as much as she could get away with in less than two minutes while sandwiched between fuzzy washes of guitar and equally fuzzy harmonized vocals. Whether the latter was deliberate or an unfortunate casualty of the house sound system, I can’t say; that’s one of the perils of the lo-fi world. Drummer Ali Koehler was the most intriguing of the bunch, head down and appendages smashing away with just a hair more precision than the tunes seemed to demand, sometimes able to drive things forward against all odds but sometimes overcome by the tangled power chords. I’d probably have found the apparent on-stage jitters perfectly charming were it not for my nagging suspicion that they’ve had a little too much buzz for a little too long for them to be genuine. I guess it’s not fair to hold the band members responsible for the weight of expectation here, but I was underwhelmed. Maybe it’s my fault for waiting so long to get around to them. I had the same problem when I finally went to see Shrek.

by Jason Gross

22 Oct 2008

If you like classical or rap music or both, you should also be disgusted to hear stories like this where a judge ‘punishes’ an offender for playing loud music (usually rap) by having to listen to classic music.  Sad to say, this ain’t an isolated incident.  Classical music is also being used in certain London subway stations to root out antisocial behavior.  What’s the message here?

The same idea’s at work- supposedly, classical music will wipe out criminal urges.  Any studies to prove that?  Who cares?

What it’s also saying is that classical music is something forced on you if you’re bad.  If you listen to rap, your punishment is that you have to listen to classical?  Classical music has enough problems with getting through to more people and not having it made synonymous with discipline.  Or how about using classical music to drive away people in subway stations?  Again, what kind of message is that sending?

Of course, classical music can be blasted too.  Beethoven’s Fifth makes a nice ear-bending experience, not to mention Wagner (I recommend “Lohengrin”). Is there gonna be any punishment for that?

Another reason that this kind of short-sighted policy doesn’t make sense is that it assumes that only miscreants hate classical music.  In the case of the stupid judge, why did he have to pick classical music to teach the offender a lesson?  If you want to be functioning member of society, does that mean you have to like classical music?  Does it also mean that rap is necessarily bad and needs to cleansed out of you with classical music?  What would the hip-hop orchestra called dAKAH have to say about that?  And for the UK subway stations that play classical, what if I’m not a miscreant but I also don’t want to hear classical music while I’m waiting for my train?  Tough luck I guess…

What it comes down to in both cases is that classical is considered the ‘civilizing’ music but it also comes off as being imposed on you whether you like or not.  Not the best way to get people to appreciate the music.  It also stinks of condescension, saying that ‘we can rehabilitate you with classical music’ or ‘we can drive away all the baddies with classical music’ or ‘no one civilized would be turned off by classical music.’  For the court case, it also makes the assumption that rap music has to be countered by something ‘more civilized.’

//Mixed media

Robert DeLong Upgraded for 'In the Cards' (Rough Trade Photos + Tour Dates)

// Notes from the Road

"Robert DeLong ups his musical game with his new album In the Cards and his live show gets a boost too.

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