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Thursday, Jun 14, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

Life can be a bitch at times, and in those moments of angst, you just want to throw it up ‘cause you’re totally f*&ked anyway, right? Love, sex, parents, authority—the teenage years are the pinnacle of undeniable passions, first loves, lasting regrets, and uncontrollable emotions.


PopMatters.com and Spring Awakening want to know your #1 song from your teenage years.  What tune hit that right chord and spoke true to your every emotion? 


Submit the artist and track name with a brief explanation of why this tune rocked your teenage years and you will be eligible to win a Spring Awakening cast album with music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater and a voucher for two tickets to the Broadway production.


Simply post your choice here in the comments, include your e-mail address (it won’t be displayed to readers, we simply need it to contact the winner), and tell us about the songs that soundtracked your teenage life and you’ll be eligible to win.


Here’s a few examples:
Aerosmith: “Cryin’”
Nirvana: “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
Boyz II Men: “I’ll Make Love to You”
Beck: “Loser”
Blind Melon: “No Rain”


PopMatters feature on Spring Awakening


“Bitch of Living”



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Thursday, Jun 14, 2007

I’m hesitant to write about this subject because I suspect I’ve written about it before, and I have no new insights into it, but perhaps that’s appropriate—indicative of the rut I feel I am in with playing chess against my computer. Every few months this happens: I begin playing chess as a way to procrastinate between various tasks I need to complete in front of my computer. But rather than take on a human opponent on Yahoo or something, I prefer to play the computer, which strikes me as more convenient, more suitable to the aim of taking a brief time out. The initial presumption is that my ego won’t get invested since I am not really matching wits with anything. But then, naturally, because I am only half concentrating, the computer takes me apart in humiliating fashion, no matter how artificially dumb of a challenger I select (Chessmaster comes equipped with several hundred fake opponents who have names like Kricek and Lacey and who are designed to play poorly to give amateurs a chance to taste victory). This then infuriates me, and I need to continue to play until I win a few matches and elevate my rating, which the program tracks on a graph and which I spend an embarrassing amount of time looking at, as if it graphed something significant, as if I had some kind of public chess career that the chart has archived. In reality, it records the shocking amount of time I have wasted sheltering myself from other people and my work. It’s pretty pathetic, but it becomes compulsive, and I play game after game in a subdued rage, learning nothing new about chess (despite the rationalization thay playing chess to unwind is somehow edifying, superior to solving sudoku puzzles or playing Minesweeper), barely even thinking, just trying to to win as fast as possible. Sometimes I’ll even ask the computer for hints and then pretend to myself that I was able to beat it and try to revel in that.


What inevitably ends up bothering me is the way the computer opponent becomes anthropomorphized, becoming a kind of tormentor, yet I prefer this figment to a real human challenger, who will likely give me a game that resembles real chess and will reward my concentration. But I’m not looking to concentrate; I’m choosing the worst possible medium—chess playing—to avoid concentration. I should perhaps resume playing Freecell or something.


It seems inevitable that I will not only be able to avoid the “inconvenience” of a human opponent in chess but could avoid the trouble of a human partner for all forms of social activity, that I could exist in a pseudo-social universe with programmed frustrations that I can be assured of eventually overcoming (through persistence or hints or maybe cheat codes) replacing the real frustrations of understanding other people.


Worse than the failure to concentrate or relax, though, is this sense that I am becoming as machine like as my opponent, stuck in a repetitive cycle that Chessmaster seems to be programming me for: mechanically moving pieces around, deriving no real pleasure from the exercise but feeling compelled to do it anyway, wanting above all no interruption from human beings and all their spontaneity, which begins to seem supremely inconvenient. The convenience of the computer opponent, and my becoming an automaton-in-training, seems emblematic of the ultimate course of convenience as an ethic (and of mediating social behavior through computers)—to program oneself with compulsive habits, killing time while avoiding human contact, basically draining life out of oneself. After all, the end goal of all convenience is a supreme thoughtlessness, a structuring of one’s life where every next move is predicted, where there is no possiblity to contemplate meaningful or challenging choices, which are systematically nullified, where the institutional nature of existence becomes like a computer that’s moving the pieces for you but you feel as though you can take credit for the victory nonetheless.


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Thursday, Jun 14, 2007




New trip; same old routine. International flight. Packed like sardines. Ten and a-half hours to get from there to here – wherever that may be. No matter where it is, it always seems to take ten – minimum – to get delivered to any international destination. Is it just me? A function of that little archapelago in the Pacific that I make a habit of inhabiting. Or is it true for you, too? No matter where you reside.







Okay. So, how about you? Does this ever happen to you, as well? . . .


Mid-flight, an unscheduled nod-off, only to wake unexpectedly nine minutes later; face flush against the spiny shoulder of the Indian teen to your left. A trace of spittle rolling from your lips, dribbling now along his bicep.


Yuk.


 


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Thursday, Jun 14, 2007

On a recent flight I traveled beside a 13-year old boy who spent most of the flight not munching complementary pretzels and sucking down Cokes or watching the Ryan Phillipe movie most of the other passengers “enjoyed” but reading passages from the Bible he carried with him. Why I found this reassuring, I can’t immediately say; perhaps it was as Zizek theorizes in The Sublime Object of Ideology, and I was comforted by the material presence of an object that resonates belief—it believes so that I don’t have to. It’s very existence, and the boy reading it, establishes beyond doubt the reality of a whole substratum of faith without my having to make any spiritual effort. Zizek cites a Stalinist expression: “Whatever I may be thinking, objectively I am believing,” thanks to the presence of an object that connotes the material reality of belief. I don’t have to believe myself to be in an objective state of belief—this is why cultures have often developed designated mourners that can do the formally required grieving, freeing up the bereaved to take care of more pressing matters. So in this case it may be that I have convinced myself that the passenger beside me has freed me to write blog entries and play computer chess (about which more later) by carrying the visible signs of his belief with him, participating in that great religious stratum in American society in which I grumblingly subsist but in theory I’d be lost without. I need the forms of spirituality enacted around me to not be troubled excessively by spiritual questions myself. I need there to be religious folk so I don’t have to be religious myself. I have faith by proxy.


I’m not entirely convinced by this reasoning, though Zizek’s use of it to explicate laugh tracks is pretty interesting—the shows laugh so we don’t have to, and we can experience enjoyment without making the effort necessary to understand, make the movements in our thought to produce genuine amusement, laughter. We can rest assured that we participated without effort, which is its own reassuring satisfaction, the pleasures of passivity. As Zizek puts it, “Even if, tired from a hard day’s stupid work, all evening we did nothing but gaze drowsily into the television screen, we can say afterwards that objectively, through the medium of the other, we had a really good time.” In other words, a really good time can be had merely by mimicking the form, perhaps more so by mimicking the form rather than genuinely experiencing pleasure. Purer pleasure is always already secondhand, mediated, predigested, since this preempts the difficult questions of purpose, why am I bothering with pleasure? What is this pleasure supposed to accomplish?


Which brings me back to Bibles. One of the comforting things I find about the Bible is that it is a book whose meaning is almost entirely exogenous; it makes little effort to justify itself by present a thesis, by mounting a coherent and unifying argument, by rationalizing its heterogeneity. This means that despite the laborious efforts of concordance, the work to organize the text and being it all to account, it still promises the leisure of unstructured reading; it invites being picked up and flipped through at random—hence the divination procedure of opening it at random and trying to deduce the horoscopic relevance of the passage chosen. Approaching the text with that spirit feels as though it frees us from the hassles of belief as well; we can demystify the words by reading them without preconception, without needing to understand them, and this becomes a practice of faith as well—we can take care to not make any interpretations to assure our faith’s perfection. We validate the religious without partaking of it; haphazard Bible reading thus becomes a kind of homeopathic remedy for becoming overwhelmed with theological complexities and conundrums and puzzles, which after all may lead one to question faith, to question the spiritual altogether. Thus the path to spiritual sublimity may be a principled ignorance, taking for granted what you are searching for without necessarily suspending your quest or conceiving its ultimate end.


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Thursday, Jun 14, 2007

The phenom of the web has allowed a revolution in music consumption unknown before.  As part of this, there are “leaks” of albums, which are posted before their official release date.  For some sites and blogs, this attracts attention for obvious reasons- fans are hungry for this music and don’t want to wait.  Sometimes this is done with the label’s/artist’s blessing (i.e. MTV making the new White Stripes album available now) and sometimes it isn’t.  But as part of this problem and controversy, some review sites are also jumping the gun, trying to be the first to weigh in on a record and whet the appetite of consumers (notably Stereogum).  An understandable concern on the part of labels and artists is that fans will read a good review of a record months before it comes out and then madly search for a copy for themselves to download for free.  Is this the way of the future?  Is this a good thing in a way as it’s building buzz for a record or depriving the label and artist of sales later?  Is the genie out of the bottle or do sites/blogs have some responsibility and culpability in this?


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