Not long ago I read an article by New York producer and DJ extraordinaire DJ/Rupture expounding on the nature of auto-tune. Essentially, he considered the phenomenon an exemplary synthesis between man and machine. While listening to the rising producer/songwriter Annabel Alpers at Brooklyn’s Union Hall Tuesday night—performing under her Bachelorette moniker—I was thinking the same thing. As an electronica nerd who’s best friend it seems is her laptop, Bachelorette calmly elicited longing, sorrow, and deep introspection in between melodies of shimmery synths and the occasional disco beat. Instead of an unrelenting dance cadence, her songs pulsated with feeling and sentiment. Her awkwardness and self-deprecating quips about her New Zealand origins only further emphasized her strangely sensitive electronic sound. The small crowd and space gave the performance a living-room vibe. While songs like “Doo Wop” and recent single “Mindwarp” were expressive and danceable, Bachelorette’s chipper unease left a cloud of tension in the room—despite her LED bedazzled dress. Listening to Alpers’ latest album, My Electric Family, at home just might suffice next time.
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Village Voice and Rolling Stone scribe Christopher Weingarten gives an impassioned presentation in defense of music critics at The 140 Characters Conference in New York.
Generation Bubble reports on the UCLA Mellon Seminar in Digital Humanities and its most recent manifesto, which proposes an aggressive assault on intellectual property: the digital humanists movement “believes that copyright and IP standards must be freed from the stranglehold of Capital, including the capital possessed by heirs who live parasitically off of the achievements of their deceased predecessors.” Thus, the manifesto proposes we “pirate and pervert materials by the likes of Disney on such a massive scale that the IP bosses will have to sue your entire neighborhood, school, or country” and “practice digital anarchy by creatively undermining copyright, mashing up media, recutting images, tracks, and texts.” By these lights, Girl Talk is not a lame DJ but a Trotskyist firebrand leading the revolution from his laptop mixing board, one mashup salvo at a time. The manifesto regards media miscegenation as an inherent expression of freedom rather than a perhaps lamentable indication of the trap we are in, at a few stages removed from original creation, doomed to fabricate our material culture from shopworn digital remnants.
The manifesto suggests that eradicating intellectual property will lead to more cooperative intellectual labor, mediated by internet-distributed open-source software tools, while facilitating the “reinvention of the solitary, ‘eccentric,’ even hermetic work carried out by lone individuals both inside and outside the academy”. That sounds somewhat sinister—fomenting an effort to re-educate decadent individualists, perhaps through some rigorous self-criticism and a few self-denunciation sessions, and make them into better-functioning members of the collective, content to have their anonymous contributions to the new society recognized through its success at maintaining total control.
One need not be especially cynical to question the utopianism the manifesto trades in. Intellectual property is not merely some conspiracy cooked up by Capital but a flawed expression of the individual’s pursuit for social recognition, which under capitalism is expressed through wages, salary, or payment of some kind or other. Perhaps we are to believe that in the future everyone will be content to disappear into the mass, to be mashed-up in the grand sociocultural remix to end all remixes, but I doubt it; the would-be technoutopians out there also seem to be those most highly networked, those who are most plugged in to the contemporary means of publicity. And it is not like academics in the humanities eschew recognition; their reputational squabbles seem to matter more to them than any aspect of their scholarly contributions.
So doing away with IP, society’s current mode of administering recognition, serves only to alienate the creators the manifesto’s writers seek to liberate. What must be found is a way to replace IP with a different system for doling out that recognition—the attention economy’s currency. Generation Bubble points out IP’s enforcement problems, which have the tendency to invalidate the concept’s moral grounding.
The age of virtual reproduction, where the costs associated with making cultural artifacts have in many cases become negligible (just about anyone can, with a little bit of know-how, record studio quality music on a desktop, for instance), has engendered an unprecedented situation. Gatekeepers of intellectual property now appear as veritable dogs in the manger. Each time they encode a sound-file to prohibit its copying, or each time they install crippleware on an electronic device to inhibit its full functionality, they betray the fact that scarcity is now more a matter of insistence than fact.
That’s well put. But the fact that scarcity is is always going to seem poorly manufactured suggests that we’ll move on to a different tack: encouraging the deluge and enhancing the value of reliable editor and filters. In such a world, an individual’s reputation for discernment will become even more valuable, and the economy within which they exist more hierarchical.
Arising from the pages of DC’s 1994 summer crossover event, Zero Hour, new series Starman would always emphasize the telling of the superhero story as a generational one
“Grand Guignol” the ninth and penultimate book in the Starman library, takes its name from the farcical, ultra-violent French plays of the 19th century, where murder and mayhem were usual fare for thrilling audiences. This book provides Jack Knight with the completion of his character arc. Initially, he only even used his father’s superhero technology to save a hospital memorial wing bequeathed in his mother’s name. Now he must stand in his father’s place as defender of Opal City (a city Jack himself loves) against an occult conspiracy a century in the making. Family ties have been strengthened and Jack no longer shuns his father’s legacy.
Slowly, readers begin to feel that most endearing parts of Starman, the telling of the secret histories of the DC universe, have run their course. All that remains now is the final and very mundane super-heroics of punching and kicking and saving the world. But on the eve of Jack’s final battle, Robinson takes a moment to remind readers that one storyarc remains, and that past histories will once again be the centerpiece of the book.
As much as I like to cheerlead for hard discounters like Aldi, my love does not extend to the chain dollar stores, the predatory lenders of retail. These include Family Dollar, Dollar Tree, and Dollar General, which Daniel Gross recently profiled for Slate. Dollar General, as Gross explains, is doing well in the recession, but not necessarily because it offers cheap deals. Instead, they have found a better way to exploit the prejudices of their often captive small-town Southern populations.
Rather than simply pile up cheap bottles of detergents and ultracheap clothes—truth be told, only about 30 percent of the items it stocks retail for less than a buck—Dollar General began to think about how the firm could be more relevant to its customers. For example, even though most of Dollar General’s stores are in the South, which is hard-core Coca-Cola country, the stores had carried only Pepsi.
On my recent cross-country road trip, I found that these sorts of stores sold the same crappy quality of goods that Wal-Mart specializes in, only they charged more for them and had a less-overwhelming selection. Also, they were like traditional mom-and-pop dollar stores in that they were laid out somewhat chaotically, with no rhyme or reason to where you might find items you were looking for. Ice chests might be next to the off-brand shampoos. Of course, in theory I think that chaos is a good thing—it runs counter to the idea that shopping should be “fun” and hassle-free and contributes to putting shopping in what seems like its more proper place in our lives. It should not be an experience, entertainment in and of itself, but a chore. When shopping is convenient, this would seem to help dispense with that chore and expedite us to our other activities, but often convenience is geared toward getting us to spend more and enjoy ourselves in the store, exist in the fantasy prompted by owning goods rather than the activities that actually use them.
I’m entirely in favor of deglamorizing shopping, but the corporate chain dollar stores, while certainly unglamorous, don’t seem like the answer. Stores like Dollar General combine inefficiency with bad deals, banking on its reputation as a bargain outlet to disguise the fact that its prices aren’t actually all that low and taking advantage of the fact that they often stand as the only retailers in the interstices of rural America, the vast underpopulated swaths that are too scrawny for Wal-Mart to pick at.