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Friday, Dec 8, 2006

Yesterday’s WSJ A-hed silly story was about a new “viral” kind of consumerist porn proliferating on the Internet: people watching videos of other people opening high-tech toys, such as PS3s and Palm Treos.


The videos are every bit as prosaic as you might imagine. Typical is one made by Vincent Nguyen, who launched unbox.it. He opens a box containing the highly coveted Nintendo Wii videogame console. After tearing away red and white snowflake gift-wrap to reveal the box, he slowly examines it and then pulls out every cable, remote control and instructional manual. Finally, he gets to the console itself. “Let’s unveil it, let’s take our time here on the big baby that we just now are getting in,” he says.


George Harrison, a Nintendo executive who is presumably not also the dead Beatle, though the article maakes no effort to clarify this point, is not impressed (“It doesn’t strike me, as a marketer, that it would be fascinating for someone to open the packaging,” he says), but also cited is some designy type talking about what an adventure it is to open an iPod Shuffle package. Here’s a thought: Rafting down the Amazon through the jungles of equatorial Peru is an adventure. Riding across the forbidding steppes of Russia’s far east on the Trans-Siberian railroad is an adventure. Opening an iPod box is not.


It’s probably wise not to read much into this pseudo-phenomenon, which mainly proftis from having a holiday season news-peg. But I’ll ignore my own advice and speculate that not only does this suggests how infantile consumerist culture is, regressing us back to the primal pleasures of the fort-da game, but it exemplifies how the thrill of possession, the excitement and anticipation of owning some new thing that’s been deemed exciting and unprecedented, has nothing to do with an object’s function and everything to do with a brief, elusive moment of fulfillment, of having caught up to the cutting edge, that we can now consume vicariously, thanks to these videos, in its purest form.  I don’t doubt that packaging is of critical importance for gadgetry, that the moment of pleasure that comes in the first blush of ownership as you remove the wrapping—the proof that the object is unsullied and the symbol that reminds you that you are the first and only person who will discover this object, which has been laboriously made just for you—stands out far more in most owners’ minds than any subsequent utility he might derive, which is, after all, taken for granted.We can return to the climactic moment of the shopping ritual, when the object is new and unblemished, completely at one with all our fantasies of its potential to change us, before the inevitable falling away to disappointment when we learn that a Wii doesn’t really make us existentially complete (and that, in fact, shadow-boxing the air in your living room with a electronic stick in your hand doesn’t especially fill you with self-worth either).


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Friday, Dec 8, 2006

SKYMAUL: Happy Crap You Can Buy from a Plane by The Kasper Hauser Comedy Troup [Thomas Dunne Books - $14.95]


For all those poor sods who are forced to spend half their lives on airplanes and, thus, have devoured every edition of the Sky Mall catalogue out of sheer mind-numbing boredom… Boy, do we have the book for you.  San Francisco’s irreverent sketch comedy team, the Kasper Hauser Comedy Group, brings us SKYMAUL, a pure ‘rolling-in-the-aisles’, hilarious spoof of that mountain of useless gadgets, gizmos and inspirational clap-trap that is Sky Mall.  Actually, anyone who’s every stepped inside a Sharper Image store will be in on the joke too, so no need to be a road warrior to enjoy this humorous volume.  Get your handy dandy adultery detector for on $49.99. C’mon, that’s cheaper than a private eye.  Always putting your foot in your mouth, go for the pepper self-spray for a mere $12.99.  For those blessed with deeper pockets, you can get a new face for $8,000.  Now where else are you going to find lifesavers like these? [Amazon]


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Friday, Dec 8, 2006

Bully: Playstation 2 [Rockstar Games - $39.99]


Those who prefer to do their gaming alone couldn’t possibly do much better than Bully, Rockstar Games’ tale of teen angst that turned out to be quite the well-rounded game even past the ill-informed controversy that surrounded it—there’s barely a shadow of Columbine to be found here, just the sort of mischief and intimidation that anyone who’s been in high school can probably relate to.  Sure, it’s dark, but no more dark than the mind of your average hormonal teenager.  Get past the darkness and you find humor, engaging play, a sandbox mentality, and a really, seriously well-designed world to explore.  It’s beautiful to look at and listen to in its skewed way, and it’s also good for keeping the hormonal teenager in your own life busy for a good 30 hours. [Amazon]


 


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Friday, Dec 8, 2006

The Devil and Daniel Johnston [Sony - $24.96]


This is the kind of documentary that invents all the eventual critical clichés. It’s masterful proof that fact is far more intriguing than fiction. It uses the thread of celebrity as a means of binding together the eccentricity of musicians, the pain of dreams deferred, and the social/interpersonal unacceptability of mental illness. Yes, Johnston comes off like an underground Brian Wilson, a naïve creator of magical pop music whose bubbling inner demons eventually damaged and destroyed his soul. But perhaps the greatest lesson we ultimately learn is that some minds are never meant to heal. In Johnston’s case, they are to be tolerated and celebrated. Thanks to gifted director Jeff Feuerzeig, we can do just that. This is definitely one of the year’s best releases. [Amazon]



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Friday, Dec 8, 2006

Various Artists: Sugar Hill Records: A Retrospective [Sugar Hill - $59.98]


Sugar Hill’s standing as a premier bluegrass label has existed for decades. This new four-CD anthology of material from the first 25 years, Sugar Hill Records: A Retrospective (1978-2003), shows why.  The anthology offers a large, idiosyncratic slice of the Sugar Hill pie. (There’s also a DVD of interviews with various musicians about the label, and five music videos.) The order of the songs makes no sense, and there’s no rhyme or reason for the selections, but who really cares? The music on the discs is all first rate, because Sugar Hill has continually put out nothing but high-quality music. Think of the collection as an old recipe baked by a cook with fresh ingredients. Come on and grab a big bite. Yum. [Amazon]


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