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by Rob Horning

8 Dec 2008

As part of my ongoing preoccupation with Chinese consumer demand, I felt obliged to link to this editorial from today’s FT. The editors raise a claim frequently asserted in evaluating China’s consumer behavior, that “China’s citizens save because they fear nobody will look after them in bad times—and bad times are coming.” You’d think that the People’s Republic would have a more robust safety net in place for the people. It may be that one needs cash on hand to distribute the bribes and make the black-market purchases to get something of a standard that we can find straightforwardly on the market (though affording it is becoming more and more of a problem).

Anyway, the rationale implied here is that in Western countries the state supplies extends much-greater security to its citizens; in effect, it saves for them and covers their emergency needs. This the populace can go out and spend as much as it would like on luxuries much more comfortably. So a good way to stimulate the economy would be to strengthen the social safety net—more unemployment benefits, affordable health insurance, more generous social security benefits, and so on. Under such a regime, we would work to earn the money for the frivolous stuff that we use to define ourselves and shape our identity—the markers of distinction that have preoccupied us throughout the consumerist boom. But the state would assure that our subsistence needs are met.

This seems the implicit promise of consumer capitalism—that society is so prosperous that we can concentrate all our efforts on self-fashioning (even if these ultimately make us insecure and existentially angsty). But of course “we” means “middle class and up”; there remains the strata of lower class workers who have little margin for error with money, for whom identity creation in the hipster mode remains unthinkably. These are the people our society chooses to motivate with blunter incentives—starvation, homelessness, etc. And safety-net improvements will most likely not be made for lower-income people in practice (except incidentally), since in helping them, no extra cash is freed up to buy baubles and prop up demand. Some might even argue that allowing the lower-income people to play at homeownership through subprime mortgages caused the crisis in the first place—a distortion that puts the cart before the horse. Financial engineers needed loans to work with to manufacture more exciting securities; unthinkable loans were then extended to meet this need (not the “need” of poor people to own McMansions).

I wonder whether the degree to which the middle class must rely on the state safety net is the degree to which it must be withdrawn from the lower classes from whom the middle class must remain distinct. They can’t be standing in the same welfare line—that would be a scandal. Better not to extend welfare to the lower classes at all.

by Jason Gross

8 Dec 2008

The Daily Swarm tells of an interesting gimmick that the Asthmatic Kitty label has set up where they base their pricing on the review that they get from Pitchfork.

“The first album subjected to Asthmatic Kitty’s unique experiment is Ropechain by Grampall Jookabox, which will sell for a meager $5.40 during its first 54 hours of sale. The label has determined this figure by consulting Pitchfork’s review of Ropechain, which gave the album a score of 5.4, and adjusting the cost accordingly.”

Like a said, it’s a cute gimmick and bound to get press, like this.  But what does it mean that AK is hoisting their fortunes (or lack thereof) on one source? Do the PF reviewers and their editors now become self-conscious about giving out good or bad scores and then have to be responsible for the pricing?  If an album gets the dreaded 0.0 score, does AK have to give it away for free?  Surely not if it’s a Sufjan Stevens album, right?  And as the Swarm article points out, do we hope that our latest artists on the label get panned so we can pay less?

My editor doesn’t like to hear this but this kind of stunt also helps to cement the reputation of PF too of course (wonder how much they paid off AK to do this…)

Also, this is the kind of model that the labels have been trying to push Apple into accepting- if there’s a hot new release out there, people are willing to and should pay more for it.  If something ain’t as hot (say, an oldie), then they can offer it for less.  Betcha that they’ll be interested to see what happens here.  They’re also probably wondering “why didn’t we think of that first?”

But going back to the original stunt, a 5.4 ain’t a good grade so why would people be excited to buy it, even if it is only five bucks?

by Sarah Zupko

8 Dec 2008

Apple imported many of the popular iPhone features to its latest iPod iteration with stunning results. Groove to your favorite songs while checking your stock portfolio, looking for directions to the restaurant where you’re meeting friends, check the weather, play games, watch YouTube videos, and more. The gorgeous display, superior sound and all around coolness make this an addictive gadget. Even with my massive 80 GB model loaded with hundreds of albums, I still cart this smaller version around with a selection of just my favorite songs while checking out the weather in warmer climes and watching old Clash videos on YouTube.

Apple iPod touch 8 GB (2nd Generation)
Apple iPod touch 16 GB (2nd Generation)
Apple iPod touch 32 GB (2nd Generation)

by Karen Zarker

8 Dec 2008

Perhaps this should be subtitled ‘Elvis’ Eternal Reach Beyond the Grave’. Sure, this is an impressive collection of facts and details about the boy from Tupelo—from his love of Monty Python to his quotes about money to his first ride on an airplane – and it’s replete with rare photos and an abundance of quotes from and about the man. But it also documents his wide-reaching influence in pop culture to this day. Elvis-themed restaurants, merchandise, movies (of course), and all the people, places, and industries his persona impacted are meticulously listed, here. You’ll see an entry on homosexuality, another on Stax history, and so much more. This is an excellent historical resource and a pleasurable flip-through read.  I can think of about, oh, a few million who would just die to have this book in their collection.


by Bill Gibron

8 Dec 2008

Before he became the “bad boy” of British cinema, middle aged maverick Russell was making amazing musical biographies for UK television. This masterful boxset contains six of his best - Elgar, The Debussy Film, Always on Sunday, Isadora Duncan: The Biggest Dancer in the World, Dante’s Inferno, and Summer of Song. Sadly, his slam on Richard Strauss, The Dance of the Seven Veils, was pulled at the last minute. Still, with famous faces like Oliver Reed and Vivian Pickles along for the ride, this collection is a revelation, and a testament to one of the most criminally underrated directors of all time.


//Mixed media

Emerging from My Hiatus from Big Budget Games

// Moving Pixels

"I'd gotten burned out on scope and maybe on spectacle in video games, but I think it's time to return to bigger worlds to conquer.

READ the article