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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

I ran these before on the old blog, but with little time for writing today, I thought I’d trot out a slightly revised version of them again.


1. Commercial fiction exists to justify the status quo and make such justifications be experienced as pleasure, either through flattering the reader for his ability to predict what will happen, dignifying his customary circumstances or positing fantasies that dovetail with the commodities markets have to offer.


2. Commercial fiction thrives on the reader’s isolation, which allows his fantiasies to develop unchecked in the channels provided by the fiction and allows for a more absorbing suspension of disbelief. This corresponds well with how the consumer society depends on isolated consumers to permit a wider array of unnecessary purchases and to allow unsubstantiated claims about products and the lifestyles they purport to provide go unchecked. Resistance, even to the flimsy premises of genre fiction and advertisements, requires social organization—you need a network of communication outside of mass media to set up a discourse counter to it. Isolation, on the other hand, streamlines acquiescence.


3. Vicarious participation is a prerequisite of both commercial fiction and commercial societies. In both instances we must be prepared to enjoy our emotions more thoroughly through proxies than through direct experience of nature or society. We must be prepared to choosed mediated forms of experience, because of the illusion of control it affords us, over direct, spontaneous, unpredictable “natural” experiences.


4. Plausibility may be redefined within the realm of commercial fiction to suit the consumer society’s requirements. Reading commerc ial fiction reconfigures the plausibility threshold so that only matters inconsequential to commerce and consumerist fantasy are rejected as “unrealistic.”


5. The question of the commericial novel’s form may best be seen as a problem of industrial design.


6. The commercial novel was one of the first commodities, and as such, it contributed to the notions that acquiring goods constitutes a story itself. The dream world we enter in fiction is akin to the dream lifestyle a product, typically branded, hopes to posit for us via its ads. A story unfolds, closure is obtained (the good is purchased) and a new story must begin. Commercial novels, in being utterly worthless after they are read once, are emblematic of consumer goods generally, which become beside the point once the pleasure of acquiring them has been acted out. (Example: the home espresso machine. Note how many of these you find in thrift stores.)


7. Our facility at enjoying commercial fiction, adopting to its conventions and enjoying its foreshortenings and its illusions, the clockwork execution of its familiar formulas, makes us able to enjoy shopping more—the necessary pre-purchase fantasizing, how ads are metonyms for powerful narratives illustrating our values, how there can be a dramatic arc to our shopping experience, how the invisible hand is really a kind of deus ex machina.


8. Connoiseurship in the market—the quest for distinctive goods—has roots in the connoiseurship of feeling experienced vicariously through the earliest commercial novels and the taste in reading it allows to be expressed. The cult of sensibility taught culture to value the calculated display of feeling and find nothing inauthentic in it. Authenticity was brought to the surface as a set of signs.


9. Pleasure does not preexist systems of distribution and consumption. It manifests itself through those systems; the shape pleasure can take is defined by those systems. The 18th century commercial novel is an artifact of first forms of pleasure enabled by capitalism. (Needs are “set free” by economic growth.)


10. For commercial novels as well as consumer societies, anticipation is far more important than satisfaction.


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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

If you’ve haven’t seen it already, get prepared to be disgusted by Jim DeRogatis’ great article about how major labels have been hosing artists over online royalties: A cheap trick.


All the while, the RIAA gleefully champions the poor artists who lose their living because of evil downloaders, never mentioning how the labels that pay off the RIAA are screwing their beloved artists out of huge chunks of profit, basing their royalty calculations on antiquated decades-old laws. Remember how Courtney Love said that she was gonna take on her label and become the Olivia de Havilland of the music industry? Well, that was before she took a big paycheck and backed down from that stance. The lawsuit that artists are now bringing against the labels over this could be just as important if not as important in ending unfair practices that have gone on for decades at the expense of recording artists. For more info and background, also see a previous post I had here about the artist lawsuits.


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Monday, May 22, 2006

Even though Slate’s music section has been making an impressive comeback as of late, they still can’t resist being cheeky and flaunting their contrariness in their arts section, hence an article like this: What Are Independent Bookstores Really Good For?. How pathetic is it to support the indie cause? Well, you’re just a deluded hipster-wanna-be if you support independent publishers not to mention indies labels.


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Monday, May 22, 2006
by PopMatters Staff


FEATURED ARTIST
DJ Spooky


“Arguably DJ culture’s most intellectual turntablist, DJ Spooky links his personal roots together with his inimitable taste in music by hand selecting 34 of his favorite tracks from the Trojan Records archives and compiling them into one collection, In Fine Style: 50,000 Volts of Trojan Records (in stores June 27th).  A heady experiment where he plucks important and influential songs from the venerable Jamaican record label’s rich vaults, DJ Spooky sets out not only to create a new mood for the club scene but to take clubgoers through the vital history of Trojan and its direct impact on DJ and club culture to this day.” — Trojan Records

“DJ Spooky MegaMix Stream” [MP3]
multiple songs: [official site]


The Dixie Chicks
“Not Ready to Make Nice” [windows | real | quicktime]
video: “Not Ready to Make Nice” [player]


Extra Golden
“Ilando Gima Onge” [MP3]


Stuart Staples
“There Is a Path” [MP3]


Matthew Ryan
“Return to Me” [MP3]


Bardo Pond
“Moonshine” [MP3]


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Monday, May 22, 2006

I like to think that when I choose a beer to drink, I’m picking based on which one I think tastes best among the available options. In this I’m probably wrong. I’m exercising my taste, but not my taste buds; rather I’m probably picking based on my taste for who I want to pretend to be. That’s what I learned, anyway, from an article about Miller Brewing’s recent market-share renaissance in the latest BusinessWeek. This in’t really news, but the brewer’s various brands are all designed to target certain male lifestyles, or certain moments in the drinking man’s life. “The imported Peroni targets trendsetters. Milwaukee’s Best Light is for the hard-working man. Icehouse is positioned as the beer for young guys to drink before going out.” What a touching image: “Miller wants Icehouse to be the beer for those times when you’re hanging out with the guys, playing Xbox. or gearing up to go out.” That’s funny, I thought this might be the beer they were secretly interested in. No mention is made of which beer to have when you are having more than one, or which one to have when you’re looking for a little of the hair of the dog in the morning, or which one to have before you go careening off the road drunk driving. A beer I drink sometimes, Pilsner Urquell (it’s plan B after Spaten at the Bohemian beer garden near where I live), is designed for “discerning drinkers,” so it figures I would foolishly think I was buying it for the taste rather than to send out the signal that I’m discerning.


Anyway, this illustrates the insidious way brands are supposed to operate. Through sheer advertising and promotional clout, a brand is associated with a lifestyle, a concept of masculinity or modernity or insightfulness or free-spiritedness or whatever, and one might gravitate to that brand in an attempt to reinforce one’s own sense of oneself. But inevitably—maybe this already has happened—it begins to seem that you must buy the appropriate brands to be masculine or fun or discriminating, that you can’t demonstrate those qualities without being on the playing field of brands, without speaking the language of brands to get the message out. It’s no loner enough to simply act in the way you want to be perceived. If you aren’t accompanying that with the sanctioned products, you are insufficiently invested in your chosen identity, you are not putting your money where your mouth is, you are inauthentic.


And then we’re where anthropologists Mary Douglas and Baron Isherwood, among others, insist we are, where consumerism, brands, etc. are deemed necessary to be able to express oneself in any meaningful way at all. Ultimately, brands and advertising have this corrosive effect on behavior itself, refuting its ability to stand on its own, to be understood plainly. But perhaps the idea that it ever was so straightforward and legible is itself a mystification. A hypothesis: Perhaps the relance on consumerism for behavior authentication comes with a loosening of the class hierarchy. Once, the context within which behavior becomes comprehensible was determined by class-based identities that were fixed; there weren’t opportunities for dilettantism. With social mobility a need opens up for something new to supply context—hence lifestyle consumerism, backing up certain behavior with the effort and resources required to acquire the accoutrements of such behavior. This thereby proves your committment to the lifestlye and makes people feel comfortable in really seeing you that way. So authenticity is turned inside out—you establish it by investing energy in maintaining the illusion of it by discovering and acquiring the appropriate products, not by simply responding spontaneously to whatever situation you are confronted with. So next time you are pounding a few 12-packs of Miller MGD, rest assured you’ve proved you are a “mainstream sophisticate” far more convincingly than you would by actually acting like an adult.


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