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Wednesday, Aug 2, 2006

The slug-rider phenomenon in the Washington D.C. metro area is not new, but it remains fascinating to reporters as an organic response to traffic congestion and state incentives to carpool. The premise is that solo drivers need a companion in order to take advantage of the HOV lanes. (HOV equals high-occupancy vehicle; “high” being two in this case.) Drivers would pass bus stops and try to pick up riders, who became known as slugs. The article linked above connects the name to phony tokens used to bilk the subway system, but it seems an especially apt name in the way it encapsulates just how America views individuals who don’t drive—grubby, slow-moving objects. The article also lauds slug-riding as a “system of casual car-pooling that moves thousands of workers from the suburbs to the city, with no money changing hands and no official government involvement,” thus enlisting it as evidence to support the libertarian fantasy of spontaneous order. But there’s government involvement aplenty—the state builds the HOV lanes, maintains them, and patrols them to ensure their utility. And they provide and maintain the “park and ride” lots for the slugs to ditch their cars. Anyway, it seems the preferred market-libertarian solution is for private corporations to maintain the road system and to introduce variable pricing according to demand (“congestion pricing”), as was attempted on SR 91 in southern California. The D.C. HOV lanes are still part of a government-subsidized transportation scheme that distributes benefits bought by tax revenues to those who live in suburbs and drive cars (this providing an incentive to buy and drive a car, to take advantage of what government has made a priority, which in turn makes roadbuilding an even greater priority for government. And on and on the cycle goes.) The slug-rider system seems less a marvel of spontaneous civil engineering than a desperate, anxiety ridden response to inadequate public transportation. When the MTA strike hit New York last winter and stringent carpooling restrictions were enforced, a slug system rapidly sprung up in the outerboroughs, but no one was convinced by this that the MTA workers could stay on strike forever. Though it initially seems cheering that strangers can work together to maximize efficiency, ultimately it starts to seem like a dismal state of affairs when you think about it, riding in a strangers car but (in some cases) being forbidden to speak, as though you had become ballast. Or waiting in the rain to be picked up and being rejected by drivers who can pass you by or refuse you passage for no apparent reason. Or finding yourself described as a bad driver on a Web site and having slugs refuse you. Slug evangelist David LeBlanc insists that in slugging, “What always prevails is common sense,” but the phenomenon seems to prove that common sense has been delimited to instrumental rationality, to reducing other people to objects to be manipulated for your own convenience.


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Wednesday, Aug 2, 2006

Rob Walker’s NYT Magazine piece about people who try to brand their lifestyle and view branding as an artform using consumer practices as the medium made me wonder this. If Walker’s right and the struggle between the mainstream and some version of an underground is over (Now “we live in a world of multiple mainstreams and countless counter-, sub- and counter-sub-cultures”) the next culture “war” may be between the cool types Walker profiles who are obsessed with their own identity and measuring their own impact on the world (and degenerated versions of these folks, the people I regularly deride as hipsters, ever fearful I may finally look in the mirror and discover I am one myself) and the people who reject that kind of significance and atttempt a kind of anonymity that will feel more and more like freedom—maybe the bloggers who remain hidden behind monikers exemplify these sorts of people, on as a large a scale as they’d ever likely aspire to. This opposition seems to me to be the next reconfiguration of the perpetual struggle between an unapolegetically selfish individualism and modest, hesitant communitarianism. Both will be searching for dignity, which the for wage-earners in this economy is noticably lacking. Most people won’t know which side they are fighting on, and many will think they are double agents; both will feel the need to continually reinvent themselves, the former in attempts to remain cool, the latter in order to escape the cool paradigm. The struggle will be commemorated in fits of urban renewal and boutique openings on the one hand, political activism and consumer “downshifting” on the other perhaps. On one side, the people who seek to maximize the number of friends they have in a list on a social networking site, on the other people who keep their social networks private or eschew them altogether.


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Wednesday, Aug 2, 2006

Indians come together over one thing: movies. It seems sensible that a country of over a billion people, divided by religion and language, can unify under the neutral banner of entertainment. If a communal riot breaks out over say, a pig let loose in a mosque or a statue of Shiva is desecrated, people who were living and working side by side for years as friends suddenly are pitted against one another and caught amidst the animosity. Riots are commonplace occurrences in Indis - a vicious reminder of colonial partitions. But the film industry is the only secular medium in India that brings people of warring factions together in a temporary lapse of peace. It does what politics is supposed to do.  It’s not unusual to find an Indian movie with a Muslim star playing the holiest of Hindi gods, Ram. Oddly enough, no one seems to mind. They’re just happy to escape the heat for a few hours in a dark cinema hall and to watch the hypnotic scenery and song sequences unfold onscreen.


The movies described in the User’s Guide are the hit list of Indian cinema. They’re not only the best films of all time, but they give you the best glimpse of what Indians enjoy, their sense of tragedy and comedy, their aspirations, their regrets. In short, it’s a visual chronicle of Indian society in the last fifty years. Enjoy.


Week 1: Shree 420 (“The Gentleman Cheat, Mr. 420”)
1955, B&W, Hindi.
Dir: Raj Kapoor


Director-star Raj Kapoor’s greatest work is the first modern movie of Indian commercial cinema. “Bollywood,” the transposition of successful Hollywood characters and plots onto Indian culture, as a concept and as a way of filmmaking, begins here.  Raj Kapoor, unarguably India’s most consummate star (writer, director, producer, matinee-idol), uses Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936) as a springboard for his jaunty parable of urban corruption.  Kapoor casts himself as the rakish title character (“Shree” is the Hindu honorific prefix for “sir,” while 420 refers to the penal code for fraud, and is Hindi slang for “crook”), who blithely abandons the restrictive mores and traditions of the village for the glitter and promise of the big city of all cities, Bombay. Shree 420 epitomizes the optimism of Industrial, post-Independence India, poised for international trade and profit—the catchiest song in the film, “Mera joota hai japani…mera dil hai hindustani (My shoes are Japanese…but my heart is Indian)” is played so often that it has become India’s answer to “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Part Sullivan’s Travels, part Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Shree 420 is both a glorious paean and a scathing indictment of Bombay, its skyscrapers smacked alongside its slums, its modernity, its backwardness, its wealth, and its sleaze.



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Tuesday, Aug 1, 2006
by PopMatters Staff


Towers of London
TVT Records
Download “Air Guitar” (MP3, 192kbps)

 
 



Bishop Perry Tillis
Birdman Records
Download “God don’t like it” (MP3, 192kbps)

 
 



Mark Mallman
Badman Recording Co
Download “Turn On Of The Century” (MP3, 192kbps)

 
 



Grand Mal
New York Night Train
Download “The Best Con In Town” (MP3, 192kbps)


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Tuesday, Aug 1, 2006

As MTV reaches its 25th anniversary, the stories about it break down into two types: celebrations of its culture-shaking milestones and damning of its irrelevance today in a Myspace/YouTube world.  A select few try to glean what’s signifant about how the channel has changed and what this means for pop culture in general.  As it turns out, even most detractors will have to admit, it means a lot.


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