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Friday, Feb 24, 2006

This blog is proof that 1) some of the most creative people in our society are writing copy for ads and 2) this is extremely corrosive to their souls. What a tremendous waste of a culture’s talent to have them thinking up ways to sell cold remedies and floor cleaner.

Most of the ad critiques to be found here are directed at ads’ stupidity and ineffectiveness (and not at the noxiousness of ads in the abstract—perhaps that is self-evident), but they are probably the funniest thing I’ve read in a year.

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Friday, Feb 24, 2006
by PopMatters Staff

“Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives” [MP3]
“The Start of Something” [MP3]

PopMatters Sponsor
From First to Last
“The Levy” [MP3]

“The Levy’ is an explosive fusion of blazing guitars, electro-tinged percussion and blaring vocals that soar above a truly refined and powerful cacophony of sound!”

Deep Breath
“They Gave an Inch” [MP3]

“Get Set” [MP3]

Run the Road 2 [album stream]

The M’s
“Plan of the Man” [MP3] from the new album, Future Women
“2x2” [MP3]
“Holding Up” [MP3]

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Thursday, Feb 23, 2006

Via comes this link, to a paper by Danah Boyd explaining why MySpace has attracted so many teenage users. MySpace has attracted a lot of media attention recently, usually of the alarmist variety, precisely for the reasons that Boyd claims for its popularity—it is public space that teenagers rather than adults control. “It is not the technology that encourages youth to spend time online - it’s the lack of mobility and access to youth space where they can hang out uninterrupted,” Boyd points out.  Boyd admits that “of course, there _are_ adults who want to approach teens and MySpace allows them to access youth communities without being visible, much to the chagrin of parents. Likewise, there are teens who seek the attentions of adults, for both positive and problematic reasons.” I’ve complained before about marketers being able to infiltrate these teen networks and tempt teens into becoming advertising tools; make friendship a sponsorship racket. Teens, who are in perpetual quest for social legitimacy, are more prone than adults to sell themselves out to commercial interests, which would seem to validate their choices and their power rather than exploit their vulnerability, their lack of an anchored iddentity independent of the world of consumption. Others fear the way the site seems to foment sexual predation, though that seems more like hype. Magazine stories about the forbidden life of teenagers are surefire winners—it gives a moral alibi (shocking what these teens are doing!) for being titillated at the evidence of their irrepressible sexuality.

Boyd notes MySpace’s ubiquity forces even teenagers who aren’t interested in social networks to have pages on MySpace, and for many teenagers it is simply the place where they can build their identity unconstrained by adult pressures. Through language skill and manipulation of the various aspects of the profile, they can create identities that wouldn’t otherwise be possible—it enables the formation of a new kind of teenage identity, one that seems to have proven irresistible, one that allows immediate alteration in response to feedback, for which there are copious channels. Boyd points out that “comments are cultural currency,” which makes sense, as validation is a primary source of economic power. (When we have what we need to survive physically, we begin to want attention over all else, it seems. Evolutionary biologists probably have a good explanation why.) MySpace formalizes and makes concrete and tangible the reciprocal exchange of social recognition. Through comments, permament traces for all to see, it makes friendship into an exchangable good. Testimonials to friends likely escalate, potlatch style, until all the tributes are imaginative, hyperbolic encomiums or else worthless. Will this make the most valued friends be those who are the most able flatterers? Boyd asserts that “adults often dismiss the significance of popularity dynamics because, looking back, it seems unimportant. Yet, it is how we all learned the rules of social life, how we learned about status, respect, gossip and trust. Status games teach us this.” She says this as though status games are an inherent part of humanity, and perhaps they are; but they are also the engine that drives consumerism: these sorts of popularity games prepare one for a life of perpetual defensive consumption, of keeping up with the Joneses. I’m not sure it is a requisite rite of passage for teens; I think adults dismiss it because it was humiliating and horrible for them, and they have grown out of such preoccupations rather than internalized them.

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Thursday, Feb 23, 2006
by PopMatters Staff

Low Skies
“Levelling” [MP3] from All the Love I Could Find
“You Can’t Help Those People” [MP3] from All the Love I Could Find
“Five’s Gone Quiet” [MP3] from I Have Been to Beautiful Places
“Ready to Be Done” [MP3] from I Have Been to Beautiful Places
“Down Below Him” [MP3] from The Bed
“Sad Hymn” [MP3] from The Bed
“Run Beside the Rhine” [MP3]

“Muscle Cars” [MP3]
“Drop the Pressure” [MP3]

“Murder License” [MP3]
“Zouave’s Blue” [MP3]

“Come, Sing Me a Song” [MP3]

Willie Nile
“Police on My Back” [quicktime]
“Streets of New York” [quicktime]

Secret Machines
“Alone, Jealous, and Stoned” [windows] [quicktime]

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Wednesday, Feb 22, 2006

Any would-be authority must seek to control the sources of social validation and legitimacy; the source of their power stems from being able to grant or withhold that kind of respect. The ceremonial aspects of power—the nomenclature, the rituals and so forth—are not merely ornamental but reinforce that sense that these institutions have control over the spiggot of social capital. In capitalist society, commercial enterprises, regardless of whatever specific thing they sell, must also be in the business of selling validation and legitimacy, or “cool,” which may be considered the source of value in a society ordered by what Veblen calls “invidious comparison”—by positional goods and status displays and so on. Once consumerism moves beyond providing subsistance goods, it shifts into this market of cultural validation, selling the feeling of belonging and of having a place; and its various agencies within the culture (advertisers, retailers, flacks, polticos, lobbyists, journalists—anyone with a stake in the zero-sum economy of cool) do whatever they must to undermine if not destroy any other source that provides those feelings. (Thus “amateur” and “local” things are delegitimized, made to seem irrelevant in comparison to masss society’s reach.) If it can’t destroy them, it will co-opt them, revealing to those parties involved the sort of profits that can be had in selling social recognition.

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