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by PopMatters Staff

20 Mar 2009

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Spencer: That’s a tough one. I haven’t read or seen anything that has made cry in a very long time. We need more sentimental material out there.

Jessie: The Apartment with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine during Christmas break after a break up. It’s a classic, but so sweet and heartfelt.

2. The fictional character most like you?
Spencer: Hands down I am like a young Black Tony Starks from Iron Man.

Jessie: Lydia from Beetlejuice. She’s a bit of a loner. She’s dark with a curiosity for the “other side” and ghosts. Plus all of her clothes are super rad,,,

3. The greatest album, ever?
Spencer: The greatest album off all time for me is A tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders. Changed my life at the age of 12.

Jessie: Tie with White Album by the Beatles and OK Computer by Radiohead. They both embody undeniably amazing songwriting, musicianship and the ability to go outside the box musically. They both have classic tunes that most people know of but they also have those wacked out obscure tracks for the super fans like me. Turn off the lights, sit down with these records and the experience is always amazing. They have been standby’s in my collection that I never tire of.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Spencer: I grew up watching nothing but Star Wars movies. I used to take my mom’s iron hair straightener and pretend it was a light saber. Star Wars all the way.

Jessie: Star Wars. No big reason why, really. I just watched The Empire Strikes Back probably 20 times one summer break. I prefer the older versions. You know, pre-Jar Jar Binks. I hated that thing…

5. Your ideal brain food?
Spencer: My ideal brain food is fish. Because its a proven fact that it is healthy protein for your mind. look it it up its true.

Jessie: Sushi…the whole package…sushi, sake, green tea…I always feel fresh and ready after a good sushi session.

by Thomas Britt

20 Mar 2009

Four Tet (Kieran Hebden) is on a short tour in advance of a new album scheduled for release later in 2009. The tour includes North American dates, including a DJ set at Santos Party House in New York, as well as his first show in Mexico. Also noteworthy is his return to Plastic People in London, where he will resume his DJ residency.

Friday 20th March - Echo, Los Angeles, CA
Saturday 21st March - Mezzanine, San Francisco, CA
Thursday 26th March - Holocene, Portland, OR
Saturday 11th April - Santos, New York, NY (DJ set)
Friday 17th April - Sonotheque, Chicago, IL
Saturday 18th April - WIUX Culture Shock, Bloomington, IN
Thursday 23rd April - Wrongbar, Toronto, ON
Thursday 30th April - Pasaje America, Mexico City, Mexico
Friday 29th May - Plastic People, London, UK (DJ set)
Saturday 1st August - Field Day Festival, London, UK



by L.B. Jeffries

20 Mar 2009

The new Facebook bears an eerie resemblance to Twitter in both function and appearance. Instead of asking for our status, we are asked to post what we are thinking. Whereas the old website broke everything into categories, everything is lumped together in a gushing stream of information. Like Twitter, Facebook is now aggregating information without prejudice.

It’s an interesting shift because on the surface Facebook would seem to have every advantage over Twitter. The culture of birthday greetings, posting links, and clever away messages is just as prevalent as ever. Facebook is also currently the number one social networking website, beating out myspace both in terms of active users and monthly visits. The crux for any of these websites is figuring out a way to keep people coming back. How do you make the incessant flow of information more presentable and easy to consume yet still need to be checked constantly? How do you make a website become a necessary part of someone’s life?

It’s tempting to automatically dismiss Twitter as standing no chance in this struggle but its rise in popularity has been incredible. Going from being ranked 22 in social networks to 3 in such a short space of time is no small task. As a user of both websites, I also use them for very different purposes. My Facebook account has always been an elaborate yearbook and text message service. Twitter, on the other hand, is where I talk with people about video games. What’s striking is that I have never met almost all of the people I exchange tweets with. Twitter has a distinct advantage over Facebook in this regard because it encourages meeting and linking with strangers. You don’t disclose personal information in your profile, so you don’t really care who reads it.

There are also several problems that Facebook’s culture is going to have when adopting Twitter’s information distribution method. It would be nice to think people have gained some sense of internet etiquette over the years, but you still encounter folks who seem to think we need to know what they’re having for breakfast. Combine this with people actually posting interesting links or comments and that girl who incessantly needs to tell me she won a free laptop and you start to encounter information overload. There are only so many people you can follow on Twitter before you just start focusing on certain people and ignoring the rest. The issue is that de-friending someone on Facebook is often taken personally, un-following someone on Twitter is just business.

Which brings up the issue of functionality that is going to dominate 2009 for both gaming and the internet as a whole. The website that is going to become a part of a person’s life, as opposed to just an escape from work, is the one that is the most useful. After four years of using Facebook, the majority of people I’m friends with no longer live near me. I don’t really need to know about their day to day lives except for the occasional nostalgia bender. Twitter and the discussion it provides with a group of likeminded people is, by comparison, something I rely on daily for news and insight. Grouping people by common interests, instead of who they know, seems to generate more traffic.

by Diepiriye Kuku

20 Mar 2009

Considering any anthem for coming out, I naturally look back to my own experience sixteen years ago. It is therefore several chansons from 1992 that facilitated that DJ’s saved my life. Kids like me heard a strong and clear message in:

I can’t help falling in love/I fall deeper and deeper the further I go

My mother had gone to California for the summer between my junior and senior years in high school. The state had yet another budget stall, employees were given cash against future checks at local credit unions, but mostly state employees weren’t receiving any pay. Moreover, the state’s backlog infringed upon plenty citizens’ rights to due process, hence these relief recruits from all around the nation. My mother became involved in this quandary in order to help push along the process of disabled Californians to receive state benefits, however meager.

Having denied myself for years, my sexuality became undeniable at age 16. Perhaps I could see the light at the end of the tunnel: graduating high school a year later meant leaving the Bible Belt for good. Janet Jackson had come out as bisexual, too, and though portrayed as a media trend, the concept of alternative sexuality was now ‘out’ there in my universe. This was also the year Madonna came out. In her videos, she’d play with gender and sexuality rather straightforwardly, yet by 1992, she was ready to affirm her bisexuality. Finally, one could discuss the topic, for example, with friends at school without any direct reference to the self—without coming out. This was a typical way of gauging the temperature of peers around sexuality.  What felt as the most taboo subject after race, which often got diluted in mixed company, to mean racism. Similarly, any discussion of sexuality would always get reduced to petty epithets of hate or whitewashed diversity. None of this addressed the kid standing before them, struggling to understand difference, yearning for any context where we could fit it.

The words you could not say, I’ll sing them for you

Growing tired of media gossip and what at the time seemed to him as an irony in being a sanitized teen pop idol-broaching sex and sexuality that effaced his own—George Michael finally understood the importance gay icons. He began to rage against the machine, taking great shots at Sony with his tongue-n-cheek super model videos, all but announcing himself as a sissy (can you imagine 50 Cent in a video with that much naked feminine flesh and not tap any of that ass?). Yet at that time, his sexuality was clearly unspeakable. Ain’t nobody loves me better, sang George, covering Chaka Khan at the 1991 concert where he met the man whom he would eventually consider the great love of his life. Where lay people struggle to find gay love reflected in the pop culture, it must sting an actual pop artist to conceal his own love, particularly when love is flaunted and easily trampled upon by his colleagues and cohort.

As an artist, George Michael would not be able to sing openly about this love and eventual loss- Feleppa succumbed to AIDS-related brain hemorrhage—until years after that faithful night in Rio. Even still, the artist waited years before publically acknowledging that relationship. I’ve been loved/So I know just what love is…Oh the lover I still miss/Was Jesus to a child, sang the balladeer softly in 1995.

Where Madonna and Janet were painted as predictably and effectively licentious, George Michael’s ‘secret’ was balled around in the press as deception. Moreover, as a gay teen, it did feel like his deception were betrayal; only our deep love of Luther saved him from the same fate. George Michael and L.V. used feminine pronouns for their love interests in every song—some of the best love ballads of their generation. Creep, creep, creep, creep! Gay love was made visible by Madonna and Janet’s media antics, but silenced and effaced by the real gays. Creepy.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Jesus to a Child

Madonna really came out in her Sex picture book my senior year in high school. I had joined a gay youth support group, and had met many more queer youth during the months of media trashing 1992’s Erotica and 1994’s Bedtime Stories, where mistress Dita wore her queerness on her sleeve as keenly as she had turned the tables a year earlier- chaining herself like a junkyard dog, superficially reversing the patriarchal role to reflect men working to titillate women: “Don’t go for second best, baby … make him express himself.” This was not a contestation of power, but S&M fantasy reinforcing the way things already were. Bleaching her hair silly, Madonna showed that she was prepared to “trade fame for love,” as she would later reveal nearing 40.

Even in high school I found her interactions with her black-and-tan ‘chain of fools’ to be maternal, portraying blacks as juvenile, and the whole thing as play, much like her feigning fellatio on a bottle in Truth or Dare. In Erotica’s  video, which MTV banned, as well as in Sex’s scenes with the definitive supermodel Naomi Campbell, and rapper Big Daddy Kane, my favorite Material Girl appeared like an overseer. Lily White, a n*gger wench and a n*gger stud; she even invited over an older European sophisticate to come play with her toys. Instead of this liberated sexuality, I saw rather retrograde images of white supremacist fantasies, which ultimately just showed that a woman could do anything a man could.

Again, this was S&M both superficially- there were whips, chains, (p)leather bras and the whole bit- but also in the profoundly clear projections of white supremacists fantasies of the gender, race and class hierarchy. Images of the supermodel’s fake making-out with the big black rapper, or with some contrite visual composition, like Madonna standing nude as if hustling on a wide Los Angeles boulevard reminded me of that poor little motherless Italian girl, growing up in Detroit (Oh Father!), finding refuge with the blacks who were ready to accept her, and even teach her to dance as she admitted early in her Material career. Blues, jazz, funk and hip-hop have always masked white transgression, aiding generation upon generation to distinguish themselves from the conservative norms of whiteness bequeathed them; here was our generation’s Elvis, mocking and masking anything authentically black, trading love of the craft for sheer fame. And here on the black and white pages of Sex, she was showing us her beautifully dark skin friends, bragging about how much of a bad girl she was.

by Rob Horning

20 Mar 2009

In a footnote to a post at The Valve about “weak reading,” English professor Rohan Maitzen adds a footnote that well sums up the problem with academic literary criticism. It’s a bit long, possibly longer than the post itself, but it warrants quoting in full

One phenomenon with which anyone in literary studies is certainly familiar, for instance, is the interpretive strategy by which something seemingly incidental in the text is seized upon and ‘discovered’ to have great interpretive significance—usually because it can be read symptomatically, helping turn the text, as Attridge says, into an “illustration of historical conditions or ideological formations.” Here’s a mildly parodic (but fairly accurate) example of how it works. Suppose the text is a 19th-century realist novel—say, Barchester Towers, which I happen to be reading now. Imagine there’s a scene with a dinner party at which pickles are served. Now, the immediate action of Barchester Towers has everything to do with the internecine rivalries of English clergyman and the moral and social crises flowing from them, and nothing to do with pickles, but now that we have noticed the pickles, it becomes irresistible to follow up on them. Lo and behold, nobody has done pickles yet (though I could give you quite a list of what has been done). So we produce a pickled reading. What are the cultural implications of pickles? Who could afford them, and who could not? Were pickling techniques perhaps learned abroad, maybe in the chutney-producing regions of the eastern empire? Or maybe pickling was once a cottage industry and has now been industrialized. We learn all about these issues and make that jar on the table resonate with all the socio-economic and cultural meanings we have uncovered. Though the pickles seemed so incidental, now we realize how much work they are doing, sitting there on the table. (Who among us has not heard or read or written umpteen versions of this paper?) And perhaps we are right to bring this out—after all, for whatever known or felt reason, Trollope saw fit to put pickles there and not, say, oysters or potatoes. But do we really understand more about Barchester Towers, or just more about pickles—not in themselves, but as symptoms of industrialism, colonialism, or bourgeois taste in condiments? It’s not that our pickle paper might not be interesting or, indeed, accurate in all the conclusions it draws about the symptomatic or semiotic or other significance of the pickles. But it’s hard not to feel somehow that such an analysis misses the point of the book and thus has a certain intrinsic irrelevance.

The point here, I think, is that you don’t really need Barchester Towers to write that historical study of pickles, which is more interesting than Trollope, in a way. What more is there to understand about Barchester Towers? Why privilege it? Why not say Barchester Towers (which by the way is a very funny book worth reading) is intrinsically irrelevant to pickles, rather than vice versa? As objects for historical study, Trollope is no more important an object than pickles are. It’s just that most universities don’t have a food studies department, whereas they do have literature departments.

What are the reasons for that? Part of the point of having English departments, the argument goes, was to codify national greatness. This is especially obvious in classes dealing with American writers, which often adopt the theme of American exceptionalism as an important point of class discussion. Literature classes also serve as lectures in secular moralism, with English professors resolving ethical problems in texts to show both how the authors were deep, insightful souls and we the readers have become nearly as deep and insightful by reading those authors carefully. I find that dubious. In the main body of the post, Maitzen quotes from this exchange between scholars Derek Attridge and Henry Staten about this kind of reading.

The notion that it is smarter to read “against the grain” rather than to do what one can to respond accurately and affirmatively to the singularity of the work can compound this disregard of what is truly important. This is not to say that the use of literary works as illustrations of historical conditions or ideological formations (including abhorrent ones) is invalid or reprehensible; just that to do so is not to treat the works in question as literature.

Somewhere Pierre Macherey is groaning. In A Theory of Literary Production, he argued that we should read for what texts specifically can’t say. The point of analysis is to determine what conditions make the work and its reception possible. “The real critical question is not: What is literature? (What does one do when one writes, or reads?) The question is: What kind of necessity determines the work? What is it really made from? The critical question should concern the material being used and the implements so employed.”

That’s a bit extreme, but Attridge and Staten veer in the wrong direction, I think, when they suggest one can define the “literary” for its own sake, as a transcendent quality worthy of study rather than a political tactic. Deeming something to be literature is only interesting in so far as we know what that dignified status accomplishes for those involved in articulating it. In itself, who cares what is literary?

As much as I am inclined to agree with Attridge and Staten and find clever counterintuitive, beside-the-point analyses of tangential elements in texts tiresome, their definition of “weak reading” has problems, some of which Maitzen points out. Namely, as she writes, that “a text’s own ‘theme’ is rarely obvious” and what is obvious to any given reader is “very much a result of one’s experience and preparation.” These differences in preparation and experience measure a specific kind of cultural capital—and bringing up poems presents an occasion for those with greater experience to realize that capital. In discussions about literature (another term that presents definitional problems, to say the least), literature professors get to dictate (for once) what is “truly important.”

What’s at stake for literature professors is maintaining control over the definition of what counts as literature, and maintaining the authority to impose that definition—the source of their capital—on everyone else. They tend to disguise this by maintaining that a concern for literature is a concern for the deep soundings of the human spirit—hence their tendency to generate ersatz moral philosophy. The pickle-centric sort of readings of texts go half the way toward dispensing with literature qua literature, but they still nod to the necessity of a literary occasion for launching into a study of material culture. But in these cases, the literary occasion serves as an excuse for doing history or anthropology without the same sort of rigor that historians and anthropologists might require from one another. This drives literary studies into further disrepute in the academy, which only then intensifies the calls from within the discipline for a return to a concern for “literature” to redeem the field. It devolves into what appears from the outside to be a racket, a self-protective fog of vague language and unfalsifiable assertions about “literariness,” which justifies the continued existence of literary scholars within universities which have become corporatized, instrumentalist.

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