PM Pick

Headphones and head space

On most of my subway trips, I'll see someone who's wearing headphones and he (almost always a he) will be air drumming or dancing in his seat or mouthing the words or, in the most extreme cases, singing loudly. When I see this guy, I usually start with a weird admiration for someone who just doesn't care about looking like a fool -- so impassioned is he by the music he loves. The person will always seem entirely unembarrassed and will sometimes have the satisfied look of someone who thinks he's been rather impressive. The onus is on those around him to be embarassed for him, which is always a waste of emotional energy.

It seems like a consequence of public space being dissolved into a million private spaces delineated by headphones and cell phones and PDAs and so on. The gist of much technology is to eliminate shared space and make every place seem like your private personal space, where you can control the environment. The car interior is the prmary model for this, but it is migrating from that to be more generally true. We travel through public space as though we are always in our own private car, even if we're only walking down the street with our hands-free Bluetooth earpiece in, jabbering away at 20 decibels about how we're not up to much, you know, just walking down the street.

But though the air drummers certainly seem ensconsced in their own private bubble world, they are not altogether ignorant of those around them. They still seem to be searching for attention -- but not interaction. They want spectators (as the passivity engrained by our entertainments divides the world into watchers and performers, again eliminating the idea of interaction, shared activity, public space, community action) but apparently he has no real skill to warrant that attention. So he tries to garner our attention by taking his own spectatorship to a performative level. The seat dancer acts as though he's so convinced the music he's listening to is cool that it gives him a free pass to do whatever he wants, or what's more, the music is so cool that he must call everyone's attention to him by air drumming and gesticulating so that we'll all see that it is him with the magnificient taste and good fortune. But he seems to have forgotten one crucial point, which is that we can't hear what he's hearing and that he looks like some kind of crazy mime to everyone else. Is he so desperate for validation that he has to resort to this? Is he so bereft of ways to contribute to society that his only optino is to broadcast his musical taste? Is he so beaten down that he thinks his taste in pop music is the only thing he has to offer, and he must seize every moment in public space to display it?

Because so much status resides in the signaling function of conusmer product, our consumer society leaves us with a sense that our tastes in design or consumer goods or whatever is one of the most significant contributions we can make to the world around us -- we can aspire to little more than being showroom dummies, since the productive work we do is viewed by ourselves and the culture at large as a compulsory hassle, something we'd love to shirk if we could. In the absence of any other socially validated work, taste and our ritual display of it must be considered as the only real meaningful social work we all perform.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.