Sunday, June 29, 2008

C'mon, Feel the Beautiful, Euphoric, Transcendental Noise

Not even close...

I have the discrete pleasure of testifying to what a great many others have already been evangelising: My Bloody Valentine are back and will peel the skin from your skull using only air sculpted with their Fender-brand divining rods. The general critical consensus amounts to the impressionistic descriptive quicksand I find myself wading through every time I recount the concert on the phone:
I mean, like, str0bes&tremo1o-arm swand!ves went *#%*^!*#!* "Soon" and "Feed Me With Yr -> Blinida <3 fuckin' LOUD 5-10-15-20-25 minutes into "You Made Me ~ l0se my hearing #*%^* g!rl passed out, dude... w00t!
Honestly, all the ham-fisted similes and nebulous descriptions that bloggers & mag hacks have cranked out are blamelessly quixotic: given that the legend of The Loudness has proven inarguably true, how can one explain an experience for which one has no first-hand precedent? With ham-fisted similes and nebulous, impressionistic descriptions! After all, for any first-time MBV attendee, it must also be their inaugural experience of sound as a non-environmental (i.e. not derived from mechanical or meteorological sources) yet physically-arresting phenomenon. It was sensory overload of a purity and extremity I'd certainly never experienced.

Here is where it bears expounding upon "The Holocuast": that sonic schisming of space & time at the end of "You Made Me Realise", which lasts anywhere between a quarter- and half-hour. (I sure as hell wasn't checking my watch.) The effect on the audience was uncanny, utterly bizarre. Punters that had been punching the air all night slowed their bouncing into bug-eyed, shellshocked stasis. People nodded off like junkies in every direction. God knows how many eventually fled the front of the room with their fingers in their ears. The girl in front of me slowly crumpled against the barricade and, at song's end, needed to be picked up & carried away by security. I took my earplugs out and immediately felt my spine flush into my stomach. (I put the earplugs back in.) It erased any sense-memory of every song before, and the salvo of the final verse was like being resusitated out of an overdose only to be bitch-slapped by the medic.

It was also during this onslaught that I experienced a bemusing mix of existential dread (see above) and arousal (keep reading). As many others have mentioned, the band appears to have been cryogenically preserved over the last sixteen years - meaning Bilinda Butcher is still indie-adorable, the angelic yin to PJ Harvey's gothy yang. The sight of this petite pixie, strumming away in total indifference to the evil fucking sound assaulting the crowd, was one of the most oddly sexy things I've ever seen.

Long story short (too late)... I wouldn't have traded it for anything. You could have told me that, provided I tore up my ticket, Veronica Lake circa 1942 was arriving in a time machine for a threesome with me and Tina Fey and I would have told you to fuck off.

So, to keep the buzz in the air, here's a mix of songs to sandpaper everyone else's eardrums a bit. Click on the mix title to download.

Lo(-Fi) Rider

1. Nation of Ulysses - "The Sound of Young America" (00:00)
2. Laddio Bolocko - "Goat Lips" (02:29)
3. Shit and Shine - "Danielle" (09:24)
4. Method Man - "Sub Crazy" (11:00)
5. Ween - "Awesome Sound" (13:14)
6. Alex Chilton - "Baron of Love Pt. II" (15:34)
7. The Black Lips - "Lock And Key" (19:43)
8. My Bloody Valentine - "Feed Me With Your Kiss" (22:23)
9. NO - "This Suit Burns Better" (26:12)
10. Fugazi - "Swingset" (29:07)
11. Pavement - "No Life Singed Her" (30:43)
12. The Fall - "Slates, Slags, Etc." (32:43)
13. Karaoke Vocal Eliminator - "Hideously Amplified World" (39:12)
14. Oshiri Penpenz - "Love Letter From Shitty Booze" (43:25)
15. The Cramps - "Love Me" (45:01)
16. Jacks - "Gloomy Flower" (46:58)
17. The Brainbombs - "Drive Around" (50:13)
18. Labtekwon - "Capoiera" (55:13)
19. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - "Get Over Here" (57:58)
20. Ogikubo Connection - "Staring At Blood" (01:00:02)
21. The Brian Jonestown Massacre - "The Origin of Love/The Amazing Electric Talking Cave" (01:03:18)
22. Love Life - "[Trails]" (01:09:11)


The week before the concert, I came across this article about the use of music as a tool of torture by the American military. For a split second, I wondered whether my enthusiasm for both excessive volume and repetition somehow put me in a morally unteneble position. (Answer: only when it gets on Th' Wife's nerves!) Approaching the subject too subjectively (as demonstrated by Deicide drummer Asheim) can also lead to "Bring 'em on!" braggadoccio, or even to the myopic dismissal of the very possiblity that music can be torturous. (Similarly, the composer of the Barney The Dinosaur theme argues that "playing hymns to someone strapped to a chair wouldn't make them a Christian," never seeming to consider that such a scenario may have the exact opposite effect.) All of which ignores the simple yet fundamental difference between those of us in front of Kevin Shields' amp stack, and those in the Guantanamo Bay "disco": choice.

Take the time to read the full article, if only because it provides (in the fourth paragraph) yet another concise & explicit reason to hate James Hetfield.


Fellow concertgoer and musical polygamist Bradford Cox sought to spark discussion by suggesting that
My Bloody Valentine are a folk band. Their music transfers experience in broad, ambiguous terms utilizing simple chords and melodies.
And now I'm running my mouth like flint and tinder: this seems to me a confusion of terms. I agree that MBV convey [whatever it is they convey] in broad, ambiguous terms - but isn't that the antithesis of "folk" music? I've always understood "folk" to stand for a thematic focus on finite, anecdotal evidence which alluded to some universal condition or sentiment.

It's also insultingly reductive to call MBV's chord changes and melodies "simple." Certainly, the melodies are spare and uncluttered, and there's no finger-sports athleticism on display, but part of the beauty of MBV's music is that it's largely adrift from a clear tonal center, a la Joni Mitchell. Though legions of knuckle-dragging hardcore acts may suggest otherwise, a workmanlike hammering of a handful of chords needn't be monotonic or unsophisticated. Please, if you disbelieve, tell me what key any given song by the Fall from '81-'83 was in.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Halfway Between Night and Day

It's been thirteen years since I've been so close to a pole during the summer solstice, and it is fuckin' with my head. I'm an amateur somnonaut at the best of times, pathetically sensitive to sunlight, the lunar cycle, fluctuations in temperature, altitude, vehicular velocity, paranoia (real and imagined), and what was the last song I heard before heading to bed.

So that the sun is playing this fleeting game of peek-a-boo as it barely dips below the horizon for three hours a night has robbed me of any hope for a good night's sleep. I'm not a terribly heliophilic person at the best of times, but this is ridiculous. To set my psyche adroit, and at least acknowledge this astrological moment, I've concocted a mix that is split fairly evenly (as it should be, dammit!) between the light and the dark.

Needless to say, there are a innumerable songs about summer that aren't included - but a lot of those are, lightly put, hippie bullshit. (Chin up, lads, I loved the video for "Boy In the Bubble" too!) Blue Cheer's rendition of "Summertime Blues" would've been an obvious choice, but honestly, I just don't think it's very good. (Certainly not stood alongside the Who's earth-scorching version from their "Live At Leeds" album.) In retrospect, I should've included "Who Loves the Sun", but then we just heard VU last week. I also have a hysterical-yet-half-assed attempt of "Sunshine of Your Love" by Ella Fitzgerald, but again, there's no need to repeat performers. ("Hey, what about the Billy Nayer Show?" you ask. I'm sorry, are you being paid to think?) As always, click on the title to download.

Halftime In the Sunshine

1. Jane's Addiction - "Up the Beach" (00:00)
2. Darker My Love - "Summer Is Here" (02:56)
3. Sly & the Family Stone - "Hot Fun In the Summertime" (05:42)
4. Cody Chesnutt - "Daylight" (08:16)
5. The Fendermen - "Beach Party" (09:04)
6. Serge Gainsbourg - "Sous Le Soleil Exactement" (11:05)
7. The Billy Nayer Show - "Sunshine All the Time" (13:52)
8. John Fahey - "On the Beach Waikiki" (16:17)
9. Rye Coalition - "One Daughter Hotter Than a Thousand Suns" (19:12)
10. Need New Body - "Beach" (23:55)
11. Spectrum - "Waves Wash Over Me" (25:51)
12. Les Baxter - "Pyramid Of the Sun" (31:19)
13. NO - "NO Sun" (33:48)
14. Ashra Tempel - "Sunrain" (45:11)
15. SunnO))) - "Defeating: Earth's Gravity" (52:31)
16. Ellla Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong - "Summertime" (01:06:12)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Doucheland Über Alles!

Note the knuckles

The above post title was a phrase I spat out last night while directing invective at the country currently accomodating me. (Can't believe I'd not heard anyone use it before, to be honest.) Evidently, in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Germany decided that GMail isn't allowed to call itself such, at least not within German jurisdiction. As evidenced by the snarky "error" page (direct quote: "Oh, and we'd like to link the URL above, but we're not allowed to do that either. Bummer."), Google is none too pleased about this. Granted, having to log in via the general Google Accounts page, then clicking through to the inbox is a minor inconvenience at the worst - but not only might it be enough to deter notoriously lazy netizens from jumping on the GTrain in Deutscheland, it's a minor example of a most disturbing trend in German telecommunications (an industry sufficiently xenophobic that it distrusts anything not branded in its native tongue).

For example, content on is regulated in a fairly arbitrary fashion, reportedly due to Germany's extra-stringent age-verification laws. YouTube is similarly restricted in some vague manner (as opposed to Google Videos, which allows users to choose any geolocational filters). Yes, isn't it nice that troublesome elements within society can't piss in the e-well... which, of course, is the exact excuse that China, Korea, Singapore, Turkey, etc. use to restrict online freedom of expression.

But we needn't worry about Germany, which - unlike those other countries - is a democratic society devoted to transparent communication and progressive ideals, right? Right. Then remind the folks at Deutsche Telekom, Deutsche Bahn, Deutsche Post, and Lufthansa. If it's all about winning the hearts and minds of the people, then victory has gone to the GDR in a knockout. (Economists agree!)

And while we're on a roll...

Recently, the inimitable Patrick J. Mullins went ballistic over at I Cite when his slightly obtuse attempt at empathy was rather curtly rebuffed. Granted, when Mullins declares, "You can call it incomprehensible garbage, but it could be you just don't know what the fuck I'm talking about," the danger is that his elliptically self-referential run-on sentences lean more obviously towards the former. Much the way bores confuse a large vocabulary with having something to say, assholes & self-righteous pricks often attempt to transform featherweight obscurantism into lead-heavy philosophy - forgetting, of course, that alchemy is a myth.

This time, Mullins cut to the chase, explaining that the misfired exchange of comments
was a kind of direct encounter that we should have been capable of executing at this point. It didn't work, so my understanding of the tacit agreement of internet shallowness is, if not complete, at least I can see that the large percentage of the 'communication' is fearful.
I'll be a witness to that. Following last week's surprisingly thorough exchange on Reagan, I figured I'd found reasonably fecund turf for conversation over at Micah Tillman's blog. And then I was soundly cut off at the knees when Tillman effectively killed our conversation by condemning my tone as too confrontational. Okay, fair game: I don't fancy myself some online Attila, and won't tread where I'm not welcome. Otherwise, I'm no better than any troglodytic shit-talker (or a typical McCain supporter, for that matter).

Yet, not two days later, Tillman was bemoaning the lack of lively debate on his blog dedicated to "Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Etc." Gosh, I'm sorry; was I just making Yo Mama jokes or what? Was my mistake that I'd chosen to harp on, I dunno, something of literal substance, instead of semantic nitpicking or the ad-nauseum dissection of obviously empty rhetorical devices? Granted, every blog has its own esoteric focus, and perhaps Tillman's is linguistic microscopy. But for a philosophy lecturer, his obsession on absolute definitions of words seems to betray a near-total disregard for the decline of symbolic efficiency.

And another thing!

Really? This is the best we can do? Really? A mountain of lobotomite-dull Americana conservatism, delay pedal abuse as avant-gardism, a Vertigo Records tribute act, a whole harem to kneel before Bono, Godspeed You Ball-less Bedwetters!, unabashed Breakfast Club nostalgia, and a bunch of shit that's straight-up boring? (Naturally, they choose the most mundane song off the new Earth record to highlight.) Never did I forsee a context in which I'd proclaim unironically that Lil' Wayne truly is the most compellingly whimsical, intriguingly weird artist out there these days.

Oh, cheer up, you gloomy Gus! Surely it's not all bad news, right?

Decks chairs on the Hindenburg, my friend. Deck chairs.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Meme Whose Head Expanded

Fair Warning: This is a big'un, so before you get all "tl;dr" on me, simply click here to download the MP3 mix, you goldfish-minded brat.
Coming or going?

During my recent revisitation of bachelordom (to find it, take a left past the gates of Dis), I spent quite some time fencing myself in with films about misanthropy and mindlessly strumming the elliptical looped riff of "Wings". Around the same time, Mark K-Punk was returning to the territory he indisputably rules: academic dissections (post-mortems?) of the mind of Mark E. Smith. This dragged Perverted By Language out of psychic deep storage and myself out of a deepening well of paranoia. The single step towards salvation was articulated thusly:
"Turn that bloody blimey space invader off!"
The virtual world appears near-complete in its construction, with corporations, counterculturalists, cliques, cops, criminals, celebrities, snake-oil salesmen, schemers, dreamers, has-beens, and also-rans populating the pixelated landscape. The structure is seamless enough that, alongside The Sims and Second Life, "reality" becomes a bit redundant - but only insofar as "reality" is irrelevant to people ensconced in The Matrix. There is sufficient static & tension between the two worlds that the transition is traumatic. Being a wizard behind the keyboard often translates to being a hermit, a shut-in, or at least an awkward git in the "real" world. As the world shrinks around an individual, the greater the place the individual seems to occupy until they seemingly fill the screen. Simply put: the smaller the scope, the greater the solipsism, until all that remains is an all-roads-lead-to-Rome paranoia.
"The man who's head expanded explained:
The scriptwriter would follow him around,
of this he was convinced. It was no coincidence."
Now, the great paradox of paranoia is that it typically grows inversely proportionate to one's active participation & functional relevence. Unlike Smith's antihero, neither TV nor video games were (or are) prevalent in my routine. But my quotidian existence had withered down to whatever flashed across my laptop screen. The few external encounters I had - grocery shopping, riding the subway, helping the senile pensioner nextdoor find his keys - became unbearable intrusions. I was working damned hard to make myself as "non-" a non-entity within the civic context as possible. Yet I started finding my own memetic footprints, wayward traces of myself, scattered about online. Noted tastemakers would ape song selections I'd already posted. Digital flotsam I'd passed around would suddenly pop up in high-profile places. Then it began cutting too close: all these other cats were listening to the same songs I'd been playing on repeat for the past month. How'd they find out? Have I been spending too much time with one Onion and not the other? What does a Scanner see?

Of course, the obvious answer was: fuckin' get over yourself, dude. Not only is my taste in no way singular, but here I was bouncing between like-minded blogs, somehow expecting their enthusiasms to lie far afield from mine. Well done indeed. Much in the same manner that conspiracy theories fulfill the same function as religious faith, paranoia becomes a substitute for meaningful friendships: an ornately-spun and meticulously-balanced web of associations with a first-person locus.

As I've previously explained, I have become more or less irrelevant to my immediate environment - or perhaps simply disillusioned regarding my general relevancy. Either way, in my less level-headed moments, I'd sypathise with those who'd deliberately destroyed their brains to anaesthetise themselves to the chronic dysphoria of waking life: addiction as a 9-to-5 in the most grimly minimal, bottom-line, existential sense. Then came the sunny revelation that mors ontologica not only runs, but gallops in my family. A particular case set such an uncanny precedent that it was less like some melodramatic familial folklore than a funhouse-mirror What If? scenario, wherein all my darker, destructive tendencies had played themselves out to the end.

Suddenly, my intuitive fear & loathing of self-medication & applied personal chemistry seemed less monastic cowardice than an inborn failsafe - that I'd distilled an instinct from a soupy psychic miasma of suspicions, allusions, innuendos, and anecdotal fragments over the years. Looking back, I glimpsed what could have lay ahead, had I taken myself too seriously. It all looked remarkably like K-Punk's imagining of MES' nightmarish realization that
"At a certain point the powers will start to wane. The voices that speak through you will no longer make themselves heard. The words will not come. Your eyes will blink open and you will find yourself trapped in the most miserable reality, no longer able to make it take flight, or to yourself flee it. When all those egresses into other worlds recede, then this world will close around you, greasy with fried chicken fat, glossy with discarded celebrity trash, as seamless as a shopping mall, as interminable as a dreary videogame to which there is no level 2."
Mercifully, all this was learned with ample time to make a choice: No Future, Or... wherein the space after the "or" has yet to be blacked out. If, indeed, "the drive of unliving things is stronger than the drive of living things," then there is little difference between an amphetamine-burned, psychotropically-scarred zombie and staring at a computer screen all the time. Tuned in to the scanner, parsing the static, self-Googling, obsessing over infinitesimal details, becoming enraged over the smallest glitches in the Matrix, parasitic, paranoid, a stimulus-response somnambulist... a scanner or a speedfreak? Is there a difference, and does it particularly matter?

Not to me. Not yet. To stimuli, I can still choose from an arsenal of responses. An awareness of inertia is an awareness of the other condition as well. The voices still come; one has to stop thinking of oneself as "one self" and welcome them.

I'm going for a walk.

Saying Uncle

1. Buck 65 - "Achilles and the Tortoise" (00:00)
2. The Fall - "Wings" (03:18)
3. The Velvet Underground - "I Can't Stand It" (07:48)
4. The Rolling Stones - "19th Nervous Breakdown" (11:06)
5. Brian Eno - "Golden Hours" (15:08)
6. The Focus Group - "Reflected Message" (18:53)
7. Sonic Youth - "Schizophrenia" (20:27)
8. Shit and Shine - "Practicing To Be a Doctor" (25:04)
9. Tarentel - "Fever Sleep" (32:24)
10. Sonic Boom - "Help Me Please" (34:04)
11. Soul Coughing - "$300" (38:41)
12. Hüsker Dü - "The Tooth Fairy and the Princess" (41:35)
13. Public Image Ltd. - "Death Disco/Swan Lake" (43:51)
14. The Brian Jonestown Massacre - "Mansion In the Sky" (48:23)
15. Spacemen 3 - "Suicide" (50:36)
16. The Billy Nayer Show - "My Funeral" (01:02:08)
17. Scott Walker - "30th Century Man" (01:05:43)

Totally Nonsequitorial Postscript: I just saw the video for the new Sigur Ros single, "Gobbledigook". My guess is the only thing stopping Animal Collective from suing the shit out of those Icelanders is that the A.C. boys are way too burned to know the difference.

Good Riddance to Ronnie: A Reiteration

The Great Communicator is scarcely at the fore of my thoughts, but during a lengthy back-and-forth over at Micah Tillman's blog, I innocently mentioned that "I’m always curious to hear people argue in favour of Reaganism, to test my own convictions"... and, man oh man, was my curiosity satisfied. My mistake, of course, to invite praise upon Reagan on a libertarian blog. What follows here will most certainly be said in vain, because the ideological chasm between myself and Andrew Stevens makes the grand canyon look like Stephen Malkmus cracking a smile. Nonetheless, I want to share my appraisal of Ol' Ronnie without weaving a Gordian knot out of Tillman's comment thread. Now, everything I'll mention here has been repeated elsewhere, but in the interest of being thorough...

Why exactly do I loathe Ronald Reagan? Let me count the ways:

~He ratted out and demonised fellow citizens before the HUAC.
~Apparently, "cleaning up the mess at Berkeley" included Gestapo tactics.
~All those crazy people wandering the streets? Yep, Reagan's fault.
~In all likelihood, he used 52 hostages as pawns in an election campaign.
~Perhaps in an overzealous attempt to prove "government is the problem," he busted a national union and put 11,345 Americans out of work.
~Reaganomics: a Trojan Horse that bore a stagnant median wage, the S&L crisis, and that festering cherry on top, the '87 stock crash.
~Oh, and that massive cut in inflation? You can thank massive unemployment for that, not Reagan.
~And while I'm at it: fuck tax cuts for the rich. There, I said it.
~Ladies and gentlemen, Robert Bork!
~He pledged to "do whatever was necessary" to aid that Saddam guy against Iran.
~290 innocent civilians died in a case of mistaken identity.
~He staunchly supported & sold arms to Efrain Rios Montt, per-capita the bloodiest dictator Latin America has ever seen.
~He "allowed Alexander Haig to greenlight the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, fired him when that went too far and led to mayhem in Beirut, then ran away from Lebanon altogether when the Marine barracks were bombed, and then unbelievably accused Tip O'Neill and the Democrats of 'scuttling.'"
~He praised the future Taliban as "freedom fighters" while the religious extremists who would later attack the WTC received funds & training from the CIA.
~The Iran Contra Affair
~The HUD grant-rigging scandal
~The "War On Drugs"
~"Welfare queen"
~"We begin bombing in five minutes!"

In the words of a far more succinct man, "Let the earth where he is buried be seeded with salt."

Finally, Mr. Stevens made it clear that his praise for Reagan was not out of partisanship by praising JFK. Likewise, I'm not bound by unblinking loyalty to a particular party. "Slick Willie" Clinton's misdeeds - from the Defense of Marriage Act to destroying a Sudanese penecilin plant - are far too quickly forgotten or forgiven. Likewise, JFK was an overromanticised speed-freak playboy who cried "appeasement" and brought the world perilously close to nuclear annihilation - but then, he's already been assassinated once, so I needn't do it again.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Painting the 'Burg Rot

Whoop - wrong kind of spree...

With the proverbial Ball-'n'-Chain back in Baltimore for a bit, I've been adrift without her to anchor what rags of a routine I have. To avoid withering into some kind of indie-geek Gollum, self-bound in quarter-inch cables, I afforded myself a few nights on the town, to see what exactly it is people do with other people in consensually-social situations. Evidently, there is a tried-and-true template for an evening out in Hamburg. Please refer to the following instructions:
1) Begin by meeting your free-lancer colleagues and ex-pat compatriots (20% of whom are already plotzed) at a random pub in Sternschanze. Enjoy the bourgeois-bohemian ambience: feel smugly countercultural, because there's a fastastically vandalised cinema-turned-squat across the street, yet enjoy the luxury of overpriced Long Island iced teas & oggling college girls in horn-rim glasses and keffiyehs.

2) As the alcohol affects your auditory acuity, decide to escape to more happening, exciting environs. Spar with a gaggle of intoxicated dilettantes for a minivan cab. (Better to move everyone at once; arranging a rendez-vous is a Quixotic endeavour by this hour.)

3) Arrive on the Reeperbahn right as a single drunk dockworker manages to whup three junkies simultaneously to the delight of onlooking Turks.

4) Elect to patronize a nightclub that isn't overcrowded, not because of its exclusivity, discrete location, or unapproachability so much as its overarching mediocrity. The Cuba libres are both watered- and Diet Coke'd-down (for eight Euro a pop); the shirtless, leather-vested DJ spends more time tweaking his faux-JT hat than making his selections; the women are split evenly between disgusted and desperate; and the men are all too drunk to notice that they outnumber the women at least 2-to-1. The club itself used to be a brothel and currently sports an eyefucking fractal wallpaper that pushes the blacklit ambience dangerously close to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas before you've even ingested any illicit substances.

5) Once everyone in your party has successfully pulled a dodgy Serbian girl (or thought better of it), declare this scene dead and head towards the harbour via the impassably-packed sidestreets south of the Reeperbahn.

6) Find yourself redirected into a dim, woody pub with all the charm & conviviality of a Kentucky truckstop. The ursine barmaid takes her dentures out to sip from her pint and Black Sabbath is blaring loudly from the jukebox. Five of the six customers already seated around the bar are prostitutes on their break.

7) Decide to cut & run either when the sun's first rays strike the high-rise hotels, or when the eldest member of your party leaps atop a table whilst caterwauling along to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" - whichever comes first.
Mercifuly, not every night out has to conform to such a pathetic & dissolute pattern. I attended one of the most engaging (and physically exhausting) live shows I've seen in quite some time. Not only was the rock brought most forcefully, but I got to shoot the shit with some denizens of my former domicile amidst the post-collapse anti-glamour of Hafenklang. I'm hardly convinced that the operation is entirely legal (or competently run), but not only was everyone terribly unteutonically friendly, there was something uncannily comforting about seeing this once-posh, palacial department store gutted & ghostly, a four-story epitaph to consumer frivolity... now host to a hive of gleefully unconcerned, doom-positive counterculturalists. Dancing on the future's grave isn't quite as gloomy if you've got other people to do it with.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Bringing Flowers to a Gunfight

The other day over at the venerable I Cite blog, Jodi Dean pondered the ramifications of former WH press secretary Scott "Doughboy" McClellan's defrocking of his former employers. Dean has been banging her head against the same wall as many of us for the past five (if not eight) years, and echoed Stephen Colbert's sentiment that, “These are shocking revelations — in that it is shocking that Scott McClellan thinks these are revelations.”

Dean also extracted the following subtext from McClellan's late confession:
Namely, he might be understood as telling us something about the Republicans' understanding of the media and the Democrats (and their unholy union, the liberal media). The Republicans fight like vicious attack dogs because they presume antagonism. They presume political warfare, political struggle. The failure of the Democrats and of the msm is to hold up their end of the struggle.

...[The Republicans'] game has been premised on the presence of adversaries also out for blood. But the media and the Democrats gave up, gave in, and didn't play. And it seems, then, that maybe the Republicans were a little shocked and little over their heads when they got what they wanted and more.
I wrinkled my nose a little upon reading that. Not because I doubt it; on the contrary, it's dead-on. But such an assessment of the Republican mindset is as revelatory as the fact that the Administration *ahem* "oversold" the evidence against Saddam.

This is a criticism I have of the American left as a whole - an indictment that extends far beyond the confines of a particular party. Political correctness became the ultimate expression of identity politics, and the left obliged by focusing on people's feelings and not offending anyone, as opposed to objective policies. How successful can a political movement be when its only coherent goal is inclusiveness? For the better part of the past two decades, protest marches have been miasmal gatherings of pro-choicers, anti-poverty activists, environmentalists, Black Block anarchists, consumer advocates, pacifists, pinkos, and folks for freeing Mumia. There's been no concise expression of purpose, no consenual agenda.

Now, who's going to win the fight: this ad-hoc assembly of unfocused activists, or a cabal of thugs thirsty for power?

I personally never cared for political correctness, but out of an Orwellian suspicion of any linguistic restrictions upon plain speaking & free debate. Conservatives, on the other hand, detested all things PC because it forced them to speak as though they gave a shit about others. They didn't care about anyone's feelings; they had an empire to build.

The Democratic Party's milquetoast centrism has been driven by this urge to include, rarely seeming to consider the impossibility of, say, including secular humanists and fanatical Baptists in the same group-hug. As much as I rooted for John Edwards earlier in this election cycle, I recalled the repulsion I felt when, in the 2004 campaign, he explained the Democratic strategy RE: the War On Terror as, "We'll hunt them down and kill them." If I was the kinda guy who didn't mind my elected representatives advocating murder on prime-time TV, why wouldn't I just stick with the administration who'd already demonstrated the will & means to git-r-done? Rather than than make an issue out of the Republicans' policies, the Democratic Party traded away its identity out of bet-hedging cowardice (a.k.a. political expediency).

Mercifully, the left (though not necessarily the Democratic Party) is finding its footing again, and almost exclusively I credit the internet: a medium that allows alienated citizens to tentatively broadcast their frustrations and find peers to confirm, no, they're not the only one this pissed off. The blogosphere saved the American left from becoming the eunuch slaves of some national reenactment of the Stanford Prison Experiment.

Let's just hope that Obama breaks the role-playing quicker than Zimbardo did.