West calls his struggle the right to be a “free thinker,” and he is, indeed, championing a kind of freedom—a white freedom, freedom without consequence, freedom without criticism, freedom to be proud and ignorant; freedom to profit off a people in one moment and abandon them in the next; a Stand Your Ground freedom, freedom without responsibility, without hard memory; a Monticello without slavery, a Confederate freedom, the freedom of John C. Calhoun, not the freedom of Harriet Tubman, which calls you to risk your own; not the freedom of Nat Turner, which calls you to give even more, but a conqueror’s freedom, freedom of the strong built on antipathy or indifference to the weak, the freedom of rape buttons, pussy grabbers, and fuck you anyway, bitch; freedom of oil and invisible wars, the freedom of suburbs drawn with red lines, the white freedom of Calabasas.
And then, on the other hand, you have Donald Glover/Childish Gambino, and the brilliant This Is America video:
Facebook had replaced much of the emotional labor of social networking that consumed previous generations. We have forgotten (or perhaps never noticed) how many hours our parents spent keeping their address books up to date, knocking on doors to make sure everyone in the neighborhood was invited to the weekend BBQ, doing the rounds of phone calls with relatives, clipping out interesting newspaper articles and mailing them to a friend, putting together the cards for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas, and more. We don’t think about what it’s like to carefully file business cards alphabetically in a Rolodex. People spent a lot of time on these sorts of things, once, because the less of that work you did, the less of a social network you had.
The Negro Motorist Green Book was once a pre-Civil Rights Era handbook for avoiding racist establishments and entire racist towns. You would think that’s a thing of the past, but you’d be wrong!
In late 2017, Jan Miles released the The Post Racial Negro Green Book, an unexpected bestseller that catalogs police killings, violence and harassment; businesses that racially profile black customers; and places where white people publicly abuse black people with impunity…
The new book is “a state-by-state archive of 21st century racial bias against African Americans in the United States—from well-known police brutality incidents to everyday harassment. It covers the years 2013 to 2016 and is intended to document and preserve contemporary history on the topic for the sake of review, consideration, discussion, and action.”
Non-Newtonian Fluid is a puzzler for my small brain, but I do like seeing them going thru this press.
Wyatt Cenac has a new humor and news show. My former student (and stand-up comedian) Tim Barnes is the Web Producer!!
Jaron Lanier was one of the original minds behind Virtual Reality. His interview with NYMag is chock full of mea culpas for the mess the Internet has caused. Read the whole thing.
It’s not so much that they’re doing badly, but they have only labor and no capital. Or the way I used to put it is, they have to sing for their supper, for every single meal. It’s making everyone else take on all the risk. It’s like we’re the people running the casino and everybody else takes the risks and we don’t. That’s how it feels to me. It’s not so much that everyone else is doing badly as that they’ve lost economic capital and standing, and momentum and plannability. It’s a subtle difference.
There a sure lots of these Vaporwave compilations on the You Tubes. I wouldn’t mind having drinks in a bar where this is playing on a screen.
Scarface’s cover of Public Enemy’s “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” is fury and rage updated for the Trump era. Rap is a genre where you never directly just repeat the lyrics verbatim, which is fascinating to me. Despite the classic status of PE’s original track, Scarface adds just enough of Chuck D’s line to give tribute, but then updates it. So why isn’t this done more in other genres? It should be encouraged. The only example (I’m not counting gender switching lyrics, that’s basic) I can think of is David Byrne’s cover of Fiery Furnaces’ “Ex-Guru” where he added a bridge and an extra verse:
PS: One last thing I wanted to ask you, which was a thing I promised my daughter that I’d ask you. There’s a piece of music by a Japanese composer and it’s the theme from a game called Animal Crossing. It’s this little simulation of a little village with little anthropomorphic animals. You build up your house, there’s no real kind of goal to it. It’s such a warm game, and I love that she loves this game, but the music makes us want to cry and I just wanted to play it to you to see if you could understandwhy.
BE: Lovely. It’s a very charming piece. I think there’s quite a few interesting things going on there. One is that the instruments are very innocent. They sound young in a sort of wide-eyed way. But there are some changes of mood in the chord changes that introduce doubt of some kind. So it’s as though you’re in this world that presents itself in the first blush as, ‘Ahh lovely, dafodils, daisies and sweetness’. And then it’s like a cloud comes over when some of these changes happen. It reminds me a lot of Fellini.
About that time—I’m talking about the early ’70s—the part of New York called SoHo now, it was mostly buildings that housed factories that made clothing. But about this time, artists were buying spaces in that area, and my cousin and I began to help build. We were putting in heating systems and putting in kitchens and bathrooms. We learned how to do that. We would put an ad in the paper, and we’d get to your house, and we’d do it. When it was time to go back on tour, I just closed up for about three weeks and [would] come back and go to work again for two or three months sometimes.
Also, at that time, I was a composer in residence at the La MaMa theater on East Fourth Street, so I was also writing music for plays, and I had my ensemble. I was starting to become a professional composer. I had been out of Juilliard by that time. And eventually, by the time I was 41, 42, I was actually making a living playing music.
I was surprised it happened so quickly, actually. I expected to have a day job for the rest of my life.
One of the points of the interview is how you could afford to work and bit and then work on your art…in NYC. We are losing a generation of artists because people are slaving away just to pay rent.
Here’s 90 frikkin’ minutes of pop culture garbage related to Star Wars, curated by the loons at Cinefamily.
Here’s “Grease” director Randal Kleiser breaking down the final number in the film and basically pointing out how much they completely made up on the spot. I love this kind of stuff.
1080p footage of Tokyo in 1992, the year I first visited. I remember the hazy sunshine. Two years later I would move there!
I’ve never eaten jellied (or stewed) eels, although my family’s British and I have been to the seaside many a time. This interesting Taste article shows how tradition (and grumpy owners) are killing off the business they love.
The first opened in 1844, and as photographer and historian Stuart Freedman tells me, pie and mash shops were the first de facto working-class restaurants in London. “It was aping the bourgeois idea of a restaurant,” he says. Freedman has long documented the sociology of pie and mash shops, culminating with his book The Englishman & the Eel.
These places served hot, cheap, and sustaining food: eels stewed or jellied, mincemeat pies, plain boiled mashed potatoes and “liquor.” The latter is not what you’d think, with no alcohol in sight, but an oozy boil of eel juice and parsley, thickened with flour—a pallid green sauce with briny depth. As Freedman emphasizes, these early restaurants were sparkling establishments: White tiles winked, and sawdust was sprinkled on the floor to stop patrons slipping on spat-out eel bones.
There was a rock’n’roll excitement to the night – it felt more like a gig or a party than a show. Clark’s classical movement amid the striking set and raucous music made for an electric spectacle.
Clark’s composure was luminous. Despite the wild and frenetic scene – the band onstage, the Houses of Parliament as a backdrop, Brix Smith [a member of the band the Fall, who did the music] and guitar atop a giant hamburger – he had this sense of calm about him. He emerged with a shaved head and a low-cut top exposing his chest. He glowed in the darkness.
The Fall were either going to break through into a different part of the arts world after this or break up. As usual Mark E. Smith blew up the band (and his marriage) and started again.
One of the most unrelenting, menacing songs The Fall did. “Anti Papal Power Pop Music” as one YouTuber calls it.
Everybody’s trundling out their Best of Lists. Here’s some of my favorites which are not the same ol’ same ol’.
Best Albums of 2017 from Vinyl Factory: Jumpin’ cats, I own none of these albums, have heard of about three, and now just want to explore all. Recommended by Jon Crow. Jazz seems to be making a comeback in the UK.
52 Things I Learned in 2017: Tom Whitwell of Fluxx compiles this list every year of tech advancements, strange data, business stories, and general oddness. I read about very few of these items over the year…how am I missing out?
Best Films of 2017: David Ehlich should be hired by the Oscars, if only these films would all be up for an Oscar. Another list that made me realize I barely went out to see films this year.
Birth.Movies.Death have several lists up this year, and though they do tend towards the bro-ness and StarWarsfapfapfapdom side of film fandom, they have often recommended some gems. Here’s some Underrated Films of 2017. I also liked Siddhant’s Top 20.
It’d be tempting to say that fearmongering about superintelligent AI is a deliberate ploy by tech behemoths like Google and Facebook to distract us from what they themselves are doing, which is selling their users’ data to advertisers. If you doubt that’s their goal, ask yourself, why doesn’t Facebook offer a paid version that’s ad free and collects no private information? Most of the apps on your smartphone are available in premium versions that remove the ads; if those developers can manage it, why can’t Facebook? Because Facebook doesn’t want to. Its goal as a company is not to connect you to your friends, it’s to show you ads while making you believe that it’s doing you a favor because the ads are targeted.
(Again, and I wish I could find it, but I think about that essay that pointed out that Musk/Zuckerberg aren’t these godlike geniuses, they’re robber barons.) This also ties into my thoughts about how modern tech/apps/startups have separated their user-side uses from the way they make profits.
Meanwhile, Umair Haque’s essay “What Do You Call a World That Can’t Learn from Itself” says something I’ve been harping on about for ages: America has stopped dreaming of a better future and also ignores the advances in other countries (whereas we used to steal ideas left and right).
Everything I consume in the States is of a vastly, abysmally lower quality. Every single thing. The food, the media, little things like fashion, art, public spaces, the emotional context, the work environment, and life in general make me less sane, happy, alive. I feel a little depressed, insecure, precarious, anxious, worried, angry — just like most Americans do these day. So my quality of life — despite all my privileges — is much worse in America than it is anywhere else in the rich world. Do you feel that I exaggerate unfairly?
Finally, as the corrupt tool Ajit Pai ruins Net Neutrality, articles like this one have been popping up:
In order to preserve net neutrality and the free and open internet, we must end our reliance on monopolistic corporations and build something fundamentally different: internet infrastructure that is locally owned and operated and is dedicated to serving the people who connect to it.
And that’s what I’ve been thinking about this week (apart from Thomas Fire-anxiety.)
(image taken Dec. 17 at the Ace Hotel Palm Springs)
But how? I’ve never even had more than three people round at once, let alone provided dinner and drinks for 20. There’s only one way to do it: recreating the exact location people have been describing in reviews for the past six months.
My social media/news diet has reduced anxiety somewhat. So essays like this from Clive Thompson help encapsulate why this is a good thing. It introduced me to media theorist (and Canadian cultural nationalist) Harold Innis as well. He’s long gone, but what he saw in newspapers have become hypermetabolized in the info-stream of Twitter, which keeps us always refreshing the feed, afraid to miss something new. Says Thompson:
A culture that is stuck in the present is one that can’t solve big problems. If you want to plan for the future, if you want to handle big social and political challenges, you have to decouple yourself from day-to-day crises, to look back at history, to learn from it, to see trendlines. You have to be usefully detached from the moment.
This was a useful and in-depth video essay from Vox on the history of Technicolor:
This promo for Tim O’Reilly’s book WTF? looks at separating what is actually useful about social media and/or an app from any evil that its company does. Could we separate what Uber does for us (helpful improvement on catching a cab) from Uber itself (shitty, anti-worker techbro asshats)? I’ve been thinking about that recently.
The progressive insistence that the baby is inseparable from the bathwater works to the favor of big business and big tech. If technology’s critics insist that you have to choose between Facebook and surveillance and manipulation, they affirm Facebook’s own position. But if critics insist that Facebook has deliberately, cynically married something wonderful with something terrible, they invite people to join their case and fight for a good Facebook, rather than demanding a kind of antitech hairshirt that insists that you have to give up, not demand better.
The socialist says: Through rational, democratic planning, let’s make sure that the innovation arrives so that we can move forward without inadvertently overproducing. And move forward we must, in order to continue to expand human flourishing. So long as we do that, there are in principle no limits. Let’s take over the machine, not turn it off!
The two minds behind “Every Frame a Painting”–one of the pioneering film studies video essayists, and who videos on Edgar Wright and Jackie Chan get shown in my film classes every semester–have called it quits. Instead of just saying goodbye, they reveal their working methods and show exactly how much work goes into one of their five minute gems.
Take aways: On YouTube style is more important that substance, but in a good way
Making it a channel meant creating a uniform tone and style, something that Tony initially resisted. But I argued that a person who watched one video would be more likely to come back and watch another if there was a uniform style — even if they weren’t interested in that specific topic.
This meant we could get away with talking about less-known subjects and plenty of people would still watch because the format was the same. To his credit, Tony now admits I was right. (Tony’s note: “I refuse to admit this”).
YouTube has so many algorithms to stop copyright material from being uploaded that they style developed from fooling the algorithm:
Nearly every stylistic decision you see about the channel — the length of the clips, the number of examples, which studios’ films we chose, the way narration and clip audio weave together, the reordering and flipping of shots, the remixing of 5.1 audio, the rhythm and pacing of the overall video — all of that was reverse-engineered from YouTube’s Copyright ID.
But that’s a hard truth to hang on to. Most people don’t want to know how much freer they might be if they had the energy and audacity to want it. And so we lie to ourselves and allow ourselves to be lied to. We watch the despots warming their tiny grasping hands around the trash fire of civil society, we look at the real extent of rape and abuse being revealed all around us and some of us still try to believe that we somehow choose this. Because the alternative is even worse. The alternative, awful truth is that it doesn’t matter what the vast majority of us choose. That none of the choices on offer are enough to protect us, or our families, or our communities from violence, that the important choices were never ours to begin with, that we are not living in an age of consent.
Our friends have a Christmas party tradition: a themed ornament party. This year it was “Gold” and the above ornament is one of two I made that I feel sums up 2017: a big golden pile of poo, as (probably) emoji-tweeted by the #president.
Forgive the rudimentary nature of the piece, I only get to play with Sculpey clay on days like these. I should have another go soon, anyway. It’s good to create art in three-dimensions if you’re mostly used to two.
A former student of mine takes to Facebook often and posts these incredible little vignettes of life from the rough part of the city where he currently works and I assume lives. Through some sort of Lynchian magnetism, he seems to attract some of the most off-kilter characters who interact with him in all sorts of odd ways. Some stories are shaggy dogs, full of little humorous details. Others are transcribed dialogues. All burst off the page with crazed life.
So after reading a recent one I reached out.
To proselytize a little bit, I said, stop giving your art to Facebook and put it on your own (future) site. Your stories are hilarious and droll and need to be your own. Seriously consider owning your art. Soon enough at the end of a year or so, you will have a great book of some kind. And it’s the same amount of effort you put into taking your art and throwing it into the raging stream that is social media. (Which, as I saw, was not a lot of effort. Precisely because he wasn’t thinking what he was doing was “important.”)
Maybe he will turn this into a book. (I hope so!) Indeed, he admitted that he’s wanted to put out a book for some time. It was a dream project, he said.
I think, I replied, you already have that book.
(image: Foggy Night, San Francisco (1946) by Fred Lyon)