Friday, August 3, 2007


Everyone has the shared misfortune of being surrounded by people that believe personality is something that can be acquired or collected through material goods; but do we understand the consequences and influences these people have on our daily lives?

You know the type of person I'm referring to: they're the ones that feel their record collections, toy collections, television size, or clothing brand make them either more interesting or (even worse) more significant than other people. It's a notion that by means of acquisition we become the people we want to be and create for ourselves an image that is significant and outstanding if only for the reason that the brands we subscribe to have tag lines that tell us as much.

This is a dangerous breed of person. The attitude they take from their willingness to be branded and subscribe to things that demand brand recognition is one of false tension. They believe that all things outside of their brand of livelihood or lifestyle is inferior and therefore deserves less recognition, less respect, and less consideration. These are the same kinds of people that believe their military, their party, their faith and their media are all the strongest (morally, physically, intellectually) just because those things tell them what they want to hear.

They are dangerous because they make their method of interpersonal relationship one of brand association and that leads to exclusion, enmity, and inevitably assault by some measure or another. A good example of brand association and its consequences can be found in the American political system, in which belonging to one party makes you less of an American, and thus less of a person, than you would be belonging in the other party (this is a good example of that mentality). This attack on ideology inevitably leads to great rifts between people - polarizaton and division that manifests itself in physical and mental forms, with people moving to different states and communities to avoid people of different ideological brands, refusing to eat at restaurants frequented by those people, etc.

They're dangerous because their obsession with acquisition and branding betrays a darker tendency that is rooted in basic childishness but inevitably sprouts into belligerence. Their desperation to acquire things leads to a school ground atmosphere of "It's mine and you can't have it" that appears in everything personal, political, and business related; and while that mentality is unattractive and discouraged in children, it's fucking terrifying in the hands of, say, a president. If you want to believe there's no connection between this mentality - specifically the desire to acquire as much as humanly possible - and the American propensity towards war for profit, substandard health care under the banner of "privatized is better", inaction on global warming, and the continuously growing gap between the wealthiest and poorest in this country, then be my guest to make that argument but don't expect me to swallow it.

Only when we seek to acquire the experience and consequences of our choices will we lay off this insensible desire to acquire who we are through material gain. Americans believe in personality via acquisition because they want personality to be as easy as a trip to the store: they want to pay for who they want to be and in that, the world the way they want it, without the consequences (or, dare I say, taxes) of what it takes to really be what they're buying.

All of this, of course, ties neatly into what has become the driving intent of the present administration and the reason they get away with so much: the ownership society. While polls may show President Bush at all-time low approval ratings, most Americans couldn't bear the thought of him being impeached or removed from office, nor do you see a convincing demand for American withdrawal from Iraq. The reason for that is that George W. Bush is good at selling the idea that all you have to do to be American is buy more and sit blithely by while others fight on the "real" front of this war.

Therein lies the tragedy of our time: consumer escapism. I am loathe to see the day America wakes up and realizes that before we can buy our way into what we want to be we will have to pay for who we are.

And what's more: we will have to pay for what we've done.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Something to be...

I am admittedly fascinated by a common trend in the modern psyche; there's this notion that what we are is qualitatively definitive of who we are, and by this measure we are able to constantly change without ever appearing inconsistent, dishonest, or just plain trendy. It's a convenient thing to have, I guess - this notion that by simply admiring something and quickly changing our superficial stylings to adhere to a new racket of ideals, morals, or clothes we can be whoever the fuck we want.

Some people call it adaptation. I call it closet schizophrenia.

I think the thing that stands out in all of this - or at least the thing getting my goat at the moment - is the newfound mission of Tom Gabel (the frontman and founder of Against Me!). Having signed to a major after releasing a DVD in which he specifically said he wouldn't, Tom has found a new trench in the pop culture battlefield in which to defend his ridiculous about-face. He calls it a new wave of music here to save the radio. Some people call it selling out, others call it a new trend to follow, I just think it's dishonest.

I'm more than a little sad about the fact that Against Me! is getting radio play and reviews in the Washington Post, Rolling Stone, and Blender (of all fucking publications). It's not that it hurts me that the band is getting the face time with major publications or even the fact that new people are hearing them. What bothers me is the innate tendency to use the reviews to market Against Me! as something they are not and to dissuade others from becoming comfortable (or even familiar) with what they were: anarchists.

Take this golden nugget from the blender article regarding "New Wave":

"When [Tom Gabel's] leftist punk band Against Me! graduated from playing anarchist squats to real rock clubs, he was a total sellout. When they left a tiny record label because it didn’t have $3,000 to buy a tour van: sellout! Charging more than eight dollars for a show? Getting on MTV? Professionally recording their CDs? S–E–L–L–O–U–T."

Do you smell the sarcasm? What's this shit about "anarchist squats to real rock clubs"? At what point does a venue catering to Anarcho idealism become a fake a one, and a venue catering to the superficial glamour and excess of "rock stars" become a real one? Why does it take a light show to be a real rock band?

These are all rhetorical questions, of course. Most of them don't warrant answers or responses because they're pointless to ask because at no point does any venue become - by any measure - false... unless of course your source of entertainment is Cartesian, in which case: good luck with that.

The questions matter though, or are at least valid, when taken in the context of how the article ends with Tom bemoaning his own inability to come to grips with what anarchism means:

"'I can talk about anarchism philosophically, but practically, I’m not sure what it means,' he says. Some of that ambivalence is theoretical, some personal."

While that ambivalence makes for a tortured artist that sells more records, it's not something I genuinely buy. At what point did anarchism become anything but a set of ideals declared by the individual, whomever that individual may be? That Tom needs a pamphlet or talking points to feel like he can authoritatively speak on what being Anarchist means to him betrays the real ordeal - the real struggle here - and that is that Tom isn't an Anarchist and he probably never was. That he's too scared to admit that he got burned out on the intellectual rigors of following an ideal that requires a lot of independent thought that a lot of people aren't likely to agree with doesn't make him a bad person, but it does make him a dishonest one. That, of course, is something Tom hasn't quite come to grips with:

"'We keep moving up,' Gabel says. 'Because we can’t go back.'"

It irks me that Against Me! is quietly settling for labels like "A Marxist My Chemical Romance" and claiming it's the scene that turned on them... that we have forced them to make more money at the expense of their own heartfelt philosophies. You can't stand on the stage, making money at the door, preaching the ideals of Anarchism and say, "It's all just for show" to the first major magazine that comes your way and expect the people that really believed you to take that lying down. I guess what I'm trying to say is: why should we be fans of people who make performance art (and money) out of our ideals?

This of course ties into what I was saying about "What" we are defining "Who" we are. Who Tom is is not an Anarchist - but because he wore the black clothes, because he decided he wasn't a capitalist (at some point, I guess) and because he wrote really amazing and convincing songs that preached Anarchism - he feels like he is entitled to say that that's who he was and now it's changed. That can't possibly be true, can it? I can't possibly just alter who I am because of what I say when the crowds are waiting and the spotlights are glaring only to switch the second that a new crowd is buying tickets at the door.

As an anarchist, it breaks my heart that this is something so many people disagree with. Not because I need agreement, but because the world I want to be better for everyone never will until we call this convenience of identity exactly what it is: dishonesty.

Friday, July 27, 2007

I'll smell it later

As of this moment, there are millions of nerds, nintendo freaks, high school drop outs, blatant chodes and average Joes meticulously plotting their Friday night. This is neither extraordinary nor significant but for one minor detail: this is not a normal Friday. No no...

This is Simpsons Movie night.

For those who don't share my cynicism, I have to say I'm a little fed up with the Simpsons crowd. While I admire it for its ability to somehow stay on the air for a whopping 18 years, and I think it's cute that the Simpsons has become the new gateway drug (used by all socio-economic backgrounds for senseless giggles and excessive snacking), I have to hate it for how indicative it has become of the mindset of modern America.

It's become a staple of marketing and branding genius: just like we don't buy "facial tissues" we buy "Kleenex", America doesn't watch a cartoon it watches the Simpsons. And this of course is followed by the typical senseless, elitist sniping that comes with any brand: if it's not made by brand X it's crap... if it's not the Simpsons it's just another cartoon on the air in the evening. It's a fallacy of making the one better not on it's own substance, but on what is the perceived lack of substance in similar items. The Simpsons fanbase has been doing this for years, turning on any sitcom-riffing evening cartoon for being a blatant Simpsons rip off (Family Guy), a bland alternative to the non-stop shennanigans (King of the Hill), or a preachy wannabe with crappy animation (South Park).

The reality of course was that for all of the similarities one could find in those other cartoons (South Park once did a pretty brilliant episode entitled "The Simpsons Did it" to point out how inescapable the similarities were just by sheer volume of episodes the Simpsons produced) all of those cartoons challenged and braved the Simpsons, and inevitably moved on to become bigger and better in substance if not marketing. King of the Hill managed to brave the realm of a realistic comedy, challenging the perceptions of conservative and suburban southern America with a genuinely likeable (if not agreeable) character in Hank Hill. Family Guy dared to stretch the bounds of absurdity and pop culture sensibility and paved the way for success via DVD sales - a path that the Simpsons crowd have eagerly taken to in their more recent crap laden and unoriginal years. And South Park took on the Simpsons by offering a Swiftian wit to boot that confronted America with a new conscience and moral desperation that the Simpsons never had. But none of that matters of course because none of them have tag lines like "D'oh" or "Smell ya later" that stick to the softer minds that drive sales and advertising revenue, so of course the Simpsons became the name of the thing we wanted: cheap, easy, adult humor in a childish format.

We become obsessed with the name of the thing to the point that when that thing no longer produces or provides we still call and compare anything similar by it and adore for what it was, the keystone in a brand of comedy. So it is with the Simpsons: an over-produced mix of cheap giggles and stupid jokes that we've been watching for 18 years and we keep buying (in t-shirts, cups, action figures, and now movie tickets) just because it's been here so long that we might as well be faithful.

Get a life, and get a clue America. If you see any movie this summer... it shouldn't be "The Simpsons Movie".