Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Final Final Frontier.

I have, for the past few years, had a recurring ‘bad’ dream. I won’t call it a nightmare, because I don’t know if I’m ever in any imminent, real danger. But it is scary as hell, no doubt. (If I had to give it a genre,* I would say it's somewhere in the realm of supernatural thriller/mystery.) I will spare you the details of this recurring dream (a collective sigh whooshes across cyber space) but this dream got me thinking: dreams are sometimes scary, sometimes pleasant, always surreal and always aesthetically inconsistent, both with reality and other dreams.

It is incredible how accurately the unconscious mind can represent things to the minutest of details or distort them to the tiniest degree, but the conscious mind often fails to accurately relay or portray such things in any detail whatsoever when the dream is over. Even more astounding is the relation of how things are depicted in dreams to how they actually are in waking life and the significance of the symbolism of the difference between the two.

Whenever I get those weird images on my eyelids that fly towards you when the eyes are closed for whatever reason, I like to try and explore the variety of images that appear and just as quickly disappear in my mind’s eye. Sometimes I can place these images to varying degrees. Sometimes I can’t place them at all. I’m not sure what these phenomena are called exactly, but for right now I will just describe them as awesome. Occasionally I’m even impressed at how creative my visual imagination can actually be.

Perhaps a person’s grip on artistic visual talent is aided by a better grasp on these random ‘awesome’ images in the mind’s eye, or perhaps a mastery of this phenomenon provides for a better grasp on aesthetics. Or perhaps when a certain version of this phenomenon happens on the conscious level, it is associated with synesthesia. In fact, now that I think about it, the ‘awesome’ images can often happen when I am in pain. Furthermore, I find that exploring and cultivating these images can temporarily help divert the attention from pain, and help dispel the sensation. But I ain't no scientist, so I digress.

Star Trek posits that space is the final frontier. I submit that the Final Final Frontier is in fact the mind, for we can theoretically explore the ends of space. The mind, however, may go forever uncharted. To know the mind would be to know God. But, I can't get into that right now - I have a therapy appointment. Big surprise, eh?

*Note to self: explore the notion of dream genres. Hilarious!!!

Monday, March 28, 2005

If it’s one thing the world does not need, it’s yet another freakin' flavor of Fruit Roll-up.

How many varieties of certain things is enough? We humans have been trying to perfect the chicken sandwich since the dawn of time. Why? Why do we need so many different kinds of dish soaps of varying strengths? I’ll just take the strongest stuff you got, thankyouverymuch. Is it really possible for my shampoo to be formulated to treat my specific hairstyle?

Technology has evolved so much over the years. How much of it is realistically indispensable is debatable. Computers, while not a necessity, have certainly made things a lot easier and computer technology continues to evolve at an exponential rate, which is fine. But is there actually such a thing as a perfect or even a better toothbrush than the one we already have? Imagine if we put as much energy into developing our individual and societal moral structure as we do into consumer culture.

It stands to reason that eventually certain things reach a sort of stasis where they can no longer be improved upon. Unfortunately, human emotion and logic have not yet reached this point, but you would hardly know it judging by the way we act. Cognitive dissonance is a frighteningly common part of everyday life nowadays. Hypocrisy finds its way into every corner of our culture. It’s amazing how far tangibles in our culture – the actual products of our existence – have come. It is likewise alarming how little progress our sense of morality has evolved.

If only we were inclined to put so much thought into our actions as we put into developing our cultural byproducts. Recent – ahem – “political” events have further polarized a nation of ideologues. It is clear that opinions vary widely on issues of morality, as evidenced by the oft-cited and just as oft-denied culture war that is currently being waged (or not waged, depending on who you ask), not just in the U.S. but worldwide as well.

I’ve been reading a lot of literature referencing Aristotle's great work Nicomachean Ethics and it occurs to me that the great minds of the past spent much of their lives pondering what is and is not ethical and furthermore, what set of ethics constitutes a virtuous person. Nowadays, many of our leaders rarely question their own morals, as it is a given that the best ethical position is whatever an individual decides it is. This individualistic approach is a sort of stopgap solution to the exploration of a universal set of moral principles and, consequently, it makes the search for such a system even more difficult. Furthermore, our political leaders have a habit of anointing themselves as our appointed moral guides. Thusly, it is arrogantly presumed that our elected officials’ view of morality is somehow superior to that of the common Joe Sixpack.

Morality has become idiomatic; we blame our differences with other cultures on cultural relativism, instead of a lack of focus on moral development, both in our society and theirs and, most importantly, between the two. It is the dogmatic adherence to the notion of cultural relativism that prevents any two cultures from a working system of shared beliefs, especially in the newly emerging climate of the global village. We rarely challenge ourselves to step outside of our own dogma and try to reach a middle ground with these other cultures, instead of further alienating each other as cultural relativism has a tendency to do. Sadly, few of us view ourselves as citizens of the world, or few of us act like we do.

Throughout the world, morality is for the most part influenced by religion. The degree to which people ascribe to the ethical framework of a given religion varies. Here in America, it appears that there is a current trend towards divine command theory, which states that a person’s choices are virtuous as long as they are in accord with whatever their religion dictates. Ironically, the same can be said for Islamic theocracies, such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia which are in many ways the antithesis to Protestant morality. The problem is that these established moral systems, such as divine command theory, are ill-equipped to deal with newly emerging questions of morality, especially in the context of the so-called cultural boiling-pot of the global village. Much of what prevents our culture from fully integrating into a symbiotically moralistic society is a failure to remain flexible in regard to differing opinions. For example, many immigrants move to this country and choose to take on whatever qualities they see fit, instead of fully assimilating into the mass culture of the society, which is their privilege as American citizens. This diversity, while providing for a wide range of ethical stances on an even wider range of topics, is hardly problematic until it is compared to the social value systems already in place via the short history of American cultural practices.

Most of us, however, extrapolate what we consider to be rational and righteous from many different sources, including, but not limited to religion, family and social networks. We then implement these qualities into a varying and ever-changing set of values, as opposed to wholesale adherence to a previously established ethical paradigm. The most important element of a diverse moral system, then, is the ability to adapt and evolve as culture dictates. The evolution of morals is not universal and it is the failure to evolve that is so striking when compared to the other progresses we have made throughout our existence.

Certainly any evolving system of morals necessitates periodic debate. Unfortunately, it seems that the only current forum for debate is when there happens to be a “hot button” issue in the media. Instead of using such issues as a chance to introspectively explore our own personal ethical position, many of us seize the opportunity for the purpose of political soap-boxing in an effort to passive-aggressively impose our beliefs onto others, or promote some sort of ideology irrelevant to the matter at hand. Ethical questions are all too often employed in a negative context in an effort to further some political cause.

How many of us actively seek out moral theory? How many of us consciously try to nurture and further develop our ethical preferences? Perhaps instead of trying to impose our beliefs onto others, it would be wise to sit down and actually decide what it is that we believe is right and whether or not these beliefs are consistent with our other beliefs. One wouldn’t want to contradict oneself when engaging in a battle of morality.

The question we are left to ask, then, is this: How can so many elements of a society become so advanced, while other, more important elements are so shockingly underdeveloped? If we put as much effort into developing our moral fiber as we did into making a more tasty Fruit-Roll up, maybe we would be getting somewhere.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Infamous or Unfamous?

In this increasingly culturally myopic society, the notion of celebrity has evolved into a fully mechanized, self-propelled marvel. What was once an earned by-product of high-profile success has now become an all at once fleetingly, over-emphasized achievement sometimes achieved through happenstance that ultimately ends in insignificance and confusing ambiguity.

While growing up, it was always a given that one was to trust celebrity culture. Naturally, I have always had a deep seeded distrust of this American invention. It’s one thing to not particularly care about celebrities and their lifestyles, but it’s another thing altogether to distrust what it is that they stand for either personally, or as a representative of the machine of Hollywood.

It’s clear that the impact that celebrity has had on world culture is profound and abundant. Tabloids, as either agents of dissemination or harbingers of eventual celebrity doom, are as equally responsible, if not more, than any of the other professional, “legitimate” media. Therefore, the rampant availability of celebrity claptrap has allowed for an interweaving thread of media-imposed consequence in world affairs and thusly a valid impact on world society. Rarely can one watch a world news report about serious and consequential events and not eventually be confronted with the latest news of celebrities pairing off or splitting up or taking sides in a dispute.

There aren’t currently any official distinctions of celebrity types but there are certainly many potential categories: professional, circumstantial, sex-scandal, political, literary (just kidding), so-called reality, etc.; the list could go on and on. Just exactly what the term celebrity means in this context is ultimately insignificant, but what it connotes is incredibly complex and constantly evolving. Celebrity can be gained or lost through acts of notoriety, good or bad. Celebrity is achieved or attained through any combination of effort, hard work, luck, skill, good looks, shrewdness, timing or none of the above. Celebrity has become the most intangible of tangibles in our society. No one can accurately describe what it is or precisely how it is granted or lost, but people certainly know it when the see it.

Perhaps the most irksome trend of select celebrity personalities is the recent proliferation of political soap-boxing. Most people find this at the very least insulting and sometimes extremely aggravating. But it should come as no surprise that we who worship at the altar of celebrity idolatry would by our very nature encourage celebrity politicking no matter how misinformed or misguided it might be. American pop culture gives celebrities so much credit in so many ways that it should come as no surprise that they would harbor the misconception that they are the voice of reason in this oft-misguided world.

Politicians no doubt have made great use of celebrity support to their own advantage: hanging out with U2 and “The Boss” gives voters the impression of a hip down-to-earth political persona who would be just as comfortable groovin’ to the blues as balancing the national budget. However, public reaction to celebrity pandering can often be mixed. It’s probably best not to have Mickey Rourke campaigning on your behalf, at least not in any crucial swing states.

The line that our culture draws between serious celebrity, political discourse and incredulity of the scope of celebrity political opinion is unclear. The same culture that often sees Sean Penn as an over-opinionated condescending windbag finds it not a touch ironic to vote Austrian-born Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor of one of the most populous, culturally complex and economically viable states in the union. Perhaps it is because Penn’s history of political activism makes him divergent from the mainstream of politics while Arnold has an “in” through marriage and a history of conservative Republican politics. What is most confusing about this phenomenon is that because Penn is so historically outspoken about his politics, his stance on issues is and has been clear for quite some time. On the other hand, before the 2003 California recall election, most Americans only knew about “The Governators” politics through his stint as President Bush 40’s Fitness General or whatever his title was.

Schwarzenegger’s successful campaign for governor and heretofore popular, if not relatively silent term at the helm of California government has spawned a new crusade on his behalf. There is a small, though legitimate contingency of Arnold’s peers and constituents who would like to see the United States’ Constitution amended to allow foreigners, specifically Arnold, to run for president. One gets the sense this misguided attempt at revolution is a hubris attempt at change just to see if it can be done. Whatever the motivation, the short-sightedness of this challenge to the Constitution is alarming.

What is particularly distressing about the confusion of celebrity culture is the ease with which certain notorious people achieve fame through infamy. Violent criminals are often handed the lofty status of accidental or circumstantial celebrity, though albeit in a different context than movie stars. Take, for example, Scott Petersen. No one in their right mind would argue that Scott Petersen is deserving of celebrity status, but the media fixation on his trial for murdering his wife quickly reached the proportion of a self-evolving phenomenon wherein even peripheral players are allowed airtime to discuss their thoughts on the case.

A surprising factor in the business of celebrity is the manufacturing thereof. Fox’s concept for American Idol is nothing new for anyone that’s seen Star Search, but the twist is bizarre. The show aims to seek out talent and personality and infuse the two with national exposure through competition into a final product of celebrity where none previously existed. One could argue, presumably quite accurately, that this is how many of the celebrities we now adore are made. But by revealing the process to its audience and actually allowing the audience to participate, simultaneously eliminating any X-factors, American Idol is essentially democratizing the previously intangible process of celebrity engineering, thusly removing any of the mystique of celebrity itself. This exercise in post-modernism marks a disturbing trend in celebrity culture and that is that celebrity does not necessarily come pre-ordained. Any delusions of destiny are clearly removed when the next flash-in-the-pan is elected by an astute television audience. If only electing the President were so truly democratic.

The end of celebrity for some people can certainly be devastating especially for those who were suddenly granted celebrity status then just as suddenly had it revoked. Those unfortunate souls have been rendered “unfamous” and suddenly culturally inert and even worse, insignificant. Few words of consolation can dull the impact when the ruthless fickleness of American pop culture rips the status of celebrity from the ordained.

However, most often, celebrities unintentionally manufacture their own undoing usually in a megomaniacal attempt at furthering their already lofty status. “Celebrity schizophrenia” is a common problem for the elite. It can be simply defined as anytime a celebrity suddenly has an epiphany and changes in the public eye for the worse. Just like the onset of celebrity, any number of factors can bring about destruction: marriage to an unpopular and decidedly greasy back-up dancer, joining a mysterious religion (read: cult) several misguided career and love-interest choices, blatant and repeated public breakdowns, ignoring the demands placed upon the self as celebrity. This phenomenon is not to be confused with “reinvention” which is territory that has and continues to serve Madonna and, previously, Michael Jackson quite well.

Perhaps the great unraveling of celebrity is best exemplified by Wacko Jacko, or rather the delusion of near-divinity his remaining fans still cling to. These people continue to ignore his most obvious faults, holding to the once universally agreed, but now disputable claim that he is an artist of great consequence. Of course, any sane person would have long ago distanced himself from Jackson, whose significant and prolific career achievements are quickly becoming obscured by his relentlessly questionable behavior. It used to be sad to consider that Jackson’s legacy may not in fact be his music, but his ongoing struggles with the law and the media. Now it is just common sense to believe this will in fact be the case. Jackson had long ago passed into unintentional self-parody, becoming a caricature of some sort of creepy Vincent Price-obsessed man-child who has holed himself up in a fantasy land holding court with only children. But now as his child molestation trial progresses past OJ territory into some new and uncharted realm of celebrity humiliation, Jackson is steadfastly and willfully increasingly bizarre. His once-certain future in the halls of pop idolatry now firmly entrenched in the tome of celebrity infamy. Essentially, Jackson has conducted his own undoing by rendering himself unable to distinguish the difference between Michael Jackson the performer and Michael Jackson the person.

One of the most tragic and ironic twists to “The King of Pop’s” legacy is that, unlike the majority of celebrities, he can never return to anonymity. He passed the point of celebrity no-return sometime in the mid-seventies. It’s painfully obvious that a personality like Jackson feeds off of his fame, lives off it, even cannot survive without it. This unique celebrity does not afford him the benefit of eventually becoming “un-famous” but in fact solidifies the likelihood that he will live on in infamy, just not the way that he had intended.

And so, sadly, this is the fate of those who dare venture too far into the realm of celebrity culture. The realization that there is, in fact, no way out must all at once bring on conflicting feelings of divinity, hopelessness, dread, fear, and supreme confidence , culminating in a sort of mania that enables the uber-celeb to act in whatever way he deems appropriate, whether or not the rest of us agree. Then we can all salivate at the prospect of seeing yet another celebrity cornered by his own notoriety, much of which we are all responsible for perpetuating. It can be safely said that the only thing celebrity culture loves more than a shooting star is a falling star.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

How the Infamous become Un-famous

I recently watched a segment on one of CNN's many shows that are indistinguishable from the rest of its daily line up in which the topic was Ashley Smith, the woman who was able to survive being kidnapped by the Atlanta courthouse shooter, Brian Nichols. Now this segment wasn't as mundane as to praise Ms. Smith for her bravery or calm in the face of such trauma. No, CNN was actually progressive enough to suggest that this average woman, whom none would even think to call a celebrity, at least not in the traditional (read: common) sense, was in danger of succumbing to that fateful killer of human interest causes: media overexposure.

CNN went on to examine just what causes a person like Ashley Smith to fall victim to media overexposure. Apparently, CNN failed to see the irony in exploring such a topic. Fortunately, I did not.

So here, I have decided to expand on CNN's hard-hitting newsreporting regarding such a terrible fate as media overexposure by providing a brief guide of some key factors that may indicate a person, such as Terry Schiavo is dangerously over-exposed:

1. Public scrutiny of private life: The das machina du media has a tendency to dig up and expose some tawdry, scandalous or questionable detail(s) of a person's past, thereby tainting or even totally derailing whatever positive view of a person the public might have towards a hero, or further stoking the fire of negative sentiment the public might have towards an already scandalized individual.

2. Private scrutiny of public life: An infamous person may suffer a serious backlash in their personal life that may affect their standing in small social circles, their family, their professional life or in the community as a whole. If they're lucky, they may get to experience all of the above!

3. Making the rounds on the talk show circuit: There are certain shows that are an absolute must - Oprah, Letterman, The Daily Show. There are some that require careful consideration before the potentially over-exposed commit - Leno, Jerry Springer, Larry King. Obviously, one should avoid Dr. Phil at all costs, 'cause he'll dress you down real proper-like.

4. Appearing on a make-over show, getting breast implants, posing for photos at a movie or television premiere/party/awards show: Inter-mingling your pedestrian happenstance celebrity with the godly creatures of Hollywood and their powerful, cherished and well-deserved celebrity is never a good idea. Rubbing shoulders with the likes of John Revolta and the Belush, however, will create great comedic juxtaposition.

5. Getting dissed on People Magazine's worst-dressed list: This is a major blow to credibility. One doesn't want their wardrobe to garner a lot of attention, one way or the other. However, one should be bold enough to make a statement, but subtle enough not to over-do it. I find that a sense of personal elegance or the calculated-casual look works wonders.

6. Dating/getting engaged to Tommy Lee/J. Lo/Winona Ryder AND/OR hanging out with Courtney Love: You're on your own if you dare to make time with media whores. This is not helping your cause out at all.

7. Carefully constructed and staged public-relations stunts for the purpose of regaining some legitimacy in the eyes of the woefully short-sighted and painfully semi-retarded mainstream of America: Includes saving a little girl from a car accident that nobody saw, making a large donation to the dim-witted marionette Texas politician of your choice, appearing in mid-western high schools as a lecturer railing against/rallying for whatever it was you did right or wrong in the first place.

8. The appearance of a sex tape that you "knew nothing about" and from which you stand to gain no residual benefits whatsoever...honestly!: This one is pretty much self-explanatory. It depends on how graphic the sex is on the tape and how sexually desirable you are to the internet-perv public. Extra-points if the tape sees a DVD release. Double-extra points if there is a premiere party celebrating the release of said DVD and you show up.

9. Marching in a protest parade/making a political statement on behalf of an organization/stumping for fringe religions like Scientology: Nothing ruins credibility faster than trying to gain credibility from things that have no credibility in the first place and for which you have no credibility to be attempting to gain credibility from anyway.

10. Appearing on a reality show alongside other fallen and forgotten sadsack celebrities: This pretty much seals the deal, unless you can somehow miraculously make yourself the most ridiculously idiosyncratic, hopelessly dramatic or notoriously difficult person on the show, which is nearly impossible, considering the stiff competition.

If the now potentially "un-famous" finds himself in danger of being overexposed, he should consider relocating and going "off the grid" for an indefinite cooling-off period. Prime locales include Montana and Eastern Europe, preferably one of the former Soviet countries. Some side benefits include: becoming part of the local scenery and eventually part of the local lore as people will look in your direction and whisper, but only periodically approach you because you are now considered freakish and potentially dangerous. Eventually, you will experience yet another fleeting moment of fame when a popular culture magazine runs a "Where Are They Now" segment and they come to cover you living a "normal life in a normal town."

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Dubious Fortunes

Fortune cookies are weird. They operate under the basic assumption that everybody wants to be happy or distracted with good news. Perhaps it might be more helpful if fortune cookies told a more pragmatic tale.

More realistic fortunes may look something like this:

- Your presence is of little consequence to those around you.

- You will find that the anxiety and woe you feel about your life will only get worse.

- Be wary – the people you work with are plotting against you.

- Generally, most people are offended by your hygiene.

- Your younger brother will be prosperous, you will not.

- Tomorrow will be worse.

- The only purpose your hairpiece serves is comedic.

- You’re ugly when you make that face you think is funny.

- The frequency with which you masturbate is alarming.

- Tomorrow you will develop a rash on your face – it’s not going to be pretty.

- Yes, he’s cheating on you – now stop wondering.

- Your funeral will set the new record for low attendance.

- She faked it last night.

- Your life will be short and you will be plagued with ill health and erectile dysfunction.

- People laugh at you behind your back

- Sell the convertible; you’re having a mid-life crisis.

- You look like an idiot in that shirt.

- People feel a general sense of panic when you’re around.

- The prostitute you saw last night was a transsexual – and you knew it. Also, you might want to see a doctor and/or a therapist.

- Your wife knows about your homosexual tendencies.

- Your daughter is even more sexually promiscuous than you feared.

- Yes, you are getting fat. People are growing tired of lying to you when you ask.

One thing I love about fortune cookies is how ambiguous they are. What if they were a little more foreboding, while maintaining ambiguity?


- Watch your back – some shit’s gonna go down. Your health may or may not be at risk.

- Be forewarned…*sniff*

- It’s only a matter of time before yours is up.

- There is a person in this room who would love to watch you suffer.

- You will live to regret.

- There is devilry afoot.

- You should probably upgrade your life insurance, just to be safe.

- The meaning of life is…(to be continued)

- Run…

- The meat you just ate was not chicken.

Other fortunes are just plain generic. Here are ideas for some universal, nonspecific alternatives.

Some Obvious “fortunes”:

- Killing people is bad karma.

- It’s impolite to stare at your boss’s wife’s breasts.

- Trix are for kids.

- Tomorrow is another day.

- Things will work themselves out...eventually.

I can now Italicize...

"Unless we can so enlarge our interests as to include the whole outer world, we remain like a garrison in a beleagured fortress, knowing that the enemy prevents escape and the ultimate surrender is inevitable. In such a life there is no peace, but a constant strife between the insistence of desire and the powerlessness of will. In one way or another, if our life is to be great and free, we must escape this prison and this strife."

-Bertrand Russell
The Problems of Philosophy

(Now if I could just understand the rest of the fucking book).

Monday, March 21, 2005

The Wu Tang Manual Says...

About a month ago, I dropped into Border's bookstore to seek out a couple of books for my purchasing pleasure. It is not a rarity these days that when I walk into a bookstore with a specific purpose in mind, I become totally sidetracked by an enticing alternative. In this case, I intended to buy the latest copy of Dissent magazine and find some yoga literature or flashcards in lieu of actually paying to join a yoga class. But immediately upon entering, my eye was caught by the unmistakable Wu-Tang Clan logo staring up at me from the cover of a book entitled, "The Wu-Tang Manual" by the Rza. I picked up the book and flipped through it, smirking to myself with irony at how much I used to love the Wu-Tang Clan and would probably have devoured and cherished the book about ten years ago, instead of scoffing at the very idea of it now. I read a few passages in the book and made a mental note to come back and purchase it for the purpose of coffee-table kitsch (assuming I will eventually own a coffee table).

Well, this weekend, I made good on my promise to myself and actually bought "The Wu-Tang Manual" and I have this to say of it: I really like it. Now let me explain a little about the book first. The fact that it is a manual presupposes an air of didactism on the part of its author, which is to say one expects the book to be about how one should act to be in accordance with the Wu-Tang way of life. However, the book provides more of a context in which to put the Wu-Tang philosophy, lifestyle and musical output and is a detailed account of the many cultural infulences - both ancient and pop - on the Wu-Tang ideology.

Let me say that I can't believe that I am actually discussing a Wu-Tang ideology to begin with. Nonetheless, the Rza has compiled on exhaustive ideological framework from which he and his cronies have drawn over the years. While not terribly credible in terms of his belief system as a whole, (at least not to a white person who finds the notion of the Nation of the Gods and Earth aka the Five-Percent Nation terribly insulting and rather frightening - not like the Rza could care less)I find the sincerity with which the material is presented rather refreshing. It's like a pop culture junkie's dream reading this book. Always a fan of Kung Fu and Eastern philosophy and mysticism, I relish the opportunity to actually have explained how what used to be my favorite rap collective infused their work with these influences.

The very idea of the Wu-Tang juggernaut is brilliant. What's even more staggering is the fact that they've managed to carry on this long and still be influential. I haven't bought a Wu album since their second official release came out around 1997. I was and still am, falling out of love with hip-hop and into love with rock and roll. I am becoming the much-decried "mountain climber who plays an electric guitar"-type that the Gza maligns in the seminal Wu anthem "Protect Ya Neck", but that doesn't mean I don't have a soft spot in my heart for something I used to hold dear.

The Rza is no doubt a charimsatic personality, and surprisingly deep at that. He's created a virtual empire that has somehow maintained its presence, influence and credibility in both the mainstream and on the street. The influences on the clan, which, it seems are mostly channeled through him, are no gimmick. He's very earnest about his respect for and desire to learn from a wide variety of ideological and philosophical sources, including, but not limited to: Gangster films, capitalism, rap history, Islam, the Bible, and the aforementioned Eastern triumvirate of mysticism, film and philosophy. Nowadays, it's passe for a rapper to be ensconsed so in such trite cliches. But it's also rare that a person is so impassioned about such things that his depth of knowledge and admiration for the material would allow him to speak so authoratively.

In all honsety, I was hoping to be able to read the Wu-Tang manual and provide some sort of parodying and ironic commentary, but try as I might, I couldn't help but feel touched by how sincere it is, disagreements over the Five Percent nation notwithstanding. I'm glad I made the decision to buy the book, but for completely different reasons that I thought I would be. It reminds me of how influential the Wu-Tang Clan were on my late teenage years and allows me to appreciate that one day, I may be referencing the Wu-Tang manual as one of my own varied and treasured influences.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Forists versus the Againstists: A One Act Play (on words)

A meeting of some sort is assembling. A Speaker stands at the front of the room, addressing his acolytes.

Speaker: Mr. Secretary, please call this meeting to order.

Secretary: I hereby declare this inaugural meeting of the Organization of Against-ness into order.

Speaker: What is the first order of business on the agenda?

Secretary: A statement of principles of our against-ness, sir.

Speaker: Right. Prinicple number one: we are for nothing and against everything. Principle number two…

Secretary: So, let me get this straight for the notes: we are for nothing, but against everything?

Speaker: No we are against everything. We are for nothing.

Acolyte #1: But isn’t that just another way of saying we are for being against something, especially if you consider nothing something?

Speaker: No! Shut up! We are for nothing! I mean, we are against everything.

(A Master enters, attended by attendants)

Master: Salutations!

Speaker: Who are you?

Master: We are the organization of for-ness. We seek to promote for-ness in solidarity with any organization with any stated purpose of for-ness or against-ness. We have come here to state our support for your Organization of Against-ness.

Speaker: We reject your endorsement on the very principle of its for-ness!

Master: And we embrace your rejection as it is your right to exercise your against-ness in response to our for-ness. Nonetheless, we are still for your against-ness.

Speaker: I resent your being for our against-ness. I cannot allow our organization to formally be for your for-ness of our against-ness. I repeat myself: We are against your for-ness!

Master: Your stated position of against-ness of our for-ness is completely acceptable to us. We are totally for your against-ness of our for-ness of your aforementioned position of stated against-ness for your previously vocalized stance of against-ness in response to our for-ness of your against-ness.

Acolyte #1: Is anybody else confused?

Speaker: No! Shut up! (addressing the Master) How can you be for something that you are so obviously against?

Master: We are for everything, including against-ness. We are against nothing.

Speaker: Aha! So you are against nothing!? Then you have now contradicted yourself!

Master: No, I simply said that we are for…

Speaker: No, you said you are against nothing. Hypocrite…

Master: So, does this mean that, if I am against nothing than you are for our being against nothing?

Speaker: As I told you before, we are for nothing and against…

Master: Aha! Now you have misspoken. So you are for something! Even if it is just nothing!

Speaker: No, we are against nothing, by which I mean, we are for nothing and against nothing all at the same time.

(A Leader enters, leading his Followers)

Leader: Greetings!

Speaker/Master: Now who are you?

Leader: I am ambivalent! I am neither for, nor against nothing or something. I remain neutral.

Speaker: Then, surely you can talk some sense into this guy, he is for everything!

Master: I am indeed for everything, as you are for nothing. So therefore you are for something because even nothing is something.

Leader: I cannot intervene, for I am neither for nor against for-ness or against-ness and I am also paradoxically for and against neither or both your respective stated positions of alternating for-ness and against-ness.

(A Representative enters flanked by his constituents)

Representative: Ho, there!

Speaker: Oh, who the fuck are you now?

Representative: I am a representative of the Organization Against Against-ness.

Speaker: Ha! We stand against your against-ness of our against-ness!

Master: (to the Representative) Ah, Comrade. We are for your against-ness of against-ness, even if we are also for their against-ness.

Representative: Not so fast! Your support for our against-ness of against-ness is but a thinly veiled endorsement of the position of against-ness, which means you are against the againstists against-ness and therefore, we are against your for-ness of both the againstists position of against-ness and our position of against-ness of against-ness.

(An awkward silence as everyone tries to recount what the Representative has just said.)

Acolyte #1: (to the Speaker) Anyways, so, um, what’s the second principle of our against-ness, then?

Friday, March 11, 2005

Stopgap solutions

I was reading an interview with David O. Russel in the I Heart Huckabees script last night and he said something that really stuck with me, and that was something to the effect of that American's have a short term memory, politically. He was flabbergasted when Ronald Reagan died and the media was portraying him as such a great man and a significant leader. I felt confused, too, because I remember Reagan's much decried economic ideology and his decline in popularity as a result of the Iran Contra affair. True, Reagan did play a role in the end of the cold war, but he left behind many problems when Bush, then Clinton took over, some of which are still prevalent and are even getting worse.

Now the Reagan thing is kind of tangential, but I thought Russel's simple observation about Americans having such a short memory is incredibly prescient right now, especially considering Bush's campaign promises and what he has done since regaining the Presidency. It seems clear that Bush and his regime are using our intense political complacency against us. Dick Cheney is claiming that he will use a questionable tactic to break a Senatorial filibuster on the appointment of ultra-conservative Supreme Court Judges. Bush ran on the notion that he has done well in protecting America from terrorist attacks and that his opponent would have been inadequate in this regard. Yet, he has made it clear so far in his first few months that he's clearly repaying his corporate cronies by promising tort reform, privatizing social security, rolling back bankruptcy and continuing his overall assault on American's civil liberties.

The rollbacks are spreading fear and elation alike that our country is regressing to a more conservative society. However, one hopes that this movement will create the kinds of dialogues in art, politics, and culture in general that have been so important in subverting such periods in any era, not just contemporary American history. We can all look forward to a further polarization between the elite and those oppressed, but it can't last long. Some of the most exciting and bold changes take place after a long and bitter war for a return to supposed innocence.

In the context of the bigger picture, America has continued to be progressive in a number of ways that can't be negated so easily. Although the state of Civil rights still inspires a desire for more change, we are a society that has universally embraced the ideal of equal rights, even though it fails to appear that way from time to time. There is also a growing moderate contingency of unaffiliated voters and thinkers who tend to vote their conscience and their heart, striking a balance between the two extremes. I hope and believe that many politicians will recognize the absurdity of this tendency towards roll-backs and draw a definitive line as to when enough is enough. Eventually the scales will be tipped back into balance. One doesn't wish to see them tip too severly the other direction, as it seems that is what we are currently experiencing.

It is a confusing time for those of us who liked pre-9/11 America and there is potential for us to return to that state. We just can't make the mistake of becoming too short-sighted. Bush and his administration may succeed in enacting several stopgap policy initiatives, but those of us who can see the bigger picture know that we will live to fight another day. The hearts and minds of Americans are easily won over by fiery rhetoric in times of uncertainty. Unfortunately George Bush has created and perpetuated a time of uncertainty, which makes his current agenda incredibly vulnerable to those of us who are patient enough to seize the moment when the timing is right.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Cult of Politics

I have spent the large part of my “adult life” (am I there yet?) realizing, acknowledging, and subscribing to ideas that have been part of a greater consciousness for a period of time that transcend certainly my worldview, and seemingly that of most of my peers. Indeed, John R. Searle asserts that philosophy is known as such only until we have enough empirical evidence to draw a semi-concrete, rather than abstract conclusion or hypothesis. It is at this critical juncture that what was once known as philosophy is renamed as science. But isn’t it that which we can’t see, touch, taste, or smell that moves man to second-guess the nature of his being? What is recognizable in the physical world doesn’t threaten the human psyche as much as what is unknowable, unseen and unheard. If we cannot bear any sort of witness to an event, then how do we know such phenomena truly exists? For example, think of floating alone in the sea. Which do you fear more: the creatures you know be lurking below or the other, possibly more dangerous creatures that you don’t know about?

I have recently chanced upon a book (for the second time) that, in an effort to reaffirm faith in one religion, systematically (and subjectively) disassembles the doctrines of others. In his book, Larson’s New Encyclopedia of Cults, author Bob Larson puts forth the notion that, through the annals and rigors of recruitment and initiation, ritualistic cults promote and instill a sense of “intellectual sterility” in its members. In various ways, Larson goes on to “disprove” the rhetoric of each “cult” with evidence offered in the passages of the King James Version of the bible. It is funny how one is so bold to refute one school of thought which lacks empirical basis with another equally questionable ideology.

What goes unaccounted for in this book and possibly so many other analyses of cultic sociology is the so-called cult of personality. Cults, by very definition often have a sort of ideological thread on which most of the pattern of belief/behavior is based. Having recently become enamored with the American partisan political system, I have come to find that each of the two major political parties in our country are fast becoming cults of personality. For evidence, one need look no further than the agenda respective to each party.

Democrats, easily denigrated as liberals, as are Republicans conservatives, operate on what is known as a platform that is generally homogenous across the board to all members. When one faction is so ideologically complete, a difference of opinion can be construed as a declaration of secession either intentionally or unintentionally by one of its constituents. In essence, someone with a dissenting view that differs from the stated position of the affiliated party to which they belong can often be viewed as an outsider or in extreme cases treasonous. The term heresy can very nearly be applied in these cases.

It is because of this intellectual sterility that the bi-partisan political system operating in the United States is becoming increasingly cultish. Never has the homogenization of ideas become so apparent than in the recent Presidential race, wherein no politician dare take a stand on an issue that could possibly delineate them from their political affiliation.

“This recent election was a very close one with hotly contested issues on the line.” This sentence could be applied to just about every Presidential race ever run in the history of the United States. But the lack of fresh ideas or at least the lack of knowledge of such ideas made for an increasingly polarized pool of voters in November 2004. The race was less about progress than it was about gaining or retaining control of the ideological juggernaut that is the United States government and consequentially, it’s two most influential entities worldwide – the foreign policy thereof and the popular culture that is a direct result of its domestic policies.

Life in Post-9/11 America is more hypothetical than real. People fear an ominous terrorist threat that is not and has not been immediately apparent since the events at ground zero. Focus has been placed on issues that do not even remotely pertain to the issue at hand - protecting Americans and American interests at home and abroad. Granted, plenty of attention was paid to Iraq, which is a black hole financially and in terms of human casualties.

The race was a war of morality. Many people claimed to have cast their vote for the candidate they felt most closely resembled traditional American values. The war in Iraq and the war on terrorism were at a close second. However, it is apparent that Americans are greatly concerned with being a moral majority. It is this way of thinking that is most disconcerting, that Americans don’t trust themselves or others enough to conduct their affairs in a morally justified manner, they feel that they have to vote morality into office. It is clear that Americans don’t think much of each other’s moral compass.

It can be safely said that the majority of moral sentiment in contemporary America is generated in any combination through one of the following three institutions: family, social environment and religion, specifically Christianity. It is then no surprise that a conservative Christian with strong family ties will be voted into office without fail most of the time, even one as morally suspect as George Bush. In a war of cults, a personality has been assigned to lead the collective ultimate cult of personality, the American voting constituency.

It is within this framework that intellectual sterility in terms of social and moral policy has its greatest affect. The policy directives within such an administration are confined to strict codes as dictated by the pre-designated aforementioned influences. Any “thinking outside the box” would be deemed in contradiction to said influences and would be quickly reduced, changed or re-thought to fit neatly in to the preset conventions. Therefore, progress becomes increasingly difficult and the forestalling or complete lack of intellectual ingenuity becomes inevitable. Change comes painstakingly slow and at a great price. Only those who are willing to risk ostracism dare question the ranks. The cycle of intellectual sterility becomes clear at this point as the veil of democratic politics is lifted to reveal the ugly face of the electorate and the cultish behavior that it perpetrates.