Sunday, December 1, 2013

Black Friday

            I am glad that in this day and age there is still a great deal of hyper-consumerism. Considering this week marked the now-national holiday of Black Friday, we no doubt saw an enormous spike in consumption and good old-fashioned capitalism – the likes of which would make Reagan proud.  (Hands off his business and his jellybeans! Haha!)
            Of course, I am being facetious. I think it is morally wrong and despicable that we as consumers should support the corporations that subject their employees to working on what has now become the better part of Thanksgiving Day.
            Naturally what should I do? Picket in front of Target? Eat only non-processed raw food and spit the pits of my avocados out at the Super WalMart? Camp in front of Best Buy only to give the store manager a piece of my mind while other shoppers abscond with X Box Ones?
            I actually did none of the above. In fact, I indulged in Black Friday. Yes, I shamelessly left my parent’s house at 8:30 P.M. to begin what would be a nearly 7- hour night with a full car in tow to buy Arcade Fire CDs at half cost and seasons of HBO shows I never really saw but heard about. I bought clothing, media, gadgets - you name it. (And at what low costs! Wow!)
            Why would I do such a thing? Why would I support the companies that do such terrible things to their employees? Well, the simple answer is that I can’t do everything within my moral means. Sometimes I have to not care. Sounds harsh, right?
            I dated a girl in high school who was a self-proclaimed communist. She would encourage/make me picket in front of stores with her, draw telling chalk propaganda outside of Urban Outfitters, email and write CEOs, boycott certain TV programs and books – you name it, we did. Eventually we stopped seeing one another – I probably wore the wrong brand shirt or something, I’m still not sure what happened – and I stopped keeping up with those practices. I found myself at certain times protesting and boycotting nearly everything, and it was driving me insane. It wasn’t even name brands or stores, I had gotten to the point where I was rejecting the modern man’s world like some sort of new-world Amish.
            I abandoned such a coarse mindset, but there are still places I won’t patronize and products I won’t use. Chik-filet and Abercrombie & Fitch come to mind, as I’m sure others would if I racked my brain hard enough. Why, though, would I go out on Black Friday?
            The honest truth – the lack of my consumption will change nothing. I realize that’s a shitty mindset to have but I hold it nonetheless. Sure, you could argue my presence is one less person out there or that if everybody thought like me then nothing would get accomplished, but screw it. I’m a college student with limited funds and if that means going out on Black Friday to buy my incredibly supportive grandparents a new coffee maker as a gesture that says “Thank you for literally keeping me alive and making me a contributing member of society, sorry I’ll never be as good of people as you two are,” then I will do so.
            I can’t care about everything, as cynical and lazy as it sounds, so I pick and choose my battles. I’m a consumerist, a capitalist in my own rights, and even if I do go out on arguably the biggest day of consumption of the fiscal year, I won’t be terribly upset with myself. I had a great time with my friends while visiting in town, and it was an incredibly nice way to round out my otherwise lackluster Thanksgiving. (By the way, grandma and grandpa, if for some reason you are reading this, thanks again for the dinner. You guys rock, seriously.)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Fight Club Presentation: Reflection

            For the group Fight Club project, I feel that we did a very fine job at delineating skills and responsibilities equally within the members of our project. I feel we were very diligent in completing our responsibilities and commitments to the project, despite us all having very difficult schedules and living in very different areas of the San Fernando Valley.
            When we initially discussed our project in class, it was apparent I was the only member that had seen the film and read the book several times before this course, which was great because not only did I love the text and the David Fincher film, but I felt that my knowledge could be very useful. (I say this in most humble way possible, as I don’t wish to appear pragmatic or better than any other group member on the basis that I have seen a film or a read a book more times than them.)
            When we met for the final time in person, we all agreed to take on an aspect of the text and present on it in class, becoming a mini-expert of sorts on our topic. My topic was Nietzsche’s “uber-mensch” or “overman” concept within Palahnuik’s novel. That is to say, the betterment of one’s self can come through means of another pushing them to become better – evolving above the average man to become the over man and to be the best possible form of oneself they can be.
            In our first meeting we all brainstormed to come up with topics for the 7 of us to present on, and everyone had very thoughtful input on what to present to class. Likewise, when we were deciding our group activity, I feel we all had a thoughtful and equal say as to what we would do for the class and our project, with all members responding and putting forth valuable input.
            In our presentation to the class, I presented my concept and conferred with my group members. I also agreed to do an introduction of sorts, and a wrap-up to our presentation, which I admit was more extemporaneous that rigidly rehearsed, but I was proud of it nonetheless. I feel all the other members presented very well, and through our hard work and collaboration we achieved a well-done presentation, one that was overall built on a solid foundation of hard work, communication, and a good understanding of our personal duties.
            I would gladly work with this group again, for I felt we all knew very clearly what our duties were and how we would go about doing them. As an orator, group leader and in a sense, discussion emcee (I use this term lightly for I don’t wish to diminish the work of others) I felt my contributions were just as vital to our overall presentation as others were, and I am very happy in being able to comfortably say so.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

On Lou Reed

            I realize I’m fairly late to the punch here, but man oh man I am bummed about the passing of dear Lou Reed. He was someone I always heard about through proxy – Rolling Stone Magazine, Spin Magazine, my record-junkie friends – but not someone I seriously considered as such an important and influential musical figure until his recent passing. I always liked Transformer – and it got its just dues, as did the eponymous Velvet Underground & Nico album, but they never really resonated with me until recently.
            Now that I have further educated myself, I’ve come to find that without Lou Reed there really would not have been a prevalent alternative music scene until, well, who knows? Would David Bowie have gotten his toehold in the U.K. without Lou? It’s unlikely, in my opinion.
            It’s funny though, for now I think to myself, “What didn’t I like about Lou Reed before? Why was I so dense in years past?” In my pondering and overthinking, I then got a wild idea – were Rolling Stone and Spin and the like padding their lists with Velvet Underground and Lou Reed because they truly saw his genius, or was it a sort of risk-management on their parts to include a legend when died so they can claim they always championed him from the get-go.
            Hang with me here. Lou Reed was never the healthiest guy – in fact, it’s kind of a wonder he was around this long considering how he spent much of his youth. Furthermore, Lou has always been a formidable musical presence, but much more so in the U.K. than the U.S. – it’s just how it went down, and it was also likely due to Brian Eno and Bowie. To that end, Velvet Underground and Lou albums have never been huge commodities here. Lou was always very alternative, underground and subversive.
            So once again I ask – was Lou Reed’s constant appearance in large magazines in recent years oddly prophetic and risk-management-like? Certainly no one could have predicted his death years ago when new revisions of Rolling Stone lists came flying out with Lou’s name almost always on them. Though, there he almost always was, with a celebrity playlist or inclusion on “The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.”
            The skeptic in me thinks that Rolling Stone didn’t want to be known as the corporate music giant that has no stakes in artistic integrity outside of Lady Gaga and Elton John, therefore they had Lou and Velvet Underground so largely proliferated in their publications. Just in case the ex-heroin addict, liver-transplanted, unhealthy musician were to leave us they made sure they idolized him and his influence.
            Listen, this is all heresy and conjecture, I’m sure multiple people on the staff are big Lou Reed fans and always vied for his position on the lists. Yet at the same time, it seems slightly odd, doesn’t it?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Neo-Liberalism & Spike

            Touching onto the subject of neo-liberalism is an incredibly fascinating phenomenon in our society. Not only does neo-liberalism ultimately usher in a completely new way of political ideologies for superpowers in the West – (i.e. political bedfellows Reagan and Thatcher) but neoliberalism appears in our popular culture as well as a byproduct of the society and those who disseminate such ideologies to us.
            Consider the 1989 album Spike by Elvis Costello. Spike is often noted as Costello’s most political album, though he had certainly made political gestures on every album preceding it. Spike, however, sets itself apart from previous albums and endeavors by providing a Thatcher-era narrative towards the end of her tenure as prime minister. In doing so, the scope of the Falklands War and the brutal near-destruction of labor unions is amplified, and her actions are made that much more revolutionary.
            Certainly, Costello has a cynical and critical go at Thatcher, his parents both belonging to labor unions – his father was also a member of the Royal Orchestra – as well as a strongly devoted English resident at heart. Spike was among one of the first, if not the first, politically agenda-based records to do extremely well in the market, yielding a few singles and music videos on MTV, which was relavatory at the time for a whole body of work and popular music in the late 1980’s to fare so well.
            Success can certainly be deferred to Costello’s exemplary songwriting, but one has to think that the working-class fans of the punk-rock rooted musician had some modicum of an idea what Costello was talking about – namely Thatcher’s neo-liberalist regime and the destructive practices she implemented into British society and economy.
            Costello’s next album was much more tame, perhaps due to Thatcher’s leave of office, or his collaborations with Paul McCartney, but it seems to me that a popular music record has not paralleled so effortlessly what Costello did – that is, interweaving political and cultural unrest for a generation into a superbly made record that is often looked upon as one of his best.
            Even the cover of the album (below) depicts a duality in nature. The blackface/vaudevillian Costello, happy to perform and provide escapism and the white-face, ghoulish looking Elvis who is appalled at the current state of nature in his country. Overall, Spike is one of the best albums by Costello, but also one of the greatest musical treatises on neo-liberalism to date.