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Archive for January, 2010

Thinking about Art & Aesthetics

January 26, 2010 Leave a comment

I do believe that we, as humans, are very visual creatures. And as such, I think we really need to think about art, aesthetics, spectacle, and the substantive roles these play in our everyday lives. So here’s a few things to chew on:

*Is Rock Band band evil? “Real anxiety comes not with influence, but with the imperative to transcend it, which is another part of creative development.” This seems to be getting into the Ebert-versus-Videogames Art discussion. I don’t want to wade too far into it.

*However, for fun, here’s a neat discussion on Royal Tenenbaums and the Substance of Style
*And the new Coolness sweeping the nation: Banksy art installations are accompanying the documentary on him/by him.
*Here’s  a really interesting reaction to both Italian Futurism and the Russian Revolution with Polish Futurist play “The Crazy Locomotive”
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Reason, argument, and sovereignty

January 21, 2010 Leave a comment
After reading a truly terrible book nominally on evolutionary psychology (“Why Beautiful People have more Daughters”), I thought about the conversation I’d had about it with a friend who insisted that the “logic was ironclad” which confused me a little bit. In my view, the author(s) had cherry-picked examples throughout history that supported their arguments without any attempt at contextualization or any real understanding of the relationships of correlation and causation. Furthermore, while burning a straw man of the “social sciences model” which was derided as environmental determinism*, the author(s) deployed some of the worst arguments and analogies I’d ever seen while completely suspending agency & context of any situation so they could groundlessly posit about why Muslims are suicide bombers (and/or vice versa). And given that our other friends who had studied biology and psychology also derided the book as really poor science (and noted that in science classes a “101 fundamental” is that science can not definitively prove everything, experimental results are hard to replicate unless variables are tightly controlled, so the idea that the concepts of evolution could be extrapolated to explain every walk of life is just laughable), I was rather surprised to hear our rather bright friend, in law school no less, praise the “logic” of the book. It was at this point that I realized how shaky legal arguments are. Those who watched Jon Stewart face off with John Yoo over torture noted that Yoo could merely throw out precedents against specific objections and move on, obscuring the real heart of his written arguments for torture. You only need a precedent, regardless of context, and a convincing story to make a winnable legal argument.

Looking at religion and the way it treats other truths is also instructive. For example, fundamentalists in America are furious over the Harry Potter books, because to them *magic is real* and therefore those books promote an idea opposed to their very existence. While we see their argument as inane and silly (because magic isn’t real), they see magic as a real danger.  And because most religions recognize only one truth (God’s truth), while post-modern intellectuals generally recognize that there are competing truths, for the fundamentalists there is no valid way to argue against these notions, or even reinterpret the scripture, without descending into heresy.

In this vein, I found Malcolm Gladwell’s review of “Why?” by Charles Tilly, very interesting in considering why we believe the things we believe, how we change our minds, and what makes a good argument. Tilly suggests that there are four kinds of explanations: conventions (“Don’t stick your finger in the lightsocket!”), stories (“Once, a friend of mine stuck his finger in the lightsocket and died”), codes (“It is illegal/a sin against God to stick your finger in the lightsocket”), and finally, technical accounts (“If you stick your finger in the lightsocket, 10,000 volts will flood through your body, stopping your heart”).

Thinking about why and how we create the codes or legal frameworks in intriguing when juxtaposed with an understanding of the authority that recognizes it, and where that comes from. After reading Giorgio Agamben, I become both proud of America’s founding fathers for their recognition of democratic authority, and alarmed at the religious-industrial right’s undermining of that authority with fear and suspension of our civil rights. Anyway, this post is long enough. Check out the review for a quick read, and Giorgio Agamben if you want something to really sink your teeth into.

*My first day of first class in Sociology as a brand-new college freshman 17 years ago, I recall hearing my very authoritative professor announcing that the “nature vs. nurture”  debate was no more, as the discipline recognized both influences on human behavior- which was confirmed by my SOC 101 textbook. There is no “nurture” or environmental determinism arguments, nor has there been for decades.
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Coffee convo

January 20, 2010 Leave a comment

A friend of mine posted this review of Bryant Simons “Everything But the Coffee” which is an interesting and quick read.

I thought reviewer Richard Greenwald had some good observations, but I really disagree with a couple of his notions:

1) The idea of Starbucks “stamping out” the coffee house concept and the “javaman’s master plan” I find simply wrong-headed. Starbucks just recognized and coopted the coffee-house/third-place aesthetic. Pretty simple, and it works in a strip mall as well as in downtown Seattle. That’s actually the genius of it, because when I’m in an outlet mall or waiting for my better half at a strip mall, it’s really nice to get away to a place where I can hear myself think, or even actually do some homework.

2) I really thought his positing that the American Middle Class is too big and mystical to know and yet is hypocritical for their Starbucks patronage, versus the better defined and understood Working Class, was problematic at best. Who do you think goes to Starbucks? Certainly there are middle-class hipsters, Bobos, and suburbanites, but there’s a lot of working-class people that I’ve seen in there. You can’t talk about the Starbucks phenomenon without understanding its appeal to the working class. Why is there a Starbucks drive-through in southern Martinsville, Indiana? Because it makes money….

I occasionally visit Starbucks myself, for reasons listed above and others that I won’t go into here, but I do generally prefer local coffeehouses and libraries for my “third-places.” I think Greenwald’s best observations that should be expanded on are about Starbucks as a spectacle representing something that it isn’t really, and the role of the “self-gift”. But I think he has some predetermined ideals about the working class, the middle class, and Starbucks itself that are leading his thought too much.

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Star Wars Postmodernism

January 18, 2010 Leave a comment

So, there’s nothing like seeing Avatar to make one appreciate the classics of Space Opera. Others have tackled the poverty of this movie quite well, so I’ll leave it to them.  There’s a couple of neat articles I found discussing Star Wars from a different angle, where R2D2 & Chewie are far more important to the linearity of the narrative than most of us would think. And Slate tries consider the six-film narrative from a postmodern perspective.

Honestly, I don’t think the Slate articles works very well, but the “reconsidered” article is pretty interesting. Star Wars, particularly episodes III-VI, has quite a bit of moral ambiguity in its best moments. At stake in the “Han shot first” struggle is not just whether Han Solo was a badass, but whether he and the rest of the heroes are able to make evil- if necessary- choices. Making the story and the characters much less binary produces a far more intelligent, entertaining, and *real* experience. This is part of why the film Avatar is so poor in so many areas, despite being so excellent in its technological and spectacular experience.

One final Star Wars link, some humorous facebook updates.

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