Saturday, January 21, 2017


I recently saw a western film in which the villain was marked by an 'eastern; manner in speech and dress. which was very strange as the setting was nineteenth century Wyoming and every single white person was from the East. This also begs the question of why all the good guys talk in the same prairie fire dry diction when a common regional dialect cannot possibly have evolved within a fraction of a single lifetime.

We should understand that the American value on straightforwardness is no vaccine against bullshit. Nor could anything else possibly be with human nature being what it is. Anytime a thing is commonly valued there will be those who try to "win" at the value through artificial means. who want to believe in this case that timidity or pomposity are more common motives for a chosen turn of phrase than they actually are.  Moe Sleazak and his precious Carhold.

On Twitter there's a guy who mainly goads the Unicameral for not being real true conservative enough. He has a cowboy hat and the standard cowboy facial hair with short mustache and tightly cropped goatee. This  LARPing ass motherfucker lives in fucking Blair.

In the earliest days of commercial cattle herding on the plains there were the same practical benefits of wearing a hat in a shade-free environment. Some of the poor vagabond alcoholics getting paid for this job by some quasi-aristocratic fuck wore bowlers, or proto-fedoras, or stovepipe tophats like Lincoln wore, or weird blob-crown looking things like in Jesus Christ Superstar.  Then by the early 20th century start to see cowboys uniformly wearing what we would know as cowboy hats, though still with a weird mismash of jeans slacks and various styles of shirt. The idea that you're supposed to be a cowboy is much younger than eating beef after all. Now some cowboy hats price at over a g for quasi-aristocratic fucks to wear at each others funerals.

It does say something about our culture that there are a thousand knockoffs of High Noon for a single "Gangs of New York" doesn't it? Daniel Day-Lewis was intentionally over the top in that one but not by much.  The movie isn't all that out of line from nineteenth century reality, or much less so than most westerns anyhow. The idea of cities being for riffraff (the definition of who They are changing somewhat over time) who aren't good enough to own land is considerably older than the automobile suburb, with roots back in Medieval England and the feudal manor.  Neglected cities have always been an American thing. Wanting to believe that the ratio of clean plain-spoken (blond, blue eyed, tanless) pioneers-to riffraff is much higher than it actually is is an American thing to; than and now.

there have been times where I've tried to say something to the effect that I do not identify as white. some may have gotten the idea that I meant to let myself off the historical hook by doing so but no, that's not quite it, at least not primarily. what I mean is that Richard Daley Sr. grew up in a Chicago where Swedish and Norwegian kids would beat each other into slush for trespassing in each other's neighborhoods. What I mean is that in 1920's Nebraska that KKK would often get more mileage out of anti-Catholic than anti-black rhetoric. That in Sutherland it apparently gained a large following by promising to stick it to the Irish Catholics within the big city of North Platte. What I mean is that there's never been any unifying whiteness beyond the idea that the riff-raff are somebody else now has there?  I mean that it makes me angry and sad in turns to see my own family forget that "Once We were strangers" etc. and embrace the contempt that gives us some bullshit claim to aristocratic normality.

I've heard that Anglophone countries that remained within the British Commenwealth have something called "culture creep" a self-loathing sense that nothing they produce can be as good as something made in the older and more established English culture. Americans certainly don't have that problem but we still have the issue of newness, the lack of establishment. There may be something after all to the strawman Eurosnob idea that we have no particular substance. that we have only the Hard Sell.  The Broad performance of exaggerated simple-man manliness. The performance of pushy familiarity, the performance of what that glam-rock fraudster Buffalo Bill defined as cowboyhood for us.  There has never been a real America.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Hey Jack Kerouac: Nothing is Authentic Part III

I'm aware that I might well be presuming to know too much and that all of this is damned hack sociology. On the internet yesterday I saw one of those misnamed "memes" that said something like 'your friends are the ones you don't have to speak carefully around'.  I found this striking because as a writer, or the deeper personality type that made me think of myself as a writer, the idea of speaking carefully being a painful burden that one longs for the chance to lay down is foreign to me. I like to speak carefully. I would say that I take something like pride in imagining myself to be good at it. Or at least what I love most of all is to gradually mold my vague internal perceptions into ever more finally distilled thoughts and I value the role that carefully designed speech plays in that. One could say that I'm guilty of using the people I interact with in this way, even my mother and close friends, and you may judge me for that as you will. Let every person among us Keep It Real in their own way.

I'm confident that it largely comes down to this. You have no control over how I read you, whether I read you as irritating or pleasing, good or bad. You have no control over whether I see you as primarily a thing to be read, nor of course do I have any such control over your eyes and mind. When we acknowledge that of course there are many people who cannot tolerate the reality of this we may begin to see how those who obsessively hate what they think political correctness is can see themselves as exclusively honest while preaching the wildest delusions.

Actual common sense should tell us that there never has been and never could be a dominant social consensus on what is or is not offensive. The reasons for why anyone could think there has been or naturally should be are maybe too complex for our purposes here. But I do think it's valuable to recall that the mental effects of surburban and rural segregation in the 20th century will linger for a long time. It has encouraged white people raised in such environments to form an overly smooth and narrow concept of what the "mainstream" is; an exaggerated idea of how much commonality in culture thought and habit the American people have ever had. We should also recall that an age of far fewer media outlets more tightly controlled by particular sorts of white men is still well within living memory. The town newspaper financed by local economic pillars with its insistently heroic and existentially central view of private enterprise. three TV channels conveying much the same white skinned white-collarish sensibility. The lemming-like increase in media that began in the late 20th century and continues has closely aligned with historically oppressed groups working to kick the door down and gain some kind of public voice. If we put all of it together we might see where conservative whites are coming from in perceiving an unprecedented negative pressure upon their positive image and peace of mind. There is even something like a bit of truth to their perception.

Or if you're old enough you may remember a book from the early nineties called "All I really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten." I recall that in the late nineties on the old dial-tone internet there were Hotmail groups attributing various right-wing bumper sticker quotes to the book that are not actually in it. still the category of people who were most attracted to this book is telling. There is something quite dark at play on the one hand; a generically conservative idea that the only people one need ever rightfully worry about not offending are Authorities, Social Superiors, Parents, Teachers or adult equivalents thereof. And this does put a sense of insult at suggestions that offending minority members is bad in grim light. My main point however is that there is part of us that wants to believe that the manners we need to mind in order to avoid being negatively thought of; (so that we can KNOW that we are not being negatively thought of) to be permanently settled things; though of course this could only be possible in a Fantasyland of one immortal generation.

What many people mean when they say they want "common sense" is a common sensibility whose goodness everyone has the same motive to presume out of hand and thus presume each other's goodness out of hand. Which is to say that what they want; what par of all of us wants, is a sort of magic veto power over the minds of others; a desire to believe that it is only ever not evil to judge us as wrong when we ourselves are intentionally wrong by our own estimation; and who of course is ever such a thing?

There is ultimately no getting around the problem of backlash. Privileged people who feel personally accused by the calling out of old bigotries and unjust hierarchies will intuitively defend themselves with an intensified form of these very things for a time. Still the problems must of course be named aloud at some point if they are ever to be gotten rid of. It is one of those life pains that need to be suffered and gotten over with.

Sarah Silverman tweeted something like the old saw of "deep down everyone wants just wants to be loved" and though it is an old saw it is still a key truth. In looking at the rise of right-wing populism both here and abroad, these fantasies of an impossible degree of unity in thought belief and identity within societies of millions being "natural" I would say that what the Trump supporter wants, what the MRA the fundamentalist or the white nationalist all want, is an environment where they are only ever judged with the same advantage of familiar affection that one finds in families friend groups and sexual relationships. Since political power can never give them that they shall of course remain dissatisfied. And rather then accept that nothing else at all can ever give them that they will choose instead to contimue blaming dark conspiratorial forces; (Hollywood, bureaucrats, elitists, hipsters, feminists, on and on and on) for denying them this hallucinatory birthright.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Hey Jack Kerouac: Nothing is Authentic Part II

I recall an incident over Christmas tried to use the fact that I said the word "bureaucracy" in a context I forget now as pretense for launching into one of his patented right-wing rants. I told him directly that I did not actually provide him with a context for talking on this subject.  He asked me if I voted and I said no, not as in no I didn't vote (I of course went for the higher scoring loser) but no as in this conversation will not happen. You cannot make me discuss what you will on your terms by your cue. To my introvert's eyes especially he is a maddeningly boorish man. He will aggressively prod for familiarity with the sex life beliefs legal troubles etc. of anyone else around him. He seems to honestly perceive cowardice as the only possible motive for rhetorical restraint and rejects the very concept of polite personal distance as a craven thing. An entitled neediness for familiarity is what drives both his politics and his general being I'd say' an assumption that human relationships are only either perfectly intimate or perfectly hostile, so that difference or unknown quantities in another are necessarily threats to himself; or above all else a sense of control over how he is personally perceived when he feels like he understands what those around him are all about.

I've long had the view that the centrality of belief to self is generally overestimated. That belief, or one's understanding of culturally normal belief paradigms, is largely a Rorschach of deeper and more primal personality traits. That the difference between dad and I in politics is a more or less incidental consequence on opposite ends of the natural personality scale on most every point. He on the other hand has an obvious suspicion and fear that rejection of him is my primary motive in thinking what I do and being who I am. I of course would rather presume that my reasons are more rational than such juvenile othering but hell he might be at least partially right after all. I am no high school paper rebel any more except maybe I always will be. Perhaps there is no growing out of it, no being above it. Perhaps the most all-encompassingly ambitious and historically effective worldviews have no grander motive than childhood defiance, or maybe the illusion of Olympic aboveness is a crime that I myself should peal guilty to while there's still some mercy to be had.

If you forgive all that pomp what I mean to say is that in listening to how dad talks, how mom and sis talk, how the rando on the street talks, it occurs to me just how much of my human interaction is with the fellow writer bros that I've known for a decade with thousands of hours of word practice between us. My eyes are reawakened to how our speech is very notably more deliberate than white Midwestern vernacular, or any culturally particular vernacular truth be told. If you record any given human conversation on the page it would much more likely read like Pynchon than Socrates. Most human dialogue is not rational or intentional. More typically it is so spontaneous that you can't even quite call it jazz. It's more like getting high on mind sex, the sharing of stream of consciousness and the taking of delight in the others seeming approval.

Many people, probably most, are more concerned with gaining a sense of solidarity or emotional understanding in their dialogues with each other than they are with accurately describing external reality. The so-called "post-truth" phenomenon boils down to mainly this, and is not actually the slightest bit new.

To state all of this in another way; one who is truly in their heart of hearts most concerned with "telling it like it is" should by rights have a a deep love for Received Pronunciation or "BBC English". This form of English is the most efficient kind in terms of verbiage to conveyed meaning ration precisely because it is "unnatural" deliberate and cultivated. Yet there are few people in the US or Liverpool for that matter who would consider this way of talking to be "authentic".

We come now to the increasingly looming name of Trump.  To understand how people can possibly thing that that man "tells it like it is" we must in the first place understand that we are all guilty of a magical impulse to Make what we want to be the truth. Since certainty and doubt feel pleasant and painful in themselves it follows that many would want to believe that these feelings are strictly matters of moral choice independent of external realities outside of one's control. We should bare in mind that Orwell did not intend to write "science fiction" of a fantastic future but to describe the general human condition in all political environments, and not just the condition of the powerful.

In the second place we should be savvy to the fact that, while most people are logically aware that lying off the cuff is thoroughly possible, as Trump does indeed do, the "truth" that most people are concerned with in their speech is the drive to relate to each other. It is Trumps willingness to say "something" rather than allow the implied personal coldness of silent space that comes across as authentic. There may also be something to the old saw that bigotry is largely about "scapegoating", that ancient stereotypes may be refuted repeatedly yet stubbornly reborn with each new generation because the pain in our lives just feels less bad somehow if we are convinced that our suffering is Somebody's Fault.  Our instincts have no concept of random bad luck but are of course primed to fight an enemy; so we get a cathartic sense of control over our own fates when told that there is an enemy to fight. Think of all the affectedly tough guys who pride themselves on hating criminals or terrorists more than thou and also take pride in shrugging at those more faceless social inequities that shave considerably more years off the average lifespan. Or perhaps more fundamentally we all have moments in our lives when Anger For Its Own Sake can feel liberating. It may be that the Dishonesty that Trump offers freedom from is in the form of every smile forced in the bank line while in the midst of a personal crisis. 

It is largely at this point that sexism and racism come into play, since Hillary and Obama before her were largely caught in a catch-22 on this matter. They would have been dismissed as "shrill" or "militant" if either had ever let loose with an id-dictated rant in public. Yet on the other hand I recall how some right-wing barkers mocked Obama's hemming in hawaing in mid-sentence; with the implication that the very act of forming one's words in their head before speaking them was ipso-facto deceitful. We could blame American anti-intellectualism here; but I'm pretty sure this sense of deliberate speaking being Necessarily dishonest is not culturally exclusive to us. It is very human to sense that something is just Wrong when a person seeks to express a personal point of view detached from their inner self, or describing a social issue that in way which does not imply that their personal feeling about it is the heart of the matter. Because again the "truth" that most people are concerned with while talking is to make their current state of mind  understood by the listener.

I'd say that Hillary for her part is seen as inherently "dishonest" both out of aincient and widespread sexism and our culturally particular "democracy of manners".  This piece is already too long to go into what Democracy of Manners is in full here, for now it will suffice to call it an aggressive informality and affected familiarity built for a status-fluid society.  What Hillary was up against is the trans-cultural sexism that all women must be "nurturing" in our particular Democracy of Manners context that expects all women to be flamboyantly fuzzy-open in a favorite aunt sort of way. 

In the end I'd guess that all semi-coherent raving against "elites" boils down to the fact that those of us who have dipped a toe in art, writing, politics, or are even just broadly educated are blessed with multiple ways to express our abstract blood humors of dread, anger, jealousy, disappointment, mortal fear; while for most people simple speech shall remain the sole or dominant means of expressing themselves throughout their lives. It is comparatively easy for us to acknowledge that the world is not About our own blood humors while we specify, but rather less so for people who need to let those humors out in one way or the other. They want a society composed of more commonality and fellow feeling than is actually possible so that they can feel assured that they are being understood.

Or more cynically they want a society where everyone shares the same cultural paradigms and assumptions so that no one could think that they are evil fools without pointing four fingers back....

Hey Jack kerouac: Nothing is Authentic Part I.

I've been Youtube binging on 10000 Manics recently. Throughout my life I would hear "Trouble Me" or "Like the Weather" about once ever six months at like Sears or Village Inn and have always been intrigued by the sounds; finally realizing last week that I could have opened up this fascinating box of mystery at any point in the past fifteen years and that now was the time to do so. So listening to 10000 Maniacs and a couple of other low-volume bands under the era's infamously broad label of "Alternative" is how I spent my time last week mainly.

Having now become a studied expert in 10000 Maniacistism I can say that with the exception of some highlights and Natalie Merchant's good if not transcendent voice that their music suffers from a painfully constructed pleasantness.  I'm not saying that the Maniacs were wimps, except maybe ina more roundabout & educated way. But there is a markedly hollow unwillingness to disturb with a screamed out Fuck every now and then or the occasional stomp on a distortion pedal. There's a bloodlessness about them that can inspire a bruised and empty sort of anger, an absence of music's special liberating power to resonate in a way that lets us feel without naming and boxing that feeling.

The Maniacs were "socially conscious" in a generally left-of-center way. This is not of course an evil thing and may in fact be the only thing that makes the band less bad or banal than Hootie and the Blowfish for whoever might be keeping that score. The problem is that they were not really a "political" band; writing songs that rallied crowds to bond over a shared anger or aspiration. They were only just "socially conscious" checking off their dutiful concerns song by song in a Catachismic sort of way. In the song "Cherry Tree" for example Merchant tries to sing from the point of view of an illiterate adult in her own natural cadence of educated easterner. It's a s awkward as you might guess.

Though the Maniacs do again have their highlights, a few cases where Merchant has a real emotional commitment to the Issue of The Song and the sound startlingly improves.  "Don't Talk" is s nice simmering tune about alcoholism addressed to no one directly. (though the Maniacs guitar player did die of liver failure at 42. Occam's razor that for yourself) While Like the Weather remains a smartly  done construct of what Manic Depression is even if you listen to it twenty times in a week (As So I have.) with Merchant's lyrics about being frozen to bed by sadness a brilliant contrast to the bright-sounding music.  Overall though the trouble with this band is best reflected in their famous cover of Patti Smith's "Because the Night" Their version is technically deft in sound and voice but when compared to Smith's original the absence of heat in a song about sex is mournfully apparent.  

I've subjected the reader this long Pitchfork review because in my own disappointment at 10000 Manics lack of feeling I think I may have some new insight towards the intensity of feeling against so called political correctness; how neurotic oversensitivity in either fact or perception may inspire not just annoyance but obsessive rage, be seen as not just bad but the Great Satan Evil from which all others flow. Something about the Maniacs tortuously mannered sound does indeed come across as not just false but maliciously deceptive somehow. There is some instinct within us that insists the perpetual benevolent calm of the Natalie Merchant persona just cannot be For Real. Beyond all else there is indeed a sense of looking down on society's human failures from a higher seat of Olympian judgement. And I begin to grasp the appeal of rebelling against that perceived claim to higherness in the most intuitive way; which to say that our very failures are "natural" "authentic" and therefore good so fuck you. I gain some idea of how some may see no higher purpose in their sociopolitical expression but to identify as Nor Natalie Merchant.