Evil Forces in the World

Reflections on ''Evil Forces in the World,'' as well as occasional remarks concerning ''Good Forces in the World.''

Saturday, June 14, 2003

This is a must-read:

Mietek gives the gloves to Janek, who reassembles the unit. We clean up and get ready to leave. On the way out, we meet the blonde flat owner, just as gorgeous as predicted. Mietek delicately explains that the cause of the blockage was not her plumber, as she had assumed, but the cigarette packet.

"Cool," she says. "I'll send the invoice to the building company," says Mietek. "Cool," says the blonde and wanders off not wishing to spend any more time talking to builders. I had already noticed how changing my clothes from suit and tie to scruffy shirt and jeans has changed the way others look at me. I no longer have eye contact from people in the suits class. Instead, I get glances of recognition from builders, cleaners and other manual workers.

I have nothing to say about this that can't be predicted by my broad orientation, and so I won't bother. This is why the romance of Loyalist Barcelona has resonance for me.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

You've got a slapdash monkey
My flunky
Let's get krunk-y
Who let the kittens eat my Chunky Monkey?
I dunk the
Into my ice-cold milk,
Mulligan, I mull again,
"Do I want it bad enough?
I could eat some apples and pears and such."
I need a cookie, so book me
Crook me, rob me
My hobby is to leave you hobblin' bee
My bobblin' be
Furious, enraged
Upstaged, engaged
By fighter jets flyin' in my area, my locale
It's not SoCal
Where it's warmer
"I'm an Informer,"
Thus "I licky boom-boom down"
A force of good:

Morissey Calls t.A.T.u.'s Version of 'How Soon Is Now?' "Magnificent"
Morissey, former singer of The Smiths, who originally wrote and performed the song "How Soon Is Now?" in 1984 had this to say about t.A.T.u. in the U.K.'s Word Magazine:

Word: Did you hear t.A.T.u.'s version of "How Soon Is Now?"

Morissey: Yes, it was magnificent. Absolutely. Again, I don't know much about them.

Word: They are teenage Russian lesbians.

Morissey: Well, aren't we all?

[posted 5/21/2003 U.S.A.]
Some months ago, Gary Shteyngart, author of the underwhelming Russian Debutante's Handbook and the overwhelmingly excellent "Several Anecdotes About My Wife" (in Granta 78: Bad Company), wrote an exceptional paragraph on my alma mater:

In the late nineteen-eighties, I was sent to Stuyvesant High School, in Manhattan, a magnet school specializing in math and the sciences that was also a kind of holding pen for multinational nerds. The majority of us were immigrants or the children of immigrants, although a good number of sweet native-born kids from the Upper West Side were on hand to teach us about the right music and the proper drugs. Despite their best efforts, our outsiders' angst often found its expression in the Eurotrash New Wave tunes of a Long Island radio station called WLIR (later renamed WDRE), broadcasting from deep in the suburban interior of Garden City. We-and by "we" I mean pimply young Russians, Koreans, Chinese, Indians-were lost between two worlds. We went to school in Manhattan, but we lived in Flushing, Jackson Heights, Midwood, and Bayside, and couldn't resist WLIR, that clarion call of squeaky synthesizer music, and the narcoleptic Goth outfits and the spiky hair that went with it. The usual British suspects ruled the airwaves: Depeche Mode, Erasure (their bittersweet hit "Oh l'Amour" was an inspiration to the loveless), and, of course, the Smiths, the princes of the gelled-hair set, best known for their moody anthem "How Soon Is Now?"

This is embarrassingly dead on. It is embarrassing in that I cringe at the thought of outsiders reading this. Fortunately, they will shrug and be perplexed and then fail to process it or remember. I went to Stuyvesant in the late 1990s and I listened rap music and, uh, the music described above in its latter-day incarnations. (Portishead, with the hip-hop inflection, was a favorite.) I did a good deal of dancing in lieu of homework. You have every reason to ask, "What the 'F' is up with the stroll down memory lane? I read this religiously to identify evil and, when appropriate, to obliterate it." Right on.

It's evil you want, and it's evil you'll get.

Let's talk about social reproduction, man. That shit is ill.

This is a tangent. I love Anthony Appiah. This is perhaps predictable. In that case, go scratch your bum or set yourself ablaze and watch me weep. Oh wait, I'm not weeping. But I'm weeping on the inside. Honest. Moving right along, check this out. Yeah, go there and read "The State and the Shaping of Identity." He's been writing very insightful stuff on this subject since at least his 1994 essay in Multiculturalism: The Politics of Recognition ("Identity, Authenticity, Survival: Multicultural Societies and Social Reproduction"). Again, this has nothing to do with anything. But read it. Seriously.

Social reproduction. The fancy-pants bastards heavily-laden with US cultural capital (rather than cultural capital of foreign vintage, which is only imperfectly transferable) ran the show and called the shots, and the same will be true of their spawn. Worse yet, the talented and ambitious from among the goons, the solid citizens, the squares, mimic them and thus strengthen their grip. Would we have it any other way? Would we deny said individuals the opportunity to be educated in the fancy-pants vein in the name of giving the world more rabble-rousers? Do the rabble need to be roused? Are rabble-rousers, often enough fancy-pants bastards, doing any bloody good, or are they manipulative Bolshies pursuing their own narrow need to be liked and loved? It's a never-ending tragedy, and I see it unfolding before my eyes. The quality kids go to proper schools, get cleaned up; they wise up and become irremediably North American national-cosmopolitans. Speech affectations and insider mannerisms are acquired by osmosis, and the bad guys win. A la America, understood by the Ayatollahs as "the Great Satan" because it is the Great Tempter, this is driven by the undeniable charms of a charmed and effortless existence defined by the post-materialist values of those at the tail end of the Buddenbrooks sequence.

Some will argue that this set, which is defined less by ethnicity or even income than by taste (Bourdieu is in the house), is powerless and thus irrelevant, thus making my rage a misplaced baleful howl that ought to be directed forcefully against the rapacious buccaneers with their hands tightly wrapped around the levers of power. It's a good point. The problem is that the buccaneers serve a function: they gave us just-in-time manufacturing and they make America fabulously rich, so I salute them. Here's to the Buccaneers.

So what's up? Why fret? Perhaps I am privileging a set of oppositional values that is the reflexive product of what was in fact the less-than-traumatic encounter I've witnessed, i.e., the encounter between immigrants shaped (spoiled is the wrong word) by PBS, the museums, tracking in the public schools, and bourgeois aspirations and the post-60s public culture of self-consciously smart and emancipated native Americans. Whenever I read about the battle for Brownsville, I can't help but identify with the ethnics against the eggheads. Ergo, the eggheads, particularly the most fashionable of the eggheads, are necessarily the enemy. But this, perhaps inevitably, doesn't quite square with the truth of the matter. In my very limited experience, it seems almost impossible to tease out one's real motivations and drives, thus strongly suggesting that one ought to focus on the more quotidian questions: Is our behavior constructive? Is it alienating, or destructive?

Still, this process of social reproduction strikes me as pretty brutal at times. It's also exactly the opposite: a lot of individuals transition into and out of the ill-defined elite I've described, and they do it without very much in the way of wear and tear. In describing the process of brutal, I mean only that a good deal is lost, and there's little choice in the middle. One can't have it both ways, except in the most trivial sense. One can strategically retain badges of ethnicity that are free of content -- DesiWear comes to mind -- and otherwise become deracinated. (You'll notice that the bodies on display are lithe, lean, and tall.) Or one can embrace a separatism that represents nostalgia of the worst kind. I imagine panethnic solidarities based on the lower middle class virtues as the alternative, but can this coexist with the very valuable broadmindedness of the eggheads? I don't know.

As a kid told me a few months ago during an interview, "we're all on one conveyer belt or another." A few kids resist the conveyer belt and the result is generally dissatisfying. You're neither here nor there.
Speaking of brown rage, the following fills yours truly with brown rage: DesiWear. My word, this has to be seen to be believed. It is beyond caricature. I don't mean to suggest that I'm offended by the tribalism, per se. Provided tribalism doesn't involve blood-letting, I am irritated by it, if that, and not incensed. The same is true of any cliche. But couldn't they design dope scimitars or sarongs rather than ape low-level AVIREX gear? This is evil.

When ReihanWear makes its debut, it will be fresh, and by "fresh" I mean "dope." Men will come to look like beetles. Everyone will wear paper bag hats. The kicks will release ball bearings from the back, thus creating slippery situations for those who pursue you doggedly and with verve. They will trip up and slip up as you laugh your way to the bank. Ribbity-ribbity.
It's only adolescent height that matters, kids, or so they say. By "they," I mean Andrew Postlethwaite and friends. Comrade Minister Shapiro, a quite tall economist, sent this my way: I urge you to read it. Just as you had assumed all along, you were in fact scarred for life by early adolescence. I know I was. By "scarred," I mean "became totally awesome." Thank heavens for that. Here's a brief passage:

We find that being relatively short through the teen years (as opposed to adulthood or early childhood) essentially determines the returns to height. We suggest that social effects might be an important channel for the emergence of the height premium.

Those savage beatings in the locker room evidently take their toll. Fortunately, I was generally administering the savage beatings due to a surfeit of energy. I blame it on the NesQuik, which only exacerbated an innate brown rage.
I have nothing to say about Teen Vanity Fair. In fact, I have a good deal to say about it, but I will do what I can to restrain my worst impulses.

First, it's a bloody scandal by any reasonable standard. It is a wry, knowing, tongue-in-cheek scandal. This is, strictly speaking, an evil force, and thus worthy of condemnation. Fairly straightforward. Because my own brain has been, to quote GZA's Liquid Swords, "infected by devils," I'm incapable of seeing it as such. The piece was cleverly written. And the flesh peddling was so blatant as to be something other than raw flesh peddling, or so I've managed to convince myself. Bloody hell, I know it's true. That's not their agenda. Or rather it's part of the very obvious agenda of moving units as opposed to an unsavory covert agenda. I mean, the obvious agenda is itself unsavory, but predictably so.

Market values: an evil force? I say no. Why? Because market values battle against the gorillas in our midst, namely the large thick-boned animals who would otherwise club the bite-sized into oblivion. Thanks to the market economy, the compact among us are able to get by at the very least by selling our labor-power. The alternative is doom. Doom, suffice it to say, is unambiguously evil by definition, and so market values have something to be said for them. Market values, however, are parasitic on the the jungle instincts that fuel the loins of women and men alike; some would argue that market values do a great deal to affirm and amplify said instincts, which remains to be seen. I mean, yeah, but it's a wash if it also means that the beta males and lesser bonobos are allowed to scamper more or less freely. A fate better than death, I'm sure.

So yeah, TVF is parasitic on the lustful atavistic drives that make late adolescents near-irresistible to very nearly everyone. Can you blame them? Units, after all, must be moved.

Down to the nitty-gritty: What do we make of snooty Alexis Bledel? Do we embrace her as thoughtful and informed? Not sure if absorbing bien pensant nostrums makes one thoughtful and informed, but there's more to it than that. First of all, it's better than being bloody brain-dead, brain-death being as evil a force as they come. I'm reminded of Daria: Is she rad? Is she the devil? It's not clear. I do know that Jane Lane is rad, as is Trent.

Moving right along, it should be clear that I don't buy into the Naomi Wolf Beauty Myth thesis: capitalism isn't the culprit behind the universally crap state of the plump and funny-looking. This strikes me as wishful thinking. Unfortunately, cinched waists, flat stomachs, flawless skin, pert bosoms, and a bias toward the very tall is, in all likelihood, hard-wired into our pea brains. Blaming TVF is futile. Embracing it is another thing. That represents, I guess, a moral failing. Sad to say, I have morally failed. To my mind, wry and tongue-in-cheek is enough to excuse anything short of murder. A truly egregious murder, at that.