Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Sound and the Fury

So I'm reading de Boer's exegesis (and going down the rabbit hole of associated links) of how critics and fanboys have perhaps drunk too much of their own haterade, and can only defend "their" music by disparaging other genres and those fans.

I'll admit right up front that I have no clue how the average music fan consumes their musical product these days, but I suspect it is nothing like it was -- wait for it -- back in the day. It was easier to become an obsessive back then, and therefore either a more astute appreciator of music, or inspired to learn an instrument and start writing your own material. There were fewer toys and things to distract from the listening experience, and fewer choices and distribution outlets for material.

In other words, accumulating a significant collection of music to have on hand for repeated listening involved waiting for payday, figuring out how much discretionary income was available for whatever was being promoted that was worth taking a shot on, and then driving to the nearest record store. Now you can pull up a download site and start pulling, it's up to you whether you want to be an honest broker and pay for it. You can literally accumulate a library of music faster than you can listen to it.

(And we won't even get into the social phenomenon of music; I assume that for those of us who enjoy listening on our headphones, it's completely different stuff than we would listen to with other people in a social situation. On weekends, my wife and I like to have a nice breakfast together, and I Bluetooth my laptop library through the sound bar, essentially a jukebox. I find the things we both like; I know she doesn't want to listen to Orange Goblin and Coroner and Mastodon, not that that's breakfast music anyway. But it's the moments by ourselves when we are most open to the different and new, while in social situations the inclination is to put something on you figure everyone is familiar with and will like.)

Having more options and distractions of every type pushes music to the side. It is no longer the transcendental experience it used to be, when the sounds and arrangements were fresh and new. Social media has furthered the impulse to quick, brainless pronunciamentos, corralling of hivemind, rather than honest attempts to be objective about an inherently subjective area.

Personally, I think music critics should know how to play an instrument or several, should be conversant with the history and context of the genre of music they review. Playing something, even poorly, forces you to listen to music differently. To learn to play someone else's song is to train your ears and brain to disassemble it, and your fingers and ears to reassemble it. Even though I've been playing guitar for a full thirty years now, I played bass for a few years prior, and drums for a few years before that. That trains you to pick each instrument out of the mix, and as you listen to a song multiple times, you start cycling through the various instruments with your ears.

I can't think of any critic or magazine or site that I turn to regularly for reviews; there's just no point to it anymore. Occasionally if I encounter a review of an off-the-beaten-path album that I've already listened to, I'll check it out to see what the reviewer thinks. But -- and this is important to note, apparently -- I am neither gratified by a review that agrees with my impression, nor offended by a review that dismisses something I like. The best you can hope for is something that is well-written, entertaining, and perhaps catches some insight you missed. It seems to be more about being part of an event or trend though, than in sharing useful and informed observations.

Critiques against "rockism," or against a young black musician who plays metal differentiating himself from cultural assumptions by asserting his distaste for the preponderance of simple arrangements, nonexistent melodies, and bullshit lyrics of most rap and hip-hop, smack of mere contrarianism. The urge to smack readers upside the head with the cold fish of "betcher surprised I took this stance" is already old, in a young and still evolving medium.

They seem to be worried, these critics, about catching the Next Big Thing before someone else does, or about finding a Hidden Gem that's been cleverly in plain sight all along. Or they have a sociopolitical axe to grind. Trust me, when I say that the Black Eyed Peas' music is a steaming, runny dump into the collective ears of America, I give less than a red-hot monkey-fuck about the cultural, racial, or political implications of the musical content. I am simply saying that they are lazy, careless, derivative hacks who, in a rational world, would not be let anywhere near devices that create sound, where hapless human beings would have to hear their sonic mess. That's all.

"Rockism" is nothing more nor less than an insistence (however unrealistic) of authenticity, at least how the rock fan understands that term. Ideally, the band or musician should write and play at least the majority of the material that is released under their name. This is an expectation the pop fan simply doesn't comprehend or care about, but it is core to the rock fan's ability to identify with and support the musician, if not the music itself.

Being a clear diehard rockist, I never thought I'd say this, but both sides have valid points. The rock fan dismisses the likes of disco and Mariah Carey because they are transparent marketing ploys; since Carey and many of the various disco divas tended to be more the face of the product than the true creative force behind it, it's easy for the rock fan to assert that virtually anyone can cut a doctored track written by committee, so there's no point in giving any of these individuals any adulation.

But what the pop fan gets that frequently escapes the rock fan is a much simpler tenet -- that a good song is a good song, regardless of who made it or how. There are no concerns about "authenticity" or "integrity," at least until the performer gains a fan base. The pop fan is also okay with the ephemeral nature of the music, a burnout of the song in six weeks or so of heavy rotation, after which the song is played out and only occasionally revisited, sometimes ironically, but eventually with some brief, thin nostalgia.

Rock and metal fans are much more attached to the musicians and the music. There is much more of a sense of permanence. People have put in work, perhaps thousands of hours and many years of practicing, rehearsing, touring, writing, developing a whole host of skills that a spoiled pop brat just hires people to do for them with a snap of the fingers. There is a definite working-class ethos behind that philosophy, but again, it can come at the expense of missing out on songs that, while not monumental achievements, are still valuable pop confections.

I remember when I graduated high school and went to college for a year, my first experience in a dorm setting, was a real eye-opener. At that point, I had gotten into a rather unfortunate preference for what might best be characterized as "hobbit rock":  the pretentious, bombastic, early-70s prog wankerings of groups such as Yes, ELP, and Jethro Tull. Being raised mostly on AM pop, R&B, and country music, the virtuosity and ambition of these musicians excited my imagination, and some of it still does to this day. Some of the other dorm rats were from Los Angeles, and turned me on to early hair-metal bands like Dokken, harder metal bands like Iron Maiden, and punk bands like Dead Kennedys and MDC.

But when you're 18 and in college, your mission is to Get Laid. And even then I knew that that was not going to happen by bringing the girlies over and playing them Tarkus or Thick as a Brick. They weren't even ready for Dokken and Maiden at that point. This was 1985-86, so you either learned to put up with Madonna and Tears for Fears and all that hairspray synth-pop, or you were going to spend your weekends with Rosie Palm and her five sisters.

It takes some seasoning and maturity to get over oneself and one's prejudices, the need to assert your likes by shitting on someone else's. This doesn't mean you can't talk some neck about a band you don't like; when I say that I think the Black Guy Pees' music is lazy, hacky shit, I am not kidding. That is not schtick. But by the same token, if someone came up in comments saying, "Hey, I loves me some Fergie!", I'm not going to get into a flame war over it. Chacun à son gout and all that.

Still, the one core value of the rock fan that I think is worth paying attention to and upholding is that of the self-directed creator, the musician writing and performing their own songs. That doesn't at all mean that sampling, electronic instruments, and even song doctors can't be used to create something new and cool. But if everyone sampled, who would create new things to sample? You can see the almost Dickian level of internal recursion here.

Perhaps instead of hewing to a metric of "good" and "bad" it might be more useful for critics and fans to look at whether something is interesting or not.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

True North

Jim at Stonekettle Station is absolutely correct, of course, that the idea of a nation having a "moral compass" is a canard, a logical fallacy, the usual steamy crock of conservabilly horseshit. (Kudos also to Jim for replying to an illiterate rube. That's more than I would have done; if they're not going to take the time to write coherently, I'll never find the time to engage them.)

But for the hell of it, let's say we take the rube's "morale [sic] compass" argument at face value. This is a common refrain amongst the oldsters who refuse to do the right thing and jettison themselves into the Arctic Ocean on an ice floe, and instead harangue the rest of us at how the country they thought they knew has "lost its way."

I say it's finally starting to find its way, in several important respects. There is massive work to be done still, to address the ravages of wealth inequality, of the ongoing dilapidation of the national infrastructure, of a nation run by rackets, and so on. But there are very important moral strides this nation has accomplished in my lifetime.

Blacks are still getting harassed and killed by law enforcement. But they have always been getting harassed and killed by law enforcement. The fact that you finally hear about it when it happens is, sadly and amazingly, a sign of moral progress, a clue that more and more people understand that it's going on and that it's wrong.

Same goes for bigotry toward gay people. They've always been picked on. But again, now you hear about it, now a substantial contingent of observers register their displeasure. Sometimes those folks get a bit carried away, inadvertently allowing small businesses speaking hypothetically to nail themselves to a Kickstarter cross, and cash in on cultural polarization. But the tide is turning all the same, too slowly for some, too quickly for others.

Over the years many folks, myself included, held out hope that the mossbacks would die off, and the kids, not having inherited their parents' prejudices, would be all right. I don't know if that's really the case; the older I get, the more I notice that stupid parents tend to produce stupid kids, who then turn into another generation of stupid adults.

The climate in general does seem to be getting uglier, more vitriolic. I didn't care for Bill Clinton for a lot of reasons, but that was a time where the opposition suddenly seemed to decide that there were no longer any boundaries, that any and all bullshit was fair game. Compared to how the current crowd treats and talks about Obama, that was nothing. The venomous, spiteful nature not only of Obama's political opposition, but the commentary at large, is amazing.

At least W gave his opponents plenty of things to hate about him, and they still did not react with quite this much vituperation. I honestly believe that if Obama said that water is wet or that the sun rises in the east, there would be some jabbering internuts claque to twitter hostile lunacies over it.

So perhaps, after all, there is something to this "moral compass" thing, just not what its author had intended. It never is, precisely because of the inherently biased nature of such observations.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Hill of Beans

Look, I've never made any made any bones about it -- I do not like Hillary Clinton. More accurately, I don't like the idea of her becoming president. Even in a business populated solely by insincere people, her defining characteristic is a chilly, impenetrable insincerity.

That's not to say that "sincerity" is, in and of itself, an automatically virtuous trait. Ted Cruz appears to sincerely be an asshole. Bush the Lesser seemed sincere in his utter indifference to the world around him, in his desire to be a cowboy, and play dress-up when the occasion called for it. Sincerity is not the be-all/end-all of an inherently cynical game; it's not even a terribly important factor. But it does at least provide some sense of what a politician's actual positions are, beyond the rhetoric they spout.

I may not like what people like Cruz or Bush stand for, but I at least have an idea of what they stand for, and how they plan to go about achieving those objectives. I honestly don't see how Hillary Clinton's supporters can say the same thing about her. There's absolutely no reason not to assume that she will function exactly as Obama has, exactly as her husband did -- lots of happy hopey talk, lots of confrontational dudgeon about uncooperative Republicans, lots of futile tacking to the right to appease said gridlockers, not much to show for all that. Lather, rinse, repeat.

This doesn't hurt my feelings so much as make it virtually impossible to make even a semi-educated guess as to what she would actually do. Most likely a less personable, more hawkish version of her husband. But since the financial racket's just about exhausted its possibilities, she won't even be able to muster the appearance of prosperity Bill was able to, before NAFTA sucked all the jobs out and the economy became Rubinized, and he sold the working class' interests down the river by repealing Glass-Steagall, sending all productivity gains to the scumbags who already own everything. People recall the Clinton years fondly only because Fredo Arbusto was such a colossal fuck-up from the word go. And sure, compared the aforementioned shrub, Bill Clinton is Thomas Jefferson, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Ron Jeremy rolled into one.

And that's really the sole appeal of Hillary Clinton -- the Republicans will run a group of scandalous morons who have about as much to do with responsible governance as truck nuts do with operating a motor vehicle. Whatever Clinton is, she's not an idiot, not a climate change or evolution denier. Pelf-grubbing corrupt triangulator with way too much baggage? Sure. But that also describes her likely opponent in the end.

(Seeing the name "George Herbert Walker IV" in the IBT article is a fresh reminder that the only people who have Roman numerals appended to their names are constitutional monarchs and assholes. Although, to be fair, the Bushes are essentially both of those things.)

The added benefit of holding one's nose and pulling the lever for the next Wall Street candidate is that it will annoy insufferable twits such as this. Though she does have a point -- a country so besotted with empty bullshit, a country that revels in truck nuts and rolling coal, really does deserve having to spend the foreseeable future having to choose between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.

Ask Them No Questions, They'll Tell You No Lies

Doop-de-doop -- oh gee, what's this, media monkeys defending their cohort's foolish behavior? There must be a hard-hitting "water is wet" headline on the cover of the next issue of No Shit, Sherlock magazine. Good thing we all have a subscription, whether or not we want one, right?
"I'm proud of what I did," [Financial Times Washington bureau chief Megan Murphy] said Friday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "When you have a campaign like that and they are not going to let us ask her any questions in any settings, what are we supposed to do as journalists?"
Wow. Hokay, here's the deal -- if I can answer that question, seriously rather as an amateur blog smartass, then maybe I should be a capital city bureau chief at a major magazine. Jesus Christ, these people literally do not know what they're supposed to do as journalists when a career politician kicks off an extended process of yanking their collective chain.

Welp, just in case there are any news orgs out there looking for people who actually understand what journalists are supposed to do, here is the answer for Megan Murphy, so pay close attention folks, 'cause this is highly complimicated shit here:

If, as Murphy whines, "they are not going to let us ask her any questions in any settings," then they should do some research -- on her, on the campaign, on the people running the campaign. Whether it's debunking Benghazi or poking holes in her pseudo-populist bullshit, do something, anything.

Hell, maybe just ask why we continue to have these stupid "traditions" where candidates are supposed to legitimize themselves by genuflecting to states with more livestock than humans. Why is a candidate considered legitimate if they can win over a state with literally 1% of the population, mostly by promising ethanol subsides and opposing humane treatment of food animals? Why are we talking now about an election that is still eighteen months away? Why do we have a system where billions of dollars are thrown at a perpetual campaign machine, and where does all that money go? Hunh, I dunno, let's just run after her van like a gaggle of fucking maroons, so she can blow us off face to face, instead of from a distance.

Are these people for real? Do they seriously not understand why the average person does not respect the vaunted integrity of their so-called profession? You do not gather useful information for public consumption, you engage in increasingly desperate antics in the hope of bamboozling the public to watch your hastily-scrawled chyron, just long enough to hang around for the commercials, and support the many fine sponsors in the automotive and pharmaceutical industries.

Which is precisely what sportscasters do for the athletes they cover. But the thing is, Tom Brady isn't going to determine policies that may result in fracking chemicals poisoning your water table, or your job getting outsourced to some third-world shithole so your CEO can buy another vacation home and send his asshole kid to Phillips Andover.

One thing's for sure, and this is true of any politician: the more unfavorable the research, the sooner said candidate will adjust their attitude and start answering some goddamned questions. Until then, why should they?

But none of this occurs to any of these chumps, so yes, they run after a van (strangely dubbed "Scooby," maybe because "Mystery Machine" would be a little too on the nose) like kids after an ice cream truck, as one critic in the Post article rightly pointed out. And I doubt they're terribly well-compensated for it; it seems safe to assume that these stringers are the equivalent of the classic bit about the guy shoveling elephant shit at the circus for minimum wage, but not wanting to quit "show business."

I can't imagine what sort of mouth-breathing, window-licking, up-to-the third-knuckle nose-picking halfwit would actually sit and watch a bunch of dopey court stenographer wannabes chase futilely after a minivan, and think that it means anything at all. There's not much point to having a 24-hour news cycle and instantaneous technology, if this is the fecal matter that gets shunted out of the alimentary canal of the Fourth Estate. But then, we get the media machine we're willing to put up with.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Moral Dilemma

Quick question:  is it wrong to secretly hope that the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell -- who, to a person, are just fucking awful excuses for human beings, and are frankly wasting precious oxygen -- die before the rest of us are forced to subsidize their goddamned health care? You want your libertarian paradise, getting out of the system exactly what you paid into it and not a red cent more, here you go.

It's bad enough when you set up a system that forces healthy young people to subsidize the elderly, the infirm, and the shitheads who couldn't be bothered to take care of themselves in the first place. It's even worse when that latter group of doddering oldsters is so fucking ungrateful.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Fuck Your Breath

As more and more black men get shot by white cops for no goddamned reason whatsoever -- and more importantly, as these events get captured on video more and more -- I suppose the question begs as to what good it will do, for the most part. Catching it on video, I mean.

Out of all the people listed in the two articles linked above, only Walter Scott's killer has even a chance of doing any time. And, uh, given that that occurred in South Carolina, don't be too surprised if it turns out the prosecutor pulled a Florida and threw a charge at Michael Slagel that a jury won't convict him on. Look at Casey Anthony, or George Zimmerman. Don't be too surprised if the Slagel case whiffs on the murder charge, and instead settles for attempting to plant evidence.

Even if Slagel is convicted of something, he's in the (pardon the dismal, unintentional pun) minority. The cop that killed Eric Garner won't be charged or convicted, nor the cop that killed Tamir Rice. John Crawford's killer, and on and on. They all get away with it. I'm not sure what exactly people think would come from "cop cams" and such. Clearly people have decided to look at this brutal shit, over and over again, and shrug and say, "What else ya got?"

At least the video prevents Slagel from lying about how and why he shot Scott, shows what his bullshit story would have been. But then it goes into the hands of people who may be inclined to give Slagel the benefit of the doubt, to decide that Scott's half-assed excuse for a record mitigates the murder charge.

On the other hand, if you're white, you can fight with cops, and merely get subdued, rather than killed. Strange how that works.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

State of the Union

The next eighteen months, politically speaking, are going to be something to be avoided. It is a great and terrible thing to live in a country that is about to see four billion dollars spent on a "choice" between two center-right job applicants. Three hundred twenty million people in 'murka, and we can't find anyone better than Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. That's a pretty goddamned sad state of affairs.

The primary differences between the two are that Bush is presumed to have a penis and thinks he's Mexican. Both will be distinguished -- and elected, or not -- mostly on their ability to grovel to and satisfy a grubby, pelf-addled cabal of bookies and spreadsheet diddlers.

Possibly the most tedious aspect of Clinton's candidacy is the prospect of media weasels mooning over the "opportunity" to have a female chief executive. That noble achievement would put us at long last on a par with places such as Pakistan. It would be difficult to find something less worth caring about.

Politics is a trap as well as a racket; every political disciple and acolyte grooms themselves mainly for inevitable disappointment, when their object of affection turns out invariably to not be quite as advertised. In this case, regardless of who wins the quadrennial epic battle for imperial custodian, it is practically a guarantee -- Bush is not remotely conservative enough to appease his increasingly psychotic base, and Clinton is a "liberal" only in the most technical sense of the word.

At this point, presidential campaigns are as much about who gets to appoint the next SCOTUS justice (yet another antiquated, unanswerable institution that sorely needs to be revisited) as they are about who gets to be the figurehead for the next few years. The best you can hope for is that Clinton selects some sort of "moderating influence" type -- Elizabeth Warren, Martin O'Malley, Bernie Sanders, etc. -- as a running mate, in order for people to better pretend that a vice president (a Democratic one, anyway) as any sort of measurable effect on governance and policy.

Sunday, April 05, 2015


I am glad Jerry Brown is the current governor of California, not because I have any particular like for the man, but because Meg Whitman would have been utterly catastrophic. Never trust anyone who spends $140 million of their own money trying to get a job that pays less than $175k.

That said, it is less than encouraging to see that Brown's tough talk on measures to deal with the state's ongoing drought will amount to very little. This is simple math:  if 80% of usage is from agriculture, forget a 25% reduction -- everyone else could completely stop using water overnight, and it's only going to help so much. And a reduction is only going to be enforceable for places like cemeteries and golf courses anyway, and they'll just pay the fine.

Someone who was serious about conserving water would look at some of the more egregious examples, such as why we're growing alfalfa -- far and away the most water-intensive crop -- to make hay to ship to China. Or why farmers up and down the state have switched deliberately over to more profitable (yet again, very water-intensive) crops like almonds, pistachios, wine grapes, beef cattle.

There's a certain amount of hypocrisy built into all of this. Like most people, I like steak and wine and pistachios. But I'm willing to pay a premium for those things. And I'm on a well, so when we run out, it's going to cost money to either punch a deeper well, or get a tank setup and have water trucked in.

And that's the crux of the problem -- the farmers aren't willing to pay the same premium. They take the cheap water, and the gubmint subsidies. And outside the cities, most of the pols are owned and operated by agricultural interests. As every native Californian knows, Chinatown is a documentary. As the old saying goes, whiskey's for drinkin', water's for fightin' over.

It would make more sense to charge everyone more across the board, farmers and consumers alike. You want to use up millions of scarce acre-feet of water to grow hay to send to China? Then you pay the true cost. Are you sinking a 900' ag well to tap an aquifier that might take decades or centuries to replenish at this rate? Then you pay the true cost. Do you enjoy almond milk, or steak? Then....well, you guessed it.

Until something along that line occurs, the governor's grand idea matters very little, perhaps not at all. For years California has had this never-ending boondoggle of a high-speed rail system, a bullet train to fucking Fresno that has vastly exceeded its initial cost estimates, and has no signs of starting anytime in the future, near or far. We put a man on the moon, but it took this state twenty goddamned years to upgrade the Bay Bridge, and it looks like the high-speed rail will make that look like nothing.

If we're looking for a Great Project to throw money at, maybe it's time to get serious about building desalination plants, rather than making sure people can get to Fresno more quickly. (Snark aside, California's main north-south state highways, Interstate 5 and Highway 99, are in wretched shape, constantly in repair and over-trafficked.) That would be infinitely more effective than writing people up for watering their lawns, especially when they're already conserving to begin with. The people who need to be conserving the most aren't even being asked to conserve at all.

Then again, maybe the people of California deserve exactly what they're getting, at least some of them.

Freedom of Choice

So the outrage de la semaine is, as it turns out, completely imaginary -- that is, a small business has been mercilessly e-heckled not because they refused to cater a gay wedding, but because they said they would refuse if asked. Is this what it's come to?

This is a tough one to be sure, friends 'n' neighbors, at least at first blush. From a practical standpoint, it's difficult to see how the appearance, right or wrong, of kajillions of cyber-twats over-reacting and e-spewing their self-righteous virtual venom is going to help win any converts to The Cause. All it's going to do is make the folks who already have their backs up pitch their coccyges that much higher, so much so that the pizza place in question -- which, let's recall, didn't actually have any complaints about discriminating against gay customers -- is now probably going to get a nice payday from, or whatever it's called.

It's one thing if a Big Corporation pulls that sort of shit and gets hit up with the Big Angry, quite another when it's a mom-and-pop prayer-circle pizza joint. I'm sure some noted sage or other had something pithy to say about picking and choosing one's battles wisely, but goddamned if some of these dopes never got the memo.

Of course, as you might suppose, that other side rushing to the defense of "religious freedom" is every bit as insufferable as their bien pensant counterparts, if anything even more so. I can't envision a scenario that puts me on the same side of any issue as noob tool Tom Cotton, and I'm not about to start with this issue, especially since the guy seems about as hinky as it gets. (Seriously, what kind of a grown-ass man buys birthday cake every few days?)

What all this nonsense has accomplished is that it's allowed idiots to crowdfund a cross to nail themselves to for their piety. This one is just a peach:

The florist who refused to provide flowers for a gay couple’s wedding has netted more than $80,000 from an online crowdfunding page dedicated to “protect her and her livelihood.”

Stutzman was fined $1,000, plus $1 for court costs and fees in March for refusing to serve a gay couple when they tried to buy wedding flowers in 2013, reported ABC News.

Stutzman said even though one of the men who wanted the flowers was her friend, providing flowers for his marriage went against her beliefs as a Southern Baptist.

Well, with "friends" like that....

It would be interesting if one (1) of the media entities publicizing this martyrdom jabber would follow up on the crowdfunding aspect of all these people, see how many of those pledges actually pay up, or if some of them, once the drunken glow of self-satisfaction wears off, look at a pizza place getting nearly a million dollars pledged to it in the course of just a few days, and decide that for that amount of money, what's the harm in changing your mind?

The concern trolls will ask questions, as is their wont, and they should be answered, as they apply across the board: does a Muslim bakery have a right to refuse service to a Christian or Jew, or to an unaccompanied woman; does a gay wedding photographer have a right to refuse to serve a straight couple; and on and on. Turning some of these tables on the most strident voices, forcing them to confront their own choices and their own personal bigotries, might just beat it into the heads of at least a few of them.

The current whinging will die down soon enough, as these dumb things tend to do. But it will be back, again and again, as the perennial presidential campaign continues apace. We've come a long way on this issue in a very short amount of time -- it was barely ten years ago that ol' Turd Blossom used it as a wedge in the southern states to get the win for his boy Fredo, and to grab a few down-ticket races as a bonus. But people have come around, the anti-marriage laws have been dumped and replaced.

Right now it's being portrayed as "personal rights" or "religious freedom," in much the same way that the Woah o' Nawthun Aggression is about "states' rights." But as Primus said long ago, the flame that burns twice as bright burns only half as long, and this is no exception. Once the brave and noble e-defenders of liberty have moved on to the next imaginary outrage, gay patrons will remember, and they'll be buying their flowers and pizzas elsewhere. In the end, this is not politics, or even religion. It's just business.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Rock and Roll Over

It's a small but somehow fitting irony that the inventor of the Pet Rock passed away just in time for April Fool's Day. For those folks too young to remember it, the Pet Rock -- and its numerous imitators, perhaps the most noteworthy at that time being the Invisible Dog Leash -- was one of those products that were quintessentially American, that could not have succeeded anywhere else.

Sure, there have been tulip crazes and such like, people paying vastly more for a product than it was objectively worth. But with the Pet Rock, you finally had the apex, the holy grail of marketing. Our usual snarky definition of marketing is "getting people to spend money they don't really have on something they don't really want." (And at Christmas, perhaps for someone they don't really like).

This presaged a new era of marketing, though, the sort of thing that would have made Don Draper break one in his no-press slacks. Here was something that people bought that had no objective worth whatsoever, that was purchased not just ironically but semiotically, a cultural signifier that you were in on the joke. This was something you could literally find in your backyard, thrown in a silly package, something that all observers could see had no intrinsic value, lying inert, much like the recorded catalog of Kanye West. [Ed: Hi-yoooooo!]

Since PR and marketing are the rackets that really run the industrialized world, far larger than the usual finance / health care / higher ed beasts combined (indeed, by definition, all rackets depend on PR and marketing in order to get people to accept the ripoff and ask for more), it makes sense that the scumbags who run the political circus would sit up on their hind legs and take notice.

As Mad Men finishes up its run, it has noted repeatedly that that era was where PR weasels finally crystallized their understanding that people buy the sizzle at least as much as the steak. An even more important realization was that many people are more than willing to buy just the sizzle (fo shizzle), and not even worry about the steak.

If you're old enough to recall the Pet Rock, then you probably also recall a time when Ronald Reagan was not taken seriously as a viable presidential candidate. Then in the mid-'90s, a dimwit fuck-up son of another preznit name o' Gee Dub Bush (aka Fredo Arbusto) first beat a popular governor in Texas, and then clawed and cheated his way into the White House. But the bar had been lowered.

Several years later, Sarah Palin, and now Ted Cruz. Not to mention the countless jabbering assholes and buffoons that litter the Senate and especially the House, brazen dickheads like Louie Gohmert and Scott DesJarlais, whom you wouldn't have allowed to clean your gutters twenty or thirty years ago.

In "inventing" a fun, silly way to make a few ducats for himself and his (I shit you not) investors, Gary Dahl inadvertently also demonstrated that the bar can always get lower in this country, even in more important areas of life, with the proper marketing.