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Our Mothers, Our Whores

29 Sep

I was born a male. I have lived my entire life as a male, and barring something unexpected I expect to die a male. It is not a source of pride, really, but an incontrovertible and undeniable aspect of who I am. I am a male, my astrological sign is Leo, I wear a size 11-1/2 shoe. These are simply facts about who I am.

I considered myself an “Enlightened Man” long before I’d even hit puberty. Owing largely to a strong maternal figure and a liberal upbringing, along with generally being more bookish than rowdy, I had a cadre of platonic girl friends at an early age (which, incidentally, endeared me in no way to the boys at school.) I was raised to respect women, to assume their intellect as I would assume any man’s. And for a long time, I thought I did this–even admitting an opposite sort of prejudice where I expect more from women than men, because I think women are generally smarter and better at constructing logical arguments. And so I went in my smug little way, happily traipsing along, silently denouncing the cat-calls of blue-collar workers and frowning disapprovingly at my friends’ misogynistic comments. Whatever vitriol being heaped upon men by feminists certainly did not apply to me, because I was an Enlightened Man.


Recently it began to dawn on me that I may have been, to borrow a French phrase, full of shit. There has been lots of warranted feminist outrage on the internet lately, from GamerGate to the wrongful termination of Jennifer Williams, to the #YesAllWomen twitter campaign, it seems like women are using the digital platform to take a stand for themselves. My gut reaction was to largely ignore these controversies because I didn’t think I should get involved. Surely I’ve never denigrated a woman or made her feel uncomfortable. I’m one of the “good guys,” the fellows that compliment ladies on their clothing and ask women for relationship advice and only look at their boobs for a few seconds rather than entire minutes. I believed I was supporting the fight for feminism by not diluting it with my testosterone. And then I decided to go against common sense and check the comments section.

I was absolutely stunned by the aggressive, angry responses I saw to these current events. Venomous, hateful threats of violence and rape. Denouncing what women wrote as divisive libel, women being called stupid and fake and sluts. Claims that women should take their grievances to lawyers or the police–I suppose to the Men Are Being Mean To Me Department, headed by Sergeant Don’t Worry Your Pretty Little Head–instead of bringing these discrepancies to light. It made me ashamed to have been born a male, and that’s when it dawned on me that perhaps I have been an unwitting misogynist all my life.

I have never physically hurt or threatened a woman, I don’t think I’ve even yelled at women. But I’ve definitely dismissed women for being “hysterical” or “crazy” when they complained about inequities. I’ve certainly leered at women inappropriately–and thought I was somehow better because I did it quicker than some other men. I’ve told women I like their blouse or hairstyle, never thinking that maybe women in specific and people in general don’t feel like striking up casual conversations based around the fact that you’ve been scoping them out. At a young age, I was taught that if you like a girl, go ask her out; the worst she could do is say, “no.” I wasn’t taught to respect others’ privacy and not to open a relationship by asking someone to entreat partnership with a stranger. The discrepancies between my thought and deed piled up. I considered myself a swell guy for considering most men idiots while regarding most women as geniuses. It didn’t occur to me that I was actually giving guys a pass while rigorously subjecting women to my expectations.


As it turns out, I am a male, and I feel all of the entitlement that men feel towards women–that they should be grateful for my existence, that they should be buoyed by my attention, that somehow I was doing them a favor with my condescension. I even considered my non-involvement in Feminism as some kind of benevolent acquiescence to women. “You go girls!” I thought in self-satisfaction, “Tell those nasty men off!” Never thinking that I might be one of these “nasty men,” or even that my non-involvement was more evidence that I marginalized women and their silly feelings. It’s both a comforting and terrifying thing to learn that I can have profound realizations about myself this late in life. It’s nice to know I can still learn and grow, but about what else am I kidding myself?

I find I am the subject of a lifetime of conditioning, despite my Ms. Magazine mom, and that my lifetime is but a sliver of societal conditioning stretching back to the dawn of humanity. We all come to accept some things as simply true: sex sells. Women work hard to look pretty and should be regarded for it. If a woman wears certain clothing, she wants you to gawk. These aren’t concepts I arrived to through careful consideration but by observing the world around me and being trained by the same concepts that train everyone else. We are all in this together, men and women, all of us educated from womb to tomb that boys like farts and girls like flowers, and never the twain shall meet. And, if you don’t get my point by now, that’s absolute bullshit.

How will I proceed? Well, for one thing, I’m going to cut the crap. I can silently appreciate a blouse and roundly chastise my friends for misogynistic comments. I can attempt to regard women on their merits and not based on some condescending notion about their superiority. The problem isn’t that women aren’t running the world, it’s that women by and large aren’t running shit. That even well-respected women in positions of power can be called “emotional” for speaking their minds. And I might have counted myself among those who waved off women’s problems as “Woman Problems.” The one thing I know for sure is that women aren’t going to become equal by screaming into a vacuum that no man can hear. It will be up to us, menfolk of the world, to change our perception of women and how we treat them if we’re going to see true gender equality. If you believe in fairness and respecting others as you would want to be respected, then I don’t see how you could do any less. And if you don’t believe in fairness and think women should be seen and not heard, then go fuck yourself and throw yourself into the mouth of the nearest live volcano.

Here’s the Solitary Reason Marijuana Should Be Legalized

21 Aug

There’s been a lot in the news recently about decriminalizing the marijuana pots in the United States. The two sides of this issue seem particularly polarized: on one side, you’ve got folks clamoring that patients should have access to medical marijuana; that hemp (the boring form of marijuana) could be used to make paper and cloth while reducing our reliance on petroleum; that marijuana arrests are clogging our privately-owned prison system and forcing higher Federal subsidies to these institutions; that pot gets you high, which is a pretty nice feeling. And on the other side of the issue you’ve got people that hate fun. I mean, really, barring the conspiratorial forces that benefit financially from marijuana’s prohibition, I can’t understand why non-smokers should care. You might look down on someone that uses reefer, you might think potheads are kind of lame, but is that any reason to rail against this recreational activity? Dispense with television and smart phones if you’re so worried about citizens being vapid and unambitious, these contribute far more to people’s lameness than any gravity bong. Because the fact of the matter is that the utter nonsense my generation was force-fed under Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” programs turned out to be complete bullshit. Weed is not a gateway drug, potheads do not make effective criminals, and the worst thing to come from common marijuana use is painfully shitty music.

Medicinal reasons and the ability to purchase cheap Corona baja sweatshirts are swell reasons to legalize weed, though they don’t necessarily resonate with all people. To my mind, there is one reason that marijuana should be legalized that is shocking and compelling and should affect everyone. As detailed in the book El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency by Ioan Grillo, Mexico is currently in the grip of about three dangerous Mexican drug cartels, staffed with ex-military officers trained to combat Leftist rebels in Mexico and Central America, and the stuff they do is pretty fucked up. Really fucked up, actually. Like “beheading every male member in a town and leaving their heads in the center square as an example” fucked up. Like “kidnapping children and murdering bound people in the street with gunshots to the head” fucked up. Like “bloody public gun fights that result in a dozen or more casualties” fucked up. And the main thing that started these cartels up was shipping marijuana to America. I can’t help but smirk at the disconnect between your balding high school guidance counselor taking a bong rip while the weed he smoked left several orphans in our neighbors to the South.

And the thing that causes all of this death and bloodshed, which keeps a country in terror and causes immigrants to stream across our borders, is the U.S. policy against marijuana. We’ve helped the situation along for decades, actually, stretching back to when the U.S. military contracted with Mexico to supply opium for our war-wounded during World War II. And those ex-military drug lords that fought against the Sandinistas and Communist insurgents were actually trained by the CIA. Oh, and we gave them their guns and vehicles, too, including a substantial air force via a particularly botched-up deal with the DEA. Are you getting it now? The situation in Mexico is our fault. We caused it, and we perpetuate it by allowing these scumbags to stay in business because we don’t see fit to sell and tax weed our damn selves. This trumps every other reason, I believe, for legalizing marijuana. There will be other benefits, there will be many problems, but most of all we won’t be killing a nation and its culture because of some mixed-up policies that are at least partially-founded on misrepresentations and lies. Yes, legalizing pot in the U.S. will present new troubles, and it certainly won’t do anything to reduce America’s obesity epidemic, but at least we can say that we’re not blithely contributing to some of the most sickening atrocities in the world happening just adjacent to our own country. That shit really harshes my buzz.

The Art of Art

29 May

On a trip to Venice, Italy, I visited the Palazzo Ducale, the Renaissance-era Venetian palace of…Ducale, I guess. It was definitely impressive, in fact it captured my mind (and about 1 GB on my camera’s memory card) days before I visited the actual structure. Once inside the palace, I was struck dumb by all of the ornate woodwork, gold leaf trim on everything, and depictions of Jesus paneling the ceiling. Lots of pictures of Jesus. Lots and lots of pictures of Jesus. Jesus up on the cross, Jesus down from the cross. Jesus doling out bread and fishes, Jesus standing gloriously outside of a cave. There were some images of the Virgin Mary and assorted cherubs, but–Jesus Christ!–there were mostly paintings of Jesus Christ. I thought about the guys who painted this stuff, it was probably their lives’ work to decorate the ceiling of the Palazzo Ducale. And here I am, about half an eon into their future, snickering at all the naked boobs.

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I figure the people who painted all of these Jesuses on the ceiling probably got really good at painting Jesus after a while. I remember seeing a documentary on Charles Schulz in the 1980s: a camera filmed his weathered hand as he drew perfect depictions of Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and Lucy Van Pelt in ink without any pencil guides. I was pretty impressed at first, then my dad pointed out that I might have seen the ten-thousandth time he’d drawn these particular characters. Years later, while ruining page after page of my looseleaf notebook trying to come up with new graffiti styles, I noticed that I developed a different relationship, a sort of understanding with the letters I’d chosen to compose my tag. These phenomenons are what happen through regular practice, through routine. Any action performed over and over, day and and day out will become rote after a time. When you first learned to walk, you had to concentrate on keeping in one direction without falling down. Now you walk and fall down without even thinking of it.

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It seems like art in the Western world, specifically beginning in the second half of the twentieth century, is about self expression: we only paint Jesus when we want to. My friend Justin points out that it’s an outgrowth of the American Dream, that you can be whatever you want to be and live freely to throw paint buckets at a canvas. There’s certainly something to that, it appears as if many people get into art because they believe it to be contrary to the shackled, work-a-day world of regular pay and health benefits. There’s also the possibility that you roll the dice on Life As an Artist and come up with a financial boon. But is this something worth gambling over? You can make the most trite, banal song and license it to a commercial for lots of money. You can scribble a few lines on a page and upload it to the internet to be viewed by millions of people. Will someone stand before your work and regard it in five hundred years? What intrinsic value has been created outside of the temporal context of its creation? If financial gain is the objective, then I tell you that you’re better off at that work-a-day job collecting a paycheck.

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My impression is that, based on some of the modern art I’ve consumed, that a lot of people need to go back and paint some more Jesuses. So much output in the digital age is derivative, belying their creators’ lack of acumen. Paint your Jesus, write your essays, work on your robot conqueror every single day. You will get better at whatever you pursue, and you’ll understand new things about your craft as it continues to be exercised. Don’t talk about it, be about it. And once you’ve put in your time, paid some dues, then you know that when you paint boobs, you’re doing it as an artistic choice and not for some churlish idiot to snicker at.

Goddamn You, Robert Kirkman

1 Mar

I’ve been reading The Walking Dead in trade editions since they started coming out in 2004. For those that think this essay might be about the TV show on AMC called The Walking Dead, it isn’t. I don’t watch that show. I saw the first season and the first episode of the second season and dropped it. I found the show plodding and aimless, the dialogue ridiculous to the point of insulting, and generally found the program to be a huge letdown. I have heard from some that it’s gotten better (though others tell me it sucks still), but I don’t care. How many chances am I supposed to give a show? If you can’t ramp up to speed after the first season, then your show is a failure. Maybe I’ll catch it all one drunken weekend when the series has wrapped up, but I’ve no interest in following it week to week, and I’m not prepared to discuss anything specific about it.
The comic, however, I’ve been reading in trade editions since 2004. Frankly, I didn’t like that at first, either. The art was uneven and the drama was pretty sappy, and I wasn’t connecting with the characters enough to care whether they survived a zombie apocalypse or not. There was an introduction in the first paperback which told the reader how great the series was going to be, how profound and changing it would become, which turned me off. I walked away from the series for about a year, then went back when the story in paperback was up to where the protagonists met the Governor. I got hooked. This was no Mad Max dystopian future, it wasn’t full of insightful, annoying social commentary, it had become the rather touching story of human beings being fucked up to one another in order to survive. Even at this early stage in the story, the zombie horde was little more than an occasional nuisance. The real threat came from other members of the living.

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This point was made shockingly clear in a splash page scene of the main protagonist’s wife getting shot in the back while clutching her newborn baby. I realized at this point that I had grown to like these characters, enough to hope for their success, and to see this hopeful thing snuffed out in a very large, graphic way was disheartening. I became a fan, and started to follow the adventures of this widower, Rick, and his increasingly weird son Carl as they tried to make it in a world where no one could be trusted. I picked up volume after volume, gripped by the depths to which our heroes would sink in order to stay alive and defended. I scanned panel after panel of them walking through the wilderness, scavenging what little they could and losing hope for a stable future. I read, and read, and read about their actual and metaphorical journey. Then I started to get bored again.

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At one point, they are led to a fortified suburban enclave where a group of people have holed up and formed a community. Then it started to feel like a soap opera. Just people fucking each others’ partners and getting jealous about it. Yeah, people died, but it was often due to over-the-top reactions by blowhards with post-traumatic stress disorder. It wasn’t like I needed to see more death or deaths caused by zombies, to the contrary it seemed like deaths were being shoehorned into the plot in order to make it engrossing. I was getting bored of the series, and figured I would drop it soon if things didn’t turn around. And turn around they did, in vol. 17, Something to Fear.

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It hardly necessitates me claiming “spoilers” when this edition has been out since last November, and the floppy comics produced well before that. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I willfully spoil shit without penitence. How else am I supposed to write about the things I want to discuss? Besides, I’ve already dropped plenty of plot points in this essay already without cautioning “spoilers,” so fuck yourself. So by this point in the story, the folks in the suburban enclave have met another larger, far off community who is willing to trade supplies. Unfortunately, this larger community is being terrorized by a gang known as the Saviors, who demand half of their supplies in exchange for not fucking up the commune. Our heroes have a run-in with this gang, kill several of them humiliatingly, and then are back on the way to the larger group for supplies when they’re accosted by the Saviors. I’m leaving a lot of incidental stuff out, but the important thing, the instance that makes me want to shake my fist at Robert Kirkman and which will keep me buying new trade editions for the foreseeable future, is that the leader of the Saviors pulls Glenn out of the group and bashes his head in with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. Oh, and Glenn’s girlfriend, Maggie, had just revealed she was pregnant. Did I forget to mention that? Glenn was brutally snuffed before he got to be a real dad for the first time.

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And there it was, the same sickening pitch that lured me in the first time will lure me in for another half dozen or so volumes. Fucking Robert Kirkman. Playing with our sensibilities and emotions like some puppeteer. Forcing us to face our most deviant proclivities while you toy with our heartstrings. I don’t necessarily want to read a comic where a main character gets his head caved in so badly that his eye begins to pop out, to watch him calling for his girlfriend while a spiked bat crashes into his skull over and over. You made me do that, Robert Kirkman, with your slow burn suspense story and pandering to the lowest gory denominator. Goddamn you, Kirkman. Just take my wallet and leave me sobbing in a corner with my brutal self-realizations.

The Curious Case of Prostitution in Grand Theft Auto

28 Feb

I was interested in playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City because I’d heard so much about it. Phrases like “sandbox-style” and “the first truly open world” were bandied about by bloggers and reviewers, and I wanted to see what the hubbub was about. My girlfriend and I crossed the lobby of our building to visit our neighbors, friends with the correct hardware and newly-purchased software, for the express purpose of seeing and playing Vice City. That was my purpose, at least. I’m sure my girlfriend wanted to see the female counterpart of our neighborly hosts, to talk perfume and tampons and whatever else ladies converse about.
I was duly impressed by the video game. It was actually the second of the Grand Theft Auto series to feature point-of-view game play, but this was the first to make it look believable. It looked like Miami, sounded like the 1980s and felt like you were in Goodfellas. Game developers Rockstar Studios presented this slick, engaging world whose playability could be measured in tens of hours. Even my girlfriend was impressed, until she saw something in the game that horrified her: my neighbor showed us how you could actually have implied sex with a prostitute for money, then kill her immediately afterward to reclaim your payment. That was it for my girlfriend, she had seen enough. She insisted the game be turned off and we departed shortly after so she could go home and simmer.

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Over the years since, I’ve seen this specific aspect–that one can employ and murder hookers in the Grand Theft Auto video game franchise–come up again and again. Very recently, I saw it referenced on a repeat episode of The Big Bang Theory. It’s obviously a sticking point with many people, something fundamentally revolting that supersedes the more average revulsion reserved for prostitution or murder alone. It is true, you can hump and then slay prostitutes in the Grand Theft Auto series. You can also kill business people, students, and scores upon scores of police officers, FBI agents, and the military. The carnage eventually becomes so absurd that it would be a feat to avoid killing prostitutes, peppered as they are between explosions and streams of automatic weapon fire. In fact, you don’t actually recoup your losses by killing prostitutes after services–a point I laughingly tried to impress upon my girlfriend in the Vice City days: when you kill hookers, they cough up a randomized amount of money like any violently deceased citizen, so that you might actually earn less than you tendered all told. Of course, this point of video game coding was lost on her.

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There’s very little in the Grand Theft Auto series that isn’t calculated to offend your sensibilities. You can gun down an old woman pleading for mercy. You can lay waste to throngs. Still, there’s something about killing a hooker you’ve just poked that rankles more than blowing a police helicopter out of the sky with a guided rocket launcher. I think there’s an element of misogyny implied in the act that heightens indignation. This collection of colored and textured polygons meant to resemble a prostitute is just trying to ply her virtual trade. She’s got enough pain in her life, theoretically, without having to be murdered by a video game sprite. Hookers are fairly marginalized in mainstream society, that’s why many serial killers test their skills on a half a dozen of them before moving on to blond women and closeted homosexuals. And a 128-bit murder is still murder, I suppose.

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But isn’t it fantasy, a “thought crime” at best? If someone thinks about having sex with hookers and then offing them, but never actually does it, has a crime really been committed? This is sort of topical now, as the “Cannibal Cop” court case begins in New York. The case involves, in short, a NYPD officer chatting online with like-minded deviants about wanting to capture and cook women. There are transcripts of him discussing how to prepare his wife, how to bind and properly subdue her, as well as boasting by another party about the women he’s eaten. But no ropes, no chloroform was found. The officer talks about a house upstate with an oven suitable for cooking people, but no such place seems to exist. So it seems like this officer was talking a lot of shit, but the nature of his shit-talking is, itself, a crime. Using this logic, anyone who has written or produced a horror film is subject for arraignment.

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Similar questions are raised in the haunting HBO documentary Capturing the Friedmans. If we can be arrested for the things about which we’ve fantasized, then I’m set for death row. And I won’t be lonely, because I know that many of my male peers have considered scenarios so offensive that they’ve disgusted themselves. Perhaps it’s women, to an extent, that do not consider these dark fantasy scenarios, and it’s too bad really because you could be imagining breaking my balls for some video game infraction instead of MAKING MY ACTUAL LIFE A GODDAMNED LIVING HELL FOR THE LAST HOWEVER MANY YEARS FOR FUCK’S SAKE! I need to blow off some steam now. Time to kill a virtual hooker.

Give the Boot to Reboots

7 Feb

It’s been about a year and a half since DC Comics restarted their entire line-up of titles with The New 52, a company-wide event that did away with the past histories of their diverse line of characters and started all over again to attract new readers. I thought it was a hare-brained idea at the time, but being that I don’t buy floppy comics and I’m fairly used to DC making incomprehensible business decisions, I decided not to opine. Sure, I was pessimistic, but that’s my nature. What the hell do I know about a good Flash comic anyway? The best thing you could do for a Flash comic, in my opinion, is cancel it.

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Well, the dust has settled, trade editions of the first New 52 comics have trickled out, and what we see isn’t a more tempered, sensible universe than the one that preceded it, but the same confuddled claptrap as always. Some origins have been changed, Barbara Gordon has overcome her paralysis to become Batgirl again, but there’s no sense that we’re seeing anything new and fresh. And why should we? DC Comics has a history spanning nine decades, one they periodically try to omit with little success. DC’s concern with its past seems to revolve around the fact that their characters have been portrayed in many ways over the years. This makes sense because different people have written and drawn the comics, and public sensibilities have changed radically in the last century. For some reason, this doesn’t sit well with the powers that be: they feel that Superman should never be depicted changing clothes inside a phone booth when we live in a cellular phone world.

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I think that DC Comics should embrace their storied history, and not in the cornball way they usually do by dragging kitschy characters like Challengers of the Unknown and the Bat Mite out of storage for a “modern” revamp. A “reboot” usually means the male heroes will all have stubble and wrestle with their consciences while they clobber globs of snot from outer space. Instead, DC should admit that they have a lot of characters spanning a healthy person’s lifetime and let writers do what they fucking want. You want to write a story about the early days of Wonder Woman? Go ahead. You want to depict Batman with an iPhone and a Bat-Segway? Let’s see what you’ve got. Many of these characters have become archetypes for our culture and personal gratification. The important part about Superman is that he can punch people through walls, not whether or not his adoptive Earth parents wore spectacles. Cut it out with these title-spanning events that change DC continuity and make Superman have to wear ridiculous costumes.

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What I’m saying is that a fictional world of people who can fly unencumbered through space and fire laser beams from their fingertips doesn’t need a reboot. It’s fantasy, and as such writers should feel free to depict these characters in any fashion, from any era, and respect the readership enough to take these stories at face value. I know DC has its Elseworlds line, but I’m talking about having fun with these heroes and villains in series. Maybe depict the Joker with some humanity. Allow Superman to fight alongside Aquaman with the bureaucracy of the Justice League getting in the way. Let the Green Lantern cut a fart now and again. His uniform already leaves little to the imagination, it’s not a far leap to begin showing his endocrine functions.

Scene to Be Seen

5 Feb

I have had the arguable fortune to be involved with two “scenes” in my lifetime: one surrounding New York City Hardcore music, and another tethered to hip-hop’s international popularity. I wasn’t anyone important, you won’t find me in any oral retrospectives or graduate theses about these times, but I attended a lot of shows and developed a cabal of like-minded friends, with whom I could argue redundantly about our scene’s particulars. He’s wearing a stupid hat. She’s got the wrong shoelaces on her Doc Maarten’s. Ultimately, we united in order to process our scenedom–a scene within a scene. And the main thing that unified us was our collective dismissal of anyone out of touch or new to the genre.

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Apprenticeship is nothing new, indeed its traditions stretch back to humanity’s earliest days. There’s no easy way around it, you’ve got to pay dues before you can effectively talk shit. In the work-a-day world, this makes good horse sense: I wouldn’t want an untrained surgeon poking around my smelly bits, nor would I want a budding plumber to take his first whack at my leaky toilet. Job training is a place where a would-be professional can be humbled by his mistakes without pissing off a client, or worse, killing someone. Being part of a scene, however, offers no such luxury: one must take their lumps in full view of the old guard, who already sneer with derision at your existence. You clique up with other newbies, pay your dues together, and heap shit on newer, smaller fans of whatever a particular scene revolves around. Mind you, most music scenes last three years at best, so this cycle is reiterated at tremendous speed. It’s only a few generations of supplicants before a genre devours itself and becomes irrelevant.

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I wonder how important that kind of scenester apprenticeship is today. To be acknowledged at hardcore and hip-hop shows, I bought and listened to a lot of music, wore certain t-shirts and accessories, steeled myself for interminable discussions about every aspect of the genre in question. I paid those dues, often literally with actual dollars, and earned the right to wear a long-sleeved BURN t-shirt. Today, you could download all the music I’ve ever owned and read the liner notes from the album covers in a weekend. All of that arcane knowledge passed down from asshole to asshole is right there on the internet, free for the taking. Do scenes even exist anymore, or is culture something to be devoured and assimilated before going on to newer things? Really, I have no idea. The only scene I’m looking at joining in the near future is the scene of dudes about to get their first prostate exam. I hope there’s someone experienced in the waiting room to instruct me on the finer points of having a gloved finger shoved up my butt.

White Dudes, Nobody Cares What You Think

14 Jan

Ever notice that many of the most ardent social progressives are young, single white guys? No matter what you do to get through your daily business, here’s ofay telling you that you’re doing it wrong. The food you eat is bad for you. The way you raise your children is wrong. The clothes you wear are evil because they disenfranchise some brown kids half a world away. There are alternatives, they tell us, in the form of sustainable, local wares that cost three times as much as the plastic-wrapped crap you get at K-Mart. But it’s all worth it! And you don’t have to give up anything, you can have all of your creature comfort treats and goodies. For example, you can eschew corporate ice cream for Bearded Know-It-All’s Iced Soy Milk, which tastes just as good. As piss-soaked snow.


It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that we in the Western world live pretty shittily. Why Professor Pothead has tasked himself with educating us, I have no idea. Because normally, socially-acclimated people don’t take advice from those on the fringes of society. I mean, you beanie cap-wearing weirdos think everything mainstream is wrong, that’s why you’re on the fringe. And now you want to tell me what shoes to wear? You opted out, buddy, the day you got that peace sign tattooed on your hand and decided to pierce your eyelids. It’s not about my prejudice, it’s about you living with the decisions you make. If you wanted to change the world for the better, then maybe you could have spent your college years learning about international politics or urban planning, or perhaps you could have gone and found work in a field other than dicking around on the guitar. You think tax laws are unjust, but you’ve never earned enough to necessitate paying taxes anyway. You act like you’ve got Phillip Morris by the balls because you roll your own cigarettes–friend, they own that tobacco, too.


You want to rail against Monsanto and tell yourself that shopping at thrift stores is more sustainable than Old Navy, be my guest. But no one is really checking for the opinions of surly white folks. Yeah, you’ve got seventy bucks for plastic shoes, but what you don’t have is two kids who need new shoes every year. What you don’t have is a mortgage, gainful employment, or the need to get regular haircuts. Your biggest concern is paying off your dealer. So perhaps as the Voice of a Generation, you fall a little flat. Maybe in ten years, when white people are actually a minority in America, we’ll listen to your pleas, if you have time to issue them in between finding work and keeping the lights on in your subsidized studio apartment. Come talk to me about Sri Lankan sweat shop workers after you get turned down at your twentieth job interview because the workplace has already filled their Mr. Charlie quota.

O Stalker, My Stalker

20 Dec

Used to be that stalking was hard work. It involved a lot of peering through high-powered binoculars and sifting through people’s garbage. You could follow someone to and from work every day for a week, and still not catch the details of their morning breakfast order from the McDonald’s drive-thru. Stalking was not for the faint of heart, or for the very sane. Mark Chapman lurked on Central Park West for three days before he saw an opportunity to shoot John Lennon. Three days of waiting, and there wasn’t even a brand new iPhone at the end of his loitering.


Nowadays, people throw the word “stalking” around like it’s harmless. And for the way it’s used today, which is to describe people who monitor others’ internet activity, perhaps it is. Because there’s no point in being stalked when you’re checking in to every location and uploading pictures of your family vacation for all to see. You’ve already done most of the work for a potential stalker. At one time, stalking burned up countless tanks of gas as creepy weirdos followed their targets incessantly to discern habitual movements. Now a stalker can sit on his fat ass munching Cheetos while you tell him and everyone else in the world what you’re doing all day long. It demeans the whole creepy voyeur community, quite frankly, and your claim to privacy rights seems a little disingenuous.


You see it about every other week, some rumor passed along facebook or twitter or what-have-you: a vague threat, cloaked in legal speak, about how the stuff you’ve posted is going to be repurposed for corporate number crunchers or outright sold to ad agencies. This is usually combined with a fake post or phony petition that will tell the dastardly powers-that-be how incensed we are to have our musings about Jersey Shore watched by White Devils. Friend, you’ve already given up the ghost. They had your number the day you registered to an e-mail address. Sure, you may be sharing your musings about rush hour traffic with your circle of approved friends, but that doesn’t exclude the people who run the freaking site. And it certainly doesn’t deter content aggregators from compiling whatever public information you do let loose for the perusal of every jilted lover and high school enemy that might do a google search for your name.


I think we’re too loose with the word “stalking.” If you’ve got an account at more than one social networking website, and you’re updating them frequently via your smartphone, then you can’t claim anyone is actually stalking you. They’re just reading the shit you’ve spewed into the ether. If you’re so paranoid that the people you’ve inconvenienced in your life and the corporations you hate are going to scrutinize your every move, then my advice is don’t fucking help them out with it. More than likely, the damage has already been done. Perhaps you should put in a little work, fake your own death and get plastic surgery so you can assume a new identity. Put in some effort like good stalkers used to do.

These Are the Crazies in Your Neighborhood

17 Dec

Back in my old neighborhood, there was a guy who lived in a private junkyard right next to an industrial launderer a few blocks from my house. He put together a makeshift shelter out of the body of an old Volkswagen Beetle and some dirty blue tarps. No one would have known he was there except that he had to make regular forays into the non-junkyard world to buy himself forty ounce bottles of Budweiser beer. Pass by the junkyard around ten o’clock in the morning, you’d hear the clanging of shifted metal as this guy hauled himself out of a scrap heap to panhandle. Pass by again around three in the afternoon, you might catch him shuffling back home through a hole in the fence, hauling a grocery bag laden with brown bottles of beer. I considered him a whacked-out wino, part of the natural scenery. He was only one of maybe two dozen drunken adults wandering thoroughfares from Main Street to Utopia Parkway in Flushing, Queens. You’d see them with their Army-issued field jackets and free t-shirts from various cigarette promotions, begging for change and openly drinking right next to the very bodegas that sold the brew.


And it wasn’t just my neighborhood, but every neighborhood I visited growing up. Times Square was littered with as many as a hundred stumbling, disheveled people, often sleeping openly right on the sidewalks. Friends’ suburban neighborhoods in Long Island each had their special crazies, often lurking around the local strip mall or panhandling at highway exit ramps. I called them bums, I called them drunks. I called them winos and homeless people and crazies. I paid them no more mind than a lamp post or a mailbox, these people were everywhere and I took it for granted that this is what society looks like. Where did they come from? How did they end up living in a small junkyard in Flushing? These were the kinds of questions I never asked. They may as well have been birthed right there in the gutter, weaned on cheap beer and raised by greasy rats.


Things are no better today. The homeless Vietnam Vets of my era have largely died off, to be replaced by homeless veterans from more recent conflicts. You’ve got junkies and schizos and people having loud conversations with antagonists visible only to them. There’s a guy who sits outside of my office and beats a stick against the bottom of a soup pot for hours at a time. You get used to them, let loose a little change here and there, but for the most part you blow by these people, since to stop and help everyone in need seems an insurmountable task. You might feel sympathetic, you might feel annoyed, but one thing people rarely think is that these people might be dangerous. What danger could a malnourished looney pose to a well-fed guy that’s got all his marbles? So we allow ourselves to become complacent.


Part of this complacency is borne, I think, of despair. What should we do for the mentally infirm? What can we do? We can lock them up and pump them full of Thorazine until their medical insurance runs out, then they’re back out in the wild. There are no miracle cures, no way to reason with someone who is perpetually hallucinating. We can intervene on our obsessive friends and family, we can commit our suicidal children, but there’s not a lot of help forthcoming for the strange dude lurking on the street. It’s assumed that there’s some dreary procedure in place to handle these outlying integers of society, but the fact is that there’s nothing satisfactory. Prisons end up picking up as much mental health slack as they can, and then only after someone has been convicted of a crime. Very often, that’s too late.


We live in a time that we can mitigate our anxieties with medication and indulge our narcissism in a therapist’s office. Many of us seem to accept the fact that modern life will drive you at least a little crazy. But why does this have to be the norm? Isn’t a society that drives you insane a failed society? And what about those without health insurance, do we accept them as regrettable casualties in the war to figure out what the hell we want to do with ourselves? Sadly, I have no answers, only more and more questions. Because the truth of the matter is that we’ve always had crazy people, and we’ve never known quite what to do with them. Maybe we should privatize mental health hospitals, make a business out of incarcerating the insane. But then I’d worry that I might ultimately be given a rubber room right next to yours.

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