Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Morning Benders' "Crosseyed"

I liked The Morning Benders the first time I heard them. When they were called the Shins.*

I hate the name the Shins, because it sounds like the word shingles. I don't really know what shingles is, but the disease in word and in concept creeps me out. Just like the bends. Creepy word. Creepy disease.

Well, I prefer the Morning Benders, because they don't abuse their girlfriends. Ooh... too low?

* apologies to David Spade

What Made Milwaukee Famous' "Resistance St."

Thanks Stereogum! This certainly won't be the last time I thank you.

Too bad this band is touring with Louis XIV. LXIV, I'm unfamiliar with your larger catalog of music, but I'd like my fist to be familiar with your face for that "Finding Out True Love Is Blind" hit from a few years ago. That song makes my left eye twitch with rage. No joke.

ESD #2: celebrity and new criticism

Today at Starbucks, I saw whom I thought was McNulty from "The Wire." [Later, a closer look proved otherwise.] My immediate reaction was, 'What's McNulty doing at Starbucks? He should be at the Capitol Coffee House, or better yet, at The 21st Amendment having a pint. Oh, wait, is he on the wagon again?'

I then recognized the absurdity of equating the attributes of a character with an actor. But I often struggle with separating the two.

I get this trait from my mother. The first time I recognized this was when watching "Apollo 13" with her. Upon seeing Ed Harris on the screen, she reacted, "Ooh, I can't stand this guy." Since he plays a hero in this film, I was taken aback. I then realized that she will never separate Harris from his philandering character in "Places in the Heart". This has since been proven by watching numerous other Harris films with my mother (he's quite prolific). Harris could play God himself, and my mother would respond, "There's just something not right about him."

The website Molly Good posted a hilariously pretentious goth video by Jared Leto's band "30 Seconds to Mars" with a comment something along the lines of, "this will nail the coffin shut on your crush on Jordan Catalano." So, so true. When I was fifteen, like so many 15-year-old girls, I thought I was Angela Chase from "My So-Called Life". And her crush Jordan Catalano was the epitome of every crush I had in high school. But since then, having seen Jared Leto and Claire Daines in various interviews and gossip websites, I can't watch the show without thinking, ' man, those two are a bunch of tools.'

And don't get me started on Kirsten Dunst. The list goes on and on.

Likewise with musicians. Today I heard that Conor Oberst is endorsing Obama, and my immediate reaction was to vote for Clinton. In this case, I know nothing about Oberst's personal life; I simply can't stand his music. I reason that if this man creates music I abhor, there must be something wrong with what he's endorsing.

Much has been written on the cult of celebrity/advertising and celebrity, and I won't attempt to add anything insightful here. This McNulty anecdote simply reinforces my feeling that a new critic approach to art, i.e., viewing the art without its creator, would suit me well--especially with art that's precious to me. If I had the foresight not to watch Leto's shitty video, I could think of Jordan Catalano sweetly singing "I Call Her Red" without picturing Leto in excessive eyeliner earnestly singing about "the battles of our youth."

Perhaps my hope in new criticism is naive, and I should embrace the complexity of art and its interaction with the creator and the consumer. I'll explore this more in a future post about Sufjan Stevens. But for now, if you hear that Sufjan kicks puppies and votes Republican, don't tell me, OK? I'd prefer to remain blissfully ignorant.

eat shit and die (ESD) #1: the origin

My posts tagged "eat shit and die" are records of random daily occurrences/musings that I may use in future essays and fictional writing. The name comes from an experience I had this afternoon.

A running joke between my husband and me is that when we walk by someone speaking a language not easily identifiable, one of us will say, "I hate it when people speak made up languages." I know, I know. It's not funny. It's kind of racist. But aren't a lot of jokes shared between close friends?

Today, I walked by a woman whom I judged to be speaking some Slavic language my husband and I would normally classify as "made up". In our defense, we're generally discerning with languages. I can usually recognize Russian or Ukrainian, but this woman was speaking neither.

Speaking on her cell phone, what I heard was "moshee mosh mosh nadjyoo madjkee EAT SHIT AND DIE moshee mosh mosh." It pains me that I know neither the true context of her conversation, nor how she came to learn this phrase. I like to think that she doesn't speak English, but upon moving to the States, decided to learn one terribly cruel English insult, to be used in dramatic moments like this.

LCD Soundsystem's "All My Friends"

I'm about a year late in discovering this song. I will honestly listen to this song on repeat for a half hour, and it never gets old to me. I suspect it contains subliminal messages that prompt this action. I hold this same suspicion for the movie "Donnie Darko". Seriously, the second Gary Jules finishes his haunting cover of "Mad World", I'm rewinding that shit and watching it again--why? WHY???

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

latent, vitriol, nascent

Word: latent
The context in which I most recently heard/saw it used: NY Magazine's post, "Fans of Latent Racism Rejoice: 'Crash' Gets Its Own TV Show!"
Meaning in the aforementioned context: present, but not realized
Potential future use of the word: I used it in this post: "[Method Man]... fears his sitcom is permeated with latent racism..."
Other thoughts on the word: I love NY Magazine. I read its blog daily. The comments are usually likewise enjoyable. I finally mustered the courage to comment on the site, in response to the aforementioned article. I was ripped to shreds. It's not good for the ego--especially since I was commenting on racism, a subject I regularly address on this blog. One of the commenters used a great word, which leads me to...

Word: vitriol
The context in which I most recently heard/saw it used: Comment to the aforementioned NY Magazine post: "I've never understood the vitriol directed toward 'Crash'."
Meaning in the aforementioned context: something highly caustic or severe in effect, as criticism
Potential future use of the word: "I don't understand how NY Magazine's commenters can direct such vitriol to my humble reflections on racism and allegory in the movie 'Crash'."

You may read the comments exchange here. You'll note that even the editor subtly shot down my comments, by labeling "Editor's Pick" to all comments except mine. One day I'll brave the comments section again. One day.

Researching the word 'latent' made me realize I have always confused it with the word...

Word: nascent
Most common meaning: emerging, in development
Potential future use of the word: I am a nascent commenter on NY Magazine's blog whose wit and insight will soon astonish the editors, such that all future comments will guarantee an "Editor's Pick" distinction.

In a room full of crackers, I might cut the cheese

In these short essays, I reflect on how a lyric from the Wu-Tang Clan album "The W" speaks to my personal experience.

On being the minority.

As compared with an African-American male who grew up in the Park Hill public housing complex in Shaolin Staten Island, my life could fairly be judged as privileged and sheltered. I was raised and educated in communities where the majority of people looked like me, talked like me, whose parents looked like my parents, whose house looked like my house. I have rarely been the minority--rarely felt like the "Other". In the few situations where I have been the minority, my status generally is derived from one of the following qualities:

I am a woman.
I am white.
I am politically liberal.

When faced with my minority status, I am often surprised by my instinctual response, which could be typified as anxious, unreasonable, absurd or a combination of the three. Allow me to be illustrate.

I am a woman. Due to the subjects I have studied, in academic settings I have often been one of few women. In high school, I was the only girl competing in math competitions; in college, I took male-dominated Economics classes; and now I study Urban Planning, a field predominantly consisting of men.

I recently started a new Urban Planning course, and on the first day of class, was one of the first students to arrive. As each new student walked into the room, I was surprised to note that every other student was male. I was further surprised by my reaction to this fact. With every new student, my anxiety increased--yet it was not a reasonable anxiety, like the burden of offering a female perspective on sociological discussions regarding urban life. On the contrary, I had a primal fear that perhaps these men might physically harm me. It is absurd, but I honestly considered the possibility that there is an unspoken rule between men that in a situation with only one woman, they could abuse her in secret. Fortunately, this anxiety was fleeting. Oddly, I never felt this anxiety when I traveled for work in rural Latin America. I was often the only woman in meetings in a warehouse of a farm surrounded by twenty or so bare-chested indigenous men. Feminists and cultural anthropologists would certainly offer words on my anxiety and the contrasting situations, but let us move on.

I am white. Currently living in a predominantly African-American neighborhood, I am often the minority. It is so common, that I am rarely aware of it; in fact, I am more aware of situations where there are no African-Americans (which, for the most part, is any time I leave my neighborhood). A recent night in Davis Square, Somerville, saw me repeatedly realize that the entire population of the bowling alley/pizza shop/subway was white. I worried that I might be perceived as participating in some sort of segregationist conspiracy. In hindsight, I see that I hold majority-related anxiety, as well.

Some friends and I were the only white people watching the Super Bowl in a bar down the street from my house. As Tom Petty performed the halftime show, my reaction was the same as the rest of the patrons: do white people really listen to this shit? I then realized, yes, white people do listen to this shit, and in fact, I am white, I own a Tom Petty album, and I know every word of the songs he is performing. At this moment, I started to sing. In the spirit of cultural understanding, I feigned enthusiasm so on-lookers might think, Oh, I guess they do like this.

I am politically liberal. I live in Boston, a politically charged town. Shared liberal values prevail, so much so that it is rarely rude to discuss politics with strangers. I often take this for granted, as I was reminded during a recent trip to my hometown in suburban Philadelphia, when I was asked "So, how does it feel being the only conservative in Taxachusetts?"

I naively thought that Urban Planning students would likewise be politically liberal; in fact, before I entered my program, I assumed that the majority of students would be liberal do-gooders like me who dream of cities full of mixed-use housing, eco-friendly transportation, bike and walking paths, independent retailers and strong community participation.

With the risk of oversimplifying, I have found that many Urban Planning students are technocrats more interested in unbridled economic growth and strong highway systems and less interested in equity issues related to the distribution of public goods. Further, as one professor expressed to me, many students are hostile to the history and analysis of planning theory and practice.

My naive assumption that I was part of the majority of liberally-minded students was shattered during an exchange with a fellow student in a recent class, summarized below.

Conservative Classmate: I don't want my tax dollars paying for public transit. I don't use it. Transportation isn't a right.
Me: That's the same reasoning used when taxpayers claim that education is not a right, so why should they pay for a school if they don't have kids? All schools should privatize and force parents to pay for their children's education.
Conservative Classmate: That's a good idea. Have you seen Boston Public Schools?
Me: [Blink, blink]
Me: Have you seen YOUR FACE?
Class: [erupting in laughter over my witty retort]

In fact, there was no retort, neither witty nor juvenile. I was stunned, and responded with what could best be described as a whimper.

Upon reflecting on my own minority status, I appreciate Method Man's "Redbull" lyric: "In a room full of crackers, I might cut the cheese." Here he describes a situation where he is the minority, and acts in a way that does not neatly fall into the categories of fight or flight.

Examining the lyric in its figurative sense, if Method Man were the only African-American in a room full of crackers, i.e., white people, he might react with flatulence. It is reasonable to judge this as a hostile action, i.e., fart as fight*, but I argue against this. First, because Method Man generally shows little hostility to any one group of people. His avid weed habit also contributes to his general affability. Second, considering the lyric in its literal sense, we perceive a "when life gives you lemons..." scenario. If offered a Wheat Thin, Method Man might spread some brie on it.

Considering both the figurative and literal interpretations together, we imagine Method Man at a ritzy cocktail party attended by no people of color, feeling mixed emotions. For the sake of illustration, let us consider a gathering with Fox executives to celebrate the sure success of his upcoming sitcom "Method and Red". He fears his sitcom is permeated with latent racism; he feels the outsider in a room with no people of shared race and background; he appreciates the smoky aftertaste of the gouda. Faced with a challenging situation, Method Man "lets one rip" while slicing the swiss.

In these two actions, I believe that Method Man has found a graceful balance of resignation, thoughtfulness, understanding and absurdity necessary for dealing with one's outsider status. I am unsure how to mimic this action in my own life. In a room full of neo-cons, I might increase welfare spending? It lacks the literary acumen of Method Man's lyric.

* With apologies to Dave Barry, I might suggest Fart as Fight as an excellent name for a band.