Wednesday, September 1, 2010

thoughts on nostalgia

After the occurrence of Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally, a friend of mine asked me a few passing questions on the subject of political nostalgia, both commenting on how vague it was and questioning whether it pined for a time that may never have existed in the first place. Below is my response:


recognizing the importance on the topic of nostalgia, I spent about 4 hours the other day just trying to put together some semblance of thoughts on the matter and I utterly failed. thus the wait. I came back to it now and for some reason could put together my mini-thesis on the subject, but I'm interested to hear if this is what you're already thinking on the matter, or if you disagree in any way.

Nostalgia as I understand it represents a kind of homesickness in terms of time, and it does not really serve as a respectable political feeling except among those people who share the feeling. For the people that don't feel it, it is only too easy that it should come off as foolish. Like any other emotional response, I think there is something reasonable about this reaction to the present political moment, but it is obviously a dangerous game to take seriously the nostalgia of the Tea-party when it is being led by a radical like Beck. The people may not really be as bad as that, but because there is no official party agenda, we don't know what policies or changes can actually be expected from this rag-tag bunch of political newbies.

But more to your interests, arguably, the homesickness suggests that something in reality has changed - if nothing more than that we feel more uncomfortable or unhappier now than in the past. The effects of the financial crisis is only the most obvious example that much has changed for America recently. But like you mentioned, there is also a sense in which nostalgia can occur without any basis in real change. One of the most common examples of it would be the idea that those long lost comfortable feelings never existed in the first place, or at least that they've been idealized to such an extent that we convince ourselves that we have really gone astray. It would not be the first time that people willingly deceive themselves for certain political ends. Furthermore, part of nostalgia may involve fomenting discontent, where there need not be any - you get people believing they are worse off now than the past.

That explanation of nostalgia does present a real danger for politics, but i worry that it makes the people who feel nostalgia out to be either really dumb or really sinister, like some great conspiracy against logic and reason which has aimed at construing history to their own ends. I've become more pessimistic about human nature, but still I'm more interested in exploring other possible explanations than the basest possible interpretations. One other interpretation might be that it is us that has changed, and not the situation itself - like when we attempt our return only to realize that it no longer feels like home.

Nostalgia is also so vague as to be really unproductive - in fact, it has a tendency to produce simplistic responses to complex questions. And maybe that simplicity makes it even more desirable in an age when American politics exists on a massive scale, must consider multiple international factors, and at a moment when the influence of America is waning and even we are feeling lost without the polarization of distinct national powers. We're not quite sure of the way forward, so there is a strong desire to go back; unfortunately, politics is more like a flowing river than a path that we get to wander at our own pace - and you can never step into the same river twice. The best example of this I can think of is the sense in which the continued growth of the American economy since WWII was supported by the expansion of business into the realm of financial speculation and supported by the expansion of credit markets to more and more consumers. The real problem with nostalgia in this instance comes from the idea that going back to a simpler time of "fiscal responsibility" is simply not possible without wrecking the foundation for economic growth. In this solution especially, the way back is not a viable way forward.

That doesn't mean nostalgie is not sometimes a legitimate political emotion. Like anger or hope, it is subject to dangers of being turned to poorly conceived or meaningless ends. We just have to figure out how to turn it to the most effective ends.

There - take that! haha...i'll never get the thesis done at this rate...


p.s. grooveshark exists in the US. yessss....

9/1/2010, 12:53 a.m.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I'm mad as hell, and I don't know what to do about it

"Network" is as compelling a piece of heavy-handed, melodramatic film as has ever been created. The last line of the film upon Howard Beale's death - "the first known instance of a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings" - is as clear a revelation as any that the film is largely a joke. It is satire, or it has to be, in order for us to stomach it. Yet I find myself more struck by the film's prescience every time I see it:

the logic of anxiety, as in I'm not saying anything for certain, but I'm not denying that there may be a connection
the great success of Howard Beale's model of the modern American patriot, televangelist, and media-man-gone-mad
the peddling of fear and panophobia in a hybridized media-politic
the tracing of money trails toward suspect foreign interests
the muddling of entertainment and news
the dissemination of and belief in lies based on the most paranoid, conspiratorial and tabloid-worthy title
the importance of vox populi which propagates injustice in the pursuit of populism
the gospel of unmitigated globalization as the model for world peace
the lament over the loss of the individual
the TV generation who is incapable of emotion or ethics
the disbelief in democracy and the incapacity to acknowledge it
the latest development in great and aimless rage of American politics
the suspicion of systemic corruption which touches every level of human life
the media who cuddled the masses in their nostalgic blanket

All these stand as general trends which can be extrapolated from the film's plotline, characters and context. But there is at least one moral that could be taken from this variety show of ideas: that the intersection of media and capitalism has an ideology which will destroy human life. The business of media is vying for this kind of ecstatic attention, much like any business, and it will drive not just the newspeople mad, but every last one of us.

Yet the scapegoat is too simple. And the film's propaganda itself is not entirely pure: it also suggests a number of troubling questions which counteract this agenda. Are things worse now than they've ever been? Are we all just watching the world through our tubes; do we want to just be left alone? Or are we so decadent as to believe only what gets our attention, namely our worst nightmares? When the people no longer believe that, it will quickly throw it under the bus just to keep us buying. For example, the story seems to reassure us of at least one character who is sane in this mad mad mad mad mad mad world, Max Schumacher, the ex-producer of this corrupted news program and once friend of Beale, who has left the arctic TV programming queen, Diana Christensen, to return to his wife because he believes in love and human dignity and all these romantic things...yet it all seems to substitute one more madness for the last. There is no easy return to romanticism. Nothing can save us from this satire.

So how was this film - an exaggeratedly acted soap-opera and cynical satire of contemporary life - handed 4 Oscars and a host of other awards and nominations? Does it deserve applause for prematurely pronouncing the flaws of our time, or for adding to the apocalyptic visions of our "most advanced" form of human life? As I said, upon seeing it again tonight, I found the film incredibly heavy-handed in its critique, but artful in a way that kept me watching in even its most ludicrous moments. At the very least, this should say a little something about defining the divide between good and bad art: maybe the line is as crooked as a criminal, or maybe it is not there at all.

8.25.2010, 1:39 am

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"A world without suffering - how is it possible?"

We need to continue to find ways of recognizing the meaning of suffering in the world. These theodicies are the only things that can help us cope with the ever-present existence and constant eruption of suffering into our everyday, rational view of the world. This issue of "nihilism" seems to stem from a push to see a world that has no suffering - or the suggestion that we could in fact entirely eliminate suffering!

"A world without suffering - how is it possible?"

The obvious answer would be to amass such an amount of surplus value and material ends to the extent that one could never go hungry, receive illness, be harmed by anyone, or feel unhappiness or pain, etc., etc.. And initially this would seem to be a very great thing. But there is an even simpler way: rid yourself of all desires, values and meaning in this world and you will have all you ever want or need.

It is not insignificant that the achievement of the so-called "simpler" thing depends on one's ability to achieve the will of the monk. (And this would be the significant thing!) But when an entire culture of such ingenious "individuals" aims for the first and supposedly greater goal - as we do now - one must aim for the will of the ant.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Bjork - All is Full of Love

This video is not what it seems. Seven hints/pieces of advice for Bjork's All is Full of Love video. There might be more going on here - if you find anything new or different than me, then let me know.

(For clarity's sake, i'll refer to robot arms as "robots" and the humanoid robots as "fembots".)

Watch the video first - then see below.

  1. The film is running out backwards. (Provided we assume traditional rules of physics, all the fluids which appear in this video run in the opposite direction that they should.) This is the first key to understanding.

  2. But why are the mouths of the humanoid robots not singing in reverse then? Why do their words continue to match up with their mouths? The answer: this is either a memory or a dream about a memory.

  3. The robots who assemble our fembot here seemed, at first viewing, to do so lov(e)ingly. The scene turns sinister when we realize the real process that is plays out in reverse, that it was all alone and lights out for her at the beginning of this video.

  4. This is a stage that the fembot players are playing upon. Are they puppets? Or are they robot humanoid actors playing for us and all the other robots out there...?

  5. The final scene is a sex scene. This seems like one kinky play: let's start 'er out with some hot fembot lesbian sex and polish 'er off with some good old disassembly and death!

  6. What is the conversation in the bathroom about? I still can't figure it out. Something makes me think it has to do with some kind of rejection, such that the blue fembot is sent for disassembly. Help here?

  7. What incredible emotion expressed by these expressionless faces! No seriously, think about it. Robot drama is totally opposite than human drama - less emotion expressed is best. Considering that, these must be a two of the worst fembot actors known to humanoid robot-kind.