Category Archives: capitalism

Repair as rebellion

Making things is important. I believe strongly in Do-it-yourself and love creating things. My own hands on skills are improving every day and I feel like it is a conscious effort to be part of creating and repairing things in a throw-away society.

We are encouraged to throw away broken things and buy the replacement. We are taught to accept the constant cycle of consumer capitalism which teaches that we all lack and that buying things is the only way forward – and that those things are likely to break and we’ll have to repeat the cycle.

Most people I know aren’t pure vegan monks who make their own gruel by growing grain in their yard. Most people know that the system is rigged and have very legitimate primary emergencies for consuming. Inconsistency in this case is evidence of the ever-present nature of the problem – that there is no space free of consumer capitalism. Knowing that we are fucked isn’t all that helpful.

Enter Van Neistat who has successfully kickstarted a sort of autobiography of a self-styled repair man (conscious choice of Neistat). The first video I saw was about his stint as the repair person for a large museum installation that takes a more personal turn when the installation is moved to Berlin. Shout out to my homie JMORG who hipped me to this series.

There are other threads to be pursued in the area of repair as existential location to critique capitalism. (You could debate whether Van Neistat is doing this – I certainly am). Thomas Twaites work to create a toaster from scratch operates in similar terrain.

Both are theatrical ways to make visible just how far most people are away from repairing their own stuff. They also point out what it makes to construct or repair anything.

The downside of both projects is that they sort of idealize those brave (usually male) nostalgic figures who against-all-odds learn how to repair or build things. They make the work seem next-to impossible and don’t really invite other people to actually get their hands dirty. I also loathe the single dude genius trope. I rather like the idea of feminist and anti-racist maker spaces where young people learn by doing with a few old folks brought along.

In my current period learning about audio and electronics I’ve come to really appreciate those folks who came before me. Usually I like people who seem humble and invite you to experiment because they make it seem easy. One way is that they will usually joke about their own failings or seem accessible.

Look Mum No Computer comes to mind as the kind of goofy make it/ fake it energy that is inspiring. But I also appreciate Aaron Lanternman who made most of his Electronics for musicians university course available for people to teach themselves. And the amazing audiophool who is teaching a master class in the CMOS CD40106 intigrated circuit.

Alienation is the trick to subvert our powers of self expression and creativity. Combatting the overwhelming invitation to despair is hard some days. Learning to create, repair and make things can be a part of finding your own power.

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Into Another

Into Another are a New York City based post-hardcore band. I’ve seen them perform at least a dozen times and consider the band to be a light-year progression in American music. Here is why.

The NYC hardcore years and east coast hardcore were really fertile times. There was something proud about this organized movement of young musicians that were embodying a disruption to the musical genres that had previously constrained it. Hardcore was faster than punk at times, but could slow down to metallic chug-chug levels of thrash. Hardcore musicians were represented as bald, young and passionately creative. The politics were DIY, politically aware, working-class priced and relentelessly political. Youth of Today, Minor Threat, Bold and a couple hundred tiny bands that popped up inspired by this moment.

I came of age at the right time. I was blessed to be surrounded by music at all times and have a forgiving mom that didn’t mind me playing music and discovering my own music. I could play the Dead Kennedy’s in my room and the only boundary was the request that my Butthole Surfers sticker stay on my side of my bedroom door. The foundations had been laid by the time I discovered 7-Seconds at age 14 – there was a whole world of people my age who were making music and getting things done. Honestly, the DIY awareness that you could just do things and figure it out through force of will was a lesson that stuck with me to this day.

As fast as the new hardcore movement was opening up a chance for kids to find their voices and for people to get organized and make a difference, there were also threads that were discouraging. Sexism (particularly the exclusionary assumption that all of the music was written for, created by and performed to boys only), racism and white supremacy and some purity/hipster problems also plagued the hardcore movements. Straightedge, Krishna-influence and animal liberation were also early ideas that came along with the great music I was discovering. There was very limited internet in these days, conduits of knowledge are actually limited (you could miss stuff) – you had to mail order a punk rock band’s dubbed cassette from the back of Maximum RocknRoll.

Everything moved very fast. While I was in high school Minor Threat ceased to exist and Fugazi came to be. Youth of Today ended, and Judge, Underdog and eventually Shelter emerged. You could discover a band and they would break up and you’d never know until you saw an interview or the new project. Knowledge of music became really important. I started to seek out every record that certain labels released (notably Dischord and Revelation). Being broke didn’t deter my musical fiending. I worked part time jobs, borrowed money, traded, sold and got patient in hunting out music.

Into Another were on my radar screen before I saw them live. Any of the players who touched Youth of Today were absolute gold standard. My first year in college at UVM I had worked hard to get the privilege to DJ in the middle of the night on WRUV the independent college radio station. I beat out several other folks because I was focused on playing punk and hardcore music.

Sidenote: when you have to fill two hours of radio time, songs that are 30 seconds long are a disaster. My first night DJing on the radio I had a complete breakdown after playing every 45 I owned and becoming paralyzed on air with nothing to play after 24 minutes. My debate partner Lisa came down to the radio station and helped me out. My arrogance had been the assumption that I would just play what I already knew about – the wonders of a literal library of music (there was a whole room of jazz records lovingly curated by a crew of people at WRUV). I got my head around the radio station as an extension of my knowledge network (skimming the new releases, coming in and previewing new records in the production booth or just taking freestyle risks on air and playing something that looks cool – these were great joys I was just discovering).

I can see the first Revelation Into Another CD at WRUV. The front cover with the 11-pointed star has the white sticker that is covered with comments. The date scrawled in the corner and the review noting that members of Youth of Today and Bold are in the band. Then someone wrote that the record sucked and was pseudo-metal. Another defender wrote that the record was genius in terrible scrawl. The arguments on the CD label between radio station DJs was so heated that the plastic CD cover was cracked down the middle.

I played Into Another blind that night and I wasn’t that impressed. I was going to defend it because it was kind of good, but it wasn’t what I was expecting or used to from the genre. I had not yet understood just how pleasureable that was going to be. I remember thinking that I’d tape a copy of the radio station CD, but that the record didn’t warrent buying my own copy of the tape (I didn’t own a CD player until I was a sophomore in college).

That dubbed Into Another cassette travelled with me everywhere and grew on me. In the back of debate vans while everyone was sleeping I would listen to “Robot Whales” or “For Lack of a Better World” and think about the complexity of the world to a soundtrack that seemed one dimensional, but was starting to get tinged with reggae, jazz, blues, hip hop, metal and international music.

When I was a sophomore I made a cassette tape with Into Another‘s “Powered” and a couple of Underdog‘s “A lot to learn” at the front. I would get ridiculously over-amped for debate rounds listening to these songs in the hallway outside the rounds. When we won the Marist tournament, my debate partner Scud listened to one headphone of both songs before we won the final round.

Even when you knew that Underdog had the metal energy to get you adrenalized, there was a kind of humanity and complexity in the music. Underdog‘s lyrics were about loyalty, friendship, solidarity and sacrifice. But honstly, I had vague ideas of what Into Another were singing about most of the time. Not to mention the musicians were edging past the hardcore comfort zone with reggae and metal, consider Underdog‘s “Without Fear” a staple of my life in the 1990s.

When Into Another was coming to town to play at 242 Main Street, a few of us gathered together to see the band. I was sort of taken aback at how friendly they were. The first band member I met was Tony – a jolly friendly long hair who was sitting on the stoop of 242. We introduced ourselves, assuming he was a local that we didn’t know and we talked about the band for a while. We were really excited to meet some musical heroes and Tony was just as excited to meet fans who knew about his band.

Tony took us around back to meet Peter, Richie and Drew. Richie was really friendly and quick to talk about veganism, philosophy, and had a funny story about everybody. Drew looked like a rock star and was quiet – it wasn’t until he hit the stage that he really turned on. Richie committed to an interview for my little zine at the time and then the show started. I don’t remember who played with Into Another that night, but I don’t think it would matter.

The crowd at 242 became life-long Into Another fans that night. The band was an organic whole performing world-shifting rock and roll for a crowd of 25 people. Richie was funny and personable between songs and then would transition into serious singing (that was one of the knocks on Into Another for decades – was that the lead singer sang). But live, it was the crystalization of a humungous juggernaut machine behind that capable lead singer. Peter Moses brought this exceptional guitar tone and restraint. He plays a lot of stop-start polyrhythms on guitar, but also a lot of viscious metal riffs. Drew’s drumming is snare and tom-forward and complex. Perhaps one of the best martial breakdown drummers ever to play, he and Peter worked in concert to bludgeon audiences. Tony was the artist, grooving along with bass lines and fills that just worked to keep your head nodding. The ensemble could not be beat, and you had the sense that this band was at a higher level.

And they were the opposite of assholes. After the show, every person got a conversation and the sincere sense that they were leaving with new friends who happened to be the best band you’ve ever seen.

The next time the band was in town, the crowd was in the hundreds and the talent was next level. They played several tunes from the Creepy Eepy and destroyed the club. Despite being legit hardcore champions that night they found themselves crashing in our dorm rooms and eating pasta and broccoli I cooked in the communal kitchen with Richie and Drew helping. Tony crashed with my friend Rhymestyle Bob who made a life-long friend over vodka, Russian literature and metal guitar riffs. There was a kind of weird juxtaposition that this band looked, sounded and seemed like stars, but you had the sense that they were earnest DIY folks who crashed with grandmothers and college kids across the nation to make this band happen.

Bonding over veganism and hardcore, a lot of the conversations with Richie influenced my eventual Ph.D. dissertation about punk rock music and animal liberation. But you got conversations with Richie that happened while I was cooking green beans or while trying to get a tape recorder to work for an interview on the back of a loading dock. Richie is a solid intellectual who has forgrounded ethics – he also is just a funny dude who didn’t talk down to people.

There isn’t a great ending arc to this essay. Into Another struggled and despite releasing consistently top notch art and rocking shows world wide, they broke up after label difficulities. Beloved bass player Tony Bono died in the early 2000s and the world’s capacity for rocking shifted back a few notches. They have played a few reunion shows this decade and sound excellent albeit the absence of Tony.

If there was one thread that was consistent with Into Another was complexity. The band’s lyrics were complex, the music was complicated and the band was not a transparent youth-crew handcore legacy project. The band extended the ideas present and made something really quite new – the fact that people didn’t have the ears to appreciate what was recorded doesn’t diminish was was contributed. The band offer up a catalog of rocking riff-laden monsters, mental-health lamentation ballads, psych-rock trip-a-thons, tributes to lost friends, and daydreams of apocalyptic surveillance and control.

It is worth supporting the band with a bandcamp purchase – I recommend the whole catalog, but don’t sleep on the relatively recent “Omens” album.

We need spirit of fertile creativity embodied by Into Another now more than any time. The kind of oppressive bland culture which created the youth-crew positivity would be welcome right now. But so would the dissidents – the kids who can see something more and are willing to risk the mockery of their peers to make great art.

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Gamestop will be the single largest wealth distribution in United States History

Late in January 2021 the short stock squeeze on hedge funds by Reddit subforum r/Wallstreetbets became a national story. The primary narrative seemed to treat the conflict as a novelty story about the insights and cheek of the uninformed masses investing on their phones. This may be a risky prediction, but I think that next week the majority of Reddit investors will hold and the eventual consequences will result in the single largest wealth distribution in United States History.

Mohammed El-Erian writes a good summary of the showdown that is happening and the stakes for the large scale financiers in Bloomberg:

I’m not strong on translating business-speak, but I think he is saying that if the Gamestop shareholders continue to want to buy the stock (not just hold it) and some short purchases still need to be fulfilled, then the value of the stock could continue to rise. And that could wreck one or more of the money making jam boys on wall street.

A casual stroll through Reddit will give you some good examples of the palpable poor-vs-rich anger. Reading r/Wallstreetbets is fascinating for the insider language, the shared sense of purpose and the dual denigration of the community and pride for it’s newly-found capabilities.

Note that the subforum is called r/Wallstreetbets. There is another forum called r/stocks and hundreds of other Reddit investing subforums. The name of this forum betrays the gambling nature of the investment stories and the big wins and losses which make this story so attractive.

Here are a couple of screenshots from the forum with some particular linguistic and representational frames that are worth note. (They are also potentially offensive).

This is insider communication telling the story of the moment to themselves. The community is self-articulated as small-time investors, angry at large hedge funds. The participants seem mostly interested in making visible the disparities of the capitalist system. They call themselves “retards” and “autists” partially to obsure the notion that they are giving financial advice. The reference to apes is shared identity with Harambe the murdered ape imprisoned in the Cincinnati zoo.

They are almost always offering palliative advice. Everyone I know has experienced so much pain and suffering because of debt. Health care and education debt, extra-long work hours and exhaustion from a combination of an economic system that asks more and more from us while offering less of a safety net. The raw anger of the “guy who lives in his truck” and u/space-peanut can be felt. Their motivation is vengence – to not only hold, but to “buy the dip” to continue to invest in the stock for the purposes of enacting revenge for the damage already done by the capitalist system.

Buying the stock is getting harder and harder to do as the trading app Robinhood froze purchases and then throttled users to a single share per day on Friday. The realization that the company was preventing the movement from access to the stock (seemingly to protect the hedge funds) created enormous anger and a quick move to use those investing tools that allowed small investors to buy Gamestop stock.

I’m not alone in thinking that there is a showdown coming this next week, and the press will continue to talk about the inevitable run that will come when some of the larger stockholders sell the stock in order to recoup their now astronomic investments. But I’m not sure that many of the die-hards are going to do that. I think they “like the stock.”

Reading R/Wallstreetbets, one of the users whose posts zoomed to the top of the page is u/Deepfuckingvalue a user named Keith Gill. u/Deepfuckingvalue posts single images of his stock portfolio daily holding gamestop stock showing a 30-40 million dollar investment portfolio. It is a persuasive representation of the enthusiastic rewards for this kind of clubhouse community of seemingly-irrational investors. Watching Gill’s youtube video explaining why he thinks you should buy Gamestop is rational, persuasive and prescient.

U/Deepfuckingvalue argues that Gamestop is likely to stick around because people will shop there and the store will make money. He defends against digital video-game purchases, articulates management changes and basically does wonky due diligence. Around 39 minutes they begin forecasting what the stock might do if people invest. Worth a watch.

Note that this video is from July. The reddit folks who were hipped into this moment have had six months to slip into a few Gamestop shares at prices from four bucks to above four hundred bucks. Quite a few users on the forum have presented their spreadsheets of gamestop changes showing hundreds of thousands of dollars of gains and a shared enthusasm to hold the stock.

I think that a few folks will sell a few shares to get some cash to pay bills or floss their new found wealth. But I bet that the majority of folks will keep the majority of their shares. Others, excited to be part of the community of Gamestop stock owners will be ready to buy the stock even at the inflated price because it comes with a lot of extra value from the moment. But I think they are thinking that they will get to own a long-standing business in their community, not stock that they’ll sell when it is convenient.

I think that that individual investors will continue to seek out nostalgic businesses that have been marked for decline by hedge funds. AMC and Bed Bath and Beyond appear to be part of this redemption story because they hit the sweet spot of businesses that people want to defend from destruction and because they have been shorted by hedge funds.

This may point to a kind of crowd-funded community development opportunities. In the past most small investors have been sway to the moves of the market. If your local grocery store went out of business you might have to drive 45 miles to shop somewhere else. The ability to quickly invest money to keep businesses afloat because we need them hasn’t been available before this. I wonder if the abiliy to save a few chain corporations from bankruptcy will make a dramatic difference, but it is an interesting change in presumed power and maybe it will prevent a few food deserts.

But we also are going to see a huge series of changes from this moment because a couple of billion dollars is moving from hedge funds to a lot of previously-small scale investors in Gamestop. These Gamestop millionaires are going to going to make a big impact in the financial and cultural moment of 2021.

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Axe and misogyny: They view it as a war to defend white supremacy

On January 6, supporters of the sitting president of the United States attacked the United States capitol and rioted inside the building. The stories, images and fallout are all visible and well documented. Here is how I understand that we got here:

In the 80s, republican operatives, mapping demographic changes and voting assumptions began to see rising numbers of people of color as a threat to the electoral power that they had held. Billionare conservatives started funding very specific media sources (Breitbart, Fox News, Daily Caller) to make money from a new market – white people who could be made angry about changes for justice in order to create an enthusastic white supremacist voting block to keep republicans in power.

In their mind, there were just a few short decades to go until the showdown, so they strategized in a couple of very focused ways to ensure that conservative business leaders could resist.

  1. They funded, fostered, nurtured white anger against people of color at every opportunity. Using the axis of race, right wing journalists could re-articulate crushing poverty as the fault of the gains of people of color. It was the Southern Strategy on steroids.
  2. They invested heavily in controlling the courts. Federalist society, nurturing young conservatives, scholarships, mentorship, and guidance to create targeted young right wing ideologues ready to carry the white supremacist mission long after they are dead.
  3. They worked hard to win state legislatures, and use gerrymandering to minimize the power of voters that didn’t vote republican.
  4. They succeeded in establishing a relationships to politicize videogame players and an emerging online troll culture to embrace the symbols of white supremacy with ease and comfort.
  5. They absorbed / hijacked the Republican party in the 2010s and reassured the traditional elements of that coalition that the gains in power would be worth the harm to the nation. Corporate donors, philanthropists, government agencies, and many others became complicit in a full-fledged white supremacist government structure working under the Trump administration to do active harm to people of color at almost every turn.

Here is where we often get it twisted. The justifications and explanations for each of these activist strategies are fairly well documented. The key question is how do a small number of very privileged republican organizers spin this strategy? What do they specifically say and to who – these questions can be part of the educational work to innoculate future fascist moments. In this case, the narrative of white supremacy was the only communiciation strong enough to push working class white people to harm people of color and it was buoyed by hatred of women and an anger at lack of white solidarity.

There are a lot of issues of accountability that will be navigated in the next few weeks. Criminal charges for those who killed a cop, resignations from those leaders who are identifed as responsible (or those who are scapegoated). And this rupture will open the space for new policies that will often have profoundly negative implications for people of color, poor people, women and disadvantaged folks (increased surveillance, new anti-terrorism laws, policing in communities of color etc). To rush into policy-making without reflection is a terrible path forward.

We should take stock of the recuperation efforts. Examine those who played a role, or had been connected to the violence and some-how are attempting to detatch themselves. We should be asking how the invitation was framed such that it made sense to so many people. But finding access points is important.

My first off note about this was Strava – the bike riding app told me that it didn’t support the insurrection against the US government and weren’t cop killers in an announcement at the top of the app. Well yeah . . . you are supposed to be an app that tracks my cycling miles, I hadn’t honestly assumed that you were in favor of a violent overthrow of the government by Nazis and their allies.

“What we saw in the US Capitol this week was the antithesis of what Strava stands for,” the letter read. “It was internal terrorism and we denounced it. Whatever the limits or flaws our democracy may have, we believe that we must protect it. ”

“This is not about politics. These are fundamental principles in which we deeply believe: treat ALL people with decency, respect and fairness ”. says the letter. “When you joined Strava, you joined a global community of athletes who are in line with our community standards: respect each other, respect the rules, and be inclusive and anti-racist.” (Sidenote: it looks like Strava disappeared this note almost as soon as it was made. The only reference I can find to this quote is from a weird fitness webpage that is giving me fascist vibes . . .)

We can probably distinguish those corporations who took a serious loss from their de-platforming of Donald Trump from those who chose the moment to try to forward their brand. In this case, we are talking about a corporation that commented on the attacks either for their own gain or to protect themselves from public relations losses.

Axe Body Spray for instance.

Axe Body spray is the worst. Not only in aroma, but in the toxic sexist rape culture advertising that has been marked, mocked and mapped. I’m not surprised that Axe body spray had to respond – they must know that the bogus entitlement to sex because you sprayed yourself down with duck urine is tied to the entitlement of those who tried to murder Nancy Pelosi.

“We’d rather be lonely” is the most minimizing and trivializing read on the events of January 6. To understand that Axe would go without their body spray rather than be affiliated with the murderous nazis and that they still have time to indicate that it would make them lonely is grotesque. They still want you to know that if you don’t wear Axe Body Spray you won’t get laid . . . Axe sells entitlement and in this case, a multinational corporation’s PR team put it clearly that this one was too far (but all the other normal entitled crap will continue).

I think that whoever run’s Axe’s twitter handle might not get the depth of this moment. But then again neither did the men who came to DC to murder uppity women. For instance Cleveland Grover Meredith Jr. The investigating report indicates that he voluntarily showed Federal agents text messages planning to kill Speaker Pelosi.

“How much u give me to go trench the Capital lawn with ma big truk?” The other participant wrote, “Don’t do it.” MEREDITH replied, “I’m gonna run that CUNT Pelosi over while she chews on her gums.” Later in the conversation, MEREDITH wrote, “Dead Bitch Walking. I predict that within 12 days, many in our country will die.” (https://extremism.gwu.edu/sites/g/files/zaxdzs2191/f/Cleveland%20Grover%20Meredith%20Statement%20of%20Facts.pdf)

Misogynistic slurs have been uncovered and amplified in the quotes of those who drove to the capital heavily armed with a desire to do harm. The centrality of violence against women is really tied to the logic of the transgression of violating the capitol. The goal was similar to the early 1900s strategies of faux-assasination communications attentat – to illustrate the potential for somene to be harmed. To illustrate that a president or a king can be reached and to strike fear.

We could also examine this from the perspective of the domestic violence literature. Understanding the power and control wheel and the transgression of safe spaces to induce terror. Abusers will communicate in many small ways that the abused is not safe – including by invading previously safe space to communicate disempowerment.

There was no way to understand the photos of the dude with his feet up on the desk outside Speaker Pelosi’s office and his initial encounters with the press documenting his take on the event. Barnett is his name and we can match the entitlement and joy in transgressing with is deep hatred of a powerful woman.

BARNETT states “I did not steal it. I bled on it because they were macing me and I couldn’t fucking see so I figured I am in her office. I got blood on her office. I put a quarter on her desk even though she ain’t fucking worth it. And I left her a note on her deskthat says “Nancy, Bigo was here, you Bitch.” (https://extremism.gwu.edu/sites/g/files/zaxdzs2191/f/Richard%20Barnett%20Statement%20of%20Facts_0.pdf)

Donald Trump has articulated the hurt done to white men in several divisive ways, but the deeply sexist and racist framings he has presented seem to have tracked well with the people who showed up to do harm on January 6.

Challenging white supremacy means contesting the common-sense nature of the dialogue. Fragmented social media (where people can bury themselves in media which affirms their point of view) has reached a point of insulation – where it can protect harmful ideas from critique. This means that unpacking white supremacist (ill)logic means navigating the ways that sexism and racism co-create this moment of deep entitlement and violence.

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“Either unmarked or engraved, hey, who’s to say?” MF DOOM

It is hard to fathom the loss of DOOM (editing note – “all caps when you spell the man’s name”). I listened to a lot of MF DOOM and spent quite a few hours discussing, debating and analyzing his lyrics. I can’t capture the depth and weirdnesss of thoughts about DOOM in a single post – every time I sit down to outline this post I get a gigantic spider web of entwined themes.

Black america, slang, diaspora reflections, coded language in hip hop, sample choices, mocking, survivorship, graffiti, families, drugs and alcohol, masking, comic books, representation, sex, communication strategies and a million other threads travel through DOOM lyrics. All you can really do is pull some of those strings and hope that they spark meaningful thoughts.

So maybe we start with the fact that DOOM wrote about his death, his legacy and the fragile nature of human existence in his first song as DOOM.

Daniel Dumile emerged in the NYC hip hop sphere as MF DOOM for the potent first album Operation: Doomsday with the support of Bobbito Garcia and his indie record label Fondle ‘Em. Although Dumile had rhymed with KMD, this was a new incarnation for the artist with a new mask, lyrical style and stylized representation as a villain – exhaggerating every hip hop trope with double and triple entendres.

“On Doomsday/ ever since the womb/ ‘Til I’m back where my brother went, that’s what my tomb will say/ Right above my government: Dumile/ Either unmarked or engraved, hey, who’s to say?”

MF DOOM “Doomsday” from Operation: Doomsday.

Dumile’s brother Subroc was killed in a car accident the same week that his band KMD was dropped from Elektra shelving their second album Black Bastards. The band was fired because of the album cover art presenting the hanging of a Sambo character – symbolizing the birth of a new Afro-centric Black man who refused to perform demeaning roles. Cue Dante Ross.

How do you make art out of this kind of stuff? DOOM is honest about his own upcoming death in the chorus, then he names the stakes. It has been DOOM’s day (centered on him) and also a apocalypse/catastrophe (doomsday) from his birth until his death. His tomb might be engraved (famous) or he may finish his run on this earth as an un-acknowledged anonymous dead person but he is going to work.

It is a weird thing to put in the middle of your comeback/vengence album. But for DOOM life and death never seem all that far apart. This is the opening track (after the intro skit) an honored place in the hip hop album – the centerpiece to tell a consumer if they should buy the album. It might seem morbid, but this is life and death stuff and that crucible produces amazing art.

Doom reports that he made the album while semi-homeless, sleeping on couches, battling doubt and an industry that didn’t understand or like him. Which forced a very intimate album. The samples are friendly (if you like 80s and 90s RnB – DOOM and his friend’s limited record collections) and looped with careful MPC skill by the masked villain himself (as he writes in “Operation: Greenbacks” he owns the crown in “microphone, beats or the wheeles of steel”).

For me this song presents a declaration of his rebirth into a new world of DOOM. The song is an invitation to understand an artist’s use of the medium of hip hop to embody his own will to re-define and rearticulate himself. From a traumatized rejected creative artist who had tried to do the right thing (KMD) to a retaliatory bad-man who was beloved and could also pay his electric bill. That transformation came through intention, lyricism, imagination and the follow-through to make something happen.

We can imagine the tomb as an end piece – the final resting place – but we can also understand the tomb as a transition between worlds. Most mystery cults (and the saccharine descendants like the masons) use simulated burial, re-birth and re-naming as ritual symbols marking a person’s change by committing to the worldview.

In similar ways the end of KMD, ending of intimacy (you don’t get to see DOOM’s face after this) and the death of Dumile’s brother come to a focal point in this song’s chorus. Like a mystery cult burying an initiate in a stylized coffin suffused in incense and low lighting only to have them emerge reborn and shrouded in a new costume and given a new name.

For the comic book loving Dumile, it is also the birth of every significant bad guy character. It is Doctor Doom from the Fantastic Four comic book crafting his metal mask, studying esoteric magic and creating the character to plague the comic book heroes. It is a great story arc for an artist and Dumile could foster a literal mask to keep the public just far enough away from the actual pain while still talking explicitly about how much he missed his brother and was still angry at the journalists and record labels that had ruined he and his brother’s career.

The new DOOM, clad in the metal mask is ready to make fun of the goody goody rappers like KMD. Not only that, he wants their money, the credit and the praise. In his mini Jeopardy segment in the song, DOOM chooses the category “Means to the end” – he will do what needs to be done to get the money. He is “Bound to go three Plat / Came to destroy rap.”

Emerging as a villain from the tomb had to be liberating – and DOOM is free to drive off with sexy women, brag about his toughness in jail, mock the current so-called tough guy rappers and play with verbal expression without any limitations other than being the best. And that is what made him a villain in their eyes — and a hero in ours.

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Ghostfacemas 2020: the conservative discourse of the Ghostface Killah

Some decades ago I began celebrating December 26th as Ghostfacemas – at the time it seemed like a good pun on Boxing day.

But the annual return to the emblematic and lyrically gifted emcee is a good chance to think about Ghostface Killah in the current moment. It seems as though the hip hop of Wu-Tang golden era through the 2000s offered creativity and unlimited opporunities for growth. If you were talented, relentless and willing to match the moment then the world was your oyster. Cue the Wu Wear documentary.

Artists could make a living by spitting aggressive disrespectful bars spotlighted in videos of New York backstreets and bodegas made by friends, cousins and sycophants. I watched the RZA centered Wu-Tang: An American Saga which offers up the early years of the Wu-Tang conglomorate in glacial formation. The series has ended with the crew on the verge of what we know is industry-wide revolution.

In this series the Ghostface character comes across as heartfelt and desperate. A debonaire loyal friend with the need to earn money to support disabled siblings and a drunk mom. For those of us who spent years trying to decode Wu-Tang slang by rewinding the CD, the show was a revelation – background characters and stories come into visibility through memorized Wu-Tang lyrics. And then it all stops.

Amazing emcees with historic catalog of genre-defining tunes who get the veteran musician documentary treatment can still disappear (Ghostface Killah’s most recent album Ghostface Killahs charted at 25 on Billboard top 100, this video has a little more than 100,000 views).

I think that this experience of being squeezed out has guided Ghostface Killah to a more conservative discourse. The rhymes are crisp with clever inventive word choice (“My moms never knew she was nursin’ a wolf/And I wrote this on 9/11 covered in soot”) and the now-pattented rhymeflow that can only be Ghostface Killah (or Action Bronson).

But the subject matter is old. Guns, home invasions, objectification of women, liquor brands, fashion label, and the relentless juxtaposition of upper class symbiology brought to lower class contexts. I loved this from Ghostface Killah in the 1990s, but today it seems nostalgic and out-of-date. The fact that Ghostface created some of the most significant home-invasion fables of all hip hop history probably leads him to lean on this genre when it comes to 2019 recordings, but I find myself longing for a little more from Ghostface.

The other part that seems old is the use of the anti-gay slur “faggot” in a 2019 record. The last 30 years have been a significant period of culture change in hip hop. Hateful language and insulting slurs were the norm in hip hop and over the course of a few decades things have changed. The genre itself has opened, and the artists who record hip hop music select from a wider genre of symbols and narratives. There are quite a few hip hop artists who present a kind of repudiation of the traditional masculinity of hip hop (Lil Yaghty, Future, Young Thug).

The battle for the soul of hip hop can be understood as attempts of gender policing (Sean Price’s anger at emcees wearing tight pants). The small symbols and language of inclusion (and lessening of hateful language) should be understood as a genre discussing teaching, evolving and learning from itself. Careful observers of hip hop can map lyrical choices of emcees to understand how the discourse of the genre evolves over time.

Conservative hip hop vocalists might veer back into the gender policing of men in hip hop in order to dip into the well of hip hop authenticity. This is a tactic to identify who is real and who isn’t. But the cost is too great – the community of those who are comfortable with hateful slurs isn’t real hip hop – it is casual gate-keeping to create an artifical community that nurtures bigotry.

To understand the multiplicity of Ghostface Killer discourse should be a semester-long university course. The contributions of an artist who should be honored and critiqued in equal measure. Which is how we move forward into Ghostfacemas this year – critical, optimistic and savvy about the possibility that the next year might disappoint.

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Juxtaposition: Marvel donates to the president campaigns

Artifact 1: Goldmacher & Schorey, “Trump Campaign’s $63 Million Dwarfed by Biden’s $177 Million.” New York Times, October 20, 2020.

Artifact 2: Maddeus “‘Avengers’ Stars Encourage Fans to Vote Blue During Biden Fundraiser” Variety. October 20, 2020.

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Information literacy as self defense: COVID-19 edition

The election of 2016 marked an deep downward pull for American democratic traditions. After the election the institutions that make up government became under attack by the President and the cabinet members. Each American agency seems to have been sapped of leadership, undercut, and in many cases, the people working at the State Department or the NEH found themselves directed to work 180 degrees opposite the purpose of the agency. The Environmental Protection Agency for instance:

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, said he was freeing oil and gas companies from “burdensome and ineffective regulations.” By rolling back an Obama-era policy designed to curb gas leaks at pipelines and wells, the EPA administrator was essentially giving energy companies the go-ahead to release much more climate-warming methane into the atmosphere.

MSN – https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/another-giveaway-to-polluters-from-the-trump-epa/ar-BB18ecp1

Let’s not pretend that the United States confidence in government was very strong before all this. But you pile on the increasingly refined ways that people gather news and form opinions and the genuine cynicism that everyone seems to share, and we face a deeper problem.

We risk losing the inability to discern fiction from truth – (and I’m a postmodernist), or the ability to debate complex ideas. I’m sure that the basic skills still exist on college campuses and the nod toward some shell of debate and rigorous argument can be found in corners of youtube.

Joshua Yaffa writes in the New Yorker about the continued focus on Russian propaganda (Yaffa outlines how much of this should be considered a threat) and the more problematic impact of the President and Fox News reporters muddying the waters over the significance and response to Covid-19.

Yaffa writes: “When it comes to COVID-19, the apparent result of the combined disinformation campaign of Trump and Fox News has been devastating. A working paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research in May analyzed anonymous location data from millions of cell phones to show that residents of Zip Codes with higher Fox News viewership were less likely to follow stay-at-home orders. Another study, by economists at the University of Chicago and elsewhere, suggested a disparity in health outcomes between areas where Fox News viewers primarily tuned in to tucker Carlson, who, among Fox hosts, spoke early and with relative urgency about the danger of COVID-19, and places where viewers preferred Sean Hannity, who spent weeks downplaying its severity. The economists found that in March, viewership of Hannity over Carlson, in the locales they studied was associated with a thirty-two-per-cent increase in infections, and a twenty-three-per-cent increase in COVID-19-related deaths

(Yaffa, Joshua.”Believe it or Not.” New Yorker. September 14, 2020, p. 29)

With these kinds of numbers, we need to be making the connection that information literacy is a public health investment. In 2020 being able to discern if a source is lying to you is a survival skill. Fortunately it is one that a couple of hundred thousand teachers can resolve with some investment and support.

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Berlin Kidz: Graffiti for the ages

 

 

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cannibal capitalism and video game streaming

Cannibal capitalism is the mediated consumption of other people’s suffering. Usually someone gets paid for this. In the NFL players and owners get money while viewers watch men exchange ritualized interpersonal violence. Traditional televised sports are ripe with injury moments and the moral judgement that soothes and justifies the suffering.

Slightly less visible is the suffering that happens in order to bring us the entertainment. The New Yorker has a nice essay on video game streamers who broadcast their games to gigantic audiences of semi-interactive fans. Taylor Clark describes the harm that many streamers face from the occupation.

“At this summer’s PAX West–a yearly convention that inundates downtown Seattle with gaming fans–virtually every streamer I spoke with voiced concerns about the health risks of overwork. “My doctor told me I was going to die if I kept doing it like this,” a young broadcaster who goes by Bria Leigh said. ‘You spend ten hours a day in the chair. And you don’t even want to get up to use the bathroom, because you’re afraid you’ll lose viewers.'”(43) – Taylor Clark, “Revenue Streaming.” The New Yorker. November 20, 2017. P. 38-44

Clark’s article contains reference to a gamer who died during a 24-hour charity stream (Brian Vigneault) and a opens with the description of Roberto Garcia AKA Towelliee, a popular streamer.  Clark describes the impact on Garcia from his years of grinding out gaming for fans.

“Game streaming, Garcia discovered, required non-stop work.  The only way to attract viewers, and to prevent the ones you had from straying to other broadcaster, was to be online constantly, so he routinely streamed for eighteen hours a day.  “That’s what I had to do to grown the viewership,” he said.  His ankles swelled from sitting at this computer.  his weight grew to four hundred and twenty pounds.” (38) – Taylor Clark, “Revenue Streaming.” The New Yorker. November 20, 2017. P. 38-44

There is a lot to unpack in the representations of video gaming and new media.  My interest is to note that this new genre of entertainment has consequences for the producers.  Streamed live, viewers get to watch and comment on (consume) the streamers with a kind of interactivity that has seldom been seen before.  The invitation is there for viewers to chat directly with the producers and create community.

But the expectation is that the streamer is there for the viewer and in some ways is entitled to the viewing.  In this relationship where the streamer depends on the views to make a living there is a certain incentive to grind through moments of suffering in order to keep viewers.

This relationship is cannibal capitalism where viewers consume the suffering of someone else through the media.  It is visible through the twitch comments and the representations of streaming participants.  It is also in the bodily cost that is above-and-beyond other lines of employment.  (No doubt that people who cut down trees for a living have swelling feet and high blood pressure from their job, but few arborists have 10,000 people watching their successes and failures live).

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