Saturday, August 06, 2016

reviews of the film Bad Moms propose that structural sexism isn't addressed, but perhaps that's not the only problem, perhaps Western ideologies about parenthood and individual potential have become a self-imposed double bind

https://newrepublic.com/article/135828/bad-moms-clique-bait-parent-set
...
The movie has been criticized, and rightfully so, for its failure to portray motherhood faithfully: These are upper-middle class parents who can afford to pay nannies, and their children are shoved off-screen whenever it’s convenient. Men, people of color, and animals are used as props, as they seem to have no place in a school that holds gluten-free bake sales. The movie’s writers, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore of Hangover fame, seem to say that the real problem for women is vengeance and jealousy amongst mothers, rather than the structural sexism that still defines parenting-roles today.

...  Motherhood is the oldest job in humanity, yet it’s only recently that it’s become a choice, and with that, a lifestyle.

Even bearing in mind how many women have been burdened with motherhood there are times when it seems that authors who contribute to The New Republic and Slate can sometimes drift toward what seems like a conflation of structural sexism with the results of reproduction itself. It seems as though we have ourselves a cultural moment where people are willing to celebrate everything about the sexual liberation we've experienced as a society in the last fifty odd years except for, maybe, the work of raising the children that still keep showing up as we have all this sex, almost as if that were what sexual reproduction explicitly accomplishes when practiced for long enough.

In fact I'm willing to go out on a limb and suggest that there's nothing about the film that I've been able to read so far that suggests the film was going to be about motherhood in any form beyond a tension between being a mother and the sexy stuff that happened that brought motherhood about.  Now perhaps people who are used to the idea that people just have sex whenever they successfully negotiate it and have sex may get the idea that structural sexism is going on but unless you're actually literally a rapist it seems as though all sexual intercourse is a negotiated privilege, even within a lifelong marriage that's lasted twenty or thirty years.  If men could bring forth children from their wombs, if they had wombs, then they


http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/movies/2016/07/bad_moms_starring_mila_kunis_and_kathryn_hahn_reviewed.html
...
But Bad Moms’ essential message—to the extent it has one, beyond the thesis that partying with your besties rules—is that, rather than overturn the systems that cordon off “moms” from the rest of society by attempting to keep them at once as sacrosanct and as powerless as possible, women should look for the evil within the women around them—that the problem is other women, who seek their oppression for personal reasons of vengeance or jealousy. The role of structural sexism or—forgive me, but sometimes it’s the right word—the patriarchy in making good-enough motherhood in America all but impossible goes unexamined.

It would be interesting to know whether what's meant by structural sexism is the conundrum of work/life balance or whether in the arts and arts criticism we don't have an ideological paradigm afoot that pits art and domesticity against each other in ways that preclude their reconciliation.

http://nymag.com/thecut/2016/04/portrait-motherhood-creativity-c-v-r.html
...
 “You know, a lot of people glamorize the idea of being an artist. But of course then they find that actually it sucks and that no one gives a fuck and that they can’t succeed and they can’t monetize it and they can’t even get their work out into the world and it’s really hard and thankless and they’re spending untold hours at it and their friends are becoming successful in their chosen, normative fields and they’re like the weird loser who’s going to be a writer and it was so impressive when they were 23 and now they’re 33 and they still don’t have a book out … Well, sure, it’s great to say parenting is like my art and make beautiful Rice Krispy Treats with little candy unicorns on them or some shit. I mean, why not? I love Rice Krispy Treats. I have to finish this book in a few months, and it’s like hitting my head against a cement block. Give me the fucking Rice Krispy Treats.”
 
 
I knew this feeling too, but it didn’t feel like the full answer. I pressed her again on the question I’d been turning over in my mind: Why is it that writing (or really any creative pursuit) seems to be in such conflict with parenting?
 
She answered calmly, hardly raising her voice. “Because the point of art is to unsettle, to question, to disturb what is comfortable and safe. And that shouldn’t be anyone’s goal as a parent.”   
I don’t know why it took me by surprise when she said this. I knew it to be true. I recalled an interview I read with one of my first writing teachers, Deborah Eisenberg, in which she says,, “Art, itself is inherently subversive. It’s destabilizing. It undermines, rather than reinforces, what you already know and what you already think.” Oscar Wilde said it is the most intense mode of individualism the world has ever known. Hippocrates tells us “Art is a revolt.”
People make art, in other words, for exactly the opposite reason they make families. [emphases added]
 
What if structural sexism is not merely sexism but the insoluable tension between our desire to feel loved and needed on the one hand with a contemporary Western resentment of those emotional and social bonds feeling like confinement and restriction on the other?  There seems to be a conflict between what's considered sexy and what's frequently the result of frequent-enough-sex, the children whose nurture depends on the activity of those who brought children into the world?  This might not just be a conflict for mothers, there could be just as many fathers who ended up abandoning youthful dreams because the responsibilities of parenthood bring with them abandoning your not-yet-accomplished dreams to ensure your children grow up.
 
The idea that the point of art is to unsettle is just foolish.  If you embrace an ideological stance about the arts that insists they have to have, well, an ideological purpose diametrically opposed to the stability of family life then the double bind would be, pretty obviously, self-imposed. It wouldn't be a matter of structural sexism (by itself), it would be a kind of unexamined set of values that become self-fulfilling prophecy.
 
In New York a few weeks ago, Kim Brooks asked whether creativity and domesticity are compatible in women’s lives. The relationship between art and parenthood is an evergreen topic that makes everyone—male or female, artist or not—feel a little bit anxious, for reasons specific to their life circumstances. (“I’m a bad parent!” “I’m not creative enough!” “Maybe I shouldn’t have kids!” “Maybe I should!”) I’m no exception; as a child-curious writer, I read this last salvo as soon as I saw the link. Target audience, c’est moi.

But there was one paragraph in Brooks’ piece, about the terrible husbands and dads of literary history, that I relished with particular glee. These “art monsters,” as writer Jenny Offill memorably termed them in her 2014 book Dept. of Speculation, are sometimes women, but they are most often men. The constraints they rail against are female, either explicitly or implicitly: requests for time and attention, petitions for financial support, or expectations of conformation to social norms. To such demands, the art monsters react poorly. “Baudelaire longed for escape from ‘the unendurable pestering of the women I live with,’ ” Brooks writes. “Verlaine tried to light his wife on fire … Faulkner’s 12-year-old daughter once asked him not to drink on his birthday, and he refused, telling her, ‘No one remembers Shakespeare’s children.’ ”
 
I don’t think it’s (just) the fascination of voyeurism that makes these anecdotes so compelling. I believe it’s a salutary exercise to look back at the bad marriages of the art monsters (and politics monsters, and sports monsters, and war monsters, and finance monsters) whose names are so prominent in our historical record. Remembering how the worst among them treated the women in their lives is one way to see the invisible labor—women’s labor—that went into nourishing, cleaning, arranging, regulating, and picking up the pieces at every turn. Like white space around a striking image, this reproductive work takes squinting to see. The work of maintaining is much less glamorous than the work of making, and leaves fewer traces. With this in mind, I propose the Historical Theory of the Bad Husband: as a good a way as any to see what’s hidden. ...

When you have people musing upon the arts with these kinds of conclusions then it seems more socially mature and well-adjusted to forsake the vocational arts for the sake of parenthood.  It seems like there could be some way of proposing that parenthood and activity in the arts don't have to be fundamentally at odds, but to propose this you'd have to come up with a different way of understanding the arts that doesn't define them up front as some kind of agitation propaganda against the status quo.

If we've living in an era in which some feminists ask why women still can't have it all the answer seems to be that nobody can have it all, not even the men at the top of the current pecking order--so we shouldn't be hugely shocked that along the way dealing with the world we live in means some dreams have to be cast aside or that pursuing path A means you have chosen to not take path B.  It seems as though the American authors who sound off on paths in life reject the idea that there are really opportunity costs, that once you choose a path other paths are actually closed off to you. 

And since parenthood these days is said to be a choice, it seems as though there could be room to ask why some of the mothers who write about motherhood couldn't be more direct in writing about what might be described as a kind of post-parental buyer's remorse.  If men tend to be expected to fit into their work-for-a-living-in-a-way-that-defines-his-social-identity in America then, yeah, it could seem unfair to women who choose parenthood to not be able to advance along the same path.  But what if the mere act of choosing to be a parent puts that kind of double bind on parents regardless of gender?   That so many men choose to keep pursuing career it doesn't necessarily mean the path they choose should be emulated, does it?

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Samuel D James at First Things has the dignified variation on the old Pussified Nation motiff.

http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2016/08/americas-lost-boys

by Samuel D. James
8 . 2 . 16

Where have America’s young men gone? According to Erik Hurst, an economist from the University of Chicago, they haven’t gone anywhere—they’re just plugged in. In a recent interview, Hurst says that his research indicates that young men with less than a four-year degree (according to virtually all data, that’s an increasing number) are spending their days unemployed and unmarried, but not un-amused. “The hours that they are not working have been replaced almost one-for-one with leisure time,” Hurst reports. “Seventy-five percent of this new leisure time falls into one category: video games. The average low-skilled, unemployed man in this group plays video games an average of twelve, and sometimes upwards of thirty hours per week.”

Hurst goes on: “These individuals are living with parents or relatives, and happiness surveys actually indicate that they [are] quite content compared to their peers, making it hard to argue that some sort of constraint, [such as that] they are miserable because they can’t find a job, is causing them to play video games.” In other words, the time these young men spend on Xbox and Playstation does not offer them relief from the stress of joblessness and existential inertia. On the contrary, for them it’s part of Living the Dream.

Having a history of being unimpressed with the level at which James engages stuff, I'm not surprised this is largely where he landed.  More of the same stuff about how guys don't grow up.  Samuel D. James had a few posts a few years back about things to do with Driscoll.  If Mark Driscoll weren't preparing to launch the next church this upcoming Sunday, and if he weren't shown to be so eager to use his children as meatshields in cyberspace, it would seem James might have had a point about there being no point to keeping track of what a Mark Driscoll says or does.  And that would be a salient point ... if Mark Driscoll had stepped aside from ministry for half a decade to submit to the spiritual leadership of someone in the capacity of a tithing rank-and-file member rather than as a blogger/preacher/guest speaker/vlogger constantly keeping himself in the spotlight. 

Back when I was in the non-profit sector an older fellow told me that the bubble of 08 was bad, that things were so rough for people in the wake of that financial crash the last time he remembered so many people being hard up was when he was a kid growing up during the Great Depression.  For evangelicals with a slightly right tilt it's going to be tough to keep selling this idea that the young dudes just need to man up, bro, because what do we expect high school dropouts and people whose horizons are largely restricted to what's called the unskilled labor market to actually do?  There was a guy or two in the Seattle area fifteen years ago who actually came up with ideas of what young guys could do.  One of them even got a bit of a local cult following.  What people left and right don't seem to want to accept is the possibility that cult-formation is the name of the game, anything that motivates people but particularly potentially disaffected young males to join a team is pretty much going to be some kind of cult by definition.  But that's not the level at which James engages the range of issues of underachieving younger men.

The reason Driscoll is pertinent is not just that Samuel D. James brought Driscoll up back in 2014, it's because for anyone who read Pussified Nation, what James wrote this month is the dignified safe-for-primetime variation of what Driscoll was up to fifteen and sixteen years ago.  As we've discussed at some length, Pussified Nation cannot be accurately understood as a stand-alone thing--you have to look at it in social and historical terms in a way that views it as agitation propaganda that was followed up by the integration propaganda of Dead Men.  Unfortunately, virtually nobody who's deigned to write about Mars Hill history has tried that approach and the prevailing narrative is so fixated on defining Mars Hill in right-wing terms people probably won't believe that one of the former elders of MH was happy to endorse Obama in a certain context and that there was a small but vocal and articulate politically progressive element at Mars Hill.  I've stayed friends with a few of them over the years so it's not like I don't know who some of those people have been.  But the press has written the story, so to speak.  Anyway ...

Taking up the lament at a more abstract level, Carl Trueman, proposed that the implication is clear the problems must be deeper than just video games and porn:

http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2016/08/lost-in-xanadu
...
As James implies, the problem is much deeper than video game- and porn-addicted young men. These addictions are simply symptoms, albeit very obvious ones, of the moral and cultural bankruptcy of our present age. Thus, unless we address the deeper issues—the elephant in the room—we will get nowhere. And herein lies the problem. To borrow a question from the art critic Sven Birkerts, what do you do when the elephant in the room is the room itself? Neither video games nor porn nor idleness are the problem. The problem is that entertainment is not simply a part of our world. It is arguably the dominant essence of our world.

To use philosophical jargon, entertainment is now ontology. We live in Xanadu, within the confines of a stately pleasure-dome of our own making. We have an economy that is significantly dependent upon the production and consumption of entertainment, a society where men who play children’s playground games are lionized and paid more than the President, and a world where technology is not simply a tool but one of the structuring principles of our very existence and our ways of life, right down to the most mundane details. ...

Thus, to say that the church needs to break with entertainment and offer meaning is true. But how we do this is very far from obvious. Indeed, it is even hard to conceptualize what the possibility of such a break might look like in practice, for this is no cosmetic change which is being proposed. Churches cannot accomplish it by, say, simply abolishing praise bands and reinstating Renaissance polyphony and classical liturgy. These might themselves be the entertainment of the high-brow aesthete. Nor can preachers simply ditch the jokes and focus stern-faced upon the cross. It is, after all, possible to enjoy good oratory for the mere fact that it is good oratory, regardless of content.

Further, if entertainment is the very essence of our social existence today, then we are in a sense not faced with addressing meaninglessness. It is just not that simple. I suspect the lost boys do see their lives as having meaning—the meaning of the moment, the meaning of a solitary orgasm, the meaning given by myriad solipsistic fantasies. The church is not combating meaninglessness so much as offering an alternative meaning in a competitive marketplace. And the idioms of plausibility in that marketplace are themselves part of the problem.

I think I disagree.  You don't embrace the simulated surrogates if you have the stuff in real life, do you?  When Ellul wrote his book about propaganda half a century ago he proposed that there was ultimately no material solution for the plight of the working class but that there was, in fact, a psychological solution, an opiate in the form of propaganda that could convey to the individual that his/her life actually had meaning and significance and that he/she was not just some interchangeable drone/cog in a massive machine.  If there's a conundrum to art for the sake of art as a kind of pseudo-religious dogma it's that in a market system the art is still a commodity and, more to the point, all art will be a reflection of the ambitions and anxieties of an empire. 

Formerly local pastor Mark Driscoll said that video games were stupid vicarious victories in things that didn't matter, or something like that.  Let he who has never inferred leadership lessons from the play of baseball cast the first stone.  But this still gets us back to the thing about how the simulations may tell us something about what these people don't have in their non-game lives.  The vicarious victory wouldn't be sought if it didn't have some kind of appeal as a simulation of something that many a man and a woman knows isn't available to them in flesh and blood life.  Don't have a plane and want to learn how to fly?  Flight simulators have gotten pretty decent in the last thirty years. 

If you can't find yourself having a meaningful life in the real world this society is pretty good at providing simulations.  It's got higher prestige and social clout to have that escapism have a veneer of credibility in the form of being higher level arts or maybe having an academic component to it, but art for the sake of art, no matter how Matthew Arnold you try to get about it, is still consumption of product, isn't it?  The "solution" some have tried out is to sacralize the arts to the level where you convince yourself that you're not being just a consumer by immersing yourself in it.

If anything I would propose that lost boys are more likely to recognize how ultimately disposable and interchangeable they are in contemporary society and that's precisely a reason to embrace a simulated alternative.  You can make plenty of complaints about the guys who spend 15-30 hours a week playing video games but if you have seen anybody play video games for 10 hours a week the proposal that they get meaning from that, that seems iffy.  Let a guy somehow land a girlfriend (or boyfriend) and the 10 to 16 hours of gaming can precipitously drop in a few cases. 

Let's try putting this another way, Samuel James and Carl Trueman may think that the simulacrum is good enough for today's under-achieving young men and that's why they don't aspire to more.  What if that's backwards?  What if the reason those lost boys settle for that is they've done a risk-assessment of the odds of getting anything like the things they could gain in video games in the real world; discovered how low the odds really were; and settled for the simulation? 

For a time Mark Driscoll succeeded where a lot of evangelicals have failed and will continue to fail because, for a short time, he didn't operate on the assumption that if you just shame the lads enough they'll buck up and perform.  No, he came up with something else in Dead Men, which is to formulate the idea that we can't do this without you, yes, you specifically, and we want you to be part of something people will be talking about decades from now.  The whole shaming men into performing came, too, but there were spurs of motivating people positively toward a vision of a shared legacy.  That's what Team Driscoll's trying to recapture now to go by the promotional videos cranked out.

There's all kinds of things that could be said against Mark Driscoll hoping that lighning will strike twice but it's not unfair to propose that Driscoll actually got how to motivate young men to seek more productive lives in ways that may yet elude Samuel D James or even Carl Trueman (who, often, writes stuff I like).

James and Trueman have witten more stately dignified variations of something that reads a lot like Pussified Nation.  It's nice they managed to get their concerns acros without a series of slurs, to be sure, but they seem to come up with a complaint that the bootstraps are good enough for lifting if you just grab them.

over at Slate Gabriel Roth manifests the anxiety that his kid likes licensed character commodity garbage

http://www.slate.com/blogs/nightlight/2016/08/04/bemoaning_the_licensed_character_commodity_garbage_that_makes_up_most_children.html
...
This week my daughter brought home an old favorite from the library, and so tonight I found myself returning to Ariels Royal Wedding/Auroras Royal Wedding. It can be read from either side, telling a different story each way. Each story is about the wedding of a Disney princess.

These stories are the juvenile equivalent of pornography: They aim to gratify base desires as voluptuously as possible. They describe wedding planning in tantalizing detail: choosing the dress, learning to dance, visiting the baker. Each contains a tiny conflict, resolved within two pages. (Ariel wants her mer-family to be able to attend the wedding; Prince Eric suggests they hold the ceremony on the royal ship.) There is so much wrong with this stuff ideologically that its easy to overlook just how meager it is aesthetically, what thin gruel for the imagination. Reading it, its hard not to take offense at the contempt with which the publishers treat their readership.
...

Sometimes  it seems as though grown-ups feel ashamed that kids like things that kids like.  There's some kind of gap between what grown-ups who, say, write for Slate want to be able to say their kids are into and what the kids actually enjoy. 

But then again, can adults really say that The West Wing isn't an implausible wish-fulfillment fantasy?  When someone described The Gilmore Girls as an alternate America where Al Gore was president isn't that a kind of power fantasy, too?  I defy grown-ups to make a compelling case that the wish-fulfillment aspirations and power fantasies of grown-ups are ultimately more "grown-up" than those of children, and that would include everything to do with alcohol and money and sex. 

There's just so much wrong with this stuff ideologically, after all.  Because what six-year olds need to be introduced to is appropriate ideology.  :)  Was it not Jacques Ellul who wrote something about how education plays a necessary role as pre-propaganda to formal propaganda on the part of companies or the state? 

But let's step back and consider the thinkpieces about Buffy the Vampire Slayer twenty years after the show started.  Are we going to see a comparable level of think pieces from journalists about the compelling and profound cultural impact of Blues Clues in shaping young minds? We get to find out in a couple of weeks.  The thing about grown-ups writing about stuff kids enjoy is that if it reaches the point of being a topic at Slate it seems the topic is the ideological significance of who likes what for what reasons.  Because what first-graders watch gives us an opportunity to opine about the ambitions and anxieties of empire. 

No, I'm actually totally being serious right there. If you want to find out what stories we consider really sacred you could propose the idea that we should look at what stories are considered safe enough and what morals are important enough that we impart them to children.  In that sense I bet you could learn more about the American ethos from a season of Blues Clues than from Game of Thrones

What grown-ups, particularly the kinds who go on to liberal arts colleges and get degrees in the humanities, anthropology or social science seem to want to skim over is that we ALL seem to have this American propensity to have a childhood nostalgia train for things that grown-ups wish we didn't. I mean, there's folks who can write academic papers about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and it's a thing for that show to be discussed in feminist terms but it didn't seem very feminist in seasons 1-3.  It seemed more like an incredibly arch, self-insulated within its own winking genre ironies, send-up of high school life as characterized by the permeation of a supernaturally evil caste system.  Once everyone got out of high school it stopped being a winking allegory about high school and became, ultimately, a pretty conventional superhero thing.  The series finale did not really do anything to dispel this.  

The more seriously the show took itself the harder it was for me to take it seriously.  What made the show fun early on was its opting to not take itself seriously, to have patently ridiculous moments where Buffy intones in a completely serious speech about how she has to go save the world, AGAIN!  It worked because teenagers can already see quotidian things as suffused with literal and figurative apocalyptic significance.  It feels like the end of the world when the stakes are low.  But moving forward beyond the high school years the stakes became, well, not that different from the tedium of Age of Apocalypse that was met with "meh" from critics this year.

So, here we are decades after the days of Reagan and what franchises have come back in big movie format?  Transformers. G. I. Joe. Tron. Chipmunks, TMNT.  You know, it's seeming like the comebacks and reboots were for stuff like that and not for Reading Rainbow.  The kinds of stuff that parents who write for Slate might "prefer" to write about would be non-licensed stuff but that seems like it's empty talk.  Who had a great big homage to Wishbone when it hit its twenty-year anniversary?

I mean,  besides this:
http://the-toast.net/2015/07/15/the-pitch-meeting-for-wishbone/

The thing adults seem to complain about is that "real" art has to somehow undo all the "lies" taught in childhood stories but I am not sure where all these alternatives are that teach kids what the truth about the world is.  What's the kid-friendly equivalent of the prestige genres people have been writing about?  Where's the kid-friendly version of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Wire, The Sopranos, The Americans, Game of Thrones, and so on? 

It seems daft to complain that kids are into licensed characters while grown-ups go watch a fifth Jason Bourne movie.  It seems like a self-indicting complaint to talk about the unrealistic fantasies of stories that children like in this election cycle, or ANY election cycle.   Could we be half as cynical in our popular entertainment as we are if we weren't fairly openly committed to the fantasies so bereft of realism that we complain about? 

If we want realism we should tell kids stories that have messages like this:

Your life ultimately doesn't matter in a society as big as ours and when you die you will be forgotten because that's how life and death work.  You don't have any long-term power to change the world for the better so you can try, if you like, but odds are you're going to work in a potentially unsatisfying job and that's how things go.  If you think you've found someone special it might work out or it might not.  Your destiny is largely going to be a function of your socio-economic class but what we prefer to tell ourselves is that there's no fate but what we make and class distinctions don't matter.

What shows more contempt to readership?  Telling them stories that keep them optimistic about the human condition being basically good and redeemable or telling them the truth even if that means telling kids that, on balance, their lives "probably" don't matter beyond their circle of family and friends and that they should prepare to be cogs in a machine?

The reason this sort of think piece about the evils of entertainment for children rings so hollow is because I have yet to see, in the last twenty odd years, that the grown-up versions are more honest. 

Particularly for an author at Slate, this seems like a weird high horse to mount because a progressive cause would seem by definition to defy reality as it is.  Medieval sorts did not necessarily think it was "problematic" if the prince said or did something to save the day, did they?  What about the history of the civil rights movement?  Was that animated by what conservatives sometimes called a "realistic" approach about racial relationships?  Or was it animated by an idealism about the potential for people of all races to share society together?  The reason we keep selling idealistic fulfillments of fantasies to children is somewhat obviously because we're selling them the ideals of what we would like to be able to say our society is, even when we know otherwise.  If the kids like the stories that authors like Roth consider licensed commodity crap there's room to consider the real buyer, the parent. 

Even if there were a Tyrion Lannister action figure counterpart to Princess Luna pony I doubt kids would be asking for the former as a Christmas present.  If you want to somehow conjure up those two toys from the ether and stage a scene from Equus, well, glad that you probably can't do that. :)

over at Foreign Policy Eldridge Colby makes an argument against the Obama administration adopting a no-first-use policy on nuclear weapons, saying it would destabilize the conventional military scene in ways the US, long-term won't handle well

http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/08/04/nuclear-weapons-arent-just-worst-case-scenario-first-use-china-obama-trump/

Peaceniks in Seattle of various stripes withstanding, there's a case to be made that we have as much peace as we do from foreign attacks not merely because of our geographically favorable position but also because, lest we somehow magically forget, we're sitting on a stockpile of nuclear weapons that have had a historically (and necessarily terrifying) preventative role. Knowing that if the U.S. wanted to it could effectively transform large swaths of the world into a toxic radioactive sea of ash is a strong disincentive.

Now, sure, at the 50th anniversary of Star Trek Americans don't want to imagine that the kind of liberalism prized in an entity like the Federation (i.e. America centuries from now if we're really honest with our pop culture selves) depends on the ability to tear things apart at a subatomic/atomic level (transporter technology, anyone?  Does it stop being playing with atoms just because in Star Trek they put people back together?).  But now that the Cold War is over and a certain franchise is half a century old we should perhaps not kid ourselves as to the necessity of an idealistic, utopian view of pax Americana within the Cold War polemics being central to the franchise.  There's a potential case to be made that there's artistically less reason to buy into the Star Trek utopian franchise now than ever before. 

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

The "Don't Use Our Songs" effort is a handy reminder of why the "death of the author" and the proposal that "authorship" is a dead ideology can be a reflection of real-world licensing practice

Not everyone subscribes to the idea that the author is some ideological notion we need to cast off or that the death of the author is an unmitigated good.  There can be advantages to opening up new paths of interpretation in the arts, sure, but at a practical level how many musicians who wrote songs that got used this year by, say, the Trump campaign, have to grit their teeth and just deal? 

The Atlantic has a little piece that gets into this.  Since venues that host conventions tend to pay up for licensing issues if a candidate you despise shows up and wants to use a song the venue has clearance to use, well, tough for you:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/07/john-oliver-dont-use-our-songs-hbo-usher-michael-bolton-heart/492854/
...
The proudly hammy music video has a few fun zingers, including a dig at Spotify and a segment where a cat walks across a keyboard to provide a tune that politicians can use for free. But the most telling moment is when Usher says, “Don’t use our songs. That’s licensing. You gotta call my publisher.” The truth is that many of the times when musicians speak out about the use of their work in politics, the offending politician is in the clear, legally speaking. It usually depends on the venue: Somewhere like the Quicken Loans Arena, where the RNC happened, has likely already obtained a blanket license from performance-rights organizations, which allows the use of almost any song. If a venue doesn’t have a license, the campaign will usually obtain one.

Musicians have filed lawsuits over the matter, but public shaming may be their best recourse. ...

Since licensing has something or other to do with how musicians actually make money it's tough to issue a blanket prohibition against certain uses or appropriations of a work unless you're positive about it.  T. S. Eliot was reportedly against anyone he didn't personally approve of doing so setting any of his poetry to music.  The estate of E. E. Cummings is more generous, by far.

One of the things I've "occasionally" blogged about is that when people talk about problems they have with copyright they sometimes say the problem is copyright itself as a concept when the real world problems may be more accurately described as issues in the application of licensing. 

Thing is, now might not be the greatest time in the world to use public shaming to get results, particularly not with the guy whose songs musicians have been angry at for not-previously-authorized-by-the-artists use.

But it might be a useful real-world proof that authorial intent is pretty much irrelevant in a contemporary cultural climate, particularly with songs on the campaign trail.

baby with diaper [another meditative poem]

baby with diaper

nourished by Mother
having received what I need
I release the rest

It's been years since I've had the experience of changing diapers but there are just some babies whose approach to the experience of needing a diaper change seems this, well, Zen.

Monday, August 01, 2016

via Vox: A writer kept a blog for 10 years. Google deleted it. Why?--a riff on the ways in which blogs are subject to service hosts

Over the years a handful of people wondered if I've backed up stuff at the blog.  I have.  I've had it suggested a time or two that loyalists of a now defunct brand might try to pull some kind of stunt.  That seemed unlikely compared to, say, Google doing some unilateral move.  One commenter tried to pass themselves off as a moderator claiming the blog was abusive years ago.  The blog is still here, but that doesn't mean Google hasn't unilaterally removed blogs.  For some people who may or may not be in touch with the real world the possibility of suits might be in their thoughts, but I've heard of more cases where a blog just gets taken down for breaching user guidelines. 

http://www.vox.com/platform/amp/2016/7/30/12303070/dennis-cooper-blog-deleted-google
...
No one seems to understand why Google shut down Cooper’s blog — including Cooper himself
Cooper says his best guess regarding what happened is that one or more of his posts about male escorts triggered a Google censor. However, he insists there was nothing in them that violated any of Blogger’s content policies, which prohibit blogs that "contain ads for or links to commercial porn sites" as well as sexually explicit images posted without the subject’s consent. He also noted that, per Blogger guidelines, The Weaklings carried a warning that his content contained adult material.
...

As readers will know by now, any racy content discussing sex published here will have been documenting things published by one guy who used to be a preacher in these parts.  None of that, racy though it was, would fit that set of restraints.

Since the blog was shut down, over 3,000 fans and supporters have signed a petition urging Google to reinstate both The Weaklings and Cooper’s email account. Literary nonprofit group PEN America has also joined the cause. And while Cooper says he’s been unable to access any of his lost content and still doesn’t know what precipitated its deletion, he did tell Vox that this week, he finally heard from lawyers at Google, in what will hopefully be a first step toward reinstating his account.
When asked to comment on the situation, a Google spokesperson informed Vox, "We are aware of this matter, but the specific terms of service violations are ones we cannot discuss further due to legal considerations."


Cooper’s vanishing blog raises larger implications about the sanctity of content online [emphasis original]

This could be one of the simplest reasons the mainstream press will not stop being important any time soon. 

"I was very naive not to back-up my work and to think that what I was doing would be safe," Cooper said.

It’s worth noting, as Fusion editor Ethan Chiel did in the aforementioned episode of Press Play, that the practice of storing information in "the cloud" is a nebulous one. "The 'cloud' is just someone else’s hard drive," he said, emphasizing that information and content we think of as "safe" simply because it’s located on a secure online platform can, in reality, be just as vulnerable to mishap and misplacement as files and information saved directly on our own computers.

I'll come back to this point at a later point in the post but I've never been a fan of clouds that weren't the kind to make for a great overcast Seattle day.

Yet as more people relocate their precious content — be it email, original writing, a lifetime’s worth of photos, etc. —to online storage systems and infrastructures, questions of who and what is safeguarding that content are rarely asked.


"The lesson is that you can't trust any platform," Cooper continued. "I mean, I would never have imagined that my email account containing 10 years of my emails and correspondence could be shut down and taken away from me [for] no reason at all, but that's exactly what happened." He cautioned that anyone working online, particularly artists, writers, and bloggers, should be careful about the amount of faith they put into services like Google to protect their works.


"If I get my content back, I will relocate the blog to a new host," he said.


But if anything, the ultimate takeaway is that no online platform that’s owned by someone else is ever really safe from censorship or deletion — especially if you create content that’s just a bit off the beaten path.
As blogging about the history of what was once Mars Hill goes all that stuff has been backed up on a physical drive so that if the blog goes down it's still preserved.  Not much of a fan of cloud storage because clouds and networks aren't necessarily all that secure beyond password protection.  The MH related content has also been redundantly backed up on DVDs distributed to about a dozen people who, by now, are across the country.  Should the blog ever actually go down they have a green light to light up the net (if they wish) with any and everything that has been documented by Wenatchee The Hatchet and even whatever has been researched but not previously discussed.  On the whole it would seem that "if" leaders at Mars Hill had any inkling of this the preference would be to not find out how much background research had been accumulated.  But, at a more important level, it seemed necessary to cultivate a trait that increasingly seemed to be all but absent from the leadership culture that took shape at Mars Hill, and that would be pity.

Not really for Driscoll, because at this point even he might have to concede the possibility that a great deal of his troubles were self-inflicted. No, more a point of having pity for the pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus and for the people who were thrown off that bus when the guys who ran it decided the bus was going to be drivable any more. 

Preserving some kind of document of what happened seemed important and every once in a while stuff will get discussed down the road.  But, obviously, there's such a thing as behaving nicely in ways that service providers find acceptable and if a person doesn't do that a person can find their blogging privileges revoked.  Fortunately that hasn't happened and even more fortunately that's up to peeps at Google rather than the loyalists of a certain former preacher who was once in the Seattle area.

But let's not think for a moment there's no such thing as social responsibility even for bloggers as adjuncts to the mainstream press. 

more haiku, these on the election year

1.
a politician
who knows not compromise is
no politician

2.
the dreams of grown-ups
are just the dreams of children
with some line-items

3.
while scared babies scream
grown-ups write dystopian
tales and send emails

Sunday, July 31, 2016

7-25-2016, a rusty middle-aged pot calling young kettles black, Mark Driscoll's tweet about young guys with blogs ranting about the church

https://hillsongchurchwatch.com/2015/07/14/transcript-of-brian-houstons-nice-interview-with-mark-grace-driscoll-2/

Brian Houston: “I guess one of the, the things that you were known for several years that’ve gone by was public criticism of other pastors and leaders. And probably the first time I’ve actually ever heard of you wasn’t because of your Bible teaching or because of your books. Or, it was actually because of your attacks on other people. So I guess would that be another area where you have regrets? Or, would you still defend that?” (18:47-19:11)

Mark Driscoll: “I would not defend that. I feel like I’ve lost any right to criticize another pastor or leader. I believe that the lack of the cause made to think I knew what they were going through or what they should say or what they should do. Having gone through this very complicated season, I don’t know what I’m supposed to say, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, and I certainly don’t feel the right to tell others what they should say or do.

That was so 2015 and, anyway, Driscoll was talking about pastors and leaders, not bloggers. It's important to keep that on mind, that Driscoll didn't say that he'd lost any right to criticize bloggers. :)
He knows exactly what to say to them, especially if they're young guys.

https://twitter.com/PastorMark/status/757615899943710720
Dear every young guy with a blog ranting about the church – the Internet is not the Wittenberg Door and you are not Martin Luther.
9:38 AM - 25 Jul 2016

When you're closer to 50 than 20 by just a few years every guy who's even five years younger than you can seem like a spring chicken. 

 "I'm very confrontational," he says, "not some pansy-ass therapist."

When the shoe is on the other foot ... .

For a good stretch of time in the last year and a half the primary way people would hear about what Mark Driscoll was up to has been ... by blog.

So obviously Driscoll can't really be all that against blogging in principle.  He can't even be all that much against young guys on the internet ranting about the church.  He's never actually repudiated the substance of what he said on "Pussified Nation" or "Using Your Penis".  He's said that he doesn't feel the same way now that he did then here and there, but if you go searching for a moment in which he actually repudiated the substance of what he had to say as William Wallace II you'll very likely never find it, because he simply has not changed his actual thoughts on those topics in any observable way so far.  Not that he couldn't theoretically change, just that for all the words published about William Wallace II you won't easily find a moment where Mark Driscoll unequivocally said that what he actually said, in its substance, using his pseudonym William Wallace II was even potentially partially wrong.


The pedestrian irony of Mark Driscoll taking to Twitter to rebuke angry young guys who take to social media to rant about what's wrong with the Church today is that there is possibly no one in the history of the use of social media via the internet who is more deservedly notorious for doing precisely that these days than Mark Driscoll himself. 

You would think the guy who up until recently called himself Reformed as a matter of habit could spare some time to sound off on the intra-Reformed debates about Trinitarian theology or the relevance of Trinitarian formulations and confessions in connection to complementarianism.  Nah, that would involve actual thought and actual scholarship.  So what has Driscoll been doing? 

http://markdriscoll.org/should-christians-keep-the-sabbath/
http://markdriscoll.org/you-are-invited-to-pastors-school/
http://markdriscoll.org/should-christians-consume-alcohol/

Fairly softball questions answered ages ago by anyone who could bother to do even one search engine quest.  Or, you know, read their own Bibles.  And promoting a conference/school thing.

Driscoll seems to have been steadily positioning himself to shake off any association with Reformed anything, perhaps even vestigial connections.  This would be something to keep some notice of because if Driscoll were to re:boot himself as a non-Calvinist or even some kind of formal egalitarian (notice the number of times Grace refers to the church plant as "our") Driscoll's progressive critics who have been willing to sound off on him up until now might have to reconsider their approach. 

But until that actually happens it looks as if by their tweets ye shall know them, and lately a rusty pot has decided to tweet to the young kettles about the midnight of their hue.