Monday, August 30, 2010

Pitchfork Reviews Reviews Review

ok so I was surfing the internet before as I so often do and I stumbled upon this website ( which confused me briefly as I was familiar with but also not really familiar enough to grasp the subtleties of the situation, but then I read some more and so now basically the subtleties of the situation are: there is a guy called David, and there is a website called Pitchfork, which has been reviewing records since I don't know when but probably early to mid nineties, and everyday Pitchfork reviews 5 new musical albums and then David reads their reviews, and then reviews these reviews and posts these review reviews on his website which is called (this is a link to an article with more background if you're interested)

anyway I couldn't resist the opportunity to write a review of a review review so that is what I am trying to do, and i'm not using many capital letters or punctuation marks and typing in neat little blocks of semi-stream of consciousness style monologues, which is basically what he does so far as I can tell, although I think I'm relying on commas too much whereas his preferred technique seems to be to sneak in a question mark to break up the rambling run-on sentences and engage the reader like this, you know? i guess this is probably because he apparently writes his reviews on his blackberry jotting down thoughts as he has them, which gives the actually quite nice feeling that we're somehow privvy to someone's internal monologue

he's got that Chuck Palahniuk first person narrative thing going on, which is making me think as I'm reading it that it's really funny how writing in a non-conventional style can manipulate the way your readers see you as being, like, the way this guy writes at first makes him come across as a little bit dim but in a way that makes it quite obvious he's really pretty smart, you know? kind of a bit ditzy and naive, which is probably how he gets away with actually being quite mean on occasions, but whatever it works because he basically comes across as a razor sharp wit masquerading as a bit of a clueless dolt but in such a way as serves only to accentuate the fact that he clearly isn't a clueless dolt, which is a pretty good trick if you think about it

anyway the whole stream of consciousness/bitesize paragraphs of thought thing is cute and it means that he can spice up his blog posts by talking about other things that his train of thought carries him on to, while still under the vague umbrella heading of whatever he's talking about, which is stylistically nice, don't you think? and also adds to what i think is the most appealing thing about his blog, namely the fact that even though he's clearly addressing the vast and varied audience pool that the internet comprises of he somehow gives a sense of intimacy that is, well, kinda refreshing and closes the gap between the person on the keyboard and the person hiding somewhere on the other side of the screen so kudos to him for that

i'm sitting here staring at the screen trying to write something about this guy in the same way this guy would write it and i feel like it should be making me dizzy, like when you stand in between two mirrors in a lift and you can only see yourself stretching out and out forever but i guess this is actually the total opposite of that anyway, because there isn't an infinite chain of anybody, just a lot of reflections of nothing there in the first place, and i get the feeling that this guy is aware of the ironies of his own situation and yeah probably also of a lot of things which are going on online, fun quote:

"tonight i am DJing a party to celebrate the opening of this new communal workspace for internet startups in Williamsburg, and also to celebrate a new internet social media recommendation and interaction mechanism that is somehow connected with twitter, i am not sure i fully understand it. i wonder how many hours it would take to explain it to my grandma. maybe that could be like the new metric for measuring how conceptual/meta/post-modern whatever you’re doing is, for example like “yeah i’m writing this cloud-based internet application that is actually both a monetarily incentivized game and a social media tool and it also has a wiki-style user-updated database. as it stands i’m at 3 grandma-hours but if i integrate it with foursquare that’s gonna be another grandma-hour”" (quoted frm here)

anyway I guess I should probably actually get round to reviewing one of the pitchfork review reviews so here goes:

my review of the pitchfork review review (click here for the original review review)

1. so the review starts out talking about the pitchfork reviewer who wrote the original review which shows an impressive knowledge of his source material which is frankly lost on me as i am a casual (at best) reader of pitchfork, but luckily this isn't a problem as he quickly finds a tangent to explore. this tangent is about how sometimes when you're reading something you find yourself writing or thinking in the same style, which is funny because i was just thinking about this before whilst writing this post because while reading his blog i felt like David had probably read a lot of Palahniuk or Coupland or maybe deLillo or somebody like that, you know? except for all the 'you know' stuff which seems to be channelling the ghost of perezhilton's credibility, altho it does make for nice flavouring particles so on the whole I'm going to give this first part of his review review a 7.8/10.

this is because i like the fact that he not only uses his starting off point to start talking about some other stuff and write about some interesting thoughts that don't really have anything to do with what he was meant to be talking about, but he also crucially brings it all back together with a few well crafted and concise sentences which shine out like a beacon amongst his scatty, frayed paragraphs, and serve to show that none of his prose is irrelevant unless he chooses it to be. that's an impressive level of craftmanship

2. this is a review of a review about fairly uncomplicated dance music so far as i can gather, however rather than killing it this actually provides fuel for David to highlight the fact that a capable reviewer can, i guess, engage with the subject matter via different avenues when the most obvious ones seem to be blind alleys

he points out that
a lot of electronic music, especially music that Tom characterizes as “fun music, and it doesn’t have any big aim beyond that” is harder to write about than music with pointed lyrics and a clear mission, i guess, because it’s harder to extract concrete ideas to agree or disagree, beyond the idea that there are no bigger ideas, you know what i mean?
and i think that's actually a really penetrating observation, and i like that he illustrates his own point pretty well and i like that ideas can grow up around even shadows of thoughts, and i guess i would even be tempted to say that i'm glad i live in a time when we have the chance to see our minds spilled onscreen before us because when we're sitting there, looking at our thoughts in digital code onscreen we can play with them. so maybe it doesn't matter if there are no bigger ideas out there because we can make our own. 7.5/10

3. sometimes when you read an online blog, even just a few sentences of it, you feel like you have a sense of what the guy who sat their at the keyboard and hammered it out is like. generally this is something that i try and refrain from thinking because it's hard enough to get to know most people in real life even when they're trying to show you, and on the internet you aren't even getting the clues from a real face, but just how that person wants to show their face, you know what i mean? it's like me asking you to describe me when you've only ever seen me at a halloween party (and i don't mean one of those sexy halloween parties where nobody wears much of anything i mean when i was wearing a proper mask, maybe freddy krueger or one of the teenage mutant ninja turtles) so even though i can safely say i know absolutely nothing about this guy, having read a few of his reviews and spent an hour or so trying to write the way he writes i can honestly say that i think i like his mask. 8/10.

Friday, August 27, 2010

pre-Soviet Kitsch in pre-glorious Technicolour

This photo is one of a number taken between 1909 and 1912 that surfaced recently. It gave me a weird little kick in my tummy to see such photos in colour. I don't know why; maybe it's because we're so used to seeing the past pictured in black and white that we start to imagine it being that way? Whatever the reason, look at them if you have time because they are really cool. Do they make you feel funny too?

Sunday, August 08, 2010

We're all for sale these days..

So, yesterday the same topic was brought up (by someone other than myself) in two entirely different conversations with two entirely different people, which is always a good sign that it bears further scrutiny. Co-incidentally, it's also very relevant to a term paper I am (sort of, thinking about) writing at the moment.

The topic in question would be the alleged feminisation of male behaviour in contemporary western society. This is much lamented in many corners; the American media in the early to mid 2000s (as documented by Susan Faludi) displayed what can only be described as a hysterical need to reaffirm traditional gender roles in response to a sense of emasculated national identity, for obvious reasons. Male fashion in the late 2000s has been descried as overtly feminine in many corners – as a male friend of mine pointed out last night, it is now fairly common for boys to dress in “girlie” garments like cardigans and low necklines; to sport high maintenance haircuts that require straighteners and multiple hair products; and finally to indulge in cosmetic routines (3 step facial cleansing processes, fake tans and even waxes) traditionally considered to be firmly within the female domain.

The male friend I have just mentioned was the second incidence of the topic in one evening, as I explained previously. It was interesting to hear a male perspective on this, particularly one from my generation which came from a vantage point of intelligent interest rather than some kind of overt need to reassert a masculine identity against perceived threats. In a fit of that strange symmetry which pervades life more than we would care to admit, the first ocurrence was during conversation with the mother of another close friend – an insightful lady with a well rounded perception of, well, things in general, actually. She was lamenting the loss of “real men” - and the plethora of self serving, cowardly boy-men that seem to have taken over; the need for them to “man up.” Again, the perception of actual physical changes in the average male (less facial hair, bearing etc) was touched upon. That interests me actually, and when I have time (ie not now) I will look into whether there has been any studies into whether any of these assumptions are grounded in genuine physiological data – but anyway, regardless of whether they are or not, general consensus certainly seems to think so, and more and more these days I am leaning towards to the opinion that it's quite possibly the myths that drive reality in the direction it takes, rather than the other way round.

Anyhow, the jury is still out on that one, in my opinion anyway, but what I was mulling over before as I vacuumed carpet on each individual stair in my house earlier (my life is so rock and roll these days) was what qualities exactly is it that we see in the contemporary male that seem to us to be so inherently feminine that even when displayed by someone who is obviously a man, they still somehow signify womanliness. Of attributes typically described in this context – longer periods of time spent grooming, increased use of cosmetic products, increased time/money spent keeping up with fashion, greater emotional openness – only the latter, and even that arguably, I can see as being justifiably considered somehow intrinsically feminine, rather than merely the result of socialisation. When asked why wearing makeup is a girly thing to do, the only possible response I can think of is because it's just what girls do, which is an infinite regress with hardly a leg to stand on, I think. If we look to the animal world, we can hardly say that there is a general, massive gap between the time spent grooming by males and females of the same species. There is no biological reason (that I am aware of) why women should spend such a disproportionately large amount of time grooming – it is not as though there is a dearth of eligible male sexual partners about, such that women need to engage in extreme competition to attract a mate. So I would posit that perhaps it is not that men are becoming more “feminised”- but rather that in this instance, due to the complex and ongoing process of gender identity construction, there has been a “levelling out” of behaviours that were previously considered primarily characteristic of one or other gender.

Of course, the next place to take THAT particular assumption would be the fact that presumably at some point the pendulum might swing back in the other direction and your average woman-on-the-street might begin to spend the same amount of time getting ready to go out (ie quick shower, glance in the mirror and out the door) as has been typically ascribed to your average bloke in the past. But then on the other hand, I doubt that would happen – I think that maybe we can attribute this “feminisation” (or increased homogeneity in the behaviour of individuals of both genders) not to some kind of emasculating force in modern society, but rather to the all pervading influence of commercialism in western society. The body is becoming an increasingly commercial space – not only in such extreme and overt ways as expensive plastic surgery, but also in the wearing of designer clothes (acting as a living advert for designers who hardly need the publicity) and the propogation of the beauty ideals purported by the media as so many people strive to become an ideal that has no grounding in reality; that ultimate postmodern creature, the simulacra -a copy of a copy of a copy of which there is no original. I see these strange plastic creatures more and more, particularly those deeply embedded in cultures where rampant consumerism has taken a stronger hold, and they both amuse and perplex and sadden me, these little cartoon people, striving for two dimensions, wearing a mask to hide the fact that beneath it there is nothing. Anyway, I digress – my point is that maybe it's just that male identity has simply begun to succumb to the strong influence of money and the need to be a viable and appealing product a little later than his female counterpart. After all, the female body has been a commercial space for a very long time. Think of the oldest profession, of the dowry, and the dialectics of buyer/bought in a society where, for many hundreds of years, the majority of all wealth and property (and thus, capability to buy) was owned and controlled by one gender, while the other could, for the most part, only acquire rights to such things (and the power that accompanies them) by entering into an unequal partnership – or, by attaining worth only through the process of being bought.

Of course, now we live in a more enlightened, empowered society the gap is shrinking, and the great equalising force of capitalism means that we're all getting shafted to more or less the same degree. Thank heavens for small mercies?
On the topic of

"Did you know 'women can be lads too'? i don't know about you, but that information totally takes away everything problematic with the term for me. i've not been worrying my pretty little head about it since. next week on bigoted logic: defining black people as 'honorary whites'!" (Rosie Tuplin, my intelli-feminist paramour, 2010)

Saturday, August 07, 2010

There is an advert that has been cropping up in the saturday Jobs section of the Guardian Weekend for a good few years now – I have a distinct memory of reading it in Hamilton Square Train station the year before I started University, which would make me 19 and hence the advert to have had a presence in the Jobs pages of everyones favourite “bleeding hearted liberal” rag for at least 4 years now. I also have a vague sense that I'd seen it around prior to the instance I am taking as a marker; regardless, the point is that the position being advertised has evidently been around for quite a long time, and requires new applicants on a fairly regular basis.

To paraphrase, it's basically an advert for “Home Help” needed by a “slightly disabled” female writer. Nothing particularly remarkable there. I get the impression what is required is, apart from the odd bit of shopping, mostly company - “Over qualified people,” you will be glad to hear, all of you job-starved recent Uni graduates from the Class of 2010, “[are] welcomed,” and furthermore, “A sense of humour helps.”

So it comes to pass that somehow this advert, which in actuality probably amounts to little more than a lady who is for some reason rather unfortunate when it comes to being able to appoint reliable household help, has captured my imagination on repeat occasions to the extent that when I glanced upon it today for the umpteenth time I felt my imagination diverge far from the path of reasonable assumption. I like the idea of a 'difficult' (in the way which can only be said with a forced smile, through gritted teeth) lady, stubborn as a mule and crabby as an old wounded cat, who , despite her good intentions and ultimately kind heart, has driven away a long succession of potential home-help with her willfull spirit and demanding requirements. I'd imagine the first day always goes quite well, for both parties – perhaps some of the “House Rules” seem a little demanding (“No Shoes anywhere past the porch, please, and I like to keep all the doors closed – insulation, you see.”) but really, nothing more than you get in most houses these days, now that the home has become less of a sanctuary and just another commercialised space onto which neuroses are projected by those who dictate what is appropriate. They part on cordial terms, and with cautious optimism – the help, walking to the bus stop in the cool dry afternoon air, reasons that even though it's only ten pounds an hour, it's not hard work and besides, how much can there really be to do? Plenty of time to sneak off for a cup of tea and to devour a few pages of the newspaper. And so, the next day – shopping, stilted conversation peppered with the occasional dry-as-toast witticism, and strange foodstuffs (eccentricity is allowed in elderly female writers, you suppose – but quails eggs?? This is dinner party food, food to show to others, food for display; then again, what is wrong with entertaining well even when your only dinner guest is yourself? An audience of one is still an audience).Back at home, searching looks over the battenburg cake and excuses made, as you escape to the kitchen. The upstairs landing smells like geraniums. There are no photographs.
Wednesday is a day of rest; you spend the afternoon hopping on and off buses, getting lost in suburban London, which mostly looks like suburban everywhere and has the redbrick and concrete labyrinthine qualities of suburban everywhere, and the repetitive motifs of suburban everywhere, and is held in an arid pause in the desert of those afternoon hours before the school run begins. You sit on a bench and unwrap your sandwiches, wrapped in tin foil, and ignore the curious looks that passers by would throw at you were they able to commit such a flagrant disregard of social convention – it being, in this sort of place, nothing short of brash to do much more than acknowledge the existence of another body in close proximity – for who on earth brings a packed lunch these days? Strange to do so, when sandwiches are available from every corner shop – limp, polystyrene triangles with pieces of meat like pieces of paper, cheese that comes from a tube, the metal arms and metal teats of the production line now the hand that feeds. (you cannot bite nor seek comfort here; battery farmed lives with just enough emotional sustenance to continue conspicuous consumption – the factory doesn't end where you think it does. You can't always see the bars.) Finish up your sandwiches, squash the tin foil into a ball. Bus home.
Thursday is worse. The air is stale, the conversation is stale; your tolerance grows less and less – your own ego, mediocre but expansive, resents the role you signed up to, you forget to close the living room door, the cat gets in, there is hair on the sofa, you spend the next 40 minutes vacuuming. Before you leave, she reads to you – poetry, and it's raw and it's good and it's honest but somehow it makes you feel further away, as though you're watching her through metres of water, rising to the surface, staring down below. Such an open invitation to truth, a door left unabashedly, flagrantly ajar makes you weak in a place you can't quite identify. The more the door opens, the further you sink into the shadows. You make your polite compliments, you say goodbye. Front door closes, you're left staring at a brass knocker. The paint around it is chipped. In the window to your left, there is an aspidistra plant. The bus home is quiet and stagnant, save for a mother and a boy of eleven or twelve in sports clothes who kicks a solemn tattoo on the back of the seat in front of him. When you get home, you call to hand in your resignation – time constraints; it doesn't fit in so well with your timetable as you had thought. The voice at the other end of the line is distant – “Very well. It was nice to work with you, briefly.You must pop by for a cup of tea when you're in the neighbourhood.” Click. You are left staring at the handpiece held before you as it hums its inverted Omkara. Call severed.

Whether this is anything close to the truth or not, I would like to send her a cactus because they are easy to look after and very rewarding. and I hope she has children or grandchildren or lots of old friends to come and visit her.

Friday, August 06, 2010

My Mum likes to watch a TV channel called Yesterday (tagline: “Where the past is always present”) which specialises in vaguely nostalgic documentaries usually focused on the none-too-distant past. At the moment, there is a show on exploring the thirties through the lens of home video cameras, obviously a rather scarce commodity at the time. It interests me, that we feel so disconnected from our past, that we need it fed back to us, in bitesize chunks – this comes in an evening in which I have seen slum clearance in 1960s Leeds, and footage of Dockers giving wads of cash to Miners in a show of 80s solidarity. Is this the only way we can conjure up any sense of origin, of source – that is only real which is reflected in glorious technicolor?

Anyway, the section which just finished featured Eva Braun's home video footage. Weird.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

A bit too pretentious for a facebook status update...

:) / :(

neither one exists without the promise of the other and today I wear both masks. (you can call me Thalia or Melpomene as the mood takes you..)