Friday, September 16, 2011

Shit Happens and David Sirota's latest book proves it.

Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now--Our Culture, Our Politics, Our EverythingBack to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now--Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything by David Sirota

People who don't think for themselves really irk me. And since there are alot of dipshits in our society who conform to the mass mindlessness, I seem to get irked at least three times a day. That number shot up considerably as I read David Sirota's Back To Our Future.

Conformity of thought goes back ages and is in fact a natural tendencies in human group environments. In the middle ages for instance, if you didn't conform to what the church told you, or to what the landowners told you, you could get drawn and quartered. So conformity of thought was a self-preservation tool that parents taught their children, that communities encouraged in their neighborhoods and that nations encouraged in their citizens.  There have been rebels of course, the Jonathon Livingston Seagulls who don't pine for the acceptance of the group or their peers and who ventured off on their own path--but the masses have generally been conforming to their church, their community, their family, their parents, their government, their employer for as long as mankind has existed in groups.

hanged drawn quartered Pictures, Images and PhotosBeginning in the early to mid 20th century however, there came a new and incredibly powerful force that influenced control over conformity of thought--it was the mass media, ie radio, film, television. Television especially, which invaded the American home in the 1950s like an infestation of brain-eating ants, became a most potent tool for conformity. TV not only took the place of babysitters in some families but of parents as well, as kids across the country would sit in front of the boob tube after school and on weekends and let the idiot box infiltrate their young, formidable little brains. By the 1980s this brain-draining osmosis went into full-on assault as the cable tv revolution invaded millions of households across America. Millions of children were no longer learning the social norms, values and behavioral patterns from their parents and community. They were learning it from the fucking TV!

David Sirota, who does not seem to have any childhood/teenage memories beyond the soundbites of his favorite 1980s movies that shaped his relationship with his brothers and parents, is one of these children of the 80s.  Like Steven Johnson (author of the equally irksome Everything Bad is Good For You) Sirota seems to believe that just because he saw something (or believes something) that our entire culture must have seen it also (and therefore also believes it). The introduction to his book Back To Our Future is filled with a miraid of these kinds of idiotic judgements:

"Today, we still see economics through Wall Street's [the Oliver Stone movie] eyes and government through The A-Team's garage googles, confident that a few 'greed is good' tweaks and hired mercenaries can save our economy and foreign policy."

Really?  We do?

"We view race through Diff'erent Strokes and Cosby Show living rooms, differentiating between the acceptable 'transcendent' minorities and unacceptably ethnic ones."


"When we consider ourselves on the global stage, we still imagine Sergeant Slaughter. When we look at the rest of the world, we still scowl at the Iron Sheik."

lol!  Notice how often Sirota says "we" and you can see why I get irked. I mean nothing is quite as frustrating as some douche-ball like Sirota projecting his pop-consumer-culture world view of simple-minded generalities onto our entire society. He bases (what passes for) his world views on the too many hours of cable tv he watched as a pimply-faced teen growing up in the 80s. And this is where the massive disconnect that the mass mindlessness sheeple like Steve Johnson, Glen Beck and David Sirota becomes obvious: They each seem to have this dellusion that they speak for an entire generation or even an entire society.  For instance, here Sirota in his infinite "wisdom" claims:

"Fox [actor Michael J. Fox] in the 1980s was helping concoct the indelible generational fantasies that still dictate America's sense of possible and impossible, desirable and undesirable."

And this:

"Every public-policy, competition, and entertainment plot worships the Michael Jordan ideal originally popularized in sneakers, T-shirts, animated movies, and McDonald's commercials."

This redonkulous hyperbolic tone make's Sirota's prose entirely unlikable and it makes his crap-stick of a book frustratingly unreadable, but at the same time it gives some insight into the mindframe of the mass mindlessness sheeple.

For instance, it's interesting to see how influenced Sirota's mindset was by the mainstream media's version of the 1960s. In the mainstream media version of the 1960s there was this coming together of an entire generation that stood up for civil rights and peace and love and humanity. This generation had a common experience--all viewed through the tv set and that was brought together by events like JFK being shot on tv and the Beatles appearing on Ed Sullivan and Jimi Hendrix butt-fucking his guitar as he wailed out the star-spangled banner at Woodstock and the US sending a man to the moon. This is the mainstream media's version of the 60s and like most mindless generalities there is always some truth in it. Many Baby Boomers coming of age in the 50s and 60s most likely did have some generational cohesiveness. But Sirota and other mass mindlessness sheeple seem to take this idea of a generational cohesiveness and try to apply it to the children of the 1970s and 1980s and beyond.

Of course in real life there is only a very minor influence of any sort of generational cohesiveness existing.  It really only exists in the world inside the sheeple's little signal emmitting electronic boxes. In reality society became incredibly fragmented in the 70s.  Ironically, the mass media played a real part in this. Musically for instance we saw country, disco, punk, heay metal, new wave, hard rock all develope into distinct genres in the 1970s. The 70s youngsters weren't all listening to the same thing let alone all thinking the same thoughts. And by the 80s they all weren't even watching the same shows. Cable TV and VCRs gave the youth of the 80s more options than the 3 or 4 channels of corporate broadcasting that the youth of the 60s had. The youth of the 80s had more choices for individualism. And this is where Sirota seems to have entirely missed the boat. Stuck in his mainsteam media version of the 1960s, Sirota seems to think that not only did every teenager in the 80s play the same arcade/video games as he did, but listened to the same music, watched the same tv shows and the same movies. 

This asinine assumption becomes obviously even more assinine when trying to apply it to the youth of the 90s (who had even more options with the emergence of the internet) and the youth of today (who have yet even more options with i-phones and all that jazz).  Interestingly enough though, instead of seeing all these modern gadgets as sources of infomration that encourages thought, Sirota actually seems to link all of our modern electronic devices and sources of information to some kind of Orwellian plot that actually encourages people (kids especially) NOT to think on their own.  On page 34, he writes:

We "are outsourcing critical contemplation, vesting complete faith in others and letting them do the thinkng for us.  It is an [bullshit] ideological devotion to individual deities...We read from Oprah's book-club list and get life tips from her magazine.  We imbibe Paris Hilton's gossip and pass on Matt Drudge's headlines--and we do it without question.  We look to Jim Cramer and Suze Orman for investment buy and sell orders, we turn to Deepak Chopra or Dr. Phil for happiness directives--and when we discuss and disagree, we marshal our arguments like Chris Matthews or Lou Dobbs or Rush Limbaugh..."

And according to Sirota this is all because, as Orwell predicted, of our obsession with the Great Individuals (Big Brothers) that began in the 1980s. Actually in 1984 to be exact, that being Michael Jordan's rookie season in the NBA.  And the blame for this obsession with Great Individual all begins with Nike tv ads of the 1980s that protrayed Jordan as superhuman or that proclaimed that we should "Just Do It" or promoted individuality in the "Revolution Ads".  Further more Sirota claims that because of this obsesion with the Great Individuals, we:

 " longer study up on public issues.  We trade in the responsibilities of democratic citizenship for the pleasure of a superfan's hysterical enthusiasm by simply backing whatever is being pushed by the political Michael Jordan we like, and opposing whatever his or her archenemy supports. We don't pay attention to local democracy, we don't pay attention to local issues. We flock to Obama rallies and cheer when he says 'change'. We mob Sarah Palin book signings because she 'stands for what America is'.  We are clashing mobs of rabid fan clubs boorishly following the feuding Jordans at the very top, without regard for what the competition is all about...'"

After reading this far into the book you might start to think that Sirota must really hate America.  And he must really hate himself too, because he isn't saying "Everyone else but me is doing all of this stuff."  He's saying "We are doing this stuff."  But of course Sirota is actually being much less than sincere when he is using all of these "we's" because it becomes pretty obvious that Sirota does not consider himself among the "We" that he is so critical of.  No, he in fact, seems to see himself more as one of the Great Individuals.  Which nicely brings us to his chapter on "narcissistic personality disorder" (NPD--why do we need such idiotic clinical terms for every God damned human trait nowdays???) that is brought on when an individual is enveloped in this world of mass mindlessness. Sirota warns the reader on page 54 of what this NPD does to our society:

"There is...damage when the achievement of fame and kingly wealth becomes the central organizing objective of society.  The future republic is threatened by a sharp increase in the number of people who care only about themselves; and the earth's ecosystem may not survive the scourge of smog-belching and gas-guzzling 'me' culture that first spread in the late 1970s and 1980s.  This modern blast of narcissism all but defines America now..."   

Sirota then accuses Time magazine of celebrating this narcissisic self-absorption of America when they taped reflective Mylar to the cover of their 2006 Person of the Year issue, proclaiming "You" as their person of the year.  Sirota also points the finger at everyone from Karl Rove (for describing himself as courageous) to some random woman sitting next to him in a coffee shop who is "frantically blogging about her favorite movie as if the world is waiting her opinion." 

Which actually doesn't seem that different from frantically writing a book about far-fetched arguments that everything wrong with society today is because of what happened in the 1980s.  Does it?  So maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea for Mr. Sirota to take a gander into one of those reflective pieces of Mylar on the cover of the Time 2006 person of the year magazine covers and start including himself as one of those idiot "We's" that overpopulate our culture.

In all honesty I gave up reading Sirota's load of shit at this point.  I just couldnt stomach his hyperbole and hypocrisy a minute longer.  Overall I think he needs a serious punch in the nose and I hereby decree that Back To Our Future recieves ZERO out of 5 WagemannHeads.

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Can White Guys Teach The Blues?

I'm always leery when fresh-cut, middle-class white guys try to inform me about the blues, and Preston Lauterbach's The Chitlin' Circuit is a good example of why that is. Within the first 30 pages I found myself cringing so often that I had to stop and decide if I was going to continue reading. Which is a shame because this book actually has some very good things going for it. First and foremost is the subject matter. Documenting the Chitlin' Circuit that was such a huge part of early 20th century American culture is a fascinating idea and has a wealth of untapped possibilities. Also, Lautherbach has certainly done some detailed research here, done some revealing legwork and obviously he has great enthusiasm for the subject, which is important. After all if the writer isn't excited about what he is writing about, then why should the reader be?

So I really wanted to enjoy this book, but early on, too many throwaway/irrelevent sentences like these kept distracting me:

"As former [Denver] Ferguson employee Jimmy Coe recalled, Denver would rather make a hundred dollars crooked than a thousand dollars straight.' Very well, Mr. Coe, but in Indianapolis, crooked was straight."
"A visual would be lovely, but while memories of Denver's baseball ticket game are legion, most players waddled their tickets in disgust and tossed them in the gutter."
"They [Denver Ferguson and his brother] gave generously to charitable causes, functioning as a de facto community foundation. Today we might look cynically upon a reputed gambler who puts uniforms on little leaguers, or chalk in schoolteachers hands..."

There are too many examples like these where Lauterbach inserts distractive and irrelevent opinions ("Today we might look cynically..." and "A visual would be lovely"... lovely??) or when he constantly tries to posture himself as more of an authority than the people who actually experienced the scenes and times he is describing ("Very well, Mr. Coe, but...").  These idiotic statements made it overwhelmingly difficult  to actually enjoy the narrative - which is a shame because it is a narrative that I am very interested in hearing.

Not to make excuses for Lauterbach, but to offer hope, I should point out that The Chitlin' Circuit is his first book and that the editors/proof readers that Lauterbach relied on really should have caught these brutally obvious failures in his narrative. In fact, cut these distractions out and there IS a good book hiding within.

For these reason and more, I give The Chitlin' Circuit Three out of Five Wagemanheads.

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