Power/ Influence

November 3, 2010 at 11:41 pm | In arts, authenticity, fashionable_life, guerilla_politics, ideas, social_critique, vancouver, victoria, women | Comments Off on Power/ Influence

A few days ago the Vancouver Sun published BC’s top 100 influential women – it’s entirely possible that I would have missed the Sun‘s report if not for Alexandra Samuel‘s extensive blog post, Vancouver Sun list of 100 influential women in BC shows influence beyond Twitter.

This evening I came across Are you an influencer? on The Next Web Shareables. There are two videos in this post – one is a short trailer, the other is a 14-minute version. The influencers are almost all – and I mean all – men. Young, too, and often pretty macho. There’s one woman who gets interviewed more extensively, and aside from her (and a brief image of Marilyn Munroe, of all people) it’s men, men, men: discursively, it’s a world where women simply don’t exist, except for exotic exceptions that serve to rub in how absent we are otherwise.

From my not-so-in-depth examination (so far) of the Vancouver Sun piece (I have some ambition to pick it apart later, but haven’t done so yet), it seemed to me that the top 100 influential women in BC are almost all from Vancouver: it’s as if anything beyond Metro Vancouver doesn’t exist.

Before seeing the Are you an influencer video tonight, I had been thinking, tangentially, about the importance of location / place in determining who gets to be counted as an influencer (and why), and about how location concentrates and drives influence and power. Specifically with the BC’s top 100 influential women piece in mind, I had been thinking about Vancouver and how it seems unlikely for that location to share power and influence with other locations in BC.

At the same time, I was recalling that 25 years ago Vancouver was for all intents and purposes a hick town, really: when my friend and fellow grad student Steve at the University of British Columbia announced to faculty that he planned to write an Art History Master’s Thesis about a Canadian art movement, one of the senior professors – an Englishman who studied Tiepolo, regularly removing himself from Vancouver as often as he could to pursue his studies in situ in Italia – warned Steve that, by limiting himself to such a provincial scope, he was burying himself “in a very shallow grave.” In other words, young man (or young woman), if you didn’t study Pollock or Picasso – or any of the other big-name brand-name all-male stars – and if instead you chose a new (but obscure!) topic that you cared about (or, gasp!, a woman artist to study), you were not going to be an influencer yourself. You could only become an influencer by attaching yourself to a Big Name.

Fact. Honest truth. The Tiepolo scholar was telling Steve that he could not, within the framework of the Academy, become an influencer if he chose to study something un-influential (sotto voce, that meant “study an important male artist, it will pay off for you – do not choose to study an insignificant movement or heaven forbid a woman artist”).

Do you see the contradiction? Sure, you might say, “well, hip influencers these days don’t want to work in the Academy,” but I’m telling you that there is no “out there,” and that instead, the academy is all around us, morphing to provide the context of power every time. Call it Academy 2.0, call it Influencer Academy: it’s still a power structure. If you’re outside that Academy, good luck flopping around in your shallow grave.

So the question with regard to the “top 100 influential women” article and its Vancouver-centrism might be, “how does a place become the sort of framework that allows certain things / people to achieve influence?” Vancouver has become that sort of place. Is it the concentration of capital and power, which in turn conveys some sort of benediction on those who do manage to achieve success within it?

As for the continued existence of the Academy, just watch the Influencers video and be amazed at how tightly it’s still controlled by men – but then realize that the video was created by two men. So, no big surprise, eh? If women don’t step up and make these kinds of documentaries, well, then, tant pis pour nous, as they say might say in Quebec. In that sense, I applaud the Sun‘s B.C.’s Top 100 Influential Women series and I’m thrilled to see every single woman on there.

The issue of place keeps nagging at me, of course. Victoria can certainly be the most shallow of graves…

I don’t know what became of Steve, who “sacrificed” becoming an influencer (aka, joining the Big Men) by instead studying obscure Canadian socialist art of the 1930s.

But how superficial would our culture be if we only studied the Big Men, amplifying a power structure that trades only within the Academy? We don’t need another hero, and we don’t need a fancier Echo Chamber either.


August 19, 2010 at 10:06 pm | In advertising, arts, authenticity, brutalism, fashionable_life, ideas, media, style | 1 Comment

Night thoughts about exigency (something I have no time for).

Exigency: An urgent situation …a situation requiring extreme effort or attention. Exigence: demand.

Think child-rearing, perhaps? Think about having hardly any time for yourself, as you prepare yourself to be on constant alert, inbetween the moments that punctuate perpetual vigilance with pure delight? Is it addictive, to live like that? As Perma-Mom or Perma-Dad?

Which brings me to disaster. Why is the idea of disaster so seductive? Is it because it’s over quickly – unlike real life…?

Toward the end of July, NPR’s film critic, Bob Mondello, had an excellent segment, Disasters In Reel Life: It’s About Time (And Suspense). He referred to the “realistic” popular cataclysms dished up by Hollywood, and wondered, “So how come when a real disaster strikes, it feels so different?” One obvious answer is time: in the movies, disaster is fleet of foot (or whatever it is that disasters have, if not exactly feet – legs, maybe?). In real life, on the other hand, there is no suspense to disaster. It’s a drag, not a wild ride.

Then there are the other banal and painful differences: “Disaster movies have characters; real disasters have casualties.” The fictional representations of disaster obey Aristotelian rules about build-ups to climactic events, while real-life disasters mix up that experience. And in disaster movies, you never have to deal with the clean-up…

This might speak to the infatuation with urban apocalypse: it’s a desire to hasten an “end with horror” (versus true – and impossible – reconciliation to the “horror without end”). Check out London After the Apocalypse on Flavorwire: a more nuanced, artistic vision of 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow…? Perhaps we’re to shrink from the oozing decrepitude of Norman Foster’s Gherkin, its normally plump erectitude punctured by what looks like a case of vegetal clap. Maybe we should be awed: when a mighty organ such as this is marred, then it surely is the end.

[An aside, possibly irrelevant: If I had ever met her, I would be able to hear my maternal grandmother’s voice say, Besser ein Ende mit Schrecken als ein Schrecken ohne Ende (“better an end with horror than a horror without end”), a sentiment I always found really alarming and frankly ideologically dangerous (and one my own mother embraced whenever she felt a) depressed or b) manic – like I said, a dangerous idea). But then I didn’t live (and die) my grandmother’s life.]

In this unholy mix of media manufactured fast-forwarding to The End, we see that ecological disaster also has a special role to play: As Bob Mondello put it, “If the Gulf oil spill were happening in a film, you’d see oil-covered polar bears within hours of the Deepwater Horizon’s demise.” Urban disasters are a long-standing trope that goes back to the early days of Industrialization: both the Romantics and Surrealists liked to imagine man-made forms overtaken once again by nature. There’s something satisfying about seeing chthonic nature assert itself against concrete and human-contrived geometries. It’s also nice to think that nature will win, whereby winning means making human squalor and folly seem irrelevant. Unfortunately, that scenario also means everything else human becomes irrelevant – and that’s not an idea I can endorse.

And so we come to fashion, which has to be one of the highest achievements of humanity. (I’m not being ironic, incidentally.) A recent approach (the oil spill shoot in Vogue Italia’s August 2010 issue by Kristen McMenamy, shot by Steven Meisel) has put the Gulf of Mexico/ Deepwater/ BP oil spill front and center in haute couture. But as refinery29.com wrote, regarding the August Vogue Italia photo spread featuring oil-slicked models on the Gulf:

As beautiful and provocative as they are, we can’t help but feel uneasy. Creating beauty and glamour out of tragedy seems quite fucked up to us, not to mention wasteful and hypocritical, seeing as thousands of dollars of luxury clothing was flown in, and then subsequently ruined for the shoot. Glamorizing this recent ecological and social disaster for the sake of “fashion” reduces the tragic event to nothing more than attention-grabbing newsstand fodder. But that’s just us. Do you think this is appropriate commentary, or just tasteless? (source)

Some of the images (very few) are beautiful – most are provocatively horrifying. They’re not easy to swallow, and you have to look long and hard (which is difficult, given the ugliness of the setting) to find the fashion (be sure to view the 11 images in the slideshow).

Horror without end – the models are posing in the thick of it. End with horror? Not practical. As long as humans are around, we’ll never be without fashion (and fashioning) – how could we be? It’s part of our art – we’ve been fashioning since we got kicked out of Eden. Perhaps the question is, if we can’t be without the horror (can’t stop it without ending), can we shake ourselves out of being used to it?

“Good-bye, Name-for-yourself…”

May 15, 2010 at 10:58 pm | In arts, fashionable_life, ideas, women, writing | Comments Off on “Good-bye, Name-for-yourself…”

A while back I watched It Should Happen to You, a 1954 comedy directed by George Cukor. The film is often cited as being Jack Lemmon‘s career-launching vehicle, but Judy Holliday is the one to watch.

Holliday plays Gladys Glover, a pretty young woman who came to Manhattan two years earlier to seek fame and fortune. But when we meet her, she has just lost her modeling job because of a 3/4″ increase in hip size.

She’s kind of fed up with everything as she wanders through Central Park, annoys various people, and then becomes part of some documentary footage being shot by Jack Lemmon’s character, Pete Sheppard.

Naturally, Pete falls for Gladys, but never has a more stuck-up character fallen for a creative genius. Yes, I’m talking about Lemmon’s character as the stuck-up guy and Holliday’s Gladys Glover as the genius.

See, Gladys realizes something that the rest of the world – even Andy Warhol – doesn’t catch up to until much later: the importance of personal branding (or, alternately, securing one’s 15-minutes of fame). She succeeds in getting what she wants most: that her name become a household word. (See this Wikipedia entry for a succinct plot summary and description.)

But since the movie is from the early 50s, it’s inevitable that a man should bring Gladys “down to earth,” by reconciling her at the end of the movie to an ordinary life in an ordinary setting. It’s pretty obvious that they’re not going to settle down in Manhattan – they’ll go back to her upstate hometown or live somewhere just outside the city. In Westchester, no doubt.

Admittedly, Gladys Glover is a bit of a kook – but then, so was Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly, who at least becomes iconic. In the end of course even Holly Golightly doesn’t soar to freedom, although it’s less likely that she ended up in as conventional a relationship with George Peppard’s Paul Varjak as Gladys must with Lemmon’s Sheppard.

Gladys – such a 50s name! – can’t stay kooky. Her initial act – renting a giant billboard that overlooks Columbus Circle just so she can emblazon it with her personal name – makes Lemmon’s character think she’s certifiable. “After all, no one hires display space just to put their name on it!” he splutters.

Or, how about his other “it-goes-without-saying” pronouncement, which certainly resonates today: “What most people – real people – want is privacy!”

“Not me,” the kook (aka Gladys Glover) replies.

He enjoins her to “learn to be a part of the crowd,” but that prospect just depresses her.

And so, Gladys ends up on a proto-typical reality show circuit, where a public-at-large speculates about her identity. “All she’s got is nerve,” someone says. And “that’s all you need these days” is the reply.

As the film builds to its climax (Gladys unhappy with the emptiness of fame) before the final denouement (Gladys finding happiness in being just another average girl who finds happiness with an average guy in an average relationship set in what will probably be an average suburban subdivision), her handlers (for she has indeed acquired professional handlers along the way) set out to exploit her “unusualness.” How? By showing that the average American girl is …unusual.

That right there is another brilliant foreshadowing of every marketing angle to hit the pike since this film was made.

But is there a clear-cut alternative? Lemmon’s character seems to think so, but its price-tag (the woman subordinating herself to her man) is unacceptably steep.

Sheppard’s otherwise conventional advice to Gladys, who wants to make a name for herself, was enlivened only by this: “It isn’t just making a name, it’s making a name stand for something.” That’s what Gladys latches on to when her creative quest for fame goes wrong.

When she says, “Good-bye, name-for-yourself,” and packs it in, she expresses how difficult it is to keep your name as yours once it circulates as common stock. Identity and privacy, particularly control over privacy, are clearly and intricately linked.

It’s too bad she opts for merging her identity into Sheppard’s. By the end of the film, I sort of hoped that the marriage wouldn’t last.

Can artifice be truthful? (My Kraftwerk interlude)

April 14, 2010 at 5:59 pm | In arts, fashionable_life, ideas | 2 Comments

I’m listening to a couple of Kraftwerk CDs that my son requested for his birthday: Die Menschmaschine and Trans Europa Express. There are a number of good links on Youtube for those who need a Kraftwerk refresher: Die Roboter (ignore the intro) and Das Modell, for example.

When both Kraftwerk and I were younger and their music was current, I had a bit of a hard time with Krautrock (yeah, thanks, UK) and the repetitive lyric of Wir fahren fahren fahren auf der Autobahn. But hearing these albums now, I’m blown away by how good they are: the quality, concept, musicality, and yes, even the lyrics. Maybe that’s because the German lyrics rhyme, which smooths the edges off the language, making it fit seamlessly into Kraftwerk’s synth package. Brilliant.


As for the automaton aspects, I can see them now as pure poetry. When I was a teenager, they embarrassed me: too close to the cliches about Germans, too close to the idea of Germans blindly following orders – in this case programming from who-knows-where. Now, I’d say they’re fucking brilliant from start to finish, and manage to convey more depth and truth than many an expressionistic let-it-all-hang-out ethos ever could. Can machines make art, philosophize, and tell the truth? Maybe if they’re “made in Germany” (and people after all), they can.

A couple of sample verses from the song Spiegelsaal (Hall of Mirrors):

Sogar die groessten Stars/ Entdecken sich selbst/ Im Spiegelglass = even the biggest stars discover themselves in the looking glass

Sogar die groessten Stars/ Moegen sich nicht/ Im Spiegelglass = even the biggest stars don’t like themselves in the looking glass.

Sogar die groessten Stars/ Veraendern sich/ Im Spiegelglass = even the biggest stars change [appearance/ their self] in the looking glass.

Sogar die groessten Stars/ Leben ihr Leben / Im Spiegelglass = even the biggest stars live their lives in the looking glass

Sogar die groessten Stars/ Machen sich zurecht/ Im Spiegelglass = even the biggest stars make themselves up in the looking glass

Such fitting lyrics for Kraftwerk, whose looking glass is consummate and beautiful artifice.

Interruption: another word for clutter?

April 12, 2010 at 11:42 pm | In comments, fashionable_life, housekeeping, ideas | 3 Comments

When Google came out with Buzz, I wondered who would want their email cluttered up with constant (and probably inane) interruptions. I thought, I’m getting curmudgeonly, even cranky. I didn’t like Wave, either. Stupid idea.

But a post by MentalPolyphonics, Workplaces Are Poorly Structured, confirmed what I’ve been thinking.

It features a BigThink video, Why You Can’t Work at Work, in which Jason Fried (co-founder of 37 Signals) explains how constant interruptions at work keep people from getting anything done.

Well, d’uh…

I left a comment on MentalPolyphonics, along these lines: I’ve come to believe that another word for “interruptions” is clutter: A sort of mental clutter and time clutter that becomes a bad habit (“habit clutter”).

Much of that is inspired by Julie Morgenstern‘s kick-ass book, SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life: A Four-Step Guide to Getting Unstuck. Yes, another “self-help” book to help you get organized – but this one doesn’t just tell you to buy a bunch of stuff at the Container Store so that your place has the appearance of unclutteredness – as if that were all that’s to it. For one thing, Morgenstern doesn’t stop at physical clutter – she asks you to go after both time clutter and habit clutter, both of which can be very tough to deal with.

That’s where the overlap with Fried’s take on interruptions comes in. Bad habits include letting yourself be interrupted constantly, whether you’re checking email, checking Twitter (or whatever your ambient social media app of the moment happens to be), or are simply being “on.”

Consider trying the SHED diagnostic test here to see if you’re a candidate for SHEDing. It’s a fun way to get into what Morgenstern is trying to get across, but read the book for the full picture. Consider it not just cleaning up, but clutter therapy.

Over the  weekend, I popped into Chapters and had a chance to leaf through Youngme Moon‘s fascinating new book, Different.

(An aside: I really want to read this, but refuse to pay Cdn$32.00 in-store for it – heck, over the weekend, our dollar was at par with the US$, yet I’m supposed to pay $6.00 more than what this book’s suggested retail price is in the US? Not to mention that it’s available on Amazon for $17.16?)

Anyway, asides aside, one of Moon’s points revolved around reverse engineering (that’s not what she called it, but I was skimming while standing in the bookstore aisle): basically, once we are surfeited with choice(s), things tend to tip over, almost into their opposite, and the company or business that then moves ahead of the pack is the one that (almost counter-intuitively) does the opposite of what the others are doing. So, if people were saturated with search engines that practically come out screaming – with bells, whistles, and visuals – then what will grab people’s attention (even though it seems counter-intuitive to go down that route) is a search engine that’s bare and sparse (<ahem> Google). (Which makes Google’s current attempts to clutter up our lives with Buzz or Wave so much more pathetic, I guess.) Moon had a couple of other examples, but you get the point.

So… looking at all the ways that we let ourselves get interrupted now, I wonder whether the next killer app won’t be one that does the opposite: a digital cocoon, perhaps? An invisibility-maker, a discriminator, an exclusivitator, a zen snob app that let’s you say FU. Let’s call it the Garbo.

Just a thought… 😉

Eyeglass hack

March 31, 2010 at 12:26 am | In fashionable_life, just_so | 4 Comments

For over 30 years, I’ve gotten my eyeglasses from sunglasses. It started in the early 70s, with Ray-Bans. I had a pair of yellow-lens “shooter” aviators, in gold. They were a fashion statement, somewhat restrictive, but a hell of a lot of fun. I relinquished them a few years later in favor of tortoise-shell Ray-Ban Wayfarers, which lent themselves more readily to everyday wear.

Here’s what you do: find a great pair of sunglasses, high-end and good quality, that look smashing on you. Get the optician to pop out the lenses, and then try the “glasses” on to get a sense of what they’ll look like with clear glass. If they work, have the optician mount prescription lenses in those frames. Get polarized lenses that darken outside – sunglasses!

Lately, I’ve run into opticians who insist that only certain frames are suitable. I don’t know where that idea springs from. Any good quality frame should work.

Here’s Carole Lombard in a pair of aviators that look a lot like the ones I had.

Of course I don’t look like Carole Lombard, but …oh well!

Just remember that the right glasses can be positively transformative.

(Thanks @ Mental Phonics blog post for sparking this entry.)

PS: I originally wanted to include a picture of me wearing my glasses, but couldn’t find one. Updating Skype this morning, I realized that there is one online, taken about 4 years ago. Clearly, my current glasses fall into the Carol Channing category: wide-eyed and maybe a bit dizzy (even though I’m resting my chin on my wrist, bored):

I think my next glasses should have a different flavor: sharper, more focused, signaling precision. …At least that’s what I think I want.

See how complicated glasses really are?

Henry James Barcelona

June 24, 2009 at 11:10 pm | In arts, fashionable_life, ideas, writing | 4 Comments

I watched Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona recently. It was enjoyable and fun to watch – to a point. It had all the classic hallmarks of a Woody Allen story, as it revolved around the American (and now also European) upper-middle-class set – which made it watchable, but also made it annoying.

The acting was good – I thought Penélope Cruz was utterly enthralling, a delight to watch and impossible to anticipate – and the story was actually quite interesting. And the settings were gorgeous.

In fact, the settings were gorgeous to the point that I lost my ability to willingly suspend disbelief.

Where, in all that luxury and ease, was there any friction or resistance – any real life? Two young women go off to Europe – specifically, Barcelona – for a summer lark. Sure, it’s credible that two women like this could both be available at the same time to do this together, although my ex-academic mind was already calculating Vicky’s age – she’s doing a Master’s Thesis on Catalan culture, hm, she must be reaching her mid-20s?, and her friend Cristina is from her old college (pre-grad school) days, so presumably they’re the same age, in other words, they are two women around 23, 24, 25 years old who both happen to have time – and resources (that is: money) – to travel together for the whole summer? No boring jobs to pay the rent or pay back student loans?

Right there, zing!, one of the threads holding up the suspension of disbelief starts to fray.

But the rest get shredded even more quickly. Consider that Vicky happens to have American relatives in Barcelona who can house the two “girls” for the duration – and that this isn’t just any house, but an estate. Consider that the mansion’s owners are two ultra-conventional people who don’t seem to evince the slightest talent that would indicate how they came to live this life of luxury in good old Espagna.

Now, if that were my only complaint, one could say that I’m just envious of the rich. But my objections go deeper – to the absence of friction and resistance.

There are no servants or gardeners to be seen, nor any trace of their existence. Does the American housewife who presides over the manse do all her own housekeeping? Unlikely.

Wait, there’s more.

The house is up on a hill, buccolic setting – and yet there’s never any difficulty in reaching the city center for restaurant hopping or an evening out. Country paths for bicycling, fields for picknicking, berry brambles for foraging: all instantly accessible, as easily reached as the downtown core and its exciting nightlife. From an urbanist perspective, this aspect of the fairytale was staggeringly surreal: it seems that in Woody Allen’s Barcelona, there is no congestion, there are no hassles in getting taxis (they just …appear!), everyone happily drives even after drinking the equivalent of a case of wine, and no one is ever stuck in traffic jams.  The space-time-continuum is collapsed: there is no energy lost in moving between the fantasy worlds of city and country …presumably because they’re both just that, fantasy.

No one works in Barcelona! Everyone either parties or gossips or ponders soulfully the meaning of life.

It’s all Old World charm and authenticity in Woody Allen’s Barcelona, and you know, deep, in a deeply un-American way, what with all those Europeans. And yet technology works seamlessly and without any friction or hassle. For example, American tourists have no problems with their American cellphones, which magically just work. Nor do they have any issues with paying for what must amount to staggering roaming charges – even though they’re currently unemployed travelers. Vicky is constantly receiving calls from her fiance in New York, nor does she hesitate to call him – actually, as soon as she and Cristina arrive in Barcelona and get a taxi, she pulls our her phone and calls him.

I know there are ways of getting around the mobile carrier issue in Europe, but it all invariably involves at least a bit of hassle. Not in the movies, though. Maybe the girls all had Skype enabled on their phones, and that’s why they could afford such liberal long distance use. But then again…

In Woody Allen’s Barcelona, artists aren’t starving, they’re boho-rich. In fact, our hero (Juan Antonio) isn’t just rich – he’s rich enough to drive a spiffy red sports car, pilot a borrowed plane (and have rich friends who have planes to pilot), live on a hill (living on hills seems to be important if you’re an important character in this movie), be able to support his penniless – but wildly gifted – ex-wife (Maria Elena, played by Penélope Cruz) and support his new mistress (Cristina), set Cristina up with a darkroom and all the papers and chemicals and lights and cameras necessary to practice her new-found art/hobby (not to mention that the darkroom appears to be installed in a single afternoon …gee, I wish I could get my home improvement projects done on that kind of schedule), dine out endlessly in attractive bodegas, and…

…And, as if that weren’t enough for one single inexplicably wealthy artist-painter: in addition he has a poor widowed papa who’s also an artist, who also lives on a hill in an immaculate and beautiful house (which also is bereft of groundskeepers or servants even though it’s a stretch to think that the old man could keep it up all by himself). And, this is the coup de grace, the father is a poet who writes the world’s most beautiful and moving poetry, which he then withholds from the world because of his lofty disdain for mankind. Na-na-na-boo-boo, as the kids might say.

As I said above: no friction, no resistance. Woody Allen gives a whole new dimension to the concept of “life of leisure” and “life of ease.”

Naturally, these people have to create inner dramas and turmoil for themselves, otherwise their upper-middle-class existence would become unbearable – as it does for the wife in the transplanted American couple with whom Vicky and Cristina set out to stay for the summer.

The fear of losing all that lucre keeps them mired in pretend affairs. I say pretend affairs because Cristina’s shallow desertion of Juan Antonio at the end of the film shows how artificial her interests in him were. She returns to the US with Vicky so she can continue to nurse her neurotic search for meaning and life’s “gifts.”  Vicky meanwhile resigns herself to marrying the idiot fiance so she can age into a desiccated replica of her relative, the expat American housewife in Barcelona.

I realize it sounds like I hated this film. I did and I didn’t. I enjoyed watching it – there’s so much eye-candy, so many beautiful people, gorgeous scenes, tantalizing situations. But it was actually the eye-candy that made me despise it, too: for me, it took away from the story, cheapening it instead of enriching it.

I came away from the experience of watching it as I do from trying to read Henry James‘s work. There’s something so arty and precious in James’s language that I literally fall asleep to save my sanity. Yes, it’s true: I’m a philistine, I cannot – literally cannot – read Henry James. (In fact, when I tried to watch a movie version of The Wings of the Dove, I promptly fell asleep there, too.) Granted, Vicky Cristina Barcelona didn’t put me to sleep, but give it a few years to reach the art status of James, and some day it, too, will reach that pinnacle. Revered, Allen’s obsessive focus on the (usually American) upper middle class, will be an object of adoration for many (and Vicky Cristina Barcelona its apogee), even as it puts some of us into snooze mode.

Could “localism” help dilute “narcissism”?

May 29, 2008 at 9:30 pm | In authenticity, fashionable_life, ideas, local_not_global, social_critique | 2 Comments

Update, see end of post.

Ok, ok, I know it’s not a question I (or anyone) could possibly answer in a short blog post, but consider the discussions around the Emily Gould phenomenon (here, here, here, or a million other sites online). Fast Company‘s Laura Palotie column, How Emily Gould Turns Us On, closes as follows:

…we like to equally spit on fictional New Yorker Carrie Bradshaw, traditional celebrity Denise Richards and the newest, self-made breed that Gould represents. We scarf down the private, aggravating realities of each with equal appetite, and let the resulting schadenfreude provide a soothing distraction from our own neuroses.

Well, um, maybe. Except that until someone in my Twitter stream tweeted about Gould’s NYT piece, blissfully ignorant me didn’t know who she was — except of course that I had heard of Gawker.

Yes, I did on one or two occasions glance at Gawker, but never really read it and certainly didn’t “follow” it. Why not? Because I don’t live in New York City. Call me naive, but I thought Gawker was all about New York — rather a long ways away from this (literally) “neck of the woods.”

And until reading Palotie’s piece, I didn’t know who Carrie Bradshaw was — I had to reread one sentence to understand that she doesn’t really exist and is in fact one of the characters on …um, a TV show? Something called Sex and the City?

Why would I not know who the Sex and the City characters are? Um, well, …I don’t watch TV. I have a TV (I have sex, too), but I have no access to TV channels (antennae don’t work in Victoria, and I refuse to pay money to the cable company). All I ever watch are DVDs — I don’t have a clue what’s on actual TV this season.

Instead, I know a lot about what’s going on in my local space — some of which overlaps with my online spaces. Not to sound too colloquial, but I’m totally about keeping my eye on the pulse of trends, seeing patterns emerge, knowing what’s coming up in terms of technological innovation. My interest lies in figuring out how that can apply to where I live, to the local.

Neither Carrie Bradshaw or Emily Gould have a locality in my world. Maybe that makes me sound backwards (or just really old) in pop cultural terms? Or perhaps if I were a psychiatrist, I might be interested in one or the other as an emblem for some sort of mental disorder; if I were a professional sociologist, I might be interested in one or the other as a specimen of forensic interest. But I’m not.

From what I recall of Emily Gould’s fantastic (and probably fantastically paid) 8,000 word ramble, there wasn’t anything that I could pattern-match in any useful sort of way to anything I’m interested in figuring out here.

Reading some of the commentaries on Gould, and the underlying assumptions they make that, exuding Schadenfreude, we must all be greedily “scarfing up” each breaking scandal, I can’t help but think that a passionate interest in your locale, in where you are, is a kind of vaccination against the narcissism that serves as a prerequisite to keeping the culture industry humming along.

Technology is making narcissism easier, but it would be wrong to blame technology just because it’s used by what appear to be the terminally narcissistic to amplify their ends. After all, that same technology is also making possible a renaissance of localism, enabling a community’s place-making voices to emerge from under the choke-hold of broadcast media.

It all depends on what you choose to focus on. Obviously, if you focus on the Goulds or the even more fictional Carrie Bradshaws, and you lose your place. Your life is where you make it.

Update, May 30, 7:30am: So, this is ironic… As it happens, I checked our local paper’s “Arts” section this morning — something I usually never do because this paper rarely reports on local arts happenings, instead typically filling this section with pop culture “news” I can easily pick up just about anywhere else. I don’t get why they (the paper) don’t get that I wouldn’t bother looking in my local paper for stuff I can read anywhere else. But I digress…: what did my bleary eyes see on the “local” paper’s “Arts” pages this cloudy a.m.? Not one, not two, not three, but four (4!) “stories” about …yup, you guessed it, Sex and the City. The movie and the TV show. And all of them, save one, were recycled filler from the feed of Canwest News Service. The one that wasn’t from that outlet was a cut and paste job of critics’ snippets cobbled together into an “article,” entitled”From the sublime to the ridiculous, the critics’ take on Sex and the City,” by “Special to the Times Colonist.” It’s enough to make you weep.

And some people think the bloggers are unprofessional or shallow or full of crap, and that those in official media are the professionals. Well, if that were true, one would have to rethink the whole notion of “professional.”

(Oops, my bad: I just now realized that I hadn’t actually included a link to Gould’s NYT piece, and just added it, above, and here.)

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU on Vimeo

May 15, 2008 at 4:21 pm | In fashionable_life | Comments Off on MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU on Vimeo

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU on Vimeo

Click on the title (above) to see a stop-motion animation of some fantastic graffiti carried out by BLU in Buenos Aires.  Amazing.

Found via Cool Hunting (click through for their description/ commentary).

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