Saturday, August 9, 2008

Updates from the Wilderness

And by "wilderness" I mean "suburbia," which is where I am now! I get to do all the things I do in New York, but in the comforts of my bed and with my mom bringing my food. By the way, Rice-A-Roni is my new favorite food.

This is the best commercial ever. You just expect it to be British and quaint, but then all of a sudden it gets all British and...sexual. And kind of gross. But also really funny.

Also, I've started drinking and it's only 2:30. God, it's great to be home.


Friday, August 8, 2008

Stumble Provides Me With All the News I Need

While waiting for my dad to pick me up, I was Stumbling and came upon this URL: impregnant-britney-spears/

The Web site itself is some obscure search engine obsessed with this woman. But more importantly, it's good to know that Mario Lopez didn't impregnate (or "impregnant") Britney Spears.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Insecurity Continues to Breed Amongst Women Thanks to Cosmo

I usually leave it to Jezebel to debunk the awful truths of ladymags, but this month's Cosmo really pissed me off.
"His Girlfriend Wish List: Do you have these 9 surprising traits?"
I don't know what 9 traits they're going to proffer, but rest assure that if you don't have them you will remain boyfriendless and lonely until the end of your days. You should also spend your time changing yourself so that you can become the kind of girl that guys love.

"The Sex Position Guys Lust For"
I'm guessing it's not one that hits your G spot.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Where the Hell Are We Going?

I was (of course) watching this video of Madonna performing "Hung Up" at Roseland Ballroom a few weeks ago during my lunch break at work today when I had a thought. This thought came in response to Madonna shouting "Fuck the present!" at the crowd before launching into an "oldie but goodie" (albeit an "oldie" released three years ago.)

To those who say that Madge isn't aware of her age or the passing of time, I say, watch this. It's another "Hung Up" performance video, from her album-promoting Confessions tour. Wait for the call-and-response part of the video--it's towards the end. Yes, I was there, and yes, it was actually a really cool moment in person, but looking back, it's kind of sad. What does the aging star have her adoring crowd repeat? The lyric "Time goes by so slowly." Now, a psychologist would have a field day exploring why she felt the need to ingrain this line in her listeners' minds, but I think it essentially boils down to: Madonna misses being young, and is scared of growing old. She wants to go back in time. Both Confessions on a Dance Floor and Hard Candy, for all their forward-thinking production values and big-name collaborators, are musical love letters written to a time long since passed, when Madonna truly was the queen of pop, when she set trends instead of following them, when she wasn't, as Pitchfork said, "like your friend's mom dressed up embarrassingly for Halloween." Sometimes it works--the Hard Candy track "She's Not Me" is just way too much fun to criticize--but other times, like when she's bordering on fifty and standing, sweating, in front of a crowd half her age in a New York club, shouting at her fans that she wants to go back in time--other times, it's sad.

What happened? When exactly did Madonna stop concerning herself with making music for the here and now and start frantically trying to reclaim her youthful personae? The same question, slightly tweaked, could be asked about our culture in general: when exactly did we become so obsessed with the past, and what does that mean for the present and the future?

This article, decrying the rise of modern-day hipsterdom and citing it as the cause of our impending cultural ruin, makes one big mistake: it limits itself to the world of hipsters. But what's going on right now affects everybody. We're caught in a retro whirlpool.

The biggest movie of the year so far has been The Dark Knight, and although it took Batman and his adversaries in a whole new direction, it isn't based off an original idea; Batman's been around far longer than I have.

The biggest, or at least most talked about, TV shows are The Hills and Gossip Girl, both of which can be considered "reality" soap operas--for really, what was Dallas but Gossip Girl set in Texas? Elsewhere on television, The Colbert Report is an offshoot of The Daily Show, and the top-rated Nielsen program is currently America's Got Talent, which is pretty much a talent show in the vein of the variety acts of Vaudeville and the musical mishmash of American Bandstand (which can also, of course, be compared to American Idol.) Besides, the talent show is one of the most primitive forms of competitive entertainment, seen in elementary schools across the country for decades and, in all its variations, parodied, described, and criticized in a variety of media.

Even New York clubbing, a cultural phenomenon supposedly on the cusp of societal ins and outs, has been looking back recently. The Beatrice Inn--where every celebrity ever goes on an almost nightly basis--is a throwback to the speakeasies of Prohibition. Ruff Club, the very first club-party Jess and I went to in New York, is little more than an updated 90s European (or Eurotrashy, depending on who you ask) rave. And the current hot spot, Lit (especially on Wednesdays), is a dive bar that specializes in playing rock classics from the 70s and 80s. Are these places fun? I think so. But they also don't represent anything new. Sure, the examples I gave for New York nightlife are rather skewed towards the hipster, but for a cultural niche that has long prided itself (while pretending not to pride itself) on being cutting-edge and avant-garde, all this feels a little...well, tired. Old. Like New York's not even trying anymore, and it's just coasting on the cocaine fumes of former revelers now too old to make it past midnight.

(I'd do a paragraph on fashion, but just go here. Oversized cardigans? Hi, eighties.)

The Internet has played a major role in this. Before, nostalgia was limited to the minds of those who could remember and whatever major revival stuck with the greater American populace. But now, if I want to watch old clips from, say, Clarissa Explains It All (loved that show!), all I have to do is go to YouTube. Then you have sites like Retro Junk that bring all your favorite childhood memories to one place.

And so on, and so on.

I'm not criticizing these sites, or even the idea of nostalgia. I love nostalgia. I get just as big a kick as you do out of playing Super Mario online. I just think the Internet has made us lazy. Why take risks by trying something new when we can just replicate the past--or better yet, watch the actual past unfold again, from the comfort of our own computer screens?

The problem is that eventually the well runs dry. Sooner or later, we're going to run out of retro things to romanticize and bring back. Or, failing that, we'll have children and grandchildren who don't appreciate the nostalgic value of things like eighties cartoons. They'll see the Speed Racer movie not as a high-tech throwback but as the products our supposedly modern imaginations had created, and the cycle will continue--they'll remake what we've remade, and culture will forever be caught in a Möbius strip of ideas, each one building off each other but never leaving that reproduced loop born from our parents and grandparents. We live in a world where the new new is whatever nostalgic stone has yet to be uncovered, where innovation has been replaced by recycled dreams and updated classics. Eventually, the loop is going to run out of steam, and culture as we know it will come to a crash, its proprietors decked out in neon t-shirts and old-school Nikes, desperately adapting Motown and Ray Charles to its hip-hop and disco standards to its pop.

Is there any hope?

I see one possible way out of this, and it's not even directly tied to culture: the green movement. The foundation of eco-friendly living is an awareness of the future and a desire to change the path onto which we've forged ourselves. I see nothing else like this forward thinking in any other aspect of modern thought. As environmentally-conscious movies and movements gain prevalence in society, perhaps this forward thinking will carry over into other aspects of our culture and remind us that there is indeed a tomorrow, and it's waiting for us to come up with the Next Great Thing.

But we've got to be willing to risk it, to not just fall back on past ideas and faded movements. Look, nostalgia has its place, but when it comes to dominate a mode of thought, it loses its values and simply becomes an aggregate cop-out. We have the Internet. We have technology at our fingertips so vast and innovative that we still don't really know how to use it. But there's got to be some errors with the trials we put into action for us to collectively move on. We don't have to leave the past behind; indeed, we can look back to see what worked and what didn't. But we can't be satisfied with rehashing past successes, nor we can we even simply adapt them to newish ideas. Rather, we have to understand why they worked, and apply those findings to purely new concepts.

If Madonna realizes that her early singles were hits because of the tension they entailed--religious tension in "Like a Prayer," romantic tension in "Borderline" and "Like a Virgin," consumerist tension in "Material Girl"--then maybe she can put out a record that incorporates the new tensions in her life, like her involvement in solving the plight of African orphans or the scariness of turning fifty. (Okay, so American Life kind of touched on these things, but it carries more of an "I'm not that girl anymore" message than a "This is who I am now" declaration.) And maybe club owners will see the excitement that came with illegal drinking in speakeasies and the lasers and lights of raves, and try to craft a new kind of excitement, one which even the most jaded night owls have never seen. And maybe we all will be able to look back when we grow old--nostalgia is always more appropriate when you're old--and take pride in accomplishments that are our own, instead of ideas borrowed from our parents and remixed for a tired youth. And maybe we'll do that looking back in a cleaner world, to boot.


On Pornography, Feminism and Women's Desires

I've been trying to read a lot of feminists texts recently, mostly so I can figure out what I believe in by weaving a patchwork of various ideologies. One of the major branches of feminism that fascinates me most is sex-positive feminism and differing opinions on pornography. A lovely J&J reader e-mailed me "Everyday Pornography" by Jane Caputi, which afforded me simultaneously lustful and awkward looks from the businessmen I was sandwiched between while reading it on the train home. Caputi purports that most pornography is inherently "phallocentric." She calls for the creation of porn that doesn't just define sex as intercourse and instead recognizes women as "desiring objects" with satisfiable libidos.

I agree with her that there need to be more women making porn. Half the porn I watch strikes me as gross and vaguely disturbing because it is made by men for men. I'm not sure if it's the "phallocentricism" that turns me off, or the fact that watching a cumshot just doesn't personally do it for me. Caputi writes:

Pornography supports the sexual politics of the status quo. It capitalizes, literally, on the ignorance and shame induced in us through sexual repression and colonizes what Audre Lorde class the "erotic"-- the force of freedom, ecstasy, exuberance and creativity, the potency that enables us to act and create, to grow and transform, and to resist oppression. Many defenders of pornography argue that porn, which is sexually explicit and often a turn-on, is therefore automatically liberating and "sex positive." Yet pornography is no real alternative; it emerges from the same sex-negative worldview that reinforces many of the most fundamental precepts of mainstream morality, for example, a split between spirit and sex, mind and body.

Caputi continues with a description of how porn capitalizes on morality instead of working to eradicate it. The "ignorance and shame" can be inherent in sex, due to societal stresses. Porn, then, fetishizes the moral implications of sex: if something is considered "wrong" or "bad," it's most likely going to turn us on even more.

Porn does nothing to get rid of shame, and instead perpetuates it by turning it into something to lust after. This strange combination of morality and shame in porn turns religiosity on its head and incorporates it into the sexual images we know and love.

I'm having a tough time deciding whether or not I agree with Caputi. While I do believe that more woman-friendly porn needs to be made, I also can't help but wonder about those feminists who are turned on by phallocentric porn. What if girls enjoy being punished or shamed or even doing something as simple as getting down on their knees and sucking a guy off? If a woman is turned on by this kind of sexual behavior, which could perhaps be construed as "anti-woman," does this make her a "bad feminist?" How much bearing do women's personal sexual preferences have on their political and gender beliefs?

Caputi continues:

Both pornography and godly morality ordain women (and indeed all of creation) to have been created for men--as objects of service, whether nurturant or sexual. Both endorse sexualities based in dominance and submission, whether found in marriages where women are promised not only greater saintliness but also hotter sex if they will just shut up, graciously submit, and surrender or in sadomasochistic pornography where women are literally bound and gagged before they are fucked.

But what if some feminists enjoy the dominance/submission paradigm?

Caputi concludes:

Pornography depends on very conventional notions of masculinity and femininity. Male and female are defined as inevitably oppositional and inherently unequal, yet ineluctably attracted to each other. The male partner is supposed to be taller, stronger, richer, older and colder--in short, more powerful. The female partner is supposed to be shorter, weaker, better looking, vulnerable, younger and warmer-- in short, socially powerless.

This seems to be factually true. But again, what does it mean if women are turned on by this situation? Take, for instance, one of my personal favorite porn scenarios: girl walks into classroom, girl subtly seduces her professor, professor eventually fucks girl. There is obviously a power dynamic here at play (yeah, yeah, I'm destined to forever lust after my bosses and teachers). But how did this happen? Is it learned or inherent? Do I long to be dominated by a powerful man because it's just my "type," or is it because it's something I've learned - due to muted societal goading - to desire?

And furthermore, does finding this scenario hot make me a bad feminist, because it plays into gender stereotypes? And what about women who enjoy being shamed during sex? Is it fair to assume that those desires point to something deeper, and more troubling, than simple sexual preference? I was talking to a friend about this, and he brought up the fact that when Howard Stern would interview porn stars on his show, they frequently had a history of sexual abuse. Is it fair to assume women who are overly promiscuous or enjoy "anti-woman" sex only do because of something wicked in their past? Is it even possible to enjoy that type of sex without this history? I think Caputi would argue that it's not, and that there's a difference between sex-positive feminism and enjoying something really obscene a la 2 Girls 1 Cup. But who gets to define that line?


Even More Updatez

I'm really busy. It sounds like a cop out but it's true. I have doctors appointments and road trip planning (I did really well at stick shift! I only stalled a few times!; I have to buy Dramamine and weird wristband things to keep me from getting car sick; We have to buy No Doz/Adderall. Lots of it). I'm doing freelancing tech stuff for my mom's friend to make some extra money. I'm seeing Radiohead next week and have to go into New York on Wednesday night for a lil gathering and I have pitches to write. I'm not complaining! I'm super excited. But it kind of sort of explains my recent disappearance.

What you can expect in the upcoming days:
  • A post on sex-positive, pro-porn feminism from a different angle than you'd expect.
  • A review of Pineapple Express - I'm seeing it tonight at midnight.
  • A review of the Radiohead show Josh and I hit up next week.
  • A big, long, top secret essay from Josh
Etc, etc, etc. Hopefully I'll get the first thing up before I head to the movies. We'll see.


Road Trip Update

So we hit a little snag in the road trip. First, we lost the car we were originally going to use. Then, when we recalculated gas mileage it was just too much money. Finally, we realized we were doing too much driving and not enough... savoring.

So we've reworked the schedule, and found a new car - only it's stick shift, so now I have to learn how to drive it before Aug 16. Luckily everyone else on the trip knows how. We're also now spending the maximum number of days in San Francisco, and we'll be in Denver to hear Hillary speak! Here's our updated schedule, click to enlarge:

My biggest disappointment is that we won't be able to go to New Orleans, which I was really looking forward to, and had already found a great volunteer organization to go through. But, you can't do everything, I suppose.

Now I'm off to the high school parking lot to learn how to drive a stick shift. The last time I tried I really fucking sucked. This should be interesting.


Monday, August 4, 2008

Josh and Jess Featured in Actual Print Newspaper

I got a headsup from my friend Juliet, who lives in Boston, that Josh and I have a little blurb in Boston's Metro newspaper. Check it out.

Really, really, really cool.


Josh's note: And we have nothing against the Red Sox either. That may be because neither of us has a real interest in sports, but hey, if we did, the Sox would be cool with us.
Well, the Red Sox. White Sox? Not cool. Cheating's never okay, guys.
Jess's note: I actually love the Red Sox. My Dad is a hardcore fan.

Josh's note: While we're on the topic of sports, what's up with the Florida Marlins? Seriously, the Marlins? What are you guys gonna do, slather yourselves with melted butter and be delicious? Ooh, real tough.

UPDATE: We're actually featured in ALL the Metro papers, and by "featured" I mean we have a little blurb, but if you live in Philly, New York or Boston PICK UP A COPY. They're free!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Books on Tape

Being home for too long is a lot like having to listen to Chasing Harry Winston by Lauren Weisberger on CD, i.e. it sucks.


The Great American Roadtrip 2.0

Me in San Fran at 17

There are two concepts that more or less explain a lot of the reasons I do the things I do. The first is my inherent transience: even when I was a child I consciously flitted from place to place, activity to activity. Permanence and staidness bore me. A suburban kid with an urban heart, I was (of course) attracted to Beat literature and subcultures that promoted a vanguard lifestyle. I crave the freedom to explore. This is why I was such a wayward teenager, constantly fighting with my parents for more, more, more. More independence, more flexibility, just more room to be myself and learn whatever the fuck that means. I've always had this innate drive to pursue finding myself in foreign places. It lends itself to a marked escapism, but it also means I have a charged sense of adventure that helps me to experience the most incredible things. This drive, coupled with my love for Beat literature, seems to be constantly enacting momentum on my life, pushing me westward towards California, but to San Francisco in particular, a city that I love even more than - yes, I'll say it - even more than New York. This love is the second concept that defines me. Until I moved to New York it was all about San Francisco. I spent most of my summers there, hours upon hours in the 2nd floor of City Lights with my legs curled under me talking about how Naked Lunch changed my life with various fellow Beat aficionados. Every single birthday or holiday that warranted any kind of gift meant that I was asking for a plane ticket to San Francisco. My parents struggled to fund my love for it, and I would forgo anything and everything if it meant being allowed to hop a plane out west.

With this in mind, and with the growing technological world and gas prices sky rocketing and the upcoming presidential election, my friends and I have decided to go on a cross-country road trip: an impromptu one, since we just decided and came up with the plans over the past two nights. Part of me knew that I would not be able to resist going to California before I left for Paris. I spent last summer in L.A., but I haven't been to San Francisco in 18 months, and it really does feel like a part of me is missing there. With this road trip, I hope to reclaim a lot of pieces of myself: my drive for adventure, my cliched teenage desire to live like Jack Kerouac, my need to see America as it is, now, on the edge of a recession, on the precipice of one of the most important presidential elections this nation has ever seen.

We are going to do this road trip the millennial way: what it would be like if Jack Kerouac had a Twitter while he was penning On the Road. Only we will take ourselves less seriously, and probably will not "tweet" things like "Allen Ginsberg is trying to hook up with a 17 year old boy again and this peyote is so strong I'm seeing yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars." But we will record every step of the way, for anyone who is interested to view. We're creating a Word Press account, which I'll link to from here in the coming days, for us to keep our writing and videos and photos. We'll create a Twitter account that we can update from our phones and we're going to interview people that we meet along the way. I'm going with my friends Kyle, who is a video editor, and Alyssa and Susanne, who are artists/photographers. We're going to make this road trip into a multimedia extravaganza. We're also going to take a specific angle in each city that we hit. For instance, one of our stops is New Orleans, where we're going to do a volunteer day and talk to people who were affected by Hurricane Katrina. Another one of our stops is Denver - during the DNC - so we'll be able to gage the political climate by talking to people in a relatively red state about what it's like to have the DNC there.

In this way, we hope to learn about ourselves by learning about other people. And we're going to do it in this highly technological very connected millennial way so that people who don't fit into the tiny car we're taking can participate along with us. We're also doing this DIRT CHEAP. I'm bringing about $350 with me for the entire trip, including for gas money, which we calculated via miles and MPGs and is going to add up to about $700 (divided by 4). We have places to stay most nights because we planned it so that we stop in cities where we know people, but in random places like Salt Lake City and the Grand Canyon we're staying in a Motel 6 for $50/night. (Maybe we will even see an episode of Intervention being filmed)

I've never done ANYTHING like this before. I'm very excited, but also terrified.

Below is our tentative schedule. If there are any J&J readers in any of these spots along the way, let us know so we can meet up with you:

Aug 16: Philadelphia to Cleveland
Aug 17: Cleveland to Chicago
Aug 18: Chicago to Des Moines
Aug 19: Des Moines to Denver
Aug 20: Denver to Salt Lake City
Aug 21: Salt Lake City to San Francisco
Aug 22: Stay in San Francisco
Aug 23: San Francisco to Los Angeles
Aug 24: Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon
Aug 25: Grand Canyon to Las Cruces, NM
Aug 26: Las Cruces to Austin
Aug 27: Austin to New Orleans
Aug 28: Stay in New Orleans
Aug 29: New Orleans to Birmingham
Aug 30: Birmingham to Raleigh
Aug 31: Raleigh to Home