Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Shut Up and Sing?

This will be brief, as I have a pile of information on my desk on sustainable development that needs studying. This is kind of an old issue, but only recently has the mixing of politics and celebrity seemed worthy of actual discussion to me.

I, for one, just can't understand why it is that people seem to be so horribly offended by celebrities (singers, in particular) that share their political views through their music. To again refer to my favorite YouTuber, Julia Nunes: She recently posted a video to her channel in which she performed a very nice cover of the song "Brighter than Sunshine" by Aqualung, and followed it up with a vlog update on what's been going in her life. In this section, she mentioned that Obama had won the presidency, and that the eruption of excitement on her college campus is an experience that she will tell her grand children about. She then discussed the passing of Prop 8 in California, constitutionally banning gay marriages, making a sincere and heartfelt apology to those who had been ripped apart by the legislation. The amount of shit she took for this video was astonishing to me. She was called horrible names, over and over again, and people who had been long time subscribers and fans instantly turned on her and brutally attacked her through the cowardly anonymity offered by the Internet. It isn't hard to think of other examples of this disgusting reaction to the mixing of music and politics. On the eve of the invasion of Iraq, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks (I am not ashamed to say that I love them) said at a concert in London, that she was ashamed that the President of the United States was from Texas. She and the band spent the next 4 years of their lives fighting radio boycotts of their music, disgusting and hurtful names like "Dixie Sluts" and "Saddam's Angels," and even a threat against Maines' life. 

This is so insane to me. When someone decides they want to make music, or when someone signs a record contract, they don't sign away their right to participate in political and civic discourse. Spending time in a studio doesn't make you any less of a person and certainly doesn't strip you of your freedom of expression and speech. I write and perform music myself, and my politics and views on social reality are an integral part of where my lyrics come from. My songs are as much an articulation of my beliefs as are the papers I write, the blog entries I post, the arguments I make in debates with friends and peers. Putting these beliefs in musical form and performing them in public does not make these viewpoints any less valid, and certainly doesn't take away my rights as a free citizen to dissent, speech and expression. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a fan of the politics written into the music of far-right wing musicians such as Toby Keith (fully explained in the entry called 'Ditches and Hoes') and, given the choice, I wouldn't opt to listen to his music. It's critical to mention, though, that it's his politics with which I take exception, not his expression of them in a public forum or on a stage. He can write whatever he wants in his music, and I can choose not to listen to it. To actively try to destroy or hurt someone just because their politics become exposed in front of an audience of any kind, though- that's ridiculous. 

Being a musician or a public figure doesn't take away your ability to feel and think and speak in a way that reflects your politics. I'm not usually one to side with complaining celebrities (read, I'm never one to side with complaining celebrities), but when it comes to that stupid aphorism "shut up and sing," I feel my bile duct raging. Music is personal, and the personal is inherently political. If you don't like it, don't listen. But the expression of beliefs and values is not a right that should be restricted, unless it infringes upon the safety and well-being of others, or denies others the right to free expression, as well. Seems to me this is a pretty basic argument that's been kicking around for along time. In fact, it's suspiciously similar to the ideas put forth by Classical and Reform liberal philosophers emerging from the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment...as in the period of history emerging around 1600(ish) and lasting until about the end of the French Revolution (1789). That's over 200 years ago. 200 years and we still haven't gotten it right. Maybe it's time to stop telling people to shut up and sing. I think we should finally shut up and listen. 

Friday, November 21, 2008

Things and Stuff

Dear Readers,

Thank you for being readers! I have been very lacking in the update department as of late, so here is some news for all you wonderful people:

1. The guest blog has been arranged and the entry is being written at this very moment. I hope to have it up sometime before the end of next week. I'm super honoured to have someone so brilliant and talented writing for little old me, and on a subject which I feel many people misunderstand- stay tuned!

2. One of my good friends, Mr. Colin Sharp has designed an awesome logo for Man Descending at one of the busiest times of the semester. Huge props and thanks to him. I haven't uploaded it yet, but I plan to do a bunch of revisions to the page over the Christmas holiday coming up. Stay tuned for those, as well, I suppose. Check out Colin's work here. He's a talented fellow.

3. Once the guest blog goes up, I will likely go on a temporary hiatus until exams are over. I have much to do in not very much time. Forgive me! 

4. The CRTC (for all you non-Canadian folk, the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission) has just fucked up in a big way. They chose to not take Bell to task for the allegations of Internet throttling brought against them. I don't have the time/energy to go into this issue in any substantial way, but basically the notion of net neutrality has been ditched in in favour of the illegal and immoral strangling of Internet access by service providers. Take a look at a story outlining some of the main issues at play here, then help me try and understand why this isn't being stopped.

5. One of my favorite YouTubers, Julia Nunes has just put a sweet video up on her channel for her song "Maybe I Will" that she'll be playing on Saturday at the YouTube Live event in San Francisco:

6. I AM SLEEPY! I just finished and presented a project that I've been working on for 3 months. I'm going to go relax for a bit then start my studying for finals. Huzzah!

Thanks again to everyone who helps, supports and reads this little thing.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Obama : Socialism as Apples : Oranges

It’s no secret that I’m pumped that Barack Obama is the new president. I acknowledge and respect, however, the opinions of those who consider themselves Republican. A couple days ago, I read something attempting to explain the Republican opposition to the allegedly Socialist policies of Barack Obama. The writer used the following analogy: A student who gets a 4.0 GPA shouldn’t have to give up some of their grade to boost the GPA of a 2.0 student so that they both end up with a 3.0, so why should hard-working Americans be forced to give up their hard-earned money to help those who are lazy and unmotivated? This type of analogy, while superficially convincing, is based on a faulty parallelism between the example of the students and the reality of American society, and makes a few key assumptions about the capitalist system and the “freeloaders” who unfairly take advantage of the hard work of others. Here is a brief explanation of those oversights.

1. Social government is not Socialism:

If Barack Obama is Socialist, I’ll eat my shoe. Obama is a left-leaning politician who supports increased government intervention into those areas of the social system that require attention form a less volatile institution than the market. Socialism, on the other hand, is a political ideology fundamentally rooted in issues of class conflict, fetishization of the commodity and the abuse and devaluation of human labour. Granted, one of the creeds of Socialism is “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” However, this is not the policy adopted by Barack Obama. To call Obama a Socialist is to demonstrate ignorance of both Democratic Party policy and Socialist ideology. It is a faulty comparison, at best, and one that I feel is indicative of the remnants of irrational Cold War fears.

2. Not all people who believe in social government are the lazy, hard-partying free loaders that reductive analogies make them out to be:

Many of those that depend on the programs of social governments such as accessible health care, governmentally regulated health insurance practices and quality public education are, contrary to popular iconography, capable, educated, employed and contributing members of society. The problem is, it’s really hard to say to your opponents “get a job you lazy bum” when your opponents are working professionals. So the hard-line Republican has latched on to the image of the low-income, frequently unemployed citizen as a way of making people believe that social programs are just a big money grab, meant to give more purchasing power to those who couldn’t give a shit about whether they fail or succeed. There are people in the United States who make money, who have families, who own homes, who buy cars, who carry briefcases, who go to meetings, that cannot get health insurance because their welfare and safety has been left to the vicissitudes of an unregulated market. As a caveat, this is not to say that I am against market economies. On the contrary, I believe that the market can be used to both corporate and social ends, if properly regulated. However, allowing physical well being to become a tradable commodity has effectively barred millions of Americans from being guaranteed adequate health care. The problem with deregulated health insurance is that the sickest people, those who require the most assistance from insurance companies, are the people that are least likely to be covered. If someone is in danger of dying, or if they have a condition that requires any sort of intensive, long-term treatment, they’re left to fend for themselves. Helping these people costs too much money. And when money is the sole determining factor in who is valuable as a human being and who is not, the demands of the market will always win: cut your losses, invest in strong futures. To say that social government punishes those who work hard to the benefit of lazy, unmotivated freeloaders, then, overlooks the barriers and stonewalling that are built into the social structure of American capitalist ideology. This oversight ultimately amounts to an ignorance of one of the most fundamental aspects of power relations and cultural studies: Hegemony.

3. Ignorance of the Nature of Hegemony:

Nicholson (1997) provides us with a productive definition and discussion of hegemony that is worth quoting at length:
“Hegemony is a form of consensual control... a sort of society-wide agreement which attempts to maintain a social order among the various members of that society. This may sound like a harmonious situation, but a problem arises in that most nonfictional societies continue a degree of oppression against certain members of the population…the subordinate group. Subordinate groups are deemed ‘subordinate' because they are subject to the various and sometimes seemingly invisible, forms of power the dominant group possesses...Hegemony occurs when the subordinate group acquiesces and accepts the ‘reality’ produced and then maintained by a dominant group. That is to say, the subordinate group has an understanding that their position within society and culture is for the most part, preordained- that is, it is common sense that things are the way they are, given the information we have to work with.”
What Nicholson has touched on here is the crux of understanding the way in which social relations function, particularly in (to borrow Jamieson’s term) a late capitalist society. Those who have been vilified by Republican rhetoric as the lazy, the freeloading, the non-contributing, can be said to belong to the subordinate group described above. While their unemployment, generational cycles of poverty, and other economic shortcomings have been constructed as self-inflicted wounds by those who oppose social government, Nicholson provides us the tools to discuss these “failures” as the consequence of restrictions, boundaries and limits that are built into the very system that we call “reality.” As mentioned in my last point, if someone has trouble getting health insurance, it is not necessarily because they are naturally or inherently subordinate, but likely because there are features of their reality, characteristics of the dominant social paradigm that prevent them from doing so. If any true apathy or ‘laziness’ occurs on the part of those contributing members of society who are barred from certain social institutions, it is not because they are bad people, but because of an “acquiescence” to the “seemingly invisible forms of power the dominant group possesses.” The negotiation of hegemonic power, in this way, silently, but without fail, grants the cultural and economic capital necessary for access to certain services and institutions to some, and seeks to normalize the will of this dominant group among others. To criticize those without health care, those without stable employment or those without the means to an education is to criticize those that have been made subordinate through the very policies of those who criticize them.

The student with a 2.0 GPA has a low GPA because he/she did not make an effort to succeed once given an opportunity, not because he/she was never even given an opportunity in the first place. The lazy freeloaders so often mocked and derided in Republican rhetoric have been shut out of certain institutions through the negotiation of hegemony, and through the establishment of hidden, but universally enforced limits to advancement and growth.

E.T. Bell said “‘Obvious’ is the most dangerous word in mathematics.” Turns out that the same can be said of cultural studies. The equivalencies implied between social government, Socialism and redistribution of wealth by reductive analogies are false, and based on the social construction of a group of subordinate people that has little or nothing to do with their actual nature. I am not a Socialist, I am not a Marxist, I am not a Republican. I believe in questioning truths, and helping people because it’s the right thing to do, not because it’s the first stage of a proletarian revolution, or because it will generate more money. It’s just something that should be done. I think that’s fair.

"Poor wanderer," said the leaden sky,
"I fain would lighten thee,
But there are laws in force on high
Which say it must not be."

--"I would not freeze thee, shorn one," cried
The North, "knew I but how
To warm my breath, to slack my stride;
But I am ruled as thou."

--"To-morrow I attack thee, wight,"
Said Sickness. "Yet I swear
I bear thy little ark no spite,
But am bid enter there."

--"Come hither, Son," I heard Death say;
"I did not will a grave
Should end thy pilgrimage to-day,
But I, too, am a slave!"

We smiled upon each other then,
And life to me had less
Of that fell look it wore ere when 
They owned their passiveness.

~Thomas Hardy

I think that I should probably clarify my own political views a bit. I do not support just throwing money at those in need. Without the necessary infrastructure to make sure this money is used in the areas where it's most needed, the money itself is useless. A lot of countries have run into the same kind of problem in trying to get more of their citizens online. When programs are launched to "wire" more homes, governments often buy a whole bunch of computers, and give them to people without any understanding of how to use them- the physical and mental infrastructure has to exist before you can expect people to use services effectively. In its purest sense, then, I don't support "redistribution of wealth." I do, however, feel that taxation provides an effective means of distributing wealth in the interest of establishing the physical and institutional infrastructure necessary to provide essential social services. Okay. That was a lot of writing. I'll call it a day. 

Monday, November 10, 2008

Peer Pressure

So, some time ago a fellow blogger/best friend pitched an idea to me for a blog entry- 50 things about myself/50 things I want to do before I died. I initially resisted because I wasn't sure that anyone wanted to read about me on a personal level. In the last few days, however, I've come across a few "50 Things" lists on YouTube and Blogger and they're freakishly interesting to listen to and read. I don't know if there's actually 50 things on this list, and I'm not sure they actually reveal anything about me, but nonetheless, here's a list of stuff about me. Tune out now if you don't care. Just so you know, the guest blog is coming- it just hasn't been totally arranged yet. It'll be cool, though.

Inconsequential Stuff About Me:

1. I live in a "sustainable community" where most people shop organic, but drive land-yachts.

2. The best thing I've ever read is probably the poem "First Fig" by Edna St. Vincent Millay:
"My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends--
It gives a lovely light!"

3. I never feel worse or more guilty than when someone honks their horn at me while I'm driving

4. I think clubbing (as in going to nightclubs, not as in bludgeoning), as a rule, is way too much effort. It's just not worth it to get dressed a certain way, act a certain way, etc., just to have the privilege of buying overpriced booze and spending a few hours in a commercially-sponsored sweatlodge.*

5. I promised myself a long time ago that I would follow through on one of my oldest dreams this coming summer. And I'm doing it.

6. I didn't like the movie Juno. Just didn't like it.

7. The best Simpsons episode is "Lisa the Vegetarian," the best Futurama episode is "The Devil's Hands are Ilde Playthings," and the best Family Guy episode is the Christmas episode where Lois goes ape shit.

8. I love watching vlogs on YouTube, but the thought of making one myself horrifies me for absolutely no rational reason.

9. Fall is my favorite season.

10. The only movie that's ever made me cry was E.T. In my defense, I was like...5. The only other movie that's come close to making me cry was the Dixie Chicks documentary, Shut Up and Sing. Judge me.

11. I remember talking my parents into getting the Internet at our house.

12. I love the city.

13. I think the most scared I've ever been is when I watched Gremlins.

14. I can't hear the song "Hit 'Em Up Style" by Blu Cantrell without thinking of 9/11. The back story for this is more complicated than this list will allow. Just accept it.

15. I fell asleep 10 minutes into Citizen Kane and have yet to make any serious effort to watch it all the way through.

16. I've seen one of those perfect tropical sunsets. They're even more insane in real life than in photos.

17. I think people should sing more. A lot more.

18. I always say how much I like IKEA. Then I spend 3 hours in that place, buy something, build it with all the grace of a caveman going after a dead antelope, end up with 2 screws and a bamboo peg left over, and have to seriously fight back the urge to go back there and just torch the bitch.

19. The idea of the army horrifies me.

20. These are the 5 CDs I'd take with me to a desert island:

Chances- Jill Barber
Man Descending- Justin Rutledge (And just in case you're wondering, the answer is yes and no.)
Amnesiac- Radiohead
Lady Day- Billie Holiday
The Hold Up- Donovan Woods

21. There's an essay by Frederick Jamieson about Jaws that's influenced the way I view the world more than almost anything else.

22. I hated high school, and wouldn't do it again to save my life. But at times I miss it a lot.

23. I've had a perfect day.

24. I miss thinking that I know stuff.

25. I'd rather gnaw off my own foot than sit through a T.V. commercial.**

26. I know that it isn't really fair to say that a certain movie or type of music is good or bad because taste is subjective and stuff. Nonetheless, there are musicians and movies that just should not be. Some stuff is just bad.

27. It baffles me when people say they're going to vote for someone because they "identify with them"or because they can "relate to them." Call me crazy, but the last person I want running a country is someone like me.

28. I think that volatility and neurotic-ness (is that a word?) are probably the most attractive characteristics in the world.

30. I play a "game" with myself to try and improve my powers of articulation and explanation. Whenever I see something that would be baffling to someone from say, 1478, in my head, I do my best to try and explain it in such a way as to make that person understand that particular thing. It drives me nuts.

31. Surprise! I ran out of energy and motivation before I hit 50! I have to go work now, on thingsway less interesting, but more important than self-reflexive blogging. Until next time.

*There are exceptions to this rule
**My friend was kind enough to point out to me that I do, indeed love the "Magic Bullet" Infomercial. I refuse to include this under the umbrella of 'T.V. Commercials' on the grounds that it's more of a lifestyle choice than anything else. 

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Just so you know- the reason I haven't posted in days is cause I'm working on getting a really great guest blogger to put my intelligence/writing ability to shame. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

Thank you to everyone who reads, and especially to my compadre, Alli, who is in the process of relaunching her blog "Kiss and Confess" and was kind enough to link my blog on her page. Make the universe happy and give her a visit- the link is under "Good Folks" on the left side of the page. 

That's it for now. I have to go read a pile of essays from the 60s on W.H. Auden. Jealous?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


OBAMA-BIDEN 2008!!!!!!!!


Monday, November 3, 2008


Fingers crossed for tomorrow!

In the very small amount of time I've been alive, I've only seen the world change for the worse. Let's hope that tomorrow can finally prove me wrong.