the chicken or the egg

 

I don’t think most people work jobs that are, in and of themselves, fulfilling. On any less than pleasant journey to work, it’s not uncommon to see people enveloped by any piece of technology that can provide some escapism. But even while people are working they’ll sometimes try to enhance what can feel a bit stifling. There’s everything from the usual water cooler talk about pop culture, and then occasionally you might hear the musings about how some trope from escapist TV would fit into the day. “Hey, what if a pack of mutant bikers just came and started circling the place?”

Between the life that one populates with pretend scenarios to make easier, or the TV that we let act as the window to vicarious lives — what comes from what?  

a messy world, but don’t give up on it

The news about Robin Williams seems to have given millions of people a sense of pause, in a way that many people wish would happen for the loved ones in their own lives. Some have resented the enormous presence this has had in media, and such opinions have been dismissed as anything from insensitivity to the somewhat mythic “reverse racism.” But with the senseless shootings that take place everyday, such a reaction is hardly completely devoid of humanity. Maybe it’s not the beacon that the media likes to pretend humanity is when something senseless happens, but a little self-concern when your looks are demonized should be understandable.            

 As is feeling for Williams. I don’t know that people’s affection for him is generally about the admiration of stardom; he was a unique entertainer, somebody who mixed a lot of heart into that one-of-a-kind whirlwind humor. That he so obviously wanted to make people laugh and smile in a goofy kind of way might have worked against him a little career-wise, in an increasingly moment- and cool-obsessed media. The art of being a goofball is not one that always seems vital and contemporary, but the world would be incredibly dull without it. Quite possibly even to himself, Williams’ merits became underappreciated — in the way that most people juxtaposed with a one-sided notion of “vital and contemporary” often always are.

The tributes are understandable, but a substantial part of the media reaction is entirely about Williams’ stardom and what can be milked from the combination of it and tragedy. That this generally trumps the senseless shootings of people who aren’t stars or considered All-American enough is ridiculous. Even with what’s happening in Missouri, perhaps only such an extreme example of the kind of messy unfairness that happens everyday makes it linger in the media. There’s also a tiny bit of self-righteousness that gets to be utilized, with the crusaders of justice for all who are on the nicer side of some subdivision themselves.

The only positives from this all seems to be a greater cultural awareness of institutional bias and depression, neither of which should add up to someone being ostracized. Often it’s all a mess, but really, it’s not just a mess, and you’re certainly worth the fight to not be overwhelmed by acutely feeling the worst of it.  If it’s too much of one, don’t try to go it alone.                .   

emotional support

© pinero and me

While I was in this store that sold a few supposedly natural remedies for various ailments, there was a bald woman wearing a hat — likely undergoing cancer treatment — browsing with a friend of hers.   Even for the few seconds that we passed each other, it was hard not to notice the look of optimism and lightness the woman had. I just simply hoped she got better and didn’t think much more of it. But they could have easily been erroneous, is the thing — the woman likely having cancer and any sort of positivity. The emotional support she had, even just in the friend that was with her, had to have been a vital part of that.

 In the ad-driven world of media, emotional support seems like something of a commodity. But I think the kind that helps us the most doesn’t care if we’re coveted consumers or not. Having someone trying to relate directly to the way you’re feeling in a positive way (and no, “whatever you do rocks” doesn’t quite count) can simply be quite a boon. It may not make the world any more fair, but maybe it can make it just that much more livable.

environmentalism when there’s a lack of resources

With the world’s climate changing the way it is, with permafrost not being so permanent anymore, it’s clear that a much broader sense of environmentalism could have been quite beneficial. But there’s always been a divide between people who are just privileged enough to enjoy a relatively contained experience of fresh air with nice views and those who are considered quite far from nature and heedlessly contributing to litter.  It’s not uncommon for the latter to be disenfranchised and often just trying to get through the day.

Between this divide is where most people would probably consider themselves: mindful about their environment, but generally just going with the flow of a world where pollution is the not-overwhelmingly-tangible output of convenience as normalcy.

I don’t know that environmentalism has ever really addressed those who aren’t privileged, though I’m speaking only to the privilege-regarded field.  Even in something that is supposed to be as eco-friendly and accessible as urban gardening, it seems like the people lacking in privilege who take it up (particularly in areas that aren’t gentrified) are quite the exception.

I figure that most populous among polluters are people who are sort of privileged and those who are underprivileged.  But both of them are utilized and out-polluted by rampant profiteers — folks who  have instilled and created an infrastructure of considerably wasteful and literally toxic values all over the world.

A disparity in resources can mean the difference between apathy about the environment due to a lack of solidarity, or apathy that comes from entitlement and convenience.   Generally people with resources are the only ones whose opinions count (or seem to count) in a society that can be all too driven by money; maybe this is why few people have ever really expected under-privileged people and areas to be devoid of (or care) about pollution.   If you’ve lived in a place that’s not considered respectable, you’ve probably seen people from neighborhoods that are (considered respectable) come to drop their garbage off.

The world’s changing climate is already affecting everyone to different degrees. People who have no resources and are unable to move to drier pastures (hopefully not so dry that they don’t have a decent supply of drinking water) will continue to be affected most negatively — though there’s little clear sailing all around. It’s an awful lot to ask people who aren’t privileged to care about something they don’t get to enjoy the best of.  But, however it may subdivided, there is only the one planet.

Sentimentality and the work of Shinichiro Watanabe

Some of Watanabe’s greatest influences are from American culture – the elements co-opted by ‘cool’ specifically, and shows like Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo are often appreciated along that line. But I think this minimizes Watanabe’s particular kind of sentimentality, which in and of itself is sort of the opposite of cool. (Read more of my piece at Den of Geek: http://www.denofgeek.com/tv/anime/30651/sentimentality-in-the-work-of-shinichiro-watanabe)

Lifestyle TV

Via the 17th century (and Wikipedia), a courtly precursor to tennis, one of the most lifestyle-driven sports.

Via the 17th century (and Wikipedia), a courtly precursor to tennis, one of the most lifestyle-driven sports.

To some degree, most people probably covet a lifestyle at some point in their lives: some seemingly predetermined mold of living that just looks right. A show like Mad Men benefits from the sheen — the aesthetic, the lifestyle — that was the cultural ideal of the 1950s. Specifically, Mad Men benefits in exploring how empty and shallow so much of that sheen was, while also being able to milk those qualities for entertainment value. But beyond that narrow realm of idealized-looking people in fancy clothes, the disconnect between lifestyles and substance rarely seems to change.

Even as the economy has stagnated due to unrestrained greed, there’ve been more and more TV networks catering to an upwardly mobile lifestyle. And, well, why wouldn’t they? TV is generally a for-profit business that caters to advertisers, and lifestyles are a premier business model. There’s never just one thing to buy; items, places and experiences are all part of the lifestyle tapestry. Often that collective is unified by the idea of ‘the best': consuming the best food, living in the best place, etc.

Even though it’s yet to put an ‘F’ for foodies in its acronym of Home & Garden Television., HGTV is probably the premier channel of the lifestyle lot; so many shows, so many boring privileged people looking for the best life has to offer in property.

Bravo has probably been at the forefront of shallow lifestyle TV. Its output seems increasingly obsessed with utilizing the insecurities of those who proclaim to be living some golden dream. A foodie-centric show like Top Chef almost seems quaint in comparison.

There’s also Esquire now, which slightly minimizes an obsession with drama in favor of yuppie/hipster driven reality shows with a magazine-like sheen. Glossy and not particularly deep, which is the thing with lifestyles in general.  In two weeks, the Bio channel will become FYI, another network focusing on — you guessed it — lifestyles.

Obviously lifestyle is quite a broad term, but I do think that the ‘style’ part of the word is intrinsic to how we think about it. As style is thought of by some people who use fashion as their ticket to being special, so is  the idea of a lifestyle.  In that vein, it’s not something everybody can have exactly. A lifestyle has generally been the domain of those with resources.

I guess the idea of a lifestyle will always be comforting, because it’s an insulated way to live. But places becoming tailored to lifestyles is generally one of the elements of gentrification — the process in which people  are mostly as (positively) relevant to society as their privileges are.  Maybe those privileges could entail resourcefulness as opposed to just resources, but it seems like we’re presented lifestyles as a dressed up approach to being a consumer as a way of life.

college

“We felt it was important to explain to contemporary viewers the extent to which our popular conception of college has changed over time and how historically higher education was viewed as a public good, as something that the government should support with the Morrill Act of 1862, the G.I. Bill, and the Higher Education Act of 1965, and how all of that shifted in the 70’s and 80’s when you had conservative governors who felt that intellectual curiosity should not be subsidized.”  — Andrew Rossi, from Sheila Roberts’ interview at Collider on his documentary, “Ivory Tower.” Read more at http://collider.com/ivory-tower-interview-andrew-rossi/