Thursday, December 27, 2007

How does culture come about in real time?

Culture is often discussed as a pre-existing system, but it's often clear that it's being created in the everyday activities of people all the time, and that power can nudge nascent culture into a influencial position.

The music sub-basement (is it ever really an underground? Because if so how would anyone know?) in the US has its moments of producing some really superb and forward looking music, but the scenes that generate this music and any attendant, supportive culture never bubble up into the market to be sold as lifestyle culture en mass. No, in the model that gets music on high-listenership radio, certain bands are picked up, cleaned up and produced. Who is picked, how and how they are handled does affect general american music culture, which is very central to youth culture, which feeds the trends that echo in our expressive styles. For anyone who's experienced organic music scenes, there is that intense frustration over who gets picked and who gets ignored in the lottery for mass cultural influence. In the 90s, in just one scene, Nirvana gets picked to click, bands like the Melvins and Mudhoney and the Fastbacks do not, and this has a huge effect on that scene at the time, and there is a whole category of radio station format that exists now because of it. Since the Payola scandals of the mid-20th century, there has been a cloud over every playlist choice. Does the unscrupulous delivery of money always trump any actual interest in music that gets played?

Outside the US, other choke points of culture can have huge effects. A story on the killings of popular musicians in Mexico provides some glimpses of how musicians are launched there.

"It is common knowledge in Mexico's music industry, but not known to the general public, that drug cartels finance the careers of some budding musicians, then launder money through unregulated concert ticket sales, according to industry sources, musicians and law enforcement."

The connection might start early in a musician's career:

"The nexus between drug traffickers and musicians often forms in poor mountain villages. Young musicians have few sources of income to launch their careers. There is scant public funding for popular music genres, which ruling elites look down upon as "lower-class junk," according to Wald.

Drug traffickers are often the only wealthy people in the mountain villages of states such as Sinaloa."

And later, these musicians have a material advantage over others:

"Bands that make deals with drug traffickers get a crucial leg up on the competition. Tzin Tzun, the promoter, can spot them with ease.

'They come into town with the most expensive equipment, stuff from Germany, stuff that costs thousands of dollars,' he said. 'But nobody's ever heard of these guys. They were on the rancho yesterday, today they're on billboards.'"

I can't help wondering how this has distorted music production and reception in Mexico, and how the tastes and connections of the traffickers may have moved music in ways it might never have gone. Culture being molded in real time.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Clifford Geertz's "Blurred Genres"

It's a work that I responded to and struggled to understand. While I delighted in the possibilities of interdisciplinarity, or mixing anthropological knowledge with fictional writing, Geertz asks us to reasses what the aim of all these reconfigured genres might be. If it is no longer expertise (for the social scientist), nor moral judgements (for the humanists), then we need to be clear about whatever else it is we aim to do. Because it's interesting that so many academics (deconstructionists or their enemies, or marxists or their enemies) who want to be leaders of new fields (like cultural studies) have some pretty prescriptive ideas about what these new fields or genres need to be doing (Denzin comes to mind). Some pass some very broad judgements about the whole enterprise (Trencher).

It seems to me that each of us attempting interdisciplinarity has to find and combine the influences that work for us as we try to reach our aim. I've been ambivalent about postmodernism at times, but the total rejection of postmodern thought that so many attempt is foolish. Whether you try to reject it point by logical point , like Trencher, or with wholesale hysteria like John M. Ellis, or more ignorantly in the manner of Congressmember Michelle Bachman, that simple rejection can only take thought so far. The problems and condition that postmodernism grew in response to still exist. Our philosophy must take them on in some way and simple rejection avoids this and sends you back to a more embryonic and thoughtless position.

I had to find a path through these ideas. I had to take a more personal and experimental approach to the terrain. What I found is both tentative and artistic.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Dr. Biobrain is trying to talk sense about Ron Paul on his site. Paul took in some big bucks, and people are both impressed and curious.

I have a personal perspective on Paul.

I voted for the guy in 1988 when he was the Libertarian candidate for President.

He got much less than one percentage point of the vote in the general. The Libertarian party was arguably stronger then than it is now, and that's what he got. If he were to run a third party challenge next year, as someone in Biobrain's comments suggests he might, he's bound to double his numbers over '88. If anyone wants to argue that a third party can win a presidential election at this point in time, knock yourself out, but know that you are arguing a fantasy based on your dreams with no supporting evidence.

I know why I voted for him in '88. He argued for the legalization of Mary Jane. He argued for reducing the military. He was good on the stump when I saw him in a debate at UT. I was able to vote for a clean candidate not sullied by the compromises of actually governing or passing laws. I thought votes for him would get the other parties to listen to his positions (hah). I didn't know that he agreed with the philosophical positions of the John Birch Society because he brought none of that stuff up in front of college students, and I never thought to look into it. I voted for him because he told me what I wanted to hear, and I didn't belong to a political party yet. He pandered to me when I was ready to buy it.

He's not some lonely pillar of integrity. He ran as a Republican to get elected to the Congress, when it was convenient to do so. He did this after condemning Republicans in '88 as corrupt war-mongering opponents of personal freedom and the constitution. Politics makes hypocrites of us all, I suppose. Hypocrisy isn't a federal offence.

Paul supporters now need to face two facts: that he can't win this republican party's nomination, and that a third party (except for Unity08, of course) can do no better than be a spoiler. Insulting the messenger won't change those facts.