Friday, June 26, 2009

Twilight of the Idolaters

It was 1989 and I proudly declared, as most of the rest of my kindergarten class did, that my favorite musician was Michael Jackson. I don't know that I could have named, hummed, or recognized a single one of his songs.

In the ensuing years I remedied that travesty but in a manner that has come to represent much of what my generation (that half generation of lost misfits between generation x and the iGeneration) does - ironic (and then post-ironic) false nostalgia. We are nostalgic for things we couldn't have fully appreciated - Thriller is older than I am. Fuck, we are nostalgic for things we couldn't have experienced - Studio 54, Woodstock, Ken Kesey's bus, the Left Bank in the 30s, whatever. We have come to love the music, the moments, the atmosphere, the culture, the styles in a "you had to be there" kind of way, even though we weren't. I blame the media.

Not the media in the sense of Mainstream Media, Network News, CNN, and FOX, but media in the sense of the Internet, cell phones, ipods, Facebook, Twitter, and the like. Media in the McLuhan sense. And I'm not saying it's a bad thing or that we should go back to the "good old days" or that my son's generation is doomed to being somehow less than those that lived before television. I am not a Luddite and have no desire to give up my media, my laptop, my smart phone, my interwebs. What would the world be like without Wikipedia?

But that is the thing. We are mourning (or pretending to mourn because we all feel like we should even if we don't feel sad) and remembering (pretending to remember because the memories aren't really there and neither were we) Michael Jackson in a way that was impossible just last year. Google, Twitter, et al. are crashing and experiencing major delays as the world tries to establish its reality and its loss. Elvis didn't have this problem.

Which I think is my main issue. We can never feel about anyone the way that our parents/grandparents felt about Elvis. We as a whole, and as a society. Some people will be more affected by the death of Michael Jackson, but society won't be. Because there are so many niches now, so many possibilities. During Elvis' day, he was one of very few options. Especially in small towns that didn't have record stores let alone ipods. And that lack of mediation let (forced?) people feel more deeply. It wasn't that they felt more but that that they had less to care about, fewer options. And so they cared about what they had all the more. This has been the cornerstone of the anti-internet, anti-user-generated media firestorm.

But we are struck by the opposite. We have so many options, so many possibilities, that every choice is both deeply personal and inherently superficial. You can fill your ipod with Elvis or Michael Jackson or Nirvana or the White Stripes (or you could pick talentless hacks and fill your ipod with them) or all of them in cleverly constructed playlists that speak to every possible mood and moment. And for the younger generations, as every artist past and present just becomes another manifestation of their mood, their current status, the artist becomes less and less important as a person, as a cultural figure. Michael Jackson will be missed. Terribly. But he is the probably one of the last to be missed in such a public fashion. He is likely the last of the idols capable of making such a impact with his passing; having been able to make such an impact with his life and work. And even he will not have the impact that Elvis did. Sure his latter day indiscretions will be similarly glossed over by the enormity of his life and back catalog. But despite Michael crashing Twitter and making Google think they were undergoing a cyber attack, there are just too many options left for us to choose from. Today we choose to mourn. But soon enough we will choose a different status message and move on to the next new thing. Our ability as a culture, as a society, to idolize has diminished. There will still be idols. And tweens will still scream themselves hoarse over every new plastic act, but little else. There will still be major figures in music, but the ability to transcend genre, to reach out to the world, to be King, that is lost to us forever.

We can remember how Michael and his music affected our lives but for most of us it will soon devolve into a nostalgia for shows we never saw, feelings we wished we had felt, and moments that belonged to someone else and no amount of "Bad" ringtones or trying to remember the steps to "Thriller" will change that.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

the work of others

Given the best of Panglossian rose-colored tinge, I move at a leisurely pace. I mean this specifically in terms of my consumption of art. (That art must be consumed, that is just another good like a liter a cola to be purchased instead of the higher order pleasures it purports is another issue for anther day.) I rarely read hardcover books beacause paperbacks are so much more affordable (even with the Strand giving 50% off review copies). I don't buy cds (does anyone anymore?) or albums when they drop (or know when they drop, or know which new bands to follow, see many shows, &c). And much the same with movies, galleries, the list goes on. It's not that I don't find good art eventually. I have been making a much more concerted effort since college to broaden my horizons and appreciate all of the various forms that my education up until then had been so sadly lacking. And in the years since then I have come to appreciate many classics, &c, &c. The real problem here is, in fact, the internet. Or the problem that I have is with my perception of the realities of the internet.

You see, a book is reviewed before I could ever access it without being selected as a reviewer by some publishing house (I wouldn't mind that at all if anyone out there is interested???) or winning that Goodreads lottery (but I am unsure as to who owns the text of the review in that case and I remain somewhat hesitant). Similarly with music, movies, etc. And reviews, comments, and commentary hit the interwebs immediately. Voices are raised in praise, opposition, and disenchantment well before I have a copy to peruse. Having the kid around has really only made my access to new art slower (not that I mind in the slightest). And the result of my never being on the crest of the wave is to get me to feeling like my reviews would be extraneous; just another JohnnyComeLately thinking he can outdo the professionals a couple years (months) after it would have made a difference. The immediacy of the internet implies that there is significant value in being "first" and even if you aren't "that guy", speed is mean to imply relavance. Failing that, you are just another shlub that isn't hep enough to play in the big kids' sandbox.

Perhaps that is the actual case. Perhaps not. Time is weird on the internet. But I need to spend more time writing anyway so I am going to get into more reviews, comments, and commentary. Mostly because I can. And maybe I'll find out that I have something to say about the work of others. I've got some ideas about collaboration and authorship kicking around so that might get me somewhere. Now all I have to do is pick a first review. Something meaningful and significant...

I'll get back to you on that.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

now wait just an ellipsis

Yes, being a father changes your life. Nothing is ever the same. Yes, you would do anything for your kids. Yes. But it's not a reset button. It doesn't start your life over, take you back to square one, give you a tabula rasa. Because, really, all that changes is that you are the same person with new beautiful responsibilities. It doesn't change what you like to do with your free time. You just have a lot less free time and that broken up by feeding, diaper changes, trips to the park, and more silly songs that usual. Yes, I am a parent now. But that's not all I am.

I am still at work on various speculative fictions, I am still reading theory and will perhaps write some more academic pieces in the near future. I still paint. I still read all the time, watch movies, and listen to good music (none of that soothing lullaby shit to "improve brain function" -- Miles Davis is just as effective in my book). So as I continue to define the nature of this space, I will be making an effort not to appear one-dimensional. Like string theory, I need at least 11 dimensions to make sense.

That said, there was a recent piece in Salon that named a number of blogs by, of, about, and for fathers that I will be looking into and perhaps reviewing here as well as following (or not) regularly. The internets are about the community and all that. It's time I start contributing to the success of my community. Might get more people to read this bilious screed, too. Hmm.

And so, signing off, check this out via Time: Is an Ugly Baby Harder to Love?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

the kid and I hate you too

guest post by the kid's mom

What is it about having a baby that makes total strangers think it’s acceptable to talk to you? Since the birth of my son, I’ve tried to get out of the house as much as possible, and I have been struck by the number of people who would have ignored me under normal circumstances, but feel perfectly justified in addressing me because I have a baby.

The conversations generally start the same way. First, they state the obvious: “Oh look, a baby!” Yes, that’s right. You have correctly identified that the creature in the stroller is an infant human. Congratulations. Then come the personal questions: “How old is he?” “How much does he weight?” “Does he sleep through the night?” “What’s his name?” And my initial reaction is, what the fuck do you care? Hey, I don’t know you. You saw me on the train, or in a checkout line, or in a restaurant. My kid and I weren’t talking to you. We’re never going to see you again. So why the hell are you talking to me? You wouldn’t talk to me if I didn’t have a baby.

Sometimes, people try to relate to me by telling me that they also have a child, or that their nephew just had a baby or whatever. Oh, that’s . . . nice? What the fuck do you say to that? Some woman in the next room was having a child while I was having mine. I didn’t pop over to say, “Oh hey look, we’re both having babies! What are the odds?” Because the odds are good. Millions of people are born every day. But more on that in a bit.

And then, God forbid my son is crying, because then I get the questions that lead to unsolicited advice. “Is he cold?” “When was the last time he ate?” “Does he need to be changed?” “How often are you feeding him?” “Is he prone to colic?” Shut up, for the love of Christ, just shut the fuck up! If I needed help I would announce: “Hey, N train! I’m an incompetent mother! Could somebody please give me some advice as to how to make my baby stop crying?” But guess what? Either I know why my baby is crying and I can’t do anything about it right this very second, or he’s just crying because that’s what babies do. Your questions are distracting and annoying, and they are not going to magically stop the baby crying. Fuck off.

What is it that makes the baby special? Is it because it’s tiny, and we, as a western society, are somehow fascinated by tiny things? Our fascination with the cute and tiny extends from our (mercifully extinct) preoccupation with little people to our (horribly perpetuated) postings on cuteoverload.com. None of the creatures on cute overload are larger than a baby.

So, aside from it’s size, what makes the baby special? Lots of people have babies. 134 million are born worldwide each year. Lots of people would have to have babies, otherwise we’d have died out as a species long ago. So many people are having babies that there is a worldwide overpopulation crisis. There are babies everywhere. Why do people comment on them?

Think, for a moment, just how insane you would think I was if I came up to you with observations about something perfectly normal. Like your nose. Everyone has a nose. If I walked up to you and said, “Ooh! You have a nose!” you’d think I was a lunatic. And you’d be right. Now imagine that I went on and asked a bunch of personal questions about your nose. “How long has your nose looked like that?” “Have you always had those freckles there?” “Is that the nose you were born with, or did you have a nose job?” “Do you snore? I snored, but then I went to this sleep clinic, and now I don’t.” “Have you ever considered piercing your nose? My cousin got her nose pierced. I thought about it, but I get this drippy sniff in the winter, so I thought that might be a bad idea.” But I don’t say any of that shit, because you would either back away slowly, or just flat out run from some psycho who started blathering on about your fucking nose. As well you should. Because that would be crazy. But apparently, it’s okay to act that way when the item of interest is a human infant.

All that said, our son happens to be unnaturally cute. I say this without maternal bias – it’s an empirical fact. He’s breathtaking. So I kind of understand it when total strangers are fascinated by him. It’s like staring at a hot chick. If the tits are big enough, they demand attention. So I get that. But you never, NEVER address the hot chick and tell her how spectacular her tits are, unless you are a deranged homeless man or a construction worker or whathaveyou. And when you see someone address the hot chick and her big boobs, you smirk to yourself as you watch that person get their ass handed to them by the hot chick who has no time for their likely drunken advances. But if a lady with a baby told someone to go fuck themselves, you’d think she was a monstrous bitch. It hardly seems fair. Yes, he’s adorable. Thank you for the compliment. Now leave us the hell alone. Because the kid and I hate you too.

Monday, June 15, 2009

not alone after all

So I didn't really think that there would be no like-minded fathers and mothers in the world, esp in New York City, but this article was heartening regardless. Drielsma presents cogently the point I have been trying to make about semantics and fatherhood sans the vulgarity and misanthropy. And I would have to say I agree with him completely and I am now much more wary of taking the kid out to parent & child functions lest we be outcasts trying to insert our penises where they don't belong. (See with the vulgarity). Now I have yet to get the baby sitting line but I was asked in Whole Foods if the kid in the stroller in front of me was mine before being give bad and unsolicited parenting advice. I think a resounding "fuck you" will be my rejoinded when the time comes.

Given that I agree with the article, why is it that I bring it up here in my own fancy forum? The comments, the reception, the reactions of the unwashed masses. Now the reason I don't regularly follow Lisa Belkin's blog is not her writing, or her content, but rather the infuriating nature of the reader comments. Gina follows it though and passed this one along.

The commentary on this post was, for the most part, better than the norm. The majority of the comments professed either agreement with the need for equal parenting and for language to reflect that or agreement with equal parenting and the absurd notion that language doesn't matter. There were only a few old school misogynists that still felt that men should never stoop to caring for a kid and a few new school misandrynists that want to keep parenting a girls only club. The misogynists barely deserve mention because their opinions have largerly been dismissed as outliers for a while now. The misandrynists are another matter. Aparently it remains acceptable for women to insult men for not parenting (good fathering measured in how much a man "helps out" in this women's realm, and especially by counting diapers changed) and then emasculating them when they do. Like a hypocritical Annie Oakley: "Anything you can do I can do better, but there ain't no way you're raising the kid." The door swings both ways. The biological necessity of women raising children passed away with the advent of bottle-feeding (whether formula or pumped breast milk). And with that women entered into the workplace freed from the burdens of biological imperatives. Excellent. Now men are returning to the home freed from the burdens of social expectation.

And then there was the issue of language. If you think words don't matter try telling a gay couple that there is no difference between a marriage, a civil union, and a registered domestic partnership. Language matters. Language reinforces culture. If you call a father a "babysitter" or a "Mr. Mom" it is going to paint him into a secondary role, make him a second class parent. Similarly if a female executive is always a "female executive" before she is an "executive" she will never be able to rise to the level of her male peers. Just as female executives are not members of a subordinate class of executive, fathers are not of a subordinant class of parent. In fact, this whole thing is making me start to rethink my dislike of the term "partner" because the positive connotations are really starting to outweigh the hassle of the ensuing confusion.

And so to close with a thought to compliment Drielsma closing line: is Dr. Jacobson a man or a woman?

I could go into more depth and there is a whole tangent about the language of education that this topic has spurred but I will save that for later. Stay tuned for a guest post from the kid's mother and her whole take.

P.S. : A father who doesn't change his kid's diapers is a bad father. Period. Unless he has no hands.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

vox clamantis in domus

It was hard not to be disappointed by this recent piece in Salon. Here Aaron Traister was presenting the stay-at-home dad routine as a legitimate alternative and yet he fell prey to all the same tired stereotypes of fatherhood and masculinity. I don't want to discount the man's experience or belittle him (and he does acknowledge right away that he is "a flake and a schmuck") but the whole thing just bothered me from the title on down.

"Dude, man up and start acting like a mom" - what the fuck? And yes, "Mr. Mom" does show up later in the piece. What is it about reinforcing tired gender normative phrases that people find so comforting? There is nothing inherent in the term "mom" that implies homemaking or child rearing other than perhaps that that's what your mom did. Just like "dad" doesn't mean working in the office, banging the secretary, and golf on weekends. So why the fuck, as women not only seek to enter the workplace but to adapt it to their needs, do men insist on such biased and outdated terms for their own life choices? Semantics are important. A stay-at-home dad isn't doing a woman's work any more than a female exec is doing a man's.

The article goes on to chronicle a shame spiral as Traister doubts his masculinity, feels his staying at home is a "fate" that has been sealed by economic concerns, and in general becomes depressed with his whole situation. And though he eventually comes out of this spiral, he does it by asserting his masculinity over the shameful emasculation of childrearing and unemployment: "I’m big and I’m strong and I can shovel snow and install air-conditioners for people who can’t shovel snow or install air-conditioners for themselves."

1. I could get a job. Or, given the economy, I have a pretty damn good shot at it with an ivy league education and a master's degree. I don't want a job. I don't want to pretend to care about my boss's projects or trivial office concerns. I find it much easier to care about my son. Yeah, staying at home will likely not be the walks in the park that I want to imagine but at least I'll be working hard on something important to me, something that at the end of the day (and all night long) is always fulfilling.

2. Masculinity has nothing to do with strength or technical prowess. Masculinity isn't about football or grunting or changing the oil in the car and making sure Biff puts on two coats of wax. Or, not necessarily. There is no one masculinity. Finding your masculinity wherever it may be is good, and if Traister's is in his size and strength and HVAC prowess, fair. Mine isn't. I am going to teach my son to lie, cheat, steal, swear, and drink (i.e. to be a pirate).

After reading this article and so many others about how men have been inadvertently and against their will been forced back into the home and back amongst their children, I couldn't help but feel that this isn't they way to resolve the unfortunate bias of gendered roles. At least, Mr, Traister ends on a high note: "As we step, or are forced, into the new roles that are presented to us, perhaps we should not lament, or vainly grasp at the responsibilities we feel we should have, but instead sack up and embrace the ones that are right in front of us." I just hope that when our kids grow up they don't have to "sack up" to responsibilities that should come much more naturally. Men should want to spend time with their kids, should have no problem with their partners working, earning more money (or all the money), and it should be a legitimate option for a man to choose to stay home and be a fulltime father. If this piece is any indication, though, it might be a while before society makes it that far.

Monday, June 8, 2009

the kid and I hate you

It's been just over six weeks that I have been a father. I'm starting to get the hang of it. It's far more intuitive than conventional depictions of fathers would have you believe. In fact, conventional depictions of fathers are pretty fucking terrible.

I get complimented regularly on what a great, loving, attentive father I am. Which is what I strive for. But the reason I am getting complimented is because I hold my son, because I change him, because I know as much about how to take care of him as his mother does and I don't hand him off, grab a beer and yell from the living room to "keep him quiet, the game is on". And that is disappointing. I want to be recognized as a good father legitimately not because every other father/father-figure that people are familiar with is terrible and I look great by comparison. I don't want to be a good father just because I don't beat my kid and I can remember his birthday when I'm sober. Not that the system helps much.

Paternity is not guaranteed. Because my fiance and I are not yet married (the antiquated system that assumes we should be lest we raise a child in sin and he grows up to be a mass murderer or a politician or some other despicable character) I had to fill out a form that allowed me to accept my role as father. And it is only contingent upon that piece of paper that the state considers me his father. We are both single parents as far as the Empire State is concerned. Of course that is not an excuse to be a bad father. And yet.

I don't know. I just figure it's a bias that is going to bother me more and more as a stay at home father. From the term "Mr. Mom" on through every other insulting child-based activity or product that expects a mother or a nanny but not a man who cares for his child. I feel like this is just the beginning of a semantic and cultural battle against the norms of society that tell me I should put on that damn suit already and get thee to a cubicle. Face it, women have gained far more ground in the workplace than men have gained in the home. Maybe I can do something to change that. But until that day, the kid and I hate you.