Archive for May, 2006

Got Bling?

Posted: May 25, 2006 in Tacky, Taste

Though not nearly so awful as the LimoJet, these exhaust tip spinners make the same negative impression on me.

flare turbine

I guess if you've got more money than you know what to do with, and no sense of either taste or value, then these are just the thing to pimp your ride.

The whole idea of bling is pretty distasteful to me, but I can't deny that it gets attention. And for those who have adopted that approach to self-promotion, it may very well turn them into attention whores (assuming they're not that already). While bling may be relatively harmless on cursory inspection, I suspect there is a lot more going on at the Gestalt level. Put another way, it's the Zeitgeist of our time (love them German psych terms) that livin' large, baby, is no longer something to be embarassed about; rather, it's become a categorical imperative.

It's true of most of us that at some point we've uttered the equivalent of "sure, I can tap dance." The implication is that you then go out and learn to tap dance. If you eventually show up and still can't dance, they you deserve what you get, which will likely be the boot. With bling, it's not about earning attention, it's about buying attention. Oddly, the payment isn't even made to those whose attention is desired but to a third party. "Watch me buy stuff" has replaced "sure, I can tap dance."

Much the same thing is going on in the media, which must above all be visually tantalizing even if other types of content are mostly banal, saccharine, or insipid (or combinations of the same). It's tease, tease, tease, but rarely deliver. And we're lapping it up like the dogs we are.

The Ugly American

Posted: May 21, 2006 in Manners, Taste

The Sydney Morning Herald has a brief on-line article about a new guide being prepared by the State Dept. in cooperation with U.S. industry (whatever that means) to try to improve the image of Americans abroad. It seems we're not much liked (duh!) when we find ourselves within foreign cultures and act the same abrasive ways we act among ourselves in the U.S. The syndrome has been called The Ugly American for years already, although it was apparent intended more charitably in the novel of the same name.

I find it ironic that people need to be told things, by the government no less, that should be common sense on just about any grade school playground. Yet in my travels, I've witnessed many of the things addressed by the admonitions the Herald lists. Here are a few with my comments.

Think as big as you like but talk and act smaller.

I've always thought it best to keep a small footprint and go relatively unnoticed when outside of my comfort zones. My alertness level also goes up.

Listen at least as much as you talk.

I'm probably as vain and love the sound of my own voice as the next person. But I learned in college that listening was a much more powerful behavior than talking, and not just because I learned more. People respond better if given room in conversation to express themselves.

Save the lectures for your kids.

Way too often I've overheard Americans begin a conversation with "The problem with your country is …." The implication is that we Americans got it right and everyone else should be like us. How insulting.

Think a little locally.

What's the point of travelling if you don't experience any local culture? I've known Americans who go abroad and eat exclusively at American fast food franchises (generally not hard to find) and speak only in English within their own group or family. How boring.

Speak lower and slower.

This is probably the hallmark of the American traveller (other than garb). We're loud sons of bitches, especially the Texas variety. In our dominant culture we're exhorted to live large. Many others find that sort of behavior excessively rude.

If you talk politics, talk — don't argue.

Conversational styles differ among people, to be sure. Although we don't normally think of it this way, generosity ought to be the underlying sentiment. Argument works in some context, but even there, it's worthwhile to yield ground generously.


Posted: May 15, 2006 in Television

I haven't watched TV in about five years. That includes everything on TV: shows, ads, news, everything. Because it's so ubiquitous, I have actually seen bits and pieces of a few things. And I purposely tuned into the pilot of Commander in Chief because I wanted to see how the writers got a woman into office. But I've never seen a single episode of The Sopranos, Sex in the City, House, American Idol, or any of the various shows discussed around the water cooler. The amount of wasted time I recovered has pretty impressive, which filled up with other things pretty quickly.

From time to time, folks discover that I don't watch TV. It's usually in the context of "did you see this commercial" or "can you believe what happened on such-and-such show?" I usually respond that I don't watch TV and the next question is "at all?" I say "yes" and the jaws drop. It's as though I just said I don't breathe anymore. The idea of not going home and giving over several hours of veg time is frankly beyond some people's comprehension. Parents with children regard the TV as a lifesaver at the same time they acknowledge it's probably unwise to park kids there for extended periods of time (but still do it).

So a friend of mine recently forced on me loaned me a copy of the first season of Lost on DVD. I've tried to be open-minded but can't escape the sense that I'm still watching TV. The eight-minute segmentation to accommodate commercials is grating even without the commercials (but thank goodness for no commercials), and the 45-minute story arcs are a formal frame that really confines sensible story-telling. The way each episode plays like a parable or morality tale is also shockingly facile. I knew all this before I stopped watching TV, but it is especially glaring to me now. The other monstrously irritating thing about this particular show is the endless parade of dramatic pauses and knowing looks in response to simple questions any normal person would answer unhesitatingly.

Q: "Do you have matches?"
A: pause — look — "Why do you want to know?"


Watching is mostly a take-it-or-leave-it proposition for me at this point. Of seven DVDs, I watched four. I'll have a nagging sense of incompletion if I don't finish, I suspect, the same as with books. The fact that I'll never see season two or three doesn't bother me a bit.

Arguments that software and music sales and distribution models are outdated and need to be reconfigured are gaining currency these days. Two things are driving these opinions: the steady advancement of technology that makes copying and file sharing a low-cost or cost-free activity and the natural, if self-serving, desire among the consuming public to get it for free. Typical supporting arguments include contentions that no real harm is being done because these products exist in electronic forms, that artists and creators stand to gain from exposure and promotion of their work as a byproduct of file sharing, and that it's the wave of the future that can’t be stopped, so creators of intellectual property would be smart to recognize that fact and simply cooperate. These arguments are bogus for reasons I will try to show below.