Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Teenage Wasteland: Suburbia's Dead End Kids

I'm not going to review the book, but rather just plant a few quotes I liked:

P. 183: To embrace Led Zeppelin with all the trimmings was a declaration that you would have no part of it. Your place in your town was set in stone. You flirted with evil, you were dangerous. So the cult of Led Zeppelin helped kids carve some space, communion. Zep was liberation theology in vinyl.

P. 192: Adults worried about protecting kids' "morals" but were completely unconcerned that the minimum wage hadn't gone up once during the whole decade. Since the 1960s kids have lost power in leaps and bounds; but when they turned to 'Satan' or to other youth culture traditions for help, for comfort, for support, adults complained that kids were being seduced by evil.

Everything that kids did to empower or protect themselves in recent years, any refuge they created from adult indifference and brutality, was turned around and used against them. We should have been proud of them. Proud that the kids' religion gave them so much courage to fight back.

P. 254: Because of transformations in the nature of the family and in the global economy, the concept of adolescence as a preparatory stage for adulthood is essentially obsolete.

P. 255: Young people move within social enclaves, just like everybody else. The autonomous history of each new generation operates a lot like an ethnicity. Kids are a priori marginal. They live in a historically specific moment of their own, making sense of the world in new ways, different from the parental generation.

Aliens in America

I think I've mentioned this show before (as has the unflappable Eric Stoller), but I wanted to mark the presence of a couple more things related to the show.

First, this review from Newsweek:

[T]he conceit of "Aliens" is couched in post-9/11 xenophobia...A teacher turns [Raja's] religion and ethnicity into a class discussion, in which one girl innocently says, "I feel angry because his people blew up the towers in New York." Cue the laugh track.


They are the aliens in the show's title—Raja because he's a visitor from a distant world, Justin because, well, he's a geek. But equating Raja's exclusion with Justin's minimizes the psychological stress that comes from racial discrimination. It's similar to the person who hears that his friend's parent has passed away and thinks he's sympathizing when he says, "I know how you feel. I was a complete wreck when my goldfish died." That isn't to say social exclusion doesn't hurt, too, but as we've seen time and again through then-and-now photos of glamorous Hollywood stars, geek washes off, Pakistani doesn't.


"Aliens" [doesn't] work because the subtlety required to explore racial dynamics doesn't mix well with the broad strokes required of a network sitcom. The result is two shows about intolerance that feel intolerant in their worst moments, and emotionally disconnected from the subject matter at best.

Yup. Still barfing. Still a pathetically bad show.

On the other hand, there is this biting and spot-on comment from the actor that plays Raja (South African Adhir Kalyan):

One writer asked Kalyan if he experienced culture shock, coming to the U.S. from South Africa. His reply: "In truth, the only thing I found difficult to deal with coming to the States is the size of the portions of food. Really -- I mean, really, do we need portions that are that big? I mean, Africa doesn't need Bono. Africa doesn't need Geldof. Africa needs a Denny's grand-slam breakfast."


The Kids Aren't Alright

Thomas Friedman today, in a New York Times column that's certainly making the rounds, talks about what he thinks is the tendency of kids today to be disengaged from politics.

Let me add a caveat in here at the beginning: I think Thomas Friedman is a complete and total idiot. From his being a huge Iraq War supporter to his unabashed adoration of globalization, he and I are almost never on the same page.

But that's not why I think he's an idiot. I think he's an idiot because he has this annoying tendency to use non-representative examples to support shallow, poorly-researched and often-wrong points. And I think he's a myopic narcissist. Worse than me, even.

Anyway. Back to the column at hand. Friedman is blathering today about what he calls Generation Q, the Quiet Generation. This is his label for today's students and youth, and he bequeathes it because he doesn't see students making their presence felt in the political realm. How has Tommy learned about this new generation? He's visited three colleges in the south. Wow. I'm impressed - it's almost like he's using an anecdote as the basis for a generalization about a whole generation. Sigh.


[C]ollege students today are not only going abroad to study in record numbers, but they are also going abroad to build homes for the poor in El Salvador in record numbers or volunteering at AIDS clinics in record numbers. Not only has terrorism not deterred them from traveling, they are rolling up their sleeves and diving in deeper than ever.

OK. Let's get the terrorism thing out of the way as soon as possible. Many - and I suspect it's actually most - folks around college-age don't see terrorism as a big threat to our daily lives, or as a deterrent from doing what we think needs to be done or want to do. Certainly we didn't buy into the 9/11 hype near as much as Friedman did (it only changed everything because the 'adults' shit themselves with fear and/or joy and then went about changing everything), but he is apparently unable to realize that other folks might not hold the same view of the world he does. In other words, I don't see a fear of terrorism as a significantly motivating factor in the behavioral choices of the group Friedman is talking about. There's no evidence for it.

Friedman then goes on to show how amazed he is that us young people are not hopping mad about the state of the country:

But Generation Q may be too quiet, too online, for its own good, and for the country’s own good. When I think of the huge budget deficit, Social Security deficit and ecological deficit that our generation is leaving this generation, if they are not spitting mad, well, then they’re just not paying attention. And we’ll just keep piling it on them.

This is an interesting point, and I think there is some truth to it. Stephen Colbert certainly touches on it in this clip, and I agree that online activism is not substitute for organizing in the real world... and yet, somehow, Tom Friedman has zero credibility to be telling me this. Maybe it's because of crap like this. Or maybe it's because Tom Friedman spent years arguing that the Iraq War was necessary and just before doing an about-face and never really admitting his own role in hyping the war. I know that hearing such garbage from the pundit class - of which he is practically a charter member - over and over and over without nary a representative from the anti-war coalition on my television and radio from 2002 to this day certainly helped me disengage from traditional politics; if my point of view is never represented, why should I try and engage with the organization or medium that can't ever seem to get it right?

This is Friedman's solution:

America needs a jolt of the idealism, activism and outrage (it must be in there) of Generation Q. That’s what twentysomethings are for — to light a fire under the country. But they can’t e-mail it in, and an online petition or a mouse click for carbon neutrality won’t cut it. They have to get organized in a way that will force politicians to pay attention rather than just patronize them.

Um, Tom? You might have done more to kill that possibility than almost any single other person on the face of the planet (with the possible exception of the other amateur sociologist on the NYT opinion page, David Brooks). And besides that, there's the whole systemic repression thing - you know, how capitalism teaches kids from a young age that standing up and throwing one's lot in on the side of justice is silly when you could just be shopping? You know, that same capitalism that you spend a large portion of your time promoting? Didn't think so.

Not only that, but Friedman? FUCK YOU for suggesting "that's what twentysomethings are for" - to light a fire under the rest of the country. Thanks for using a brush so broad that it manages to assign one role to an entire generation of highly diverse people. That's not insulting or anything, nor could it ever remove our agency. And you wonder why we're not engaged? Seriously?

So, then, why is it that so many young folks are avoiding mainstream politics and traditional approaches? Maybe we've realized they don't work when the only two major parties are beholden to corporations and not constituents - or maybe it's that avenues of meaningful expression, public spaces, autonomy, and political power have been systematically removed from the reach of adolescents and young adults (well, from everybody, actually, but especially from people under 25).

Incidentally, I just finished Donna Gaines' book Teenage Wasteland today, and while it was written in the early 1990s about the so-called burnouts and burnout culture, Gaines makes a similar point: that alternative cultures develop because people, especially youth, don't see a place for themselves in the mainstream. Said youth feel marginalized, ignored, and insulted by adults who expect them to be good workers but don't want to allow for their creative expression. Even though this book 15 years old, I think her central assertion is relevant today - the main difference being that the advent of the Internet is now providing the space for kids and adolescents to express themselves (with all the attendant consequences and limitations) as opposed to the parking lot of the local 7-11. In both cases, however, 'adults' (and I am indeed conflating parents and people in charge) serve to push folks to the margins in search of meaning and autonomy.

This column by Friedman displays a very shallow level of analysis, like pretty much all of the rest of his work. I wish someone on the Times editorial board would notice.

Other folks have opinions too...let's excerpt/steal some of them.

Brian Beutler weighs in on the column:

It's easy to pin the sedateness of American youth on the absence of a draft, but I really don't think that has a whole lot to do with it. It seems to me that in the past 40 years, the incentives young people had to protest have been all but erased. The consequences of an arrest are much larger, the value placed on scholastic and professional achievement much higher, and the costs of delay much greater now than they were in 1968. It's my view that this is all the fault--indeed the master plan!--of conservative people. I'm just not sure I can explain why, and if I could, I'd write a book about it.

Ezra Klein points the finger at the media:

The other reason kids don't protest anymore is that they don't think protesting works. And they don't think it works because when they hold massive protests, the media doesn't give their argument a fair hearing, but instead mocks and marginalizes them, and picks out the most extreme participants in order to discredit the whole. On all this, the kids are right. But even I never thought that folks like Tom Friedman -- who was complicit, if not causal, in the media atmosphere that ignored the Iraq War protests -- would then lambaste them for laziness, or cowardice.

From my friend C (in an email, so no link):

This time, he calls us too quiet for our own good. Well, perhaps if the corporate media machine that he sits at the controls of actually covered some of the heroic protests, acts, and optimistic endeavors that this generation is engaged in, we would have a voice and platform. So, Mr. Friedman, instead of wasting your column's space by chiding us for being too quiet, how about you get your researchers off their lazy asses and spend some time profiling people who are taking on the greediest generation. It looks like you just couldn't get the story together. How about people protesting the Jena 6, or the Middlebury students organizing Step it UP! with Bill McKibben. Fuck you.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


I think this is what I actually don't like about emo, and why I have such reservations about emo fans. It's not that they are "showing emotions" (which is often mistakenly understood as breaking the code of patriarchy), it's that the emotions that are often presented in emo music are dismissive and hateful towards women. Sexist and patriarchal, in other words. It's an interesting out - young men can show emotion, but only if it's hatred of women.

Not that the same isn't true of almost all other music as well.

For the record, I love music that can transmit raw, unfiltered emotions. I think it's rare and wonderful. I just think that it's silly to turn a blind eye towards what emotions are being presented, and how, and why.

From the PunkPlanet archives (minor errors left unchanged):

Girls in emo songs today do not have names. We are not identified. Our lives, our struggles, our day-to-day-to-day does not exist, we do not get colored in. We span from coquettish to damned and back again. We leave bruises on boy-hearts, but make no other mark. Our existences, our actions are portrayed SOLELY through the detailing of neurotic self-entanglements of the boy singer�our region of personal power, simply, is our breadth of impact on his romantic life. We are on a short leash in a filthy yard�we are mysteries to be unlocked, bodies to be groped, minimum wage earners of fealty, harvesters of sorrow, repositories for scorn. Vessels redeemed in the light of boy-love. On a pedestal, on our backs. Muses at best. Cum rags or invisible at worst. Check out our pictures on the covers of records�we are sad-eyed and winsome and well cleaved.


And so I watch these girls at emo shows more than I ever do the band. I watch them sing along, see what parts they freak out over. I wonder if this does it for them, if seeing these bands, these dudes on stage resonates and inspires them to want to pick up a guitar or drum sticks. Or if they just see this as something dudes do, because there are no girls, there is no them up there. I wonder if they are being thwarted by the FACT that there is no presentation of girls as participants, but rather, only as consumers�or if we reference the songs directly�the consumed. I wonder if this is where music will begin and end for them. If they can be radicalized in spite of this. If being denied keys to the clubhouse or airtime will spur them into action.


The dozens of bands, bands who�s records I knew all the words to, who were comprised of 25-30 year old dudes, with nothing much to say, did not feel like punk rock with it�s arms open wide to me. It took seeing Bikini Kill in an illegal basement venue to truly throw the lights, to show me that there was more than one place, one role, for women to occupy, and that our participation was important and vital�It was YOU MATTER writ large.

Filmmaker Wes Anderson and Race

I have to agree: Wes Anderson makes movies for yuppie white kids.

This is what really breaks my heart: Wes’ track record with women of colour. Anderson just loves pairing women of colour up with dorky white dudes, shortly after dorky white dudes have been dumped or rejected by white ladies. Even though Rushmore’s Margaret Yang is the fullest of all of Wes’ colour characters, she is still paired up with the loveable/hateable Max after Ms Cross turns him down. It’s the same story with Inez, the lovely Latin American hotel cleaner in Bottle Rocket.


But the fact that the only role that people of colour can have in his movies are as sexual fantasies, sidekicks or deeply insulting cartoons suggests that, consciously or subconsciously, Anderson doesn’t think that much of real life people of colour. And between you and me, I’m not sure mine and Wes’ friendship can withstand that.


As mentioned in the comments to the post, there are plenty of plausible alternative explanations for this guy's behavior, but the simplest is that he's taken a big, big dose of hate pills and is suffering the consequences:

He’s now right in front of my driveway. Older guy–55? 60? Big walrus mustache, grey hair, relatively slight build, but kind of tough-looking.


I’m honestly kind of taken aback. I’ve seen bad drivers, I’ve been given the finger (and given it on a few occasions), but I have no idea what’s eating this guy....

I yell back when he stops for air, “What is your FUCKING problem? What did I do to you?”

He leans out to point at my car bumper. Which is entirely unadorned except for a Kerry-Edwards sticker from 2004.

“YOU FAGGOT YOU VOTED FOR THAT WAR CRIMINAL. I’M GOING TO BEAT THE SHIT OUT OF YOU.” Guy is turning a shade of purple. I don’t think he’s just putting on a show. He actually sped up, nearly rammed with his car at high speed and is now seriously contemplating attacking me over a bumper sticker. I’m so astonished that I’m speechless.


Bob Herbert in the New York Times has a pretty good summary of the high-stakes testing phenomenon and NCLB:

“Measuring,” said President Bush, in a discussion of his No Child Left Behind law, “is the gateway to success.”

Not only has high-stakes testing largely failed to magically swing open the gates to successful learning, it is questionable in many cases whether the tests themselves are anything more than a shell game.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Rumor: Warner Bros. Will No Longer Have Female Leads

Via Feministing, from Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily (which I have never heard of, so I am taking this with 1/2 a grain of salt):

Warner Bros president of production Jeff Robinov has made a new decree that "We are no longer doing movies with women in the lead". This Neanderthal thinking comes after both Jodie Foster's The Brave One (even though she's had big recent hits with Flightplan and Panic Room) and Nicole Kidman's The Invasion (as if three different directors didn't have something to do with the awfulness of the gross receipts) under-performed at the box office recently. "Can you imagine when Gloria Allred gets hold of this? It's going to be like World War III," one producer just told me.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

And kind of sad.

A Defense of Government

This is a straightforward and honest defense of why government is a good idea. Not surprising, given the URL, but still - it's honest, which is refreshing:

Ask yourself this question: “What has government done for me lately?” If you are like most Americans, you will probably answer: “Not much.” Surveys show that 52% of Americans believe that “government programs have not really helped me and my family.”1 But let’s see if that is really true. Let’s examine a typical day in the life of an average middle-class American and try to identify some of the ways that government improves that person’s life during that 24 hour period...

Check it out.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Maggot Brain

All You Ever Need to Know About Foreign Policy

This will not work:

We're implacably opposed to Iran's nuclear ambitions, and rather than give them the root respect they want as we try and convince them to bargain away the security and symbolism of atomic weapons, we're demanding their total submission to our preferences before we even sit down for negotiations. We have set, as the precondition for their disarmament, their humiliation.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.