Monday, December 13, 2010

Santacon Past

Santacon is known today as a day of drunken revelry. It is, essentially, a massive pub crawl. But when it began, back in 1994, it was Santarchy: "The Founder and Avatar of The Suicide Club, Gary Warne decided to organize a non-political, purely surreal Santa prank event after reading a Mother Jones article about a Danish political group dressing as Santas and mobbing a Copenhagen Dept. store just before Christmas."

The Danish group was known as Solvognen and they mobbed Copenhagen in 1974--Mother Jones wrote about them in 1977 (click for article). Their actions were a response to "greed and capitalism."

Santarchy Logo

The U.S. event was originally, says Wikipedia, "Influenced by the surrealist movement, Discordianism, and other subversive art currents, the Cacophonists celebrated the Yule season in a distinctly anti-commercial manner, by mixing guerrilla street theatre and pranksterism."

So, basically, Santacon used to be kind of punk. It sounds a lot like Reverend Billy's actions in the city's Starbucks. How then did it become the pub crawl it is today?

Santacon NYC Logo

While the Santacon NYC site says "It's not a bar crawl," they nevertheless give tips on how to survive the day that are almost all alcohol-related: "Pace yourself. Your friends don’t want to spend their Santacon cleaning the puke outta your beard." "Tip your bartenders well." "Don’t get arrested. Dressing like Santa does not exempt you from city, state and federal laws. This includes open container violations!" "Check in on your friends... Don’t send your wasted 22-year-old cousin on the train back to Ronkonkoma by herself!"

Maybe that's just the difference between 1974, 1994, and today, when "hordes of drunk Santas take over New York." Just as Christmas has been removed from its original meaning, so has Santacon. Of course, it took a couple thousand years for Christmas to lose its significance--and only a decade or so for Santacon. But things move so quickly nowadays from meaningful to meaningless, it's hard to keep up.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sidewalk Sitters

Something I've noticed over the past 5-7 years, or thereabouts, since the hyper-gentrification of everything went into full swing, is the increasing habit of non-homeless people to park their backsides on the sidewalks and curbs of the city.

At first, it would startle me. I'd see them at a glance, assume "homeless," and then get up closer and have to do a double-take. She's not asking for change with that Starbucks cup.

And it's not just that these sidewalk sitters are non-homeless people. I'm not talking about a bunch of skateboard kids or punks "chillin'" on the dirty curb. The people I'm talking about are largely middle and upper-middle class "regular" folks. It's the tourists and Juicy Couture shoppers. It's moms from Ohio.

They sit to make phone calls and write text messages.

They relax on the curb to have deep, intimate talks.

They plop down with their soy mocha lattes.

They sprawl out with their shopping bags.

They read maps and drink Snapple.

They place plastic containers of snacks on the curb next to them and indulge in a little street munching.

They spread their legs, enjoy their iced coffee, and send their digital missives.

They collapse en masse, with a group of pals, and shoot the breeze while leaning against a lamp post or a mailbox, or with their sandaled feet in the gutter. As if nobody ever pisses or pukes there. As if nobody's dog ever took a shit in that exact spot, and no toxic liquids flow through that green stream.

And you know what it is. It's the assumption of sterility. All those shiny boxes, those condos and newsstands made of glass, all that Bloombergian glitter makes people think everything in New York is clean, so the sidewalks must be too. Clean enough to eat off?

It's a minor complaint, perhaps a petty one, but something about it just bugs me.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

They Live

Kicking off their Deep Focus series, Soft Skull Press has just published They Live, Jonathan Lethem's take on the film by the same name. I haven't read the book, but Douglas Rushkoff has. He provided a couple short excerpts in BoingBoing.

I have, however, seen the movie--and recommend it highly. Made in 1988, it provides a kitschy and prescient commentary on the way we live today.

In They Live, the world is not the colorful, shiny place we think it is. With the help of special sunglasses, a guy called Nada, played by "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, sees the real world beneath the Oz Technicolor.

Everything is black and white. Beneath the veneers of ads, magazines, labels, and money are the messages that keep us all hypnotized: OBEY, SLEEP, CONFORM.

Beneath the skins of the beautiful people--the yuppies in suits and shoppers in furs--are skeletal monsters from outerspace.

The best scenes take place when the glasses are on--in the hair salons and shops of this all-too familiar world.

Here's the copy for Lethem's book, "Lethem exfoliates Carpenter’s paranoid satire in a series of penetrating, free-associational forays into the context of a story that peels the human masks off the ghoulish overlords of capitalism. His field of reference spans classic Hollywood cinema and science fiction, as well as popular music and contemporary art and theory."

St. Mark's Bookshop has a bunch in stock now. In a time when the ghoulish overlords are brain-washing people into being stupid, fight back by reading books. They help you to see.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bad Old Days for Gays?

I've been thinking about the phrase "The Bad Old Days." In recent years, it has come up whenever there's a rash of highly publicized crime in the city. However, in a month when we've seen a spate of vividly violent anti-gay crimes, the city media has not bothered to goose the fear quotient with any mention of the return of "the bad old days."

A Google search of the phrase, accompanied by "New York" and "crime," shows a smattering in the 1990s and then more frequent usage in the 2000s.

Like a warm up, it appears in a May 2007 Observer article about "New Nostalgists," people who long for the "bad old days," when "there were no Tinsley Mortimers, no hedge-fund gods. No $1,000 pizzas or latte factories, no $50 million mansions or elliptical trainers at Equinox."

But it seems like 2008, after the recession hit and people panicked, was the year when the phrase started to be evoked in major sources as a sign of changing times.

Lou Beach, New York Observer

June 28, 2008: "Revenge of the Bad Old Days...Does it feel some days as if New York-- wealthy, successful, seemingly at the top of the world--is slipping back into the bad old days of crime, noise, dirt, rudeness?"

November 13, 2008: “Attempting to close a budget gap of this size through cuts alone will wreck havoc on New York City and force us back into the bad old days of broken down subways, unsafe parks and failing schools and will impede state and local government from addressing already increasing human needs,” said Raquel Batista, Executive Director of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights.

January 4, 2009: Crain's wondered, "New York is gripped by fear. Are we headed back to the bad old days of the 1970s?"

January 26, 2009: The Post pushed the phrase with a headline, "SCARED TO COME TO NY: LIKE BAD OLD DAYS OF PETTY CRIME."

The Daily News

In February 2009, Joel Kotkin put it in a Forbes article. In a February 12 State of the City speech, Christine Quinn used it, saying, "We all remember the bad old days of the 70s. Empty buildings and broken windows...we won’t make those same mistakes again." Almost immediately, it turned up in a February 19 Scott Stringer State of the Borough address.

It appeared in the Daily News in July 2009, talking about "gutter punks" in Williamsburg, "It's like St. Marks in the '70s... It's the bad old days all over again." It appeared in initial caps, like a title, in the Times in August 2009. In September Dwight Garner in the Times used it to review Edmund White's book, City Boy, "an open-throttled tour of New York City during the bad old days of the 1960s and early ’70s: crime, graffiti, garbage in the streets..."

Over five days in April 2010, "The Bad Old Days" hit the trifecta. It was in the Times: "It is impossible to know if the recent increase in violent crime in the city is legitimate cause for concern that the 'bad old days' of crime may return." It was in a Daily News headline: "Increasing crime rates and shrinking NYPD headcounts remind New York City of the 'bad old days.'" And Bloomberg's use of the term "wilding," said the Post, struck "fear into New Yorkers who remember the bad old days when packs of marauding youths roamed the streets."

But April was a fluke in the year.

In 2010, The Bad Old Days seems to have fallen out of fashion. So far, according to Google, it's only appeared in 5 of the past 10 months, and not very often. Why? Said the Times in July: "At the start of the recession, many wondered whether economic forces would propel the city toward 'the bad old days' around 1990, when killings peaked at 2,245. Those fears have not been realized."

So all the "bad old days" prognosticators were wrong--unless you're queer in New York City.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

NY Loves Me

What is probably the official slogan for the city's Yunnie Generation has been plastered all over town. Maybe you've seen the signs?

The designers, "Public School," cheekily explain their campaign: "NYC is great for so many reasons. Especially the daily bombardment of big brands pushing their advertising on poor unsuspecting souls. To make it worse they try to mask their greedy intentions behind cool guerilla style posters to make it feel that more organic. Well add Public School to that list of invasive unsolicited propaganda. Except ours is too fresh to ignore..."

And now you can get the designy slogan on t-shirts. It's available at Barney's. Everybody wants one.

Public School

Of course, this isn't the first time the slogan has appeared on shirts. Urban Outfitters has been selling their version for awhile. Still, now that it's plastered all over town, it is hard to ignore.

The switch from "I Love New York" to "New York Loves Me." Think about that.

What would it take to wear such a shirt? What depths of self-importance are required to make the statement that you are loved by 8 million people, plus a whole lot of buildings and sidewalks, plus centuries of history, art, and literature, plus music, plus all the dead who ever added to the fabric of the city, plus egg creams, and--well, it goes on, because when you say "I Love NY" that's what you're loving. And when you say "NY Loves Me," you are reversing that love.

And maybe that's been the problem all along.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Autistic Age

I came upon the following article in issue #58 of Philosophy Now. Published in 2006, it shows us how the age of the Yunnie is really becoming the age of the Autist, who rules our current, post-postmodern world, called here "pseudo-modernism."

I've excerpted a few key passages below, but the whole article is worth reading as it is relevant to issues on our minds today--like the effect of screen reading on our brains, the demise of books, the rise of plagiarism, and the end of empathy.

from "The Death of Postmodernism and Beyond," by Alan Kirby:

"In postmodernism, one read, watched, listened, as before. In pseudo-modernism one phones, clicks, presses, surfs, chooses, moves, downloads. There is a generation gap here, roughly separating people born before and after 1980.

Those born later might see their peers as free, autonomous, inventive, expressive, dynamic, empowered, independent, their voices unique, raised and heard: postmodernism and everything before it will by contrast seem elitist, dull, a distant and droning monologue which oppresses and occludes them.

Those born before 1980 may see, not the people, but contemporary texts which are alternately violent, pornographic, unreal, trite, vapid, conformist, consumerist, meaningless and brainless (see the drivel found, say, on some Wikipedia pages, or the lack of context on Ceefax). To them what came before pseudo-modernism will increasingly seem a golden age of intelligence, creativity, rebellion and authenticity."

Borg cupcakes

"The world has narrowed intellectually, not broadened, in the last ten years. Where Lyotard saw the eclipse of Grand Narratives, pseudo-modernism sees the ideology of globalised market economics raised to the level of the sole and over-powering regulator of all social activity--monopolistic, all-engulfing, all-explaining, all-structuring, as every academic must disagreeably recognise. Pseudo-modernism is of course consumerist and conformist, a matter of moving around the world as it is given or sold."

"This pseudo-modern world, so frightening and seemingly uncontrollable, inevitably feeds a desire to return to the infantile playing with toys which also characterises the pseudo-modern cultural world. Here, the typical emotional state, radically superseding the hyper-consciousness of irony, is the trance – the state of being swallowed up by your activity.

In place of the neurosis of modernism and the narcissism of postmodernism, pseudo-modernism takes the world away, by creating a new weightless nowhere of silent autism."

"You click, you punch the keys, you are ‘involved’, engulfed, deciding. You are the text, there is no-one else, no ‘author’; there is nowhere else, no other time or place. You are free: you are the text: the text is superseded."

© Dr Alan Kirby 2006