November 25, 2010

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. NYC. hdr
Image via Wikipedia

Posting will be light-to-nonexistent until Sunday or Monday, as I’m taking some time off in New York City, visiting friends and doing my best to avoid large parades. If you’re in the city and you want to grab a drink, hit me up.

What I’m thankful for isn’t the subject for just one short blog post, but I will say that I’m thankful for your continued indulgence as I return again and again to writing about the topics that mystify me the most. And I’m especially grateful for those of you whose insightful comments have made me slightly less mystified.

And lastly, I’m grateful for The Onion’s Turkey Day-themed humor. Thanks to Dara for pointing out a copy of Obama’s flowchart on the topic. I’m half-seriously thinking about critically analyzing it in a blog post.


Idle Chatter and Cheap Identification
July 12, 2010

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase

So at the end of yesterday’s post, I was going to explain why I think that a lot of new media tools—Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, and, of course, Tumblr—are the latest, weirdest, and in some ways most seductive form of what Kierkegaard called idle chatter.

While the problem is by no means limited to the New York City new media scene, I’m going to focus there for the purposes of this post because I’d wager it’s pretty resonant to a lot of my readers. And even for those who aren’t embedded in that ecosphere, it’s pretty instructive.

The problem is that all these social media tools offer something I like to call cheap identification as a convincing substitute for the sort of deep soul-searching that Kierkegaard considered our mind’s real nourishment. Think of it this way: Cheap identification is to introspection as cotton candy is to real food. It’s sweet and delicious, but it won’t assuage your hunger. If you try to use it for those ends, you’ll end up just feeling kind of ill.

Cheap identification works like this: Subject A feels sad. Subject A posts something about feeling sad on the social media venue of his choice. Subject B, who is also sad, reads Subject A’s post about how Subject A feels sad and thinks, “Wow! Subject A’s problems are just like my problems!”

Superficially, it feels like a meaningful exchange of some kind has taken place. Subject B feels a little less lonely, and might even reciprocate by leaving a supportive comment that will, in turn, make Subject A feel less lonely as well. More to the point, if Subject A is in New York and even loosely plugged into the various new media goings-on there, then this is a savvy career movie. After all, exposing your personal pain to the world is how Emily Gould snagged herself a book deal. People—especially relatively well-off, also plugged-in, educated cool kids like yourself—eat this stuff up.

And so there’s pressure not just to produce autobiographical navel-gazing, but to produce it consistently. And pretty soon there’s a big surplus of all these sad young literary people talking about their problems with each other and identifying over it.

The problem—and this is why I hasten to call it cheap identification—is that at some point you have to ask yourself: To what end? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with writers using themselves as subjects. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with “oversharing.” But self-expression or identification without insight is hollow, even when the direct, personal level on which it is performed disguises that fact. It’s not a way of confronting  and surmounting despair, but of anesthetizing it through these self-indulgent rituals.

Everyone needs a little sugar to some extent. But when identification becomes its own end, it’s just a form of mutual, narcissistic self-confirmation. Subject A writes about Subject A’s problems because that’s what Subject A is monomaniacally obsessed with, to the point where there’s no broader, universal point. Subject B continues to eagerly identify with Subject A because it validates Subject B’s own deeply ingrained self-interest.

That’s my objection to Emily Gould, to the vast proliferation of more or less redundant memoirs in American publishing, and to stuff like the Awl’s Diary of an Unemployed Class of ‘10 Philosophy Major. With regards to the latter, this is a guy who spent four years studying philosophy, and he seems to think the most interesting thing he has to offer us are glum, shallow bon mots about what it feels like to not do a whole lot. It’s a horrible waste of a soapbox.

If I’ve mostly shied away from revealing any details about my past or personal life, that’s why. I’m talking about a really easy trap for anyone to fall into, and nobody can be blamed for it. Hell, I’m not even exempting myself from this sort of behavior, not by a long shot.

But it’s choking the life out of us as a group. It’s numbing us, and it’s hobbling our ability to confront what are very real problems in a responsible, meaningful way. We’re too distracted, and we’re too busy staring in the mirror.

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More Fun With Term Limits
August 28, 2008

The New York Times confirms that if Bloomberg went to the City Council asking them to overturn term limits, they would almost certainly do it.

In the survey, The Times interviewed 38 of the Council’s 51 members, most of whom spoke on the record. Twenty-seven of them said they could support extending term limits, even though city residents have voted twice, in 1993 and 1996, for the existing laws. Eight members opposed altering the rules, three said they remained undecided and the 13 others could not be reached this week.

That’s actually an even smaller margin than I expected. But with Bloomberg and Paterson on the same side on this, I think we can probably move a couple names from the undecided column to the anti-term limits one. Which means that the only things standing in the way are the Speaker’s possible mayoral ambitions and the hyperbolic panting of other mayoral hopefuls.

All Moved In
August 24, 2008

Not fully unpack yet, but probably as far as I’ll get today. I have other things to do. In the meantime, here’s the view from outside my window:

You know what still blows my mind? I go to school in New York fucking City. How cool is that?

Moving Day
August 24, 2008

Okay, time to get with the moving stuff. I’ll be back in NY in three hours or so.

Just a quick note about the rest of the week – don’t expect very much convention coverage here, for a couple of reasons:

1.) Being back at college, there will be some college-type things I need to take care of, and I’ll be fairly busy.

2.) The act of a national political party fellating itself, while impressive as an aerobic feat, just doesn’t have a whole lot of substance to it. I’ll keep an eye on it, and might post a little bit, but in general I’m not someone who gets really engaged by speeches or PR events that have been choreographed months in advance.

Michael Bloomberg plans to buy, demolish term limits
August 23, 2008

Well, this is awkward. Dylan tagged me to try and shed some light on New York City’s 2009 mayoral race, presuming, perfectly reasonably, that I would be fairly well-versed in the political climate of the city in which I live. That’s not entirely the case, however – my knowledge of NY politics is pretty sketchy, particularly now that I’ve been back in CT for two straight months, but I’ve been working on it.

With that disclaimer out of the way, a few thoughts:

First off, on the likelihood of Bloomberg getting a third term: He’s pretty damn popular in New York, and if he manages to get rid of the term limits, I think he would get reelected easily. But eliminating the term limits so he can run in the first place? That would probably be trickier. As the Times article that Dylan links to points out, a referendum wouldn’t do it but the City Council might. If the Speaker wants to keep her job, then she might try to push it through – but she might eyeing Bloomberg’s job, in which case she’ll want to preserve the term limits, because there’s no way in hell she’s going to want to have to go up against him next Fall.

One ray of hope for Bloomberg: the Democratic governor thinks it’s a swell idea.

I don’t really have a whole lot to say about who else might be running – I can tell you that if Bloomberg gets his chance at a third term, it’s not going to matter a great deal. In the meantime, I’m not making predictions until I hear about anyone assembling a team.

One last thought: When I first read about Bloomberg’s push for an end to term limits, it reminded me that he’s not the first prominent New York Mayor to try and artificially extend his administration past two terms. The difference is that Bloomberg seems to be attempting it through constitutional means, while Giuliani was basically trying to pull a Julius Caesar.

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