Instant Rockstar and Instant Respect

August 27, 2010 | By | 8 Replies More

Now you don’t have to learn how to play the guitar. All you need to do is pretend that you can play guitar. At my neighborhood Walgreens, there is now a big display featuring Paper Jamz plastic and cardboard string-less guitars (electronic sensors pick up where your hands are). For only $25 ($15 extra if you want a separate amp made mostly out of cardboard), you can be an “Instant Rockstar.”  I picked up one of these “guitars” to see whether I could feel like an “Instant Rockstar” right there in the aisles of Walgreens.   I felt the glow of stardom for only a few seconds, because you can’t actually play Paper Jamz guitar like you can play a real guitar (I play the guitar professionally).  You can’t play individual notes, you can’t play precise rhythms, the sound range is extremely limited, there are no dynamics and there is only one genre offered: distorted rock chords.

Each of these five models of “guitar” is loaded with only three songs. Once you master the three songs on one of the guitars, you’ll need to go back to Walgreens and pay $25 for a different model in order to play three more songs. Instead of real guitar lessons, just go to Rockstarz Academy.

The manufacturer of the Paper Jamz “guitar” tells you that you’d be wasting your time and money to buy a real guitar and learn how to play it. The Paper Jamz display actually includes a video promo with this opening line: “Why play an electric guitar when you can play Paper Jamz?” Why, indeed? I would offer one good reason why you might want to forgo the Paper Jamz “guitar.”  When you play a fake guitar instead of a real guitar, you will get fake respect, instead of real respect. To paraphrase and expand the Paper Jamz motto, “Why live a real life when you can watch TV and pretend to be living a life?”

Amotz Zahavi made it clear that in order to be reliable, a signal means to be expensive. If you want lots of respect, then, go practice hard so that you really learn how to play the guitar, and then come back and impress people by playing real songs. Paying $25 and then banging on a piece of plastic and cardboard isn’t going to get you much respect, unless your audience consists of three-year-olds. Then again, I’m probably missing the point because massive numbers of Americans are under the delusion that reality is the way they desire it to be, rather than the way it actually is. Buying a cardboard guitar can bring instant respect to many teenagers because they believe it can.

We are a society that craves instant respect. We show off our gadgets and toys to the have-nots for instant respect. We join the military so we can carry guns, wear uniforms and blow things up in order to get instant respect, even though we’ve floundered through life until then. We celebrate family tragedies, sickness and addictions because these bring us respect as high-ranking victims. We strive to shake hands with Hollywood and sports celebrities, because this brings us instant respect. We become fans of professional sports teams in the hopes that they will win their championship, which seems to bring us respect.

I hope that everybody buying a Paper Jamz guitar really takes the time to impress their friends by “playing the guitar” before they lose all interest in “playing” the three songs programmed into their “guitar.”  I’m not denying that this gadget is technologically impressive or that it could be fun for a small child.  But within a few months after buying a Paper Jamz guitar, this gadget will undoubtedly end up in the back of the closet, and it will eventually be tossed into a landfill with all the other gadgets we buy in our attempts to gain instant respect.

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Category: American Culture, Consumerism, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (8)

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  1. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    This Paper Jamz guitar sounds like aa really cheap and disposable knock off of the "Jaminator".

    The Jaminator was described by its creators as the "ultimate air guitar". Based on a Motorola 68000 processor (the same processor used in the original Macintosh computers) the Jaminator had four four built in songs, each with alternate riffs, drum patterns and keyboard parts. The player was able to control the arrangement of the song in real time through a dozen "Fretboard" buttons, three "string" triggers, three drum pads, four keys, a wang bar and a mode switch. It was sort of a "Synthaxe" for the financially and talent impaired.

    The Jaminators also had a phone jack that could be used to synchronize two of them for a band experience.

    In some cases, toy guitars can become an incentive for a budding musician to move up to a more serious instrument. My younger son played with a Jaminator when he was 8 years old. later he got into the guitar hero type games, and most recently decided to learn to play. I've a pair of old Synsonics electric guitars, which are great for practice because they have built-in amps and headphone jacks, and he is making progress.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Niklaus: My first stringed instrument was a plastic ukulele with Casper the Friendly Ghost on the front. It had a music box inside. It had four nylon strings that functioned enough to make a tone. I was quite the impressive 4 year old!

      These new Paper Jamz "guitars" don't even have strings, though, and they seemed to be geared to children old enough to actually start learning to play an instrument. Also, buying a couple of these guitars and an amp would get you to the price range where you could pick up a decent quality used guitar. A friend recently bought a surprising decent new acoustic guitar at Guitar Center for $150. You can get new combo packages of guitars PLUS amps for less than $150. I just hate to see real money put toward these toys when they could be taking real steps toward becoming rock stars.

  2. Mike Pulcinella says:

    I was a professional keyboard player for twenty years. Recently I played Rock Band or whatever it's called. I played the drums on a pop song. I know enough about playing the drums that I was producing a decent version of the drum part. But it was just different enough to get me very a low score on the game.

    In order to "win" I had to remove ALL feeling and creativity from my playing and just follow by rote the symbols as they flashed on the screen. It was intensely unsatisfying, even though I scored much higher.

    I think that games like this do a disservice to several of the most important aspects of music making. Creativity. Invention. Improvisation.

  3. Tony Coyle says:

    Mike: Regarding rockband – you are so right.

    My son plays drums. Tenors in his high school marching band, and has played a (growing) rock kit for about 7 years.

    He craps out at Rock-band. He never gets 'awesome' because he always puts in little 'diddles and fills that kill his score (because that's how he'd play the piece naturally on his kit).

    I have the same challenge with the rock-band guitar!

    Meh! All these new fanged gadgets! Don't need em!

    You Kids! Get Off My Lawn!

  4. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    My first musical instrument was a harmonica. Over the years, I played bass guitar, guitar, banjo, Jaw Harp, nose flute, keyboards, and even appeared in a talent show playing a Schwinn clip on bicycle pump in a jug band.

    My younger son played around with a Jaminator (from a thrift store) which got him a little interested, tried keyboards ( A Casio 44 key, also from a thrift store) but gave up on it avter a little while.

    It wasn't until after playing Guitar Hero with his friends that he decided to put some effort into playing a real guitar. I gave him an old Synsonics electric guitar with a built-in amp ($10 from a thrift store), showed him the basic tuning, a few chords, strum patterns and told him he would have to practice a lot to get really good.

    He has been sticking with it this time and is showing some improvement.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Maybe I've got the wrong idea, then, Niklaus. Perhaps the Walgreens guitar serves as a jumping off place into a real instrument, at least for some kids.

  5. Rich Kanski says:

    Hey Steve Vai,

    Take a knee. It's a toy for crying out loud! It should be reviewed as such. It need not change your opinion on society as we know it.

  6. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    An update:

    My younger son has made considerable progress learning the guitar. He is now much better than I could ever hope to be (I have a rare genetic neurological anomaly in my brain that interferes with the motor function in my hands and wrists).

    He can already crank out some of the rock anthems like "Stairway to Heaven" and "Miserlou" and some of AC-DC standards like "Back in Black".

    I'm encouraging him to try different styles as well, and he is trying to put a band together for a school talent show.

    He has also been looking for a "Guitar Hero"-like program that works with a real guitar instead of a controller, and playing with digital effects processing through the computer.

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