RSSCategory: Consumerism

Christian Rock and the Banality of The Market

July 16, 2010 | By | 14 Replies More
Christian Rock and the Banality of The Market

Personal gripe time. This is one of those instances where I believe The Market is a hydrocephalic moron and people who put their undying faith in get what they deserve.

Shortly after the 4th of July just past, a St. Louis radio station changed hands. KFUO 99.1 FM had, for sixty-plus years, been our commercial classical station. Before the first Gulf War, our local NPR affiliate, KWMU, was largely a classical music broadcaster, but after that first foray into Mid east adventurism they became pretty much All Talk All Day. Mind you, I like some of what they offer—Fresh Air, Talk of the Nation, Diane Rheem—but I am a lover of music. My youth, in regards to radio, was all about music. I cannot tolerate most of Talk Radio, especially the right wing stuff, but I’m not overly fond of the left wing blatherings, either. Give me a good solid news show twice a day and then fill the airwaves with music.

This has become a subject of nostalgia for me, because for the most part the music scene on radio has devolved into mind-numbing banality and repetition. Catering to The Market has the net result of leavening out at the lowest common denominator, so instead of fascinating, new, or just first-rate music, we get the cuts that will appeal to the greatest number of whatever demographic a given station thinks it’s playing to.

After KWMU went All Talk, little by little I began listening to KFUO. They did not do as good a job, overall, as KWMU—I am a firm believer in airing complete works, so when I am offered A Movement of a symphony or what have you I am turned off; I want the whole damn thing or don’t bother (this is also true of other genres as well: I once got into a shouting match with a DJ over his insistence of playing the three-minute version of an Emerson, Lake & Palmer track that, in its fullness, ran to twelve minutes, and he demanded to know who wanted to listen to all that synthesizer soloing, to which I replied “people who like ELP, you moron!” Needless to say, I lost that one, but I resent the whole assumption that the attention span of people will never exceed five minutes—if you assume that and that’s all you give them, you train them to have short attention spans)—but it was classical music, and I find myself, aging that I am, more and more indulging in that genre (if genre it is) out of sheer boredom and impatience with most other forms. At least, on the radio.

So KFUO became my car station. (At home I listen to albums. I would eliminate DJs and commercials if I could. Playing my own discs, I can.)

Due to the demands of The Market, the impatience of shareholders, etc etc, management at KFUO—the Lutheran Church, basically—sold the station. It is now Joy 99, playing contemporary Christian pop…stuff.

I’ve attempted to listen to some of it, but I find it unremittingly boring. And I am pissed. Where can I now go on the radio to get classical music? Well, KWMU has taken advantage of the new high definition broadcast tech to split itself into multiple channels and has one dedicated to classical music. But I can’t get that in the car. Can’t get at home on my stereo, either, unless I buy new equipment, which is a source of resentment as well. We live in an age where if one does not have the latest, most up-to-date Thingie, at a cost of X hundred dollars per widget, one cannot partake of the goodies available—and the media changes often enough that buying new Thingies is now every couple, three years.

Pardon my expression—Fuck That! This is the Microsoft model taken to extremes. It is a form of class division, based on tech-savvy and money. You don’t have to pass laws to keep the so-called Unwashed out of the Club, you just have to make sure they can’t afford the newest Thingie.

Ahem. Excuse me, that was paranoid of me. I have no reason to believe this is intentional. This is The Market, in all its lobotomized asininity.

Back for a moment to the new KFUO. It is boring. (I am beginning to recognize a pattern. Christian pop sounds somewhat to mainly Country. The southern lilt to the vocals, the excessively forced emotional warbling, twisting notes through laryngeal gymnastics for no reason other than to make use of a single chord for a few moments longer. Never mind the lyrics—I didn’t have a problem with groups like Creed, at least not initially: the music was interesting, the lyrics showed a modicum of ingenuity—just the American Idol approach to hyped emotionalism as substitute for actual content. But I really cannot abide dull music. Even when, initially, this stuff sounds like they’re getting down with some passion, it’s really just arrangement and playing with the compression. The simplest chords, the over-reliance on melody—almost always in major keys—and the deemphasizing of anything that might distract from the primary message of the lyric content. Now, KFUO, having been a Lutheran station, played a great deal of sacred music. Most of which was GLORIOUS. Beautiful, sonorous, majestic, interesting! Composed by musicians who saw no reason to muffle their strengths, but put what they had into such compositions because the music itself was a form of worship, an offering to what they believed, honest and unhampered passion. Modern Christian rock seems to do everything it can to apologize for being rock. Of course, there’s a reason for this, since a good deal of what these folks espouse is a typical American attitude that sensuality is an enemy to faith, and let’s face it, rock is all about sensuality. So, too, is jazz, perhaps even more so, which may be why one hears almost no Christian jazz.) Boring is inexcusable, I don’t care what cause it is in the name of.

Somehow some one or more “consultant” companies told the new owners that this will attract a larger market share than what KFUO had been doing. For all I know, they’re right. I have little faith in the taste of the masses, as a mass. Most of the people I have ever known as casual acquaintances have exhibited appalling taste in the arts. You have to be aware to be sensitive to nuance, to passion, to genuine merit, and it seems that most people move through life barely conscious of their surroundings.

(I once had the most frustrating interchange with a woman at a party who kept complaining that everything I was putting on the stereo was “depressing.” Her word. Depressing. What was I playing? Flim and the BBs, Grover Washington, McCoy Tyner, things like that. I couldn’t figure it out until she demanded, somewhat drunkenly,”Where’s the singing?” Unless there was singing, it was depressing. Of course, by singing she didn’t mean opera, she meant anything she could sing along to. This was more music as sport than art.)

So after a couple of weeks of listening the all this strained pseudo-music sung by earnest C & W types against the most singularly undifferentiated backgrounds, I am officially peeved. I’d like my classical music back, please. I don’t care about demographics. There are dozens of other stations where one can hear similarly banal excrescence, albeit possibly without the juvenile nonsense worship lyrics. KFUO served an audience that is now not served at all, and I can’t help wondering if this is at least partly propagandistic. That this is as much an effort to force a single voice onto the airwaves, driving out the specialist, minority voices, as it is to maximum returns on investment.

Of course, that would be a bit paranoid, wouldn’t it?

Except that over forty years of listening to radio I can’t help but notice that every instance of a station or a show that reached a bit higher, took a chance on quality, played the unexpected or occasionally controversial—all those stations were, one by one, taken over and dragged back down into the stew pot of “popular taste” at expense of anything genuinely challenging or interesting. Regardless of genre. Mediocrity is the hallmark of the largest market share.

Of course this is just me expressing the idle-time thoughts in my head as I simmer in resentment over another source of something worthwhile going the way of the proverbial dodo. There really isn’t a plot of this sort.

There doesn’t need to be, though. Does there? The Market, the “invisible hand (or ear)” will do it for us.

Sometimes something is worth preserving just because it is good, whether it sells well or not. I think most people would agree with that. Where the breakdown comes is in the lack of appreciation of how those good things will inevitably fade away unless we stop praying at the temple of The Market. In that respect, the advent of a “new” Christian Contemporary radio station is deliciously ironic, as clearly someone thinks that Christianity is a marketable commodity and will command market share. The moneylenders have a cozy home in the temple these days, in the American version of Christianity, in which the hallmark of god’s love is a positive bank balance and a healthy hedge fund.

I can hear the protest, “Well, it must be good if it sells well!”

Pet rocks sold incredibly well. So did shares in Enron.

On the other hand, maybe I’m just annoyed at seeing something I found special axed in the name of the bottom line. Again.

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Messing with the phone company

May 31, 2010 | By | 9 Replies More
Messing with the phone company

My phone company has utterly and repeatedly lied to me about my bill. It’s infuriating. I call them up and ask them to justify my bill. They “apologize” and insist that it will cost exactly $X every month in the future. Then the bills show up and they are $X plus an extra $15. What do you do, go to small claims court over $15? I’m saving up my bills and I actually might do that someday. In the meantime, I do wonder how many other people are having the same experience, and I assume that there are plenty of you out there. Unfortunately, these do not make good class actions because they usually involve oral misrepresentations over the phone. In order to prove that a large group of people were lied to, you’d need to call every customer into court to testify. Courts usually reject these as class actions. Therefore, anyone with this situation is likely in the same boat I’m in. Small damages also combine with clever arbitration clauses to amount to telephone company immunity.

I’m telling you this little story as a prelude to showing you this image. I do understand this person’s frustration. Bravo!

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The problem with buffeting and choppy fans

May 26, 2010 | By | 7 Replies More
The problem with buffeting and choppy fans

Manufacturers and retailers are great at solving problems we didn’t know that we had. Sometimes, our “problem” is lack of social prestige.

Check out this high tech “Air Multiplier” I recently spotted at Target. Here’s what it offers. No blades. No “buffeting.” No “choppy air.” Silly me. I thought that fans were supposed to buffet the air and make it choppy. Now I know, however, that the fans I already own are defective and that I need to fix this problem by purchasing several of these $300 Dyson “Air Multipliers.”

Image by Erich Vieth

Why would someone buy such an expensive contraption when you can easily buy a decent fan for $15 and a great fan for $75? Geoffrey Miller explains this phenomenon in an incredibly well-written and well-researched book titled Spent: Sex, Evolution and Consumer Behavior. I could write 100 posts commenting on the various sections of Spent; Miller’s book is that good. I’m well on my way. See here, for example, and here.

Out of curiosity, I visited the Dyson website to see whether this “Air Multiplier” is more energy efficient that a traditional fan. Information about energy usage is conspicuous by its absence on Dyson’s site, however. I know enough about marketing that if the Air Multiplier were more energy efficient than traditional fans, this information would be prominently displayed on Dyson’s packaging. Along the same lines, note that the Dyson Air Multiplier is “safe,” even though all modern fans come with grill designed to keep fingers away from the blades. I they are going spin their product’s qualities wildly (no pun intended), they would certainly make sure that we were informed about the Air Multiplier’s ability to save energy–if only that were true.

[For comparison, I have inserted a few old-fashioned “fans” that you can buy at Target, a few feet down from the throne of the Air Multiplier. As you can see, these fans are considerably cheaper. In fact, for the price of one Air Multiplier, you could buy eighteen $16 fans. ]img_0006

Chapter 7 of Spent is titled “Conspicuous Waste, Precision, and Reputation. In this chapter, Miller convincingly argues that we don’t buy to merely have; rather, many of our purchases are for the purpose of displaying qualities to others. We are very much like peacocks, it turns out. We like to conspicuously waste resources (this is an expensive and thus reliable signal that we have enough resources to waste). We also engage in conspicuous precision, spending lots of money to display that we have not only resources, but also an appreciation of technology that goes far beyond the mental capabilities of those people are willing to settle for those damned buffeting fans.

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Mixing up my own non-toxic shampoo and conditioner

May 12, 2010 | By | 16 Replies More
Mixing up my own non-toxic shampoo and conditioner

The perky woman on this Grist video (“Umbra”) has convinced me to make my own shampoo and conditioner. Not only will this save me money, but it will put end my practice of covering my scalp with numerous chemicals that contain known-harmful ingredients–many shampoos and conditions are laden with harmful and potentially harmful ingredients (I found this video at Huffpo). I should also mention that I have become extra-motivated to try this experiment based on this recent post by Brynn Jacobs. First, the fast-paced video featuring “Umbra”:

Now a short detour to the Environmental Working Group website, where you can determine all of the nasty chemicals in your shampoos, conditioners and other products. The EWG “Cosmetics” database is here.

I went to straight to my bathroom and dug out various bottles each of shampoo and conditioner. My Pantene “Full and Thick” shampoo contains all of the following (among other chemicals): METHYLCHLOROISOTHIAZOLINONE, ETHYLENE OXIDE, 1,4-DIOXANE, ETHYLENE OXIDE, 1,4-DIOXANE) NITROSAMINES) COCAMIDE MEA, METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE, SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE. Various of these chemicals are associated with the following things: Neurotoxicity, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive) Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs).

I checked out a bottle of Suave Professionals Sleek Shampoo and it contained a comparably ominous list. The Revlon Aqua Marine Moisturizing Shampoo was even worse in that it contained four chemicals associated with cancer.

Then I looked up two bottles of hair conditioner. The Garnier Fructis Fortifying Conditioner – Sleek & Shine has a comparably nasty list of chemicals –Umbra urges that these chemicals are totally unnecessary for washing one’s hair. I couldn’t find the Citre Shine Daily Revitalize Conditioner with Shine-Infusing Citrus Extracts on the EWG website, but I carefully read the fine print on the back label and plugged four of those chemicals into the EWG site; they all came up as bad, despite the front label’s suggestion that this product contains “healthy” ingredients. I suppose the theory is to balance out each industrial chemical with a whiff of something healthy-sounding like “citrus extract.”

BTW, isn’t it ironic to read all of those the benign-sounding names of these products and then compare those names to the long lists of chemicals within?

What is Umbra’s solution to this apparently unhealthy situation? She is encouraging us to make our own shampoo and conditioner (this is the same advice offered by Colin Beavan). For shampoo, she recommends that we mix a tablespoon of baking soda with each cup of water. Shake it each time before using it. For conditioner, mix 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with each cup of water. She says that the vinegar smell goes away after you rinse.

As soon as I publish this post, I’m going to the kitchen to mix up a batch of each. I’m appearing in court tomorrow, and my hair and scalp, for the first time ever, will not be drenched in potentially harmful chemicals.

I promise to report on the experience after I use these home-made hair products for a few days.

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Super-shovel: It slices, it dices

April 28, 2010 | By | Reply More
Super-shovel: It slices, it dices

I thought the music was a bit dramatic until I got half-way through this shovel advertisement. Maybe I should start carrying a shovel in my briefcase, in case I need to climb a mountain or chop potatoes.

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The fake problems of infomercials

April 24, 2010 | By | Reply More
The fake problems of infomercials

I caught this video on the Daily Dish. It is a compilation of excerpts from numerous infomercials. This excellent editing of a string of disasters that suggests the need for one more infomercial offering this bit of free advice: Slow down; quit being such materialists; simplify your life and quit acting so recklessly. Excellent humor and anthropology, “kickintheheadcomic“!

I suspect we’ll soon be hearing a new soundtrack on this clever video, unless the creator has his use rights to the Beatle’s “Help” nailed down . . .

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People Are Idiots. A Cynical Observation

April 15, 2010 | By | 36 Replies More
People Are Idiots.  A Cynical Observation

The video below from TED is chilling in many ways. Michael Specter touches on observations about the resistance people have toward anything that seems to threaten their hobbit-hole view of the world. A little of this, as he rightly points out, is fine, even agreeable, but when it burgeons into matters that threaten lives and seek to derail all that has made this present era as wonderful as it is—and it must be stressed, in the face of overwhelming negative press, that we are living in a magnificent period of history—then it loses whatever quaint appeal it might otherwise have. We respect the Amish, but they don’t tell the rest of us how to live and try their level best to be apart from the world they disapprove. When you see people filing lawsuits with the intent to halt necessary, beneficial progress because they have bought into some bogeyman horror movie view of science or politics or morality, it behooves us to come to terms with a fundamental reality with which we live today.

First, though, the video. Watch this, then read on.

Okay, what reality? That many people are just idiots. I cannot think of a more tasteful way to phrase it. But when you consider the list, justifications and rationalizations fade.

The Tea Party. The Anti-vaccine Movement. The Birthers. Young Earth Creationists. Medjugorje. Deepak Chopra. PETA. Free Market Capitalism. Global Warming Deniers. Holocaust Deniers. Abstinence-Only. Just Say No. The Shroud of Turin. Astrology. Texas Board of Education. Evolution Deniers. Frankenfood Protesters. Homeopaths. Herbalists. Psychics. Scientology.

I could go on.

[more . . . ]

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About good hair

March 5, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More
About good hair

Tonight, the parents of my children’s school were given a chance to view and discuss the 2009 Chris Rock movie: “Good Hair.” As you can see from the following YouTube trailer, the film is characterized as a “comedy,” and there were certainly many lighthearted moments throughout the film. On the other hand, the subject of the film is also tragic, in that it is the story of millions of African-American women who have been convinced that their natural hair is not beautiful. Chris Rock documents the extreme lengths that many African-American women go to to cover up their African-American hair.

The story starts when one of Rock’s young daughters asked him, “Daddy, why don’t I have good hair?”

What can an African-American woman do when she wants to have “good hair”? The options include the use of highly caustic sodium hydroxide for straightening the hair (with its potential for painfully scalding the skin). I knew about that particular practice, but I had no idea that so many African-American women have actually covered up their own hair with “weaves,” straight dark human hair grown by women from other cultures. Rock traces some of the most sought-after weave hair to India. Many Indian women periodically give up their hair (having their heads shaved completely bald) in religious ceremonies called “tonsure.” From those temple rituals, that hair somehow ends up in the United States, where it is purchased by African-American women at prices ranging from $1,000 on up. It’s even more amazing to consider that so many women of modest means work so hard to cover up their hair with weaves. Several of the women stated that an African-American woman simply cannot succeed in the business world without hair that has been straightened or covered with a weave. Many of the women featured in the film indicated that taking care of a weave is extraordinarily difficult–no swimming for these women, and many of them wouldn’t dream of ever letting a man touch their delicate fake hair, even their lover.

I had no idea that so many women would go to such extraordinary lengths to have “proper” hair, or that so many women consider it to be more “natural” to display hair that is not their own natural hair.

Watching this film was a wonderful anthropological journey for me; this story is thoroughly about people and in the lengths to which they will go to display themselves in what they see to be culturally appropriate ways; it’s not just about hair. I truly enjoyed viewing the delightful interviews of the many people Chris Rock artfully stirred into his vivid mosaic.

The broader lesson is not about hair, or even about African-Americans. It seems to be about consumerism and the deep need of humans to display their traits to each other in expensive ways.

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Building lifeboats

March 3, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More
Building lifeboats

I know that my past few posts have been bleak (see here and here), but now I must temper that sense of despair with some hope. Things are bad, and will probably get worse, but that’s not to say that they will not get better.

But here’s the trick: we all have to stop relying upon someone else for solutions. Forgive me if I sound like a politician for just a moment: we must “be the change” we want to see in the world. I cannot tell you how to solve the peak oil problem, or the unfolding economic collapse, or climate change, or the corruption which has become endemic in our political system– you have to figure it out for yourself. I’m not selling a prepackaged kit which contains all of the answers, and I would probably distrust anyone who was.

But that’s precisely why I still have hope. If we are going to make it through the challenges facing us, we must learn to pull together again as a community and actually attempt to create our own solutions. There can be no more delegation to those in Washington. We cannot afford to wait for decades as they attempt to muster the political will to combat the flood of money which has so damaged our electoral and political processes. We simply don’t have time to fix the system that’s been damaged beyond repair.

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