Monthly Archives: September 2008

Capitalism is Turning You Into A Chick

How many pairs of shoes do you own? Be honest. Resist the temptation to defend yourself and salvage your masculinity by discounting shoes from two years ago that are no longer “part of your rotation”. Bullshit. Go count your closet right now.

Ten years ago if you had a penis and answered “ten or more” you would have been gay or European or both. Today, a collection of ten or more shoes is no longer unacceptable for a fashionable male, it’s almost a requirement.

The photograph on the right is Kanye West’s shoe closet (incidentally this week Kanye made news for lashing out at a photographer in an airport). Kanye might be the poster boy for the cultural phenomenon I’m getting at, not because he is the worst offender, but because he is the most high profile and this lyrics often address these concerns directly. At least in his first album. Personally I think he lost all his cultural credentials after graduating to the big leagues of rap… but that’s another story. Check out the lyrics to “All Falls Down” if you doubt that Kanye ever had a culturally important message.

Man I promise, I’m so self conscious
That’s why you always see me with at least one of my watches
Rollies and Pasha’s done drove me crazy
I can’t even pronounce nothing, pass that versace!
Then I spent 400 bucks on this
Just to be like nigga you ain’t up on this!
And I can’t even go to the grocery store
Without some ones thats clean and a shirt with a team
It seems we living the american dream
But the people highest up got the lowest self esteem

http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/kanyewest/allfallsdown.html

Capitalism, baby! New markets for products. We must always generate more consumption. When one market is saturated (women), shoe consumption has no choice but to grow toward the next market (men).

Here’s the thing though, where there is no need (as in the fact you don’t need eight pairs of Jordan’s) producers must create an artificial need (as in the relative status your conspicuous consumption conveys). And it works.

Because whether you like it or not, whether you admit it or not, you are a part of this herd. Your manufactured “need” for a cool new pair of shoes is only as strong as the arms race of new shoes the people around you are sporting, and in the world of big money rappers this relative peer group is really throwing down so you better be ready to compete.

There is a fair amount of evidence of self-awareness when it comes to this among rappers, that is to say they all know they’re doing it and they’re fine with it. They rap about it, they joke about it, and they do it anyway. There is a fair amount of self-awareness surrounding the same phenomena with women (Sex and the City, to the well-heeled Communications major, is often a thought provoking meditation on the pressures of the consumer lifestyle women face in modern society).

But while women and black people have been watching this trend shape their cultures for years, I’m not seeing the same awareness among white men. Maybe because we’ve never been culturally oppressed. Either way the writing is on the wall. We’re all gonna buy more shit.

Because consumer capitalism is the single strongest (and arguably most unquestioned) force undergirding our society it shapes our culture subtly and powerfully. A lot of people stand to make a lot of money by convincing you to buy more shit. Change is just slow enough that you don’t ever really think about it. Try to pinpoint, when did someone convince you that $100 was an acceptable amount to pay for sneakers? Nobody did, there was no moment when that happened: culture told you to. And because market pressures shape our culture more than anything else, culture is going to keep pushing you in the direction of shopping and dressing more and more like a chick.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go buy some new shoes.

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John McCain: “Fuck It”

Sarah Palin?

Hold on, let me try that again – SARAH PALIN?!

Of course, the female 2 year governor of Alaska with no national political experience, zero national name recognition until this weekend, a possible penchant for persecuting state troopers for personal reasons, and oh yeah a pregnant 17 year old daughter. The logical choice for the experience driven “no bullshit” campaign run by John McCain.

I’m not hating on Sarah Palin the person or Sarah Palin the governer. I’m not going to make sexist comments about her sexy librarian-like appeal and I’m not going to crudely remark that I wouldn’t mind going drilling for oil in her “home state”. I’m not going to do those things because we’re above that kind of immature shit here at the Culture Wharf. This is not about Sarah Palin the babe, broad, bitty, or the sexual politics of the boys club in Washington.

This is about Sarah Palin the vice presidential candidate. What does McCain’s selection of Palin tell us about the Republican campaign and this country right now?

That the McCain campaign is floundering and needs a quick fix of media attention to make sure it won’t be over before October hits?

That they underestimate the women of this country so much that they think Hilary supporters might defect for the nominal selection of a woman as VP?

That the “Grand Old Party” wants to seem a little more hip so as not cede the monopoly on youth, energy and change to Obama?

Or that it just might work?

The selection of Sarah Palin in a society that valued practical policy or political experience would be idiotic, luckily for McCain America is not such a place. What we value is news. Headlines, controversy, lead pictures, back and forth swings of momentum. When there isn’t any real change to the status quo we invent some, because 24 hour news networks need to talk about something. And as media has become more and more pervasive and instantaneous, literally inserting itself into the background of our lives, the speed of the news cycles has had to keep up. The presidential election is the ultimate bonanza for the news-starved American media. It’s more than just a horse race, it’s OUR NATION’S horse race, a once in for years event and we the public want our money’s worth. It’s entertainment, after all what fun is a race without the drama, the swings in momentum, the stories of impossible comebacks?

But like the guy who spoils the ending of the Sixth Sense I can already tell you how this is going to play out. Obama wins. Sorry guys, I know you’re invested in propping up McCain like Reagan propped up the Soviet Union, but November 4th is going to be the 1991 of this smoke and mirrors incarnation. At which point the media will collectively scratch their heads and wonder what to do next…

The media NEEDS John McCain. And John McCain picking Palin shows the media that he understands and is willing to play their game. It’s not about running a solid campaign based on issues anymore. It’s not about taking his message to the American people. It’s about feeding the machine that will decide the election. And he just gave them a mouthful.

What McCain’s move shows is some media savvy, probably on the part of his advisors because I don’t believe for a minute McCain himself chose this woman to be his Vice President (rumors are he wanted Lieberman but his team said “political suicide”). She’s camera-ready and she’s already snatched the headlines from Obama. But what McCain probably doesn’t get is that he could literally get on stage naked and jerk off on the American flag and the media would find a way to prop him up for another couple of months until he loses to Obama.

That’s how invested in the race model of politics the media is.

That’s why picking Palin was the dumbest and the most brilliant thing he could do. Because even though it is blatantly and transparently selling out campaign values to PR concerns, even though it plays to the base when he needs to win over undecideds, even though she undercuts his main charge of lack of experience against Obama, for the next several months McCain has managed to keep the media’s fickle attention. And for the next several months we’ll be hearing about it. The media already loves it.

I respect John McCain the person immensely but I wonder, at times like this, if John McCain still feels like John McCain. McCain struck me initially as a principled man with a very sincere message. But politics is a funny game, you start out with high hopes of being above the political scramble and media gamesmanship, with the honest intent to bring a real message about policy to the American people. Then one day your advisors tell you have to give away a little of that dignity here to stay in the race, so you do it. You want to win, and this is how the game is played, so when they ask you for a little more next month you don’t like it but you give it to them. Then some more. Then some more. They keep asking for it and the rush of staying in the race is too much so you just keep giving it to them–besides you’ll get back to being yourself as soon as you get in office, you promise. Just a little more. Just a little longer. I’m running low this month, bro, do you think you could spot me a few? Let me just get half this time. Before you know it you’re waking up on the floor of the motel room of a guy you don’t even know with a needle in your arm, blood running down your legs and Sarah Palin as your running mate. And you’re still going to lose the election.

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