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…has come and gone, and I would not at all be surprised if you didn’t notice it unless you either had the day off from work/school or if you’d waited for mail delivery on Monday.
Mainstream-media coverage of the day was reduced to the bare minimum (Sunday op-ed pieces about The State of Race in America; quick TV clips of politicians’ speechifying about the great man intercut with children’s choirs doing old black spirituals).
Even the traditional MLK corporate “public service” ads, re-imaging Dr. King into corporate America’s preferred idea of a visionary (someone who shifts paradigms and thinks outside the proverbial box), were noticably diminished this year. Part of that could do with companies cutting back on expenses deemed unnecessary for fiscal survival.
But there might be another potential reason. The politicians, the companies, and particularly the media just might (might, I say) be particularly uncomfy this time around with Dr. King’s real messages. The man wasn’t just a dreamer. He was a dissident. He demanded to challenge the U.S. status quo, to insist this country live up to its professed ideals of liberty and equality. To King, being a proper American didn’t involve sanctimonious complacency. It meant working, fighting, to make this a better place, a more just place.
It’s almost certain that if King were around today, Lynne Cheney’s think tank would brand him as a bin Laden sympathizer.
At first, I thought the sudden emergence of an overriding central political issue would render irrelevant all the littler things progressives obsess over, such as gender-role images in the media or PoMo deconstructions of texts.
But then it dawned on me that all these sub-issues relate, at least indirectly, to the main tasks at hand: Getting the U.S. going again, not letting Bush pull us toward an inevitably-futile armed conflict, and getting the U.S. out of the colonial-empire game that got us into this mess.
Herewith, a few speculative ways some of the heretofore largely separate progressive causes might tie into the new Cause #1 (finding a way out of this new military-political situation without losing lots of innocent lives here or elsewhere):
Thus, it takes PoMo thinking to find a response to the attacks that doesn’t end up destroying modern (western) society in the name of saving it.
So don’t for a minute buy into the notion that the conservative prowar contingent’s got some inevitable monopoly on the nation’s hearts-‘n’-minds.
The things progressives have talked about all these years are more relevant, and potentially more promotable, than ever.
A critic lists the “Top 50 Cliches of the Art World.”
“Why Whites Think Blacks Have No Problems.”
Longtime tech-biz observer Adam Engst has some inside insights about the Internet grocery biz in “Where Webvan Went Wrong.”
The following is the “long version” of one of the short items to run in the Stranger obit column later this week:
Rev. Fred Beaver Chief Jameson, 46, was a member of the Lummi Nation, a spiritual leader, musician, and social activist, who worked among Seattle’s Native American community and also in the local art and music scenes.
He lectured across North America and Europe; he’d married a Swiss woman and was planning to move to Zurich. He was the Seattle School District’s Native American liaison in the ’70s. He led drum circles and made recordings of Northwest Coast Salish music, including the 1999 CD Red Cedar Medicine Circle Songs.
One of Jameson’s friends in the music community, Sky Cries Mary founder Roderick Romero, said he was “the most significant native of this area that I’ve encountered. His whole purpose was to bridge the indigenous culture and that of what he called ‘the settlers,’ and try to heal the pain. His dream was to have a children’s center where children could learn more about the indigenous people of this area…. He had a massive impact on Seattle, not just because he was a native but because he stepped out side of those boundaries.”
“He was open to every religion,” Romero added. “He didn’t alienate anyone; he was always open to what anyone had to say or was feelng. He married Anisa and I. He blessed our houses. When Anisa was going through cancer, he was there for her. He was one of the most significant people in my life.
“He was planning on moving to Switzerland with the woman from Zurich he’d married. He was so accepted into any culture, I thought he’d be such a great person to speak for the States. He always had something positive to say.”
In the local neo-pagan publication Widdershins, writer Amanda Silvers called Beaver Chief “a wise man, teacher, healer, singer, storyteller and all-around funny guy who is very serious about spirit.”
Jameson also wrote the book A Handbook For Human Beings, in which he said about himself: “I am a bridge. A bridge to help you understand our culture and combine it with your own… NOT to replace it, but to combine it.”
Jameson died of a sudden aneurysm on June 8 at the Queen Anne post office. Services were held last Wednesday at the Bonney Watson funeral home on Broadway, followed by a ritual burning of his belongings at the Swinomish Medicine House near La Conner.
I CONTINUE TO RECEIVE letters and emails asking me to stop using the word “yuppie” in the online column.
So, at least for today, I’ll use a different term to describe the only people Seattle’s political and media elites care about–the Monoculture.
In the Monoculture aesthetic, everyone who lives in Seattle (or at least everyone who deserves to live here) is affluent, childless, in an office-type profession, educated yet decidedly non-intellectual, “culturally aware” yet relentlessly middlebrow, “active in the community” yet devoutly pro-business, a devout attender of high-volume, high-priced restaurants, and a strong supporter of “diversity” just as long as everybody looks and behaves identically blandly.
Entire retail empires, publications, and political campaigns are built on this dubious premise.
And now, there’s a slick free monthly, Colors NW, showing that you don’t have to be of pale Euro descent to be part of the Monoculture.
The magazine’s second issue, out now, has a Bon Marche ad on the back (why, by the way, doesn’t the Bon still have a real website?), smaller inside ads for mortgage consultants and liposuction clinics, and features within about the Film Festival, a dot-com executive, and pricey restaurants.
The Bon model is Asian American. The liposuction ad’s before-and-after model and the dot-com exec are both African American. The restaurant reviews hype “upscale soul food” and “down home Japanese.” Otherwise, they’re hard to distinguish from similar features in Monoculture-obsessed media.
“Yeah,” you might be saying if you’ve already read the mag, “but what about the cover story on the history of Asian American political activism in Seattle? Or the profile of Samoan hiphop DJ Kutfather? Or the little back-page essay by a Seattle U student advisor on the identity confusion resulting from her own half-white, half-Filipino heritage?”
Yes, the mag has all those things. But these three pieces depict their subjects as ideal citizens of Seattle-The-Good. Even the Asian-activism story is written as a tale of earnest progressives striving to rectify wrongs that all nice Reagan Democrats can agree are wrong (racist ad images, for example).
And in the context of the magazine’s more consumerist material, the profiled activists get the same overall aura you see in corporate-sponsored Martin Luther King Day ads. That is, they become seen as out-of-the-box-thinkin’ political entrepreneurs, the social-justice equivalents of “new economy” CEOs.
But that’s not necessarily all that bad. After all, there’s something to be said for the idea that ethnic striving oughta be about making it, succeeding in the melting-pot and taking pride in that success.
Even if it means conforming to the white-dominated zeitgeist of the Monoculture, and not to the “true diversity” zeitgeist of white lefties such as myself.
IN OTHER NEWS:A tiny news brief reveals what critics of “get tuff” welfare policies have long claimed–that draconian aid regulations cost more in paperwork and enforcement costs than they save in denied benefits.
NEXT:“The arts” as an economic development scheme.
Some folk in Boston are archiving those “we’ll set your poem to music” records. The ones they don’t consider good enough to reissue on CD, they’ve posted online (found by The Interstellar Cafe)….
TODAY, I’M PLUGGING a book you can’t buy yet.
But I want you to remember it; it’s just that great.
The Golem’s Mighty Swing, by original Stranger art director James Sturm, is the first comic I know about (and one of the best narratives of any sort) about that relatively obscure but avidly-followed-by-some corner of sports history,
Jews in baseball.
It’s also an astounding feat of storytelling, finding the Universal in the Particular by creating specific characters and situations that show off these characters’ personalities.
And it’s an amazing piece of art.
Remember a while back when I raved about Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, that brilliantly written and drawn “educational comic” about the medium’s aesthetic principles? The Golem’s Mighty Swing could be a textbook case for many of these principles. Every frame is exquisitely composed. Every figure, every face, is a mini-masterpiece of action and characterization in deceptively simple ink lines. The baseball-playing scenes by themselves are frozen-action renderings that outpunch almost all superhero comics ever drawn.
The plot, you ask? The Stars of David are a barnstorming baseball team, traveling across 1920s middle America in a broken-down bus, playing local minor-league teams in exhibitions. They play up their ethnicity as an exotic selling point to the small-town audiences. But a fly-by-night promoter convinces them to take the act further, dressing their physically biggest player (who’s really black) as a golem, the man-made monster of Hebrew legend (and of a popular silent film of the era).
What neither the team nor the promoter realize, until it’s too late, is that the golem character’s visage on publicity posters helps inflame the anti-Semitic sentiments of the town where the team’s next game is scheduled, leading to vicious attacks and a dramatic climax you’ll never get in any yuppified baseball-as-Americana tale.
The book’ll be out in a couple of months from Drawn & Quarterly Publications. I’ll let you know when it appears. When it does, get it.
IN OTHER NEWS: Last week’s piece about the new book Fast Food Nation drew a quick email response from a reader who wishes to remain anonymous. He wrote that I shouldn’t have been so hard on the book’s author Eric Schlosser, who, despite the book’s rants about big restaurant chains and their corporate-agribusiness supply system, claims to still be a meat-and-dairy consumer and a loyal patron of his hometown indie pizza joint.
NEXT: The original Seattle Weekly crew was never as “alternative” as it apparently thinks it used to be.
THE DEMISE OF PUNK PIONEER JOEY RAMONE, of lymphoma at age 49, struck me more than that of Elvis Presley (at an even younger age).
Not just because, unlike Presley, I’d actually seen the Ramones live several times, but because of their respective places in the advancement of rock as an art form.
Presley hadn’t been the first white white singer to copy a hard R&B style. But he was the first to make a huge business from it. The process of his schtick was to bleach the blackness out of black music, to make it just acceptable enough for white consumption while still being “wicked” enough to draw prudes’ ire.
When that territory got too crowded, he turned on himself in a series of self-deconstruction movies. This inward obsession finally manifested itself in drug-influenced lethargy and obesity.
Joey and his fellow faux-bros. emerged on the scene as Presley had disappeared into the recursive trap of self-parody. The Ramones took self-parody as one of the four corners of their group persona (along with ’60s garage-rock, Phil Spector-Brill Building pop, and biker leather wear).
But instead of retreating further into self-referentiality, they started by jokingly depicting themselves as cretins and pinheads, then expanded outward with a hard, fast recapturing of the vital energy that had been sucked out of rock by the post-1960 Presley (and by flower power, Sgt. Pepper, prog rock, soft rock, mullet-head metal, etc.). As Joey allegedly once said, “We wanted to play rock n’ roll, not drum solos.”
Along the way, they reinvigorated rock, launched (not singlehandedly but almost) the punk revolution, directly and/or indirectly inspired thousands of bands (yes, including many here), and churned out dozens of mini-masterpieces of two-minute, three-chord perfection.
While Presley turned ever-inward until he died alone, Ramone kept spinning out toward the allegedly-real world. Joey eventually (at least indirectly) renounced the just-kidding aspect of his original schtick with the anti-Reagan song “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg.” In it, the singer who used to sport swastikas on his leather jacket as a cheap anti-PC gag got serious to denounce a president who’d become too forgiving about the real Nazis.
Also, nowhere in Ramone’s originals or his carefully-chosen cover recordings did he ever pretend to be black. (Ex-bandmate Dee Dee Ramone did, on a misguided rap CD, but that’s another tale.) A strange ’90s book called Hole In Our Soul saw this lack of minstrelism as a renunciation of the whole R&B tradition and, hence, of everything wonderful and heartfelt about America’s cultural heritage. I think that’s bunk. What Joey and his punk pals and proteges did was find themselves enough heart and, yes, soul in the garage-rock heritage, and could express themselves while respecting black music enough to not try to take it over.
P.S.: The afternoon Ramone died, I happened to be at the Museum of Flight and happened to see U2’s elaborately painted private jet taking off from Boeing Field following their Tacoma Dome gig. U2 would never have had that jet, let alone a career, if it hadn’t been for Ramone–one who, at least publicly, decried the whole material-excess lifestyle and rock-star aesthetic U2 now relishes.
NEXT: A chant, re: The art of Art Chantry.
SEVEN DISGRUNTLED MICROSOFT EMPLOYEES (current and former) have filed this here $5 billion race-discrimination lawsuit. They claim there’s a “plantation mentality” at the software giant, in which black employees were routinely denied promotions and raises and were subject to retaliation if they complained.
In its statements of denial, MS officials essentially said such a thing could never, ever have occurred at a company so forthright, so diversity-conscious. The routine tech-media gang of MS defenders has gone on to share this line.
Why are some people so shocked to hear about the Microsoft discrimination suit? You all oughta know by now how the software giant’s got this corporate culture in which only a certain type of person (the Gates clone wannabe) gets ahead.
The MS corporate culture was, at least indirectly, inspired by that of Nordstrom (which, you may recall, faced its own discrimination suit a few years back).
In both companies, and in whitebread Seattle society in general, the real goal of preaching “diversity” isn’t to bring more minorities into the corridors of power but to allow the white folks already there to feel better about themselves. If corporate Seattle could figure out a way to support minority rights without having to actually deal with real black (or hispanic or American Indian) folks in their own offices, they would.
One quintessential example of this hypocrisy is the awful movie version of that breast-beating, locally-written novel Snow Falling On Cedars.
It’s ostensibly about the WWII relocation camps and other racist acts against Japanese Americans in our state not too long ago. But the movie (in which no Asian-American actor is billed higher than eighth!), and the novel, are really all about raising audience sympathy for the nice white-boy hero, a noble hack journalist (and the author’s presumed alter ego).
This past week’s local Martin Luther King Day public-service ads further exemplify this faux-diversity mindset.
The ads all venerate King as a visionary, a leader, a forward-thinker (i.e., a representative of the values CEOs often imagine themselves to have). The ads then close with pats-on-the-ol’-back to the forward-thinking corporations who pitched in to pay for the ad space or time. Little or no mention is made of the real social issues King confronted, many of which still need confronting today.
So it stands to reason that a theoretical company that participated in these and other “diversity” themed self-celebrations (which theoretically might also include donations to inner-city schools, representatives at minority recruiting fairs, and internal sensitivity-training classes for white employees) might theoretically, and informally, decide it’s been doing enough to feel good about itself diversity-wise, and that it doesn’t have to go that extra, often-unpublicized step and actually demand fair treatment for actual minority persons within its own employment ranks.
If that’s what really went on, I (though perhaps not top company management) wouldn’t be the least surprised.
TOMORROW: I know what IT is. Will I tell you? Find out.
BLACK ENTERTAINMENT TELEVISION was seldom among the proudest examples of African American cultural achievement.
Its schedule relied heavily on music-video blocks, including a lot of the gun-totin’ and woman-dissin’ gangsta minstrels manufactured by L.A. promoters for mall-rat consumption. Its original shows were heavy on the kind of self-deprecating comedy acts that Spike Lee savages in his new movie Bamboozled. And it ran as much as 12 hours a day of infomercials.
But black audiences were often willing to give the channel at least a little grudging respect, because it was “their own.” It was officially owned by a black entrepreneur, Robert Johnson. (Even though its financing and ultimate control came from TCI’s Liberty Media subsidiary.)
But AT&T, which now controls Liberty, has been involved in some major corporate reorganizing; while Johnson’s tried to start a new commuter airline.
So BET will soon disappear as a nominally independent entity, to become just another of Viacom’s many cable properties.
Some commentators have mourned that the only black-owned national TV channel’s going to be just another piece of a media conglomerate.
What they’re not fully considering is that a Viacom-owned BET just might be a more effective voice for black America. Not just with more and costlier original shows, but with a more respectful atittude toward its core audience.
Viacom’s MTV and UPN channels have certainly traded in the kind of jive talk and booty shakes vilified by BET’s critics. But its Showtime pay-TV channel has commissioned perhaps the most respectful black-middle-class show since Cosby, Soul Food (and its Hispanic counterpart, Resurrection Boulevard).
These shows, along with HBO’s The Corner, expand the notion of “TV Worth Paying For.” Those with just plain old broadcast reception get Af-Am role models limited to over-the-top sitcom mugging and Oprah. Those with basic cable can also see Li’l Kim’s cleavage, Wyclef’s loverboy posturing, and CNN’s Bernard Shaw.
But for the adventures of more-or-less ordinary black families with more-or-less ordinary relationship and career problems, ya gotta pay extra.
Maybe, just maybe, that’ll change.
TOMORROW: Bjork’s dander in the dark.
REMEMBER: It’s time to compile the highly awaited MISCmedia In/Out List for 2001. Make your nominations to email@example.com or on our handy MISCtalk discussion boards.
HEARD THE CLASH’S “Hitsville UK” on the Linda’s Tavern jukebox (now, alas, CD-based) the other day. The song, from the premier political-punk band’s 1980 Sandinista! magnum opus, was full of contradictions then and bears even more today.
First, it was a tribute to indie labels (and a scathing indictment of major-label marketing practices) that came out on a major. The song’s British 45 release acknowledged this with a sleeve depicting a score of minor-label logos in a “background” color shade; while the CBS Records logo on the record itself was in a brighter shade of the same color.
Second, the song’s title, lyrics, and booming-beat arrangement all invoked the Motown label (originally known as “Hitsville USA”) as an inspiration and a model for artist-centered, commerciality-be-damned music making.
Perhaps to a Brit, a Black-owned company making and selling Black music all on its own from outside the media capitals (albeit within the established music-biz infrastructure; its ’60s classics were distributed in Britain by EMI) could be seen as having blazed a trail leading to the initial punk/indie revolution, and from there perhaps toward the destruction of the major labels and their prepackaged pap. And, as historian Suzanne Smith has shown, many Black Americans saw similar hopes in the label’s original success.
But to some old R&B purists and modern-day indie idealogues, Motown was as ruthless and centralized as the majors. It was an assembly-line operation that produced one product (the “Motown Sound” hit single, an R&B subgenre engineered in every detail for white teenybopper consumption) in assorted models and upholstery schemes. Its stars had to fight for any degree of creative or career control (only Smokey and Stevie really succeeded).
When the Motown Sound had finally played itself out as a top-40 commodity, boss Barry Gordy shut down the factory and split Detroit for L.A., taking all his remaining stars out there with him. (Aretha Franklin, the one Detroit R&B legend who stayed, recorded for Atlantic.)
Still, “Hitsville UK” and its themes of empowerment and innocence regained struck a powerful point in 1980. Its (oversimplified?) depiction of art-loving, street-credible outfits like Factory and Rough Trade reclaiming music from the industry’s “mutants, freaks and musclemen” provided as much hope as a progressively-minded young adult could reasonably expect to have at that time of Reagan’s and Thatcher’s rise to power. Maybe we couldn’t stop the assaults on public education and the environment, the military buildups, or the revival of racism; but at least we could gain control of what was on our own turntables and in our own Walkmen.
Twenty years later, the song’s main message still reverberates. Music-making technology has become so democratized that almost anyone can put out a recording (and, if you look at the post-your-MP3 sites, it seems almost everyone has). Virtually every aspect of music production, performance, and marketing has been, or is being, demystified and popularized. The majors, meanwhile, are consolidating ever further, relying more heavily on rosters of ever blander and/or dumber superstar acts to justify their bloated organizations and their intellectual-property lawsuits.
If these dual trends continue, the whole Napster fracas may prove to have been the least of the majors’ problems.
The song’s proclamations might even come true: No slimy deals with smarmy eels, no consumer trials, no AOR, in the new Hitsville USA.
MONDAY: A pre-election rant of sorts.
A REMINDER to make plans for our MISCmedia@1 party on Thursday, June 8, starting around 7:30 p.m., at the quaint Ditto Tavern, 5th and Bell. Yeah, it’s 21 and over.
TO OUR READERS: Yr. ob’t corresp’d’t has been summoned to that great spectator sport known as jury duty. Daily site updates may or may not, therefore, be spotty over the next few days. Stay tuned for more.
ONE OF THE RISKS involved with having so much of one’s past writing available online is the risk of readers finding something you wrote long ago, which in retrospect has proven to be rather stupid.
Example: Somewhere back in the early ’90s (oh, the ’90s, weren’t they such a simpler time?), I wrote something to the effect that rap music had “fulfilled what the bebop jazz guys had set out to do: create a black music that didn’t
need white people to ‘popularize it’ (i.e. muscle in).”
I seem to have actually believed at the time that hip-hop culture had attained the long-sought holy grail of African-American musicians–a style so intricately, innately black that any white hipsters who tried to take it over would sound hopelessly inept at it.
I was SO wrong.
Not too many years after I wrote that, Hollywood promoters essentially took over rap. They aggressively promoted their gangsta stars to nakedly exploit white mall kids’ stereotypes of young black men as sexy savages. Whereas early hiphop had often been about challenging images of black males as dumb, sexist, gun-happy drug dealers, gangsta rap relished in precisely these images.
This gave rap a much bigger market. But it also turned the white “crossover” market into the force that drove the business. It helped determine which artists would get signed, get radio and MTV play, get large promo budgets, etc.
That shift, in turn, meant that mainstream rap would become more musically tame each year. Samples became more obvious. Wordplay became simpler. Delivery became slower, steadier, easier for an untrained listener to understand.
The result, by late 1998, was a hiphop sufficiently dumbed down that not only could clueless white guys understand it, they could make it.
Hence, Insane Clown Posse, Eminem, Kid Rock, Korn, Limp Bizkit, and the other “aggro” acts and novelty acts now profitably spreading messages of egotism, violence, misogyny, profanity, etc.
Thus, the music that began with messages of black intelligence has morphed into something that, as often as not, wallows in notions of white stupidity.
I don’t quite call that progress.
TOMORROW: Some things that aren’t as much fun in one’s forties.
AN EARLY REMINDER to make plans for our MISCmedia@1 party on Thursday, June 8, starting around 7:30 p.m., at the quaint Ditto Tavern, 5th and Bell. Yeah, it’s 21 and over.
SOME SHORT STUFF TODAY, starting with a few attempts to correct some commonly-believed but untrue “facts”:
THE FINE PRINT (in the masthead of the women’s bodybuilding magazine Oxygen, no relation to the women’s cable channel and website of the same name): “Oxygen reserves the right to reject any advertisement without reason.”
At last, someone strikes a blow for rational arguments in advertising!
JUNK E-MAIL OF THE WEEK: “The domain: www.miscmedia.com, is ranked #68919 out of 400118 domains in the WebsMostLinked.com database.”
Alllrigghhttt! This month, we’re gonna try to make it all the way up to #67324!
THE MAILBAG (via Nick Bauroth): “Enough with the baby-boomers already! Can’t you find something else to blame for your shortcomings? And no, yuppies and fratboys are not acceptable substitutes.”
Actually, when I criticize others it’s for the sake of criticizing others, not out of misplaced blame or jealousy or any other excuses.
And as for any “shortcomings,” they’re just about all my doing (or the doing of specific, deep-rooted, influences upon my individual personal/career development).
I come, after all, from the same age group and race/gender status, in the same metro region, as folks who’ve gone on to win Pulitzers and Emmys, get elected to public office, record triple-platinum albums, and/or threaten to permanently stifle all present and future competition in the software industry.
IN OTHER NEWS: It may be the end of the company Seattle’s landmark Smith Tower was named after.
MONDAY: Never mind Never Mind Nirvana.
YESTERDAY, we discussed something I’ve long hoped for and others now fear and wish to prevent: The decline of the New York/California duopoly on pop culture in America (and, hence, the world).
Meanwhile, in the sociopolitical realm, some misguided guides still insist that we all will become just like California. As Newsweek claims, “California, as always, shows us our future.”
The magazine’s specifically claiming that all of the several states are going to repeat what that state’s gone through; as an emerging “majority of minorities” racial makeup realigns old political coalitions and fuels an Anglo reactionary retreat from multicultural ideals.
But not all of America has the major corporate-agribusiness lobby that helped give California the political careers of Nixon, Reagan, et al. Northwest “progressive” politics had some of its roots in family farmers fighting the big banks and railroads. California Republicanism was hugely influenced by factory-farm interests who’d been in cahoots with the banks and the railroads.
This, along with the Hollywood-bred schtick of hyped-up and dumbed-down “populist” campaigns on behalf of those already in power, led to the peculiarly divisive, reactionary breed of politics that have bogged down the most populous state lo these past three decades or more; and which have been exported to the nation via Nixon, Reagan, Reagan’s “kitchen cabinet” advisors, et al.
(It also might explain a political left-of-center up here that, during of the first half of the last century, tried to build organizations and institutions; and a political left-of-center down there that, by the end of the last century, seemed to define protesting as the limit of what it would or could do.)
We must also go beyond simplified notions of “whiteness” for a closer look at our ethnic past. European immigrants may have come in vast numbers through NYC, but they didn’t all move on to other places in the same mixes. German and Irish Catholics helped settle the Great Lakes; Nordics came to Minnesota (and eventually from there to Washington); Hispanics are still more numerous along the southern-tier states than elsewhere, except for the Puerto Rican component in NYC. California’s blessed with Mexican and other Latin American immigrants; Washington’s proportionately more blessed with assorted Asian newcomers.
The U.S. is definitely going to become a nation of “a majority of minorities.” But which minorities are more influential in which parts is going to help keep things lively.
Even the Newsweek article acknowledges that these emerging ethnic voting blocs don’t vote alike. It doesn’t, but could’ve, noted the big wedges between blacks and Cubans in Florida as well as the rift it did note between Latinos and Asians in California.
If we’re lucky, Washington (the first mainland state to elect an Asian-American governor) and the other states will learn to avoid some of the divisive rancor California politics has gone through.
The nation, as a whole, is becoming less uniform. But it won’t become less uniform in one uniform way.
(An aside: In the ’60s, legendary ad designer George Lois made a campaign with the faces of New Yorkers of every possible ethnicity, each clutching a slice of bread in his or her own portrait above the slogan “You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy Levy’s Jewish Rye.” The campaign was dropped after market research showed everybody loved the ads featuring their own ethnic groups, but hated the ads with everybody else.)
TOMORROW: Is incomprehensible “political” writing really necessary?
ON MONDAY AND TUESDAY, I’d discussed Looking Backward, Edward Bellamy’s 1888 utopian tract.
In it, a “refined” young man of 1880s Boston awakens from a 113-year trance to find himself in the all-enlightened, worry-free Year 2000. The doctor who’d revived him (and the doc’s comely daughter) then spend the rest of the book telling him how wonderful everything has become.
The chief feature of Bellamy’s future is a singular, government-run “Industrial Army” that owns all the means of production and distribution, employs every citizen aged 21-45 (except child-bearing women), and pays everybody the same wage (less-desirable jobs offer shorter hours or other non-monetary perks).
Obviously, nothing like that ever happened. Soviet communisim was a police-state regime that used egalitarian ideals to justify its brutality. Euro-socialism featured government-owned industrial companies that operated just like privately-owned companies, only less efficiently and less profitably.
But could Bellamy’s fantasy have ever worked in anything close to its pure form? Undoubtedly not.
It would’ve required that everybody (or at least enough people to impose their will on the rest) submit to a single, purified ideology based on rationality and selflessness. Any uncensored history of any major religious movement shows how impossible that is, even within a single generation.
We are an ambitious and competitive species. The “rugged individualist” notion, long exploited by U.S. corporations and advertisers, has a real basis in human nature.
We are also a diverse species. Especially in the U.S. whose citizens are gathered from the whole rest of the world. Bellamy’s totalized mass society would require a social re-engineering project even greater, and more uprooting, than that of the steam-age society he’d lived in. The kindly-doctor character’s insistence that all these changes had coalesced peacefully, as an inevitable final stage of industrial consolidation, may be the least likely-seeming prediction in the whole tome.
As I wrote previously, most utopian fantasies require that everybody in a whole society conform to the writer’s prescribed sensibility. (Some even require that everybody belong to the writer’s own gender or race.)
In most cases, the prescribed sensibility is that of a writer, or at least of a planner–ordered, systematic, more knowledgeable about structures than about people.
The impossibility of such monocultural utopias hasn’t stopped writers and planners from thinking them up. But at least some folks are realizing any idealized future has to acknowledge that people are different from one another and always will be.
We’ll talk more about this idea of a post-mass, post-postmodern future in future weeks.
TOMORROW: Musings on Biggest-Shopping-Day Eve.
AS WE LEFT OFF YESTERDAY, I’d finally gotten around to reading Looking Backward, Edward Bellamy’s (1850-96) 1888 utopian tract.
The chief feature of Bellamy’s future is a singular, government-run “Industrial Army” that owns all the means of production and distribution, employs every male and childless female citizen from the age of 21 until mandatory retirement at 45, and pays everybody the same wage (less-desirable jobs offer shorter hours or other non-monetary perks).
Some other aspects of Bellamy’s ideal state:
One person’s utopia, someone I can’t remember once wrote, is another person’s reign of terror. You don’t have to be a Red-baiter to see elements of other folks’ dystopian nightmares within Bellamy’s utopian dreams.
Soviet-style communism used some of the same ideals spouted by Bellamy to justify its police-state brutalities. But the “human face” experiment of post-WWII Euro-socialism had its own problems–uncompetitive enterprises, bureaucratic sloth & corruption, massive worker dissatisfaction.
Of course, neither of those systems went as far as Bellamy would’ve liked. They still had rich-poor gaps and ruling classes. But that’s reality for you.
TOMORROW: Back to the (more likely) future.