Youth and constant, obligatory deferral :: not a “poem” I guess

I woke up wanting to write something about some ideas that kind of just fell out my head. I think it’s probably prompted by a friend’s situation in the Unites States, in which a smart, impressively articulate (and white! booooonus!) 20-something college graduate can’t get a job, and hasn’t been able to for nine months. And this isn’t an aberration. These are the new conditions. And there’s no alarm. No panic. No media outcry, just a smattering of analysis and prediction pieces about the barreling-locomotive that is the intersection of western age demographics and (regressive) tax regime changes.

Why are people of my generation – anyone under 30, give or take – obliged continually to “defer” or infinitely displace our hopes and expectations about the future… into the future? Want to move out of the suburbs to expand and broaden the number and type of people you interact, mingle with and encounter? Got to deal with the rentier class who owns everything. Pay your tithe to your elders! Okay, so you stay in the suburbs and ride shitty, chronically underinvested public infrastructure for two hours, one way.

Well okay fine whatever, I make my strategic choice. But fuck strategy! Since when has it been incumbent on youth to plan for the future? Why do I feel like if I don’t start out as a good little capitalist as soon as humanly possible and build that equity (!!) I’m going to get fucked into middle age and beyond? What the hell is even with this kind of thinking? I’m outraged that I’m even thinking like this. Why are my (and my generational cohort’s) horizon’s so small? It’s not for lack of imagination – look at the shit we get up to on the internet, that’s hella imaginative.

So we’ve been told to think small: “Be realistic.” Save money, be safe, well fuck you! What happens when capitalism destroys our planet and our savings become worthless as insurance and banks and economies shrivel up and die? Whatfor the conservatism of our youth? What’ll we have when the sea levels rise except for some really expensive lagoons? You, dear capitalists, industrialists, business leaders – suit wearers! – YOU have written a cheque that OUR future is going to have to cash. And we can’t even be heard over the sound of your endless buzzing. “Another great big new tax!” “Job Creators!” “Investment!” Fuuuuck oooooofff.

EVEN IF WE SCREAM, WHO THE FUCK IS GOIN TO LISTEN TO US? 

And forget about free education. Debt relief? What’s that?! Again, I’m not even talking about myself here! I’m insanely lucky in comparison to my comrades. My HECS debt is a minuscule $21K, and will probably be paid off in a few short years once I land a fulltime job (hahahahahahahahahhaah). A “cheap” US college degree rings in at about $60,000. Before interest.

Oh hey: fuck debt, too. There has to be debt relief coming. There is just no way a whole generation of young people can get ass-fucked so hard for so long. That’s a reality that bites harder than any economic (faux-) rationalism; that bites harder than any capitalist realism.

Read this and then talk to me about “necessary sacrifices”:

In 2006 (when figures were last available) James Dyson contributed the bulk of the income tax paid by the 54 billionaires then resident in the UK. Out of £14.7m paid by all 54, he contributed £9m. That’s a whopping 61 per cent of the total tax take from billionaires…it is widely agreed in the tax accounting community that JK Rowling and James Dyson are the only UK billionaires who pay a tax rate even remotely proportional to their income. So, on average, your grandma pays tax at a rate roughly 250 times that of the richest people in Britain.

But then, you already knew (or suspected this). It’s never even really about the actual money. It’s all an excuse, a smokescreen, for an attack on people with the temerity to be either a) poor, or b) young.

Yeah okay, so we’re ((I’m)) young and stupid – what the fuck do you expect? WE’RE YOUNG. REMEMBER WHAT THAT FEELS LIKE? NO? LET ME REMIND YOU. IT FEELS FUCKING HORRIBLE, AND HELPLESS AND IGNORED AND MARGINALISED WAIT THAT’S JUST US (some of us)

Something something Control Society smoething something Panopticon something something DRONES something DEFERRED HOPES something something WALL STREET something something LIBOR BANKING SCANDAL >> SWITCH OFF YOUR TELEVSION somethign something go about your business

“O you’re just being self-indulgent” – fuck you, this is happening to people like me (not me) all over. In the United States. In Spain. In Greece. In the UK. In Canada. Tell me not to be angry? “U mad bro?” bet your fucking ass I’m mad. So mad. So mad because I’m allowed to be mad but I’m not allowed to do anything about it except get mad and impotently rage about it on the internet like this is some kind of state-sanctioned release valve

I want to bottle the sentiment of Home Brew and then run a feeding tube down the gullets of our political, religious, business and other leaders:

GOODNESS GRACIOUS!! MY GOD. TRYING TO JUST LIVE IS LIKE A FULL TIME JOB.

Analysing some reactions to the McDonalds’s burger video

A quick look at some of the reactions to the McDonalds video. First, my hermano Kirk Hamilton posted about it at Kotaku and started an open-thread discussion about it. Some of the comments are telling:

 I’m a bit surprised that anybody was unaware of this. It’s not just McDonalds that does this, it’s everywhere.

Awareness with no translation into action (or even affect, i.e. disgust/disavowal) is typical of the internalisation of capitalist realism: a kind of self-awareness that fails to affect anything.

Why so surprised? as a Graphic Design graduate I learned product photography… Learn it yourself!

Same as above, really, adding only that the onus is on individuals to inform themselves. Atomisation to “issues” like this is typical of capitalist realism, and could possibly even be said to be constituting a new strata between class. The “educated”, and “aware” middle class knows this kind of manipulation goes on, but why bother telling anyone who won’t “Let it for themselves”? Next.

Is this actually all that surprising? It’s like the idea that a lot of people don’t know that McDonald’s food is gernally not healthy food. I’d wager that 99% of people know that both the advertising makes a burger look better than the one you’ll get and that it’s not healthy.

If they suddenly start saying their food is really healthy or made of nothing but vitamins and antioxidents, then I can see being upset. But until that day just eat it and enjoy it or don’t and don’t. Whatever.

The above comment is our first example of the “consumer power” deferral. “If you don’t like it, spend your money elsewhere.” I find this unsatisfying, personally. There was a post about why it’s also not a good idea as social activists to rely on the “let your money speak for you” arguments about combatting sexism, racism, etc. Think: symbolic boycotts that do (nearly) nothing that a business actually cares about. Next.

I am not shocked by this because there’s nothing to be shocked about. Like the lady said, it’s the same ingredients, they’re just photographed to look cool. This isn’t a big bad food corporation thing, all restaurants do this. You can hire food photographers to make you menu pics for your restaurant, and you really should, because like many other things, including people, food photographs not very well if you just point and shoot.

Also typical of many defences of this video I’ve seen, in that it involves the unspoken argument that because this is how it “is” therefore that is the way it “aught” to be. Which we know is a logical fallacy.

Huh. That makes far more sense than I imagined. I thought all their pictures were airbrushed. I guess not! Cool!

It’s still the same disgusting shit they make, just prepared in a LESS disgusting/fast way. Not really deceptive, it appears, as much as it is trying to inform the customer everything in their burger.

Here, the goal of “informing” customers is turned into a positive, rather than being the otherwise negative revealing of deception. The fact that the way it is prepared (i.e. the “fast” in fast food) constitutes the issue itself is unsurprisingly overlooked.
That’s probably enough to get a sense of the main kinds of responses we’re interested in. I should add though that quite a few of the Kotaku comments were quite encouraging – a few people seemed to understand that this (and any!) kind of manipulation is a kind of deception, even if they might not have picked up on the duplicitousness of the video’s “transparency” functioning as a heading-off-at-the-pass of any possible critique. Quite a few more commenters noted they’d “sworn off” McDonalds for one reason or other, so that’s nice I guess.
But beyond Kotaku, the reception of the McDonald’s video didn’t inspire a lot of hope. At the amusingly named ‘Bright Side of the News’ a blogger posted about the video, with the only real editorialising/commentary coming at the end, after the video:

Just for the record, the author of this story just had a burger for dinner, but he opted for one of custom creations over at The Counter in Del Mar, CA (San Diego). And in mere couple of hours, those calories will be burned by doing a 5 mile run around La Jolla (at least, he hopes so).

Again, this is an example of an appeal to “consumer power” and to vote with your dollars. Not really acceptable, for me.

At the Foodea blog, it’s presented in the typical internet “news” reporting stlye of “here is a thing”:

Isabel M from Toronto asked “Why does your food look different in the advertising than what is in the store?” http://qmcd.ca/MOwwgV

McDonald’s responded with an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of a McDonald’s Canada photo shoot comparing a store bought burger to the one’s used in their advertising campaigns.

I wonder how much the PR-ification of “news” is responsible for some of this process (could you imagine this kind of story being run in the 90s? No editor of a respectable publication would treat this in the same uncritical way).

Failblog mentions the video, and perhaps surprisingly actually does a better job – primarily because they add some editorial and don’t merely ‘present’ the video sans-commentary. The post title ‘My Quarter Pounder Never Fails to Not Live Up to My Expectations‘ at least leaves room for (primes the reader for?) the possibility of outrage, unlike the generic presentations above:

Here at Cheezburger, we know a good cheeseburger when we see one. Trust us. Unfortunately, fast food often fails to live up to the images of it we see on commercials. So, just how do they make heartburn with picksles look so darn wholesome? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not plastic… I think.

It’s hardly outraged (how hard it is to get mad at such honesty and transparency!) but it still seems to acknowledge that, yes, something is disquieting; we should be disturbed. The way this video is presented to readers seems to be really, really important so far. Kirk’s presentation of the video at Kotaku put it in a critical and sceptical context, as did the Failblog post. The comments on Failblog (despite being less) are almost unanimously of the “who cares” variety, however, so perhaps it’s not so important. Hmm.
The twitter account for Rio-based Digital Creative agency ‘Vulsai’ also presents the McDonalds video in the typical “Here is a thing” way. No commentary or critique or dissent (shock horror).

On twitter however, Cindy Gallop makes a really going point for me, saying about the video: “Here’s what you do in the age of transparency – all brands take note”. I think she’s completely and utterly right – this is the future of corporate “transparency” and it gives me nightmares. Gallop doesn’t seem to mind, though: as she is someone who has spoken at a TED conference I can’t say I am at all surprised. The TED class always sides with business over discrete individuals and our collective rights not to be subtly lied to, manipulated, and have our expectations toyed with. But hey, transparency! It’s open secret now! That’s better, right? Hardly.

Lastly, ‘Crisisblogger’ Gerald Baron writes about the piece, and it’s worth quoting at length:

Transparency is a good thing, right? But what if that transparency is about how you “doctor” photos to make your products look better than they really are?

The marketing manager of McDonald’s Canada did a noble thing in today’s world of transparency: she answered a social media question with a nice little video giving a straight ahead entirely credible honest answer.

It is perhaps the most perverse of the lot (though I totally understand why Baron thinks the video is a good thing – he’s the former head of “a moderately sized marketing and public relations firm”, and his blog is more interested in communications around “corporate crises”, rather than “crises of capital” or “ecological crisis resulting from industrialisation”) but it’s also the most revealing. Baron details a LinkedIn discussion about the video that went on between PR folks wondering whether this was going to backfire on McDonalds. And yet,
…to my surprise [and gratitude], I’m finding an awful lot of appreciation for the transparency shown by McDonalds and the presentation of the photo shoot by Bagozzi. Twitter comments surprisingly positive. And mashable’s story has 68 comments at this point with many of them expressing appreciation to McDonald’s for their honesty.
McDonalds should be very glad the Hope Bagozzi did the video and not someone sneaking into the photo shoot to do them damage. The story would be quite different.
Which is totally correct, and also totally baffling and horrifying. What it signals the a new phase in PR, involving the precorporation (think: pre-incorporation) and prediction as well as ultimately the subsumption of any kind of protest, exposure or criticism. McDonalds has beat the critics at their own game, via a strategic use of just enough ‘transparency’.
The conclusion that I am drawing from the whole episode is this: Food image manipulation in advertising is now beyond an open secret. It has moved into a new phase in which we’ve gone so far down the rabbit hole of public acquiesce and normalisation of being manipulated and virtually lied to that we no longer even care. “It’s the cost of doing business”. “Everyone’s doing it”.
In ‘Capitalist Realism’ Mark Fisher gives us the example of Gerald Ratner, whose jewellery company “made shit”, itself an open secret that everyone knew but which (crucially) no one “officially knew”. When Ratner became overconfident and described “the inexpensive jewelry his shops sold as “crap” in an after-dinner speech…the consequence of [him] making this judgement official were immediate, and serious – £500m was wiped off the value of the company and he lost his job.” (p.47)
If anything, I bet Ms Bragozzi ends up with a promotion.

Quote from Mark Fisher’s “Capitalist Realism”

What must be discovered is a way out of the motivation/demotivation binary, so that disidentification from the control program registers as something other than dejected apathy. (p.30)

In other words: something like a third way in which to protest, resist, or “action” something beyond the current limits of resistance. This is something I have been puzzling on and trying to do something with/about for… a long time. Living in hope, with the assistance of Meillassoux (and his unreason).

Shame, Shame and Disgust

The Afghan Rights Monitor has stated that 2010 has been the most violent of the past nine years of war in that country. By mid-July 2010 more than one thousand civilians had already been killed under the banner of ‘collateral damage’. Targeted ethnic cleansing has wiped out many hundreds more. In late June the Taliban stopped a van carrying eleven Hazara people in the Uruzgan province, and beheaded each of the passengers. In mid-August, a group of Taliban-backed Kochi nomads rampaged through south-west Kabul, shooting Hazaras. In the demonstration that ensued, Afghan police shot dead another 25 Hazaras. Even in the traditional city of refuge, Quetta (Pakistan), Hazara people cannot leave their houses without fear of ethnically motivated killings. After the accidental war casualties and the targeted ethnic cleansing, there still remain the random insurgent attacks, suicide bombings in public places (especially markets) and roadside explosive devices.

Australia is paying many millions of dollars to international agencies and the Indonesian government to facilitate interception, arrest and imprisonment of asylum seekers who have set out—mainly from Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka—to reach safety in Australia. They have not embarked on these journeys for fun, or to find a better job or a bigger house. The decision to leave home is invariably characterised by grief, loss and fear. It is not taken lightly, and its aftermath is life-long. When a boatload of asylum seekers bobs onto the horizon at Ashmore Reef, or in the waters surrounding Christmas Island, we are not witnessing the final chapter of a ‘choose your own adventure’ story; we are receiving the human fallout of the worst conflicts and human rights violations on the planet today. It is a failure of human compassion and government leadership that as a nation we do not discuss refugee policy in these terms.

I have nothing more to add.

For such a close neighbour I know so little about Papua New Guinea

By Flickr user Steve Jurvetson

I know so little about Papua New Guinea, and yet it’s basically our closest territorial neighbour. Mind you, it’s about a million miles from anywhere heavily inhabited on mainland Australia, so that makes a difference. New Zealand is a four hour flight from Sydney; Brisbane is one hour and it’s barely half-way up the continent. PNG must be several.

I came across the incredible image above while looking at the Wikipedia page for Mount Wilhelm, the highest mountain in PNG, and the oceania region. It’s from the Hiri Moale Festival, which (according to the flickr page) is about “Celebrating independence from Australia and an old tradition of celebrating a successful trading voyage (free of pirates) bringing vegetables back from a distant village.

I think I was vaguely aware that Australia once controlled PNG as a territory (and I know we exert an unconscionable amount of influence over the inhabitants through Australian mining companies) but for some reason I’m particularly delighted by the idea of a festival to celebrate independence form Australia. As a former colony, we haven’t even done that yet!

There’s apparently a coffee festival every year in May, which would definitely be something I could see myself enjoying.

Bill Gates’ Capitalist Realism

As Oliver, aka Voorface on twitter, pointed out about my previous post, the McDonald’s marketing video is an excellent example of what Mark Fisher described way back in 2009 as ‘Capitalist Realism‘:

“…we are inevitably reminded of the phrase attribtued to Frederick Jameson and Slavoj Zizek, that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism. That slogan captures precisely what I mean by ‘capitalist realism': the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.” – Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism, p.2

That sense of inevitability is what I was trying to tease out of the McDonalds trailer, but I found even better example in the above image, posted to Facebook and shared by a colleague. The “realist” platitudes espoused by Mr Gates have a gritty and uncompromising tone to them (a favourite approach of the hi-tech libertarian!) but contain a vast multitude of unspoken assumptions about the inevitability of these states of affairs. I’m sure Mr Gates and those presenting these words as vital advice and visionary honesty truly think this is the way things are (and even should be!!!), but it’s a symptom of a closed-off imagination to alternatives, and of a shrinking of horizons.

In response, I proposed the following revisions of Gate’s 11 “rules” you will never be taught in school:

Rule 1: Life’s not fair – get used to it, but try and do something about it!
Rule 2: The world won’t care about your self esteem – all the more reason to care about other’s. We’re all in this together, rememeber?
Rule 3: You will NOT make 60K a year right out of high school. Unless your Dad is a Fortune 500 CEO.
Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss. At least your teacher never exploited your surplus labour for their profit.
Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity, because as a good modern labour unit, you should have no dignity. Also, don’t question why flipping burgers has to be degrading. Capitalism is all there is so quit whining!
Rule 6: If you mess up, you mess up. Always learn from *everything* even your mistakes.
Rule 7: Your parents are boring because you were born and because modern life makes security hard to achieve if you even slightly deviate from the norm.
Rule 8: Winning and losing is a relic from the cold war in which there were clear winners and losers.
Rule 9: No one will care about your self-actualisation and that’s kind of depressing.
Rule 10: Television is NOT life. In real life, people have to work out of coffee shops because market signals have indicated that a precarious, casualised workforce makes for a more subservient labour pool. Freelance! Flexibility! You also won’t be able to complain about it without being labelled a “whiner” (this applies to most of the above also).
Rule 11: Be nice to nerds, because we are the new hegemony. ENJOY IT. OR ELSE.

Addendum: A twitter follower suggested that these words are probably not likely to have actually been said by Gates himself (and on reflection, I agree – I am much too credulous!) but that’s almost besides the point. It is believable that Gates or anyone in a similar position to him would say exactly these things. This is the ‘new horizon’ of the imaginable. Social progress? Care for others? What’s that, and how does it make money?

Double addendum: Matthew Burns directs us towards the Snopes page on these s-called “rules”. The original author? One Charles J. Sykes, who wrote a couple of books about “dumbing down education” and so forth. This list (plus 3 more omitted from the above image) first appeared in a bunch of newspapers, then formed the basis of his 2007 book ’50 Rules Kids Won’t Learn In School: Real-World Antidotes to Feel-Good Education’.  Note particularly the use of “real world” in the title.

Modern camouflage

In the following video, McDonald’s Marketing Director Hope Bagozzi answers a question asked (I think) via Facebook: “Why does your food look different in the advertising than what is in the store?” To answer the question (and this is the brilliant part) she goes on to reveal over the next three minutes all of the painstaking details that go into a “food photo shoot” for McDonalds. In other words she destroys the illusion of advertising.

The brilliance of it all is that by the end of the video we (the viewer) are no longer appalled! There is no story here; we are not disgusted. The sheer banality and ordinariness of it defuses any and all outrage and criticism. There can be no accusations of sinister  plots to dupe an unsuspecting public because – surpise! – we are now in on the magic trick. “See! Now you are complicit in our deception, and you are going to like it.”

By destroying the very integrity of the illusion, our genuinely likeable and attractive Marketing Director camouflages the real quarter pounder all the more effectively. The tragedy here is that it’s all so reasonable: there is no nefarious plan here, just plain old regular business “best practices” and “market forces” and “expectations” and maybe a little bit of “food culture” – all these impersonal aggregates and structures bearing down impossibly upon the viewer, forcing us to acquiesce, disarming our (impotent) consumer rage at being fed unreasonable expectations about the foods we eat.

This is the present from now on. Faultless, blameless systems of complete complicity.

Updating a classical piece: Satie and Scratch22

I have a pretty good ear for music and particularly similarity across songs, etc. Which is almost certainly why I enjoy mashups, and why I got interested in making them a few years back (I mashed up the entire Gorillaz ‘Demon Days’ album for a project at uni). I was listening to some Erik Satie tonight and was struck by a wave of disembodied recognition: I’ve heard this song before…

But at the same time, I had actually never heard it before… instead, what I was hearing was the following track from Scratch22’s (debut?) “Distance from View”. The track has a delightfully strange video, with what seem to be themes of postcolonialism, race (a much, much more prominent issue in Scratch22’s native New Zealand than here in Australia) and, perhaps, also capitalism. The bandit-esque treadmill walker seems to allude to all sorts of apt themes about progress/capital/’onwards-and-upwards’ and finally, through the dramatic reveal of the painted skincolour underneath, race again.

I didn’t think about it this way until I noticed a commenter on the video who says, “I’d love to see the cropped shot of just the torso in front of the black. But I guess that’s the point.” I guess it’s true: the clip foregrounds the material process of music video making by laying bare all these apparatuses and ‘blacked up’ (or whited out)  stage hands. Very cool, very clever clip to go with a clever update of a classical piece.

I feel like I’ve seen the imagery here before, somewhere else, too. The bandit in white, on a black background, with a flag confected from both the union jack and the US stripes… I feel like there might be a painting or something like this that I’ve seen somewhere. Perhaps not, and the strength of the images are potent enough that I’m imagining it! They’re certainly great images. Such an interesting colour palette  and such deliberate use of contrasts. Those pants!