- Beak-polishing: I have cleaned up the Categories and Tags for this site, so that the former makes more sense when looking at larger subjects, and the latter now details individual components that make up the subject. Not many of you will care about the new Tags, but the Categories will be how you should navigate in order to read about the Ireland 2001 trip, for example. There's also an update to the Site Disclaimer page to properly credit the photo that's being used in the header.
- Request #1: I've also changed the WordPress template to the Tiny Forge theme, which I believe is significantly easier to read than what came beforehand. Links in particular are clearly delineated, and the color scheme has plenty of contrast to make the site appear not so monochromatic. The first request I have relates to one element of the site, which is the avatar that appears as the favicon:
What I want to do here is to improve its overall quality, as it was something I drew up in Paint a long time ago. The boundaries between colors are black, and I'd like to remove them while smoothing out the color transitions. These issues aren't too noticeable when the avatar is small, but as you can see above, it really does belie its Paint origins. I'm pretty sure that I'll have to use Photoshop to make improvements, but as I'm really new to the program, I don't know where to start. Perhaps some pointers or online examples could help me out here?
- Request #2:Along similar lines to the earlier request, I want to change the title of the site from text to a logo. What I have in mind is my handwriting of "Take 5, D." so that it is as large as the Aniccata in my friend Tracy's site. If the answer to this request isn't "write it down, scan what you've written, then import that as a logo header," then what could it be?
How about a grab-bag of updates to peruse to distract you on St. Patrick's Day? Sure, why not?
Russian language lessons: I feel quite happy that I've reached a level of comfort with the Russian alphabet where I can phonetically pronounce a majority of the words I encounter. My handwriting, both in small block letters and cursive, is legible and flows with a decent speed whenever I have pen in hand (though Д and д still provide some challenges, as they often look like an A or ᴀ that's been squished). Both Laura and I read like three-year olds when we encounter words for the first time, but our guesses are largely correct. Stressing the right vowel, or knowing the difference between hard and soft consonants, is harder to grasp right now, but that will come with time and more exposure. Starting next week, I'm going to move on from alphabet-centric lessons to focus upon basic conversational phrases like "Good evening," "My name is..." and so on.
One of the books I'm using to teach myself Russian is part of the For Dummies series. The third chapter introduces the concept of Russian grammar, and how all the nouns and adjectives are conjugated depending on what case applies. Yes, all of you who have taken Latin or German are starting to cringe, because this means sooner or later, I will soon experience the "joy" of declensions. Fortunately, Laura has already encountered declensions due to prior exposure to both of the aforementioned languages, so I will be picking her monkey brain for advice. I still expect this concept to be one that'll take time to grasp, which is why I'll concentrate on basic vocabulary for now. Oh, and also to play with these wooden blocks from Uncle Goose:
Car accident #2: I owned a cobalt-blue 2000 Nissan Sentra GXE for ten years while living in Elmhurst, Chicago, and the Saint Louis metro area. During that time of ownership, I didn't suffer one accident. I had one vandalism incident within the first couple months of ownership, as I had apparently parked in the "wrong" spot on Augusta Boulevard when I went to Club Foot. Some angry person with a tough boot kicked dents above my right rear tire and in the rear passenger-side door. The damage was cosmetic and was easily repaired, but that was all of the bodily damage my old car had suffered during its ten-year run. The Kia Forte I currently drive has endured two accidents--a rear-ending collision shortly before Labor Day 2011, and a sideswipe by a hit-and-run driver on Wednesday, March 12:
For those in the STL area, the accident happened on Hampton Avenue about a half-mile south of the I-44 interchange, and just north of the Hampton/Elizabeth intersection (as seen here in Google Maps). I was traveling northbound on Hampton in the leftmost lane, and I had passed the point on Hampton where the concrete islands dividing the opposing lanes gave way to a wide turning lane. There was a silver Oldsmobile Intrigue in the turning lane, but it was positioned such that it had either started its turn from a southbound lane, or that it had drifted into it. Regardless of how the car had gotten there, this Olds was perpendicular to northbound traffic, and it was coming straight for me. I instinctively swerved to the right, and I believe the Olds did as well, because the impact was more of a glancing blow than a T-bone. The Olds lost its front bumper, but I was still able to drive the car after the accident and pull over into the parking lot of the new Wendy's to call the police and the insurance company. My drivers-side doors function properly; they open & close, lock & unlock, and the windows roll down. What's puzzling to me is that the impact was strong enough to shear off the Olds' bumper, but not powerful enough to trigger activation of the side-impact airbags.
I was a little bit of pain after the accident, with soreness in my left elbow, right knee, neck, and lower back. The pain wasn't severe enough to warrant a visit to an emergency room, but as of Saturday the 15th, I saw my doctor to get his opinion. By the time of the check-up, the elbow and knee pains had vanished, but my neck was--and is--still a bit stiff, and the same goes for the lower back. The treatment will be physical therapy to loosen the muscles in both locations, and starting on Monday, I'll make arrangements to find a PT center that works with my schedule. I'll also find out on Monday what the damage assessment is for my car, and I hope that my worries about structural damage, such as to the frame or transmission, are unwarranted.
Photography: I wouldn't call it a crossroads in the metaphorical sense, but I have reached an point of decision with my photography. Or, rather, indecisiveness. During the last couple months, I've participated in two shoots held at a yoga studio in Saint Louis. Both shoots featured female and male models, and both required extensive use of my flash to properly illuminate them. I've grown more accustomed to using the flash, and I like the results. Likewise, I've become more comfortable working with modeling subjects, as I have developed some ideas as to how they should pose, what they should or should not wear, and so forth. These have been two goals I've aimed to achieve with my photography, and I'm glad that real progress has been made here.
So where are the photos, you may ask? Well, here's where the decision or lack thereof applies. I've used Flickr for showcasing my photography, with the stannate account as my primary display, and the kasakphoto as the home for my photography highlights. Over time, kasakphoto also took on the responsibility of hosting photos that featured subject matter of a NSFW nature. The two photoshoots mentioned earlier had models in various stages of dress, so any photos that I would have deemed worthy to share would most likely end up there. I had become entangled with the objections of various people, mainly family members, who expressed some alarm at what was posted in the stannate account, and I quite frankly don't want to revisit that subject with them. The kasakphoto account would be where I'd place those photos, and since I had set up content filters on that Flickr account, a non-member wouldn't see anything they'd find objectionable unless they joined or opted into the filter restrictions. In other words, they'd have to actively seek out these photos and jump through some hoops to see them, which would allow me to swat away their objections like that of a buzzing fly.
Even with these demarcations in place, and with the backstory told, the photos of this shoot aren't online because of my other, more troubling concern. I'm...somewhat over Flickr, to be honest. The kasakphoto account hasn't seen an upload in two years, and if I'm not uploading from either Hipstamatic or Instagram on my iPhone, I wouldn't have recent photos on my main stannate account. My last uploads featuring photos taken with my Olympus OM-D EM-5 camera were two SFW photos from January's shoot:
Before these two, there was a duckling photo from last year's Illinois State Fair in August:
And before the little duckling, there are two sets of photos--a June 2013 visit to the World Bird Sanctuary, and my coverage of C2E2 from April 2013. If not for the iPhone 5 and the various photo apps, there wouldn't be much on Flickr, nor would there be a need for it...which is where I'm somewhat stuck.
I was originally a fan of Flickr's redesign, as I liked the black-box effect around my photos and how large they'd appear on my 24" monitor. I was an early defender of the redesign, prompting arguments from some of my friends who were likewise longtime Flickr users that felt there was nothing positive about the site's change. As time went on, all of the negatives that my friends brought up started to make their presence known to me, which is another way of me saying that they were right and I was wrong. The large photo displays come at the price of speedy navigation, making the site clumsy and ponderous. Photo descriptions and comments were downgraded in terms of visibility, thereby taking out the equation the social aspect that provided Flickr with one of its strengths. The much-ballyhooed redesign was incomplete, as there are still various locations (choosing display sizes, editing profiles, friends lists) that date from the old design. All of these add up for me to a feeling of apathy and sadness, such as when I returned from my October trip to New England with over 600 photos taken with the Olympus and dreaded the idea of not just editing them, but getting them online.
This brings me to the present. While I'm not a fan of Flickr, I know it serves a purpose that cannot be fulfilled elsewhere. I do not want to use Facebook for my photos, as their overall UI experience manages to make Flickr look sophisticated. SmugMug is primarily for pro photographers, and while Google Plus has developed a strong photography base and has tools to use for editing...it still remains Google Plus. There's 500px, and it's changed a lot over the years, so it may be worth examining at some point. For now, indecision, distractions, and inertia have made a heady brew that I've quaffed too much of, so it may be a while before I get the photography issue sorted properly.
Perhaps it's because I have a bit of Sisyphus in me, or perhaps it's something else more understandable (and, ultimately, less futile than our eternally-suffering Greek metaphor), but a switch went off in my head not too many days ago. The catalyst has been partially due to the ongoing coverage of the Winter Olympics in Sochi--and by "coverage," I mean the actual Olympics itself and not the sociopolitical commentary leading up to the Games themselves. Another part will be mentioned down the line, but that's enough teasing for now. It's time for me to give the Russian language a shot.
While I was in high school, I kicked around the idea of learning Russian from various textbooks, as my high school didn't offer Russian as a language option1. Very few high schools in the Chicagoland area will have had the structure in place--students or teachers--to teach Russian, so I was pretty much on my own in the mid-to-late 1980s. At the time, I didn't think about investigating whether or not my local community college offered these classes, or if I could have taken them for high school credit as opposed to my Spanish classes. I checked out a couple books from my town's library and saw the Cyrillic alphabet for the first time...whereupon my mind closed up, followed quickly by the books. The complexity of the alphabet threw my young mind for a loop, and I remember thinking then about how the similarities between Cyrillic and some of the Latin and Greek alphabets would've proven confusing for me without having some other form of instruction. Looking back from now, what would have helped me out then was to have some oral instruction so that I wouldn't think that И would sound anything like N, when in fact it is the the Cyrillic letter I (pronounced like the i in "machine"), or that Ж (or the Cyrillic letter Zhe) has nothing to do with our X, as it makes a "zh" sound (like Живаго - Zhivago).
And then there was college. Had I picked a college or university with a more traditional semester or quarter calendar, I'm pretty sure that my ability to absorb the Cyrillic alphabet would have occurred over a class or two. Naturally, I ended up going to Cornell College, home of the One-Class-At-A-Time calendar where students take nine (now eight) 3.5-week classes that equate what is taught during a normal college semester. Classes met every day for two hours in the morning, and depending on the subject, for two additional hours after lunch. Russian was one of those 4-hour classes, and students who enrolled in them virtually disappeared from school life. My junior-year roommate was one of those people, and during my sophomore year, seemingly half of a six-woman room got sucked into whatever Russians would call a black hole2; in both cases, I'd see these various people at lunch or dinner, and that'd be pretty much it for the four blocks that comprised their classes. The forty-something me would probably be able to handle this schedule of learning, but the upper-teen me didn't have it in him to tough it out. Instead, I stuck with Spanish as I already four years of it in high school.
So why am I interested in learning Russian now, well past the time when I "should have" learned another language? While the Olympics coverage has been the final piece of the puzzle, many more pieces have fallen into place during the intervening years. I've lived somewhat vicariously through my brother Ryan's success with not only teaching himself Russian, but with his academic and personal journeys into the language and history of the country. In 2006, he had the good fortune to spend a summer in St. Petersburg/Санкт-Петербург, which he documented like all good Russians do on LiveJournal3. The fact that he taught himself Russian has been both a source of pride in my family, and also as a shaming/inspiring motivator for myself because if he could do it, then what was stopping me? Learning the Cyrillic alphabet isn't impossible as he demonstrated, so was it his drive or self-confidence that led to his success? Knowing Ryan, it was a combination of both, and while I may not have his drive, I do have the confidence in myself now that was certainly missing in high school and in some of college--age and experience have a way of bringing that along.
In the introduction, I mentioned that there was another part to my motivation for learning Russian, and that would be Laura. She already has Spanish and French down, thanks to many years of academic instruction, and she is also interested in learning Russian for her own reasons. Russian would be her first non-Romance language since she took a year of German in high school, and it would be her first language she'll try to learn outside of the classroom. Her religious journey over the last decade has brought her to the Russian Orthodox Church, and that "click" you hear is a large puzzle piece being placed down. Her congregation is largely English-speaking, but between the presence of a sizable number of Russophones and the overall cultural elements of Orthodox Christianity, recognizing some Russian would be helpful. Laura's talent with languages will also serve to inspire me as I head down this new road, and we'll just have to see what we discover--such as the fact that while not exactly easy, the Cyrillic alphabet isn't as impossible as I had thought back in my teen years. It's relatively consistent with sounds, unlike English, but grasping some of the Slavonic-based letters will take some time to understand.
I don't expect to get to the level of fluency that my brother has, as that would pretty much require that I live in Russia and hear the language all day, every day. My goal for 2014 will be to get to the point where I may be able to read a menu or online news articles, and to comprehend some parts of what a Russian-speaker says. In other words, I'll probably be at the level of a six-year old if all goes well, but that's still something of an accomplishment. And with that, it's time to say...Пока!/Bye-bye!
2. It's Чёрная дыра (pronounced roughly like "chair-nigh dear-a"), if you were curious. Спасибо, Google. ↩
3. The journal name, which is still up, is Ryan Goes To Russia. As to why Russia has taken to LiveJournal in a way where its name is synonymous with blogging, look over this Daily Dot article from last July.↩
The end finally approaches, so it only makes sense to return back to the beginning of The Series by revisiting stories. The preceding five parts were interlocking stories that escaped being classified as either a meme or as trivia because they served a larger purpose than being ephemeral or burdened with tiny facts. In many ways, these stories were my way of feeling out my hipster identity, and I'd be lying if I were to say that I were totally removed from hipster culture--to you, to other people, and most importantly, to myself. It's strange how weird it feels to admit it, but being a hipster is the closest cultural identity that lines up with my life.
So why is it strange? Possibly because inherent with the hipster identity is privilege, and as a white guy, privilege comes from not having to view oneself as such1. The various arguments I have read and heard about the definition, or even the use, of "hipster" encircles this same privilege, and if you want to hear a phenomenal example of such, please listen to the beginning of Episode 7 of "The Crapshoot." Jesse, one of the two hosts, spends approximately ten minutes emanating an unmitigated, China White example of this privilege with lots of focus on othering, marginalization, appearance vs. behavior, and using the word as a lazy shorthand to describe one's negative feelings about a particular aspect about the person. Josh, the other host, attempts to ground the discussion with specific examples to flesh out Jesse's argument, but he often steps aside to let his co-host talk. Jesse veers very close to claim a group identity for the hipster so as to usurp the mantle of discrimination, but at the same time, he disdains the word's use as an identifier. It's a very fine needle to thread, and I don't think he succeeds2 because there's no way to even hint at group marginalization while avoiding a definition for that same group.
The privilege of not having to come up with an identity is an unfortunate hallmark of the hipster world. Sometimes, the discussion uses the trope of how hipsterdom is like porn: it's hard to define, but you know it when you see it. Other times, it devolves into endless levels of discussion that ends up generating more noise than knowledge3 to the point where it's tempting to throw up one's hands and return to the subjective, I-know-it-when-I-see-it approach. While I have a little bit of interest in these discussions, they often fall flat for me as it becomes an exercise in self-denial, where the speaker is more comfortable talking about who or what they aren't instead of what they are. And I get why that is so, as self-denial in this case is a form of privilege: an identity forms boundaries and can acknowledge limitations, so why impose that on yourself? Why should you have to explain yourself to begin with? After all, you're the normal one, the default. You are not to be put behind boundaries or limitations--in other words, you're not to be Othered.
Running in concurrence with the privilege of not having to be identified is another one: the conspicuous identifiers of the hipster world. Many of these aesthetics that are used to define hipsterdom have discriminatory elements4 that appeal to me, and I am fortunate enough that lots of these elements are not off-putting. Is it necessary to get a 12-ounce pourover coffee before work? No, but I can and I do. Do I enjoy craft beer, and well-run restaurants that creatively use fresh ingredients? Most certainly. Beard? Glasses? Ability to talk at length about various topics like wine, Doctor Who, computers, and so forth? Yes, yes, and oh yes. I know these identifiers signify some level of privilege, whether due to money or time, and that many if not all of them provide me with some pleasure. I have the money to spend on these consumables, and I have the time to study these topics without having to worry about more pressing needs. Some of these privileges came from my upbringing, others from my own hands, and still more came from the environment that I chose to live in. A few came from being lucky. All of these are elements of privilege that I acknowledge as being inherent with the identity of hipsterdom, and quite frankly, getting to this step is key. Without acknowledgement, there's no self-identification and without self-identification, there can't be any self-examination. Closing off the prospect of identifying as a hipster, as Jesse did in his podcast, prevents any potential examination of these selfsame identifiers and their impact upon how you live.
So now, here's something else I've examined: photography. This tangent should make sense later on. An old adage is that in order to break the rules, you must first know them. Anyone who has taken at least one photography class, or who has picked up one photography instruction manual, has gone through the drills of understanding such things as the relationship between aperture and shutter speed and ISO settings, how to frame the subject in the photo, how to light the subject, and so on. As for the subject, there's portraits, landscapes, action shots of sporting or news events, abstractions...you get the drift. The technical aspects establish the fundamentals to allow capturing of the subject by the photographer. With these exercises, the hope will be that the photographer can learn the fundamentals and experiment with different subjects in order to find what works best. Once the photographer is in tune with the subject, then it's time to see what happens when the fundamentals get altered: change the framing perspective, use harsh lighting on a normally soft subject, expose in ways deemed improper, etc. At this point, it is said that the photographer has found his or her "voice."
My idea as to what should happen with hipster culture is similar to the photographer's journey listed above, but in this case, it's about stories. It always seems to be about stories, right? To come up with your own story, you will have to risk story fatigue5 by trying out what is available to you. Perhaps you can try out these different stories by engaging in some of the pleasures and privileges of hipster culture, but you should at least acknowledge these items as such. Once you have developed your own story through trial and error, and are comfortable with identifying them as part of yourself, then you'll be at a similar point as the photographer who has found his or her "voice." Eventually, this story will become less important with time, as it will either be replaced with more stories, or with actual life experiences that could very well be stories, but also could simply...be.
Why am I hoping that this could happen? All things end or get replaced by something newer. Hipster culture will be replaced by something else, just as past cultures have been replaced by the present-day hipster culture. Will the replacement be in opposition to hipster culture, or part of its evolution? It would be fun to speculate as to what could come up that's in opposition6, but it would be more relevant to see how it evolves today into something else. Will there be continued emphasis on aesthetics or pleasure, or will the emphasis be tampered down with time? Will the otaku methodology still be present in hipster culture, in which one must possess a high level of obsessive knowledge on a subject in order to be considered legit or authentic? Or will there be more acceptance for those who may come in late to the program and whose interest may be casual? Will the location of hipster culture continue to be urban, or will it spread to the suburbs? All of these questions, and more, are way too much to answer here, but they do fuel my interest as to how the culture evolves. And since I'm part of it, I'm not merely a bystander, I'm a participant. Perhaps in the end, the best way to answer these questions for myself will be to live, to be, and to see what happens.
Sixth and final part of a six-part series.
1. "The privilege I certainly enjoy as a white male consists in part in my not being aware of my ethnicity and my gender, and it is a sobering and revelatory experience to occasionally be made aware of these blind-spots." An excellent synopsis, found at a British socialist(!) blog The North Star. Special hat tip to Clayton Cubitt for retweeting a link to this piece.↩
2. Here's the depressingly obligatory mention where I have to say that I'm criticizing Jesse's opinion here, and not Jesse himself. Criticism is not a personal attack on one's character, and it's sad that this point still needs stressing today.↩
3. There are too many examples of this to cite, but for starters, you could delve into the infamous Adbusters issue about hipsters or any of its follow-up pieces, or by searching for "hipster" on Metafilter, or by reading an admittedly incomplete Chicago Reader history on hipster/bohemian movements since the end of the 19th Century (and in this case, you really should read the comments), or a sociological examination of the hipster via France...this can go on and on.↩
4. For a deeper and better examination of how the "discriminatory elements" can result in a "gated citadel," make tracks to Sarah Kenzidor's article about how the creative class serve at the behest of the elites, and how many of the elite trappings have become part of the creative class.↩
6. For reasons way too long to get into here, I think there's already an opposing force to hipster culture--Tea Party culture. But in the future? Punk and yuppie culture rose in the 1970s and 1980s in opposition to the hippie culture, and the alternative scene in the 1990s was the opposite of the yuppies. Will the post-hipster scene contain this style of opposition? Or will it be a tweaking of what has come before?↩
This occasional series I've been writing out doesn't really have an overarching theme, or as some may argue, a point. It's a series of observations that lead into one another, starting from what makes up a story to the present entry in which I hope to spell out what "hipster" means to me. I had a draft written out, but quite honestly, I didn't like it. At all. Before I hacked out that first draft, I spent some time talking with people in person and online about the word "hipster," primarily to find out what it means to them, but also to discover why its usage seemingly upsets so many people. Most of my conversations proved to be as difficult as writing out my first draft, though that had nothing to do with the people themselves. Instead, the difficulty was due to the slippery nature of "hipster," as it has now become for me yet another example of Quantum English1. Several people provided their own definitions of "hipster," with some elements overlapping and others not. Even worse for me was that the actual word would cause some people to get upset over its existence2, which was in my eyes a large, yet amusing, distraction that didn't bring me closer to understanding how they defined "hipster."3
Out of adversity can come triumph. A weakness can in fact be a strength. Having "hipster" be a part of Quantum English means that my definition is just as valid and meaningful as anyone else's. It can't ever be fully disputed or disproved, but it can be augmented with your own particular definition. Yes, this sounds like a return to the woolly days of Deconstructionalism, and yes, we can all increase our own individual understanding of this word while losing its definition in the aggregate4. The aggregate can't fully exist, as there's no agreed-upon definition of "aggregate," so it's individual definitions (and turtles) all the way down. So now without further wankery, here's my definition of a boombastic hipster: it's the offspring of the 80s-era yuppie and the 90s-era alternative scene, with a heavy dose of the geek mentality dolloped on top. Simple as that, really, and there's no shame in admitting these origins. Let me go on and explain further.
What did the 80s-era yuppie bequeath upon its offspring? A high barrier to entry, for starters. Not everyone could be a yuppie in the 80s; to be one required a certain class level, an appropriate job, and a desirable living location. Similarly, not everyone can be a hipster, particularly in the realm of the time and monetary outlays that seem to come with the territory. Tightly related to this high barrier to entry are consumerist signifiers, aka brands. Only Apple carries over between these decades, and while the names have changed, the loyalty and the self-promotion remains largely intact. Brands aren't necessarily shouted out on clothing or on cars, but online is a different story, which leads to the last major point of working within the system. Today's hipster has benefited from 30 years of marketing and entrepreneurial knowledge that was only being scratched at by the 80s-era yuppie. While the yuppie had the stereotype of working long hours at large corporations to buy shiny, conspicuous objects, the hipster would rather work long hours at a business he or she created (or joined at its early stage of development), with the goal of carving out a specific niche in their real or virtual neighborhood. The hipster of today, were he or she to go back in time, would be able to teach the yuppies of yore a thing or three about marketing, self-promotion, and the good and bad that comes from running your own business. The 90s alt-era parent, on the other hand, started ideas that have borne more fruit with the passing of time--the hipster appearance isn't too dissimilar to that from 20 years ago5; the social acceptance and celebration of different races, genders, and partners arguably began in the 90s and has since continued6; and what was referred to with some awe as the "information superhighway" has now become so ubiquitous as to be almost smothering.
The parentage contributes a major part of how the hipster has evolved, but let's not discount the present-day forces shaping behavior. Far and away ahead of all other influences7, it's the wholesale adoption of the geek methodology across a range of subjects formerly outside of the traditional geek stomping grounds. Since I've mentioned this way back in Part Two of this series, "Trivia Matters," I won't drag out the explanation too much in this segment. Much like there's already a high financial and geographical barrier to entry into the hipster world, so too does the geek (or otaku) methodology through up barriers for knowledge. In many ways, these barriers are merely different manifestations of currency. Amassing the right amount of wealth as a yuppie would afford you the ability to buy a car advertising your social status, or as a hipster to afford the time to study cocktail preparations or knitting patterns in obsessive detail. Both the yuppie and hipster would find meaning in the smallest trivial matter of their item of focus to the point of using these totemic objects as a way to define themselves to the world. Both groups would, therefore, find similar meaning in the famous business card scene from "American Pyscho."8 I could go on at length about this comparison, and maybe I will one day, but this entry is already getting pretty long as it is.
Are there drawbacks from both eras of parentage? Yes, with the 80s era having more "wrong" with it than what's right. That being said, there's one huge aspect of the 90s era that drags the hipster down, and that's technology. It's assumed that it will be omnipresent and that it can save the day, as it has done so before. Naturally, there's a reaction to this drawback, which is a revival of older technologies to manufacture or develop items for sale. Why not use an old printing press for posters, or older tools to sew clothing, or even older cooking methods for preparing food? In an odd way, this rejection of current technology is an exception that proves the rule because it still uses *any* technological solution to solve problems.9 The 80s-yuppie era is more problematic, but they can be reduced to time and place. Time is money, and money is time, so when restaurants offer up long multi-course meals, or when leather accessories are advertised as taking X amount of hours to produce--sorry, "craft"--by hand, it's a way of saying that these particular goods are costly and that they are to be enjoyed by a select few. Place creates a fishbowl mentality or monoculture, where one only sees reflections of oneself in others. Aberrant expressions or behavior gets sanded down by the group; outliers become eager to please the group to ensure that they belong. When tying in this sense of place as identity with the love of all things urban, it's easy to see that there's a definite restriction as to who is a hipster and who isn't. Can one be a hipster and live in post-war suburbia, or even in a large town that's far away from a major metro area?
In and of itself, the hipster is not a blight upon society, nor is the hipster a pinnacle of cultural development. The hipster is a summation of its upbringing, with both positive and negative elements at play. Without actually defining what "hipster" means, there's no way for me to determine positivism, negativity, neutrality, and so on. By no means is this one post enough to summarize the predominant cultural movement of our time, but it's my start at saying what "hipster" means to me and why it's a big deal. There will be more to come in the final(!) segment of this series. For now, enjoy the song10 that inspired the title of this post.
Fifth of a six-part series.
2. Two people that come to mind are Robert Loerzel and Bobby Solomon, with the latter noted for several epic Twitter rants about the word itself. The former is a lover of all things Chicago, but we happen to view "hipster" differently, as it should be.↩
4. A smarter and more patient person than myself can flesh out this argument, but I'm already writing one doctoral thesis. Or at least it feels like I am.↩
5. Thankfully, the mushroom cut has not returned. Let us rejoice!↩
6. Somewhat vague wording here, but comparing the 80s acceptance of, say, gay visibility versus that of the 90s? A huge change for the better. The visibility of women in the workplace, and how women are treated there? I'd say there's been some backsliding. Visibility of different races in the public eye and the workspace? A two-step, as some forward advances have brought up some nasty reactions.↩
7. Another modern-day influence, which I'll expand upon in the final part of this never-ending saga, is the eagerness to please, as it deserves a lot more expansion than what I'll allow for in this segment.↩
9. Related: Amish carpenters using pneumatic tools to build furniture, which allows for a higher level of production without having to resort to electricity.↩
10. In Canada, the game show "Definition" (Wikipedia entry) ran from 1974 to 1989 and is somewhat like "Wheel Of Fortune." Its original theme song was Quincy Jones' "Soul Bossa Nova," which was later on replaced by a really weak cover. The show was filmed in the suburbs of Toronto, and was watched by not only the members of the Dream Warriors, but also by a young Mike Myers, who ended up recalling it when he was developing the character of Austin Powers.↩
Good: I'm nearly done with my seemingly endless series of posts that will be grouped under "The Series" heading until I can think of something better to call it. The next entry is written out, and the conclusion is outlined.
Bad: It'll have to wait until I return from New England to be posted. Look for The Series to reach its conclusion in November.
Uncertain: Whether or not I'll ever do anything this long again. I ran into so many roadblocks and, to be honest, some disinterest in finishing what I started. My hope, once I finish The Series, is to revert back to a LiveJournal-like style of posting, which will entail some discipline on my part to save my better writing for here.
"I love words. I thank you for hearing my words. I want to tell you something about words that I think is important. They're my work, they're my play, they're my passion. Words are all we have, really. We have thoughts but thoughts are fluid. Then we assign a word to a thought and we're stuck with that word for that thought, so be careful with words. I like to think that the same words that hurt can heal, it is a matter of how you pick them."
--George Carlin, "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television" (introduction)1
Words can evolve over time and pick up new meanings from what was originally intended. They can grow with use, or become punchless due to overuse. For me, "passion" is a great example of the latter. A word that once conveyed a powerful meaning has now largely become a meek descriptor of one's interests. Passion is further weakened by its context, as it is often used in a dispassionate way when describing a person's hobbies or likes. I've lost track of how often I've heard the phrase "[insert interest here] is my passion" spoken in a flattened tone that's similar to reading off entries on a shopping list or, for the older audience members, names from a phonebook.
The use of "passion" in the context of discussing hobbies is hardly new; witness George Carlin's above comedy routine from 1972. Passion has become a more prevalent word over the last few years, as it's employed when talking about disparate topics like photography, "Doctor Who" fandom, locally-produced goods and food, and so on. Even the guy at Wizard World with his t-shirt deriding all of the NewWho fans could fall back upon passion as an explanation for his wardrobe choice2, thereby illustrating that passion all by itself is not a positive motivating force. Instead of using "passion," a good mental exercise would be to swap out that word for "obsession" and see if the sentence it's used in reads the same. My guess would be that it would, as passion and obsession are often two interchangeable terms, though "obsession" has been dampened with negative connotations. "I am obsessed with kale/craft beer/Doctor Who" may make the speaker sound as if he or she cannot focus upon anything else, whereas "Kale/Craft beer/Doctor Who is my passion" sounds less threatening and more passive.
Passion originally meant "suffering" in Latin, and by extension "any strong feeling" in Greek. While allowing for languages to evolve and for words to pick up different meanings over time, the evolution gets confused when the words change to encompass opposite meanings. Witness, for example, how "literally" is often used as a synonym for "figuratively," or how "nonplussed" can mean either "perplexed" or "unimpressed3." I'd rather not delve too far into what I'll call Quantum English4, as that's a rabbit hole neither you nor I will be able to escape. This particular form of English makes a mess of context. I view "passion" as a strong word, and like Miss Anelia, I believe that strong words convey strong meanings5. When a person proclaims that they have a passion for kale, there may not be enough immediate context to understand what is being said. Does the speaker really want to suffer and die for this plant, or are they stating in a pleasing manner that they are obsessed with the plant? If context isn't enough to understand a word's meaning through time, then what can? Not all texts will have exhaustive annotations, such as when a person reads Shakespeare or Hardy. In some cases, all that's available is the text, and when readers bring their worldview to bear upon it, their interpretation can differ not just from what the author intends, but from what neighboring readers get out of it. Having people offer up different viewpoints of the kale-lover's statement may make for a fun academic debate, but it doesn't help with effective communication when all the kale-lover wants to do is proclaim her deep love of the plant.
And now, a brief aside: is passion an effective motivational tool? Passion is explicitly strong by definition, but its duration is implied to be short. The tradeoff for the strong feelings is that they don't last for long6, so a person may be able to get a short-term boost from being obsessed over kale, but that obsession will fade. The kale obsession could be replaced by something else--cronuts, perhaps?--or kale can become a consistent and predictable favorite food. Instead of maximizing feelings for a short time, only to watch them dissipate or disappear, perhaps they can be mitigated toward a goal of consistency. Or, to quote from Keller's piece, it's not about the passion, it's about the desire. If a person desires kale, it could be for the pleasure of eating it, or cooking it, or even gathering it in its fields. Since all of these choices are, I hope, preferable to suffering and dying for kale, the words that are chosen should reflect this desire. Save "passion" for a more fitting time, or be honest and call it an "obsession." After all, if "passion" can evolve its meaning over time, then "obsession" can surely shake its negative tone.
This somewhat laborious thought exercise is a warm-up for the next part, in which I bring the above process to bear upon everyone's favorite term: hipster.
Fourth of a six-part series.
2. Passion in the form of obsession, mixed with a heaping dose of geek disdain and misogyny, are how I'd describe his motivation for wearing that shirt, along with all that I blabbed about in an earlier post.↩
4. Quantum English is what I'm calling words or phrases that can convey multiple, sometimes contradictory meanings. It's not exactly like Orwell's "doublespeak" or "doublethink," as I allow for more than two meanings instead of limiting it to a binary expression, but there are definite similarities. Another example of Quantum English: "to pull oneself up by one's own bootstraps" originally meant that the person was undertaking an absurd or impossible task.↩
6. "Thomas Keller on why passion shouldn't drive you," from FastCode Design.↩
Man, it's been a while, hasn't it? This pesky "life" thing has interfered with me fleshing out some notes I've written out months ago. I promised a Doctor Who-related post in April, and I shall make good on that. It's long, but honestly, you should have expected that I wouldn't write out a short entry.
Another successful season of "Doctor Who" recently wrapped up, with this year being especially memorable due to it coinciding with the show's 50th anniversary. As we get closer to the actual anniversary date of November 23, you'll undoubtedly be encountering tons of words discussing the five-decade phenomenon that is this show, with many of them detailing the cultural and personal impact "Doctor Who" has made on England--and, since its relaunch in 2005, the United States. The authors will certainly talk about how they grew up with the Doctor, how they hid behind the couch when they got scared, how they cried when "their" Doctor regenerated, and so on. The inevitable comparisons will be made in order to find which Doctor out of the 111 is the most popular. Perhaps the authors will darken the mood a bit by mentioning how they fell out with the show (most likely during its mid-late 1980s spell), or how hard it was to move on with their lives when the original series was canceled in 1989. The articles will end with the authors' remembrance that yes, this is a celebration commemorating 50 years of arguably the most successful sci-fi/fantasty show of all time, so we will be treated to a stirring conclusion in which times and lives may change, but the Doctor endures in spite of it all. Save this post for now, and come back to it around mid-November when the anniversary pieces will be gushing like a spring waterfall--I guarantee you'll have found some worthy examples that match my predictions.
Instead of writing a piece that would get lost in the deluge of anniversary tributes, I will pretend as if I'm auditioning to write for Slate2. The focus here won't be on how the Doctor endures in the face of all the changes that have happened over the last 50 years, but rather on how I've changed with relation to this show in both its original run (1963-1989 & 1996) and current incarnation (2005-present). Many of these changes have been ones I have recognized, but I have not given them any real form or structure. Visiting two conventions this spring served as catalysts for me to give proper recognition to my thoughts.
I attended the Saint Louis branch of Wizard World in March, as well as C2E2 in Chicago at the end of April. Both conventions have lots of overlap when it comes to its subject matter: comics, sci-fi, fantasy, movies, and geek culture in general. C2E2 has a larger grip on comics, whereas Wizard World has expanded to be more inclusive of everything else mentioned above. Doctor Who, partially due to the program's 50th anniversary, had prominent displays at both Wizard World and C2E2. More to the point was the cosplay on display; if you somehow didn't make your way over to the displays, you couldn't help but miss the attendees that were dressed as various incarnations of the Doctor. At Wizard World, I saw nothing but incarnations from the current series; Matt Smith's Doctor was more popular than David Tennant's, and I don't recall seeing Christopher Eccleston's interpretation3. At C2E2, versions from the original series shared floor space with those from the current series, as seen below:
One person who did not stand still long enough for me to photograph at Wizard Word was a guy roughly my age, wearing a blue t-shirt that had the following slogan on it (written in the typeface of the program's credits): "I was a Whovian before Doctor Who was cool." A quick look online did not bring up the t-shirt as being on sale anywhere, so it's possible that he commissioned this bit of clothing for himself. Regardless of whether he bought the shirt or had it made, that slogan got my brain thinking, with my first thoughts being none too charitable toward him. What did he hope to gain by wearing this t-shirt at a convention with other fans of the show? Was he hoping to convince some of the people who may have been dressed along the lines of the above photos that they weren't "real" fans of the show, unlike himself?
After a few minutes of disliking this guy's very existence, my harshness toward him softened as I realized that he and I probably had a fair amount in common with regards to our personal histories with "Doctor Who." We probably started watching the show at similar times in our lives, with my first exposure happening in my freshman year of high school4. The PBS station in Chicago, WTTW, had a block of programming on Sunday nights that served as a love letter to England: "Masterpiece Theatre" at 9 PM; "Monty Python's Flying Circus" at 10 PM (or sometimes "Fawlty Towers"); "Dave Allen At Large" at 10:30ish5; "Doctor Who" at 11 PM; and finally, "The Two Ronnies" at either 12:15 AM or 12:35 AM. I never could stay awake to watch "The Two Ronnies," and I never spent any time watching "Masterpiece Theatre," but watching the other three programs? Most certainly. I lost a fair amount of sleep on Sunday nights, but as the Fourth Doctor once said, sleep is for turtles. WTTW has had a long-running relationship with airing "Doctor Who," going all the way back to 19756, so they were often one of the first US stations to air episodes that had recently been broadcast in England. They aired the Doctors in chronological order, so during my times in high school and college summers, I saw the full runs of Doctors 1-4, a little of 5, and all of 6 & 7. With the exception of Peter Davison, I know my history of the show because I have seen most of the existing episodes of its original run (more on why I missed out on Davison's Doctor later).
Getting back to my snide friend in the t-shirt: had we actually talked and shared our respective histories of our time with "Doctor Who," I may have come around to understanding why he has beef with the revived series. The fans of NewWho are aware of the original series (aka OldWho), but that's often where it stops. The TV world has changed significantly since the original show's end in December 1989 and its revival in March 2005, so while it's easy for fans of the original series to enjoy the current version of "Doctor Who," it's much harder for the reverse to occur. The pacing on the older shows does not match what TV viewers today expect from their programs, and the special effects of the show in the 1970s are the stuff of legends (but not good legends, mind you). What kept OldWho running for 26 years was the quality of its writing and the character of the Doctor himself, which current viewers could enjoy if they were to put aside the very real drawbacks mentioned earlier. Since that doesn't seem to be happening, some fans of the OldWho perceive that the fans of NewWho view the original series as largely irrelevant to the revival, thereby rendering the fans of the older version irrelevant as well. When that chip gets put on the shoulders of guys like my t-shirt friend, the results become visible in terms of attitude and attire.
Another revelation that came to me after thinking about the OldWho fan in his t-shirt is that, a few years ago, I really could have been him. Please note that most of the following dives deep into the show's history, so if you're not interested...tant pis. One large dividing line between OldWho and NewWho is the relationship the Doctor has with his companions. The original show would see the Doctor, depending on the version, be dismissive, patronizing, fatherly, professorial, or friendly toward his traveling companion. Apart from a cursory introduction, very little would be known about the companion's life prior to meeting the Doctor; he or she was more or less an accessory to the Time Lord. One notable exception happened at the very end of OldWho, when the Seventh Doctor7 took a young woman nicknamed Ace under his wing. During her time with Seven, the viewing audience learned a lot about Ace's own background as well as that of her family's own history. Ace, unlike many of the other companions, grew as a character, and became almost as important to the stories as the Doctor himself. The revived show has carried forth the Seven/Ace relationship and applied it to every major companion that has joined the Doctor with his travels.
While this in and of itself isn't bad--I'd say it's a positive development in the show's long-running history--it's the other aspect that continues to cause consternation among OldWho fans: romance. Ever since the mid-90s TV movie, there has been a romantic link between the Doctor and most of his traveling companions, which some OldWho fans view as a wholly unnecessary form of character development. Having a romantic link, whether unrequited or reciprocated, has pretty much locked the companion role into that of a young female. A distinct pattern develops with the companion's story arc, as she becomes amazed and enraptured by the seemingly god-like powers that the Doctor possesses. Whether or not the Doctor has feelings toward this companion is irrelevant, as the romantic angle hangs over their interactions. OldWho fans generally don't care for the romance, while the NewWho fans come onboard primarily because of the romance. I'm more or less in the former camp, though lately I've become indifferent to the romance angle and it doesn't bother me as much as it used to do. So what has changed? Ownership, and knowing when to let it go. It's no longer "my" show and it may never have been, but that won't stop me from enjoying the show's current run.
The transformation of how I viewed "Doctor Who" began when I re-watched the episodes featuring David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor. I really disliked his character the first time round, primiarly because I rather enjoyed his predecessor and I suffered from the inevitable sadness of watching an unknown commodity replace someone well-known. Tennant's portrayal of the Doctor was like a hyperactive, pop-trivia obsessed schoolboy trying way too hard to get you to like him, and it grated upon me. I didn't care for his relationship with Rose, nor did I like how he essentially drove away Martha because she was Not Rose. Even his tangles with the revived Master turned out to be anticlimactic, and I was about to write off the show at the end of Season 3. In Season 4, his new companion, Donna, was simply that: a companion--no love interest, no heavily-convoluted back story (though we did get to learn a lot about Donna's family, and her grandfather in particular). She held up her own end of the Doctor/companion relationship, and also held his mania in check. When she departed, and the Tenth Doctor was alone, he showcased parts of his personality that he had merely hinted at earlier: manipulative, megalomaniac, self-centered, callous. To see his persona change so drastically made me wonder how many other hints of this development had I missed, so once Ten became Eleven, I spent some time rewatching Tennant's run as the Doctor. What I came out of it with was the following:
- The hints of Ten's darker, manipulative side were there right after he regenerated, and
- The new Who is perfectly made for its time, and I should enjoy that for what it is instead of wishing it were 1974 again.
To drag up some older Who history, I also rewatched the episodes I have of the oft-maligned Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker. Many more words have been written about how the other Baker (as opposed to the incredibly popular Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker) was the symbol of OldWho in steep decline. You can find those words elsewhere, but the too-short version has it that Colin's portrayal was just one of many things wrong with the show in the mid-1980s: garish costumes, cartoonish characters, cartoonish violence, poorly-written stories, and a title character that worked really hard at alienating sympathy. I often refer to Six as being either like the TV character Basil Fawlty, or like the characters portrayed on TV and film by Dabney Coleman; in either case, they're both anything but heroic. It's a hard feat to pull off having a protagonist be someone who doesn't garner sympathy or who can be likable, but if done well, it can be memorable8. Sadly, my review of the old episodes confirmed that the idea of an anti-hero Doctor wasn't bad, but its execution by Six was. While re-watching episodes of the Tenth Doctor, I kept encountering similarities between him and Six--whereas Six would be outwardly extravagant, wild, haughty, callous, and imperious, the Tenth Doctor would let flashes of those same characteristics peek out every now and then. In some cases, those traits would show themselves explicitly, such as when dealing with Harriet Jones, or the Family of Blood, or the Rancoss, and especially during the time when he would be without a companion. In other words, Ten is Six done right, and I didn't catch that while watching the show the first time around because I was distracted by the love story...which leads to the next point.
When I watched "Doctor Who" back in the mid-1980s on WTTW, it would be episodes from the past. Most of what I watched was from the Tom Baker era, and there was no disguising the fact that these shows were from a different time period. Hairstyles, fashions, special effects (or lack thereof) all worked together to say, "Yep, this is old--to you." But it's easy to forget, as I did, that the shows were a reflection of their time in more ways than just how long Tom Baker's sideburns would be, or how wide suit lapels would get. It was rather jarring to jump directly from Tom Baker (1974-81) to Colin Baker (1984-86), as I would then be presented with episodes that were surprisingly contemporary and relevant in terms of fashions, effects, and so on. WTTW's decision to leap from one Baker to another forced a realization onto me that this show was a going concern, and that it interacted with largely the same world that I inhabited. Unfortunately for the later-era original Who, those interactions weren't going well for it, particularly when seen in comparison with other sci-fi shows of that era. Sure, "Doctor Who" may have held up somewhat shakily against the original "Star Trek," but comparing "Doctor Who" to "Star Trek: The Next Generation?" No contest--Picard's crew wins handily over the Gallifreyan.
As for the revived show, it has benefited from its heritage while starting anew in an aggressively contemporary England. References to current events in Earth history and pop culture abound in NewWho to the point where dates in the show coincide with the actual date that they originally aired on the BBC. The audience is not only treated as a spectator but also as a participant due to the this-is-happening- NOW ethos. Furthermore, the audience has been given a significant amount of respect and knowledge by the revived show, as they have benefited from so many developments in storytelling during the interregnum when "Doctor Who" was off the air. With the popularity of Hary Potter, Lord Of The Rings, "Babylon 5," and "Buffy The Vampire Slayer," audiences have become accustomed to following not just how plotlines twist and turn, but also how characters grow and develop in the process. As the main protagonists in Harry Potter matured during the story's long run, so too has the audience for "Doctor Who." They can handle the idea that the companions have lives of their own besides traveling with the Doctor, and that these same people have feelings of loss, happiness, and even love. It's not a surprise that the Doctor now expresses more of these same human-like emotions; after all, with the rest of the Time Lords gone and his home planet destroyed, humanity is pretty much all the family he has left.
Because the show has grown so as to meet its audience, there's no way "Doctor Who" would ever return back to an exact duplicate of its past. What worked for the audiences in 1973 or 1983 won't work in 2013. Unlike my friend in the t-shirt, I enjoy the show for what it is today as I live in today. I'm not always happy with how the new show unfolds its plots or character development, but as the mid-1980s period illustrates, such events happened back during the show's original run. If I were to talk with the guy in that t-shirt, I'd tell him that he will need to accept that time can be rewritten in the show, but not outside of it, and that he should look at the show from today's perspective and not that of its past. Or, if he can't do so, he should move on and watch his old videotapes from OldWho. I can make copies of my Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy episodes, if he's interested.
Third of a six-part series.
1. The last episode of Season 7, "The Name Of The Doctor," introduced a version of the Doctor heretofore unknown to us. This version of the Doctor, portrayed by veteran actor John Hurt, appears to slide in between the Eighth Doctor (portrayed by Paul McGann in the mid-1990s TV movie) and the Ninth Doctor (portrayed by Christopher Eccleston, who kicked off the revival of the show in 2005). Therefore, it is believed that every known incarnation of the Doctor after McGann will have to add one to his number: Eccleston now becomes the Tenth Doctor, Tennant the Eleventh, and Smith the Twelfth. With Smith leaving the role at the end of 2013, the search is on for the Thirteenth Doctor, but as Hurt's incarnation has not officially been slotted, I'm going to continue the known numbering of Doctors. If you're reading this after November 23, 2013, and what I had said turns out to be true, you should just mentally add one to the Doctors after McGann, and it'll all make sense. Confused? Good.↩
2. The online magazine "Slate" has a well-deserved reputation for offering up inflammatory contrarian arguments to generate page views. It's a well-worn stereotype at this point. One day, an article will be written with the title, "Want To End The Obesity Problem? Support Cannibalism!" It'll most likely be on Slate or the Onion, and my money's on the former.↩
3. I really enjoyed Eccleston's portrayal of the Ninth Doctor. Sadly, I haven't enjoyed Eccleston's attitude toward the show, as he acts as if it were the source of a malignant odor drifting through his house. The entire scenario described in footnote 1 with John Hurt came about because Eccleston declined participation in the 50th anniversary episode--in effect, the Doctor's history is being rewritten around him. "Time can be rewritten," indeed.↩
4. John Barrowman, who portrayed the popular character Captain Jack Harkness on "Doctor Who" and its "Torchwood" spinoff, spent the first seven years of his life in Scotland. He and his family moved to the Chicagoland area during the late 70s and early-to-mid 80s, and they would all watch and/or videotape the Sunday night shows on WTTW as a reminder of home. There's something quite gratifying with the knowledge that he and I had the same routines during our respective times in high school.↩
5. Dave Allen has been described as a "sit-down, stand-up comedian." He would appear on a bare stage, sitting on a chair that had large armrests. On one armrest would be his cigarettes (during the time when he smoked), on the other would be a tumbler of whiskey. From his chair, he'd tell a series of stories and jokes that were interspersed with sketches. While the sketches were more than a little Pythonesque, his stories would often touch upon his roots in Ireland, and like a fair amount of creative Irish people, he had a gift for gab. Dave was a professional raconteur, and I still think to this day that that would be a wonderful job to have.↩
7. If I were to answer the question that led to footnote 1, that is, "Which Doctor is my favorite?" I'd have to break the list apart as OldWho and NewWho. I'd also have to break up Sylvester McCoy's portrayal of the Seventh Doctor, as I loathed his initial appearance on the show with his companion Mel, but when Ace came onboard, he and the show made a remarkable transformation, albeit one that was too little, too late to stave off cancellation at the end of 1989. The latter part of Seven's run would rank very close to the top of my favorite OldWho Doctors.↩
8. "Absolutely Fabulous" and "House" immediately come to mind as shows starring an unlikable protagonist.↩
After futzing about for a while with Squarespace, I realized that their services just weren't suiting my online needs. Their integration with Flickr, for example, would work only within a narrowly proscribed field, and I kept finding myself bursting through those fields. It was worth the effort, but not any longer. Back to WordPress for me.
What this means for you, dear reader, is nothing except a format change. Some of my posts written for Squarespace will receive a nip and tuck, while the older posts written with my first attempt at using WordPress will largely stay intact. Tags and categories will be revamped, but that will largely be it for changes.
The next entry in my six-part series will be about one of England's biggest post-war exports: Doctor Who. Those who wish to read should do so, while others can skip ahead to the following entry whenever I get around to writing it.
In the last post, "Story Fatigue," I compared the benefits and drawbacks of shaping a story as either a meme or as trivia, with specific focus on how this shaping elicits a reaction from the story's audience. I weighed in against the meme side, as memes are designed to reach large audiences with minimal retention of the experience. Trivia, on the other hand, may reach a a smaller audience in comparison, but the higher level of retention inherent in trivia means that those who are reached will feel compelled to retain what they've been told. If the choice were to be between 4 million people watching a cat play a keyboard on YouTube, or having 40 people feel a connection with the story behind an Extruded Plastic Dingus, the latter would be the better option if you want your story to resonate with an audience. The two-fold trust approach, detailed earlier, stays intact: the storyteller trusts the trivia format will bring forth a response with a select number in the audience, while these same audience members trust that the trivia they're experiencing has value and importance.
Trivia has long appealed to me personally as an end in itself, let alone as a storytelling technique. For lack of a better description, this love of trivia has come naturally, as I've always found myself keyed into small, overlooked details of the world around me. These small details can obviously become large, self-defining aspects of life if one lets that happen, and I certainly have done so from elementary school onward. Over time, I have been accumulating a large group of interests, most of which have little to do with one another, and whenever I'd acquire something new that interested me, I'd dive into it to find those small details mentioned above. An inconclusive list of these interests in roughly chronological order would have on it:
- Astronomy: Courtesy of visits to Adler Planetarium, "Star Wars," the Pioneer and Voyager spacecrafts, and a subscription to "Star & Sky" magazine in 1979.
- Birds: Which I totally blame on being fascinated by the Quetzal and the Ibis.
- Science fiction: See the Astronomy listing, and also add the revived "Star Trek" series.
- British TV: Or at least what I could watch on WTTW on Sunday nights, which also included the original "Doctor Who" series--see Astronomy & Science Fiction.
- Cars: More on the design, not on the mechanics as I'm notoriously bad with tools.
- Bikes: A teen-aged me needed a way to get around, so I've always looked at bikes as useful tools--like with cars, I appreciate the functionality and design of the whole rather than the individual parts and/or brands.
- Maps: Useful for collecting, and also as a way to fall asleep--if you're having trouble sleeping at night, open up a road atlas and start examining it closely; within a few minutes, you'll be nodding off.
- Politics: A former love of mine, one which I've downplayed lately as it can be exhausting to talk about--never mind that this was my college major.
- Computers: This almost was my college major, yet I was stymied somewhat in the early 90s by not having a computer of my own.
- Cologne: Started off in college, but as the years pass, I've figured out what works for me. I work in IT, and I choose not to smell like stale farts, cheap cigarettes, and greasy food.
- Transit systems: Related somewhat to Maps, and also due to using it a lot while living in the Chicagoland area.
- Urban planning: See Transit Systems and Politics.
- Photography: If I were to have a tagline for my life, it would be "Observing since 1971." My first camera was a Kodak Disc from the early 1980s, and it's been onward and upward ever since.
- Wine and beer: Both in terms of consumption and understanding how they're made.
- Clothing: Somewhat related to Cologne, and probably the most current of interests. I'm old enough now to look the part of not looking young, so adjustments are being made accordingly.
One interest I'm reluctant to place on the list is Sports. It's not because I don't have the room, but rather because the relationship is complicated. I grew up in a sports-happy family, and for a few years in the early 1980s, I tried my hand at basketball, baseball, and football. My hand is not a coordinated one, so while I'm somewhat glad for the experiences, I'm even happier that this all stopped once high school began. I have picked up some sports knowledge as trivia, but I don't actively seek it out--it's more passive knowledge, if that makes sense. Still, even this facile knowledge of sports has paid off for me, as it was a key element when I was part of a 16-versus-1 game of Trivial Pursuit around nine years ago. I was the 1, and I lost on the very last question of the game. To win Trivial Pursuit, in case you've forgotten, you must have all six wedges of your "pie," and you must land on the hub of the wheel on the board. When you land there, you have to answer all six questions on the card to win. I answered five correctly; the other team got all six right. Looking back at that game, I remain impressed and scared that I could compete that well.
Do you, Dear Reader, see a pattern to the above list of interests? I really don't. Some interests admittedly flow into one another--Astronomy and Science Fiction are strongly linked, and Transit systems can emerge from interests in both Urban Planning and Politics. Without the context of time, or further details, it would be difficult to see any sort of developing design. I wouldn't be able to rank these interests from highest to lowest, in other words. All of them interest me on relatively equal levels, but what I choose to be interested in can be dependent upon too many factors to mention. I am not fully consumed by one interest, which mirrors my academic career up to college as I didn't feel that I excelled in one field at the expense of any other--well, maybe at the expense of Physical Education. Perhaps this could explain why college threw me for a loop, as I had to actually major in something, a process that took nearly half of my time at Cornell College. It's also why today, I wouldn't make for a good otaku, and I'm pretty happy that this is the case.
Much like how "meme" and "trivia" have evolved from their original definitions, so too has "otaku." In Japan, "otaku" was originally a disparaging term used to describe a particular fan of anime or manga that took his interests in the art to obsessive, awkward levels. The terminology quickly adapted to refer to any person obsessed by a subject or hobby, with the connotation always being negative. Otaku would be stereotyped as young men who spent most of their waking hours talking about their obsession, collecting more items relating to their obsession, interacting only with those who share their obsessions (if at all--it is often presumed that otaku spend most of their time in their bedroom), and so forth. Outside of Japan, "otaku" didn't have as negative of a connotation, but the obsessive definition still applied for the most part. It has become a term that's interchangeable with "fanboy," "fangirl," or simply, "geek." Originally, anime or manga was the subject of otaku obsession. As the focus of otaku obsessions have changed, so have the relationship that these subjects have with mainstream culture. While anime or manga have not become mainstream in the US, American comics certainly have, thanks in no small part because of various popular TV shows and movies. Fanfic, cosplay, and role-playing have not become mainstream, yet they have become more commonplace. What was one considered "fringe," with potentially negative connotations built into that term, has now become less so.
Finding articles discussing the rise of otaku culture in the US is relatively easy, but I'll point you to one that made the rounds at the very end of 2010: "Wake Up, Geek Culture. Time To Die." Patton Oswalt, comedian and occasional actor, writes at length1 about how mainstream acceptance of subjects formerly classified as fringe or geeky is a double-edged sword. His view of the Internet can be summed up in the not-snappy acronym of ETEWAF: Everything That Ever Was, Available Forever2, which he believes is responsible for the rise of weak otaku that don't have to work as hard as he did when he was into Monty Python or Star Wars3. My concern about otaku isn't exactly like Oswalt's, as I'm not really upset that the original subjects of otaku obsession have achieved mainstream acceptance. What does bother me, though, is that the otaku methodology has become mainstream, finding its way into subjects heretofore never considered. Regardless of the subject--and the list is endless, from food to clothes to bicycles and so on--there will be those who will hoover up as much knowledge of this subject as they can handle. Small elements that make up this subject become magnified, the trivia becomes consuming, the minimal gets maximized. Information about the subject of obsession ends up standing in for the subject itself. Collecting this information, or even better, creating this information, is the greater prize4.
As someone who has lived for many years in a realm where trivia rules, I view the otaku methodology as being quite exhausting. My past would indicate that I should be among those who wants to know the smallest details regarding the coffee I drink, the bicycle I ride, or about the jeans I'm wearing. Why, then, do I not add these to my ever-growing list of interests? The otaku methodology has some faults for me: it's weak, the barrier to entry is set quite high, and it brings forth a bit of unattractive envy in me that I would rather not show off.
Without explicitly saying so, Oswalt's worries about "weak otaku" reflect his fears that the current geek culture has become memetic and not trivial. The ease of collecting information online translates to a gotta-collect-em-all mentality, where quantity overtakes quality. I would, if I were in this particular mindset, be more attuned to collecting paper maps or globes, or saving online maps as favorites instead of appreciating them for their cartography skills or what purpose these maps serve. I really wouldn't have time to delve into the details of the maps, because that would interfere with me collecting more of them. The maps would function more as a meme than as trivia. The action of collecting the maps would likewise become as important, if not more so, than the actual maps themselves5. I don't fully believe that current geek culture is sliding toward memes, but I understand where Oswalt comes from with his fears.
The otaku methodology also works to create a high barrier to entry for those wishing to pursue their interest in any given subject, and man, do I see this happening in Photography. On the one hand, advances in technology have made photography as a whole more popular than ever. Digital photography, mirrorless cameras, and smartphones that surpass the quality of what point-and-shoot digicams have placed increasingly sophisticated equipment into the hands of more people, who happily document every aspect of their lives and share these photos with others. Perhaps this seeming ubiquity of cameras has brought forth a belief among some photographers as to what makes "real" photography: you must shoot or have shot with film, you must develop your own film, you must only shoot with either Canon or Nikon6, and so forth. Granted, there will always be snobs in any subject matter defining who is authentic and who isn't, and what constitutes serious support from those who dabble in it. My somewhat jaundiced take on these people erecting barriers is that they do so to justify all the time and money they've spent, along with the fear that others can come along with "incorrect" equipment or "insufficient" experience and create quality photographs7. Whatever the explanation may be for these barriers, they'll end up preventing people from pursuing their interests further, or possibly believing that it's wrong to merely dabble or be a hobbyist photographer. They will buy the explanation, like at an amusement park, that you must be this tall in order to ride. Personally, I acknowledge these barriers, then do my best to ignore them after that. Instead of worrying about not being tall enough to go on one particular ride, I'll find another ride for my enjoyment.
Finally, there's the personal affront that I experience on occasion whenever I encounter someone in thrall to the otaku approach. I'll admit that I hold a small amount of envy toward someone who appears to "have it," that is, someone who knows what they like and are willing to place all of their time and energy towards that particular like. It certainly would simplify my life if my above list of interests were a lot smaller, that if I could obsess over a handful of things, I could dedicate so much of myself to them. My envy is something that comes up from time to time, but it's one that I can generally keep in check by reminding myself that my numerous interests help define who I am, and were that to change, I'd be a much different person. The appeal that trivia has had for me led me to the discovery of all of my interests, and while I never can become an otaku (weak or strong), I'm perfectly fine with that8. If I were to concentrate on a small subset of my above list, I'd miss out on not just other interests, but other people who share these interests. The thrill of discovering something new would also be lost if I were to obsess over a small group of interests, though from time to time, I look upon those who throw themselves in fits of passion toward their passions with a small twinge of jealousy. Incidentally, "passion" is a word I've become reluctant to lose, but that's a topic for a future entry.
Second of a six-part series.
1. Almost as long as what I'm writing here. *cough*↩
3. There's more than a whiff of Get Off My Lawn in Oswalt's post, but nostalgia aside for his own geeky childhood, the piece has merit in and of itself.↩
5. Instead of saying, "EAT ALL THE THINGS," I'd be saying here, "COLLECT ALL THE MAPS."↩
6. Upon hearing such statements, Leica or Hasselblad owners sigh and disdainfully proclaim, "Oh, how cute."↩