May 27, 2015

Transplants more disconnected from family-by-marriage

An earlier post showed that inter-regional transplants are less connected to their extended blood relations. What about their extended family through marriage?

The General Social Survey asks "how often you have been in contact with" various people you're related to, by blood or by marriage, during the past four weeks. I graded responses as simply having any contact or having no contact at all, to keep the findings unambiguous -- no contact at all within the past four weeks is pretty socially disconnected. (The differences are even starker when looking at those with more frequent vs. less frequent contact.)

I've restricted the sample to whites in order to keep kinship norms similar across respondents, and I've compared natives to transplants within three separate class levels (shown by years of education: 0-12, 13-16, and 17-20). I only looked at respondents who actually had a living relative of the type asked about.

First, people who have moved across Census regions between adolescence and adulthood are far less likely to be in contact with their brothers- and sisters-in-law:

Percent in contact with sibling-in-law

Class: % natives ___ % transplants

Lower: 72 ___ 54

Middle: 71 ___ 50

Upper: 73 ___ 69

Transplants are also much less likely to be in contact with their parents-in-law, and the magnitude of the difference is the same as with siblings-in-law:

Percent in contact with parent-in-law

Class: % natives ___ % transplants

Lower: 67 ___ 56

Middle: 72 ___ 49

Upper: 78 ___ 76

You'd think that transplants would be better able to keep in contact with their family-in-law than their blood family. Their blood relations were left behind by the very act of transplanting, but their spouse's family may be from the same region that the transplant moved to.

Instead, there seems to be a greater general aversion that transplants have toward extended family, whether they are by blood or by marriage.

Not wanting to be rooted by geography goes along with not wanting to be rooted by kinship either. Let me do whatever I want, with whomever I want, wherever I want. It's no wonder the rootless West is so libertarian and on the brink of collapse.

GSS variables: sibinlaw, parslaw, regtrans (reg16, region), race, educ

May 26, 2015

Broken homes more likely for children of transplants

An earlier post showed that transplants are less connected with their extended blood relations than natives. Does that hold even for their closer relations in the nuclear family? Let’s look now at whether transplants are more likely to be raising their children in a broken home, i.e. without both birth parents.

The General Social Survey allows us to study transplants in a purer form than simply “raised in the ‘burbs, moved to the nearest city”. The GSS only asks for the respondent’s Census region -- New England, Pacific, West North Central, etc. “Transplant” here implies a greater degree of deracination.

I’ve limited to focus to whites since family structures vary wildly among whites, blacks, Asians, and Hispanics. I’ve also made the comparisons between natives and transplants within three separate class levels, based on number of years of education (0-12, 13-16, and 17-20).

Looking at respondents with children, the marital status of regional transplants is identical to natives.

1. Percent married among those with kids

Class: % natives ___ % transplants

Lower: 75 ___ 75

Middle: 78 ___ 79

Upper: 85 ___ 85

At first glance, then, children appear equally likely to grow up with a set of married parents, regardless of their parents being transplants or not.

However, the GSS also asks respondents who say they’re married, if they’ve ever been divorced. Now the differences show up.

2. Percent divorced among those married with kids

Class: % natives ___ % transplants

Lower: 20 ___ 26

Middle: 19 ___ 25

Upper: 16 ___ 17

Combining these two tables into one, we see that transplants are more likely to be married with children yet previously divorced (although not for the upper class).

3. Percent married, never divorced among those with kids

Class: % natives ___ % transplants

Lower: 60 ___ 56

Middle: 63 ___ 59

Upper: 71 ___ 71

So despite the initial impression of children of transplants growing up with married parents, it turns out that their household is more likely to include a step-parent than the households where parents are natives.

Were the transplants themselves more likely to have grown up in a broken home, and perhaps they’re just passing along a genetic predisposition? Somewhat, but not entirely. The next table shows the likelihood of having grown up in a broken home for natives vs. transplants, where the classes are now based on the education level of the respondent's father.

4. Percent growing up in broken home

Class: % natives ___ % transplants

Lower: 12 ___ 14

Middle: 11 ___ 13

Upper:  9  ___ 13

Transplants are more likely to have grown up in a broken home, but the differences are only half as big as in the previous table. Partly, the transplants are passing on a tendency toward raising children in broken homes that would have happened whether they stayed put in their region or not. But just as much of their kids growing up in broken homes is an effect of the parents being transplants.

Transplants with advanced degrees (17-20 years of education) are an exception here, as they were more likely to grow up in a broken home yet are just as likely to be raising their own kids in an intact home.

Overall, though, having moved to a different region than the one you grew up in increases the risk of your children growing up in a broken home. Thus the destabilizing effects of migration on the bonds of kinship are not limited only to the more distant, extended family ties, but even to those between parents and children, albeit to a lesser degree than the damage done to extended family ties.

GSS variables: family16, marital, divorce, childs, regtrans (region, reg16), race, paeduc, educ

May 24, 2015

Housing bubble fueled by transplants

Analyses of the housing bubble have looked at homeowners' race and ethnicity, age, income, and other standard demographic variables as factors that contributed to the boom and bust in home prices. Giving a dirt-poor Mexican strawberry picker a loan for a million-dollar home? Probably not going to ever get that back.

And yet all these studies ignore the major trend in living patterns over the same period — being a transplant. It's a phenomenon that everyone knows about, and which is confirmed by the data on migration between one's birth state and current state. But since most of the folks who think about these big problems are transplants themselves, they are prevented by cognitive dissonance from exploring the destabilizing effects of migration.

The General Social Survey asks respondents if they own or rent the place where they live. It also asks what Census region they were living in at age 16, and where they are living currently. I made a transplant variable that simply spots any difference between the region where they grew up and where they're living now. Note that this definition of "transplant" is not merely someone from the 'burbs moving to the nearest city, but someone who hails from a completely different region of the country — say, raised in New England but living along the Pacific.

I've restricted the respondents to whites only, since we already know about the outsized role that Hispanics and especially immigrant Hispanics played. If there were only a racial / ethnic angle, studying natives vs. transplants among whites shouldn't show much of a difference. If on the other hand Hispanic immigrants were just a special case of a more general pattern about transplants, then we'll see something after all looking just at whites.

I re-ran the comparisons looking only at native-born whites, and native-born non-Hispanic whites, and the conclusion did not change. So I'm only narrowing it down to just "whites" to keep sample sizes as large as possible.

First, the homeownership rates for regional natives vs. transplants, surveying the nation as a whole (natives in blue, transplants in orange):

The long-term baseline for regional natives seems to be about 70%, and about 63% for transplants, a rate that is 10% lower. This shows that transplants are not just switching regions and then planning to stay put in their adoptive region. Mostly they are, but they're more likely than natives to only be renting — just in case they have to bail and switch locations again.

At any rate, the data for the natives shows only one survey year of dramatic rise in homeownership — 2006 — and a pretty quick return to the baseline by 2010. The burst went from 72% to 80%, or an 11% jump. The boom-and-bust cycle is evident, but not very extreme.

The case of transplants, however, could not be more dramatic. Their burst shows up already by the 2004 survey, and does not return to baseline until 2014. Their boom lasted far longer than for natives, indeed the better part of a decade. Moreover, it was a wilder departure from the historical norm — soaring from about 64% to 80%, or a 25% jump. So the sudden burst for transplants was more than twice as great as it was for natives.

Now let's zoom in on the most heavily inflated and then heavily devastated region, the Pacific (the vertical scale is now twice is big as before):

Overall natives and transplants out West have closer rates of homeownership than back East. And it's not because of higher rates out West among transplants, but much lower rates out West among natives. It's one of the few places where natives and transplants are equally, and minimally, invested in continuing to live in their region. "San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle: Even our natives are fickle."

In any case, the boom and early bust were not so different between natives and transplants out West, although the decline has been much steeper among transplants. The major difference are the beginning and end points of the entire data series: transplants in 1985 had homeownership rates just above 40%, and despite a long detour toward 75%, they are now right back to where their counterparts started 30 years ago.

Of course, out West the white transplants played less of a role because there were hordes of Mexican transplants eager to take the unpayable mortgages that Americans just wouldn't take.

The upshot is that the housing bubble was primarily a transplant phenomenon. Natives to a region experienced a much shorter and smaller increase in homeownership rates. The ludicrous boom and bust activity was driven by transplants to a region — Mexicans out West where there were plenty nearby, or white transplants in the rest of the country where there were few Mexicans.

I don't read much economic literature, but judging from what I've been exposed to over the past seven years on the internet, this is the first look into homeownership rates over time for natives vs. transplants to a region, and the first to lay the blame more on migration in general for the effects of rootless boom-towns.

This doesn't explain why transplants were more susceptible to the boom-and-bust cycle, but it's easy to see some of the reasons. They're more likely to be strivers, for one thing, hence more willing to jump on a bandwagon.

Their main weakness in my view, though, is their ignorance of local conditions and their history. I remember right at the peak of the housing bubble, my mother said she couldn't believe how high the home prices were getting in her neighborhood, and that she didn't believe the homes were really worth that much. By that point, she'd been living there for nearly 15 years and had a long-enough history of impressions to judge from, even if she lacked a rigorous time series of real estate data.

A couple from outside the region who bought a home just across the street from her in 2007, on the other hand, didn't arrive with any lasting memories for an intuition to emerge from. As far as they knew, it was just the price of moving into that neighborhood — maybe a little high historically, but nothing really weird, and hey, maybe the neighborhood had been under-valued before, and the transplants like them were simply revealing what it was truly worth.

Sadly, they will never get out of the house what they paid for it. They would probably lose around $70-80,000 if they sold and moved, and that's with home prices having recovered and gone up somewhat since the nadir of the early 2010s.

Let that be a cautionary tale about the value of knowing a place like the back of your hand. The footloose gold-rush lifestyle will pay well for a tiny handful of lucky ones, but it will ruin most of the strivers, who simply do not know what they're getting into.

GSS variables: dwelown, year, regtrans, region, reg16, race, hispanic

May 23, 2015

Another cosplay fanfic approach to music videos ("Bad Blood" by Taylor Swift)

Earlier we saw the empty and jarring results of the cosplay fanfic approach to making music videos in "Fancy" by Iggy Azalea, where a character from the original movie Clueless is aped by a singer whose persona is the exact opposite.

Now there's the video for "Bad Blood" by Taylor Swift. It mimics Mission Impossible, Charlie's Angels, The Matrix, The Fifth Element, Tron (the Daft Punk one), Sin City, and pretty much anything else that the director got a boner to over the past 20 years.

Does Taylor Swift's persona lend itself to a femme fatale / film noir role? Of course not: she's an awkward virgin who only "dates" high-profile fags. Nothing seductive or man-eating about that. Ditto for the other girls and women, who are self-consciously striking poses like cosplay attendees at a nerd convention.

Does anything in the song's lyrics lend itself to an over-the-top apocalyptic spectacle? Nope: it's about some gay little tiff that she and some other frenemy have gotten into. Only to middle schoolers is that the end of the world as we know it.

Since no one wants to do anything cool and new anymore, we can expect to see more of this approach -- throwing together a bunch of references and allusions to pop culture that the audience has already masturbated to. Only now they get to masturbate to it in an unexpected setting -- a Taylor Swift video, a Family Guy episode, a new Star Wars movie, etc.

Rather than add to the variety of things you enjoy, the point here is to multiply and maximize the masturbatory value of the things you already like -- to obsess over them, over and over again.

Pop culture is quickly becoming one great big breath of stale air.

May 20, 2015

Generational splits in being assertive, passive, or just plain awkward

Those who have spent much time interacting with Millennials have noticed how withdrawn they are. The average member won't initiate anything, whether social (getting to know new people) or mechanical (that bamboo is starting to look gnarly in the back yard, better clear it out).

This has lead casual observers to describe the generation as passive, but that term really means that the person will pitch in and perform various tasks once someone else — the initiator or instigator — has gotten the ball rolling first. They are willing, perhaps even eager to join in an activity — they just can't start it.

Yet Millennials are not only incapable of kicking something off, they fumble the ball once it has been perfectly thrown to them. Beyond being anxious about introducing themselves to new people, they don't know how to respond to someone else introducing themselves first, let alone how to keep the back-and-forth going so that the result is a relationship rather than a mere encounter.

They don't know how to act, but they don't know how to react either. They're just plain awkward, and it keeps them from developing a normal system of relationships.

"Passive" would actually be a better description of the average Gen X-er. As long as there's an instigator around, X-ers are perfectly comfortable joining in the mischief. Or accepting a subordinate role in a hierarchy, under a leader, mentor, or guide. Do you want to go bowling? "If you guys are going, sure." Where do you want to go tonight? "I dunno, I'm cool with whatever." Yeah, me too.

It normally doesn't devolve into the blind leading the blind because despite the majority tendency, there's always at least one leader or instigator in their social circle.

That leaves the Boomers as the assertive ones. There's a lot more playful, half-serious ribbing and joshing among them because they're all trying to assert themselves and have the others in the group be subordinate. They're more willing to be creators, while Gen X prefers to be fans.

You see this clearly in stereotypes about husbands. The stereotypical Boomer husband was cheating on his wife with a secretary or waitress, endangering his marriage to assert his libido. Gen X husbands are more likely than Boomers to see their role as the dopey dad and the henpecked husband, whether they resent that role or are cool with it, y'know, as long as the wife is cool with it.

The stereotypical Millennial husband is neither an assertive nor a passive partner in the marriage. Millennial husbands and wives are more like gender-non-specific housemates who occasionally have genderless sex. None of the household tasks get taken care of because neither is capable of being the leader or the follower in getting them done. Maybe if we both ignore the bamboo jungle in the back yard, it will be nice and just go away to infest some other home.

What underlies these differences seems to be how much of their social development, say ages 5 to 25, took place in an outgoing (1955-1990) vs. a cocooning period (since 1990). Boomers, particularly the later ones, developed entirely within an outgoing climate, which allowed them to reach an adult level of assertiveness.

Gen X developed partly during an outgoing climate, but also during a cocooning climate in early adulthood or even adolescence. That allowed them to mature beyond childish awkwardness, although still retaining more of an adolescent approach of "I'm up for it if you are". That effect is more pronounced among the later births in the generation.

The poor Millennials who grew up entirely in cocooning times, under helicopter parents no less, never even made it to the adolescent stage. Now that they're nearing 30, they realize that they're supposed to be able to take part in the back-and-forth, following either an assertive or passive role, and some of them are making a conscious effort to practice. But at a gut level, their instinct is still to just stand there and go, "OK, so now I guess we, uh.... well, this is awkward..."

May 15, 2015

Drawing generational boundaries from slang and other meaningless traits: An evolutionary view

The standard intellectual approach to defining generations is to lump together those individuals who all went through some key event or series of events during the same stage of their life. The point is that what shaped the members of a generation, and what binds them together, is meaningful — growing up in Postwar prosperity, as children of divorce, as digital natives, etc.

In an informal setting, though, the shared traits are not so meaningful. What's your slang word for "very good" — is it "peachy keen," "groovy," "sweet," or "amazing"? (Those are for the Silents, Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials.) What were the popular colors for clothing when you were in high school? What are your favorite pop songs of all time? Who was your first huge celebrity crush?

These are not the kinds of people-molding forces that social scientists propose.

Sometimes the two approaches will draw similar boundaries — if you were a child of the Postwar prosperity, and born during a time of rising fertility rates, you are also familiar with the phrase "groovy," at some point in high school you wore orange and blue on the same day, one of your favorite pop songs is "Happy Together," and you had a huge crush on Mary Ann or Ginger.

But other Powerful Societal Forces don't affect people for a limited time to produce a tightly bound generation who underwent the effects. They are long-term trends along which people born in one year or another simply came of age during an earlier or later phase of the single ongoing process. Suburbanization, ethnic diversity, mass media saturation, and so on.

Gen X and Millennials, for example, don't look like distinct generations when you look at those three factors — they look fairly similar to each other, and different from the Greatest Gen, Silents, and even Boomers. And yet their group membership badges are totally different — slang, "you can't listen to that, that's our song", or tastes in food (way more toward Mexican and Chinese slop among Millennials).

When the X-ers and Millennials vote against the "boo taxes" government of the Silents and Boomers, it will be a case of politics making strange generational bedfellows, not similarly shaped generations on either side warring against their antitheses.

The choice of whether to carve out groups based on a meaningful or arbitrary trait shows up in evolutionary biology and historical linguistics. Both fields prefer shared traits to be arbitrary. If lots of individuals share something seemingly arbitrary, it's probably because they come from a common origin where that just happened to be the norm. That's why geneticists look at neutral DNA to determine ancestry.

If lots of people share something meaningful, like dark skin, that could be due to similar meaningful pressures acting on two unrelated groups, like the Africans and New Guineans both evolving dark skin as an adaptation to tropical climates, despite being distantly related on the whole genetically.

Likewise in the history of language, if two groups share a word for something functional like "internet," that could be because two unrelated groups both adopted the phrase when they adopted the technology, in recent times. If they share a word for the number "four," that can't be chalked up to similar pressures making the groups speak similarly. They must descend from some common ancestor where the word for that number just happened to be pronounced "four".

Aside from the theoretical motivation for using arbitrary traits, they're also the most palpable in real life. If you overhear someone in line at the store saying they agree with gay marriage, that is most likely to be an airhead Millennial, but could very well be an X-er or even a Boomer. Ditto if they make an offhand joke about their parents' divorce, their student loan burden, and the like.

But if you overhear your fellow supermarket shopper say, "Listen, they're playing "Footloose" — isn't this song suh-WEET?!" then they're definitely Gen X. If it's, "Oh my gosh, I'm like obsessed with "Blank Space" — not gonna lie, that song's actually kind of amazing!" then they're literally definitely Millennials.

The sociologist's large-scale impersonal forces make individuals similar, but not necessarily in a social dynamic way that cements group membership. Children of prosperity turn out this way, children of austerity turn out that way, whether they ever interacted with other members of their group to create a shared culture.

It's the seemingly trivial stuff that serves as shibboleths, food taboos, folk tales ("urban legends"), and totem animals to distinguish Us from Them. Those things only became popular by individuals accepting them rather than any of their alternatives to signal what group they belonged to. They get closer to what creates a community, beyond what creates a group-of-similar-individuals.

May 10, 2015

Broken homes epidemic reversed since the '90s babies?

Now that the data from the 2014 General Social Survey are online, we can look into some other trends that were too hazy to study before. The sample size of Millennials used to be too small, but now with another wave of the survey including them, they can be better investigated.

One thing I've been wondering about for awhile is if the children of divorce are sticking together when they themselves became parents, or if they're just going to perpetuate a climate of broken homes.

In an earlier post, I looked at the trend by birth cohort. Growing up without both parents became more common starting with people born in the late 1950s, and only grew more and more prevalent with each cohort afterward, right up through those born in the late 1980s. The sample size was too small for '90s births to see whether it continued or reversed.

Now that there is a large enough sample size, though, it looks like the trend did reverse. I grouped respondents into five-year age cohorts, and no matter how you move that five-year window around, those born in the early-mid-'90s were more likely be living with both parents at age 16. The difference is only a few percentage points, but that's still remarkable considering that every previous cohort since the late Boomers showed a steady and notable decline of growing up in an intact family.

These results showed through for whites, blacks, and "other" races. Race could not have anything to do with the overall results anyway, since more recent cohorts are blacker and Mexican-er, and those groups have higher rates of broken homes than whites do. Simple demographic projections would have predicted a steady decline, but it looks like the return toward the bi-parental household succeeded in spite of racial demographic trends against it. It is therefore like the falling rates of violent and property crimes over the past 20-25 years, despite a blacker and browner population.

The reversal also held for upper, middle, and lower classes (I used number of years of education as a proxy), although it was stronger and came somewhat earlier for those higher up on the social pyramid. This is unlike the pattern that Charles Murray details in Coming Apart, where for example the lower class continues to get divorced at higher rates over time, while the upper class has returned to marital normalcy after the initial perturbation back in the '70s.

This makes me doubt the earlier explanation I gave that linked broken homes to the status-striving and inequality cycle -- things that have steadily gotten worse since sometime in the '70s or early '80s.

If the first cohort to be struck by the broken homes epidemic was born in the late '50s, and the direction began to reverse with the cohort born in the early '90s, that suggests a link to the cocooning-and-crime cycle. Being a child of divorce became more common among those who were small children during the rising-crime period of circa 1960 to 1990. If you were a little kid during a falling-crime period -- most Silents and Boomers, who grew up in the Midcentury, and later the '90s babies -- you were more and more likely to grow up in an intact family.

One effect of a rising-crime climate is giving less weight to the future and living more in the now -- not surprising when rising crime rates make a safe and secure future look less and less likely. This is a "facultative" response, one that responds to current conditions. If those conditions are present long enough over time, people will evolve an "obligate" response: their discounting of the future becomes more wired-in where the environment is violently unstable.

So perhaps the parents splitting up and telling their kids good luck was part of the greater pattern of impulsiveness or discounting of the future. Abortion rates took off until circa 1990 as well -- hard to think of a more callous attitude toward your child's future than that.

Once the crime rate started falling in the '90s, parents projected a safer and more secure future, and began weighing the future more heavily. As one sign, they became less likely to opt for abortion or divorce as a solution to the "don't feel like raising kids" problem.

GSS variables: family16, cohort, educ, race

May 8, 2015

Prepping for cataclysms, neglecting ordinary emergencies

Our increasingly paranoid and status-striving society has passed a point of no return, where there are more young adults who carry around paracord bracelets and pocket knives to "prep" for disaster, than those who know how to change a tire and carry the basic tools to do so in their trunk.

You'd think that if they're paranoid enough to be prepping for a shit-hits-the-fan scenario, they would also be planning for the smaller and more predictable disasters that a well-adjusted person would worry about -- flat tire, burnt out headlight / brake light, cuts bleeding enough to need a bandage, and so on.

Yet they don't behave like people who are going above and beyond the scenarios that normal people already have covered, they are prepping for the apocalyptic instead of the ordinary.

You might try to rationalize their neglect of mundane duties by saying that the apocalypse trumps everything -- however small the probability, the magnitude of destruction will be more or less infinite, so it deserves sole focus as "what to be ready for".

But Haidt's research on moral reasoning shows that it is typically a post-hoc rationalization of a gut-level intuition. Thus, the preppers have a gut-level aversion to stewardship of everyday affairs, and develop a conceptual excuse afterward -- they're not negligent, they're actually prepping, for, uh, lemme think... for a far more disastrous scenario than those that trouble normal folks. Yeah, that's it.

So, scrupulously carrying a pocket knife, and updating their paracord bracelet to the newest model, serves to pardon them from, say, cleaning out the lint and debris that's clogging their fan or computer, learning CPR, and getting practice as a handyman.

As an example of how frivolous their priorities are, consider what they include in their EDC -- everyday carry, or things that are on them no matter what. Googling "edc" and "first-aid" gives half a million results; likewise for averaging the results for "edc" and "band-aid" with "edc" and "band-aids". Less than half a million hits for "edc" and "multi-tool". Yet "wallet" and "knife" get over a million, and "light" and "watch" get over 50 million.

It's hard to think of something more useless in a doomsday world with no tight schedules to keep, than a wristwatch. If you need to tell time, just look up at the fucking sky like people have for millions of years. Are you really incapable of telling whether it's morning, afternoon, evening, or night by opening your eyes outdoors? And if you don't have a good intuition for whether something happened five minutes ago or five hours ago, you are braindead and won't need to worry about surviving the apocalypse anyway.

Yeah, but how are we supposed to start a fashion contest over looking up at the sky? Wristwatches FTW.

Focusing on the cataclysmic also serves their impulse toward status-striving: prepping for the apocalypse is Real Serious Shit, requiring Advanced Tactical Gear, whereas any fuddy duddy can learn how to test their gas pipes for a leak by spraying soapy water, or carry a first-aid kit in their car in case someone gets cut. Pursuing the fantastic and spectacular is more attention-getting than tending to duties that are realistic and mundane.

Of course that also means that these preppers are just LARP-ers, having little to no training, practice, or experience. But hey, they watched a YouTube series by some guru who served in Gulf War, as though that were tantamount to downloading his brain a la The Matrix. Indeed, for all their rugged outdoors posturing, Neo is closer to their true hero -- someone who can become the ultimate urban survivalist badass by passively and instantly receiving the "content" of some cyber-guru, without having to put in any practice, go through any boot camp, or pass through any other rite of passage. Consumerism doesn't count ("purchasing my first multi-tool").

Perhaps that's another reason why they're so obsessed with watches -- they wouldn't be spending time doing anything real, and would have to engage in some pointless repetitive activity to assuage their anxiety and make them feel like they were getting shit done. Let's just keep glancing down at our watches, and hopefully that will allow us to just wait out the end of the world as we know it. Their "gear" is simply a collection of talismans and fetishes being stroked by the impotent in an attempt to feel capable and powerful.

Normal people recognize how useless these posers would be in a real disaster, but the preppers reckon rank by the upvotes they receive from one another.

Sadly this phenomenon generalizes to all sub-cultures in a striving climate -- ordinary duties are neglected in the pursuit of vanity points in some circle-jerking status contest.

Related post: doomsday prepping in the civic Midcentury vs. anarchic Millennial eras

May 6, 2015

Where did all the annoying bumper stickers go?

From the 1990s through the mid-2000s, it wasn't unusual to see a car whose bumper, or even entire back side, was encrusted with stickers of confrontational whining, smug slogans, adolescent humor ("Your mom's hot"), and/or a list of your favorite "edgy" bands. Cars with only a handful of stickers were more common still.

You don't see that anymore, and on the rare occasion that you do, it's clearly a fossil from that earlier era -- "Impeach Bush," "Fukengr├╝ven," "COEXIST," "Mean People Suck," "Phish," etc. What happened?

Flashing to the world all of your annoying opinions and obsessions ("interests"), from behind a wall of anonymity, in a drive-by fashion, trying though often failing to smugly troll strangers -- sounds an awful lot like what the internet was made for. Or rather the web 2.0, when comments sections and social media were born. Only now the technology allowed you to annoy people all over the world -- get more bang for your broadcasting buck.

Although seemingly trivial, the case of bumper stickers illustrates an important point I keep making about technology and social life: technology doesn't make us use it any particular way, and a technology may only become widely adopted because users were already heading in a new social direction.

This is complementary to the standard view that technology colonizes our society, and we are unwillingly affected by it for better or worse. I don't deny that that happens, but it relies on the assumption that the users didn't really want it -- why not ask them first and see how enthusiastic they were to adopt it?

Thus, anonymous comments and social media did not tempt people into blabbing their confrontational, smug, gotcha! slogans to the rest of the world. That attitude and behavior was already highly visible back in the '90s, and even the 2000s -- right up until the web 2.0 opened its doors. Twitter did not set off the battle between SJWs and their counter-trolls; that existing culture war simply shifted arenas, from car bumpers to social media sites.

It also goes to show how little the difference between today and the '80s has to do with technological changes. People didn't have anonymous comments and Twitter back then, but they had bumper stickers and decals -- why didn't they plaster dozens of stickers on their bumper, using them for hostile crusading like they would come to do during the '90s? Quite simply because they didn't have that attitude.

The primary change between the get-along '80s and today is one of attitude, social stance, worldview, and so on, not technology. The '90s is the crucial decade to resolve the matter. Like the '80s, it lacked an internet with anonymous comments and social media sites. Unlike the '80s, people's attitudes had shifted toward cocooning and anxiety or hostility in social situations.

The social mood trumped technological constraints, with people of the '90s making do with bumper stickers for socially anxious confrontations: to wage SJW crusades (or to troll the SJWs in return), to blab their obsessions to the world, and to try out one-liners on an audience that can't respond by rejecting them.

May 3, 2015

Gay marriage will move on to further gay crusades, not letting other weirdo groups get married

The most common response from conservatives who raise the troubling matter of where gay marriage will lead to, is that it will lead other wacko kinds of marriages to be sanctioned -- polygamy, bestiality, incest, pedophilia, whatever.

But here's the real deal (from a comment I left here):

The next radical social-political experiment won’t have to do with marriage — that’s falling for the con that the gay marriage issue is about marriage first, and secondarily about whom it’s letting into the institution.

Clueless conservatives, or rather befuddled reactionaries, respond with, “Well, if you’re going to let ridiculous group X get married, why not ridiculous group Y? And ridiculous group Z? Where will the desecration of marriage end?”

But the culture war is not about marriage — it’s about giving fags all sorts of privileges that they don’t deserve, ignoring and indeed obscuring and denying the fact that they are fundamentally abnormal rather than normal, which justifies discrimination against them (i.e. treating them differently under the law).

That’s what makes the idea of them being married and committed such a joke, or the idea that two giddy Peter Pan homos are just as maternal and nurturing toward children as a mature woman. Or that what makes them *them* is no less healthy and wholesome than what makes heteros *hetero* — just don’t ask about how many diseases are devouring their beleaguered half-corpses.

Therefore the next big crusade in the culture war will be about “what other ways can we propagandize homosexuality as ‘just like us’ and give them goodies accordingly?” Not “what other risible group should we allow to get married?”

Look at blacks in the Civil Rights era — it didn’t move to “what other group should we allow to enter our wholesome white schools?” They didn't send in the National Guard to forcibly integrate the Mexicans, Orientals, American Indians, etc. Rather, it moved to “what other privileges, set-asides, and quotas can we shower on the blacks?”

The culture war is based around sacralizing a victim group (blacks, fags), not desecrating a particular institution (a side effect, not a sustained target).

May 1, 2015

Cosplay remakes and the uncanny valley (video for "Fancy" by Iggy Azalea)

The cosplay fanfic approach of the new Star Wars movie will strike normal people as weird and off-putting, though in a way that's hard to explain. A gut revulsion suggests a role for disgust, rather than a conscious list of reasons why it looks bad.

I still couldn't put my finger on what is (mildly) disgusting about it, so I looked for another example of the cosplay fanfic approach to pop culture.

Here is the music video for "Fancy" by Iggy Azalea, the song of the summer for last year, with over half a billion views on YouTube. Its set design, locations, clothing, hair, and plot vignettes are ripped from the 1995 movie Clueless, probably the last coming-of-age teen movie with likeable characters. Yet everything about the words, intonation, facial expressions, body language, and general attitude of the girls in the music video is the polar opposite of the characters in the movie.

In Clueless, the protagonist Cher is a well-meaning ditz who occasionally bumbles in her nurturing attempts at playing matchmaker. (The movie is based on Emma by Jane Austen.) She tries to make over the new student Tai, a free-spirited, socially awkward naif who becomes more savvy and popular, acts too big for her breeches, but ultimately reconciles and acts humbly around her friends. They show a basic concern with doing right by others in order to fit in. They want to be liked and accepted into a group, not to be worshiped by fans and feared by haters, both groups being socially distant from the diva at the center of attention.

See the trailer here, although it focuses more on dishing out one-liners than establishing character traits.

Fast-forward to Iggy Azalea and Charli XCX aping Cher and Tai in the "Fancy" video. Both are hyper self-aware pose-strikers, unlike the ditzy and spacey characters from Clueless. Their attitudes are smug, bratty, and decadent rather than uncertain, seeking to please, and wholesome. They're self-aggrandizing and condescending rather than other-regarding. They aspire to being distant divas and icons, rather than friends accepted into a clique. And they give off an overly sexualized persona, whereas the appeal of the original characters was not simply to gawk at their ass and thighs.

The contrast for anyone who remembers the movie is so harsh (way harsh, Tai) that it creates an uncanny valley reaction, where something lies between two opposites and leaves the viewer disturbed. Most CGI human beings provoke such a response -- neither human enough, nor robotic enough, but more like a freak of nature.

It gets worse. Seeing actors play totally against what we associate with their clothing, environment, and overall zeitgeist leaves us asking, "What happened to the real people who wore those clothes? Went through those vignettes? Lived in that place?" It feels like the impostors are not just try-hard wannabes, but body-snatchers who have killed what is familiar and replaced it with something alien. It's like that scene in Silence of the Lambs where the he-she serial killer is donning a wig and twirling around in his lady-flesh-suit.

Iggy Azalea has killed Cher from Clueless and is wearing her skin.

Earlier examples of LARP-ing in popular culture at least tried to remain as consonant as possible with the original -- Grease, Back to the Future, Forrest Gump. Now the point is simply to body-snatch the sympathetic original characters and assimilate them into the loathsome present, like some kind of pop-cultural Borg. It is appropriation not out of affection and nostalgia, but simply to claim more and more territory of the good old days for idiotic, imperial trends.

I know -- BFD if it's some throwaway music video. But remember that this is what's going to unfold during the entirety of the new Star Wars movie. And it will only grow from there: the decision of the Star Wars brand sets a binding precedent.

Earlier remakes and reboots tried to distinguish themselves from the original by using a different visual style, exploring other parts of the narrative and character development, and so on. Always boringly, but they were different. Now the rehash movies are going to move into cosplay mode -- "It looks just like real thing!" (don't ask how it tastes, though). Expect pop culture to get even more off-putting in the near future.