October 15, 2018

Baggy replaces skin-tight, as manic exhibitionism gives way to vulnerable coziness, echoing early 2000s, late '80s, and early '70s

One of the most bizarre reminders that we have entered a similar cultural phase as the early 2000s is the revival, seemingly out of nowhere, of really long boxy sweater jackets on girls. I can't find any contemporaneous pictures, but they do reliably make lists of early 2000s fashion items.

I distinctly remember seeing them in college. Was it a bath-robe? Trying to imitate granny's duster? Whatever it was, why are you wearing that outside of your dorm room? It just seemed so unnatural for young babes to be dressed up like old maids.

Fast-forward 15 years, and here is just one of many in Forever 21's sweater section:

The rest of their sweaters are a lot more billowy, boxy, bulky, and balloony than just five years ago, when slim-fitting was the norm.

And it's not just what they're wearing on top -- pant legs have not flared out this wide since the heyday of the boot-cut, velour trackpants, and JNCO jeans during the first half of the 2000s.

Since the late 2010s, several articles such as this one have taken note of the revival of looks from the early 2000s. And while some may be meaningless self-aware references on the runway, the flared pant legs and oversized tops are widespread and spontaneous shifts among ordinary people.

There were similar shifts during the second half of the '80s, as the skin-tight jeans of the early '80s gave way to the looser-fitting "mom / dad jeans" (and parachute pants at the extreme), and as sweaters, jackets, and coats blew up to blimp-like proportions.

Finally, the early '70s saw the same shift -- pant legs flared far out from the slimmer "mod" look of the second half of the '60s. This was the peak era of bell-bottom jeans, but all pants were flared. Tops were not as boxy as they would become by the late '80s, but they were still more loose and flowy in the sleeves than during the '60s. Collars were also gigantic, along with big ascots on blouses -- similar to the rise of the turtleneck during the late '80s, and the slouchy cowl neck during the early 2000s and today. Something that obscures the underlying body contours.

What the late 2010s, early 2000s, late '80s, and early '70s share is their place in the 15-year cultural excitement cycle: they are the vulnerable, mellow phase after energy levels have crashed from the manic invincible phase.

During this social-cultural refractory period, no more excitement is possible, and they're over-sensitive to attempts to get them excited again. So they just want to be left alone for awhile while their energy levels have a chance to recover to normal. Normal levels are reached during the restless, warm-up phase, when they are excitable again, but have yet to take off on another manic spike. Then the cycle repeats.

It's straightforward to interpret the shift toward blanket-like clothing as one method of insulating themselves from social contact during an over-sensitive refractory phase. Apart from insulation against unwanted attention, it gives them a cozy and secure feeling that they're more likely to seek out during a period of vulnerability.

I wrote two comments here and here on exhibitionist clothing styles during the manic phase -- mini and micro-mini skirts during the late '60s vs. midi and maxi dresses during the '70s, skin-tight jeans during the early '80s vs. loose and even baggy jeans during the late '80s and early '90s, thongs during the late '90s vs. boy shorts during the 2000s, and leggings-as-pants during the early 2010s vs. the return of denim and now flared legs during the late 2010s (and presumably the early 2020s).

An earlier post on the decline of the No Pants Subway Ride discussed the long-term trends in exhibitionism vs. covering up as reflecting the long-term trends in violent crime rates. As crime rates soared, it brought the risk of rape into the front of women's minds, and they responded by covering up and obscuring their figure, so as to not draw unwanted attention in the first place. That was evident by the early '70s, and reached its peak during the late '80s and early '90s. And it happened as well during the Jazz Age, with its boxy shapes, during another wave of rising crime rates.

It's only during falling-crime periods when women start to worry less and less about rape, and feel less worried about going out in public with their shape easily visible to all. We've seen that not only since the second half of the '90s through the recent trend of "leggings as pants," but also during the Midcentury, whose iconic woman is the "sweater girl" wearing a tight-fitting "bullet bra" that left nothing to the imagination.

Here, then, we see a case where the manic phase of the cultural excitement cycle does not resemble the outgoing / rising-crime phase of the crime-and-cocooning cycle. Manic, invincible-feeling people are exhibitionistic, whereas rising crime rates make people feel vulnerable and want to cover up in everyday settings.

Typically, the manic phase and the rising-crime phase resemble each other, since it is outgoing-ness that leads to rising crime rates, as potential predators find more targets when more people are out and about, and when people are trusting and letting their guard down during a fun-loving zeitgeist. Manic energy levels and extraversion are similar, but not identical, and the case of covered-up vs. baring-all reveals their separation.

October 11, 2018

No higher finance gods left to be deus ex machina for neoliberal bubble: Full pantheon of central banks already divinely intervening

As we near the end of the neoliberal bubble that began nearly 40 years ago, it's worth reflecting on the escalating scale of interventions that have been needed to resuscitate the economy (for the elites, anyway) after each successive near-death catastrophe. By the 2010s, we have reached the peak of that scale, as an entire global network of central banks has teamed together to prop up the "everything bubble".

The basic logic is that when an institution is about to go bust, a relatively bigger institution must intervene to save it. Bigger in scale, in wealth and resources, in social status, in influence, etc. A peer institution would not suffice, since whatever is causing the first institution to suffer near-death collapse could just as easily affect institutions at the same level of complexity. And certainly lesser institutions can not rescue greater ones.

"Big" can only be rescued by "bigger", and once there is no bigger, further rescues become impossible, and they sink or swim on their own.

Almost right out of the gate, the deregulation agenda of the Reaganites nearly blew up one of the largest banks in the nation -- Continental Illinois, in 1982. In the first clear case of "too big to fail," it was rescued by the FDIC, a federal government agency. That was a fairly small-scale rescuer needed to jump on the grenade.

By the end of Reaganism's first decade, deregulation mania had wiped out an even larger swath of the economy -- not just one bank, but an entire group within the finance sector, the savings & loan industry. Now it was no longer possible for just one puny federal agency to bail them out -- the full national government had to pass legislation, sign it into law, and survive judicial scrutiny. That was the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989.

As the Reaganite trend continued toward pointless financial speculation, in place of productive investment, the rescuers would bail out hedge funds, not just lowly regional banks or thrifts. In 1998, Long Term Capital Management imploded and posed such a risk to the Wall Street banks that not even the federal government could serve as the rescuer. They had to go higher to the big banks on Wall Street themselves, along with the central bank (the Fed) serving as a mediator, giving its stamp of approval and trustworthiness.

That was before the New Deal-era Glass-Steagall Act was repealed in 1999 (by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act), so the Wall Street banks had not been able to scale up to the behemoths they would become in the 21st century, after the barriers were removed between commercial banking, investment banking, and insurance. Any individual one of them was not so much greater than a hedge fund, or group of hedge funds. One of them bailing out LTCM would have been closer to a peer trying to bail out a peer -- not good enough, and the full network of big banks was needed, plus the central bank coordinating the rescue without, however, supplying funds itself.

When the Tech Bubble 1.0 popped in the early 2000s, it was not bailed out and re-inflated, since the tech sector controls the Democrats -- who had pumped up the Dot-Com Bubble under Clinton -- and the Republicans had just taken office under George W. Bush. So even though the central bank slashed interest rates to cope with the popping of a bubble, there were no "too big to fail" cases that got massive rescuing. Rather, with the military party now back in full control of the government, it would be pointless military speculation that would misallocate trillions of dollars -- the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and receive "too big to fail" protection by the federal government and by the senior member of the governing coalition (the Pentagon).

At the end of the Bush years in 2008, the finance sector would again face a collapse -- not of an individual bank, a sub-industry within finance, or a hedge fund. Now it was the entire finance sector that was about to get wiped out, and nearly 10 long years after the repeal of Glass-Steagall, these Wall Street banks were much higher on the complexity scale than their Clinton-era dinosaur ancestors. In a quantum leap from LTCM, the central bank itself had to directly intervene to bail out these "too big to fail" mega-banks, except for Lehman Brothers.

But even as the big banks survived near extinction, the broader economy was still moribund. And simply slashing interest rates to 0 was not enough of an intervention. Now the central bank would purchase assets directly by the trillions of dollars (quantitative easing). And even then, it needed the other central banks of the major economies to do so as well!

The (re-)inflation of Tech Bubble 2.0, not to mention all the rest of the "everything bubble," could not have been orchestrated by just one central bank alone. That scale of intervention had already been taken out with the rescue of the mega-banks in 2008, just a few years earlier. A bigger rescue requires a bigger rescuer, meaning now a single-minded team of central banks. It was as though they had formed a single central bank for all of Planet Earth, with the Fed, ECB, BoJ, etc., serving as mere district banks within it, akin to the member banks of the Federal Reserve system, albeit with some members ranking above others, in the same way the New York Fed ranks highest in the Fed network.

So, after this everything bubble of globally synchronized growth got popped earlier in the year, who is there left to rescue it? No one -- that's who. There is no central bank of the solar system, no central bank of the Milky Way, no intergalactic central bank, and no central bank of the universe or parallel dimensions. We have reached the maximum on the scale of complexity -- globally synchronized growth, propped up by globally synchronized central banks. That's as big as big gets, leaving no one bigger to bail it out.

This history suggests that it's not so much about the scale of financial resources that could be deployed -- with fiat currencies everywhere, there is an infinite amount of cheap money that could be pumped into the failing system.

But everyone would look at that and say, "Sorry, I don't believe it." Their gut intuition is that big requires bigger to rescue it. So it's more about the social standing of each layer in the institutional pyramid. It's not so much a central bank coming to the rescue by providing money to a cash-starved bank -- it's more about the qualitative stamp of approval from a higher-ranking institution, not the quantitative amount of resources that stem from that approval.

"Credit" comes from the word for believing, in the sense of trusting -- you extend someone a loan if you believe they're good for it, and you don't if you don't believe they're good for it. When in doubt, the borrower needs someone or something to vouch for their credit-worthiness. When a bigger institution rescues a big one, it's like they're vouching for the dying one -- we think they're good for it, so we'll extend them a lifeline. That approval from a higher-up assuages the doubts of the spectators who are witnessing the crash victim.

The rescue is not "supplying liquidity to an insolvent institution," or "reducing uncertainty in a chaotic atmosphere," but reassuring the doubtful who fear the institution is worthless, as well as those who fear that one sick institution may by symptomatic of a broader underlying sickness. Nope, nothing to worry about, we higher-ranking layers of the pyramid give it our stamp of quality approval.

Following the lead of higher-ranking authorities, everyone else stops panicking about the sick institution, and extends it their own credit-worthiness. If these spectators are within the finance sector, that means being open to giving them actual funding. But if they are not financial actors, they will still extend their subjective approval, believing that health has been restored to the system, and acting accordingly.

Crucially, it is not taking it on blind "faith" -- there's an infinite supply of that, too. It may look delusional to a clear-minded observer who still sees that the patient is deathly ill, but it does have a rational basis, namely following the lead of higher-ranking authorities. In a world where value is socially constructed, an individual, a firm, an entire sector has value if the higher-ranking layers of their pyramid say it does. They are credit-worthy if their higher-ups are willing to extend them credit -- however misguided or hopeless some observer may think that extension of credit to the moribund patient to be.

As the global growth continues to melt down, it will reveal the uselessness of funds and faith. Unlike these unlimited resources, "order-of-magnitude higher-ups who can vouch for your worthiness" does have an upper limit, and it has already been reached with the global central bank network of the post-2008 era.

The popping of this bubble is not just the end of yet another business cycle, on the order of years, but the end of an entire period or regime, namely the neoliberal era, that has lasted on the order of decades. It heralds the transition in political periods that we are about to see, out of the Reagan / Thatcher / Mitterand / Craxi period, and into one dominated by populist figures akin to Bernie, Corbyn, Le Pen, and Salvini.

Just as in the last turning point of the 1970s, stagflation has returned for everyone but the 1% -- and suddenly, even their costs of living and doing business are going up, while their assets are collapsing in value. This will cause a crisis of belief in the entire neoliberal model, as shown by the rise in democratic socialism and conservative populism among the post-Boomer generations -- and not just among the masses, but among the elites themselves. Or at least, the would-be aspiring elites whom the neoliberal model has entirely failed.

Ocasio-Cortez won her shocking victory in a district full of downwardly mobile elites and frustrated aspiring elites, who live next door to the closeted Alt-Right Trump voters who also feel failed by the entire system -- and who may in fact work within the same industry as the socialists, namely tech, finance, and media.

This phenomenon was absent during previous collapses within the neoliberal era, and the fact that it has surged from seemingly out of nowhere is a clear signal that this era is ripe for realignment. And with no higher institutions left to bail out the global neoliberal order, the realigners will not have to contend with reformists and rescuers, and can get on with the business of building a whole new system in place of the collapsed old one.

October 7, 2018

Slutwalk era feminists ignoring Handmaid's Tale cosplay of Kavanaugh witch hunt

As discussed before, women on the Left whose main focus is anti-imperialism and foreign policy have largely tuned out of the circus surrounding Kavanaugh's confirmation. Men with a foreign focus held up pretty well, too, despite some reflexive anti-jock outbursts during the day of testimony from Ford and Kavanaugh.

Supposing the GOP buckled and installed some other orthodox Reaganite alum of the George W. Bush White House -- what difference would it make for mass surveillance of citizens, or unending military occupation of the entire world? Even if the GOP put some squeaky clean non-jock on the Supreme Court, it would make no difference for the agenda he would be implementing.

If his appointment truly would threaten the Reaganite status quo, he would not be included in the GOP Establishment's club of potential Supreme Court nominees, and George W. Bush would not spend whatever political capital he has left lobbying pro-choice moderates like Susan Collins to assure her that Kavanaugh is only going to work on corporate deregulation, union busting, and enhancing the spy agencies -- not that throwaway right-wing cultural stuff that the rube voters always fall for.

Aside from this group of Leftists whose focus is on big-picture material issues, what about feminists who focus only on the social-cultural domain? Shouldn't they be the most eager to enlist in this culture war where one side's position is "genocide the jock rapists"?

Strikingly, a major contingent of feminists has completely tuned out the alarming appeals to join the army against Kavanaugh -- the sex-positive, Girl Power 2.0 feminists from the Slutwalk era of the early 2010s. As with the anti-imperialists, it's not like they approve of his nomination -- they just can't be bothered to give a damn, when there are more pressing issues.

These include Anita Sarkeesian, Laci Green, Arielle Scarcella, Bria and Chrissy, Stevie Boebi, and others who got famous on YouTube and Twitter. At most, they have a few re-tweets of anti-Kavanaugh comments, maybe one or two of their own -- during the entire weeks-long saturation coverage -- and several have not commented at all.

One major exception is Cleo Stiller, who hosts a similarly themed show, but on corporate TV (Sex Right Now, on Fusion). Her Twitter feed is full of Resistard rage.

An earlier post contrasted the phases of feminism across the 15-year cultural excitement cycle, showing that this kind of sex-positive, invincible-feeling, girl-power feminism peaks during the manic phase. Most recently, that was the early 2010s, and before that the late '90s, early '80s, and late '60s.

As the cycle has collapsed into the vulnerable refractory phase, the main tendency in feminism is no longer to portray women as invincible badasses, but as pitiable prey for omnipresent male predators. This echos feminism of the early 2000s (Law & Order: SVU), late '80s (date rape, ritual sex abuse), and early '70s (all hetero sex is rape).

The trendy thing today among grassroots feminists is to dress up not as a defiant slut with skimpy clothing, but as a covered-up concubine from the Handmaid's Tale, or to otherwise strike a sexually submissive note, like wearing black tape across their mouth.

And now their main demand is for the white knight FBI to swoop in and rescue an entire population of damsels in distress, not to get out of the way of strong independent women who can handle their own business.

Five years later, the SJWs seem cute and quaint in comparison to the obnoxious mob of libs launching laughably false accusations of rape -- and serial gang rape! -- in a feeble attempt to score points for some do-nothing dipshit political party. Fretting about how girls are portrayed in video games, or how many genders there are, is innocuous in the grand scheme of things.

October 1, 2018

Dream pop music's 15-year cycle

While catching up on indie music for the first time since I resonated with it in the early 2000s, I'm struck by how similar the mood is 15 years later.

What stands out most to me is the revival of what's variously called dream pop, shoegaze, or noise pop. Repetitive riffs without an intricate melody, lack of contrast between verse and chorus (similar flow across the phrase structure), layers of sound (often distorted), hazy vocals, an overall impression of an ethereal dreamlike state, and a warm tone rather than a cold or neutral tone, either sweet or bittersweet -- not downbeat, moping, or funereal.

In fact, it sounds uplifting compared to what's going on in the mainstream during the same time period -- the vulnerable phase when everything is sad and emo.

My hunch so far is that the indie world has its own 15-year cycle of excited, withdrawn, and returning-to-neutral phases -- but that it lags behind the mainstream's timing by one full phase. I speculate that the indie people are waiting for the normies to clear out of the arena, as it were, before they put on their own show of a similar mood and tone, so that they don't overlap in zeitgeist.

That is, when the mainstream is excited, indie is returning to neutral, when the mainstream then crashes into numbness, indie takes off into excitation, when the mainstream then returns to neutral, indie crashes into numbness, and the cycle repeats.

So, the bounciest that indie or alternative music is going to get, happens right after the mainstream has already gone through that phase and has entered its refractory phase. That would be the late 2010s, the early 2000s, the late '80s, and the early '70s.

But that's a broader topic for future posts. Sticking just to the dream pop phenomenon, here are two contempo songs that could easily have been on the soundtracks for Lost in Translation and Blue Velvet, during previous instances of this phase of the cycle (the latter was fittingly included on the Twin Peaks revival of 2017, two full cycles after Blue Velvet):

Alvvays, "In Undertow" (2017)

Chromatics, "Shadow" (2015)

From the last phase that was sad and numb for the mainstream, but upbeat for the indie world, here's one from the actual Lost in Translation soundtrack, and one inspired by the Jesus and Mary Chain sound of the previous instance of this phase in the late '80s:

Death in Vegas, "Girls" (2002)

The Raveonettes, "Remember" (2003)

Now one from the actual Blue Velvet soundtrack, and one that's close enough to the late '80s, which just so happens to be a cover of a song from the previous instance of this phase in the early '70s (by Slapp Happy):

Julee Cruise, "Mysteries of Love" (1986)

Mazzy Star, "Blue Flower" (1990)

Finding counterparts from the previous instance during the early '70s is a little harder, since the sound is so associated with female vocals, and there weren't many rock bands with female singers back then. The androgynous glam rock is about as close as there is, along with the birth of Krautrock and "cosmic" music in Germany:

T. Rex, "Cosmic Dancer" (1971)

Kraftwerk, "Autobahn" (1974)