November 14, 2018

Playful banter duets for coaxing people out of their shell, in restless warm-up phase of cultural excitement cycle

The last post on sultry anthems focused on their role in the 15-year cultural excitement cycle -- announcing that girls are getting more comfortable coming out of their shell and are willing to engage the opposite sex again.

The feeling is no longer mellow, vulnerable, and withdrawn, as during the previous refractory phase. But it has not yet taken off on another manic spike. It's the restless warm-up phase, where people are transitioning from withdrawn and emo into hyper-social and invincible. They're doing warm-ups and exercises to wake themselves out of their slumber, to prepare for the real auto-pilot activity they will be doing when their energy levels spike soon.

Another aspect of that social mood is practicing flirting with each other, something they'd gotten rusty on during the emo refractory phase. They can be more spontaneous and let their guard down during their manic, invincible phase to come, but for right now, they have to spar with each other just to get back into fighting condition.

During the late 2000s, this manifested in the pickup artist phenomenon, and the accompanying female strategy of endlessly engaging in "witty banter" and shit-testing.

The natural musical form this social dynamic takes is a duet between two people who have just met, and are playfully teasing each other back and forth, usually in a call-and-response fashion. The lyrics are one line of banter after another. The rhythm is danceable, highlighting the mating-dance nature of the social setting.

These features distinguish them from other popular duet forms, such as those between couples who are already in a relationship. Those are either celebratory or melancholy in tone depending on the relationship's trajectory, and slower in tempo and lower in danceability, to suggest a couple simply embracing or looking at each other across the dinner table.

The playful banter duets pop up during each restless warm-up phase, the most recent one being the late 2000s. Several songs have elements of the form ("Hips Don't Lie," "Beep," "My Humps"), but the purest example of back-and-forth banter was already highlighted in the post on sultry anthems.

"Promiscuous" by Nelly Furtado & Timbaland (2006):



Before then, the last restless warm-up phase was the early '90s. An honorable mention goes to "Opposites Attract" by Paula Abdul, which is sung between an existing long-term couple, but does fit the rest of the criteria. Although not technically a duet since the performer raps both the male and female parts, with studio effects used to make his voice sound like a woman's, the main example from this period has some of the funniest lyrics of any rap song ever recorded, and is notable for the guy never catching a break with the girl.

"I Got a Man" by Positive K (1993):



The next restless warm-up phase before then was the late '70s disco era, although the clearest example of the form comes from a rock-oriented musical.

"You're the One That I Want" by John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John (1978):



During the early '60s, the next restless warm-up phase back in time, the same duo made two duets that fit the playful banter form. "Baby (You've Got What It Takes)" is the lesser, since it's not quite as energetic and suggestive of mating-dance rituals.

"A Rockin' Good Way (To Mess Around and Fall in Love)" by Dinah Washington & Brook Benton (1960):



And although I generally don't go back before the 1950s, for lack of a fine-grained intuition about the pre-rock era, the 15-year cycle does predict that we'd find a playful banter duet in the late '40s. Sure enough, it's probably the first one that comes to most people's minds, especially as the winter season approaches. A good theory turns up insights even where they're not expected.

"Baby It's Cold Outside" by Esther Williams & Ricardo Montalban (1949):



November 10, 2018

Sultry anthems come out of their shell during restless warm-up phase of cultural excitement cycle

While reminiscing about the decadent dance club climate of the late 2000s, I looked through the comments on YouTube videos for some of the major songs, and one phrase that kept showing up was "hoe anthem".

There are entire lists of hoe anthems out there, but they're a bit too broad, including anything where the woman is unapologetically sexual. That misses the tonal differences among them -- some are matter-of-fact, some are self-congratulatory, and others have the singer using her openness to lure in someone.

The ones I remember hearing were from the last category -- dark, sultry, and hypnotic, designed to make a connection between two people. They're not like the others that are bragging, annoying, and meant to get individuals to congratulate themselves.

As part of the restless warm-up phase of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle, the late 2000s had an atmosphere of still being somewhat withdrawn that carried over from the vulnerable emo phase of the early 2000s, yet starting to feel comfortable coming out of one's shell after the refractory period. It was not yet the next upbeat, manic and invincible phase, but people were starting to wake up, get warmed up, and train for the next spike in energy levels.

Boy-girl relations in pop culture were no longer characterized by numbness or brokenheartedness, but that was still in recent memory. These sultry anthems tend to have a minor key and a downer tone, reflecting their ambivalent state -- eager to come out of the withdrawn phase, but still somewhat anxious about it since they have not yet taken off into a hyper-social manic phase. They're not upbeat, carefree, and cheerful like manic-phase music. But they are about two people coming out of their hibernation state, and getting warmed up close together.

They have to be somewhat direct and on-the-nose with their lyrics, since they're trying to wake up someone who's been used to aloofness between the sexes during the vulnerable phase. The female singer has to convince them -- both the male and female listeners -- that that phase is over.

However, the directness of the lyrics does not take the listener out of the mood, since the delivery is sultry and seductive rather than in-your-face and aggressive, and the danceable grooves let the audience lose themselves in the rhythm, so they aren't standing around awkwardly and self-consciously.

First a quick review of some of these from the most recent restless warm-up phase of the late 2000s. These were all big on the charts, though I'm focusing more on those that were also club hits (so, none from the more radio-friendly Pussycat Dolls). Summing up the genre: sultry, dissonant electro-pop.

"Promiscuous" by Nelly Furtado (2006):



"Gimme More" by Britney Spears (2007):



"I Kissed a Girl" by Katy Perry (2008):



"LoveGame" by Lady Gaga (2009):



Before then, the last restless warm-up phase was the early '90s. Not quite as danceable as the other similar phases, but still more groovy than what else was on the charts at the time.

"I Touch Myself" by Divinyls (1990):



"Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover" by Sophie B. Hawkins (1992):



"If" by Janet Jackson (1993):



Before then, the last such phase was the late '70s -- disco. No need for further comment.

"More, More, More" by Andrea True Connection (1976):



"Hot Stuff" by Donna Summer (1979):



The next phase further back was the early '60s, so you'd expect to see these kinds of anthems then as well. However, that was before the revolution of the mid-'70s through today, of moral and economic laissez-faire (if it feels good, do it). The culture was more restrained in the '60s, so these songs aren't quite as direct and uninhibited as the later ones, but they do contrast with the weepy emo music of the late '50s (and a fair amount that carried over into the early '60s), without being as unbridled as the late '60s manic phase music.

"Heat Wave" by Martha and the Vandellas (1963):



"He's So Fine" by the Chiffons (1963):



November 6, 2018

Midterms

I've seen nothing to change my calls from March and from August that the GOP will narrowly retain control of the House and Senate, while still having a poorer showing than in recent years. To make things a little more interesting on Election Day, let's say they lose 15-20 seats on net in the House, and win 0-1 on net in the Senate.

Read those two posts for extensive historical context, drawing parallels between these midterms and those of other disjunctive, end-of-an-era administrations -- Carter, Hoover, Pierce (and Buchanan), John Quincy Adams, and John Adams.

Those posts cover the "why" as well as the "what" -- the dominant party of a historical period, such as the GOP during the Reagan era, begins and ends its disjunctive phase with full control of government, including limping across the finish line during the midterm election. Voters do not transfer control during the midterm, as is usual, because the big issues are at stake during a disjunctive phase, not the minor issues that draw attention during the regime's heyday. And the opposition does not, or cannot, campaign on these revolutionary issues during an off-year election.

Still relevant:

This year's opposition Democrats are not offering enough of a radical change to counter the escalation of militarism, the record widening trade deficits and de-industrialization, soaring numbers of cheap labor immigrants, falling real wages and deteriorating standard of living, and last-ditch inflation of the bubble economy by cutting taxes without paying for them, leading to yet another record year for our national debt. So while voters will not be pleased with the GOP's performance so far, they will not transfer power to the Democrats...

The big story is the rise of the Bernie candidates, just as 1854 saw the first-ever explosion of the realigning Republicans. They began with no one in the Senate before 1854, and picked up 3 (out of 62). And they began with only 4 in the House and ended with 37 (out of 118). Whether they're affiliated with Our Revolution, Justice Democrats, the Democratic Socialists of America, or are their own economic populist and anti-imperialist, these candidates are the clear wave of the future...

For now I'm keeping the chances of this "two disjunctive terms" scenario below 50%, but when the Democrats fail to pick up either house of Congress in the midterms, I will raise it above 50% if the psychotic centrists double down on ignoring the major issues and offering only the status quo, at a time when it is rapidly disintegrating. When the status quo was strong, during the '90s, it was feasible to offer their take on the status quo and win. But by now, Reaganism is dead, and they must offer a wholly different system -- at least as radically different as the system that Trump campaigned on in 2016.

Democrats will keep losing until they internalize what Trump ran and won on in 2016 -- a repudiation of Reaganism (neoliberalism) by the GOP's own hardcore primary voters, crossover voters, and the leading candidate himself. Wanting to close the borders and deport illegals is only one part of the broader reversal of neoliberalism, which relies on open borders for cheap labor, and return toward Progressive Era or New Deal outcomes, which both relied on closed borders to protect domestic labor against boatloads of foreign scabs (immigration peaked during the 1910s).

Almost no Republicans support restricting immigration, let alone closing the borders or deporting illegals or building a wall. With full control over government since Reagan's initial victory, they have flung the gates wide open, given amnesty to millions, and lost sleep trying to import millions more. They are about maximizing profits for labor-intensive sectors of the economy, not airy-fairy bullshit like "maintaining white supremacy". That means they need endless cheaper and cheaper labor, and that's not going to come from here, so it must come from somewhere over there. It's that simple.

The very small handful of Republicans who do support restricting immigration, however, do not come to that policy from a populist standpoint -- Steve King of Iowa does not want single-payer healthcare, soak-the-rich wealth tax to pay off the debt, de-globalizing our military, and so on and so forth, like Trump has promoted before becoming president (and getting promptly cock-blocked by the GOP Establishment). King wants the same ol' Reaganite garbage of tax cuts, deregulation, and imperialism, but he doesn't want it to go so far that "maximum profits" leads to 100 million new immigrants. Too bad, numbnuts -- that's exactly where laissez-faire and profits uber alles leads us.

To win dominant status, rather than an occasional opposition victory whose effects are fleeting, the Democrats must campaign on populism rather than elitism, and anti-globalization -- their spin on Trump's nationalism. If they refuse to adapt to the new climate of the Trump era, they will lose in 2020. No matter how minuscule Trump's accomplishments will be by then, all he has to do is say, "Hey folks, at least I'm promising the right policies of anti-globalization -- the Democrats won't even give you their word. They're promising to open the borders, send more factories overseas, and stay bogged down in the Middle East, NATO, and everywhere else."

At that point, he may even get away with the whopper he's been testing out about how it's the Democrats rather than the GOP who wants to gut Medicare and Social Security. If the Democrats refuse to campaign on single-payer, if they refuse to campaign on collective bargaining against the pharma cartels to crush the prices of drugs way down, if all they do campaign on is "protecting pre-existing conditions," then maybe voters will conclude the Dems don't actually give a shit about Medicare after all.

As of midterm Election Day, I see zero sign that the Democrats are going to try to steal Trump's own popular winning issues from him, leaving him with powerful weapons to beat the shit out of them with in just two years. It doesn't matter if he himself runs, or if he campaigns on behalf of Pence, Haley, or whoever.

I think it will take a second disjunctive, end-of-an-era term to finally break the Democrats' stubbornness and force them to do what the voters want, and shut their mouths about the fake idiotic crap that alienates 95% of the country. Otherwise, they are effectively extinct as a party.

November 2, 2018

Halloween spirit peaks during manic phase of 15-year cultural excitement cycle

Leading up to Halloween, I used to write an annual mini-series of posts on the social rituals surrounding the holiday, and how they've changed over time, from the perspective of both an observer and a participant.

Clearly I did not feel like it this year -- observing or participating -- then I realized I haven't felt like it in awhile. Going back through my archive, I notice that those posts are almost all from the manic phase of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle, the first half of the 2010s. These links are collected in an appendix.

I don't think this personal experience is idiosyncratic, since I'm an eager participant in Halloween when everyone else is -- so if I'm not, likely they are not either. And I've been an informal cultural chronicler for my adult life, whether or not I like the way things are heading at the moment. If there were still as much excitement surrounding Halloween in 2018 as there was in 2012, I would sense it.

Beyond these personal observations, during the most recent manic phase, Hollywood re-released Ghostbusters into theaters nearly every year leading up to Halloween, to help get people in the mood. Even better, at least when I caught it, they were projecting film instead of digital, as part of the general interest in all things vintage during that phase. The movie had lain dormant since its original release in another manic phase (1984), and has not been re-released during Halloween season since 2014, as we've entered the vulnerable refractory phase.

Before the early 2010s, I was also really into Halloween during the second half of the '90s, during another manic phase. I was in high school, too old to trick-or-treat, but still felt excited to participate in the traditions all the same. To get ready for handing out candy, I used to dress up in face paint or full-head masks that I made, in black and white and as close to Expressionist in style as a high schooler could manage. Then I would play whatever spooky-sounding music I was into at the time (like the Residents) out of the windows, and generally try to create a playful haunted house atmosphere so that the kids would not feel cheated on the only holiday meant for them.

This period of participation began in either '94 or '95, when my best friend and I spent Halloween pretending to be leaf-stuffed dummies on his front lawn, with a "help yourself" bowl of candy next to us. As the kids came up to get their treats, we'd rise out of our chairs to give them a good spook -- assuming their helicopter parents had not ruined the surprise already by saying, "I think those are kids under there". It was affected and comical, all in good fun, not trying to make them piss their pants.

My participation ended in '99, during my freshman year of college when I wore black tie and a top hat with a plague doctor mask, scaring the Japanese girl in our dorm to death. "Ohhh, I don't like this holiday..."

During the 2000s, though, Halloween was mostly a joke, as highlighted in the 2004 movie Mean Girls -- no longer an occasion for dressing up as something out of the ordinary and scary, but just getting a free pass to dress like an ordinary sexualized attention whore at a party. Or to dress up as a self-aware topical reference. People were being their ordinary selves (ironic hipster, pseudo-slut), not changing roles as part of a temporary carnivalesque inversion.

As for the last vulnerable and warm-up phases of the cycle before the 2000s -- the second half of the '80s and first half of the '90s -- I was too young to know whether the teenagers and young adults were more excited or less excited for Halloween than they were during the previous manic phase of the early '80s. Taking hints from pop culture portrayals, there's only one big movie outside the genre of horror / occult to feature Halloween -- The Karate Kid from '84 has a fairly long scene set at a costumed dance for the high schoolers. Must have been a pretty big deal during the new wave age.

I don't think average teenagers and young adults were as into the holiday during the late '80s and early '90s as they were back then. Toward the end of the restless warm-up phase, in '94, My So-Called Life devoted an entire episode to Halloween, focusing on its carnivalesque spirit. Watch it here. It's one of the best portrayals of the holiday's social rituals, and in a sympathetic, appreciative tone -- not overdone and fanboy-ish, nor cynical and dismissive. But that was more of a cult hit, ahead of the curve that would see popular fascination with Halloween revive during the second half of the decade.

Before the '80s, Halloween was not really a holiday for teenagers and young adults, so it's hard to tell one way or the other how much they got into the spirit across the three phases of the excitement cycle before the early '80s manic phase. I assume they were warming up to it in the late '70s restless phase, especially in the context of disco, and not in the mood at all during the refractory phase of the early '70s. If there were another period where they really resonated with it, it would have been the manic late '60s, but that was back when it was still a holiday strictly for children.

Without getting into a whole separate post about why these rituals peak during the manic phase of the excitement cycle, it seems pretty straightforward, and would seem to generalize to other holiday rituals as well, such as Christmas.

During the vulnerable refractory phase, people cannot tolerate social-cultural stimulation, and these big spectacle-sized rituals like Halloween are too much for them. It feels almost oppressive, and they prefer something low-key, if at all. As their energy levels are restored to baseline again, they're open to the spectacle-level rituals, some are experimenting with them, but they haven't really caught on broadly either. During the manic phase, these spectacles are just one of the many outlets that their all-purpose excitation is channeled into.

Appendix: Earlier posts on Halloween's social rituals

1. Schools using diversity sensitivity as an excuse to ban Halloween costumes altogether.

2. Review of scary pop culture to get your children, nieces, and nephews into the proper mood.

3. Decline of trick-or-treating phenomenon.

4. Trick-or-treating as a measure of communal cohesion.

5. Halloween's shift from communal rite of rebellion to egocentric business as usual.

6. Changes in the carnivalesque nature of Halloween, especially the shift of the main celebration to "the Saturday night before Halloween" so as to not disrupt the work week.

7. Turning Halloween into an individual status contest.

8. Grab bag of topics, including the conservative drive to banish Halloween as pagan, Satanic, etc., without wanting to replace it with something else / better.

9. Another grab bag, including the prolonging of the Halloween season to the entire month of October, preventing any spike of excitement by the time it eventually arrives, due to 30 days of habituation. (Just like Christmas.)

10. Only incidentally about trick-or-treating, but an excuse to show how romantic the landscapes used to look back in the '80s when the society had not yet come down with collective OCD, and did not rake their leaves, letting them blanket the ground.