December 27, 2019

Me Too dead: Girls resume catcalling guys

Related to a recent post on the return of girls getting touchy-feely with strangers in public spaces, I can now add to the social weather report that catcalling from girls has returned as well.

As I was walking back from the used bookstore last night, a car of girls in their late teens let out a chorus of generic horny calls -- "yeeeaaah!" "oooh!" etc. No particular words in any human language, just animalistic vocalizations. No one else was walking around, and they were not just being loud and rowdy in general, since the sounds stopped after they passed on.

While it's not as palpable as brushing against someone, it's still directly addressing them and making your feelings known. In fact, it's a bolder risk to take because it's more public of a signal -- everyone within earshot can perceive you acting all horned up, whereas no one else will be aware if you make stealthy physical contact with someone you walk by.

Even during the most recent heyday of horniness, from 2005 to 2014, getting catcalled was always far more rare than getting brushed against in stores, grinded against in a dance club, and the like. Most girls just don't have that much of an appetite for risk-taking in public.

Just as with the case of physical contact, the last time I remember being catcalled was the summer of 2015, the first year of the vulnerable refractory phase of the 15-year excitement cycle. For the next four years since -- absolute silence.

As it turns out, it was in the same shopping center where the used bookstore is. I had just gotten out of the car and was still whistling whatever song had been on ("Lady in Red," I think). Then all of a sudden, someone from a group of high school girls calls out, "heyyy cockatoooooo..." as they stride on by. She just had to work "cock" in there, the little devil.

Going over previous cycles, I don't remember being catcalled at all in college, during the emo refractory phase of the early 2000s. There's a possible case in late 2004, when I was living in Barcelona: some American girl who thought I didn't know English commented as I walked by, "Now here's one who's got that whole male model thing going on," but I think she meant that Europeans dressed hotter than Americans, not necessarily that she was horny for me.

But during the late 2000s and early 2010s, I got catcalled by my horned up students at the tutoring center, groups of late teens / early 20s girls outside of nightclubs, one of my undergrad friends who was only half-joking in tone ("And here comes the maaaaale of the species," as I entered the dining hall and she had her phone pointed at me to take a video). Even a group of MILF-y types who were camped near the sidewalk during the 4th of July in 2013 (typically older women are less hormonally crazed).

During the '90s, I do vividly recall one instance of quasi-catcall behavior. Seems like 8th grade, either the end of the warm-up phase in '94 or the start of the manic phase in '95. It was spring or summer, whichever year it was, and everyone's car windows were open. I was being driven home from somewhere, and out of nowhere some girl screams out of a moving car that's passing right by us, "Hey [agnostic's full name]! I love you!!!"

I never did find out who that was, their car was moving on too fast to see. She never approached me in school either, probably assuming that I had recognized her but did not reciprocate -- but I couldn't tell who the hell it was! Next time tell the driver to slow down so the target of your catcall can get a clear look at you.

Getting a public call like that is so rare that you never forget it, if you're a guy anyway. It still gnaws away at me that I'll never know who that cute-voiced girl was in the back of that speeding car...

No memories of catcalls from before puberty, during either the early '80s manic phase or the vulnerable late '80s phase.

But now that girls' refractory phase is wearing off, they're going to start catcalling random hot guys in public again. It won't be nearly as common as surreptitious physical contact, but it'll be present as opposed to absent, during the next decade. They're going to get restless and want to re-connect with the opposite sex again, and for some of them it'll hit them so bad they won't care if the rest of the world hears them.

As in the earlier post, the point here is to provide a social weather report. If you're not a random hot guy and won't get catcalled, don't freak out. The fact that girls have resumed catcalling and brushing against guys in public means that they're starting to leave their withdrawn emo phase of "leave me alone," "all male attention is rape," and so on and so forth. They're getting more willing to take risks and put their intentions out there -- so you should be too. They're not going to launch a #MeToo witch hunt any longer.

(Well, that is until the next vulnerable phase, beginning in 2030, but you don't have to worry about that for an entire decade.)

December 26, 2019

Cyber portrait of Aimee Terese

[Colors look brighter if you click the image, to view against a dark b.g.]

We value the refreshing messages of anti-woke Leftists like Aimee Terese, who refuses to commodify herself as an online brand or persona. But she has too much energy and personality to be ignored as a character in the online drama. It's simply too fun to resist, whether it's supporters making groyper avatars of her, or obsessed haters cosplaying as her for Halloween.

She shies away from sharing the personal, having more of a virtual presence. Photorealism would be odd for capturing an e-princess. So, something stylized to computer-world, but not cold and geometric -- bouncy and jocular, to match her mood. Primitive tech keeps the tone lighthearted -- just a mouse tracing over and filling in color on top of her avatar.

I gave the lips a smirk and the eyes a bit more of a smiling-squint. She is such a tease and an instigator. The palette plays up her sensual nature, a key part of the persona -- she's one of the few political women who isn't a dour, dead-inside feminazi.

December 18, 2019

As MeToo vulnerable phase ends, confessional songs of reckoning and reconciliation to get a new start on relationships

When the vulnerable phase of the 15-year excitement cycle comes to an end, it gives way to the restless, warm-up phase, when people are no longer in a refractory state and feel like coming out of their shells and mixing it up with other people again, particularly the opposite sex.

During the transition, there are cultural hallmarks that reflect the bridge between the two phases -- they draw upon both the old emo vulnerability as well as the new urge to move on and connect with people once more. They want closure and new beginnings.

What better way to explore these themes than to write a song about reckoning with your past relationships, and perhaps even reconciling with someone you had a falling-out with? It is a far more honest signal of being over the emo withdrawn phase if you can re-connect with someone, than to just meet someone new -- you have to swallow your pride to deal with someone you were formerly close to.

Musically, these songs reflect this theme of bridging the two social-emotional phases by drawing on aspects of both, although primarily on the vulnerable phase musical style, since there hasn't really been a new style formed for the warm-up phase when it's only the first year or so.

That means the broad sense of "dream pop" as I've been detailing over the past couple years, as characteristic of the vulnerable phase. (See here for mainstream examples, and here for indie examples.)

The features of dream pop are a slow tempo, and multiple layers of repetitive drone-like "voices," whether human or instrumental. Harmonies (relaxing) over melodies (stimulating). The singing has an ethereal timbre. These features give it the subjective quality of being lulled into a meditative trance, and floating through an other-worldly space, where the multiple voices provide a rich array of distinct "textures" to the place, making the exotic dream-world feel palpable and relatable, akin to a lucid dream.

Anything with too much of a danceable or body-moving beat is excluded. The feel here is a passive rather than an active trance.

A recent post looked at vestiges of this style lasting into the restless warm-up phase. But the current look is different -- it's not late examples of a bygone style, it's transforming it to reflect the change of phases.

While the instrumental traits are largely carried over, the vocal delivery is totally different -- soulful and energetic, not collapsing or sighing (the background vocals may be sighs, though). Concrete and forceful, not ethereal and wispy. It's belting out a raw confession, wide awake, directly addressing a target -- not drowsily droning your way through a detached stream-of-consciousness exercise to yourself. And rhythmically, there is more of a simple but forceful beat that picks up, signaling the willingness to get out of bed from under your pile of emotional security blankets, and start moving your body already.

As the current vulnerable phase ends, we can expect to get hit by a few songs like these during the early 2020s. MeToo is over, and girls are going to want to connect, and re-connect, with guys for the first time in a long while. That will require a clearing of the air, getting rid of the "all male attention is rape" bad vibes that have infected the social atmosphere since about 2015.

Before conducting the survey over time, the purest example to study is "Nothing Compares 2 U" by Sinead O'Connor from 1990, as the late '80s emo phase was giving way to the restless early '90s phase. I'll only dissect this one song, but you'll see similar things in the others as well.

It opens with droning string layers, at a mellow tempo -- so familiar to those accustomed to the emo phase, that it sets off a cascade of dream pop stereotypes we expect to be fulfilled. Then a single bare vocal -- hmmm, not the usual vocal harmonies -- that is pained in a familiar way from the emo phase, but now strangely more melodic and pointed, woken up. After nearly a minute of this somewhat familiar set-up, we're hit with an entirely new kind of beat from out of nowhere -- a simple alternation between bass and snare hits, yet it's unavoidably body-moving, not letting us wallow in our dreamy emo state any longer. At the same time, the vocal builds slowly toward a crescendo, which feels even more tense because we're not expecting any kind of rollercoaster ride during a droning dream pop song.

In the second verse, they introduce sighing background vocals to bring us back into the familiar dream pop layered sound, all while the main vocal grows more soulful and restless, unlike what we're used to. The string layers continue into a solo, along with the sighing background vocals. The final verse is like the second, only now even more tenacious and clingy, not crestfallen and resigned, and with outbursts in volume rather than a uniformly mellow level like the typical dream pop vocal. After the final refrain crescendo, there's a lengthy outro in the usual layered style. In this case, it's serving as a denouement after a climax, whereas in a vulnerable-phase dream pop song, it would've been that way consistently all along, as part of the lazy river ride experience to lull you into a slumber.

This transformation of the dream pop style, along with the new lyrical themes of reckoning with the past, coming to some kind of reconciliation, perhaps re-connecting with a former partner, or giving a strained relationship a fresh honest start, mark a decisive end of the vulnerable refractory phase of the excitement cycle, and the transition into the restless warm-up phase.

For the survey, we'll start with the most recent warm-up phase, the late 2000s, after all that mopey withdrawn emo stuff from the early 2000s. (All examples made the Billboard year-end Hot 100 charts, showing how much they resonated with audiences at the time.) The first example was technically released on album during the final year of the vulnerable phase, in 2004, but was delayed being released as a single for over 7 months, in 2005, probably because it didn't quite match the mood of 2004, and needed the start of the warm-up phase to catch on as broadly as it did. The second example came a little late into the phase -- usually they're right there at the bridge moment -- but shows the unmistakable signs of this type, from the heavy droning organ intro, to the simple body-moving beat, to the soulful raw-energy vocals.

"You're Beautiful" by James Blunt (2004)

"Bleeding Love" by Leona Lewis (2007)

From the early '90s warm-up phase, we've already covered the first example in detail. The second was a one-hit wonder, but it served its purpose at the time, moving out of the mopey and resigned phase of the emo late '80s, to a mood of making amends and turning over a new leaf.

"Nothing Compares 2 U" by Sinead O'Connor (1990)

"One More Try" by Timmy T (1990)

Coming right after a year considered one of the worst in pop music ever -- 1974, the capstone of the early '70s vulnerable schmaltzy phase -- there was suddenly a whole new take on the moody R&B genre, now more unabashedly high-energy and shedding the awkward self-consciousness of just a few years earlier. The second example rivals "Nothing Compares 2 U" for its mixture of droning moody instrumental layers from dream pop, with the soulful, urgent, hopeful vocal and simple forceful beat. Here, it's not so much a reconciliation with a specific person, but with his entire past -- and he's addressing a higher cosmic force, rather than a specific person, to deliver him into an exciting new hopeful state of being.

"Misty Blue" by Dorothy Moore (1975)

"Dream Weaver" by Gary Wright (1975)

Finally, from the early '60s warm-up phase, both examples come from a teenager who made this style her trademark. Doo-wop from the emo late '50s was moody, slow, and heavily harmonized with vocal layers. Early '60s doo-wop became more energetic and outgoing, but these newer groups (Italian, not black) did not provide the transition songs. Instead they came from the white version of moody emo music -- country -- only now with more impassioned vocals, and lyrical themes about closure and reconciliation rather than droning along in a limbo state of unhappiness.

"I'm Sorry" by Brenda Lee (1960)

"Break It To Me Gently" by Brenda Lee (1962)

December 15, 2019

Leftoid polarizers thwart realignment in UK; workers punish Labour, not defect to Tories

In a recent post before the UK snap election was called, I detailed how a populist realignment must take place in Britain and Europe. Populists and economic nationalists from the major economies must rise to power, and extend each other favorable terms for unwinding the EU (and possibly NATO, on the separate but related track of military spending).

That was in response to an episode of the What's Left podcast, where they explained how the British are in no bargaining position to extract a favorable "leave" deal from the EU. That is only true until other crucial nations within the EU become overtaken by Eurosceptic parties -- of which the Labour party in the UK was supposed to be the second domino to fall, after Salvini in Italy. The French are ready to elect someone like Le Pen in the coming decade, so that would make the three largest economies in the EU aside from Germany -- which will never take part in a Eurosceptic insurgency, since they are by far the greatest beneficiaries of the EU and NATO system.

But I tempered that analysis with some uncontroversial observations about how willing the various partners in a realignment are to form a whole new dominant coalition. Partisan polarization is so intense these days, in all countries, that it would likely be delayed.

Plus, the upcoming economic depression has not occurred just yet, as the central bank of the US has resumed printing money to hand out to the elites, by the hundreds of billions (quantitative easing). Realignments require an economic catalyst, which makes even the elites wake up and take notice of how crumbling the system has become, and in need of a re-building.

There were national elections scheduled in Britain and France for 2022, so it would have to wait at least until then. (Clearly the Democrats will lose 2020 here, and realignment will wait until 2024 at the earliest.) With an election called early, in 2019, it goes without saying that the realignment would not take place, and the dominant party (Conservatives in the UK) would continue on in their ineffectual disjunctive phase of the regime cycle.

That's exactly what happened, to nobody's surprise if they read this blog. I didn't pay attention to any of the polling either, although that confirmed the analysis. If you listened to any left podcast other than What's Left (and perhaps a few others I'm unaware of), you were clueless. Especially if you followed Chapo Trap House -- utterly deluded about the possibility of a Labour victory, just cheerleading for their side rather than clearly analyzing the situation.

Still, delayed realignment is one thing, and total annihilation is another. By making the central distinctive goal of their campaign the reneging of the Brexit referendum, Labour might as well have not campaigned at all. They would've saved some face with the working class in de-industrialized regions, particularly the British Rust Belt of the West Midlands, who have had their material living standard destroyed by economic globalization and mass immigration. (Those are two sides of the same coin -- foreigners willing to work for less than Britons, whether they work abroad in an off-shored factory, or on British soil as immigrants.)

Those de-industrialized workers voted overwhelmingly Leave on the referendum, and their supposed patrons in the Labour party decided to reject the will not only of the nation, but even of their own party members! They courted the economic elites, who benefit from the cheap labor that globalization and immigration deliver, but they forgot how to count (typical lib arts majors). There will never be enough professionals to outnumber workers in a head count, which a major national referendum comes close to being. Wealth, influence, prestige -- yes, but not in a head count. The vote cast by a member of the media elite in London does not receive greater weight than that cast by a former auto manufacturing worker in Birmingham (Northfield).

When voters receive such a flagrant slap in the face, they will repay that disrespect the only way that they can -- by humiliating their party with the worst loss in nearly a century. Increasingly the bottom 80% of society have nothing left to lose, so their fortunes will not change massively if the Conservatives hold on to power for another several years. And while the party apparatchiks will never be penniless, their fortunes do change a great deal depending on how much power they have at the time. When one side has the leverage and the least to lose, the other side had better accede to their demands.

That clarifies the interpretation of this historic win for the Conservatives -- it is a temporary illusion, lasting as long as the de-industrialized workers decide they are not being taken seriously by Labour about these major issues. At the end of a regime cycle, there are seemingly historic gains for the dominant party that appear to cement its reign forever. I don't know enough British electoral history, but in the US, Jimmy Carter won back the South, which had not voted Democrat since 1960; Herbert Hoover poached Texas from the Solid South Democrats; and James Buchanan won the Whig strongholds of Kentucky and Tennessee. And yet in the very next election, these disjunctive parties got wiped out by Reagan, FDR, and Lincoln, who ushered in entirely new regimes.

Once Labour jettisons its economic globalist and social-cultural woketardism, the Rust Belt workers will happily vote again for Labour -- as will legions of those who have been voting Conservative for awhile now, and who can only look at the destruction of their society as the result. Much like the economic populists, or the social conservatives, who vote Republican during the Reagan era in the US -- it was the Thatcherites and Reaganites, not the quasi-socialists of the 1950s, who opened the borders and deregulated all of our social and cultural practices.

The result will be not just a fleeting win for Labour, as under Blair, but a rearrangement of the electoral coalitions, ushering in a new era in which Labour will become the dominant rather than opposition force in government.

As mentioned in that earlier post, this requires parts of the Right to defect to the Left in countries where the neoliberal era has been dominated by the Right -- the Anglo-Atlantic countries. But there is a whole 'nother group of countries where neoliberalism has been dominated by the Left -- the Mediterranean, and the Anglo-Pacific nations of Australia and New Zealand. There, it is parts of the Left who must defect to a new populist Right.

That's why our anti-woke Left princess Aimee Terese is so tolerant toward the populist, anti-globalization Right -- she's Mediterranean by blood, and Aussie by nationality. If she wants a society resembling the Midcentury egalitarian paradise, that will be overseen by a Right dominant party in Australia. She would belong to the opposition Left in that new era, but in order to get to such a world, she'll have to team up with the anti-neoliberal Right in order to leave behind this world, where the Left has been the dominant neoliberal party Down Under.

Her counterparts closer to her ancestral homeland -- Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and France -- will do likewise. Salvini has already struck a bargain to welcome former Left voters into his Right coalition by agreeing to a huge wealth transfer from the prosperous North to the poor South (the citizen's income), contradicting his party's former history of wanting secession for the rich North. Le Pen will pursue something similar to get Left voters to join her, and whoever the Australian Le Pen / Salvini is, will offer the same to get the Aimee Terese's on board with a realigned party system.

In the meantime, the partisan polarizers must be minimized as much as possible. Bernie should not be competing for wokies' votes, but to steal away the white social conservatives who have left him for Biden (the white professionals are lost permanently to Warren, Buttigieg, etc., and blacks are locked in for the machine candidate Biden). Just as Trump won on a message of "only I can win enough of the other side's voters," so should Bernie be pushed to campaign on "only I can win Trump voters -- and if you feel allergic to them, tough shit, they're just as American as we are."

Bernie of course is not doing that now, and will not be doing that next year. But that's how it must work. So far, the only visible signal of hope for realignment is the aloha goddess Tulsi, but in order for her -- or someone similar -- to have something to build off of, Bernie needs as strong of a showing as possible. Bernie then would be the John C. Fremont to Tulsi's Abraham Lincoln.

December 11, 2019

With MeToo dead, girls getting flagrantly frisky in public places

Over the past couple months, I've experienced a major shift in how girls behave in public places toward guys -- random hot guys, at any rate. During the MeToo era of the last several years, their public flirtation level has fallen off a cliff, still willing to make eye contact, follow me around a store, giggle and do cute things among their friends in order to get attention -- but not establish physical contact.

That was a huge change from roughly 2005 to 2014, when it was common for them to come right up and say "you're cute / so hot / etc," brush against me as we walked by each other, or press their hips / shoulders into mine while sitting on public transportation. Deliberate initiation of physical contact between strangers. And that's not to mention how they behaved in dance clubs -- I'm only talking about ordinary public places with no expectation of flirtiness.

The last time I remember frequently getting brushed against in public was the summer of 2015, the first year of the current vulnerable refractory phase of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle. One last hurrah of horniness before the broad MeToo sentiment began to set in. It's not as though people had stopped having sex altogether, but their levels of public touchy-feeliness toward cute strangers had crashed into a hangover state. I can recall maybe one instance per year since 2016 of some girl brushing against me in a store.

Until the past couple months, as the vulnerable phase winds down, and the restless warm-up phase begins in 2020.

First, although it wasn't direct contact, it was a level of blatant hormone-mania that I hadn't felt in public for years. I was taking a walk around a park, and after descending a hill, there was a group of three teenagers who were absent-mindedly playing on some playground thing while chatting with one another. As they saw me walk by, they went dead silent, and hopped right off in order to tag along about 10-15 feet behind me on the walking path, giggling and competing to see who could talk the cutest / loudest. They're so unaware of how obvious they're behaving, it's so cute and adorable.

Then just last week, there were two cases almost one day after the other, both in ordinary retail stores. Both teenagers again. One was a blue-haired indie chick who was walking with her friend in my direction for a good 30 feet down a wide aisle, then shifting to brush against me as she passed by, she and her friend giggling most of the time. This is probably someone who was SJW-posting just 2-3 years ago.

The next was a more typical girl-next-door cutie who was out with a group of friends (late high school or college). When she first made eye-contact she had a deer in headlights look, before composing herself. She walked slowly in order to prolong the contact, and I gave her a good pressing back with my arm -- not a push or shove, just giving her some pressure back with my forearm as she rubbed her body against it, to make her feel desired too.

A night or so after that, a group of teenagers had just entered the supermarket and barreled toward me, five or six standing abreast just in case I felt like dodging them. But the girl on the end who they were pressuring to brush against me (by all shifting in my direction) chickened out at the last moment and cut in front of the rest of her friends to narrowly avoid contact. No hard feelings from me, she's just less horny than her friends. Whoever's idea it was, should have moved to the end in order to do it herself, but that would have been too obvious of a signal and made her look desperate.

The damnedest thing is that this has all occurred during fall-winter, not even during the mating season when you might expect it.

In these cases, it's not as though we exchanged phone numbers, hooked up, or whatever. It's the fact that public horned-up behavior from girls toward their targets has started to surge recently. This is more of a social weather report. The winter of MeToo has begun to give way to the springtime of the next restless warm-up phase of the excitement cycle. And if the late 2000s are any indication, girls are about to get a lot hornier in public.

Thinking back over previous cycles, I don't remember much public horniness in college, which was the vulnerable phase of the early 2000s. In fact, I remember the same emo, anti-horny, "everyone's going to stalk or rape me if I leave my room" mood as we've been living through for the past nearly 5 years. But I remember very blatant physical contact initiated by girls during middle school (early '90s warm-up phase) and high school (late '90s manic phase). I don't recall much of it from most of elementary school (late '80s vulnerable phase). But during the early '80s manic phase, in pre-school or daycare, one of my most vivid early memories is during what was supposed to be naptime, a girl peeking out from under a tablecloth, waving me over to join her under the table, and then inviting me to show her mine and she'll she me hers. Good ol' 1984...

I think teenagers and girls in their early 20s are the most reliable indicators for this social weather report because their hormone levels are generally off the charts, and they are incapable of hiding their feelings from others. If they're horny, you'll know it -- and if they're not, you'll know that too. Their signals are very honest. Somewhat older women may have lower hormone levels to begin with, and even if they have high levels, they're better at disguising that from public awareness -- they only want their target to know, not the entire world.

December 10, 2019

Childhood nostalgia making a comeback, as hangover phase of cultural cycle ends

Lately I've noticed young people getting spontaneously nostalgic for elements of their childhood, mainly in thrift stores where old things can trigger their memories. I've been regularly visiting these stores for years, and this is the first time I remember such a deluge of instances.

I don't mean they're marveling at things from the past -- getting nostalgic in general. I mean, the feeling of sifting through a bunch of your old things and remembering what they were, what role they played in your childhood, and so on. The feeling of connection with the past, at a personal and specific level.

These were all groups of Millennials in their late teens or early 20s. The objects of nostalgia were the Y2K scare (reading some book or magazine that mentioned it), a particular kind of Barbie doll, and a certain style of shoes.

As I detailed in a pair of old posts here and here, Millennials had sheltered childhoods due to their helicopter parents, so most of their memories are of mass mediated pop culture rather than material things -- and certainly not material things that involved going outdoors, hanging out in public spaces, and interacting socially with peers.

So, it's nice to see a few exceptions to that trend, once they visit thrift stores full of material things rather than entertainment media. They still don't have memories of public spaces and playing with friends IRL, but at least they remember the toys and clothing of their childhood -- something that is typically absent on their lists of "things only '90s / 2000s kids will understand" (invariably a bunch of autistic internet technology shit).

The main point, though, is not what the qualitative nature of their nostalgia is, but its quantitative rising and falling pattern over time. During the current vulnerable, refractory phase of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle, they -- and everyone else -- have been suffering from a hangover after the nostalgia-thon of the late 2000s and early 2010s (the restless, warm-up phase and the manic phase). But now that the vulnerable phase has less than a month left to go, they're starting to transition out of their hangover.

As a pop culture documentarian, I first started writing occasional nostalgic posts in 2007, though it didn't really kick off until 2009, reaching a peak from 2010 to 2012. That was when I discovered the link between rising-crime times and outgoing social moods and wild culture (the defining features of a 1980s childhood), vs. falling-crime times and cocooning moods and low-key culture (1990s to present).

I have to admit, though, to suffering from the same hangover as everyone else for the past several years. Again, referring to personal nostalgia rather than a generalized, distant appreciation for what came before today. But I think I'm ready for a '90s nostalgia revival, as the cycle shifts into the warm-up and manic phases, repeating the two '90s phases. The main nostalgia-feelers are going to be 25-34, which means Millennials, so they'll be reflecting on the '90s for childhood memories, and not the late 2000s or early 2010s.

Some of them even felt a childhood nostalgia wave during the last warm-up phase, the late 2000s, even though they were still teenagers. Not to get all meta-nostalgic, but does anyone else remember this ancient viral YouTube video from 2008 of some girl showcasing the heavily retro items lying around her house?

The second half of the 2000s was also when the "retro video game" phenomenon exploded, primarily the YouTube videos of the Angry Nintendo Nerd. Since video games are a mass media product, I can see Millennials getting even more into a repeat of that pattern, reliving the original PlayStation and N64 era. Make it Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis, and they'll hook in the late Gen X-ers as well. Again, not some distant appraisal of earlier eras of pop culture, but directly reliving your own childhood experiences.

Hopefully the popularity of thrift stores will keep Millennials somewhat grounded in the physical world, as they become susceptible again to nostalgia, and we won't have to hear too much about which Disney movie or which Nickelodeon show was better than which other one.

December 8, 2019

As MeToo dies, look for reincarnation of "Don't Wanna Fall in Love" by Jane Child

An earlier post looked at key songs that heralded the end of the vulnerable, refractory phase of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle, going back to the late 1950s, as it transitioned into the restless, warm-up phase when people start to come out of their shells and mix it up together again.

The song featured from the current vulnerable phase was "Sweet But Psycho," which brought to mind "Buffalo Stance" from the end of the late '80s vulnerable phase. Turns out they're both in the same key -- D-flat major. The major key is a crucial detail, since dance music during the vulnerable phase tends to be overwhelmingly dissonant and minor-key.

There's an even better example of the cusp of the late '80s / early '90s transition, though I didn't realize since it was released as a single in April 1990, despite being released on the album in September 1989. (I go by first release in any format.) It was also a dance hit, and as it turns out, also composed in D-flat major.

It's far more upbeat than the late '80s freestyle sound, although it's still a bit ambivalent about coming out of one's shell. She's scared of letting go and just connecting with somebody, but it's thrilling at the same time -- a clear signal that the refractory phase was ending.

And the rhythm is more simplified, not as start-and-stop or herky-jerky as the freestyle sound was -- something that anyone can get out and dance to without fear of looking awkward. Reminder from the original post on the warm-up phase that simplified dance crazes are hallmarks of the phase, making it easy for everyone to come out of their shells and interact playfully with the opposite sex.

"Don't Wanna Fall in Love" by Jane Child (1989)

Now that the current vulnerable phase is ending, look for the reincarnation of this song in the post-MeToo era. It could have already been released on an album last fall, but just hasn't come out as a single because they're afraid it's too upbeat and socially connecting, putting it out of place among its emo "let me hide under a pile of blankets" peer songs. Musicians have been mining the late '80s more than the early 2000s for recent vulnerable-phase influences to channel, so it may sound more similar to Jane Child than you'd think.

December 3, 2019

Snakefinger: Disco-blues-rock Expressionism

While most avant-garde cultural production is too cerebral and conceptual to make good art -- which is fundamentally corporeal and immediately arresting of the senses -- there are exceptions, both individuals and sub-groups within the broader movement.

Beginning with the counter-culture of the late 1960s and early '70s, several musicians founded a new avant-garde for the rock era, first Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart, later joined by the Residents. None of this music could be played in a dance club, whether rural or cosmopolitan, and get the bodies of the crowd moving along in fascination. And it's hard to find fans of it who didn't attend Ivy League or elite lib arts colleges.

Music and dance are as interconnected as the senses of smell and taste. Songs that don't provoke a body-movement response are like some strange food that only pleased the nose, without making the mouth water or getting the taste buds excited, and that you not only did not eat -- but that was explicitly intended not to be eaten. What the hell kind of "meal" is that, then?

The dance scene, as the '70s wore on, was dominated by disco. Some groups were eager to mix disco with earlier counter-cultural approaches, such as Talking Heads, but these were mainline rock groups first, with avant-garde pretensions coming second.

What about the members of the avant-garde itself -- was no one willing to incorporate mainstream disco danceability into their counter-cultural project? In fact, there was a fellow traveler of the Residents -- an actual, skilled musician -- who distinguished himself by making body-moving music whose roots were in the counter-culture: Snakefinger.

Distorted, moody blues rock from the glam phenomenon, surreal and fantastical lyrics from the psychedelic heyday, shamanic guitar solos of the then-current rock gods era -- these could all appeal to introverts, druggies, lib arts students, and guys. What set Snakefinger's music apart from the Beefheart / Zappa approach was the danceable grooves that opened up the avant-garde's appeal to extroverts, normies, girls, and people who don't need drugs but music-and-dance in order to achieve altered states.

Not that his music ever hit it bigtime, but if you were to play anyone connected to the Seventies avant-garde to a normal person, he would enjoy the greatest resonance, hands down. Indeed, sub-cultural types look at him as at best an also-ran in the weirdness contest, and at worst a traitor -- someone who deliberately tried to court the normies with danciness. Someone who didn't want to keep the avant-garde weird enough. See this overview of his music, for example.

True rule-benders enjoy the carnivalesque appeal of dance, though, bringing together people from all sorts of backgrounds, as long as they're willing to temporarily submit their individual autonomy to the superorganism of the club-crowd, moving along to the same melody with the same rhythm. Keeping a movement insular, on the other hand, reflects a puritanical undercurrent.

But far from cheapening the counter-cultural attitude to appeal to mainstream audiences, Snakefinger's music spoke to their feelings of dread, anxiety, and alienation. It was a dizzy, evocative portrayal of the topsy-turvy times -- not a celebration or encouragement of deviance and disorder per se, unlike the anarchic attitudes that pervade the avant-garde.

In this way, his music had a heavy Expressionist character to it, and in fact there was a neo-Expressionist revival surging in the visual art world at the same time (late '70s, early '80s). Several older posts detailed the rise of such art movements across two waves of rising-crime times, roughly the '60s - '80s and the 1900s - '20s. See especially this post for its quoting of contemporary sources that reflected how novel and exciting it was to see Expressionism make a comeback after all the boring cerebral stuff from the falling-crime Midcentury art scenes. (See also here, here on Art Deco, and here on Fauvism).

You might raise Kraftwerk as another exception to the trend of '70s avant-gardists avoiding dance music like the plague. That's fair enough, but they're really more Art Deco than Expressionist or Fauvist -- not as wild, primitive, fever-stricken, and desperately yearning for an end to their alienation. And by the time they were making danceable music, they were no longer members of the experimental or avant-garde scene, and had broken into mainstream distribution channels.

That makes Snakefinger sui generis, although there is an interesting crossover between the two, as he covered "The Model", which sounds like the soundtrack to a Kirchner street scene, and thus better than the original in rendering the ideas.

Below are links for listening to his first two albums, which embody the unique mixture detailed above, along with three embedded videos per album to showcase the variety of his output. After these two albums, he returned to a more purely experimental sound, then incorporating jazz, without leavening it with the disco-friendly grooves of his "hits," as it were.

* * * * *

Chewing Hides the Sound (1979)

Playlist and single video

"The Model"

"Here Come the Bums"

"I Love Mary"

* * * * *

Greener Postures (1980)

Playlist and single video

"The Man in the Dark Sedan"

"I Come from an Island"

"Living in Vain"

* * * * *

Before he returned to the purely avant-garde, Snakefinger released a new song for a compilation of his early music, which retains the funky, groovy, blues-y beat of that style:

"I Love You Too Much To Respect You" from Against the Grain (1983)

November 29, 2019

Dream poppiest movie theme: Planes, Trains and Automobiles, to distinguish it as a dramedy

In the next of an ongoing series on the rise of dream-like pop music during the vulnerable, refractory phase of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle, let's have a listen to the most dream poppy movie theme of all time.

If enough of your family are Gen X-ers, you've made it a tradition to watch this movie every year at Thanksgiving -- Planes, Trains and Automobiles. This came from the all-time peak of dream pop as a mainstream phenomenon, the second half of the '80s (as detailed here). The original (also used in the movie) is from '86, while the more heavily featured instrumental remix is from '87.

"Modigliani (Requiem Mass)" by Book of Love (1987)

Although Top Gun from '86 does showcase the dream pop anthem "Take My Breath Away," its main theme is the less layered, faster-paced, melody-over-harmony rock song "Danger Zone". Planes, Trains and Automobiles also uses a dream poppy instrumental version of "Power to Believe" by the Dream Academy (1987):

Why such a dreamy soundtrack for a fast-paced comedy movie? During the action-driving scenes, they play the rollicking melody of "Red River Rock". But this movie is a dramedy, requiring those key moments of reflection, moodiness, and vulnerability. That's when you need the multiple layers of sighing and droning voices to wash over your mind and carry it away on a lazy river ride, to give it the proper tranquility to come to an epiphany.

November 24, 2019

Bernie a member of the class-reductionist dance crew

Videos are circulating on Twitter of Bernie dancing carefree with fellow attendees of a labor solidarity event in New Hampshire. How refreshing to see from the Left.

This could not possibly have taken place in an intersectional space, since now everyone knows what a DSA convention looks and feels like -- a crushing, joyless, humorless, brutally cerebral, anti-corporeal scold-o-rama. No clapping! No loud noises! No strong scents! No touching of any kind without continuous affirmative consent! No talking without adhering to a million micro speech codes! No friendly informal addresses like "hey guys"!

It had to be some place where normies congregate in order to tackle real, material problems facing the entire collective -- labor unions, churches, local schools, anything but an incestuous narrow clique of weirdos making a culture war of foisting their individual deviances onto the collective.

The cerebral radlibs at Current Affairs -- who have been concern-trolling Bernie throughout his campaign to "keep socialism weird" -- are trying to obfuscate about the Left promoting dancing, when they're the number one social pressure against corporeality in general and boy-girl touching in particular. "The man leading the woman's physical movements? Uh yikes, violation of her autonomy much?"

From a comment I left to a recent post on the topic of dance music, corporeality, and the puritanical Left:

The real sexual repression in 2019 is not from Christian fundamentalists toward gay furries, but from irony-poisoned leftoids toward thicc-booty cuties who just want to get their groove on.

"Trance-inducing dance music -- yikes, horny on main much?" Shut the fuck up puritan. You're just jealous that your nerdy little body has no rhythm (you're bad in bed).

Dancing is not going to the opposite extreme, though, of slutting it up in defiance of the horny police (whether on the left or right). It's corporeal, even ritualistically sexual, but not actually sexual. It channels the libido and allows for catharsis after the night is over, all without having to "have sex".

The volcels have already promoted weightlifting and exercise -- now it's time for them to reclaim dancing in order to live a proper full life, neither puritanical nor debauched.

Current Affairs has also got the nature of dance completely backward, framing it as something that is liberating of the individual, when it is fundamentally a subordinating of your very bodily motions to something beyond yourself -- the rhythm -- and having your movements bound up with those of another person, whether you're dancing one-on-one or within an entire group, as in a circle dance.

Dance is part of a broader class of kinesthetic activities that are designed to de-individuate the participants and promote group cohesion, along with military drills and marches, the wild movements of a spirit possession cult, "the wave" and "stomp stomp clap" to "We Will Rock You" among a team's fans in a sports stadium, and so on and so forth.

Far from heightening an individual's autonomy, they are about surrendering self-control to the will of the superorganism. That's why every liberal individualist who makes up 99% of the current Left feels awkward and downright frightened when they find themselves in such a situation. "It was so fashy, all those normies pressuring me to join their mindless mob!" In contrast to these SJW-ists, true socialism (populism) demotes the individual values of liberty, autonomy, etc. since they conflict with solidarity, cohesion, and other interpersonal and collective values.

That's why there was a more thriving collectivist dance culture during the Great Compression / New Deal era -- from the Jazz Age and swing, to disco, new wave, and Latin freestyle / breakdancing -- unlike today's thoroughly neoliberal culture of posting videos of you dancing by yourself to the internet for virtual validation. Today is terrifyingly like the first Gilded Age of atomized laissez-faire subjects joylessly watching exploited sex workers dance on stage in some fin-de-siecle red light district.

During these dark days of the second Gilded Age, would-be realigners must always keep the focus on making populism or socialism both fun-loving and normie-friendly, and prevent the scolds and weirdos from hijacking any mass movement. The proto-socialism of the Midcentury resulted in wholesomeness, not degeneracy, which was instead the result in the libertarian Gilded Age. We can still see that legacy in the labor solidarity dance with an old-school socialist, and we ought to follow his lead.

November 18, 2019

Dream pop vestiges in the post-emo phase, across 4 waves of the cultural excitement cycle

Earlier posts here and here have detailed the regular appearance of dream pop music during the vulnerable phase of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle.

The features of dream pop are a slow tempo, and multiple layers of repetitive drone-like "voices," whether human or instrumental. Harmonies (relaxing) over melodies (stimulating). The singing has an ethereal timbre. These features give it the subjective quality of being lulled into a meditative trance, and floating through an other-worldly space, where the multiple voices provide a rich array of distinct "textures" to the place, making the exotic dream-world feel palpable and relatable, akin to a lucid dream.

Anything with too much of a danceable or body-moving beat is excluded. The feel here is a passive rather than an active trance.

However, the disappearance of this style is not day-and-night during the restless warm-up phase that follows. There's still a lone hold-out for the style, even as the emo mood has gone away, now that people are no longer in a refractory period where they just want to be left alone and float off into a cozy dreamscape. And since the hallmark of the restless warm-up phase is a new-found craze for dancing, some of these dream pop hold-outs now actually do have something of a beat to them, albeit not as much as the disco-friendly songs of their time.

So, to round out our look into the cycles of dream pop, let's look at these hold-outs. They appear during the first or second year of the restless warm-up phase -- they don't drag the style all the way through the phase, but just over the boundary line. And there really is just one example per phase, plus maybe an honorable mention -- they're vestiges.

As we close out the current vulnerable phase in 2019, we can still expect an ethereal spacey hold-out for 2020 or '21, in the vein of "Never Be the Same" by Camila Cabello.

To see what particular type of dream pop these ones are developing from, see the earlier posts, especially the one on mainstream hits. The following were all entries on the year-end Billboard charts, though dated by their year of initial release (on either an album or single).

"My True Story" by the Jive Five (1961)

Keeping the flame alive for the moody, harmony-heavy type of doo-wop from the late '50s, even as the mainstream was shifting toward a more upbeat, energetic type focused on just one singer.

"I'm Not in Love" by 10cc (1975)

The soft rock heyday of the first half of the '70s was already over, shifting radically into the disco age. But not without one last spacey soundscape more at home in the early '70s. This is the purest example of dream pop lasting beyond the vulnerable phase -- no disco-friendly beats to accommodate it to the new restless warm-up phase, just zillions of layers of ethereal sighing vocals.

"Sadeness" by Enigma (1990)

New Age mania of the late '80s had peaked, but give the style a more danceable beat, and it could last another year into the neo-disco environment of the early '90s.

"Say It Right" by Nelly Furtado (2006)

As with the previous song, just giving a basic dance beat to a dream pop song could make it catch on in a phase that had mostly left behind the emo-ness of the early 2000s. Honorable mention goes to "Speed of Sound" by Coldplay, but the Nelly Furtado song has more vocal layers, each having a more ethereal timbre as well, the voices and instruments are less melodic / more droning, and the overall tone is more enigmatic, moody, and New Age-y than the Coldplay song.

November 12, 2019

Snow Day tribute to Tulsi d'Arc

On this first heavy snow day of the season, a music video that concentrates so much evocative wintry on-location footage, both interior and exterior, into just a few minutes. The music is part of the folk revival that appears during the manic phase of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle.

I imagine Tulsi Gabbard in the role, however strange that may seem for an aloha-state babe, since she's a literal member of the military. But you could also indulge your figurative side and imagine Aimee Terese, Anna Khachiyan, or Angela Nagle playing the honor-bound woman martyred during a war for the entire nation (not just some inbred little faction).

"Maid of Orleans" by OMD (1981)

November 10, 2019

Alison Balsam's dance mixtape for depressive cerebrals, to block out their self-consciousness and let the music take over their body

An intriguing character from the not-so-woke Left is Alison Balsam (@foolinthelotus on Twitter). Her persona is a depressive, cerebral wordplayer whose disillusionment with horniness is leading her to becoming a spinster (volcel). Although not-so-woke, she attracts followers from the liberal and radlib parts of the Left because the online Left's fundamental shared trait is mental illness of one kind or another -- so someone who makes depression central to their persona is bound to have broad appeal among leftists.

I use the word "persona" because there are times when she breaks character and we get to see her passionate and corporeal side. It's not often, but regular enough to know that it's a core part of who she is, always stirring beneath the surface. This makes her unlike the depressive leftoids who just whine and rage all day long, and whose light moments only amount to numb, mumbling sarcasm. Thoroughly depressed people are boring -- they may or may not be insightful, but not entertaining. And Alison is entertaining even to non-depressives, especially the recurring theme of her charming yet exasperating encounters with the critter world.

If she hadn't mentioned it, I'd have thought she was 10-15 years younger. She has a distinctly youthful mode of expression, which I attribute to her post-horny / volcel tendencies. Not piling up a certain body count has kept her from sounding jaded, weathered, and grizzled. Her tone is more like a precocious college student -- and so is the eagerness and yearning for something fun to happen in life, in contrast to most depressive cases. She's more of a frustrated fun-lover than a numbed-out buzzkill.

And if she were a total cerebral, she wouldn't have such a fondness for physical, tactile objects like old editions of books, vinyl records, and vintage furniture. If it's only the informational content that counts, who cares what material form it comes in?

She also wouldn't have such a weak spot for dance music:

I can overlook the minimalist euthanasia soundtrack stuff she posts in a depressive mood, if she overcomes that with body-moving lose-yourself music like that. She's really fond of the second half of the '80s, the vulnerable phase of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle. That was the hangover after the manic first half of the '80s (which overall would be a little too bouncy and upbeat for her personality).

An earlier post examined the turn that dance music takes toward minor-key, start-and-stop rhythms, and heavy layers of repetitive trance-inducing hooks, during the vulnerable phase of the cycle. This appeals to audiences who are in a social and emotional refractory state -- and so, most like a depressive and socially anxious person. They aren't feeling invincible like in a manic phase, so they can't just throw themselves out there on the dance floor -- they need to be coaxed and comforted, and to feel like they don't have to make a firm decision. Rather, their body is merely being possessed by some spirit or force, and they're passively going along with whatever it's making them do.

I think the late '80s vulnerable phase has songs more to the liking of someone like her, instead of the early 2000s or the late 2010s, because they built up more slowly and steadily back then. Someone who feels awkward about putting themselves out on the dance floor does not want to be overwhelmed by a sudden maximum level of energy, right as the song begins. They can ultimately resonate with a high energy level, they just need more time to get comfortably immersed in the groove, one level at a time. And it can't ever get too fast of a tempo, or too major-key of a tone, or else it wouldn't strike a chord with their fundamental depressive core. It needs to stay moody.

Since the late '80s is tailor-made for these types, let's explore further examples. This isn't so much of a standalone mixtape -- it's more of a list of initial songs to get the person to loosen their inhibitions, dissolve their self-awareness, and just let go of their cares. Then other higher-energy songs could fill out the playlist.

First, a precursor that still belongs to the new wave era of the early '80s, but points the way toward the second half. Laura Branigan's cover is even more early '80s, way too overpowering for a depressive cerebral. The original by Raf is slower in tempo and in its build-up, it's more moody and haunting, and the vocal delivery is more anxious and insecure.

"Self Control" by Raf (1984)

And now for the late '80s proper, dominated by the freestyle genre (I chose extended mixes for their even more gradual build-up, to ease the listener-dancer into the mood).

"Dare Me" by the Pointer Sisters (1985)

"I Can't Wait" by Nu Shooz (1986)

"Fascinated" by Company B (1987)

"Show Me" by the Cover Girls (1987)

"Cross My Heart" by Eighth Wonder (1988)

It's only Sunday, so that leaves plenty of time to get familiar with these songs in order to use them as inhibition-dampeners by the coming weekend.

November 4, 2019

From status contests over wealth, to lifestyles, to personas, as each generation gets poorer

Related to this thought from our anti-woke Left princess:

Five years ago I detailed the generational structure of status contests, where Boomers competed over material wealth and careerism, but after they had saturated that niche, the Gen X-ers had to find a new niche to compete within. They chose lifestyle contests instead, which don't require nearly as much money as material possession contests.

In a follow-up post, I detailed the invention of persona contests among the Millennials, who don't even have enough money to properly pursue lifestyle contests. Crafting your persona and projecting it into the public arena for competition only requires time, effort, and enough money for wifi to connect you to social media.

The "currency" of status has gone from material wealth, to lifestyle points, to persona points. But within each niche, most people are hyper-competitive pigs struggling to over-feed themselves at the trough. Within each domain there is an over-production of aspiring elites, leading to maximum chaos and fragmentation.

And within each niche, if you rob the competitor of their "currency," they take that as a mortal threat. Millennials don't care if you take their wealth, since they have none and don't compete over that resource. But if you threatened their persona on social media, let alone got their account suspended, that's the end of the world to them. Banned from competing in the persona-construction status contest.

You can use Google to search this blog for other posts on the topic, using "lifestyle strivers," "persona striving," etc. One of the more original and insightful projects I've undertaken, if I do say so myself.

Each of these qualitative shifts began at the grassroots level among individuals whose overweening ambition required an outlet. It's only after that groundswell that business owners capitalized on the development -- they did not invent the trend and get customers hooked on it. Most professionals and owners are too lazy and incurious to invent anything, they just chase after popular trends for as long as they seem profitable.

What will it take for individuals to dial down their overweening ambition and hyper-competitiveness? Material conditions must get so disastrous, and the fabric of society torn apart, that they realize where the worship of competition leads -- to their own destruction. Only then will they adopt the opposite norms, based on humility and harmony, leading to more egalitarian material outcomes.

Obviously we all wish you could just tell people where it has always led, and will lead again this time, but those words are just pointless speculation to the hyper-competitive striver. They need to get their block knocked off before it feels real to them. See Peter Turchin's work on the dynamics of ideology and material outcomes, linked in the first post above.

November 2, 2019

Aimee Terese, Apostle to the Deplorables, hits milestone

The princess of the anti-woke Left, Aimee Terese, officially hit 10K followers on Twitter. She never would have come close if she'd stayed cloistered within the online leftoid bubble, a niche that is beyond saturation, and impossible to break into without social or professional connections to established leftoids.

She did it by appealing to a whole new audience, carving out a new niche. It's composed not only of her fellow lefties who are sick of identity politics, polarization, and so on. There are plenty such figures, and some host podcasts that get as many clicks as hers and Benjamin Studebaker's (What's Left?). But they're not going to hit 10K followers and beyond, because they can't take the leap of faith to interact with people who are not already fellow travelers, and who may even be vilified by their in-group as sub-human.

Here's a recent popular tweet of hers about alienated young white males on social media, who most leftoids would write off entirely, and the only debate would be whether to condemn them outright or just ignore them.

It takes courage to pursue what seems like a lost cause, in the hope of a greater good down the line, perhaps that she will not see herself. An earlier post drew attention to her role as being similar to Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles, where she is the socialist Apostle to the Deplorables. And it's bearing fruit! For every libtard fanboy of Chapo Trap House that she loses, she gains two posters of frog memes.

Bernie was meant to do likewise for 2020, but he, his campaign, and his supporters have steered him away from a successful mission to the flyovers. That project is not bearing fruit -- his support is half what it was in 2016. He lost the libtards, but did not appeal to the deplorables to shore him up when the yuppies dumped him for Warren.

Where Bernie faltered, Aimee has been steadfast and tenacious. Reminds me of a song by another Mediterranean Australian, "On a Mission" by Gabriella Cilmi, who's Italian with some Albanian. From the most recent manic phase of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle, 2010:

November 1, 2019

Weakest Halloween ever, during final year of vulnerable phase of cultural excitement cycle

Last year I wrote a comprehensive post on our affinity for Halloween's social and cultural rituals, over the phases of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle. It peaks during the manic phase, and falls off a cliff during the vulnerable phase. That has left cultural commentators with little to discuss over the past several years, because nothing is going on with Halloween anymore.

But just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, it's almost as though the holiday didn't even happen this year. About 5-10 years ago, Halloween-themed decorations went up at the beginning of October in most houses in most neighborhoods. I don't care for such an early date because it robs the holiday of its uniqueness by the time October 31 actually arrives -- you're habituated to it, and it's not a carnivalesque break with the ordinary.

Still, this year there were hardly any decorations anywhere -- including on Halloween night, so it's not that they just waited till the bitter end. I drove around different places just to be sure. Having a pumpkin or jack-o-lantern on the porch was common, but nothing more. They used to put up all sorts of other decorations on the porch, the front windows, driveway, yard, anywhere. I counted 1 or 2 houses per street, in between cross-streets, that had similar decorations as 5-10 years ago. Otherwise it looked absolutely dead.

Of course, no trick-or-treaters to be seen roaming around. Not only is it not the rising-crime and outgoing atmosphere of the 1980s anymore -- it's not even a manic phase of the falling-crime, cocooning atmosphere of the '90s and after. At least during the early 2010s, there would be a handful of kids out and about, albeit few in number and constantly supervised by their helicopter parents.

(I still can't forget the parents who were driving their kids in the family car, house by house, keeping the car on the whole time. Bam-bam-bam, we're gone -- and without having our kids spend any time in a dangerous public space like, dun dun dun, the sidewalk!)

The only -- and I mean only -- place where I saw any trick-or-treaters tonight was in the public library, where I was dropping off some horror movies and looking for new ones to check out. The workers were in costume, with candy ready. There were nearly 10 families that showed up during the half-hour that I was there, vs. literally zero that I saw on the streets anywhere. And this was all 7-8pm, not when it was too late.

Helicopter parents are so paranoid during this vulnerable phase that they've consolidated the holiday into what was only a major trend during the earlier manic phase -- taking kids to trick-or-treat centers that are supervised by some institution. Mall, business district, library, etc. Any private residence is too suspicious, likely concealing a bunch of child molesters -- that's who these freaks think their neighbors are -- so they can't trust them with hosting their kids for 30 seconds while the trick-or-treat ritual takes place.

I didn't see many young adults out and about either -- maybe a couple dozen, in the most youth-packed area of downtown, right on a major college campus of tens of thousands.

I observed back in 2012 that Millennials were shifting the main party night to "the Saturday before Halloween" rather than October 31, because they're OCD pussies who can't tolerate partying on a night other than their routine night. That's the whole point of carnivalesque rituals -- up-ending the usual order of society. There's nothing beyond the ordinary about partying on a Saturday night, dorks. (Link in appendix to post above.)

At least I got to go to a late night screening of Psycho, and on film rather than digital. Three other parties there, totaling 7 people including me. Not the greatest turnout, but I'll take it in this climate.

This ought to be the last year of uneventful holidays, since this is the final year of the vulnerable phase. I don't expect it to really pick up until around 2023 -- it has to rise gradually while people are starting to come out of their shells. I seem to remember 2008 being the first year I really noticed the return of Halloween as a mass public ritual, which was a few years into the restless warm-up phase of the late 2000s. From there, it'll soar again until a new peak in the late 2020s.

Until then, some manic-phase Halloween music to tide us over...

"Every Day Is Halloween" by Ministry (1984):

October 29, 2019

Anna Khachiyan and Mediterranean / Eastern witchy sensuality

Ania Pieroni as the Mater Lachrymarum, trying to bewitch the protagonist of Inferno (1980):

Anna Khachiyan, trying to bewitch someone off-camera (2011):

Mediterranean and Near / Middle Eastern faces work best for vampires and similar characters. They combine severe bone structure with full-sized soft features -- eyes, eyebrows, and lips -- mixing danger and sensuality into a heady witch's brew. The restrained expression of Easterners intensifies the power behind their visage -- the energy becoming highly concentrated rather than dissipated.

I don't buy Slavs as vampires -- the bone structure is not high-relief enough -- not so threatening -- and the tendency toward an epicanthic fold keeps the eyes from achieving maximum size -- not so sensual. The vampire legend had to draw on Romanians because Westerners can code them as Slavic (hence Eastern European), but they're substantially Mediterranean (Balkan).

Some resist the idea of Mediterranean / Eastern vampires because they're supposed to be pale, not swarthy. Still, Italians, Armenians, etc. are olive-toned, not dark-brown like the Arabians. Light skin functions, in this character type, as a signal of a more sober temper than a more earthy and lusty one. They're not bloodthirsty predators always on the prowl, they pass for normal in temperament -- even seeming somewhat delicate -- and only occasionally give in to their passionate side.

October 26, 2019

Gen Z less attention-seeking than Millennials? As Gen X was to Boomers

Although Gen Z is not a culturally self-aware generation just yet, some of their core traits should be coming into view very soon. (I'm putting them as those born after 1999, perhaps 2005 and after, although we won't know for sure until they become culturally self-aware and can tell us roughly where the boundaries are.)

One of the main traits attributed to Millennials by outside observers, as well as inside informants, is their attention-seeking. It's wrong, or hyperbolic anyway, to describe it as narcissism. But certainly always wanting to be the center of attention, getting jealous when others receive attention, and behaving competitively in order to grab more of the spotlight from others. At each level of social scale, there's only so much attention to go around, so getting it is a zero-sum game.

That was visible by 2005 or so when MySpace exploded in popularity, and Millennials developed their lifelong addiction to taking and posting selfies. That was back when they were around 15 years old. In fact, they're still obsessed with selfies, despite their vanguard members aging into their 30s.

I don't see that behavior from Gen Z. They're around 15 now, and yet they haven't taken over today's counterpart to MySpace or early-era Facebook with endless selfies and status updates. I mean actual status updates, like when Millennials used to let the world know what they were up to throughout the day, imagining their audience following them around the reality show of their lives.

It's not enough to just "take selfies" -- they have to be addicted to it, and more importantly to spread them far and wide to reach the greatest possible audience. They might send them to one another, ditto for status updates and random thoughts via DMs, but not like the Millennials did at the same high school age -- or well into their 20s and 30s, for that matter. This is a difference of generational membership that follows them throughout their lifespan, not just a phase they went through.

It reminds me of the qualitative difference between Gen X and the Boomers before them, which was noted by all at the time the younger generation came of age (wallflowers, dropouts / burnouts, apathetic, slackers, etc.). The same contrast emerged with the Millennials after them, who seemed to resemble the Boomers in their attention-seeking and competitiveness. And of course the Boomers were noted for attention-seeking behavior relative to the Silents before them. Presumably the Silents got their name from a contrast with the earlier Greatest Gen, who were more fun-loving performer types.

A simple model of frequency-dependent selection could explain these oscillating dynamics, but I won't pursue that in detail here. The basic point is that when everyone else is a wallflower, an attention-seeker reaps massive gains due to no competition. But as more and more pick up that strategy, it yields lower and lower rewards, as the niche for attention-seeking behavior becomes saturated -- as it clearly has gotten by now with the Millennials. It's impossible to hog the spotlight in a world where everyone is an attention whore.

So that leads to selection for the opposite type, the wallflower. They don't get the rewards of "fame," but then in a world where those gains have all but evaporated due to over-saturation of the niche, you're not losing much by foregoing the attention-seeking strategy. And you save all the immense costs that go into seeking attention -- especially in an over-saturated niche for it, since you have to devote more and more resources into attention-seeking when everyone else is doing it to.

You lose next to nothing, you save a bunch in costs -- so long to the attention-seeking strategy. You might as well adopt that as a defining positive trait -- chasing after fame is a fool's game, pursued by insecure posers, and we're not that desperate.

These differences also make me think that when the 15-year cultural excitement cycle changes phase next year -- from vulnerable and refractory to restless and warm-up -- it will be more like the 1990 shift than the 2005 shift.

The manic phase of the early 2010s felt much more like the early '80s than the late '90s, which was fairly low-key for a manic phase. This is probably because the main group of young adults were attention-seeking generations in both the early '80s (Boomers) and early 2010s (Millennials), giving it a higher energy level, while the young adults during the late '90s manic phase were wallflowers (Gen X), making it feel more mellow.

If Gen Z are also wallflowers rather than attention-seekers, then the next manic phase of the late 2020s will be relatively mellow for such an exciting phase -- echoing the late '90s. And therefore the restless warm-up phase that builds up before it, during the early 2020s, will feel more like the early '90s than the late 2000s.

If Billie Eilish is any guide, the early 2020s will kick off a new cycle with bands more like Smashing Pumpkins than Queen or Black Parade-era My Chemical Romance, both of whom were over-the-top showmen compared to the anti-frontman alternative rock of the early '90s, even though all three periods were restless warm-up phases.

To close on an inspirational note for any Gen Z musicians out there:

October 20, 2019

Joker: neo-naturalism for the new Gilded Age (Part 2 on characters and themes)

Part 1 on visual and musical style here.

Almost none of the reviews I've read and listened to have accurately characterized Arthur Fleck / Joker in his role as a violent criminal. This is partly because most people came in with hardened preconceptions about the nature of the Joker as a character, but they still should have noticed how different he is in this movie.

First, Joker is not a vigilante a la Taxi Driver or Death Wish. A vigilante targets an entire group of people who represent a collective threat -- pimps, drug dealers, robbers, rapists, etc. For him, any member of that group is interchangeable with the others -- bumping off any pimp, robber, etc. will achieve his goal of stopping crime. Although a vigilante may have been the victim of a specific criminal, he generalizes that relationship to other criminals similar to the original one, seeking collective rather than individual revenge. His targets have not done anything wrong to him -- he sees them as a threat to a wider group that he belongs to, and is acting on behalf of that group.

Joker, by contrast, only hurts people who have already hurt him: the yuppies who attack him unprovoked on the subway, the co-worker who got him in trouble by giving him a gun, his mother for subjecting him to ongoing physical and mental trauma as a child, and the TV show host who sought ratings by humiliating him before the audience.

He spares another co-worker who treated him decently (and says so). Plus he spares Thomas Wayne, who he could have held a grudge against for telling him the brutal truth that his mother was delusional, that he was adopted, and to stay out of his life or else. It turns out that Wayne was the victim of Arthur's mother's delusions, and she has involved him in her delusions, causing him to get told off by Wayne. So rather than pursue a feud, Arthur takes his licks and leaves him alone. Arthur recognized that he himself was in the wrong, albeit from believing his mother's delusions.

Second, Joker is not a nihilist, anarchist, or other figure who believes in no rules, or that the rules don't apply to him, or that violence and destruction is fun and rewarding per se, a la the Joker from Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan. He does not practice indiscriminate and callous violence. He follows fairly common and traditional rules for who you may harm (specific individuals who have already harmed you without provocation, and not those who have done you no harm). The same goes for property crimes -- he does not smash in the windows of random businesses, or blow up buildings of his targets in a propaganda of the deed.

When he says he "doesn't believe" in any of the political protest motives, he does not mean he believes in nothing, but that he does not have collective and larger-purpose motives. It's entirely personal for him, and that is a traditional ethical code (get revenge against the individuals who've wronged you).

And third, Joker is not really a sociopath. He doesn't torture or toy around with his targets like a sadist, he gets right to the point. And again he doesn't choose targets who haven't harmed him, like a sociopath would. He's not a predator, stalker, or hunter. He never tries to force himself on anyone. He does not hold a lowly view of other people in general, nor does he demean them.

And he can sense when he is in the wrong, how the other aggrieved party feels, and does not try to put the blame on them for feeling wronged. We see this not only when he leaves Wayne alone after their confrontation, but also when he's doing his rent-a-clown act at a children's cancer ward and his gun accidentally falls out of his pants and onto the floor, spooking them all.

In fact, a sociopath would only accept a job at a children's cancer ward in order to gain access to them as a child molester or serial killer. During a bus ride, he makes funny faces at a small child in front of him -- not to try to get close enough to harm him, but simply because he's an aspiring performer and wants to make his audience laugh and reward him with smiles. This is echoed later when he approaches young Bruce Wayne -- to make him laugh, not to harm him after getting him to let his guard down.

He is certainly dissociative, suffers from self-aggrandizing delusions, and is socially awkward or cognitively impaired at empathy -- like an autistic person, he can't easily comprehend what others are feeling. But a sociopath is not cognitively impaired -- they can understand what another person is feeling, they just can't emotionally resonate with it. An autistic is clueless, a sociopath is callous.

This makes Arthur more of a pitiful and doomed character out of Steinbeck. Lennie dreams of petting soft rabbits, but his lack of awareness of his own brawny nature leads him into crushing them to death as he pursues this dream. And Arthur dreams of fulfilling his life's mission of making an audience laugh and feel better -- and getting rewarded with laughter and applause -- while his socially autistic nature means he will never be able to read the room and know what the audience would like, so he only ends up making them feel worse, and he only receives distancing reactions from them.

He's not quite so doomed in his quest, though, since he does ultimately receive rapturous applause from the rioting protesters, after he has set an example of striking back at those who have wronged you.

Making this movie an "origin story" is therefore a decision to return to naturalism and various forms of determinism (heredity, upbringing, current class role, etc.). It's not the typical origin story of a villain from comic books, horror movies, or whatever else. Those villains always rise to the level of sociopath, serial killer, nihilist / anarchist, and so on. Because their violence is so extreme, it feels wrong to reduce it to a naturalistic explanation -- Michael Myers became a serial killer because he got bullied at school, or whatever.

But since Fleck / Joker is not that level of a villain, but is a fairly powerless and pitiful figure who is lashing out at those who have already wronged him, it's totally fine to assign him a naturalistic origin story. And his psychology may be abnormal, but it's not inhuman -- so, sure, investigate its origins in his upbringing, his class position, and whatever else. In a twist, we can't explore the role of heredity through his mother (a delusional psychotic) because he's adopted.

But he was adopted by a delusional psychotic, profoundly neglected, beaten to the point of traumatic head injury by the mother's boyfriend, had been institutionalized himself, perhaps a victim of Munchausen Syndrome by proxy (at the hands of his mother), and loaded up on various psychiatric drugs (some of which may be inappropriate and causing iatrogenic harm, if his mother misled the doctors as to her son's condition).

Current circumstances -- dim job prospects, rising crime, urban anomie, austere government policy -- may play a role in other narratives about psychological breakdown and violence, but it's rare to see one focus so much on childhood and parental influences. There's no such investigation in Taxi Driver, any Batman movie, Blue Velvet, Silence of the Lambs, or scores of others. The brief scenes of childhood abuse in Natural Born Killers is a partial exception, but the throwaway exposition tacked on to the end of Psycho does not count as an in-depth narrative investigation. This places Joker more within the mainstream of Gilded Age naturalism than Midcentury existentialism (free will, agency, making your bed and lying in it).

As our material and ideological conditions have returned to those of the Gilded Age -- hyper-competitiveness, laissez-faire economics and morality, Social Darwinism, and widening inequality -- the subjective sense of hopelessness and determinism will re-emerge into the zeitgeist. When society keeps breaking further and further down, the forces of the world feel too over-powering to be stopped. Only when societal breakdown has been tamed -- as during the Midcentury -- do people feel like they have more agency and are not merely molded and tossed around by fate.

October 17, 2019

Joker: the return of naturalism for the new Gilded Age (Part 1 on visual and musical style)

After one of my rare visits to the movie theater, I sided more with the audience than the critics on Joker. The movie may polarize responses because it's trying to integrate two different movies, one about his background and origin and another about his initial acts in his new criminal role as Joker. It wasn't the most seamless weaving together of the two narratives, but it did the job.

It may have also polarized responses for bringing such crystallized expectations to it -- choosing a protagonist from a high-profile franchise, and a director from a comedy rather than thriller background -- and then frustrating those who had showed up wanting something different. I've never paid much attention to comic book franchises, in film or elsewhere, and I haven't seen a single one of the Hangover movies in full, so I didn't go in with any hardened view of how it should have been.

I did see it after having read and listened to extensive spoilers, though, including endless comparisons to Taxi Driver (whether they enjoyed the supposed parallels or not). Joker bears little resemblance to Taxi Driver -- it's the contrasts that stand out more, and reveal the differences between the zeitgeists behind the two.

I'll split up my review into two parts, this one on the physical aspects of visual and musical style, and another on the conceptual aspects of themes, characters, and narrative style.

On the cinematography, it differed from the earlier Batman / Joker movies by Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan in opting for a more realistic than heavily stylized look. The cinematographer is mainly known for the Hangover movies as well, so this could have been making the best use of their limitations (comedy films rarely stand out visually). And certainly it's less stylized than the neo-Expressionist look of Taxi Driver's scenes of city streets at night. Joker rarely uses striking compositions, dynamic camera movement, bold colors, or chiaroscuro lighting.

The low-style visual approach reinforces the naturalistic themes, characters, and narrative. This is not a real comic book or superhero / supervillain movie, nor do the Joker's crimes rise to such a level that they seem unnatural and in need of a more stylized visual delivery.

In fact, the only memorable stylistic device is the frequent use of shallow focus, putting Arthur Fleck / Joker in focus, and rendering everyone and everything else blurry, even his immediate surroundings and people sitting right next to him. This choice was not just some fashionable gimmick, nor was it used for utilitarian purposes (e.g., to de-emphasize things and people in the background that might distract our attention from key figures in the foreground).

When he's sitting in bed with his mother watching a late night talk show, there is no clutter of distracting objects -- just him, his mother a foot away, the bed, and a few odd pieces of furniture and decoration. And yet everything other than Arthur is blurry. Ditto for the shot of him looking out the window of a bus -- there's little action going on in the foreground, and not much in the background either. This shot is echoed later when he's in the back of a cop car. So minimizing distractions is not the reason for the extreme shallow focus.

What this does is visually convey not only Arthur's loneliness and isolation from the people, things, and places in his world, but his psychic state of dissociation and increasingly solipsistic retreat into his own mind. After what he's been through, he has begun to live so much in his own mind that on a raw perceptual level, anything beyond himself is just one great big blur.

By the end of the movie, his dissociation has gotten so bad that he feels disembodied from even himself. In one of the movie's iconic shots, only his head remains in focus -- the entire rest of his body below the neck has floated off into the blurry background of the dressing room. Usually shallow focus at least respects the integrity of a subject's body, but here this is violated in order to show how far he has traveled off into a dissociative fugue. The promotional still below is not the best example from this sequence (it's most striking when he puts a gun under his chin), but it's not out on DVD to do a proper screenshot.

Thus, the heavy use of shallow focus does not undercut the otherwise realistic visual approach. It is not used for purely stylistic effect, to delight the visual sense, but to try to render as scientifically and objectively as possible the dissociative breakdown and solipsism of the protagonist.

Unlike the effective naturalistic visual approach, the musical style did not achieve its goals. This may owe to the comedic background of the team of filmmakers, where music tends to use existing pop songs or well-timed flourishes to echo a bit of physical comedy.

To its credit, it did not rely on contemporaneous hit songs, which Arthur would have been oblivious of. Nor did it employ a melodic approach to the score, which would have suggested dynamism, action, and coherent structure in a movie about the cold impersonal shaping effects of the environment on a person, and a slow dissociative melting-away rather than a series of psychotic explosions. (Contrast this with the heavily melodic and thrilling soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange, whose antisocial protagonist wields more agency and experiences more exciting events than that of Joker.)

This approach to the score is one of the few similarities to Taxi Driver, whose score is mostly simple variations on a single motif, and plodding dissonant harmonies. However, Joker's score is too dramatic, almost bombastic, in its energy levels for a movie that is not very dramatic. Taxi Driver's score is more appropriately moody, despite being more dramatic in its plot.

And the instrumentation for Joker is too orchestral, taking away from the movie's overall naturalistic approach. Taxi Driver used a Midcentury jazz arrangement that feels more at home in New York during the 1970s. Joker needed an arrangement that was softer and more informal. Perhaps an elevated take on the moody, mellow country-crossover music that was dominant throughout the '70s, leading up to the year that Joker is set in (1981). Not the most exciting genre or period of music, but it would have done the job better for this movie -- more plausible as the background for lower-class characters, and more evocative of the tone of pity, disappointment, and bleakness that pervades the plot (at least until the final act).

The use of "Rock and Roll Part 2" for Joker's triumphant dance was great -- drawing from a moody, emo period that is more simple riffs than full melodies (early '70s, glam), rather than other stadium hits like "We Are the Champions" that are too melodic and high-energy to fit into this movie.

There should have been a counterpart to this song in the earlier part of the movie, to set up a contrast with the triumphant final act. Keep it in the glam rock genre, to make the comparison obvious, but one that is more yearning and self-pitying. Not melodic, layers of droning instruments, and a final vocal layer that is just disembodied sighing, to suggest dissociation or disintegration. With lyrics about one's childhood. The perfect choice -- "Cosmic Dancer" by T. Rex (also hits on Arthur's penchant for dancing).