29 Mar 2006, 5:52pm
club culture news media subculture
by jordan

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seattle afterparty shooting: reflexive discourse in the rave scene

in less upbeat youth culture news, apparently a gunman opened fire late last Friday night/early Saturday morning at an afterparty for a zombie-themed rave, killing six partygoers and then himself. the event, and subsequent news coverage, has provoked nervous responses from the local electronic music scene, which are unsurprising in some ways, yet don’t seem entirely warranted. the initial news reports actually seemed pretty even-handed to me — no wild speculations about the gunman being a drug-addicted Marilyn Manson fan who secretly worshipped Adolf Hitler and was an occult-loving loner (as opposed to how the media first described the Columbine shooters, or Scott Dyleski).

but at least some kids in the local scene (dubbed “rave” culture by the media) are worrying that their subculture will be blamed, classic moral-panic style. which is understandable — both the media and public officials have a bad habit of looking to youth culture as depraved and destructive in order to explain these kinds of incidents, demonizing KMFDM or MySpace or whatever else is a convenient way to get parents worked up about their dangerous teenagers. because pathologizing adolescents is apparently easier than actually addressing the causes of alienation and disaffection in society.

in this case, though, the local scene’s concerns seem more based in fear than reality. Rave, goth and other subcultures are targeted so easily and often that now we expect it regardless of how the media or local community might actually be responding. i have to wonder if amplifies this effect to have subcultural youth feel defensive anytime something dramatic like this happens. for the moment, at least, the police seem to be treating this as a freak shootout, possibly premeditated, but not precipitated solely by drugs or alcohol or dance music.

29 Mar 2006, 4:24pm
media & technology social networks
by jordan

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myspace — not just for pedophiles anymore!

An interesting tidbit in the news this week — apparently, students in SoCal relied on MySpace and other digital media (email, txts, IM, etc.) to organize extensive walkouts Tuesday and Monday protesting proposed new immigration legislation.

From the LA Times:

“The protests appeared to be loosely organized, with students learning about them through mass e-mails, fliers, instant messages, cellphone calls and postings on myspace.com Web pages.”

the Modesto Bee:

“At Ceres High, students spread word of the protest through the popular teen Web site MySpace.com.”

and the San Diego Union-Tribune:

“Cpl. Dennis Gutierrez, a department spokesman, said students were well organized because they were communicating through the myspace.com Web site.”

Not that this represents a new use of digital communications to organize protesters or coordinate masses of people — Howard Rheingold has written about and documented “smart mobs,” amorphous groups of people that cooperate and behave intelligently, despite their size and lack of centralized organization. But this may be the first highly publicized use of MySpace to help give students a political voice.

Hopefully, this recent application will suggest some of the positive possibilities for sites like MySpace, and other techno-social activities like texting and instant messaging. Maybe it will even offset some of the negative publicity and moral panics that the media have been fanning lately. Instead of stressing out about the (low) risk of internet pedophiles, or indulging in fears about inappropriate online behaviors for teens, we should focus on how social networking sites and digital media can facilitate meaningful community for young people, contributing to increased social connections and thereby fostering social engagement.

23 Mar 2006, 5:32pm
pop culture
by jordan

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V for revolution?

I went to see V for Vendetta last weekend, which made for a fun outing, but something bothered me about its feel-good revolution-through-truth message. The movie certainly succeeded in bringing some of the essence of graphic novel to the screen, while rendering the original message more provocative and relevant to the current political climate. As a fan of the original — a pivotal work that elevated comics to a more respected medium — I loved Hugo Weaving’s mysterious, literate, and somewhat twisted vigilante hero.

But the movie version is premised somewhat precariously on the notion that ideas alone can have enough force to change the world, as long as someone takes initiatve to broadcast the message. This strikes me as a convenient theme for mass-produced media, and it’s not exactly a new one. In the Wachowski brothers’ first hit, The Matrix, the movie ends with Neo promising to free the denizens of the computer-generated Matrix with a wakeup call to their communal predicament (unfortunately, the following films in the trilogy failed to make good on this storyline). Another more recent favorite comic of mine, Channel Zero, features a renegade filmmaker who fights theocratic fascism by hijacking public media.

While I can concur that ideas are powerful and can bring about real political and social change, I find something a little suspect in a mass-produced film patting itself on the back for spreading a grandiose message of action and revolution. Fight censorship, watch this movie! Beware governments that use fear of terrorism to clamp down on civil liberties — find out the truth by watching this movie! Subvert the dominant paradigm — watch this movie! Of course, presumably you’re not taking much action of any kind while you’re sitting in comfy stadium seating sipping soda and enjoying the surround sound.

I mean, I’m as nervous as the next liberal about the war on terror, illegal wiretapping, the Patriot Act, Total Information Awareness — but sometimes I think that the current administration doesn’t need to go as far as the fascist governments in 1984 or V to stay in power, or to pursue their pro-business agenda of protecting their wealth and privilege. They have Hollywood and the mass culture industry to ensure that people limit their rebellion to consuming edgy movies and music, showing up for their sober day jobs to support their weekend habits.

I don’t mean to regurgitate the thesis of Theodore Adorno, that mass media produces an uncritical mass audience susceptable to the control of fascist governments. I think, as Paul Willis has argued, that media and pop culture can provide the raw material for meaning-making, the “symbolic work” of communicating through a shared set of images and ideas. We live in a communal web of significance which we call “culture,” a structure that shapes how we interact and how we communicate. So I can’t argue with the movie’s premise that ideas can have potency. But ideas require people to organize around them and implement them, rather than just consuming another work of pop culture warning us about the evils of censorship, surveillance and totalitarianism.

10 Mar 2006, 5:44pm
consumption music news media
by jordan

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la la land

A new music swapping website went live earlier this week, that seeks to offer an extensive and diverse music catalog online while fostering communities of like-minded fans. Lala.com‘s model appears to combine a social networking site with an online place to trade used cds, without violating copyright. The move toward networking-style sites like this doesn’t surprise me, but I have to wonder how strongly it will appeal to most people. On the one hand, youth culture tends to revolve around musical genres, so building community according to musical taste shouldn’t be difficult. The site, however, apparently charges a $1 per album swapped, which seems like a good deal — except that you don’t get to keep the cd. Nothing can prevent you from burning a copy, of course, but that may be the snag that gets this new venture into trouble.

I suspect Lala.com will prove most adept at helping people find more music they like, through meeting others online with similar taste. But I wonder how effective its business model can be — would you pay a $1 to borrow a cd for a while? Would you just rip it to your music library and pass it on, or would you respect copyright law and purchase your favorite new discoveries? It may come down to how members of Lala.com listen to and consume music, and whether this approach can successfully override our endless thirst for accumulation.

8 Mar 2006, 11:57pm
consumption food
by jordan

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dieting is no match for agribusiness

I wrote a few weeks ago about a long-term study that supposedly calls into question the value of low-fat diets for women’s health the Women’s Health Initiative. Of course, the media coverage has glossed over some of the more significant details of the study, like how few of the women on the “low-fat” diet succeeded in meeting the target percentage of calories from fat — overall, they didn’t consume much less fat than the control group (for a more nuanced report of the results, you can read NIH’s press release). Last week, NPR seemed to be backtracking a little, covering the study in somewhat more depth and addressing the media’s role in oversimplifying the findings. Of course, they didn’t really admit their own role in this, or how the various media outlets participated in creating a story by promoting a polarized view of the study’s results.

But what’s more, this study touches on the disparity between medically accepted ideals of healthy eating and actual food practices. Food guidelines and nutritional advice are worthless unless people can actually implement them in their lives. And what we eat comes down to how we eat — preparing vs. buying meals, grocery shopping vs. going out, and what’s available for purchase in the first place. Food consumption can not be divorced from food production — and distribution. And food production in the US is still dominated by agribusiness and mass production, in which hardiness, shelf-life, and appearance trump nutritional quality or taste.

I think this issue becomes painfully evident when you consider the USDA’s emphasis on eating more fruits and vegetables. Whenever I stop by a large supermarket, I’m reminded of just how poor the quality of most mass produce is. Why would I want to eat more wan, mealy, waxy apples or translucent, tasteless lettuce? It’s much easier to incorporate more plant-based foods into your diet when you can afford to shop at somewhere crunchy like San Francisco’s Rainbow Grocery, or live in an area with farmer’s markets and CSAs (community supported agriculture: small, organic farms that sell shares to members). Even when it comes to processed foods like peanut butter, most of what’s available in big supermarket chains contains added trans fat, salt and sugar — even if cost weren’t an issue, it’s still difficult for most people to purchase less refined products.

Changing diet requires changing how people consume food — you can’t reduce how much processed food you eat unless you start investing more time in preparing meals for yourself. But at the same time, no amount of personal responsibility can substitute for having access to appealing, fresh, flavorful ingredients. Unfortunately, it’s not possible with our current food production system to offer local, seasonal foods in all regions and across all income levels. Which means, practically, that diets are not going to change, no matter how many gimmicky salad options MacDonald’s tries to sell to rescue its Supersized image. While it seems unlikely that CSAs alone represent a solution at thes national level, I think it is necessary to reconsider how we produce and distribute food if we want to address how we consume it.

 
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