Saturday, June 19, 2004

Admire Him! 

Promotion is a difficult thing. The line between the energetic promotion of one's work and mere braggadocio is a fine one, indeed. The line between braggadocio and breathtaking chutzpah is not so fine, but Michael Moore has recently gone barreling through both with characteristic subtlety.

Over on the arch-left website AlterNet, Hollywood's favorite fatso "weighs in" (their teaser, not mine) on concerns that his new flick may not be getting the distribution he wants, and that he has political opponents who are countering his own political propaganda with political propaganda of their own. It's hardly a first amendment issue: one guy that's got a message to sell is trying to sell it; people who disagree are countering him. It's not a right-left issue: we regularly see "progressive" students shouting down speakers they don't agree with. The left tries to shout down the right. The right tries to shout down the left. It's how freedom of speech manifests itself.

Attractive? No. Unusual? Hardly. Repressive? Only if you're willing to concede that dissent is inherently repressive, which is precisely the opposite of what Mr. Moore is saying.

What caught my interest in this latest philipic by Mr. Moore was its brazen transparency:

"I want all teenagers to see this film."

Well, gee, Mr. Moore. Wow. I'd like all teenagers to buy and read my book. American teenagers are what some people like to refer to as "a highly-desirable demographic." Most marketers try to appeal to this segment of the population by means of appeals to their roiling libidos. The subtext isn't especially subtle: "drink Pepsi and you'll get laid all the time by people much better looking than you."

In other words, most appeals to this market segment look something like this:

Moore has to compete for this demographic with an obvious handicap: he's a fat, pasty slob.

It's not an image that screams "sexy."

Mr. Moore isn't fool enough to ignore thousands of years of empirical evidence and take a shot on The Broccoli Strategem ("Hey teens! You need to see my movie because it's good for you!"). No, he's shrewd enough to know that if you can't sell sex, sell rebellion:

...I trust all of you teenagers out there will find your way into a theater to see this movie. If the government believes it is OK to send slightly older teenagers to their deaths in Iraq, I think at the very least you should be allowed to see what they are going to draft you for in a couple of years.

This is such tortured logic I've had a hard time figuring out how to address it. Bear with me, please, as I struggle.

First, there's no direct relationship between what the government does and doesn't want teens to see and how the Motion Picture Association of America assigns its ratings.

Who is the MPAA? According to their own site, "on its board of directors are the Chairmen and Presidents of the seven major producers and distributors of motion picture and television programs in the United States." According to FilmRatings.com, "Parents give the movies their ratings—men and women just like you. They are part of a specially designed committee called the film rating board of the Classification and Rating Administration. As a group they view each film and, after a group discussion, vote on its rating, making an educated estimate as to which rating most American parents would consider the most appropriate."

Second, "the government" isn't telling anyone not to see Moore's film.

Third, there is no military draft in effect, nor are there any plans outside of Rep. Charles Rangel's (D-NY) imagination to institute one. (I actually like Chuck Rangel—his politics don't often line up with mine, but he's always struck me as a good-humored guy with a rare sense of decency.)

Mr. Moore urges us to contact our local theatres and tell them we want to see his flick:

Tell them that some people don't know that this is America and that we believe in freedom of speech and the importance of ALL voices being heard.

This card isn't often played until desperation has set in. That's because it's a pretty lame card. Consider what's actually being said: "If you don't show my film in your theatre then you're an opponent of free speech, because free speech means every film needs to be screened."

"The importance of ALL voices being heard." Mr. Moore's famous egalitarian streak obviously led him astray here. Think of it: more than 3800 movies are produced each year in America alone. To be equitable, each theatre would therefore have to screen an average of more than ten movies a day, seven days a week. His own flick would get screened (once) in every theatre in the nation, but probably at the expense of some unappealing curtain times. (And we'd have to abandon foreign films altogether.)

But that suggest Mr. Moore is simple, which he obviously isn't. Consider the rhetorical genius of this paragraph:

The right wing usually wins these battles. Their basic belief system is built on censorship, repression, and keeping people ignorant. They want to limit or snuff out any debate or dissension. They also don't like pets and are mean to small children. Too many of them are named "Fred."

The "jokes" in the last two sentences are lame, but that doesn't matter. What matters is what he's doing with those jokes: it's a deft little bit of sleight-of-pen.

First he rails against his "enemies." He paints them with a big, broad brush as a bunch of dictatorial bastards. They try to limit or snuff debate! But before you have time to think, "Heck, Mr. Moore, aren't you just trying to shout down and intimidate the MPAA?" — as I say, before you can even form such a thought, he's playing it cool again by launching into a level of hyperbole that lets him say, "see, I was just joshin' around. I wasn't really serious."

It's clever stuff from a clever man. After all, it takes a certain genius for a famous, jet-setting multi-millionaire to market himself as the guy everyone's trying to keep down. I don't know how he's pulled it off, but you have to admire it.

Hear me? I said you have to admire it. Admire it!

Because if you don't, you're just trying to keep me down.

Friday, June 18, 2004


What would happen if the U.S. military announced that, beginning immediately, one Guantanamo detainee per day would have his head hacked off with a rusty Swiss Army knife until the Islamofascist bastards of the world... no, no, never mind. We'd never get them to agree to anything anyway.

We'll just have to keep hunting them down and killing them one by one. Sick, sick, sick bastards. Here I was feeling all good about Denmark beating Bulgaria and the sun finally coming out here in Frederiksberg, and we were fool enough to flip over to the news while waiting for the Sweden-Italy game.

Cutting someone's head off, taking pictures of it, and posting them on the Internet. Even the fricking Nazis and KGB knew enough to hide their most repulsive atrocities.

Danmark Vinder! 

Denmark 2, Bulgaria 0. And damn near Denmark 3... Now Sweden and Italy will kindly tie later this evening, but only after beating holy hell out of one another.

(Any Danes out there want to explain to me what the hell was wrong with Denmark for most of the second half?)

School's Out for Summer 

You see trucks like this one barreling through the streets of Copenhagen all day today. The beer-swilling youths you see in the bed of the truck above aren't some kind of nationalist Danish sailor's movement—they're matriculating students, and their little hats are presumably just to help you distinguish them from the non-matriculating students.

At some point during their drunken carousals, each group of students will stop in the middle of Kongens Nytorv ("The King's New Square") and sing and dance according to Danish custom. That's what you see here, although it's difficult to observe through all the construction apparatus lying around:

I realize these are terrible photographs, but I had to snap them on the fly as I rushed from the Metro to Studieskolen, where I had to take the written half of our next level of exams (the oral is on Monday).

I'm much prouder of the lead image for today's Almanac:

As for the Almanac itself, I don't know. It's just my two cents on the EU Constitution.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Just Plain Cool 

I want this cloak:

The maker of the cloak of invisibility gets to work on technology to see through walls. (All right, so he's reinventing the window. After inventing the Cloak of Invisibility, the guy deserves a little slack.)

Family, friends, and benevolent strangers please note: you will be waived of all gift obligations for ever in exchange for a Cloak of Invisibility—right now.

Molli Watch 

The DMG just called me from the hospital, where she's in for a routine checkup. This included a scan. From her mouth to your ears:

The technician kept calling the baby it. As in, "it's this big, it's in this position, here's its leg."

Finally I said, "Can we just call the baby her? We had one doctor tell us he was pretty sure it was a girl, and we've kind of got used to the idea."

And the technician was like, "Sure—I mean, it is a girl." She hadn't said anything because she didn't know if I wanted to know. But there's no doubt, she's definitely a girl.

So we can scratch all work on that backup list of boys' names. It's a girl!

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Sleeplessness Has Its Rewards 

I noticed before I went to bed at about 11pm last night that it was still light out. I didn't have much trouble falling asleep, but I woke up this morning to light streaming through the windows and a sense that I'd overslept. Damn alarm didn't even go off, I thought to myself as I rolled over to look at and curse my clock.

"5:34," it smiled back at me.

Good, I thought. I can go straight back to sleep. That's when I realized I was irrevocably awake. All right, then. I've got plenty to do today. Why not get an early start?

I came to the computer and by six o'clock or so I'd published the Almanac (the Bloomsday Centennial and other afflictions). Moments after that the DMG was moving about as well.

"Morning," she said.

"Morning," I answered.

She stood there in her bathrobe looking around the living room.

"What?" I asked.

"What?" she replied.

I shrugged. She shrugged. She went to make her breakfast.

It was a familiar routine—familiar from this time last year, when I was a complete insomniac wreck from late May until early July. I'm very proud to have made it this far (the sky is light from a little after three in the morning until just past eleven at night).

There was an added bonus to this morning's insomnia, however: despite mostly blue skies, a little rain cloud crossed overhead at about quarter past six, and we got five minutes of one of the strongest rainbows I've ever seen. I jumped for my camera and snapped about a dozen photos before it disappeared. Here's my favorite, in which you can actually see a second rainbow starting to form (it never quite made it):

It's now quarter to seven. It's going to be a long day. But how rough can a day be when it starts with a rainbow?

(I know, I know, I'm knocking wood as I write...)

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Estonians, Pirates, and an Arthritic Archbishop: the Story of the Danish Flag 

It's Valdemar's Day in Denmark. See today's Almanac for The (Improved) Legend of the Dannebrog, the Magna Carta, and the usual crap.

And don't fuck with my shrimp!

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Declaration of Chain-Spam Independence 

Have you received this gas-boycott email yet? I just had it forwarded to me for the first time this morning. It goes like this:

I hear we are going to hit close to $3.00 a gallon by the summer. Want gasoline prices to come down? We need to take some intelligent, united action. Phillip Hollsworth, offered this good idea: This makes MUCH MORE SENSE than the "don't buy gas on a certain day" campaign that was going around last April or May! The oil companies just laughed at that because they knew we wouldn't continue to "hurt" ourselves by refusing to buy gas. It was more of an inconvenience to us than it was a problem for them.

BUT, whoever thought of this idea, has come up with a plan that can really work.

Please read it and join with us!

By now you're probably thinking gasoline priced at about $1.50 is super cheap. Me too! It is currently $1.97 for regular unleaded in my town.

Now that the oil companies and the OPEC nations have conditioned us to think that the cost of a gallon of gas is CHEAP at $1.50- $1.75, we need to take aggressive action to teach them that BUYERS control the marketplace....not sellers. With the price of gasoline going up more each day, we consumers need to take action. The only way we are going to see the price of gas come down is if we hit someone in the pocketbook by not purchasing their gas!

And we can do that WITHOUT hurting ourselves. How? Since we all rely on our cars, we can't just stop buying gas. But we CAN have an impact on gas prices if we all act together to force a price war. Here's the idea:

For the rest of this year, DON'T purchase ANY gasoline from the two biggest companies (which now are one), EXXON and MOBIL. If they are not selling any gas, they will be inclined to reduce their prices. If they reduce their prices, the other companies will have to follow suit. But to have an impact, we need to reach literally millions of Exxon and Mobil gas buyers.

It's really simple to do!! Now, don't whimp out on me at this point...keep reading and I'll explain how simple it is to reach millions of people!!

I am sending this note to about thirty people. If each of you send it to at least ten more (30 x 10 = 300) ... and those 300 send it to at least ten more (300 x 10 = 3,000)...and so on, by the time the message reaches the sixth generation of people, we will have reached over THREE MILLION consumers! If those three million get excited and pass this on to ten friends each, then 30 million people will have been contacted! If it goes one level further, you guessed it..... THREE HUNDRED MILLION PEOPLE!!!

Again, all You have to do is send this to 10 people. That's all (If you don't understand how we can reach 300 million and all you have to do is send this to 10 people.... Well, let's face it, you just aren't a mathematician. But I am .. so trust me on this one.)

How long would all that take? If each of us sends this email out to ten more people within one day of receipt, all 300 MILLION people could conceivably be contacted within the next 8 days!!! I'll bet you I didn't think you and I had that much potential, did you! Acting together we can make a difference.

If this makes sense to you, please pass this message on.


There's no much wrong with this email it's hard to know where to begin. But let's start with the basics: if you've read this email and you think it's a good idea, believe me: I've got better ones. To implement my brilliant, oil-industry-bustin' ideas, however, I'll need a lot more money. Send me some of yours. Send as much as you can. You can do this right now by going to JustMorons.com and clicking on on the "PayPal" icon on the front page. It's that easy.

I know Phillip Hollsworth. His heart's in the right place, but he hasn't been the same since that gardening accident—and, to be perfectly honest, the booze and morphine have started to take their toll on his faculties.

Ignore Phillip Hollsworth, that drunken whoring bastard, and send me your money at once. Once I've acquired two million dollars, I'll post the secret of busting the oil industry. Now quick—begone! Off to raise awareness of my offer and get the money flowing in!

(Are they gone yet? Hold on. Okay, I think they're gone.)

The rest of you stayed on because you can see for yourselves what a load of crap this thing is. I can't blame the original author—the world is full of bad writers with bad ideas, and I'm sure there are many who would cite me as an example. No, what bothers me is the way this kind of crap gets forwarded.

But chain-spam-forwarding is getting to be like the weather: everyone complains about it, but nobody ever does anything about it.

That stops here and now.

I am declaring myself a chain-spam free zone. If you send me a chain-letter of any kind, cockroaches from hell will emerge from your anus, devour your genitals, and vomit them up in your mouth. You will be powerless to defend yourself against them because you will have been paralyzed by the sting of the Tsetse Flies of Rancor. Slowly and miserably you will suffocate on the insect regurgitation of your own sex organ. Then you will die.

I would like to send this announcement out to everyone I know, but that would kind of defeat the purpose.

Thank you for your attention.

(And for a fine breakdown of the chain-email's failed logic, look here.)

Jumping the Turnstiles at Plato's Cave: Intellectual Rebellion for the Market-Savvy Consumer 

A little over a year ago, with the publicity machine for the newest Matrix flick cranking into overdrive, I wrote a bloggish called ""Philosofluffy: We Are All Individuals."

I wrote it "because of three-and-a-half things: The Matrix Reloaded, which I saw Sunday afternoon; a feature article in Sunday's New York Times Magazine; and a Pacifica News Service article entitled 'The Matrix's Neo is the Hero of My Generation.' Also, but only tangentially, the Eurovision Melody Grand Prix held in Riga, Latvia, and broadcast throughout Europe on Saturday Night." (The corresponding links are still enabled in the archived version of my bloggish.)

I talked a lot about individuality and "liberty of the spirit," and how badly mangled these ideas seemed to have become in the west. In today's New York Times I came across a "Week in Review" article that brought the whole thing rushing back to me.

"The Alienation Market," by Rob Walker, explores the significance of popular documentaries such as "The Corporation" and "Super-Size Me."

So what exactly is going on here? In Achbar's view, "There's a real disenchantment with corporate culture." Many people see corporations as having governmentlike power with almost no accountability and don't see the standard media outlets dealing with that issue. "So they've got to go to a movie theater to see their values reflected," he says.

Which brings me back to Philosofluffy. I may be an addle-minded philosopher, but the idea that putting on a Che Guevera tee-shirt and coughing up ten bucks for a screening of "The Corporation" should have any deeper meaning than putting on an Eddie Bauer polo and coughing up ten bucks for the latest "Harry Potter" strikes me as really, really strained. (It doesn't seem to hold much water for Walker, either, as you'll see below.)

A shirt, Plato certainly would have told us, is a shirt. A movie is a movie. Any given shirt or movie may vary in different degrees from the ideal of its particular form, but it is what it is. The market doesn't just sit there idly spewing out consumables and hoping you'll buy them: it watches what you do, what you buy and don't buy, where you will and won't spend your money, then tries to meet your demands. If demand for counter-culture documentaries goes up, believe me—you'll be seeing a whole hell of a lot of counter-culture documentaries—some of them with hard-rockin' soundtracks, available at your favorite retailer!

Walker brings up an interesting point:

But does the theatergoer simply express his or her outrage with the cathartic purchase of a movie ticket, and everything goes on just as before? Bakan, who teaches law and critical theory at the University of British Columbia, thinks not. Among those interviewed in "The Corporation" is Michael Moore himself, and toward the end of the film he argues that his own career is proof of a sort of greed loophole in the culture industry that allows dissenters to exploit the system to their own ends: the rich man will sell you the rope you will use to hang him if he thinks he can profit from it. (Provocative analysis, eh, Weinsteins?) Bakan says this is what's happening, and that it's happening because there is an authentic hunger to understand corporate power in a way that most media accounts don't. "I think the market for our film and the book and the other critical stuff shows that people are actually really interested in engaging with critical ideas," he says. And if you're trying to figure out whether pop dissent can truly affect the culture industry, it may be that the marketplace is the only place to look.

It's fun to see Michael Moore paraphrasing Vladimir Lenin, who believed the capitalists would sell him the rope with which to hang them. But pay attention to the analogy: Michael Moore sees himself as a buying rope from a rich man in order that he can hang him with it. And how does he hang that rich man? By tapping into a market niche, using all the mighty powers of modern publicity and marketing, and negotiating hard-nosed deals for distribution rights. Way to speak truth to power, Michael!

When Walker observes that "the marketplace is the only place to look" if you want to figure out whether "pop dissent" can truly affect the "culture industry," he's absolutely right—but he's missing the point. The real point he ought to have been making, in my moronic opinion, is that the "culture industry" created "pop dissent" in the first place, as means of making a buck off the old-fashioned type of dissent, which wasn't quite as profitable. I mean, the very use of "pop" as a modifier of "dissent" tells the whole story, doesn't it?

(In fact I thought this was going to be the whole point of Walker's piece, since he wrote in the very first paragraph that, according to a 1944 book on the subject, "[The culture industry] not only anticipated the urge to revolt but would sell you something to satisfy it." There's a much deeper question worth examining here, one that Walker, unfortunately, never digs into: if one's urge to revolt can be satisfied with an off-the-shelf purchase, might it not be argued that one has very little to revolt against in the first place? That, in fact, such an easily-pacified "rebel" may have more in common with a bored adolescent than any kind of revolutionary?)

Anyway, if you really want to "engage with critical ideas"—it's awfully patronizing, when you engage with the critical idea of what that really means—why not just go to the library and withdraw the collected works of Plato, Cicero, Locke, Tocqueville, or whoever? I know, I know, it's a big hassle. Never mind. Go see "The Corporation." Same thing.

Hate corporate culture? Buy a Che Guevera tee-shirt! Buy "Bowling for Columbine" on DVD! Buy a new, special-edition of "Das Kapital," with a thrilling new foreword by Rage Against the Machine! Buy a one-year subscription to "Anticapitalism Weekly!" (And get the second year at half price!) Buy Uncle Ned's Organic Diet Wheat-Germ Cola—it's more expensive and it tastes like mouldy urine, but it's good for you and the environment! Buy, buy, buy! And sometimes lease!

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