Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Book Stigma

I've been trying for some time now to get my head around this new anti-book trend that has led to the popularity of soulless "vooks" like the Kindle and the Nook. Of course, there are many reasons for it, but in an article that scores major points for the coming Idiocracy, the New York Times recently revealed a shocking piece of the puzzle.

Apparently, there is a social stigma attached to reading books alone in public.

Pathetic misanthrope with no friends

This terrible stigma afflicts people not just in illiterate parts of the country and on junior-high cheerleading squads, but all across New York City, a one-time literary capital. What is the stigma? Simply put, if you are caught reading a book in public, you will appear to be: alone, unapproachable, "bookish," unwilling to socialize, and introverted. How awful. But there is hope!

Says a dermatologist on the subject, this dreadful stigma "no longer exists because of the advancement of our current technology. We are in a high-tech era and the sleekness and portability of the iPad erases any negative notions or stigmas associated with reading alone."

Portrait of a stigmatized loser

Dermatologists ought to know. Maybe reading books is also bad for the skin? Perhaps a little Botox for reading wrinkles? Thinking is known to furrow the brow. No, the cure for this stigma does not come from any bacterial neurotoxin (well, maybe it does). The cure is simply: Buy an e-reader, preferably from Apple.

E-readers allow you to be connected to the hive while you pretend to be engrossed in reading. "Given that some e-readers can display books while connecting online, there’s a chance the erstwhile bookworm is already plugged into a conversation somewhere," said a professor of communication and media studies.

Marilyn Monroe: Bravely battling with book stigma

In other words: Reading without digital distraction is social suicide. It will make you unpopular. You will appear intelligent and, therefore, ill-tempered and unfuckable.

Always be connected and distracted, so you appear to be more socially attuned, even though, as anyone who walks the streets of New York knows: People on smartphones, iPads, and the like pay no attention whatsoever to other human beings, rapidly moving vehicles, or open manhole covers. They are in a sociopathic trance, and that is somehow preferable to reading a book?

Unlike lame books, the iPad will get you laid

What the dermatologist and the media professor, and other iPad lovers in the Times article, fail to understand, it seems, is that book lovers are very connected, especially in the presence of other book lovers. When reading a book, we are also connected to our deeper selves, and to the "bigger picture," to universal ways of being, to--dare I say it?--the human condition.

In the New Autistic World Order, the only thing we're permitted to connect with is the anti-human "Borg" system of electronic media. Failure to do so will lead to ostracism from the hive-mind.

But would that really be so bad?

Put us all on an island without Kindles, Nooks, iPads, iPhones, and Blackberries, with lots of bookstores and avid readers, and we'll do just fine. Oh, wait, wasn't that Manhattan not long ago?

Years ago, they put images of total losers on college buildings--
now only ugly gargoyles who can't get laid read books
photo: Ephemeral NY)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Autistic Age

I came upon the following article in issue #58 of Philosophy Now. Published in 2006, it shows us how the age of the Yunnie is really becoming the age of the Autist, who rules our current, post-postmodern world, called here "pseudo-modernism."

I've excerpted a few key passages below, but the whole article is worth reading as it is relevant to issues on our minds today--like the effect of screen reading on our brains, the demise of books, the rise of plagiarism, and the end of empathy.

from "The Death of Postmodernism and Beyond," by Alan Kirby:

"In postmodernism, one read, watched, listened, as before. In pseudo-modernism one phones, clicks, presses, surfs, chooses, moves, downloads. There is a generation gap here, roughly separating people born before and after 1980.

Those born later might see their peers as free, autonomous, inventive, expressive, dynamic, empowered, independent, their voices unique, raised and heard: postmodernism and everything before it will by contrast seem elitist, dull, a distant and droning monologue which oppresses and occludes them.

Those born before 1980 may see, not the people, but contemporary texts which are alternately violent, pornographic, unreal, trite, vapid, conformist, consumerist, meaningless and brainless (see the drivel found, say, on some Wikipedia pages, or the lack of context on Ceefax). To them what came before pseudo-modernism will increasingly seem a golden age of intelligence, creativity, rebellion and authenticity."

Borg cupcakes

"The world has narrowed intellectually, not broadened, in the last ten years. Where Lyotard saw the eclipse of Grand Narratives, pseudo-modernism sees the ideology of globalised market economics raised to the level of the sole and over-powering regulator of all social activity--monopolistic, all-engulfing, all-explaining, all-structuring, as every academic must disagreeably recognise. Pseudo-modernism is of course consumerist and conformist, a matter of moving around the world as it is given or sold."

"This pseudo-modern world, so frightening and seemingly uncontrollable, inevitably feeds a desire to return to the infantile playing with toys which also characterises the pseudo-modern cultural world. Here, the typical emotional state, radically superseding the hyper-consciousness of irony, is the trance – the state of being swallowed up by your activity.

In place of the neurosis of modernism and the narcissism of postmodernism, pseudo-modernism takes the world away, by creating a new weightless nowhere of silent autism."

"You click, you punch the keys, you are ‘involved’, engulfed, deciding. You are the text, there is no-one else, no ‘author’; there is nowhere else, no other time or place. You are free: you are the text: the text is superseded."

© Dr Alan Kirby 2006

Thursday, August 12, 2010

No-Shoe Rules

In response to an article in the New York Times this week about how real-estate brokers are making potential buyers remove their shoes during open houses, many Times commenters defended no-shoe rules. I hate having to remove my shoes at other people's homes, and I didn't think I was in the minority, so I was sort of appalled and surprised by the anti-shoe outcry.

I then discovered an entire blog (Shoes Off at the Door, Please) dedicated to the no-shoe rule. In fact, a Google search about the rule yielded many blogs, threads, and other commentaries from people who make their guests remove their shoes at the door.

Is this annoying habit becoming a city-wide trend? Brian at Gawker had a rant about it earlier this year, and then there was an article in the Huffington Post, and now this piece in the Times. I think it's officially a new trend.

I suspect that this is yet another California thing that has overtaken New York.

It made me think of the "Porno Gil" episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry refuses to remove his shoes at a dinner party. He won't take off his shoes, and in the end, he's screamed at by the enraged hostess: "When you walk through my door you play by my rules! You take off your fucking shoes!"

Apartment Therapy in LA polled their readers a couple of years ago and found that the majority of responders make their guests remove their shoes. So maybe it is a California thing.

Californians definitely have a problem with shoes, in general. In high school, the girl who sat behind me in History class was from California. She put her bare feet all over my chair, and would often walk around school without shoes. Out there, they have a thing about sunshine and grass and being "comfortable."

Anti-shoe rage

But it's not just about California. That Google search I did on the no-shoe rule revealed more about who is enforcing it. Here are the primary suspects:

"Green" people
People from Ohio
House fetishists
People who prioritize feeling "cozy"
White-carpet lovers
People who grew up with "mud rooms"
Japanese people (they're excused, it's legitimately cultural)

The germ excuse is a myth. MSNBC interviewed an infectious disease expert on the topic, who said, “If you want to prepare your cheeseboard on the bottom of someone’s shoe and eat it without sterilizing it, you could get yourself infected, but in ordinary life, shoes are not a known risk for infection."

Shaking hands and kissing your guests hello is worse.
Said the expert, "Your body has more microbial cells than human cells. You’re more germ than you are you."

So, really, isn't it all about control? Above all, people want to have things the way they want them. Larry David's no-shoe fascist said it clearly: "When you walk through my door you play by my rules!"

In which case, it's time to fight against the no-shoe trend. Become what the no-shoe blogger calls a refusenik.

Don't take off your shoes in other people's apartments (unless they are Japanese, and spending a few weeks on vacation in Japan doesn't count). Don't slip hospital booties over your shoes, either, as many suggest. And don't swap your shoes for the creepy crocheted slippers these people keep in a basket by the door for guests.

Just say no to the no-shoe rule!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Meatpacking Abs

High above the Meatpacking District, a new Armani Exchange billboard has risen. It's an arresting image--mostly because there is something visually disturbing about it. Something not quite right.

It's those abs.

Did the male model swallow a cupcake pan? Is that an ab implant?

Could these abs really be real, or are they another example in the trend of rampant and vigorous airbrushing and photoshopping? Recall the whole Ralph Lauren brouhaha about what Boing Boing called the "creepily retouched" stick-thin model (who later said she was fired for being too fat).

In the UK, the government is now reaching towards a crackdown on airbrushing in ads and magazines. The Equalities Minister says it contributes to "the dreadful pressure that young people, girls and women come under to conform to completely unachievable body stereotypes."

Actress Emily Blunt recently came out against airbrushing, saying, "It makes you look like a Barbie. Who the hell looks like that?" And Liv Tyler wants to see airbrushing banned.

This week, Jezebel scooped some images from Ann Taylor featuring photoshopped "ribless monstrosities."

from Tweebie, "Hunky Ken Dolls" on flickr

The outcry is all about photoshopping's effect on self-esteem in women and girls, and that's important. But what about its effect on the body image of men and boys? Not to mention the way men are viewed and desired by others.

I don't know if the abs on the Armani Meatpacking man are real or fake. But does it even matter? Either way, we have a situation on our hands.