The New Human

December 18, 2010

This past weekend, I was asked by a friend to moderate a discussion panel for “The Doomsday Film Festival” in Brooklyn, a day-long event of 1980s apocalypse movies and guest speakers.  The theater space fit about 30 people on foldout chairs.  The panel I moderated followed a screening of the movie Hardware (1990), which depicts the scavenging survivors of nuclear war menaced by self-regenerating robot killing machines. The movie provokes ideas about technology, Man, art and the future of the species, while providing an artful dose of psychedelic sex and gore.

The panel was an invigorated foursome of writers and academics, including Paul Schrader, a highly respected filmmaker and film scholar. I am a devoted fan of Paul Schrader’s movies and film writing, so to get a chance to be part of a discussion with the screenwriter of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, and to have Sake and edamame beans with him before the talk, was something of a milestone. The other panelists, Steve Jones, Heather Urbanski, and Evan Calder-Williams, were highly-charged and imaginatively critical voices.  The talk moved swiftly from disaster movies to Luddites to the New Human. Schrader told an anecdote about a conversation with George Lucas in the 1970s about the future of movies and digital technology: “Soon we won’t need costume designers, make-up people, lighting…”   Between the panel discussion, and the bus tours I gave that day – where I moderated a panel of frantic tourists stuck in midtown holiday traffic and fearful of missing their train, Broadway show, etc. – it was a good day for the art of the public schpiel.

… To protest the villainization of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a computer hackers consortia called Anonymous hacked the websites of MasterCard and Paypal, where I have accounts. Maybe they will erase my balance as part of the sabotage. I would be psyched. But this act of Anonymous would be to destroy information in support of the freedom of information. The group calls itself Anonymous the way you call a fat guy Tiny.  Julian Assange was taken into custody over a sex crime charge, and the sensitive nature of the accusation correlates the insensitivity of questioning it as a conspiracy against Assange. There is precedent, and the U.S. is a vengeful personality. To bandy about the Espionage Act, as have some politicoes, is to resonate the old FBI, which calls to mind J. Edgar Hoover, another paranoid archivist of private files, and who often accused his enemies (interlopers of information) of sexually deviant behavior.

As Baby Boomers age, new proof is discovered to support the endurance of youth, as suggested in the following quote from tech theorist Nicholas Carr :

“The human brain is almost infinitely malleable. People used to think that our mental meshwork, the dense connections formed among the 100 billion or so neurons inside our skulls, was largely fixed by the time we reached adulthood. But brain researchers have discovered that that’s not the case. James Olds, a professor of neuroscience who directs the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason University, says that even the adult mind “is very plastic.” Nerve cells routinely break old connections and form new ones. ‘The brain,’ according to Olds, “has the ability to reprogram itself on the fly, altering the way it functions.’”

Smoking PigThe signs are not so promising for the enlightened treatment of the digestive system. Sure, smoking is bad for you, but it is not a habit which fulfills a primitive appetite. The connection between drugs and brain response is complex, even though the idea that “smoking is bad” is quite simple. If anything, as the electric stimulation of society increases with the advents of technology, nicotine itself is a synapse inducer. It is just that smoking is not healthy – as is sometimes technology.

Eating is a primal habit. More than just appetite, you eat to live. So to conceive this new crop of “foodies” (a derivative of the Online Age) is really just to recognize a bunch of food snobs, who take something that everyone does and self-inaugurate a vacuous superiority. So when you see that the new trend is to put Bacon in everything, like Bacon Marmalade or Bacon ice cream, and it is accepted and devoured and purveyed through the discourse by urban bourgeois intelligentsia, it is not to witness the rudiments of the New Human, but to be reminded of some of the more depressing remnants of the Old.Foodie couple

Sex, too, is an appetite. You either have sex, or you auto-eroticize. People love to speculate upon the ambiguous sexuality of certain people, and say with a smarmy tone, “O, did he come out of the closet yet?” And so they mistake their ghostly”gaydar” for deep psychological insight. Sex drive is akin to hunger.  The stomach wants to get filled, as the balls want to empty. That is why priests are celibate, and monks fast, in belief that the inanely mystical abstention of the body will bring them closer to the baneful God which they have created for themselves so as to comprehend the absurdities of the human condition.  If you are horny and starved, you will have ecstatic visions of what Is the Void. “So is he gay or what?” Try to grab his wang and note the reaction.

Queens College & LAX Airport

December 14, 2010

Campbell Dome, Queens College, Flushing, NY.

The Theme Building, LAX Airport, Los Angeles, CA.





Mark Twain

December 14, 2010

I visited the Morgan Library, which is having an exhibit on the papers of Mark Twain. I got myself and my ladyfriend in free, using my new badge from the Brooklyn Historical Society, where an internship must hold value other than paychecks. Most of the materials in the Twain exhibit were letters and handwritten manuscripts of the writer’s stories and novels.  Most of his manuscripts were hand-scrawled on unlined white 5″ by 7″ paper.

Of the few non-paper materials on display, was an original set of “Mark Twain’s Memory-Builder,” which was a homespun system devised by Twain to enhance brain activity.

The accompanying museum info card explained that Twain pursued the invention of many things, none of which turned a profit except for his Adhesive Page Scrap Book, “the only Adhesive Page Scrap Book in the world.”  The other day, at BHS, while looking something up in a book from 1892, I came across an ad for “Mark Twain’s Adhesive Page Scrap Book.”

A family is shown enthralled by the beneficence of the new mode of capturing memory.

Another family is shown without the Scrap Book, thus stormed by the chaos of the void.

Between these two inventions, Mark Twain was an avid brainstormer of the means to save history. You keep scrapbooks so that the snippets of your past find a common venue for the future. Twain’s “Memory-Builder” was meant to be a fool-proof design for the human to retain knowledge. It was an “indoor history game,” like a computer. His Scrap Book traced a prototype of media sharing networks, as the space for one’s visual past, and Twain’s Memory Builder marketed a primitive hard drive to backup data. He also wrote Huck Finn.

The Information District

December 12, 2010

General Worth Monument, Fifth Avenue, Madison Square Park, New York CityThe other day, while I walked along Worth Square, across Fifth Avenue from Madison Square Park, highly canvassed with European walking tours and lunch hour foot traffic in and out of the local outdoor bazaar,  an old black man with a cigarette hanging from his lips coasted slowly on his bike through a crowd of streetwalkers.  I saw him in my periphery wobbling over the walkway through the slow amblers, and suddenly he was addressing me, without swerving, “Watch where you’re walking homo boy, watch where you’re walking homo boy,” he taunted.  Homo boy? I thought.  I’ve been called a “homo” before, and “fruity,” and my former 80 year-old landlady once called me a “fairy bitch,” so the precedent of insult no longer regards my actual sexual preference, but others’ perception of my comportment as a styly guy.  I did take offense though of being called a “boy,” and not a man, unless I am to extrapolate the homo part as Latin.  The biker’s slow wheel scraped the heel of my shoe, doing no damage. He thought he could mimic the horsemanship of General Worth.  Anyway, you can’t take seriously someone who smokes and bikes at the same time.

It is easy to cast a moral light on a subject in order to dispel General Worth Monument, Fifth Avenue, Madison Square Park, New York Citythe exploration of its stickier recesses.  At the urge of Mayor Bloomberg, bike riding in NYC has increased, with miles of new bike lanes, hundreds of bike racks.  It is part of the Mayor’s environmental initiatives, supporting the health of the air and of traffic.  It is a good thing, surely, to get rid of garbage on river barges rather than trucks, or to ban smoking in restaurants (though eating in New York diners has never been the same without lighting up over a black coffee).  But the right of bikers is also used by some to plow by pedestrians as if they have the right of way, since they don’t, and they shout like a berzerker’s warwhoop because they want everyone to know they aren’t going to stop.  The bigger a thing becomes, the lower goes its IQ, like Disco or the American version of The Office.  Thus the incident last year in Times Square when Critical Mass came riding down Broadway, and a uniform cop picked a harmless biker to brutalize.  What better place to demonstrate the paradoxes of the mass mind than Times Square!  A tourist happened to video the assault, which showed that indeed the harassment was unprovoked, and action was taken against the cop.  Didn’t the cop know that Times Square is the most visually captured area on the planet?  It is not only the Entertainment District, where New York City can gaze at itself basking in the lights and screens which are never turned off and the tourists aim cameras everywhere – but it is also the Information District.

At One Times Square, where the New Years Eve Ball is dropped and which is vacant but for Walgreen’s on the first floor, billboard rents command up to a quarter million cabbages per month, and the State of New York advertises its need of your gambling revenue at the “Racino:”

The New York Times were once headquarted in One Times Square, and the newspaper lent the square its name.  The Times still reside off the Great White Way, which might inform a passage of  The Gray Lady’s recent November election coverage:

Overall, however, voters did not express any clear policy preferences that might help direct lawmakers…. They indiscriminately ousted Democratic incumbents who loyally supported Mr. Obama’s agenda… as well as lawmakers who carved their own path by voting against the president and the party leadership…. A number of ousted incumbents were centrists… leaving the Democratic caucuses not only diminished but more liberal.

Sometimes, Times Square fairly advertises the Void:

This past summer, Times Square found itself a revelatory venue for mass prayer:

Apropos of evangelical signifiers, this car was parked in Hell’s Kitchen:

I always got a better kick out of this one:

Back on the Old Broadway, I was happy to see one of my all-time hallowed figures of history given sizable recognition:

I can only hope that, since this billboard is situated above Planet Hollywood, a biopic is currently in the works starring Joaquin Phoenix.
General Worth Monument, Fifth Avenue, Madison Square Park, New York City

Tourism is up in the city, but not as many of them are riding the buses.  Rockefeller Center, Times Sq. and Herald Sq. are all jampacked with people wired in to shop and gawk.  Gray Line Bus Tours is losing steam.  The new rumor is that they will not renew the lease on the headquarters at 777 Eighth Ave, and tour guides will have no theater in which to caucus and eat lunch.  Tips are down.  Tourists are getting harassed by the Evil Elmo.

I worked with a new driver who told me that, because of his prison record, he couldn’t get a job at Coach USA, a bus co. which like Gray Line is part of Twin America LLC.  I asked him about it but he didn’t elaborate.  He isn’t the only Gray Line employee who might have served time in jail, and there may be charitable light cast upon Gray Line – however dim – in its lack of discrimination in hiring ex-cons.  I think Michael Milken works in Payroll.

Last month, Old Town Bar, on 18th Street between Broadway and Park Ave, celebrated the 100th birthday of its mens room urinals.  As a recurrent drinker at Old Town Bar many times (it is featured in the classic New York movie, The Last Days of Disco) and have admired these historical artifacts, where Tammany wardheelers might have once made room for more beer.

As a countersignature to the supersonic land use of Times Square, it was a relief to read that Obama signed the CALM Act, which forbids wily advertisers to raise the volume of TV commercials above the volume of the broadcast program.  Such subterfuge against the senses should never have been legal, and now saves one the trouble of hitting the mute button during cocktail breaks for Mad Men.

Cows kissingOn more than one occasion, I have agreed with other people, that it is unpleasant to witness couples who make out with each other in public.  Not a quick peck or snuzz, but a wet and sloppy, ongoing and noisemaking, swap of spit.  Usually the exhibitionists are teenagers, but it is not unusual to catch adults in this action.  There is something aggravating about the unsightliness, even offensive, and if I can’t exactly pinpoint why it is, I have at least confirmed that other people agree on a common distaste for public tonsil-hockey, whether a friend over drinks, or squib grandmaster and Village Voice columnist Michael Musto.  Granted, when teenagers on the 7 train are doing it, maybe they have strict old-fashioned, first-generation parents, who abide by the vellum bindingrules of the old country, and the horny kids have nowhere else to go to be able to get to first base.

But however rank it may be when couples make out in public, it is not as bad as when couples post comments on each others’ Facebook page.  This is a form of digital PDA that seems all at once disingenuous, spaced-out, self-conscious, and just weird.  The Wall is not the forum for couples to dialogue.  So when they do, it is apparent and unfortunate they don’t have much time to talk.

In class last week, I held in my hand a $30,000 copy of Euclid’s Elements, in Latin, from the early 1600s. It was bound in vellum, which is crafted from the hide of a mammal. I wondered if I should have issue with this, since I don’t eat meat, so why should I want a book made of meat.  But I do wear a leather jacket and eat fish.  I use deodorant with yellow 5 in it, which is made from meat byproduct (also in yummy Starbursts), and according to a rich brief piece in the New York Post a couple weeks ago, based on a 2007 book, none of that poor li’l piggy goes to waste:

I should have felt more at ease if the volume of Euclid were bound in the skin of a fish, but then the book would have stank, since only one day after cooking catfish at home and tossing the scraps in the garbage, our trashcan reeked like a clamshack deepfryer.  But it was good eatin’s.

Meatballs McCarthyAs a guy who doesn’t eat mammals, but reads books ardently, the question might pose, of whether it is more ethical to kill an animal to feed people in a post-industrial, mass-produced and super-consuming society, or to kill an animal to craft a book in a hyper-digitized, worriedly-literate and low-attention span society.  Idiots sometimes ask vegetarians stuff like, “What if it was like the apocalypse, and you had to kill a deer in order to not starve to death?” In that event, if the deer was reasonably not radioactive, I’d kill it and eat it, sure, and being the apocalypse, I’d say hi to God. We might not be so far from such end times, as suggested by overpriced and under-imagined fantasies of world cuisine open to great foodie fanfare, like Eataly.

I might kill a cow to make a book.