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.

Archivism

November 20, 2010

As a result of my Archives classes, it happens more and more that I find links and references and connections and suggestions to this field, no matter the subject, no matter the angle.  It would probably be the same if I studied medicine or business, or stenography.  In movies (from the B-movie docu-melodrama The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1977) or the David Mamet short internet video Lost Masterpieces of Pornography), in books, conversation, the newspaper, on TV.  When I moved this past summer, I viewed all my crap as an absolute organic archive that needed to be organized, indexed in boxes, and partly de-accessioned.  I am not so much an obsessive person, and didn’t grow up in an obsessive household, but I try make nods of justice to the things I spend time being interested in.

Couple weeks ago there was a big story in the NY Times about WikiLeaks, a rogue primary source website, which released over 300,000 classified documents about the Iraq War.  WikiLeaks is run by Julian Assange, who is posed in the news as a maverick, paranoid information scientist from Australia.  He looks like a character in the movie Inception.  The US government has condemned the leak, but claims the documents don’t report anything previously undisclosed.   Three months earlier, WikiLeaks let out 77,000 secret documents on the Afghan War.  As an archive student, this is about as close to the TV show 24 as the profession gets.  Julian Assange may not be Jack Baeur, but is he an archivist?

Assange has a certain amount of control over these documents, which he obtained through alleged contacts in the military and elsewhere, and then entered into an agreement with the Times, Der Spiegel and the London Guardian to publish the papers.  Assange had nothing to do with their original creation, but now claims them with a supreme authority, against the will of the U.S.

Assange recently spoke in Sweden with Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 outed 1,000 pages of  Pentagon documents with secret information about the Vietnam War. But Daniel Ellsberg was a political insider, an analyst for the RAND Corporation.  He was hired to do research on the war, collecting a body of documents, and make a report, the conclusions of which Congress ignored.  Julian Assange is a civilian with the pedigree of a computer hacker; he is a laymen agitator.  But he got the info before the news media did.  The Fourth Estate does not need yet another reminder of its decomposition, even in New York, the biggest newspaper city in the country.  History makes cataclysms, then repeats itself, like the river in the movie Deliverance.

Julian Assange is not without precedent, as neither are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Wars are conducted on grand scales by secret information, and the 20th century has been witness to both a geyser of awareness of human civil rights, and a staggering commitment of atrocities typically documented with painstaking archival detail. All in all, the average American is not so easily ticked off by the higher order of things, unless personal livelihood is going to be affected, either when the President goes “Socialist” on health care, or one’s relative is fighting in the war overseas.

. . . . New York, a port city, at the forward guard of civilization, urbane and smug, fiercely multi-ethnic, super-crowded, spewing wealth, is at an advancing stage of acting as its own curator.  San Francisco might have followed this sort of juncture of metropolitan self-awareness, but the technology industry has kept San Fran’s attention on the future, rather than the past. In The Social Network, that new Facebook movie, the money and the action is in Northern California, not New York, where old business paradigms are a stifle.

NYC, in the guise of curating its past, which thinks ahead to the uses of the future, also destroys it.  NYC established the Landmarks Preservation Commission in the late 1960s: it took 300 years for the city to recognize itself as a work of art, which is strange for a town so vainglorious.   And still, as social theorist and New York Intellectual Nathan Glazer says in From A Cause to a Style, “New York is not – not yet – a museum city,” that despite its low manufacturing base and high cost of living, its population increases each year (as does its volume of sightseeing tourists).

Every New Yorker has a moment when a favorite place closes for good. Sometimes I wish, as Chumley’s, McHale’s Pub, Carmine’s and Gino have lately disappeared, so would “Saturday Night Live.”

Gino, Lexington Avenue

Gino, Lexington Avenue, crowd, two days before closing

Charlie Sheen on the rampage at the Plaza isn’t exactly F. Scott and Zelda jumping into the Pomona fountain. And when people like Dick Miles, the table tennis champion, pass away, a piece of the city dies too.  And so I have been a tour guide for the last 6 years and am studying for work in Archives.

Dick Miles