Sending up the trolls – “Thank You Hater! – by Clever Pie and Isabel Fay” [video]

I have written about haterz and internet trolls before (here and again here) but this video – which includes brief accounts from those who have been the target of spiteful comments, such as comedian and performer Richard Herring – captures perfectly the tone of the troll and how he or she might be dealt with in a humorous way (strong language: not suitable for work).

Some of the comments are funny and insightful – one invokes Godwin’s law, another suggests there should be debate in the video’s comments about creationism – and overall it’s a brilliant lampooning of the trolls and the haterz.

Brilliant anti drink-driving ad targets danger to cyclists

I’m more likely to die cycling my bike on the road than I am flying. I do a lot of cycling, too, and although I cycle on mountainous roads that are often empty, I still understand the risks of what I do. This compelling anti drink-driving ad from Fiat brilliantly and simply reminds us of one of ways in which we can reduce the danger to cyclists: alcohol and roads do not mix. The beer can says it all.

Despite being in Portuguese, its message is clear in any language: stay safe and keep those safe around you – don’t drink and drive.

RIP Adam Yauch, MCA from the Beastie Boys: kids parody ‘Sabotage’

Last week we learned of the sad death of Adam Yauch, a third of the Beastie Boys. Like a lot of people of my generation, they meant a lot to me – and still do.

There are many ways to remember him – I’ve been listening to a lot of the old and new albums – but this one really touched me, funny and sad, too. It’s a parody of the famous and celebrated video for ‘Sabotage’ – but made with kids in the leading roles.

If you don’t know the original, you’re in for a treat.

RIP Adam Yauch.

Video: time-lapse mapping of European history from 1000 AD to 2003

This is excellent. It’s a time-lapse map of European history, from 1000 AD to 2003. It’s really quite amazing to see countries or parts of them change so much. It’s rather saddening too – many, perhaps most, of the changes came as the result of war and the subsequent land-grab.

I’ve posted the longer by clearer version, which contains dates and further annotations. You can find the shorter versions here. Both are well worth viewing full screen for the full effect.

Camus’ L’etranger and Kayne’s ‘Power’: loving the hate, hating the love

Listening to Kanye West’s opening section of his song ‘Power‘, I immediately thought of its similarity with the final words of Camus’ novella, L’etranger (The Outsider). First, from L’etranger:

For the final consummation and for me to feel less lonely, my last wish was that there should be a crowd of spectators at my execution and that they should greet me with cries of hatred.

No, the opening verse from ‘Power’:

I’m living in the 21st century doin’ something mean to it
Doing it better than anybody you ever seen do it
Screams from the haters, got a nice ring to it
I guess every superhero need his theme music

What do these two very different takes have to teach us about hate and about the haters? I’ve written on this subject before but here there seemed a much more complex relationship between L’etranger‘s main protagonist, Mersault and the Kanye-narrator ‘character’ in ‘Power’. Hate, rather than simply a by-product of difference or success, seemed intimately entwined with how to live one’s life, a reflection of a sophisticated relationship with oneself and one’s society.

Mersault explains why he encourages the hate: ‘for the final consummation and for me to feel less lonely.’ The final consummation, the latter meaning complete or finalised, points to the end of his life: he will soon be executed. This echoes his belief that death will be final, without hope of an afterlife. Here it is worth noting its echo of Hamlet’s ‘to die, to sleep / No more […] ‘Tis a consummation / Devoutly to be wished.’: both hope for that finality, that complete and utterly irreversible ending.

Consummation also suggests that the hatred of the crowd will provide some kind of closure, a rise in tempo in the rhythm of the final moments of his life. It summarises a new phase in his understanding of his morality and that of the world in which he lives: that is, he has experienced an epiphany that shows him how one might live, how one might die.

This epiphany is linked to his loneliness and therefore his place in the world, the place for his beliefs and behaviours. When one thinks of Mersault’s loneliness – or more broadly, his relationship with the world – there is a growing irony to the idea at the centre of his desire to be hated.

On the surface, he says shortly before the end of the novel that he experiences a ‘fraternity’ with the universe, since they share a ‘benign indifference’ towards human affairs. Yet such fraternity does not appear to stave off the human, urgent sense of loneliness he feels in his cell, awaiting execution. The baying crowd will permeate that loneliness because they will provide him with ‘attention’, an intense focus on him as an undivided object of their focus, and more – with hatred, that most intense and immediate of emotions. It is, in this sense, a palpable and very human desire.

Yet, the notion of ‘object’, which I use advisedly, should alert us to the problems inherent in the crowd’s reaction, as should the complex irony and duality at the heart of Mersault, especially in the later scenes.

Because Mersault has become an object of derision for the crowd, he understands that they do not fully grasp his particular humanity, his agency. For them, he is merely a vessel into which to pour their malign engagement. The crowd, unlike either Mersault or the ‘benign indifference’ of the universe with which he feels so closely bonded, is intensely aroused and judgemental. They have found a type of meaning in directing their anger towards a person, an idea – even if it is a false one. He, and the universe in which he has finally found a brotherhood, has been fatally misunderstood.

Throughout the novel Mersault has behaved in a way that is at odds with societal norms. This culminates in the powerful subtext, that he is tried and found guilty not for the crime of murder, nor for his lack of regret (although they are central factors) – but that he didn’t love his mother. Morevoer, he does not judge wordily affairs: we’ve already learnt, shortly before the final passage of the novella, that he recognises his mother’s need for a new beginning despite her age and the impossibility of a long-term marriage to her partner. At the end of the novel he understands that his seemingly strange behaviour, even to himself, has found an allay in the fundamental law of the universe.

Mersault will stand ‘alone’ only in the sense that he remains steadfastly outside of human affairs, but at one with the universe. In this respect, their hatred means that he has been right about his fraternity with the benign indifference of the universe: it is, paradoxically, their hatred that makes him feel at home. In short, he has become a friend of his enemies’ enemy, a member of a club that wouldn’t have the crowd as a member.

Kanye West’s ‘Power’ also lingers on hate and the haters that make it possible. On the surface, encouraging such haters (or ‘haterz’, the ‘z’ a strident visual reminder, a blade cutting a zig-zag through cloth, an ending) is bravado: it says ‘I don’t care what you think – I’m better than you and everyone’.(Missy Elliott’s 2003 ‘Gossip Folks’ assumed this sole function memorably.) Here, Kanye tells us that the ‘Screams from the haters, got a nice ring to it / I guess every superhero need his theme music’. It’s a forceful reaction to the contemporary idea, spread through blog comments, message boards, Twitter and so on, that HGH, or Haterz Gonna Hate. If you’re successful (or increasingly even if you’re not but you just happen to be online) you are a target.

In this sense, like Mersault, Kanye’s endorsement of the haters only serves to show him that what he is doing is right: artistically valuable, morally upright and commercially successful (I use Kanye for shorthand to refer to the ‘narrator’ in ‘Power’, who, given the subject of fame, music and power in the song, is a fair approximation of the song writer himself). In a world of bland uniformity, eliciting a reaction, especially one as powerful as hate, is success. If Kanye feels hated, he feel successful: he is encouraging a reaction in his audience. Like Mersault, on a superficial level, hate at least means you’ve made a difference, an intense one, too: when the haters disappear, so do the lovers.

Of course, it depends on who is hating you, as we’ve seen for Mersault. For Kanye, that sometimes means parts of the establishment. He includes Saturday Night Live in ‘Power’, who have ridiculed his ill-advised interruption at the MTV Video Awards. If those who you don’t respect or value hate you, then you are doing something right. In this case, it’s less profound than Mersault’s epiphany but not less specific: SNL are name-checked and dismissed in brief and vulgar word play. But, as we’ve seen, hate can give way to love in this complex world: when Kanye performed live on SNL, he removed the offending lyrics from ‘Power’.

Two repeated phrases reinforce the complexity of Kanye’s sophisticated relationship with himself and those who love and hate him. The first is the refrain, borrowed from King Crimson’s titular song, ’21st Century Schizoid Man’. Like Mersault, who is torn between societal norms and his, albeit largely unexplored, indifference towards the world of human affairs, Kanye is ‘schizoid’, a divided self. The song explores this division as one between the private and the public self, between his natural creativity and the pressures of fame, between his younger more authentic persona and the new one, ostensibly undermined by celebrity. Taken with ‘All of the Lights’, which follows ‘Power’ on the album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and forms with it something of a musical diptych, Kanye laments the extent to which fame has changed him and in doing so has driven his family away.

Such divisions create the potential for hate. But it is only when Kanye appears to hate himself, as he does periodically throughout the song, that he can rejoice and endorse the ‘screams’ of the haters. In such instances, when he hates himself, they are right to hate him. The music of their hate chimes a note of ambivalence: when they hate him, they are jealous; when they hate him, they are right – he deserves it.

The second key phrase is: ‘No one man should have all this power’. The obvious identity of the man is Kanye. Again, it is a dual symbol: it reinforces the notion of him being an immensely powerful figure whilst at the same time undermining its legitimacy. For Kanye, that power comes from a complex relationship between those who hate him – including, at some point, himself; and how he might use the notion of those who hate him as a way to understand that he is taking the correct path. If Kanye, in ‘Power’, doesn’t share a direct and entire comparison with Mersault, they do possess a similar duality that means that they both love to hate and hate to love.

‘The righteous indignation dollar’: Bill Hicks on marketing terms

It seems to be the Holy Grail of the social media age – invent a meme that becomes incredibly popular and spreads around the globe. Sometimes that meme is a video or a song, sometimes a new word or phrase. Perhaps it was the latter the following website had in mind when attempting to introduce new marketing terms:

‘SoLoMo’

Definition: SoLoMo is the blend of social, local and mobile. It represents the growing marketing trend of targeting consumers based on their current location with content or promotions designed to be shared via social networks.

Ok – I know marketing is an easy target but it still needs an odd arrow shot in its direction. No one did this better than Bill Hicks and this piece of genius reminds us how [NSFW].

Or maybe I’m just a target for those interested in the righteous indignation dollar?

The myths of creativity and genius

I love this candid and earthy rebuttal to the idea of suffering as central to creativity, from AL Kennedy’s piece in The Guardian:

The myth of the suffering artist is part of the wider myth that sinking into abjection will somehow cleanse and elevate the poor and/or unconventional, eventually leading them on to glory. Those who are not led on to glory will be unworthy and deserve to fail. Economic Darwinism will crush them as they should be crushed. This kind of pressure can’t, naturally, be applied to nice people David Cameron might meet at parties or have gone to school with, because they would find it unpleasant. And might be crushed. This kind of thinking divides human beings into categories, as more and less human. Art almost inevitably does the reverse – hence, I have to assume, the established insistence on extra-special suffering, just for artists. Because suffering keeps artists quiet, just as it can weaken and muffle anyone else.

One only need William Styron’s account of his crippling depression in Darkness Visible to realise that suffering might a subject of writing but not its everyday context, experienced by the writer alone at his or her desk. Similarly, especially after Wordsworth’s suggestion that he and other poets are ‘chosen’ by an unknown but infinitely intelligent hand to see where others cannot, the notion of creative genius is inextricably linked to that outmoded Romantic model. Hopefully, studies like Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers will go some way in suggesting that hard work, perseverance and determination – things that we all can aspire to – are the source of creative success rather than an imperceptibly inherited fate.

We like to personify nebulous notions. It provides a handle on a difficult to explain behaviour or ideas. We also privilege charisma and intuition above hard work and deduction. Ultimately we’re left with models of behaviour we deserve.

Ebooks, print and the reading experience: it’s in the words

We might well have lost sight of the following important idea when thinking about the ways in which the ebook has influenced our reading habits in particular, and the book market more generally:

The literary experience does not lie in any one moment of perception, or any physical contact with a material object (even less in the “possession” of handsome masterpieces lined up on our bookshelves), but in the movement of the mind through a sequence of words from beginning to end.

It’s part of an excellent outline of why we might celebrate being able to read, regardless of the format. Tim Parks is here particularly interest in literary experience, but I think we can fairly replace it with a broader ‘reading experience’ without losing its significance.

In a  masterstroke, Parks suggests we might even be closer to what he calls the ‘essence’ of literary experience, one in which all attention is paid to the words on the screen, rather than their superfluous vehicle, the book:

The e-book, by eliminating all variations in the appearance and weight of the material object we hold in our hand and by discouraging anything but our focus on where we are in the sequence of words (the page once read disappears, the page to come has yet to appear) would seem to bring us closer than the paper book to the essence of the literary experience. […]  It is as if one had been freed from everything extraneous and distracting surrounding the text to focus on the pleasure of the words themselves.

 

 

The Scale of the Universe 2: an interactive graphical adventure

This superb interactive graphic will give you a chance to discover the size of things, from the smallest to the largest. It is simple but quite wonderful. The quickest way to explain what it does is ask you to try it.

Just use the scroll button on your mouse to move between levels of magnification. (It runs in Shockwave so it will not work with iPads, iPhones and so on.)

I highly recommend you open the full-screen version, which can be found here.

This work is copyright Cary and Michael Huang, 2012; music copyright Kevin MacLeod.

Naomi Wolf on Madonna: we apologize

Naomi Wolf writes on why Madonna receives such vehement criticism for her work. Having admitted that Madonna’s film W.E. was ‘far from perfect’, Wolf goes on to suggest the reasons why the singer and director attracts such hostility:

The reliable media theme of “Hating Madonna”, whenever she steps out of her pretty-girl-pop-music bandwidth, is so consistent that it deserves scrutiny in its own right.

Why can the press just not wait to hate Madonna at these moments?

Because she must be punished, for the same reason that every woman who steps out of line must be punished. Madonna is infuriating to the mainstream commentariat when she dares to extend her range because she is acting in the same way a serious, important male artist acts. (And seizing the director’s chair, that icon of phallic assertiveness, is provocative as hell.) She is taking for granted that she is allowed to stretch. This is intolerable, because Madonna has not done the sorts of things that allow women of immense talent to get “permission” or “to be liked”.

What is so maddening? She does what every serious male artists does. That is: she doesn’t apologize for her talent or for her influence. What comes across quite profoundly when one interviews her is that she is preoccupied with her work and her gifts – just as serious male artists are, who often seem self-absorbed. She has the egoless honesty of the serious artist that reads like ego, especially in women.

Madonna is that forbidden thing, the Nietzschean creative woman.

I’m not sure this is true of everyone and I know it’s not true of me. I think we need to look at something like Everything Bad is Good for You to recognise how far audiences have grown in sophistication. As such, audiences are easily able to separate when necessary the superstar status, the riches, the incredibly successful pop career when assessing a new film. I’ve seen some of Madonna’s films and they are not very good; similarly, I didn’t like her former husband Guy Richie’s films (to mark a convenient point of comparison) either.

It’s difficult to prove a precise ‘external’ influence when assessing a work’s reception. Even when we look at a director’s or writer’s ‘psychology’ we need to be careful when over-ascribing its effect on the work. Similarly, it’s difficult to link the pervasive inequality faced by women to encompass an attitude by an entire industry, or wider still, the entire audience. It may be true; but the kind of bald assertion we find here (necessarily, given its a newspaper piece) serves to undermine those who think they deal even-handedly with the things they see, read and listen to – which is everyone.

One way of tackling Wolf’s assertion is that there are examples of powerful women who are adored (as Madonna was for so much of her career and still is) and think of how men who have been equally successful have been reviled. This kind of necessary and sufficient conditional analysis (as it’s known in philosophy) soon reveals examples that appear to counter Wolf’s cursory reading.

I think we need to trust the audience, ourselves, more and at the same time be suspicious, as Wolf is, of the critical biases and attitudes that critics betray. Little is pure or innocent, few of us are immune from prejudices. Certainly there’s some sparkling commentary on this article of Wolf’s and so I’ll leave you with one from GregUS, who captures that odd sense of feeling one should apologise for something someone else may or may not have done:

I can’t remember ever hating Madonna, so I can’t apologize for hating her, and I’m very sorry for that. I apologize wholeheartedly for being a man who isn’t apologizing. I firmly resolve to do something for which I should apologize, since a good pro-feminist new man should always apologize for something.

I will plow my car through a mailbox, in front of a patrol car, when I know a female officer is on duty. I will apologize profusely to her and to you.

Now do you like me? I apologize if you don’t.