Swimming Against the Stream

Alternative Culture

Timely Issues

Astrological Clock
The Great Astrological Clock in the Old Town Square of Prague. A great example of late medieval public clock making, complete with bells, calendar, automata figures that move on the hour, horns, and especially the figure of Death as a skeleton with an hourglass draining the sands of time away. All the while tourists gawk like sheep while missing the message of the value of our time on earth.

Well I have been busy on my new YouTube channel The Anadromist with a lot of ideas that I just didn’t have time for here. Especially my thoughts on Time and how to live in it instead of against it. We live in a culture that positively reeks in its hatred of the effects of Time. We want everything to happen now. Instantly without waiting. And the more I have thought about our defective relationship to Time the more central a role I have seen it play it the insane dysfunctions of the 21st Century: the politics, the propaganda, the efficiency of technology, the environment, the waste, the virtual worlds we choose to inhabit, the surrender of our imaginations to the grinding gears of commerce, the imitation worlds we create for tourism, the sense of entitlement, the dullness of work. Not that these things have a simple one answer fits all panacea, rather they are all issues exacerbated by the desire have the convenient instant life, or in other words to live as though Time were an enemy that must be vanquished at all costs.

I started to see our faulty relationship to Time as a problem in the early 90s. I gave a lecture on the subject at Swiss L’Abri in 1993. I have been mulling it over ever since. In many ways this is connected to many of my other ideas about Texture, Beauty, Images and many other subjects. But these thoughts about Time are at the center of my view of the dilemma of life as it is now lived. Feel free to disagree. After you’ve spent time listening to what I have to say.

Now after delaying long enough I’ve decided to get my ideas about Time out there in some form that might be of use to someone else. I have tried to the best of my ability to live by these ideas since I formulated them back in 1993. If you do the math that’s over 25 years of practical outworking. And the one thing I have seen clearly, when you add the effects of Time to life it gets much deeper and richer.

I am not saying that we are allowed to do this at all points. Au contraire. Just in transportation alone it is nearly impossible to live within a human sense of the meaning of time. We are required to move too fast to stay sane. Still one can, for instance, still apply these principles to the planning stages of a journey. To stay longer in places, rather than just passing through. That’s a simple way of incorporating Time into the hustle of the tourism industry. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Anyway there are four video discussions now. And if you are thinking that ideas about Time are probably going to be dreadfully boring, then these talks really are for You. So you can start at the beginning or jump around. The argument builds, but necessarily in a straightforward direction.

(And I’ll keep adding the videos here until the series is finished.)

Well I need to get back to my life in Tbilisi Georgia. Oh and by the way there will soon be a channel on my Georgian life so stick around.

Keep swimming against the stream

Byrne Power

Tbilisi, Georgia

29/8/2019

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Oh yeah…

Hey! People who are contributing to my sites are getting extra content not available online. They are also keeping me alive in Georgia. I must honestly say without the gifts given to me thus far this experiment would have collapsed a while ago. No much keeps me going for a while. So give through PayPal. $10 a month or a one time gift of the equivalent of $50 US. Gets you another 15 hours worth of lectures.

Here’s the Link CLICK ME!!! NOW. Please…


Announcing The Anadromist

      Greetings from Tbilisi Georgia! I would like to announce that I have just started a YouTube channel directly related to the content on this site. This is my response to the polarization and turmoil of the times. I want to do through speaking what I have attempted to do here through writing, to encourage considerate and serious thinking about the times we inhabit rather than than travel down the obvious roads of discourse which have become so scabrous. And so I have launched what is in fact my second YouTube channel called The Anadromist, someone who swims against the stream.

A week ago I uploaded this short invitation, which is a good place to start.. It’s only three minutes long. Give it a watch…

Then once you’ve done that you can go on to the introduction, which is about 15 minutes long. And if you like the concept please do subscribe. I’ve decided to make The Anadromous Life in its different versions a going concern. In my new life in Tbilisi Georgia I find I need to stay connected with the rest of the world. And I also need to see if this will provide some extra resources to keep me afloat down the road. So subscribing to the Anadromist channel is important to me. I have a notion that all of the ideas I’ve been sitting on for years might have some purpose out there in the world. We’ll see. And if you are already following me here it can’t hurt to follow me there as well.

Here’s the introduction where I describe my reasons for starting this venture. I’m not sure how long I can keep it going. But I’m enthused to make these videos and to engage in a conversation with others through YouTube. I have several more episodes already in the can. There shouldn’t be any shortage of topics.

I’ve enjoyed myself coming up with ways to make my ‘talking head’ more interesting. And I have taken my editing skills and put them to work inventing new imagery. Now the big question is how much material can I borrow before I start getting copyright notices?

And don’t worry I will continue writing here and at Gravity From Above. I have several essays that should find their way to the page very soon. Also I will continue using my current channel The Anadromous Life for documenting puppetry, music, dance and other events. So if you want you can join up there too. Watch this one if you haven’t discovered my first channel. This is an extremely short little title piece I made for the site. But click on the channel and explore my content. I don’t do anything to go out of style.

Thanks for being part of this experiment that I’ve been running since 2010. Over 200,000 views have been accumulated over 80,000 individuals have passed through the site. Not bad considering I hardly advertise at all.

If you want to support this work there is PayPal. Or you can just pass the essays along and the videos.

Meanwhile I need to get some sleep here in Tbilisi.

Stay tuned much more is coming.

Byrne Power

Tbilisi, Georgia

12/5/2019

 


21st Century Propaganda: Addendum #3

Untamed Voices

A man rides his horse through flames during the

In my last 21st Century Propaganda essay I mentioned several contemporary figures whom I felt I could trust, whether I completely agreed with them or not. Today we live in times where, to paraphrase Yeats, the center does not hold. There is no public square, as Os Guinness has been espousing. And so while the political and cultural edges eat themselves in Ouroboros fashion I thought I would give you bonafide examples of the kinds of conversations that are happening in what might be a developing public square. And for me (and I’m sure I’m not alone) without this dialogue we will slide into new civil wars, and possibly a New Dark Age. These speakers have very definite positions. I’m sure that Camille Paglia’s praise of drag queens would not find a complimentary echo in Paul Vanderklay’s Christian beliefs. But here is the point, the people featured below show evidence of being people willing to discuss ideas openly and even admit faults in an honest way. I am absolutely sure that Vanderklay and Paglia could have a great discussion, even with their differences. And better this rather outcast assemblage of contradictory voices than lockstep ideologies of the indentitarian right or left. So I present to you a few words to challenge your thinking and fuel your own integrity.

Again I have not tried to make sure I represented every position or ethnicity because I believe that kind of thinking leads us into an authoritarian stalemate. These are just people that I have in some way or another learned to trust, even when we disagree. My suggestion: Find people whom you trust, who are open to dialogue. (Better yet go back and read this whole series.  Or if that’s too much read the last couple of essays.)

You will also notice that several of these videos are over a hour long. And maybe you find that to be a long slog. But consider this, look at the view counts on each lecture. Some are in the hundreds of thousands. And more than one person has commented on the fact that while the mainstream media still hands out sound bites in the belief in the stupidity of the viewer. Evidently there is a hunger for much more. Welcome to the world of solid food. An escape from the fast food sound bites of the legacy media. Save these for later, and trust me, look at how much time you waste, you have time. Especially since most of these don’t really require your visual participation.

The Living

Challenging Thinkers

These are teachers, professors, thinkers who’s work has been, in different ways, grappling this present moment and often directly challenging the assumptions of the monolithic media and educational systems.

Jonathan Haidt is a American social psychologist and professor at New York University. He is author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion and The Coddling of the American Mind co-written with Greg Lukianoff. This video is from the Think Forum.

Christina Hoff Sommers is an American author and philosopher. Her books include: Who Stole Feminism? and The War Against Boys. Dave Rubin is a political commentator and talk show host of YouTube’s The Rubin Report. The following video is from the Rubin Report and is entitled Christina Hoff Sommers: Feminism, Free Speech, Gamergate.

Roger Scruton is an English philosopher and writer specializing in art, aesthetics, and political philosophy. Notable books include: The Aesthetics of Music, Sexual Desire, Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged, Beauty, Where We Are. The lecture below is called The True, the Good and the Beautiful.

Camille Paglia is an American academic, social critic, renegade feminist and professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Her books include: Sexual Personae, The Birds, and Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars. In the following video Camille Paglia discusses her most recent book, Free Women, Free Men Sex, Gender, Feminism.

Os Guinness is an English author, social critic whose history included time at L’Abri in Switzerland and a PhD at Oxford. Now residing in America he is a dedicated observer of the times. Books include: The Dust of Death, The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends on It, A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future and Fool’s Talk. John Anderson is a former Australian Deputy Prime Minister of Australia among other posts. This video was recorded in Australia from Conversations with John Anderson.

Jordan Peterson is a Canadian clinical psychologist and a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. He is also the author of Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief and the bestseller 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. He is an improbably controversial figure and probably as close as anyone to the core of the crisis of the present moment. Samuel Harris is an American neuroscientist, philosopher, author, atheist critic of religion and podcast host. His books include: The End of Faith, The Moral Landscape, Free Will, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion. Although Peterson and Harris take radically different views on the nature of God and belief, both have been called members of the Intellectual Dark Web. This is one of several extremely popular debates they have had on the existence of God. It took place in Vancouver.

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Historians

History is crucial in facing the meaning of this present age. And it is a subject most postmodern folk are entirely deficient in. These are a few prominent historians with valuable insights.

Timothy Garton Ash is British historian, author and commentator. Professor at both Oxford and Stanford Universities. He was present in a special way during the end of Communism in Eastern Europe. His books include: Facts are Subversive, History of the Present, The Magic Lantern, The Polish Revolution: Solidarity, 1980–82 and most recently Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World. This video is related to his book on Free Speech.

Sir Simon Schama is an English historian specializing in art history, Dutch history, Jewish history and French history. He is also a television presenter and now professor at Columbia University in New York City. Schama certainly has is own unique view of history and it is always worth a listen. In this lecture Simon Schama discusses History Lessons.

Ken Burns is an American documentary filmmaker focusing on American history. His documentary series include: The Civil War , Baseball, Jazz, The War, and The Vietnam War. The following video is called An Evening with Ken Burns.

Suzannah Lipscomb is a British historian, academic and television presenter. She specializes in the Tudor period. Her books include: 1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII, The King is Dead: The Last Will and Testament of Henry VIII, Witchcraft, The Voices of Nîmes: Women, Sex, and Marriage in Reformation Languedoc. This video is from The Conference 2013.

Niall Ferguson is a British historian and television presenter. He specializes in economic and financial history. His books include: The House of Rothschild, Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, The War of the World: History’s Age of Hatred, The Square and the Tower: Networks, Hierarchies and the Struggle for Global Power. This is video from Conversations with John Anderson.

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Mostly Millennial YouTubers

Thoughty2 (Arran Lomas) Thoughty2 should be pronounced in a northern English accent so that it sounds like 42, which is reference to Douglas Adams answer to the question of the meaning of life in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Arran is an affable, whimsical and sincere commentator on the world as he sees it. This episode is called Why Is Everyone Getting So Offended

Sargon of Akkad (Carl Benjamin) The English Sargon is frankly a controversial figure. He was prominent in Gamergate, and has never been adverse to saying exactly what he is thinking. But Carl will also acknowledge his missteps with alacrity and will challenge all comers to give the reasons for why they say what they say. He rides the line between satire and genuine political philosophy. Scabrously opinionated and fair in equal doses. You’ve been warned. In this video he asks, How do we Parley with Silicon Valley?

Tim Pool (Timcast & Subverse) Tim Pool is an American journalist of Korean and European descent who came into prominence by reporting fairly on Occupy Wall Street, which meant he also showed the failings of the movement. Later he was found interviewing the Alt-Right or off in Ukraine during the time of their upheaval. He tries to be scrupulously fair and has spent much of his time critiquing the rather biased mainstream media. He is like a millennial version of Edward R. Murrow (if Murrow played video games). This is from his recent piece entitled: We Are At The Gates Of Civil War… And Nothing Can Stop It

Brave The World (Julia Turansky) Julia was a hardcore atheist anarchist with a heart. She made provocative videos seeking to expose the problems of the state. But after the birth of her child she began to ask deeper questions, eventually becoming a Christian. In this video she explains after 20 Years an Atheist: Why I Turned.

Paul Vanderklay is most assuredly not a millennial. He is a Dutch Reformed pastor living in Sacramento California who has spent quite some time trying to figure out what this moment means for Christians and others. He found YouTube a few years ago and began to ponder online along with others whom he began to interview who also have also been arrested by the crisis of meaning in today’s world. This is one of his shorter videos on Jordan Peterson, Owen Barfield and John Vervaeke.

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And The Dead

Some writers and thinkers could see where we would be before we got there. They emphasized different aspects of the age we have slipped into. Some of them have passed away in the last couple of years.

Tom Wolfe was an insightful essayist and novelist who focused his scrutiny upon the nature and foibles of contemporary life. Whether is analyzing the US space program or Ken Kesey’s cosmic space program he was a sharp critic and well worth listening to, even while ensconced in his trademark luxurious white suits year round. This interview is from CBS’ 60 Minutes.

Nat Hentoff was known as both serious jazz critic and as left wing political commentator. As time passed he adopted views that became harder to classify, linking abortion and euthanasia with the slippery slope down to Nazi ideology. And willing to show the authoritarian leanings of those who claimed to be fighting for various indentitarian factions. He spent many decades writing for the Village Voice, yet was eventually pushed aside for being politically incorrect. The following is a short biographical and political piece on free speech and jazz.

Jacques Ellul is perhaps the most underrated and heretical French thinker of the 20th Century. Former Marxist and a Protestant convert he was a sociologist with a rigorous understanding of the issues presented by technology and propaganda. His writing were almost ignored in France, yet through his books The Technological Society and Propaganda he found his way into a subterranean stream of American thinking. My own debt to Ellul is matched only by C.S. Lewis, Aleksander Solzhenitsyn and Hans Rookmaaker. The following Dutch film is the only full documentary interview on his thinking made during his lifetime. It is called The Betrayal by Technology: A Portrait of Jacques Ellul.

Paul Virilio, who only recently passed away, is another French thinker who contradicts the postmodern worldview with his questions about the nature of speed, art and architecture. Of all the people represented here Virilio was seeing furthest into the future. His ideas if seriously engaged will challenge much that you know. In many ways he was the successor to Jacques Ellul. This is advanced level thinking about the issues of today and tomorrow. The following presentation is called Perspective and the Obligation of Seeing and is part of the European Graduate School Video Lectures

Hans Rookmaaker was a Dutch Reformed Art Historian who fought to restore meaning in art and a deeper understanding of reality. He clearly saw the end result of the meaninglessness of modern materialism. My debt to his thinking is immeasurable. The following audio lecture was one of his last before his untimely death in 1977. It is called What Is Reality? More Rookmaaker can be found at the L’Abri Ideas Library.

Hans_Rookmaaker

Hans Rookmaaker

Well this was supposed to be an easy essay to write… But it ended up being much longer than I thought it would. But you know what? These things are important. And I wanted to leave this 21st Century Propaganda series with a few practical solutions. They can be found by listening to these people. By listening. Disagreeing. Wondering. And getting busy. Time for reality. Time to swim against stream in the Anadromous style.

Byrne Power

Tbilisi, Georgia

16/4/2019

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A personal note:

The Anadromous Life has been running a YouTube channel for several years now. It has accrued some interest, with a few videos receiving many thousands of views. We would like to take this moment to say that we will be starting two more channels in the very near near future. One is entitled The Anadromist and this one will be closest in content to this site. I’ve felt I needed a place to ramble on about the many kinds of topics that I won’t have time for here. The other will be dedicated to my new life in Tbilisi Georgia.
And yes indeed I am now happily living in Tbilisi Georgia. It has been quite the time. I am learning Georgian (Kartuli) and I work for Union of Tbilisi Museums. I have made good friends. Yet things are not quite as I expected, and that includes financially. My Gravity From Above documentary has stalled again. And I am wondering how I will be able to ship my full container to Georgia within the next year. If you wish to help us out with Gravity From Above you can do so through PayPal. You can choose between a a one time gift or you if you wish you can contribute an amount every month for a year. PayPal is probably the most cost efficient way of helping us with Gravity From Above and moving to Georgia. Thanks for helping me stay afloat with this dream. I couldn’t do it without you.

DONATE HERE.

Thanks

Byrne


21st Century Propaganda #9: Can You Trust Anyone?

Damned Kids
Whom can we trust?      (Image The Village of the Damned.)

So here we are. Propaganda has taken over most of our communications. An atrocious incident in New Zealand suddenly escalates the psychic war. The Left shrieks that this is the fault of everyone not aligned with them. The Right digs in pugnaciously. And no doubt there will be more events of a similar kind from different factions in the not too distant future. Interestingly the old school media have completely overlooked the many Christians thus far killed in early 2019 by Muslims in Africa, the Philippines and other locales in their own drumbeats of suppression. Because clearly Africans (280 in Nigeria) and Filipinos are not on the list of people anybody actually cares about. They don’t figure in our propaganda wars. And yes real life massacres and violence are certainly part of this largely mental battleground.

austin_zombies

The Signs Are Everywhere.

There was a January attack on a church in the Philippines by Muslims that killed 20 and injured 80 people. Suddenly that becomes worthy of news because the media largely ignored it. In the wake of the Christchurch Massacre rightish media suddenly brings this incident out to say ‘Why do you spin things only one way?’ But then the numbers get inflated by angry propagandized right wingers. The dates change from a month or so ago to yesterday. And thus the massive propaganda trash fire continues to burn. Then someone in the leftish media says your numbers and dates are wrong. So therefore you are completely false. We saw a similar back and forth about Charlottesville. But truthfully everything is an info shuttlecock in this savage game of propaganda badminton. And this reminds me of what Joseph Goebbels said. “The truth is always stronger than the lie.” essentially all propaganda must be based on facts. Which is how the National Socialists took the assassination of a German by a Polish-Jew in Paris France and blew it up into Kristallnacht, the night in 1938 when the cruel violence of the Nazis against the Jews was fully unleashed. Remember this when you are convulsed by an isolated event and want immediate political action. That is exactly how propagandists ratchet up the tension. An event sparks reaction before the event is even known or understood.

North Carolina SNow 2014

The Current Mediascape.

And so in this moment of heated tension the question then remains where can one go to get information that is at least less tainted by the all consuming maw of Propaganda. This is a much trickier question than it at first seems. One thing that is clear is that all of the mainstream sources are fairly difficult to trust now. One is completely immersed in Propaganda in the guise of news as one listens to CNN, the Washington Post, even respected sources like the BBC, NPR and New York Times all in their turns have fallen ill to varying degrees of this contemporary sickness. Gone are the Walter Cronkites and the Edward R. Murrows who while not being purely objective bystanders did their level best to give a middle-of-the-road perspective on the news of the day. Interestingly both worked for CBS News. And while CBS is not what it used to be it still seems to be fairly reliable when contrasted to the disinformation sideshows that the Washington Post and CNN have become.

3_BEYOND-THE-BLACK-RAINBOW-_-52212

What to Believe?     (Image from Beyond the Black Rainbow)

And other sources? The New Yorker, MSNBC, Vice, the Huffington Post, Time, Newsweek, The Daily Beast and on and on. Pretty much it’s a pox on all of their houses when it comes to really trying to serve all of the public. I mean Russia Today and Al Jazeera seem to be in the same league as they are. The biases drain out from under them like contaminated water from a defrosting refrigerator. For instance, when a writer compares Trump to Hitler you know you are in the presence of seriously distorted Propaganda, with no concern for history or truth. And when these same media pretend that there is only one point of view? Welcome to the Propaganda wars. And you may notice that all of these sources are slanted, in some cases heavily, to the Left. That’s not an accident.

Is the Right any better. I’m certainly not shilling for Fox News, yet there are times when due to their obvious biases they are less affected by certain forms of hysteria infecting the other media. Having said that I also would not trust them any farther than I could spit. Even more so with Breitbart News. Or the New York Post. And the Wall Street Journal must always stay in the realm of economic propaganda. While occasionally doing bizarre things like accusing Youtuber Pewdiepie of being a neo-Nazi. Only to eventually have to retract it much later. And curiously the right wing sources are much less name brand recognizable than those tilting left. And thus those on the obvious Right sling their propaganda mud with alacrity.

A Rope tied to the Left Hand

And if the Center Does Not Hold?

But the center is not holding. The Left has drifted continually into extreme territory until they are casually redefining the nature of male and female, what makes a country, and the meaning of democracy. What a few years ago would have been taken as obvious by most folks, that men and women are different biologically, that a country has borders, that a legal vote reflects the will of the populace, have all been dragged severely in the last few years to the synth drumbeats of so much propaganda. People have even forgotten what they used to believe. And I mean five years ago. And the vanguard of these new ideas, media figures and university students, will often act with complete shock and hurt that anybody still believes such shameful hateful ideas as biological sex, the nation state or elections, such as the Brexit Referendum or Trump’s victory, that go against the will of some of the people. And so these areas have, like a California wildfire, become a burnt over zone. All that’s left it seems is rage.

Man on Roof Wild Fire

California on Fire.

Meanwhile the illusion in the antique media is that the rather minuscule Alt-Right, whom, without fact checking, they conflate with Neo-Nazis and the KKK, are taking over. And so they take a figure like Canadian professor Jordan Peterson and vilify him as some sort of ‘far Right’ extremist because he is saying things which used to be considered liberal leftish opinions not too long ago. The truth is he is center Left. Yet he knows how to speak across the spectrum as many public intellectuals used to do. And when the Left media pundits try to trap him they, like the BBC’s Kathy Newman did last year, blunder into a dialogue they can’t win, because they are only feeding on the surface level frenzy of issues while Peterson actually has a grounding in the much wider and deeper cultural arena of history and science. Now I say this not agreeing with everything Peterson says, yet having a lot more respect for him than I do the majority of opinion makers that decorate the dying mainstream and digital media.

And that is the point. We have to get out of our slanted boxes and listen to people with differing ideas from our own. However I must immediately remind myself of a serious dilemma posed by Jacques Ellul. It is not enough to simply start listening to the ‘enemies propaganda’. In any set of ideas there are honest commentators, historians, journalists, thinkers and then there a multitudes of propagandists, who are usually getting the most ‘Likes’. Ellul points out that caught between two conflicting propagandas one doesn’t come to know the truth. Rather like being caught between two prizefighters one ends up getting slugged senseless. Or worse, simply converting from one form of propagandized belief to another. Which is why I’ve been aghast to see young people who begin to question the intersectional beliefs of third wave feminism then start moving towards a white genocide belief. As though there was nowhere in between. It’s like saying all that there is are Communists and Fascists. So avoid the propagandists!!!

Cannibal Women

Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire

The good news is that through people like Jonathan Haidt, Jordan Peterson, Tim Pool, Joe Rogan, Sam Harris, Paul Vanderklay, Camille Paglia, Christina Hoff Sommers and many others an alternative network (the Intellectual Dark Web or IDW) that does allow real open discussion and disagreement has started to form. One of the best aspects of the insanity of the present moment is that there are some people truly talking again, not only on YouTube, but in lecture halls and seminars. It’s strangely refreshing to here atheist Carl Benjamin (aka Sargon of Akkad) defend Christianity. Or to know that atheist Sam Harris and Jordan B. Peterson, who is some sort of Christian, had a series of epic discussions on the existence of God, where the audience didn’t even want to stop for questions so fascinated were they by the conversions. Gay and straight folks are having the kinds of dialogues they should had for the last 30 years, which allows all questions and challenges on the table. Journalist Tim Pool is attempting to start an alternative news source called Subverse practically alone. And this sort of thing is being completely ignored by what YouTube commentator and occultist Styxhexenhammer666 calls the ‘lame stream media’. And these discussions and videos go on for hours. Where is the soundbite mentality? Well it’s still there on CNN, the BBC, on clickbait Buzzfeed posts. But I do believe people are hungry for the intellectual nutrition that our global commercial networks have denied them to the point of malnourishment.

Hitchhiker

Be Careful of Who You Pick Up.

How then to detect a person with ideas worth taking seriously from any stripe? First of all, do they acknowledge the messiness of every interpretation including their own? Can they see why a person would believe something other than what they believe? Do they respect opinions radically different from their own? Do they have a real sense of history? Do they point out when they get their facts wrong? Are they humble about their knowledge? Do they believe in truth? Of any kind? Do they know that others outside of their belief structure can also understand truth? Do they agonize over the state of humanity with compassion and not accusation? These kinds of questions to me all point to the kind of person you can learn from no matter what their belief. Nobody can be perfect in these things. But do they have these as some sort of goal? If so the you are in the presence of someone who lives in this world, and not a fictional propaganda echo chamber. If you are arguing with them when you read, listen or watch them you are at least arguing with someone living in the same world that you live in. And while you might see things differently and have come to different conclusions they are different conclusions about the same reality.

Deep Thoughts

Time for Reflection Not Reaction.

Now I can’t tell you whom you should trust. But I can tell you some of the people I have been listening to myself. They come from various perspectives. Some of them I radically disagree with. But they are honest in their opinions and worth wrestling with if you are a thinking human being. In other words this is not a list for the immature, whether they be 12 years old or 75.

So take this for what it’s worth. In a future addendum to this series I will add clips of YouTube vlogs, speeches and interviews. As of this writing all of these people are living and still contributing to the discussion. There are many more I could add, but this will be a good starting place. And YouTube searches would be the best introduction. I have not tried to represent every possible ethnicity or viewpoint, because my feeling is that that sort of empty gesture is part of the problem not the cure. This is what I found helpful for myself. You will certainly find others.

Besides the living, the dead having even far more to say to us. But I have rambled on too long for now.

bosch hell

Bosch Understood What Happens When You Move With Entropy, Not Against It.

And so this will be the official end of this series of essays. If you been following my main thrust you’ll see that my view is that the primary issue confronting humanity in this time of chaos does not come from any specific political issue or ideology. Rather it can be seen this way; while fewer people have died in wars in the 21st Century as died in the last century by this same point, most folks today are far more fearful of and confused by where we are now than they were then. Why? Propaganda. We live in it as it invades our consciousness from every orifice of technology. And yet there is hope if we can start to enter the conversation with real creativity and with real people.

I will give the late Canadian media critic Marshall McLuhan the last word.

“Jacques Ellul observes in Propaganda: ‘When dialogue begins, propaganda ends.’ His theme, that propaganda is not this or that ideology but rather the action and coexistence of all media at once, explains why propaganda is environmental and invisible. The total life of any culture tends to be ‘propaganda’, for this reason. It blankets perception and suppresses awareness, making the counter environments created by the artist indispensable to survival and freedom.”

Foggy Woods

Finding Our Way in the Fog

And finally just a few names of living people that I trust in different ways. These folks have ideas worth hearing even if you or I disagree with them.

Camille Paglia – American Art Historian, Lesbian, First Wave Feminist, Atheist (Center Left maybe)

Christina Hoff Sommers – American Historian, Philosopher, ‘Factual’ Feminist, Author, YouTuber (Center Left)

David Thomson – British Film Critic, Author of many books and essays (Center Left)

Jonathan Haidt – American University Professor, Social Psychologist, Author (Center Left)

Jonathan Pie – Scabrous British Satirist, Socialist (real name Tom Walker) YouTuber (Left)

Jordan B. Peterson – Canadian University Professor, Clinical Psychologist, Jungian, Author (Centrist)

Julia Turansky – Canadian Anarcho-Christian, YouTuber (Channel Brave The World) , Mother

Ken Burns – American Documentarian, Author, TV Producer (Center Left)

Ken Myers – American Radio and Podcast host Mars Hill Audio (Center Right)

Niall Ferguson – British Historian, Television presenter, Author (Center Right)

Os Guinness – British Author, Christian, Lecturer (Center Right)

Paul Vanderklay – American Dutch Reformed Pastor, YouTuber (Center)

Robert D. Kaplan – American Historian and Journalist, Machiavellian, Author (Centrist)

Roger Scruton – British Philosopher, Television Presenter, Conservative Commentator, Art Historian (Center Right)

Simon Schama – British American Historian, University Professor, Television Presenter (Center Left)

Slavoj Zizek – Slovenian Marxist Postmodern Philosopher, Author, Television Host (Left)

Stanley Crouch – American Jazz Historian, African American Social Commentator, Novelist (Center)

Suzannah Lipscomb – British Historian, Television presenter, Author (Center)

Tim Pool – American Journalist, YouTuber Trying to Create an Honest News Source (Center Left)

Timothy Garton Ash – British University Professor, Historian, Journalist and Author (Center Left)

Timothy Keller – American Presbyterian Pastor, Author (Center Right)

…..

The addendum will come very soon.

Thanks for reading this and pondering these things with me.

….

Byrne Power

Tbilisi, Georgia

24/3/2019

….

Hey I really could use some help with what I am doing here in Tbilisi. My Gravity From Above project has stalled and my resources have become limited. Anything you choose to contribute can be done through PayPal. Click this.

And if this essay was of value pass it along.

 

21st Century Propaganda: Addendum #1


21st Century Propaganda #8: Infection and Diagnosis

Hate, hunger, and pride make better levers of propaganda than do love or impartiality.

Jacques Ellul – Propaganda

Pontypool

An Infection of Words spread through the Media in the Canadian ‘zombie’ film  Pontypool.

So then Propaganda surrounds us. (The series starts here.) What can we do to at least find a reasonable way of weighing the details of life surrounding us in this virtual bubble? There are two answers lodged in one question here. First: What practical steps can we take to make sure we are as little effected by the all consuming maw of illusory communications as is humanly possible? Second: Are there any ways of identifying voices we can trust from the various perspectives of this fictional panorama? No easy task. We shall deal with this in our concluding essay next time. Let’s tackle the practical issue first.

The main principle is this. We are all infected by today’s Propaganda. As Jacques Ellul points out intelligence is no defense. The very people who think themselves most up to date are often the most heavily propagandized. So the question then is not how to avoid propaganda, but how to recognize the depths of our own infection. In a way our situation is quite similar to the only Canadian postapocalyptic film I have ever seen: Pontypool. Which has the end of the world coming through an infection of words. And this is brilliant for being a direct correlation to propaganda and for it taking place in Canada one of the most politically correct hot spots on earth, complete with legislation to back it up. In Pontypool the radio station at the core of the film is also a source of this lethal infection. All communications media spread the infection. Conversations also spread it. And this verbal virus effects people by driving them completely murderous. It’s a excellent analogy, if a bit too extreme to help us to understand our own level of propaganda infection.

Knee Jerk test

Allow me to suggest a better indicator: The Knee Jerk Reaction.

Obviously the concept of the Knee Jerk Reaction is related to the reflex test where a physician taps a specific spot on your knee to see if your leg moves involuntarily. But there is a big difference between this physical test and our propaganda test. When your knee jerks that’s a very good thing. It means your reflexes are working correctly. But emotionally the knee jerk reaction means something exactly the opposite. It means when you hear certain words, concepts and names you react instantly, and usually it’s not very pleasant. That’s the Knee Jerk Reaction. And that’s a serious problem.

Now we all have them, Knee Jerk Reactions. Someone is talking about something and as soon as a word or possible thought passes through the air you are immediately disturbed. So you hear words like Trump, or abortion, or gay, or taxes, or war, or trans, or Clinton, or Macron, or Merkel, or Putin, or Obama, or Thatcher, or Reagan, or Republican, or Democrat, or feminism, or Muslim, or Christian, or atheist, or God, or witchcraft, or Satan, or Marvel, or DC, or Star Wars, or Harvard, or Yale, or Texas, or Russia, or China, or Africa, or blackface, or liberal, or equality, or free speech, or nationalist, or socialist, or vegan, or McDonald’s, or Starbucks, or T-Series or anything else that instantly changes your mood and there, my friends, lies your propagandized soul exposed for the world to see. And to the degree you find yourself at a loss of control in your anger, hatred, disgust, or fear that is the degree to which you can reckon yourself fully propagandized by something. And we all have these Knee Jerk Reactions. Don’t bother to deny it. Because that too will be a sign of the same.

Let’s Look For Your Jerking Knees. (Click to Expand)

 

 

Did You Figure Out What Causes You To Lose Your Mind?

Now I’m not saying there aren’t reasons for reactions. Oh there are… Except, once said, we have to then come straight to this point: How can we trust the sources of our news and information. When I first started to understand the depth of our envelopment in Propaganda we weren’t yet living in THIS world. Yes each news outlet had its viewpoint, but we hadn’t been bogged down in endless conspiracy theories yet. There was no Internet to spread the immediate reactions. If a pastor in Florida burned copies of the Koran in Florida no one even knew about it, let alone died in Palestine. And so I would say to folks then when I read Time Magazine or watch CBS News I know that something has happened, but I don’t necessarily trust that media’s interpretation of the facts. I came to understand this early because I was in a primary Jesus People group when I was young. Reporters from national news services occasionally wrote stories on us and I was always impressed by how little they really understood of what they had seen. Their stories were usually skewed by the reporters bias. Good reporters I learned sought to be fair, acknowledging their own biases, and working to put them aside. Not only are very few reporters today that good, but the idea of putting aside your biases today is nearly a lost art. (I say nearly, but fortunately not totally.) But today’s reporters proudly display their political biases and completely skew their news accordingly. Then again in these late postmodern times truth is seen as a relic of dead Western Civilization. Resulting in a new phenomenon, not merely changing the narrative, in which the word ‘narrative’ equals the word ‘spin’, but removing the veracity of the event at all. Fake News

Now when I see news I wonder if the event even happened? Is it Fake News? And even that phrase ‘Fake News’ is a hotly contested neologism. The Left claims that all Fake News is Right slanted. The Right claims the same about the Left. But I think its use points out the exact reality we find ourselves in. Not only is it the interpretation that is at stake but now the actual reality is in question. So what to do? How do we avoid being dragged into these propaganda wars within our own minds? And across the fiction of news as it has devolved in this hysterical age? We will talk about sources in our last essay. But for now let’s work on developing our powers of observation.

So a sudden story erupts. It’s not a hurricane in Florida, an Earthquake in Chile, but rather it’s one of those many events that have gripped us one after another for years now. There is a photo. A short video. A protest somewhere. A march. Suddenly it’s politically hot. Everyone’s talking about it. People pass stories, interpretations, memes on social media. You are meant to feel stupid if you don’t agree with the dominant and instant media interpretation. It’s ‘trans bathrooms’, ‘Grab ’em by the pussy.’ Charlottesville, Jefferson, Portland, Berkeley, it’s the MAGA hat kid with his ‘smirk’, it’s Jussie Smollett and his ‘noose’, it’s comments at the Academy Awards, or by a rising political star. What do you do?

How an Online Propaganda Mob Forms

First of all, Back the hell up! Do not form a opinion on the first day or three. Because, as we have seen, what actually happened isn’t even known yet. When the Covington Catholic boys incident was at last known everyone had to apologize. Because full videos from the day, uploaded on the day, were completely ignored by folks who interpret these events for us on television. And the event that supposedly got everyone so worked up… never happened! And yet there are still folks who will swear they ‘know what they saw’ without ever having watched the full video. And that, my friends, is the most egregious effect of Propaganda upon us. It can change the reality of what we see into what we wish to see.

Edinburgh Bookstore

These are called Books. They slow you down. Allow you to think before you react. Read them.

So back off! Have courage. Don’t share your opinions, your conclusions, your accusations, your anything! about these things on social media. Don’t pass on articles proving ‘the point’. Don’t assume you know. Because you know what? You probably know nothing. And how can you? The event is still unfolding. There are those who still don’t understand what the presence of Antifa meant at Charlottesville. Why? The mainstream media omitted them from their narrative. Yes it was absolutely frightening to see the presence of this new White Nationalist movement. But it was just as blood curdling to see honest to God Communists there as well. And the authorities let them come together. So what actually did happen? And will you over react to what I just written? And yes, I fully realize these things are molten hot.

ChanaSue Lang

Learn to talk, even to disagree.

So my advice: STOP. Stop passing on your pet Propaganda on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. That doesn’t mean stop thinking. Au contraire! It means start thinking and stop that jerking knee. Reacting is what the goal of all Propaganda is. Stop with the pointed jokes against (fill in the blank). Stop spreading pro/anti gun, PETA, Christian, LGBTQ+, Atheist, Trans, etc. Propaganda. Dehumanization and real hatred are the only things spread that way. Stop with commentary on things that happened this morning that quite literally you can’t know anything about yet. Stop getting newsfeed alerts on your phone. Stand back from it all and get your breath and mind working again. Stop fantasizing about doomsday and revenge scenarios. Learn to read again, not merely to skim. Read books. Make no phone zones. Try to understand history in order to understand the current hysteria. Find trustworthy sources. Don’t listen to movie stars, sports stars, television stars about politics. What they say about the craft of acting is valuable. What they think about current politics is usually just Knee Jerk Propaganda.

Matilda Lost

Get Together with Real Humans in Real Time. Play Physical Games.

And finally get back to reality. Have people over for dinner. (I’m extremely serious about this.) Remember all those people you hate so much, who believe that tripe that you would never swallow, they are humans too. And if you sat down to dinner with them you would find that out. Unless you are so propagandized that all you can see is the shallow symbols of opposition. Very few conservative folk are actually that dreaded Far Right ogre you imagine. Most Left leaning souls are not the mindless SJW’s. But you may indeed meet those with whom you disagree. Then talk. Have a real conversation. Perhaps the most salient quote from Jacques Ellul is this Discussion ends Propaganda.” Don’t be afraid. Just do it. Even with the most polarized people you encounter, if you can, if you dare. For it is only by learning to do so that we can avert the true disaster of a new American Civil War.

Fortunately there a few signs of hope.

In our conclusion we’ll examine the possibility of trustworthy sources. And examine the hope embedded in this moment.

Come back soon.

Byrne Power

Tbilisi, Georgia

9/3/2019

Finally you can support us out here on the edge. And it will truly be appreciated. Use this PayPal link. I can access it from anywhere. Even here in Tbilisi Georgia.

Thanks! CLICK ME.

Oh and if you haven’t read the rest of this series you can start here.

https://theanadromist.wordpress.com/2017/04/12/21st-century-propaganda-1/

And for more practical advice on finding reality again try this essay.

https://theanadromist.wordpress.com/2011/04/16/salvaging-reality/

 


Georgian Lessons #11: Why I’m moving to Georgia

Shoba Crowd 2

Georgians during the Alilo Procession on Shoba (Eastern Christmas).

And so since I began writing these Georgian Lessons, and until very recently, I had no idea that I might find myself moving there. And yet that is exactly what is going to happen. (The whole story can be found at Gravity From Above.) By the end of 2018 I will be back in Tbilisi to stay. I will finish up the editing of Gravity From Above there and then just stay to start work on a puppet and doll museum. Friends back in Alaska knew I was going back to work on my documentary last year. A few asked me if I was planning on moving to Europe. And what I would tell them, in all honestly, was that I wasn’t planning on it. But then I would add that I wasn’t planning on not moving there either. I just didn’t know. Life in Alaska seemed to be changing for me. I was open to possibilities. For a short while France appeared as a possibility. My French is passable and I have a few friends there. And in all truth I will always have France as a place to return to for certain things I can find nowhere else. But I somewhat suspected it might be Georgia calling me.

Paata

Paata a hand shadow puppeteer at Budrugana Gagra.

When I first arrived in Georgia at the end of December 2017 I was a little puzzled. I had thought I might be invited to experience more of the holiday season with some of my Georgian friends. But that didn’t really materialize. (I didn’t even know how they celebrated their holidays.) And so I found myself in a very different situation than in my first journey to Tbilisi in 2016. I was keeping myself busy. Yet I felt isolated by the very holidays I had half hoped to experience. But I need not have worried. Georgia isn’t like America that welcomes you with wide open arms immediately, only to forget about you later. It is slower sense of acceptance. And then it feels much more solid. So whether with my hosts who rented me my three month apartment in the Saburtalo area. Or my friends in puppetry. Or the many singers, dancers, and musicians of Erisioni. In each case I realized that a slower approach would work better. At Erisioni I was content to remain in the background quite a while, hardly moving, eventually becoming more and more a part of the troupe until at the end I definitely felt accepted in a fairly deep way, even though most of the members didn’t speak much English.

Lika C Bowed

Lika Chikhelidze a graceful dancer at Erisioni.

But where I could speak English I soon discovered levels of conversation I had rarely seen in America since I was young. For you see Georgians, even the hippest of them, haven’t really been very influenced by postmodernism yet. Modernism? Yes. That desire to pull things apart, to reinvent things from zero? Yes. In a way. That’s there and in some of it’s darker forms. But the irony of postmodernism? Hardly at all. And so my conversations were all quite earnest. And with depth. Even though big budget Hollywood films, video games, electronic dance music are all there I didn’t have one conversation that could be construed as postmodern. No snarky references to traditional culture, no geeky discussions about Marvel superheroes or Star Wars, no obsessive gamers. I mean I’m guessing that just given the nature of these beasts they must be there somewhere. Maybe I just got lucky. But they just seemed to take these forms as just that cultural artifacts. But they didn’t seem to live in them. At least not yet. And I certainly wasn’t going to encourage them to do so.

Sophiko

Sophiko Khachidze a noble Erisioni dancer.

The truth is that except for the youngest generation most Georgians have reminders of the serious side of life within their living memories. Older folks remember communism, people in their thirties and forties remember the civil wars of the 90’s. Nearly everyone remembers the five day war with Russia in 2008. And most still remember the electricity being very undependable. And even now there are still many problems. Reality has a way of chasing away the fluff. The West has had it so good for so long that our interests and problems reflect the strange unrealities of our lives.

Georgian Young Man

A young Georgian man sitting across from me on the metro.

Conversations in Tbilisi among my new friends reminded me of conversations I had had in the 1970’s when I was much younger. That was the last period I remember when people seemed open to dialogue with people of any sort. People would try to prove their points to each other. Which I’ve always taken as a sign of openness and care even when the disagreements were strong. The way conversation has developed in America and Western Europe after that period has led to more and more division, with the internet finally separating people from each other in near totality. Leading to our current stalemate. Not that Georgia doesn’t have people with radically different ideas. And not that those ideas are all healthy or wise. Rather I felt a kind of humility to discuss things in a way that sadly is almost impossible further west.

Nino

Nino my dear inquisitor.

One new friend grilled me about my ideas. And seriously. She was looking to poke holes in my arguments about the meaning of life. She was coming from a science background and had begun to adopt what I felt were premature conclusions based on neuroscience. I elaborated my thoughts as best as possible. Finally after several lengthy discussions she turned to me and said “I can’t find a problem with what you believe. You prove yourself very well.” Even among my very good friends in America who often agree with me on a foundational level I rarely find that kind of remark. (Not that I am wanting everyone to agree with me.) That is mostly because they don’t chase my rabbit all the way back to its hole. I’ve noticed that when Americans find a point of disagreement, which is inevitable, they are not willing to continue the discussion too much farther. They’ve gone over the years from a we-just-disagree sort of fatalism to an immediate ‘unfriended’ mentality. Which I do feel is a shame. Because as I have said I do remember those all night long discussions when I was younger. I remember endless conversations while working. But now say the wrong thing and that can become the end of the relationship. (There are fortunately a few exceptions to this in America. You know who you are.) And I have seen that too many times in my life. It’s a definite lack of courage. And compassion all round.

Natia Talks

Talking with Natia Vibliani ‘star’ of the film Dede.

I’m not saying every discussion was deep. Nor am I saying Georgians have no sense of ironic humor. One of the traits I saw that really touched me was the Georgian tendency to say what they feel profoundly. When I was invited to a supra, the traditional ritual meal, I watched the toasts carefully, because I knew it would be my time to add to them soon. And Georgians take toasting at a meal seriously. And so when my turn came around several times I spoke, and was translated, giving my most thoughtful observations and hopes. I was told by the father of the friend who invited me over, that I toasted like a Georgian. And I took that as a very high compliment. Another friend musicologist John Graham told me that he had brought a couple of British men to a supra. They were incapable of speaking without irony or from the heart. And the Georgians notice things like that.

Otar

Otar Bluashvili manager and friend at Erisioni.

My discussions covered a wide range of subject matter. We spoke of the art of filmmaking, puppetry as an art, music from so many different perspectives, issues related to architecture, the meaning of emotions in Georgia, the effects of communism, the traditions of art, the problem of pollution, religious devotion pro and con. And it went on and on. And I felt at home. I could stretch out enjoying the serious possibilities of conversation that I have always thrived on.

Daro 2

Daro Sulakauri photographer and granddaughter of the great animator Karlo Sulakauri.

It’s not that my American friends can’t talk. But there is often a distinct lack of reality, of historical understanding. Georgians are still trained to know their history quite well. Americans in these days often stop short because they can’t enter in much deeper than the surfaces. Because that is what we are trained to do in order to get along. Whenever people tell you those three things you are not supposed to talk about in American society I feel the immense poverty of our discourse. And we are happy enough when any event feels good. We are not willing to take it further to that sense of profound emotion. Of course, there are exceptions to all of this. There are deep Americans and shallow Georgians.

Shoba Crowd 3

The faces of Georgians at the Christmas procession.

The conversations I had in Georgia convinced me to consider living there before I was ever offered the job which I couldn’t refuse. And I understand something very clearly in this life. Something serious in life can be accomplished by a relative handful of people who can commit themselves to a task. As opposed to the American condition that more and more resembles everyone going solo. I believe serious (and imperfect) commitments can be found in Georgia yet held with a lightness and humor while holding onto the understanding that life is very difficult. I didn’t meet one person in three months relentlessly trying to be positive. And that is an excellent thing. Not that everyone I meet will be like what I am describing. But if just a few are like that, which is what my observations show me, then I will not be spinning my wheels in the mud. And that is why I can commit myself to living in Georgia. It is hardly a perfect place. But there still is courage on a very humble level. When Georgians say hello to each other they do not say ‘Hello!’, they say ‘Gamarjoba!’ which literally translates into ‘Victory!’ And what I understand by this constant greeting is that life is hard, we’ve been through many many difficulties, including war and death, but somehow we will fight on. That attitude meshes with my own.

We’ll end our Georgian Lessons here. For now.

(Eventually I’ll have a separate site for my Georgian observations.)

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

7/2/2018

 

And remember you can help support me in this endeavor through PayPal if you wish.

 

You can start the Georgian Lessons series here:

https://theanadromist.wordpress.com/2016/09/17/georgian-lessons-1/

And you can find my original Georgia series here:

https://theanadromist.wordpress.com/2012/08/31/georgia-sakartvelo-%e1%83%a1%e1%83%90%e1%83%a5%e1%83%90%e1%83%a0%e1%83%97%e1%83%95%e1%83%94%e1%83%9a%e1%83%9d-1/

And don’t forget to look up my travels in Georgia over at Gravity From Above:

https://gravityfromabove.wordpress.com/

 


21st Century Propaganda #5: Propaganda and Social Media

Again I want to emphasize that the study of propaganda must be conducted within the context of a technological society. Propaganda is called upon to solve problems created by technology, to play on maladjustments, and to integrate the individual into a technological world. – Jacques Ellul

Prop as prop

In the spirit of Anti-Propaganda Propaganda, a sarcastic ‘meme’ featuring the late Gene Wilder from Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory having essentially the same effect as a bumper sticker saying ‘Bumper stickers are stupid.’

People have often reacted in a utopian manner as new technologies burst onto the scene. The automobile promised the endless joys of travel, and without having to feed a horse! We now know that the car and the highway are not anything resembling unmixed blessings. Traffic, commuting nightmares, highway fatalities, pollution, the entire social fabric of many communities being completely enveloped by the spaces created for the automobile. It would be easy to argue (and to win) that the car is one the greatest devil’s bargains of history. As Paul Virilio has pointed out: When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck; when you invent the plane you also invent the plane crash; and when you invent electricity, you invent electrocution… Every technology carries its own negativity, which is invented at the same time as technical progress.

And thus the utopian hopes of the internet as being a mode of open communication and knowledge, have now given way to the realities of commercial control, spam, invasion of privacy, trolling, endless payments, and most sinisterly, the constant monitoring of our activity below the horizon of our intended purposes. Visit a clothing website and then see an ad for the same product you just searched for on your Facebook page. Pay for an item in another country and have your bank shut down your card through their fraud detection services. (Both of these things have happened to me.)

social-media-should-not-be-censored

Again more Propaganda disguised as Educational choice. Make a ‘Choice’.

Not many years ago people were naïvely and insanely lauding the glories of social media as though there could be no problems attached with same. I’m imagining the reader will already be aware many instances of issues related to cyberbullying, texting nightmares, even Facebook depression, when you see your friends supposedly wonderful lives of headlines and captions and realize that your own life isn’t like that. Recently I have been made more aware of the neurotic result of connecting one’s Facebook notifications to your smartphone, as it has negatively impacted at least one friendship. But I’d like to discuss the growing dilemma of social media as perhaps the best platform for spreading Propaganda that has ever existed.

social-media-should-be-censored1

And if you Vote for this what does it say about you? Perhaps that you are a lab rat pressing a lever to obtain the food of imaginary Choice.

A word before I proceed: Jacques Ellul discusses two directions of Propaganda, the Vertical, what is often top down messaging, and the Horizontal, what we pass along to each other. Vertical Propaganda is what we are more familiar with; government statements, corporate slogans, public health warnings, political campaigns, etc. But I would say in these times Horizontal Propaganda is what has the biggest effect upon us. Horizontal Propaganda effects us much like the old illustration of crabs in a bucket. No one crab is allowed to crawl out because the other crabs hold the individual down when it tries to escape. Likewise how easy it is to live within the walls of one’s favored ideology without being allowed to raise serious questions about those same ideological presuppositions.

Smartphone

Do these Branded Icons make you free?

Now you may not notice this issue much if all of your ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ are in the same air bubble you are. That is you don’t see the ‘meme wars’, because to you all of those snide jokey little images with words imbedded in them are just humorous little moments crushing the opposition. Just press ‘Like’ and LOL along with the flow of friends all the while feeling superior to the idiots out there who voted for ‘them’, or ‘him’, or ‘her’. Or maybe suddenly you’ve discovered a cause? Here are a few causes that suddenly seemed to overshadow the humanity of various friends of mine: PETA, Gun Rights, Gun Control, Pro-Life, Gay Marriage, etc. etc. ad nauseum. Personally I’ve got to tell you this: If anything starts to infest my Facebook page I immediately ‘unfollow’ you. I keep you around as distant background noise, but until I see evidence of genuine human sharing I don’t need the clever little film with the ironic music tearing down yet one more political figure. And I feel exactly the same way about online game invitations, quizzes and surveys (really these are just clickbait sites for monitoring your cookies), product recommendations, jokey sites (often more clickbait with motives other than spreading humor) etc. and again I repeat ad nauseum.

christian-posters-23

If this verse from the Bible is true, then what shall the creator of this poorly made, badly conceived, out of context ‘meme’ reap from God?

These ‘shares’ eats into our human time as we swat away the technological flies. And then there is that most egregious symbol, the changing of your profile avatar image to coincide with some recent political event. Suddenly your photo is rainbow tinted or painted with the French flag or an anti-abortion campaign. And here’s what I know… These people usually have little direct connection to these things, they are merely ‘virtue signaling’. In the French case I’m pretty sure I had far, far more direct connections to Paris or France than 99.9% of all of the folks that posted French flags after the terrorist bombings. And does anyone even think about France anymore? (I do). Or are we now just thinking about Trump and Charlottesville, Virgina? Or have we moved on to hurricane victims? Or maybe Muslims in Myanmar? Or wherever we are when you finally read this?

Awesome Muslims

Above or below. Choose your narrative. (Read Slant.)

muslim woman

These two images give us a good idea of what the ‘meme wars’ have been like. You pick your image based on temperament rather than research and verification.

In the wake of the Charlottesville fracas I’ve been astounded at how quickly people have simply reacted. And immediate unfiltered thoughtless reaction is the key to this new ‘public’ life of ours. The idea of trying to understand the event seems to be an impossibility. For too many people there can only be one version of the event. And yet I’m pretty sure that if we sat down together as human beings I could show anyone enough raw feeds, without interpretation of the event, to convince you that this was not a simple narrative. And yet the frightening thing is that to ask any questions at all about the dominant interpretation of the event is to instantly invite a witch hunt of, again, immediate reaction without the benefit of research or meditation. We create precisely what we fear because we push those with differing opinions away into extremes. I am convinced that many folks today are considering white nationalists ideas who would never have done so if the extreme left hadn’t been allowed to dominate the interpretation with their own version of identity politics.

Think Different

Just make sure you stay connected technologically. It’s fantastic how many untruths can be contained in one slogan.

The sad thing is this: I had a friend, not too close, but with whom I once had meaningful real world conversations years back. This person mentioned something in a post that seemed to invite reflection and comment. I commented in a mildly questioning manner of the dominant ideology. I was ‘unfriended’ instantly. Since then I have learned that it is not important to post political topics at the expense of human friendship. This doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions. I do. I most certainly do. I can also guarantee that they do not tick off neatly on the right or left side of the page. I have tried to be thoughtful. (And sometimes I am so tempted to reply to some ill considered idea posted somewhere and add to the Propaganda morass, but my convictions won’t let me.) It could be argued that my friend was not a good friend and, well, good riddance. Or it could be said that she was in the grip of ideological Propaganda as many others are in these days. Should I reject them out of hand? Or should I attempt to show them in some insignificant way what it means to be human. I choose the latter. But I am under no illusion about these folks. They are under the spell of something intractable, fearsome and unforgiving. Yet I still believe in compassion, courage and forgiveness.

So where are we now? That will be the subject of my next essay. Come back again. You probably won’t want to know what I need to say. Nevertheless, like a car crash on the side of the highway, you will have to look and ponder.

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

9/12/2017

 


21st Century Propaganda #3: Alone In The Mass

Alone in the Mass

The most favorable moment to seize a man and influence him is when he is alone in the mass. It is at this point that propaganda can be most effective. Jacques Ellul

And that is exactly where we all are now. As you read this on some device, right now, you are alone. Alone in the mass of others reading websites, scanning pages and files. You are alone as you watch television, play video games, watch DVDs, listen to music through your ear buds, create content for YouTube to be passively digested, alone with your email, Kindle, sitting in dark movie theatres, listening to radio while driving your car. With very few of these devices are you actually doing something with anyone else.

And don’t let the term social media confuse you. There is not, nor ever has been, a true internet community. Six people playing an online game together are alone in the mass. People typing at each other through a message system are isolated from each other. Even the telephone, which used to sell itself as a way to reach out and touch someone, is a way of retaining the alienation inherent in the technology while using the language of touch and the senses. The notion of interactivity through computers is a phantasm, a pure illusion. True community, social interaction, and touching only take place in the flesh. And one could argue quite convincingly that one of the more recent aspects of inviolable 21st Century Propaganda, is in fact the substitution of real presence for the highly mediated world we now find ourselves inhabiting. Who ‘Likes’ what on Facebook has far more significance than it in any way deserves. And yet we are completely immersed in these virtual signs and symbols. And we accept it all as real because we are alone in the mass. As prescient media theorist Marshall McLuhan said “All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered. The medium is the massage.” And yes he meant massage, not message. Tenderizing us to receive the Propaganda we addictively need to feel a sense of purpose in this fictional landscape.

Jacques Ellul, in his book Propaganda, points out that It is the emergence of mass media which makes possible the use of propaganda techniques on a societal scale. In other words that world of technology that we often celebrate has also opened the door to the total Propaganda that we now find ourselves drowning in.

Revolutions Paris
The stately old propaganda of the Revolution is plastered over by the Revolutionary propaganda of the moment, ca. April 2016 Paris. My question is this: In what way do the teddy bears and plush toys have to do with this epoch in history? And they most certainly do. There is no more innocence in cuteness.

On some level wherever there is a large power structure there must be a kind of propaganda to connect us to it. The Romans had coins with the image of Caesar, bread and circuses, and the fearsome legions among their propaganda arsenal. The Renaissance Catholic church had stained glass windows, fine arts, and when all else failed, and in complete corruption of their faith, the Inquisition. America has always had its education, its mighty industries, its armed forces and later its television and its senatorial committees. But all of these institutions now seem quite obvious to us. If you tell many of its citizens that “America is the greatest country on earth” they will see through the old school propaganda instantly and roll their eyes back in ironic superiority. And yet these people are swimming in a morass of contemporary Propaganda.

Poison Girl
We have reached such a moment in time that Truth in Advertising can now be used as propaganda against us since we will ironically feel superior and smirk in knowing way.

So then it might seem logical to become the most informed person you can be to ward off the effects of this all encompassing Propaganda. Au contraire. For one thing, there is the problem of being caught between propagandas which I mentioned earlier. But more to the point… Being intelligent, an intellectual, keeping up with issues etc. often has exactly the opposite consequence of making us even more susceptible to propaganda. Ellul writes about the problem this way:

It is only normal that the most educated people (intellectuals) are the first to be reached by such propaganda… All this runs counter to pat notions that only the public swallows propaganda. Naturally, the educated man does not believe in propaganda; he shrugs and is convinced that propaganda has no effect on him. This is, in fact, one of his great weaknesses, and propagandists are well aware that in order to reach someone, one must first convince him that propaganda is ineffectual and not very clever. Because he is convinced of his own superiority, the intellectual is much more vulnerable than anybody else to this maneuver.

One sees this problem endlessly. I referred to it when I mentioned Noam Chomsky earlier. It’s astounding how many musicians, writers, artists, broadcasters, other media figures, are essentially propagandists for their worldview rather than honest communicators. And they speak in such a way as to be mockingly aghast that anyone could possibly have another opinion. And they convey their messages to the masses. One can see whole careers that suddenly turn into campaigns for an ideology, and this is especially sad when it is someone who starts off as an honest artist. Consider Bruce Springsteen’s trajectory from songwriter and artist, capable of such pieces of art as his whole Darkness At The Edge of Town album, which shills for no causes whatsoever, to his becoming a global superstar during his Born In The USA era, the endless remixes of songs give a sense of some loss in authenticity, to his becoming a mouthpiece for various causes as a kind of surrogate for a middle America he no longer represented, to finally cancelling shows in North Carolina as part of a massive skirmish between competing propagandas. I do not discuss the issues (nor will I print comments on these issues since they are not the subject of this essay). I am pointing at the process which turns a singer, artist or any figure from honest communicator into a cog in the propaganda of the moment. It doesn’t matter which issue. (And have no fear I plan on taking a scythe to trim the heads of my fellow Christian propagandists not too far down the road here.)

denirobrucebarack
No comment. The notion of wearing colored ribbons and other signifiers of causes and beliefs is exactly the kind of encirclement that Propaganda specializes in. It doesn’t matter the cause.

The point is this: the rich, the talented, the beautiful (or at least those who have gone under the knife to appear that way) and the famous are mass figures enlisted to provide a propaganda push to every cause. They are the authorities used to convince us to submit. So we line up our celebrities, the Christian football player, Madonna against Trump, this television star, that YouTuber, we want to know that what we believe is better than what they believe. Recently some wag released a series of photos of women on the Right and the Left. By the purely visual standards of beauty alone the Left is deep trouble, at least by the lights of this compiler. Of course they left off practically every film or music star imaginable which would have evened the playing field considerably. But certainly in recent times the Right has stolen some of the Left’s caché in the requisite categories needed to show strength in this appearance obsessed society.

Right Wing vs Left Wing Women
If image has anything to do with it the Right Wing is winning at the moment.

Meanwhile as this propaganda battle continues the rest of us are alone in the mass looking to emulate someone to help give words to our frustration. And it is in this state that we are slugged, worked over, beat up, harangued, pressured, and especially these days, shamed into believing the only thing we should believe in. And here is where it gets nightmarish. It is no longer coming from the top down. It is no longer Orwell’s Big Brother that is the primary source of the propaganda. Nor is it our larger than life media siblings who invade our thoughts most deeply and effectively. Rather it is our ‘friends’ and ‘neighbors’ who now keep us in line through a little system we call ‘social media’.

We’ll look into this soon, but first let’s examine another salient feature of Propaganda: Us versus Them.

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

6/1/2017

 

21st Century Propaganda #4: Us Versus Them


21st Century Propaganda #2: A Working Definition Of Propaganda

Propaganda must be total. – Jacques Ellul

Headwork

Propaganda does not aim to elevate man, but to make him serve.

And so after throwing the word propaganda out there we still need a some way of defining it so that the word doesn’t descend into the cruder sense of ‘their lies, our truths’.

As I mentioned earlier I have based much of my thinking on French sociologist Jacques Ellul and particularly his 1961 book Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes.

Propaganda Book

Let’s pull out a few quotes to give you a taste of his thinking here.

Propaganda tries to surround man by all possible routes in the realm of feelings as well as ideas, by playing on his will or on his needs, through his conscious and his unconscious, assailing him in both his private and his public life. It furnishes him with a complete system for explaining the world, and provides immediate incentives to action. We are here in the presence of an organized myth that tries to take hold of the entire person. Through the myth it creates, propaganda imposes a complete range of intuitive knowledge, susceptible of only one interpretation, unique and one-sided, and precluding any divergence. This myth becomes so powerful that it invades every arena of consciousness, leaving no faculty or motivation intact. It stimulates in the individual a feeling of exclusiveness, and produces a biased attitude.

AND

Propaganda must be total. The propagandist must utilize all of the technical means at his disposal — the press, radio, TV, movies, posters, meetings, door-to-door canvassing. Modern propaganda must utilize all of these media. There is no propaganda as long as one makes use, in sporadic fashion and at random, of a newspaper article here, a poster or a radio program there, organizes a few meetings and lectures, writes a few slogans on walls: that is not propaganda.

AND

The aim of modern propaganda is no longer to modify ideas, but to provoke action.

AND

Propaganda does not aim to elevate man, but to make him serve.

That’s enough for now.

Fashion Church

Then again there is a certain kind of postmodern propaganda which is knowing and ironic.  

So Propaganda is an encircling totality. It is the place we live where we gather all our information, our entertainment, our education. We must surround ourselves within it. We speak in propaganda as we share our factoids. We cut ourselves off from those who have a different worldview. Or when we do venture into enemy territory, we look at their propaganda, always an exaggeration of beliefs and meanings, something easily mocked and scorned. And that’s another aspect Ellul points out. There must always be an US versus THEM. And they are always wrong, suspect, stupid, dangerous, or evil. The 2016 election cycle in America became a farcical, unreal, and disturbing battle of Propagandas.

Choose Your God

Paris 2016, a clever museum exhibition becomes postmodern propaganda.

And Propaganda must always be unbending and all encompassing. You can’t give ground to those ideas, otherwise you are starting to become them. So it’s not enough to make up your own mind about abortion, gay marriage, gun rights, transphobia, animal cruelty, feminism, global warming, racism, capital punishment, globalism, immigration and the rest. Once your side adopts a posture you must keep in line with the whole program. Heaven forbid a leftish person would opt out of the proper stance on reproductive rights, while holding the rest of checklist in order. Or that a right wing soul would be favor of gun control while holding most of the other appropriate positions. It’s pretty much all or nothing… Or at least that’s how we are made to feel. If you question one tenet you are in danger of questioning it all.

You can see what happens if you look at a subject that is not yet polarized but could conceivably become so one day. Let’s think about pets for a moment. Let’s say you’re talking with someone and they happen to mention that they think that having and feeding pets is a waste of resources and the time and effort would be better put into caring for humans who have so many problems that to distract from that might not be such a good idea. Then that person responds by telling you that you aren’t seeing the whole picture. That dogs and cats, though a cost to raise and a responsibility that perhaps some people don’t have time for, bring much joy into the owners’ lives. And that if you care about human beings then part of the health of being a human in the world is to interact, and closely, with its animal life. Now since that’s just two people discussing a subject that hasn’t yet been given the full propaganda treatment the conversation might go in any number of directions. Although if you listen closely you can already hear subjects creeping into the mix that are from very heavily propagandized terrain.

Cats Against Humanity

Feral cats in Tbilisi Georgia. Certainly an ‘Anti-Pet’ image.

Now suddenly there is a movement that evolves out of the animal rights and ecological systems that begins to seriously question whether a human, just another species of animal after all, has the right to own another. This isn’t far fetched and is already circling our society as I write waiting to land. And so then what happens is we get two sides. Owning pets would obviously then become an individual rights issue with deep traditional roots. And now you have two sides. But how shall we label them.

‘Anti-pet’ obviously isn’t going very far, though that will be what the opposition calls them. So what about ,’pro=human’ or ‘pro-world’, since this will be considered an ecological issue? And maybe ‘pro-care’ or ‘pets rights’ for the other side. Don’t get too hung up on what to use right now. The new brand names just have to be non-negative. And that’s another serious propaganda point, in this age everything has to cloaked in positive language. Then there will be documentaries made. The pro-human folks will show the enormous waste of food resources, the brutality of certain owners, dog fights, cats in the cemeteries of Paris, old folks living on pet food, etc. The pro-care folks will have to counter that our pets love us, they will show psychological studies showing how pets affect humans for the better (no dog attack or cat parasite news whatsoever), interviews will be made with people who say that their only companion is an unselfish pet. You get the idea. There will be websites dedicated to these positions, TV stations, newspapers will array them along side of other ‘obvious’ issues of the day. And then when our two friends meet again to discuss the subject they won’t be able to believe that anyone could be so cruel, regressive, idiotic or whatnot to believe the lies that they have been spoon-fed by their respective media.

IMG_2785

Looking for real discussion at L’Abri in Switzerland.

The difference between a discussion among friends who disagree on some topic and a propagandized discussion perhaps involving the same two people is that in the first there are personal reflections and thoughts. The ideas are unique and quirky. And in the second, the responses completely conditioned by ones of each propaganda web, which will want to keep out anything from another propaganda system. So I can very well imagine two friends discussing the origins of life on earth. One says there must be a creator the other doubts that and they present ideas to each other. What about this? Well what about that? Well you make an interesting point that I’ll have to reconsider. I think I understand why you feel the way you do but I still disagree. Now the same topic among the propagandized. God made the world in seven days and that’s all there is to it. No I’m sorry that’s pure unscientific bullshit. Then how do you explain the fact that there is meaning in the world? There isn’t, everyone just makes their own meaning. And so it goes ad nauseum. They can’t communicate because everything they say provokes a knee-jerk reaction in the other.

PROMO

Mannequins in Paris. Propaganda surrounds us at every turn.

Ellul also points out that listening two different propagandas doesn’t help either. For in getting both sides of an issue what you really get is slugged from both sides and feeling woozy and beaten up in the middle.

Now how did this happen? And I have seen this my whole life. People I have known who once had their own opinions come to ape the media they ingest. I’m talking about people who really should know better. How does it happen? What makes us succumb? And I include myself. For I have certainly caught myself in those very situations as I look at my life.

Jacques Ellul points out one key ingredient. We find ourselves alone in the mass. And that is what mass media, mass communication does to us.

But let’s really dissect what happens. Next week!

Byrne Power
Haines, Alaska
5/29/2017

 

Part Three: Alone in Mass


21st Century Propaganda #1: Pickled In It

 

21st Century Ghost Show

The orchestration of press, radio and television to create a continuous, lasting and total environment renders the influence of propaganda virtually unnoticed precisely because it creates a constant environment.” Propaganda – Jacques Ellul

Things are getting weird out there. Although maybe by ‘out there’ I mean ‘in here’, in that moment when a reader slides eyes across these digital screens and then following that comes a reaction. And yet what happens in this cyber world (Does anyone use the word ‘cyber’ anymore? Or ‘virtual’? Has it all started to seem like actuality now?) has serious ramifications across the real globe. (But is it a globe anymore? Maybe the flatness of our screens has finally created what we mistakenly believed about the ancient people, that they, the ignoramuses!, actually believed the world was flat. But for us it is! This map of contextual geographies is now blindly being accepted for reality. But whose?) So yes, things are getting weird in here, and in turn out there. And people seem to be walking around in a concussed daze. And everyone has their pet theories as to whom is the culprit, which group, what viewpoint, which Weltanschauung, which bunch of absolute evil idiots is responsible for the state of this exhausted mind-numbing gut-wrenching time we live in.

Now if you’ve been following my words at all for the last few years you’ll realize that I rarely touch directly upon what be could construed as political topics. This isn’t an accident. I certainly have opinions on many issues. Some may even be correct on some level. But it is not my wish to add to the chaos of noise emanating from the glow of these screens. I also believe that most what passes for political opinion in these days is not politics in any good sense of the word. If I don’t think all of the hot topic issues of the day aren’t by and large politics then what do I think all of this palaver is? That, my friends, is the what I am intending to write about here, to try to elucidate. If possible, and mostly it is not. What passes for political opinions these days is predominantly Propaganda. And I am not using that phrase in its standard usage, which comes across as “The lies they tell, versus the truths we know.” I have other fish to fry. In fact were going to cook up the whole lot. Let’s make a meal out of them. Not only the lies they tell but also the ‘truths’ we believe, whomever ‘we’ and ‘they’ are. So I warn you if it seems like I’m coming after your beliefs it’s because I am.

American Way of Life

Here’s a photo with double propaganda value. First and most obviously the American Way billboards were the democratic equivalent to the totalitarian propagandas across the seas. But, more seductively, this photo can now make the propaganda of those questioning traditional American values of the past and feeling a sense of superiority over them. Two for one.

Now before I get started with this subject, and so that you don’t suspect that what I’m really trying to do is some clever form inverted propaganda to subvert your ideas while pumping up mine, let me put my own cards on the table so that you know where I stand and you can see when I’m going after my own folk.

First of all I am a Christian. What kind? Neither fundamentalist nor liberal. Hopefully a Christian in line with the historical faith and brain intact. Next… politically? Extremely independent. I can safely say no party represents my thinking. I wouldn’t mind if there were. But I’m not going to put a checklist here of hot topics and where I fit in. But trust me I’m all over the map. Yet even that is a complete oversimplification. If I ever write directly about some pet subject you’ll know. And who knows maybe I’ll spill a few mung beans here and see if they sprout. I generally shy away from any party politics and the demonization of ‘them’. Which of course is the point of this whole series on propaganda.

I’ve lived in Hawaii as a child, in California in the San Francisco Bay Area as a teen, in New York City during my 20s and 30s and finally in Alaska for my 40s and 50s. Plus I’ve spent quality time in Europe from England and France through Switzerland, Poland and all the way to Georgia. And so my view point is shaped by all of these environments. Plus I’ve been researching popular music and film culture since the 70s. I’ve hung out with Jesus people, hippies, punks, vets, pomo-hipsters, conservative Christians, Asians, Europeans, etc. etc. Needless to say I do not have simplistic opinions. I’m not saying that to brag. I’m saying it so that you, the reader, know that I am not going to have an obvious set of dogmas to respond with if you wish to ask questions.

iraq_oil_fields

Often when people think propaganda they are imagining war propaganda, a very specific aspect, instead of the daily dose of Propaganda they need to function everyday.

So let’s get down to business here.

The first thing we have to get is a working definition of Propaganda. As I mentioned above, the standard way people seem to think about propaganda is as the ‘lies they tell versus the truths we know’. I have a CD of the influential Noam Chomsky talking seriously about propaganda, corporate propaganda, big biz manipulation. Somewhat accurate as far as he goes. But he doesn’t go nearly far enough. For instance he doesn’t for one second acknowledge the fact that he too is in danger of making propaganda every bit as encircling as that made by states and corporations. And by NOT making that clear he actually becomes without a doubt a very serious propagandist. In other words there is not one moment when he scrutinizes his own side for Propaganda. Thus he isn’t really exposing propaganda he is talking about ‘us and them’, which is the essence of Propaganda. But not the definition of Propaganda. (To be clear I am capitalizing the word propaganda when I refer to the thing not when I refer to the practice.)

soviet12

A beautiful Soviet soldier. You can be sure her image was used as Communist propaganda. The beautiful are always used to convince us, as are the talented and the intelligent.

Before I attempt that working definition of Propaganda let me give you a few sources for my own thinking. Source ‘A’ Number One is the French thinker Jacques Ellul. Around 1982 I first read his 1965 book Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes (first published in French in 1961 as Propagandes). And frankly even though I was around 27 then I wondered why I hadn’t read his book much earlier. Few experiences in my life have been so illuminating. It was as though someone had simply unblindfolded  me. I had been wondering why so much in our society had been moving the way it did and here was a solid chunk of the answer. We all in our advanced technological society had been pickled in Propaganda for years. So much so that we could hardly distinguish the contours of our prison distracted as we had become. How good is his book? Well let’s put it this way, read from one perspective the book could be seen a propaganda manual. One could easily take the principles he uncovers and become a successful propagandist. But, of course, that is not his aim. His aim is to expose the beast as nakedly as possible. It is not an easy read. But once you wrestle with it you can no longer plead ignorance. The panoply of techniques for adjusting us to our milieu are staggering. And there is no way I can do justice to his work, which remains as valuable today as when it was written, though it requires some historical knowledge to really make it come alive. That was also just as true the day it was published. But I will dip into his ideas freely as I write.

French Historian Jacques Ellul Talking

Jacques Ellul Author of The Technological Society and The Political Illusion.

Other folks who have in one way or another contributed to my thinking on the subject include: C.S. Lewis’s Abolition of Man and a few other scattered essays. Daniel Boorstin’s The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-events in America. The works of French thinker Paul Virilio. Marshall McLuhan’s writings on the nature of media. Anthony Rhodes’ Propaganda, The Art of Persuasion: World War II. Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle. And various works by many other writers, Susan Sontag’s On Photography was helpful, likewise Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida, Kalle Lasn’s Culture Jam, though here as with the whole Adbusters mentality, like Chomsky, we enter upon Propaganda disguised as anti-propaganda. And I have also of course studied the real Propaganda itself. Joseph Goebbels and the  Nazis, Communist propagandas from various eras and countries. (I highly recommend the documentary East Side Story about Communist musicals.) And of course there is American, Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Advertising, Pop Music, Feminist, NRA, LGBTQ, Alt-Right, etc ad nauseum. Everyone makes propaganda these days. The real issue is who doesn’t?

Nazi Girls

When we hear the word ‘propaganda’ we tend to think Nazis and Communists first. And since we aren’t them we put away any thoughts that might implicate us in our own propaganda.

But that still doesn’t answer the question: What is this thing? Propaganda. And then there is another question lurking in what I’ve already said. If everyone is already making it maybe it’s not so bad. Why even bother?

A quick answer to the second question first, which we will return to in more depth later. I do not believe I am alone in feeling the viciousness of the divisions of the present age. More than one soul has pointed out the fact that we all seem to be shouting, nay screaming, at each other in this time of polarization. Whether in scorn or fear people are walking around separated and isolated from those holding divergent opinions. (Or is it that Propaganda has actually isolated all of us from each other?) And it is NOT going to get better in the continuing course of events. Nor through anything that might call itself a Revolution. There are a few, very few, good signs, and they do not at present constitute any remotely optimistic forecast for the future.

Why?

Because as long as we remain pickled in our Propaganda marinade we shall continue our downward slide.

But I haven’t defined this Propaganda thing yet? What am I really talking about?

Well I’ve run out of space… You’ll have to visit again for our next essay, A Working Definition of Propaganda.

Swim Against the Stream

Byrne Power
Haines, Alaska
4/10/2017


Georgian Lessons #5: The Temptations Of Hypermodernity

the-new-horrors

An old Lamp, a Postmodern Monstrosity and a Radisson Blu, built in an Old Reburbished Soviet Intourist Hotel.

I have been writing mostly about what I saw in Tbilisi Georgia in March and April 2016. And in these observations I have been mostly noting what challenged my perceptions. These ‘Georgian Lessons’ have been primarily about what I learned. But now I’m going to flip the rules inside out and write a little something about what the Georgians might be able to learn from an outsider, a representative of a world that they both aspire to and wonder about. These will not be sweet little tidbits of practical knowledge. And some of these observations will be sharp. Again I am not romantic about the country. Since much of what I say deals with Georgia moving into the future it might be tempting to treat the country as a quaint land of happy peasants with their folk dances and songs with a desire to keep them as folksy as possible. But you’d be wrong. I want them to face the future squarely, but also to realize the many tragic errors that have already been made in the name of hypermodernity. I do not set myself as an expert on geopolitics, economics, legal reform et cetera. These are predominately cultural observations from one who has spent a good healthy chunk of his life weighing the nature of the cultural changes of our times. And mostly it friendly concern, for what I still find in the uniqueness of Georgian culture far outweighs its problems. Consider it advice that can be applied if it is found useful.

fun-future

The Name of this Temptation is the God of Fun. At an American Style Amusement Park for Georgians and for the Russian Tourists..

First a speck of history, Georgia as a country was buried in Russia, then the Soviet Union, for nearly two centuries. Many Western Europeans, Americans, Canadians, Australians, and the like, still consider it a Russian speaking country. Georgia for them is more obscure than Barbados, Vietnam or Fiji. Georgia was only released from its Russian servitude in 1991, which was then followed in quick succession by a corrupt government, a civil war or two, a revolution and finally, in 2008, a five day war with Russia. And most of that is also as unknown to outsiders as the 20th Century conflicts in Laos or Angola. But the main point is this. Georgia didn’t really opened up to the non-Russian world until very recently. And this is reflected in two main areas: First in the Georgians’, particularly the younger Georgians’, desire to be like other Europeans and Americans culturally. And secondly in the looming discovery of Georgia by the outside world, which will result in the descending vulture of tourism, with its truck-fulls of tempting hard cash.

women-of-the-future

The Alienated, even Alien, Women of the Future in Tbilisi Today.

My meeting with younger Georgians revealed a kind of wide-eyed fascination with the results of pop culture and technology. And this is only to be expected. The Soviet system certainly brought in certain kinds of modernity. Georgia is a very educated country as far as scholarly standards go. What is not realized though is just what this postmodern tide will bring along with it. Take the Smartphone, nearly ubiquitous in Tbilisi. The Smartphone may connect you all the time and everywhere. Yet it completely changes the habits of its users. Riding the Metro one did not see much in the way of reading anymore. But one did see the usual scrying into the palms, the games being played, the neurotic gazing at email and Facebook, the endless selfies. In other words though the Georgians have some cultural features, more conversation, even musicians playing for friends on the train, that help to fight against this particular curse, they still aren’t that strong. Because no one is. The Smartphone is stronger than those that use it, without exceptional choice.

smartphone-georgians

In Only a Very Few Years the Smartphone has Conquered the World and Changed its Mode of Living Completely. Tbilisi Bookstall Near the Metro Entrance.

Likewise when it comes to one of the prime features of Georgian culture, its music and dance, that hasn’t really stopped the arrival of the dance club. A short British documentary on the subject celebrates the electronica being produced in Georgia as a step towards cultural liberation. Which I find about as honest a thought as recommending cages to tigers. As a former sixteen year resident of New York City I think I can safely say that the dark deafening pulsing womb of club life has never led to freedom, unless your idea of freedom is to shake off the past and bath only in a perpetual now. Yes indeed the discos, raves, parties and clubs will make you more like the Europeans. But is that a worthy goal? The night life produces alienation first and foremost. Yes you can experiment sexually. You can add various chemicals to the mix. You can flee from the philosophies of the Orthodox Church. But where will you end up? It ends with people having atomized relations all round. They no longer sing together except as a joke. They live alone. There is no meaning to anything. Along the way there is a lot of laughter and fun. As well as a lot of hurt and emptiness. No matter what it seems like now, the club life, which late rising Georgians are quite tempted by, will end in a void. I am reminded of a song from Italy in the 1980s and a big American hit for Laura Branigan in 1984: Self Control. The chorus went like this. “I, I live among the creatures of the night, I haven’t got the will to try and fight, Against a new tomorrow, so I guess I’ll just believe it, That tomorrow never comes.” And that sums up that world perfectly. 1984. That’s how long we have understood the problem. The electronica and DJs may seem new and cool, underground, rebellious. But it is a well-paved overused  road. It doesn’t have a gram of the integrity of real Georgian music and dance. But I understand. I really do.

rebuilding-tbilisi

Quickly Ripping Up the Old to Make Way for the New.

There are many other ways in which Georgians are encouraged to seek parity with their Western cousins. Most damaging of all are postmodern cultural and philosophical choices and institutions, which if taken straight would drain the soul from the rich fountain of Georgian traditions. And one of the most threatening of those institutions is Tourism. And the eye of tourism is slowly turning its gaze upon this most unusual of countries. Georgia is still quite underdeveloped for tourism. I would say as of 2016 they still haven’t developed a real structure to support the kind of industrial tourism that feeds many corners of the world now. And I’m not against people coming to Georgia to visit. Not at all. Right now Georgia is getting many thoughtful tourists, the people who are more adventurous. (I don’t know if this assessment applies to the Russians who have been visiting for centuries and are still the most common tourists.)

tourism-lite

A Young Amateur Tourist Industry Growing in Tbilisi, while the Big Fish Circle the Bait.

But here is the problem: As the Germans, English, Australians, even a few Americans go home they spread the word to others. So far so good. And so more folks come, as they have been in the last six years. Then more hotels are built. Fancier hotels. (I hear Radisson Red is on its way, after the success of the Radisson Blu.) More infrastructure changes. A massive chunk of Tbilisi was being polished and renovated as I visited, at the expense of the people who used to live on that street.) That’s where Georgia is now. They are still a bit out of the loop. (Try mailing a postcard home? Nearly impossible.) Transportation is still quite a pain. And these are the kinds of things that keep foreigners happy when they come. But here is what the Georgians may not understand yet. When tourism as a postmodern entity finally arrives in full. Great pieces of Georgian culture will become imitations of what they once were. Everywhere that industrial postmodern tourism shows up it turns whatever remains of traditional culture into simulacra of what they once were. People want to see Georgian dancing and hear Georgian singing. And so shows will be set up just for them. (This has happened in Alaska with Native American culture and the Russian culture of the past.) This effect is nearly universal. And when you combine that with the youth exodus towards postmodern pop dance culture. The past becomes a bad museum. And the present is trapped in the sensations of this eternal moment The Big Wow.

singing-for-your-supper

Musicians Playing for me Alone at a Restaurant in the Small Tourist Section of Tbilsi. The Georgians are Mercifully Still Unable to Truly Fake Their Culture.

Now I don’t think that it will happen that way in Georgia for a variety of reasons. But I give you my friendly concern as one who has the watched the process replicate itself over and over. At the moment Tbilisi is where Prague was in 1991. Tourists are coming. But the infrastructure still won’t hold them efficiently. TripAdvisor just recommended Tbilisi for hot new destinations for 2017. My dear Georgian friends do you know what that means? Be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.

statue-climbing

Children Climb Unselfconsciously on a Statue Portraying Traditional Georgians at the Outdoor Folk Architecture Park.

Next time, to wrap things up, I will be returning to the lessons that I learned from the Georgians I met on my travels. And why I really have to get back again.

Byrne Power
Haines, Alaska
12/26/2016


Twelve True Christmas Albums

nativity-rembrandt

A Rembrandt sketch of the Nativity of Christ

Yes I know, it’s audacious of me to proclaim that I know ‘True Christmas Albums’. And yet when I scan for ‘Christmas Albums’ through the usual digital means 99% of the time what is found are anything but actual music about Christmas. Most of what is considered to be the top, the best, the greatest Christmas songs and albums of ‘all time’, the lists made by magazines, and YouTubers and the clickbaiters, even the ‘Christ-centered’ pablum, is predominantly just commercial holiday music. There is almost a conspiracy to keep anyone searching for real Christmas music from ever finding it. And rarely has a genre been so loaded with pure unadulterated crap as what is called ‘Christmas Music’. And so much continues to made year after year that it gags the gullet as if someone had jammed a fat red and white candy cane down your overstuffed larynx and then asked ‘What do you think of Christmas now?’ In fact so much cheesy, tawdry, over produced sentimental holiday (Is it really a holy day when you play this aural dung?) music has been made since the mid-point of the 20th Century that anti-Christmas music now exists as a separate micro-genre within this holiday fetish as a reaction against the infestation. And yet what does that accomplish? It’s really just the same thing for nihilists and cynics. And what good does it do to add cynicism to the commercial terror?

War on Christmas? Talk about coming late to the party? Christmas as a public festival was over by the time Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer was accepted as a holiday ditty having anything to do with the event called Christmas. Christmas as Christmas was through when it was seen a fun children’s day complete with  ‘Baby Jesus’ and cute little elves as Santa’s helpers helping to prepare for the balancing of the books of would eventually become a murderous Black Friday. Christmas now is a time to watch fantasy movies. Yes Christmas means Willie Wonka and Disney flicks. When it was discovered back in the 90’s that several Asian countries had mixed up the Christian imagery with the fantastic, as in Mary, Joseph, sweet little ‘Baby Jesus’ and the Seven Dwarves or, more tellingly, a Crucified Santa Claus, they weren’t getting it wrong. That is what we were selling. And so we have people who no longer recognize real Christmas carols and consider Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer to be a classic.

The foamy tide of ‘classic holiday albums’, I forbear to list them, is endless. They drone on and on in the background of retail establishments fed by satellite radio. They poison the air. They drain the life from anything resembling a festivity. And I include the many worthy rock and pop albums (I own many of them.) that clog the lists of the demiurges who find the tabulation of media favorites their last moral refuge. But rarely is an album of true Christmas music mentioned in any of these neurotically calculated lists.

And since for years I have helped supply my friends with the real thing I have decided to at least make one list that few people will ever read. I toss the meat out to the internet dogs. It is nearly Christmastime after all. Time even the dogs ate well. So here’s the Christmas T-bone steak Fido.

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This list is not in ascending or descending order. The music is not necessarily easy to find. I will not be including lots of links or videos. You’ll need to hunt them down for yourself. If you find the standard pop/rock/jazz holiday music to be filled with enough good cheer and nostalgia to warm your heart during the Christmas season you probably won’t find these albums very clever or interesting. However if Christmas as either the old European winter festival (notice I did not say ‘pagan’, an overused poorly understood word) and/or as the Christian remembrance of Christ’s birth is meaningful to you, then I suspect these albums and the music contained therein will help you to find something extra at Christmastime.

The Twelve Albums

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christmas-with-robert-wagner-chorale
Christmas with Roger Wagner Chorale

This is basically the definition of a classic Christmas album. Choirs and classical orchestra. No extra production mojo. No extra electronic cinnamon and nutmeg. Just the classics done purely. Just Christmas and the real thing. This was made in the 60s. It hasn’t aged at all because it is timeless. Their version of O Come O Come Emmanuel is the gold standard along with the rest of this album.

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ritornello-czech-christmasJesličky, staré nové písničky (also called Old Czech Carols) – Ritornello
Okay now it’s time to get seriously obscure. Ritornello is a Czech group who recreate Baroque era folk dances and celebrations. And this is one of my eternal favorites. Period. I found it when I first showed up at Prague in December 2000 surprised by actually finding myself in Prague to begin with. I had come looking for puppets and then as I entered the Old Town Square, my first evening there, as the winter market was open and I had no idea where I was, I looked around at the spires lit up in the night winter skies then suddenly I realized that I was actually in PRAGUE!!! And for me this music sums up my Prague perfectly. Jovial, serious, antique, mysterious European Christmas. The instrumentation is sheer perfection. Not a sentimental note to found. The singing is in Czech and sometimes Latin. The music is gutsy not flabby. It makes one want to ring in the season with a hefty glass of pivo. How ironic that one of the most sincere Christian Christmas albums on earth would come from the most atheist land imaginable. But it makes perfect sense to me. Jan Hus would understand.

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Christmas From a Golden Age – Various Opera Singerschristmas-from-a-golden-age
This is the true spirit of Christmas as seen through the angel throngs of 78rpm scratches, digitally restored, of various opera singers from the first half of the 20th Century. Some of these songs just sound creaky. But most of them sound utterly haunted in the Dickensian sense by the Ghost of Christmas Past. The Coventry Carol by Elisabeth Schumann is absolutely chilling. And Cantique De Noel (The original French version of O Holy Night) by Georges Thill is reverentially majestic.

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thesecondnowell
John Roberts and Tony Barrand – The Second Nowell
This is the second of three ‘Nowell’ albums from these Christmas jesters. They are all excellent, but this one gets to the point for me. With rollicking accordion, reedy voices, hail and hardy harmonies and true Christmas mirth these Englishmen marooned in the colonies deliver the groceries. Whether sharing out the spare ribs of the highly symbolic wren or restoring the dance to the old time Christmas carol there isn’t a false moment. And it’s a recording you want to crank up and sing along with at the top of your lungs. You only think you know the old carols. Rediscover Christmas here!

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A Medieval Christmas – Boston Camerataa-medieval-christmas-boston-camerata
And excellent demonstration of why Christmas, properly celebrated, is actually our portion of the Middle Ages still surviving. While stately, and profound, there is joy to spare with authentic Medieval instrumentation. It’s also a much needed respite from the 21st Century.

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traditional-and-modern-carols-paul-hillier
Traditional and Modern Carols – Paul Hillier
Another great choral album. This would be more obscurely researched than the Roger Wagner album with an emphasis upon antique Americana as well as an assembly of classics. This Is Jesus’ Birthday opens the album and is as far from a contemporary notion of singing Happy Birthday to Jesus as you can imagine. It’s all very well done.

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The Christmas Story – The Waverly Consortwaverly-consort-presents-the-christmas-story_9563331
Another Medieval Christmas album, but this time things get much more serious as the Waverly Consort  interprets the Christmas story in it’s entirety complete with horns announcing the angel Gabriel and ending with a ferocious dance piece for the Massacre of the Innocents. Excellent, profound, thrilling music all round.

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noe%cc%88ls-celtiques-ensemble-choral-du-bout-du-mondeNoëls Celtiques – Ensemble Choral du Bout du Monde
A exquisitely beautiful album of choral music from the mysteriously named Ensemble Choral du Bout du Monde (Choral Ensemble from the End of the World). This Celtic Christmas album has the lilt, bagpipes and tunes of the Celts. While also being filled with the organ and breathtaking choral approach of the French. Truly sublime.

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nautrei-siam-tres-bomians-mont-joia-noe%cc%88ls-provenc%cc%a7auxMont-Joia: Noëls Provençaux, Nautrei Siam Tres Bomians
Meanwhile down in the lower regions of France in another zone where the older language struggles to be heard this folk revival group from the 80s provides darker rhythmic minor keys, yet no less joyous, as an acoustic band strum and and harmonize their way to Noël bliss. There is another Provencal Christmas album of more recent vintage with many of the same songs which is also worthy. La Bela Naissença – Les noels Provencaux (Christmas carols from Provence). It’ll do in a pinch.

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to-drive-the-cold-winter-away-st-georges-canzonaTo Drive The Cold Winter Away – St. George’s Canzona
Here’s an interesting and truly recondite work. And one of my favorites. Here the old Baroque European winter festival mingles with the Christian story perfectly in Chestertonian fashion. The mixture of Playford dances with seasonal cheer is sheer perfection. I am captivated utterly by their version of the Playford dance The Dressed Ship. But the entirety of this is merry and festive in the deepest sense.

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noel-we-sing-boston-camerataNoel We Sing – Boston Camerata
This is the Boston Camerata’s English and early American Christmas album. It’s just as researched and just as authentic. I like it even better than the Medieval Christmas. Highly recommended.

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the-new-possibility-john-faheys-guitar-soli-christmas-album

The New Possibility – John Fahey’s Guitar Soli Christmas Album
And finally the closest I’m going to get to pop music… which is to say not at all. This is psychedelic folk guitarist John Fahey’s 1968 version of Christmas classics and obscurities. It’s ‘simple’ guitar music without echoey production values or anything else to clutter up his strangely sincere version of these old carols. He later rerecorded these in the 80s. He probably needed the money. The two Christmas albums from that period are good. But this version is much quirkier and ‘simple’ in the best sense.

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A few more:

To Wish You A Merry Christmas – Harry Belafonte
No this is as close to pop as I get. There is something very real in Harry’s folk pop Caribbean Christmas music. He manages to find the heart of it even through the RCA production line.

A Renaissance Christmas –  Boston Camerata
See Medieval Christmas above and add the word Renaissance.

A Baroque Christmas-  Boston Camerata
See Medieval Christmas above and add the word Baroque.

The Christmas Revels – John Langstaff & Co.
This is a classic which later became the Revels industry. This is close in spirit to the Roberts/Barrand Nowell albums mentioned above. But you can tell it’s a show, where Roberts, Barrand and company sound like they are actually celebrating Christmas. And later that aspect of the performances and albums would stand out more and more. Nevertheless you can always find a few gems here and there.

Angels and Kings – The Mediaeval Baebes
There are two wintry themed Mediaeval Baebes albums, the other is Mistletoe and Wine. And there are some real gems on them. The only problem I occasionally have with them is that they do like to conflate the modern interpretation of paganism onto the older Christian past. But then again maybe turnabout is fair play since that is the opposite of what the Christians did… except they did it genuine old school paganism, which was a much different beast than what we imagine in our fantasy worlds today. Nevertheless their Gaudete is amazing, especially the first version on Mistletoe and Wine. But for a more purely Christmas album go with Angels and Kings.

Handel’s Messiah – Robert Shaw Chorale
The first version of Messiah that I know to bring to life the older, smaller, quicker, livelier Baroque version back to the present. I hesitate to call this a Christmas album though, since fully half of it has nothing to do with Christmastime. But the part that does? Are you noticing a Baroque trend anywhere here? It’s no accident.

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So that’s it. Look for any of these if you want to get closer to the spirit of Christmas.

And if you don’t? Might I recommend A Mutated Christmas, Christmas at Luke’s Sex Shop or anything that’s really well produced in the last 30 years.

Get away from the noise
Have a meaningful Christmas
Byrne Power
Haines, Alaska
12/4/2016

(We’ll get back to Georgia very soon.)


Georgian Lessons #4: Chaos And Order

cecayed-courtyard

This Tbilisi courtyard may look abandoned, but the hanging clothes reveal that someone is living here.

Tbilisi, as I mentioned in my Gravity From Above diary, was a rude shock to my American system at first. It just seemed like pure chaos on some level that I had never encountered before. Travelers to India, Africa, certain parts of South America will I’m sure bring back even more intense observations than mine. Nevertheless I have traveled most of America, much of Canada, maybe two thirds of Europe, as far as Romania, and to Juarez, Mexico. I’ve seen things that gave me a sense of culture shock before, but nothing on the level of Tbilisi, Georgia.

car-garbage

Cats at home on the streets Tbilisi.

It was swirling blooming confusion of signs and cars, cats, people on the streets and a certain casualness that  I didn’t get at first. The spoken language was not related to anything else outside of the Caucasus Mountains. (For those unaware Georgian is not Russian at all.) But not only that the actual alphabet just seems like hooks and squiggles. (I’ll do an addendum on signs and the language later.)

walk-between-cars

An older woman making her way through an intersection. (The cars were moving.)

Then there is traffic. I don’t know where to begin. It seems like normal traffic at first glance. But then you slowly begin to realize that there is no traffic control. It a city of one million and one hundred thousand I counted maybe four or five stoplights. The police rarely seem to stop anyone. Yet you hear the barking of squad car loudspeakers all the time: A sound that, for these American ears, means pull over immediately. (Subtext: We’ve got guns and your license plate number and you’ll never get away.) But here? I was told they were just giving instructions. Hey you!!! Turn left!! ??? At least twice my life was in peril looking for a way to get across speeding highway traffic. Later I was told I should have used the underground passages. Which I would have used if I had seen anything like a sign I could read. Mothers with families, old ladies, giggling teen girls, men who looked unconcerned, all just simply walked in front of cars and they stopped. The key I realized was to see where the car was. Judge your luck. And go! But do NOT look the driver in the eye. If they think you see them they won’t stop. (Which I discovered was the opposite of France where eye contact stops the oncoming traffic.) I eventually learned to walk between moving cars, putting my best New York City moves to good use. And as I did my ballet around the vehicles I thought half-jokingly “Maybe this is why Georgians are such good dancers?”

street-vegetables

No taxes. No regulation. Everything happens on the streets.

Another thing that leapt out at me like the swipe of a bear’s claws was the street life. You see everything in Tbilisi on the streets, the good and the bad. People sell food. I don’t just mean vendors. I mean if a old man from the edge of the city in a village has a dozen extra eggs he’ll come down to the streets with his twelve eggs and wait as people walk by. And he’ll sell them one at a time if he has to. I saw a woman day after day with freshly plucked chickens selling them on the street, no refrigeration needed evidently. People sell fruit, vegetables, odds and ends. Booksellers seem to crop up everywhere, with Georgian books, Russian books and the occasional English title. And don’t even get me started on the huge swap meet at The Dry Bridge near the river. I couldn’t even begin to describe it, except to say that THAT was reason enough to visit Tbilisi all by itself. (I made a video of it that takes nearly a half hour to watch as a strait walk through.)

underground-bookseller

Walking along I looked down into a basement. This was a bookstore. It was actually far darker down there than this photo shows.

But back to the streets. Another thing that was quite common to see was older folks, mostly women, begging on the streets. And since my own elderly mother recently passed on this hit me strongly. A sign of obvious trouble with social welfare systems. It doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum you are on in the USA. This is something you don’t want to see. In fact in America we have large industries dedicated to taking care of the aged. Or is it keeping them out of sight? The more I looked at these folks on the street the more I adjusted my eyes. It never became a good thing to me, as it isn’t to the Georgians. Yet there was something about seeing everything on the streets. There was less shame about it. And people did contribute to these people. It didn’t take too much money to fulfill ones daily needs. I reckoned that if I was really desperate I could live on less than five dollars a day for food easily. And stay full. The more I saw these old women, the more I realized that they tended to occupy one area regularly and they had people who would give to them regularly. Which was similar to the homeless in New York City. The difference is that in New York you rarely saw people who reminded you of your mother or grandmother on the streets.

behind-umbrella

It was not raining. A women with a plastic tub for begging. She was one of the few that hid their faces as they asked for change.

Other things: Construction was going on everywhere. And ancient buildings sat in habitable decay everywhere. (See the photo at the top.) And there were nice stores all over. And one street might seem fashionable and next to it might seem like the end of the world. The sidewalks were uneven. Stores sprouted from holes in the wall. Traffic never stopped swirling. I only mastered about half of the alphabet while I was there, but there was Latin script in enough places to figure out how to navigate. The metro made sense. The buses were almost impossible. And I could go on and on but I think you get the idea.

sidewalk-hole

There were many sidewalks like this one.

But here’s what I began to see, and this meshed with my observations about Orthodox culture, my American culture is far more organized than I ever realized before. No one seems to collect taxes on these street vendors that I can see, yet they can make extra money for themselves. We have rules for absolutely everything: Protecting consumers, traffic flow, jaywalking, safety, even our children live in an age appropriate world. Even the most laissez faire anarcho-whatever in North America has never experienced anything like this. We all want a net to catch us when we fall. And yet I looked at this and realized that on some level this was more human. There was a net actually. The government provided some amenities and was learning to do more. But the net, the real net, was a thing called family, extended family, and a network of acquaintances. And I was actively beginning to appreciate this chaos. Because the more I looked at it the more I could see a different kind of order, almost invisible to the outsider, holding up the structure of Georgian society.

street-clothes

How to sell clothes in Georgia.

Now there many troubles in Georgia. As you can see I’m not romantic about the country. And there are many deeper and darker layers of problems I am not qualified to address. But there is one area I can discuss. As Georgia enters the contemporary world it will, and has already begun to, experience the problems of a highly technocratic postmodern age. I’ll deal with that next time.

wiring

A typical electrical pole in Tbilisi.

But let me say this about my time in Tbilisi. I walked down dark streets at night. Houses all turned away from the road sequestered in courtyards. In all of my wanderings I never ever felt endangered. Never once felt that someone was watching me in a predatory fashion. Bucharest, Prague, Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, London, New York, Seattle, even Juneau here in  Alaska all have given me more of a shiver of unease than anything I experienced in Tbilisi walking through the dark streets at night. Our order seems a bit like a mirage when I consider it. We live in a society where we thrive on rights. And while rights and the law are crucial to living, I can’t help feeling that often we only have rights left. And if you step on them, then comes the crush of the rules, of the law. Everyone wants what’s theirs.   Maybe in Georgia they are a little less concerned with getting everything due to them. Maybe after their extremely rocky history many are glad to simply be here.

inpenetrable

The sense of bewilderment even extended to the large cemetery. Once I found a way into it there were no strait paths to anything as far as I could see.

Come back again soon.

Byrne Power
Haines, Alaska
November 23rd 2016


Georgian Lessons #1: Expectation Vs. Reality

trad-costume-old-town

What I was half expecting: Traditional Costumes in the Old Town.

And so in late April I returned from Georgia, the country not the state. And if you’ve been following The Anadromous Life for a few years you know that I’ve been thinking about Georgia since 2012 as an unusual place culturally that might have a few helpful clues as to how to live in these media soaked, excessively technological times. The big question I had was this, Was Georgia the place I was imaging it to be from my perch up in Alaska half a world away? Music and dance everywhere? Everyone inviting you to supras (the big elaborate meal with toasting, music and too much wine). The answer proved to be ‘yes’ and of course ‘no’ and yet verily ‘yes’ and then some. The view from the internet, from Facebook, from YouTube proved helpful. Ultimately though reality is always different. Always. And yet…

trad-photo-shoot

The Reality: It was just a photo shoot.

So what did I see? What did I learn? What are the Georgians like? Do they have anything for us? Or are they caught in the same traps we are? (You can read my actual Georgian tour diaries over Gravity From Above, which I highly recommend if you feel like you are getting bit by the Caucasian bug.)

metro-dark

In the dark of the metro way below Tbilisi.

First of all, no, Georgians may sing a lot, but I wasn’t greeted by songs when I landed at the Tbilisi airport at 5am. No one was dancing at the baggage claim. My first few days in Tbilisi were quite frankly bewildering. The air in late March was already muggy. The traffic insanely unregulated. I estimate in a population of 1,100,000 people I only saw four traffic lights. Crossing the street required serious nimbleness. Maybe that’s why they breed such fine dancers. Georgians weren’t exactly what an American would describe as open and friendly. But then again I’ve been convinced for quite a while that American ideal of niceness is often a façade. And I was firmly apprised of the fact that the vaunted and legendary Georgian hospitality isn’t a happy mask. In fact Georgians seem to be very low-key, low-maintenance people on the whole. It isn’t until you actually begin to talk with them that you notice something different.

guitar-in-metro

A Man Playing Guitar on the Metro. He wasn’t busking.

But in many ways they were like any other people with access to technology. I saw plenty of Georgians staring down into their hands in the now universal gesture of smartphone addiction. Georgians have no secret immunization against television, computers or video games. And yet they do have something that seems points them down a different path. As I began to survey the culture from the capital Tbilisi I began to put a few things together. I purposely didn’t go wandering into the Caucasus Mountains, which I felt I could best save for another trip. I’ve long been suspicious of tourists who have to see everything. Quantity does not matter to me as much as quality. And since I was here to understand the culture, especially its music, dance and puppetry, it was much more important to me to spend time in one place, a place I could begin to understand, Tbilisi, rather than spend a few days here and a few days there. Understanding comes through time. And my goal was to meet Georgians who were involved in their artistic endeavors. And so staying in one place was the way to do that. And since Tbilisi was where much of that happened why go into the mountains too soon? Besides when I showed a few photos of my Alaskan backyard to some Georgians one of them said “I can see why you don’t need to see the mountains.” Indeed I do have mountains to gaze at here in Haines, Alaska.

bus-schedule

Bus Schedule?

And then there is this question: What does a person get out of such a place who just spends a few days here? Now I’m a good traveler. I do my homework. I read an awful lot before arriving in Georgia. I bought every DVD I could find on the travel, the culture and history of Georgia. I downloaded every possible relevant documentary on Georgia. I listened to lectures by Donald Rayfield, the longtime expert in Georgians studies and by others. I bought books. I connected with a few Georgians through social media. I wasn’t arriving as casual tourist. And yet I would say this; my first few days their were truly baffling, trying to make sense of the Georgian alphabet, trying to figure out how to get around, attempting to make some sense of things. And I was largely doing basic tourism level events. And so I can’t imagine how a visitor who does little homework could get much at all, except a bit of exoticism, out of a quick experience here. Georgia requires study. There is a touristic zone. But even that isn’t nearly as tourist friendly as say the same much larger zone would be in Paris or Prague. In Tbilisi it’s just one street of about seven blocks and it’s local environs. Not very big at all. The rest of the city is much more about living and working in Tbilisi.

monumental-failure

Bleak Post Soviet Landscapes with a Commercial Veneer. In truth things were much more charming than this but anyone simply expecting Eurasian Exoticism is in for a shock.

So ‘no’ Tbilisi didn’t extend a warm friendly vibe, at least not as Americans reckon ‘warm and friendly’, which usually means lots of convenient amenities laid out in such a manner that a child could make sense of them. And that was, I found, a good thing. In my entire three weeks in Georgia I overheard American and British English about ten times. But I did hear lots of Russian! And I did overhear a few words of English from what turned out to be Iranian women. Fascinating. I had an informative little conversation with them. I hope that when more Americans do discover Georgia, and given the insatiable needs of distraction in our world they/we eventually will, I hope it’s more like the Rick Steves crowd than the cruise ship industry. Unfortunately it’ll probably be the younger post-hippies, who’ll inevitably bring the spores of contemporary alienation along like fleas. Meanwhile the relative incomprehensibility of Georgia will keep the most obnoxious folks away for a while. Which means that right now it is perfect for the traveler more than the tourist.

shredding-cabbage-carrots

This man is not only selling shredders he’s shredding cabbage and carrots on the street to make coleslaw.

Nevertheless when I did manage to find an information office I was met by some of the truly friendliest people I could meet. And here’s where things began to change in my experience in Tbilisi, and it’s the reason why a person should visit. It’s in actually meeting Georgians that you find the real gold in the country. It’s when you begin to cross the line into human connections that you start to find something radically different. The standard tourist experience will produce little except fond memories of the food, crazy moments to remember when you tried to bargain at the Dry Bridge for a soviet era relic, a few sights that might be tainted by the tourism industry. But once you connect to locals? All bets are off. Anything can happen. (Which also happens to be the name of a funny book by George Papashvily about a Georgian immigrant to America in the mid-20th Century.)

street-art

So the real issue: Who are the Georgians? Street art in Tbilisi.

So to the adventurous and openhearted I say come. To the politically correct college students looking to reaffirm their rather calcified vision of the world and the tourists who need convenience before all else, I say there are many other places to travel; try Thailand, Amsterdam, Costa Rica. But for those looking for humanity Georgia is the place.

broken-jug

The Broken Jug… Georgians will understand.

(Georgian Lesson #2 soon!)
Byrne Power
Haines, Alaska
9/17/2016

You can read about my whole journey to Georgia at my Gravity From Above Site:

https://gravityfromabove.wordpress.com/2016/04/10/east-of-moscow-and-mecca/


Sacred Cows #8: Oh How Cute!

 

The Widow

A Rare Early Version of a Cute Cat entitled The Widow

Next door to the teleological notion of Fun is another rather modern sacred cow. It’s something that crept in through the nursery as innocent as can be, yet has grown in the most bizarre ways to affect and influence our attitudes and behavior. And it’s the kind of thing that, if you point it out, makes people think there’s something wrong with you for even mentioning it. And folks will swear it’s an eternal notion, something ever present, and never questioned. And yet in the last hundred years it has been a serious source of smuggled concepts and ideas into lives that have no idea whatsoever that they are being infected. Postmodern hipsters cynically smile at it, while collecting its endlessly manufactured kitsch. It certainly has crossed international borders to become nearly universal. And it goes by such an innocuous name: Cute.

Cuteness is sometimes these days explained in purely biological terms: Big baby-like eyes, small chins, vulnerability. All of which is fine. But doesn’t really explain how we got to a place where these strange cartoonish images ,whether from Disney, Japan or baby animal porn, surround us in all sorts of strange locations. I descend into the basement of a church and find large posters of excruciatingly cute rodents and barnyard fowl having something to do with the Bible. Or I walk into my local post office in the depths the winter season to see an official USPS poster up on a window of a smiling big eyed cuddly snowman representing in some odd manner the federal government.

Cute Snowman

Cute Snowman Representing the United States Post Office 2014.

And I suppose there are people reading this who, already at this point, are starting to feel uncomfortable about my criticism of these images… which I can guarantee you is going to get a lot sharper before I’m done. I mean why am I attacking these Cute images? They’re Fun!! (If you’ve been reading this series you know exactly why this Fun defense is going survive about as long as a hamster, a cute cuddly baby hamster with saucer eyes, in a microwave.)

It comes down to the formulation of the idea that Cute is somehow baby-like. And violating a baby is unthinkable. So how can I critique the notion of the baby-like? And it is this big-eyed baby quality that is so seductive. And it is precisely because the Cute is beyond reproach that it then becomes the perfect vehicle for smuggling ideas. Disney understood that very well as Mickey Mouse morphed from rodent to round headed baby thing. The same can be said for certain styles of Japanese manga and anime. I mean Cream Lemon isn’t exactly the Seven Samurai. But beyond using cute imagery to import strange cargo into the geeky sectors of society the most pernicious result of these images is to give us the unassailable yet twisted conception of Cute itself.

 

Konachan.com - 77619 horns ibuki_suika ice_cream long_hair orange_eyes orange_hair ribbons sake skirt touhou

In Japan Cute and Sexy have been Welded Together in Many Ways, at First Upsetting and Now Augmenting the Western Conception of Baby-like Cuteness

Now before we get too far in this essay let me point out something that I shouldn’t have to say, yet I need to lest someone accuse me of it. I am not a misanthrope. At all. I love babies when they smile and giggle. I love kittens, puppies and bear cubs. And yes indeed they are cute with a small ‘c’. Anyone who knows me well knows I get along famously with children. No problem so far. But don’t ask me to like pictures on a wall with kittens and a silly bit of doggerel. That is way too far over the line.

Too Cute Kitten

One Example of Perhaps Billions of Images of Cute Animals on the Internet.

And for that matter with today’s digital cameras and social networking just how many images of cute babies and kids do we have to look at? Yes I know. I know. Everyone is proud of their children. But the truth is this, in all honesty, those thousands of photos of our children do not mean as much to those outside of the immediate family as they do within. But the tyranny comes at this point for exactly the same reason. Who dares tell their friends to slow down with the reproductions of their young? It’s akin to attacking children. No one dares speak the truth.

Or let me put it another way. I have approximately ten photos of myself before the age of eight. And you know that seems just right. It makes my early life interesting. Poetic not prosaic. I have very strong recollections. Do we have any understanding of what we are doing to our children when they have hundreds, maybe thousands, of images of themselves available to gaze upon before they even have a functioning memory. Yes I appreciate having so much freedom to take endless shots. But Lord I miss the deliberation that film engendered.

Cute Russian Doll Girls

A Pair of Russian Doll Girls. Make-up, Clothing, Contact Lenses,etc to Simulate Cute Dolls.

Meanwhile back to our central subject! You know a culture creates images of things that have some sort of real meaning to them. They spend time making art that expresses the most important aspects of their society. Ancient Egyptians focused on death and the afterlife. The vast majority of their art was funerary. The classical Greeks sculpted their ideals. Look at their statues. During the Renaissance another ideal of a harmony between nature and the divine is evidenced. Look at Michelangelo or Botticelli. The Dutch during the Baroque Era sought to create a sense of the value of even the lowliest people in a very real world. Rembrandt and Vermeer come to mind. What does it therefore mean to see statues of Mickey Mouse, paintings of impossibly cute children, posters of weird big eyed cartoon characters? There has been a dark transformation here. These Cute things have replaced a well considered view of what it means to be human. They make us smile and laugh. Sometimes they are also used in inverted ways, see South Park, to elicit cynical variations of the same responses. “Oh My GOD! That is just so SICK!” (Translation “That’s just so Cute, but I’m far too cool to say it that way.”)

Hello Kitty Tattooed Lip

Hello Kitty Tattoo on the Inside Lip. A Tattoo is a Fairly Permanent Sign. Cute Tattoos are Legion. Why such Commitment to Cute Imagery?

But the thing that keeps haunting me is this… How quickly these strange images have entered into our world and how protected they are. And so the serious question is this: Where did this new alien notion of the Cute come from? It was hardly here at all a hundred years ago. Now we are drowning in Cute detritus. It’s time to investigate a bit of Cutesy history.

Come back soon.

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

8/21/2014


Sacred Cows #7: The Gospel of Fun

 

Having Fun With Christians

So imagine the following scene: A church decides to have an Easter sunrise service on a Sunday morning. One of the features of this event is to attach a cross, that looks suspiciously like a white frosted cake standing upright, to a cloud of helium filled balloons that will float off into the distance. There is some talk that maybe someone will find it. There are some printed words somewhere in the confection. And there is a prayer that it might be a mighty witness for the gospel as well as an offering of praise. I beheld this with my own eyes in the late 90s. The Gospel of Fun has indeed taken over the church.

Jesus Christ He's the Real Thing

This T-Shirt originated with the Christian Hippies of the Jesus Movement back in the 70s.

Now if we are going to use our imaginations seriously let’s picture this: Present at the balloon offering there are a host of other Christians representing different traditions down through the ages; Martin Luther, the Reformer is there next to John Calvin, Augustine and Paul are looking on, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien are standing near T.S. Eliot and Dorothy Sayers. Frederick Douglass and Dostoevsky turn to each other. Saint Nino of Georgia, Thomas Aquinas, Jane Austen and Charles Finney are all in attendance. And finally Jesus himself is present. And what would such a cloud of witnesses make of this strange diminution of the truth of their faith into a pop spectacle. (And balloons do pop!) Could any of these believers from times passed not be disturbed, even deeply saddened, perhaps some even to the point of tears. And Jesus? Who suffered and bled and died for all of humanity? What would he think of balloons being offered in his name? I certainly can’t claim to know. But I do remember the story of the unworthy offering of Cain way back when.

Reading_the_Bible_is_Fun

Judges, Lamentations and the Crucifixion of Christ are Especially Fun

And this strange image of balloons and sweet crosses flying into the sky is only the tiniest metaphor of the shape of a Christian faith now also tainted and deformed by the new universal Gospel of Fun.

A Cake for Christ?

Happy Birthday Jesus Cookie Cake

The Spirit of Christmas?

The examples are legion… and I am thinking of the exorcism story in the Bible when I use the word legion. Where to start (because there is no end): What about Happy Birthday Jesus cakes for Christmas? Or Youth Bibles to make the Faith more Fun and Exciting? How about Catholic balloons? Speaking of balloons, what about hot air balloons shaped like Jesus? There are at least two. T-shirts featuring Pepsi or Coke graphics with ad slogans modified into a ‘Christian witness’? How about images of a laughing Jesus? Church music, like much contemporary religion, has turned into a blood bath of feel good commercialization. In the extremities we find such phenomena as the Toronto Blessing, where for over a decade congregants engaged in laughing, dancing, shaking, barking like dogs and entering trances all in the name of being ‘drunk in the Lord’. Sounds like Fun doesn’t it? And it is, with a capital F.

All in One Bible Fun

Extreme Teen BibleAction Bible

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gospel of Fun and Positive Thinking (we’ll get to that down the road) have essentially taken over much of Western Christianity and beyond. And I can already hear many of my Christian friends saying ‘Hey no fair. We have to do whatever we can to reach out for Christ. Don’t be critical.” What’s really odd is that the general impression of the Western secular world that Christians are still all hellfire and brimstone. The media jumps on every weird ‘Christian’ they can find. Think Westboro Baptist Church. Think of the crazy Florida pastor who was going to burn copies of the Koran. Or the naïve folks in the Jesus Camp documentary. They leap at every utterance that any celebrity makes that suggests that they are still clinging on to some bigoted form of traditional morality. And in reality most churches in America have long ago converted to a feel good version of the Faith. Concepts like hell, heresy, judgement are nearly taboo in most Western churches. God is a therapeutic deity. The point is to be positive, whole, healed, happy and to have Fun.

Mega Church Worship

Worship Time in a Mega-Church

That it’s impossible to find such a message in the Bible doesn’t seem to cause too many sleepless nights . The anti-intellectualism which had surfaced within Christian circles in the second half of the 19th Century has had the effect of making sure that the average congregant is no more worried about these contradictions than they are about eating a moist birthday cake.

Happy-Birthday-Jesus-PartyHappy Birthday Jesus Cake Drawing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interestingly the word ‘fun’ does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Neither do any of its relatives; amusement, entertainment or diversion. Although one word does show up which is an elderly relation: merriment. And some folks try to shoehorn words like blessed, happy or joy under the Fun umbrella. But merriment is an interesting word. The word in the New Testament is a Greek word which can also be translated as ‘cheer’. And it is a good thing to be of good cheer. The prodigal son was certainly cheered up by his father’s celebration. But then there is this ominous passage in the twelfth chapter of Luke where Jesus tells the parable of the rich man who has worked all his life just to finally kick back and have some fun. His motto? ‘Take life easy; eat ,drink and be merry.’ And then next word out of God’s mouth is ‘You fool. Tonight your life will be required of you.’ It’s more complicated than that, but I think we can easily see that the philosophy of Fun gets no free ride from Jesus.

Laughing Jesus 3

BFF With JC

Laughing Jesus 1

Laughing Jesus 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And in fact Fun with a capital F did not enter the Christian world until the 1950s. When in order to combat juvenile delinquency and a fear of Communism para-church organizations began to seriously create youth ministries who would lure kids into the fold with ‘funspiration’. These ministries continued into the Sixties and they hooked up with the Jesus Movement in the 1970s. This was a crucial time. These new Christian hippies moved away from the stale and boring traditional churches and into the charismatic world. They brought with them the new catchier praise songs, developed by the youth ministries during the folkie era. Catholics had guitar masses. They brought a looser, more casual, approach to the Faith. Jeans and T-shirts came into the church. And they also brought in the T-shirts with cute Jesus slogans. By the mid-eighties the transformation was fairly complete. The older culture of easy listening Christian crooners and televangelists had merged with the newer Christians and their peppy tunes and Christian market. Eventually New Agisms would be interlarded. And lashings of Positive Thinking culture.

Jesus air balloon Nevada

A Jesus Hot Air Balloon in Nevada. How Are We to Resist the Conclusion that Christians are also Full of Hot Air?

There is an informative book called The Juvenilization of American Christianity by Thomas E. Bergler (Eerdmans). In it he states that “Of course these changes came at some cost. White evangelicals invested heavily in young people and aggressively adapted to their preferences for an informal, entertaining, feel good faith. They ended up with their churches full of Christians who think that the purpose of God and the Christian faith is to help them feel better.”

Slain in the Spirit

Somewhere in Florida… The Sleep of Reason Produces…

And so for far too many folks the Gospel of Fun has superseded the Gospel of Christ, and they can’t even see it. It is identical to the aging hippie wearing high tech spandex biking gear. How can you explain it to them? Rational argumentation is dissed as judgmental. Everyone is supposed to smile. Check out their Facebook pages. (Of course there is a very dark side to all of this Fun and Positivity. Try to express a thoughtful dissenting opinion on internet sites like IMDb or in response to a newspaper editorial and just watch the knives come out.)

You know this might all be a bit of a downer… But if you look at it a different way it’s just so Cute.

Precious Moments Chapel

Inside the Precious Moments Chapel in Missouri

I think we’ll have to continue this next time…

Byrne power

Haines, Alaska

8/10/2014


Sacred Cows #6: An Explosion of Countercultural Fun

 

Holy Man Jam, Boulder, CO  Aug. 1970

Hippies definitely in the mood for new modes of Fun with a capital F.

 

 

And then all hell broke loose.

But what am I saying? That the Sixties folks were a bunch of hell raisers? Hardly. Hell is exactly what they didn’t believe in anymore. When people were tripping out at the Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park in January of 1967 the concept was that the old corrupt society of war and repression and without a doubt religious notions of Judgment Day would be eliminated by good thoughts, by beatific visions, by sex and smiles and laughter and blissed out awareness of the sun and the music. The Fifties, it turns out, were the only the seedbed of new explosions of Fun. The psychedelic Gold Rush was on! LSD, grass, meditation, the Beatles, getting tuned in – it was all going to change the world.

And sadly it did.

 

Hippie Dance - Photo by Robert Altman

Hippies seeking the intuitive childlike side of life. The only problem is that if everyone is a child who is then the adult? Is there room for adults in a world full of children?

The best ideas and ideals of the Sixties have long since been left in the cultural dust. The actual San Francisco Hippies weren’t nearly childlike as they wanted to be. They still clung to things like reading, like art, like Civil Rights, like Free Speech, like Art Films. They might get stoned and dance around like children but they were still reading Nietzsche and Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut. They might be breaking down the sexual boundaries but they still tried to defend what they were doing to their parents with somewhat rational arguments. And though much of the intellectual content of what they were ingesting might have had a deeply Romantic post-Rousseau-noble-savage-anti-intellectualism to it nevertheless whether it was Gravity’s Rainbow, Frank Zappa or El Topo, the work from the late Sixties early Seventies still challenged one’s brain. But it proved to be nearly the last gasp of certain kind of Post-War educational boom time which would last into the early Punk Era and not much further. Ultimately the Fun loving philistines won the day.

Sesame Street 1970s Time Magazine

Sesame Street in the 1970s radically changes learning into something Fun.

I’m old enough to remember a conversation about morality in the mid-Seventies where Adolf Hitler was mentioned and a girl said to me, “Well I can’t get into that space personally but maybe if it was right for him who am I to judge?” An ill omen indeed. Disco, too, was a bad sign. But then again so was the slick commercial television of the Brady Bunch. Even Sesame Street did not provide for children the superior stimulation of an Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows or A Wrinkle in Time. Hallucinogens ceased to signify any sort of inner exploration of the mind, let alone the universe. Drugs instead became a recreational activity. So did nature. Though eventually the Rocky Mountain High allure of hiking and national parks would give way to cruise ships and extreme sports. Theme parks were becoming much more serious in delivering their services. Disney World in Florida and eventually the simulacra driven EPCOT Center opened. By the late Eighties Disney World had surpassed Niagara Falls, itself now a shabby theme park, as the number one honeymoon destination in America. How could a merely majestic waterfall compete with the tableaux of a faux pleasure dome? As the Seventies slipped into the Eighties Fun became a much more serious mantra.

Star Wars Fun 1977

Star Wars premiere in 1977 at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Star Wars brings the Fun ‘back’ to movies.

Also somewhere along the way, in a thousand different compromises, the overly optimistic dreams of the counterculture began to blend into the teething techno-culture of the time, which created as well a new commercial culture inspired by illusions of Fun. The road from science fiction through Star Wars and E.T. towards the current digital landscape of pods and pads went from being an rarely used byway into the dominant highway of mainstream culture. Late 20th Century American society soon sloughed off the adult in favor of the adolescent and we have suffered profoundly ever since.

Sport Oriented Fashions in the 1980s. You know this was supposed to be Fun.

Sport Oriented Fashions in the 1980s. You know this was supposed to be Fun.

And people began to change their modes of behavior in accordance with their new belief structure. Fun being the number one hormone in a Youth fixated culture was reflected over and over in a great percentage of our activities. Clothing certainly reflected this change. For a while it looked as if rock music’s sassiness would predominate: Punk and Metal black leather and studs. Post-Deadhead jeans and hair. Yet a change was taking place in the Rap demimonde perhaps first of all – the emphasis on sports gear; A fad that would take over much of the clothing trade. Shiny long kilt-ish synthetic basketball shorts worn well below the place formerly reserved for belt loops. Running shoes of one stripe or another seem to have replaced any semblance of leather shoes. Post-Deadhead “hippies” now freely invest in the kind of shiny sports gear and outdoor wear that was once decried as plastic, artificial. New Age enthusiasts carry strange rubberoid yoga mats around. How much of our current society seems to dressed for some recreational activity? If one were a 1967 San Francisco hippie and were suddenly transported to this moment in time from 1967 to meet people who espoused a similar philosophy the words might sound familiar but the living style would seem completely hollow. One would be aghast at the amount of artificial materials worn and used by folks who claim to have the same ideals.

But of course those people are still with us. Many of them in their sixties and seventies. By golly it is a very quare sight in deed to pass a few aging organic hippie types on a road peddling their bikes garbed completely in plastic fabrics of one kind or another. They think they are living the same dream, with some modifications.

Senior Cycling Hippie in Bike Garb

The curious site of an older man, most likely once an original era hippie, now garbed completely in synthetic sports clothing, the very antithesis to hippiedom… but not the antithesis of the Fun that Hippies helped unleash upon the world.

But really the sacred cow of Recreation cannot be questioned. It is in truth a species of the hydra-headed Fun. I remember when I first arrived in Alaska in the late 90s I was talking to a woman about the vast tracks of wilderness surrounding us. I said something like this: “It surprises me to realize how many people only see nature as a recreational opportunity.” She looked at me without blinking. My words had the faint aroma of blasphemy in her nostrils. She did not comprehend what I was saying at all. I was going to mentioned something about Tarkovsky and the vision of reality that bleeds through his films. Then I realized that I might as well be speaking Russian.

In this brave new world of Fun and Recreation there are no questions. Fun simply is the point. And yet you think there would be people who seriously questioned this idea. Perhaps those old stick in the mud Christians ,with their savior who bled and died for our sins (definitely No Fun), would challenge the new ideology of Fun? Many who aren’t Christian think that’s exactly what is happening in our times. Oh how deceived we all have been. No one has bit quite as deeply out of the candy-coated apple of Fun as modern American Christians.

Don’t believe me? Keep reading.

astro-christian night FUN

Obviously you’re invited. It’s going to be a lot of good clean Fun. Come back for our next installment of Sacred Cows.

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

3/26/2014

 


Sacred Cows #4: The Roar of Fun in the 1920s

 

Elephant Charleston

An Elephant dances the Charleston as America invents the new idea of Fun

To understand why World War 1 is such a demarcation in the development of this new notion of fun with a capital ‘F’ we have to ask ourselves what happened to begin the change immediately before the war. And I find that turn-of-the-century era to be filled with many mysterious aspects. One of the most mysterious, and this will come back to haunt America in the Sixties, is why men began to shave their beards and to be clean shaven. This might sound like mere fashion, but no fashion is actually ‘mere’. All fashion reflects changes in thinking

William Sherman

Bearded General – General William Tecumseh Sherman

Frederick Douglass

Bearded Statesman – Frederick Douglass

Look at the Victorian Era. Beards were everywhere. Presidents had beards. Generals had beards. Writers had beards. Workers had beards. Not that every man had a beard mind you. Their were scraped jaws aplenty, sometimes accompanied by a bewildering variety of mustaches and sideburns. One of the ways in which this era of folks were freer than later supposedly less repressed generations was that there was no one style for men’s facial hair that reigned supreme.

Suddenly beards disappear.

Bicycle Built For Two

The new people of the 20th Century on a Bicycle Built For Two

But by the turn of the 20th Century something happened in the American mentality that indicated a seismic shift. The emphasis was now put on a youthful energetic appearance. A bicycle built for two. A similar shift can be seen in relationship to women; dress styles change radically from 1900 to World War 1. But in the case of women it becomes a bit more transparent. There is the Women’s Suffrage Movement, the new dances like the Cakewalk and the Castlewalk, and it was indeed under the influence of dance instructors Vernon and Irene Castle that women began to shed their corsets, leading to the new fashions of 20th Century.

1912 The New People

Hipsters ca. 1912… Beardless, Corsetless Moderne.

But whence cometh this new emphasis on youthfulness, a fixation that has only intensified to nightmarish degrees in the 21st Century? Was it related to multiplicity of the new inventions? The automobile, the airplane, the phonograph, the radio, the motion picture, the telephone, the light bulb and on and on. Was it connected with the fact that America largely was unaffected by the Symbolist and Decadent Movement of Europe? Or maybe au contraire that it was in subliminal ways affected by some aspects of the new Decadence? Was it connected to economic prosperity? I’m sure there’s a serious reason, but at the moment it’s really hard to pinpoint why? (Serious historians of the times, do you have any clues?)

But nonetheless beards were slaughtered at the altar of youth and would remain so until the even more extreme youth movements of the late Sixties would make beards trendy again.

F Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald

Definitely no hint of the olden days: F Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald


And so America in it’s optimistic prewar glory began to feel the hypodermic injection of energy and this new conception called Fun just as it found itself strangely involved in a war that killed thousands and left many more men both physically and emotionally crippled although the American soil was scarcely touched. The men returned home to a country that had no notion of what modern warfare had done to the troops. But it wanted to celebrate (or was it erase the immediate past) with a new burst of enthusiasm. While simultaneously shutting down the bars and distilleries and giving more independent women the right to vote. And thus Fun arrived in an explosion of contradictions in the Roaring Twenties.

F. Scott Fitzgerald looked back at the era with a mixture of nostalgia and regret in 1931 in an essay entitled “Echoes of the Jazz Age”. He wrote,

“Scarcely had the staider citizens of the republic caught their breaths when the wildest of all generations, the generation which had been adolescent during the confusion of the War, brusquely shouldered my contemporaries out of the way and danced into the limelight. This was the generation whose girls dramatized themselves as flappers, the generation that corrupted its elders and eventually overreached itself less through lack of morals than through lack of taste. May one offer in exhibit the year 1922! That was the peak of the younger generation, for though the Jazz Age continued, it became less and less an affair of youth.”

Louise Brooks with Cute Cuddly Dogs

20s Icon Louise Brooks looking suspiciously Modern with a couple of too Cute Doggies

And then he points out how even the older generations were tainted by the insanity.

“The sequel was like a children’s party taken over by the elders, leaving the children puzzled and rather neglected and rather taken aback. By 1923 their elders, tired of watching the carnival with ill-concealed envy, had discovered that young liquor will take the place of young blood, and with a whoop the orgy began. The younger generation was starred no longer. A whole race going hedonistic, deciding on pleasure. “

If this sounds familiar it’s because this was but a rehearsal for the much larger funhouse called the Sixties. But back in the Twenties the considerable rural portions of the land weren’t quite as deeply affected by the new teleology of Fun as the urban zones had been. And this sexual revolution was suddenly halted in its place by the Great Depression, which, while not setting the clock back to before the war, had seriously curtailed the proceedings.

Fitzgerald continues, “But it was not to be. Somebody had blundered and the most expensive orgy in history was over.

“It ended two years ago, because the utter confidence, which was its essential prop, received an enormous jolt and it didn’t take long for the flimsy structure to settle earthward. And after two years the Jazz Age seems as far away as the days before the War. It was borrowed time anyhow – the whole upper tenth of a nation living with the insouciance of grand dukes and the casualness of chorus girls.”

Soup Kitchen during the Great Depression

The Party Ends at a Soup Kitchen in the Great Depression

The Depression Era and World War 2 were not exactly hot houses for Fun, but the happy-go-lucky beast would make a dramatic return once and for all after the Second World War.

(To be continued…)

Byrne Power

Haines. Alaska

11/5/2013


Sacred Cows #3: Something’s Funny Here

 

Smiling Faces Don't Tell the Truth

This is the image being sold to us.

Smiling faces sometimes pretend to be your friend

Smiling faces show no traces of the evil that lurks within

Smiling faces, smiling faces sometimes

They don’t tell the truth

From Smiling Faces Sometimes

Written Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong

(Classic versions: The Temptations or The Undisputed Truth)

Now, dare we assay the outline of a history of this modern notion of Fun as an organizing principle in life? I doubt I’m going to be cool in doing so. But allow me to produce a few salient moments in such a account.

First of all obviously fun in the sense of a temporary enjoyable sensation has been around as long as human beings have laughed over spilled food or missteps into a stream. It may not have been called ‘fun’ in the modern sense of the word, but it was certainly funny. But the notion that life is fun, or that fun is what determines the validity of an event is a much more recent concept.

If we go back a ways to say the paintings of Dutchman Frans Hals, with his smiling figures and publican hominess we might confuse that joyful bonhomie with our modern notion of ‘Fun’. But it would certainly be a mistake. For one thing he certainly did many other paintings which were serious by any standard. Next it’s clear that the enjoyment in the twinkling eyes of a Hals subject was not meant to be taken as an eternal condition. Likewise in Bruegel’s dancing peasants and the like. Life during the Renaissance and Baroque Eras was seen as a fairly serious affair, but certainly tempered with joy and lots of dancing. Nothing could be further from the postmodern notion of life as Fun.

Frans Hals - Buffoon Playing a Lute

An excellent example of Dutchman Frans Hals capturing a momentary expression in Buffoon Playing a Lute from the early 1600’s

Frans Hals - Portrait of a Man Holding a Skull

Here’s Hals in a much more serious mood in a Portrait of a Man Holding a Skull.

Curiously the word ‘fun’ itself was not too far back a word of some suspicion. Back in the 1600s fun was a verb that meant something like to cheat or trick or to make a hoax of something. We still use the word in that way when we ‘make fun of someone’ or when we talk about ‘funny money’. And something funny is definitely going on in our contemporary reliance upon Fun as reason for action. Somehow our Fun is indeed a trick, a hoax. The old word is still buried in the new.

Another false step along the way to trying to find the origin of today’s notion of Fun with a capital F is too be found in the Declaration of Independence. You know what I’m talking about… “the Pursuit of Happiness”, which by our lights ends up being something like ‘do your own thing’ and of course ‘just have fun’! A very hedonistic concept. And how dare anyone suggest that someone could be in error for following their bliss?

Fun Party Drinking Stupidity

Somehow I don’t think this is what Thomas Jefferson meant by ‘the pursuit of happiness’

And yet Thomas Jefferson seems to have borrowed the phrase from English philosopher John Locke who uses the phrase and relates it to ‘our greatest good’ which is certainly not the kind of whatever-turns-you-on mentality that people espouse today. It’s not about getting the most toys, the cheapest drugs or best sex you can find. “The pursuit of happiness” is something much deeper. And certainly NONE of the folks who founded America had the slightest notion of living for sensational Fun.

So where does this beast come from? Perhaps the carnival or the sideshow? No I don’t think so. First of all the carnival is never meant to be a permanent event. Secondly the carnival and the sideshow are much too dark in their implications. Though undoubtedly there are some would would love to live in an amusement park. And an amusement park is much closer to today’s idea of Fun.

One of the first permanent amusement parks was the Coney Island complex. (It was never one single entity.) And Coney Island’s history and heyday are to found at an interesting moment in time. There had been resorts and clam bars for years, but by the early 20th Century Coney Island became the place for New Yorkers to get away from the tough business of city life. And it is in that early 20th Century we begin to see a new type of person.

Edwardian Bathers

At the turn from the 19th to the 20th Centuries we see a new type of person coming into being.

Look at a photograph from the 19th Century. You know the stoic flinty seemingly dour faces of the early age of photography. Now it has been posited that these people look so stern for various reasons, i.e. shutter speeds were slow, they thought they were posing for something like a painting, even that people had bad teeth. But whatever the reason, it’s quite clear that they lived in a very different world than we do now, ca. 2013. They did not see things through our postmodern fog; they took things seriously, including and especially their photographs. They thought that their images should be worthy of posterity.

Solemn Lady

Evidently these people did not live for Fun

(Oh and by the way there are plenty of photographs of smiling Victorians. They certainly did know how to laugh and have little ‘f ‘ fun. The point here is that they did not consider Fun the reason for living.)

Smiling Victorians

Victorians having fun with a small ‘f’.

Now look at our images. They scream of “Fun”. Smiles all round. Loopy posings. Shamelessly bad acting in “selfies”. Endlessly happy faced goofy grins in self-congratulatory group shots. I have met people who do not possess one serious photo of themselves. All they’ve got to prove their existence to the world are teeth and muggings. And, whatever else can be said about so many of our images, there seems to be a growing taboo about taking yourself and anything else too seriously. Because in the end it’s all about having Fun.

World War I turns out to be the real demarcation, the moment when the concept of Fun with a capital ‘F’ seems to suddenly have exploded into the American consciousness. The Roaring Twenties growls with this new sense of revelry. Flappers, bathtub gin, the automobile as a portable love nest all contributed to the notion. But why should that be the case. Why directly after a major war should this sense of absurd playfulness have broken out?

(To be continued…)

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

9/23/2013


Sacred Cows #2: Fun – Sacred Cow in Extremis

 

Yes let’s have some fun.

And if by fun you mean let’s enjoy a few pleasurable amusements, a game of hide-and-go-seek with flashlights in the dark, spitting watermelon seeds at a picnic, a roller coaster ride at a carnival, I say why not. I don’t mind gales of laughter, bad jokes told well or rolling down a slope covered in snow. But incorporated in this traditional idea of ‘fun’ is the notion that these are occasional temporal diversions. They are not a standard feature to be achieved in daily life. They are separate moments not representative of the whole. These little moments of pleasure are like the bubbles blown by children. One pinprick and they are are gone. Thus a phrase like “Life is fun.’ would be totally meaningless in almost any traditional view of human culture that you could summon up.

Carnival Poster

A remnant of the old school of fun.

Yeah but who still holds a traditional view… Therein lies the sacred cow that I intend to roast. In a world pickled in ever changing technologies and rapidly evolving variations on narcissism and nihilism disguised as individualism, anything smacking of tradition is pretty much castigated and mocked as unevolved and, even more tellingly, as boring.

Live Laugh Love

A statement of universal values 21st Century style.

It’s curious to me how many times in my life I have heard people justify pretty much any activity in the name of ‘Fun’. Everything supposed to be Fun: Music is Fun. Food is Fun. Sports are Fun. Driving can be Fun. Sex, of course, is Fun. Flirting is Fun. Cheating is Fun. (Till the tears begin.) Dogs are Fun. Movies are Fun. Videos of bestiality are Fun. (This is not an exaggeration.) Boxing is Fun. Fighting is Fun. Drunk driving is Fun. (Until you wrap the car around tree.) Yoga is Fun. Christianity is Fun. Shouldn’t politics be Fun? Travel is Fun. Italy is Fun. Bosnia is now Fun. Fun is whatever you define as Fun. Everything is Fun!

Jesus is 100% Fun

The folks who made this probably were under the impression that they were communicating the message of the Bible.

Except things that are the antithesis of Fun. Things that are boring. Classical music? Ballet? Mid-20th Century art films? Boredom. Reading a long book about the history of the Gulag is just plain work. Heck picking up a physical book and lugging it around is is a lot more boring than watching YouTube videos of car crashes in Russia.

And over time I have heard any number of apologias for life’s meaning involving Fun with a capital ‘F’. “Don’t be so serious, let’s just have some Fun.”, “As long as everyone’s having Fun, right?”, “As long as you are having Fun, that’s the key.”, “You gotta have Fun.”, “As long as I’m having Fun, I’ll do it.” or as Heath Ledger once said “I only do this because I’m having fun. The day I stop having fun, I’ll just walk away.” And then he did.

Heath Ledger Nihilist Joker

Heath Ledger takes his Nihilistic Fun a little too seriously as the Joker in The Dark Knight

But what is this new conception of Fun? It is indeed very illusive. It has become a state of being so wide as to incorporate our etiolated sense of meaning itself. If I translate the unfocused usage of my peers I come up with a something that is perhaps pleasant and largely free of pain, though even variations of stupid injury can be roped into this new idea of Fun. I think it has to do with laughing a lot, smiling, a kind of no risk low level ecstatic experience. Maybe we can just call it the Big Wow. A sensation filled existence without the tedium of logic or rehearsal. The entertainment industry is key here. And it most certainly is an anti-intellectual creature. You really can’t question it.

Yet it doesn’t take very long in considering this teleological concept of Fun to see the massive gaping holes in such a worldview. Both raising children and caring for the elderly are situations where things get a whole lot less than Fun very quickly. It takes a commitment that moves far beyond the laughter of a moment to get you through these relationships. In fact most of life takes a kind of tenacity to get beyond the pain, the repetitions, the fears, the misunderstandings, the endless practice it takes to be truly good at anything. Yet somehow this wireless dreamworld we call contemporary existence has deluded us that all of the traditions are invalid as we pay our tickets for our very own personalized fun houses.

How did we get here?

Are we having Fun yet? Headstone

Everything can be Fun

(To be continued…)

Byrne Power
Haines, Alaska
July 4th 2013


Sacred Cows #1: Sacred Cows for the Barbecue

 

Zlote Tarasy 2

Woodstock for the early 21st Century: Złote Tarasy in Warsaw Poland

Please excuse me, I’ve been nice for a while now. The time has come to barbecue a few sacred cows.

Which might lead someone to say OMG! Are you really trying to offend Hindus?!

And which is precisely why I’m writing…

Bizarrely, after years of scorched earth counter-cultural products that have suggested all manner of nihilistic rebellions, we are left, not with black garbed existentialists crying over the alienation of humanity, but with an almost infantile culture of folks deliriously caught in a fast food playplace for endlessly emerging adults, who tend to see the world in fun, cuddly, positive terms as they giggle (LOL) through the endless global mall while texting extraordinarily blank verse into the universe.

Zlote Tarasy 5

M.C. Escher-like escalators at Złote Tarasy

I recently took a trip through Europe to investigate the meaning of puppetry, how perhaps, there might lurk in the humble realm of the puppet something real, something tangible that might aid humanity in its virtual addictions. And I did indeed find much that heartened me. The European puppet folk of my acquaintance were, in general, quite aware of what puppetry might be able to mean in such a high-tech age. The puppets themselves were inspiring as individual one-of-kind handmade artworks. Those learning the art of puppetry seemed to have a leg up on those in other fields of learning. And yet…

I remember more than one moment where I said to myself aloud, maybe its too late already. I remember the sinking feeling I had in Poland as I wandered through the massive seven story mall next to the Warszawa Centralna train station. And Poland is a country I love. Yet here was a perfect replica of what had once been a California styled shopping mall. And everyone seemed happy to wander through this emporium of material delight. Here were endless chain stores and franchise food services. Here were the big hollywood movies and the brand name off the rack clothes. Here was that same sense of credit emptying glut and spent detumescence. Here were the blank souls wandering lost and hopeless. And to think that the Poles gave up the tyranny of communism for this mindless 21st Century Woodstock of the Złote Tarasy (Gold Terraces).

Zlote Tarasy 13

Spent Consumers at Złote Tarasy in Warsaw Poland

Or then there was the moment in Hallstatt, Austria, when I found myself alone beneath a glowing full moon on All Hallow’s Eve wandering through the most haunted graveyard I’d ever experienced under the freshly frosted medieval town on a mirrored lake as the other guests in my pension stayed indoors because “there was nothing to do” and they would rather live scrunching their fingers over and staring into handheld digital screens. And I thought to myself, how can the real world compete with these pointless and distracting virtual gadgets? Actually what I said to myself is this… Is there any hope left?

Dude chill. It’s not that bad. There’s a lot of serious fun to be had. Lighten up! Get a life. If you see snow get a snowboard. You rocked that midnight medieval stroll scene. Don’t worry about those other peeps. They’re just hanging out. They’ll come out and play eventually. As long as everyone’s having fun, right?

Absolutely wrong. When did fun become some sort of foundational reason for living? Blessed are the funseekers because they shall rule!

And fun is not alone in this brave new world that has such people in it. Cute is another strange little sacred calf that has been slicing the rational portions of our culture away in more recent times. I mean if cute means something comparable to ‘baby-like’ how can anyone critique something that is like a baby! Heavens to Betsy!

And to critique, that just sounds so judgmental. Criticism doesn’t really help anyone. Don’t be so left-brained. Be positive. Try to get along with people. Do not hurt anyone’s feelings… ever. Certainly not by implying anything negative about them. Don’t tell them you disagree, even when you do. In fact you think all sorts of people are wrong. But you don’t have to hang with them because they aren’t fully… well one doesn’t really want to say human… but you know. Yet among the people, the real people, your online friends, do not criticize their beliefs. It’s just so wrong. Remain positive.

Positively… I hear the loudest most ominous holy moo coming from this direction.

Zlote Tarasy 10

The Model of Good Living at Złote Tarasy

But before we get there let’s have some Fun with a capital F first.

(to be continued…)

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

6/16/2013


American Gothic Music: An Incomplete List

Addendum to The Original American Gothic Series

Chain Gang Houses

A Southern Prison Chain Gang Housed in Cages. The real Question I have is this: What kind of music did that guy with the guitar play for the others.

While I’m getting myself in gear to write more. Here is a sampling of music that I would categorize as American Gothic. Remember American Gothic is neither strictly Americana nor Goth. It takes roots music in its darker form along with other emphases like circus or carnival music, late 19th Century immigrant strains, and certainly even Minstrel style is buried deep within as well. American Gothic Music, like other arts mutated through the American Gothic vision is music that is connected to the darker roots of American culture, with less of a European sensibility. (See our original essay on American Gothic Music.)

Ancestors

None of these songs could be considered American Gothic as such. But they certainly are the kinds of music that make up the bedrock of influences within the musical spectrum.

Chain Gang Songs – Old Alabama, Murderer’s Home, Grizzely Bear, We Need Another Witness (These are the real thing, songs sung by actual prisoners. They are as frightening and strange as can be.)

Tommy Johnson

The only photo extant of the eerie Tommy Johnson.

Tommy Johnson – Cool Drink of Water Blues (Perhaps the most haunted song in American music history)

Blind Willie Johnson – Dark Was the Night – Cold Was the Ground, Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed, God Moves On the Water (There is something quite mysterious about the Christian songs of Mr. Johnson. These songs sum it up.)

Blind Lemon Jefferson – See That My Grave is Kept Clean, Black Snake Moan, Wartime Blues (Also check out Nick Cave’s tribute song.)

Washington Phillips – Train Your Child (A creaky instrumental that gets into your soul.)

Charley Patton – Moon Going Down (Scratchy voiced and scratchy recording!)

The Spirit of Memphis Quartet – The Day is Passed and Gone (Beauty, terror, death and life all in one stark song.)

Marion Williams – The Day is Passed and Gone (The same tune radically altered. It would be hard to imagine something more chilling.)

Robert Johnson – Cross Road Blues, Hellhound on My Trail, Me And The Devil Blues (How could you have a list of dark American music without Mr. Johnson?)

Son House – John the Revelator, Death Letter Blues, Preachin’ Blues, Grinnin’ In Your Face (Blood curdling stuff.)

Howlin’ Wolf – I Asked Her For Water, Smokestack Lightning, How Many More years, No Place to Go, Ain’t Superstitious, Somebody Walkin’ In My House (Wolf moans quite low and means every word.)

Hank Williams – Lost Highway, Ramblin’ Man (Lonesome and dark.)

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – I Put A Spell on You, Voices (It’s Halloween and truly weird all together.)

An alternate shot from John Wesley Harding

An alternate shot from John Wesley Harding found in newsprint back in the late 60’s. The natural degradation of the image perfectly captures the American Gothic mood of the album. The two odd looking fellows were actually bauls (singing madmen) from India. Interestingly they kind of look like 19th Century images of American Indians.

The Originators

These are the artists that first delineated the style.

Bob Dylan – Desolation Row, Tombstone Blues, Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,This Wheel’s on Fire, John Wesley Harding, The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest, The Wicked Messenger, Three Angels, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (Yeah Dylan pretty much invented the mode, like so many other things.)

The Doors – The End, People Are Strange (Musically more European, even Hindu, but thematically Morrison was swimming in dark American nightmares.)

Link Wray

Link Wray who embodies a distinctive American Gothic mode where the Native American and the black/white battle of blues, country and rock and roll intersect.

Link Wray – Shawnee Tribe, Waterboy, Right or Wrong (You Lose), Rumble (The Beans and Fat Back LP is a real milestone. The equivalent of finding an indian burial ground. Rumble is here but could be an Ancestor as well.)

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Walk on the Water, I Put A Spell On You, Tombstone Shadow, Born on the Bayou, Bad Moon Rising, Effigy, Graveyard Train, Ramble Tamble, Run through the Jungle (In my essay I forgot to mention CCR. Big omission. Fogerty and crew fairly reek of decay in the swamp. Seminal.)

Canned Heat – On the Road Again (This song is a real milestone in the style. Rootsy blues, but where is this sound really from? It’s not found in the original song. It’s not really John Lee Hooker. It’s as haunted as it’s soon to be dead singer’s eerie voice.)

The Eagles – Hotel California (Somewhere down on the border. There is a ghost of a dream here.)

Ry Cooder – Soundtracks: Paris Texas, Southern Comfort, The Border (When Ry Cooder lets his slide drone on… creepy.)

Tom Waits in American Gothic mode

Tom Waits in American Gothic mode

Tom Waits – 16 Shells from a 30.6, Earth Died Screaming, Jesus Gonna Be Here, Lucky Day Overture, What’s He Building? (Waits Gothic American sound has all of the mystery of a hog hanging up in the barn.)

Nick Cave – Blind Lemon Jefferson, Rye Whisky, City of Refuge, The Folk Singer, Saint Huck, Tupelo, Stagger Lee (He only claims to be from Australia. His heart is firmly interred behind the tent at the carnival.)

Violent Femmes – Country Death Song (Gordon Gano was quite instrumental in reinterpreting the old American themes.)

16 Horsepower – American Wheeze, Low Estate, Hang My Teeth On Your Door, Heel On the Shovel, Coal Black Horse, Bad Moon Risin’ (These guys really defined the new era of American Gothic Music.

Calexico – Black Heart, Frontera, Dub Latina, Circo (Somewhere South near the Border in Cormac McCarthy territory.)

Reverend Glasseye

Reverend Glasseye and His Wooden Legs one of the outstanding American Gothic bands of the last decade.

Contemporary American Gothic Musicians

These are people actively working in the present era, when there has been a proliferation of the American Gothic style in several arts. (See our series of essays on the subject here.) Go search them out explore the zone.

Nicole Atkins – The Tower, You Were The Devil

The Black Heart Procession – A Truth Quietly Told

The Blind Willies – Last Drop of Midnight, Don’t Let the Devil Steal Your Joy

The Born Again Floozies – Dirt Cheap Suit, Street Music

The Whiskey Folk Ramblers – My Rolling Wino,Pies of Old Kylene, Into That Slide

Ezra Fuhrman & the Harpoons – How Long, Diana?, Hard Time in a Terrible Land, Teenage Wasteland

Harmonious Wail – I Like To Feel My Bones

Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas – Moonstruck, Gone in Two Seconds

Jessica Hernandez Border Gothic

Jessica Hernandez Border Gothic in Detroit. And I have been waiting as patiently as possible for her next musical move.

O’Death – Adelita, Down To Rest, Gas Can Row

Reverend Glasseye – 17 Lashes, King of Men, Sweet Sweet Countrymen, Black River Falls, Midnight Cabaret

Liz Tormes – Fall Silent, Black Luck

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

2/1/13


Georgia – Sakartvelo – საქართველო #2

Part Two – Music and Dance…

(To listen to and watch the musicians of Georgia

please click on the blue letters below.)

A Georgian Woman Floats in Erisioni’s Georgian Legend

English Composer Gavin Bryars recently wrote that “The Georgians are probably the most musical people on earth… The division between professional and amateur becomes meaningless; such is the commitment of the professional, and the skill of the amateur… Everywhere there is the staggeringly beautiful three-part vocal polyphony – whether it is a wedding song, lullaby, or richly dissonant religious chant.”

And that is a good place to set out to really even attempt to dig into the riches of Georgia’s music. Most scholarship puts their polyphonic tradition as far back as we can estimate. Certainly the earliest Georgian Orthodox liturgy that we know of is polyphonic (many voiced, interweaving tunes). In all likelihood Georgian liturgy was polyphonic at least a millennium before Western Europe hit upon the same notion. And perhaps, though it is difficult to prove, there is even a connection between the two. I don’t think it’s merely a coincidence. The Christian philosophical underpinnings stress a triune God, who is interwoven in ways that are beyond human grasp. Polyphony, whether of Bach or of Sakartvelo, stresses these things. And polyphony may be the closest means of understanding such a concept that humanity has ever discovered.

Three as One from Georgian Legend

But it isn’t simply Georgia’s religious, hence classical, tradition that shows the complexities of polyphony. It is indeed found in the work chants up in the mountains. It is found in the simplest of everyday ballads, wherever two or three are are gathered.

But did I say simple ballads. Yes this music is very direct, shooting straight to the heart, but simple? Hardly. Georgian melodies have a basic major minor modality. If you hear their dance tunes you immediately notice commonalities with Russian and other Eastern European styles. A tune by itself might sound Greek or even Italian. And yet there are real differences. There will also be something else as well. A serious touch of the Middle East with it’s bittersweet melodies. But unlike the music of Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and the entire Arab World there are harmonies. And it is in these harmonies that the secret of Georgian music begins to reveal itself. There is definitely a connection to the music of Armenia, also a lone Christian neighbor in a sea of Islamic musicality. And yet to these ears Armenian music has much more in common with the Middle East, except for its liturgy. But Armenia and Georgia share a few instruments like the duduk, a haunting reed instrument played more for contemplation in Armenia and more rhythmically in Georgia. But Georgian music is a world apart.

Georgian Musicians ca. 1901

When musicologists first began to pay attention to Georgia in the 19th Century they were really baffled. Music from other corners of the world seemed much more comprehensible. Pentatonic scales, blue notes, microtones all seemed a lot easier to classify than what was going on in the more European Georgia. So here were major and minor scales, some Middle Eastern modalities and then something else again, a startling dissonance which might suddenly raise its head from seemingly nowhere. But unlike the dissonant music of the early Modernist era, there seemed to be a real code to how this dissonance was added in order to also preserve tonality. Igor Stravinsky in an interview late in his life was asked what music was important to him. He answered, “One of my greatest impressions, is of a recording of Georgian polyphonic folk singing from mountain villages near Tbilisi. This tradition of active musical performance, which goes back to antiquity, is a wonderful treasure that can give more for performance than all the attainments of new music.” And he was referring to Modernist classical music.

Choirs like the famous Rustavi Ensemble or the Gori Women demonstrate both the earthy and unearthly sounds of the Georgian voice in a disciplined setting. On the album Archaica the Gori Women sing at moments of such vocal dissonance to make even György Ligeti blush. You can immediately understand why Stravinsky was so entranced. And yet the overall feeling of the Gori Women’s Choir is not of dissonance but of rich harmonic beauty. There are also great recordings of the wilder untamed forms of vocal music found back in the mountain villages.

The Men’s Choir from Ensemble Eirsioni’s Georgian Legend

What has also been attracting my attention lately is the modern dance music of Georgia based on traditional themes. One recording I stumbled upon is called Georgian Dance Music by Chabuka Amiranashvili (ჭაბუკა ამირანაშვილი). If a person loved the music of say The Ukrainians or of Gogol Bordello I would point them very firmly in this direction. I can’t explain it except to say it starts off like some sort Eastern European melody played by manic double accordions and then suddenly a modern bass kicks in followed by wild Middle Eastern percussion which then carouses between tunes jump started from inside one another. Positively addictive. And, as I found out later, these tunes are mostly eminent folk instrumentals that everybody knows and more importantly knows the dance steps for.

At the mention of dancing I think we come fairly close to the heart of the Georgian life. Many cultures have forms of folk dancing. And many more have lost their own unique dance forms in the face of hyper-modernity. Do Americans, English, French, Germans, Dutch, Japanese, Koreans or Swiss still have living folk dances? One thing is for certain… the Georgians sure do. And they are not just a few simple steps like in a square dance. Ballerina Nina Ananiashvili makes the case that the Georgians are good at ballet because essentially their entire culture is steeped in dancing. And these dances are liable to breakout at a wedding, at a supra (a very common yet important traditional feast), at a casual get together or among teens in a parking lot. Children in Georgia often take two extra hours of dance classes after school everyday. And it shows…

Latin American cultures keep their dancing very much alive too. But these are often contemporary dances: salsa, merengue, etc. Georgians are keeping dances alive that in many cases are hundreds of years old, if not much more ancient. They are using their bodies to keep alive the memories of their culture. And though naturally they are exposed to the same barrage of pop culture as the rest of us, and while they might even occasionally attempt a bit of imitation of what is seen on videos, they do not do it at the expense of their traditions. Because they know that once they stop singing and dancing they will basically cease to be Georgians.

Yes. He’s going to land on his knees!! From Erisioni’s Georgian Legend

And when they decided to put together a show, as the group Erisioni (ერისიონი) did in 2000, when they traveled to France and beyond to perform with a large contingent singers, musicians and dancers to perform in large auditoriums what essentially was a highly polished version of what every Georgian knows by heart, jaws dropped with mathematical regularity. Women floated across the stage in some of the most beautiful traditional clothing imaginable, the men’s choir hit with volley of sounds unknown in the West, young boys beat the time on the doli, duduk players raced in a bewildering competition, the girls pranced and the men jumped higher than horses and landed on their knees and toes only to spin up and do it again and the profound joy of Georgian culture left the onlookers speechless and celebratory.

And yet back at home teenaged girls still sang together in the backs of vans. Or in houses. Or on the steps of an apartment building. One girl, Ani Chincharauli, is given a microphone at a special event. She strums the panduri, a three string lute like instrument with roots back to ancient Sumeria. As she plays she is seemingly ignored by everyone… until the moment her clarion voice starts to sing. But I’m convinced, as startling a voice as she has, that Gavin Bryars is right. The distinctions between amateur and professional are almost non-existent here. It isn’t the voice that is really the signal for joy. It is the song itself. It is the fact that everyone knows it. It is the fact that the poetry of the language still resonates in a way in which poetry no longer does in the virtual world of the quotidian workaday technophages we have all become out here in the tame nowhere. The Georgians are not singing to be heard by us. They are still singing and dancing for each other.

Ani Chincharauli plays the panduri before she begins singing. It’s a simple moment among friends.

(To be concluded)

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

9/14/2012

For further research:

Check out the Rustavi Ensemble

Just trust me and buy Chabuka Amiranashvili’s Georgian Dance Music after you sample it a bit.

The Gori’s Women’s Choir can still be found inexpensively.

Erisioni has a full length DVD of there Georgian Legend and you can also find a small version of it here. But I say just go buy it!!

And finally one last simple Ani Chincharauli song.


Georgia – Sakartvelo – საქართველო #1

Part One – A Truly Obscure and Blessed Land…

The eerily beautiful Lika Kavjaradze in Tengiz Abuladze’s masterwork The Wishing Tree in 1976

Okay let’s play a game. Quick think of three things you know about Georgia? No, not that Georgia! Not the US state. I mean the country in the Caucasus Mountains: The one that had been swallowed by Russia and the USSR for nearly 200 years and was only recently spit back out into the world.

Now stop reading and think about it for a moment…

Georgia as seen from a satellite.

If you are like many people I’ve spoken to lately you are probably drawing something of a blank. A few people get one point or another. Didn’t they have a war with Russia or something? Or, more ominously, wasn’t Stalin a Georgian? And then I notice a kind of plague of poor information. Isn’t that next to Romania? Isn’t that one of the Stans? Isn’t that a small Muslim country? All completely wrong.

But one thing is for certain, except for people who are Georgians, or who have been lucky enough to run into some aspect of Georgian culture Georgia is currently, and undeservedly, one truly obscure culture. People know more about Myanmar, Nepal, Colombia, Serbia, the Ivory Coast, most of the Middle East than they do about Georgia.

But let’s rectify that now. First of all Georgia is a country about the same size as Austria with mountains higher than the Alps AND they grow oranges there. The oldest evidence of the fermentation and cultivation of wine is to be found in Georgia. They have their own language which is unrelated to anything else outside of the Caucasians. And they have their own alphabet, which looks like a lot of hooks and squiggles. And having said that the name of the country isn’t even Georgia really. They call it Sakartvelo or საქართველო. They are the Kartli. Tbilisi the capital is built on warm springs, which is what the name means. There are about four and a half million people that live there. About 83 percent of them are various types of ethnic Georgians. Then there are Armenians, Turks, Russians, Ajeris, Jews and others.

Okay I could go on but you can look all this up for yourself. I’m not trying to interest you in the country as a tourist destination.

A Georgian Orthodox Procession in the Mountains

I have something else on my mind. As the most observant of you might notice this series of essays is entitled The Anadromous Life. I’m using the word ‘anadromous’ the word to describe certain fish that swim against the stream as the Pacific Salmon do. And by analogy I have pointed out that life today must be lived against the stream, which threatens to take everything downstream with it. I hope that over time I have also made a point that the obvious forms of rebellion are usually exactly the dead things that will just float downstream.

Having said that… finding the truly living things that swim against the current is no easy task. But I think I have something interesting here; a country that often goes against the grain in some of the best ways. And that country is საქართველო.

I have only recently, within the last six months, discovered this country with it’s anadromous culture. Finding Georgia is like discovering a hidden world, a lost civilization, that wasn’t really ever lost. It was just staring at you the whole time, patiently waiting to be noticed. And when you finally look at this culture you find that it is remarkably intact and complete. Yes of course Georgians have been influenced by the modern world. But they stubbornly refuse to give up certain antique traits that set them in a kind of odd stance vis-à-vis the larger world.

First of all to understand this country you have to understand that it goes back perhaps further than any other European land on earth. Some of the oldest post-African fossils were found exactly here. So naturally there was a Georgian or perhaps we should say Caucasian style dating way before written language… anywhere. Then again there was that wine. A sure sign of civilization if there ever was one. Of course there were Gods and Goddesses in a pantheon that was loosely connected to the ancient Greek world. Jason and his Argonauts found the Golden Fleece here. And there was such a thing! And Medea is the first historical woman we know anything about from what was then Colchis now Georgia… but she would not be the last.

Saint Nino, who converted the Georgians in the 4th Century A.D.

Christianity was firmly introduced to Georgia by Saint Nino (წმინდა ნინო) a Christian slave of the royal house who performed several miracles and created the Georgian cross by tying a lock of her own hair around the bent dried wood of a grapevine. Then came Saint Shushanik (შუშანიკისი ) an Armenian woman martyred by her Georgian husband defending the right to believe in Christ. Her story is also the earliest surviving piece of early Georgian writing in the Martyrdom of the Holy Queen Shushanik. And there was also the Georgian golden age under the reign of Tamar (თამარი) the Great in the 12th Century. And it was under her reign that the eerily beautiful book The Knight in the Panther’s Skin (ვეფხისტყაოსანი) was written by Shota Rustaveli .

Shota Rustaveli Author of the Georgian National Epic – The Knight in the Panther’s Skin

Now I have emphasized the female aspects of Georgia for a reason. As countries go Sakartvelo is a predominantly masculine mountain culture of warriors that stretches back into the mists of history. Yet interestingly from pagan times and especially since the introduction of Christianity, by a woman, Georgia has had an unusual emphasis upon its women to a degree that many others could stand to learn from. Not that Georgia is in line with contemporary standards of politically correct feminist ideology. Au contraire. Yet it is has long been a country that promotes the development of the creative gifts of its women. And so looking today one finds intelligent artistic women under every mountainous rock.

A few women I could point to off the top of my head would be the Prima Ballerina Assoluta Nina Ananiashvili (ნინო ანანიაშვილი), actress Lika Kavjaradze (ლიკა ქავჟარაძე) and photographer Mariam Sitchnava (მარიამ სიჭინავა).

Nina Ananiashvili as Giselle

Nina Ananiashvili is now the artistic director of the State Ballet of Georgia. She claims that the Georgian approach to ballet has some unique features. We will investigate this later. But let’s just say that her own work in ballet is astounding and beyond graceful.

Lika Kavjaradze as Marika, an allegory for the embattled soul of Georgia, in The Wishing Tree 1976

Lika Kavjaradze first made her name in Tengiz Abuladze’s masterwork The Wishing Tree (ნატვრის ხე) from 1976. In that film she portrays a pure village girl, a virgin Mary in transcendence, the embodiment of the philosophical questions related to the existence of beauty in the world and an allegory for the nation of Georgia itself, which is revealed when one man calls her Tamar. And the glory of it is that Lika is actually up to this monumental task with ease, from her first smile to her final mud-soaked procession.

Mariam Sitchinava’s Portrait of Sopo Nozadze

And if you are starting to also get the picture that Georgian women also have a singular essence you need look no farther than the photographs of Mariam Sitchinava to be haunted by the female character in Georgia. She started by photographing what appears to just be friends, friends who later were discovered to become some of the most sublime models ever. Yet only Mariam can actually get to the ethereal heart of her subject.

Mariam Sitchinava’s Self-Portrait with Georgian Girls

And then there is music! Where to even begin…

Even totally amateurish videos of teenagers singing together give you goosebumps. And it isn’t being done in a self-conscious postmodern look-at-me-I-want-to-be-a-star kind of thing. In Georgia people still sing together unselfconsciously. And what a miraculous thing it is too.

(To be continued)

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

8/31/12

More information:

On Georgia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgia_%28country%29

On Travel to Georgia:http://www.lonelyplanet.com/georgia

News From Georgia:http://www.georgiatoday.ge/index.php

On Nina Ananiashvili:http://www.ananiashvili.com/

On Mariam Sitchinava:http://mariam.ge/