“Tom, don’t let anybody kid you. It’s all personal, every bit of business. Every piece of shit every man has to eat every day of his life is personal. They call it business. OK. But it’s personal as hell. You know where I learned that from? The Don, my old man, The Godfather. If a bolt of lightning hit a friend of his the old man would take it personal. He took my going into the Marines personal. That’s what makes him great. The Great Don. He takes everything personal. Like God. He knows every feather that falls from the tail of a sparrow or however the hell it goes. Right? And you know something? Accidents don’t happen to people who take accidents as a personal insult.” — Michael Corleone
“I tell ya, I don’t get no respect. Last week my house was on fire. My wife told the kids, ‘Be quiet, you’ll wake up Daddy.'” Rodney
“In the early 1880s New York’s social parvenus—the people who were the Sculls, Paleys, Engelhards, Holzers, of their day—were the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, Huntingtons and Goulds. They built the Metropolitan Opera House for the simple reason that New York’s prevailing temple of Culture, the Academy of Music, built just 29 years before at 14th Street and Irving Place, had only 18 fashionable proscenium boxes, and they were monopolized by families like the Lorillards, Traverses, Belmonts, Stebbinses, Gandys and Barlows. The status of the Goulds and Vanderbilts was revealed in the sort of press coverage the Met’s opening (October 22, 1883) received: ‘The Goulds and the Vanderbilts and people of that ilk perfumed the air with the odor of crisp greenbacks.’
“By the 1960s yet another new industry had begun to dominate New York life, namely, communications—the media. At the same time the erstwhile “minorities” of the first quarter of the century had begun to come into their own. Jews, especially, but also many Catholics, were eminent in the media and in Culture. So, by 1965—as in 1935, as in 1926, as in 1883, as in 1866, as in 1820—New York had two Societies, “Old New York” and “New Society.” In every era, “Old New York” has taken a horrified look at “New Society” and expressed the devout conviction that a genuine aristocracy, good blood, good bone—themselves—was being defiled by a horde of rank climbers. This has been an all-time favorite number. In the 1960s this quaint belief was magnified by the fact that many members of “New Society,” for the first time, were not Protestant. The names and addresses of “Old New York” were to be found in the Social Register, which even 10 years ago was still confidently spoken of as the Stud Book and the Good Book. It was, and still is, almost exclusively a roster of Protestant families. Today, however, the Social Register’s annual shuffle, in which errant socialites, e.g., John Jacob Astor, are dropped from the Good Book, hardly even rates a yawn. The fact is that “Old New York”—except for those members who also figure in “New Society,” e.g., Nelson Rockefeller, John Hay Whitney, Mrs. Wyatt Cooper—is no longer good copy, and without publicity it has never been easy to rank as a fashionable person in New York City.
“The press in New York has tended to favor New Society in every period, and to take it seriously, if only because it provides “news.” Tom Wolfe, ‘Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s‘
“Surely, it is much easier to respect a man who has always had respect, than to respect a man who we know was last year no better than ourselves, and will be no better next year. … In civilized society, personal merit will not serve you so much as money will. Sir, you may make the experiment. Go into the street, and give one man a lecture on morality, and another a shilling, and see which will respect you most.” Dr. Johnson
” I worked in a pet store and people kept asking how big I’d get. RD”
This weekend marks the 18th anniversary of this site. Here now are some things that have been coagulating for several months.
Shall we begin?
Which is an odd place to start, granted.
Here’s Chapo Trap House’s 206th podcast. It takes up a position on the page today because – minus the stuff about being invited and/or being disinvited to Yale – it pretty much sums up my opinion of what’s really been going on.
For those of you have no interest in listening, let’s go back to this line from Gravity’s Rainbow, ” If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”
And do you know why you kept asking questions like, “Where oh where did that find that vulgar woman? Why did she say such awful things? Why did she have to pick on Sarah Sanders like that?”
Here’s a transcript of final minute of Michele Wolf’s speech –
There’s a ton of news right now, a lot is going on, and we have all these 24-hour news networks, and we could be covering everything. Instead, we’re covering three topics. Every hour is Trump, Russia, Hillary, and a panel full of people that remind you why you don’t go home for Thanksgiving. Milk comes from nuts now all because of the gays.
You guys are obsessed with Trump. Did you used to date him? Because you pretend like you hate him, but I think you love him. I think what no one in this room wants to admit is that Trump has helped all of you. He couldn’t sell steaks or vodka or water or college or ties or Eric, but he has helped you. He’s helped you sell your papers and your books and your TV. You helped create this monster, and now you’re profiting off of him. If you’re going to profit off of Trump, you should at least give him some money, because he doesn’t have any.
Trump is so broke he grabs pussies because he thinks there might be loose change in them. Like an immigrant who was brought here by his parents and didn’t do anything wrong, I’ve got to get the fuck out of here. Good night.
Flint still doesn’t have clean water.
Politics is now a matter of which culture you belong to. There’s no viewpoints, philosophical under pinnings, or side of the aisle anymore. Once you’ve accepted your culture you’ve also accepted your way to get played.
And played badly.
You know my doctor? Doctor Vinny Boom-Botz?
As you might have notice this space had been fallow for a good many months. Every time I think I have something to bring up it suddenly slips away.
For no damn good reason at all.
Over the past couple of weeks I didn’t really come up with some bright idea so much as I started to notice something – so many people think they are owed respect and they cry out as their much desired respect alludes them. Case in point – the Intellectual Dark Web – a gathering of folks who are seeking and failing to find respect and they don’t get it.
Didn’t 2016 change everything?
Wasn’t political correctness vanquished?
Where is the acknowledgment that they have lead us all to a bright new day?
And isn’t this nothing more than the same thing the A-list Bloggers were after c. 2005?
The solution here is simple. Pack all of ’em up and move ’em over to Pajamas Media. They’ll find a good home there. That way they won’t have to worry if the NY Times will publish what Mom calls their “butthurt” in the Sunday edition.
The only reason to mention any of this as it was concurrent with Tom Wolfe’s death. Almost 50 years ago he created the thumbnail history of how New York City had the ability to confer respect on people when Mr. W wrote about that evening when The Bersteins entertained The Black Panthers. It was an elegant take on how the monied flocked to one city in order to become respected because New York society was a pantheon.
Sure, other cities had something they called high society, but it was merely a codification of the existing petit bourgeois pecking order. Hell, even small towns had something they called society, but no matter how many luncheons your Aunt Agnes put on for the local auxiliary she was only known by the name she was born with. No one ever called her Babe, or Tex, or Slim and Truman Capote never thought of her as one of his “Swans.”
That sort of thing was reserved for New Yorkers.
Today it’s a bit harder to find that kind of respect. Make no mistake, NYC still has its social circles, but who seeks them out for respect?
Once -assuming you make a pile of it elsewhere – money would get you on the social register after moving to town.
Warren Buffett lives in Nebraska, Bill Gates still lives in his hometown, and Elon Musk has taken up residence inside a plasma conduit aboard the Starship Enterprise.
So long Mr. Wolfe and thanks. You a wellspring of wily observations and and firecracker prose. While Mailer wrote about his favorite subject, Mailer and Thompson hid behind his persona to bring forth amazing observations, you met it all head on. You documented the 60s and mad it look oh so effortless.
Vigilate Est, Canes
(ed. note: Here now to spread some enlightenment around is a special guest contribution from our own Alaska Wolf Joe.)
Abstract: The current decay of images is due to the revelation of their utter contingency, their failure to prove that our cultural narratives were necessary and permanent depictions. Now, a great reversal has taken place. We have learned that it was the other way around, and that our cultural narratives were put in place to encode these relations in the first place. When certain individuals realize this contingency, it drives them to attempt to exchange their contingent narrative for a new one which they truly believe is necessary. One of these most archetypical exchanges is the failure of a masculine narrative to prove itself as narrative, which replaces itself with violence. In the acceleration which we currently face, such exchanges are more likely to take place, and as such, the rate of violence will increase.
“Several days later Murray asked me about a tourist attraction known as the most photographed barn in America. We drove twenty-two miles into the country around Farmington. There were meadows and apple orchards. White fences trailed through the rolling fields. Soon the signs started appearing. THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA. We counted five signs before we reached the site. There were forty cars and a tour bus in the makeshift lot. We walked along a cowpath to the slightly elevated spot set aside for viewing and photographing. All the people had cameras; some had tripods, telephoto lenses, filter kits. A man in a booth sold postcards and slides–pictures of the barn taken from the elevated spot. We stood near a grove of trees and watched the photographers. Murray maintained a prolonged silence, occasionally scrawling some notes in a little book.
“No one sees the barn,” he said finally.
A long silence followed.
“Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn.” He fell silent once more. People with cameras left the elevated site, replaced at once by others. “We’re not here to capture an image, we’re here to maintain one. Every photograph reinforces the aura. Can you feel it, Jack? An accumulation of nameless energies.”
There was an extended silence. The man in the booth sold postcards and slides.”Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender. We see only what the others see. The thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future. We’ve agreed to be part of a collective perception. This literally colors our vision. A religious experience in a way, like all tourism.”
Another silence ensued.
“They are taking pictures of taking pictures,” he said. He did not speak for a while. We listened to the incessant clicking of shutter release buttons, the rustling crank of levers that advanced the film.
“What was the barn like before it was photographed?” he said. “What did it look like, how was it different from other barns, how was it similar to other barns? We can’t answer these questions because we’ve read the signs, seen the people snapping the pictures. We can’t get outside the aura. We’re part of the aura. We’re here, we’re now.”
He seemed immensely pleased by this.”
–Don DeLillo, ‘White Noise’
The image is decaying. Images, themselves, are stable. But their meaning – the sum total of what any image means – is decaying at an exponential rate.
There is too much to see. Think of how many images you have seen in the past hour, how many things are engravings and not the object themselves. I would estimate at the minimum a hundred; possibly several hundred. How many of these did you pay attention to? Very few, likely, but they saturated: they do not go to the operations of the unconscious (it no longer exists, a fiction also drowned in a sea of truths), but they undoubtedly have saturated your memory, whether that memory retrieved or unretrieved.
Images encode. Given a sufficiently complicated enough series of images, it provides details for replication of its information in real life. Driving-school car-crash scare films, YouTube tutorials for petty household tasks or software manipulation, Stranger Danger PSAs played anywhere after the 1970s in American elementary school classrooms, the exercise video series you might see on a late night infomercial, the infomercial itself, the highly complicated world of television and cinema with its portrayals of life (at all class stratifications) ready to impel us to associate ourselves with those images. All of these function as depictions which intend to replicate lessons, morals, instructions in reality. They are a sequence designed to produce a behavior.
Complex enough images become complex cultural narratives.
The societal standards of romance and sexuality are prevalent in popular culture because popular culture is the method of societal conditioning. The cinematic image pervades as the standard which we judge our lives against, compare to, imitate, and associate. It is the last gold standard – the method of exchange for which our every life event can be traded to in some value. “It feels just like a movie.” Even for us sickening freaks who attempt to take a position of detached postmodern irony, the cinematic image invades us at some level – its fantasies still poison us. We know the cultural importance of the game that we play with culture, we take it seriously. We take it seriously enough to think that our absence of totalizing faith in it is in some way also a noteworthy cultural action. We are not free from its grip on our reality; its dialectical play is always in opposition to those of us who even proclaim it to not have an effect on our lives. We feel the shadow of the cinematic image. Just like Nietzsche’s proclamation that we have not taken the death of God seriously enough, we are not taking the death of film seriously enough. We endlessly compare ourselves to images, privately and publicly, even in our claim that we are atheists of the image. Disavowal is impossible. To complete dissociate oneself from the cultural grip of the image is either a sign of delusion, privilege, or a dysfunction of thinking sufficient enough to show one is incapable of taking in the hot medium of cultural instruction. If you are not mentally ill, you are susceptible to the wiles of the popular image. Inevitably then, the cultural depiction of romance and sexuality in the cinematic image (whether comedic, romantic, pornographic, childish, “adult”, in a theater, television, or the internet) is the standard from which we judge our relationships.
This is ten-cent knowledge. Even our most bourgeois and bland feminisms know the importance of cultural encoding from popular images. We wouldn’t fight over cultural representation if we think it didn’t reflect itself in some semiotic bliss. There are few who would contest that today, save for certain Darwinists who claim that the cultural mythology reflects an inherent biological drive which can never be destroyed. But they suffer from the same plight of images: is not this image of a bifurcated nature, a totalized image of man against the elements, clutching his junk and swinging his club to impress the savage women also a Hollywood fiction, an imbued cultural narrative from which we cannot even trace the origins of?
A point I will return to.
Our conflict now is a conflict over the remnants of the cinematic image, over its significations, its power, and it future. We fight over this image because we know that the threshold that any image has on our lives is decaying under the horrendous weight of over-saturation. We are hoping to fight against entropy; to create a position of cohesion. In the thermodynamics of culture, this is not likely.
The figure of the violent atrocity in America is inextricably bound up with the cinematic image. Harris and Klebold could, epistemically, separate their world from that of Stone’s ‘Natural Born Killers’ and Id Software’s DOOM (1993) but they could not narratologicly. And a similar resurgence seems to haunt itself under so many of the recent acts of violence: the difference between the perpetrators of violence being able to integrate the reality of their circumstances and the cultural images which they either fight within the confines of, or fight against the loss of. It isn’t a matter of culture corrupting the individual; it is a matter of the individual’s relation to culture itself becoming corrupted in the same sense a set of data becomes corrupted within a machine: the encoding itself is breaking down.
There is a process,I fear I cannot truly argue for its existence, but nonetheless have a gut feeling for: in the age of the decaying image, in the age of immense chaos and an accelerating glut of information, it is impossible for our realities to ever match that of the images we created to thread together a narrative of social reality.
Saul Kripke, philosopher of language, spoke of the concept of “necessary a posteriori truths.” These were things which were necessarily true, but their necessity could not be discovered without experience. This is in contrast to certain things which (debatably) hold true without empirical experience. The most traditional of these examples being mathematical truths, such as 2 + 2 = 4 being a fact which it seems no one can experience, but which is necessarily true. An example of one such of these necessary a posteriori truths is the concept that water is H2O. Without getting into the painstaking specifics of such a linguistic example, we have encountered water, but it took an experiential observation to have it revealed to us that it had the chemical structure H2O. But now knowing this, we can’t imagine an instance in which this is false: water is always H2O. As such, it becomes a necessary truth, but a necessary truth we only knew by experience.
We treat our relationship to the cultural narrative in some way. By our relentless comparison to images, we seek to discover their truth: to affirm it, to make it necessary in some way by our experience of it. We either look for the image to affirm our lived experience to make it appear necessary that we are living in such a way, and that the reflection reinstates this truth, or we look to see the image first and then live in such a way that our lives affirm the truth of that image. This is the image’s truth as a form of social encoding.
But the accelerating instability of culture in the information era has made it so that our relationship and knowledge of images has become contingent. We cannot process the social encoding as necessary, or in any way real, when our experiential sensibilities fail to prove them necessary. This failure to prove the necessity of cultural narratives as real drives those most affected by it to the point of madness.
The example par excellence: Sexual paranoia is in the air, and it is only increasing at the rate at which it spreads. This is the signification of some of these recent atrocities. I give especial light to the Toronto “Incel” attack. But in some ways I speak of the broad significance which this supposed crisis of the libidinal economy really signifies: the relation between the necessity of sexual and relational narratives and real life decays as those relations become irrelevant. The problem is when one learns of the contingency of such narratives.
From the NYT article on Jordan Peterson (who I will return to): “He was angry at God because women were rejecting him,” Mr. Peterson says of the Toronto killer. “The cure for that is enforced monogamy. That’s actually why monogamy emerges.”
God died long ago in culture, and now, man and woman is dying as well. Gender is the fiction which we see most rapidly decay in culture because it is in no way a necessity of the neoliberal model. The political economy (if it can be trusted as a reality whatsoever) cares nothing of identity in consumption. Consumption is identityless, and frequently, unrelated to any biological necessity whatsoever. Not only have we seen the arbitration of gender as the violence of the patriarchy; we have seen its irrelevance in consumption. But do we know this? Do we have faith in it, or is it a theoretical understanding that gender has died – and like those men that Nietzsche’s madmen is attempting to convince, we have not truly taken the death of gender as a serious prospect, professing faith in it even though we claim to know it no longer exists?
I suspect that the Toronto killer shows us this relationship between experiential evidence and our dire psychological need for our cultural images to be true. Bombarded with enough media which sells a performed image of gender and sexuality, to face the violent reality that such things are not only false, but that their entire foundations are crumbling under an age in which Eros is quickly becoming as deterritorialized as possible, shows one the utter contingency of those narratives.
Violence takes the place, because it is the only other gendered cultural narrative we have. It fills the place, and forces certain of those most shook by the revelation of cultural contingency to act upon its demands. Violence can still be proved necessary: the “masculine”, when shook of its foundation and position within cultural narratives, can attempt to replace its decaying cultural narrative by proving a narrative of masculine dominance and death true. It is not that this spectacle is inherently masculine, rather, it is the other way around: the ‘acting-out’ of the masculine murder fantasy reaffirms the masculinity in its existence, makes it so that the image is necessarily masculine. It fills the narratological void brought upon by the encroaching decay of all images and associations of identity.
The power of the new psychological demagogues is their attempt to reverse this process, to reverse the entropic disordering of images and the destruction of what we previously thought were the necessary a posteriori truths of our lives and their relation to cultural representations and narratives. This is my interpretation of Jordan Peterson, the most key “intellectual” figure that exists at this moment.
It is no accident that he is a Jungian, and that his usage of a vague and unfalsifiable system (analytical psychology, as Jung termed it) is so good at creating cultural analogy. If a person can re-encode their entire life to resemble the images and analogies of archetypes, then the restoration of understanding and a sense of the necessity of the interpretation returns. New meta-images (femininity, masculinity, anima and animus, the rest of the narratives) can make sense of a world by attempting to retroactively jam the dissolving images into thinner boxes. How absurd it is for someone to tell young men to “slay the dragon” – we know the inherent falsity of fairy tales now, we have critiqued them, we know their relation to a fading patriarchal order. But if we can take our life experiences and rejam them into these images by making them necessary parts of the psyche, necessary parts of all things, if we can make these previous cultural constructions into hallucinations of the very atoms of social constituency, then there is at least a temporary metaphor which allows us to make sense of things. By creating a permanent semiotic chain of all events – “Oh, it’s just like this archetype, you just don’t realize it yet!” – then the fact that the image means nothing is solved. The semantic reference of images is fixed by circularity: with the presentation of an inherent psychology, of the necessary truths of cultural depictions by their ossification into permanent features of humanity, there is no reason to fear the truth which is the absolute bombardment of the senses.
But this process drives us to a point of blithering idiocy, towards the danger of actual fascism, towards the danger of needing to act upon it to prove its absolute necessity in a chaotic world.
The presentation of an inherent and cynical social Darwinism, the brand sold by hucksters such as Peterson, and affirmed politically by the rise of a neo-fascism is a grand retroactive lie to make sense of the decay. They do not realize that they too are the victims of consumer imagery, as Darwin’s legacy is little more than another image prepackaged for easy-made consumption in this time. Its foundation is a lie, and so is its analogical power. Eventually, the effect will wear off.
Every relation which can be described as biologically necessary, every single thing which can be crammed under the discourse of biological inevitability will also dissolve as identity becomes only more digitized, discrete, and torn apart from familiar relations. As the necessity of increasing consumption seeks to make all those in the first world more and more faceless, more and more alienated, more and more pieces of data, our very relation to that supposed and intrinsic human nature will decay. So too will the images of biological necessity which currently fuel the Jungian machine which hopes to make “order out of chaos.”
The violence committed will then undoubtedly increase, not because it has been repressed, but because the action reaffirms the necessity of the image which has been sold. As the images run out, and politically, people are forced to align to smaller and more tribal images (and yet paradoxically, more grand and sweeping images) they will force themselves to make those images a reality. Such is what waits for us on the other end of Peterson’s tirade: the actual threat of fascism, the actual threat of people needing to prove themselves racially superior, to prove masculinity and femininity necessary divides. While these actions themselves accelerate, so too will the remnants of political economy and the deconstruction of images and fiscal relations. Parallel forms of violence: the structural violence of social relations from the continual bombardment, processing, and maintenance of information (all that is solid melts into air) and the violent force of those attempting to literally react against this process which they know threatens their image with death.
There is no pithy way to end this. I can only hope that, like Malthus, the image which I have presented becomes another in our great repository of images. I do not know it to be a necessary or contingent truth. This is my myth.
“Once when I was lost I saw a policeman and asked him to help me find my parents. I said to him, ‘Do you think we’ll ever find them?’ He said, ‘I don’t know kid. There are so many places they can hide.'”Jacob Cohen 1921-2004
This summer I shall attempt to write more. (There’s much to be said now that we’ve retreated into different cultures.) It’s also the 50th anniversary of the Summer of ’68 and God knows we can’t let that slip by unnoticed. Heck, there might be some room to run off 1500 words on Aunt Lydia vs. Roseanne. Not that I’ve seen either show, but in good old fashion blogging tradition that shouldn’t stop me.
DISCLAIMER: This place is not in Sedona, it’s in Seattle, we’ve had lunch there, and I have – at one time or another – photographed, interviewed, or personally know everybody in this video. So to celebrate the 19th anniversary of this page, let me leave you with my culture’s re-imagining of Toby Keith’s, ‘I Love This Bar.’