Thursday, January 29, 2009


Sometimes, during the course of my life, I forget that I live in a fantastic city. What with insisting on espousing my opinions on everything and trying to apply my academic gaze to the world at large, I realize that I alienate the very pressence that makes this blob possible, London and all the really weird shit that happens in it. As I've noted before, this place is odd, blame the fact the it breaths 12 Million people a day, and those people are dirty, smelly, selfish and produce a generalized grimy effluent that is so foul that every thirty minutes on the subway (or as we call it 'the Tube') is equivilant to smoking 2 cigarettes, minus the benifits of nicotine. No wonder Londoners die younger. In the past, I have even commented on the wonders of discovery--like finding out why the tube stations smell of piss (in case you're wondering, it has something to do with the ionic conversion of liquid amonia to a gaseous state--or more bluntly, becaue they are good places to piss in, apparantly). Nothing in the past, however, compares to the present, in terms of both weirdness of London, or general creepy, I don't want to think about it in any other way except humour, sort of way.

To preface. My GF/partner and I are students, both finalizing PhDs before embarking on high flying careers as public intelectuals--like the folks on the news who are interviewed about why bankers have fucked us all. As such a condition, we, despite our future prospects, live on the economic margins--read as below our station and class. I'm not a proponent of a rigid class system by any means, but it's there for a reason, some of which may acutally reflect an evolutionary trajectory...but I digress. This station of near-poverty means that we end up living in a variety of lowish rent sorts of places. The last flat, for instance, over looked a derelect building on the edge of one of the most notorious social housing estates in the city. Convienent for scoring drugs and hookers at any hour, but not so nice to perpetuate a nice, middle class existence. Our current flat, at the outset, is better, least of all becaues our landlord is actually a nice guy: ex-Cambridge, archictect, you know, middle class, like us. Note, our landlord rents out his flat having left for better prospects, elsewhere. This flat has almost all of the right elements: good locale, excellent light--even in the darkness of winter, what it doesn't have is a dish washer, or thick walls. And, it is in a building that is ex-social housing, meaning that some of the flats are owned by individuals, some are rented out by the local government. A combination that leads to a mixed and diverse community where, although values are different, we all share the same space in a loving community friendly environment.

In other words, we don't fit. For instance, the people downstairs booze and do drugs, staying up late with loud music and proceed to beat the hell out of each other the next day--probably something to do with the late nights, booze, drugs and the nasty hangovers these things bring about. They used to be our bad neighbors. Now I'm not so sure. The 'good' neighbors, those next door with whom we share a bedroom wall, and an occasional passing word of solidarity about the bad neighbors, have sliped.

As of last week during a fairly nasty late night early morning split with at least three suicided threats made on the part of the bloke, a nice guy called Len, or Lenny, something to that effect, our peace and peace of mind was shattered. Len no longer has a girlfriend. It's a shame too since she cooked really nice smelling food: pastas, curries etc. I've never eaten it because this is London and the greater distance (as we shall soon see) from the neighbors, the better. It's best not to develop personal relationships when the walls are so thin.

The following, that which has insipired this polemic, occured last night, and represents my shattered peace. We were woken, after a comfortable few hours of precious sleep to another loud argument. I was annoyed because I assumed that the break up had already occured and that there wouldn't be any noise coming from next door for a least not unitl we moved to far greener and more middle class pastures. Oh no. I was wrong, or at least I slipped back into a state of unrestful dozing thinking I was wrong. I found out, after debriefing with my other half that this row was not a make-up/break-up that so many of use are familiar with. Indeed it has a much more sinister, weird and really fucking funny element to it. It goes something like this.

Neighbor (bloke): 'You're a fucking queer!'
Neigbor's 'companion (in a feminized, yet masculine voice): 'no I'm not, I'm a wo--man.'
Either: 'cry' 'sob' 'grrrr!' (yell, yell, yell) 'arrghhh' -- (door slam) (I've condensed what turned out to be thirty mintues of altercation into a few lines for editorial sake. What matters are the first two lines of dialog)

It would seem, that in my neighbor's haste to find a replacement, he seems to have picked up the wrong type (for him) of available person. While there is no evidience of prositution, as of yet, there is a strong liklihood, that what my neighbor thought was a female companion was not...I don't know much about these things. When someone at a party orders a stripper, I'm the first to make an exit. But what I do know, is that if I was to solicit for sex, I would make damn sure that 'she' had the right bits before proceeding to get my freak on. I'm told by those who know that it is actually acceptable practice to manually double check (because it is apparantly quite hard to tell with a visual inspection) before wandering off to a dank room in some dark corner of the third wolrd. Not that I have anything against lady-boys. I believe strongly that it is every person's right to express their gender identity however they feel best suits them as a person. Equally, I believe every human being has the right to earn a living--however it may suit them. I also happen to believe that those outside the norm should at least advertise the fact that they don't quite fit the norm, just to save us 'normal' people the trouble and embarrassment, but really, it's none of my business. What is my business is that because all of this goes on, I don't get any goddamn sleep. And that is a problem.

More broadly, this just speaks to the general bizarrness that life in a big city brings. I'm not even surprised that this happened to my neighbor, really. And I should be. This shouldn't happen; it's not normal, or acceptable. But regardless, in London, this is just derigour for everyday life: sometimes your hooker is okay, other times she turns out to be a he. While I don't judge, I do have to wonder. And unfortunately, since this is all aural, it cannot be shut out by a mere 30degree cone of smugness.

What this reall signals, however, is that, class based economic arguments aside, it's time to move.

Monday, January 05, 2009

shit hammers and mud

New Year’s day greeted me with a righteous headache and a giant fucking restaurant bill. And there were explosions. Explosions enough to shake the very ground I walk on and wake me from the deep time-fog where I have lingered for the past few months after a nail biting end to what will go down as the longest most expensive presidential race ever. The result of this tedious process is that in this new year, Jesus himself will walk amongst us promising government accountability and tax cuts to the middle class. Someone once said that the meek will inherit the earth (if they want it), and those that trouble their own house will inherit the wind. The soon-to-be crowned black Messiah will, in the words of Michael Herr, inherit a giant shit sandwich.

Allow me to present an example. Missiles, bombs and now troops fall on the Gaza Strip in an attempt to stem the flood of Qassam rockets; black rain to stop black rain. But something in this makes no sense. A Qassam rocket is, more-or-less a few metal tubes welded together, fuelled by fertilizer and sugar and armed with a warhead composed of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil—fertilizer and diesel for those who didn’t already know. The net cost of making and deploying one of these has to be around $20 per unit (not including indirect cost of total and massive retaliation from the world’s second angriest war machine). These rockets, explode, occasionally maim someone and more often make a hole in the pavement. Their biggest threat is that they have no fancy, read expensive, guidance systems, so no one knows where the fuck these things might land once shot off. My water rocket has the same problem.

In contrast and witihin five days Israel, under the cover of stopping terrorism from these rockets, has deployed its own weapons, managing to devastate a few piles of rubble and kill one or two enemy combatants—not counting collateral damage. These also come from the sky, but they do not fall (and, rather are guided), and this is where the comparison stops, since these are a bit more sophisticated than a bit of fuel and a bit of fertilizer. I do not purport to know how much it costs to fly a warplane, launch a missile, drop several tons of TNT, and return home in time to watch it on the news. Millions? But, I bet, per unit, it costs more than $20. Bringing me to a roundabout point. If the purpose of this increase in hostilities is to broker an end to rocket ‘attacks’ then surely raining death in the form of precision guided munitions and street to street ground operations is not the best way. This analysis suggests rather that Israel, although interested in ensuring the end of terrorism in the form of Qassam rockets, has more in mind than just the usual rampant subjugation of a suppressed people. This is war of aggression, not defense, and before it ends we will all be asking some serious and deeply introspective questions about militarized nationalism, the foundations of Western Civilization and how quickly worms may turn. Jesus, the people’s Messiah, will wake on 21 January, the first day on the job, to his own vicious and mean-tempered hangover to find yet another quagmire in a region known for quagmires where one side has little to loose, everything to gain, and some angry and heavily armed friends.

On a separate note, I managed to watch the new bio-pic about Hunter Thompson. I have a hard time eulogizing anyone who’s topped himself, and having known a fair few number of people who have done so, my cynicism about useless, futile and pointless gestures of self-indulgence leads me to hold an aloof and ambivalent view. Thompson was decent writer, who said some funny and poignant things about events that occurred several years before my own birth. Indeed Thompson’s words had a rhythm and turn of phrase without which we would not be able to use the terms ‘shit hammer,’ ‘cheap rotten chimp’ ‘or furiously masturbating bum’ in reference to presidential candidates in polite conversation. He was neither oracle nor sage like the media materials of the film or his widow might suggest. Rather, Thompson was a pop-journalist who got caught up in his own mythology, and when he couldn’t foot the bill he took the cheap way out while somehow managing to get a bunch of his extremely wealthy friends to shoot his remains out of a 100 foot tall cannon. Explosions after all are pretty cool; and what better way to cap a 30 year decline then with a column of fire. Happy New Year.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Severed Heads and Dismembered Corpses: Answers to Life's Little Mysteries

Living in a city that swells to 12.5 million people in the day time means encountering some percentage of these in the course of one’s daily life. Most of these interactions are subject to split-second evaluations and people are objectified into three categories: threats, annoyances or irrelevant. For instance, a knife-wielding yob chasing you down the train platform or a tyrannical mini-cab driver blindly bolting for the cycling lane are both considered threats. American summer study-abroad students or tour groups stopping in the pavement to investigate the blue plaques on buildings, e.g. Sir Thomas Stone lived near here in 1821 are mere annoyances. Anything else, including a gangland murder across the park, is irrelevant to one’s day. This world view can even be measured spatially, equalling about 10 meters in a 45 degree front orientated cone meaning that anything that happens beyond 10 meters outside this cone has no impact to the self. It is even typical to see Londoners scanning the requisite distance in front, left and right, just to ensure that any possible threats and annoyances do not fall within this cone (of smugness) and are therefore rendered irrelevant by proxy.
Given the chances for even random associations in a city that swells to 12.5 million people each day, however, opens a door wide for some of the more stupefying and bewildering things. Most of these exist because of their ties to random processes that fall well outside the 10 meter cone and are relegated to the realm of urban mystery; these things I will never understand. As such, these mysteries have no business being solved, and generally, people who tend to solve these very mysteries tend to bewilder me more than the mystery ever did in the first place. A year ago, for example, somewhere in a place called Kilburn, North West London, a severed head was found in a bin bag in a large bin. Don’t get me wrong; I, in no way, condone severing heads and placing them in bin bags, but on the same token, I don’t advocate opening bin bags in the first place. Who is the man (or woman) who discovered such thing, and what was he doing looking in bin bags anyway? Another case in point, periodically bodies are found, dismembered, charred and stowed in suitcases that inevitably find themselves dumped somewhere outside the suspicious eyes and prying hands of those who might take offense to murder, dismemberment and arson. Again, I do not condone horrific crimes, and at many levels have nothing but sympathy for those who have to deal with these things. On the same token, at the same time as I sympathize with victims and their families, I have none for the finders of such suitcases, which are invariably discovered by random walkers out for a stroll in the country side who come across these suitcases, are horrified to discover their contents and then see fit to remark about their own shock and disbelief at what they have discovered. Given the number of suitcases that are discovered containing charred and dismembered corpses, I wonder where this sense of disbelief comes from. Furthermore, I argue that the odds of not finding a corpse in a suitcase dumped in the countryside are longer than finding one, so it baffles me as to why anyone discovering a dumped suitcase doesn’t simply call the authorities and let them deal with the shock-horror of discovery.
Not all little mysteries are as traumatic as severed heads and dismembered corpses, but their possibility does impact more banal behaviour. For instance on the way home from work yesterday, after dodging door-to-door stolen goods merchants, both Lowri and I after regarding a large piece of Christmas wrapping paper blowing around in the street, stepped over it and continued on our way. The people in front of us, in employing equal measures of observation and avoidance carried on like us, and I can only imagine that those behind us did the same thing, though since they fell outside the 45 degree 10 meter cone, I have no idea. Questions abound: why did we all do actively avoid a piece of litter that could be easily picked up and wadded in the bin, or more significantly, why was there a piece of Christmas wrapping paper in the street in September, and thus we have an urban mystery. The reason why no one dealt with the litter, even such a seemingly innocuous piece of litter is that most people read the pulp newspapers and are aware that behind even the most trivial piece of trash, suit case or bin bag, could be something horrific beyond words. This is, after all a London street and God only knows where that paper has been and what manner of foulness it has encountered. It could be attached, somehow to a head, or headless body or charred and dismembered corpse just outside the cone vision. Thus, it, like any other anomaly is to be avoided.
Because a city of 12.5 million people does contain its share of randomness, chaos is sometimes unavoidable, and inadvertently the riddles of urban mysteries are solved. For instance, I have always vaguely wondered about particular urban smells; unfortunately, living next to a stadium seating 60,000 people means that the sources of malodour are generally attributed to the fans that inhabit the stadium. For instance, everyone knows that you don’t go into the park next railway tracks adjacent to the stadium if you seek to get away from the clamour of the city and enjoy some greenbelt nature. You go into the park to either dump a body or use it as a public convenience. As a result, the park smells of piss and the source of piss are the fans pissing in it. The same thing goes for the churchyard, square, or anywhere vaguely private but still accessible by the public. This includes the walls to the station and especially behind bins. These smells, however, are not that intriguing and are not even urban mysteries. Having witnessed or participated in my fair share of public urination, I know only too well what happens when there are a bunch of blokes and a bunch of beer. I remember a bike racer I knew who after many beers was found with his back to the wall pissing across a sidewalk, holding up considerable foot traffic with his considerable quantity of urine. It is safe to say that, given these contexts, very few urinary events shocks me, let alone surprise me, or even evoke the most casual sense of wonder, except one thing. I have always wondered why the Tube station smells of piss. Given the cameras, the fact that most people don’t like walking in piss, theirs or otherwise and that the tube is heavily guarded on match day to avoid such incidents, the Tube stations still seem to always smell of urine. Vomit makes sense. When one has to vomit, they have to vomit, and vomit on a platform is about a billion times better than vomit on the train itself. Indeed, platform vomit ought to be viewed as blessing because it is specifically not train vomit. But station piss is a mystery, namely because out of all the tube journeys I have taken, I have never seen anyone pissing, so where does the smell come from? Whenever I’ve had to piss on the tube, I’ve held it and waited for a more convenient place, be it station wall, bin storage, park, square, alley or occasionally the church yard (though this one is a bit spookier given the sacrilegious overtones). The point is I’ve always held it until I was beyond the overt public gaze and somewhere private enough.
As noted above, the funny thing about living in such a big city is that the solution to mysteries often present themselves at the most seemingly bizarre moments. So, when I stepped off the tube at 5:30 in the afternoon and found myself facing a suited chap pissing against the wall in front of me and 6.5 million other commuters, I did not react in horror or revulsion; a bit of trepidation perhaps given my flip flop clad feet but certainly no shock, unlike the girl in front of me who screeched. Rather, I was pleasantly satisfied that, despite my not really wanting to know, at least now I did know where the urine smell in the tube comes from.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Fan mail, 'project ghetto,' k-holes and a-holes

Dear Ben,
I notice you spend a lot of time referencing your PhD as a miserable experience. You also make references to tangential interests spawning from your PhD, while disparaging it: Specifically in your post about Ghetto Bike Racing and semiotics. However you have never once, on this blog, mentioned what exactly your PhD is about. Your readers want to know, what are you working on?
XXXXXXX [A loyal fan]

Dear [Loyal Fan],
Since you asked, I will tell you. At the moment, I am working on deploying visual-ethnography of sensorial affect to subvert the visual and visualicity of material culture.
Hope this helps, and keep on reading!

Times are strange. Not only am I getting fan mail again, to which I always happily respond, I am also being ‘plagiarized,’ and have had in the last week two near relations with recreational veterinary pharmaceuticals.
It would seem that Adam is stealing my words and representing them as his own. Actually, he’s not. Adam has dutifully used my words; in this case a discussion centred on the developmental praxis of ghetto bike racing, and he has cited me. Usually, I have nothing but disdain for intrinsically atavistic endeavours, such as the ghetto bike racing project—or as I prefer, ‘project ghetto.’ But as I injected myself with yet another 50mls of caffeine, I concluded that atavism only applies in perspectus, like in my use of Latinized sounding words in order to sound more social sciencey, which if you recall is a tenet of ghetto bike racing in the first place. To me, considering ghetto bike racing is truly an atavistic end. To others, practicing ghetto bike racers for instant, it’s as current as John McCain (running for president). So, with this justification, I can now more fully comment on this act of supposed plagiarism. From the Adam’s explanation, he too is moving towards a working definition of ‘ghetto bike racing’ with the hope of one day launching this on a website. I am intrigued because it more or less proves my main point about transitory semiotic mobilities. Only this time, the term is being re-appropriated and commoditized by the practitioners who originally appropriated it in the first place. It is a nearly classic (by classic I mean Ecoian) case of sign-signified-symbol-icon and if my eyes have the right kind of gaze (or glaze) dare I say ‘brand.’ Hence, ghetto bike racing is to be subsumed and therefore rarefied into and by the commodity system. And, I am not sure how I feel about this. From a philosophical point of view, this represents a collapse of the subject-object divide as both Baudrillard and to a lesser extent Eco, in his theory of the visual (see Victor Burgin’s text on this) predicted. In the process, the icon itself would be devalued, jeopardizing any cultural ‘value’ the term may have once implied. On the other hand, as one of the owners its intellectual property by right, I would be entitled a percentage, which is cool.

Pharmacology 1
Many of you may know and/or remember that I am not adverse to pharmacological experimentation; my preference, before retirement, being heavy duty phsychotropic hallucinogens and stimulants. So, it is little wonder that a friend of mine, upon hearing of my travails, jokingly invited me to a bump of special K that I politely declined. First off, Ketamine, besides being widely regarded as a club drug,’ is a horse-tranquilizer. Second, the notion of falling into a ‘K-hole’ doesn’t so much appeal to me, mainly because it sounds too much like ‘A-hole’ and I have no interest in falling into one of those, equine or otherwise. Finally, the best reason, if having no desire to wake up smelly isn’t good enough reason, writing a PhD is a lot like long term tranquilizer use; if practice is defined symptomatically, then PhDs have all of the classic characterizations of NDMA inhibitor abuse: wide eyed middle distance staring, slumped posture, slurred speech, infectious time-out-of-mind experience, not to mention the potential for adverse reactions to alcohol. Face it, writing a doctorate degree means staring into the time-vortex of a computer screen for hours, if not days, weeks, really who the fuck knows how long-on end. And, lost in that time-fog is any remembrance of the present, while unfurled before the blank eyes are long uninterrupted albeit fragmentary memory sequences—if that doesn’t nail drug use to a tee, I don’t know what does. Some espouse, manly recovering drug addicts, that one can get much higher without drugs than with—and though I don’t support that postulate, I can see why someone might think it if for no other reason than the placebo effect.

Pharmacology 2
In my daily internet trawl where I investigate whether friends’ blogs are updated I cam across something from Rob (cyclist at law to the right. The link’s broken, so just delete the last slash in the url and it should take you there). Rob has been referenced before in the blog—potentially in a discussion of hard points in the GBR analysis. Rob is a nice guy who writes eloquently about his experiences racing bikes and being a law talking guy. His recent post, however, has caused me some alarm—it would seem that he has been dabbling in some product branded ‘Mane ‘n Tail’ which according to their website is a topical equine analgesic liniment to make his (well horses’ legs stop hurting. All I can say (after ahahahahahahaha!!) is dude, seriously...I mean, sure, it’s no ketamine and therefore falling into the k-hole is unlikely, but ‘icy hot for horses’ can’t be many steps behind, and well frankly, I’d hate to find out what happens when that stuff gets anywhere near, well, anywhere (you thought I was gonna do it, didn’t you? I am above such cheap laughs). So please, if anyone here knows Rob, speak to him, tell him it’s not worth it. Or, if its anything like the o’le Crisco on the wheel rim gag, get him to try it out as chamois cream...which would be funny, because that stuff is moisture activated...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Public Relations on the Bike

Today’s post is inspired by a commuting occurrence that I only wish was rare but in fact is common place for anyone on a bike—public aggression. I was stopped on my way into work by a young(ish) late 30’s year-old woman on her way to the British Museum with a gaggle of sprogs. As I slammed on my brakes and swerved nervously to avoid this family who was darting across roads and gathering in the cycling lane (a fairly obvious green painted strip on the side of the road with day glow bicycle symbols imbedded into the surface), this lady wanted to know if I ‘know why people don’t like cyclists?’ as if I was to blame for almost dying, and possibly running into her kid(s) in the process. Of course, because this is not the first time this has happened to me (today), my politeness tank is on ‘E,’ so I responded, ‘dunno, is it because we are a painful reminder what it’s like to not be fat and old?’ and then, quoting Jay-Z ‘do I look like a mind reader? You tell me.’ Then, after witnessing the disgust on this individual’s face, not to mention a tirade that almost made me blush, if I didn’t start laughing (and remember there were children around), I was hit by what alcoholics call, ‘a moment of clarity.’ This WAS my fault. Cycling has received a lot of bad press lately; what with doping in the Tour, and some twat running down a teenager and what not. And, because I was so vain to believe that a lane reserved by the City for cyclists was for the use of myself, while cycling, and not as a public gathering place while not cycling, I did not realize that I missed a brilliant opportunity for some public relations and role modelling for the kids, a la the end of a Gi-Joe episode, that is quite obviously lacking in their lives. In short, my behaviour was out of line, because, as a cyclist, I am to blame for every traffic, commuting, marital problem in the GLA.

I have been commuting in London for two years. In that time, during what amounts to 2 category 4 criteriums per day on a completely open course complete with buses, taxis, white vans, motorbikes, scooters, hipsters of fixees (aka Fakengers), messengers (aka the ‘’bottom feeders of ‘professional’ cycling’’) and pedestrians, each trying to get to a non-existent finish line first...not to mention all variety of fixed road hazard, such as pot holes, man holes, man hole covers, service ducts and rain, I have decided that cyclists have a public image problem. Sure, we’re not all to blame all of the time for miscellaneous mishaps, but sometimes, a little extra extended courtesy can go a long way in diffusing a potential angry situation—or to brighten someone’s obviously gloomy day--besides a little positive karma can’t hurt in the world of bikes and autos. With that in mind, I have compiled a short list of what one should say when faced with road aggression in particular situations—these are tried and true, and guaranteed to get the necessary response.
1. Getting shouted at and/or honked at angrily by a boy racer in a 3 series BMW, Audi A3, TT or Porsche Boxster or similarly modelled bottom-end European Coupe. ‘Oh, I’m terribly sorry; I thought you were my hairdresser. I’ll be happy to get out of your way.’
2. Getting shouted at and/or honked at angrily by a middle-aged man in a Porsche or similarly middle-age-crises car ‘I’m terribly sorry to hinder you sir, but perhaps, if you are having difficulty negotiating the roads with a cyclist on them, you should consider alternative means of transport. The city has a wide variety of public transportation options, while, if necessary, the council provides ambulance services to pensioners.’
3. Getting shouted at and/or honked at angrily by a trophy wife in a Range Rover or similar ‘Chelsea Tractor while driving and talking on the phone. ‘I’m terribly sorry, I was distracted by your ‘tan’ and enormous fake tits; did your husband get them for you on Harley Street?’
4. Having to stop in traffic while an anorexic wanna-be glamour model waddles across the street, oblivious to what’s around while talking on his/her mobile but really more interested in being ‘noticed.’ ‘Move your fat ass!’
5. Having to stop in traffic while a hipster in ridiculously tight ¾ length trousers, Dutch architect glasses, and a cardigan crosses while pushing a brakeless fixed gear bike that he hand-built using boutique fixed gear parts, ‘hmm, I think my girlfriend/sister/mother/landlady has those trousers, do you shop at John Lewis too?’
6. Getting shouted at and/or honked at angrily by an estate agent. ‘I’m terribly sorry, the credit crises has hit us all. Can you give me a lift on your way to the Job Centre?’
Note: this one works equally well for investment bankers and derivatives traders, but you’re unlikely to see them driving. But, you can rework it to reflect their shopping trolley filled with tins for recycling: e.g. ‘Can you push me to the Job Centre.’
7. And finally, to another cyclist who would be better off on the Tube/Bus/Taxi but wants cycle 'for the environement, ‘I’m sorry, I think you dropped your Cone of Smugness on the hill.’ --Also works for electric cars, but only if you're passing them on said hill.

This, as you can see, is only a partial list, albeit proven effective by myself. More often than not, the motoring public will not give you the opportunity to try out your new found politeness, and you may have to resort to more everyday gestures and one word insults, ‘wanker!’ is my favourite, but, because language has become so diluted, especially expletives, it is sometimes useful to push insecurity buttons for maximum impact: so instead of ‘wanker,’ try ‘hooker!’ or ‘fucking-Tory!’ (if you can see they’re carrying a copy of the Guardian--if they have a copy of the Telegraph, try suggesting that 'the Church of England is better off now'). Now for the fun; see if you can come up with your own way to impress upon others your new found appreciation for them with overt politeness. I believe someone wrote a little book about ‘turning the other cheek.’

Because Knowing is Half the Battle


Friday, June 27, 2008

Ya'll know me still the same ol' G

Most of you by now have figured out that I am in the long, slow, death knell of finishing a PhD. Many, if not all of you should not care. PhDs delve into the pits of academic minutia—making them interesting to very few, closely aligned, academics into the same mode of academic minutia. PhDs are a strange thing because they are like the David Letterman’s tv show. Long after it’s interesting, or even funny, it still isn’t over—and then there is the band at the end. I have reached that point. No more research, which is interesting. No more reading, which is funny, just typing—day-after-day—and I have the next 16-20 of the same thing. PhD’s are not a measure of intelligence or creativity; they are a testament to tenacity, proof of a stubborn will to get something, really big, done.
All of this beside my main point. Lately, as a result of the particular chapter I am writing about—again, I won’t bore you or me with the details—I have taken keen interest in semiotics. Semiotics, for those that don’t know, means ‘system of meanings and ideas,’ and in particular, I have become interested in how ideas become ideas, and then circulate. In the context of my thesis, this involves all sorts of loaded concepts, terms and words I don’t want to learn how to spell. As a side, this interest has evolved into a fascination with how terms move between subcultures, enter the mainstream and later evolve back into usage within a different subculture. Recent posts on this blog have hinted at some of these broad themes; two examples are ‘Mills is Genius’ and ‘Ghetto Bike Racing.’ Admittedly, even in this blog years ago, I have argued that the theoretical underpinning of semiotics and its parent, linguistics amounts to little more than an ‘academic circle jerk,’ I have since come around—not to thinking that this set of theory is anything more than a academic circle jerk; rather, academia itself, with its insular, self referential world resembles very little more than an academic circle jerk albeit one that is rather post-modern. Though on that token there is nothing wrong with it.
Back to the mobilities of semiotics:
Recently, wrote a news blurb about team Slipstream-Chipotle (now called ‘Garmin-Chipotle’) and their Tour de France roster. This prompted a discussion in my living room about Jon Vaughters, and, specifically, his inability to stay upright in bike races and/or avoid bee stings. In this conversation, my girlfriend, Lowri, queries, ‘so what you’re saying, JV doesn’t have the ghetto skills.’ At this precise moment, the Earth stood still in space and the universe revolved around it very similarly to the clever film editing in the movie version of Stephen Hawkings’ book, ‘A Brief History of Time’ when the coffee mug falls of the table, shatters spilling coffee on the kitchen floor and then is backed up, slo-moed, repeated etc. ‘Ghetto Skills!?’ I proclaimed. And, after a brief flurry of conversation, it was determined that Lowri was using the term ‘ghetto skills’ but referencing ‘ghetto bike racing’ culture in its deployment.
Now, when I heard her say ‘ghetto skills,’ I immediately flashed to the 90’s when inner city basketball was entering mainstream and popular culture with films such as ‘White Men Can’t Jump,’ ‘Above the Rim’ and importantly an entire Nike Advertisement Campaign. But not, this grounding was not in use. Remembering that anyone who was a member of the Ghetto Bike Racing Culture knows of its propensity for gangsta rap: Jed and myself frequently rapped whilst training: ‘She was dressed in yellow, she says hello...’ , or importantly and most famously, whilst warming up for a collegiate race in liberal and very white Minnesota having to put up with utter shit singer songwriter music by the likes of Dave Mathews or Jack Johnson coming from other cars that most bike racers are into, finally snapping, and blowing up the speakers of a rental van with Ice Cube (‘Pimpen aint easy but it’s necessary’)— complete with the image of Pierce’s dad leaning against the bonnet nodding his head to the beat, and Harper stopping, looking at the the white bread with the folk music and back to our car proclaiming, ‘hmmmph, this isn’t Jewel.’ And, finally within the context of Ghetto Bike racing, given Jed’s apartment in Topeka, was that it emerged from the ghetto.

However, Lowri, not being a member of the defunct subculture would not have known this. For her, ghetto ‘bike racing’ and ultimately ‘ghetto skills’ were only in reference to themselves, leaving her usage of ‘ghetto skills’ as representative of an entire semiotic paradigm shift—and it happened in my living room. Many of you are probably wondering by now, ‘what in the hell am I talking about’ (something I ask myself every two hundred words in my work). What I’m talking about is the mobility of language and meaning: both internationally, but also within and through cultures. ‘Ghetto Culture,’ or perhaps urban hip-hop (across generations) culture, exemplifies this cultural therefore semiotic mobility. Take Sugar Hill Gang and ‘Rappers Delight’ ( Musically, it is derived from a number of sources: Queen, James Brown, Pariliament to name a few. And, also lyrically, that is linguistically, deriving its rap from Jive (urban slang)—a language that has its own historio-linguistic trajectory. These two elements, not only produce a truly infectious groove, have later been appropriated, first within its ‘own’ culture but then to others, through music, and then lexicon where, a few twists and turns aside, emerged a new sub-culture—e.g. Gangsta Rap (chicken egg questions not withstanding). Then, this sub-culture, focused in urban slums of coastal cities (specifically, New York and LA) makes its way into the interior, predominantly affluent suburban environs where they become subsumed by pop-culture. Fascinating, as these semiotic systems move and evolve is that the two ‘cultural hearths’, eventually engage in what can only be termed a cultural war as both progenitors of this wider pop-culture vie for supremacy, a contest most famously embodied in the East Coast-West Coast rivalry that ended in bloodshed with the murders of both Tupac (of the LBC) and Notorious B.I.G. (of the Bronx).
Of course, this marginally fleshed out argument, is academic (at best) and mostly irrelevant both to practice and to itself. Mainly I use it to both point out my own fascination with the way words themselves move, and also to ‘warm up’ to the business of writing. And in case anyone is really wondering where I would like to take this argument: I’m listening to Danger Mouse’s Grey Album...whilst killing time.
Thanks for reading and keepin it real in the hood...well, my at least my urban, mostly gentrified middle class hood, complete with artisan cheese shop, fine wine merchant and Italian deli.


This pretty much proves my point