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

Friday, June 13, 2008

Adam R. Mills: Genius

Adam Mills is a genius.

The title of today’s entry brings forward a sentiment I never thought I would have and a belief that ought to compromise any sense of cosmology I may have ever possessed. Adam is a nice guy, a hard worker, fun to hang around, good friend, but unabashed genius? The fact that this idea is actually being reported, archived and available to the public and thereby public scrutiny is testament to my own zealous dogmatism, and despite the visceral urge to qualify the statement, it is a sentence that I unreservedly stand behind. The questions that now must be emerging on any reader’s mind is why? Why make such bold statement; why refuse to qualify it; why open oneself to the potential of unfathomable criticism; why, exactly, is Adam Mills a genius?

The answers to such queries, and the reason why Adam has earned himself a permanent spot on my couch, spare bedroom or any other domicile facilities (provide matches are available) comes from two verb clauses he deployed in recent blog listings (see ‘Mills’ to the right): ‘Priceline’ and ‘man-up.’

Priceline: and why Adam is a genius for it.

Despite modernist reckoning that achievement is only notable if it is quantified in material terms—in this case Adam’s brief mention of saved my girlfriend and I £200 a night on an underfunded business trip to Copenhagen—is the context which Adam uses Priceline: Ghetto Bike Racing. Having gone on record previously by stating that the chief difference in my life between Ghetto Bike Racing and my post-Ghetto turn is pork, mainly bacon and pork-chops, but occasionally shins or pork belly, it is time to reemphasize the importance of the Ghetto way of life and its relation to On the surface, symbolizes a refusal to pay retail—why buy something at full price when it can be had for less; more broadly Priceline subverts an entire mainstream world view by reinforcing the principles of a dedicated subculture. I could pay the rack rate for a bed surrounded by four walls and a roof, next to a bunch of other like material arrangements, but why when I can get the same thing for less if I deploy privileged knowledg? The value of the hotel room, therefore is not fixed. Philosophically this makes no sense—the notion that two identical objects have different values is intrinsically a paradox unless value is determined by negociants (email me if you want a fully fleshed out explanation). mediates the subversion of the status quo implicated in perpetuating the paradox, unless of course, it reveals the true value of a given commodity, while Adam mediates the relations between Priceline and the wider (post)Ghetto community. In my case the Copenhagen Hotel room must actually cost only £67 instead of £267 per night. The genius is in the broad strokes; Priceline undermines traditional notions of value by transmuting it to select social groups—as a surrogate to reality. Adam, in the context of, is not only a genius for saving me a fuck-ton of money in an overvalued commodity market by helping reveal to me the true value of a commodity, rather, Adam is a genius for reinvigorating a culture/sub-culture wide set of debates about entitlement and the true meaning(s) of value while simultaneously reinforcing the same sets of principles he manages to subvert in the first place by becoming a conduit to the very reality that is typically obscured (that Steve Tilford is the person who uses regularly in what Adam describes as ‘a mission lately to get the best hotel possible for the least amount of money’ is irrelevant because Adam as mediator brings these knowledges into practice through a referential system of semiotics a la De Sausseur)


Reinforcing Adam’s genius is that he simultaneously deploys a complex set of relational mediators and facilitators, manifest in the concepts behind Priceline while also utilizing the term ‘man up’ (though he graciously offers credit for the term to someone called Matt Ankney—again, see my note above about referential semiotics). As a term, it shouldn’t need unpacking, but in today’s world of shifting meaning and transitory knowledge systems, I feel that a bit of discussion is warranted, if for no other reason than to challenge an otherwise passive set of practices that render discussion closed without debate—back door fascism.
Man up itself is an exceptionally complex term that on one hand could be easily dismissed as phalocentric and chauvinistic with a feminist reading, (re)appropriated by both post-feminists and critical linguists or completely re-deployed by what could be read as a latent homoerotic tendency (for instance, I would hate to learn what would happen if I were to ‘man-up’ in a Kings Cross leather bar or a Vauxhaul S&M club). The brilliance behind Adam’s usage of the term transcends these definitions and contextual/decontextual readings by configuring it as part of the lexicon of the Enlightenment—however problematic revisionist historians may try to portray it. In other words Mill’s kicks it old school, by suggesting that the intended meaning of ‘man-up’ is to supersede one’s own ability by striving for something grander in the face of almost assured destruction. If that is not a sentiment that embodies the same idealism that conquered Everest, the Moon, the Russians, the flat Earth, built the pyramids, and a nearly endless list of human achievement from time immemorial, then I don’t know what does, and frankly don’t want to live in a world where human-achievement is so easily disregarded. Imagine what would have happened if Kennedy did not man up to Khrushchev in ’62? Dunno about anyone else, but I for one hate fucking borscht.

It is easy, perhaps too easy to draw unfounded conclusions at this stage, but between Priceling it and manning up, Mill’s keeps it real, yet in a more subtle way, Adam ravels the complete complexities of modernity into what appear at the onset to be simplest, somewhat binary distinctions but with a deeper reading provide insight into the very fabric of reality itself. I whole heartedly invite the owners of any dissenting opinions to man up and be counted.