Archive for the ‘downsized living’ Category


This is truly enjoyable analysis. There’s a lot of Marxism in it, probably a bit too much for me. And in my opinion it is too blunt in its assessment of pop culture but that aside, this is a great argument..

(And hold someone close as you read this because you’re fine with hating Swept Away but he’s going to slaughter a few sacred cows too, starting with Firefly).

On Firefly:

What [shows like Firefly] do perform regularly is liberal multiculturalism, which no doubt reinforces a sense that the show’s gestural anti-statism is at least consonant with an egalitarian politics. And that is a quality that makes multiculturalist egalitarianism, or identitarianism, and its various strategic programs — anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-heteronormativity, etc. — neoliberalism’s loyal opposition. Their focus is on making neoliberalism more just and, often enough, more truly efficient.

On The Help:

In both films the bogus happy endings are possible only because they characterize their respective regimes of racial hierarchy in the superficial terms of interpersonal transactions. In The Help segregationism’s evil was small-minded bigotry and lack of sensitivity; it was more like bad manners than oppression… The Help trivializes Jim Crow by reducing it to its most superficial features and irrational extremes. The master-servant nexus was, and is, a labor relation. And the problem of labor relations particular to the segregationist regime wasn’t employers’ bigoted lack of respect or failure to hear the voices of the domestic servants, or even benighted refusal to recognize their equal humanity. It was the labor relation was structure within and sustained by a political and institutional order that severely impinged on, when it didn’t altogether deny, black citizens’ avenues for pursuit of grievances and standing before the law.

On Django Unchained:

Defenses of Django Unchained pivot on claims about the social significance of the narrative of a black hero. One node of this argument emphasizes the need to validate a history of autonomous black agency and “resistance” as a politico-existential desideratum. It accommodates a view that stresses the importance of recognition of rebellious or militant individuals and revolts in black American history. Another centers on a notion that exposure to fictional black heroes can inculcate the sense of personal efficacy necessary to overcome the psychological effects of inequality and to facilitate upward mobility and may undermine some whites’ negative stereotypes about black people. In either register assignment of social or political importance to depictions of black heroes rests on presumptions about the nexus of mass cultural representation, social commentary, and racial justice that are more significant politically than the controversy about the film itself.

On Hell on Wheels:

That’s the happy face of adolescent patriarchy, its expression that doesn’t usually involve a restraining order, though it’s probably best that the brooding loner hero’s sainted wife is nearly always a martyr and thus motivation for, instead of the object of, his sadistic violence and mayhem. But in Hell on Wheels that device also reinforces the reduction of slavery to slaveholding as an individual act, a consumer preference to be negotiated within a marriage – like owning a motorcycle going to the strip club with the guys every weekend, or painting the living room magenta.

On Beasts of the Southern Wild:

The film validates their spiritually rich if economically impoverished culture and their right to it. (Actually, the Bathtub’s material infrastructure seems to derive mainly from scavenging, which should suggest a problem at the core of this bullshit allegory for all except those who imagine dumpster-diving, back-to-nature-in-the-city squatterism as a politics). Especially given its setting in south Louisiana and the hype touting the authenticity of its New Orleans-based crew and cast, Beasts most immediately evokes a warm and fuzzy rendition of the retrograde post-Katrina line that those odd people down there wouldn’t evacuate because they’re so intensely committed to place.

On Won’t Back Down:

Being a progressive is not more a matter of how one thinks about oneself than what one stands for or does in the world. The best that can be said for that perspective is that it registers acquiscence in defeat. It amounts to an effort to salvage an idea of a left by reformulating it as a sensibility within neoliberalism rather than a challenge to it.

On Swept Away:

.. their abomination completely erases the original film’s complex class and political content and replaces it with a banal – aka “universal” – story of an encounter between an older woman and a younger man, while at the same time meticulously, almost eerily, reproducing, scene by scene, the visual structure of Wertmüller’s film).

From “Why ‘cultural politics’ is worse than no politics at all” by Adolph Reed.

My problem with this debate is where does it leave us exactly..? So, too much left-wing politics is about repositioning within neoliberalism and not challenging it, and pop culture’s use of history without real politics is obscuring and undermining the very social justice causes it seeks to highlight, and our approach to making sense of racism has been derailed by a preoccupation with individuals rather than systems, and we fail to recognise in our analysis the extent to which class politics is at play in inequality because most of our analysis is done by one particular occupational class* … now what?

* Also from Reed: “the politics of a stratum of the professional-managerial class whose material location and interests, and thus whose ideological commitments, are bound up with parsing, interpreting and administering inequality defined in terms of disparities among ascriptively defined populations reified as groups or even cultures”.

Cross-posted at Hoyden About Town.

Read Full Post »

I’ve talked about this before here but it bears repeating.

A year after the experiment had started, eleven out of thirteen had a roof above their heads. They accepted accommodation, enrolled in education, learnt how to cook, got treatment for drug use, visited their families and made plans for the future. ‘I loved the cold weather,’ one of them remembers. ‘Now I hate it.’ After decades of authorities’ fruitless pushing, pulling, fines and persecution, eleven notorious vagrants finally moved off the streets.  The Joseph Rowntree Foundation did a study of this experiment.

Costs? 50,000 pounds a year, including the wages of the aid workers. In addition to giving eleven individuals another shot at life, the project had saved money by a factor of at least 7. Even The Economist concluded:

‘The most efficient way to spend money on the homeless might be to give it to them.’

We tend to presume that the poor are unable to handle money. If they had any, people reason, they would probably spend it on fast food and cheap beer, not on fruit or education. This kind of reasoning nourishes the myriad of social programs, administrative jungles, armies of program coordinators and legions of supervising staff that make up the modern welfare state. Since the start of the crisis, the number of initiatives battling fraud with benefits and subsidies has surged.

People have to ‘work for their money,’ we like to think. In recent decades, social welfare has become geared toward a labor market that does not create enough jobs. The trend from ‘welfare’ to ‘workfare’ is international, with obligatory job applications, reintegration trajectories, mandatory participation in ‘voluntary’ work. The underlying message: Free money makes people lazy.

Except that it doesn’t.

From “Why we should give free money to everyone” from de Correspondent. Thanks to Thom for the link.

This should pretty much be the first thing they teach you when you study Development Economics. If you like the sound of this then you might like economist, John Quiggin talking about the theory of the universal minimum wage and the secret to happiness for everyone.. stay at home parents, artists .. everyone.


Read Full Post »

When children are demonised by the newspapers, they are often described as feral. But feral is what children should be: it means released from captivity or domestication. Those who live in crowded flats, surrounded by concrete, mown grass and other people’s property, cannot escape their captivity without breaking the law. Games and explorations that are seen as healthy in the countryside are criminalised in the cities. Children who have never visited the countryside – 50% in the UK, according to WideHorizons – live under constant restraint.

Why shouldn’t every child spend a week in the countryside every term? Why shouldn’t everyone be allowed to develop the kind of skills the children I met were learning: rock climbing, gorge scrambling, caving, night walking, ropework and natural history? Getting wet and tired and filthy and cold, immersing yourself, metaphorically and literally, in the natural world: surely by these means you discover more about yourself and the world around you than you do during three months in a classroom.

From George Monbiot’s “The problem with education? Children aren’t feral enough” in The Guardian.

(Oh good, this is one parenting goal I am achieving. And I wrote about this topic in an article, “The great lies of childhood” for Daily Life last year).

Read Full Post »

Whatever your intentions, to be a member of the new, more privileged wave of residents in a gentrifying neighborhood is to be a part of a process that is displacing families who have lived there for decades, even generations. You have to be something of a moral idiot not to feel some queasiness about this. Although it is rarely discussed directly, I suspect that for a lot of who are, broadly speaking, on the advantaged side in this turf war, just walking around brings regular stings of class guilt. Obviously it is worse to be on the disadvantaged side; that’s why the advantaged feel bad about feeling bad, and therefore avoid talking about it.

What the advantaged do instead is pick apart all the failings and hypocrisies of our own team. That way we align ourselves, so we imagine, with the other team, the team that seems to have justice on its side: If I’m part of something bad, at least I have the right attitude about it.

Implicated in an uncomfortable reality, we resort to a bit of psychological jujitsu to fight off the shame. Feeling the heat of the spotlight, we swing it on a fellow gentrifier who’s going about it all wrong. I’m white and raised in suburbia, but I don’t wear khakis and clog restaurants with my stroller at brunch. Or perhaps: At least I’m not this guy here on the park bench, with his beanie and flip-flops. I mean, really. Look at this fucking hipster.

This is Freud’s “narcissism of minor differences,” but with a twist. In Freud’s theory, we deride and attack those near to us to establish dominance, as an outlet for hardwired “inclination to aggression.” In this case, I think, the derision comes from an impulse toward self-violence. It’s an expression of socioeconomic self-loathing. The gentrifier insults hipsters and bobos precisely because they are more or less like him; he needs to dole out the punishment that on some level he feels he also deserves. “Narcissism” isn’t quite right, because he’s not trying to love himself more. He’s trying to hate himself less.

On several occasions I have been to the Brooklyn Flea, a popular flea market franchise cofounded by Jonathan Butler. An Ivy League graduate with an MBA, Butler had previously launched the Brooklyn real estate blog Brownstoner, a haven for the gentrifying crowd, while working at a hedge fund. In a schoolyard a few blocks from the corners where the Notorious B.I.G. started dealing drugs at age 12 in the 1980s, the Flea offers shabby-chic antiques and clothing, rescue trinkets, old vinyl, and food trucks that make “ethnic food” less ethnic. You know the drill. The nostalgic instinct, the devotion to quirkiness, the almost fetishistic environmentalism—to me it’s all a bit … much. But there I am, visiting the vending table of an artist who draws cityscapes in pen on Post-It notes. I really like his stuff. Until the mental backlash comes: Oh God, I am not one of these people. Please tell me I am not one of these people.

From Evan Hughes’ article, “The Great Inversion in New Brooklyn” in UTNE Reader. Ever since I came upon Andrew Potter’s book, The Authenticity Hoax for an article I wrote about earth mothers I have been fascinated with this whole topic. It really turns my head inside out, though. “The mental backlash” – I like that description.

(Thanks to Tedra for the link).

Read Full Post »

My latest article is up at Daily Life. I have to admit that this was one of the trickier articles I have written. I felt like there was a lot I could muck up with this topic but it has definitely been one of the more interesting ones to consider, too.

These are the possibilities of ‘earth mother’ absurdity for you. It can take a lot of planning and control (and money) to be zen. Getting everything just right so you can let go. Following a very prescriptive path in order to ‘be yourself’. And there can be elitism in being bare and natural, too, because returning to tradition and being anti-corporate can involve a lot of expenses.

Andrew Potter described this perverse situation as “meticulous Bohemia” in his book, The Authenticity Hoax. A situation where you can feel like you are rejecting the materialism of the mainstream but be chasing the status of subculture. Where you can tie yourself in knots by self-consciously trying to perform an authentic sense of self, and where you resist advertising phoniness but then fall for any dubious product with ‘ethnic’ attached to it. Where you want to be different, just like everyone else, which is why every hipster around the world looks the same and all parents use the word ‘play-date’ now. The danger is that you can become obsessed with obtaining authenticity at any cost. And it never really existed.

Special thanks to @tjinimin for the comments and advice assisting me with understanding the concept of ‘authenticity’.



Read Full Post »

Lots of interesting  and stubbornly eccentric thoughts on reading books from Joe Queenan in The Wall Street Journal with “My 6,128 Favourite Books”:

My reading habits sometimes get a bit loopy. I often read dozens of books simultaneously. I start a book in 1978 and finish it 34 years later, without enjoying a single minute of the enterprise. I absolutely refuse to read books that critics describe as “luminous” or “incandescent.” I never read books in which the hero went to private school or roots for the New York Yankees. I once spent a year reading nothing but short books. I spent another year vowing to read nothing but books I picked off the library shelves with my eyes closed. The results were not pretty.

I even tried to spend an entire year reading books I had always suspected I would hate: “Middlemarch,” “Look Homeward, Angel,” “Babbitt.” Luckily, that project ran out of gas quickly, if only because I already had a 14-year-old daughter when I took a crack at “Lolita.”

Read Full Post »

Quite unlike many collectors, they weren’t wealthy, living and collecting their entire lives on their salaries and their pensions. The couple did not, however, sell a single piece until the National Gallery acquired much of their collection in 1991. Estimates of its value range well into the millions. “We could have easily become millionaires,” Mr Vogel told the Associated Press in 1992, adding: “But we weren’t concerned about that aspect.”..

..  Herb, who never completed high school, and Dorothy, who survives him, had simple criteria when buying art: it had to be inexpensive, small enough to be carried on the subway or in a taxi and it had to fit inside their one-bedroom flat…

.. Artists considered it a privilege to be included in their collection and an even greater honour to be invited to their apartment for a meal. Dorothy would sometimes offer a TV dinner that she warmed up in the oven. “They were a couple without children,” said Ruth Fine, a recently retired curator at the National Gallery. “The works of art became the absolute focus of their lives.”

When Mr Vogel retired from the Postal Service in 1979, he used his pension to buy more art. He and Dorothy began to think about their legacy, and many top museums came calling. Eventually, after years of negotiations, they agreed to send the heart of their collection to the National Gallery. When curators began to catalogue the collection, it took five full-size moving trucks to transport the Vogels’ art to Washington from their apartment.

Despite his obvious penchant, Mr Vogel could not always articulate why he liked certain works of art more than others or what he looked for when collecting. “I just like art,” he said in 1992. “I don’t know why I like art. I don’t know why I like nature. I don’t know why I like animals. I don’t know why I even like myself.” Washington Post

“The ordinary couple with an extraordinary art collection” from The Independent. Love this.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,373 other followers