Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Have and Have-Nots of the iPod Generation

"Marvels for the rich ... privation for the worker" -Karl Marx

Steven Levy, in his book The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness, remarks upon the unexpected and remarkable impacts that the iPod has had upon American society. In addition to geeking-out over the iPod's perfection, detailing the means of its creation, release, and overwhelmingly positive reception, Levy also described a criminal response to the much-desired gadget: iPod theft.

"iPod oblivion" is what cops labeled the state of mind leaving iPod users vulnerable to attack and theft. While some of these crimes were aimed at obtaining a persons' money, others were perpetrated merely to obtain the sexy mp3 player itself. The father of Chris Rose, who was stabbed to death in an iPod theft crime, stated: "We have the technology that can give us the iPod and everthing else, but...we have to work on the minds and the hearts."

Karl Marx would disagree.

Marx, the oft-discredited socioeconomic theorist wrote: "To change society you must change the material being of society," not the other way around. In other words, iPods don't cause theft, worker wage-level inequality causes theft. Of the nearly 300 million Americans today, 70 million have iPods, 35 million live below the poverty line, and 47 million don't have healthcare. But while many are coping with their sub-standard lifestyles with seeming acceptance, a music-listening device is enough to spur people to action! Maybe it's just me, but I'd rather know how I'll pay next month's rent than listen to some sweet-ass tunes on the go. It's sad that getting crucial problems taken care of never seems as important as obtaining the next big thing.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Marriage in the 21st Century

Extravagance. Cake. Tulle. Expensive dresses. Toasts. Dancing. These are just some of the things Americans associate with weddings and marriage, as can be seen in hundreds of Bridal magazines or a quick survey of Flickr or YouTube. Weddings can be serious or silly, casual or formal, but whatever the type, this ceremony tends to be a big crowd-pleaser whether seen on TV, on the big screen, or in RL.

But trying to determine what marriage means after all the guests have gone home is harder to determine. With my 3rd wedding anniversary coming up on the 15th, my sister's impending marriage in June, and the recent engagement of two of my peers, marriage has been on my mind a lot lately. While some people (mostly women in my experience) still view marriage as a life goal, many others in my generation tend to regard it as an outmoded institution that does more harm than good. In fact, this second p.o.v. is overwhelmingly what one tends to expect from the average unwed 20-30 y/o. Couplehood no longer needs the validation of marriage to be considered a permanent state of being for two devoted people. And yet marriages still take place all the time -- even for people who previously professed disdain for the institution (including myself) -- and those who are currently without the right to wed are lobbying fiercely for it. So why all the fuss? What does marriage mean for us today?

A Brief History of Love and Marriage
M.D. and sociologist Leonard Shlain puts forth the captivating argument that love developed in the prehistory of mankind as a natural evolutionary process that was put in motion when we stood on our hind legs and started growing massive brains. The purpose of this bond was to cause a man to willingly provide sustenance for his mate and their children. The institution of marriage also grew out of this phenomenon, as man became increasingly more conscious of the interconnectedness of death, posterity, and heirs. For the most part, marriage was a social contract enacted to ensure a woman was faithful (so men could know her children were really his), and it was also a socio-economic tool for generating wealth and making valuable connections.

People did not become self-aware about the power of love until the Middle Ages, when troubadours spread the message of its expressions and (usually harmful) effects throughout Europe. Courtly love was the product of the troubadours, a movement in which love and marriage were not compatible. This idea is evidenced in stories like those of Tristan & Iseult, Abelard & Heloise, and Troilus & Criseyde.
For a long time it was widely believed that love was more trouble than it was worth.

Love in marriage or love as the primary motivation for marriage was an unwelcome idea thrust into society by the Romantics* and ever since it has stood alongside the other reasons for marriage: economic security, connections, childbearing, companionship, etc. Many couples live together now without feeling the need to marry, and many who do marry still express their discomfort with marriage as a social institution, in general. This dichotomy of the simultaneous desire for and aversion to marriage was brilliantly expressed by one of my favorite TV shows: The Gilmore Girls (more on this at a later date):
Honor: "All of a sudden, the idea of marriage seems totally archaic and insane! Legally binding one woman with one man until they die? It's perverse! Why on earth do people do this - why am I doing this?"

Walker: "Oh! Freak-out!"

Gwen: "You love Josh, remember?"

Honor: "Oh, yeah. Josh. Okay. Okay, freak-out over!"

Love Conquers All?
So with all of the issues that come along with marriage, why do people still enter into this ancient
contract? I honestly still react with shock and dismay whenever I hear of another engagement taking place in my social group (I know this makes no sense). From personal experience, all I can say is that my hubby and I reached a certain point where we felt we'd be together forever, with or without a ceremony. However, we chose to take this step because we wanted the rest of the world to acknowledge the seriousness of our commitment. Plus, it meant more financial aid for me since I was still in college (I'm so not kidding about this incentive!).

What do you think? Why did you or your friends or anyone else you are opinionated about get hitched? Why is this something that some people want so badly? And what does marriage mean for us now? I really want to know!

*Controversial statement!

Monday, May 7, 2007

Sex, Lies, and Buddha

I recently finished reading the six-volume manga Buddha by Osamu Tezuka. Tezuka
is a major figure in manga history and is called "the Walt Disney of Japan" and "the God of Manga," depending on who you ask. His most famous work in America is "Astro Boy" which he animated from the manga as a TV series. Also an animator of films & film shorts, Tezuka was the recipient of several international animation awards, including the Grand Prix for Jumping in 1984. Check it out:

Tezuka's work was all very experimental for its time, including the way in which he told a story. Manga evolved from picture stories called 'e-monogatari' in which the accompanying text - not the images - drove the primary narrative. With manga, however, the succession of images tell the story. This story-telling shift from word to image was in part brought about by Tezuka, who started dealing with history and politics through manga in the 1970s, a phase in which Buddha was born.

Like most people these days, I went through a period of spiritual searching during which I explored Buddhism, among other things. In this period, I read a lot about Buddha's life and teachings, but no biography was as gripping and evocative as Tezuka's. Buddha stripped the veneer off of the now internationally-renown holy man to reveal the sordid massacres, scandals, revenge, and venal desires that surrounded Buddha's enlightenment and life work. This has got to be the most shocking version of Buddha's life ever, but because of this, it is also the most luminous and uplifting.

Buddha, however, is not just all incredible drawings and drama, it also displays Tezuka's sense of humor, which ranges from anachronistic to self-mocking. He includes 20st century references like watches, radios, and American baseball teams in his sudden blips of silliness. He also brings himself into the story for a cameo, and he mocks the antics of manga-artists as well. A mixture of everything that makes the world what it is, Buddha redeems through its brutal honesty. It's the most fun you'll ever have with a religious figure.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

I am not SAM, but I went to his party

I've been living in Seattle for about a year and a half now, but I somehow never made it to the Seattle Art Museum. What with the stress of grad school and SAM's great restructuring, it just wasn't possible. But thanks to the Rethinking Museums Conference, I was invited to one of the many special openings that led up to this weekend's general opening.

I was jazzed about getting free admission, food, and booze from the most elite of all Seattle's museums (SAM is even overly-discerning in their volunteer opportunities), but after all the hype, I didn't feel SAM lived up to its PR campaign. Maybe it's just because the most elite museum in my hometown is bigger & better than SAM, or perhaps it's because I wasn't expecting the exhibits to be so focused on modern and contemporary art, but either way, I was pretty disappointed.

However, my trip was not in vain! Besides the free wine in tiny plastic glasses, two pieces of art defined my overall experience at SAM, and they're what I remember best. Mark Rothko's #10 and Georgia O'Keeffe's Celebration are paintings I'd never seen before in RL or in another medium. They are both effusive and hopeful and, for me, stood as reminders that there is indeed light at the end of the (graduate school) tunnel, that sometimes you just have to believe that everything will turn out okay.

Granted, I took that feeling home and threw up all over it (too much wine), but what matters is that I had an unforgettable encounter, and that's what museums are all about.

Image: Mark Rothko, No. 10