“Lift not the painted veil” — P.B. Shelley
The world has always revolved with a certain stick in its axle. It is a phenomenon that is understandable only after the advanced observer harnesses a certain hardness of heart to the wanton callousness, ignorance, sloth, unfairness and greed that drives an economy of sadness and pain like Ixion’s flaming wheel. This stick is human nature. The most popular lubricant for the axle of the world has undoubtedly been that category of life we call culture.
There was a moment — maybe it’s safe to identify the period after World War II — when American culture turned into a real machine and blanketed the world. Perhaps along with that came the image of American values, beamed into every house. The entertainment empire had rules and a way of doing things; to break in, you needed connections and money. In hindsight, we might say that the Internet induced the end of the Empire. But as Charlie Sheen’s recent, very public, very surreal series of breakdowns show, the spirit that is currently demolishing the Empire — let’s call it Post-Empire — isn’t necessarily connected to the Internet, and it’s so much more unhinged than your average Internet user. It’s hard to tell if we should be happy about the oncoming new world order or absolutely fucking terrified. Sure, Empire was an imperfect and ineffectual system, but at least it was a system. Post-Empire is about as close to anarchy as you can get when the limits of your life are bounded by Facebook; it’s one-half everything you’re not supposed to do and one-half chaotic, bottomless void.
Brett Easton Ellis summarized the zeitgeist thus in a Daily Beast column last month:
“What does SHAME mean anymore? my friends in their 20s ask. Why in the hell did your boyfriend post a song called “Suck My Ballz” on Facebook last night? my mom asks…. POST-EMPIRE isn’t just about admitting doing “illicit” things publicly and coming clean — it’s a (for now) radical attitude that says the EMPIRE lie doesn’t exist anymore.”
What’s the deal here?
Section assholes are not real people. They only exist inside the heads of other people that categorize others as such — for talking too often, for pandering to the professor, for needing to make a comment that lasts two minutes when everyone else limits themselves to 30 seconds, for making jokes that are unfunny, for drawing parallels that do not exist, for praising their own work while critiquing a masterpiece.
These people become like Charlie Sheen after a classroom audience finally and forever turns on them, branding them as annoying after having suffered chronic acute shocks to the nervous system as a result of their vocalized existence. The claimants are the tired, the weary, the huddled and unprepared masses yearning to be free from seminar discussions to which they come not fully understanding the text or not having read at all.
Nothing can take this away. They will always be section assholes as long as there are Post-Empire attitudes.
The problem here is that the section asshole thinks he or she is only doing his or her job, only trying to milk the financial aid afforded them, trying to make every cent of their parents $43,000 count toward some enlightenment other than a reputation for having mastered some popular dance moves. Indeed, the section asshole lives every day like it’s chicken tender day, only their tenders are the real estate of a seminar table and all it represents.
The section asshole treats seminars like a game of chess.
The section asshole, like all of us, wants what is good.
The section asshole is a person with empire points of view, empire states of mind.
The first recorded usage of the term “section asshole” must have happened in a vacuum lost to history. It likely happened in the mind of someone continually underprepared for class. That person was the proto-post-empire individual, the missing link between what is good and what feels good. That person was dimly aware that implications of American exceptionalism meant something was expected of them. That person may have grown up to be the president of the United States.
Usually, the News prints a list of individuals it considers to be section assholes. This year, for deference to the feelings of others and remembering the anguish it had allegedly caused those several dozen worthies that awoke one November morning to find their name plastered across the back page of the daily rag, the News chose not to print a list of section assholes. Such was a move contrary to Charlie Sheen’s specter of judgment.
Someone concerned with increasing circulation might have tossed in the list. Someone concerned with purity and truth might have pulled the list. So since the list was pulled we might agree that purity and virtue likely won out over logic and greed. This, ironically, seems a perfect example of an empire decision reacting to post-empire realities.
So much for section assholes.
SUPER FAMOUS MISOGYNISTS
“I wanna run through the halls of my high school / I want to scream at the top of my lungs.”
In his first single, “No Such Thing,” John Mayer established himself as the king of easy listening for a new generation. In the video for the song, off of 2001’s aptly titled debut album “Room for Squares,” Mayer establishes himself as just that — he stands behind a microphone wearing an ambiguously purple shirt, sings intently and does nothing else. He won his first Grammy for “Your Body Is a Wonderland,” a song that will rightfully go down in history for being the happiest, sweetest, most respectful song about having sex ever crooned by a young man. Put simply, John Mayer makes music to please girls in flip-flops and their mothers. If you ever want proof of Mayer’s kind and cuddly musical approach, just listen to “Daughters,” his ode to the father-daughter relationship that also thanks mothers for their role in the child-rearing process.
If the musical John Mayer sounds harmless, there’s something much more sinister about John Mayer, the public figure. In the years from 2005–2009, he was photographed and believed to be romantically involved with every starlet from Jessica Simpson to Jennifer Aniston to Taylor Swift. His approach seemed more Jay-Z (“Thug ’em, love ’em, fuck ’em, leave ’em / Cuz I don’t fuckin’ need ’em”) than kind and cuddly.
But things really got ridiculous in March of 2010 when Mayer broadcasted his aversion to black women in Playboy magazine. “My dick is sort of like a white supremacist. I’ve got a Benetton heart and a fuckin’ David Duke cock.” Of course, the Internet exploded after the racist comments. And Mayer apologized — but there was something willful and obstinate about his apology via Twitter, something farcical about his teary onstage breakdown.
At this point it was painfully clear that there were two John Mayers, and it was hard to believe that they actually inhabited the same body. One way of looking at Mayer is seeing a showdown between the Empire musician and the Post-Empire public figure. The musician is someone you’d take home to your mom, the public figure is someone who would sexually harass you in the club.
But this view of John Mayer is just a bit too simplistic. There’s a good reason why John Mayer might be the first celebrity to totally embrace Post-Empire. He fabricated an emasculated persona to sell records, and decided to trump up his masculinity for the paparazzi to compensate. His fame is fundamentally pandering, but Mayer is brazen and honest about his falseness, on Twitter and on TMZ.
So when we think about the public breakdowns of Chris Brown and Charlie Sheen, it’s so easy to be Empire and think about the incidents in terms of the lasting effects of child abuse and the plight of mental illness. And for the people Chris Brown and Charlie Sheen, they are. But for the celebrities Chris Brown and Charlie Sheen, the situation is more about the breakdown of the illusion of opposition to misogyny. Both figures have proven to be a low point in public discourse about the rights of women — in a completely unrepentant way. The typical narrative (star does something inappropriate, star gets a slap on the wrist) is fundamentally broken. This is either a moment of great opportunity for American feminism, or the end of the road for the Empire ideal in existence since the 1970s — that women matter. That Empire ideal was always a little toothless, but at least it set a floor on our public debate. We’re in a moment of post-Empire freefall. It’s up to us to make the right decision.
So much for nice guys.
What does 23-year-old rapper Wiz Khalifa have to do with last week’s Toad’s shooting in the midst of a rap battle? Less than you might think.
The newest blood on the rap circuit has been poised to break out all year with March 29th’s “Rolling Papers.” It’s possible that his talent and preternatural swag will carry Wiz to the heights of Lil Wayne. But there’s something missing: With Wiz, there are no tear-shaped tattoos ringing his bloodshot eyes (tattoos that allegedly certify that Wayne’s killed another human being, you know?).
Now Wiz Khalifa isn’t Doogie Houser or cousin Urkel. Nor is he “Ready to Die.” To be sure, he’s bad in some ways. Wiz’s morally repugnant M.O. — this is sometimes called “street cred” — centers around three activites: (1) fraternizing with other people’s girlfriends, (2) making “millions, yeah, I said it, motherfing millions”, and (3) smoking marijuana.
Gasp. A rapper without guns? I declare. Were those kids at Toad’s doing it wrong?
Even if Wiz Khalifa the 23-year-old has done evil things in his life, Wiz Khalifa the rapper is not a bad guy. Nor is he interested in pretending to be a REALLY bad guy. There are no weapons, no drug-dealing arrests, no jail stints to describe in “Rolling Papers.” Those things aren’t cool anymore. Malaise is pretty cool, and Wiz Khalifa is a chill guy.
He is not taking the Charlie Sheen route, because, as cool as the Post-Empire state of mind seems, something’s really passé about self-destruction. Lindsay Lohan looks like she’s trying too hard. Wiz, on the other hand, wants you to know he’s a stoner. A successful, highly-functioning stoner.
Revel in that.
Winning in the long term is about branding, and betting on the brand known as marijuana seems to have paid off handsomely for Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa’s mentor.
And it might pay off for the state of Connecticut, too.
The state senate will vote soon on whether to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of pot in the state of Connecticut, something that a 2009 Quinnippiac poll found that 58 percent of Nutmeggers would support.
Until Tuesday, Wiz was riding high on critical acclaim. But with a raw score of 64 on Metacritic, “Rolling Papers,” the newly released full-length by Wiz, is far from a blockbuster success. It’s a critical disappointment.
If the album were good, critics would be clamoring to say how it inspires a generation of young entrepreneurs. But the album is bad. And suddenly coming up alone seems to be the wrong attempt. How will this young man make his “motherf*ng millions” if his street cred is suddenly made street legal?
Weird has always been the watchword of rap. Tupac was hot. Biggie was fat. Wayne says “I am a Martian”. 50 got shot — 9 times! But Wiz is just a silly rabbit.
Partially this is because he seems so middle-class. His values are distinctly middle-class values; blasé, with a dash of disrespect for authority.
Thankfully, no one seems to be rapping about murder anymore. As the epoch teeters towards total legitimization of everything that rap once stood for, rappers will find themselves needing more and more elaborate back-stories and better storytelling abilities.
Once outlaws, rappers like Wiz Khalifa find themselves caught somewhere between Bar Mitzvah MC and Homeric bard in a tour bus. Rappers like those who continue to provoke violence, like those party to the shooting last week at Toad’s, will find themselves where so many of a previous generation of rappers have found themselves: in and out of jail. Neither option is commercially convenient. Post-empire liberalism stands to put these good kids to their mettle.
So much for Wiz Khalifa.
TOAD’S SHOOTING / SPRING FLING SURVEY DATA
There seems to be no estimable connection between the Toad’s shooting that occurred last week and the survey data gathered by the Spring Fling Committee to gauge student preferences, but let us puzzle over these topics and see how they might align to show us something worthwhile.
“This is a private Yale event,” promises the most recent weekly newsletter from Toad’s, advertising their first Wednesday dance party after a mid-concert shooting sent two young men with no University affiliation to Yale-New Haven hospital.
Meanwhile, what Yale students want from Spring Fling is a big name who will put on a great show and not offend anyone. That’s what the survey data gives us. Lady Gaga is very much unlike Yale students. She is the sociological Other. She will not be coming to our campus this spring.
What the Spring Fling Committee gives us, on the other hand, is a collection of unemployable, bloated, and not very famous individuals, some of whom perform well. Sounds like Yalies to me.
The distinction of the Self from the Other is sacred to the realm of rap. And it is a sacred to the realm of Spring Fling survey data sets as well.
It’s a classic example of tyranny of the majority. The heft of replies for “Ciara” on the Spring Fling survey emanates from a sect of Yalies who will only attend one concert the entire year: Spring Fling. They don’t know how weak a performer Ciara is. They don’t know that a Good Artist (catchy singles, slick music videos) with a bad live show is much worse than a Weird Artist with a great live show. Quod est demonstratum: Matt and Kim.
The fight last week allegedly broke out during a rap battle. People take words too seriously. This is hardly a Post-Empire way of conducting oneself. But isn’t empire all about taking oneself too seriously? Yes it is.
So the Bret Easton Ellis paradigm breaks down when we ask ourselves: What of killing a man? WEEKEND worries that Easton Ellis is right, and folks today have thrown conventional morality to the dogs. Zeta Psi didn’t get punished, DKE didn’t get punished, Pundits didn’t get Punditzd. These are the dark sides of Post-Empire. And who will protect us from them? Not the police. Not Mary Miller.
So much for Toad’s Shooting and Spring Fling Survey Data.
There was a time when American Idol ruled the world. But actually. It is undeniably the biggest television show of all time — bigger than “The Cosby Show,” bigger than “Kourtney and Khloe take Miami. Today it remains among the world’s major cultural powerhouses, and it rakes in millions upon millions every time Ryan Seacrest mentions Ford or Coca-Cola.
It is a show meant to probe deep and hard into the heartland of America in hopes of finding marketable, talented singers, and for seasons it succeeded wildly. The likes of Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson and the immortal Jennifer “And I’m Feeling Good” Hudson all entered Idol’s uterus as meager singing sperm and burst out of FOX’s womb five months later, bonafide superstars. Now, after several seasons in which a boring brosef beat an interesting, talented but slightly edgy chick or drag queen, Idol has degenerated into a sideshow. Gone are the days of Simon Cowell’s undying wit and Paula Abdul’s incisive commentary, replaced with Stephen Tyler’s look of total confusion and JLo reppin da Bronx next to Randy Jackson’s Dirty South. The contestants this season are literally terrible. One really overtly gay black man prances around the stage like Christina Aguilera, and every female singer is bad. The two best singers by far, Stefano and Pia, are both huge guidos. It’s entirely possible that Snooki will be your next American Idol.
I used to like American Idol a lot. Now I love it. It’s far and away the most absurd thing on TV, and the lack of any pretense about finding a legit superstar has made it way funnier. Seriously, even if you weren’t a fan before, this show is a joke, and yet it consistently ranks as one of the top shows on TV. Haha, look at us, America, we’re voting for these “people” to be “crowned” American Idol, to be named the greatest talent our nation can muster, even though they’re shrieky and not in the least bit talented. This is art in the post-Empire world. Post-modern performance art — kind of like James Franco’s entire life.
So much for American Idol.
COUGHING AND CIGARETTES
Smoking kills. Everyone knows it. If you smoke, you will die of smoking-related causes. Don’t even say you’re gonna quit when you leave college because we all know nicotine is just way too addicting and tasty for that. Smoking is getting a lot cooler, too — or, at least, less taboo than it was in the 90s. That’s probably because people stopped dying of smoking because they stopped smoking because they watched their grandparents smoke a pack a day and die from it. So now we think we’re immune because hey, no one dies of smoking anymore.
Hate to break it to ya sweetpea, but the cure for cancer just isn’t coming any time soon. Medicine is too damn profitable, especially the medicine used to treat cancer — even one session of chemotherapy costs big bucks. These companies are making money keeping us sick. Conspiracy!
Some people are social smokers, and that’s cool because you look cool when you smoke. These people are fine but inevitably real smokers hate them because they never have their own pack and always comment on how they don’t actually smoke and are just sooooo drunk. Post-Empire it is possible to smoke cigarettes but not actually be a smoker. You may be smoking a cigarette, but you are not a smoker because…uh…well you just aren’t.
The rationale people give for smoking is generally something pretty stupid or nihilistic too. Maybe they straight up don’t give a shit. Probably they “like how it feels” or “the taste.” My favorite is when people say they’re gonna smoke because the world is going to end in 2012 anyway.
Maybe that’s what’s behind all this post-Empire BS. People just don’t care anymore because the world is ending anyway, so we might as well smoke ’til we got chest pains and do hella E and have a damn good time. Even if the world doesn’t end in 2012, the Singularity is coming eventually, so why even bother protecting our bodies when we’re gonna be robots with iron lungs by 2040?
So much for a smoke-free Yale.
TMZ, CANNIBALISM AND THE AMERICAN DREAM
Kourtney, Kim and Khloe Kardashian are the culmination of a great American trend, the new American Dream if you will: moderately beautiful people who are moderately famous for doing almost nothing in the vicinity of other people who are moderately famous for doing things. It’s very easy to live a fulfilling life without ever hearing about the Kardashians. It’s also very easy to think that the Kardashians are the epitome of everything that is wrong with the world right now. It’s strange to think that the Kardashians are actually famous; so much of their media coverage is overwhelmingly negative, at least if you judge by TMZ.com.
But into which reality do you really gain insight when you judge by TMZ? In some regards, they represent a team of top-notch journalists — they were the first to break the news of Michael Jackson’s death, beating traditional media by miles. What’s more ridiculous, members of the traditional media from CNN to local newspapers were forced to mention TMZ’s reporting in their own coverage.
The zeitgeist is to cheer about the decline of the traditional media, to accuse them of being undemocratic pigs — I mean fuck the New York Times paywall, amirite? But what does it mean that, for celebrity news at least, Post-Empire vehicle TMZ is taking over?
TMZ has run stories about Lohan on 24 of the last 30 days — a huge number when you consider that Lindsay Lohan hasn’t appeared in a hit movie since 2005 and that her last starring role was in the “Spy Kids” spinoff “Machete” that failed to make an impact. But the stories are relentless. There are a few mean-spirited stories about her numerous court appearances, and a few downright cruel stories about Lohan embarrassing herself in public, such as the time last week when she feel off her five-inch heels on a New York City street.
Lindsay Lohan is such an easy target. We all know that her life is a mess, and that she might never regain the level of fame she had at 16. But there is something scary and opportunistic about the non-stop coverage of her missteps long after she has lost her cultural relevance. If, under Empire, celebrities were expected to sacrifice themselves for the good of their image, Post-Empire asks celebrities to sacrifice their bodies at the altar of the paparazzi so that the American people can eat their mistakes and trials alongside their morning coffee.
So much for the American Dream.
Balance still exists.
Wiz loses because he isn’t enough of a character and doesn’t have anything weird about him. What’s authentic about making a record about smoking pot? It’s rather obvious in a society wherein everyone smokes pot. What’s next, Ja Rule presents Wine Aficionado? That would be bad.
The trick is finding a balance that respects human life but also respects that we’ve been unrealistic about what a human is: It wants sex, irreverence and decedence — at least in its media. But it’s when the mirror of culture, Shelley’s “painted veil,” starts enabling violent behaviors or, rather, starts asking audiences to just “get over it” that people shoot each other.