Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ten Hours

It's taken me a while to decode it – it's really smart.

First, it was made by an advertising agency. That is to say they are trying to sell you something, and most important, they are getting money for doing it.

I.

The gender setup is a really good one, and the number of distractions within the video itself – it's a hit parade – do quite well at obscuring its founding lie.

If you still see this thing in terms of gender, then you have, as they say, accepted the form of the proverbial argument. Gender is the distraction – ignore it.

No, the founding lie of the Ten Minutes video is that a person's experience of New York City is translatable to the other 99.9% of the nation's existence, which is to say this video presents an interesting twist on a modern cosmopolitan fantasy: that you can be both in control of who gives you attention and how.

There is a 99% chance you do not live in New York City. There is also a 99% chance you fantasize about who you'd be if you did. For young women, this video does not present a “reality” they wish to change so much as one they aspire to adapt to. “I'm better equipped for my future as a wealthy inhabitant of New York having seen this!” goes the invisible thinking.

“I'll be strong!”

Sure you will. Just make sure you've got some stylish clothes, hair, and makeup.

II.

“But she wasn't wearing makeup!” sings your hopeful inner voice. I just choked on my whiskey.

“And still she has all these options to turn down!”

They got you, Princess.

“I don't want any of those guys!” is the lie you whisper to yourself. Of course you don't – they're caricatures of “poor.” You're the woman in the video – striding confidently on your way to a rich husband who will appreciate your “inner beauty” all the while invisibly protected by a crew of... wait for it... men.

Maybe you misinterpreted the title of “..a WOMAN in...” which is code for “A vagina in conventionally attractive packaging.” Maybe you didn't rewatch it as “...a video crew accompanying a person...” because that's what's really going on.

Leaving aside all possible conversations about parts I & II, there is a deeper (IMHO) and darker (IMHO) question to all of this that has been very noticeably (IMHO) absent, and maybe only becomes obvious in a moment of mescaline-induced clarity: Was 'feminism' the joke or the punchline?

III.

I don't live in New York. I only know the marketing. It's marketing says its one of highest concentrations of 'enlightened' people. Or something. Lots of museums, right?

So where is the feminism? The kind that's permeated flyover bookstores for the last 40 years? If after decades of Susan Faludi, Susie Bright, and Maya Angelou book tours a conventionally attractive woman is still unable to walk down the streets of New York without being noticed, then what was the point of 'feminism?' Was it just to sell books??

The answer, as they say, is hidden in the question. “Yes,” for those of you still wondering if words have meaning or not.

And now we come full circle. An advertising agency – an entity predicated on selling you things – is reminding us that 'feminism still has a lot of work to do' and by 'work' they mean the purchasing of things.

Because you'll still buy it if there's a pretty girl on the cover.

IV:

Is Taylor Swift a woman?

She is one of the most attractively packaged millionaires in America right now, and that's only to remind you that packaging matters.

Oh, sure, “don't judge a book by its cover” says the person who wears clothes because they hate their body. Next you'll want me to believe the book's cover influences how the book feels about itself. You're insane.

What would “Ten Hours of Walking in New York as Taylor Swift” look like? How long can it take you to imagine it? Why bother? That work's already been done – just watch her videos.

But the video got you because it said “woman” which is an incredibly broad (haha!) caricature of which 51% of the population easily self-identifies. Which is why nobody bothered to ask why Taylor Swift would get such different treatment than a “woman” and if you're a “woman” and “not Taylor Swift” maybe you should be asking questions about why she gets more cultural deference than you.

The answer is obvious to me, but that's because the question was never for me. You'll have to read that again to grasp what I'm illuminating here. Sure, Taylor is feminine, there's no doubt there – but if she is insulated from a “woman” experience in the normative sense of the word, we have to ask what it is that insulates her, and I have the answer: she's single.

Even if she got married today, she's still 'single'. Hard to grasp unless you're a 99%'r hunkered down in some Montana man-cave softly stroking your NFL app between hours-long cuckold porn masturbation sessions. Even his simian brain understands world-class pussy versus YOU. Taylor Swift may be both unattainable AND a fantasy, but that's how she wins. A “woman” is attainable, and they are everywhere, which is why men can treat them like shit. I'm sorry, did you think economic theory only applied to your checkbook? Where did you learn that, Home Ec?

V.

Life is horrifically 'unfair' in every measure, and that makes a terrific predicate for selling fantasies that say otherwise. I empathize – that soothing balm is, well, soothing. I'm not claiming to be immune, here. The Ten Hours video got me at first, too. I was all wrapped up in defending my own ego (“I'm not those men!”) when it struck me that was the intended outcome. Men are supposed to want to 'protect' the video's subject by saying “I'd never treat you like that.”

“I'll respect you.”

The joke's on you, ladies: turns out men got the feminism memo after all. “Feminism” is about making women feel better about themselves.

Taylor Swift is not a feminist – Taylor Swift is a capitalist, and that you can't cleave those two things apart is not completely your fault. But you suspect it, so secretly you loathe her success. You want to assign it to her looks, and not to a ruthless dedication to exploiting herself and everyone around her to the maximum. Because that would mean she did the work and you didn't. And that would mean you're not in the running for Queen, Princess.

The System knows this, and is prepared to sell you personal trainers and spas and fitness and yoga equipment the moment you're ready to [verb] your life back on track.

Just as soon as you get the kids in college.

Kids Today

“And nothing had the chance to be good......nothing ever could.”
  • Simply Red

Kids today.

They have it so easy.

But I'm grumpy because I've been eclipsed. Because my choices are no longer undoable. I'm fresh out of fresh starts.

One of my students is eleven and wants to play like Joe Satriani. So he goes on YouTube every afternoon and watches Joe's instructional videos (which have been uploaded illegally by thousands of people all over the world.)

For the last six months, this kid has been immersing himself in Satriani. Not the albums so much, but the instructionals.

I never had this. I never had a chance at this.

Sure, I have a few hours a week to get schooled on YouTube – god knows I take every opportunity now, too. But I'm 42 and just past any real chance at economic sustainability in the professional arts. It doesn't matter anymore how good I get.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Preserving A Way Of Life

Reality TV, and by that I mean “all” TV, are the new soaps.

I come to this conclusion via the narrative structures of gun owners when prompted to imagine a scenario by which they (legitimately?) take the life of another person. The story they concoct says SO much about not only who they are, but who they see themselves as being. Read that twice – I had to.

My sample base is small (p < 10) but some curious patterns emerge. First is the establishing scene – the activity they see themselves engaged in just prior to murdering someone is really, really telling. With one exception, everyone is enjoying some form of leisure “Well, I'm sitting at home watching TV....”

This is my first trigger phrase. I make a point to interrupt the thought process and ask: “What time is it?”

I'm not a detective, but I've watched enough YouTube interrogation videos to note that one tactic is to focus on unrelated specifics - “What color was the sky?” “Was it raining that day?” Then they go back a couple hours later: “Ok, so earlier you said it was mid day when this occurred, but now it sounds like its more in the afternoon when it was raining, is that correct?” The suspect shifts nervously.

Back-lit male silhouettes are always threatening.
I already know where they're heading: night, because, well, that's what TV and movies said. “What time?”

“Late.”

Always late.

Then the script gets more complicated. “I've got to protect my family.”

Notice this: when prompted for a specific within their constructed murder fantasy, they switch the focus of the narrative from “defending myself” to “protecting others” and I just cannot let that go. What is going on that causes that change? Why does prompting for increased fictional detail correlate with this??

I think it has something to do with setting oneself up as not only capable of but obliged to commit acts of nobility, or at least have your acts defined as noble. “I'm a good person!” goes the insulating koan.

The Inherent Value Proposition.

Appeals to the Second Amendment are cloaked appeals to divinity – it's a way the ego believes its convictions are perfectly rational.

The DVD collection (there's always shelves of them collecting dust – another dense psychology deserving of its own chapter) tends to over-represent a particular genre with certain thematic elements (the reluctant, noble, last resort use of horrific violence to restore an understandable order of things... at any cost.)

So, “daytime TV', by which I mean almost all television, as almost all of its been sanitized down to a pornographic representation of the mundane, is predicated on preserving (by way of claiming to celebrate) a particular set of social circumstances, i.e., the way they know things to be right now.

But that's just part of the fantasy. It's not just that the world will continue in a way that is perfectly understandable to them, but even more important – that their inherent value is so great their most tedious, secular activities (the preparing of food, for instance) are deserving of cultural elevation if not outright reward. Hence, the Facebook post: “I made dinner for the whole family!”

Check your voicemail – Chef Ramsey might have called.

Friday, August 1, 2014

On Israel, Palestine, and Endings

Preface: I know little of Israel, or Palestine. I know just slightly more about endings. This is where I stand today. Tomorrow I will learn something new and change my mind.

One facet of globalization is the spreading of a particular American behavior – the unwillingness to accept 'defeat'. Americans (generally speaking) are conditioned to re-attempt until a victory, however Pyrrhic, is won.

This manifests in my own life an an unwillingness to stop pretending that I'm going to be an economically sustainable entertainer at some point in the future and just get a day job already. It's really really hard to just let go of a decade's worth of work and effort(s). To accept it as a 'sunk cost' – a losing investment that will never pay off.

What do they say about compulsive gambling and investors that refuse to sell?

Winning brings its own difficulties. For one, it's never the payoff you hope – it's only enough to keep you wanting another win. “Hey, I just won a local songwriting competition! Justin Timberlake better watch out!” - the battle revelry of my fragile ego.

This is the conundrum of someone who's chosen to be defined by the battle and not the outcome – the trappings (layered reference!!) of a certain life are preferable to the unknown. What's the line about “..mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed?“

Whether accepting defeat or claiming victory, each of which are loaded with their own nuances, one is ultimately accepting an ending and a commitment to a new form of living.

In my myopic view (today), my sense is Israel cannot imagine a future in which they are not at war with “Hamas” or some enemy, they have become accustomed to this way of life. It gives them immediate meaning and purpose. No wonder nationalist tendencies run so deep.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Intact

To be a successful musician, you MUST put yourself and your music in front of an audience that doesn't know or care about you. That's “The Test.”

If you walk away from that experience thinking “My music isn't good enough” you got it wrong. Because you have no idea if you're music is good enough.

“The Test” is that you remain intact as a person. That you can walk off the stage and still smile. And mean it. That's a “star.”

It's really that simple – if a tepid audience doesn't undermine you, if you can still shake hands, get an email address and CLOSE a new fan, you're unstoppable. They'll be drawn to you.

Conversely, if you're reaction was “I'm not good enough” then you've set some thresholds for yourself that are unreasonably high, and for reasons that you really need to come to terms with. Hint: they have entirely to do with your ego.

I empathize: on the surface, the culture at large has presented us with really one option: massive stardom or abject failure. There's no real middle ground – everyone with an instrument is “trying” to get to the same place, and so many believe they're destined.

So let me illuminate a horrible reality, however unpalatable: unless you're a millionaire, or married (in some way) to one, you can't get “in” the big star machine in the first place. It costs roughly one to five million upfront to get you into that game. Think about it this way: that's a million bucks a year for five years – and that just gets you barely on the radar.

That pile of money is, in many cases, totally invisible to you because it's happening around you – it's a summary of the personal favors, donations, gifts, slim profits, hidden costs, freebies, re-purposing, tax rebates, the list goes on and on – and to be “successful” in that context, you must have ALL of these things and lack NONE of them.

Those odds are worse than your state lottery.

Assuming everything I've written up to this point is true, allow me to suggest an alternative framework. Your choice(s) are not economic (riches vs. poverty) or demographic (cultural relevance), but instead simply to be happy or unhappy.

You can (and should, IMHO) choose to enjoy your life, in whatever small ways you can. It's this internal happiness that you must connect to. Otherwise, you'll never “feel successful” and worse, you'll be unable to celebrate either your own or your peers success.

My prescription is to build a cadre of friends who are outside the music profession and not invested in your failure or success. Do things with these people that are not work-related: go to baseball games or car racing or skydiving or who knows what. But don't go to concerts or CD release parties, etc. You'll just start working when you should be resting.

Last, lower your goddamn standards already, Princess. If you allow yourself to be defined by the Matrix's parameters (and good God are they ever seductive) I guarantee you'll find yourself in servitude of that idea, with all the attendant demonic inertia and related increase in a risk of going off the tracks.

And that accident?

You won't emerge intact.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Market Research Monday #6

How your cell phone usage affects your Facebook post ranking.

Do you answer more calls than you make? What's the ratio of answered calls to voicemails to callbacks?

Do you send more Facebook friend requests than you receive?

All of these data points (and more) influence your post ranking – how high, often, and distribution width – and are folded into a larger marketing concept called GRAVITY (it's an acronym but I don't know what for.)

Individuals with high G-force are characterised by (some) of the following traits:
  1. High call-2-text ratio – far more voice calls than text messages
  2. Receives higher number of voicemails than sent – uses text instead of voicemail to followup unanswered calls
  3. Higher volume of calls that go unanswered
    1. by contrast, a high G-Force person's calls are almost always answered
  4. GPS and UID data reveal individuals with high-gravity
    1. Influence destination choice
    2. can decide who is in/out of group
  5. Highest interaction rate is in AM when followers “check up”
    1. second highest is in the evening when followers check to see what's going on tomorrow
  6. GPS data reveal “warm spots” vs “hot spots”. Low-G users spend lots of time in few places – High-G users spend little time in lots of places.
  7. High-G users tend to bridge multiple social networks

If you're a high-gravity person (in the eyes of the Facebook matrix), your posts will be much more prominent than your peers/competitors. Posts you “like” or comment, and events you're attending will be granted more screen space on your peers' feeds.

Odd data point: High-G correlates with slightly above-mean income (in six regions examined), but high-gravity users enjoy a more expensive life. Probably more “perks”. Takeaway: a smile gets you miles further than a scowl.



Weird sidebar: too few linguists working in data analysis, especially within keyword search. Context is everything – language is very “fuzzy.” Lots of poor datasets and even worse algorithms – Google has teams of people that do nothing but look at pictures and decide if they're porn or not – human brains still excel at this. Are there any algorithms that understand irony? (No.)

Important because brands are missing lots of conversations and opportunities to learn from the market. If a high-G consumer happens to use pith and irony, most analytics services will miss or misinterpret the language.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

All The King's Men

You get hard for too long you'll get brittle. Then you'll break easily. Everyone will be on eggshells because picking up pieces is a tedious job reserved for only the best of friends.

If you're brittle the anger seeps out. The anger is what made you hard in the first place.

Nature is vicious.

A man you've never met in a city you'll never visit on a side of the globe visible to you only via Google Earth – that man has written five hundred hit songs, and there's nothing you can do about it.

“You're good enough!” you tell yourself as you schlep your aging body and instrument through another winter of tepid open mic audiences.

You want to believe in raw talent, because you've probably got a lot of it. Rationally, you understand there's more to economic longevity than just skill – you need a support network, too – but something about that process feels “icky” so it's been stuck far back in your mind.

You want to believe in magic – that the system is not rigged against you.

But it is rigged. Big time.

If we can agree The Matrix is the world that's been pulled over our eyes to blind us from the truth, then when the Matrix tells us Max so and so is the biggest hit songwriter of all time... it's blinding us from a truth. The truth is The Matrix made Max successful.

But you don't want to believe that Music, your precious special domain, has been poisoned by power. Except that it has. Long ago. There was never an Eden, and that means there's no Adam for you, Eve. 

Time to grow up.


Monday, July 8, 2013

The music industry: On-demand touring | The Economist

The music industry: On-demand touring | The Economist: After paying for venue rental, her flight and equipment, she will walk away with somewhere between $3,000 and $4,000, perhaps a bit more, says Ian Hogarth, a co-founder of Songkick.
Let's agree this is The Economist talking, which means this information really isn't for musicians. Yet here come the ever-hopeful email forwards:

"This is GREAT!"

"It CAN be done!"

No, it isn't, and no, it can't.

Read the opening quote, and bear in mind this is the only sentence in the entire piece that really matters, because this sentence tells us, (in what order) who gets paid.


To grasp this, work the sentence backwards and re-write it in your head. Like this:
Songkick, via one of its cofounders, claims a Northern California cellist will "walk away" with $$$muneez$$$ "perhaps a bit more" AFTER she pays for 1) equipment (rentals), 2) a flight, 3) venue rental. 
In this rereading, the artist is the last to get paid. First was Songkick. Who is this article for?

To answer this, we need to examine the "focus" of the piece, a married woman who goes by "Ms." , "independently" earns six-figures, goes "digging through the analytics on her various social networks" (laptop! coffee!), and plays cello (creative! = non-wage slave! = not lower-class!).

Ms Keating is indeed a real person, but in this piece, the Economist is using a caricature of her to forward an agenda. We know which caricature, so who's agenda?

My money's (!!!) on Songkick/Detour, who are marketing to the aspirational artists in the NPR parental community, because A) these people have money, and A), these people have money.

In which publication did this mythic figure appear?

Saturday, June 8, 2013

XBOX - The Era of The 'Male Gamer' Is Over.

Someone who earns money will buy one of these,
and let you use it.

If you're male and between the ages of 12-54, you know that Microsoft "unveiled" its new flagship version of its flagship timewaster, the XBOX. You also know that Microsoft could give a shit less about you as a market. And this enrages you.

For the last decade Microsoft (and its ilk) have given your 'market segment' a lot of attention and influence in the culture. How else do we explain unemployable fat dudes with million-plus views on their "How to Play [Game Title]" videos?

"Gaming" has been elevated culturally to a legitimate activity, right on par with home maintenance, childcare, and even slightly above food service (as if to cement it's prerequisite social privilege).

But here's another reality: employment among the 18-49 male 'market segment' is at an all-time low, and all indicators point toward a continuing downward trend.

You have no money, and Microsoft knows it.

But your parents and your employable female relationship (wife? girlfriend? relative?) are somehow content to let you sit about in their basements and spare rooms as if keeping you out of trouble was the last/best thing to do while they go about earning.

To the people who are earning incomes, "gaming" is not really a priority. So XBOX is being marketed to them for the activity they enjoy: watching television. Everybody in the world knows XBOX plays games, and that's precisely what you'll be doing while the income earners are working and sleeping.

So for a few hours a day you'll sit and fume at how "disengaged" your immediate relations are while they sit "passively" in front of the TV, oblivious to the fact that this is exactly how they see you while they are out actively engaged in the real world.