09 November 2014

Reports of My Demise (vii)

I'm a man, but I can change, if I have to, I guess.

(Man's Prayer, The Red Green Show)

Why pay such heed to Hanna Rosin and a years-old trope that's already been picked apart by a variety of smart people? It certainly has been a useful prompt for me to verbalize quite a few thoughts that had remained abstract and unarticulated for quite some time. It inspired me to read up on a subject other than music, probably in more depth than I ever have before. It was also a great excuse to get excited for Blog Month. Above all, though, these sorts of public mastheads for issues of great social importance and interest seldom represent the private thoughts of isolated individuals. It certainly caught everyone's attention when in the immediate wake of the Edward Snowden disclosures the right promptly dispatched David Brooks to smear The Solitary Leaker as "the ultimate unmediated man," pinning responsibility for his treasonous actions on

the atomization of society, the loosening of social bonds, the apparently growing share of young men in their 20s who are living technological existences in the fuzzy land between their childhood institutions and adult family commitments.

Sound like anyone we know?

Brooks continues:

If you live a life unshaped by the mediating institutions of civil society, perhaps it makes sense to see the world a certain way: Life is not embedded in a series of gently gradated authoritative structures: family, neighborhood, religious group, state, nation and world. Instead, it’s just the solitary naked individual and the gigantic and menacing state.

True enough in a vacuum. But you know, Dave, I have to imagine it's easier to live such a mediated life under the watchful eye of our "gigantic and menacing state" when you've made a nice chunk of change publicly defending that state's imperial wars. Then they only spy on you for fun, or maybe for practice. The rest of us, meanwhile, can't help but be thankful that there are a few people unmediated, unpropagandized, and unafraid enough to sound the alarm on wholesale violations of the law that threaten to upend the foundations of Western civilization far more thoroughly and violently than the scourge of atomized "technological existences" among a few malcontent kids ever could.

All of that being as it is, the real tragedy here, obviously, is that no quick-witted political cartoonist seized on the opportunity to render Unmediated Man as an overweight, unshaven comic strip superhero who goes around repelling bad guys with his body odor and infiltrating government spy agencies by striking up conversations about fantasy football. Cartooning in fact was an early artistic interest of mine, long before music. At my youthful behest mom even shuttled me off to a few Saturday morning cartooning classes in middle school; I however found representational drawing, then as now, intensely difficult, and quickly gave up. And so the Unmediated Man franchise may be licensed free of charge by any more skilled cartoonist who cares to do so. You're welcome.

In the end, about all I can say for David Brooks is that at least he has the good sense to focus his laser beam of mediated male ire on issues of pressing importance, misguided though he seems almost exclusively be. The military, the police, the private security industry, and the New York Yankees meanwhile all fixate publicly and overbearingly on the minutiae of grooming as expressions of mediated masculine discipline. Is finding the time and willpower to shave every single day really such a harrowing accomplishment? Perhaps I could forgive the casual observer for thinking that some of us indeed find it to be an impossible challenge. The reality, though, is not that it is too hard but rather too easy, too insubstantial, too ornamental. The unshaven are not the class clowns; we are the kids whose schoolwork isn't challenging us. For a real, unmediated challenge, we might just decide to piss our lives away in isolation pursuing mastery of esoteric bodies of knowledge and their attendant technical skills with virtually no worldly social or material incentive beyond our own self-fulfillment and, perhaps if we're lucky, occasional small validations of our irrational faith in the greater social utility of such seemingly decadent pursuits. You want a challenge? Put down your fucking safety razor and try that shit on for size. Do any of you in these industries realize that you're not only committing the Fallacy of the Beard, but in fact committing it about beards? And in the name of "discipline?" How fucking pathetic is that?

I'm not above ruthlessly questioning the "social utility" of any artist's work, of course, nor am I prepared to crown each and every "whistleblower" a national hero on the spot without a frank assessment of the particulars. Once again, as with Plastic Woman and Cardboard Man, our galling collective predisposition toward black-and-white analyses rears its head: Mediated or unmediated? Hero or traitor? Seldom are things so simple, and seldom can relationships to "family, neighborhood, religious group," and especially not to something as baldly trivial as grooming tell us everything we need to know about someone. More importantly, it likely tells us nothing at all about whether the release of a secret government document is a matter of urgent civic necessity or how it impacts the personal safety of Americans overseas. Crummy people occasionally do heroic things, and vice versa.

There's nothing noble in achieving discipline over something trivial or something loathed. A task is not too easy simply because you love it; indeed, the pursuit of mastery often entails summarily eradicating the honeymoon phase, discovering all manner of unseemly corners of one's metier and oneself, and inevitably falling, at least partially, out of love. There's no surer way to become unenamored of a jazz solo than to transcribe it down to its smallest details, no surer way to dethrone a lines-and-dots composer than close examination of a score to reveal, often enough, frighteningly simplistic approaches. To uninhibitedly love a music is to keep it at arm's length; getting closer more or less mandates making an often uncomfortable peace with its shortcomings as they become increasingly perceptible. Some of us so inclined were damaged goods from the start, never destined to excel at the Americanist meritrocracy; others were impeccably qualified and simply couldn't be bothered to do both things at once. But make no mistake that the true artist is, by definition, the furthest from an unmediated man or woman, no matter their metier, and especially not because or in spite of the aesthetics of their appearance.

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