Archive for May, 2008


Posted: May 30, 2008 in Uncategorized

What defines success? Is it based on merit or achievement? Is it based on accomplishing a series of tasks? Is success determined by financial avatars, or is success something deeper that stems from a personal drive to be all that one can be, and to strive for the highest quality of personal satisfaction?
I believe that many people equate success with financial or commercial success. These are the people that need the vindication of society’s status quota to validate to them whether talent measures up to success. This yardstick has traditionally been used by our consumer-driven society with the idea that the money-makers must have something worth selling. It is typical for most people to acquiesce success only to those who are acknowledged by society’s standards. But does lack of recognition by the greater part of society change who a person is or what they are capable of achieving?
To the passive observer, art (including music and other genres), is merely another form of entertainment to which the consumer expects to be “serviced” by the entertainer(s). The obscure, self-driven artists who devote themselves to their craft simply because they can, regardless of stature, money, or prestige, are mostly marginalized by the louder, more pervasive consumer-driven machine, which pontificates to the world what is art.
We live in a society where art has become industrialized. With the rise of Mp3 technology and the widening scope of apparent talent, industry giants have tightened up considerably. CD sales have noticeably dropped, leading the major labels to lower percentage points and perks for artists. The days of primadonna big band extravagance are over. Music labels have traded talent scouts for accountants, implementing a more corporately-based structure of discovering and marketing new talent. This trend has led to the surge of formulaic, pre-fabricated “boy bands,” “teenage divas,” and scores of forgettable rock bands that have been carefully molded and funded by their corporate sponsors. The past decade is rife with examples of these mostly performance-driven, musically mediocre acts. The line between musicianship and showmanship has become blurred, and the largely aloof consumer audience has accepted this form of forced-fed entertainment. Like Jon-boy states during a mock pundit show in the movie EDtv:

“… it used to be that people were famous for being special. Now they’re considered special, merely, for being famous. Fame has become a moral good. It is its own virtue.”

Most people are willing to accept the idea that if a band is featured on the radio, then they are successful and worthy of a listening audience. The music is driven into the consciousness by persistent repetition, almost to the point of absurdity. It’s like George W. Bush stated, speaking at a New York middle/high school, posted May 24th, 2005:

“See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.”

This is how hits are made in contemporary radio culture. Music has become weaponized by corporate conglomerates and their clients to help sell products and keep this titanic industry afloat. But much like the ill-fated maiden voyage of the R.M.S. Titanic, the record industry is doomed to founder.
Fortunately, with the advent and rise of digital technology, and the growing availability of recording technology to the common-person, a fatal blow has been dealt to the recording industry. The market has become flooded with independent artists who have successfully found ways around the old paradigms set by the music industry, creating an industry all unto themselves. This movement has risen so suddenly and dramatically, that the recording industry has failed to adapt adequately to the desires of the consumers. Now that people realize that there is a virtual plethora of musical choices to be had, they can afford to be more selective and flex the almighty consumer muscle. This saturation of new and valid musical voices, coupled with the industry’s apparent lack of anticipation to evolve with the consumers will hopefully set a new standard as to how far self-motivated musicians can go with their talent.
Success, like many other things, is in the eye of the beholder, and has a deeply personal meaning to each person. The mistake, I believe, is in letting other peoples’ ideas of what success should be, cloud our own judgement, hindering the visions we have for ourselves.

Life or Something Like It…

Posted: May 23, 2008 in Philosophy

Life is the great struggle. From the time we are born until the time we are destined to die, this living experience, the Great Game is one long (or sometimes short) push/pull to the end. Sure, there are brief respites, breaks, and pauses, but they are never enduring. It is like a mountain climber scaling a challenging rock face, creeping from hand-hold to hand-hold until finding a suitable ledge to rest on, and this repose lasting only long enough to gather strength for the next great climb upward. For that is the direction that everyone struggles to move through life: upwards.

This pattern is self-evident throughout nature. Seeds must endure the hardships of winter, sometimes lying dormant for years before they germinate, defying gravity with their slow march towards the sunlight. Chicks must naturally beak their way out of the eggshells that they are entombed in to earn their place in the grand “pecking” order. River fish make the exhaustive swim upstream in order to spawn, proving their will to live and to live on through the succession of their offspring. Call it “survival of the fittest,” or evolution, or competitive spirit, whatever the case, we all want to be on top.

The problem is that we think that we want to always remain on top. Think about it. How boring, how predictable life would be if we had no challenges to take us to the next level. What if we had all of the answers before us in nice little pre-fabricated constructs, so that we would never have to think or ponder? If this were the case, why even go through the motions of life, dance the dance, experiencing only a wholly conventional life?

This is the essence of why we enter into life: to experience the pain with the pleasure, the loss as well as the gain, the unpredictable exhilaration that comes from this great struggle.

Life shouldn’t be all about suffering either. If you can imagine life as a series of waves, some crashing, some gently lapping, waxing and waning with the pull of the tides. Waves have crests and troughs. You can’t have one without the other. They must co-exist to exist at all. If you are surfing these waves, there will be times when you fall beneath the water and have to pick yourself up again. There will also be times when you are carried triumphantly atop the wave, and you can enjoy the thrill of the ride. It is by experiencing the times of “without” that we learn to truly appreciate the times of abundance. In the meantime, enjoy the interims of peace and triumph amidst the demanding effort that living requires, and don’t forget to relish the struggle.

In light of this year’s race for the presidency, I have decided that I will take the advice of this election cycle’s slogan “You Decide,” and make the choice–not to choose. I know…how unpatriotic of me, how un-democratic of me. There are those who value voting as highly as a marital union or a religious experience, and will no doubt despise my diatribe, but for those individuals who are courageous and open-minded enough to read on, I promise there is a method to my madness.

One of the problems I have with the current political system in America, is that there is no real choice. All the possible candidates, all the presidential hopefuls that are qualified to “run” this country are eventually funneled into one of two favored possibilities, one representing the “right wing” ideology, and the other from the “left.” Somehow, the right has become synonymous with conservatism, and the left synonymous with liberalism. This left-right paradigm has historically dominated American politics over the past two centuries, leaving little or no room for “centrist,” or “moderate” affiliated candidates to have a substantive effect on the presidential electoral outcome. This process galvanizes voters by forcing them to choose the next president based mainly on platform issues such as: gay rights, gun control, abortion, death penalty, etc, or even more cosmetic attributes. While these issues are important and highly volatile in the public debate, they aren’t necessarily the best barometer for choosing a president.

While the president does have a certain amount of power and authority, those who place the bulk of the future course of this country on the shoulders of the next president are sadly misled. Inasmuch as presidential voting in America has become mostly symbolic, the actual position of “President of the United States of America,” represents more of a ceremonial figurehead. The actual planning, deciding, and execution of national policy is determined by a larger scope of factors including internal bureaucracy, international relations, corporate ties, residual effects from past administrations, and many other factors that influence and mold the so-called democratic process of the American political machine.

The road to the 2008 presidential nomination has been one of the most contentious, contested, costly, and convoluted in history. It has also been one of the most widely publicized, with all of the contestants getting an early start, and getting plenty of air time and hype. All televised debates aside, the leading contenders have been whittled down to three media favorites, with the public eye primarily focusing on the petty bickering between the two democratic front runners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Much emphasis has been put on this squabbling by the mainstream media, which has historically acted as the de facto declarer of all that is newsworthy, if not by technological ubiquity, by the sheer pervasiveness of its influence over our culture.

Of all the potential candidates for president, the ones who are afforded the most influence are the ones with the most money. It costs money to run political advertisements, to make nationwide campaign tours, to hire consultants and advisers, to equip a competent staff, etc. The more money you have, the more primetime slots you can buy. What we are left with is essentially two analogous factions vying for the top executive position of a heavily biased system. In his book Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance, notable scholar and political analyst Noam Chomsky states:

“Through tacit agreement, the two major parties approach the contest for the presidency as political kabuki in which the players know their roles and everyone sticks to the script, striking poses that cannot be taken seriously. If the public escapes its marginalization and passivity, we face a crisis of democracy that must be overcome…”

The media inevitably gives its endorsement to representatives from the bi-partisan “wings” by allotting them the most airtime, thrusting their causes into the limelight, and instigating a limited debate forum. The substance of the message becomes lost in the flash of gratifying allure of the primarily entertainment driven political scene. This process only reinforces the illusion that only their causes are important and newsworthy. It is the media that reports. It is the media that decides. It is the media in which most people pledge their unwavering faith.

There has been a move in recent years, to make voting more appealing and even trendy, sometimes exaggerating the importance of presidential voting to the point of social bigotry. I call this phenomenon voter chic. The voter chic crowd believes in voting for the sake of voting, and anyone who doesn’t follow their adhesion to the illusion of “choice,“ in American politics is exempt from true citizenship. These are the people that chastise non-voters with the usual lockstep cliché of: “Well, if you don’t vote, then you don’t have a right to complain.” This statement is a true sign of non-democracy, and of complete ignorance of the voting process. When the voter chic camp is confronted with the fact that, in the end, voters are pigeon-holed into the left-right paradigm, and that inevitably only one of two candidates will emerge victorious, another common cliché is: “Well, that’s just the way it is.” According to his essay “End of the Mandate,” Gregory Bresiger states:

“They say that people who don’t vote can’t complain about the outcome. But they also say that if your candidate didn’t win, you can’t complain because that’s being a sore loser. You also can’t complain if the guy you voted for does something you don’t like. Hey, you voted for him, didn’t you? You can’t win. The game is rigged.”

The truly important decision of electing a president has been reduced to choosing the lesser of two evils, rather than voting according to one’s conscience. During past elections, I found myself voting for or against candidates based on this flawed system of false choice. I walked away feeling like no matter which direction I voted, I was ultimately playing into the hands of political elites that had already charted the course of my vote based on giving me the illusion of choice.

To the ignorant, “not voting” is an irresponsible act that is tantamount to the ruination of this country. There are however, dissenting voices that see through the subterfuge of false choice politics in America. In the book Everything You Know is Wrong, editor Russ Kick summarizes the book Dissenting Electorate by stating:

“People who choose not to vote are often derided as lazy, apathetic, and apolitical. While there may be a few folks who don‘t cast a ballot out of sheer sloth, lots of people have convincing reasons…Perhaps most often, politics and government are seen as worthless, even harmful, systems that exist solely to exercise power over people. By voting, you play the game, you support the very system that imprisons you. By not voting, you commit a revolutionary act by refusing to be a part of the machine. You are withdrawing your consent to be governed by an inherently corrupt system.”

For those that would argue that voting is a right, or privilege of living in America, I would argue that my right to protest, or to conscientiously “not vote” is an equally afforded right which is just as valid in this age of political kool-aid drinking. Robert LeFevre states in his essay, “Abstain from Beans:”

“When we express a preference politically, we do so precisely because we intend to bind others to our will…Political voting is nothing more than the assumption that might makes right. There is a presumption that any decision wanted by the majority of those expressing a preference must be desirable, and the inference even goes so far as to presume that anyone who differs from the majority view is wrong or possibly immoral.”

What it comes down to for me is, either my vote counts, or it doesn’t. If it does, then my voice should be heard in a truly democratic system. Spectrums of real issues would be debated in a public forum not censored or marginalized by the corporately controlled media or its clients. If my vote doesn’t truly count, then my time and energy will be wasted in the process. The illusion of choice is not real choice. Instead of binding myself to a broken system of false choices, I would rather extend my energy to help create the type of world I would like to live in.

Blogger’s note:

At the time of the writing of this blog, I happened to enter into a conversation about the subject of voting with an individual sitting at my table. She rudely proclaimed that I was “stupid” for choosing not to vote and basically argued that I was apathetic and in the majority view of thinking. She then went on to talk about how she didn’t vote in the past two election cycles, including state and local issues, which incidentally have far more of an apparent impact than presidential elections. Her reasons for not voting were that she had too far to travel to her voting precinct, and that she frankly didn’t care about some of the local issues on the ballot, but she plans on voting this year. “It may not matter much, but at least I can say that I voted,” she said.

Such empty and uneducated rhetoric only serves to illustrate my point, and strengthens my resolve. This individual, although arrogant and opinionated, is sadly misguided in her attempt at political awareness. She is happy to walk away from the voting booths with the nifty little
“I Voted” sticker displayed, so she can brag to the world that she was part of the American political system, albeit an admittedly manipulated one. This idea of fashionable voting or voting for bragging rights is the epitome of “voter chic.” Her ignorance is only compounded by her hypocritical voting- or rather non-voting record.