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Archive for April, 2010

Cultural singularity

Something occurred to me while watching a commercial for “We Are the World” benefit record (?) for Haiti. Why not just write a new song for the occasion (as the “WATW” folks did, despite the existence of the earlier — and better — “Do They Know It’s Christmas”)?

Maybe because nothing they wrote would become as universally known as “WATW,” which dates to the early days of cable TV, when there was no Internet to speak of, no major cable networks for anything except sports, news and music — not even any competition for Johnny Carson’s late-night comedy slot (Arsenio Hall came along a few years later in an overlapping slot).

Does this mean that the pre-splintered cultural touchstones of the ’80s and earlier are going to remain the go-to place for people trying to create art or entertainment that resonates universally? Or am I just out of touch with mainstream pop culture? Maybe in 20 years people will drop references to “30 Rock” or “24” the way people today drop references to “MacGyver” or “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” Or maybe in 20 years people will still be touching the same touchstones.

Futurologist-types talk about “the singularity” — the point at which medical or other technologies allow those who are living to keep on living, either by not dying or by having their minds cybernetically transferred. I wonder if we’re at the point of a singularity in cultural (or at least pop-cultural) terms. Or maybe it’s just that the late-20th century pre-splintered cultural touchstones just happen to also be my cultural touchstones, and this is all just wishful thinking.

(pic via Sunny spells and scattered showers)

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Axis of Awesome: Four-Chord Song Aussie-accented, but with enough songs you’ll recognize, this is the best takedown of chordal cliches since “Pachelbel Rant.” They even include Tim Minchin’s “Canvas Bags” — I hadn’t realized the I-V-VI-IV chord progression was so widespread.

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Note to My Nieces: OK, you two are both old enough that you’re probably spending a lot of time thinking about boys, and I’m basically still a boy myself (I don’t have kids, because 20 years is a long time to spend pretending to be a grownup), so let me see if I can shed some light for you.

Here’s the thing. When you ask a guy what he’s thinking about? And he says “nothing”? I know this is really, really hard for you to believe, but there’s a good chance he’s actually telling the truth.

Right now both of you are younger than I was when I got my driver’s license, but you’re both smarter already than I’ll ever be. Why? Because you’re girls. That’s just how it is.

If you were guys, I’d give you this advice: “Think of the dumbest girl you know — guess what? She’s smarter than you. Maybe not about math or English or playing the piano or whatever, but she’s smarter about all the other stuff you don’t learn in school.”

But you’re girls, so here’s what little advice I can give you about boys. You look at a boy, and you try to figure out what’s going on inside his head, and you’re mystified. I look at a turtle, and I try to figure out what’s going on inside its head, and I’m mystified. In the same exact way. For the same exact reason.

My brain is really complex and advanced — I can think about math, or philosophy, or music. I can have thoughts about things the turtle doesn’t even know exist to have thoughts about. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to go through life with such a simple, stupid brain.

The reason you can’t figure out what a boy is thinking is the same reason I can’t figure out what a turtle is thinking. The good news is that in either case, the answer is probably “not very much.”

(pic via My Good News First)

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Awesomely awesome

Most Awesomest Thing Ever

I usually think of Internet culture as kind of a sausage-fest, but apparently there’s a large groundswell of support for Oprah’s female-oriented cable network. It came in at No. 3! 😉

At least, it did in this screenshot of the site (it changes constantly as people vote things up or down).

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Ev Psych Bingo:  I spot quite a few strawmen here (at least, I hope they’re strawmen), and some telling biases (like I’m one to talk), but this is yet another valuable cautionary tale for those (like me) who think evolutionary psychology has much to teach us about human nature, but are leery of its tendency to serve as a rationalization/justification for “traditional” vices and archaic ways of running a society.

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The Hutaree militia is the latest craze, but wacked-out Michiganders have been tromping around the woods in camo gear for some time now. “Michigan Militia” by Moxy Fruvuous is from the late ’90s (the last time we had a Democrat in the White House).

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So, everybody’s been linking to Clay Shirky’s piece on complexity, and why traditional media empires are likely to be hard-pressed or downright unable to adjust to the new media landscape.

But nobody seems to be connecting it to what Wired called “The Good Enough Revolution”: “To some, it looks like the crapification of everything. But it’s really an improvement. And businesses need to get used to it, because the Good Enough revolution has only just begun.

What print journalists need to realize is that while highly paid professional journalism is (occasionally) really, really good, the fact remains that amateur journalism that’s free is often good enough. And as I mentioned some time ago, you can’t beat free.

(pic via Brandeis Dept. of Philosophy — seriously!)

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