Saturday, September 18, 2004

The local internet place blows, but at least its free.

So, a big chunk of this is more of a political rant that came out of nowhere and spiralled into a chaotic pyrotechinic of vague emotional read at your own risk.

1800, same day
My Apartment

Yeah, well, here I is. I got some incense today, so my room smells holy. I have ten thousand yen more stashed away than I thought I did, so that’s swell. Damn, typing on an American keyboard is wacky now, cuz I keep checking myself, thinking I’m on a Japanese computer. Gah, my mind is going, I can feel it.

I’m drinking tea. I do that now. It’s kind of cool. I think if I was back in America tomorrow I’d be left with nothing but wistful thoughts about the kind of laid back but responsible person I could have been, had I stayed in Japan. But if things keep up, I think I’m going to develop good habits. I clean my apartment religiously, get up early, shave daily, exercise, drink tea for god’s sake, how much more civilized could I be? I show people here my driver’s license photo (which, more or less, is probably the image you have in your head when you think about me) and people recoil, it’s great. And that was two weeks ago. So a year of this, and I’ll become downright respectable.

And yet I can still play rock or hiphop on my stereo here and not have it be out of sync with “grown-up” life. That’s kind of weird to me, I dunno, maybe it’s just me and my preconceptions. But it’s weird to shave to the Black Eyed Peas (quiet, so as not to disturb my neighbors) in the morning. Know what I mean? I guess in my mind I never really fully associated contemporary youth culture and future middle-aged culture, but they have to be related, don’t they? Ah, the days of Britney Spears on the oldies station are on their way.

At the same time, this is kind of a very interesting time to be alive in terms of culture. The cultural revolution that hit America 40 years ago is now making its rounds all over the world – rock and hiphop music, reduction of censorship in tv and movies, all the liberties placed on artistic standards are spreading across the world like Shelley’s West Wind. The first generation of this revolution is just dying off, and so it’s up to us to keep progressivism alive or let it die. It’s us, it’s this generation that’ll determine the future of culture in the next hundred years. What scares me is that conservatism is on the rise. We’re on the verge of a progressive world – for all the ancient regimes out there trying to keep it out of their little sections of the world, there’s a tide that’s been rising over the past 50 years and if we let it, it’ll carry us into a freer future.

The problem is, of course, that like every revolution of any sort, there are people on top that find it threatening. A change in the manner in which we think means that power structures considered secure until this point now have to question how much support they have – and so, in the name of morality, progressivism is shunned. And people buy into this shit.

But if that’s the case, if there rises up in the world enough resistance to abort this child of culture evolution, then perhaps it’s right that it should fail. After all, isn’t it up to us to make our own world?

This is kind of getting all-over-the-place out of control and not making sense, perhaps. Let me regroup. This is gonna be world history 101 as I understand it, feel free to skip if you don’t want to listen to a vaguely angsty theoretical gripe about the way it is.

All over the world, there are those in control and those not, right? I don’t mean that to sound conspiracy-oriented or anything, just a general principle. These people, naturally want to maintain their control. Example, in America, “old white men” have maintained dominance since 1776. They do it by instilling a negative ethical value on progressive art (book/movie censorship, emphasis on controversy over contents, etc.), they do it by instilling a negative ethical value on progressive political theory (Red Scare, anyone? News coverage now of protestors as “anarchists seeking to topple civilization”, etc), and they do it by maintaining a sort of mainstream binary – you’re either a Republican or a Democrat (either way right or kinda right). If you don’t fall into one of those categories, you don’t matter, you’re the “lunatic fringe.”

Naturally, throughout history there has been pocket resistance. Abolitionists were seen as anarchists, jazz musicians and “modern” poets (who gasp didn’t always rhyme) were sinful wicked men of the city, atheists were anarchists, hippies were anarchists, rock and hiphop are “not music”, they don’t qualify as “art”, they’re simply clicks and whistles coming from somewhere beyond the scope of the campfire, and best ignored. And always these groups identified themselves as fringe – abolitionists certainly wanted to change the laws, but recognized for a long time that the best they could do was illegally help slaves escape etc; jazz musicians had a really close circle, though they were certainly a trendy thing to listen to; the beats were the same; the hippies, much as we all hate them, were the first to increase their scope – they wanted to do something in the world, to stop the war.

Whatever else we can say about them, for the first time a fringe group tried to become more than itself, and the fringe got a group consciousness. This was around the time of the birth of rock, and suddenly 1950’s America had a counter culture – a group that wasn’t pro-kennedy any more than it was pro-goldwater. I hope I haven’t mixed up my timeframe. So anyway, suddenly, 15 years after world war II, the kid siblings and kids of the vets got together and across the country was born a self-aware group with progressive inclinations and bizarre, “unhealthy” influences including sex, drugs and rock and roll.

Now ask anyone voting for Bush what group of people he hates most and he’ll tell you “Terrorists and Hippies.” Why? Because both are against existing power structures, and anyone who is gonna vote for Bush, who epitomizes the dominant American power structure, sees them as a threat. I’m certainly not making an apology for terrorists, don’t get the wrong idea – they can all burn in hell. But nor am I conflating groups who oppose the current power structure into one giant, uncivilized, barbaric, looming “other”, the way the static power structure would like me to.

But all of this is still pretty vague, isn’t it? What I’m getting at is this – Shelley’s “West Wind” is blowing, about 200 years later than he expected it to. Counter culture, as it’s known, the critical examination and unapologetic rejection of many contemporary power structures, is spreading across the world, and it’s doing so through movies and music and books. I’m sitting on the other side of the world, where there’s a youth anti-culture as strong as America’s waiting in the wings. And it’s like this everywhere – grandparents the world over are shaking their heads sadly at crazy haircuts, mothers everywhere are throwing away CD’s with inappropriate lyrics, fathers everywhere are sighing because their kids aren’t patriotic or nationalistic. What happened nationally in America in the 1960’s, the birth of a self-aware subculture focused around progressive ideals, is AS WE SPEAK happening all over the world. The earth is moving in its sleep, everywhere new movies and new music and new literature is pouring into dry waiting crevices.

I’m not trying to wax poetic, I didn’t even know I had it in me – but suddenly I find this very important. The same people who would vote for Bush (and I hate to put so much importance on a small man, but every body needs a face and his is the most convenient) are the ones who would see Janet Jackson crucified because Justin Timberlake yanked on her dress, but have no problem watching their FOX news war coverage. The point is, the old white men have trained America to apply moralistic judgment – censorship – to their daily life, but only when it’s a threat to the existing social order. Nobody gets righteously furious about today’s body count of Arabs. They’re all terrorists anyway, right? And if they’re not they’re probably opposed to being bombed to hell so they’re hippies anyway so fuck ‘em. Not like they’re American.

So if this trend in America is not stopped, it poses a legitimate risk to the still infantile progressive culture – and I mean infantile in several ways. 1) Very often it’s very immature – it’s about change and revolution for the sake of change and destruction, like a baby playing with lego blocks. 2) of course, it’s still nascent. It can’t stand on its own yet, though it’s very close.

So if you follow my argument (I swear, it’s there, just very jumbled because my mind is racing) you see that the world is following the American model. If the American progressive sub culture can grow into maturity and challenge and overcome its forebears, then so can that of the world, and in 50 years this whole rock will be a better place. But if the GWB’s and John Ashcrofts of America succeed in convincing the American people that theirs is the right way to go, then we’ll fail in the world, too.

I still can’t tell if this particular instant in history only seems important because it’s the first time I’m able to vote, and it just seems really urgent, or if indeed we’re on the cusp, and the future of progressivism in America (and, from there, across the world) is in the balance. Either way it horrifies me that Bush even stands a chance, against anyone. Kerry of course has his flaws – he’s kind of a nobody in himself, though a step away from the cliff on the far right is a step in the left direction. I just have a feeling that what happens here in the next 5 years will play out on the big screen across the world over the next 30 – and that brings me to my original point, the fact that it’s up to US.

Us, you and I, my circle, my posse, my friends, my comrades, my partners – only us and people like us can save this country and from there save the world. I only wish we could do something OTHER than buy CD’s from inspired indie acts and vote for John Kerry, but for now I think it’s enough – it’s a step. But while our national progressive movement reaches its empowered early 40’s, its international little brother needs to be nursed and treated carefully. For the first time in history, the fringe group has a chance to stand up and become mainstream. Isn’t that crazy? If everything goes well, in 20 years we’ll have a black female president and nobody will think it so much as remarkable. What’s crazy about the world is that now that’s unthinkable.

I feel pretty hypocritical writing this – in all fairness, I’m just kind of an apathetic middle class American ass, and I know it. But god damn it, this is Helm’s Deep, and if we fail now Sauron wins everything going into the 21st century, ya ken? I was talking earlier about how I feel more responsible and respectable – well, maybe this is just a manifestation of those sentiments.

We are responsible for creating the world we live in – we are the most empowered generation in the history of human social evolution, and the reigns are there for us to seize if we’re only willing for a fight. I guess now we just need a leader – the enemy has a face, and it’s George W Bush, insignificant as he may be. But what about us? Surely not Kerry. McCain? He always makes so much sense, and then throws it away by supporting Bush, I don’t understand. Dean? Too late, our Brutus has already killed his Caesar. An artist, then? Bono, frontman of the greatest rock and roll band of all time? Ha, that’d be cool, but no.

In Blake’s creation myth, Urizon (Jehova-ish) creates the world and rules over it as a cruel dictator. He represents all power, all authority, and all corruption. One day, his son makes a bow and waits in ambush. His son has the support of the people, of everyone, as the only hope against the tyrant. Urizon comes into range, the son shoots him. Thinking Urizon dead, the first thing he does is step forth and say “Hail me, for I am eldest of living things” and basically establishes himself as a new Urizon. The real Urizon, however, was not really dead and then killed his own son to reassert his power.

Is this not perfect? Is it not the ultimate description of power dynamics throughout history? For all my bluster over the past 5 pages, none of it matters. The very nature of power means our cause is lost – what, then, is worth fighting for? And so my inspired rant comes to a crashing halt. In the end, Urizon, the manifestation of power and control itself, reveals himself as not dead. Always he’ll be there, always the looming threat over the horizon – though faces come and go, the soul lingers and cannot be vanquished.

Vonnegut once said that “politics” is another word for fear, and that in English we have many synonyms for fear. It’s true – the people in control are afraid of losing their control, and so make their subject afraid of life without them, and this is politics in a nutshell. Isn’t it sad?

And in the end some people have hope. I guess I don’t understand – but I know it makes me feel like it’s almost all worth it when the battle over a hollow victory is on the horizon. Go figure.

Okay, that rant is over. Sorry if it went out with a whisper and not a roar – “I done what I could when I was let…” In the end, maybe the art of the movement is enough, maybe the footprints of the sacrificial lamb of progressivism on its way to the altar are all we can fight for. So sit back and read Ulysses and listen to the Sex Pistols while it’s legal. And then when it’s not, do it anyway and feel like you’re fighting for something.

Is that all there is?

Saturday, Sep 18 11:05
My Apartment

Well that was a long rambling post last night. Ah well, I’m using the same rule I used to use when writing term papers in high school: once it’s written it’s forbidden to erase it. So at least ya’ll get to see an honest picture of my thought process, much as that scares me.

Last night was pretty cool, went to a bar/restaurant with some of the English speakers here. This was my first bit of actual socialization in the past two weeks – there was the BBQ, and I’ve been out with my superiors at work, but those were structured events. This time Tricia emailed my phone (, dammit, email me!) and invited me out with the gang. I am indeed the only non-english teaching non-japanese in town, that’s a little weird. I feel like I’m on the wrong side of the fence.

But anyway, joined Tricia, Todd, and Jackie for dinner. I wasn’t sure if I liked this crowd at first, but now I do. It’s really just a pleasant surprise to learn that these kids are all intelligent, well read, cosmopolitan individuals. We talked about favorite movies and I’d only heard of about half of everyone’s favorites. This is great, I’m gonna grow! :-D But I did impress Todd, the guy from Hong Kong, when he was like “Well, my all time favorite you guys will never have heard of, it’s called Days of Being Wild…” and I was like “Oh, Wong Kar Wei, right?” :-D

Ha, I referred to these people as kids, but Todd, the youngest, is 27. Tricia is 29 and Jackie is older but wouldn’t give details. We ordered all manner of crazy stuff and it was all great. One plate we got looked like sashimi but when it arrived it was actually beef. Nobody wanted to touch it, so I got to eat it all. :-D (oh, I should specify – sashimi is just slabs of raw fish. This was a mess of raw beef.). Also, there’s a beverage here called “Chuuhai”. This is the Japanese equivalent of a girly drink – it’s shouchou with soda, kind of a fizzy alcoholic pop. I tried it last night, but the flavor I got was absolutely awful – I think it may have been soba noodles. So that’s a little weird.

Also, I stopped to buy a back of cigarettes – going out, might as well smoke whilst drinking, right? So I’m at the vending machine on the corner and smokes are between 270-300 a pack, right? Just drop a decimal before the last two digits and you’ve converted yen to dollars. So not too bad, but then I saw a small back in the bottom corner for 170, and I figured I had to try it.

Mistake. Never, ever smoke “Echo” cigarettes. They are absolutely terrible. The flavor is awful, and they burn like 151. I guess they’re “the cheap stuff” for a reason, right? Anyway at least I know what to get Basil.

Gonna go shower and see if I can’t find the local internet place.

Somehow I just can't agree with you on George W. Bush being the face of repressive evil throughout the world, at least not anymore than Kerry is. You wanna give it a face, paint a portrait of the white-house. Or just hypocrital, pretencious, self-contradicting idealism. They are both products of the same stagnant system.

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