Get Rich or Die Tryin’

5 06 2011

Some day, there are going to be documentaries made about the 2000s, and then that documentary will provide the stylistic template for some award-winning movies.

One of those documentaries will be called “Get Rich or Die Tryin'”. How do I know this?

Because the 2000s represented the culmination of thirty years of a new American civic religion that treated the working class lifestyle as something objectionable and maybe immoral, and wealth, or its apparent trappings, as the sole measure of a person’s success; it is when we all became consumers rather than citizens. It is when appearance rather than substance became the way of valuing something.

50 Cent’s debut record, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ sold nearly a million records in its first week, and finalized the gradual transformation of hip hop music, the dominant musical style of the decade, from stories about poor and working class life in America’s crumbling big cities to pure bragadoccio about individual success and ferocity. Gangsterism took over one of America’s most precious cultural products at about the same time it took over the U.S. economy in the form of high finance bubbles and credit schemes that sold off the manufacturing base and then redistributed billions of dollars upward.

Working class life and dignity was erased from the popular culture, our stories and music became populated by elite cosmopolitans, professionals, and the rich and famous; at the same time, the economy stratified more rigidly, between the super wealthy and the insecure, and the stability and peace of working class life evaporated.

50 Cent

I hate 50 Cent’s music. I’ve been a hip hop fan since I heard Eric B. and Rakim’s “Follow the Leader” in a movie; but I was never a backpacker type. Nas, Mobb Deep, Biggie, Wu-Tang, and Ras Kass were my favorite groups and MCs as a teenager; so crime stories, battle rhymes and stories about sex and partying don’t offend me. But when Nas talked about the criminal lifestyle, even in his Nas Escobar persona, he was storytelling, creating a character. Even Mobb Deep, who pioneered the East Coast gangster style, don’t “glamorize” violence: listen to their classic The Infamous, and you get lost in a terrifying, high-stakes world of violence and poverty. Who would listen to the life Prodigy describes in “Shook Ones Pt. II” or “Drink Away the Pain” and think that life would be preferable to the cushy existence of the record executive who produced the record?

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Just Don’t Get Married, Asshole

10 05 2011

If it takes a Herculean effort to talk to your wife for five goddamn seconds, why the hell are you married?

Maybe its heartbreak–something causes us to treat male-female relationships as inherent contradictions, impossible, necessary evils, insufferable and fraught with disappointment and latent hatred.

But there’s nothing to this. In fact, I have to believe the contrary is the case. There’s no relationship more obviously necessary than sexual and intimate relationships between men and women. Certainly, people make bad choices about whom they choose to couple up with. But where there are failures, frustrations, or insufferable assholes like the guy in the Klondike commercial who can’t stand to talk to his wife for five goddamn seconds, the problem is almost always with one’s self, not with the other person.

Choosing to be with someone you can’t really stand is because of some defect one sees in oneself–a sense of insecurity that creates a terror of being alone, a feeling of unworthiness, suspicion that somebody else’s love or attention is unwarranted and so counterfeit–or really, what we could call a Groucho Pathology, that you wouldn’t want to join any relationship that would have you as a member.

It’s hard not to be scared of trusting that someone wholly independent of you really does have your best interests at heart; that they truly love you and want to see you happy. It takes bravery to accept that condition and to just sink into the warmth of it. So we invent narratives that justify our fear and cowardice.

This manifests in men in the asinine impulse that there is more pleasure in “the hunt” than the catch; and in women with equally asinine impulse that only men for whom they have to compete are worth their time. Whatever evolutionary sources there are for these impulses are not determinative–they can’t be, because the impulse to devote one’s self to, and even sacrifice one’s self for, a mate responsible for child rearing could be equally so attributable–and is indeed found in all types of species. Besides, there’s little in our evolutionary hard-wiring that can’t be tempered or even over-ridden by the capacity for social conditioning that is just as much a result of human evolution.

Perhaps this is a view enriched by rose colored glasses. My parents are still married after thirty four years and are very evidently best friends. This has created in me, and I assume my sister, too, an intense desire to make sure that whoever we decide to settle down with forever be our best friend. And I don’t doubt that if I moved in with my best friend, shared finances with my best friend, and had to make important life decisions with my best friend, we’d often get annoyed with one another, and have a need for privacy now and then.

But these superficial “problems” pale in comparison to the happiness and comfort that would attend getting to share my joy and my most troubling fears with somebody who understands me better than anybody else, and who has sworn to stick with me no matter what.

Not that friendship is enough. It helps if you look at the person you’re with and want to eat them like a meal–and vice versa. You need both, I think. Sometimes having one allows the other to bloom. Sometimes both arise simultaneously. But if there one’s thing pop culture has taught us, it is that women will settle for a slob who can’t stand them if he’ll just stick around, and men are happy to have a suspiciously hot wife even if listening to her talk for five seconds is akin to getting a urinary catheter inserted.

"Tell me about your day."

Perhaps a sign of the growing equality of women is that “take my wife, please” is no longer the sole joke construction that all marriage-based “comedy” is built on. There’s also, “my husband is a mildly retarded ape.” See, for example, every family sitcom this century.
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Your Favorite Movie Is Not What You Think

12 04 2010

I always expect there to come a day when I’ll look around my apartment–maybe by then a house–and all the shit I’ve accumulated since I’ve been old enough to start accumulating shit will have been responsibly disposed of. So, for example, I will have thrown out my old campaign signs and stuffed moose and local band 7 inches. I assume Future Ramsin, who pays his bills on time and in fact sets aside a specific day of the month to do so, will make a big boy decision to throw away the cardboard and construction paper coffin with “R.I.P. G.O.P.” written on it from my 2006 election return watch party.

I can’t wait for that day, because until then I will continue to waste hours of precious, rapidly expiring life doing things like trying to find my Billy Ripken error card, seeing if I can finally beat the “on the satellite” level of Goldeneye for N64, and comparing the “student survey” results of my 7th and 8th grade yearbooks.

Hey, so I came across a section of my 7th grade yearbook that included the results of “survey” taken each grade level. It asked questions like, “Favorite song”, “favorite band”, “favorite actor”, “favorite teacher catchphrase” and “favorite movie.” Here’s a couple facts it revealed: in 1994, 7th graders’ favorite musical act was Mariah Carey, and girl 7th graders were more reliable survey respondents than 7th grade boys.

But a pang of guilt I felt after rolling my eyes in playful shame at the choice of The Bodyguard as “our” favorite movie stayed with me long enough to get me thinking: “Who’re you, Troy Dyer? What would a ‘good’ answer to that question be?”

Pop culture is the most reliable social currency, for all debts public and private. And like money, it’s a signifier of your place in the social order. Your favorite comedy is There’s Something About Mary or The Hangover or Wet Hot American Summer? Each of these answers sends a signal: “I’m this general sort of person.” When you answer that question, are you supposed to pick a movie that demonstrates what kind of movie you like? Your favorite movie to watch? Or the movie you never turn off, if it’s on?

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The Captain & Tony

13 02 2010

I hate space shit. Generally. Particularly if it has to do with aliens. I much prefer fiction grounded as closely to every day reality as possible. I don’t like science fiction, actually, with some exceptions. I definitely never read more than the occasional high-concept short story. Don’t like the Star Wars movies. The alien fad from the mid-90s–sparked by The X-Files and exacerbated by Independence Day, Men in Black, and head shop t-shirts showing an oval-headed alien in a UFO smoking a bong–annoyed the shit out of me. So when my girlfriend suggested I watch Star Trek: The Next Generation with her I squirmed. I’ve spent my life giving Star Trek a wide berth: the movies, the original series, the spin-offs. To me it represented pure, distilled, escapist Sci-Fi, the Everclear of the genre. But, because I’m weak in the face of her suggestive powers, I watched an episode with her from the sixth season–I don’t remember which one–and then started again at the beginning, with “Encounter at Farpoint“. It was absolutely nothing like I imagined Star Trek being. First of all, I always figured Star Fleet was more of a military operation than just a bunch of science geeks. Also, that episode deals with a high-concept “trial” of mankind.

The episode that really drew me in though was one called “Darmok.” In that episode the Enterprise encounters an alien race, the Tamarians, who communicate only through mythological metaphors. The way we would say, “Christ on the cross,” to indicate vicarious torture and suffering, they use a phrase, “Darmok and Jelad at Tanagra” to communicate that they want to cooperate with Star Fleet. It takes Captain Picard almost the entire episode–the whole time struggling to understand his counterpart and resisting the instinct to confront him violently–to decipher their language.

I spent the next month watching every episode of TNG. This was accompanied with reading dense Leftist books and lifting weights, to make me feel better about my sad, geeky self.

My insecurity led me to read this book.

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