Category Archives: Consumption

Boredom

The first post in a series on The Affective Cycle of Popular Culture on Boredom.

General disclaimer: It is the basis for a lecture on the topic. It is note-based without substantial examples and without any context-setting work for the readings (e.g. who is Kracauer and what was the intellectual context of his article?).

The two main readings for this fortnight are Siegfried Kracauer’s 1924 article “Boredom” espousing a ‘radical boredom’ and Paul Corrigan’s 1975 chapter in Resistance Through Rituals “Doing Nothing”.

Siegfried Kracauer’s 1924 “Boredom”
Kracauer is concerned that “the world makes sure that one does not find oneself”:

[O]ne’s spirit — which is no longer one’s own — roams endlessly out of night and into the night. If only it were allowed to disappear! But, like Pegasus on a carousel, this spirit must run in circles and may never tire of praising to high heaven the glory of a liqueur and the merits of the best five-cent cigarette. Some sort of magic spurs the spirit relentlessly amid the thousand electric bulbs, out of which it constitutes and reconstitutes itself into glittering sentences.

Kracauer raises the brief examples of the movie theater and radio as examples of activities whereby participants are occupied, but do not occupy their own will. “Silent and lifeless, people sit side by side as if their souls were wondering about far away. But these souls are not wandering according to their own preference; they are badgered by the news hounds, and soon no one can tell anymore who is the hunter and who is the hunted.”

Kracauer’s logic is thus: If you find yourself the object of boredom, forever trying to occupy yourself with something or another, to ward off boredom, then you are the subject of interests that are not your own. This is not an ideological struggle, although it may be expressed as such, it is primarily an affective struggle over one’s interest.

The only proper response then is to welcome boredom through an act of patience, “the sort of boredom specific to legitimate boredom”. Then, Kracauer argues, “one experiences a kind of bliss that is almost unearthly”. The world is transformed and you begin to notice that the landscape is populated in ways that you had not previously perceived. As a result your soul swells with a “great passion”.
Kant would’ve called this a mode of the aesthetic sublime and a product of supreme disinterested interest; an affect when joined with the idea of the good, or ‘enthusiasm’.

Paul Corrigan’s 1975 “Doing Nothing”
Corrigan’s chapter in Resistance through Rituals begins with a different set of problematics. During his fieldwork he discovered that the principle activity of ‘British subculture’ is in fact ‘doing nothing’. There are a number of components of “doing nothing”:

1) Talking. Firstly, the most common form of talking is the story. Stories are recounted following one of Sartre’s definitions of ‘adventure’ (from Nausea), where an adventure is defined not merely by the randomness of events or the level of excitement induced by participation in particular activities, no the criterion of adventure is that you do something worthy of talking about as a story afterwards. Most consumers are convinced that the world is full of such ‘adventures'; hence with the advent of social media such ‘talking’ has migrated online and we are inundated with regular people offering a running commentary on their everyday lives.

Secondly, Corrigan argues, the purpose of the talking is not so much to communicate, but to communicate the experience of talking. It is the act of telling the story that is important, not the subject of the story (which of course matters, but it is secondary). In Theodor Adorno’s infamous essay about the Culture Industry in which he attacks Jazz, he also notes a similar shared dimension of consumption that was not so much about being linked to a specific commodity, but more about ‘sharing good times’. The burden of exchanged-based valorisation versus aesthetic efficacy implicit in his infamous critique of commercial jazz – that “it is fine for dancing and dreadful for listening” – needs to be inverted by combining it with another of his observations in the same essay. He writes that in “Amercian conventional speech, having a good time means being present at the enjoyment of others, which in its turn has as its only content being present”. Adorno acknowledges, albeit in a dismissive fashion, the necessary role of affect in its movement across the bodies of others as being colloquially realised as ‘having a good time’. The more interesting observation is the relation of alterity implicit in the experience of a ‘good time’, that is being present at the enjoyment of others.

To shift registers from the interesting to the critical, the point is that through story telling the people taking part of the story telling event experience a sense of belonging; they were within this virtuosic dimension of the story telling and witnessed this virtuosic dimension mediated through the reactions and implication of other bodies in the event. It is what Brian Massumi calls becoming-together.

Notice how there does not have to be a commodity present here? One of the current functions of the marketing industry is to implicate commodities in the everyday adventures of consumers so consumers will tell stories about them, ie Word of Mouth advertising.

2) Weird Ideas. That major component of ‘doing nothing’, Corrigan (following his research subjects) calls ‘weird ideas':

It is the ‘weird idea’ that represents the major something in ‘doing nothing’. In fighting boredom the kids do not choose the street as a wonderfully lively place, rather they look on it as the place where there is the most chance that something will happen. […] The weird ideas then are born out of boredom and the expectation of future and continuing boredom, and this affects the sort of weird ideas they are. A good idea must contain the seeds of continuing change as well as excitement and involvement.

Like Adorno’s consumers who ‘have a good time’ by ‘being present at the enjoyment of others’, Corrigan’s working class kids told stories to pass the time. Time, when “doing nothing”, is a burden as it populated with the expectation of future and continuing boredom. They go out looking for interesting things to occur — “we are not talking about boys going out on a Saturday night looking for milk bottles to smash, rather it is a purely interesting thing that occurs.” What is the relation then between interest/interesting things and the qualitative dimension of time? How interested do you have to be to have a good time? Or is it simply a case of being able to experience another person’s interest that makes the time good?

For Corrigan’s working class kids the alternative to ‘doing nothing’ in the street is staying at home with “Mum and Dad in the front room” or going to a venue like the Youth Club. In other words, activities that are sanctioned as morally appropriate by adults. Unlike Kracauer’s proto-consumers of the culture industry, Corrigan’s working class kids do not have access to cultural commodities that would be of interest to them. Undoubtedly, if there were interesting things to do then kids would not be hanging out in the streets. And yet, they do, because there is nothing else. They are not constrained by a cultural landscape saturated by advertising, which sends consumers off on a maze constructed by the expectations of others’ enjoyment; rather, their maze is overdetermined by their material conditions of existence.

The Conservatism of Mumbrella?

A recent series of posts on the self-proclaimed PR and social marketing blog Mumbrella on the relation between Twitterer’s personal beliefs and their respective professional PR and social marketing personae indicates an interesting way that anxieties around mixing of public and private lives online are still manifest.

The first post was by (whom I assume to be) Tim Burrowes posting on his ‘personal’ section, called Mumbo, of his Mumbrella site on an exchange between a Twitterer, Natalie Swainston, and the SMH trollumnist, Miranda Devine. Burrowes apparently believes the exchange between Swainston and Devine was noteworthy, if not newsworthy, because he perceived that it was an “intriguing insight” into the tensions between “journo-PR relations”.

The second post was in the actual ‘news’ section of Mumbrella, perhaps because the second post was actually about a Twitterer tweeting something of professional consequence (unlike Swainston’s effort): a Twitter employed by a company that has commercial relation with a second company was critical of the environmental impact of the practices of the second company. Again, at stake was Burrowes view that “intemperate tweeting has caused issues for PRs”.

Burrowes makes it even clearer what is at stake in these online exchanges that he perceives trouble public-private lives in a comment to another blog post on the topic:

The problem with that suggested policy [of separate personal and professional online personae] is that it’s naive about how journalists would interpret someone’s personal vs professional persona.

“I’m tweeting in a personal capacity” may be a disclaimer, but it’s not a cloak of invisibility.

If what you say is relevant to your day job and you are identifiable, then you need to treat Twitter as you would any other broadcast medium.

If you don’t want your tweets public, then either protect them, don’t do it in your own name, or don’t tweet stuff that could get you into trouble.

The contradiction of course is that Burrowes is discounting the possibility of separate professional and personal personae for normal Twitterers, but when it comes to Miranda Devine’s trollumnist practice he assumes such a separation, i.e. as suggested by his aside in his first post “(although Dr Mumbo has always considered her to be a satirical creation)”.

So what is going on here? Why is this politically and socially conservative self-disciplined muzzling of one’s online persona being advocated and valorised?

An overly critical perspective would see Burrowes and like-minded PR and marketing types to be prostituting their self-image for the benefit of their clients and their professional interests. The expectations of the ‘self’ are literally collapsed into the expectations of the client. Of course, critical perspectives of marketing and associated industries have long banged-on about how soulless the industry is. This, I think, you could describe as the worst case interpretation.

Support for this interpretation comes from Burrowes treating the two examples above as the same. In the first case the Twitterer had no professional connection whatsoever to Devine. In the second case the Twitterer was actually being critical of a client of his employer. Burrowes has collapsed the two different events into being examples of a general relation between personal and professional Tweet personae. One’s ‘public’ persona must to be disciplined so as to conform to any and all possible expectations of an imaginary client that could potentially be anyone. Therefore, ‘personal’ views – such as those on ‘public’ issues regarding politics or the state of the environment – must be kept under wraps and secret so as not to offend the sensibilities of this potentially-anyone client.

Although there may be some substance to view that marketing professionals are soulless prostitutes, especially when relatively minor skirmishes in the culture wars played out on Twitter are ‘reported’ as noteworthy, if not newsworthy, I prefer to read Burrowes’s anxiety around the public-private distinction as a way to grapple with the pressure of this tendency towards becoming an example of the worse case scenario. Burrowes is actually trying to find a way to maintain a sense of ‘self’ while under pressure to become a mere functionary expression of the imaginary client’s expectation.

It is a very good example of the way that people working within a given profession attempt to grapple with the ethical quandaries of having to satisfy a client’s expectations while maintaining one’s personal political passions. Of course I am not in marketing (the only thing I could market would be the revolution!) but I do know a thing or two about enthusiasm and what it means to mobilise people’s passions. Perhaps a more effective approach rather than a conservative and reactionary separation of personal and professional, to the explicit detriment of the personal, one should seek a better integration of the personal and the professional. Rather than PR and social marketers being disciplined to be worthy of clients, maybe PR and social marketing types should pick and choose clients that are worthy of their talents?

How to lose 50 pounds in 3 months

It is the 19th of January and I have now lost just over 20kgs or just under 50 pounds since the 24th of October. I weighed over 124kg and now I weigh 103. That is two months and 26 days, or 87 days in total. 240g (1/2 lb) per day.

Over this period I went home for the Christmas and New Year’s break. It meant I had to contend with my mother’s enthusiasm for feeding me good food. I went to a wedding and many other lovely events that had nice, rich food.

So, how did I do it?

I dieted. With a bit of research I figured out it was easier to remove all fat and sugar from my diet than it was to do enough exercise to eat what I liked. Not that I ate too badly to begin with, but I did enjoy the odd pizza or burger binge.

Then I exercised. I started walking, now I am riding.

THE MATHS

The basic maths are something like this:

1. The basic daily metabolism or Basal Metabolism Rate (BMR) for an adult is about 2000Cal (8368kj). If you go to this nifty site at the University of Sydney it is a basic daily metabolism energy requirement calculator determined by sex, age, weight and height. When I started out at 124kg I had an energy requirement of 2516 Cal (10527 kJ) and now it is 2228 Cal (9322 kJ).

2. For each kilo of fat is around 39000kj. You also lose some lean muscle mass depending on what sort of exercise you do so it is slightly less than this. I use 8000Cal to make the maths easier.

3. The first couple of weeks of dieting I experimented with different meals. I don’t need huge variation. Mostly tuna and rocket/baby spinach wraps, then it became celery and tuna. Snacks were apples and then apples and raw sweet corn cob. The point is that I reduced my caloric intake to below 1000Cal per day. On a perfect diet day it was below 900Cal.

4. I would try to do at least 200-300Cal worth of exercise per day. This is the equivalent of an hour’s walk or 20 minutes on my stationary bike.

The maths basically work out. Needed 2500Cal for basic metabolism had a deficit of 1600Cal and would do 300Cal of exercise, so 1900Cal burned per day or a kilo of fat roughly every 4 days.

To help me figure all this out I have an application on my iPhone called iKeepFit.

THE DIET

The diet for me was an experiment in discipline and patience. I knew dieting all the time would be a total fail so I gave myself two meals off per week to be social. I started off eating what was obviously healthy food, and then began cutting elements out. The below are perfect diet days. I would’ve had about a dozen of these over the 87 days. Most other days were variations of the below. Some days (like Christmas Day!) were AWOL. Plus I had two meals off per week when I was normally eating out. I would often choose the fish option off the menu. A whole pan fired Barra is absolutely delicious!

1. First version.
In the context of an actual day of my early dieting, my diet to begin with was thus:
8x cups of black coffee 8kcals
mother energy drink 208kcals
Celery 6x stalks 62cals
Apples large raw 116cals
tuna in lite oil x2 466kcals
corn, raw, small 62kcals
spinach raw 2x cups 14kcals
corn wraps x6 389kcals
Total consumption 1325kcals

Base metabolic rate -2521kcals
Activity level desk job -504kcals
Exercise -429kcals

Net kilocalories -2129kcals
Weight/gained lost -304g

2. Second version.
I then started to refine the diet. A problem I had is that my digestive system was not agreeing with so much celery, so I introduced the yogurt for breakfast.
8x cups of black coffee 8kcals
Celery 12x stalks 124cals
Apples large raw 116cals
2x tuna in lite oil 466kcals
corn, raw, small 62kcals
Jalna Fat Free Berry yogurt 200g 156kcal
Total consumption 866kcal

Base metabolic rate -2269kcals
Activity level desk job -454kcals
Exercise -280kcals

Net kilocalories -2137kcals
Weight/gained lost -305g

3. Third version.
The third version is basically the same as above except I now add muesli to the yogurt and have kangaroo and spinach salads in the evening. The third version was required because I started to commute to work by bicycle three days a week, plus walking in the evenings and riding on the weekends, and was feeling a bit light-headed.
Spinach raw 120g 28kcals
kangaroo 250-500g 278-556kcals
Free & Fruity Monster Muesli roughly a cup, 100kcals

EXERCISE

I used to be super fit, about 2.5 years ago. I was going to the gym for two hours per day doing an hour of cardio and an hour of weights. It is all documented on my blog. I got my 2km ergo times down to the low 6:20’s, which should give you an idea of how fit I was. A buggered knee from my rugby days, now a buggered left shoulder from an incline bench press gone awry and crotchety ankles and joints from a decade and a half of heaps of junior sport means I need to do low impact exercise.

I realised that my previous extremely fit persona has helped me cope with doing exercise this time around. When you are super fit you rarely work at 100% intensity of your capacity (except for an ergo or something). Now I am about 80% capacity of fitness compared to then. So me working at 90% when riding for example is just over working at 70% of my previous level of fitness. The capacity for the work intensity may not be there but all the necessary techniques for working that hard still are. Here I mean things like controlling my breathing, doing stretches/prep, being comfortable with feeling the ‘burn’ in my lungs and legs, etc. A big part of this is the mental toughness not to have a breather or stop but to keep going. Already knowing that the level of exercise I am doing is 100% achievable makes it easy.

1. Walking.
I walk up to the local shops to purchase the evening meal and food for the next day. This would take an hour. Over Christmas and NYE period with plenty of time to kill I was doing a minimum of 2 hours walking per day, sometimes up to 3.5-4 hours. 220-800kcals.

2. Stationary bike riding.
I have a pretty good Life Fitness bike my brother bought off eBay for me for my birthday last year. I was doing anywhere between 20-40 minutes 2 out of 3 days. 220-500kcals.

3. Cycling.
I now have a pretty good mountain bike that my lady friend bought for me for Christmas. I have attacked riding with gusto. The previous few months of daily activity, especially the long walks over the holiday period prepared me for eventually commuting to work on my bike. My commute is 17.6km, so 35.2km per day, which is roughly 1200kcals each day. I also ride on the weekends for at least an hour or two. I am currently only riding to work for 3 days as I often need my car for work related meetings.

MENTAL
I am pretty hardcore when I do things. I put on weight when I am depressed, content to watch TV and play video games and basically don’t give a fuck what happens. Here are some things I have figured out:

1. Discipline.
As well as an experiment in weight loss, this has been an experiment in discipline. How much control do I have over my body? Over my desires? Over compulsions just to eat that biscuit? I can afford to be less disciplined now because of my bike riding regime, but in the beginning I would not vary from my diet. There was a strange satisfaction when every Friday my co-workers and I would go down to the local burger joint for Friday burgers. I would take my can of tuna and celery sticks. However, i would also have two meals off per week, plus I would often have some sort of variation to the diets. For example, I went through a week of trying protein bars as a supplement to my diet for my riding. They were too expensive however to eat all the time.

2. Enthusiasm.
I treated this process as a challenge and an experiment. I didn’t know what would happen. The basic maths seemed sound and I have been active enough in the past to already have a sense of how my body would react. I enjoy stepping onto the scales everyday and seeing my progress. The sense of satisfaction I feel because I have been disciplined enough to rise to the challenge makes me feel good and makes me feel like further weight loss and the required discipline is not only possible but achievable.

3. Mood.
I treat food as a drug and as a nutritional source. Sugar, caffiene and nicotine are mood enhancers for me. Plus I did not curb my alcohol intake at all, I often have a few very small glasses of red or a beer or two every few days. I will probably stop smoking shortly. I probably won’t give up coffee. Sugar was easy to cut out. The apple and corn cob contain enough natural sugar to enhance my mood during the work day. There is no point getting all cranky at work because you are starving yourself. Eat an apple or some other piece of fruit. The timing of my meals are designed to maximise and affirm my positive mood.
6:20am Yogurt and Muesli, Coffee
8:30am Coffee
9:30am Coffee
10:30am Apple, Coffee
12:00midday Celery and Tuna
1:00pm Coffee
3:30pm Corn Cob, Coffee
4:30pm Coffee
7:30-8:00pm Kangaroo and Spinach

4. Goals.
My first goal was 115kg. Then 110kgs for Christmas. Then 105kgs for my return to work after the Christmas break. Now it is to get down into double digits for my birthday coming up early February. Goals are important, but make them realistic. Again because of my previous experience I was confident in setting some pretty tough weight loss goals.

WHAT IS NEXT?
Next I am going to use my discipline developed as part of my weight loss regime to tackle my finances. I want to pay off my debts and save money to be able to buy a flat. It is going to require some different strategies. I am off to a good start because dieting and riding to work are already good steps for saving money!

When you hit your late twenties or early thirties it is time to take stock of your life and make changes, this is part of that process. You can make changes if you want to. So if you want to, make them.

fraughtness

It is past one in the morning and for the last few hours I have been madly trying to put the finishing touches on a job application for an academic position. Over the past several weeks I have been feeling pressure from a number of people I know to get a job in academia. From aquaintences and colleagues at the State of Industry conference to the most intimate of relationships that are very dear to me. I have felt savaged by their explicit bewilderment and brash questions about why I am not working in academia, their well-intentioned assertions that I should be an academic, and the implication that I am basically wasting my time in my current job.

All of this is probably true. Yet I realised tonight as I have been writing my responses to the Key Selection Criteria that I am basically not yet ready. My biggest problem is that I have not demonstrated my expertise. To do this I need to publish. My greatest error has been to treat academia as an intellectual pursuit. It is not. I have over-invested in my capacity to intellectualise anything, to critically engage with it, to use highly esoteric, but powerful social and philosophical theories and to develop my own conceptual tools to genuinely understand social and cultural phenomena. None of this really matters when it comes time to get a job. I need to play the game. This shall involve me going to war, to mobilise and redirect my energies in a slightly different way.

I need to publish from my PhD, rather than simply having a list of interesting but non-expertise-based scholarly and quasi-scholarly (ie blog) publications. Most of my journal articles published have little or nothing to do with the core focus of my Phd. I am beginning to understand that the ruthlessness I have been cultivating in my current capitalist workplace needs to be redirected towards myself and my intellectual pursuits. I can feel an encroaching sadness born of the fact I need to relinquish my naive appreciation of scholarly work and recognise that it must be framed in terms of the current discourse of outcomes. I need to be ruthless with my own thinking, harness it, exploit it and produce outcomes.

What are my outcomes? I need to demonstrate them. I need to go to war against myself.

Maybe I am becoming an adult.

Notes to an Article

I have had an article in the works for a while now where I have tried to address how to write articles for enthusiast magazines with the example of enthusiast magazines that service modified-car culture. The problem I was having was with how to position it. I have some great material derived from my PhD and the many dozen articles I have written (I have written 55 freelance articles this year, about 30 in the years previous, and easily over 100 as a staff writer). Now I have figured out that the best way for me to pitch this in the opening paragraph is to compare it to the introductory scholarship on writing for the news media.

These are the core analytical points I wanted to convey in this opening first section:

1. Writing for enthusiast media is not the same as writing for news media.
2. The enthusiast media is designed to tap into an enthusiasm and use it as a resource; it is primarily an affective discourse. News media is primarily meant to be free of affect and tends towards an ideal of ‘objectivity’.
3. If the point of news media journalism is to convey the Who, What, Why, Where, When and How (5 Ws and 1 H method) in the lead sentence, then enthusiast media attempts to hook the reader by inciting a particular affective response.
4. The news media attempts to represent the world so the reader can implicate it in their own respective lives; there is some truth to the ‘hyperdermic model’ of media transmission. However, the enthusiast media attempts to implicate the reader in the event of enthusiasm being reported on.

The second section then goes on to demonstrate what is required to be able to write in the affective mode.

1. An understanding and appreciation of the enthusiasm is required.
2. To understand enthusiasm means understanding the challenges faced by an enthusiast. Here I am unsure if I should offer a brief account of the post-Kantian conception of enthusiasm developed in my phd? It is by engaging with challenges that enthusiast bodies are mobilised. Within modified-car culture, a co-enthusiast will ‘read’ a given car in terms of the challenges it inculcates. This demonstrates the capacity and skill of the car’s owner to ‘rise to the challenge’.
3. Understanding the enthusiasm does not simply mean knowing about the objects of enthusiasm or even only the practices of enthusiasm. Within modified-car culture a car is not merely an object to be incorporated into the ego to facilitate gendered production of identity (hegemonic masculinity model), it is a topology of challenges that enthusiasts ‘read’ and confer respect accordingly. The aquisition of know-how is a product of practices that engage with challenges. There is a correlation between know-how and respect within the scene.
4. The job of the enthusiast media journalist is to represent how the enthusiast engaged with a given challenge. The affects of enthusiasm are expressed through this process of rising to the challenge, such as frustration, confusion, trickiness (like ‘smartness’), satisfaction, patience and determination.

The third section discusses the relation between an enthusiast magazine and the given enthusiast scene.
1. A given magazine covers a certain niche market which more often than not encapsulates a subculture within a scene.
2. The magazine is in a relation with enthusiasts and commercial interests. Within modified-car culture the commercial interests are mostly workshops and performance parts suppliers, but also includes event promoters.
3. Coverage of the scene is a media event that seeks to translate the affects of a given event through enthusiast discourse in such a way as to implicate the reader in the broader affective mobilisations of the scene.
4. The content of the scene selected for coverage in a magazine is explicitly valorised, through publication, as being worthy of appearing in the magazine.
5. The political economy dimension to enthusiast magazine coverage of the scene is that coverage is shaped by commercial imperatives of ‘keeping the advertisers happy’.
6. Unlike normal media this is not that much a problem in that those elements selected from commercial interests are also worthy of being valorised. The function of the enthusiast media is not to change the enthusiast-determined heirarchies of value within the scene, but to segment and select portions of it according to the commercial imperatives.

The conclusion points out that niche-market media that services a given enthusiasm is the way of the future for media companies that are coming to terms with shifting from being print publishers to being online publishers. In Australia, just as many other national contexts with a developed media ecology, there are many different enthusiast media publications that target and service many different enthusiasms.