Of Robots, Once Judged

I’m a little late getting to the criticism of the recent auto manufacturer advertisement featuring an assembly line robot being fired. The critical party has already kicked off with a fervor that has apparently produced results, but I’m still going to weigh in with my two cents. The argument and the results that it achieved were neither the argument that needed to be raised as a result of the commercials, nor were the results that were achieved appropriate.

The furor that was portrayed as erupting in the popular media over the recent ads, these ads having been first unveiled during one of the many big games of one of the many incarnations of the (!Sports Bowl!), were raised by an organization for the prevention of suicide whose charter includes, not surprisingly, raising awareness of and increasing prevention of suicide. Their primary beef with the ad in question is that in the course of the advertisement’s short storyline, a redundant robot, unable to find fulfilling or fitting gainful employment following getting the pink slip for workplace incompetence, throws itself off a bridge, kissing all prospects a wistful goodbye in the hopes of a shameless oblivion.

The offended organization objected to the ad based on the portrayal of suicide. The auto manufacturer made an amendment to the end of the ad in question in response, removing the automaton’s final act of surrender from the short story arc of the commercial spot’s montage.

In the new version of the commercial, the robot does not “kill himself”, but the overarching message of the commercial’s plot remains intact. That is the insidious thing.

The commercial’s portrayal of a robot being fired from its assembly line job for a single act of incompetence most willfully calls to mind the original automation of operations this conglomerate of conveyance manufacturers’ undertook- the push for automation that vaporized Flint, Michigan, the story of which is recounted in filmmaker Michael Moore’s breakthrough documentary, Roger & Me.

In the commercial, human and robot coworkers alike, apparently working in a peaceful and accepting harmony, look on sorrowfully as the management types eject the robot from employment for dropping a screw. This creates the first false impression of the ad, the impression that humans and robots on the assembly line are equals and can and do recognize each other as such, in spite of the acrimonious history between workers and management over the introduction of automated labor devices to the factory setting.

Workers and robots are not on an equal footing. For one, robots are obviously not human. They do not have human needs such as the need to eat or the need to support a family. They do, however, displace workers who, for a few generations were brought up solely to work in the plants of the auto manufacturers.

The second false impression created by the commercial is the apparent legitimization of the company’s hiring and firing practices. In the commercial, the management is seen to be fair, in that it runs its business according to the same middle class values as its human workers- when someone is incompetent, they are not allowed to ascend to the acme of success, but are instead penalized with redundancy. However, can it be said that this company’s drive toward profit for a few, one that cost so many livelihoods, was legitimate in its execution? Can it be said that the automation of the assembly lines and the ensuing loss of jobs was predicated on the same values as the middle class laborers whose lives were altered?

The third false impression perpetuated by the commercial is that the replacement of the workers and the atomization of the community the company supported, apparently undertaken under the directives of middle class values, was legitimate intrinsically, and not undertaken irresponsibly because automation was based on rags-to-riches, hard work will get you everywhere middle class values.

Overall, the commercial also serves to trivialize the induced sublimation of Michigan’s prospects from stuff to vapor in its portrayal of human workers comfortably working alongside their replacements as though it is a natural state of things that has always been accepted. One of the very gripes brought up in Michael Moore’s documentary Roger & Me was that this manufacturer attempted to herald its commitment to progress once before with an Epcot-like display of humans and robots working happily side by side singing some song about, essentially, moving forward at the cost of the human laborers’ own displacement. In poor taste then, and no less so now, It’s obviously not something that the company has put to bed as far as talking points and the influence of public opinion are concerned.

Robots cannot kill themselves. To suggest that they can and that it is funny is to mock the plight of the mob of unemployed laborers this company created. Robots would never feel pressed to review that as an option, unlike the laborers their implementation displaced.

Tighten the Bunions, Screw Down the Tennis Shoes, Make Fast Loose Tread

So, into Friday. Are our teeth loose yet? We’re burning up on entry to R&R, and I’m so tired I can hardly see straight.

Lambchop’s Damaged came out in August of 2006. You might remember it as “The Summer What Meltede My Face Like Soe Muche Gumme, Oy Vey, What Withe Alle This Uff Da Heate.”

I personally thought the summer before was worse, but then I didn’t have an air conditioner that summer.

I have made this Lambchop recording a part of my daily ablutions. I know what you might be thinking- “What, another band that started with an adjusted country twang and has since shot well into the experimental left field? I have a LOT of Wilco records, thank you.”

Well, alright. However, if you travel that pernicious path, traveler, you will not know the rich sentimental tonality of Kurt Wagner’s nearly spoken, rumbling musings. You will not be treated with intimacy by the wry sense of humor that is the spool of yarn from which the songs are darned. You will not meander, fork in hand, through this garden to the feast of non-sequiturs, surprise revelations, instantaneous understandings of things past, that a story as then currently unfolding brought to the singer’s memory.

It was the final track on the record that came on my headphones during a shuffle play sometime in the recent few months that remembered the album to me- the track “The Decline of Country and Western Civilization”. It’s a surprise cloudburst, erupting from a clear atmosphere of noise into something so dramatic it ought to be on stage evoking tears from the aristocracy. But, then, I’m a sucker for songs that subjugate all the most evil tendencies of humanity in order to tell an object of affection how good-looking they are.

This is a drum. Today you can buy it from Musician’s Friend for $69.99 in American Currency (or the approximation of said currency floating in digital internets your web browser draws pictures of when you log on to your bank account).

When you hit this, everything becomes more awesome. That especially applies to rock band practice, which we had last night, and which included a guy who was nice enough to hit- not one of these, but a whole set of them- not once, but many, many times. I needn’t tell you how much more awesome everything became with each successive strike of drumstick to drum. When you’re a member of a band that has been seeking a drummer for a couple of months following the departure of your original drummer after your first show at the now-defunct Siberia, you get a real hard-on for having a drummer in band practice. Everything just fell together with the drunken synergy of a group of people who are on the same page, squeezing the juice that is music from our respective instruments like so many fucking amazing oranges into very tastefully designed juice glasses- perhaps the kind one might buy at Crate & Barrel.

I have been a fan of the glassware for sale at Crate & Barrel for some time. Very classy.

Man, my ears are ringing.

In addition to the above-mentioned Lambchop record, I have also been hearting Destroyer’s Rubies by Destroyer. Hearting is something my girlfriend says, and it’s pretty cool. It’s when you replace your blood with something else, and your heart pumps that through your circulatory system, instead. Did you know that there is about 60,000 miles worth of tubing that comprises the human circulatory system? Needless to say, Destroyer’s Rubies is really tired. Sorry, Destroyer’s Rubies– you’re going around a few more times, I’m afraid.

It’s Friday, ya’ll. Catch the girls, kiss them and make them cry.

DJ For Hire

DJ For Hire: S/T

It’s good to step out of a scene obsessed with itself, good to get away from feeling bored, good to get away from conceits like status, nostalgia, the dictates of history, and the rules of composure. It’s good because once you’re there, you can’t go back.

Try this:
Turn on your CD player or boot your computer. Put the DJ For Hire S/T in the tray. Load up the playlist in your digital playback platform of choice. Back away. You can’t.

Big hooks and guitar virtuosity layered over waves of noise and distortion- oases of directed chaos between stretches of sparse pop- have obscured the way back to the affect of disaffected malaise. Tiny notes in furious succession beating needlepricks of color on your tympani are heralds for the hum washing up behind.

The excitement that I felt, signing up for a rotation as a DJ at my college radio station, as I was pulled off the axis of corporate radio and major label distribution, stemmed from my discovery of a universe of finished, real, fantastic music that was living, breathing, and throwing parties without so much as a “how’s your father” to any judge but enjoyment, wherever it happened to be executed. Cities as nearby to me then as Champaign, Illinois and as distant from where I was, but just as cut off from much else (excepting the Vast Expanse) as the towns I was living in (Omaha?), were the physical site of cultural frontiers, epicenters of changes that scared the limits of the mind into retreat.

From the first notes of DJ for Hire’s opening track, Pensive Purple Porpoises, there’s that same taste of fresh discontinuity with everything you’ve unwittingly become comfortable with. The break is there in the Japanese influence of many notes plucked from guitar strings in succession, the break is there in the narrative themes that backbone the songs. My Grandmother Hitchhiked in the Sidecar of a Nazi BMW R-75 Military Motorcycle points to the wonder that could at anytime spring from prosaic roots. Track Bum is an energetic standout showcase of guitar virtuosity and a boisterous anti-apology for prolonged insouciance. Passion without conceit, the music of Fukuoka, Japan’s DJ for Hire carries that weird change of kilter that brightens you awake with the youth hidden in what you know. Fukuoka, Japan, home to DJ For Hire, is now hard-coded into the authoritative astral version of google maps under the search strings “where it’s happening,” “Where it’s at,” and “that ain’t no bullshit.”

Look for them on itunes or at their website.

The Lonely Nature of Episodic Existence

The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel

The cliche when reviewing the work of New York City writer Amy Hempel is to praise her sentences, to turn in orbit on her tell-tale calling card turns of phrase, to always take pains that the praise lays on the concise wit of what she says. Though not without merit, and certainly not undeserved, this criticism should be put to assay, for we may look at her incontrovertible appeal in another, perhaps more proper, way.

The appeal of the writing of Amy Hempel is inherent in its shocking accessibility, the surprise of the moment when the prosaic narration makes the concatenation of outwardly unrelated cause and effect a matter of fact, the only available taxonomy of the world the narrator describes, if the reader were to be held faithful to the evidences her narrators make available, despite the oft disconcerting, nearly non-sequitur-esque jumps between squirm-inducing memories or events and the emotionless realizations that make up a person’s duties as curator and office manager of the independent self.

There, in the cuts between the realms of adjacent sentences, therein the reader will find the factor that cements the appeal of Hempel’s writing. The quality of the sentences that leaves readers in a reel is the brutality of distanced adjacency.

from April 27th 2006 Powell’s interview: “I don’t know that I’m not good at as much as I’m not interested in the big picture in any given story. I like the moment the thing changes. I like the aftermath of the big event more than I like to portray the event itself.”

It is because of the reward the reader feels following along with her often ill-elucidated mise-en-scenes when the endorphins and hormones drop from the normally responsible hand of the all-controlling ego to the carpet of the bloodstream that Hempel is able to bring us along to the aftermath of her events. Lesser writers would have to explain themselves, would be chastised for opening a story mid-plot and never stopping to fill the reader in. It is because of this that I think it is possible that Hempel misrepresents herself in- or that the reader could misread the meaning of- the quote from the Powell’s interview above. She absolutely does love the aftermath of the event more than she prefers to describe it, but she is more intent on illiciting the aftermath of the event, the reaction, in the reader than writing it.

The aftermath of all events in Hempel’s stories are emotional, internal, ruminative. The solitary and terrible matter-of-factness with which her narrators deliver their deadpan realizations or conclusions is bell-jar like. Lonely. The reason Hempel can avoid laying out every architectural detail of the physical aspects of one of her stories is that they are meant to function as memories, they are meant to knock the wind out of us using the same internal cues our memories might- they are stories told as we remember our own stories. Milemarkers are stuck haphazardly along the mutable forks of the paths and they show nadirs and acmes of fear, love, hate, surprise, disappointment. It’s how she circumvents heeding her own discouragement below, taken from the the same Powell’s interview referenced above:

“Why are you telling me this? Someone out there will be asking, and you better have a very compelling answer, or reason.

There are people who have been raised by loving parents to believe that the world awaits their every thought and sentence, and I’m not one of them. So I respond to that. Is this essential? The question might be, Is this something only you can say—or, only you can say it this way? Is this going to make anyone’s life better, or make anyone’s day better? And I don’t mean the writer’s day.”

Hempel’s characters move in montages of huge snippeted group conversations among old friends and easy neighbors and intuited, half-described, alluded revelations of internal significance. On the first page of the novella Tumble Home contained in this collection, she sums up her guiding principle, or the concept the awareness of and the struggle with which guides her writing:

If I understand it, the Western Tradition is this: Put your cards on the table.

This is easier , I think, when your life has been tipped over and poured out. Things matter less; there is the joy of being less polite, and of being less– not more– careful. We can say everything.

Although maybe not. Like in fishing? The lighter the line, the easier it is to get your lure down deep. (233)

Hempel writes straight ahead, finishing most of her stories in a single stroke, leaving the impression that each one was more like a single extended coup de grace than a telling of events yoking the service of more than one set of punctuation marks. The loneliness of the world of dying friends, remembrances of near-drownings on illicit escapades with married men, the obsessively compulsive companionship of dogs, the solitude of coming to conclusions while mired in quotidian tasks or old age: these intimate the actions and the chronologically verb-laden events that predicate the pen coming to paper. She withholds nothing of importance in her brevity. That she struggles with the appearance of a simple, resigned retelling of the tortures of the many kinds of solitude a human being can experience and wish to alleviate speaks the silences and gaps and pauses and cuts not hopeless, but tellable, personable. The stories are sad, but for this author are points of connection.