Don’t Let Pop Culture Tell You Who You Are

Frequent visitors to this blog will by now have realised that both the form and frequency of my posting is subject to a good deal of fluctuation. Sometimes I crank out sizeable pieces on a regular basis, sometimes I provide only links and other times I post links to short reviews and publish larger essays. The reason for these variations is that my motivations sometimes change and when my motivations change, so to does the nature of my output.  These changes in motivation were particularly obvious when, earlier this year, I ceased to write very much at all.

At the time, I found this sudden lack of motivation rather distressing as I have always been able to re-motivate myself by shaking things up and writing about different things in different ways. In fact, this lack of motivation was so traumatic that I soon came to believe that my time as a critic might have come to an end. Needless to say, this did not actually happen but the reasons for this creative impasse strike me as interesting enough to warrant a proper post, if only for the sake of other people who may be experiencing similar motivational problems.

The problem was that I was going through the process of selling my childhood home and moving to an entirely new town. On a purely practical level, this made sitting down to write rather difficult. On a psychological level, this made it almost impossible to think about anything that was not directly related to the move. Unclear as to why I was finding it so difficult to sit down and write, I managed to convince myself that my motivation for writing has been completely destroyed by the realisation that there was really no point in sharing my views with anyone about anything. The reason I reached this particular creative impasse was that I encountered a number of works that encouraged me to think of myself purely as an introverted outsider and introverted outsiders tend not to be all that interested in sharing their opinions with other people. This is a post about the dangers of labelling oneself and then coming to believe that those labels exhaust your entire identity.

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Why You Want to Fuck Christopher Hitchens – Celebrity, Consumerism and the Search for Online Identity

 

I’d like to open with a kind of history. This history takes many forms and surfaces in many different places with the names of the actors sometimes replaced. Occasionally, the role of the nation-state is assumed by religion and at other times it is the gods of classical antiquity who take the lead. Regardless of which iteration of this history you have heard, its narrative will be familiar to you for it is a narrative of loss.

Once upon a time, people lived in tribes. These tribes were small social entities made up of a number of different family groups that pooled their resources. Members of tribes lived together, worked together and died together and this permanent state of communion with others made their lives meaningful. Of course, human nature being what it is, tribes could not peacefully co-exist and the tribes soon began conquering each other until their dominion extended over millions of people and thousands of miles of territory. Because these abstract tribal groupings were a lot harder to manage than a couple of families that had been living and working together for generations, tribal elders began reinventing themselves as governments who began to rule over abstract political entities known as kingdoms and principalities then as nations and states. Of course, nation states were never anything more than a way of referring to the territory under the control of one particular government but they stuck around for long enough that people began to forget their tribal loyalties and began to see their nationality as a fundamental fact about themselves, a fact no different to their sex, their gender, their sexuality or their race, a fact that took the form of a noun.

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Why Do People Buy Books They Don’t Read?

0. TBR! TBR!

Regardless of whether your passion is for books, films, games or comics, the chances are that your home contains a large stockpile of unconsumed culture. Depending upon the exact nature of your passion, this stockpile can take a number of different forms including:

  • A pile of books marked ‘To Be Read’
  • An array of downloaded or recorded TV series you need to ‘Catch Up On’
  • A Steam account containing games boasting zero hours of play
  • A shelf groaning under the weight of shrink-wrapped DVD box sets

As perverse as this kind of cultural opulence might seem, it is as nothing when compared to the mind-boggling absurdity of our tendency to buy new books and films when we have dozens of perfectly wonderful titles sitting at home on a shelf. Why do we do it? Why do we buy books we don’t read? The answer lies in our postmodern condition, the economics of human attention and the ever-changing nature of the self.

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A post-DVD Future for DVD Labels?

There is no mistaking the air of panic surrounding DVD retail in the UK at the moment. Second hand DVD prices are dropping at both Amazon and CeX while the time between a DVD retailing at full RRP and it appearing on the bargain shelves is shrinking month by month. We may not be quite there yet but DVD and Blu-ray are clearly on their way to the great dead media bonfire in the sky.

The death of DVD is being driven by a series of cultural shifts that are combining to put pressure on traditional ways of selling and consuming media:

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It’s (Probably) Okay Not To Have Any Ambition

0.    Oh Shit

I recently wrote about the difficulties I have relating to groups. As a not particularly well-socialised human being who spends an inordinate amount of time in his head, I frequently see groups of humans as more trouble than they are worth. Yes, I could seek their approval and Yes, I could throw myself into one of their cultural institutions but my general feeling is that most attempts at collaboration are doomed to end in frustration and alienation. As I said, I do not relate well to groups.

One of the symptoms of my frustration with groups is an extreme sensitivity and antipathy to people who are obviously trying to “get on”. I rage at self-publicists and bristle at any attempt to win me over, coerce me or play me. This is one reason why I abhor the performative aspect of Internet life. I groan at the moral outrage of Twitter as I know that its hysteric nature has less to do with genuine expressions of anger and sorrow than it does with broadcasting the fact that you are the type of person who gets really annoyed about this type of thing. Similarly, people engaged in attempts at climbing the greasy poll immediately repulse me. I hate dishonest reviewers who swamp Google search results with jottings designed to secure them more review copies and more invitations to parties and I am horrified by the people who turn their coats and trade in careers as commentators for careers in the industry on which they are commenting. I hate all of these things because I am obsessed with the need to be authentic and I prize nothing above honesty with both oneself and the world around us. Of course, the problem with this attitude is that it is complete and utter bullshit.

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You and Your Entire Family Are Full of Shit. You’re Welcome.

Things are a little slow at the moment.  One reason for this is that I’ve decided to work on a slightly longer project that really can’t be placed online until it’s properly finished.  Another reason is that my last review to be published is currently sitting on a hacked website, so I won’t link to it until the thing gets fixed.

In the mean time, I thought I would share a moment of insight that occurred to me courtesy of my daily blog shower.  I use an RSS reader to follow quite a large number of blogs. In fact, up until recently, the number of blogs I followed was downright alarming as I was trying to keep an eye on the ruins of what was once the culturally vibrant literary SF blogosphere. Since giving up on doing the links roundup for Strange Horizons (long story but camels and backs may have been involved) I have replaced my SF feeds with feeds devoted to politics, games, comics and film. A rush of enthusiasm brings RSS subscriptions, the chilly comedown of boredom and practicality brings purges that are positively Stalinist in their brutal efficiency. Anyway, shaped by recurrent waves of expansion and contraction, my collection of RSS feeds is now something of a motley array of disconnected minds. A lot of the blogs I follow are followed for reasons that are no longer quite clear to me. In fact, my RSS feed aggregator tends to blur one RSS feed into another meaning that I simply do not have a handle on many of the individual blogs that I do follow.  One instance of this process of informational alienation is my following of the BBlog.

I suspect that I first started following the BBlog because it contained thoughtful pieces about video games. X months down the line and the site has morphed away from games and towards a form of techy intellectualism that I find particularly compelling. In fact, I currently provide cheap accommodation to a purveyor of precisely that style of writing. Anyway, the reason why I decided to bring up the BBlog is because a recent post genuinely caused me to stop and think about how I relate to the internet.

 

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Walking Hadrian’s Wall 2011 – Day Eight: Carlisle to Bowness-on-Solway

Steps: 35,550

Distance: 21.33 km

Even with hindsight, the walk out of Carlisle remains the low-point of the holiday. Insufficiently caffeinated, under-rested and struggling to digest an almost preternaturally greasy breakfast courtesy of the Hallmark hotel, The Sheep and I greeted the rain with no small amount of ill humour.

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