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Notes from a Millennial: In Defense of Decency

Note: This article refers to “millennials” repeatedly. While the name for any generation is always going to be broad terminology, there are many differing opinions on who exactly is a “millennial.” The following article presumes them to be Americans born between 1982 and 2004, as per the more common definition of “millennial,” but again, this terminology is loose and should not be considered definitive, even within the context of this article.

Second Note: I’m not going to even bother addressing the hypocrisy of many of the criticisms against millennials in this article. There are matters re: millennials that I desired to address, and I think the aforementioned hypocrisy is self-evident (and if it isn’t, give some consideration to the fragile emotional constitution of the Tyler Durden-idolizing man-children who first spread “snowflake” as an insult).

“Forced worship stinks in the nostrils of God.”

 – Roger Williams (1603-83 C.E.), Founder of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (1636-776 C.E.)

A state religion is nothing out of the ordinary in human history, and even if a nation does not have a state religion de jure, they will almost certainly have one in practice. This applies even to supposedly secular societies, even the society administered to by the “world’s first secular government.” In America, however, a different worship took root: in a land made secular in order to accommodate all the religious beliefs of its populace, many of them religious pilgrims, a unified religion came to be understood by Americans, one defined by indulgences specifically proscribed against by their “true” faiths. Golden calves were erected; divinity was invoked to justify imperialist expansion into the western parts of Northern America; Americans worked on Sundays, seeking to satiate the capitalist god they held before their true gods; we coveted our neighbors’ goods. The ’80s came and the Reagan gang took power, and a predisposition in American culture toward crude materialism became a crass classism, and pretensions that the ideology that “anyone can make in America!” was meant to be uplifting were increasingly dropped in favor of a reading of social Darwinism into that same ideology, and beyond that, even mainstream apologism for eugenics.

For a country that prides itself on being so exhaustingly Christian, America’s culture is markedly shaped by a sternly resolute contempt for the poor. And so we face the timeless panic about The Kids These Days, who, to establishment culture’s dismay, are not ones to regularly associate themselves with organized religion, systemically racist institutions, or patriarchal politics, and who by overwhelming margins are rejecting capitalism and professing an admiration for anything ranging from a European-style mix of capitalism and socialism (more common) to full-blown communism (less common, though substantially more common than in prior generations). America watches in horror as the young turn to the writings of Karl Marx, even though America never even understood what Marxism is. The nation shields its eyes, shuddering to watch the carnage of a generation of Americans who believe god is dead or never existed, and simultaneously wagging a finger at them for wanting to help those who cannot help themselves, the central tenant of the belief system laid down by their own god; the very same whose rejection they bemoan. Millennials have rejected not just the mainstream religions from which the god-fearing populace picks and chooses their beliefs, they have, more problematically to the American establishment, also rejected the false gods of consumerism and the accompanying notion of “ethical consumption.”

There are regular articles which trot out polls detailing how millennials are incredibly socialist and really hate capitalism, but also millennials don’t understand what socialism is and also like aspects of capitalism. We get it, man. You want us to think millennials are dopey. They don’t even know what Betamax was; how ignorant! Except your polls don’t offer the option of a mixed system, and typically, when you look at the other generations polled, they know even less about what any of the political systems actually are. So the narrative is that millennials are vapid, ignorant, self-obsessed children in adult bodies, except apparently everybody else is even more vapid and ignorant. If millennials are self-obsessed, our adoption of the baffling insult “social justice warrior” as a golem for our political beliefs is, at the least, a strange way of expressing self-obsession. Millennial-bashers, blind to the juvenoia that they suffer like every generation before them, will look for the opening here and say that the millennial desire to support those who are disregarded is out of a selfish need for self-affirmation, the product of a culture where losers get trophies. Of course, it was these same critics giving those trophies who created that culture (if participation ribbons even had a significant impact on culture at all, which seems dubious), but this paradoxical critique of millennials’ competitiveness has already been hashed out millions if not billions of times on the internet, and at any rate, even if self-affirmation is the objective, if the means to that end are the establishment of a compassionate society, who even gives a fuck?

zizek would prefer not to
Pictured: Millennial expressing feelings on participation in capitalism.

The last of the so-called “millennials” will cast their first ballots in elections in 2022, and you older generations (and self-hating millennials; don’t worry, we won’t forget you when the guillotine blades are being waxed) are probably praying for a reprieve, but you’re not going to get it. Generation Z, our little brothers and sisters and our sons and daughters and nieces and nephews, are even further left, and they will cut you if you don’t respect which gendered pronouns someone wants to be referred to with. As someone who idled away many a teenage afternoon listening to the likes of George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Chris Rock, etc., I know I’m supposed be all bent out of shape about this for some reason or another, but none of those reasons really resonate with me. I get that people like to be edgy, but there’s two types of edge: the edge that makes you uneasy because the government might try to censor you, or corporations might try to use their leverage against you, and the edge that makes you uneasy because you know what’s being said is harmful to someone. One is punching up, one is punching down. When Lenny Bruce used racial slurs, he was demonstrating the ghastly language that could be used in the presence of police offers in attendance at his comedy shows, ostensibly to put a stop to “profane speech” that might come out of Bruce’s mouth. Bruce could say “nigger” and “kike” all he liked, but the second he used a Yiddish word for cock, the handcuffs came out and flexed the power of what truly was then a “nanny state.” That, state-enforced regulation of speech, is “political correctness run amok.” Society responding as it will to ignorance is not. Millennial culture’s greatest crime is desiring that those with their hands upon the levers of power be punched at as opposed to those crushed by the gears those levers operate. That doesn’t make it wrong to laugh at a joke that punches down; laughter is mainly involuntary, and can be triggered by surprise or the release of tension just as easily as by genuine humor. But is there impetus upon the speaker not to offend?

Jerry Seinfeld moaned that he won’t play colleges anymore because they’re too politically correct. Really? What jokes is Jerry Fucking Seinfeld doing that are going to cause him to be driven off of a college campus like a philistine, and if his act does actually reveal him to be a philistine, why should I object when a bunch of arts and humanities majors, whose money paid for the privilege of him speaking before them, tell him to shut the fuck up? In short, no, there is no impetus upon the speaker not to offend. But there’s also no impetus upon the audience to listen, or not to yell at him or not walk out, or even give him a platform to speak from in the future. Just as there’s no impetus for comedy club owners in multicultural population centers to book a comedian who screams racial slurs and death threats at black patrons. Free market, amirite motherfuckers?

big lebowski assholes
“Dude, ‘Chinaman’ is not the preferred nomenclature. ‘Asian-American,’ please.”

The final primary line of attack against the culture of millennials seems to be that their concerns are petty, and that while this makes them obnoxious, and possibly dangerously inert to the whims of society as a whole, their political capital is wasted on things like the aforementioned gendered pronouns, and they are essentially helpless to impart real change upon the world. This is a highly flawed reading of the situation. To my specific example, having society respect your desire to be referred to as a man or a woman specifically might not seem like a big deal, but if you were transgender, you would probably think that it’s a pretty big fucking deal. The fact that you perceive the group concerned as ancillary suggests that majority rule justifies bigotry against minorities, and forgets that all of the groups that you consider “ancillary” combine to form an incredibly large segment of society. Unconsciously, you reveal an “us or them” division in your social ethos that ultimately only distinguishes in a coherent way the difference between the majority and everyone else. As to the view of millennials being doomed to ineffectuality, the irony is that those holding this opinion are doomed to political and social obsolescence by it. No one can deny that American culture is undergoing an upheaval, and anyone who denies that the so-called “P. C. Culture” of the millennials is one of the two major adversaries is fooling themselves. None of this is to say that millennials are without opposition; there is, of course, the other side, the people who went to Trump rallies (but perhaps not the economically-disenfranchised who didn’t but voted for him). But the fact of the matter is, American culture is seeing a wholesale rejection of its ingrained norms, customs, and mythology, and the “social justice warriors” are one of the two main groups fighting that battle. To consider millennials ineffectual is laughably obtuse, and, perhaps worse, deliberately ignorant. If anything, millennials are the ones who should be cocky, as thirty years from now you will be dead, and they will hold most of the seats in Congress. Burying your head in the sand has never been considered a wise tactic, and certainly, to discount the scope of a major social force dooms those who do so to irrelevancy.

I couldn’t be any happier with that.

The Signifiers of Monsoon in Hindi Cinema: Parallels from Brecht and Cultural Studies

The cultural industry of Hindi cinema has banked upon its geographical richness since its inception. While the inclusion of every season and the festivals therein is quite balanced, it is unequivocally the representation of monsoon that sets up aesthetic metaphorical constructions on the silver screen. Whether it is Kuleshov Effect or the use of montage, the idea of representing monsoon as an alienated concept from the central narrative or ‘life’ of the characters is a notable Brechtian characteristic in Hindi films. Such conception of monsoon is presented as an idea in itself that provides a perspective on the lives of the characters involved rather than becoming a naturalised happening of their milieu.

It is because of aforementioned reasons that I went on to call monsoon a ‘signifier’ in itself. When songs such as Pyaar Hua Ikraar Hua (Love Happened) from the movie Shri 420 and Bheegi Bheegi Raaton Main (In the Rainy Nights..) showcase romance between the two protagonists, it is not the romance that is realistically evolved and subsequently expressed in common parlance. It is a romance that is showcased as romance itself. Romance which has its ideological presence separate from the presence of the lovers involved. Therefore, in both the songs mentioned above, the idea of romance does not become synonymous with Raj Kapoor and Nargis or Rajesh Khanna and Zeenat Aman. Rather, it is the creation of the idea of romance itself through which the cinematic positioning of these characters are understood. So, this distinction between romance as an idea and the characters as mere forms of it, makes monsoon a cinematic as well as cultural signifier to represent the signified (romance).

Image result for bheegi bheegi raaton mein - Rajesh Khanna and Zeenat Aman

After understanding the alienation effect that Hindi cinema creates and has created over generations between the monsoon as a language and the characters as content, we shall now look into the various meanings that monsoon generates within the representational system of Hindi cinema.

Image result for Aaj rapat jaye

  1. Romantic Anticipation – The two songs mentioned above are a perfect examples of monsoon being used to describe the romantic anticipation and blossoming curiosity between the two lovers. Another addition to this can be a song that came almost three decades later – Sawan Barse Tarse Dil (Monsoon hovers as my heart craves). In Sawan Barse  there’s a shift away from the context of isolation as shown in the previous two songs. Unlike Pyaar Hua and Bheegi Bheegi Raaton Main, where lovers are shown in an isolated atmosphere under a moonlight sky, Sawan Barse uses Kuleshov Effect by using the busy streets of Bombay to show the carefree mindset of the two lovers involved. However, there is hard to trace the Screen A – Screen B direct metaphorical juxtaposition in the third song, it becomes evident in the closer analysis of the music video. Thus, I believe that completely crediting Kuleshov for this would not be a perfect idea but the commonalities are also hard to ignore. A notable example of a piece where both the isolation effect of the previous two songs and the carefree effect of the third song intersect can be Aaj Rapat Jaaye (If today I tumble down) starring Amitabh Bachchan and Smita Patil.

Image result for tip tip barsa pani

2. The Longing – In the era of 90s and early 2000s, monsoon acquired a much more sexual connotation in terms of using representations of cravings and fantasies. In Tip Tip Barsa Paani (As the rain drops) and Lagi Aaj Sawan Ki (Today, the rain is falling like old days) there is intense use of emotions and clever use of editing by utilizing more space while building upon developing sexual desires. Such was the heat of these songs, that Raveena Tandon’s orange saree from Tip Tip became a major symbol of sensuality and sexual liberation in pop culture. Another notable example of this category can be Saanson Ko Saanson Se from the movie Hum Tum (You and I) where the red saree of Rani Mukherjee and the beautiful set up of two lovers rolling on the beach sand under a moonlight is a visual delight in itself.

Image result for saanson ko saanson mein

3. The Liberation – Out of all, this is the most celebrated representation of monsoon in the Hindi cinema. And, I would say, the most relatable. Although, the relatability of this representation comes as a rite of passage to carefree state of mind, and probably goes against the Brethian principles, it still saves the grace by not creating the empathetic relationship between the audience and the character. In Barso Re (Let it rain) and Bhaage Re Man Kahi ( My heart take the strides) it is the breaking of the monotony, the creation of the antithetical to gender roles, that comes across as the most fascinating use of monsoon as a signifier. While in Barso Re, we see Aishwarya Rai celebrating her freedom of choice to choose her own lover and the further course of life, in Bhage Re Man we see Kareena Kapoor, who plays a bar dancer, taking a time off her constructed reality to subsume herself in the bliss of falling droplets. In both of these songs, it is the momentary split between the character and the context, between the constructed reality and the unguided display of liberation that creates a beautiful trajectory for the audience to analyse monsoon as a concept alienated from the narrative of the film.

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Although Hindi cinema is decorated with blissful songs on monsoon, I had to quite painfully restrict myself to a handful. However, I feel that the songs that have been discussed above are quite deserving symbols of the spectrum. Hindi cinema has been celebrating the idea in their isolated forms in order to create a separate space to the entities that exist around us. This separation and the  further use of these ideas as an existent matter of thought in themselves have empowered the audience to think of these ideas objectively and without the distractions of the cinematic construction of the plot or the personal lives of the characters. Such thought provoking use of signifiers such as monsoon gives Hindi cinema a democratic nature that allows every viewer to think of these signifiers independently and imbue their own understanding or relation with them. For me and I hope for the supporters of Bretch and Kant, this is surely fascinating.

Image result for aishwarya rai in Guru

The NFL: The Great American Synecdoche

I love football like dogs love licking their balls. My favorite team is the Oakland Raiders, and I’ve loved football this whole time in spite of how horrible they’ve been. They’re finally decent, and sit atop their conference’s wild card standings for playoff contention. Those close to me already find me unbearable in light of this development. American football is amongst the rawest gladiatorial carnage you can see outside a ring or an octagon, and unlike the ring or the octagon, the swarms of large men charging toward each other resemble more a battlefield than a bar fight. Yet the carnage is dwarfed by the cunning integral to the game, which since the early 60s and the coming of the American Football League has progressed at a pace suggestive of obedience to Moore’s Law.

The one thing, however, that I for certain love more than football are my values, which lean toward secular-humanist socialism possibly more communist than capitalist. And from this perspective, the truth about American football is obvious: it sucks.

Football, in its present incarnation, has become a parable of American corruption and American consumerism. With corporate personhood and the buying of elections we now see, the two are functionally one and the same. Certainly, there are no small number of military contracting firms that have taken the taxpayers for quite the ride time and time again, but this is all somewhat behind-the-curtain and between-the-lines. Professional football, a laughable term in the context of the exclusion of college athletes and so here meant to include college football as well, is an ongoing festival of U.S. civic corruption that occurs out in the open.

Groundbreaking is continuously ongoing for taxpayer-financed stadiums for professional and college teams. If it seems any less so in college than in the pros, then it’s because they have an extra hundred mil a piece to spare that they don’t have to spend on their student athletes. Organizations that make hundreds of millions of dollars while the organizing body they maintain makes and disperses billions back to them can’t find the dough to put up for a stadium every few decades. And continuously, despite frequent public opposition, these stadium deals get passed, and when they are quashed and a team moves, disenchanted fans blame it on their bankrupt cities and “politics” instead of the flush-with-cash teams and the tax-exempt leagues, supposed “non-profits” that pay their heads tens of millions a year.

The ongoing spectacles of tributes to the military at sporting events, complete with fighter jets flying over and fifty-thousand-square-foot flags unfurled across the field, have been revealed to be propaganda, farce conceived and arranged for by the Department of Defense. The teams have been paid handsomely for helping put on the show. In terms of spectacle, even the cheerleaders are getting fucked, with poverty wages and demeaning and sexist treatment by their employers. Football is increasingly not something Americans get out to have fun doing, but something they sit down to be placated watching. I gave up some years ago on trying to summon any number of people to actually go out and throw the pigskin around on the weekend–before the football is on t.v.–when I got a bunch of answers to the negative because the sorts that go out and play football instead of basketball where I live all preferred getting their fantasy football teams together for the upcoming games.

American activism, too, has been dragged by the short-hairs into football with the custom of pink-washing: pink crap all over the field, pink jerseys, pink hats, pink footballs, pink terrible towels, pink pigeons taking pink shits on those in attendance, all in reality giving minuscule percentages to breast cancer research, subverting true activism with its in-bred dinner party cousin and then just stealing all the money from the in-bred cousin anyway. The NFL gives a portion of their royalties from the proceeds, which don’t include the proceeds made by the “manufacturers” or “retailers” of the merchandise (also known as the NFL and the NFL Shop, as well as other outlets that sell league merchandise), who give not a cent. The sliver left over goes to the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade. If it were a bigger farce they’d legally have to call it Food-for-Oil.

In terms of the operations of the NFL itself, the scandals involving the New England Patriots have the same reek of corruption to them as the reek coming off of the corpse of American democracy, as six years of documented signal-stealing were swept under the rug with fines, and their evidence destroyed, while the team then went on to the first perfect sixteen-game regular season ever (and ultimately a Super Bowl loss) under the command of a head coach who saw no suspension for his involvement. In the past year, their reputation has again come under fire as they are embroiled in yet another cheating controversy, and they’ve responded to the investigation and subsequent penalties with the ferocity and propaganda of a high-level political campaign (their website “The Wells Report in Context,” is a magnum opus of bullshit artistry). Their efforts had seemingly failed when U.S. courts rode in to the rescue and vacated the suspension of Tom Brady for some vague reason having to do with the Commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, hearing both his initial case for the rule-breaking and then hearing the appeal where he upheld the full four-game suspension, something which has been standard for suspended players in recent years (short of not paring down a suspension on appeal, but Brady’s rule-breaking was considered more egregious than the standard sort of steroid or misconduct suspensions that are typically seen).

The reason for this favoritism, both within the NFL and then within the courts when the NFL finally put its foot down, is the influence of Robert Kraft, owner of the Patriots. Kraft not only owns the Patriots and the conglomerate that goes by his last name, he was also on the board of directors of Viacom until this August, whose sister firm, CBS Corporation, carries games played by teams in the NFL’s American Football Conference (half of the league, including the Patriots). Naturally, CBS routinely signs new, record-breaking deals with the NFL to carry games and, naturally, Kraft’s New England Patriots are seen an inordinate amount of the time in markets where there isn’t a local game on at the same time. I need not expound to you here as to how these business entanglements can and do make Robert Kraft an important person to those in the United States government, and so when the NFL finally got tired of his cheating ways, the courts bailed him out.

The NFL is allowed to get away with many things that would otherwise be made illegal by interstate commerce laws and other local commerce laws by virtue of their antitrust exemption (translation: they are a monopoly legally ordained by the United States government), made necessary when the National Football League and American Football League merged in 1970. As such, time and time again they are able to sidestep legal issues that would doom other entities; indeed, their very existence is such a dooming legal issue neatly sidestepped by antitrust exemption.

Now, however, there is a sudden death knell in sight looming over the game of football, not a threat just to the NFL and the NCAA, but to any outfit playing tackle football at any level: they don’t give a single, solitary shit about their players. It’s stunning, really, that the NCAA, for instance, has athletes earning tens of millions of dollars for their colleges who then go to bed hungry after earning their colleges those millions. Strict rules defining “amateurism” have come to bar even the buying of meals for these people in exchange for an appearance in order to maintain this amateurism, but the reality of course is that the rules have not really come to prevent the wining, dining, and car-buying that colleges have used for decades to lure athletes to their schools. They still do, and they still get caught sometimes, but the true objective has been achieved: avoidance of salaries to student athletes that, by all rights, should be upwards of tens of millions for the highest-achieving of those athletes. By every measure, they are doing something functionally identical to what their “professional” counterparts do for those sums, and by every measure, they are desperately in need of such funds, of any funds, in a system where there is no long-term care for athletes who suffer catastrophic injuries (in the last couple of years, former players and the families of former players sued the NFL into setting up a meager fund for ex-athletes, but even then, only for those named in the suit). The student athletes are “paid” with bullshit educations they barely need to attend to graduate from or can just have teachers openly do their work for them because everybody involved already knows why the athletes are there.

But, even this level of just-not-giving-a-shit about the people who make your money for you is dwarfed by how football is currently contributing to a dwindling talent pool through their refusal to reform, in any significant way, a game that parents are increasingly refusing to let their children play. My parents didn’t let me play tackle football. I don’t plan on letting my kids play tackle football. The National Hockey League is overdue for a player health scandal, and perhaps if it’s sufficient enough to threaten the existence of the less-robust hockey institutions then college and professional football will take note. Shining a light on the similar dangers in hockey to the light that’s been cast on football’s problems could significantly threaten the weaker National Hockey League both financially and existentially. Professional and college football have seen the rash of evidence that football damages your brain severely, every bit as much so as pugilism, and have not adjusted accordingly. Fittingly, the market forces that made them into unconscionably-large monoliths that are so often above the rules will threaten to ruin them.

It’s a classic tale of American greed. To make a dollar today, they will gladly make none ever again in a few mere decades, and as always it involves fucking the workers as much as humanly possible. At every turn, it’s an analogy for America in modernity, literally hitting itself in the head over and over again until at last brain damage sets it and it can’t order itself to keep doing it. The Great American Synecdoche, a piece of the whole that represents the whole. How many indistinct pieces of our culture can speak to the whole before we begin to realize that we are no longer the sum of our parts?