Published: Tue, 25 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Last Build Date: Tue, 25 Oct 2016 18:05:46 -0400
Fri, 21 Oct 2016 12:35:00 -0400Back in 1990, the World Wide Web existed in only embryonic form. The internet was becoming more accessible, but most people did not use it. An online world was emerging, but it was far from clear just what it would look like once it became a mass phenomenon. In that environment, certain segments of the culture—and certain segments of the counterculture—were intensely interested in how digital technologies could change the world. Some of the forecasts that emerged were close to the mark. Some seemed plausible but turned out to be wrong. And some were gushing geysers of ridiculous hype. You can see all three, but especially the third, in Cyberpunk, a 1990 documentary directed by one Marianne Trench. There are marquee names here—the interviewees include William Gibson, Timothy Leary, and Vernon Reid—but the real star is the idea that cyberpunk had ceased to be a mere science-fiction subgenre and had become, in the narrator's words, a "way of life." The movie is terrible, but it's terrible in engrossing ways. The script careens haphazardly from one loosely related topic to another (hackers! smart drugs! dresses made of computer chips!), all of them described in purplest possible terms. Everything we see is dressed up with what seemed at the time to be "futuristic" visual effects. (Think of them as the early-'90s counterpart to the "psychedelic" effects of a hippie-era exploitation flick.) And then there's the you-gotta-be-kidding-me interview with a fellow who called himself Michael Synergy. He goes on at great length about his hacker powers and outlaw cred without giving us any reasons to take his vague claims seriously. The narrator informs us that he is a "legitimate cyber-hero." Speaking as someone who was 20 years old when this came out, I can attest that much of the movie's ridiculousness would have been obvious even at the time. (I didn't see the picture when it was released, but I remember rolling my eyes at similar attempts to make cyberpunk the Next Big Countercultural Trend. Everyone I knew who actually identified with any of these cultural currents emitted a big groan when, say, Time did a cyberpunk cover story.) But one thing that wasn't clear back then was how accurate the video's forecasts for the future would be. Some of it does feel prescient now—you can catch flashes of future phenomena ranging from transhumanism to WikiLeaks—but it's the stuff that's wrong that's most fascinating. Consider the section about music. The filmmakers want to highlight the ways digital technologies will democratize the culture, yet we get no glimpses of the revolutions that would soon turn both the production and distribution of music upside-down; instead the movie focuses on industrial bands with "cyberpunk-themed songs." Or consider Leary's discussion of the ways cyberspace will transform the way we work. Some of his portrait isn't so far from the lives of modern telecommuters using Skype. But he seems to think that this future will require everyone to wear a "computer suit" and enter virtual reality. Speaking of virtual reality: If you watch just one part of Cyberpunk, make it the section that starts about 46 minutes in, when the narrator starts to go on about "a social time bomb called 'cyberspace.'" This was back before cyberspace was widely used as a word for the entire online universe; this movie still associates it with the virtual-reality vision described in Gibson's 1984 novel Neuromancer. And so we get a breathless description of the coming virtual world, which in this video looks like a combination of Second Life and Tron. I probably shouldn't hold the early-'90s hype about virtual reality against the current prognostications that VR is about to change everything, but it's worthwhile to look back at these old predictions before you accept the new ones too readily. Here's the movie: src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/hRwU9zJcT60" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> One person who liked this documentary, incidentally, was the libertarian activist Karl Hess, who urged[...]
Fri, 02 Sep 2016 11:30:00 -0400
(image) "Has man's dream of his children's future ended in a nightmare?" So asks Ken Granger in The Hippies, a lurid film strip from 1967. Granger was a member of the John Birch Society, and he blames the rise of the counterculture on the forces you'd probably expect a '60s conservative to invoke: progressive education, permissive parenting, World Communism. What makes his film interesting on more than a camp level is that he also blames big business, condemning consumerism and conformity in terms a hippie could love.
In the wake of World War II, the film strip declares, Madison Avenue started turning to psychologists for help selling products. The resulting research developed "techniques that could be used to create new desires in people, to change the philosophies of security and saving to the philosophy of spending." Young people in particular were easily manipulated, as a series of music- and fashion-focused youth cultures proved: "The technique of combining music with mass merchandising brought near total control of the purchasing habits of a whole generation."
All it then took (Granger continues) was for Communists to start using the same techniques to sell ideas instead of music. Presto: sex, drugs, and New Left subversion!
Marketers do not, in fact, have such perfect powers of persuasion, and the hippies were not a mesmerized mass of—in Granger's words—"zombie-like vegetables." But it's certainly true that the '60s "counter" culture owed a lot to the mass culture its members were allegedly rejecting. In his kooky way, Granger was noting a truth that many hippie hagiographers prefer to ignore. It's just that he filtered that truth through a paranoid worldview that owed almost as much to John Kenneth Galbraith as it did to Robert Welch.
Needless to say, you can enjoy this on a camp level too. Granger's frightened imagination leads him to all sorts of strange places (inevitably, there are wild sex parties), and he makes several basic errors: mispronouncing everything from "Phil Ochs" to "scabies" and scrambling the names of songs and of at least one organization. There's a pretty good soundtrack too, courtesy of a garage rock band called the Undecided. The credits call it "original music," which makes me wonder if the band's members knew—or cared—that they were recording something for an anti-rock film:
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Fri, 19 Feb 2016 11:01:00 -0500In 1970, Hunter Thompson ran for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado, on a Freak Power ticket, promising to sod the streets, put dishonest drug dealers in stocks, and change Aspen's name to "Fat City." His campaign caught the attention of the British TV show This Week, which sent a crew to make a documentary about it. The resulting program ignored the satiric side of Thompson's campaign—not one of those deliberately over-the-top pledges is mentioned here—and instead presents the race as a straightfoward battle between reform-minded hippies and a conservative establishment. Add to that the English filmmakers' faintly alien language and perspective (the narrator uses words like "goodies" and "baddies," and at one point pauses to explain that "grass" means "marijuana") and you get a pretty peculiar picture. But it's an interesting peculiar picture, capturing a moment when a previous set of settlers in the American West was starting to come to terms (or not) with a new wave of westerners with beards and long hair. (Or, in Thompson's case, with virtually no hair on his head at all.) And some nuances sometimes slip into the documentary's kids-vs.-the-old-folks framing, as when a young man says he'll be voting for the incumbent—"nobody's getting busted here that's not absolutely asking for it," he elaborates, and Thompson is a "psychotic" with "no grip on reality." Shortly after that, a couple of older Coloradans declare that they're backing the freak. "I like to see justice done equally to the rich and the poor, or whatever it is," one explains. There's also a NSFW segment featuring some skinny-dippers getting high with a man in an Aspen police uniform. (Apparently he was actually the dogcatcher.) Oddly, the filmmakers who had no trouble showing nudity there later bleeped the word "fucked." I assume that in the United Kingdom of the early '70s, that seemed to make sense. Spoiler alert: Thompson loses. But the results are much closer than you might expect. frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/xrBR1YxfJf8" height="315" width="420"> By the way: If you're looking for antecedents to Donald Trump's comment that he "could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody" without losing any votes, go to the 14:50 mark, where Thompson tells an interviewer that there's a core group of hippies who would vote for him "if I went out there and walked through the streets naked with a bomb in each hand and drugs dripping." Bonus link: Thompson writes a letter to Thames TV demanding a copy of the film. My favorite sentence: "It was a horror to have those fuckers around, with all those lights & cables & other assorted garbage everywhere we went; but we figured we stood a good chance of winning, & for that reason we also thought it would be good to have the story on British TV." More bonus links: Matt Welch writes about Thompson here. I write about Thompson's campaign—and the similarly cracked candidacies of Norman Mailer, Jimmy Breslin, Jello Biafra, and Howard Stern—here. Past editions of the Friday A/V Club are here.[...]
Tue, 06 Oct 2015 13:53:00 -0400
Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty (that's me!) did a live stage show panel discussion regarding the Burning Man festival at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Hollywood California the other week.
The audio of the event is now available via the technology of "Podcast," the Hound Tall podcast hosted by comedian and author Moshe Kasher.
Other panelists include more great comic minds: Natasha Leggero, Matt Kirshen, and Brent Weinbach.
Before or after listening, consider buying the book that got me the gig, now available in an e-book only 10th anniversary edition with a new 5,000 word afterword: This is Burning Man.
My first writing about Burning Man was in a February 2000 cover story in Reason magazine.
Mon, 05 Oct 2015 19:31:00 -0400Augustus Sol Invictus (he acknowledges this is not his birth name) is a Florida lawyer, a former member of a branch of the "Thelemist" religious group Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) (associated with the doctrines of British mystic Aleister Crowley), and the author of a letter to some of his fellow DePaul University law graduations in 2013 announcing: I have prophesied for years that I was born for a Great War; that if I did not witness the coming of the Second American Civil War I would begin it myself. Mark well: That day is fast coming upon you. On the New Moon of May, I shall disappear into the Wilderness. I will return bearing Revolution, or I will not return at all. War Be unto the Ends of the Earth, Augustus Sol Invictus Mr. Invictus since emerged from the wilderness an announced candidate for federal Senate from Florida under the banner of the Libertarian Party (L.P.), although he has not yet filed the over $10,000 fee or over 100,000 signatures he needs to officially be on the ballot. On the stump speech video that is front and center on his campaign website, one mostly dedicated to reminding Libertarians that their enemy the state is at war with them, that they have to turn themselves into legitimate threats to the state, Invictus says, among many other interesting things (including references to "more reasonable men, men less insane" than him): "I want you to revolt...I want you to be dangerous...I want each and every one of you to be a legitimate threat...I don't want you to vote so much as I want you to wake up, drop out and tune in, I want you to take LSD and practice sorcery, I want you to listen to trap music and black metal, to learn the law and break it deliberately...to subject yourself to rigorous physical training, treat your body as holy temples" and to take your girlfriends to strip clubs while you seduce the dancers in the back room. The Senate candidate also says he knows federal agents will be listening and will eventually come to arrest him. Invictus has also drawn the raised eyebrows of some other Florida Libertarians via an article he wrote while in law school defending and recommending government eugenics programs. While he officially disavows eugenics as a political project of the U.S. government, and notes he's not campaigning on a eugenics program, he still writes that "in theory, were a State run by a beneficent philosopher-king, and were his edicts carried out by magnanimous servants of the people, then perhaps eugenic measures could work." For those Libertarians bothered that such thoughts could ever have issued from his pen, even though he does not advocate state-sponsored eugenics as a candidate, Invictus writes that "To circumscribe our freedom of thought because of the delicate sensibilities of suburban paper pushers is the most despicable type of totalitarian tyranny imaginable." Adrian Wyllie (who ran for governor of Florida last year and got a very high for the L.P. nearly 4 percent, 223,000 or so votes) resigned Thursday from his position as chair of the Libertarian Party of Florida (LPF), because he felt the Party's executive committee was insufficiently willing to speak out publicly against Invictus for what Wyllie considers obvious offenses against libertarianism. Wyllie made a public announcement of his resignation on his Facebook page: The legally-changed name he chose for himself is revealing. August Sol Invictus is Latin, and translates to "The Unconquerable Sun God."... Clearly, this man is the absolute antitheses of a Libertarian. Violent Fascist and Neo-Nazi ideologies are completely incompatible with Libertarian values. As such, I had repeatedly and vocally disavowed him and his followers. I advised the LPF that I would continue to speak out against him, regardless of the consequences. Wyllie wants it understood that he doesn't think the others on the LPF executive committee were fans or supporters of Invictus, but that they were overly pu[...]
Mon, 17 Aug 2015 16:00:00 -0400
(image) "We're now in distribution abundance," says Jon Fine, "so if you're telling me that Amazon is bad for culture, like seriously, fuck you."
Fine is the executive editor of Inc. and the author of the acclaimed new memoir, Your Band Sucks: What I Saw at Indie Rock's Failed Revolution (But Can No Longer Hear), a rollicking tour of his days in the alternative music scene of the late 1980s and '90s.
"Somewhere in the latter half of the eighties, it became much easier for weird bands to do band things: play shows, make records, go on tour. The hows and whys that had been so elusive just a few years earlier were now shared through surprisingly effective samizdat and word-of-mouth networks," writes Fine, a member of "resolutely non-famous bands" such as Bitch Magnet and Coptic Light.
Your Band Sucks is at once a remembrance of things past and a polemic against the generic, mainstream culture and political correctness that Fine found deadening while growing up in New Jersey and attending college at Oberlin. It's a book that is by turns angry, funny, and infuriating. Throughout, it perfectly captures the adolescent anger and inchoate longing that has always fueled rock music and provided the soundtrack to DIY forms of cultural production and consumption.
"If there's anything that will turn you into a foaming-at-the-mouth Tea Party[er] and get you throwing stones at every liberal shibboleth you can get your hands on, it's going to Oberlin," Fine says. At the same time, his urge to create radically different music far beyond anything that was being played on MTV or commercial radio. "I felt like there was a lot not being said" in the mainstream, he explains. "Howard Jones had a song called 'Things Can Only Get Better,' really bouncy, annoying optimistic. I was like, 'You're actually wrong! Things suck and they are getting worse!'...I actually got mad about it: 'How dare you say that!' You couldn't find music easily that was talking about the other stuff....There was so much shading I wanted to get at."
"Any time you're identifying strongly with a subculture that's a minority in America, whether it's weird underground music or libertarianism, you've gotta know that you're gonna be kind of despised," says Fine, drawing an analogy between outre art and politics. "You've got to be a little bit pugilistic about it and furthermore, you understand yourself not just by the people around you but the people who are not around you and are doing the things you think are weak and inept."
Nick Gillespie talked to Fine about how alternative and independent culture has flourished over the past 30 years and whether—Howard Jones be praised!—things may actually be getting better.
About 7.30 minutes. Produced by Joshua Swain, with camera by Swain and Todd Krainin.
Special Note: Scroll down for a special MP3 recording of the full conversation between Fine and Gillespie. This 44-minute conversation ranges as widely and obscurely as a Bitch Magnet tour across questions of politics, music, and culture.
Thu, 09 Jul 2015 11:23:00 -0400
The operators of a communal property dedicated to food self-sufficiency—that is, an organic farm—are striking back via federal court against a city that sent a SWAT team to raid their property in a fruitless search for marijuana back in 2013, a local NBC station near Arlington, Texas reports:
The lawsuit claims that police were heavy handed, never had probable cause to raid the facility and based the search largely on an anonymous tip and a flyover, which spotted what looked like marijuana plants.
The plants turned out to be tomatoes.
In a statement, assistant Arlington city attorney Melinda Barlow said the city is reviewing the lawsuit....The case was filed in federal court in Fort Worth.
While it's a shame that victories in cases like these punish taxpayers more than it does the officials who committed the crimes, the courts remain alas the only legitimate place for aggrieved citizens to receive recompense for injustice heaped on them by cops.
J.D. Tuccille reported for Reason on the raid and its idiocy and criminality when it occurred back in 2013, including accounts of all the petty bullshit citations that tend to hit people trying to lead at-all-unusual lives on their land even before the SWAT army comes tearing through.
Thu, 28 May 2015 11:00:00 -0400Aquarius. NBC. May 28, 9 p.m. EDT. Contrary to what you may have heard, when the moon was in the seventh house and Jupiter aligned with Mars, everything went to pieces. Cops beat hippies senseless in the streets, Weathermen blew up buildings (and, sometimes, themselves), and political assassination was a growth industry. The bombers that turned into butterflies over Woodstock hatched into Hell's Angels with knives a few months later at Altamont. If there was a real signature song to the 1960s, it wasn't any dippy ballad from Hair but the ominous Shape Of Things To Come from the raging exploitation flick Wild in the Streets: "There's a new sun/risin' up angry in the sky..." This is the 1960s of NBC's new series Aquarius, a dark crime drama drawn on a canvas of generational apocalypse in which you can practically hear something slouching toward Bethlehem in the background. Aquarius stars David Duchovny as bemused and cynical middle-aged police detective Sam Hodiak, who is slogging through the counterculture of 1967 Los Angeles in search of the runaway teenage daughter of a wealthy Republican lawyer. It doesn't take him long to discover she's joined a commune run by a hippie guru just in from San Francisco, Charlie Manson, still two years short of the infamy of the Tate-LaBianca murders. Tracking down her exact whereabouts, however, remains a problematic task for a Joe Friday cop trying to navigate the world of flower power. He wears a suit and tie as he attempts to inflitrate a Sunset Strip go-go joint and scoffs in disbelief at the news he's got to read suspects a warning that they don't have to answer his questions. His reaction to the changing guard varies from outright rage—when a potential narcotics informant tells him he wants the details of their deal in writing, Hodiak gives the man a vicious kick in the groin, then scrawls SNITCH across his forehead with a ballpoint pen—to mute incomprehension at a world where hippies counter his demand for a warrantless search of their crash pad by chanting, "The pig wants what the pig wants." To help bridge the gaping generational and cultural gap, Hodiak drafts a couple of younger officers, an undercover vice squad narc (Grey Damon, Friday Night Lights) and a straight-arrow female patrolman (Claire Holt, The Originals). The sometimes funny and sometimes ominous result is something like Dragnet meets The Mod Squad in a James Ellroy novel, especially as Holt's character begins falling under the siren call of her voluptuary cover story. If the cop side of Aquarius covers the death rattle of the old culture, the scene at Manson's commune is an alarming account of the birth pangs of the new one. Gethin Anthony (who played Renley Baratheon in Game of Thrones) is probably a little too pretty to be playing Manson. But he's otherwise impressive as the ubermanipulative overlord of a troop of followers—mostly girls in or barely out of their teens—whose minds were awash in inchoate anti-materialism and bad acid. If there's a problem with Aquarius, it's in believing that a stream of such Hallmark-dumpster aphorisms as "If you let go of everything from before, you're alive for the first time" could win Manson a following that was willing to do anything for him, including kill, but much of this stuff is drawn directly from the historical record. As Manson's parole officer puts it with a shrug: "He's got a quality." The Manson story has been told on screen many times before, in countless documentaries as well as two chilling and finely crafted miniseries adaptations of prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi's book Helter Skelter, and if there no more to Aquarius than that, it would probably be a wasted effort. But executive producer John McNamara (whose previous work has ranged from the humdrum police procedural In Plain Sight to the fascinating American version of the BBC's self-destructive-c[...]
Fri, 27 Mar 2015 10:47:00 -0400
(image) Willie Nelson wants to launch his own line of connoisseur-quality cannabis, which he apparently plans to call Willie's Reserve. I expect most people to process that news by thinking, Yeah, that's the sort of thing I'd expect Willie Nelson to do, so let's take a moment to remember that there was a time when country music and pot weren't supposed to mix. "We don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee," Merle Haggard famously sang in 1969; there's a fair chance Haggard was high as a kite when wrote the line, but back then most of his audience didn't know that.
What a difference a decade makes. By the end of the '70s, you could turn on a country-music TV show and see Charlie Daniels singing about getting stoned in this redneck-hippie libertarian anthem:
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Once such a tremendous cultural collision has happened, it starts to look natural, even inevitable, in retrospect. By 1979 Hank Williams Jr. could sing, "If I get stoned and sing all night long/It's a family tradition"—and sure enough, the tradition was there, and not just in the Williams family. It just had to be discovered first.
And now Willie Nelson, the walking personification of the redneck-hippie collision, intends to sell specialty weed to the Whole Foods crowd. Does that mean we're about to see the rise of the redneck-hipster? The mind reels.
(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)
Wed, 04 Feb 2015 10:42:00 -0500
The Missoulian reports:
(image) The Missoula Police Department got the nod Wednesday to have the mayor sign off on a Homeland Security grant proposal—one that names the Rainbow Family as an "extremist" hazard in western Montana.
The $254,930 grant will purchase a mobile communications vehicle the Missoula police will share with other law enforcement and emergency responders in seven western Montana counties, according to Assistant Police Chief Scott Hoffman. The city's contribution is $29,200....
The draft letter from Mayor John Engen is addressed to the state Department of Military Affairs in Helena, and the proposal names natural, technological and man-made hazards. Among other specifics, the list cites avalanches, train derailments and extremist groups, naming the Hells Angels and Rainbow Family in particular.
(image) The Rainbow Family is a loose network of hippies who meet in a different national forest each year. Fights have been known to break out at their events, but for the most part they're about as violent as an opium den. The Rainbows are a thorn in the side of law enforcement because they don't get permits, because they smoke a lot of weed, and because some of them like to run around naked, but the biggest problem you can attribute to them is that they sometimes leave a bit of a mess. Whatever else you might say about them, they are not an "extremist" threat, and the troubles they might cause have nothing to do with "homeland security." (And the Hells Angels aren't "extremists" either, even if some of them think it's cool to wear swastikas.)
But the police do tend to get excited when the Rainbows come to town. In 2008 an ACLU report argued that the Rainbows have faced a "pattern" of "harassment and general over zealous enforcement" from the Forest Service cops. State and local police have often taken the same approach. When Reason ran a dispatch from the 2000 Rainbow Gathering—held in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest in, yes, Montana—our reporter described "aerial flyovers, mounted patrols through the Gathering, increased state and local patrols on area roads," and a bunch of citations and arrests, including one for a drunken assault but mostly for victimless crimes.
If that's how the Montana police think they should handle the hippies, it isn't surprising that they'd grab an opportunity to have the feds help pay for their tools, especially if they can use the same federally funded vehicle to deal with genuine emergencies. And if they think it's helpful to mutter something about "extremists" to get the dollars flowing, well, they know what Homeland Security wants to hear. What isn't clear is why taxpayers in the rest of the country should be subsidizing this.
Bonus link: If you think it's unlikely that Washington will approve the grant, check out Gene Healy's column on some of the items Homeland Security has already agreed to pay for.
Sat, 01 Nov 2014 07:00:00 -0400
The Sultan of Sewers
I was William Burroughs' companion for 23 years, and for about 17 years I have been the executor of his estate. I'd like to send my sincere compliments on Jesse Walker's review of Barry Miles' Call Me Burroughs ("The Sultan of Sewers," July). Very insightful-into Miles' book and into the life and thoughts of William S. Burroughs.
I especially commend his notes on Jack Black's You Can't Win and the role that Rose Wilder Lane played in Black's literary career. As a longtime student of Black's life and works, I strongly suspect that Lane had a hand in the composition of You Can't Win. Also, that it is about 25 percent fanciful. It's a great book all the same.
Readers interested in a closer examination of William's attitudes in the period of April 1946 to December 1952-with special reference to his notes on Westbrook Pegler, FDR's "court-packing," the bracero workers' program, and his self-image as an hard-drinking gentleman farmer in east Texas and the Rio Grande Valley-should have a look at my good friend Rob Johnson's The Lost Years of William S. Burroughs (2006).
William S. Burroughs Estate
You Can Never Drive
I note with interest that pot advocates ("You Can Never Drive," July) are coming up against the same issue drinkers have dealt with for years: Pot affects different users differently, therefore "impairment" can't be determined via the expedient of simply looking at ratios of certain substances in a user's blood.
While the town librarian who ties one on once a year might be giggling hysterically at .08, those of us who have knocked back heroic quantities of hooch for decades would scarcely notice the effect at that level. The same is very obviously true of marijuana enthusiasts.
Sean M. Smith
Cottage Grove, OR
CORRECTION: "Insider Trading Everywhere!" (Citings, October) a George Mason economist's name was misspelled. It is Henry Manne, not Henry Mannes.
Letters are welcome and should be addressed to
reason 1747 Connecticut Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20009 fax: 202-315-3623 firstname.lastname@example.org
"It'll be even more difficult to get a sensible laissez faire policy towards marijuana on the books than it was to get it to be ostensibly legal. The current status awards the state untold amounts of power of users and producers. And if governments will do any one thing well, it is to preserve their own power for it's own sake. There is no reasoning with them, there is only reasoning with the multitude [of] fools who give government power its teeth."
-reason.com commenter "Free Society" in response to "Washington's Legal Marijuana Mess" (July)
"I think the author oversells the value of the camaraderie here. However, since no criminal act is required in order to become a Juggalo, there is no valid reason to treat them like a gang, even if you accept the premise we ought to treat gangs a certain way."
-reason.com commenter "Kevin47" in response to "Government vs. the Juggalos" (July)
"Maybe it was growing up with parents with high-profile (within their industry, not celebrity stuff) jobs, but I was taught from a young age to always assume I was being recorded. Privacy is dead."
-reason.com commenter "BilboTeabaggins" in response to "Welcome to the Naked Future" (July)
Wed, 17 Sep 2014 11:00:00 -0400A technicolor dream bus called "Furthur" captained by a man named Kesey is zigzagging across the country. It's no coincidence that exactly 50 years ago, a nearly identical magic trip took place. Zane Kesey is the son of American literary and cultural icon, Ken Kesey, who participated in early government tests with psychoactive drugs like LSD, wrote the powerfully anti-establishment novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and then gathered on a busload of folks who called themselves Merry Pranksters and travelled the country experimenting with drugs, playing avant-garde music, and spreading love and mischief. Kesey and his gang were integral bodies in the constellation of American counterculture, whizzing around and often colliding with Beatnik-era survivors like Neal Cassidy, budding writers like Hunter Thompson, groups like the Hells Angels, and yet-unknown bands like The Grateful Dead. Zane, who has the same mountain man frame and infectious smile as his father, thinks a lot of that stuff was pretty cool, so this May he launched a Kickstarter campaign and raised more than enough funds to do the trip again. Wearing an electric-blue zebra-stripe carnival-prize pimp hat and a day-glo-splattered jumpsuit, he rolled into the college town of Kent, Ohio this Monday and explained his aim: On the surface we're doing the 50th anniversary trip and just going out and doing a bus trip and having fun, but deeper down we're setting out to see what that seed has blossomed into and how much of the '60s is still out there and whether it's thrived or shriveled on the vine and so far we're seeing a lot of really good stuff. The nutshell of the '60s and almost what made it fall apart is [the idea that] all you need is love. And if you got everyone on that same page it would be a beautiful world. Not everybody got on that page. I'd still like to get everybody on that page. Another part of the goal is to raise interest and money for a long-delayed restoration project of the original Furthur bus (there are several), to preserve that piece of American history. He and his pranksters stop in cities for jam band shows, play some music of their own, and sell blotter paper. Zane makes it clear, the paper is just art. It's drug free and so is the bus. He's never had a taste for LSD and says that although drugs can be liberating, they were not an unequivocally positive feature of the movement his father started. "It's really important for us not to have that in the trip. And 'don't do drugs' is not necessarily our message. As long as you do all the steps you did before, you dress up crazy and act crazy and have psychedelic music and lights and everybody's having fun, it can be just as much fun." His intrepid fellow travelers seem to agree. They range in age from "Pinky," who just turned 21, to some older souls who almost certainly qualify for Social Security. Brendan, who says he's "an outlaw in spirit" just joined the bus this week, claims he traveled all the way from Iraq to part of the fun. All decked out in hippie and raver attire, they enjoy having dance parties going down the highway. Asked about their best experiences so far on this journey, many said they couldn't single any out. "Every day is the most interesting day with the pranksters," says Matt, who serves as documentarian for the trip. "They're going to be friends for life." For him, "a big part of the message is showing that we can go even further in another 50 years" in terms of developing music, the arts, and the freedom to be "outgoing and creative and not caring what people think about you." They're warm, if elusive, individuals. Some of them like "Thumpah" go by their prankster nickname instead of their given name. He wants to "prank at free will and allow people to think that which i[...]
Sat, 02 Aug 2014 19:00:00 -0400
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"Inside the Sharknado: Mockbusters, Remix Culture, and the Earnestness of Camp," produced by **Zach Weissmueller. 4 minutes.**
Original release date was July 29, 2014. Original writeup is below.
"The government's not prepared, man," says Judah Friedlander, castmember of Sharknado 2: The Second One, when asked if FEMA would respond to a sharknado effectively. "But Ian Ziering is."
Reason TV talked to Friedlander, Ziering, and director Anthony C. Ferrante about the upcoming sequel to the wildly popular TV movie Sharknado, which became a cultural phenomenon inspiring almost 5,000 tweets a minute and netting SyFy network more viewers than any other original program had ever done before.
Reason TV also spoke to David Rimawi, CEO of The Asylum, the production and distribution company that made Sharknado and has created a name for itself as a producer of low-budget "mockbuster" movies like Snakes on a Train, Transmorphers, and The Terminators, which consistently push the limits of intellectual property law.
"We're not very creative, but we're much more creative than the studios, or at least the same level of creativity," says Rimawi, who points to the huge share of Hollywood blockbusters based on previously existing trademarks or brands. "We do that as well, using their products."
As The Asylum has achieved greater mainstream success, they've even inspired knock-offs of their own products, such as a popular "Shark Tornado" game available on the iTunes app store. To this, Rimawi can only shrug and appreciate the gumption.
"These guys were quicker. 'Shark Tornado': We don't own that. I was just jealous," says Rimawi.
Sharknado 2: The Second One premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on SyFy.
Approximately 4 minutes. Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by Tracy Oppenheimer, Alexis Garcia, and Weissmueller.
Thu, 22 May 2014 16:31:00 -0400Perched in a watchtower above a live-sized game of Mouse Trap, MythBusters host Adam Savage announced, "When you make something ... you're telling a story about your desires. ... You're using your tools to improve yourself and the world around you." He was directing the point to the younger attendees in his crowd of hundreds at Maker Faire in San Mateo, California, this past weekend. Their stories and desires are varied, but there was a consistent theme among many makers: They want to make life and learning more liberated, more fun, and a bit more rugged. Implicit in their optimism and aim toward improvement is the awareness that current circumstances kind of suck. Young people cranked through America's school system know that too well. The first generation exposed en masse to zero tolerance policies, millennials have been expelled, arrested, and tasered for an absurd litany of inoffensive acts. That's on top of schools' perennial failure to actually provide kids with a decent education. This generation is growing up and going to college in record numbers, only to find institutions drained of their counterculture gusto for intellectual confrontation and replaced by free speech zones that quarantine unpalatable ideas. Growing up alongside millennials is the maker movement, and it is flourishing. Many young adults would do well to look upon this year's Maker Faire's standout structure: an imposing, steampunk octopus perched on a Mad Max-esque car. The razor-jawed, trash can-paneled beast is awesome in its ability to push people out of any sense of normalcy. It belches flames out of its tentacles as though it were a gritty reboot of the Statue of Liberty illuminating the eclectic, rough-around-the-edges movement of makers, whose do-it-yourself constituency overlaps everyone from hackers to knitters to off-the-gridders. They, like Savage, embrace hands-on education that "recognizes that discouragement and failure is part of the project." "In the maker community, you won't often find people who say, 'You can't do that,'" explains Lucy Beard, founder of 3D-printed shoe business Feetz. But that's not to say makers are soft on each other. She comes to the fair to hear, "I don't think you're doing it right. You could do it like this." In this way, her peers act like a massive, decentralized workshop course better than the current college environment, whereas the class of 2014, instilled with a sense of fragility, calls for the censorship of ugly art, pleads for "trigger warnings" so they can avoid canonical literature's fictitious violence, and petitions against commencement speakers whose ideologies differ from their inchoate own. Beard and other makers, by contrast, seek out the exchange of criticism because it "is how we all grow." Of course, some of that growth happens best at the individual level. Ryo Chijiiwa, creator of solar panel startup BootstrapSolar, credits the experiences he gained living off the grid for his readiness to confront new challenges. "I'm trained as a software engineer, I didn't know anything about solar," he says. Having his cabin's solar panels fail in the woods "forced me to solve problems, but it also empowered" Chijiiwa and provoked him to design easily repairable panels useful for people in disaster situations. Some have even created a whole curriculum out of this kind of rugged attitude. "We don't tell kids to be careful. We tell them to pay attention. That's one of our first and most important values," says Jess Liotta, the regional director of wilderness education organization Trackers Earth, which teaches people how to make a range of tools and weapons. Put differently by an 8-year-old Tracker, the organization aims to teach people "how to [...]
Fri, 04 Apr 2014 09:05:00 -0400
This week I finished reading Call Me Burroughs, Barry Miles' new biography of my favorite of the first-generation Beat writers, the dry old satirist William Burroughs. I'll have more to say about Miles' book, and about Burroughs in general, in an upcoming Reason article. (Quick preview: Burroughs' worldview is more good than bad; it's harder to say that about his life.) For now, I'll just post the most unexpected entry in Burroughs' c.v. since his '60s flirtation with Scientology:
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Yes, that's a Nike commercial. I remember it catching me by surprise as I watched TV one night in 1994. Twenty years later, I have no idea what program it interrupted, but I'm sure the show wasn't as memorable as the sight of William S. Burroughs hawking shoes.
(image) Not long afterward, Thomas Frank mocked the spot in The Baffler. Frank's big theme in those days was that rebellion had become commodified; if Nike had deliberately set out to bait him, it couldn't have done better than to produce a sneaker ad starring a counterculture icon. We shouldn't be surprised to see Burroughs in an advertisement, Frank wrote, because "His ravings are no longer appreciably different from the official folklore of American capitalism. What's changed is not Burroughs, but business itself. As expertly as Burroughs once bayoneted American proprieties, as stridently as he once proclaimed himself beyond the laws of man and God, he is today a respected ideologue of the Information Age, occupying roughly the position in the pantheon of corporate-cultural thought once reserved strictly for Notre Dame football coaches and positive-thinking Methodist ministers. His inspirational writings are boardroom favorites, his dark nihilistic burpings the happy homilies of the new corporate faith." Now that you've read that once, go back and imagine you're hearing it in Burroughs' voice.
In case you're curious about what led Nike to think an 80-year-old junkie was the right man to pitch athletic footwear, here's the relevant passage from the Miles book:
Nike PR manager Judy Smith explained, "He was chosen because we knew he could pull off this role as a quirky, scientific, prophetic technology wiz. Burroughs isn't identified in the commercial because the role he's playing has nothing to do with his history as a writer or his reputation in the counterculture." Nike didn't expect their fourteen-year-old audience to know who he was, but there were extra kudos for those who did.
Burroughs' fee helped pay his medical bills, which is as good a reason as any to appear in a commercial. When Thomas Frank is 80, he might find himself in a similar situation. I picture him as a pitchman for heartland tourism: "Looking for a place to spend spring break? Well, what's the matter with Kansas?"
(Bonus link: From 1949, here's Burroughs warning Allen Ginsberg that "the U.S. is heading in the direction of a Socialistic police state similar to England, and not too different from Russia.")