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Understanding Donald Trump: how technological mediation leads to actual surreality


I.
Introduction

Neil Postman is, in my estimation, one of the most important writers whose work needs to be more actively read, studied, and taught than it is currently. While his work is not obscure, and has had some influence, I open this short essay by asserting its significance because Postman has articulated and explained the fundamental necessity of deconstructing, understanding, and moderating the influence and effects of our media on ourselves (and by extension our culture, our collective behavior and decisions) better and more accessibly than any other writer I've found.

Also, for me, through much of his work as a whole Postman implicitly draws out the evolution of a primary thesis of communication studies--the medium is the message--into our growth and experience of hyperreality (which is vastly accelerated by the internet). I think that this process has continued, and that--because our experience of hyperreality is so pervasive and so convincing--we are now actively trying to make reality match our own subjective notions of what it should be, and the phenomenon of Donald Trump as PEOTUS is as clear an example of this large-scale reification of hyperreality as I've seen.

Look: I know that those previous two sentences are maybe not the clearest I've ever written, and that this can seem dense and obscure and not really worth thinking about too much. But, and I urge you to find me persuasive on this, it really is important and actually not too complicated, if you can stay in a conceptual space for a bit. I think it's urgent that we see and understand this set of phenomena we're currently experiencing, to help explain a world where "President Trump" is not a joke in a Simpsons episode from 2000, and to inform how we react and act going forward.

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Christmas Music That Doesn't Suck

Christmas can be tough. Though often considered "the most wonderful time of the year," the holiday season brings significant challenges for many, who are far from loved ones, or have recently lost a loved one, and it can be pretty rough--and sometimes being close to family can actually be the rough part. 

Whatever the reason, when the holiday season is trying, it doesn't help that the music surrounding us is often just terrible. Not merely 'not great.' Terrible. I'm talking "Last Christmas," "Wonderful Christmastime," terrible. 

But despair not, in this sea of awful music, pumped into the air incessantly around us for another couple of weeks, there are a few shining beacons: Christmas music that is actually a pleasant experience, maybe even uplifting or joyful, that has the potential to get you into the holiday spirit in the best and most genuine ways. Here is some not merely palatable, but truly enjoyable Christmas music, to help brighten up your holiday season:

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Congress Approves Bill to Eliminate Automated Ticket Bots

On December 7th, the House of Representatives passed the Better Online Ticket Sales Act, or BOTS Act of 2016. The bill “prohibits the circumvention of a security measure, access control system, or other technological measure on an Internet website or online service of a ticket issuer that is used to enforce posted event ticket purchasing limits.” The bill will now go to the White House for Obama’s signature. Enforcement authority will be granted to the Federal Trade Commission.

In 2013 Ticketmaster estimated that 60 percent of the most desirable tickets are purchased by bots. There is some doubt about the effectiveness of the bill, though. Automated ticket bots are illegal, but scalping itself is not. “There is only one way to stop the scalping industry, and that’s to make it illegal,” said Seth Hurwitz, owner of the 9:30 Club in Washington. “Anything else is just Whac-a-Mole, and grandstanding by politicians.” Websites like StubHub will remain in operation and are unaffected by the new law.

“Laws don’t stop every crime, but the fact that there are new civil penalties for circumventing the technology that tries to keep tickets in the hands of fans will create a disincentive,” said Daryl P. Friedman, chief advocacy and industry relations officer of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Politicians in Europe are also working to reform ticketing laws. Italy is considering proposals and the British government commissioned a massive report on the scalping industry.

The bill passed with bipartisan support in Congress, showing that if there’s one thing politicians in America can agree on it’s that the American people have a right to see Hamilton at a fair price.


Music for an Uncertain Time

In difficult times, it's important to focus on what is truly important and meaningful and real for you--in your life, family and friends, work, spiritual or religious practice, and so on. Negative emotions like fear, anxiety, and anger are primal, powerful, and capture our imagination and attention with unpredictable effects--especially when they are caused by events beyond our personal control or influence. 

While not political, this episode is offered in response to an obvious, pervasive mood of shock and uncertainty following the recent U.S. election.  Attentive listening, to music that really rewards the effort, provides experiences that are cathartic, calming, energizing, mournful, and more. Here, the music we recommend and discuss offers some comfort, brief escape, and opportunities to focus on what's most important, right here, right now.

Playlist for this episode: 

  1. John Luther Adams - Become Ocean
  2. John Adams - Harmonielehre: Pt. III: Meister Eckhardt and Quackie
  3. Steve Reich - Music for 18 Musicians
  4. Philip Glass - Prophecies
  5. Olivier Messiaen - Quartet for the End of Time: Praise to the Eternity of Jesus
  6. Bob Dylan - Forever Young
  7. John Corigliano - No. 7, Postlude. Forever Young
  8. Funkadelic - Maggot Brain
  9. Johann Sebastian Bach - Partita for Violin Solo No. 2 in D Minor: Ciaccona

Four enjoyable things for when you need some relief from right now

This post doesn't really have a coherent theme, other than "here is some cool stuff I've had bookmarked to share for a bit, and am finally getting around to sharing." I'm hoping it will be a nice tonic to, well, you know, current reality.

Four things for your enjoyment:

  • from Vox.com, the video Rapping Deconstructed: the Best Rhymers of All Time. Based on the work of Martin Connor (whose website Rap Analysis is well worth close reading), this short video encapsulates how the technique of rap and rappers grew from its origin to its most gifted and skilled practitioners, and really clearly illustrates how they do what they do. It's a great medley of many of rap's best artists for those who may already know; and a fun primer for those unfamiliar with this musical style and practice:

  • Of the many things I will miss about President Obama is his intuitive understanding and celebration of the importance of creative, cultural work as absolutely essential (one of the many, many displays of his emotional and spiritual intelligence). He and the First Lady held events and participated in creative culture often, and one of my personal favorite ways they did so was by personally curating and sharing playlists. Through Spotify, the President released several summer playlists over the past couple of years, which are really superb (free to listen, but Spotify login required):

Michelle Obama's playlist for International Day of the Girl is here (track list here), and you can listen to holiday playlists from the Obamas here and the Bidens here.

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