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Posts Tagged ‘subjectivity’

Symbol Drain

July 14, 2014 Leave a comment

Just as Nixon drained the symbolic power of the two-finger peace salute, figures who embrace the symbols crafted to criticize them quickly drain symbolic power. Symbols are, by definition, an object that represents something else. They are stand-ins for bigger ideas. The peace salute, the red ribbon or the complicated matrix of patriotic emblems all work to represent a larger idea or cause. Groups utilize symbols to simplify a message and create a stamp from which to mark their work. Need to make a statement quickly or refute some absurd state? The symbol is the best bet.

And while symbols hold great meaning, their power is easily drained and erased by imitation. Embraced by one who misrepresents the cause creates a static of understanding. Dilute the message and the message is defeated. For groups who seek to eliminate their opposition the keenest tactic is to not parody the other sides imagery but instead embrace it and redefine it for their own.

Herein lies the danger of the symbol’s simplicity. While powerful and direct, the symbol’s power comes only from its lack of complicated detail. By removing detail and nuance the audience does not fully receive the ideas behind the idea. It is far easier to simply stick the decal on the car or wave the random banner. Strength in numbers, yes, but once a symbol becomes common fare its power is depleted. View the countless decals of the numbers 13.1 and one begins to be less impressed by one’s bragging of athletic prowess. One must be careful when using symbols: powerful when limited but easily depleted, our symbols are less our greatest bullets and more a sharpened jab to the brain. We may strike with solid fervor but with every continued strike the punch becomes better known and the opposition’s ability to counterattack or even disregard becomes all the more easy.

Title Tales

January 26, 2014 Leave a comment

Legitimacy is a difficult nut to crack. “Too legit to quit”? Then your skills should go unquestioned and success always assumed. To be “successful” is a relative state. In those whose dreams have been accomplished and whose goals achieved it’s easy to assume it was guaranteed. Far harder to consider those whose dreams went unrealized. The successful don’t dream more accurately.

One’s dreams are not another. In the accomplishment of one exists a source of shame for another. Cook a great meal and your status as a chef is established. Lose the butler and the home and the service known for ages and successful meals are more reminders than indulgences.

For many the battle to achieve legitimacy is difficult. Our terms for certain roles in society are vague. What is a musician? Can one be called a writer if he simply scrolls some sentences? Must a writer be published to be considered a writer? These minor details must be defined by the individual. For some the act of writing is enough, while for others publication is foundation. Ultimately each individual must come to define life’s titles as he or she sees fit. Language fails us…again.

Shirt Speak

January 12, 2014 2 comments

Stumble through a local shopping center and an onslaught of symbolic theater takes place. Every article is a statement: why did the person wear that? Why that item, why that color? We work to make sense of these other people as a way to establish a reality. Our world is merely a construction of our imagination: far too much remains unknown and we’ve little to control. How does one perceive malevolence? Does the baddy always wear the black hat? Though our methods of detecting danger are varied, we often seek an outlier in behavior.

Despite our limited abilities, we still strive to find hidden intentions revealed by fashion. Though we cannot know the inner workings of another we seem confident in thinking their choice of clothing has some power. Is the key to their inner psyche in the selection of their t-shirt? How much is revealed in choice of color? Do the baggy pants mean she’s upset? What about his length of hair- does that mean that he’s angry? Silly as these connection seem they remain common and profound. No matter their lack of depth, evaluations and judgements have power and many have been falsely summarized by others on the basis of silly, minor features.

Certainly our clothing says a lot about who we are but how should another perceive what we wear as us? How much of our inner world is expressed in our clothing? How would our world be different if we all wore the outfit? Would we gradually develop other means of expression and evaluation?

Trickiness of Genius

January 7, 2014 Leave a comment

Genius is suspicious. Federal prosecutors, in mounting their accusations against JP Morgan Chase, suggested they should have “known better” because much of Madoff’s magic was beyond the normal ways and means. Magic tricks and extraordinary skills are just two pieces of that odd wonder we call genius. In those in whom we deem it, it is an ethereal feature where one’s abilities are so far stretched beyond our sense of reality that we aim to give it room.

A common response to genius is to let it be. Dangerous are the actions that stifle genius or otherwise limit its potential. In her biography, A Beautiful Mind, Sylvia Nasar highlights a similar reaction. The story details the response of John Nash’s family in light of his battles with schizophrenia. Fearful of hindering his mind and denying the world of the great discoveries it was likely to find, they were skeptical of treatment and preferred instead to allow the troubled genius to remain in struggle.

Genius is a tricky thing. Often seen as a powerful force beyond human understanding, many are fearful of hindering its full blossom. One wonders whether JP Morgan Chase saw in Madoff the fetid fumes of genius. Might their failure to act be less about willing negligence and more a factor of some awe for potential genius? Maybe it was less about their easy profits and the sketchy details, maybe they were less interested in seeing how the sausage was produced. In the end they, and all who proffer genius status on the undeserving, suffer for their foolishness: Madoff, not a genius, was merely sneaky crook.

Genius is a tricky thing. Mysterious in nature, we are quick to gift it to another and when rightfully assigned the benefits are endless. Shakespeare writes Macbeth and Rembrandt paints The Night Watch. Miss the mark and something other happens: genius imitated is disaster waiting to happen.

Incorporated Grief

November 23, 2013 Leave a comment

Though John F. Kennedy’s biological life ended when he was assassinated on November 22, 1963, a cadre of alternative existences lives on. Kennedy the father, our president, the family man and soldier being just three alternative and complimentary existences at play. Kennedy is among a small cast of characters whose death provides a birth: figures who in leaving become enlivened by symbolic status. History is rich with great figures whose greatness went unrecognized when they were alive. Kennedy, like these figures, is an individual “cut down early” or geniuses living “beyond their time.”

Though few knew John F. Kennedy personally, millions feel a sense of sadness when considering his death. Often frames of commonality are applied to garner senses of melancholy. Not just a man but “President” “father”, “Catholic” or “solider” these labels become points of identification and relation. We more easily mourn the loss of someone we relate to or in whom we’ve placed significant importance. Is the death of a President more tragic than another? Of the millions who died on November 22, 1963 why is it John F. Kennedy that continues to capture public attention each November 22?

One wonders how the use of terms is utilized to manipulate responses. Are we mourning Kennedy or ” a president” Do his roles as “father” or “husband” make us more upset than an alternative JFK whose lack of children and wife negate these labels? What of his label as “Catholic”? One wonders whether the constant application of these terms functions more as a distortion. When a priest mentions Kennedy as Catholic does the moment of silence become something more? How is this religious figure utilizing JFK’s faith to cull reaction? What does it matter what Kennedy believed?

In memorializing the life of someone we warp that person’s existence. We layer on symbolic frosting and create some new identity whose c0nnection to its biological root is foreign. Are Presidents laying a wreath on Kennedy’s grave remembering or mourning their own death?Are we crying more for symbols or for something other- something beyond our experience and knowledge?

Staling Aura

November 2, 2013 Leave a comment

Let me play a recording from 1961. Will you know its not from 1991? Assume you do not see me drop the vinyl on the record player or thrust the VHS into the VCR- would you know the era of the work of art? Certain arts are dated by the medium of production. A recording from the 1960s sounds like its from the 1960s. You can see the age of movies in their very nature. Though the story line is common, the date of a production informs our reading of a text, film, or song.

Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” considers our relation to art when it can be copied. If the gift shop sells a post card of The Mona Lisa, can we just skip the original and hit the cafe? Benjamin thinks not- he asserts an “aura” surrounds the original. An initial creation exists as something more than just an object. A painting is more than just some paint on canvas or the ideas suggested in the medium’s arrangement. The work is many things: a document of artistic creation? A historical document or record? This list is truly endless: art can be anything and everything.

Despite this ambiguous existence the work of art itself suffers from its means of creation. Media decays and technology evolves to place a work of art in history. As the work ages we gain a sense of how old it is. When the painting falls to shreds does Benjamin’s suggested “aura” become depleted? The Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC displays the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the Star Spangled Banner. The flag is highly tattered from its age and experience but is its aura affected? In the end it is the viewer that invests this flag with meaning. Might our flag, draped carefully from the garage inspire similar feelings from Key? Is it rather the battle or the moment that inspired Key?

(Please Don’t) Live Forever

October 24, 2013 Leave a comment

Might one indicator of adulthood be the loss of interest in living forever? For the young and optimistic, life is rich with opportunity: fame and  fortune are but a day away and paradise awaits. For others, a career and responsibility have transformed one’s days to a series of chores and tasks. Weeks become less collections of opportunities and more extensive lists of needs and chores to do. When life becomes a gigantic list of tasks these is little to look forward to.

For the workers, desire shifts to rest and, if one is capable of imagining a life beyond the flesh, a world of unlimited pleasure while still desired exists beyond the human life. When this becomes the accepted state, a life that does not end is nightmare.

No matter how one sees paradise, it is the future that holds the happiness. To the young this place remains reachable in a human life. “I’ll be famous when they know” or “one day I’ll be rich” are legitimate possibilities. To the rest a life becomes a burden before death. Gifted with the possibility of heaven, some think” In heaven, I’ll be happy” and toil day-to-day with a sense of future pleasure as the goal. Potential shifts to punishment and paradise lifts higher and higher.

No matter what the age a world of bliss and endless pleasure is the goal. For some this state is within reach while for others a more ethereal destination holds the key. We all want the endless candy bars and fields of vegetation. The only grand distinction lies in how: is it here within my reach or just beyond my life. If its death that gifts desire than an endless life is just delay and one that does not end a confounding source of terror.

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