Total Front Bottoms Obsession

Forget regular old blogging today, I’m experimenting with different stuff because it’s summer and why the hell not?

Paying tribute to one of my favorite musical acts, I made a podcast about the Front Bottoms and how awesome they are.  It’s got some music in it, and me geeking out about a local band with a lot of spunk.  Check it out here.

More to come (maybe?)!

Veronica

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TL;DR: Internet Use and “ADD”

Google-internet-006

Where’s my soapbox? Oh, there it is. Ok:

We all have some kind of ADD now. We all need to stop being mean to each other about it. And we all need to find ways to turn it around because it’s a total bummer and I don’t want my generation to turn into a bunch of over-medicated zombie people.

The DSM V gives the behavioral disorder known as Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder the following criteria:

  1. Often does not give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or other activities (e.g., overlooks or misses details, work is inaccurate)
  2. Often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities (e.g., has difficulty remaining focused during lectures, conversations, or reading lengthy writings).
  3. Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly (e.g., mind seems elsewhere, even in the absence of any obvious distraction)
  4. Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., starts tasks but quickly loses focus and is easily sidetracked; fails to finish schoolwork, household chores, or tasks in the workplace)
  5. Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities (e.g., difficulty managing sequential tasks; difficulty keeping materials and belongings in order; messy, disorganized, work; poor time management; tends to fail to meet deadlines)
  6. Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort (e.g., schoolwork or homework; for older adolescents and adults, preparing reports, completing forms, or reviewing lengthy papers).
  7. Often loses things needed for tasks and activities (e.g., school materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, or mobile telephones)
  8. Is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli (for older adolescents and adults, may include unrelated thoughts).
  9. Is often forgetful in daily activities (e.g., chores, running errands; for older adolescents and adults, returning calls, paying bills, keeping appointments)

Of the nine criteria listed above, a patient need display 6 or more for 6 months to be diagnosed with ADD. The New York Times reports a few different statistics on the recent rise of ADD including: 11% of school age children are diagnosed, 1 in 5 high school age boys are diagnosed, etc.

There are a plethora of opinions about why this problem, perceived or real, is on the incline. Some think a reduced stigma in psychotherapy encourages more people to seek help, leading to an influx of diagnoses. Readers of Allen Francis’ Saving Normal might say that drug-pushing Pharmaceutical companies are to blame. It is also not uncommon for those on medication to be accused of faking. And there are a few hippie weirdos out there who point to Food Inc. All of these theories have their own level of credibility (some more than others), but I’m going to ditch them all and make a totally non-credible undergraduate-level hypothesis based on surface-level investigation, Google, personal experience, and one book I read one time. I took Psych 101 in Community College, so I’m going to make a sweeping diagnosis on everyone who will ever read this page. Stay tuned.

Personal Experience

I always thought the people I knew who were diagnosed with Adult ADD were gaming the system; thought they were trying to get one over on their doctors so they could have a leg-up during finals week or write a term paper in one weekend. Once my friends entered the work force, some continued taking ADD meds to set the world on fire, and my opinion shifted. I thought, Why should it be easier for them when it’s so hard for the rest of us? Because, in my own experience, it is hard for the rest of us. I could continue to blame people for exploiting a disorder to function more productively, or I could embrace that maybe we all have it, to varying degrees.

Science!

I’m not good with all the science-y stuff, but luckily I don’t have to be. Nicholas Carr wrote a little book called The Shallows that lays it all out and, besides being a little gratuitously repetitious, it’s a good read. Over-simplification time: The book makes the case that increased exposure to the Internet is fundamentally changing the way our brains work. He explains in detail the theories of plasticity of our neurons and brain patterns, and their susceptibility to change throughout our lives due to the habits we form. In the now out-dated print culture, experience with books and other print media created a population of people capable of more prolonged attention (generally speaking). Reading was good exercise for the brain, like little brainy push-ups, keeping it focused in a linear way on a specific task, and making prolonged attention to other tasks (work, homework, life stuff) easier.

Television came in and stirred the pot a little, but the Internet is what screwed it all up for everybody. In the same way reading trained the brain to pay attention, interacting with the Internet trains the brain to follow tangents. Hyperlinks, multiple tabs, and second screen interaction all contribute to this phenomenon in the same way. If I haven’t lost you yet, maybe you’re beginning to see the problem. Because our minds are reshaping to acclimate to the tools we use (computers, smart phones, etc.), we are suffering from attention problems and memory loss. You can’t hyperlink your way through real life if you want to have successful relationships and careers.

In his article for the Huffington Post, Dr. Mark Goulston says, “When your thinking is interrupted by your brain, you’ve got real ADD. When it’s interrupted by the world, you just have trouble saying ‘no.’” I say nay, Dr. Goulston. More specifically, I say since we’ve trained our brains out of the ability of saying “no,” your distinction is imperceptible. Using words like “pseudo-ADD” does not change the experience of people who live in a world that demands their attention while their mind simultaneously demands distraction.

Patronizing Each Other is Getting Us Nowhere

In researching this post I came across a multitude of articles, not unlike Mark Goulston’s, that take a decidedly condescending tone when talking about “ADD fakers” (although they fail to accurately define the difference between them and their non-faking-counterparts). I was interested, though unsurprised, to see the authors of such articles attributed attention problems to shortcomings on the behalf of the spacey person. Lori Day writes, rather facetiously, “I know, I know, it’s all to be blamed on our fast-paced, screen media-saturated, multi-tasking lifestyles. We can’t help it. There’s just too much going on.” Well, excuse me Miss Day. I didn’t mean to bore you.

My guess is, this harsh attitude is the result of two completely separate viewpoints. Theory Number One: People are frustrated with their own attention deficits, but do not use a label like “ADD” to excuse their behavior and look down on those who they think do so. Theory Number Two: Neuroplasticity may account for the ongoing change of our brains, but lots of habits (good and bad) are formed in childhood. These attention problems may be generational, with younger people facing more obstacles to their productivity because they did not develop more focused habits as kids (they were too busy with other stuff) while their older counterparts may be more disciplined and not-so-understanding.

Get over it.

Stop implying that people are faking having ADD or saying things like pseudo-ADD and listen (look?) up. We need to drop this whole label, non-label nonsense and get to the crux of the issue. Unless we all throw down our digital devices in a show of solidarity (hahahaha), this is the new normal. We need to find ways to combat the attention problems that affect our careers and personal lives, instead of being condescending to each other or worse, taking meds for it. This is my one and only disclaimer for this post: I can’t say that meds don’t help anybody, because maybe they do. But then again, I don’t think I know anybody with a form of ADD that wouldn’t benefit from some alternative treatment.

Concentration and extended focus are important for obvious reasons.  The ability to pay attention leads to productivity at school and in the workplace (read: more $$$).  But there are more important things at stake here.  As a society we are moving rapidly toward a highly digitized world, and shorter attention spans are only the tip of the iceberg.  Institutions founded on the values of print culture are suffering, becoming more obsolete and functioning poorly.  It takes a certain kind of mind to contemplate complex problems like a broken political structure, a failing education system, and unsustainable energy consumption across the globe.  We all need to strive for this certain kind of mind, before we lose ourselves to the distractions completely.

I have a point I promise. I read an awesome article on Lifehacker about rebuilding your attention span. After a few clicks I found a bunch more articles that deal with the same issue. We need to combat the impact the internet is having on our brains – making us inattentive, forgetful, anxious, unmotivated, and unproductive – in order to lead happier, healthier lives. We can do this. But forming healthier habits isn’t going to happen over night, and although I think it’s possible it would definitely require a lot of effort, and…

Oh, look, a video.

Everybody Hates Gatbsy

Wanna-be high-brow media critics across the world wide web are lining up to put their stamp of disapproval on Luhrmann’s Gatsby adaptation.  It has officially become the “cool” thing to do.  But they’re being too harsh.

leonardo-dicaprio-plays-the-strenuously-polished-trove-of-secrets-that-is-jay-gatsby-in-baz

no-rage-faceAllow me to start with this: it is almost impossible for a film like The Great Gatsby to live up to its literary counterpart.  Impossible.  Not that there has never been a successful film adaptation of any book ever, just that it couldn’t be this one. If you’re like me, you read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novella at a pivotal point in your life (somewhere between 15 and 25, maybe?) and, in doing so, you run the risk of succumbing to nostalgia.

No fantastical cinematic achievement can live up to the emotion we may have felt at glimpsing into the tragic lives of these kindred spirits at a time when the hormones in ourselves were raging out of control.  For me, at least, the idealism, the gluttony, the phoniness, and the heartache all found good company among the inner turmoil I was experiencing for myself as an oppressed, middle-class teenager.  (Sigh. Such hard times, they were.)

Here is what some people are saying:

  • “[Luhrmann’s movies] revel in surface, spectacle and sensory overload. They’re audaciously, passionately artificial and at the same time unabashedly romantic — post-modern pop medleys aimed at the heart, not the brain.” Tom Charity, CNN.com
  • The movie feels bloated, with a few too many scenes of speeding cars careening through the streets and pointless musical segues meant to reflect the carefree attitude of the time.Connie Ogle, The Miami Herald
  • His colors are as bright as those in a detergent commercial; his musical choices as intrusive as the exit cues on an awards show. The camera ducks and swerves like O.J. Simpson on his way to a car rental, and the cast all share a slightly vibratory, methamphetamine sheen.” – Christopher Orr, The Atlantic
There, there, darling. They don't mean it.

There, there, darling. They don’t mean it.

You get the idea.

It appears that the main problem these critics, and many, many others, have with the film is everything that makes it perfect for its medium.  The book is bound to be more introspective and intellectual by the sheer nature of its form.  A movie made in 2013 cannot be blamed for using those tools at its disposal to make it as visually stimulating as possible.  Gatsby definitely becomes a spectacle, with swinging camera shots, dazzling colors, sensational parties, and fantastic wardrobes on beautiful people all shot in 3D with an electrically-charged soundtrack to enhance it.  But instead of hating it for all that it is not, we should celebrate Gatsby it for all that it is.

This is not to say the The Great Gatsby is without flaws.  But I forgive the movie these errors because of its loyalty to the original story and its beautiful delivery.  You should too.  Because, if at times the glitz and glamour all seem a little self-indulgent and ultimately empty, well, now you know how Gatsby must have felt.

“Bros” Before Other Webshows

See what I did there?

Hello, strangers! I have come out of hiding to tell you about this awesome youtube video that you have to watch yesterday:


(I heard about this almost-web series from some staff at school, because Creator/Director Anthony DiMieri went to Fordham – Go Rams! – and we take care of our own.)

This little vid is done surprisingly well, with professional production quality and great comedic timing that you might not expect from a bunch of bros. My favorite part, though, has to be post-transformation (bro + hipster = broster) when they all get out at the Bedford stop on the L. LCD Soundsystem’s “North American Scum” plays through a slow-mo of close-ups on jorts, STOP KONY tees, suspenders and Buddy Holly glasses. I died.

Although it’s meant to be a “Girls” parody (the first scene should be familiar to Dunham’s loyal fanbase), it’s also a parody of a few social stereotypes.  The “Bros” demonstrate blatant homophobia and misogyny, while their hip alter-egos talk about basement gin distilleries and warehouse parties. It’s the kind of funny you find when nobody is safe from sarcastic mockery and some playful generalizing. Kudos.

“The Americans” – Inspiring Russophobia in the 21st Century

Some Things:

  1. There are spoilers in here.
  2. I am not Russian, not that it should matter (although I’m probably on some CIA watch list at this point).  I took a Russian history class once back in my community college days, that’s about it. (Dr. Richard Trimble taught it, and it was awesome.)

When Mitt Romney remarked that Russia was our worst foe on CNN last year during his campaign, my friends and I had a good chuckle at his expense.  Born in the post-Cold War era, we are unfamiliar with the anti-Russian sentiment of the former governor and some of our parents.

That is why, when I saw the series premier of the Americans on FX, I was blown away.

(If you have yet to see the show, check it out.)

Ok, FX, we get it.  Homeland, the Showtime espionage thriller about a CIA agent and a US marine, is wildly successful.  You wanted to cash in on some of that.  And hey, it was only a couple years ago that some Russian sleepers were rounded up in Yonkers.  Besides, you made it a period piece, set in 1981: smack-dab in the middle of the Cold War.  So it’s all good, right?

Nope, not even close.  The unforgivable rampant Russophobia ruined this show for me.  It is most evident when comparing the two main characters.  Philip and Elizabeth Jennings are Russian spies who have been living undercover in the US for over a decade.  They have two children and an FBI agent for a neighbor (who saw that coming?).  Despite the fact that they are both Russian spies, their likability is very much in congruence with how “American” they seem, not in terms of heritage but characteristics.  I find that, in the pilot at least, the more relatable characters are more American and the less relatable are Russian.

The Jenningses

Philip

  • Philip is an American sympathizer, as evidenced by his desire to defect and turn Timochev over to his FBI neighbor (which he doesn’t do out of love for is wife – awww). Also seen when he first comes to America and notes that “everything is brighter.”
  • Possesses more impulsive but ultimately more endearing qualities than his partner/wife, including an openness with his affection, playfulness with his children, and fierce protection of his family.
  • In general, seems more emotional, open, and (ultimately) American.

Elizabeth

  • Elizabeth is very loyal to Russia, saying that she would “lose everything before [she] betrayed [her] country.”
  • Less endearing characteristics: in the first scene in which we meet her, she is prostituting herself for information.  In moments with her children, she is distracted and distant.  She also blatantly challenges her arranged marriage with Phillip.
  • In general, she’s a colder character, less emotionally accessible and less likable.

I do not find these differences coincidental.  The majority of the rest of the characters in the show demonstrate the same split between Good (American) and Bad (Russian).  Beeman, the American FBI agent, is still a slightly two-dimensional character at this point, but he seems like a nice-enough guy.  Timochev is Russian, and he’s a rapist/woman-beater whose death leaves the audience satisfied.

The question I have yet to answer is, why now?  Although the lines between “us” and “them” are not so neatly drawn as in, say, a Bond film, they are still there in the Americans.  What does this show say about our cultural understanding of Russians in America?

fx_americans_keyart_p_2012

I have been told that I am not giving the show enough credit, and that further episodes will reveal it as an allegory that shows the struggles and triumphs of both sides of the story.  I hope that such is the case.

In the meantime, I’ll stick to Homeland.

Veronica
Twenty-three year old NYC resident, undergraduate at Fordham University, journalist-in-training at WFUV, freelance writer, amateur philosopher, occasional photographer, music-enthusiast, Abe Lincoln fangirl.

How Hipsters Are Keeping Music Alive

I live in New York City, and it is swarming with hipsters.  I write this from Fordham College at Lincoln Center, which may not mean much to many of you, but it’s where this chick comes from:

lana

She is not an anomaly around here, to say the least.  I used to have such an unnecessary hatred of the subculture of people who are called (but never call themselves) “hipsters,” until I realized what a truly vital role they play in the preservation of music as an industry.  Without hipsters, I honestly believe music as we know it would cease to exist and left in its absence would be a Top 40 nightmare of recycled commercial beats and lyrics void of feeling.  Instead, there is a rich diversity to many genres kept alive and hipsters deserve much of the credit.

What is a hipster?

If you have to ask you must be living under a rock, but for the purposes of this post I’ll give a brief overview as objectively as possible:  A hipster is a 20-30 something person characterized by a love of counter-culture, independent music and art, and an alternative lifestyle.  Most are progressive political thinkers and tend to live in urban areas. They are easily recognized by the clothes they wear, music they listen to, and foods they eat.

Robert Lanham, author of The Hipster Handbook describes them as follows: “mop-top haircuts, swinging retro pocketbooks, talking on cell phones, smoking European cigarettes … strutting in platform shoes with a biography of Che Guevara sticking out of their bags … You graduated from a liberal arts school whose football team hasn’t won a game since the Reagan administration…[and] you have one Republican friend who you always describe as being your ‘one Republican friend.'”

hipsters

Hipsterus maximi in their natural environment.

So, what is it about hipsters that makes them so important to the music industry?

They spend the money.

I don’t really know where hipsters get all of their inexplicable disposable income, but I’m not about to ask.  The hipsters I know that have it, spend it, and on all kinds of music-related products: record players, band tees, even CD’s.  (Who still listens to CD’s?!)  They are always willing to shell out a few bucks for a live performance.  In a world where file-sharing and illegal downloading runs rampant, this is huge.  Merchandizing and live performances are how a lot of smaller, independent bands are able to sustain themselves (or at least keep making music) and hipsters contribute to the cause.

They are an advertiser’s wet dream.

Marketing your band to a hipster crowd is easy and cheap because viral marketing campaigns and word of mouth are most effective when selling to this demographic.  If you slap a band sticker on the sidewalk, some hipster will see it.  If you have the talent to make an impression at a coffee house, in the park, or even on a subway platform, some hipster will talk about it.  The more obscure a name, the better — giving local bands and underrated talent a fighting chance in the music community.

They value culture and originality.

The music listened to by hipsters is generally labeled “indie,” which could refer to anything not currently signed to a major record label.  Their tastes can range from electronic remixes and dubstep to folksy punk with fiddles and banjo pickers to bluesy garage rock with psychedelic elements and anything in between.  The possibilities are endless, and provide a healthy balance to overly commercialized popular music.  Hipsters seek out all things original, often embracing a juxtaposition between retro and progressive styles with the most fervor.

They are trend-spotters and trend-setters.

So many things that hipsters touch turn to gold.  Not only do they revive classics like Buddy Holly glasses, bowler hats, bow ties, and mustaches; but they also discover amazing musicians:

  • Passion Pit
  • Vampire Weekend
  • GROUPLOVE
  • Arcade Fire
  • Death Cab for Cutie
  • fun.
  • Mumford and Sons
  • the Strokes
  • Foster the People
  • the Black Keys
  • the Shins
  • Adele
  • MGMT

These bands and so many more owe their success to hipsters, who found them hiding in the backs of smokey bars or behind page after page of Cheezeburger Cats on the internet.  Hipsters adopted them, labeled them cool, and everyone else (audiences and record companies) followed suit.

The Downside

Unfortunately, hipsters often equate financial success with “selling out,” focusing on the negative impact of commercialism on artistic integrity. (Or they’re just being selfish.  It’s way cheaper to go to a show at Arlene’s Grocery than Madison Square Garden, amiright?)  As soon as bands pronounced “cool” by hipsters turn a profit, they are abandoned.

toomainstreamThere are worse things.  Once a band has enough of a following to make it to the radio or tour the country and develop a broader, more eclectic fan-base, the battle is already won!  And thus music outside the Top 40 pop-genre is available to people like you and me, who will not judge the artists based on how much money they’re making or what movie trailer their latest hit was featured in.

If I offended any hipsters, I apologize.  Thank you for your contribution to the music world, as fans and creators.  I like you, un-ironically.  (I was in love with a hipster once, for five minutes.  You can read about it here.)

Veronica
Twenty-three year old NYC resident, undergraduate at Fordham University, journalist-in-training at WFUV, freelance writer, amateur philosopher, occasional photographer, music-enthusiast, Abe Lincoln fangirl.

Special thanks to Dr. Tom McCourt and my Popular Music as Communication class for inspiring this post with our discussion today.

Wordplay

Note: This post is part linguistic exploration, part intellectual masturbation.  You’ve been warned.

Did you know that the Japanese have no word for the color green?  Instead, the sky and the sea and the grass are all called the same thing: ao (blue).

Blue.

Seems legit.

There’s no “G” in ROY G BIV.  Novices are blue. Recycling is going blue. Blue around the gills. Giving someone the blue light. Blue with envy.

This kind of blue blew my mind when I heard it from a professor of mine recalling the years he spent living and working in Japan. (Big ups, Prof. Plugh!)  How could a language that does not have a word for the color green have any hope of even beginning to describe this nuanced world in which we live?

Before I get on my English high horse and risk sounding ethnocentric, I want to acknowledge some awesome Japanese words.  For example, Koi No Yokan is the sense upon first meeting a person that a future love between you is inevitable.  Wabi-sabi is an abstract way of viewing the world which strives to find beauty and acceptance in imperfection. A Nito-onna is a woman who is so focused on her career that she has no time to iron blouses and thus only wears knitted tops. (I found all of these and a lot more on a great little blog called Better Than English.)

So, which is it? Is language competent in describing our perception of reality, in communicating our ideas and expressing our thoughts? Or does it fall short?

Inefficiency of Language

Not too long ago, I received a text message:

“We need a word for that feeling you get when you ask someone to do you a favor and they f*ck it up.”

We do, don’t we?  I did a little social experimenting and found that everyone I asked was well aware of this feeling.  When I asked a few to describe it, they said:

  • “It’s so frustrating and there’s nothing you can do. There’s no confrontation or resolution.”
  • “You’re disappointed but you’re not allowed to be.”
  • “It’s like a struggle in your brain between anger and awkwardness.”

So many long explanations for a seemingly universal emotion. I cannot help but think that this proves that language, at least the English language, is inefficient in this way.

But there is a reason I received this text in the first place.  Language is open to evolution, and everyone can contribute.  If my friends and I wanted to make up a word for this phenomenon, let’s call it “favrustration” [fay-VRUS-chray-shun], we could do it.  We could start using it aloud, write it into our lives via social media, and maybe it would get picked up by other people and enter into the vernacular – or at least make it’s way on to Urban Dictionary – which leads me to my next point.

Efficiency of Language

If I were to refer to a picture taken by someone on their smartphone as “instagold,” they might know that I mean, “That picture is really good, and if you were to post it on Instagram it would get a lot of likes.” (That’s a weird sentence that did not exist in 2009.)

This got 10700 likes. #instagold.

This one got 10700+ likes. #instagold

Rapid advancements in technology, obsession with pop culture, and my generation’s ceaseless ability to embrace and adapt to “newness” all account for an ever-increasing vocabulary of extremely specific terminology.  Catfishing (maintaining an online relationship with someone using an alter-ego), bromance (a loving relationship between two heterosexual males), and even synergasm (expressing oneself by speaking in a string of corporate buzzwords) are all words that I have heard, and understood without explanation, in the last twenty-four hours.  This is just the tip of the iceberg.

So?

I don’t know. I supposed I’m just a logophile.

Do you have any words or phrases of your own, used around friends or colleagues or on Twitter, that makes communication more efficient?

Veronica
Twenty-three year old NYC resident, undergraduate at Fordham University, journalist-in-training at WFUV, freelance writer, amateur philosopher, occasional photographer, music-enthusiast, Abe Lincoln fangirl.

*This post is dedicated to he who told me my writing is needlessly wordy.*