The Cultural Logic of Late Tabitalism
Who is capital's little meatball?
Yesterday I gave in to my worst impulses and wrote a Barbie take, like some kind of filthy columnist, but rather than being shunned and mocked as would have been appropriate, paid subscribers rewarded me in the Discord with a thoughtful and well-sourced discussion of authenticity in art, the evolution of the (now fully antiquated) idea of “selling out,” and the clearly gendered responses to popular media artifacts in modern American culture. We will all in time come to regret encouraging this sort of behavior on my part, but at least I can share some of what I learned from the chat.
Willa Paskin, the writer of the Times Barbie tab, has also explored the idea of selling out at greater length in her podcast, “Decoder Ring,” mainly by way of the Oprah Book Club Franzen incident, which I thought I understood but it turns out that the book club only existed because Oprah decided not to sell out, and “The Corrections” only existed because J. Franz. decided to sell out. Wild! Paskin sums it up like this:
At the top of the episode, I asked what happened to selling out and the answer is it died. And one of the reasons why is right there in the Oprah Franzen incident. In it, you can see that selling out had mostly become close minded, defensive, anxious, all about keeping your stuff from people or making sure that only the right people were enjoying it. And as we began to more successfully question who the right people were and move on to a more expansive answer, the old version of selling out started to look to us primarily like status anxiety, like gatekeeping, like snobbery and good riddance to that. But well, what had been close minded about selling out became more odious. What was compelling about it became more difficult not selling out. It basically became impossible.
This is one very real end of the spectrum of the previous generations’ anxiety over selling out: a snobby, often explicitly misogynist gatekeeping on the part of people who are already wealthy enough not to have to choose between “selling out” and “eating.”
But on the other hand, just this past Monday Sara Crow’s 2015 documentary “Never Get Tired” about DIY punk legend Jeff Rosenstock and his band Bomb the Music Industry! finally appeared in full on YouTube. It’s a ninety minute exploration of what “not selling out” means to Rosenstock, which is: only playing all-ages shows, never charging more than $10 for a ticket, and giving all his music away for free online because he simply wants to make music and make sure everyone can listen to it, without employing music industry thugs to be an asshole on his behalf, or “becoming a t-shirt salesman.” It’s the complete opposite of gatekeeping, but maybe predictably Rosenstock’s first band breaks up because of his rigidity, and he and BTMI! labor for a decade as a beloved band with fanatical fans and positive critical reviews, but who can still never afford to quit their day jobs. They finally give up in 2014, right after releasing their best and most popular album, “Vacation.”
If you’re not already a big BTMI! fan I know 90 minutes in the company of a chaotic group of NY punk bros is a big ask, but this movie is one of the best sustained investigations I’ve ever seen of what it means to identify a set of principles and then try to live by them, no matter what it costs you. It also reinforces my long-held belief that some peopleshould simply not be required to earn a living under capitalism.
And we can’t talk about authenticity under capitalism without going back to Frederic Jameson’s “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.” Long before OpenAI paid Kenyans $1.20 an hour to tag images for AI training, Freddie J. was already worried about:
…that enormous properly human and anti-natural power of dead human labour stored up in our machinery… which turns back on and against us in unrecognizable forms and seems to constitute the massive dystopian horizon of our collective as well as our individual praxis.
So is Greta Gerwig “doing the thing and subverting the thing?” Jameson says she can’t be, because there is no longer…
…a certain minimal aesthetic distance, of the possibility of the positioning of the cultural act outside the massive Being of capital, which then serves as an Archimedean point from which to assault this last.
…The short-hand language of ‘cooptation’ is for this reason omnipresent on the Left; but offers a most inadequate theoretical basis for understanding a situation in which we all, in one way or another, dimly feel that not only punctual and local countercultural forms of cultural resistance and guerrilla warfare, but also even overtly political interventions like those of The Clash, are all somehow secretly disarmed and reabsorbed by a system of which they themselves might well be considered a part, since they can achieve no distance from it.
I hadn’t read this in a long time, but it is clearly a primary theoretical source for my own conviction that it’s impossible to subvert Barbie from within a Barbie marketing vehicle, so if you want forty semi-readable pages on the reasoning for that, here you go.
Also, a rogue sea otter is stealing surfboards in Santa Cruz’s Steamer Lane (“when it’s smacking so hard only two dudes paddle out”) and I literally gasped at the twist in the middle of this story. The Times is also On It, but with a structure that kind of robs the twist of its proper punch. Either way, this summer stays land coded.
And Page Six’s Mara Siegler had a pretty good time with “Robert F. Kennedy Jr. press dinner explodes in war of words and farting.”
Here, it seems, Dechert sensed the need for a new rhetorical tack, and let rip a loud, prolonged fart while yelling, as if to underscore his point, “I’m farting!”
The room, which included a handful of journalists as well as Kennedy’s campaign manager, former Rep. Dennis Kucinich, was stunned, seemingly unsure about whether Dechert was farting at Haden-Guest personally or at the very notion of global warming.
(Regrettably, we may assure readers that there was no room for doubt that the climate changed in the immediate environs of the dinner table.)
The candidate maintained a steady composure in the face of the crisis.
Talk about local countercultural forms of cultural resistance and guerrilla warfare! Ayyyy.
It will be the first actors strike against the film and television industry since 1980 and the first time that actors and writers have been on strike at the same time since 1960, when Ronald Reagan was president of the Screen Actors Guild.
Wait I’m sorry, since who was the president of fucking what? I’m gonna have to set that information aside for later, when I can find some time to cram a little more hate for that festering ghoul into my already overstuffed heart. But today the screen actors and television and radio artists join a writers’ strike already in progress, largely due to contract terms forged when “streaming TV was mostly theoretical,” as Michael Schulman put it in The New Yorker, leaving actors like the cast of one of Netflix’s first streaming mega-hits “Orange is the New Black” to receive residual checks in the low tens of dollars. As always, Hamilton Nolan is your go-to commentator when a labor thing happens:
If you consider, on the one hand, a successful Hollywood screenwriter, and on the other hand, a struggling Amazon warehouse worker in Staten Island, you might assume that the two had few common interests. Wrong. From the perspective of a $1.36 trillion company, both the screenwriter and the warehouse worker are just tiny inputs to be controlled. They are each a small mouse trying to chew their way through a redwood tree. Understanding this is not necessarily demoralizing—a trickle of water carved the Grand Canyon, and mice can chew through a redwood tree.
Also Today in Soulless Corporations: A late flurry of Threads takes have appeared. John Herrman is at his spiciest, quoting "future former Twitter CEO Linda Yaccarino” and speculating that Threads “is distinct from Meta’s previous efforts to absorb and replicate the success of other platforms (Snapchat, YouTube, TikTok, Twitch) chiefly in that the company is now copying itself.“ Mike Isaac pointed out that an easy onboarding from existing Instagram accounts can give you the illusion of fast growth, but then what? Max Chafkin wondered if we’ve noticed that social media is bad for us, and maybe what should replace Twitter is logging off. And Cat Valente had some feelings to share on the subject of whether or not Mark F***king Zuckerberg is your friend.
Today in Nerds: A group of researchers in Toronto published a new method of text classification for natural language processing:
Without any training parameters, our method achieves results that are competitive with non-pretrained deep learning methods on six in-distribution datasets.It even outperforms BERT on all five OOD datasets, including four low-resource languages.
Their method is 14 lines of python that mostly just calls gzip.
Today’s Song: Bomb the Music Industry!, the “Campaign For a Better Next Weekend / Future 86” footage from their final show in ”Never Get Tired.” Watching this performance close out the movie ruined me. For the record, this is also the Tabs ethos, and why I don’t charge for the daily emails. I’m a helpless product of my time and place. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
It’s a good thing it’s Gentleman’s Friday, because re-reading the above, I see we’ve managed to cover Frederic Jameson, “polemic farting,” and natural language processing research in one newsletter. I need to go lie down for three days. If you’d like to debate the deeply cursèd concept of authenticity in the Tabs Discord or get an email about [TKTK something???] from me tomorrow, please subscribe.