Antisophie on: Black Friday in the UK

[Thanks to Antisophie for penning this at 1am]

 

“Can you say something about Black Friday [for the blog]?” – Michael asked me. “So long as you let me be honest”, I replied.

 

I had the same line as he did initially. A response of cynicism and despair about all the negative things it entails. Firstly, the idea of a Black Friday surely presupposes a Thanksgiving Thursday does it not? However there’s something a little bit rich about having a US holiday in the UK where the traditional narrative of Thanksgiving is about a group of British (and other European) exiles settling in a new land. Probably not the narrative that the UK would want to address given the whole immigration ‘crisis’ it’s dealing with in the political public sphere.

 

I was going to say it’s a cynical attempt to display the naked capitalistic/Marxist narrative where our consumption is the most ingrained/taught/primal desire, evidenced by all the notorious stories about violence and disorder as people seemingly panic buy special ‘one time only’ deals in retail hubs.

 

Then I thought about two things. Firstly, how the former old guard of grocery/supermarket retail organisations are in a bit of a fight for survival with new players, and secondly I can’t decry Black Friday because I bought so much (unintentionally).

 

The retail issue

 

As someone who works in an industry where…lets say, I depend on the sudden whims of other people’s decisions in order to work at all. I have a bit of sympathy with the figure of 1.4 mill (ONS 2014) people estimated to be on ‘zero hours’ contracts. When people panic buy, I imagine all those folks working security jobs and shelf stacking will be asked to work an extra and additional day. It’s the easy response to say that these so-called ‘zero hours’ contracts are being overused but I suspect it’s for things like sudden influx of customers where it really can be beneficial.

 

I also hear (and I am uncertain of how much credence to give this) that many people in management at retail wish to ‘invent’ a UK Black Friday (which was introduced last year, and implemented more this year) to deal with their own difficult revenues. In other words, people on the whole are spending less and going other places to do so. From that perspective, having a pretense of a black friday probably wants to help what is usually a busy period of the retail year but in recent years has been disappointing. And now, there’s the personal story.

 

We are all slaves to spending

 

Michael was spending the best part of friday watching some of the YouTube uploaded footage of how Black Friday is observed in the USA, by apparent fighting, stampedes and in one video, a use of a taser. Michael mumbled something about how this is the Hobbesian State of Nature in a world of actual government and statehood, and attempted to make some deep point that the role of the state was to fundamentally prevent the disorder of the Hobbesian state of nature, and as such contractarian accounts need to find some way to account for how actual limited forms of chaos exists in a world of authority (the state). Michael also said something to the effect of ‘Black Friday shows who we really are in extremis’.

 

I was sort of in agreement except for two things. I largely ignored black friday except via a whatsapp chat group which included Michael’s weird Hobbesian reference and diatribe about conspicuous consumption. I just went by my busy day as I normally would.

 

-Then I got a text from my sister – telling me that she wants a DVD of Season One of Something or Other* made by HBO and that ‘it’s probably cheaper on Black Friday’. It wasn’t, but I got it for her anyway.

 

-Then she texted me again – telling me the DVD is for my Brother In Law and she actually wants a shawl from Cos*. Ugh, okay sis I’ll get it for you.

 

-Then when I was at the website, I saw a nice deal on a nice little number that I was meaning to buy anyway. So I bought it. I’ve ended up spending £70 already. But I did save £40 and I got free delivery.

 

What black friday seems to reveal is that we live in a world where we both seem to need and we indeed want, many of the things that are put on a discount or offer. By buying, we consent to perpetuate whatever it is many people find objectionable about consumerism. This is very much an issue of choice, and it isn’t the retailers or the customers or the economy that really wins out. It’s our choice. Notably consider how choice varies from another word choice such as liberty or agency.I suppose because I already buy into the notion of Christmas that I also invariably found a £40 saving so attractive on things I probably was going to buy anyway. I feel utterly disappointed in my ability to launch a critique at Black Friday.

 

As I was checking my RSS feeds just earlier, I got a pop up notice from Feedly which said there was a ‘black friday’ sale of 20% off a yearly pro subscription. I’d lie if I wasn’t attracted by that. But there is a massive and perhaps inevitable liberal hypocrisy in paying for a black friday only deal on Feedly, and then using feedly to read blogs criticising black friday and how problematic it is. Even though my shopping was in fact online, I do feel I contributed my part to the social reality that larger encompasses the mobs crashing into superstores and people rushing to buy the latest so-and-so  for such and such a discount.

I think the moral if there is any is this: I spent £70 on stuff but think/was told I made a saving of £40. That is the meaning of Black Friday.

 

* names have been changed

 

The Apology (and a taxonomy)

Lately there have been a lot of revelations of embarrassing or offensive behaviours from public notables. Perhaps to say ‘lately’ is not so accurate as this has always been the case as long as there has been a public eye. However in the age of social media and constant scrutiny, even our scrutiny is under scrutiny.

 

Last week on the notable BBC current affairs Question Time show, a notable footballer made a comment that he immediately apologised for. I thought it was incredibly refreshing to see an immediate apology as with the more menacing cases in the public eye, many notables have denied responsibility for things that a court of law has convicted them of. In the age of apologies there is a thing called the non-apology apology which is something of the form: I’m sorry you feel that way. This is not a genuine repentance but a disingenuous cop-out.

 

Then there are the cases (amusing perhaps) of the deniers-then-apologies. Deniers are notables who firstly do not acknowledge that any wrongdoing has taken place, usually in the lack of any public evidence. When such public evidence comes out – they apologise. This is also menacing in two senses. One is the sense that a person denies something that they know of doing but thinks that the public will not find out. The other sense of menace comes in the overly public nature of the modern world that potentially anything can be leaked, released, found out or dug up forensically. When our emails and financial transactions are not secure, we potentially have a lot more public about us than we know, and probably in the case of many notables. A lot to potentially apologise for in the future, or deny, or non-apologise.
Antisophie

Some musings on Social Media

Editorial: In place of an extended discussion this week I am going to summarise some responses which formed a group discussion between us at Noumenal Realm. This discussion was on the topic of Social Media.

Destre on Social Media

Perhaps I might speak of some of the goods of social media. I have been able to network with people professionally and carry on conversations that would otherwise have taken the spaces of seminars, lecture halls or other such private forms of correspondence. I love the capacity to debate issues abstractly through the medium of facebook messaging (although not by wall post discussions). I find a certain democratising element to the medium. Of course like any medium, it is up to people using it to practice it well.

Sinistre on practical applications

I can distinguish my level of contacts by what social networks I am on. Facebook friends are personal people I know or used to know, and a few online friends; Twitter followers are a mix of robots, people I’ve admired in journalism or entertainment or maybe even some people I’ve personally met, but for whom it might be awkward to add on a personal Facebook. For example, I have a great motivational gym class instructor who has quite funny and pithy things to say. It merits a Twitter follow but not a Facebook friendship. For me strict demarcation is neat. I also find it practical to have twitter blasting away and seeing odd little Guardian/Huffpo news/’news’ articles. I also find twitter useful to remind me when my favourite TV is on.

Antisophie on self presentation

If I wanted to greet someone affectionately in person, I would. Social media seems to emphasise the ‘being seen’ aspect of social interaction, without the actual interaction. In that sense it is artifice. We have written on this blog about Goffman and the moral nature of self-presentation, giving a very poor vision of the social-moral animal defined by constructions such as the definition of the situation. To me, media such as Facebook, local forums or even professional/specialist networks are simply about being seen or being heard, and less about things happening, actions being performed. It emphasises the worst of human nature and the populist herd mentality. The emperor has no clothes in the world of social media, and artifice is queen.

Michael on potential utilities

I have been using blogging platforms, tweeting, Facebook and specialised networks, for example: Streetlife and Project Dirt, as ways of connecting with groups and individuals of similar interest. I have found social media and the various showy things about them to promote the community garden project I have been involved with. I have unexpectedly found an odd merging of people I have personally met (through networking or personal friends) following me on the @noumenalrealm account.

I am a sucker for keeping records. I love reading reviews on Foursquare of restaurants. One particularly nice bit of advice was that the tap water costs an extortionate amount in Mr. Wu’s in London’s Chinatown. I have made a few friends of mutual interest when it comes to fitness, from the social network Fitocracy. I think that Fitocracy has had a large part in my interest in keeping active. I am as awkward with social media as I am in real life about sharing anything.

I am painfully self conscious that what one might say reflects some sociogenic aspect of them. Everything is politicised, mediated through social categories like say class. This includes one’s vernacular, the kinds of interests they have, or the things they may consider  to be apt to talk about.

I think perhaps the most disjunctive thing is that the things I tweet are violently different from the things I might talk about in everyday life. Despite having a blog where I like tweeting about music and blogging about books and intellectuals, my actual life surrounded by everything except black metal, or Modern Philosophy texts. The fact is, I hardly read that much, and my music listening is exceptionally varied beyond the things I say that I ‘like’. My last.fm (again, another interest-oriented network) shows my true guilty pleasures, the fact that I listen to a lot of non-music audio like audiobooks or podcasts, and that I like listening to music I am unfamiliar with. Social media may be a deceitful way of playing up one’s interests against how one is in the face to face social domain. When most people ask, I really actually hate talking about Kant or Adorno. Perhaps my face to face self betrays my bad faith in a manner that tweeting or Facebook updates cannot

Antisophie’s Words: using ‘man’ as a prefix, -porn as an adjective

As part of an ongoing series I have been thinking about words that I hear in everyday speech and writing, and I think about how they have a specific location in our contemporary context, both in terms of being located in the English langauge, and being as signifiers of things in our time and that I hope one day will look like a bit of a commentary of our society (and its decline). I’ve talked about unnecessary words in the past, so….

Using ‘man’ as a prefix (or, the man-portmanteau)

(advisory: mention of eating disorders)

For some reason I found the show Will and Grace on tv the other day. I remember thinking how edgy it used to be with all the gay culture allusions and how edgy it was with all the double-entendres. But then I realised when I watched it I was an impressionable teenaged girl and many things seemed edgy when they actually weren’t. I remember recently watching this particular episode where the character Jack appeared to be sad about a relationship breakup, and said something to the effect that he was a manorexic. I then felt very icky about how I used to like the show and how deeply troubling it was to make a gag like that.

I often hear uses of the word -man used in a portmanteau fashion. A portmanteau is is a combination of words that don’t conventionally go together. Usually this is as a way of trying to show some significance of the newness of a combination, or it may be affectionate, or it is an ad-hoc way of trying to explicate what one means. Some portmanteaus however have gained common currency and are recognised beyond an ad hoc usage, like ‘chillax’.

The man-portmanteau (see what I did there?) is often used as a diminutive variation of an already existent word, or something that triest to make a phenomenon more masculine. ‘Manorexic’ is sometimes used in a demeaning way to look at anorexia, sometimes it is used in a non-serious way and in a growing usage acknowledging male eating disorders, it is sometimes used in a serious way. Other examples of using a man-prefix/man-portmanteau include:

  • Man cave
  • Man flu
  • Mancession
  • Man bag
  • Mankini
  • Manscaping
  • Man-child

The use of these prefixes seem to communicate quite different things. Something like man-scaping, mankini or man- bag tries to communicate something that is by the distinction of having association with maleness, unusual. Other terms like man cave and mancession have very specific meanings. Man cave is usually associated with a cultural symbol of a boorish anti-domestic type or indulgent. Mancession refers to the way that economic conditions have influenced male dating behaviour and its effect on women looking for men. Much of these prefixed terms seem to communicate different aspects of masculinity: vain, boorish, immature or lackadaisical. I am ambivalent however as to whether these ascriptions are wholly negative.

Porn as an adjective

I’m trying to think a little bit systematically. I’ve heard the term ‘porn’ used as a descriptor and it makes me reflect one what pornography signifies if it is to be linked in a suffix way to other words. Examples of what I mean are:

  • Property porn – the phenomena of admiring property ownership and the upward mobility associated with it
  • Inspirational porn – A term used by Ouch Podcast presenter Liz Carr to describe the Paralympics and its irrelevance to the lives of many disabled people in the UK
  • Food porn – the subject of many tumblrs, Pinterest boards and television shows valorising glamorous food

Michael once made the point that a Kantian perspective would deny that gastronomy could be a thing of art, because we eat it. In doing so we have an interested perspective about its consumption. It is relevant to our appetitive interests to crave foods, even the unhealthy kinds. However the idea of food porn seems apt to me, because it is (fitting to the analogy of pornography) skirting between the respectability of being artistic in some ways, to just appealing to our craving of it. The aspiration of food is also a distinctly class-based issue and one of the modern signifiers of class, cultural capital and what Veblen would call a pecuniary interest. The use of porn to describe food seems very apt to me.

Thinking about property porn and inspirational porn. I think there is something deeply political about making them analogous to pornography. Pornography generally portrays a world that doesn’t really exist, but represents fantasies that most people can’t have access to. In a world where wages don’t get to make ends meet and a gamut of other forms of economic instability, the presence of programmes valorising home ownership and a ‘quality of life’ in living in an x bedroom house with water features and close to the city reflects lots of deeply held and I think covertly socially stratified based attitudes. With ‘inspirational porn’ to describe the paralympics, I think the point was to point out how elite athletes who happen to be disabled is a bit of an irrelevance to the reality of many disabled people, who are living in increasingly intolerable conditions with the introduction of things like the PIP its exceptionally stringent conditions. We see the ugly side of aspiration: we must aspire but we cannot have. We are told what we ought to have and how we ought to behave, but with little possibility of fulfilling it. That is a sick society and reminds me of how Marx described religion: as a spiritual gin. Of course, spiritual gin is a bit of an obscure reference, where one syllable will do: porn.

 

Antisophie

Antisophie’s Words: ‘Black American’ vs. ‘African-American’ as descriptors

Advisory: This post contains racialised terminology in context of an historical period of distinct racial prejudice.

As someone who reads a bit of pre-20thC literature, terms to refer to ethnic and cultural groupings (I refuse to use the term ‘racial’) that I’ve encountered have been antiquated and quaint at best, or horridly antagonistic, demeaning and outright wrong in others. When Immanuel Kant describes an anecdote denoting the lack of reliability for an African slave on the sole basis of the colour of his skin, or when Kant goes into a ‘hierarchy’ of the races which sounds like a Borat skit, except without any of the parody that the latter represented.

One of Michael’s favourite composers is Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Michael also is a fan of Ragtime (and does not half remind us of this fact whenever he’s near a piano). Coleridge-Taylor, is described by contemporaries, and even in some of the manuscript copies that Michael owns, as a ‘Negroe’ (sic), or the African Mahler (or black Mahler). These terms, I take to be neutral at best, to describe a man that is by his peers considered a composer of merit. These terms do make us feel uncomfortable because it reflects the historical prejudice of many blacks in Europe and the Americas in the post-slavery generations, which in many ways continues today. I consider it preferable to call Coleridge-Taylor the black Mahler rather than the African Mahler, for, while it is the case that the composer’s father originated from Sierra Leone, his cultural origin is more British than anything. Although my conception of Britishness surely differs from the late 19thC. Likening his composition to Mahler is a very favourable comparison.

When it comes to the United States, the emerging styles coming from the post-slavery black culture became a source of caricature and distinctly racialised and racist connotations. One of the very popular song forms of the time was the ‘Coon Song’ genre. The genre is argued to contribute to sterotypes of blacks in the United States that continue to this day. Just look at a Ray-William Johnson video where he makes a joke about watermelon consumption, or most hack stand-up comedians who rely such tropes.

It’s one thing to say ‘oh look how quaint and eccentric it is to use those words in the 19thC’ where a certain kind of historical context did not provide a vocabulary that was fully independent from discrimination or caricature. In recent parlance I’ve been reminded of this issue, through a slightly different trajectory. In the news of Obama’s second electoral victory, many UK commentators refer to ‘Black Americans’ as opposed to the US preferred terminology of ‘African-American’. This then made me think of the construction of these terms.

In terms of UK commentators and outsiders to the USA, the description of ‘Black Americans’ refers to an ethnic category which has social implications, in the same way that say, Black British would in the UK. In official census categorisation, Black British has further subcategories such as Afro-Caribbean etc. As far as I understand, the notion of the African American has a cultural baggage to it that tends to obfusicate in some ways buy clarify in others. The African American is a cultural category, that has a distinct history and cultural identity. In this way it can also be a political grouping because of the historical circumstances that affected such a group. In another way the African American seems to me unclear: what about first generation migrants as opposed to those Americans who have traceable links to the 19th and 18th Centuries? What about non-black Africans who are also American? By some definitions for instance, I have an African cultural heritage, but I’m uncomfortable with being grouped with the ‘African Asians’ of the 1960s and 1970s. What about Caribbean Americans who happen to be black?

I appreciate that black as an identity is a very complicated diaspora of cultural and ethnic boundaries, in many cases it refers to different degrees of skin colour that we putatively refer to as ‘black’. Sometimes I wonder whether UK commentators are not so attentive to the cultural history of the category of ‘African American’ favouring a more anodyne description, sure there’s an history to it that we don’t appreciate as outsiders to the country, but I favour the anodyne term because of its lack of inaccuracy and its robustness to capture more in a grouping than a more generic term.

Antisophie

Reasons I am looking forward to the Skyfall film

Lately I’ve seen lots of posts acknowledging the cultural phenomena that is James Bond and his series of films. Surprisingly few of them are critical and I was expecting more critical insights. Is it perhaps old hat to point out how demeaning it was to portray women as accessories and objects to save? Not least the brazen way that Bond dealt with them, or the crass one-liners (and we are NR are fans of one-liners). I tolerated the James Bond films and thought of them as nice films for a bank holiday weekend, or the kind of thing to watch in the quiet period of a Hen weekend when my friends are all getting ready for the evening after an afternoon of go-karting/paintballing/airsofting/guitar smashing/insert as appropriate’. It’s quaint and gives an amusing look at the past and the kinds of values of what aspirational gentlemen wanted, although it seems its not just

The reasons I am looking forward to Skyfall are almost entirely apart from the fact that it has a 50 year film history. I am a big fan of the new ‘rebooted’ Bond. I enjoy the ambiguity of his inner strife with (spoiler alert) his feelings for Vesper and the way in which he may or may not still have been mourning her loss. There is a vulnerability to that which makes the character relatable not as a man but as a human being. I also like that its a darker story, less of the comically amusing gadgets or gimmicky villains or evil plots, but arguably the villains and world of the Craig period occupy a world that is more familiar to the present. I like how Judi Dench’s M has little tolerance for the old style of Bond-ing with his promiscuity and apparent lack of concern for protocol. It looks almost more like a modern intelligence agency. What better image for the public sector than a female director (albeit a fictional one).Darker stories are relevant for darker times, and it is nice to know that the institution of Bond films can adapt with that.

Antisophie.

Antisophie’s words: tic-words and ending a sentence with ‘so…’

Since we at the blog have a ‘Reading’ theme series of posts about the overly lofty kinds of books that we read together at the Noumenal Realm. I thought that I would make more light hearted observations of the world around me by having trying to make my own series of posts, namely about words that I hear repeatedly in public, in private conversations or in the media. I’ll call these Antisophie’s ‘Words’, plus I’ve done something like this already throughout the years.

Tic-words, or filler words

I was practicing the clarinet with Destre a while back and I was tuning my Bb Clarinet. It had been a long time since I’ve picked up a clarinet and I was not confident about playing after so long. I thought that the instrument was in tune and so I said to Destre ‘It’s sort of an A [as in concert A]’, to which he replied angrily: ‘It’s not ‘sort-of’ an A’, it IS an A!’. With that comment it tied with a conversation that we had previously about the ways in which people use filler words or what I might like to call tic-words to fill gaps in otherwise empty or underconfident self expression.

I’m sure you’ve all heard it all before, unless you are buried under Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, this form of speech is so prevalent that I am guilty of it. Destre is not guilty of it and never stops reminding me so. It’s the thing that people do when they say ‘sort of’ all the time, or ‘like’, or ending a sentence with ‘really’.

In these contexts, the words don’t mean anything. That is why I find these expressions so problematic. In the 20thC it was said that the use of the word ‘so’ as a synonym for ‘very’ was an indicator of decline in the English Language. An example of this is when Joey Tribbiani in the sitcom Friends said to Chandler Bing: ‘you are so wearing that bracelet’, after giving the latter an unwelcome gift. The meaning of ‘so’ functions as an emphasis or term of distinction. There is nothing distinct however about the candidates of filler words.

The problem I find about these filler words is mainly that its infectious. So (sic) much so that I  end up mirroring the vocal tics of people after a while. I have heard Guardian Journalists in podcasts endlessly using these filler words and it makes them look like amateurs. It also has the contrary effect of making them appear sufficiently young enough to be relevant to their audience (I read a bit of music and fashion journalism).

I might sound like a stick in the mud, and the litmus test for this would be if expressions like ‘sort of’, ‘like’, or ‘really’ appropriate a meaning. The term ‘really’ might have a new appropriated meaning that is legitimate. It is often said after something in a matter of fact way as if to communicate sincerity or factual honesty. For example:

    “I think the Brogues would be much more apt for a date, really”

My concern with these terms, as Michael hints on in this article about the word ‘trolling’ is that it can be used to appropriate something largely different to its canonical meaning, and insofar as it does the meaning of the term changes, but if a term is used ubiquitously in too wide a context, that adds nothing to the meaning of a statement, then it is filler, and unhelpful English.

Postscript: so…

One other thing I absolutely hate is when people use the suffix ‘so’ at sentences to communicate some kind of enthymeme which is usually loaded in the sentence, but not inherent within it. Also as I see it as a tic-like behaviour but not exactly so, I am infuriated by the prevalence of it. The thought of it is particularly arrogant in that it claims to be an assertion yet what the conclusion of what is said through ‘so…’ is not explicited in words, it makes neither a completed thought nor a a completed sentence.I think a visual example of this would be apt, so…