Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Circle of Life
Before reading further, press play and immediately come back to this page.

Okay, that's better. This post needs that certain special something. The uplifting sounds of World Music. The powerfully spiritual whole-earthiness and oneness that unites us within the notes.

Geography used to fire the imagination. Descriptions of new and wondrous exotic places inspired literal adventure and literary exploration. Think of Speke & Richard Burton, Stanley & Livingstone, Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, Haggard's King Solomon's Mines, and the tales of Rudyard Kipling. Even cinematically, this sense was brought to screen in figures such as O'Toole's dashing Lawrence of Arabia and the fictional globe-trotting adventurer Indiana Jones. There is a richness to these ingredients. Unfamiliar sights, sounds, places, and people.

Somewhere along the way all this got tossed aside. These depictions were artifacts of colonialism, ethnocentrism, and stereotype. The romanticized figures and places of geography: Ghurkas, Bantus, Zulus, pygmies, the Congo, Borneo, the Amazon have instead been replaced by antiseptic discussions of cultures, diversity, environments, and ecosystems. Ah yes, gripping stuff!

Indeed, the shift in view may be all well and good in a values sense, but it certainly has eroded the imaginative. In its place we're offered up a sort of theme park celebration of geographic exotica: Disney movies of boy lions, grooving emperors, Hakuna Matada, and culturally empowered warrior princesses. Episodes of Survivor replete with carved wooden tikis, smiling grass-skirted villagers and "Circle of Life" style soundtracks. When it comes to the world scene, I like Bono and all, and the attention to Africa that he raises. But Bono is no Burton. Burton is, afterall, the figure who raised the western world's attention to the exotic and sensual delights of the Kama Sutra. I think it is safe to say that Bono's awareness raising of third world debt relief doesn't exactly compare.

This leads one to ask, Has the world become boring? Has everything about the planet become familiarized to the point where all we can do is talk about it in scientific terms: cultures, climates, biomes, ecosystems, environments? Has all the world's richness been watered down to the where all that remains for the imagination is the appreciation of World Music, batik prints, and the animated figures of Timon and Phumba?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Era of the Man-Child
Interesting article in the recent issue of The Atlantic about the demise of Playboy magazine in comparison to the rising popularity of its trashier "girlie-mag" competitors Maxim, FHM, Stuff, etc. The author of the Atlantic article compares the Playboy man (smart, well-read, cultivated, manly) versus the "laddies" readership of the other magazines - boys turned on by slutty chicks, toilet humor, Jackass, video games, junk food, etc. The conclusion is that males have surrendered to decades of feminist brow-beating (a theme effectively examined in another context by Christina Hoff Sommers in her work The War Against Boys) and have embraced the stereotypes waged against them. Since society continually demands of its males that they expend extraordinary effort to recondition their thinking and inclinations (Ritalin to control outbursts; sensitivity to control passions) males have rebelled and embraced their vulgar self (if this is what I am told that I am, then this is what I will in fact be). The new girlie-mags cater to this new male id.

Interestingly, while there was a Playboy Man there was also a Playboy Woman. As the Atlantic author suggests, the Playboy Man was not about being a dominant. He was as much liberated as the newly liberated Playboy Woman. Both were to be self assured in their respective masculine and feminine roles. Yet both interacted with each other as equals. The Playboy Man was every bit as interested in discussing literature, culture, politics, art etc with the Playboy Woman as he was in having sex with her. The author contends that oddly, the new girlie-mags promote the same egalitarianism - only that what is different is that in this new era the shared pursuits are in the realm of Jackass antics, and Girls Gone Wild. The Playboy Man would share in fine wine with his female companions whereas the Maxim Man finds pleasure in the keg-standing abilities of his female friends.

This brings to mind an interesting point raised by another Atlantic writer (unfortunately, I forget the author and the article). The author highlighted how the feminist movement liberated men as well as women - liberated men from their traditional sex role every bit as much as the feminist movement liberated women from theirs. (See Harvey Mansfield's Manliness for a discussion on the traditional role, its importance, and how it must be revived). Men, freed from the confines of the traditional role, have also found freedom from the responsibilities that the role demanded (death of the responsibility of being the "bread-winner" meant men could now simply win "bread-for-one" - with the resultant diminishing of the father figure type, two-parent households, increased divorce rate, etc). What the future of maledom suggests, given the clues provided by the girlie-mags, is a reassertive primalness (pleasure for pleasure's sake, instant gratification, sex on demand, thirst for violence) unhindered by the bonds of institution (ie, less church, less marriage, less social clubbishness (Elks, Lions, Toastmasters, et. al), less societal expectation to channel manliness for the betterment of society - whether as heroic soldier, captain of industry, or intrepid explorer).

The Playboy Man was about redefining man in the era of feminist woman. The Maxim Man is a capitulation to pre-definition of man. A liberation from any expectation of growth from boy to man. A solidification of a suspended animation. A sixteen year-old extended onward into perpetuity. An era where Man is less wanted and less in demand. Childish infantile roguishness is the expectation (and nurtured!). The Era of the Man-Child.

Where Cars Go to Die
I haven't seen as many PT Cruisers driving about. Is this because they are a summer car - carefully stowed away in the garage waiting to bloom again with the flowers of Spring? Or did they all die fast deaths, like a good Detroit car is wont to do?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The New Year
She tried with great effort to keep her headscarf in place while swimming the hotel pool. The silk covering hovered on the water's surface like a skim of cooking fat or perhaps a jellyfish. She kept her head below water, frantically knotting the cloth to her head in a desperate attempt to stay in good standing with the local culture. I looked away and returned to my quickread - a page turner of spies, container ships, and petrodollars

Could I stand another of the island's fruit juices? I'd love a beer but none are to be found - at least not publicly. I'm sure a whisper with a local Reza could produce results - I'm just not sure if they'd be favorable ones (best not to chance it - who knows what the basij would do). Perhaps then another coffee. They have Starbucks here. They have a lot of Starbucks here. And also a lot of Turkish coffees. Not sure why, given the rivalries. The swimming woman was out of the pool. I could sense here discomfort - had she made the right choice? The one-piece versus the wetsuit? Again, a question for the basij to decide. But then again would you want to chance having them make the decision? It was hard to determine how sovereign the hotel's grounds are.

Had I had enough with the shops of Kish? The Gucci, Armani, Dior, et. al. Somehow this is the new if you build it they will come - an international shopping mecca of the same international brands. I wonder if mecca was the right word to say. Certainly I had circled the mall atrium enough times as though it was the kaaba itself - circling around and around in veneration of duty free commerce.

Ah Kish, mysterious Kish. I'm not sure why the website wished me a Merry Christmas. Was this what convinced me to come? The friendly smiling Santa Claus beckoning me to come and dip my toes into the lovely Persian Gulf. An opportunity to welcome the New Year sharing a coffee at the coolest cafe in town with Persian starlets. The radiance of their skin tone and perfectly applied makeup and headscarf pushed back just far enough. Everyone at the cafe laughing and enjoying themselves - relaxing just like the brochure said. I couldn't imagine Dubai being this good. Sure they had that sailboat hotel and the rock festival out in the desert. The container ships lined up like pearls streaming out away from the coast and those rare mornings where the fog drifts in - making you believe you're anywhere other than the desert.

But that's Dubai. Everyone knows Dubai. I don't know if many know about Kish. Well, most except for Germans - they seem to make up the majority of the foreign set here. Enjoying the scuba diving, the beaches, the shops, and the hotel amenities. The day ends with an evening spent at the coffee bar - the pulse of Persian techno like the muezzin's call. My head spins like dervishly - exhausted yet focused like the tip of a pin. Again the coffee. I need hydration. Another fruit juice?

At the coffee bar I saw her, the headscarf perfectly placed. Pushed back just far enough to cause no mind and yet be dangerous at the same time.

A new year begins in Kish.