Alison Gold’s “Chinese Food,” about how she likes Chinese food, has hit #29 on the Billboard Hot 100. Her parents paid to have the song and video produced by ARK Music Factory, the same company responsible for Rebecca Black’s “Friday.” It’s kind of gross that adolescent rich girls can get professional-quality production and songwriting for vanity projects, but it’s terrifying that ARK Music Factory can make those vanity projects into hits. They’ve done it twice now—three times if you count “It’s Thanksgiving.” Today is Friday, popular culture is an algorithm that only requires Patrice Wilson to select a day or food, and the time has come for us to embrace the dread declinism. Won’t you admit that everything is going to hell with me?
First, the good news: the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has administered tests of numeracy, literacy and problem solving to young people across all member countries, and our 18- to 24-year-olds are the dumbest. Now that we have embraced declinism, I assume we regard bad news as good news because it reinforces our embittered worldview. In problem-solving with computers, the United States scored lower than Russia. Russia! It’s a country that uses computers solely for pornography and whose only problem-solving strategy has been, historically, winter. In this context, it’s hard to argue that Americans are doing things right. It may be even harder to identify what we’re doing wrong, but I personally blame cell phones and this lady.
Meanwhile, the barbarians are at the gate, and what they spray-paint on it is worth millions. Banksy is nearing the end of his month-long “residency” in New York, and Slate’s Ben Davis has written an insightful essay on the juxtaposition of the graffiti artist and Bloomberg’s city beautiful. If you want to understand the Giuliani-Bloomberg era, you need only read this quote:
I’ll leave it up to our Department of Cultural Affairs. But look, graffiti does ruin people’s property and it’s a sign of decay and loss of control.
Loss of control for whom, exactly? The belief that graffiti is problematic as a symbolic weakening of control sums up the broken-window approach to city government neatly. Those of you who suspected that the last decade was about making New York safe for the fraction of its populace that is insanely rich are invited to get back to work.
You moved there to work in the arts, but now you work in finance. David Byrne, whose band was an icon of the weird, poor and violent New York of the late 1970s, has written this essay about how the city is not a good place to be creative anymore. It contains a lot of unsubstantiated claims, but the fact remains that CBGB, where the Talking Heads first made it big, is now a counterculture-themed clothing retailer. I used to go to poetry slams in their basement. In retrospect, I probably should have gotten into food.
Byrne argues that a creative economy, fundamentally about making things, is not limited to the arts. A culture with a strong creative class will not just make better music and movies, but also better manufactured goods and better social arrangements. The converse is probably true, as well: the more an economy organizes itself around soulless, content-free products—derivatives, literally and figuratively—the more its culture will become rote and empty itself. For example:
There’s something hypnotic about watching these local news anchors from all around the country deliver the same non-joke, itself a hacky catchphrase from a movie that iterated itself into joylessness a decade ago. Here is your American culture, you guys. Think how sad that makes you, and then imagine how you would feel watching this if you were Mike Myers. I can’t wait to see what kind of movies his child makes for our Chinese masters.
Sometimes cultural institutions become stale, and the only thing left is to break them apart and, I dunno, feed them to ducks or something. Ben al-Fowlkes sent me the link to this delightful Tumblr, Suck My Dick, New Yorker Caption Contest. The premise is so elegant that it must be quoted verbatim: “Every week, the New Yorker has a caption contest. Every week, it would be way funnier if they just talked about sucking dick.” I am reminded of a good friend who sent obscene and/or racist entries to the New Yorker caption contest diligently, every week. She never won, but I like to think she made some interns happy.
Meanwhile, in things that are alternately infuriating and inspiring:
Russell Brand believes that a revolution is coming to destroy existing world government and economic systems, and he has no plan for how to replace them. He thinks the collapse of order is a good thing, and he’s a millionaire. Somehow, I agree with him. The end is nigh at hand.