Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Putting the "Fest" in Manifesto

Recently I posted a manifesto entitled The Bonfire of Inanities on another blog, The Fellow Idealist. As with most manifestos that I've read, it attempts to make up for its vagueness with passion. To be honest, I had originally intended to write an Executive Summary for a business idea and it got away from me. I stay up late, and don't often end up with what I had set out to do (please don't attach "in bed" to the sentence like it's a fortune cookie). Here's a little taste:

"We are young… and we will not stand pat, arms dragging idly by our sides, soaking up the endlessly radiating signals, calling to us like sirens of lethargy from our televisions, while the next wave of ideologues and careerists flood our nation and our world with their closed mindedness deeply rooted, their ears (and eventually their hearts) too clogged to hear the voice of our nation gasping for change and new direction. We will cut them off at the pass. Ours will not be to confront those of our generation whose beliefs and opinions differ; no, ours will be to welcome them with a fabric-softened embrace into our ever burgeoning numbers. “You are one of us. We are some of many,” we will say, though we know that in the now dim, soon blazing light of our future there will be no “us and them” -- no opposing sides locked in continuous stalemate, but one vast and interconnected, enmeshed and borderless blob of Humanity, pulsating to the tempo of our passion."....Click Here For The Rest

You get the idea -- a call to arms for our generation, a stream of consciousness rant. I'll be the first to say that it's overblown, naive, etc., but dammit it gets me fired up; and if nothing else, this is for me the primary fuction of a manifesto (even if I'm the only one it fires up). In an apocryphal anecdote, the Greek orator of mythic repute, Demosthenes is complimenting his ruler and fellow reknown orator, Pericles. In a gesture of humility, Pericles concedes to Demosthenes' supirior oratorical acumen, saying, "When Pericles speak, the people say, 'Oh, how well he speaks'; when Demosthenes speak, the people say, 'Let's march!'."

And that's the basic point, each manifesto should arouse even a base level of emotion in its readers, and ideally it should get them to take action. Here are some other examples that I found on the internet.

Blog related Manifestos

1. How to write your own creative manifesto - good way to start off your manifesto writing

2. Launch of Negativist Manifesto - good example of a more convoluted manifesto, but you could just read The Bonfire for that.

3. A Continuously user-edited, manifesto called The Future of Learning Manifesto

4. The Voice 2.0 Manifesto, which is related to The Bonfire

5. Motherhood Manifesto (possibly not your cup of tea)

6. And it's counterpoint found on www.beingdaddy.com, The Un-Hip Parent's Manifesto (pretty funny)

Historic Manifestos

Communist Manifesto - sorta the granddaddy of manifestos and one of the more successful ones, depending on how you define the success of a manifesto.

Futurist Manifesto - this one is one of my favorites and a work of art in itself. It's about youth and speed and art keeping up with the modernization of the world. It's so choice, if you have the means I highly recommend it.

Playboy Philosophy - Hefner himself wrote out this multi volume work, describing the ethos behind the sexual revolution as the master sees it.

To (youtu)be or not to (youtu)be

I had a conversation with my students today about the popularity of media sites like Youtube and social networking sites. For college bound high school students, by the way, social networking sites start and end with Facebook. When one of them asked what I thought of Facebook, I told them that I didn’t have an account, so I wasn’t really sure. He said “I know,” but he said it in a way that would make just about anyone shiver. He had spent an hour the night before searching for anything about me online, just because he was bored.

I mention this because it highlights the permanent and shockingly accessible amount of information that floats around the internet. This is far from groundbreaking, but I’m looking at it suddenly from the eyes of high school students. Picture every bad decision you made along the lines of:

1. Pictures or video of you doing something illegal / unattractive
2. Writing (poetry, humor, hatred) that should never see the light of day
3. Angry comments delivered to others without full consideration of their impact
4. Professions of never-ending love

Some of the students that sit in my class everyday may end up someday running for political office. The possibility of a bad decision being dug up by their opponents may be much larger than just finding someone who will testify to seeing / hearing that decision. Some have argued that without the macaca debacle, George Allen would have retained his Senate seat and the current Democratic majority would not exist. The world of politics is in no way ready for the day that a presidential candidate realizes that the pictures of him hitting a beer bong are in hundreds of hard drives because he shared it as an eighteen year old on his Facebook page. Slate put together a pretty clever video on the subject of politician ambush during campaigning but it doesn’t address my concern, that information can be put into the public domain before someone even knows how many Representatives are in the House, let alone whether or not they’ll run.

There’s something tragic about ruining your life by saying something inappropriate to a small audience that is then broadcast to a large one. If you’re old (read: 30 or older) though, it’s your own damn fault. When you’ve not even finished high school or college, you should be able to speak without worrying about it costing you a job when you’re old (again, 30 or older.) Watching the Borat movie I relished the humiliation of the old rodeo director advocating the execution of homosexuals. But I felt sorry for the meathead, frat-rat, douchebag jocks. Those are the type of guys that I hated in college, but now I feel some pity for them. The fact that those guys may not get a job because they got drunk and made some (admittedly heinous and racially insensitive) remarks as 20 year olds strikes me as unfortunate.

The ? Generation

We, the generation born roughly between 1975 and 1987, have been haled as “The Boomerang Generation,” “The MTV Generation,” “Generation Y,” and “The Internet Generation,” but these labels feel half-baked and ill fitting for a group as diverse and soon to be illustrious as we. Try desperately as they may, Ad executives and befuddled sociologists can’t pin us down into a neat and orderly category. However, this isn’t going to stop them from exhausting their lackluster creative minds and bestowing upon us some crap label.

So, if anybody is going to pin a donkey of a name onto our generation it might as well be us. Here’s some events that have occurred during our lifetimes and some influences that have shaped our generation’s consciousness (in an attempted but failed chronological order).

MTV and the rise of the music video, fall of the Berlin Wall, the Hubble Telescope, the heartbreaking gap between Bill Buckner’s legs, The Challenger Space Shuttle, NASA gets boring, a little show gets picked up and it’s called “Saved by the Bell,” 90210, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper, Clintonian dynasty, Gangster Rap, Grunge Music, the internet, Global Warming, Friends, a family named Bundy, hair bands, two wars in Iraq, two Bush administrations, the rise and falls of Chris Farley, the AIDS epidemic, the bane of Political Correctness, Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, Ace Ventura, The Keatons, The Seavers, a Full House, and when asked Who’s the Boss?, Charles in Charge, Pamela Anderson, Michael Jordan, OJ Simpson, 2000 Election, Queer Eyes, Reality Television, and 9/11.

Honorable Mention: SARS

Personally, I am partial to "The We Generation", based upon the sentiment that the tragedies of September 11th and the ensuing paranoia have forged us into a unified, engaged, and socially responsible generation, tempered by terror and wary of the future consequences of our society's actions and policies. Don't get me wrong, my identity and that of my friends was formed primarily in the fun-loving 90's, when government mistrust began with The X-Files and ended in our president's lap. Our inchoate selves, however, have been funneled precipitously through the rude awakening of the past six years. How we will be defined through the gaze of history has yet to be fully realized, but it will come from our attempts to find solutions.

None More B[ar]ack

Is it just me or does the whole debate concerning the "blackness" of Senator Barack Obama evoke the scene from This Is Spinal Tap when the band first sees the black cover to their new album, Smell the Glove? Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) contemplates, "It's like, how much more black could this be? and the answer is none. None more black."

My point is that not only is this debate comically absurd, but its premise, "How much black is Barack Obama?", is inherently as pointless and absurd as the discourse that follows. As seen recently on both The Colbert Report and The Daily Show and with less humor on SNL, the argument over Senator Obama's level of "black" serves as ample comic fodder. Colbert interviewed (and exposed the useless logic of) author, Debra Dickerson, who supported her position against Obama's "blackness" with such substantive statements as: "He's a brother, but he's an adopted brother."

Dickerson does, however, expresses the underlying purpose of her argument, which is that she, and presumably those that feel similarly, feel that Obama, son of a Kenyan immigrant and a white, Midwestern mother, while he may be the "adopted brother" of the "black" community is being taken in too closely by pushy foster parents, namely white self-congratulationiks. Let's recap: Dickerson aims to critique white self-congratulation exemplified by Obama's high ratings with white voters who she feels have made the Senator into more a symbol than a candidate; and in order to critique the self-congratulatory white community she uses Obama as a symbol of otherness, a figure of racial ambiguity, instead of a serious candidate.

The debate over Barack Obama's racial identity reveals more about the black community that dismisses him than it does about his actual standing within it. I realize that this is dangerous ground for an openly white guy to be discussing, but this point is well argued in a recent New York Times editorial, in which the black author (which I point out to take the onus of racial commentary off of my shoulders) dismisses the idea that slave heritage is a deciding criterion for one's blackness. Most interestingly, he sees this debate as "positively antique", a remnant of the racial politics of the 1960's.

There is more one could say -- about Obama's self-admitted and often criticized ability to appear as a thematic blank slate; about how "81 percent of black voters tell pollsters that a white man will get the Democratic nomination, while only 58 percent of white voters do" -- but I'd prefer to leave the topic open. I will only say that I support Senator Obama's candidacy and that his background does carry a certain cache in my mind. The appeal of his heritage stems not, however, from the ambiguity of his race but from its eclectic and international aspects, which offers more for the evolving global debate and towards its evolution, so that if he remains a prominent figure in public discourse we may hopefully begin to start arguing about topics that actually matter, like how much more black can that album cover be.

Monday, February 12, 2007

It Begins

Woody Allen can't believe we work for Dissentary. I told him it was mostly Commentary. He thinks Dissent and Commentary merged to form Dissentary. I can see where he's coming from.