Archive for ‘consumer retorts’

December 13th, 2016

Argentina Comicon Bombon.

The taxi pulls away from the straight lines of the city as it approaches the riverside, newly-built spirals of asphalt leading it towards a cluster of squat concrete buildings festooned in pennants and printed plastic banners. A stoplight on red curbs our progress, but not my sense that the event to come will suck. In fact, it’s strengthened by a flock of what look like misplaced midwestern soccer moms crossing the road wearing batman t-shirts and hugging giant buckets of popcorn. They swivel to look purposefully at nothing, shoveling in the pochoclo with plump hands terminating in meticulous and retina-burning manicures.

“I guess this must be it.”

And it was, even if it was less of an “it” than anything else ever managed to be. But before we go in I suppose it’d only be fair to hand out a little context; there’s not all that much to go around outside the temples of half-assery and sleepy congregations that make up this city. You see, everyone in Buenos Aires is an artist. They know it just as they know they’re proud, and hungry, and worthy (of what? well, what’ve you got, and what do the neighbors have? that + 1, hoy es el dia!). It’s not limited to the young, to the female, to the left, to the anything. Are there artists in Miami and/or Italy1? Yes? Does saying you’re an artist cost money? No? Dale, entonces somos artistas. This being something of a worldwide delusion (although perhaps not quite to the degree), you’ll be familiar with the artifacts of the fallout: unbelievably shitty murals everywhere, idem rinkydink “workshops” selling objectionable curios with reeeally long “titles”, and a service industry rife with workers who don’t think they should have to be there.

Directory

So many instances of sameness, your knees’ll buckle and you’ll spend the rest of the day sitting on the floor in stupefaction.

Then there are results like the Argentina Comicon, which shed …it’s really an abuse of the term to call it “light”, but we’ll push ourselves sickeningly through; a sad little light is thrown on the mechanism at play among the “artists”. They’re only charged, in their minds, with convincing each other of their artistness. They’ve no need nor any desire to convince themselves, or to show the rest of the world who they are and what they’ve got. We know this, because their Comicon did not involve any artists. I don’t mean they had some panel whatever which was fulla film people or something and how dare they. I mean literally the entire2 space had exactly zero instances of artists showing their work, attempting to sell it, talking to interested people, or otherwise participating. One room, let’s call it the Popcorn Nexus, was where the local theatre conglomerate sold their butter flavoring buckets o’ chum and you could sign up with your DNI3 to fuck with some promo-pushing gadget brought by Disney/local cable company/Sauron for thirty seconds. The other room, which I hereby dub Shuffle & Blow –no wait, that sounds like it could’ve been fun. Let’s see…the Maze of Farts and Purchases. If you were there with me you’d be nodding your head now, I assure you. This room was nothing but tables arranged in completely disorganized rows and cul-de-sacs, naturally placed so closely together they created constant peoplejams, naturally all selling the same 5 – 10 things. You could buy: graphic novels, booklets of hentai, figurines, tshirts, or fucking katanas. No graphic novelists, no hentai inkers, no figurine painters, no tshirt designers, no katana…fuck, I’d've taken a fucking tasselknotter at that point. No artists, no “artists”. Shop clerks with their shop stuff. Five to ten varieties, please ensure you stop to gawk and mill at every.single.table nevertheless.

Popcorn Nexus

Deep within the Popcorn Nexus.

But soft! What light through yonder fartmaze breaks! There was an outdoor area, a doublespoken cordoned-off parkinglot, selling weenies and more popcorn, with a coupla carnival rides for kids, disco blasting. And sure, something like 1.5% of the attendance was “doing cosplay”. Most of it was bought, I suspect, at the pre-comicon-con, where you purchase generic blue cotton overalls and “luigi hats” while having your esophagus mechanically widened to accept the Second and Third Comings of the Popcorn.

The great outdoors.

The patio de gastronomia was so fuckin’ opulent and luxurious I wager that truck was selling straight-up pork sausages.

“And they get away with it; if a kid from San Diego, one from Germany, a Brit, and an Argentine get together at some point and the San Diegan says ‘I went to Comicon this summer’, and the German and Brit chip in, ‘Oh, me too!’, and then the Argentine joins ‘em, ‘So did I! It was great!’ they don’t turn on him and feed the guy his beer bottle.”

  1. Miami is to Buenos Aires what Barcelona is to Romania, which in turn is something akin to what a statue is to a pigeon. It’s the mutually-agreed upon congregation spot away from the rookery, the somehow-logical destination for donating some of your filth and strutting around atop it so the other animals can see your swank. Alternatively, everyone being “Italian”, it’s right and good to do or be something if the thing is celebrated there. Which is how Buenos Aires ended up thinking it has great pizza despite its actual culinary preferences resulting in a sort of oil sponge decorated with julienned nonsense. []
  2. Two rooms, 2,000m2 between them, by the way. []
  3. Social security number, basically. []
April 28th, 2016

2016 BAIBF, a drudgery

The Buenos Aires Book Fair went on my list of things to check out the other day because…well, by now “what’s the worst that could happen” is a sort of sport. That’s the Buenos Aires International Book Fair, mind you, because people like it when things are called International (why they stopped short of Intergalactic I have no idea, marketer prolly wasn’t rockstaring outside the envelope). I get there at 20:00, weaving through the usual web of socks-napkins-and-power-adapters for sale, strewn around the ground on sheets, past the guy with $500 worth of microphone, guitar, and music stand and $0.02 of talent as he drolls out the doldrums and eyes passersby suspiciously. There’s a security retinue consisting of some old dudes in matching plastic manning a row of portable turnstiles equipped with barcode scanners they don’t know how to use. I buy a ticket (hey mister it’s not a book FREE! it’s a book FAIR!), three bucks with a two dollar coupon for buying books. They close at 22:00, but I figure I’ll be done with it in ten minutes.

The venue’s called “La Rural”, despite being somewhere approximating the middle of the middlest part of the city, and the building I enter’s as big and stylistically barren as any other convention center. What strikes me as I walk through is how very few books there are, and how each “booth”, more like a slightly raised platform perfect for tripping over on the way up or adrenaline-joltingly stumbling off on the way down, has some banner or other with “Gobierno de” and any given province silkscreenscribbled on it. I marvel a few hundred paces at having paid anything at all to attend this apparent Bored Bureaucrat Con 2016 as I observe the people manning these booths, all sitting, all behind big white plastic tables, all while pantallas gigantes de LCD! pan in and out of vaguely nonurban landscapes from wherever it is they’re advertising behind them. At the Tucuman booth, one of those guys with hair that’s long enough to not be short but short enough that nobody can call him a fag starts haranguing me about how they publish books by writers from Tucuman, because, you see, he’s from Tucuman, well actually he’s from Spain, but up north, in Tucuman? They publish books! By writers! Look, these are some examples. It occurs to me the raised platforms are there not to prevent a speedy escape, as I had originally thought, but because these folks likely think they’re really cool.

It’s at about this time the evening’s coffees and cognacs catch up with me, so I start searching for the restrooms. I walk nearly the entire perimeter of the building, about the size of two football fields, and discover at the last corner an exit different from my entry point, with a slow but steady stream of people carrying bags coming towards me, on some path through the darkness. I head out and find a series of fabric-covered tunnels a few hundred feet ahead, where the human ant trail is focused, so I follow against them, and after a good fifteen minute walk find the tunnel lets out into another, larger, room, which is naturally where the actual book fair is! Mind you, this isn’t pointed out anywhere. The sourness of old hot dogs and charred coffee is strong here though, mingling with the overabundant, fake apple-scented disinfectant/carpet shampoo, so I imagine I must’ve simply missed the local sirens’ smell.

I haven’t been to any sort of convention for roughly a decade, but still, the place seems odd. While it’s a far sight better than the lame governmental foyer, it nevertheless comes across as a sort of swap meet for the middle-aged, ho-hum fare peppered liberally with the pseudomedieval teen fantasy du jour stuff –but it’s the same ho-hum, middle-aged people buying it. They’ve adopted the insane slightly raised platforms from the first room, though many of these booths also have plastic walls in what must’ve been some attempt to further direct the flow of the herds (to what end, I’ve no idea, though I suspect it might’ve had something to do with the “food court” at the back). Also: extra-strength halogen spotlights that change colors every 2-3 seconds beaming over pretty much any available shelf, making the reading of titles something of a visual traffic jam. Helping this effect take on a true evil is the fact that Argentines shelve their books upside down, ostensibly as part of their turn-of-the-century compact with Beezlebub. So instead of struggling to read 8pt titles at knee-level in constantly changing light by leaning right and going top-to-bottom, one had to lean to the left and read bottom-to-top, which in theory shouldn’t be too upsetting but in practice feels about on par with swallowing one’s nose. Oh, and each booth has its own mediocre desktop computer “sound system”, so there are ~400 different songs playing softly at once. Pentru decor1.

I spend a while rummaging through poetry anthologies and seeing if any of the alt-y zines are interesting (not really). I eventually settle on a Kafka paperback for Spanish practice and attempt to use the coupon. Seller points out to me that it’s not to use at the fair, it’s to use at certain bookstores in the city a week after the book fair is over. I scrap it, pay, and wander around peoplewatching, noting that I’m probably the youngest female there save for the occasional hunched booth babe tapping acrylic nails against knockoff iphones. In a previously deserted corner I find a line nearly a hundred people long leading into some little black tent-like room. Probably where they’re stashing the good books. Or the exit. Or the BATHROOM!. I ask a woman with a great ass (who turns to look at me with an unfortunate face) what the line’s for? She shows me the book in her hand, which is some “real life” biography of Pearl Jam (what does that even mean?). She wants to get it signed. Oh, is the band in there? No, of course not, just the author, hahahaha. I don’t know, maybe he has a goiter or something. But I don’t know how to ask about a goiter in Spanish, and the face is even worse when she laughs, so I smile and walk on. After finding the bathrooms, I do one more lap, down a row I haven’t been in yet, finding the (inevitable?) Hare Krishna booth, which offers a nice olfactory pocket of respite from the rest of the place, but all their stuff’s in English, and I was kinda done with that at seventeen anyhow. Suddenly airport muzak comes blaring from a real live sound system somewhere in the guts of the building, making face to face conversation near impossible, and I gather it’s closing time. I watch people throw plastic tarps over the bookshelves as they prepare to leave, just like the guys at the produce markets do it (except of course for the produce market people being outside, and their tarps being tied down with rope, etc). Maybe it’s to let less of that hot dog scent seep into the pages at night.

The sock-sellers and Sr. Suspicious Fingerpickin’ are still out front when I leave, vying for the last of the day’s potential pennies. I slink into the subway station and head home, a blessed place with nothing whatsoever in common with the 2016 BAIBF.

  1. This bit of Romanian became a thing when a favorite restaurant in Timisoara tried to serve a certain gentleman his turkey schnizel cut into strips atop the potatoes. Which pieces didn’t in any sense fit together if one picked them up and attempted to reassemble a filet. Which prompted the gentleman to ask our waitress why she’d given him someone else’s uneaten bits of turkey schnitzel. She protested that no such thing had been done, and when asked why then the dish was presented thusly, she offered that it was “for decor”. She continued to mutter the phrase as we put on our coats and walked out. []
October 15th, 2015

What is a supermarket?

“Oh, their produce is sub par, and a lot of what they carry is probably gmo.”

“You shouldn’t shop there because it hurts local store owners’ business.”

“The only reason their prices are so low is that they exploit workers in poorfagistan.”

These all being legitimate arguments, I’ve recently discovered (through my own failure, that no-speed-limit highway to getting a sense of how much you don’t know, especially among the set of things you thought you did) that they don’t describe the fundamental problem of the supermarket, which is at best tenuously related to what it does. The problem of the supermarket is what it is. So what is it?

Go, enlist google, enlist “dictionaries”, which will happily dish out a buffet of useless synonyms and descriptions of how such a thing is internally organized, all beneath a billowing canopy of ads. Eat it and you’ll end up full of shit, the present state of the vast majority of people, who imagine they know what the words they use mean. Here’s some pepto-bismol, handed down to me from on high back when I decided I’d rather do just about anything than stay at that corprophagic party:

A definition consists of the proximate genus and its specific difference within the same.

Some fair proportion of my waking hours consists of guessing games; what things mean, as per the above conundrum, what the correct response to some hypothetical or other might be. I hate and love them just about equally, and the question “do you give up?” is always there, looming, like a sort of Everest with its face all curled, just waiting to call the climb I’m trying “cute”. Let me tell you, I walked with the question of what the fuck a supermarket is for at least five miles, traversed along streets studded with shops which might’ve qualified for the definition, but maybe not…what about them, I wondered, could make them a supermarket? Some of them even had the word “supermarket” in the names plastered on their fronts, and for fuck’s sake, they didn’t meet the criteria I was searching for. Maddening, it was. And if you live amongst the commercial detritus of the west, I gather you’d have a similar experience in the attempt of a definiton, unless of course you’ve had the wisdom and foresight to really think about your environs and the places you patronize. Who’m I to say, maybe I’m only representing the feeble, contorted Derpidity over here. Hats off to you if you’ve got it. But if you don’t:

A supermarket is that store which broke modern yet virgin ground solely for the purpose of creating the store.

This might seem insufficient at the outset, but think about it: that corner shop that calls itself “Corner Supermarket” might have it in its name, but the place already existed, as a warehouse or apartment construction, and was merely converted into a shop. A mega appliances outlet on Broadway might have all the fluourescent, bargain-screaming trappings of a supermarket as we’ve come to know it, but it’s a working part of a pre-existing commercial street, it has a history that consists of something beyond the first bulldozer and an adjacent meadow-turned-parking-lot.

The fact that its products might not be of a similar quality to those found at a shop trying its earnest to serve you with the genuine article is important, to be sure. But a more fundamental consideration here is that the supermarket, even outside of the question of its internal quality, creates an external hellhole around itself and all that it touches. The land on which it’s built and in a frightening circumference is outright vershtookt; atolls of asphalt, man-made hills, retaining walls, and of course, post-apocalyptic traffic with its attendant smog, frustration, and dis-ease.

In contrast, here’s a shot of the internals of a local coffee shop1, that being a place for buying coffee rather than a *$ shoved into your town’s newest stripmall (why’s it a “stipmall”? Hint: it’s not because it occupies a “strip”.):

Mmm

This place, discovered on the same five-mile walk described above, is an absolute wonder. This guy’s coffee is so good, last time I bought a half-kilo and walked out with it pedestrians on the road stopped me to inquire where I’d gotten coffee that smelled -that great-. And it wasn’t even brewed yet. Every time I have a pot of this going in my place, its aroma is the first thing out of the mouths of my guests, a la “Oh my god, that coffee smells wonderful!”.

So what’s the story of this place? It’s on an old corner of a very old street, probably in former years a butchery or clothing store, what’s it matter other than that some guy who wanted to make a living selling coffee bought or rented a place, rather than imagining he’s part of some new “shopping experience” that’s so full of crap it’s gotta quarantine itself in a kilometer of six meter high sodium lamps and utterly depressed saplings.

***

  1. For the interested locals, Cafezenda, Cabildo 199 []
August 23rd, 2014

On selling bitcoin, the idea.

Motto: do not sell a thing unless the value of the sale is greater than the value of the thing being sold.

People know how to convince each other of even wildly untrue things. Twisting the truth and pandering to individual preferences and abilities may be condemned by moral codes, religious systems, and colloquial conceptions of decency, but these are nevertheless innate human skills, polished despite whatever misgivings through nearly every manifestation of social interaction. Persuasive writing is taught in school, lies are organized into types, severities, and attendant consequences in households, and, of course, ubiquitous advertising demonstrates and exemplifies how to sell, how to create desire, how to capture markets, how to immortalize messages.

Left, for the most part, unchecked, the perceived importance of the sell has fashioned a wretchedly depressed society mired in consumer impulses and confusedly drawn to things that are “wild” or “different”, by now simply synonymous with that which isn’t packaged –or at least, which employs fewer or simpler layers in its cocoon. The sell creep, of course, sets its sights upon this mysterious beloved, too, so that difference becomes a new feature and wildness a new claim. The sell does not care what something actually is, but what it could be, and how it could be, and to whom. And certainly, it has its place.

That place is not among ideas. That place is not among essences, nor authorities. That place is certainly nowhere near bitcoin, nor bitcoin near it, and this is why attempts to sell bitcoin to people as an idea fail, and will continue to fail: it’s not a thing to be sold, whether you use the correct term for the attempt or pretend you’re attempting something else, and sane, and noble, by calling it “adoption”.

Various collections of people touched by the fairies of false conclusions, broken summaries, and perpetuated hearsay will insist that bitcoin requires universal adoption to succeed, a notion with no basis in reality but a particularly sticky embrace of the obsession with all-inclusiveness currently going around. What’s perhaps lost in the half-argument, half-yodeling contest between the touched and those patient enough to respond is the fact that even when mass adoption of bitcoin isn’t being paraded as a chivalrous goal or a desperate need, it’s still being put on the sales shelf, even among people who understand that good things aren’t for everybody, and that existence does not preclude exclusivity.

In an age when education is more often about enforcing agreement than disseminating information and building knowledge, it makes sense that basic instincts to share would take the shape of persuasion and idiosyncratic analogy. (Here’s a lesson that recently hit me over the head, by the way: an analogy is a literal equality. An analogy that merely illustrates a relationship and does not provide actually equal components is broken. You’re selling, not explaining.) But this is all it is: a basic instinct to share using shitty tools that may work just fine if your job is to make the sale and to get your paycheck. Hopefully these wouldn’t be the tools you use to encourage understanding.

When bitcoin is sold to idiots, the sale perpetuates idiocy. It creates people eager to make bitcoin answer their particular problems and quench their particular desires. When bitcoin is sold to the unidiotic, it creates people eager to write bitcoin off as a scam, a blip, or some other conveniently marginalized anomaly. Either way, the sale creates nothing of value, and plenty of noise –noise which may be pleasing to the salesman because listen! there’s a buzz. But on the rare occurrence that someone idiotic or otherwise looks past the sale and on their own initiative seeks understanding of bitcoin, that victory cannot be said to owe credit to a marketing ploy.

The notion that bitcoin is difficult to understand has been used as an excuse for all manner of offensively bad diagrams, summaries, metaphors, and flat-out lies. That your friends and family aren’t starry-eyed and weeping at your bitcoin talk doesn’t mean bitcoin should, or possibly could, change form or function to absorb them as adherents or make you sound less silly. That some shocking swathe of the general public thinks bitcoin is an arcade token this week or a pyramid scheme the next doesn’t mean contentless “nuh-uh!s” or contextless extractions of half-understood facts are okay to spout and spread. These mean you’re not explaining well, or that your audience is unable or unwilling to think, or some mixture of these. You can address the first: elaborate facts, explain causes, express appreciation, but do not sell unless the value of that sale is greater than the value of the thing being sold.

March 13th, 2011

Only the Privileged are Left Behind

-or-

You probably won’t be able to buy anything like a banana soon enough.

A few weeks ago I was confronted with the happy and relaxing task of reinstalling Windows, a tradition I’ve heard is enjoyed among the people of the world in a ritual celebration filled with cursing, feelings of being completely dead inside, and microwaveable sandwiches. My attempt at joining in on this unifying horror of the international computer-using community was abruptly halted, however, when I found the tool I’d need to copy the installation disk to reinstall the operating system was only available in a conveniently bundled package containing about 15% what I wanted, and 85% proprietary junk. Junk without which no modern program can possibly work, seeing as its absence might reveal the embarrassing nakedness of actual content.

The best course of action seemed to be complaining, which I immediately directed at an innocent friend:

Once upon a time, a girl could go to the store and get a banana. She could peel it, and eat it, and all was well. Then as the years went by, bananas started getting all of these extra things added to them. Nutritional boosters and peel decorations, and little baubles that hung off the tab at the top. Genetically engineered brown spots that ensured an even distribution of burnt sienna. And if you wanted to buy a banana, you had to first sign up for a banana membership and have your banana receptors scanned and catalogued, and you had to have a fruit processing unit to get the peel open, and you had to have a government approved pre-mastication operator.

The friend asked me where I was quoting from, as if I’d been reading a bizarre science fiction premise mysteriously preoccupied with fruit.

In the sense that it’s excessive, obnoxious, and illogical, sure, it’s bizarre. In the sense that it is, I’m convinced, entirely likely, it’s not bizarre at all. Nearly everything intended for human consumption, no matter the delivery method, is being geared towards the lowest common denominator. Towards a barely-human mass of coveted expendable income and Cheez-It crumbs that has no idea what a consumable object is, nor how it could possibly be useful, and therefore needs enough packaging and sensual lubricant to ensure objects of any size or purpose can be uniformly sent careening down its gullet.

Why is it that almost without fail, videos online are defaulted to the highest possible volume? Why does nearly every purchase come with an opt-out phase to avoid automatically buying more products or attracting more offers to buy more products? Why are the gripability and mouth girth of bottled soft drinks worth “improving,” or even pointing out? Are you tired of having to get up in the morning? Don’t worry, now auto-complete will fill in your day for easy and immediate living.

It seems that the ability to establish a meaningful connection with what we consume is becoming more and more rare, a superpower of the privileged. Today’s luxury isn’t about adding more value. It’s about the pure and simple delivery of the thing desired, an experience that’s always been marked by bliss, but which is increasingly closed off to masses of people who are relegated to life lived under the suffocating cellophane of the Value-Pak.

As the world hurtles towards its latest rendering of progress’ horizon, the privileged stand back, in a three-dimensional space where there exists more than flat and infinite forwardness, enjoying the fruit of the earth, of their labors, and of each other. It’s explained away as luxury, but it’s in fact reality, this world where you open a banana and you eat it, and it’s good, and that is all.

And that is all.