Waiting for Righty: How Uber Plans to Change the World

waiting for lefty fist

Eighty years ago, Clifford Odets wrote a play about striking taxi drivers in New York City. With too many drivers on the road and bare-bottom wages, the cabbies debate whether to strike for better pay. Two years after Waiting for Lefty, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia introduced a law that limited the number of officially licensed taxis to 16,900. The point of the system? To limit the number of taxis, ensuring that the streets weren’t filled with overworked, possibly unqualified drivers desperate to find fares. The so-called “medallion” program, which made a fixed number of taxi licenses available, might have provided a safeguard for the wages of drivers, since it shielded them from the effect … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Rethinking Wowee Zowee

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Back in 1997, Stephen Malkmus was asked in an interview when it was that Pavement sold out or tried to make their sound more accessible. To the interviewer's surprise, the indie hero said Slanted and Enchanted, the band's celebrated 1992 debut. “We made a bunch of singles before that,” Malkmus recalled. Slanted might seem dissonant and avant-garde in retrospect, he said, “but then I felt it was such a pop album.” Indeed, songs like "Summer Babe" and "Zurich Is Stained" were actually lovely pop nuggets in comparison to the crazy, caustic noise rock that Pavement offered in the very earliest years of their career. To Malkmus, if not to many critics and fans, Slanted was just the first step … [Read more...]

Seeking and Selling Authenticity in Michoacan

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Longtime friend of Tropics of Meta Pavel Shlossberg just published his first book, a fantastic ethnographic study of traditional and contemporary arts and crafts in Mexico -- and the complex cultural politics that emerge when interested outsiders, such as tourists and art dealers, impose their own ideas about what's "true" or "authentic" about other people's cultures.  It's a story as old as art and anthropology themselves, but Shlossberg tells it with a sharp eye and a fresh voice.  Certain readers will undoubtedly recognize the verve and wit of his prose from a dissertation writing group lo these many years ago in Morningside Heights.  Check out Crafting Identity: Transnational Indian Arts … [Read more...]

Stroking the Platypus

Time Enough at Last

What is information, though? And what is intellectual property? These questions bring us back to the issue of alienation, and the purported difference between industrial and service or knowledge labor. The celebrated sociologist Manuel Castells acknowledges that “information, in its broadest sense, e.g. as communication of knowledge, has been critical in all societies,” but he also maintains that the late twentieth century saw the rise of “a specific form of social organization in which information generation, processing, and transmission became the fundamental sources of productivity and power…”[1] What does it mean that information (and the handling of information) is the main source of … [Read more...]

The Gonzo Vision of Lana Del Rey

lana del rey with flowers in her hair

I do not know for a fact that Lizzy Grant, the canny songwriter behind Lana Del Rey, secretly earned an American Studies degree at SUNY-Geneseo, but all the evidence points in that direction. Lana Del Rey is, of course, the pop ventriloquist act who burst onto the scene in 2012—a ginger-haired gun moll with big hoop earrings, a moody disposition, and a lavish taste for 1960s torch-song atmospherics. Del Rey is a character invented by Grant: a full package of image, attitude, and sound that results in a familiar yet singular image. Indeed, her brand is that of the femme fatale in its most frankly Platonic form. Grant’s bio reads like an uptown-downtown hipster inversion of Jack … [Read more...]

Sloping toward the Future?: Generation X and Malaise in Richard Fulco’s There Is No End to This Slope

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  “Hurt people hurt people,” the damaged Roger Greenberg tells a pre-Frances Ha Greta Gerwig in Noah Baumbach’s 2010 film Greenberg. Stiller’s character, a fortyish former indie rock star turned carpenter returning to California after years in New York, writes angry correspondence to local newspapers, letters of complaint to companies about poor service or accommodations and spends most of his time not doing stuff.   The dissolution of his old band, in part because he harbored fears about more or less selling out, might have seemed like a sign of integrity back in the day, but now his extremism seems to stem from some sort of pathological state of arrested development. He exudes passive … [Read more...]

Thin Is In: Rethinking 40 Years of Intellectual History in the Age of Fracture

friedman foucault butler gates

But let us honestly state the facts. Our America has a bad name for superficialness. Great men, great nations, have not been boasters and buffoons, but perceivers of the terror of life, and have manned themselves to face it. The quote is by Ralph Waldo Emerson from “Fate,” the first essay in his 1859 collection, The Conduct of Life – a somber, more dialectical late-career work in light of his reputation as an irrepressible optimist. In the essay, Emerson describes at metaphorical length the necessary tension – a fistfight even, like “two boys pushing each other on the curbstone of the pavement” – between Fate and Power (or at another point Nature and Thought). If America is to achieve its … [Read more...]

Debating Dan Rodgers’s Age of Fracture

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I’ll never forget the moment I ran into a graduate student whose confidence oozed out of his pores. There I was, fresh out of college, excited about a book I had just purchased that I believed would tell me all I needed to know about the decision to go to war in Vietnam. The confident graduate student snatched the book from my hands, quickly glanced at the blurbs on the back cover, and then proceeded to skim the endnotes and bibliography. In less than two minutes, he handed it back to me, declaring “there’s absolutely nothing new in this book. Don’t waste your time.” Well, okay…It’s easy now for me to see what he was doing, and, despite the arresting ridiculousness of such a know-it-all … [Read more...]

Activating Alternative Historical Narratives: The Black Arts Collective of Philadelphia Visits South El Monte

"Let It Sparkle"

SEMAP Interview from Henry Pacheco on Vimeo. For Activate Vacant, the South El Monte Arts Posse invited artists to transgress space by creating installations in abandoned, un-used, and, often, fenced of lots. Carribean Fragoza’s two word self-titled poem installation/billboard “ay corazon,” made entirely of white plastic grocery bags, interrupted the monotonous landscape and functioned as an emotional holograph for El Monte’s commuters. Christopher Anthony Velasco’s “Let It Sparkle,” invited bus riders and the SEMAP team to cover the adjacent abandoned car garage and parking lot with yarn. Lastly, Jennifer Renteria’s rendering “The Uncultivated Park,” allowed residents to contemplate … [Read more...]

Chasing Narrative: Jennifer Egan’s Sometimes Non-Linear Take on Time, Age, and Technology

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High school didn’t leave much time for movies.  Maybe that’s not entirely true; movies were there and time for them existed, but the level of analysis one marshals as a college freshman or high school student probably lacks the kind of insight more seasoned individuals can bring to the table. In other words, it’s hard to say how much adolescents attend to issues like structure, perspective, or the relationship between audience and the art; those heady thoughts tend to come much later as successive waves of pop culture and literary canons continually crest and recede.  But it was 1994 when Pulp Fiction first introduced a new generation to the complex marriage between the visual, the … [Read more...]

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