Monday, December 29, 2008

Let's talk about... Wonder Woman.

See the thing with Wonder Woman that I respect is that She is a strong feminine character but what I can't stand is that everyone has to let me know that she's a strong feminine character. I feel like with this character I am told too often that she is beautiful and wise and noble and powerful but I rarely told this in an organic fashion. Even in the best interpretations of her (I don't read the Simone book but I should) like George Perez's acclaimed run on the book, its a lot of putting her in this grand position in the DC Universe. I think the character is done proving herself and there was a simpler time when the character was created that she was allowed to act independently of her status as a symbol and could be degraded and bound and beaten like you know... pretty much every other character does. That same equality isn't there and by making her a feminist symbol that is always this stoic figure, it feels like a contradiction to me.

MR. A.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Super Wal-Mart

A rope over the abyss.

A few years back, my sister had a friend that was a for
eign exchange student from Germany and at the end of the year, before her departure back to Europe she took pictures of various of the somewhat mundane features of Manteca California. I guess if you are from a place where you just don’t see large groups of cows and fields overgrown with weeds it is a sight to behold but what was more interesting was that she made a note to take a picture of Wal-Mart of all places before leaving this humble country. Wal-Mart, I thought, what a strange think to want to remember. Yes, they guarantee Always Low Prices, Always but beyond that I didn’t really think it different from the other mass market retail outlets like Target or K-Mart but I was wrong. Wal-Mart is far more
culturally significant, but would I qualify a trip there an event? No. That’s why I went to Super-Walmart.

Underneath one roof is nearly anything you could imagine from snow tires to Christmas decorations. From garden rakes to an economy sized case of Oreos. From a 5-dollar DVD featuring 5 classic episodes of Little House on the Prairie to a brand new pair of shoes. The sheer volume of product crammed into a single building was a little overwhelming yet everyone else seemed to mindlessly gravitate from lighting fixture to fresh produce to hunting equipment aisles as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Because wandering aimlessly is not nearly as eventful as following blindly, I shadowed a gentleman in a leather jacket, pressed slacks, silk shirt, and a cowboy hat with the word “Rodeo” stitched into the brim proudly. Initially, he seemed to have no more of a purpose being in the store than I did and I was regretting my decision to follow him but as he cruised casually down the halls, running his fingers over socks and searching through a massive bin of DVDs he started to show his motive. First, he found a pair of women’s snow boots that he was particularly fond of so he found a salesman and seemingly tried to talk the price down. When the hapless employee showed no signs of willingness to haggle, the man left placing the boots back as if he didn’t really want them but as he walked away threw them longing glances. He then walked through the woman’s clothing section lifting the sleeves of shirts carefully looking at each intricate design before moving on to the next rack. Nothing seemed to satisfy him though. I followed him almost out the door, caught up in his dismay when suddenly his head whipped around; something had surely piqued his interest. A bouquet of roses! On sale even. The man I had been following was a romantic. He was suddenly vitalized with a burst of optimism. He looked as if nothing could stop him now and triumphantly walked towards the checkout aisle when he realized something, a light bulb went off in his head. He sprung towards the medical and sanitation products section of the store and quickly returned this time with a box of provalactics. Stories are told in how people shop, its live theater with every customer.

More maddening than the barrage of merchandise though was the blatant talking down to the consumer. It would appear that taste has no place in American culture, not when you are being drilled constantly on what to buy. Walking through the store I couldn’t help but get caught up in different sensations just because I saw entire rows of shelves dedicated to that product. For instance, I had never once expressed a desire to see what this Hannah Montana “thing” is but after spending an hour walking through Super Wal-Mart I was convinced she was bigger than the Beatles. Who else but the Beatles could have their faces on the cover of not one but two specialty themed board games, dolls, pillows, video games, coloring books, cereal boxes, and really anything big enough to have her face printed one… and don’t get me started on DVD’s and CD’s. Within Wal-Mart there is an insurmountable blitzkrieg of forced celebrity that is constantly pushed on unsuspecting youth. Unlike stores where the shopper is respected, Wal-Mart has harsh lighting, a harsh McDonalds at the front of the store next to a bakery, and blaring speakers every other aisle almost to the point where there is an effort made to deliver a full on assault to the senses. What’s worse is the whole thing is masked in a shroud of convenience because everything is in one store and supposedly much cheaper, but at what cost?

Super Wal-Mart is a Mecca of conglomerations where major corporations converge to push a true free market out of the equation and bring people to their knees by offering cheaper and often inferior products. It’s a place that condescends its own clientele constantly with no remorse and will gleefully exploit buyer habits and turn people into drones with wallets that buy things they probably don’t need for a quick bargain but its also a true sign of what American civilization is about. You can be idealistically loyal to a brand easily when there are only a few to choose from. You can buy into a product thinking you need it because it’s popular without knowing why. You can bow to the alter of Super Wal-Mart with all its wares and all it wants you to surrender is your wallet.

Note: this blog was turned in for a grade to my Civilization class and I got full points. Score.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Let's talk about... The Big City

I guess you never really understand how much of a small town you are from until you venture recklessly into a major metropolis. Compared to the central valley, San Francisco is as major metropolis as it gets, its Chicago or Tokyo or New York. Cluttered with vehicles and buildings and people, it’s a culture shock the likes of which you just don’t encounter in the tri country area. Wanting to visit an exciting new place to break the mundane routine of small town life, some friends and I took a trip to the city and decided we wanted to get a taste of what its like over there. So of course, the least San Franciscan place to visit is absolutely first on the agenda.

Pier 39 is perhaps the most nauseous place on earth and for 7 dollar an hour parking I am surprised we were able to spend two hours there. Basically once you step foot on the pier, unless you want to pay something like fifteen dollars to visit the aquarium, a glorified silent zoo underwater, there is nothing you can see on the dock that you couldn’t see in any middle America mall. The shops and food outlets are essentially the same with the bitter taste of sea water mist constantly flushing into your lungs and there is a hopelessness and despair amongst the people working in these places that is hidden a quarter of an inch beneath their phony smiles as they great each and every person that steps into their shops and looks at their overpriced wares. Then there are the tourists. Unlike every mall in middle America, there are hundreds of people from around the world packed into the pier all trying to take pictures next to restroom stalls and garbage bins to show their family back home. And for some of them, I understand. If I was from Japan and saw a certified American payphone, I’d be giddy with the lack of functionality too, but peppered among the legitimate foreign tourists there were Texans and Minnesotans taking photos posed in front of a Hard Rock Café or the Wacky Cap store. That was beyond my comprehension.

But this culture was not contained to this one pier. No, no, that would be far too convenient, instead it had overflowed all the way down the street to the Fisherman’s Wharf and down the entire street across. Everywhere one looked there was a souvenir stall that sported striped shirts poking fun at the island prison of Alcatraz and all the violent criminals that once had to be contained by an ocean to be kept away from society. There were veterans turned vagrants, charity donation collectors, and colorful street performers every five feet you walked along the main street all asking for the spare change you gave to the person before him that were full of contention once you informed them of this. Upon sitting on a bench watching the notorious Silver-man, we were asked up front if we smoked pot and if so whether we would be interesting in purchasing some. This surprised me as it was about eleven in the morning and they all seemed pretty open to committing a crime with police not far away, even going so far as to hold it out to show us how much they had and how good of a quality it was after we told them we were not interested. I’m sure this area of the city was not always this way but over the years of people visiting it has become a seedy, plastic version of what it once was. Even the seals looked complacent, boxed in from the ocean and laying on man-made wooden platforms floating lazily on the ocean.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Let's talk about... the Flea Market

There are very few places in American society quite like the flea market. It’s a place that seems to run rampant with illegal activity, yet it is publicly condoned and upon entering the city of Galt, I couldn’t help but feel like the sign right off the free way directing drivers to the flea market was an indication of just how much the people of that town valued the marketplace. They seemed to pride themselves on their flea market the way the people of Gaza must pride their strip or Giza pride their pyramids. It’s not simply a place to shop, it is a hotbed of activity and the place to find everything you want and need in life. I certainly hoped upon arrival it would live up to that promise.

What I find most intriguing about the flea market is that it’s not a particularly pleasant place to go. It’s hot, sweaty, smelly, there are potholes everywhere and extremely crowded in the aisles yet as I found out, people flock there in drives. Why? Well that became utterly apparent as I walked inside, everything is cheaper than you would find it at a normal store. This is not to say that its dirt cheap as one would expect shopping at a flea market, I encountered a gentleman selling a large ceramic brontosaurus sculpture complete with saddle for nearly two thousand dollars, that couldn’t possibly be the going rate on ceramic dinosaurs with riding accessories. But what must motivate people to go (other than perhaps the incredible bargain on tube socks and pineapples) were that they would be in like-minded Company. It is a melting pot, the flea market, in that different races all converge at this parking lot all with the same primary objective; if you are a buyer you want to leave with the most stuff and spend the least amount of money and if you are a seller you want to leave with the least amount of stuff and the most amount of money. They share the same ideals the way all church goers share the same commandments, flea market dwellers share the same basic philosophy whether they are black, Hispanic, white, Asian, or Middle Eastern.

During my time spent at the flea market, I was compelled to buy a lot of things, a hat embolden with an NFL team logo, a luchador wrestling mask, perhaps a decorative sword prop from the film 300, a slew of DVD’s no one is really interested in watching, and of course a pineapple. I bought none of these things, but I felt like if I would this would have been the best place to buy these things. Unlike anywhere else you might find these items, bartering is still widely accepted but I got the uneasy feeling like if anyone was upfront in lowering a price there would be conflict. A friend of mine who was with me hinted that he only had a certain amount of money and the vendor was more than willing to cut the price down as long as he took everything my friend had in the process. It’s a game of give and take, of playing off of your opponent with the same acute attention to strategy as involved in a game of chess. It’s a delicate balance as a low offer could break the deal and offend the seller and a too steep of price could turn off the buyer and lose a sale. Which is why most people walking around at flea market have an uneasy tension to them. Not an uncomfortable tension, but the tension that comes when you are a snake ready to strike at any moment walking past t shirt stalls and cell phone accessory booths alike. Everyone wants to be sly and everyone has their eyes on the person to their left.

Yet surprisingly, there are not nearly as many violent confrontations at the flea market? How could this be? In a sweltering pit of asphault filled with desperation and corruption, how is it that childred are allowed to roam freely without being snatched up and ending on ebay the next day or how do women manage to peruse the nearly endless stalls of thongs and and hoop earings without being the victims of a malicious raping? I would think it's because every one seems to enter the flea market with a common understanding that the person they decide to antagonize, no matter how defenseless that person might seem, is potentially backed up by a large unseen army of thugs and brutes that may not be so defenseless. This is why I believe that flea market's have the potential to be models for a perfect utopia, because if you look at any respectable t-shirt stand, there will always be a shirt that has a bleeding Jesus dying for the salvation of humanity right next to a shirt glorifying the Mexican Mafia.