Tag Archives: politics

Up In Arms, Up In Smoke

So I’m revisiting some thoughts from a much earlier entry, and hoping to expand upon the same. Marijuana legalization is back in the news of late, and in a surprisingly big way. I say this because lets face it, pot legalization can often times seem a bit like yesterday’s crusade. The cause of clumsily aging hippies, Gen-X’ers, and undergrads who aren’t good at finding oppressed peoples on a map. These are stereotypes obviously, the movement wouldn’t have the longevity it clearly possesses without a diverse platform of support. Still though, in a world where 9/11 happened closer to the fall of the Soviet Union than to today the periodic flaring of the marijuana debate can almost seem passé. With that in mind the sudden leaps made towards broader legalization kind of boggle the public consciousness. The notion has been such a pipe dream (pun only partially intended) for such a long time that I’m beginning to realize the common tropes of the debate aren’t ultimately that well adapted for the reality of the agenda they promote. At least in terms of the expectations of its grassroots (I’m on a roll) proponents.

Let me explain. As we seem to grow ever closer to an achievable legalization within our lifetime, questions are arising as to what the actual real world implications of that legalization are. Questions that require real thought and real answers. Increasingly those answers appear to be rather different from what many proponents likely imagined. Legalization is ultimately going to redefine our relationship with marijuana, and paradoxically in so doing herald the final death of the “pot culture” which originally birthed the legalization movement. This isn’t meant to be a comparison of the pros and cons of legalization. That’s a discussion far too detailed for this corner of my internet, and frankly one that is already playing out on a broader stage. Rather what I’d like to do is examine some predictions of mine regarding unintended collateral of pot legalization and what that means for the common philosophies surrounding the movement.

4twenty

Let’s start with taxation and regulation. These are both longstanding elements of the marijuana debate, and despite both being essential to legalization and frankly being net goods I don’t think that their implications have been well thought through by many of those that advocate it. The utopian vision of many pot-partisans, independent farmers and entrepreneurs selling their wares at roadside stands and local markets is ultimately incompatible with legalization. The USDA, the FDA, the IRS, and even the Surgeon General are necessarily going to have a large role in the new policy regime. Growers may not have to worry about being busted by the cops, but the taxman is going to create a laundry list of new grievances. The business models best suited to thrive in this environment are more likely than not to have a decidedly corporate character, but we’ll come back to that in a moment. What taxation and regulation also means is vice tariffs and price floors. “Lowest price allowed by law” is signage all of us are familiar with, and that price is never going to be low enough for many pot supporters, despite the legalization rhetoric.

marlboro

Further, independent sellers are unlikely to remain the primary point of service for marijuana transactions. While there will likely always be a space for dispensaries, just as there are for tobacconists and liquor stores, this product is inexorably going to move into the retail sector alongside other legal recreational substances. What this means is branding, commercialization, and industrialization. The egalitarian aesthetic so long associated with marijuana culture is going to quickly give way to mercenary sensibilities and classism. Going back to our discussion of business models, a corporate framework is inevitably going to prevail in the legal marijuana sector, pushing out the dispersed production and distribution infrastructure idealized by many adherents. What this means in frank terms is the rise of the American cartel, albeit in a legitimate economic space. Corollary to this is the changing role for activists that legalization creates, in that there is a very fine line between an activist and a lobbyist. Corporate lobbying is antithetical to the ethos of many pot pundits, but more and more marijuana policy interests are going to move from one side of the line to the other. Moreover, as the battle lines over the shape and extent of regulation are drawn this new breed of marijuana lobbyists is likely going to find their closest political ally in the tobacco lobby. How’s that going to look on the PR?

micropotxp

The branding I mentioned is another unintended consequence with significant implications for the culture of marijuana use. With branding comes increased competition for a base of customers and a balkanization of tastes. There’s going to be cheap pot, expensive pot, pretentious pot, ironic pot, blue collar pot, college pot, and everything in between. Pot snobs will be a thing, along with an underclass smoking the marijuana equivalent of cowboy-killers. With this the iconography of marijuana culture is going to change as well. We’ve all seen the pot-leaf design plastered over posters and shirts on every college campus. The designs are typically meant to connote a combination of rebellion and revolution; a disregard for societal mores and the advocacy for a counterculture. What does that mean in a post-legal world though? Well, the connotations do shift a bit. Stripped of its radical status the fetishism of marijuana becomes a bit more like wearing a t-shirt for Monster energy drink, or Budweiser, or Marlboro. That you bought from the Gap. The visual shorthand that has surrounded pot culture for almost a half century will be sublimated by legalization  and over time will simply lose its anti-establishment associations.

This is not to say that I am in any way anti-legalization, or that I think its consequences will not ultimately benefit society. What I am contending is that its consequences may be more far-reaching than we imagined, at least as far as our interactions with marijuana are concerned. The world envisioned by many proponents of legalization is not the world I think they’re going to get, and while I don’t think it is necessarily a “bad” world, I don’t think that it will end up being a world they wanted…

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Smoking Gun

A little better. Still longer than I’d like though. Believe it or not, I have been updating. Just… not on here. I have a number of posts written out long hand in my notebook. It’s just a matter of transcribing them. Dumb excuse, but there it is. I’m working on it, alright? So, here’s ya go…

________

You ever just get the urge to smoke a cigarette? You don’t even have to be a smoker. I’m not really. Hard to say where it comes from. Just a situation where suddenly, a cigarette would really complete the moment. Does it have to do with neurochemistry; our brains crying out for a stimulant? Or is it socially programmed; Hemingway running headlong into Freud? I think that’s why, no matter how hard well-intentioned activists might try, you’ll never completely eliminate cigarette smoking in America. People want to smoke. It fills a niche. We have been conditioned for decades to associate the act of smoking with escapist wish fulfillment, and as long as there are people who hate the corner of the universe they’ve found themselves boxed into, there will be smokers.  Even beyond that, the notion of eradicating cigarettes is an impossible political goal. I’m not talking about corporate lobbying power in this case, I’m talking social and historical momentum. The anti-smoking movement is in many ways a sort of neo-temperance crusade. Unfortunately the grand victory of the temperance movement, Prohibition, was pyrrhic and ultimately unsustainable.

In addition to the mark on the national psyche still left by the Prohibition experiment, anti-smoking campaigns also find indirect opposition from another equally powerful social movement. Marijuana legalization. Both are passionate, both are noble in their way, but that fact is there just isn’t room for the both of them. Though not directly arrayed against one another, their currents simply run counter. You’ll never have it both ways. The notion of legalizing marijuana while eliminating tobacco doesn’t hold up to any logical or legal test. Sooner or later there’s going to be a showdown, and in the immortal words of Christopher Lambert, “there can be only one.” At this stage in American history, the winds seem to favor the ships of greater social freedom, and as such the more far reaching goals of the anti-smoking movement may I feel remain a pipe-dream at best.

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Sex, Drugs, and the American Way

Holy Wall of Text, Batman!

Ooph, its been even longer than I thought since I updated. Not exactly off at the starting gun am I? Well, sometimes you need a kick in the ass, and today I got one. As someone with a historian’s training, I can’t help but flinch reflexively when popular myths are thrown around under the “history” label. Normally this is something I simply wait out. It isn’t worth the fight, the conversation moves on, the pedantic ire recedes. Of late though, it has been difficult to ignore the steady stream of historical revisionism and wholesale myth-craft coming from the Right of the political spectrum, particularly from Newt Gingrich, having escaped from his tomb to menace humanity in a sequel nobody asked for. Now, I’m not going to try to claim that the Left never engages in this sort of thing, or that the very art of history is not a dialogue between sometimes drastically different interpretations of events, but the neoconservative assault upon the discipline has been both insidious and vitriolic. To offer an alternative interpretation of available facts is one thing, it is another to ignore those facts entirely and substitute a set of misrepresentations and fabrications. This is not always done with malice aforethought, in many cases it is simply an issue of insulating a particular memory of events from complicated realities. It has been said that history is the enemy of memory. In this way much neoconservative revisionism is couched in terms of protecting “true” history from nefarious Left-leaning revisionism. Again, I’m not going to assert that this has never occurred, but the Rightward versions of the events they posit are often deficient in, if not wholly bereft of, acknowledgement of uncomfortable facts; of academic rigor.

Speaking of academic rigor, we return to Newt Gingrich. The lich-king himself. Newt Gingrich possesses a PhD in history, a fact he is all too willing to trot out in defense of his pseudo-factual polemics. Conservative historians are far from unheard of, but the question must then follow; how many scholarly works of history has he researched and produced? I don’t mean his Barnes and Noble hit parade, I’m talking about actual theses in respected peer-reviewed forums. The answer in this case is none. Zero. Less than all the numbers. This is a large part of the reason he was denied tenure while teaching at West Georgia College and ultimately pursued politics. He dismisses this fact as well, seeing it as “meaningless.”

Well, that being that the case, I don’t think Newt would object to my offering a rebuttal to his particular history of American culture. Seeing as we’ve both published the same number of papers and it apparently doesn’t matter to him anyway. I can’t promise a wholly cogent work of brilliant revelatory merit, or even really anything more than a mediocre essay, but I’m a part-time blogger with a full-time job trying to make ends meet through tax season. I’m sure Newt would understand.

I’m going to try to not turn this into a rant (too late). I also don’t necessarily want to reduce Newt Gingrich to a straw man (too late). That said I don’t really have the space or the time to fully express his varied suggestions about the history of the republic. One recurrent theme however has been that the so-called “counter culture” is a new and poisonous development in American society, one that arose from misguided and malicious malcontents and which is alien to traditional American values. Chief among the diseases brought on by these malefactors are, In Gingrich’s words, “drug use, multi-partner sex, and hedonistic criminality.” In Gingrich’s particular conception, he links these to developments from the nineteen sixties onward. It is on these particular points that I feel Mr. Gingrich has missed the bus. I retort that American history has been full of “counter-cultures” from the union’s inception through the present day, and that each in its way has been a natural outgrowth of American ideals. One could argue (and in fact I think I will) that America is effectively a massive machine for producing these counter-cultures, the true crop of her fertile soil. In order to prevent this exercise from becoming overly long-winded (far too late), I will attempt to limit my examination solely to the past one-hundred years.

First, let’s talk about Prohibition. The right wing likes to attribute this amendment to liberal social engineering, while the left prefers to lay blame with conservative puritanical zealots. Neither is wholly wrong. The Temperance movement which ultimately successfully lobbied for Prohibition had both conservative and liberal dimensions. The movement’s motivations were couched in equal parts old-fashioned christian evangelism and then-radical feminism. The cultural climate for such a drastic value realignment (or attempted realignment) was made possible in part by the upwelling of participatory democratic sentiment immediately following the end of the First World War, coupled with the feeling throughout the Western world that the war had effectively destroyed many of their long held mores. It was this same climate which facilitated Mussolini’s March on Rome three years later; a moment in which all bets were off. Whether Prohibition was rightist or leftist in character, it required a consensus of both sides to achieve it birth, and is generally regarded today with equal unanimity to have been a terrible idea.

One thing which Prohibition did help create though was an early twentieth century counter-culture. A cross-section of the American populace, rich and poor, black and white, men and women, all took it upon themselves to knowingly and flagrantly disregard the Constitution of the United States of America and consume alcohol. Given that this culture was rather inescapably a drinking culture, certain activities between men and women became more and more likely to occur the longer one was in its proximity. By a similar token, since one was already a criminal the moment spirits touched their lips, it became less difficult to justify engaging in other enterprises of extralegal variety, particularly given that Prohibition had overnight created a black market of unprecedented scope and opportunity. Drug use? Multi-partner sex? Hedonistic criminality? Even Hemingway and other authors of the period, when they weren’t ruminating on their own masculinity, counted drinking and womanizing among their honored past-times. Then there was jazz, a musical form today considered almost PC, but which at its birth was considered fundamentally subversive.

Fast forward to the Greatest Generation. The moniker is not undeserved. A generation which grew up in the throes in the Great Depression, hard working and hard bitten, that then rose to the call of national service and fought in the most incredible war in all the history of mankind, triumphing in a battle for the very soul of humanity and securing that freedom should endure for all time. This is what Gingrich and his peers generally see as the last generation to get things right before the crumbling of America’s moral bedrock, nuclear families and white picket fences. It isn’t wholly wrong that the culture of this generation was conservative and even somewhat materialistic. Why shouldn’t it have been? Was it unreasonable for a generation whose childhood was spent in the crushing poverty of breadlines and shantytowns, who came of age witnessing firsthand the horrors of fascism at Normandy and Dachau, to want material prosperity and quiet politics? It is true, but Gingrich’s conservative memory has some holes in it. It was disaffected veterans of World War II who came together to form the Hells Angels and other outlaw motorcycle gangs, an alternative American thesis to the white fence consensus, a counter-culture and an accompanying ascetic which would influence later trends on the underside of society.

Once we get to the nineteen sixties we are exposed to counter-cultures with which Gingrich already seems familiar. Those dirty communist hippies and their love not war shenanigans. It is true that many undertakings of this particular generation may have seemed strange or alien when looked at from such a close temporal distance, but in the broader perspective of American history it loses some of its unique character. Though I don’t think its a comparison either side would be comfortable with, these flower children were not terribly dissimilar from the religious revivalists of the Second Great Awakening in the nineteenth century. Particularly, both exhibited a tendency towards removing themselves wholly from the mainstream culture and attempting to create self-contained utopian communities distanced from the perceived decadence and spiritual bankruptcy of society. In this respect, one can continue the line of counter-cultural inheritance even further back to the Pilgrims, Puritans, and Quakers; all radical sects who disavowed their ties to traditional society and religion and fled across the Atlantic to build idealist enclaves. Enclaves which today are considered part of the same moral bedrock Gingrich accuses their tradition of eroding. Turning on, tuning in, and dropping out are as American as apple pie.

There is honestly even more I could say, but frankly I’ve gone on much too long already. Suffice it to say that Gingrich’s version of history is not only deficient in facts but also deficient in richness. The Republic could never have endured if it followed the dialectic lines he proposes. America’s counter-cultures have always been an intrinsic part of the American identity. Their dream is our dream, let’s live in it together.

Anyway, this has all been rather heavy stuff. Next week: Vampires!

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James Deen: Intersections in Male Body Image and Gender Typed Recreation… and also Porn

I’ve noticed a couple of articles floating around the zeitgeist recently.  They involve porn.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2011/11/17/porn_that_women_like_why_does_it_make_men_so_uncomfortable_.html

http://www.good.is/post/what-women-want

The subject of their discussion is rising porn actor James Deen and his growing appeal among female viewers, a heretofore largely inaccessible and untapped audience. Something touched on in the articles is the ambivalent-to-negative reaction towards both Deen and his female fans from the male majority pornography audience.

The articles want to lay blame for this with strains of latent homophobia stemming from a legitimately attractive male porn lead and with feeling threatened by the frequent chemistry he has with his female partners. I’m not going to say that either of these conclusions are wrong, in fact I believe they are likely onto something there. I wish however to present my own thesis, one which I believe may be more salient. Male body image and self-loathing.

Yes, its a thing. We will deny it. We don’t like talking about it. It exists, though. Men obsess just as much over things like physical appearance and weight as women do, we’re just not ‘supposed’ to. In a way, I’ve found this tends to make us even more neurotic about it, because we don’t have the same kind of approved outlet for this frustration. Now, its certainly true that women tend to have much more negative body image stimulus bombarding them than men do in our everyday media. There is however one section of media enjoyed by most men, some frequently, some casually, some only occasionally, that does greater damage to our body image and self-esteem than I think most of us would like to admit. That is, of course, pornography. The male performers in most mainstream porn are described best in the article as a parade of “…neck chains, frosted tips, unreasonable biceps, [and] tribal tattoos.” It is suggested in the article that this is an expression of industry misconceptions  “…that women want everything big—’Big arms. Big abs. Big dicks.’” I would argue though that would only hold true if the porn industry were actually marketing itself towards a female clientele, and would not account for the kinds of negative response James Deen has received from the male porn fan-base. Given porn’s disproportionate audience, I would argue that these are casting choices made with their male viewers very much in mind.

The body types these actors represent are caricatures of masculinity, part alpha-male, part bad-boy, part metro-sexual, all reflected in a fun-house mirror. The twisted Adam to their partner’s plastic parody of Eve. The articles assert that this is to provide  a kind of prop, a tabula rasa onto which the male viewer may project himself. I won’t say this is wrong, but I will further assert that when we project ourselves onto that form, we also project that form onto our expectations. We can deride the leathery, ill-proportioned corpus we see on the screen, and yet we unconsciously refer to it as a norm representative of sexual prowess. How does this cognitive dissonance occur? The same way it occurs when a woman talks about how much she hates the unrealistic figures on supermodels and then bites her lip over a couple of pounds on the bathroom scale. James Deen’s popularity ought to be empowering to the everyman, yet he is threatening because he undermines our expectations and forces us to question our own self-loathing.

The matter of negative response to Deen’s growing female fan-base is something of another question. Some of this is certainly due to uneasiness with female expressions of sexuality. When men take an active role in their sex-lives they tend to be socially rewarded, whereas when women do the same they are more often stigmatized. However, I tend towards a less  cited reason for this reaction against female porn viewership. There is a conceit within our pop culture that when a woman expresses interest in or knowledge of a traditionally “male” bailiwick, that the typical male response is slavering adoration (I’m looking at you, Big Bang Theory). In my experience though, female interest or knowledge in these areas has tended to be met more often with condescension and dismissal. If one looks at the question historically, attempts by women to gain entrance into more typically male areas of life (drinking establishments, academics, the workforce) have been met with suspicion and hostility. This also holds true in areas of traditionally male recreation such as sports and modern nerd culture. Female fans of James Deen are women at last crossing that final frontier of largely male pastimes, and a certain amount of backlash is all but inevitable.

Now, to try “I’m feeling lucky” on Google…

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