Scene from Die Hard 4: Live Free or Die Hard
Scene from Die Hard 4: Live Free or Die Hard

David Graeber has republished his popular essay Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit in his new book Utopia of Rules with some small changes that go toward supporting the book’s over-all argument that the hallmark of American neoliberalism is not dynamism and a freeing up of individuals to peruse “creative class” jobs but rather a bureaucratization of every aspect of life. This total bureaucratization (almost literally) papers over the structural violence that supports capitalism. Of Flying Cars specifically argues that the utter failure to deliver on the implicit promises of Jetsons-level automation by the 21st century is not necessarily a matter of market forces (no one actually wants a flying car!) or technical impossibility (Moore’s law hasn’t delivered thinking computers yet!) but is in fact a product of both squashing the imagination through bureaucratic devices, and the immense devaluing of labor and elimination of corporate profit taxation that leads to paltry civilian research and development. In essence, capitalism in its present form, is anathema to the future it once promised.

Graeber states in the beginning of the essay that he is puzzled by the near silence from those people who saw the moon landing on their televisions but today do not, themselves, live on the moon (or can easily teleport there, or take a drug that might extend their life to the time that both of those things are available). “Instead,” he writes, “just about all the authoritative voices—both on the Left and Right—began their reflections from the assumption that a world of technological wonders had, in fact, arrived.”

Graeber relatively quickly drops the issue of how our collective expectations of the future could be so quickly and completely re-aligned (his answer is postmodernism) and goes on to explain why such an alignment has become necessary (capitalism’s secret love of bureaucracy) but I want to dwell on the “how” question a little bit longer by offering up a corollary to Of Flying Cars. The argument that follows is also a reprinting of my own work, an article published in a 2012 issue of the International Journal of Engineering Social Justice in Peace, co-authored with Arizona State University’s Joseph R. Herkert. I want to argue that our expectations for the future are purposefully managed through a circulation of imagined threats to capitalism, the popularizing of narratives that flesh out that threat, and the re-articulation of those imagined threats as real ones that must be met with massive government funding. I will demonstrate this process using a beloved and uniquely American franchise: Die Hard. more...

Image c/o Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

There is no such thing as ‘getting it right,’ only ‘getting it’ differently contoured and nuanced. When experimenting with form, ethnographers learn about the topic and about themselves what is unknowable, unimaginable, using prescribed writing formats.” –Laura Richardson “A Method of Inquiry” In The Handbook of Qualitative Research (1991, p. 521)

“The major issue is how to use the variety of available textual formats and devices to reconstruct social worlds and to explore how those texts are then received by both the cultural disciplines and the social worlds we seek to capture.” Paul Atkinson and Amanda Coffey in Theorizing Culture: An Interdisciplinary Critique After Postmodernism (1995, p. 49)


“You’re not the boss of me!”

“It’s a good thing you’re a volunteer then, since you’d make an awful employee.”

“To hell with you!” They both glowered at each other like a pair of hungry house cats eyeing the same can of tuna. It was 10:34PM, the printer was out of toner, and this meeting was going nowhere. In the next room someone was watching a youtube video with lots cussing and something that sounded like a revving truck engine. The florescent lighting made everyone look sallow and empty.

“I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m just saying the numbers worry me. There’s nothing in here that’ll guarantee a win in Cuyahoga or Franklin county.” Jeffrey motioned with an open hand to a printed excel spreadsheet on the table, the tips of his fingers briefly jabbing the top page before going back to their default position as support beams for his head. Jeffrey always held his head in his right hand when he was feeling attacked. He thought it made him look unaffected. more...

PJ Rey just posted a terrific reflection on hipsters and low-tech on this blog, and I just want to briefly respond, prod and disagree a little. This is a topic of great interest to me: I’ve written about low-tech “striving for authenticity” in my essay on The Faux-Vintage Photo, reflected on Instagrammed war photos, the presence of old-timey cameras at Occupy Wall Street, and the IRL Fetish that has people obsessing over “the real” in order to demonstrate just how special and unique they are.

While I appreciate PJ bringing in terrific new theorists to this discussion, linking authenticity and agency with hipsters and technology, I think he focuses too much on the technologies themselves and not enough on the processes of identity; too much on the signified and not where the real action is in our post-modern, consumer society: the signs and signifiers. more...

Kurt Anderson, writer, critic, and public intellectual

I share (most of) David Sasaki’s sentiments when he says,

Along with David BrooksJeffrey Goldberg, and Jad AbumradKurt Anderson belongs to my select fraternity of idealized, intellectual American man-crush.

But while Sasaki is disappointed with Anderson’s “Person of the Year” article, I am concerned about his recent article in Vanity Fair titled “You Say You Want a Devolution.” Anderson contends that the past 20 years have seen a total stagnation in the production of new cultural aesthetics. In other words, the end of the 50s looked nothing like the end of the 70s, but 1989 looks remarkably similar to 2009. Anderson concludes:

We seem to have trapped ourselves in a vicious cycle-economic progress and innovation stagnated, except in information technology; which leads us to embrace the past and turn the present into a pleasantly eclectic for-profit museum; which deprives the cultures of innovation of the fuel they need to conjure genuinely new ideas and forms; which deters radical change, reinforcing the economic (and political) stagnation.

This is concerning, since that means the entirety of our blog is nothing more than the fungal growth sitting upon the neutral technological substrate that we impregnate with decaying cultures of past decades. Tattoos, Facebook, Burning Man, the iPhone, Twitter, sex dolls, wifi, internet memes, reality TV, geek culture, hipsters, video gamesfaux-vintage photographs, and dubstep are all popular topics on our blog, and (along with blogging itself) are products of the last 20 years. Anderson assumes that cultural objects are made possible through technology, but refuses to admit that technologies can also be cultural objects in and of themselves. more...

A couple weeks ago I stumbled across this image of a “Where’s Waldo?” backpiece, and it got me to thinking about body modification, the cyborg body, and postmodern theories of the sign (Baudrillard 1972; Turner 1999) as they relate to contemporary tattooing.

The contemporary tattoooed body, which I often refer to as the cyborg body, is at a crisis. That is, we do not have a uniform means of interpreting and displaying these signs to others. What’s more, the content of tattoos varies significantly, from direct referents and iconography to indirect, playful and self-referent images.


Zygmunt Bauman has famously conceptualized modern society as increasingly “liquid.” Information, objects, people and even places can more easily flow around time and space. Old “solid” structures are melting away in favor of faster and more nimble fluids. I’ve previously described how capitalism in the West has become more liquid by moving out of “solid” brick-and-mortar factories making “heavy” manufacturing goods and into a lighter, perhaps even “weightless,” form of capitalism surrounding informational products. The point of this post is that as information becomes increasingly liquid, it leaks.

WikiLeaks is a prime example of this. Note that the logo is literally a liquid world. While the leaking of classified documents is not new (think: the Pentagon Papers), the magnitude of what is being released is unprecedented. The leaked war-logs from Afghanistan and Iraq proved to be shocking. The most current leaks surround US diplomacy. We learned that the Saudi’s favored bombing Iran, China seems to be turning on North Korea, the Pentagon targeted refugee camps for bombing and so on. And none of this would have happened without the great liquefiers: digitality and Internet. more...