Told it was the English speaking “community’s” flagship zine, I thought it was nauseatingly slick, crassly commercial, and filled with enough marshmallow fluff to brownbag lunch for the children of three large trailer park communities. But there is no need to be nasty.
Basically, it offended my democratic sensibilities that they do not solicit submissions ” and so flagrantly flout the DIY aesthetic in favor of a sheen-sheet look usually associated with publications such as Soap Opera Digest and Blesk! Such criticisms are, of course, admittedly superficial and in no way preclude the possibility of putting out a quality product.
Given Think’s primary role as club listing and review rag, one even appreciates the obvious effort and capital that goes into layout; smart design and colorful ads help make the useful calendar (which is, by definition, content-light) easy to look at.
“My real problem with the zine is neither the closed circuit nature of their submissions policy nor the style over substance ethic that reduces each issue to a neon skeletal flash of upcoming gigs, expensive sneakers and mildly amusing wordplay. My problem starts when the editors cross over from purposeful event-guide into the realm of social and cultural commentary.
I’m not referring to cute histories of the tattoo or inane explorations into the sexual politics of expat Prague; these I can live with. What I’m talking about is serious shit slinging. Shameless flexing (pulling?’) of the intellectual muscle in broad daylight and passing it off as some sort of reasoned meditation on subjects such as the evolution of the species.
Not that there is anything wrong with talking shit. Indeed, it is practically the official pastime for the hoards of overeducated, undersexed twentysomethings from Babylon who make a career out of drinking kava in this town. But if you are going to talk shit, print it up, and distribute the neural feces at every bar and cafe this side of the Rhine, you’d better damn well be good at it.
The confused intellectualism and ill-thought out theorizing found in Think generally stems from a Mondo 2000 inspired attempt to make sense of the world at the millennium through the lens of the now dominant rave/youth culture which the by-line anachronistically refers to as a “subculture.”
Such attempts strive to be at once subversive and cutting edge, calling into question such fashionable–not to say illegitimate–evils such as consumerism, governmental social control and capitalism itself. Amen to the sentiment behind such arguments, but shame upon the editors who put them forth with so little respect for the most basic elements of systematic thought associated with the adult essay: consistency and “a modicum of intelligence.
Justification for such allegations can conveniently enough be found in a single piece in this months issue. Editor Jeffree Benet’s “Tribal Rising: The Coming of a New Way” neatly embodies everything that goes wrong when Think tries to follow its own titular admonitions.
On the surface, the piece seems to meet all the criteria for a solid shit talking session between literate youths with thinly veiled aspirations to hipness as circumscribed by the current zeitgeist.
1) evidence of a brief, sloppy encounter with the hyphenating tendencies of French Theory and its descendants (we are forming “Meta-tribes”);
2) spastic optimism about the liberating potential of computers (“cyber-telecommunications” [! ]) mixed with a contradictory tone of
3) jaded, apocalyptic resignation to our supremely fucked global situation (“we’re on the road to nowhere”); and
4) a jargon tinged faith that underground festivities (“Temporary Autonomous Zones”) offer the key to personal and social salvation in the twenty-first century.
Pretty much standard fare for any late nineties bong session, and nothing is said that I can’t be convicted of myself. Things get problematic, however, when homeboy tries to string these together and form what we stuffed shirts like to call a coherent essay.
Dr. Jones begins by treating us to a valuable lesson in the etymology of the word “tribalism” as well as its changing meaning from Roman to Medieval times. This rambling history eventually leads up to the article’s first theoretical bombshell: the claim that there are in fact no races, dude, only like, cultures, cui I mean, think about it, there aren’t different races of goldfish, right?
Never mind the fact that five paragraphs earlier we are informed that with time, different tribes developed their own peculiar “genetic” make-up and heritage, the important thing is that our now consolidated human race suffers from the same evil that the tribes of old did; namely, a “dominator social order” that we are only now, in 1997, becoming “aware” of.
And what, you’re wondering, does the professor mean by a “dominator social order”? After some confusion, we are informed that it is simply a hierarchically structured society with “kings and priests ruling and ruining the lives of others.”
While Mr. Benet may see feudal orders as under threat from magazines such as Think, the ten pages of Foucault he read in college, and a second wave psychedelic movement, I would hasten to inform him that we have been working on those kinds of things for several centuries now and then lead him to a good overview of the modern period (R. R. Palmer’s authoritative two volume A History of the Modern World perhaps) with special attention to key words such as “Reformation” and “French Revolution. ”
For kings and priests are old hat, my boy, we are dealing with much more subtle and complicated forms of repression in this Mickey Mouse Technocracy. But no matter, the important thing is that the youth of today (the Meta-tribes vs. the kings and priests, I guess) are going to cleanse the world of its hang-ups and “liberate us from the masters” by way of – what else? – laptops and techno parties.
That this Bill Gates meets Newt Gingrich meets Underworld recipe for cosmic rebirth has gained such a receptive audience in recent years strikes me as one of the greatest ironies of our time. It is countercultural logic come full circle to embrace the technology brought to us by institutions representing mind-boggling concentrations of corporate wealth and power.
Even the experienced cyber-theorist has a difficult time juggling such tensi
ons, and in the hands of Mr. Benet the already delicate argument collapses like pick-up sticks and before he is done ends up a soggy mass of canned spaghetti. Thank goodness for Chef Benet. Unlike our “ignorant ancestors,” who he at once reveres and reviles, we now have the “technology” to liberate ourselves via the net. But don’t expect the contradictions inherent in a piece extolling the virtues of neo-tribalism and One Wired World to be addressed.
One looks under the bed and around the corner for proof that the author is indeed not smoking crack, but none is evident. Could it be that he is putting forth the oh-so-novel thesis that we are becoming one huge tribe, aka the global village, which will synthesize the tightness and community of the group with the transnational structure of a global economy? No such luck.
He goes on to call for a return to the small-scale human interaction and intercommunal barter associated with 60’s style communal experiments. Unfortunately, such groups are hardly known for their techno-fetishism and even less for their love of the monolithic TNC’s currently leading us down a frightening road to Information Age Fascism.
That is, a “dominator society” par excellence which allows corporations to skate the world in search of slave wages and lax environmental regulation and provides highly sophisticated forms of social control for governments everywhere. Bottom line, Jeff: you can’t have beautiful Anarchy and Apple Inc. on the same plate. Not unless you mean anarchy in the sense that classical Liberal theorists in the Lockean, free-market tradition mean it. But that’s not what you mean and therefore the conceptual framework of your article hangs together with all the force of a ’57 Skoda.
This section of the article is not completely without value, however, as it provides some Think profundities for the time capsule. Some of my own favorites include: “But really, barter is best…”, “Not equipped with fancy tentacles and suckers, this tiny little worm eventually twitched on… ” and “the modern agro-industrial-military complex produce[s] homelessness, stupidity and other harmful things.”
Other harmful things is right, but once again I would ask the author to update his files. For the “modern agro-industrial-military complex” is more accurately described as a post-industrial high-tech-biochemical-military complex, which would seem to throw another minor kink into Benet’s plans for a fin-de-siecle of pacific, spaced-out brotherhood and Webbed harmony.
The same giants that make possible your Pentium design missile guidance systems and the very companies that provide the goodies for everybody’s favorite synthetic compound (aka LSD-25) stockpile ‘government warehouses with the most vile weapons known to man. It’s a messy world to be a rebel in, Mr. editor. One could go on and on about the poor logic and bad writing found in the article and in Think generally.
Like the inexcusable naivete involved in thinking psychedelics, removed from other serious structural changes in society, can save Western Civ from its own bad self and push back a downward spiral that has been gaining momentum for two thousand years.
This especially when a generation has already come and gone that did more (and better, I might add) acid than any bunch of jaded, bummed out ravers could ever do. Even Benet’s assertion that tripping is liberating on a personal level is debatable, certainly his claim that “greed and hatred just wash away” leaving behind only “awareness of infinity.”
I might here offer for thought the well-known anecdote about Herman Kahn, RAND strategist and notorious hawk, who once spent an intense six-hour trip on the floor contemplating different first strike options against mainland China. The value neutral essence of technology, the other prong in Jeff’s two-headed panacea, should need no further comment here.
One could also go on about Think’s subversion of original rave values by its loud huckstering of designer teenybopper alternogear. For whatever survives of the original House ethic is intimately bound up with the democratic, no bullshit freedom associated with kids in jeans and plain t-shirts (it all began as an essentially working class phenomenon, remember) bugging out in a sweat-drenched barn.
I don’t know of many things smacking of “dominator culture” more than a capitalism that gets kids more concerned about what they are wearing than the state of their brother man and momma earth. I will close by drawing attention to the only two direct quotes found in “Tribal Rising,” quite possibly the two most inappropriate citations I’ve seen since Nancy Reagan quoted William Burroughs in a DARE speech given in Wheeling Kansas during the 84 campaign.
The first comes during a passage in which Benet is dropping dimestore pseudo-science about morphogenetic field theory (an admittedly difficult subject) and the ultimate interconnectedness of all nature.
After explaining that technology is essential in the struggle for human liberation, he quotes the great American- conservationist and early environmental theorist John Muir as saying that every part of nature in the universe is “hitched to everything else” as if links on a chain. Sort of like factories that produce PC microchips are hitched to dangerous levels of CFC production. John Muir can simply not be retroactively recruited into the role of cyber-visionary.
Except, of course, by the selective process by which writers like Benet recognize only that which fits their agenda, if one can honestly call it that. Such lack of interest in what one is actually saying is a disturbing quality in a magazine editor, particularly one who so obviously enjoys playing the role of public intellectual.
The second gaff very aptly closes out the essay. It is a quote by Ayn Rand. Here is an article which combines elements of squishy communitarianism with New Age paganism in calling for a return to cooperation and kindness quoting the patron saint cum diva of hyper individualism and unbridled capitalism.
The woman practically made a second career out of slamming the Counterculture and the New Left and her writings have since been canonized by every organization to the right of Attila the Hun. Had I not hacked my way through the rest of the article, I would have thought it a very funny joke. It is not. Mr. Benet simply has no idea who Ms. Rand was and obviously had little interest in finding out.
That she looms so large in the pantheon of such bastions of “dominator culture” as the CATO Institute and the Heritage Foundation would seem to make her an unlikely candidate to be quoted in Think. But that is assuming the editors have a clue. And under the circumstances, I think that may be assuming too much.
By Alex Zaitchek (before he became Senior Editor of Think)