Monthly Archives: March 2011

Cynicism Reborn

Ugh. I’ve been more edgy the past few weeks because every time I read about the war in Libya, I get pissed off. This is a stupid, stupid war, and the US has no business being there.

I was so smug too when the Libyan civil war began, and I thought: “If McCain was president, we’d already be in there!” I was happy that whatever else Obama has done, at least we weren’t involved in another war in the Middle East.

When we began bombing the place, I was angry, but I didn’t know yet how wrong I was. The whole time I was thinking “we’d already be in there,” we actually were in there! The CIA was in there, helping the rebels.

Between this, the treatment of Bradley Manning, and the failure to close Guantanamo, I’ve run out of reasons to support the man I helped get elected as president.

How ironic that the man awarded a Nobel Peace Prize escalated the war in Afghanistan and involved the US in a third war in the Middle East. The man who knows so much about constitutional law goes to war without even talking to Congress.

Fuck this. Fuck all you shitheads in government.

“Dynamite” and the Terror within a Terrorist’s Psyche

At first glance, Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite” appears to be a vapid song about having a good time at a club. Yet every time I listened to it, and threw my hands up, I was left with a slightly disturbed feeling. I later realized that this was a subconscious reaction to a very disturbing song. It turns out that “Dynamite” is a song chronicling the last moments of a suicide bomber. The song is a trip through his twisted psyche as he prepares to pull the trigger to blow up himself at a dance club.

“Dynamite” isn’t merely the title of the song because it is repeated throughout the chorus; it signifies what is most important about the song. That is to say, it is about blowing things up. Quite literally. The low-hanging fruit for this complex interpretation is the chorus:

‘Cause we gon’ rock this club
We gon’ go all night
We gon’ light it up
Like it’s dynamite
Cause I told you once
Now I told you twice
We gon’ light it up
Like it’s dynamite

This club is going to be rocked and lit up, which indicates the violence of an explosion. We know this is the most significant part of the song because Taio Cruz has to tell us twice. The repetition emphasizes the final moments of the suicide bomber: the explosion of his self and the surrounding club. Now, the suicide bomber isn’t literally covered in dynamite, but the dynamite represents the bombs he has strapped to himself.

Another set of lyrics delves deeper into the terrorist’s psyche. The line “I’m gonna take it all out” expresses his desire to not only take out the club, but to take out the entire Western-imperio-capitalist regime. When he says, “I’m gonna be the last one standing,” he doesn’t mean he will be literally standing there after the explosion. It means he is going to win the war. Even with his confidence in winning the war, he also cries, “I’m alone and all I.” Despite the presence of his comrades and Allah, he still faces the existentialist void alone. When he dies, he dies alone. This is an expression of fear, which is understandable given that he is about to commit suicide. After this, he reassures himself through an appeal to faith: “I’m gonna be the last one landing / ‘Cause I, I, Believe it.” It is only through his trust in Allah that he is able to complete the mission.

Having established the basics of my interpretation, let’s look at some earlier lyrics. The suicide bomber resorts to extremism because of a sense of futility. When he says, “Cause it goes on and on and on / And it goes on and on and on,” he recognizes that this conflict continues and will always continue, unless something drastic is done to change the dynamic. We also get to see the method of ignition for the bomb: “Just drop the phone, came here to do, do, do, do.” He will utilize his cell phone to set off the charge.

One may dispute the legitimacy of my interpretation by pointing to the lyrics about “Brands, brands, brands [etc].” The suicide bomber, being a religious zealot, would not pay attention to brands, one may argue. Yet this is false because fundamentalism is a response to modernity. The more the suicide bomber enjoys these brands, the more he stokes his self-hate, and the more he clings to his fundamentalism. It is his entrancement with capitalism that drives him to this suicide mission. This is analagous to the fundamentalist’s response to sex, desiring it, but repressing that desire, and expressing the self-loathing by repressing women along with the desire.

Another possible interpretation is that the lyrics about brands are expressed ironically. The suicide bomber is mocking the capitalist’s love of identification with brands. This is a hilarious perversion because the only true self-identity is with Allah. However, I do not believe this interpretation works by itself. This is not because of any particular textual interpretation from this song, but because of my familiarity with the songwriter. Because Taio Cruz’s lyrics are layered with complexity that mirrors the twisted psyche’s of his songs’ subjects, I think my image of a terrorist wrestling with modernity must be the correct one. That’s not to say that the irony is nonexistant. This may be indeed what the suicide bomber is telling himself to think, but he is also still tortured by his love/hate relationship with modernity.

For an example of complexity in his lyrics, let’s return to the chorus. Why does the suicide bomber have to tell himself twice that “We gon’ light it up / Like it’s dynamite”? It should suffice to mention this once, or even to merely repeat it. There should be a reason he must literally enumerate the tellings. Even though the suicide bomber is a religious zealot, he still has his doubts. He is daunted by his impending mortal end, and so he is psyching himself up, so to speak. He reassures himself that he will complete his duty.

I’m not entirely sure how to address the topic of moving. The terrorist tells us, “I came to move, move, move, move / Get out the way me and my crew, crew, crew, crew.” Now, this could refer to the displacement of the Palestinians in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He could also be expressing a desire to move them away and populate the terrority with his people, just as they did to him. However, this dilutes the universality of the message. Another interpretation is that he wants to eject American occupiers from the region. Yet this falls prey to the same lack of universality, especially along temporal lines. The lyrics may also refer to the establishment of a global Islamic caliphate. This interpretation also has its problems. The caliphate will establish dominion over all and will involve conversion of non-believers. It is not about displacing peoples. This certainly requires further investigation by those more talented than I.

Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite” is a complex look at a suicide bomber’s mind as he prepares to blow up a club. The lyrics show a literal explosion — emphasizing it — while also looking at the doubts the speckle the zealot’s faith. He is enticed by capitalism and afraid to kill himself. The song expresses the churning layers within the terrorist’s mind. In the end, after much self-reassuring, he is prepared for his final moments on Earth. We normally think that a terrorist must be able to kill himself because he’s so sure about his religion. While this is partially true, it doesn’t show how a tortured mind comes to that conclusion. “Dynamite” shows that terrorists are still human. In fact, that their complexities mirror our own doubts and self-loathing may be the most disturbing thing of all about this song.

Laziness

“I’m sorry, I didn’t post the pictures on facebook yet because I’m too lazy,” I say, as I learn HTML5, redesign my comic’s website, learn PDO, redo my website’s backend, and finish a book in the meantime.

Hypothesis: Laziness is often more a reflection of priorities than character.

Humor and the world of tomorrow

Andrew Sullivan links to an interesting debate about pop culture references in comedy. Matt Zoller Seitz wonders if dense pop culture references will ruin shows for future generations. I have to be on the side of the people who respond to this musing with: “Who cares?

Something from Marcus Aurelius pushed me toward this direction:

“18. How strange are the ways of men! They will spare no word of praise for their contemporaries, who live in their very midst, and yet they covet greatly for themselves the praise of future generations, whom they have never seen and never will see. Almost as well grumble at not having praise from one’s ancestors!” (Book 6)

To me, it seems a fool’s task to try to make something “timeless.” It’s a waste to ponder what people will think of your comedy tomorrow when you have no idea what these people will be like. Would Shakespeare find “Community” funny? is absurd a question as asking if someone in 2026 will find it funny.

Make something funny for people now and let the people of tomorrow worry if they still find it funny or not.

EDIT 3/13/2011 –

Clarification: I should say it’s a useless question when you’re trying to ascertain the comedy’s value. If Shakespeare wouldn’t understand the cultural context, it doesn’t mean that a comedy would have any less value. The same applies to a hypothetical 18 year old in 2026.

I’m not sure it’s possible to be less rooted in cultural context, even if you cut out pop culture references, but that’s a separate issue.

Changes

It occurs to me that for the past year or so, my life has been very stable. I have had the same job since about a year ago, and I have worked at the same place since December 2009. I have been dating the same girl for almost a year. For more than a year, I have gone to the same place every Monday night and seen more or less the same people. My good friends are still my good friends. Since the end of last year, I have been debt-free and I have enough of an emergency fund to last me through the end of my lease.

All of this has been a blessing. I’ve been really happy and lucky. Granted, at the time all this was happening, it didn’t feel so smooth. (For example, I was super stressed out when I was working two jobs.) Zooming out, though, it does appear to be a rather stable period of my life.

Now, if this were a movie trailer, this would be where the narrator says, “But all of that is about to change…” It needn’t be as ominous as you’re probably imagining, though. It’s just that a lot will change and it will happen relatively rapidly.

The aforementioned Monday meeting will soon be changing location. My friends’ lease is up and they’re moving out. I will then be hosting Monday nights, which is a pretty big change. Since I’m going on vacation before the changeover, it will seem all the more disorienting to come back and have my routine become drastically different.

The reason my friends aren’t renewing their lease is because one of them is joining the Peace Corp and will be leaving for Africa. So, that’s another big change. One of my good friends will be gone for two years.

After that, grad schools will start up. Although I don’t know where anyone is going, it is likely that two of my friends will be moving from the Bay Area. A third could possibly move, and I’m interested to see how that will turn out.

Two more friends are currently living with their parents, and I suspect they will probably move before the end of the year. I don’t know where they’ll end up, so this may also change where we all gather. What they decide will probably affect where I live after my lease is up. I’ve decided that I’m paying too much, so I should go somewhere else when my lease is up in October.

Change in routine. Change in people. Change in place. This is all very disruptive. Especially since I’ve felt so rooted ever since I moved back here after college.

Then, there’s the not very robust commute situation. I currently carpool with my dad to work, and I don’t own a car. If he were to get a new job, I wouldn’t have an easy way to get to work.

I’ve definitely been apprehensive of the upcoming changes. I enjoy the situation now, and it’s hard to see it change. Lately, though, I’ve been warming to these changes. I’m excited to take on the challenge of being a good host every week. I’m not sure what prompted the change in emotions. Maybe I realized it’s silly to cling to the past when change is inevitable. Maybe I realized that there are opportunities out there for me if I change too. Maybe I’m also getting slightly tired of my routine.

I’ve slated a redesign for my comic to be released on April 11. I’m excited to be playing with code again. I’m ready for a new look, and I’m ready to give it renewed focus. After that, I’ll try to see if I can sell some t-shirts. And after that, I got more programming projects to do. It sounds like a lot of fun, so maybe that’s why I’m less apprehensive.

“Boy howdy, times they are a-changin’.” — Curly, in Larry Whitman: Data Entry Maverick