Posts Tagged ‘city’

The Suburbs: The Wilderness Downtown

As smart and innovative as the Sprawl II dance-video is, Arcade Fire found a way to top themselves, with The Wilderness Downtown web experience.


note the use of fractal-based ‘roots’ to form the words—
the sublime wonders of Nature!

This amazing interactive is based around the song We Used to Wait and therefore ties deeply into the underlying themes of The Suburbs—roads, connection to place, escape, youth, the wild, and interaction with technology—while at the same time being a potent showcase of digital wizardry (it was designed to highlight the capabilities of Google Chrome and HTML 5).

Unfortunately, TWD is custom-made to each user’s environment, so I can’t put up a video for you to watch; you’ll just have to try it yourself (although this page provides a decent overview). It’s recommended to use the address of your childhood home, which works really well if you grew up in the ever-shifting sprawl of American ’burb-land, because it’s quite likely that said environment no longer appears as you remember it (“this town’s so strange/they built it to change/and while we sleep we know the streets get rearranged”). Me, I grew up way out in the country, which doesn’t pack nearly the same punch.

Once your experience is compiled, we open with an anonymous, hooded young person running through the streets of The Suburbs. Based on the urgency expressed, he’s clearly not just out for a jog. What is he running from? As we’ve seen throughout the album, when the prevailing narrative of Modern Kids raised in the ’burbs is to seek escape by fleeing to the city only to return to the ’burbs as ‘adults’—who wouldn’t blame him for wanting to Get Out?
wilderness_downtown runner
Throughout, we follow our running figure from high overhead, drifting along with a flock of birds, as well as at street-level courtesy of Google.
Eventually, the video culminates with some very-likely eco imagery as the trailing birds begin to divebomb into the ground, causing trees to grow up beautifully and cover the map in a sea of rewilded green. Of course, this is really only effective if the map—and therefore your childhood home—is in a deforested suburb.
This all transpires over the song’s final section, in which Win implores us to “Wait for it!” As I’ve said before, the song is all about cultivating patience in the face of a technologically-increased pace of life, which brings us to The Wilderness Machine.
Now, back during the middle section of TWD—over the “I’m gonna write a letter to my true love, I’m gonna sign my name” verse—we took a break from watching our harried runner and were invited to “Write a postcard or advice to the younger You”, using super-cool fractal-roots. Now, while Arcade Fire was still touring to support The Suburbs, their concerts would coincide with appearances of said Machine—a steampunk-y contraption which would print out postcards submitted from TWD. While that alone is a great way to play around with the back-and-forth between digital and analog suggested by We Used to Wait, here’s the best part: the postcards that the Machine printed out were embedded with tree seeds!—so that you could take someone’s former self’s postcard home and reforest your own environment, thus bringing TWD’s video experience full circle into the real world.
And believe me, nothing cultivates patience like growing a tree.


The Suburbs: Sprawl II (the Video!)

Like the other examples of Arcade Fire’s multimedia collaborations with Vincent Morisset, the Sprawl II interactive video is incredible. I absolutely love the idea of using interaction to turn one’s computer into more than just a “black mirror.
However, it’s hard to convey a story or idea when you’re constantly getting stuck in herky-jerky mini-loops while you’re flailing about in front of your webcam.

And so, I’m going to focus on the ‘traditional’ music video.

We open with some long shots of generic dilapidated suburban wasteland, when Reginé Chassagne exits her bungalow, darling as always, even when clad in a cardboard dress and sporting giant vintage headphones—no white earbuds for her! I have to wonder about the paper dress: does Reginé wear it to associate herself and the band with recycling and general eco-ness? Or because it is simply easier to tear off later?
Anyway, we see that this decaying ’burb is also inhabited by anonymous men and women, made faceless by what looks like smears of oil paints. I’m going to go out on a limb and propose that these are the postmodern industrial wage slaves, suburban bluepill zombie captives of the ‘American Dream’. We see a couple dressed for a day at the office (“all those wasted lives in the wilderness downtown”) sit in their driveway, lifeless. Another woman waters her concrete mindlessly; Reginé happens by, singing her line about “just punching the clock”, and the woman begins to scratch at herself. Reginé then curtseys at the man and woman, who also start scratching and begin a rudimentary form of what we will later see as a big synchronized ‘burb-zombie dance.

So, just in this video’s first minute, we see Arcade Fire acting upon ‘burb-dwellers as a catalyst for change and liberation (“kicking up sparks to set the flames free”) against the crippling force of sedentary inertia.

Next we see the paper-mache bobbleheaded versions of Arcade Fire (last seen in these invitations for the Sprawl project) hanging out in an abandoned lot behind an apartment complex. For starters, they’re outside, not indoors where they would be at the mercy of any number of infotoxin-emitting glowing screens. Secondly, what are they doing in the abandoned lot? Playing in the tall weeds with a butterfly net! Exploring and enjoying Nature! Imagine that!

A moment later we see two of the bigheads pushing each other in a shopping cart in an empty carpark—repurposing a machine and using it not as intended (for fun instead of for consumption)!

Unfortunately, it looks like that’s about the extent of the analyzable material, because the rest of the video is all dancing. Nothing wrong with that! I think I do perceive a difference in the dancing styles of Regine and the faceless zombies—Reginé’s is smoother and more free-flowing, while theirs is frankly tortured-looking: much of their dancing looks like they’re trying to tear out of their skin or clothes. And who can blame them? In general, I think it’s safe to say that Reginé’s arm-flailing dancing is the authentic, polar opposite of the too-cool “kids standing with their arms folded tight”.

Doomsday Preppers: Jay

JayThe last would-be survivor profiled on the Escape From New York episode is Jay (no last name, smart!), family man/stock trader worried about a second September 11-scale terror attack, possibly using a ‘dirty bomb’.To help him prepare, he enlists the guidance of Shane Hobel of the Mountain Scout Survival School.

If there’s one common thread running through all three of these people’s challenges, it’s one of resiliency. Margaret Ling was in fine physical shape but needed to focus on awareness of her environment and keeping vigilant against possible assailants, as well as finding it within herself to be able to physically harm those assailants in order to survive. Cameron Moore needed a little more physical exercise, but he also had some mental walls to break down—accomplished by ‘acquiring’ a bicycle for better transportation, and adopting a ‘spray first, ask questions later’ with regards to hostile encounters. Jay’s practice escape is no different. As a middle-aged urban man, he’s not as physically fit as he used to be, so undertaking a multi-mile hike on foot is going to challenge his endurance as well as his attitude. This is a good point to stress the pre– part of preparedness. It’s not postparedness for a reason—preparation is something that needs to be done before disaster actually strikes. One shouldn’t wait for a disaster to discover you can’t take it; get off the couch and get out there for some practical exercise. If your bug-in plan relies on heating with wood, don’t say, ‘Oh, I’ll start splitting firewood once things go south’, do it now! If you’re like Jay and are your family rendezvous point is twelve miles away, don’t assume that when disaster strikes you’ll instantly be transformed into a Tarahumaran marathon runner. These things take time, and if you wait until shit goes down, time’s up.

Since Jay is focusing on a dirty bomb attack, his mentor shows him how to use matches to determine wind direction; I’m not sure I buy it. Might as well lick your finger and hold it up in the air. Shane also tells Jay to walk into the wind, in order to get the threat behind him as soon as possible. In other words, late great Mitch Hedberg’s parade theory applied to radiation!:
“If you’re watchin’ a parade, make sure you stand in one spot; don’t follow it, it never changes. And if the parade is boring, run in the opposite direction. You will fast-forward the parade!”

After what I assume is several miles, Jay starts getting tired, so Shane takes him to a public fountain to get a drink. Of course, it’s full of algae and gunk, so Shane uses powdered charcoal and a bandana to filter the water. I don’t really buy that either. We’re told that such a filter method will remove chlorine (more on that in a minute) and sediments, which is all well and good, but it doesn’t kill microorganisms (what you should really worry about)–it just makes nasty water more palatable. The caption tells us that water can also be purified with household bleach, 1/8 teaspoon to a gallon. That’s more like it. Although personally, I prefer 2% tincture of iodine, which isn’t as affected by temperature as chlorine, and can also be used to clean wounds as well as water. To have really safe water, however, I recommend using at least two purification methods, and luckily there are lots of options. Take your pick: chemical solutions (chlorine, iodine), UV (SODIS, SteriPen), boiling, distillation, the list goes on. Once you’ve got the bugs out, then run your H2O through a charcoal filter to improve the taste.

I might’ve missed something, because Shane starts showing Jay a handy medicinal weed: Plantain! Not those starchy banana-things, but a common plant you probably have growing in your yard: plantago. I frequently use it on cuts, as the sap is great at stopping bleeding. But unlike what this guy shows, just crush up or bruise a leaf or two in your hand, don’t chew it up to get the juices out—if you have an open wound, you definitely don’t want mouth germs in it.

I can’t say the techniques this guy demonstrates are great, but it’s more than most folks know; I’m starting to think NatGeo should give Hobel his own show. Doomsday Preppers is great for looking at folks and their various approaches to what they consider survival, but there are certain basics (navigation, what to eat, how to drink, shelter, medicine, and fire-making) that people just don’t know.

In the end, Jay meets up with his family and they drive off to the Hamptons in their SUV. But not to worry, their bug-out vehicle has three bikes on the back rack! Which is AWESOME, as it’s nice to finally see someone thinking practically, sustainably, and survivably.

Looks like the next episode next week’s episode is also themed? And it’s superbunkers? Oh boy. Until next time, folks!

Doomsday Preppers: Cameron Moore

I’ve set this to publish at 00:01 01/01/13, so Happy Arbitrary Point in the Solar Revolution!

‘Escape From New York’s second would-be survivor is Cameron Moore, a medical student worried about a meltdown at the nearby Indian Point nuclear facility, located about 35 miles from Manhattan. Like everyone else on the show, what he’s really worried about are the hordes of panicked city-dwellers, unable to find food without a job and unable to keep the economy moving forward with purchasing power; Cameron explains that the world economy is bound to the fluctuations of the US economy, itself bound to that of New York. What’s the word for the opposite of self-sufficiency? Other-dependent? Whatever it is, the modern world seems based on it, and its scope is almost beyond comprehension.
Cameron says that “When the shit hits the fan, I’m bugging out!” and so to help him through a mock bugout, he partners with head of the IPN, Aton Edwards.
Edwards brings up something I wonder if many think about—he reminds Cameron that once he leaves his apartment, everything left behind will become “a museum…of what we shouldn’t do ever again”. I’m not sure if that’s a reference to the long-lingering nature of nuclear radiation, or civilization itself. Either way, I think folks assume that when they bugout in a disaster, they’ll be coming back eventually, and those folks might want to consider the possibility that might not be the case. Check out some of the images of Chernobyl or other hastily-evacuated areas, and you’ll be surprised how quickly Nature comes back to reclaim and rewild.

Like Margaret Ling, they plot a path out of Manhattan and have one night to execute their plan. Aton radios Cameron to grab his bag and they head out, with Cameron jogging while Aton bikes. Cameron starts to fall behind, which isn’t surprising—sustained jogging is pretty tough for nonatheletes. It’s been years since my crosscountry days, so I’m in the same boat; if I don’t go for a jog like, every other day, my endurance never improves. In which case, I suggest Cameron try ‘scout pace’, which I think is just about the best way to run. Scout pace—running/jogging a set number of paces (I like to do about 30), followed by walking for the same number, rinse, repeat—gives you just the right amount of time to get your breath back before your next stretch of running.
Like I said, Cam has trouble keeping up with Aton on two wheels, who suggests Cam open himself up to the possibility that he may have to steal a bicycle! Now, I assume this is a scenario Edwards has set-up ahead of time; he’s not just having Cameron steal a random bike! They make a big deal showing how Aton carries a small pair of bolt cutters in his pack, which they use to cut the lock off the bike. However, if they kept their eyes open for a pre-2005 Kryptonite lock, they could save the weight and just open it with a Bic pen!

Aton suggests Cameron carry a can of bear mace instead of regular pepper spray, which comes in handy when two guys conveniently happen by in the park. Again, I assume this was a setup. Also, how did they get people to sign up to be on the business end of the spray?

There’s a scene where Cameron and Aton are shown carrying their bikes up a flight of stairs. You can’t do that with a motorcycle! Just one more reason bicycles are the perfect survival vehicle.

In the end, they reach the Hudson River where Cameron sets out for the opposite bank in an inflatable kayak. Wait a second, where’d that come from? Has one of these guys been carrying an inflatable kayak around in his pack all night? And if not, how do you covertly hide something like that on the bank of the Hudson?
Cam paddles across—they edit the trip to be dramatic (it’s not)—and reaches “the promised land”, Jersey! That’s great, but, um, now what? We never hear if he has prepping buddies he’s going to meet up with or anything. I hope so, because as scary as getting out of Manhattan would be, crossing through New Jersey might prove scarier!

Case in point.

Doomsday Preppers: Margaret Ling

Up next we have what looks the first themed episode: Escape From New York! I like the idea of having episodes with common threads, instead of the slapdash collection of folks usually on. So, this time, the show looks at three individuals who’ve all decided they don’t want to be in the Big Apple should things go south. And really, who can blame them?
We hear how should something happen to the city’s “fragile system” of bridges and tunnels, 23 million people could be trapped on the island without access to food, water, or electricity. Well, what did you expect? By their very nature, cities leave little room for self-reliance, because they’re designed for complete dependence on the system. In its most basic definition, a city is simply a place that cannot sustain itself with its own resources, and so must have those resources brought in from elsewhere. If our culture didn’t encourage such ostrich behavior in its members, you’d think we’d have seriously considered the possibility of disruptions to the system, and designed our cities to be able to sustain themselves. But alas. As the opening narration reminds us, preppers tend to prefer remote locations over cities, which they usually imagine will completely melt down in the event of a populace-panicking disaster. Yeah, that’ll probably be true.

© NatGeo 2012First up is Margaret Ling, with a worry about—in this post- Katrina and Sandy age—another megastorm, which is entirely likely when one factors in the exponential nature of climate changes.
Transparency clause: Ms. Ling isn’t just some random person off the street, but—like Aton Edwards from the next segment—an instructor from the NYC-based NGO International Preparedness Network.
There’s a funny bit where—because this is Doomsday Preppers, after all—she has to declare what she’s preparing for. Except this time, she’s not staring straight into the camera wearing a gas mask: she’s in a yoga studio, declaring her fear for a megastorm while surrounded by other women in Warrior II. I’m sure it’s supposed to be super-serious, but I couldn’t help but think of Stuart Smalley psyching himself up in the mirror.
margaretling2She drops by the krav maga studio run by Matan Gavish (who mentored Jason Charles last season), because as a woman, she knows she’s more likely to be victimized and wants to be able to defend herself.
Oh, did I mention that they make her go everywhere with this big modern hiking pack? It makes for some funny juxtaposition with her little green dress. Apparently, her bug-out plan is to escape the city and head for the mountains of upstate New York, where she will ride out whatever disaster? Hope she’s competent with off-grid strategies and wilderness skills. Knowing her real background, I have confidence in her proficiency.

Her bag is packed with lots of extraneous survival goods, which Matan tells her could easily be downsized by focusing on skills instead of gear. Gavish also identifies what he considers the most effective weapon in her arsenal:…a lollipop. Yep, seems he thinks it would make a premium eye-gouger. I really like Margaret’s humility when Mr. IDF asks her if she could stab someone in the heart: “I don’t want to say no, but I don’t want to say yes!” Which is a welcome, down-to-earth change from the steely tactical-type guys going on about ‘taking out’ adversaries usually featured on this show.

So, she and Gavish design a route to test her escape plan: fourteen miles on foot, from the tip of Manhattan through Central Park, north to the George Washington Bridge. He arranges for her to be jumped by two guys in the Park, and that’s what happens. The whole artificiality of the scenario is weird, with the camera crew following her and all, but she should’ve still at least had a weapon—lollipop or whatever—at hand, ready to use. Because that’s what you should do when walking around a shadowy area at four AM. Constant vigilance!

He essentially tells her to dump the whole pack, saying that all she really needs is her stabbing weapon and a water bottle. Which is probably true, as all a pack really does is make you a big target for less-prepared folks.

Eventually she reaches the bridge at sunrise. So, yay!, she survived and hopefully now knows what she needs to work on. I’m a big fan of practical exercises as the best way to field-test gear, skills, and strategies. Hmm, what else? How ’bout a picture of pre- and post-civilized Manhattan?

mannhatta 1609-2009



Doomsday Preppers: Josh Wander

Our next prepper is Josh Wander, from Pittsburg, PA. Josh fills an interesting demographic, because while it seems a majority of those featured on the show are Judeo-Christians, Josh seems to be the first one to represent the Judeo- half of that particular salvationist tradition.
joshwanderHonestly, I don’t have a whole lot to say about this segment.
This father of six (all biblical names, surprise) originally hails from Jerusalem, but they moved to the States ten years ago, and now Josh is running for city council. His big push is to make preparedness a part of his campaign. When his big fear is coordinated terrorist attacks, it’s easy to get civic-minded citizens onboard. I wonder if he got elected?
He gets together with some other Jews and organizes a terror-attack-drill with lots of fake blood in the park, I guess to get the responders used to dealing with gory injuries.

Josh finds himself in a tough position with regards to his food storage. Although it seems he’s been ‘prepping’ for three years, he only has a few months’ worth of food stockpiled, because apparently kosher shelf-stable prepper food is hard to find. Hmm, I think that’s what you call a niche market. Someone with more business-savvy than me could really make a boatload of money with that!

So, even though they’re un-kosher, the family keeps rabbits. Smartly, Josh makes sure the kids don’t name the animals, so they’re not pets. Although if you are going to name your livestock, I’m a fan of Doug Huffman’s approach—calling each animal by the dish it’s going into (“Stir-fry”, “Stew”, &c.).

Josh takes some of his kids to the range to teach them gun safety and how to shoot, which gives us an image one doesn’t often see: a Jew with an AK! Hey, it’s probably a good idea to get familiar with your enemy’s weapons. We can’t all train with IDF machineguns.

With a focus on terrorism, Josh is big on bugging out, and their practice drill looks like it should—they all pile into a van and head out, with none of that ‘let’s spend an hour packing stuff into a trailer at the last minute’ that so many of this show’s ‘bug outs’ depict. Additionally, I really love his take on that everyone’s favorite cinematic OT episode: “Exodus was a bug out.” Love it.

Experts give him 70 points—higher than I expected—for twelve months.

And in his update segment, now-bearded Josh announces that his family has decided—should it become necessary—they’re going to move back to Israel, “where Jews are protected and safe.” I wonder what brought that about? Was he a victim of an anti-Semitic hate-crime? I dunno, but I’d rather live where, while you might get the odd slur thrown at you, at least you’re not living in a regional powderkeg, surrounded by hostile nations praying for your destruction on three sides. Just sayin’.

Doomsday Preppers: Braxton Southwick

The episode finishes up with Braxton Southwick, a family man from SLC with six kids. Based on that alone, I’ll assume they’re Mormon.

His fear is of a biological terror attack, specifically using smallpox. As with others, the wife just kind of goes along with it to humor her hubby, like it’s just a “phase” he’ll grow out of in a year or two.

So they show off their “huge amount of food” stockpile which they claim will last them one year—again, because that’s one of their religion’s tenets: want your made-up church’s people to repopulate the earth after the End Times? Make it a commandment that Thou Shalt Hoard a Year’s Worth of Food.

It’s good to see that their food isn’t just shelf-stable/freezedried/dehydrated stuff, but that they also keep chickens in the backyard coop. That’s cool. Now, go Barrelhaven and start using eggs as currency with your neighbors.
Because he’s worried about a smallpox outbreak, he thinks that the neighborhood would get evacuated if there was a case nearby. Sooo, they do another practice bugout, and yet again they forget the meaning of the term. YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE TO PACK! The whole point of bugging out is to be able to grab your bag and go, not to form a bucket brigade to empty out your larder and gun room, uproot the chicken coop, have everybody grab all their clothes and then jump in the truck; have your rural retreat already stocked with those things!

Anyway, once they finally get loaded up and out of town, they come across a roadblock set up by the local national guard or something, who are also part of the drill (wouldn’t that be something if they were stopped by a real quarantine roadblock during a practice bug out? Haha.). They get scanned by some ineffective bomb-sniffing gizmo, and then put into the decontamination shower. One of the daughters gets strapped to a gurney for some reason. And then that’s it. I guess the wife starts to come around to her husband’s way of thinking after going through all that.
B.S. scores a 71, computed out to 13 months initial survival time. Experts say he needs a water resupply plan, especially considering the fact that he chose to live next to the world’s least-drinkable lake. Honestly, for a religion with prepping at its core, why didn’t Brigham Young and those guys set down somewhere more livable? I dunno, but it would be worthwhile for Braxton to learn to make a solar desalination still.