Posts Tagged ‘Machine’

Doomsday Preppers: Bret and Shane Maggio

The other half of this episode is spent with Bret and Shane Maggio of Fruitland, Utah:
© NatGeo/Sharp EntertainmentThey’re supposedly preparing for a “collapse of the US economy that will lead to a lawless society”, at which point one of the guys points a pistol at the camera, with his finger on the trigger.
Bad form, sir. Remember, folks:
the four rules of gun safety(Also, this is exactly the kind of macho, guns-as-macho-posturing-accessory bullshit I was talking about last week.)

Since pretty much their entire profile is spent in pointless-diversion-land, I’m gonna focus more on what they say than on what they do, and try to unpack their comments.

To begin: people around the world get by just fine (likely better than Us, in fact) living in what folks of Our Culture would consider ‘lawless society’. Just because there are no Hammurabi-style stone tablets (‘laws’) telling citizens ‘Thou Shalt Not __ for Fear of Retribution From the State-sanctioned Brutes Allowed to Use Violence to Strip You of Your Rights/Property/Life (‘police’)’, doesn’t mean that these societies were/are bloodbaths, with people running about willy-nilly raping and killing each other on a whim. Unlike civilized/statutory law, groups with functioning tribal laws are aware that people are going to misbehave. Instead of having a group of top-of-the-pyramid, above-the-law elites telling citizens the things they aren’t allowed to do (knowing full well that they will do them anyway) and then punishing them, tribal laws focus more on group decisions to decide consequences for actions on an individual basis.

Sidebar: take a minute to notice how violence in pyramid societies always flows downwards—you never hear about about police hassling Congressman, but they sure do love to bust heads when it comes to the ‘homeless’—but when violence is directed upwards, they call it revolt and rebellion. Hey kids: think about defying gravity.

“When the dollar loses its value, the government isn’t getting paid; systems collapse! Imagine turning on the faucet, but there’s no water; going to the grocery store but there’s no food on the shelves. These systems could collapse at any time, leaving people no choice but to fight for survival!”
Yeah, guys, these systems could collapse at any time (because we continue to increase their complexity and therefore their inherent fragility), but if people took proper steps before said collapse (organize, localize, communitize), they wouldn’t have to fight for survival.
Also, the system that allows for city water in the desert and Just-In-Time resupplied grocery stores is a fundamentally unsustainable one powered by ancient sunlight, a blip on the long timeline. The only smart thing to do would be to consider ways of living outside that matrix of control, or better yet, make it obsolete!

Next comment: in their collapse scenario, “Nobody’s going to be able to be governed.”
WAIT, WHAT? I’m pretty sure this means ‘The government won’t be able to govern its citizens!’, or, more accurately, ‘The top-of-the-pyramid elites will have lost their grasp on the systems used to exert control over the rest of the pyramid’.
C’mon, what would be so bad about that? You’d think such a scenario would be fully embraced by an open-minded citizenry of ‘freedom enthusiasts’, because I don’t think any sane person really wants to be governed—but then again, we live in a culture that’s been drilling into our heads the meme that we should want to be governed for the last 5,000 years, so sane people are a rare commodity.

They conclude their talk-to-the-camera portion by admonishing “If you don’t have a plan to get out of civilization and get to a bug-out location, you’ll be caught up in the mess!” Hey, for once, we are in agreement!: getting out of civilization is the only way to ensure one’s survival.
endangered-species
So why are these guys not taking their own advice (we’re told they live in the ’burbs and have corporate jobs, which would suggest they’re entrenched in the very System that makes their collapse all but inevitable)? I guess when they said ‘get out of civilization’ they just meant ‘get out of the city’, not ‘get out of the entire life-destroying Matrix’. Ugh. Hey, don’t expect things to change if you can’t see the bars of your cage.

We’re told that their family has ‘been preppers’ for 40 years, going all the way back to their grandma. They say that their “family has a preparedness mindset”…yeah, guys, because you’re Mormons; it’s a tenet to have years and years of stuff stored up, so that the members of your made-up cult will outlive the other made-up cults.
‘Show-off preps’ time: food stored, water and filter, and 5,000 gallons fuel, “so that when doomsday comes, we’ll have all the comforts of home for several years.”
Hey guys, you do realize that all those comforts of home are part and parcel of that civilization you said to get out of, right? If the aim of your post-disaster living is just to prolong and perpetuate the unsustainable pre-disaster lifestyle of comfort and convenience…well, you’re just setting yourself to fail. Again.

Anyway, the guys think that all their preps “will make them a target”. Well, yeah, now, because they’ve broadcast the details to the world. If they actually downscaled and lived quietly off the grid, who would know? Of course, that would make for ‘boring’ (read: possibly educational) TV, so they decide to build themselves a ridgetop ‘sniper tower’ (with zipline)!

Man, one thing’s for sure, watching this show has really strengthened my ability to read between the lines. I would guess what we’re really seeing here are a couple of city slickers building a zipline tower for the kids to play on when the family gets together at grandma’s house, calling it a ‘sniper tower’ to get it on TV and/or have NatGeo pay for it, and bringing in a prior serviceman to complete the illusion.

So Bret and Shane get their vet sniper to come in, take some long-distance shots, and give the project his seal of approval. We then waste some time watching kids work harder-not-smarter dragging materials up the hill. There’s a discouraging moment when one of the guys’ younger cousins observes, “Prepping seems like a lot of hard work: you have to buy a lot of stuff and build a lot of stuff!” Well, yeah, if you’re going off what we’re shown on DP, or if your goal is to continue living within the System and become a capital-P, self-identified Prepper.
On the other hand, rewilding/unlearning/unbranding, enlightening oneself on big-picture issues (learn to recognize root causes!), building community, and increasing one’s self-reliance are often extremely cheap, if not gratis (and pay off way more!).

Once they get the ‘tower’ built, they string a cable down to a tree at the bottom of the hill—allegedly a quick-escape zipline. As a ‘professional zipliner’ (I am literally paid to fly through the trees), this is an area in which I have extensive experience.
Now, on my outfit’s 440-feet-long, 30-feet-of-drop zipline, most folks hit speeds in the mid-twenties (mph). And yet, simple trigonometry tells me that our line has a downward angle of only 3.9 degrees. Compare this to the Maggio’s homemade cable, which we’re told is 250 horizontal feet, with a vertical drop of 70 feet; this works out to a downward angle of around sixteen degrees! And yet, when they send a couple of sand-filled tires (to approximate someone’s weight) down the line, the guys act totally surprised that they come in like a meteor and plow into a tree! Well, duh! Those tires were probably pushing 60!
Also, for the record, I’d really recommend using a proper harness (bonus tactical points!) and a double trolley (Petzl makes good ones).

Once their platform built is finally built, they bust out the black guns and execute some watermelons to prove they can…but only at like, 150 yards. What gives? I thought the point of the tower was to be able to hit trespassers at their property line 400 yards away?
And then they explain how if they can’t eliminate an intruder from the tower, then they’ll go down on the zipline and fight at ground level? Dudes, just stick with the high ground.

At the end, the experts say their tower is ‘not effective from a military standpoint’, probably because a ridgetop is a terrible place for ‘sniping’ (silhouettes against the sky and all that). Whew, good thing we’re talking a family fun tower, and not actual military!

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On ‘The Matrix’

So, my favorite movies.
Tied for number one are Star Wars, AVATAR, and The Matrix, because they’re pretty much the same film: a Hero Journey set alongside guerrilla warfare against a System (hey, I like movies with subtext!).  Also, groundbreaking effects from all three.  So (because I have a bit more written on it than the others), I’ll begin with The Matrix.
Mtrx1

The Matrix is one of those films that occupies a strange place in the public conscious.  On the one hand, geeks and kids taking Philosophy 101 dig it, but in general it’s remembered for all the wrong reasons (like most of Shyamalan’s oeuvre, which I also really enjoy). For most people, three things come to mind when you bring up The Matrix.
First are probably the ‘bullet-time’ effects, which (even though there were only four of these shots in the film) were parodied or ripped off ad nauseum and therefore showed up in just about every movie that came out for the next few years.
The second is probably a vague sense of the bloated ponderousness of the sequels that followed (see the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise for another more recent example); maybe you never even saw the sequels, but just learned through pop-cultural-osmosis that they were kinda slow and unintelligible (even though that’s really just Reloaded).
Third, due to an unimaginably unfortunate example of bad timing, this film was released just a few weeks before a coupla latchkey kids went tragically mad and ruined guns and black trenchcoats and Marilyn Manson for the rest of us for a good long while.

That’s what most folks will think of when you mention The Matrix.  Which is too bad, because it’s an incredible film.  Like most things I love, it works on a number of levels.  Yeah, it’s trendy and mind-bendy and full of badass visual and storytelling tropes, but it’s the subtext most people seem to overlook that really gets me.  Take this scene from the first act:

MORPHEUS
… You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain. But you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life. That there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?
NEO
The Matrix?
MORPHEUS
Do you want to know what IT is? The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us, even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
 NEO
What truth?
MORPHEUS
That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch…
A prison for your mind.
 

Or how about this even more transparent monologue?:

MORPHEUS
The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around. What do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system, and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inert, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.

Thankfully, the idea of ‘the Matrix’ isn’t just some pseudo-philosophical mumbo-numbo in a popcorn blockbuster, it’s a metaphor for the culture we live in. In one form or another, it’s how the world has been—for an increasing majority of humanity—for about the last six thousand years. The first Mesopotamian god-king city-builders laid the foundation for the Matrix. The Egyptians lived in the Matrix. So did the Romans. In today’s all-but-conquered, global, industrialized capitalist world, 99.999999% of people live in the Matrix. It’s really a testament to the genius of the Wachowskis that they were able to package these rather heavy-handed, dangerous ideas in such an entertaining, marketable format  through their use of allegory (a la James Cameron, more on him in a bit): the average viewer won’t pick up on the film’s anarchist subtext because it’s about hackers and robots and people covered in plugs.

Sure, the film is violent.  But, as brother Cornel West explains, it’s “intellectual violence”.  The film’s heroes aren’t fighting individuals, they’re fighting against the system itself, for the opportunity to show humanity a better world. In fact, the speech that closes the film sounds like something straight out of Kalle Lasn’s Culture Jam:

I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid. You’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin. I’m going to hang up this phone and then I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you, a world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries, a world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you.

That’s what’s so worrisome about the Matrix sequels.  Metaphorically, if the Matrix is our status quo civilized world, and the ‘real world’ is the fulfilling life outside the System, the second and third films’ suggestion that the real world is just a Matrix Within a Matrix* would suggest that even rebellion against the System will leave one still within the System…which is pretty much true.  As the PBS Frontline program Merchants of Cool put it:

The cool-hunt ends here, with teen rebellion itself becoming just another product. … The battle itself is packaged and sold right back to them…welcome to the Machine.”

*Yes, I know that’s not what the Wachowskis say, but when the official explanation is a hand-wave and ‘Fuck you, dear viewer’, I’ll take the one that actually encourages discussion.

The Suburbs: The Suburbs Continued

If I could have it back
All the time that we wasted, I’d only waste it again

If I could have it back, you know I’d love to waste it again
Waste it again and again and again, I forgot to ask…

Sometimes I can’t believe it
I’m moving past the feeling again

This short track brings little material to the conceptual framework of the album, yet adds greatly to the album’s cinematic nature—it’s not a stretch to picture The Suburbs Continued playing over end credits. After evoking the black-and-white films of Golden Age Hollywood with a lush string section (perfectly exemplifying the song’s theme of nostalgia), Win wistfully thinks back to his formative adolescence. As I’ve said before, that time might’ve not have been ‘productive’ as we usually define it, but some good still came out of it: in a determinist sense, we are all products of our own wasted hours. Furthermore, for a lot of folks in this culture, the wasted hours are the ‘best years of our lives’ that we’re supposed to reminisce about and strive to relive once we’re out into the real world of wage-slavery: witness the former high school football star whose successful car dealership can never compare to his glory days as a quarterback. You know the type.

Finally, after a subwoofer-rattling rumble, the song (and the album) ends with a slow fade of Win and Reginé returning to The Suburbs’ chorus. This coda also works perfectly as an album opener as well (try it sometime!), underlining the viciously cyclical nature of the escape from and return to the ‘burbs tackled by the album.

And with that, we wrap up the eighteen monster tracks of The Suburbs. After all that Millennial angst, I think it’s time to take a well-deserved break to look at some recent cinema. But don’t worry, we’re not done with Arcade Fire by a long shot.

The Suburbs: ‘Sprawl II’

The Sprawl tunes are the album’s final duo, but interestingly enough they—unlike all the other two-part suites—don’t segue into each other; even stranger, it’s We Used to Wait that settles into Flatlands. It’s a weird choice given the pattern of the others, but alas. Musically, once this song gets pumping there’s a definite early-mid-Eighties influence; at times I think I hear strains from Blondie’s Heart of Glass. As I’ve noted earlier, the Sprawl suite is a musical inverse of the Half-Light suite, beginning with a bleak song and essentially ending the album with a song I almost hesitate to call buoyant.
I’ll admit: I was a latecomer to Arcade Fire. Seeing Reginé perform this song on an SNL rerun aired a few months after their controversial Grammy win was my introduction to the band. And the scary thing is, I almost didn’t watch it. I often fast-forward through SNL’s musical acts, but this time I dunno, maybe I let it play while I got up to grab a snack or something, but I remember picking out the word pretentious. Which is funny, because based on my very vague pop-cultural-osmosis understanding of Arcade Fire at the time (comprised of two items: they were from Montreal, and were an “indie” band, whatever that means), pretentious was the word I would’ve ignorantly used to describe them. How wrong I was! Anyway, hearing that P word piqued my interest, so I thought, “let’s see what these Canadian hipsters I’ve heard about can do”, sat down, and watched the performance. Twice. As I’ve said, it would figure that Mountains Beyond Mountains would be my introduction to the band, what with its throbby danceable beat, fem singer, and vaguely-eco lyrics. Although it would take like, four months before I took the next step and listened to The Suburbs in its entirety, I was hooked from the outset.

They heard me singing and they told me to stop,
Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock
These days my life, I feel it has no purpose
But late at night the feelings swim to the surface
‘Cause on the surface the city lights shine
They’re calling at me, come and find your kind

Regarding the first three lines: this is an essential frustration of Our Culture, and especially for Millennial Young People in this culture. We are raised to follow our instinct for freedom and free expression, but as soon as we’re shoved out the door into ‘the real world’ we’re suddenly expected to conform and keep our heads down in order to get by (except maybe for on the weekends when we’re allowed to cut loose in socially-sanctioned opportunities for consumption). Those of us with little interest in entering the wage economy are continually dogged by bluepills to “figure out what we’re going to do with our lives”, who assume the only worthwhile employment is one in which we sell our time to others for money. We’re told that unless we’re ‘gainfully employed’, we’re wasting our time, purposeless. However, while we might not know “where to go or what to do” with our lives, we do know where we don’t want to go, what we don’t want to do.
We want to sing, to shout, to feel truly alive…but such nonsense is the realm of Lefties, Greenies, Hippies, Humanists, Liberals, Leavers, and all other manner of people closer to Wild than to Civilized on the domestication spectrum, those who still value life over Our Culture’s concept of ‘wealth’. They ask us why we can’t just be ‘normal’ like everyone else (i.e. turn off your brain and don’t think)?
The city lights shine superficially, yet still they call to these suburban youth. Even though they’re unhealthy, unsustainable-by-nature resource-vacuums, we are still drawn to cities, in hopes of finding our tribe and connecting with others like ourselves.

Sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small that we can never get away from the sprawl,
Living in the sprawl, dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains
And there’s no end in sight
I need the darkness, someone please cut the lights

I touched on this in Sprawl I, but I’ll leave it to Mr. Max Brooks to explain this pre-apocalyptic wasteland of modern civilization:

“Cities weren’t cities anymore, you know, they just grew out into this suburban sprawl. Mrs. Ruiz, one of our medics, called it “in-fill.” She was in real estate before the war and explained that the hottest properties were always the land between two existing cities. Freakin’ “in-fill,” we all learned to hate that term. For us, it meant clearing block after block of burbland before we could even think of establishing a quarantine perimeter. Fast-food joints, shopping centers, endless miles of cheap, cookie-cutter housing.” (World War Z, 317).

Based on sentiments suggested by Deep Blue, We Used to Wait, and others, I think it’s safe to assume that cutting the lights includes turning off one’s array of gadgets as well. As for needing someone to cut the lights, I think that’s where folks like Derrick Jensen step in.

Can we ever get away from the Sprawl, living in the Sprawl?

We rode our bikes to the nearest park
Sat under the swings and kissed in the dark
We shield our eyes from the police lights
(I’m pretty sure I’ve heard this as ‘You shield my eyes’, which is really sweet)
We run away, but we don’t know why

Besides the recurring use of the word sprawl, this scene is a pretty solid connection to the first part of this suite—both involve Kids riding bikes at night with police nearby. Why do the Kids in this song instinctively hide and run away from the cops? They’re just hanging out in a park at night, what’s the big deal? Why do we have such an inherent opposition to figures of authority in civilization? Do we know in our hearts that these systems are not acting for our own good? There’s a reason we refer to cops as ‘the long arm of the Law” (as the civilized Law incarnate, these officers are automatically set against the Wild folks who value life over money mentioned earlier).

Black river, your city lights shine
They’re screaming at us, “We don’t need your kind”

Where before the city lights shined and “[called] at me, now that our emblematic protagonist has successfully found her tribe in the urban jungle the lights shine and “[scream] at us. Is this the cycle for postpostmodern youth: born and raised in the suburbs, then drawn to—and subsequently repulsed from—cities, only to return back to the ’burbs to perpetuate the cycle? In an interview I did a few years ago, I suggested that this current batch of sub/urban Millennials should consider resettling in the country instead of in the Sprawl, where they just breed more White yuppie-hipster types.

Or as one reviewer described, the whole Sprawl suite is a “rumination on age and change, how children struggle for years to leave the suburbs for the city only to often welcome the return to the suburbs when the chance arises years later.”

Sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small, can we ever get away from the sprawl?

Me too, Reginé. Me too.

And don’t worry, I haven’t forgot about the wonderful video project for this song. It’ll eventually be covered along with the other audiovisual media the band has produced.

© Ed Graham Photo

Someone please cut the lights?

The Suburbs: ‘Sprawl I’

BLEAK. That’s the only word to describe Flatlands. As the lingering piano of We Used to Wait fades out, we hear a dreary wind begin to blow. Over this comes the slow scraping boom of dejected footsteps. And then that hypnotic lone guitar kicks in, and the bleakness level goes up to eleven. Win’s tortured vocals resonate with their existentially-heartsick plaintive-ness:

Took a drive into the sprawl, to find the house where we used to stay
Couldn’t read the number in the dark, you said, “Let’s save it for another day”

Why don’t they take a walk into the Sprawl? Remember, “first they build the roads, then they built the town;” believe me, the Sprawl is definitely not pedestrian-friendly. Together with the general bleakness of this track, this verse conjures up scenes from McCarthy’s The Road in my head:
The Road
Took a drive into the sprawl to find the places we used to play
It was the loneliest day of my life
You’re talking at me but I’m still far away
Let’s take a drive through the sprawl, through these towns they built to change
But then you said, the emotions are dead; it’s no wonder that you feel so strange

Damn!, this is some serious slit-your-wrists-depressing shit! Again, we see a reprise of one of the album’s underlying themes–connection to a place that doesn’t exist. What can these Kids (and all of Us, for that matter) do when faced with such a recklessly world-consuming, cannibalistic, unsustainable-by-principle, life-annihilating pathology of a culture? Once again, nothing in this system is made to endure or last—towns least of all. When their whole worldview is based on infinite expansion and growth (in what they don’t want to admit is a finite world), the prevailing paradigm isn’t to repair and keep it running (pre-WWII-like), but to tear down and put up a new one in its place. (Of course, sometimes they don’t tear the old one down at all, but still build a new one somewhere else, leaving the old empty husk to decay; more on that in Sprawl II.) Naturally, these things are all made disposably cheap in the first place to make it easy to throw out and replace, because [sarcasm] there couldn’t possibly be a limit to the resources it’ll take to make new ones[/sarcasm], and anyway, this is the way humans were meant to live, right?
When you’re up against The Mess, things can look pretty hopeless. That’s where Arcade Fire come in.

Win Butler isn't a cop, but he plays one on tv.

Win Butler isn’t a cop, but he plays one on tv.

Cops shone their lights on the reflectors of our bikes,
Said, “Do you kids know what time it is?”
“Well sir, it’s the first time I’ve felt like something is mine, like I have something to give”
The last defender of the sprawl said, “Well, where do you kids live?”
“Well sir, if you only knew, what the answer is worth, been searching every corner of the earth…”

Dialogue! Finally, some concrete lines we can put in the mouths of characters – cops and kids!
I wonder if this is this the same time as the earlier verses, when the singer and his friend drive into the sprawl looking for their houses? I’m inclined to think it’s not, and they’re revisiting a memory from their Wasted Hours. Supposedly, these questions are what the local cops in The Woodlands (the ’burb where the Brothers Butler grew up outside Houston) would ask Kids they’d harass.

Imagine this scene: the cops stop the kids (who are just killing time in the cul-de-sacs one night), ask them these questions, and our singer has the audacity to give these ridiculous replies (he’s been well-conditioned to respect the badge and always call cops Sir, which is always a good idea for one’s self-preservation)! I’m surprised the cops don’t face-plant him on the ground right then and there for such cheekiness. I dunno, maybe that happens in an apocryphal final verse.

A word on the cop’s title: Last Defender of The Sprawl. The police here are symbols and figureheads of the civilized system, the embodiment of the anti-tribal law begun with Hammurabi only 3,700 years ago. Don’t it seem strange how in basic Social Studies classes that’s like, the first thing worth mentioning after the so-called ‘discovery’ of agriculture?
Or, as one Songmeanings user expressed it:

“The last defender” is the last cop that was needed to keep the sprawl spreading, because in the past people were fighting against it, against streets and malls taking over the forest, against machines and technology taking over nature and life. The sprawl required defenders and these defenders were cops because the sprawl is basically private property taking over what’s left of our common Earth. Now people don’t fight that anymore, they have surrendered to it, to the vision of human emotion as something undesirable, to the idea of exploiting and making profit out of every single thing in this world.
So, there’s no need for those defenders, anymore. The one in the song is the last one. There’s no need to protect something that’s everywhere. The kids have been searching but there’s no place in the whole world that feels like home anymore.”
Well-put, Graphe.

The Suburbs: ‘We Used to Wait’

We Used to Wait (almost a suite in itself) functions as a companion piece to Deep Blue, dealing with similar themes of technology in recent decades. But while that song focused more on the actual technology itself, this track considers the side-effects of said technology’s now-omnipresence.
The song begins with a lone piano pounding away in A-minor, soon joined by Butler’s croon and sparse percussion; with the fourth line the mix adds an electronically pulsing organ:

I used to write, I used to write letters, I used to sign my name.
I used to sleep at night, before the flashing lights settled deep in my brain
But by the time we met, the times had already changed
(some really funky effects here)

So I never wrote a letter, I never took my true heart, I never wrote it down
So when the lights cut out I was lost standing in the wilderness downtown…

Win is singing here on two levels: on the surface, yes, it’s about how he no longer writes letters. But go a level deeper—and it’s a bit more sinister—and it’s a commentary on the sped-up pace of today’s world. If Arcade Fire’s songs are any indication, our media-oversaturated broadband culture is creating a generation of emotionally-numb insomniacs.

In that last line, why have the lights cut out? Is this a repetition of the violent wind/solar flare motif from Month of May? Did someone cut the lights (as Reginé pleads in Sprawl II)?
For that matter, what is ‘the wilderness downtown’ (besides an exceptional media experience we’ll look at later)? Is this perhaps sometime after, and we’re speaking of a literal, re-wilded city, the end result of the Wilderness Downtown video?:
City Reclaimed
Or is it a comment on the fact that in Our society, our educational system churns out graduates without the knowledge necessary for true survival (because in Our Culture, being able to survive amounts to being an obedient worker so you can collect green pieces of paper to exchange for rent and locked-up food) in the uncivilized Wild?

Now our lives are changing fast
Hope that something pure can last

Seems pretty self-explanatory.

Don’t it seem strange, how we used to wait for letters to arrive?
But what’s stranger still is how something so small can keep you alive

Indeed. I’ve been there, spending a summer waiting for a postcard from a distant like-minded lady-friend. And when those letters arrive, man, there’s the whole experience of it: opening the envelope, getting a waft of perfume, unfolding the pages, reading, the whisper of paper as you turn the pages, aahhhh… It’s the same with CDs; I’m not a vinyl snob in terms of sound (“but LPs sound so warm!” they all tell me), but I do like the ritual: admiring the square foot of album art, sliding the album out of the sleeves, putting it on the turntable, lowering the needle, and that sound as the needle drops. Ugh, there’s no permanence to electronic forms of books, music, correspondence—it’s just electrons zipping around; cut the power and it’s gone.

We used to wait, we used to waste hours just walking around
We used to wait, all those wasted lives in the wilderness downtown

There are those adolescent ‘wasted hours’ again. I’m still not sure what the wilderness he speaks of here is, because I’m really drawing a blank on all the wasted lives there. Some have suggested that the wasted lives are the corporate Suits, going to their soul-crushing cubicle jobs because they pay the bills, but being ultimately miserable and unfulfilled because they’re not “[writing] a letter to [their] true love”. Or as Eugene Hutz puts it: “zombies and willful slaves, living in their tiny private caves/crooked hands, digging up their graves”:

Okay, it's from a Pearl Jam video, but the idea is the same.

Okay, it’s from a Pearl Jam video, but the idea is the same.

I’m gonna write a letter to my true love, I’m gonna sign my name
Like a patient on a table I wanna walk again, gonna move through the pain

There’s a lotta talk on this album about moving past feelings and moving through pain. Huh.

We used to wait for it, now we’re screaming “Sing the chorus again”
I used to wait for it, Now I’m screaming “Sing the chorus again”
Wait for it!

Win now applies the immediate-gratification aspect of digital culture to his own circle of the music industry. I remember growing up, you’d hear a song on the radio, and you didn’t know when you’d hear it again; sometimes it felt like you could go years without hearing a particular song, and then one day there it was, outta the blue, and man, it just made your day. With a simple switch in pronoun, Butler admits that he’s not immune to this technological convenience either, but he doesn’t have to like it—remember, this is from the same guy who “don’t want it faster, don’t want it free”. In the end, the listener is urged to cultivate patience, and wait for it!

The Suburbs: ‘Wasted Hours’

As it closes, Month of May forms yet anther two-part movement with a fade from thumpy 80s rock into laid-back strummy guitar.

All those wasted hours we used to know
Spent the summer staring out the window
The wind, it takes you where it wants to go

Here in this song is where we see the origin of the message most people take away from this album—that “wasted time is sometimes more meaningful than the stuff that “matters”. Those carefree days in which, while we didn’t do anything ‘productive’, we made friends and goofed off and hung out, and gods willing, hopefully we’ll keep in touch with them after we are shoved out the door into the ‘real world’ (aka the wage-slave prison).
I like how the verse’s last line has an element of allowing oneself to be swept along by a natural force. You don’t go where you want to go—you go where the wind wants to go. Don’t try to force your ego and desires; instead, yield to and follow those natural currents.

First they built the road, then they built the town
That’s why we’re still driving around and around
And all we see are kids in buses longing to be free

Hmm, I have the strangest feeling we’ve heard this before… As before:
LLipton-Round&Round
Why, I wonder, are all these kids trying desperately to escape? Could it be perhaps that the Suburbs (and the System as a whole) don’t work for people?

Some cities make you lose your head
Endless suburbs stretched out thin and dead
And what was that line you said?
Something about how our time it owns us…

Interesting how it’s some—not all—cities; I guess the key is finding the ones that don’t make you go crazy. Powerful last line, and I have the damnedest time expressing it in words, so here’s some propaganda I hope expresses the same sentiment:
time was made for slaves - smash the clocks of domination
Wishing you were anywhere but here
You watch the life you’re living disappear
And now I see, we’re still kids in buses longing to be free:
SuckerPunchBusToParadise

In this verse, our singer sees his old friend from the wasted hours in the suburbs. The friend has likely ‘grown up’ and done all the things Our Culture says we’re supposed to do to be ‘successful’—go to college, get a job, buy a car, work your way up the ladder, get married, have some kids, &c.—and as a result he has become stuck in the Prison of a nine-to-five, 40-hour-week job, order takeout for supper, glued to the television every evening, beer and televised sports on the weekends. He is miserable and wants out  (first line ^), as this soul-crushing industrialized way of life is antithetical to the idea of freedom that they likely clung to as youngsters before they were fully ‘civilized’. In this routine, each year goes by in a blur, each one faster than the one before (second line ^).

Wasted hours before we knew where to go and what to do
Wasted hours that you made new and turned into a life that we can live

 I was seventeen when the last Star Wars film came out. I had spent the previous ten years immersing myself in that galaxy far, far away, absorbing the lessons encoded in those frames of film. One day in May, my best friend and I put the finishing touches on our junior year of high school, went home to watch the first two episodes, went to the midnight showing of the third, drove home, slept in the yard, and spent the next day watching the classic trilogy back-to-back. When it was over, I looked at him and I asked, “Now what? What do we do now?” That decade we spent hobbit-camping in the woods and studying the holy trilogies was our Wasted Hours. I think I decided that day that I needed to use what I’d learned, to ensure those hours weren’t just killing time before I got forced into a meaningless job. Which is why I teach those lessons I first learned from Old Ben and the others in everything I do—lessons of the Living Force and my place in the community of life, that are written on the universe for all to see. I hope I’ve taken those hours and “turned them into a life that we can live”.