Posts Tagged ‘Suburbs’

Doomsday Preppers: David Mays

Alright, folks. It would seem DP has finally jumped the shark—or at the very least, hit peak media oversaturation, and exhausted its fifteen minutes as a rating$ juggernaut—and stopped producing new episodes, which mean there are only two I have left to cover this season…and I really couldn’t be happier. It’ll be a big weight lifted off my shoulders when I won’t have to subject myself to watching this program (one which, in the big picture, turned out to be pretty sensationalist, exploitative, and generally detestable) for the bigger purpose of uncooling its message.

It’s not 2012 anymore, and I think folks are kinda sick of ‘reality’ shows about midlife-crisis, middle-class white guys with more money than sense, delusions of grandeur, and hard-ons for ‘tactical’ weaponry and foodbuckets. Don’t worry, they’re still out there; but the media landscape has (unsurprisingly) shifted over the past two years to the point where Prepperdom isn’t such a hot commodity anymore. Which is fine by me, because while it means a little less blog traffic for this page, it also means less toxic, deluded, status quo-y notions being broadcast into the public mindspace.

Anyway, episode ‘Nobody Will Be Ready’ cuts between the two Davids from Tennesseee; both guys are supposedly (but not unreasonably) preparing for a quake along the New Madrid fault line.
First up is David Mays:

© NatGeo/Sharp Entertainment

Transparency clause: David and his wife Holly run an essential oils business (remember, this show has almost always been about ‘preppers’ using their appearance as publicity for their own enterprises).
Even though they live in a tract of burbland, their family seems to be taking some good first steps to increase their self-reliance by raising silkie chickens in the backyard, and growing aeroponic vegetables in a vertical garden tower.

But David’s main hobby, it seems, is flying drones!
Huh.
While the military-capitalist-corporate-industrial hegemons rain down remote-piloted death and destruction on foreign civilians of colour, here at home the basic technology has trickled down to the prosumer level, allowing armchair hobbyists to tinker about and remote-pilot their own camera-equipped drones around their pre-apocalyptic suburban wastelands! Isn’t our modern age great?

David’s plan post-quake is apparently to use his ‘drone army’ to ‘patrol’ his neighborhood, and equip them with various payloads—like one of those GoPro cameras that are all the rage right now, or a disposable camera-turned-improvised taser, or an ultralight silver parachute of medical supplies.
I dunno, I feel like it might just be easier and more productive/rewarding for David and/or the family to get out in the neighborhood on foot, meet their neighbors face-to-face, and start turning their subdivision into an actual community. Get a couple more families in the cul-de-sac on the chickens-and-gardening bandwagon and they could have the seeds of a nice little self-reliant network. Just a suggestion.

Doomsday Preppers: Greg

© NatGeo/Sharp Entertainment
Our other prepper in this episode is Greg (no last name, though this is his website, and youtube channel)
Greg lives in the ‘burbs south of Nashville with a wife, daughter, and son. His prevailing worry is for an “economic collapse and the chaos that will follow”.
He goes on to recite the usual mantra about how after a collapse, money will be worthless and one’s savings account will just be numbers on paper. However, what he (or anybody else, for that matter) doesn’t seem to realize is that said money is already inherently worthless—everyone just treats it as valuable because everybody else still goes along with it. ‘Money’ is weird that way.

He shows off his preps in the ’burbs home—rain barrels, eight months of food, a garden, and rabbits. Not bad! Plus, we see that most of that stored food is home-canned, which is even better.
In addition to the house in the ’burbs, he also has a 30-acre property at an undisclosed rural location.

On this property Greg wants to build an innovative shelter for his family—instead of bugging out when things look rough, he wants to bug up. Apparently, Greg has had this idea for an ‘invisible treehouse’ for a while, and the producers thought it was so crazy they helped him make it happen. And so the majority of the segment is spent building this mirrored-box-on-stilts in the woods. Basically, it’s based around the idea of ‘adaptive camouflage’ so that it will always reflect its surroundings, which is handy for changing seasons. Of course, if you go out at night with a flashlight it’d be seen a mile away.
Semantically, I’m not even sure they should be calling it a ‘treehouse’—which in my mind, should involve being built in/on/around an actual tree. This thing is more of a ‘high hide among trees’. Whatever.
© NatGeo/Sharp Entertainment
In the larger scheme of things, however, this ‘treehouse’ really just takes the place of other preppers’ underground backyard bunkers, in that they speak of escaping to them without a real plan in mind. Sure, you might stash some foodbuckets in your shelter, but to what end? How long do you expect to be staying there? How are you going to occupy your time while you’re there? These things deserve serious consideration.
Anyway, since Greg’s hypothetical scenario involves his family holing up in the ‘treehouse’, while—like the previous subject—he remains their sole protector (get them involved), he digs a little ‘spider hole’ nearby to help him get the drop on any intruders. Hey, at least his little periscope is pretty neat.

Oh, and in the interest of drama, Greg’s wife is scared of heights and so is unwilling to climb the rope ladder into the treehouse? His solution is to screw a board behind it so that the climber doesn’t swing while climbing; however this addition kind of negates the whole camouflaged point of the structure. Meh; whatever.

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.

wilderness_downtown

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”.

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: ‘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!