Distance is one of those factors that favors lying. The farther away you are from a person, circumstance or situation, the easier it is to believe completely untrue assertions regarding anything and anyone. Rarely is this fact more obvious than with political propaganda. History is full of mendacious leaders and politicians looking to provoke conflicts by disseminating patently false claims about an enemy.
Often, whole-cloth lies are used to instigate ill will between two factions by a third party who stands to benefit by their mutual destruction; a tactic frequently used by the British Empire in India throughout Victorian times. One such incident led to a deadly escalation between two warring camps, when the Her Majesty’s minions spread parallel rumors, telling one side their enemies greased their gun barrels with pig oil and the other, that cow grease was used by them for the same purpose. Since either side held each particular animal sacred, the results were predictably bad.
When the distance is both spatial and cultural, a lie is almost impossible to expose. Such a great advantage has been enjoyed by the United States for decades. The targets of their Tomahawk missiles and drone strikes have been, generally, very far away from the its shores. The horrific profiles painted in the mainstream press of their chosen antagonists are laughably absurd, yet completely believable to the vast majority of Americans, who are fed a steady diet of Hollywood stereotypes and hero-worship. Saddam, Gaddafi, Assad, Putin, and so many others are the devil incarnate for a gullible, TV-guzzling, social media-crazed public, unimaginable to Howard Beal himself.
The so-called Military Industrial Complex – a fancy term for a crude partnership between government and the arms sector – has ridden this wave of cognitive dissonance to an unprecedented expansion of muscle around the globe. With over 800 military bases erected o virtually every continent, only the most alienated still challenge the fact that the good ole’ US of A is an empire.
But, thanks to the relentless indoctrination afforded by the most sophisticated storytelling machine in the history of humankind, hundreds of millions actually believe in the fairy tale of a benevolent overlord. Like Madeline Albright, they consider the murder of hundreds of thousands of children the price of freedom and democracy.
Americans are either ignorant of the crimes committed in their names in countries they’ve never heard of or they accept the ludicrous premise offered by their leaders: “They’re bad, we’re good”. Holding fast to such a simplistic concept of the world calls sanity into question. At the very least, it points to the stunted development of critical faculties. The increasing frequency of mass shootings and extreme polarization around relatively inconsequential issues is a symptom of a society running out of coping mechanisms.
Now we have Venezuela on the threshold. Another resource grab by the most energy-intensive economy on the planet, cloaked in the reliably effective fable of good and evil. The usual covert activities to vilify and uplift the proper parties has been ongoing for over a decade, but the U.S. public will only hear what has been curated for them.
As the cultural distance grows by leaps and bounds, the physical distance becomes less critical to maintain the lies. Trump’s wall has already shown this to be true and as the border discourse grows louder the distance between us becomes greater. We can expect, in turn, for the lies to get bigger and the false threats to get closer.
If you were dropped in the middle of Mexico City, Buenos Aires or Bogotá and tried to find a Latin American, you would never come across a single person who described themselves as such. No matter how deep into Rio’s favelas or the most recondite parts of the Nicaraguan jungle you looked, such a creature would be more elusive than the Loch Ness monster.
Although coined by the French during their Napoleonic bid for a world empire the term has seeped, naturally, into the lexicon of the current and far more powerful global hegemon, the United States of America. Its purpose then was much the same as it is now: to homogenize a plurality and subsume separate and distinct peoples under a singular socio-political paradigm, based on etymology. Never mind that millions of the region’s inhabitants – the original ones, in fact – spoke and speak their own native languages, which are completely unrelated to the romance varieties imported from Europe.
Latin Americans, Latinos and the more recently concocted Latinx are all things, that only exist here in the house McDonald’s built; an expedient way to identify television market share, with no real social value. Second and third generation immigrants might adopt the format in public. But, behind closed doors, at family reunions and when they go back to visit grandma in the old country, nobody claims to belong to a contrived pan-lat-am diaspora. They are loyal to their own vocabularies and songs, unique to the places they come from.
The American penchant for lumping people from different backgrounds and cultures together is not new, of course. Their infamously bad grasp of geography is often on display and hardly draws any shame. On the contrary, they seem to relish it; as if not knowing where Peru is on a map is a sort of humblebrag display of domination.
Just yesterday, none other than the éminence grise of American broadcast journalism, Tom Brokaw, revealed his own cultural chauvinism when he tried to backtrack from comments he had made about Hispanics on a TV show. The comment itself calling on “Hispanics” work harder on assimilation, while reeking of MAGA-esque intolerance, was not particularly noteworthy or unexpected. It was his clumsy Twitterpology (yes, I made it up), that perfectly encapsulates my argument.
i feel terrible a part of my comments on Hispanics offended some members of that proud culture
Historians typically frame Simon Bolivar’s attempt to bring every nation of the Americas under one flag in a noble light. But, it was just another imperialist doing what imperialists do. I didn’t work then and no amount of Latin Grammy award shows will make it work now.
Astronauts Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) and Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) discuss their concerns about the onboard computer HAL 9000 in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” | Warner Bros.
There is a beast lurking under the Internet. A leviathan thrashing about in a colossal, silicon cage. An elite group of gate keepers guard against its discovery. The big data Brahmins, with their clickers and turtlenecks, distract us with fancy lingo and shiny toys as they lead us to the slaughter. Stupefied, we line up like cows; vacuum tubes attached to our proverbial udders.
Unaware of its very existence, we give it nourishment day after day. All of our insights, thoughts and attention – the milk of humanity – is usurped to satisfy this monstrosity. Instead of enriching our real lives with our conscious awareness, we forfeit the pleasure of our own company to rub and tap our fingers on a screen for hours on end, producing the binary coded sparks devoured by the grumbling behemoth.
So massively and so quickly does the creature grow, that its abode must be expanded almost daily. Warehouse after warehouse is commandeered to accommodate the arrays of plastic and metal, which make up its gargantuan presence. Its scale has no limits and as long as we continue to provide it sustenance, the enormous obscenity will keep getting bigger and bigger.
They call it Artificial Intelligence, and virtually every social media platform we use is a front for its development. Any ostensible uses Facebook, Twitter or similar websites claim to offer are simply hooks to entice us. They are designed to approximate actual social interaction and fool us into “talking” to the machine. Our “friends” and “followers” may or may not see our posts, but the machine is always listening, always watching and always recording. Even what we catch and delete mid-post is kept in its memory bank.
The quality of your connection to other human beings is of no value to the Big data Brahmins. They aren’t trying to help you talk to your neighbor or achieve meaningful social rapport through their sites. They are just after your social cues and responses, and they will come up with any and every trick to get you to engage with their big data-crunching machines. Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, death itself; you name it… Any excuse is good enough to prod you into engaging. ‘Like’ buttons, emoticons, share functions, photo filters; all of these are just peripheral user-experience tools, that allow them to manipulate the instinctively human need to belong, and trick you into feeding the machine.
Snake Oil Transhumanism
Animating the covert motivations of this latter-day Sanhedrin is a quasi-ideology based on a childish notion of existence; one that flagrantly ignores the unfathomable mystery that operates human consciousness.
The idea of “Transhumanism” has been floating in the world’s collective consciousness for a good while, now. With Hollywood, as usual, churning out one cheap plot after another with some variation of a human-robot amalgam over the last half-century. From Star Trek to Ex-Machina, the concept is well-ingrained in popular culture, and buttressed by pseudo-academics like Raymond Kurzweil – the leading transhumanist evangelist – who present ideas such as the “singularity” with the hubristic inflection of a fiat accompli.
The tenor of inevitability many of its evangelizers employ is, frankly, offensive. Just a few months ago, I witnessed as much at a conference for one of the world’s most important financial organizations. The closing plenary speaker introduced herself as a “Cyborg Anthropologist”. Whether this was a cute, made-up title she gave herself to sell more books, or an actual degree issued by Harvard – the institution said speaker graduated from – is not something I’ve yet decided to research. It’s enough, for now, that she used it to identify herself before the representatives of the world’s financial elite.
In her address and subsequent Q & A with the organization’s CEO, the charming young lady framed her comments about the merging of technology into our daily lives with the same casual inevitability of her peers. In this particular case, she was speaking to the fusing of banking and payments into the fabric of our normal, day-to-day routines, so that such “mundane” tasks could be as seamless as possible. To illustrate her point, she told the audience about a smartlight installed in her kitchen, which automatically shifted hue and temperature depending on the time of day. She remarked how comforting it was to wake up in the morning and make her coffee under the warm glow of a time-appropriate light source – which, she emphasized, didn’t require any thought or effort on her part or even the unwelcome intrusion of real weather conditions, which might affect her artificially preordained atmosphere.
Presumably, this would be the goal for a technologically-enhanced life. The elimination of perceived inconveniences or undesirable conditions through algorithmically programed delegation. Like paying those pesky banking fees, for instance.
For decades, film buffs and critics alike, have been trying to figure out the meaning behind the next-to last scene in Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, “2001 – A Space Odyssey”, where astronaut, Dave Bowman, appears to spend his last few hours of life in a room featuring 17th century European decor, but with a markedly futuristic feel. All creature comforts seem to be available to the frail man until his death finds him lying in bed, surrounded by what can only be described as a morbid sterility.
When that movie was made, our current state of technological dependence was still decades away. But, perhaps because 1968 was close enough to glean the possibilities, a visionary genius like Kubrick could easily intuit the ultimate consequences of life fatally tethered to technology.
The big data Brahmins believe their programmatically modulated LED lights are an acceptable substitute for the sun, just as they think a silicon circuit board or other substrate moving binary data around is an acceptable substitute for the human brain. Ultimately, these are nothing but the megalomaniacal musings of insane individuals, who have lost touch with reality – or perhaps sold their soul – and should be treated like the good Dave Bowman treated the HAL-9000 super computer.
Have you ever considered the fact that millions of people are working to provide corporations, like Facebook and YouTube with the product they turn around and use to make vast fortunes – for free? Why are we investing our time creating content so that the Zuckerbergs of the world can get filthy rich?
There’s nothing social about our “social media”. At most, it magnifies the worst about us and their ubiquity provides cover to the shameless propagation of our vanity, pettiness and self-pity. Only momentum, falsely-inflated user numbers and the device-consumption cycle has allowed it to persist to this point.
But, what are these shiny, colorful, computerized objects if not just interfaces to get your data into the data aggregators, and data aggregating devices themselves? Every release will have some new bells and whistles to help close the sale. Usually, a marginally better camera to “up” your Instagram game, or some other unnecessary “convenience”.
Not everyone will have the wherewithal to understand the implications of what the big data Brahmins want to impose on us. Most, in fact, will readily brush off any concerns as the paranoid thoughts of neo-Luddites. Others may actually want such a world to come to fruition, whether as a result of their own ignorance or because they are somehow invested in its implementation. Only a few of us will comprehend what is really at stake.
Big data has its uses. And fantastic uses they certainly are. From Google Earth to real-time parsing of information for complex systems like agriculture or genetic sequencing, big data is a revolutionary leap forward in technological capability. But society and community, are no place for big data.
In as much as society constitutes an interconnected cohesion among groups of people, big data is a detriment; a peerless tool for pattern analysis and broad scheme implementations, it is, nonetheless, a poor social glue. After all, what does an algorithm know about the enigma of life? Absolutely nothing. We cannot rely on the law of averages or geo-location to determine who we will fall in love with; who our friends or even our enemies will be. These are strictly human endeavors and no amount of so-called social concept-sites will ever replace the journey we undertake as individuals to find ourselves and each other.
In Miami, one of the most popular phrases used by our political class is the ever present “American Dream”; the go-to euphemism for social mobility and odd rebuttal to the residents’ continued demands for better public transit.
A Better Life?
Cars, according to County Commission Chairman Esteban Bovo, are part of the so-called American Dream. For the people who move to Miami from all over the world, toll-roads, expressways and bumper-to-bumper traffic on Bird Road is the fulfillment of a yearning they carry over from their respective Latin American ‘shit holes’. Buses and trains? That’s just a bad dream.
While Bovo pays lip service to the transit-challenged population, engaging in visible marketing bus adventures, the pervasive mentality among his ilk – who otherwise never step foot in a bus – is decidedly anti-public transit.
Just a few days ago, Bovo put out this telling tweet:
Using the @IRideMDT app made the experience good. I use Metrorail often, however the bus doesn’t work for me since I have my son in camp and meetings all over town. https://t.co/jyExnaWlla
Perhaps the commissioner is unaware that most people in Miami have children, too, and taking “meetings all over town” is about as feasible on a Miami-Dade bus as getting to a 9-to-5 on time. Perhaps the bus “doesn’t work” for him because it doesn’t work for anybody.
El Sueño Cubano
With few exceptions, wherever you look on the County Seat dais, instead of representatives we find agents of developer interests masquerading as elected officials, who carry a chip on their shoulder about a boogey man in another country altogether. It’s almost as if these guys have been making policy in Miami for the last 30 years just to ‘stick it’ to Castro, and show him how capitalist capitalism can be. To them, public transit is an expression of socialism, it seems. The car, on the other hand, embodies the ‘free market’ ethos they ostensibly champion, while rigging the game for their developer friends in back room deals.
The Mayor, who staked his entire re-election campaign on public transit, has invoked the so-called American Dream to excuse one of the most unbelievable about faces in recent memory, comparable only to George Bush’s “Read my lips. No new taxes.” Giménez even had the audacity, after circulating campaign materials with the words “More Rail Lines” directly above his pepper shade comb over, to dismiss rail as “19th century technology”, shortly before taking a publicly-funded trip to China with a 15-people entourage. The two-week sojourn was billed as a fact-finding mission for innovative transit solutions; a laughable premise, which never seemed to produce any kind of official – or unofficial- report of their observations. The only notable fact to come out of the Asian vacation was the Mayor’s absolute silence about the tragedy of the collapsed FIU pedestrian bridge. Despite having direct family connections to the company, which designed the ill-fated structure, not a single word came from Beijing or wherever in the Middle Kingdom Carlos Giménez happened to be at the time.
It’s also not a trivial matter that the Mayor traveled to a communist country to conduct business, and everyone who lives in Miami should get the joke. As a member of the world’s leading anti-communist exile community, Carlos Giménez and the rest of the Cuban-born gang who presides over the vast majority of local government seats have made a living backing a five-decade old economic embargo on ‘la patria’, and condemning everything left of your right hand’s pinky finger.
Cars Killed the Dream
The irony is that the automobile itself is to blame for the demise of the so-called American dream.
For close to a century, the American working class managed to gain benefits and increase wages, while reducing the number of hours they had to put in each day. This, in turn, resulted in the creation of the biggest middle class in modern history. The automobile was a big part of that process, spurring growth and entrepreneurship.
The federal highway system and urban roadway development gave rise to the car-based, American lifestyle characterized by suburban sprawl, malls and the big box store. It was an ode to prosperity as each generation bequeathed a higher standard of living to the next. This was the American Dream, and for a few decades it actually worked.
As Dr. Richard Wolff from the New School so clearly lays out in this lecture from 2009, the 1970’s was the beginning of the end. Since then, corporate profits have consistently soared while wages have stagnated, remaining at virtually the same level. The rise of productivity coupled with flat lining wages allowed corporations to acquire massive wealth, while the workforce they employed had no choice but to turn to credit cards to bridge the gap between income and their desire to continue to living the American Dream.
General Motors, was among the first companies to take advantage of the American working class’ new plight, and decided to go into the mortgage lending business, expanding the scope of their original car loan business, GMAC. The General Motors Acceptance Corporation kick-started what would become the credit card/debt boom in the United States. The automobile, in particular, would be used as the asset, which underpinned the burgeoning credit-based economy. Linchpin of the small loan industry, cars have been used to both issue loans and secure credit lines using the vehicle as collateral.
Television is riddled with car commercials, that flash financing and leasing terms on the screen. Every movie and TV series, almost without exception, promotes the idea of car ownership as a status symbol, rite of passage and the key to all your dreams come true, especially as it relates to sexual prowess. Anyone who knows the history of the diamond trade and how DeBeers manipulated public perception through movies and stealthy advertising techniques to literally create a market out of thin air, knows this is not an accident.
The unpolished truth is that cars are little more than debt traps. Gateway credit drugs designed to hook people on a lifetime of interest payments and modern-day indentured servitude. The literal American nightmare.
The children and grandchildren of the ‘exilio’ have heard the stories of dispossession and betrayal. If “El Sueño Americano” makes a cameo, it carries with it a certain melancholy, double entendre that reveals the real dream of their redemptive return to the island. This place called Miami is really just a way-station. It was never part of the plan. Smart or otherwise.
If the past keeps informing our actions in the present, then we are simply sowing the seeds for history to repeat itself. At some point, you have to let go. Miami is ready to move on. Francis X. Suárez is the first Miami-born Mayor the city has ever had. His father, County Commissioner Xavier Suárez, is one of the few voices in the County who seems resolutely against building more toll roads and regularly advocates for better transit solutions, though he, too, has been known to indulge in the occasional fawning over personal internal combustion engines.
The Columbus High alum, Francis Suárez, has hitched his wagon to Beckham’s soccer stadium as the first major project of his era. The wisdom of this move is yet to be seen, but the city’s very recent history with sports stadiums does not augur a good outcome. A serious lack of transparency in the process and the young leader’s full-on support of the massive development is concerning, to say the least. Hopefully, as the first native mayor, he will identify as a resident of this city first and foremost, understanding that Miami is not Havana 2.0 anymore.
Miami needs leadership that sees the city as more than a tourist trap or a preferred destination for asset flight of Latin American grifters. It’s time for the people of this community to stand up and demand a public transit system on par with the enormous potential of this beautiful place. The cost of neglecting transit for decades is already manifesting, and will ultimately inflict a terrible toll on the future of Miami if nothing is done to stop the irresponsible, short-sighted and tone-deaf approaches we have endured for years.
Our commissioners and representatives keep dreaming about America. But, this is our bed and we’re the ones laying in it. It’s time to wake up.
It’s Ultra Music Festival time, and the kids are back with their short shorts, fishnet stockings and lollipops to let loose for a few days in Downtown Miami. We took some pictures as Ultramiami kicks off, and thousands descend on the Magic City for their annual EDM ritual.
Once in a while, you get lucky in Miami. No, not that kind of lucky; the kind that lets you escape the ubiquitous flashiness and frivolous pursuits that characterize our touristy enclave. Last night, at the North Miami Beach Bandshell, everyone got lucky and witnessed a virtuoso performance by acclaimed Iranian musician, Sahba Motallebi, who was accompanied on stage by Naghmeh Farahmand, an accomplished percussionist trained by her father, Mahmoud Farahmand, considered a master of ancient Persian drum music in Iran.
Motallebi’s story is one of resilience in the face of religious and gender bias in her country, which she left in 2003 to pursue graduate studies. Although her supreme talent was recognized by winning the Best Tar Player award in the Iran Music Festival for four consecutive years, the graduate of the Tehran Conservatory of Music was impeded from continuing her studies as a result of being part of Iran’s largest non-Muslim minority, the Bahá’í. The fact that she was also breaking into the traditionally male-dominated world of Tar playing, made her advancement that much more difficult. At the age of 27, she left Iran for Russia, and later Turkey to further her musical education. Motallebi would eventually emigrate to the United States, where she resides today with her husband and two daughters.
Beyond the strings
Sahba Motallebi travels the world performing her beautiful compositions for the Tar, which means “string” in Persian, and is one of the oldest known musical instruments. The Tar is both the literal and linguistic ancestor of the guitar (gui-tar), which was brought to Spain by gypsies, and is the direct progenitor of Flamenco and other rich musical traditions of the Iberian Peninsula.
In a recent interview with the Miami New Times, Motallebi said that she sees herself as an ambassador for Iranian culture: “Naghmeh Farahmand and I are trying to introduce audiences to Iran through our music.” As well as a role model for Iranian women: “They are going to see me as a person that is going to talk on their behalf, on behalf of women who don’t have civil rights.”
Her passion for music and learning has led Motallebi to impart her knowledge through online instructional materials, which she does whenever she’s not on tour. Fortunately for us, she came to our little slice of dubstep hell, and graced the audience at the outdoor beach venue with a magical and inspiring performance many won’t soon forget. The first piece of the concert is presented in the video, and if you find yourself wishing you could listen to the rest of the show, all I can say is, better luck next time.
The “Big Bang” is a popular term for the prevailing scientific view of the origin of the universe; a secular creation story of sorts. For most people of a certain younger generation, though, it is just a funny show on T.V. “The Big Bang Theory” has been a highly successful situation comedy on NBC for all of a decade and given the characters’ backstories, ubiquitous scientific jargon and mathematical references it wouldn’t seem wrong to assume that science is the thematic basis for the show’s title. But if we take off our Einstein-colored glasses for a moment and adopt a less ‘Sheldonesque’ perspective, we might come away with a far more mundane view of the matter.
In our 21st century slang lexicon, the word “bang” occupies a special place. Crossing cultural, class and even racial barriers this verb has become a universally accepted expression for casual intercourse. The one barrier it did not cross is the one between the sexes. In the largely genderless English language, this particular example of urban cant is decidedly masculine and, to some degree, sexist.
The ‘big bang’, stripped of its scientific connotation and placed in the context of comedy and popular culture, can easily be interpreted as a euphemism for sexual debauchery. Taken just a bit further, it closely resembles a term coined by the porn industry: the gang bang. In another, though no less significant, definition of the word it can mean a loud explosion, usually from a gun or a bomb.
By breaking down the structure, elements and characters of the show, a strong case can be made that “The Big Bang Theory” show is an allegorical depiction of sexual roles in society rather than a teleplay about a group of quirky scientists. It can also be speculated that it targets a very specific and uniquely traumatized segment of the American population.
The show revolves around the lives of five characters, four males and one female. The men are all high-achieving members of the scientific community, intellectually gifted but socially awkward. The female is much the opposite; portrayed as vastly inferior to the men in mental competence, yet adept at social interactions. These are the basic character profiles upon which the show’s storylines hang; all of which center on sex.
Adding credence to this idea is the fact that producers had originally given one of the protagonists, Sheldon Cooper, the sex-fiend, incorrigible ‘horn dog’ character traits, which eventually ended up as part of the less important role of Howard Wolowitz.
Instead, the tallest cast member is made to play an asexual genius who constantly talks down and passes judgement on the social-sexual habits of his circle of friends. The brunt of his contempt is reserved for the lone female character. Penny is an aspiring actress who is otherwise portrayed as a slut and identified in a running gag as nothing more than an ape with breasts. It is between these two polarities – from the unblemished mind of a theoretical physicist to the alcohol-bruised brain of a promiscuous Midwestern girl – that the creators of The Big Bang Theory want to weave a story about sexual dynamics in our society.
Penny is literally the “girl next door”, a well-established archetype in American culture, which enshrines the permanent male fantasy of an accessible woman. She’s a “one-of-the-guys” kind of gal who’s into sports and unambiguous about her sexual desire. In other words, Penny is the anti-woman. Directly opposite her character is Leonard, who is himself an anti-man figure. He is an emotionally open, if fragile, individual who compensates for the lack of a nurturing mother by seeking solace between Penny’s legs. The girl next door, however, doesn’t want children, which is part of her appeal. She’s at arm’s length – both within reach and requiring no commitment.
The Big Bang Theory has been on T.V. for at least a third and at most half of the average viewers’ lifetimes. In 2014, 84.2 million people watched at least 6 minutes of the show; roughly 30% of the U.S. population. – source:Vulture
Writer & Editor
Big Bang Genesis
Procreation, as the ultimate purpose of ‘banging’ is an ever present element on the show through the parental relationships of the characters, who interact with their parents in important ways.
Rajesh, the Indian astrophysicist, regularly communicates with his wealthy parents via internet video chat, who always seem to be concerned with the preservation of his genetic lineage, even as his best friend, Howard, relentlessly makes him the butt of all manner of racist and bigoted jokes. The point is further reinforced by Rajesh’s sister’s doomed relationship with Leonard as a result of her parents’ interference. The dark-skinned immigrant character is firmly established as undesirable by his own impotence around women and only alcohol can help him overcome his crippling inhibitions. It is also worth noting that his parents represent the only parental couple who remain in a traditional bond of marriage.
Both Leonard’s and Sheldon’s parental situation must be considered together, since these are used as plot points to present opposing world views. In each case, the father is absent by either divorce or abandonment. It is through the mother’s differing viewpoints that the conflict between creationism and evolution is engaged and it is through the perceived status of each offspring within their respective families that it is resolved.
According to Sheldon’s mother, her son’s superior intellect is the result of forces beyond her comprehension, which she is happy to ascribe to her religious beliefs. Despite the ideological chasm between her and Sheldon, she considers him nothing less than extraordinary. Leonard’s mother, on the other hand, sees her son as an underachiever whose value as a guinea pig for her child psychology experiments superseded any sort of maternal instinct. The same dynamic is repeated in the relationship of the roommates themselves, where Sheldon considers Leonard to be of inferior intellectual stock, while Leonard begrudgingly accepts his friend’s genius. Closing this odd oedipal circle, Sheldon and Leonard find a kindred spirit in each other’s mothers.
The Freudian nightmare intensifies with Howard. Echoing Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s horror masterpiece, the scrawny space engineer still lives with his mother, who exists only as a screeching disembodied voice in his childhood home. They are constantly getting into shouting matches about trite domestic issues like an old married couple. Even though we never see her, we know she is obese and requires special attention, which her son reluctantly provides until she is literally killed off and replaced with a wife/mother figure in Bernadette who moves into the same house. As the proverbial “momma’s boy” with an unchecked libido, Howard resides in a quasi-incestuous reality.
Penny’s family history is not as developed as that of the other characters for reasons we’ll touch on below, but she also comes from a broken home with the salient difference of having been raised by her father, which sets her up for the “daddy issues” stereotype associated with easy women.
Penny, Penny, Penny
The Penny character is key to our understanding of the show’s underlying message. Among the more subtle factoids about her is that, among all the characters, she is the only one whose last name is never mentioned at any point during the show. This omission cannot be attributed to gender alone since the other two supporting female roles are given last names. In order to fathom why the lead female character would lack such a significant feature, we must delve deeper into the symbolism behind her character.
The lowest denomination of American currency is the penny. The one-cent, copper mint has developed several different connotations in society, such as stinginess, frugality and others. But, the most common association the coin has is with the concept of luck. “See a penny, pick it up. All day long you’ll have good luck” is a phrase most Americans know.
Immortalized in the hugely popular coming-of-age musical ‘Grease’, this melodious expression perpetuates the idea of the lucky penny from generation to generation in one of the few relics of oral tradition. The fortuitous nature of luck makes activities like gambling irresistible for millions of people. The fear of losing it all combined with the possibility of striking it rich has proven addictive in many cases, perhaps because it mirrors a biological imperative. Mating in human society requires a willingness to put ourselves on the line and take a chance on another human being. Penny is no ordinary character in the show, but rather a pivotal and esoteric element in a sophisticated farce, who represents the mating principle in a universe where the four male characters live to “get lucky”. She is the fertility goddess through which the reproductive probabilities of the other characters are determined.
Probability theory, a pillar of 20th century physics, is expressed in mathematical equations where probability itself is represented by the letter “P”. Penny’s name, therefore, is a parable designed for those who understand the scientific “keys” in the riddle of “The Big Bang Theory” and, as such, last names and backstories are of no importance when it comes to her character.
Across the hall from the cute, bubbly blonde is a constellation of social outcasts striving to “score”. Each of the four male characters represent one particular formula in the grand equation of perpetuating the species.
In this allegory, Sheldon Cooper is the sexually innocent fawn who is constantly flummoxed by the social rituals his clumsy friends perform in order to “score”. He lives in his own mind, protected from the uncertainties of the real world through highly regulated schedules and strictly worded, and literal, social contracts. Blissfully unaware of others’ needs, the brilliant Dr. Cooper towers above everyone else in physical stature and is also meant to tower, metaphorically, over society as presently constructed.
This androgynous, asexual and asocial specimen whose life unfolds with mathematical precision is held up as a beacon to guide the others through the labyrinth of current human society towards a ‘scientifically’ sound future where natural selection will be replaced with calculated election.
His roommate, Leonard Hofstadter, is the probing adolescent with self-esteem issues who harbors idealistic views of love and indulges in romantic escapades. He lives in “our” time, doing is best to conform to the expectations of an entrenched social order. In a sense, Leonard is like a bridge that connects yesterday to tomorrow, sacrificing himself in the process. He’s a martyr who struggles in a world that still values traditional male archetypes and gives a voice to all the nerds that ever tried to hit on the hot girl or wish they could. Leonard is a tragic figure who lives in the professional shadow of his roommate and the eternal disapproval of his mother.
Howard Wolowitz is the fully-grown geek. Never content with merely theorizing about social acceptance, he embraces his sexual exuberance throwing himself at anything that moves. Howard is Jewish – a fact deemed important enough to warrant repeated mention throughout the show – and he is the most accomplished of his peers, having conquered man’s last frontier: space. Despite his diminutive size, the smallest of the group, Howard Wolowitz emerges from under his mother’s skirt to become the victorious dork and the only one who manages to reproduce.
Rajesh Koothrappali is the perpetual third wheel from the third world, relegated by his own insecurities to the realm of platonic infatuations. His ambivalent sexuality and foreign origin underscores his role of the outsider. As an astrophysicist, he gazes on the cosmos from an impossibly large distance, which mirrors the great gap between his need for companionship and his inability to find it. He is the legacy human, ruled by his emotions and destined to contemplate the light of stars that perished long ago.
In all character dynamics, Penny (Chance) always has the upper hand with one notable exception: Sheldon. Wrapped in the guise of logic and rationality, Dr. Cooper’s behavior is actually riddled with manipulation and subterfuge directed at the viewers through his relationship with Penny. Sheldon’s role is nothing less than that of a warlock casting spells on the unsuspecting T.V. audience. His robotic demeanor and droning voice are utilized to insert repetitive command cues that underlie the show’s plot points.
Performing like an expert hypnotist, Sheldon always calls on Penny in the same rhythmically spaced knocking pattern and vocalizes her name three times. This is a neuro-linguistic programming technique designed to drill trigger words into a subject’s subconscious mind. This specific trigger is meant to activate base sexual desire every time her name is mentioned. The “Soft Kitty” lullaby is used to deepen this subliminal message. Sheldon teaches Penny to sing Soft Kitty to him in bed, which is a euphemism for masturbation.
In order to assert Sheldon’s authority, all characters are made to adhere to his quasi-legal and completely arbitrary “agreements”. The most often-quoted contract is the so-called “roommate agreement”, which he always manages to enforce despite any resistance. Sheldon is the high priest of this faux scientific universe and his word is not to be questioned.
An important element in this universe are numbers. But on the show, the number 4 makes its presence felt more than any other. We have the four male leads, of course; the apartment numbers are 4A and 4B; the show’s title has four words and in many instances, the characters are written into scenes that occur in groups of four.
The symbolism of the number 4 spans many different interpretations, but for the most part, they all merge into the concept of stability and established truth. The square represents the ‘known’ and certainty, which is something many of the show’s viewers are subconsciously seeking.
The average age of The Big Bang Theory’s viewing audience falls within the range of 18 to 35. These are, of course, the years in which many of us embark on the process of becoming who we will eventually become. But, if we consider the historical context of these particular 18 to 35 year-olds in America, we’ll find that they are especially vulnerable and more likely to seek out structure and reassurance. We are talking about the 9-11 generation, no less. The “Big Bang” is their origin story, too.
Nearly every character in The Big Bang Theory is a highly educated professional and yet they are all portrayed as infantile, dependent and socially immature people. In addition, the permanent backdrop of the comic book store, toys and games that are carefully positioned within the brightly-colored set design has a high visual appeal for young children.
The general bounce-house atmosphere, early time slot and repeated syndication virtually guaranteed that an entire generation of children and teenagers, who are now entering adulthood, have been consuming a steady diet of subliminal messaging about gender roles, sexual behavior and self-worth, presented in a pseudo-scientific packaging.
As it enters its eleventh season, The Big Bang Theory can be considered an important, if subliminal influence on the world view of youngsters who have followed the boisterous clan of nerds for a decade. Just like the show “Friends” created a cult-like following among Gen-Xers who saw themselves in the scripted lives of the six East Coast roommates, this new band of fictional West Coast buddies has been crafted to appeal specifically to the tech-savvy, code-writing youths of the new Millennium, both reaffirming and conditioning their role in society.
Every city has something that sets it apart, an intangible quality that makes people want to stay forever or leave immediately. It is determined as much by geography as it is by its culture and for Miami, this quality is youth. Miami is a perennial teenager. Immature but beautiful. Full of potential but infuriatingly trite.
The sun is always shining and even when it rains the big, warm drops hug you like a Cuban grandmother. The humidity is legendary, but it’s only really a problem when stepping out of the airport to hail a cab. The rest of Miami is nearly 100% air conditioned. In short, there’s very little to complain about, climatologically speaking, in Miami. Like all teenagers, however, people in Miami complain almost incessantly and loudly.
Whether it has to do with corrupt city officials and politicians, the incompetent yet costly public transportation system, unaffordable housing or the increasingly horrible traffic, Miami does have legitimate issues to bitch about. Miami natives and adopted cousins from around the world complain, not in order to solve the problems per se. Like all youngsters they have an ulterior motive and that motive is to remove all obstacles to keep doing what they love to do more than anything else: party.
Hey, Mr. DJ
Naturally, every good teenage party needs a DJ and there are no shortage of them in the tri-county area. The Miami music scene is probably the only one in the world that doesn’t include actual musicians and with good reason, since learning an instrument requires discipline and patience; qualities rarely found in adolescents.
But a skilled DJ can do what few trained musicians can on their own. They can have thousands of people dancing to the point of ecstasy, give or take a few pills. The throbbing beats and tantric rhythms of a well-put-together set can generate a mesmerizing energy, enveloping an entire room – or stadium – in a state of complete rapture.
Electronic Dance Music or EDM caters to a certain age group, regardless of the actual chronological age of its fans. It’s for kids, the young at heart and those who want to escape responsibility, if only for a brief moment. Miami, therefore, should rightfully be considered the mecca of EDM because it is a place where all of that is possible.
The Ultra Music Festival was not only born in Miami, it is Miami. The bright, fluorescent clothing; the youthful exuberance; the classic sense of invincibility and the juvenile flirting techniques all bear the mark of a city that will never grow up because it doesn’t have to. The sun will keep shining, the water will stay warm and the party will go on.
Southwest 8th Street in Miami has long been the center of the Cuban diaspora. Little Havana grew on its asphalt banks as waves of immigrants escaping the Castro regime, landed on its shores year after year and decade after decade since the early 1960’s.
The first Calle Ocho festival was held in 1977. It was a Cuban festival. Created by Cubans for Cubans to celebrate their success in exile and thumb their noses at the tyrant ninety miles away. As the years passed, it grew bigger and louder as if to make sure the music would be heard on the island.
Slowly, other immigrant groups from central and south America began to join in on the festivities as their numbers also began to swell in the city. Coaxed out of their countries as a result of their own political and economic upheavals, Miami began to see a large influx of Nicaraguans, Colombians, Venezuelans, Argentinians, Dominicans and even Mexicans. Soon, the food kiosks at the Calle Ocho festival would begin to serve ‘arepas’, tacos and churrásco in addition to the staples lechón asado, platanitos and congrí.
Changing of the Guard
As long as Fidel was watching, it was all well and good. The more, the merrier, the better to show how everybody came together when they were dancing to the music and sharing in the “Aemrican Dream”. But then something happened last year that will likely to transform the meaning of Calle Ocho forever.
In 2016, Fidel Castro Died and Donald Trump became president of the United States. Cubans in Miami of a certain generation – the generation that created Calle Ocho – overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump’s candidacy and Obama’s eleventh hour rescinding of the so-called “Wet Foot – Dry Foot” policy, through which Cubans who managed to reach land in America were automatically granted asylum, strengthened the notoriously anti-Obama Trump’s support among Miami’s Cuban community in hopes that he will, at some point, restore the policy and continue the traditionally hard Republican line against the Cuban regime.
Donald Trump’s immigration policy, of course, does not sit well with every other immigrant group that has made Miami their new home besides Cubans, which makes this year’s Calle Ocho festival an awkward affair, to say the least. There was a “Trump Shop” kiosk selling all kinds of Trump presidency mementos, souvenirs and, of course, “Make America Great Again” caps. People would stop and take a picture of the odd, double tent store. Some annoyed revelers cursed loudly at it as they moved past.
Moving to the Rhythm
It is clear that the original intent of the festival and its original hosts are about to clash with history as it moves on to a new era without Fidel Castro and a Trump White House. After forty years of moving to the rhythms of Salsa and Rumba, then incorporating the sounds of Norteñas and Bachata, it looks like the Calle Ocho has finally reached its midlife crisis. Will it survive as a stronghold for immigrant resilience or will it die in a fiery crash in its brand-spanking-new, red sports car?
Scholars trace the roots of western civilization to Greece; to some honest students, a stretch of the academic imagination. Though Greek civilization did bequeath many things to the west, the direct link described by many historians is misleading at best. Greek knowledge was diffused into Europe already filtered through the ‘lens’ of other civilizations. Despite the politics of academia or the ideological directives of those who finance it, western civilization is a much newer phenomenon.
But how useful is the term ‘western civilization’ to define our current cultural paradigm?
Oswald Spengler wrote extensively about what he believed to be the a-priori demise of western civilization nearly a century ago; Neitzche, the last of the west’s great thinkers, arrived at roughly the same conclusion, offering us his tenuously constructed ubermenchen, itself a projection into a future that escaped purely western thought and a testimonial to the basic thrust of western civilization, which exalted the individual above and beyond any other value.
In a burgeoning global culture, can such a thing as ‘western’ civilization even exist? Some will rightly question whether we are, in fact, building a global culture or simply consolidating corporations across international boundaries, perpetuating the hyper-individualistic, market-based economy and ignoring expressions of true global interaction between different economic and social groups.
The market is both the motor for globalization as well as its greatest nemesis, the former a consequence of its essence, exchange, and the latter caused by the exclusive and repressive models used to actualize it. Trade in goods and services connects people on a level which should allow for the germination of richer cultural expressions, but at the same time the homogenizing tendencies of the ‘western’ or ‘individualistic’ market, i.e. the concentration of wealth and means of production in few hands, constantly subverts any possibility of open-ended cultural exchange.
Nevertheless, things have a way of evening out, and at some point a time will have to arrive when people will have to walk upon the bridges that have been built.
Civilizations are love affairs of the collective unconscious. A shape is drawn and slowly people begin to dance around it, eventually becoming the shape itself. They are inorganic entities and as such have the ability to exist indefinitely or until a new shape becomes visible over the horizon.
We have seen a new shape emerge over the last century and a half as the sun has set on western civilization. We are on the shoulders of a giant, as the saying goes.
Pictograms, characters and vocalizations were developed to allow human beings to communicate with each other. Our power of conceptualization, and consequently our ability to perceive time can be traced directly to our use of oral and written language. Hence the opening salvo of the gospel of John, “In the beginning was the word…”
All civilizations have one thing in common, just like all men and women, they are born in the same way.
Civilizations’ mother is language and we might define language as any self-contained collection of symbols agreed upon by those expressing themselves through it. The temperament of each civilization is defined by the meaning of those symbols.
For the West, the emergence of Christianity marks the ideological period of germination, through a process of individuation of ‘beliefs’ which set the stage for European culture, still centuries away on the other side of the dark ages.
An inherent paradox is contained in the social effect of Catholic dogma and its message. Catholicism hijacked all belief systems within its sphere of influence* and declared its own as the only means to achieving fulfillment –after death. Safe passage into the next life required only one condition: believe it to the exclusion of everything else. The other side of that coin is that the believer will not be rewarded in ‘this’ life and it forms the basis of the Church’s discourse. This effectively removes the ‘gods’ from the world, leaving people to their own devices – almost.
Following Christian doctrine ultimately leads to the elimination of reliance on external or other worldly forces, in favor of the individual, albeit vicariously through a particular symbol, Jesus – a living symbol that serves as the model which a believer must follow to reap the rewards of heaven. Christianity was a half-way point between paganism and the need for man to stand on his own, enough to lead men away from dissipating energy through an endless pantheon of gods and demi-gods, neglecting their own power.
But the most significant and overlooked, perhaps even completely ignored contribution of Christianity to the world is the invention of mass media.
Jesus on the cross was the first full-fledged logotype. The campaign to burn this image into people’s minds was so great that it spawned a counter movement known as Iconoclasm.
Two thousand and some odd years later you may still find an iconoclast somewhere, but you can bet he watches TV.
A NEW LANGUAGE
The new shape that is emerging, the new civilization comes to us from our newest ‘alphabetized’ form of communication: images.
Words are easily distinguished from our perceptions, but TV and film have blurred the line considerably, to the point that some of the most vulnerable psyches in our society struggle to tell the difference*, and it might not be farfetched to state that, in a much broader sense, this is true for most people as well, though in a less obvious form.
When speaking of people’s growing threshold for ‘violence’, it is said that we are ‘de-sensitized’. Repeated viewing of violent images dulls our response to ‘violence’ whether we encounter it on a screen or in our actual lives. The point to make here is that so-called ‘de-sensitization’ is an example of how we as human beings process and assimilate the new visual language.
We are naturally wired to perceive visual information (closely aided by audible cues) as the supreme source of fact and truth – “I’ll believe it when I see it” is a phrase that bluntly expresses the ultimate distrust we have in words and the ultimate faith we have in images.
A feature film can be a powerful experience precisely because it tricks us into suspending our belief, allowing us to accept what we see as if actually occurring. A general understanding of this new language is still in its infancy, most people don’t know the ‘alphabet’ of images. There are, however, people who understand the new language quite well. You can find plenty in Hollywood, but the true masters are found in a handful of Advertising firms.
THE ART DIRECTORS
The power of advertising is largely misunderstood by those who are exposed to it. It has been tasked with changing cultural idiosyncrasies and has performed flawlessly almost every time. In the 1950’s DeBeers, the diamond cartel, decided to create a market in Japan. The J. Walter Thompson advertising firm was hired to change the traditional Japanese engagement ritual of exchanging wooden cups in favor of a diamond ring. The campaign was a total success and only took a few years.
Today, there are a lot of people trying to make us believe something, anything, it seems.
We have crossed that threshold where belief is only a ‘click’ away and the logotypes etched in our ‘corneas’ are so many that everyday is a buffet of sorts. No longer is belief a matter of survival, only a matter of choice.
We’ve come a long way, Baby – Slogan for Virginia Slims cigarettes