Wednesday, August 27, 2014

More Documentaries

I find multitasking helps me stay focused.  Each activity gets concentration and attention, but I exhaust my patience for Just That One Thing and get relief simply by varying the content.  We all know this power from the Channel Changer (one of the great inventions of all time).

Is that what's meant by Attention Deficit?  There's nothing wrong with an attention span of only three minutes, if you keep coming back for another three minutes often enough to keep up with the workflow.  That's how our interrupt driven computers work.  The operating system's whole job is to multitask intelligently.

Sure, some tasks take sustained attention for a lot longer than that, but lets hear it for the ones that don't, or don't always.

In that spirit, I welcome the chance to plunge into Quakernomics on my Samsung Galaxy Tablet (10.1") from time to time, or maybe on my Razr when riding a bus.  That book poses interesting questions especially seen in contrast with The Wobblies, a 1979 documentary I just reviewed (I'm pretty sure I'd seen it already, or maybe parts of it).

The IWW was sure no form of capitalism could be benign whereas Quakernomics makes the case that nothing intrinsic to capitalism says that system must be miserly-miserable.  But then Quakernomics is very broad brush stroke with what it means by "capitalism" casting Quakers as most definitely capitalists, in contrast with the Marxists who sometimes ridiculed their mendacious ways.

Likewise the book Debt:  The First 5000 Years, also on my Kindle app, is broad brush stroke with its meaning of "communist", making it mean almost any community-centric economy, any sangha.  So much ideological warfaring depends on loose definitions or, same thing, breaks down as definitions come under closer scrutiny.  "We're not in conflict, we're just working in different namespaces."

Prohibition by Ken Burns is a masterpiece of storytelling.  I'd never associated Happy Days are Here Again so closely with the repeal of Prohibition, preceded by FDR's legalizing 3.2% beer by executive order (a master stroke).  I've always taken legal drinking (for those of legal age) for granted, my generation having been imprisoned for similar offenses the Burns documentary avoids mentioning, despite obvious parallels.

Building up beer as a specifically and endearingly German thing, to postpone Prohibition, really backfired come the demonization of Germans and their culture during WW1.  That, and the passage of a Federal Income Tax turned the saloon-keeper caste and their suppliers into outlaws.  The US had a new source of income and a profitable war to prosecute.

Truly, the "saloon" as an all male club, a symbol of anti-female apartheid, pre women having the vote etc., did not survive into the mid 1900s.  More accurately, gender stereotypes broke down under the pressures of industrialized city living and typecasting based on gender (and "race") became less and less tenable for any institution.

The Wobblies sure liked to sing a lot.  When you have a pre literate and, more important, pre Web culture, propagating ideology through lyrics (and prayers) makes sense.  And these are not songs to kick back and listen to, they're songs to sing oneself.

There's a lot less public singing in groups these days, is my impression.   We have become a culture of spectators on the one hand, and amplified / recorded celebrity-pro singers on the other, with new institutions to break down that difference:  karaoke bars (and of course "church choirs" are still popular), and Youtube.

These two films, on Prohibition and the IWW, in combination with To Be Takei with its focus on the internment of Japanese Americans, provides a ton of information about the "culture wars" that North Americans have been fighting.  Prohibition had everything to do with trying to legislate lifestyle choices with one caste (cast) feeling entitled to dictate to another.  Prohibition was "cast warfare". Criminalize that of which you disapprove, is the "moralistic solution" Americans tend to favor, at great cost to their living standards.

Indeed, we might intelligibly replace the notion of "class" with that of "cast" (as in theater), as ultimately it's a matter of role playing.  Cultures are role playing games, pure and simple.  It's just they take themselves so seriously that saying "game" sounds offensive (too jokey, too light), especially to hardliner ideologues of whatever true faith.

The IWW fought hard for the eight hour work day, and for Freedom of Speech.  The documentary is brilliant in that it shows press accounts being predictably and routinely anti-IWW, making the point, in case it wasn't clear, that newspapers are a tool of one cast more than others.

Demonizing the IWW as either German or Russian agents helped Americans confuse the two, helping with the Great Pivot under the Dulles Brothers, when Germany and Japan (former enemies) became allies against Vietnam and Russia (former allies).

Speaking of demonizing Russians, I also squeezed in at least part of Season One of The Americans, set during the Reagan Years.  I won't try reviewing that here though, beyond acknowledging its relevance.