Fat Tuesday

Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, marks the last day of indulgent festivities before Ash Wednesday and the Lenten practice of sacrifice and atonement. The typical Mardi Gras parades of modern-day New Orleans are spectacles of abundance as krewes wearing colorful attire ride decorated floats from which they throw plastic beads, cozies, or other cheap trinkets to the spectators crowded together shouting with raised hands waving to be seen. According to Mardi Gras New Orleans, “every year 25 million pounds of used Mardi Gras beads are thrown away.”[1] This has inspired Arc of Greater New Orleans to create a bead recycling program. Yet despite efforts to recycle, Mardi Gras parades leave enough trash to warrant a parade of tractors and sweeps to follow in their wakes. Moreover, tossed beads often get stuck on telephone wires and tree branches, where they stay until weathered enough to fall to the ground as litter, and the environmental impact is great. In “The Destructive Life of a Mardi Gras Bead,” Redmon investigates the beads’ environmental impact, citing environmental scientist Howard Mielke who has studied the links between lead, the environment and skin absorption and found “the majority of lead in the soil is located directly alongside the Mardi Gras parade routes….” The beads themselves have a number of toxic chemicals and could be dangerous to children.[2]

Dangers aside, the very point of Mardi Gras is to celebrate excess and waste—a celebration when we can lose our heads and revel, spending what Bataille would call the “Accursed Share.” Moreover, Mardi Gras, a holiday with ancient roots, is a gumbo of cultural abundance with European, African, and American Indian influences. These cultural influences can be heard in the rich Mardi Gras music. Thus, The Turnip Truck(s) offers the following parade of songs:

"Mardi Gras Mambo," The Meters
"The Second Line," Rebirth Brass Band
"Iko, Iko," The Dixie Cups
"Go to the Mardi Gras," Professor Longhair
"Danse De Mardi Gras," Les Freres Michot

[1] http://www.mardigrasneworleans.com/news/what-to-do-with-surplus-mardi

[2]Independent research on beads collected from New Orleans parades has found toxic levels of lead, bromine, arsenic, phthalate plasticizers, halogens, cadmium, chromium, mercury and chlorine on and inside the beads. It’s estimated that up to 920,000 pounds of mixed chlorinated and brominated flame retardants were in the beads.” https://theconversation.com/the-destructive-life-of-a-mardi-gras-bead-71657

Adele and Impossibility of the End of Love

Is there anything more insatiably abundant than love? Love abides, says St, Paul, but does it ever find its ultimate end? Does love have an immanent or transcendent telos? As David M. Halperin recently noted,[1] Adele’s “Someone Like You” asks for the impossible:

“I don’t mean to be overliteral about all this. I understand perfectly well that when Adele says, “Never mind, I’ll find someone like you,” she is hardly shrugging off her loss, declaring her intent to start over, and setting out optimistically on a determined quest for a new partner. Rather, she is expressing an impossible aspiration, and she wants it to sound pathetically hollow because she knows full well that her wish to replace her ex-boyfriend with an exact replica is not about to be fulfilled any time soon. Adele is not really planning to move on; after all, “for [her], it isn’t over,” and in all likelihood she will never find someone like him.”

Halperin views this paradox as having been articulated quite well by Aristotle in Prior Analytics. As Aristotle put it:

“To be loved, then, is preferable to intercourse, according to erotic desire. Erotic desire, then, is more for love than for intercourse. If it is most of all for that, that is also its end [telos]. Either intercourse, then, is not an end [telos] at all or it is for the sake of being loved.”

The modern proverb says, “men use love to get sex, women use sex to get love,” but Aristotle teaches us, according to Halperin, that “sex is not the final aim of erotic desire. Sex has no erotic end-purpose.” We just want to be loved, even by those who no longer love us. In the end, it’s not all about sex, but all about the impossibility of love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] David M. Halperin, "What Is Sex For?," Critical Inquiry 43, no. 1 (Autumn 2016): 1-31.

Gun

While the jazz poet, singer, and self-named “bluesologist” Gil Scott-Heron has written and performed a number of noteworthy songs, including “Winter in America” and “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” Scott-Heron’s “Gun,” from his 2004 live album Save the Children, features a specific problem of American abundance: gun ownership. Last year’s statistics indicate that approximately 55 million Americans own an estimated 265 million guns (that’s more than one gun for every adult American). Of these Americans, 3%—known as “super owners” because they own an average of 17 guns each—own half of all guns. Handgun ownership alone has increased 71% since 1994. So, it’s nothing to take lightly when we hear Scott-Heron sing, “Everybody got a pistol, everybody got a 45.” And, of course, this problem isn’t just about gun ownership but about gun violence. Today, mass shootings tend to dominate the news cycles, but the majority of gun-related deaths have long occurred in poor urban communities. When the question of what to do about this problem is raised, Americans can’t agree on an answer. Opponents of gun ownership call for gun bans and stricter gun control laws while proponents cite the Second Amendment as the basis for the right to own guns. Indeed, embedded in the American consciousness is a fear-based philosophy, one that Scott-Heron articulates: “the philosophy seem to be / At least as near as I can see / When other folks give up theirs, I'll give up mine.” So, if we truly want to put America first, at what point are we going to look this problem in the eye? At what point are we going to address our fears and put down our guns?

The Abundantly Talented King of Pop

One of America’s most diverse and abundant contributions to humanity is rock & roll. Take for example Michael Jackson’s performance at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, January 31, 1993: the day the Super Bowl halftime show literally became spectacular. He was black. He was white. He was amazing. He was weird. He was abundantly talented and magical. He’s the best pop star America has produced. Some of you might remember this: he had that whole freaking stadium in the palm of his hand.

And I told about equality and it's true
Either you're wrong or you're right
But, if you're thinkin' about my baby
It don't matter if you're black or white

Coming to America

Neil Diamond’s “America” (1980) is included on the soundtrack of The Jazz Singer, in which a Jewish man struggles between his religion, family, and dream to sing. “America” specifically speaks to the country’s rich history and immigrant population, which has created the cultural abundance Americans welcome and cherish. Unfortunately, America’s treatment of immigrants is not always worthy of celebration—the internment of Japanese Americans is one tragic example among many. Playing on the irony of Diamond’s song and America’s poor treatment of legal residents is Cheech Marin’s Born in East L.A. After immigration officers raid a factory where mostly undocumented Latinos work, Ruby Borles (Cheech), a natural-born citizen who forgot his ID, is deported with the others. But this is not the end of Borles, but a new beginning for him and the friends he makes in Tijuana. Banded together, they overwhelm the border patrol and enter America as Neil Diamond’s anthem plays. 

Pussy Riot

An appropriate song alongside today’s Women’s March on Washington, which saw crowds of thousands in cities around the United States and the world, Pussy Riot’s “Straight Outta Vagina” responded last October to Trump’s boast that all he, or any man, has to do to get women is “grab ‘em by the pussy.” “Straight Outta Vagina” means to remind Trump where he, and everyone else, comes from: women. Women are the source that sustains human life as it comes into existence and subsists, so it makes sense that women are the source that sustains economic growth. Women “fill your shopping carts”—in the ways they are exploited for the sake of consumerism and the ways they earn and spend their money. Today, the streets were full of women, not rioting, but peacefully demonstrating their abundant communal and political influence and power. Today’s marches confirmed, in the words of Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova, “the idea of powerful female sexuality is much bigger than any populist megalomaniac man … Vagina is bigger than Trump.”

Pussy Riot's "Make America Great Again" offers a glimpse of what many fear life will be like under a Trump presidency. Trump has already taken action that indicates no interest in representing and serving all Americans, making the violent images in this video resonate with a terrifying truth about the potential of the future.

Fit for a King

As he stood on the second floor balcony at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, where he’d stayed to support the black sanitary public works employees who’d been on strike for higher wages and better treatment, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot to death. The world changed that day, April 4, 1968, as King’s death spurred race riots in cities across the nation, including Washington D.C. Despite the violence of these riots, King’s life was dedicated to nonviolent resistance and the peaceful pursuit of justice, and his activism earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He was also posthumously awarded both The Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and his legacy has influenced the Black Consciousness Movement as well as the Civil Rights Movement in South Africa.

Today, this one man’s abundance of human spirit continues to inspire activists to resist oppression and fight for the freedom and quality of life that all human beings deserve. So, celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. with Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday,” a song guaranteed to make you move and think. As one of the leaders in the campaign to make the birthday of MLK a national holiday, Wonder wrote this song to make the cause known. While several cities and states began observing King’s birthday as early as 1971, it did not become a U.S. federal holiday until 1986.

I just never understood
How a man who died for good
Could not have a day that would
Be set aside for his recognition
Because it should never be
Just because some cannot see
The dream as clear as he
That they should make it become
     an illusion
And we all know everything
That he stood for time will bring
For in peace our hearts will sing
Thanks to Martin Luther King

Also sprach Zarathustra

Richard Strauss, Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spoke Zarathustra) (1896)
2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

Never fully explained by Stanley Kubrick or the original writer of the story, Arthur C. Clarke, the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, with the now iconic star-child (in Kubrick’s film) hovering next to earth included the music of Richard Strauss; specifically, his tone poem, Also sprach Zarathustra. Named after Friedrich Nietzsche’s uncategorizable work of 1883, Strauss’ music and Kubrick’s imagery can be understood as a kind of dialectical thought-object—that is, a visual, musical, and philosophical event whose meaning is abundantly rich and perplexing simultaneously. It is what might be called a clear paradox. From the 18th-century interior with the old astronaut (dying/being reborn); to the factured slab (techne); and the cosmic embryo coda (return), the ending is more than its individual parts. The theme might well be abundance, as Nietzsche would understand it: flow, circular temporal and spatial flow (abundance, from the Latin undare, “wave flow”). Thus Spoke Zarathustra was perhaps Nietzsche’s attempt to explicate what he had formulated in Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (The Gay Science, 1882) as Dionysian circular joy, and what he would eventually call his central idea, the idea of the Eternal Return. 2001: A Space Odyssey can be understood as embodying this notion: that all temporal and spatial events have and will be repeated for eternity: a continual abundant flow of hylozoistic life. This was Nietzsche’s Welträthsel (word-riddle): the secret essence/idea/apparatus/spirit of being, and Kubrick’s ending, with Strauss’ music, articulate the circular abundant flow of the autopoietic universe.

 

"Dance of the Dollars"

“The Gold Diggers’ Song (We’re in the Money)” is the opening number in Gold Diggers of 1933. After police interrupt the dance and call off the show due to unpaid debts, four aspiring actresses and a producer get financial assistance from the son of a millionaire. Although the heir is a talented singer and pianist, he refuses to be a part the show he funds because his family doesn’t want him to be a part of the theater. When the lead falls ill, the heir is forced to star in the show after all, but when his brother and family lawyer get the news of his performance, they try to stop him—fearing he’ll be seduced by a “gold digger.” By the end of the movie, of course, all the women except Fay, played by Ginger Rogers, are married to wealthy men. 

Written by Al Dubin and with music by Harry Warren and directed by that genius of musical choreography, Busby Berkeley, “The Gold Diggers’ Song” is an ironic ditty about the joys of American currency in the midst of the Great Depression with Ginger Rogers and the rest of the chorus decked out in an abundance of coins. The lyrics remind us that during the Depression money was simply what you needed “to get along”. Perhaps the same number today would have chorus girls dancing about with Kuwaiti Dinars (top currency today!). Not quite the same as silver dollars.

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy

The Walt Disney Company is the third largest global media conglomerate, and so it might be easy to detest it given the current economic climate. However, the story of Walt Disney, the singular man with an abundant imagination, embodies the possibilities that live within the American Dream. Furthermore, despite Disney’s cultural co-opts and its capital coups, Disney’s 1940 animated film Fantasia brought to the screen a previously unimagined visual interpretation of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s 1892 score for The Nutcracker ballet. The ballet itself was initially unsuccessful, yet Tchaikovsky’s extracted suite was an instant success. The ballet as a whole has experienced serious popularity in North America since the 1960s (particularly around the holidays), and major American ballet companies earn approximately 40% of their annual revenues from performances of The Nutcracker. Could the $76.4–$83.3 million box office grossing Fantasia have had something to do with this? Nevertheless, Disney animators recreated the suite with all sorts of visual delights. “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” the Act 2 pas de deux, is especially notable for its scenes of colorful dew drop fairies dousing flowers and webs with the spirits of water and light, such simple, minimal elements that, even in times of darkness, sustain the lives of plants, animals, and humans alike.