Sunday, September 26, 2004

Massive trance anthems

Once I was out in Queens, with a friend who exhibited no hesitation to go blundering into any store or bar along Roosevelt Avenue, no matter how unpromising or foreign or insular it may have appeared from the outside. All leers and studied ignorings to the contrary, she insisted that "they don't care" and that of course "They want your business." This is a classic American attitude, that a business owner has some civic duty to welcome all comers and to put profit-making before all other motives. But shop owners and certainly bar owners can have their own agenda that has nothing to do with making money, which might instead have something to do with maintaining a certain reputation or to holding to their traditions or to giving priorities to their ethnic group or to recreating something of the ambiance of their homeland, where its very likely that customer service is vastly different than what Americans are used to. Lots of stores don't really want your business, particularly if they have the sense that you are patronizing them, in the condescending sense. The almighty dollar doesn't necessarily unlock all doors.

Perhaps once an immigrant has assumed the "I want your business"/"Profits are the only goal" attitude, he has truly assimilated, as that may be the quintessential American value, the approach to life that unites diverse people across the continent. Once you see everyone's dollar as being equal, once you are filtering all encounters and exchanges through the homogenizing medium of the dollar, then you are living the American way. The dollar is democratizing, then, but is democracy then a matter of free spending? Is the best way to experience your American equality with all other Americans to spend money and own the same things that everyone else owns? This is what American post-war economic planners thought, who hoped to head off civic unrest over the unfair division of wealth and the return to circumscribed rols after WW II by increasing everyone;s purchasing power, and seeing to it that a host of consumer goods be rolled out for all, keeping everyone equally bedazzled. Which was all well and good as long as the goods improved quality of life, but what happens with their frivolity becomes more apparent, and the conveniences they afford usurp whatever original utility they had and become bizarrely aggressive and insatiable ends in themselves, making other people the villains of convenience and consumer goods the necessary means to block others out of your life?

This train of thought reminds me of a poster I see every day when I come home from work, on my way back up to Steinway Street. It's an ad for a dance-music compilation, boasting "massive trance anthems." I always picture a gigantic room full of people all totally anaesthetized by this music, all liberated from each other but miracuously allowed to inhabit the same space with each other comfortably, thanks to the trance their anthems have induced. I knew someone who would watch the sorority girls on the college where we worked and imagine that since they all looked and behaved the same, that they all must receive marching orders somehow, perhaps beamed directly from outer space into their hair scrunchies, which were really antennas. I think he was imagining a massive trance anthem, which allowed them to conform to a rigid code without ever feeling that they had surrendered any autonomy.

I wonder what's wrong with my receiver sometimes, and I clean my ears with Q-tips, trying to home in on the sound.

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