Friday, June 28, 2013

Styx: The Grand Illusion: Side One

Side One:
1. The Grand Illusion

   In January 2013 Forbes Magazine printed an article that was simply and plainly titled: "Money Does Buy Happiness! (We Were Shocked, Too!)" And in that article, they showed that there was no peak or plateau to the happiness achieved by wealth, nor was there any doubt that those who lived in wealthier nations were happier than those in poorer nations. And yet, for all the text-form celebration of money in that magazine, that same article contained this paragraph:

 It seems that Americans are doing something wrong. ”GDP has approximately doubled since 1972,” the researchers pointed out about the U.S., “and wellbeing, as measured by the General Social Survey, has decreased slightly.” Yup, America is certainly exceptional–but not in a good way." - Learnvest, contributor to Forbes magazine 2013

  The article suggests that wealth inequality may have some impact on people's wellbeing, but did not investigate further into this strange situation that suggests that the world's richest nation is neither the happiest, nor has the highest 'wellbeing'.
   I would like to point out, that in 1972 it was very uncommon for an average family of four to own more than one car, one television, one high-quality stereo and two telephones (not mobile phones, just two phones in one house, both of which were connected to the same line with only one phone number).  It was also impossible in 1972, to own a CD/DVD/Blu-Ray player, personal computer or laptop, mp3-player, video game console and a boatload of other consumer products that simply hadn't been invented yet.
  And how the hell did everyone get along in 1972 without having a cell-phone strapped to their body at all times, either on a belt or inside their jacket pocket? Oh right, there were those pay-phones that used to be everywhere... the ones in a giant booth that cost a quarter and Superman used to change in. And there were those large beige or black phones in the bar or the nightclub that had no numbers, and everyone under the age of twenty asks: "What's that for?" and I show my age by answering: "It used to be for people to call cabs for free. You just pick up the receiver and it automatically dials the cab company." And at this point, the kids say: "Wooo... you're old."
    But rather than turning into an old man complaining about a younger generation, perhaps we should take a look at the systemic problems that led up to this situation. They had no internet in the 1970s, no smart phones, no Blu-Ray movies, no text messaging, no twitter, no facebook, no ipods, no GPS, no apps, NO FISH FINDERS!! and a bunch of other stuff that we can't seem to get along without now. How could they have been happier and had greater 'wellbeing' then?
   Because it doesn't mean shit, that's why.
   Consumer products only seem to do one thing perfectly well, and that is to make you want more. And the truth is that they are kind of designed to do that. They work well, for a while, make you happy for a while, but then they break down, wear out, or become outmoded, obsolete or simply unfashionable. A consumer culture always has to churn out new things for you to buy, and you always have to buy new things, even if the old thing worked better, lasted longer or could be repaired easily. Such a culture also has to get accustomed and even bored with such products just as quickly, sometimes to the point of whining how things aren't perfect despite what seems like absolute marvels in technology.

    We probably thought we had a lot of stuff in 1972, (and some of us had CB radios, too) but those people in the early 70s would be absolutely flabbergasted to see the astonishing amount of products that we have now!! So how come people aren't happier?
    Because it's just an Illusion that the number of cars you have is equivalent to how happy or satisfied you are! All that crock about 'keeping up with the Jones' doesn't really mean much in the grand scheme of things does it? And let's be honest, perhaps it wasn't how many cars that we had in the driveway that made us happy (strictly speaking just another expense in upkeep and repairs), but rather being able to go to visit people, relatives and neighbours, and being able to take our friends places. Maybe if our public transportation systems were better, we wouldn't have this problem. Or maybe our 1972 dads could have shared the family car a little more....
   Of course, I suppose if you were wealthy enough, you could just keep on buying more stuff and buying more stuff, (and getting bored with it and throwing it away) and whatever you do, don't stop buying more stuff because then you'll feel sad, and etc. and this, by definition of the Forbes article, would therefore keep you HAPPY FOREVER! But for most of us, this isn't a viable option.Most people simply don't have enough money, and even if we did, we probably don't have the space to put everything.
   The idea that it's all these consumer products that made people happier all along is just a facade, and an excuse to cover up the things that we really care about (Perhaps things like Health Care or World Peace). But rather than find out what really made people happy or provided well-being, Forbes, you, me, and everybody in any government since the 70's have most likely concentrated on making the kind of products that people would use-up, wear-out and throw away. We did it because we thought that was all there was to life, plain and simple. Just pump out as much consumer products as possible and design them to break down in only a few years. It seemed to work from post World War II up until the seventies, so from the seventies until now we just continued on doing the same thing... Just keep giving people lots of stuff to buy and keep buying and....what could go wrong?
2. Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
  What is it with young people nowadays? I'll tell ya... it seems like old people can't get enough of sticking it to young people.... that is, in between those sentences when they talk amorously of how they are our future and will take over....blah, blah, blah
  And yet, somehow when young people actually do something for themselves, they immediately get the reaction from the older generation that they are lazy, indignant, selfish and irresponsible. A perfect point is the Occupy movement. At the peak of their 'occupying' tactics in October of 2011, there were plenty of people ready to call them a bunch of 'Angry Twenty-Somethings Wanting Everything' (Which is a sentence that doesn't even make sense. But that didn't stop somebody putting it out there as one of those Meme photos on Twitter and Facebook and getting thousands of likes). Occupy enjoyed more than 70% support in almost every poll that was done by the major pollsters (an approval-rating that the current US Congress would greatly like to have) and that sort of support did not come those only under the age of twenty-five. So while 30% or less of the population put the occupiers down as young, hippy punks, plenty of others were ready to say that these young people were the future generation that would lead the way and change the system for the better and for the rest of us.
  I can honestly say that both assessments are wrong. First of all, I saw first hand, at the Occupy Toronto encampment in St. James Park that the occupiers were not entirely made up of those under the age of twenty-five, and in fact, having marched with them several times, I'm sure that those so young did not make up any kind of majority of more than half the numbers during their protest marches on Toronto City Hall. In fact, people came from all ages, including parents and grandparents taking very small children along with them.
   On the other hand, I am reasonably certain that these people between the age of 18 and 25, as much as they are our future, they possess no magical powers whatsoever. So you can keep saying that they are our future until you're tired of talking, but that doesn't mean that you and your forty-year-old friends are going to able to sit on the couch while others change the world for you. The truth is that things don't really happen that way. No government has ever changed it's policy simply because the young people, just wanted it.
   However, when young people are supported by their parents, their elders, their colleagues, and the greater interests of the community...then quite a few things can change.
   Starting In 2011, the students of Quebec began protesting major hikes in tuition fees proposed by the Quebec government under premiere Jean Charest. By spring of 2012 they were in the streets in large numbers for months in University and College towns all over the province. Despite being joined by people of all ages, including those whose professions required education or training, and keeping up their protests for months, student associations gained absolutely no concessions from the Quebec government whatsoever. Municipal and provincial police rounded up and arrested protesters in droves, enabled by new anti-protester legislation from the government (under Bill 78, which was unconstitutional, btw). Premier Charest (fascist!) was so sure that the older generations were a silent majority in their favour that they were willing to let this whole issue go to elections. Put simply, Charest seemed happy enough to pit young against old. In September of 2012, It turned out Charest was wrong, the majority was with the students (I guess some people actually wanted their children/adults to be educated without taking on massive debt). Charest lost his own seat in the Quebec legislature, and his party was defeated. The tuition hikes, largely responsible for their defeat, were rejected by the new government (and so was Bill 78). In addition, one former student leader Leo Bureau-Blouin became the youngest legislator in Quebec history at the age of 20. The truth is that governments who don't listen to the people, whether it is because they are young or old, are stupid governments and they deserve to be thrown out.
    Simply put, if you really want change to happen, like it or not, you have to stand up for yourself and for the people of your neighbourhood, city or region. You may even have to associate and listen to what young people and old people have to say and vice versa. There are many things that need to be changed in this world, and the strength of people still resides in joining together on many different levels, not just on the idea of your age group. So get up off the couch and on your feet...

3. Superstars
   It sometimes seems hard to fathom the idea that unscrupulous people can steal your dreams away. And yet it seems to happen everyday on TV.
  Whether it's the Idol show, So-and-So's got Talent or any other game show or variety show, contest show or other such television programming, if you look at it a certain way, then you might think to yourelf that they're kind of using other people's talent and dreams to create and promote a show that would, otherwise, be a pretty terrible one. Sometimes these shows have hosts that aren't very entertaining or funny or even charismatic. In fact, sometimes watching these shows actually makes people angry at the exact people who are the promoters and producers of the show itself. Why? Because it seems that the people that are profiting the most are the ones that have the worst attitude and the least talent.
    At the beginning of the show, they weed out the senseless people that have more dreams than talent, usually poking fun at them before they send them packing. At the end, however, they always turn it over to the audience to choose the absolute winner, thereby absolving themselves of actual responsibility for the dreams of anyone in the top five or so.
   Often, the shows themselves have a setting that is ridiculous, with pompous judges in large chairs that spin around or a giant stage with super-bright lighting, set in front of the worst amateur-night heckle-ready crowd that could ever be imagined.
   The show almost always has a very restrictive format, and performers have a limited amounted of time and space to get across to a crowd. I could hardly imagine someone like Gordon Lightfoot thriving in such a setting, the guy would be halfway through the first verse of 'if you could read my mind' before the audience starts getting annoyed and ready to start tearing off the chunk of flesh that the producers promised them before the show. Artists have to avoid too much musical technicality or subtle tones or nuance. In order to get in to the 'audience voting' round, you have to be upbeat, sing loud, project happiness and get people clapping their hands in about fifteen seconds. Singing pop songs that everyone recognizes is how they usually do it. In the end, the show is a self-fulfilling prophecy and they get exactly the talent that they intended to get to fill out their horrible format for them and make their crappy show into a reasonably good one, while they make everyone wait for yet another commercial before they find out who is eliminated and who goes on to the next round.
   Doesn't this just seem all a lot of hooey to go through, just to sit and watch what is essentially a variety show for about an hour? And to be honest, when was the last time that it really seemed entertaining for the whole hour? Likely never, because the shows are usually filled with the banter of judges and hosts, along with sometimes-intrusive stories delving into the private lives of contestants, and finally whatever space they have left goes to advertisers.
   But musical and talent shows have come and gone throughout the years, many of them are very successful, and many have done it without becoming terrible, mind-numbing game shows. Perhaps it's those who are in charge of television broadcasts that are responsible for catering to the lowest common denominator. Perhaps it's television's dependence on advertising money which constantly forces the quality lower, while the pomp and pageantry ramps upward. Maybe the common North American viewer is just so mentally numb and our attention spans so short that a variety show just can't hold our attention unless there's the 'thrill' of someone getting rejected or eliminated. Maybe more than we need to have losers, we need to have a winner. Maybe we have to think of everything as a sport or a game show in order to feel like somebody has actually achieved something.
   When it comes to music and performance the truth is that careers can be fleeting. Real artwork and showmanship is time-consuming and difficult. And when it comes right down to it... a TV show can't really build a career or generate the creativity of great artists... but there's something that it can do... it can make a superstar for about fifteen minutes...

4. Come Sail Away
 With all the consumerism in the world, the pollution, the fascist corporations, the idiotic and sometimes corrupt politicians, did you ever think that you would just like to get away from all of it? Did you ever think to yourself: "Forget all this crap! They're all crazy anyway. Anyone who wants to come with me can come along, but, dammit.. I'm splitting! I'm leaving it all behind." I'm sure that the thought has come into everyone's mind about it for at least a moment.
  The thing is...where would you go? It seems like you can't escape to anywhere anymore. Even people who want to simply go on a vacation have found that commercialization follows them everywhere. It's touched every travel destination including the ruins of Mayans. Globalization has removed all the limitations to do all the damage to the world that can be done in all places everywhere.
   If you board a plane, you'll be scanned from head to toe. If you go downtown, you'll be tracked by your cell phone. If you stay home and surf the internet, you'll be monitored by social media sites, your internet provider or, more likely, by your own government. If you do or say anything that in any way involves another person and some piece of technology, it may and likely will be monitored and/or recorded by assholes who have no legitimate reason to be delving into any of your stuff, other than the fact that they were probably paid to do it with the money that you pay in taxes to the idiot politicians who are too stupid to understand that global warming is real.
   And speaking of global warming, there's no safe place to escape to, neither inland nor island. There's no area that can't or won't be affected by global warming, pollution, catastrophe of economy, or even the degradation of society. Even far-off jungle-covered places are hotbeds of fascism and the infernal greed of mankind, usually because of minerals that are under the earth, but sometimes just because those who walk the earth feel they need power over someone like you or me. There's nowhere, anywhere, where you can set up a place by yourself or with a few friends where you can be left alone, with no one to bother you because they'd have no reason to bother you.
    Well, almost no place. If you're writer/economist Dmitry Orlov, and you're predicting/expecting an imminent and massive economic collapse, you might buy yourself a boat, insulate it and make it your home. Set sail and wow... you're home is the ocean. Just avoid the east coast of North America and the equatorial latitudes during the hurricane season and you'll be fine! 
    But maybe one night, you'll be out on your boat home, looking up. On a clear, warm night, you can see past the tops of the trees, the clouds, and those murderous U.S. drones that have noticed that you've sailed outside the legal reach of the constitution, and you'll see...those pretty little shiny things way high above... the STARS!!
   And that's when you think to yourself: There! Yeah! Out there! There's a whole universe of places to go to! Oh man, if I could just.....

If you're still reading to this point, you've probably already noticed that this is not actually a 'review' of a classic album or exploration of the themes of an album that needs no such exploration. I tried my best not to be nostalgic or 'fanboy' or do the old-geezer thing and criticize 'today's music'. Instead, I chose to focus on how I felt that an album released in 1977 still seems relevant to a person living in 2013. I hope you enjoyed my take on this first side of the album The Grand Illusion. 'Side Two' of this to be found here!

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