Ye shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free

April 19, 2007 at 11:10 pm (places, stuff)

This is the inscription on the clock tower at the University of Texas at Austin, darkened in mourning.

The Clock Tower at Austin, darkened.

I haven’t blogged in a while, though goodness knows there was plenty to blog about—Imus was good for at least a couple of entries—but we’ll come back to that later. Today I’m blogging about something wholly disturbing, the Virginia Tech shootings. The event in itself is heartbreaking, and has no logic—it was a sad act by a sad person. But what is just as disturbing is the treatment of the event by the media. A sick person quickly becomes a monster as we rip his life apart, and that makes it easier for us to grasp. The event becomes mythology—good versus evil; an event to be learned from and made better by for having survived it.

Our fascination with tragedy is remarkable—the tragic occurrences are the ones that shape us; I couldn’t tell you a great deal about the history of the University of Texas at Austin, but I know who Charles Whitman was. I was there when they decided to re-open the clock tower to visitors, (for the second time—a string of suicides in the 1970s closed the observation deck for a second time in 1974) and I heard stories about how he’d hit people almost a mile away, how bore marks in the marble of buildings were actually ricochets, and how he had scratched marks in the limestone of the clock tower to keep count of his kills. He was a regular person, capable, in a twisted way, of something remarkable. We still remember that day, as we remember 9/11 or Columbine. We examine killers with the same fervor as the great minds of our time. They fascinate us—just as we perhaps can’t see ourselves achieving greatness, we can’t see ourselves causing such suffering.

But I would ask that in this situation, as in others, we try to remember that there are never only two sides. We should have pity and not hatred, and we should try to understand why—and understand that there is no simple answer.

 

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To Twitter or not to Twitter?

March 21, 2007 at 10:44 pm (places, politics, web 2.0)

I can’t decide whether Twitter is the next big thing or the next of the latest and greatest Web 2.0 technologies to bite the proverbial dust. It seems like the natural progression of blogging—a universal blog that everyone can contribute to. But, there’s not necessarily the same amount of thought put into contributing. It’s more like a non-synchronous chat. It reminds me of the game telephone (you start with “President Bush should rethink his foreign policy” and end up with “Messing with tusking shook peering fusion peas”). Is it a conversation? Not really—more like pining something on a bulleting board. But why pin something when you have nothing to say, necessarily?

Then again, it can be entertaining—much in the way reality television is—predictable, but still like watching a car wreck; everyone else is slowing down to look, why not me? It gives us concourse to the world, and, unlike a lot of mainstream media, gives us others we can directly identify with. After all, if we are looking at Twitter, we have been drawn in by the spectacle of it, and reading it, you can see people just like yourself, or who remind you of your own experiences. This comment reminded me of my time at UT Austin (if you’ve spent time in Texas, you’ll understand). Vicarious nostalgia. On the other hand, it can also confirm your schema of the world—someone from San Fran who likes Bikram yoga and chai lattes for example. Nothing wrong with it, just nice to reflect on. And let us not forget the advantage of the virtual-being-there; I couldn’t be at SXSW (more Austin nostalgia), but I knew what was happening there, moment to moment, because of Twitterers.

I suppose it could go either way at this point. Blogging takes a lot of dedication, but Twitter has random charm—I offer no predictions. Except that I don’t think John Edwards will be elected—just a hunch.

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Jean Baudrillard is not dead

March 10, 2007 at 10:27 pm (places, theory, web 2.0)

In my attempt to bring you the latest and greatest of this new technology, I bring you Sidestep–a search engine that allows you to search search engines (how Web 2.0 is that?). My husband and I are trying to go to Vegas in the summer (Fremont Street and $1 blackjack, here I come!) and Sidestep actually searches all of the other travel sites to find the best deal. Very cool.

We’re thinking of staying at the Luxor–what better example of Vegas opulence is there? Once of the seven wonders of the world, shrunk down and lit up. The ancient Egyptians would have done it if they’d had the electricity.

The Luxor--the hyperreal

Which brings me of course to Jean Baudrillard, who died just recently. Baudrillard was big on hyperreality, a concept that at its very basic core was about the overwhelming existence of communication channels–we have so much contact that we can no longer distinguish reality from fantasy. So, the pyramid to us may represent prosperity, the glory of man over nature, eternal life–but in reality it’s just a stack of bricks. It’s the meaning that we place with these symbols that becomes reality for us, despite the fact that the meaning is not real. The creators of the Luxor are trying to invoke these thoughts of grandeur, and draw us to its beacon.

The simulacrum of the pyramid would have pleased Baudrillard, I think, should he have believed that pleasure was pleasure. I don’t know if he ever went to Vegas, but he probably would have liked it.

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