Cultural Cringe in the Culture of Critique

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Much like the dystopic visions of my favourite childhood movies such as Running Man, The 5th Element and Blade Runner, city train stations are now plastered with large, brash and in-your-face-electronic panels that display obnoxious advertisements to anyone who doesn't have his head buried in a smartphone.

The latest of these to grab my attention was of a large simian actor, humourously self-styled as "The Rock" wearing a pair of designer sunglasses, standing wide-footed in front of his luxury car. The text read: "Catching the train is a decidedly un-baller way to travel. With Foxtel Now, you can stream more of your favourite shows whenever you want!"

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That's right you loser. Your life sucks because you are an ordinary citizen, working a job and having to catch a train with everyone else. Not like this spiffy negro with his steroid-fueled hulky frame and photoshopped blue steel stare. He doesn't work or catch trains, he only drives Italian sportscars, with supermodels clambering to get in the passenger seat. But never mind, because as soon as you get home, you can escape to the life you wish you could have, and be like the "baller" in the show. We couldn't all be like him anyway. But this is your chance, lucky you, you no longer have to wait for your scheduled programming to vicariously experience Miami Vice 2.0 in muscled mulatto mode.
From the Foxtel promotional page:

HIT NFL COMEDY Ballers is like Jerry Maguire meets Entourage. Ex-player and financial manager Spencer Strasmore (Dwayne Johnson) wants to show you the money – but he wants you to have a great time while you’re making it.

You’ll be cheering on Spencer and his peeps as they make touchdowns on the field and party with beautiful women off the field … all the while trying to manage the intense pressure of being elite million-dollar athletes in America’s most popular sport.

Money and respect: Spencer and his people are after them both.

Now The Rock – possibly the most likeable person in the world on either the small or big screens – is back with a second season.

Unfortunately Spencer’s success as a financial manager has earned him a new opponent: a rival big-shot money manager played by Andy Garcia.

As his sidekick Joe warns him, “in this business, you never cross the biggest guy – especially if it’s him”.

Spencer must manage the chaos of his clients’ lives while fending off this new “anti-Rock” after his business.

But whoever wins, there will always be one real winner – the audience watching at home.

Years ago I remember enjoying an Australian television show, called The Gruen Transfer. From wiki, "in shopping mall design, the Gruen transfer (also known as the Gruen effect) is the moment when consumers enter a shopping mall and, surrounded by an intentionally confusing layout, lose track of their original intentions, making consumers more susceptible to make impulse buys. It is named for Austrian architect Victor Gruen, who disavowed such manipulative techniques". The premise of the show was to showcase the funniest or cleverest ads from around the world, as well as create competitions for industry players and amateurs to submit their own work according to the specified briefs.

It was often quite funny, despite the commercially driven (no-pun intended) nature of the show. It was a time (the early 2000's) when it appeared that there was a degree of cleverness and playfulness in advertising. It was as though the copywriters knew they couldn't get away with the 50's style over-the-top narration anymore and tried to make people laugh, or just create some story or meaning with the spare cash of whatever corporate hired them to get more customers.
alt To my recollection, there was not this blatant and brazen contempt for the ordinary person. This caricature of modern success, the alpha consumer, black and vain, probably "self-made" and tough from a life on "the streets" is supposed to appeal to the deracinated corporate-citizen, who knows nothing of heroism or overcoming outside of the grubby hustling of the underworld or the entertainment industry.

Conservative critics expressed concern when Tony Montana of Scarface became a poster-boy for a generation of kids born in the 70's and 80's who knew nothing but the glamour and richesse of financialised casino capitalism. "Greed is good" Gordon Gekko also comes to mind. But what distinguishes these characters from the modern-day "baller" of Entourage, Californication, Suits or this latest ode to Mammon, Ballers, is that the endorsement and glamourisation of opulent lifestyles facilitated by a lack of ethics, embodied in these characters, was setup for failure in the conflict and resolution of the story. They lost and paid the price for their actions. There was a moral to the story, and these anti-heroes met with the dire consequences that befall those who make gods of themselves as they became more and more reckless in their pursuit of pleasure and validation.
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Somehow, I doubt the storyline of Ballers will go the same way.


The collective dumbing-down of pop-culture appears to be accelerating at an astonishing pace. In a recent music video, "part-Aboriginal" Australian hip-hop artist Iggy Azalia attempts to redeem her perceived lack of "ni*er authenticity" as the saying goes, by creating a story of a single young teenager taking on the entertainment industry on her own, "no money, no family...16 in the middle of Miami".


Despite the nasal tone and macho posturing of *Work
, it's clear that Iggy is not trying to say she is man who went out into the world and took the bull by the horns. In one part of the video, she performs the role of a stripper-cum-thief and mid-performance makes away with the poor John's car after deftly relieving him of his keys and available change. Like the whore of Babylon, she makes no bones about what she had to become in order to achieve success.

Much like similar songs from the pop-trash genre, female artists feel an urgent need to legitimise their success by a narrative of triumph against odds and a pleading attempt to create relateability, as "Don't be fooled by the rocks that I got / I'm still Jenny from the block" Lopez and Fergie "no matter how many records I sell, I'm still real" will attest.

The widespread disavowal of Azalia follows a similar pattern to that of fellow rapper and 90's icon Eminem. When a white "artist" (a term I use loosely) exceeds the popularity or success of the PoCs credited with creating the genre, the charge of "cultural appropriation", "whitewashing" is invoked in an attempt to regain lost market share. Fortunately, the girl from Mullumbimby's career has taken a nosedive of its own accord, and the colour apartheid in the "jungle beatz' category has been duly restored.

Despite promising outgrowths of anti-folk, black metal, European EDM, the gatekeepers of popular culture have no intention of toning down the "poz" (a useful shorthand for the promotion of degeneracy and multikult). The inevitable demand for white culture and music must be accompanied by a progressive narrative that undermines the moral authority of the very demographic responsible for creating it.


In Avicii's folksy banjo-pop hit "Wake me up", a single mother and her daughter are scorned and outcast by the conservative Christian residents of the all-American small town. The locals are caricatured as hateful and bigoted at the mere sight of this innocent mother and child. It's clear that a positive affirmation of white identity is only permissible when it is self deprecating (Duck Dynasty) or perceived as crass and low status (Country and Western). Except for Taylor Swift. Maybe she will save us.

alt Taytay in her wheat fields, making us proud

There is some promising new growth in edgy alt-right music. Uncuck the Right and RWDS, and their side project Blink 1488 should be able satisfy the need of both 90's nostalgia and narrative reification. These are two amongst many that I'm sure to have missed.

The solution does not only exist on the internet. There is an unquantifiably large store of healthy and inspiring Western music, film, literature and even television that is easily accessible today. It's clear from the examples above that there is a dearth of meaning and higher values in the modern-day junk-food equivalent of entertainment. As an individual, it is not hard to take "the white pill" and insulate yourself from the corruption of mass-media. But realistically, we must solve for the collective after having looked after ourselves as individuals.

Watching people vomit after consuming from the poisoned cultural food-lot may be unpleasant to observe, but it may be what's required before we can show them a far more attractive option.

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