Friday, June 9, 2017

This Whole Post Is Really Interesting, But Also Kind of Sad And Creepy, And Should Probably Be Avoided Altogether

Generally NSFW-ish.

A great many years ago I was leaving college, and wondering, in bloke-ish fashion, why nearly every hetero male fantasy has the woman in a skirt. Attractive women are attractive in anything they wear – that’s why fashion models can pull off nearly any absurdity on the runway, because, if you have the right genes, it doesn’t matter what you wear: you’ll look good doing it.

My analysis eventually confirmed that most of these male sexual fantasies are of the ‘hit and run’ variety. Airline stewardesses, maids, nurses, secretaries – these are ladies you aren’t supposed to be having sex with, or whom you only have a very limited time, or a very high-risk location in which to do the deed. Skirts offer easier access than sexy tight jeans and so it plays into the whole quick and risky thing.

Even in the common fantasies where speed/place/adultery isn’t a big part of the draw, for example cheerleaders, the skirt still is an important part of the vision. As Jackie Treehorn so eloquently stated:

And with 85% of males, in a 2014 study, fantasizing about having sex with someone who is not their partner, that risqué aspect of on-the-fly, don’t-get-caught naughtiness is important.

So that’s what I wrote back then. I noted, finally, that different shades of this basic concept are based on catering to different psychological fulfillments. They represent archetypes of what guys want in their most intimate moments. Do they want to be controlled, to submit their trust to someone else giving directives and making decisions? Dominatrix. Do they want someone to take care of them, soothe their fears, help relax their anxieties, and tell them everything’s okay? Nurse. Do they want someone young and innocent, full of energy and kind of simple who can look up to them (pun not intended, but it works too well to leave out)? Cheerleader. Secretaries are submissive and willing to take dic-tation. (I got a million of ‘em!) Stewardesses, like nurses are to cater to your needs. Tennis instructors are young and peppy but they control the balls on the court (here all week folks!), putting them more in the domination side of the spectrum. College Humor did an amusing video, also in 2014, on the barista as sex-symbol (again, a service-based fantasy):

Millennials consume a lot of porn – more than older generations, and usually on digital devices (we don’t buy magazines, DVDs, and such, which was one of my very first posts on here a decade ago). Of course porn is a big part of the wish fulfillment we’ve been talking about. The fantasies are played out in short online video clips which are easily “consumed”.  Since so much of the fantasy is in the head of the viewer they can fill in the gaps left out of a clip that’s only a few minutes long. PornHub (who else?) has some interesting stats on this (of a vaguely NSFW content, of course – not in terms of imagery, but language).  People in my age bracket spend about 9 minutes watching porn per session. This is a far cry from the “golden age” of pornography’s hour+ features, or even the 30+ minute story-based porn of the VHS/DVD era. Last year Vice did a piece on Millennial porn consumption that was well-cited.  Basically we have less sex, and it is more porn-like, which is pretty unfulfilling (ironically, perhaps, given that porn is designed to fulfill fantasy, after all). We watch more porn, but it leaves us miserable (which just may be this generation’s default, honestly) and seems to mean we’re having less sex – real fulfillment seems ever more elusive.

*          *          *

This all brings me to ASMR.

I was introduced to the concept quite by accident. A co-worker back in 2015 mentioned that she did reiki. I smiled and nodded, quickly checked for nearby exits – and later that evening looked up “reiki roleplay” on YouTube so I could find out what it was. (I knew it was some sort of spirit healing mystic energy BS but had no specifics. Was it the same as ‘auras’? Was it somehow ‘psychic’? I was curious.) I got results like these:

And this:

… and this:

…and this…:

…and on and on for about 200,000 results. Obviously I was intrigued by this ‘ASMR’ since all the reiki people seemed to whisper during their roleplays. But if today you type in “ASMR roleplay” on YouTube you’ll get around a million results. Search for just “ASMR” and it jumps to eight million videos.

I’m not proud of what followed.

I don’t experience ASMR – which adherents claim is a pleasant tingly sensation you get listening to whispering and certain sounds (crinkling paper, latex gloves, spray bottles, tapping on hard surfaces, and such). But the videos were hypnotic, and I ended up frequently watching them before bed.

There is a clear trend in many of these, of “personal attention”, and really there’s no way to describe it, so I picked three videos of this sort to include, to give an idea of what these videos are all about. If you find them disturbing try to stick it out and watch for a couple of minutes:

As the title of this blog post says: kinda creepy, and kinda sad. These three all have millions of views. I’ll reiterate that I’m not proud: but in the evening I inexplicably found attractive young ladies whispering into the camera and pretending to stroke my face to be quite soothing. Whoduh thunkit.

Now, I know I’m not alone in this, and a few other videos will make this clear, that this trend ties in with the fantasies I mentioned previously regarding porn. Take a look at these ASMR roleplays:

“ASMR - MEDICAL EXAM - mouth to mouth resuscitation”

Realistic Barber Role Play *Straight Razor Shave and Mustache Styling* ASMR

“ASMR FIRST CLASS Flight and SPA Service - Flight Attendant Role Play

[ASMR] Gaming Store Roleplay

I think it’s safe to say most of these cater to male fantasies. I should note though, that there are roleplay ASMR videos that are presumably targeted towards women, for example:

“Beauty Brow Salon/ ASMR Trimming & Shaping Your Eyebrows

That said – the number of hits on YouTube for ASMR “for men” or “men’s” is around 300,000; whereas “for women” and “women’s” is only around is only half as many. A lot of these content creators, the ones who get millions of views, have Patreon accounts and sponsors for products. By looking at the ASMR creators’ accounts we can perhaps see that this is a largely male-oriented market. A typical video produced by these young women, as a backer reward, is to read off the names of their patrons, in ASMR:

(I embedded the videos above to underscore the visual point I was making regarding attractiveness, which is not needed for these, but still applies.) Note the list of names is mostly male. Or try this one, from the gamer girl above:

Which, by my count (thankfully she provides a list), has about 25 female names scattered as patrons throughout a *40 minute* video. Each name only takes a few seconds to say, so… yeah. The women account for about three minutes of the video, tops.

*          *          *

So, by combining these two threads, the one of fantasy, Millennials, and porn, and the second of male-directed ASMR fantasy roleplays, it leads us to a weird place. I guess the question is, have we inadvertently, through ASMR, begun to create emotional porn?

Unfunny jokes have been around for ages, that, since women are emotional and men are clearly little better than Neanderthals, that “porn” for women is a man who will listen. Or cuddle. Or do the dishes. Ha ha – stale humor at its finest. These are all examples, though, of displays of emotional intelligence. And with that I wonder if male-oriented ASMR videos are doing the same sort of thing.

In the world of online porn there is a huge business, like we saw with ASMR, of patronage – young women with a video camera on their laptop who perform for tips.  Is the whispering of one’s name on YouTube while lovingly gazing into the camera all that different? It’s an emotional connection, instead of a sexual one, but as we saw – with many of the roleplay videos they are the same archetypes as pornography. There’s ASMR of school girls, yoga instructors, hotel clerks, masseuses, maids, police officers, and on and on. And there’s a large contingent of cosplay crossover, so you can get Harley Quinn or sexy aliens or some other fantasy female to whisper to you as well.

There are only a handful of studies on this stuff – we don’t know how many people actually get tingles when they watch these videos. But I feel confident, among the 8,000,000 videos, many with millions of view apiece (apparently the most-watched has been seen 18 million times) that they suggest, in concurrence with the plethora of male-oriented content and male backers, that a lot of it is not so much for tingles but just to see pretty ladies being virtually nice to men. And while Millennials are watching porn for ever-shorter amounts of time, these emotionally resonant ASMR videos of affirmations, compliments, and telling you "everything's going to be okay" are usually around half an hour in length, and often longer.

I’ve been watching these videos for two years now, and they are proliferating ever more quickly, meaning attractiveness is increasing at an accelerating rate – with millions of views at stake it’s no wonder. For a few hundred bucks in startup equipment, making a few videos a month, you can earn a decent salary – if you become a top creator. It may beat the alternative way for young women to make money from online videos, though. 

Which is… sad. In a generation that already is so into porn, but for whom their sex lives are increasingly unfulfilled, perhaps the trend over the past few years of ASMR catching on is a way of filling the emotional void many people have from their lack of meaningful relationships. Studies suggest that even people who are having a normal amount of sex compared to previous generations still watch porn – the quantity of sexual activity doesn’t seem to change folks’ porn-viewing habits much.

While not a new idea (see Charlie Brooker or the film “Her”) we may be seeing the first non-sci-fi version of this virtual connection. Instead of computers trying to comfort us, we’ve opted for real young women – who stroke our faces across an impossible screen. And if that isn't as or more tragic than substituting sex for pornography  I don't know what is.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Gen Z

I’ve taught for about nine years, and middle school for the past three. My first year of teaching them they were fine, tractable. I could impart moral lessons on them and be all teacher-y. And last year was... okay. But I was increasingly concerned about the cohort that they seemed more...“depressed”? This year? Straight up nihilists. They seemingly believe in nothing. It is all pointless, all lies, all doomed.

Trump won? Okay - democracy clearly doesn’t work. Global warming? Great - didn’t want to live past 25 anyway, and now it’ll be too hot to do so. Media a joke? Don’t care to watch that crap since clearly *someone* is always lying and the fact that it makes it on television shows the need to just tune it out. SJWs? Great, I guess, whatever. They’re pretty good on equal rights and tolerance except for all the people getting shot.

Interestingly, though, they are excited by one thing (besides slime/Rubik's cubes/fidget spinners/yoyos and other vaguely spectrum-y forms of stimulation - which, mind you, is not a bad thing but a *very* interesting development. Even the “mean girls” and popular kids have spinners and Rubik's cubes, for cripes’ sake. That, to me, is extraordinary.) namely they are interested in their identity and appearance, whether that materializes in Instagram or fandom membership, or some other form.

And before y’all get “IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN THUS” on me - no. I study world history, I know already all the Victorian and 1960s and Adam Conover you want to throw at me. Instead of getting defensive, please just listen to someone very much on the front lines of the rising generation - I have taught thousands of students (class sizes!) and this is the culmination of what the 90s began. 

In the pre-Instant Messenger days of middle school you had to watch ‘The Simpsons’ so you could show you were cool the next day, and got the jokes. There was very limited fandom to choose from, compared with the infinite vastness of the internet, and Simpsons was essentially king. But as Mike Rugnetta so expertly pointed out:

“Nothing you [The Simpsons] depicted was normal - because normal doesn’t exist. Normal is a lie invented by politicians and jerks to help them sleep at night. And this was a thing we needed to understand - desperately. Your authority figures - your Chief Wiggum, your Monty Burns, Principal Skinner and ‘Super Nintendo Chalmers’ - though vested with power, suffered their own significant shortcomings; they were fallible and human. And so my own teachers, directors and coaches came in to focus as multi-dimensional people who wielded the power they had not because of that power’s benefits, but sometimes in spite of it... Your media elite are incompetent, confused, or con artists - completely oblivious or operating on some very thinly-veiled agenda. You damn every cultural institution - politics, religion, media, family - as an effort of haphazard though purposeful manipulation by people just barely in control.

And then we all grew up and became teachers. And parents. And, entering our thirties, increasingly powerful figures. Our middle schoolers of today grew up in a world where the curtain was already pulled away, where the adult generation decided that if it they were going to be CEOs they would wear hoodies while doing so. Religion is declining among the Millennial bracket. As per Camus or Sartre, without a cause, like God, for explaining suffering and stupidity and absurdity life hurls at us we just have to navigate our complicated and arbitrary existence as best we can. Due to the economic collapse these kids grew up during and which we graduated into, we’re not starting families, buying homes or diamonds or whatever (too much avocado toast clearly) and frankly - we just aren’t like earlier generations. The Millennials abhor convention, as Rugnetta gets at, and, as new teachers, we had no compunctions in sharing Howard Zinn and “Lies My Teacher Told Me” to our students. Millennials don’t believe in the old narrative: “go to school, college, good grades, good job” - so why should their kids? The 90s kids who got married out of high school have kids whom I now teach in 6th and 7th grade. They are the first wave of this. 

But as a consequence those same students have even less faith in their world than we did, who previously held the record low. Our middle school kids are comparable to nihilists. With us raising them, modeling behavior, and teaching them, it’s not that surprising. Growing up with every taboo being broken before our eyes it’s only reasonable that we would do the same for the kids we encountered. It depresses us, because we saw the curtain torn away from us. But for Gen Z it’s absence is a given, and the conclusions they draw appropriately reflect the reality that Oz is not a great and powerful wizard.

However, as pointed out, the fact that they care about themselves, their fandom, and their social media, may be a cause for hope. Real nihilists (if that’s even possible) presumably wouldn’t care about dank memes, SpongeBob references (really? still?), Magic the Gathering, Flight Club’s sneakers or... fidget spinners. It’s very consumerist, which I find worrying, but it’s something. They only have faith, and only believe in, themselves.

That may be the greatest difference between their generation and ours.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Live Take Trios

The last time I dealt with live albums was apparently in 2009, so I’d say an update was due.

As such, here are three good live albums, my favorites, for a number of different genres:


If you only want one: Live at the Regal – BB King. This well-known work showcases King’s excellent guitar skills, good crowd chatter, and lots of energy. Everything you want in a live album from one of the best guitarists ever.

Second opinion: At Newport 1960 – Muddy Waters. ‘Newport’ is probably Waters’ best recording, outside of an anthology. It has a mature sound – a trim 9-song set made some years after he’d first recorded these favorites.

A contrasting view: Irish Tour ’74 – Rory Gallagher. If you want something different, try Gallagher’s impressive blues-rock album. He was probably the only artist with enough cred to go to Northern Ireland to record this during the Troubles.


If you only want one: At Folsom Prison – Johnny Cash. Famous country singer plays for a pack of prisoners, who bring incredible energy to the whole proceeding. The expanded 19-track version is worth the extra three songs.

Second opinion: Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas – Townes Van Zandt. ‘Old Quarter’ captures the ‘solo performer in a country bar’ sound. Van Zandt was a consummate Country songwriter.

A contrasting view: Live – Allison Krauss and Union Station. For a more bluegrass-y country sound the sprawling 25-track, hour and forty-five minute album is an excellent choice. Krauss, as always, shines as both a fiddler and a top-notch vocalist.


If you only want one: There and Now: Live in Vancouver 1968 – Phil Ochs. It’s a rare album in which the spoken word sections are as good as the music, but Ochs pulls this off with his bemused and acerbic reflections on America at a crossroads. It feels increasingly prescient.

Second opinion: We Shall Overcome – The Complete Carnegie Hall Concert – Pete Seeger. To contrast, the optimism of Seeger’s Civil Rights-era concert turns Carnegie Hall into a singalong, which is incredibly infectious. Some filler of this two-disc work puts it just slightly behind Ochs in my estimations.

A contrasting view: Dream Letter: Live in London 1968 – Tim Buckley. The folk singer in a coffeehouse cliché is upended in this delightfully ethereal set. The often haunting lyrics are matched with atypical vocal and instrumental pairings.

Jazz: Swing – Bop

If you only want one: The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert – Benny Goodman. This landmark swing album was the first time jazz got its due as ‘important’ music – by making stuffy Carnegie Hall’s classical set want to dance.  Tremendous energy makes it the top choice.

Second opinion: Ellington at Newport – Duke Ellington. Ellington’s career was practically over in 1957, but by pulling out all the stops he gets Newport to go wild. One of the tracks towards the end is actually called “Riot Prevention” – available only on the proper two-disc re-release (the original 5-track vinyl was actually a faked ‘live’ recording done in the studio which doesn’t capture the energy nearly as well).

A contrasting view: A Night at the Village Vanguard – Sonny Rollins. For the bop/hard bop fans, if swing isn’t your thing, try the ‘Saxophone Colossus’ at the peak of his powers. The original six-track album is tighter, but if you like what you hear try the full 18-song playlist.

Jazz: Post-Bop

If you only want one: The Koln Concert – Keith Jarrett. After years of jazz fusion Jarrett recorded an achingly gorgeous solo piano concert, all-improvised on the spot. One of the highlights of any sort of concert performance, in any genre.

Second opinion: Swiss Movement – Les McCann and Eddie Harris. A festival atmosphere prevails in this soul-jazz recording. Most notably, McCann and Harris hadn’t played together before this – but the lead single crossed-over to become a hit all the same.

A contrasting view: Sunday at the Village Vanguard – Bill Evans Trio. If you like quiet jazz where the sounds of the polite diners in the background stirring iced tea are as much a part of the performance as the musician’s instruments, this is the album for you. They even cover a Disney tune, “Alice in Wonderland”.

R&B and Soul

If you only want one: Live at the Apollo – James Brown. The best live album in any genre, in my humble opinion (and many other people’s). The energy is unparalleled, the showmanship is A+, and the crowd is the most frenzied.

Second opinion: Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 – Sam Cooke. This is the album that made me rethink Otis Redding – because Cooke out-growls and out-pleads him. Gritty and hard-working, it does sort of up-end the ‘cool’ image of Cooke – but for the better.

A contrasting view: New Orleans Piano Wizard: Live! – James Booker. An unusual work (is it R&B? Jazz? Blues?), Booker is so sunshine-happy that it seeps deep into your bones. Nice if you like standards with lots of flourish and fun.

Rock: Jam Bands

If you only want one: At Fillmore East – The Allman Brothers Band. Duane Allman was a ridiculously talented guitarist, and Gregg a top-notch composer. Together, backed by their great band, they spin out Southern rock tracks into 25-minute masterpieces.

Second opinion: Live/Dead – Grateful Dead. Probably the most famous group representing the jam-band mentality, this first release benefits from being highlights culled from various sets, months apart. If you’d prefer an uninterrupted take of their groove, try ‘Europe ’72’.

A contrasting view: Band of Gypsys – Band of Gypsys. Recorded in the last days of 1969, and the first days of 1970, Jimi Hendrix split from the Experience and released six tracks lasting 45 minutes. It’s the last recording of his lifetime, and shows him at his most musically ambitious.

Rock: Non-Jam Bands

If you only want one: Stop Making Sense – Talking Heads. The proper, 16-song version of the concert is one massive crescendo – first with just Byrne on stage, and then he’s joined by one band member, then another. By the end there’s a crowd of musicians performing to a crowd of cheering fans.

Second opinion: MTV Unplugged in New York – Nirvana. On the other end of the spectrum, let’s take Nirvana’s grunge and strip it down to the basics, in an intimacy that allows listeners to see past the snarl. Did you know Kurt Cobain could sing (and not just scream)?

A contrasting view: The Concert for Bangladesh – George Harrison et al. The first charity concert, was, of course, created by Harrison, who got an all-star lineup to help raise funds, from Ravi Shankar to Bob Dylan, to Eric Clapton. A triple-album of great energy directed for a cause to help the then-(and now again) suffering country.