Double Feature Funpack #1: Dave Took Our Show Away

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Jim Farris and I discuss the legacy of Late Night host David Letterman and the sincere melancholy and mourning we’re experiencing as an era ends.

If you too are feeling blue because your favorite TV show is now off the air, remember how Dave reacted to Jimmy when, in the 1983 After School Special “They Took My Show Away,” Jimmy proclaimed that he would never watch TV again.

“Jimmy! Don’t ever say that. Not even as a joke. I tell you what, I’ll show you the new NBC fall schedule. I have a feeling we’ll find a new show for you. Look, this one is about a chimp that lives in Washington. You know that’ll be good. Jimmy, I don’t think we have anything to worry about. This is going to be the best TV season ever!”

21 May 2015, 2:52am
Zero Squared
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Zero Squared #20: Pop Dialectic

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C Derick Varn is the guest this week and we discuss a book by Russell Jacoby entitled Dialectic of Defeat. Varn is a reader at Zero Books, he’s a long time contributor to my old podcast Diet Soap, and has worked as lecturer on English Literature, Composition, and Intercultural communication as well as a high school teacher. The book by Russell Jacoby Dialectic of Defeat is described as a polemical attack on ‘conformist’ or orthodox Marxism.

In his review of the Jacoby Varn wrote:

“Russell Jacoby’s Dialectic of Defeat is one of those books that is excellent in what it critiques but confused in what it advocates.”

It’s Wednesday, May 20th 2015 and I’m Douglas Lain the publisher of Zero Books and the host of this podcast.

In this episode you’ll hear from Chad African on Hegel’s idealism, Peter Millican lecturing on epistemology, clips from the 1956 film version of 1984, the Eurythimics, the music of Dan Lett, the Rach 3 as presented in the movie Shine, an excerpt from the Alpha to Omega podcast with Tom O’Brien and his guest Thom Workman, and Bill Murray’s cover of Olivia Newton John’s hit “Physical” as performed on the very first episode of Late Night with David Letterman.

The music you’re listening to now is the theme from Late Night with David Letterman, but in just a moment you’ll here C Derick Varn and I discuss Jacoby’s “Dialectic of Defeat.”

17 May 2015, 11:48pm
Diet Soap Update
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Diet Soap Rerun: Bedazzled by Hegel’s Monstrous Reason

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Here’s another re-run:

There is no guest this week as Benjamin and I discuss Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit focussing on Hegel’s ideas about reason and organic life while pointing to the movies Bedazzled (a comedy starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) and Frankenstein to help us understand.

I want to thank everyone who is a regular donor to Diet Soap and to thank everyone who regularly participates in the Philosophy workshop. I didn’t receive any individual donations last week, but I did receive help from my regular subscribers. If you’d like to donate or subscribe to the podcast the buttons are at dietsoap.podomatic.com and at douglaslain.com. Donations of $6 or more in the US or $15 internationally will receive a copy of my book “Pick Your Battle.” Also, if you’d rather not receive a copy of “Pick Your Battle” you can get on the list for a copy of “The Doom that Came to LOLcats” which is a novella due out from Eraserhead press this year.

I should tell you all to follow me on twitter and friend me on Facebook. Also you can send me email through my webpage. That’s douglaslain.com.

Again, this week is another Hegel podcast with my son Benjamin. Next week we’ll hear from the journalist Margaret Kimberley, and I have conversations with Daniel Coffeen, Jason Horsley, Bradley Sands, and many others in the hopper. The music you’re listening to is the Vitamin String Quartet’s cover of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart, but in just a moment you’ll be listening to my son Benjamin and I discuss Hegel’s Reason.

Unrelated Essay: Star Trek, Pong, and Class Struggle

One question that came out of John Scalzi’s apt blog post “Straight, White, Male: The Easiest Difficulty Level There Is” is this one:

“How might we understand the idea of class through video games?”

That is, if using the analogy of an RPG video game can help white male nerds understand institutionalized racism and white privilege, it’s also possible that video games might help nerds of every gender and race understand the concept of class structure and class struggle.

In Adam Curtis’s documentary “All Watched Over by Machine’s of Loving Grace” the filmmaker interviewed Loren Carpenter about his 1991 experiment using the game Pong to inspire mass collaboration. In the interview Carpenter explains how a group of 5000 people spontaneously figured out how to collaborate to play pong on a giant screen. The collaborating crowd spontaneously figured out how to cooperate with a minimum amount of communication and no hierarchal structures of power; there were no overt directions nor any chain of command, but the crowd was able to figure out how to collectively move the paddles on the big screen and keep the ball bouncing back and forth. They learned how to run a flight simulator game collectively, and how to solve the variety of other puzzles put to them. They worked together each time in a completely egalitarian way and as a mass.

16 May 2015, 8:46pm
Diet Soap Update
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Diet Soap Rerun: The Stanley Parable

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This is a rerun a conversation with my son Benjamin about a video game that I think illustrates our Late Capitalist dilemma. I’m reposting this because Ashley Frawley mentioned it was particularly useful. The game is called the Stanley Parable and the concept the game may illustrate is that of a Totality.

Here’s some writing to go along with the podcast.

How to Understand a Totality?

Totality as a Goal

Radiohead’s 1995 hit Fake Plastic Trees is a song about longing after a reality that has already disappeared.

She looks like the real thing
She tastes like the real thing
My fake plastic love
But I can’t help the feeling
I could blow through the ceiling
If I just turn and run

Now we live in a world where these lines about “the real thing” evoke an advertisement for a soda pop much more than they evoke thoughts about philosophy. In 1969 the Coca-Cola corporation replaced its “Things Go Better With Coke” campaign with the slogan “It’s the Real Thing,” and since then the real thing has been associated with soda pop. In a way reality was replaced by sugar water.

This is the dilemma that we have. How can we create a harmonic, balanced, and real society now that reality has disappeared and been replaced with fizzy sugar water?

Maybe we should take a look at what we’re after. What is the real thing? I’d like to suggest that it is a Totality or the idea of a natural social world. Finding the real thing, our true selves, isn’t a matter of just looking, but also means doing some rearranging. To find the Totality we have to put everything in its right place including ourselves and each other. It’s a matter of shifting where we stand and how we act towards one another, because we ourselves are already merely the result of the social order. The philosopher Aristotle said something like this when he argued that the city-state is naturally prior to the individuals in it, because individuals cannot perform their natural functions apart from the city-state, since individuals are not self-sufficient.

What we are after is a harmonic totality, a way to be in the right place, but we’ve got a problem.

Totality as a Problem

How do we know that we’re not already in the right Totality, or, to put it another way, that Coke isn’t the real thing? After all, Coke is a commodity and in our society social relations are determined by relationships between commodities. How is it, if people or individuals really are created by their social relationships, that we might object to the commodity form or any other kind of social relationship? One answer is that maybe we don’t really object to the system or the Totality at all? That it really is impossible to object. After all, if we are only the result of our social relationships then any objections we find ourselves making would actually just be a part of the social Totality.

Another way of putting this is that we are, ourselves, just expressions of the social Totality. We’re like characters in a movie or a video game. We are the Fake Plastic Trees in the Radiohead song.