Media Theory for the 21st Century

March 11, 2008

Nomad Monads and the Boombox Kid

Filed under: Discussion — jeremy @ 4:03 am

It might be useful to expand some of Bull’s concepts like mobility and portability to talk about data storage. I’m particularly curious if there’s any connection to be made between bundling huge amounts of media entertainment into small, juicy, portable packages (I’ve got 28,607 songs on my iPod at the moment = I’m awesome) and the collage techniques born of the Futurists, stolen by the Moderns, and loved by the Postmoderns.

Is there a way in which collage texts might mirror the desire prevalent in our collector culture to have everything with us all the time? This ideal sampling of everything is frighteningly seductive whether it’s envisioned as existing in our networks, our libraries, our castles, our bedrooms, our backpacks, our laptops, or our back pockets. The Waste Land (1922), for instance, occasionally strikes me as a contact print or contact sheet for all of human culture. Or, rather, it embodies the unhealthy desire to carry such a contact print around in your pocket:

[France (Baudelaire) + Germany (Wagner)] * [England (Chaucer, Spenser, Elizabeth) + America (Eliot)] * [East (Upanishads) + West (Homer, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare)] = one shiny pill, your lifetime dose of culture

With the photographic analogy I’m back to the realm of the visual, but we could call it the dream of the Total Remix, too. The Waste Land as high-class Girl Talk. Of course, TWL seeks if doesn’t achieve synthesis whereas Girl Talk “[lacks] much compounding of groove–the effects are too sequential.” In any case, Imtalkinbouta portable universe. Imtalkinbouta nomad monad. Any way you want it you can have it, and Imtalkinbouta way to have it all, all of it, where you want it and when you want it in a single blinding moment of bliss. Singularity baby.

The question might be: Does it matter that it (the pill, the iPod, The Waste Land, the contact print, the mashup) is highly portable? Or: What do we gain or lose with this desire to have as much as possible crammed into as few square inches as possible?

Also: The Boombox Kid! He totally gives us a way to talk about expanding our bubbles. Has anyone else seen him? He’s a young Asian guy with a backpack and a boombox who walks around campus blasting ’80s-style hip-hop tracks (mostly instrumental) and dancing in circles. He’s got some serious chutzpah. And because UCLA is so quiet—all iPods and dull cellphone chatter—you can hear him from way across campus. Everyone pretty much ignores him, but he’s sheer awesome and points to a fundamental question raised by bubble expansion. When is such expansion a delight and when is it a nuisance or self-glamorization?

Finally: The classic Volkswagen “Synchronicity” commercial (1999). The music from a tape playing inside the car “interesting[ly]” matches the movements of the surrounding vibrant multi-everything urban environment.

–Jeremy Schmidt

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