Doing It Yourself to a Fault

The death of print hasn’t killed people’s interest in watching the outside world. It has just added another layer between the windows and the world worth watching. As a result we no longer judge what we see on its merits but on the qualities of the glass between. Does it entertain? Is it beautiful? Are we respected, for our time and observation, by professional glazing and temper? We have conversations, in real life, that sound like rapid fire checklists of articles we have skimmed and that evoked something in us (a feeling? a thought? no time to know as there are a thousand more headlines to read).

While scanning this flood of information there is little time to digest, review, or even position oneself in regards to the material. One is a leaf in the wave. The idea that this is “information surfing” pretends to an agency that no longer exists in this third decade of mass networked information. The better metaphor may be one of a blanket suffocating a fire. The passion to create, small things, pales in the face of a reality where a fourteen year old observing that Friday comes after Thursday can be propped in front of a camera and watched over 167 million times.

Where there was once a spirit of rebellion in the practice of scribbling a word on paper and sharing it with other people trapped in homes, now we barely have the energy to attempt to semaphore. The democratization of digital creation has led to the few creative outlets being the most horrific (e.g. 4chan). It is so easy to say things that we say very little at all and nothing of importance. Nothing to shake worlds.

The new professionalism of digital information means that spinning up a server has never been easier nor less necessary. New radical projects click three buttons, fill in 10 – 20 fields and have launched a new Facebook™ site, where all the information one would have put together after days of hacking code, securing services, and agonizing over browser compatibility can be shared in minutes. The ease of sharing information means that sharing itself is free, or to put it differently, is the product itself.

When we share our dreams in their perfect enclosure we validate it (the enclosure). This is beyond being a source, or creator, of advertising or marketing material, but enclosures are also prisons of a sort. Rational self-interest has motivated pirates, rebels, and free thinkers into gilded cages where life (defined in this case as sharing information–also known as communicating) couldn’t be easier. Where life itself is pablum of links, factoids, and near opinions barely worth watching from the safety of our own homes. We are becoming bored of watching ourselves perform a communication dance near each other. Always reaching, never touching.

The Anvil Review is about bringing a hammer to the glass. Bruises and flaws are far superior to the blue (#3B5998) bars the imprison us. Bring back the xerox machines, printing press, and flawed do it yourself spirit of our childhood! Fucked up cut-and-paste is superior to fixed pixel width and the tyranny of the desk chair. Every time I see a book shaped to the ass of an actual reader I want to run and hug the person holding it. They are the few who have escaped the manicured landscape of our beautiful ever present reality of the lonely crowds and self prescribed limitations.

As long as ours hands have not curled into a carpal tunneled claws we will contest their presentation of the world, transgress against the theme park of false oppositions or one great nation, and engage with the tragic, failed, glorious projects we bring to each other in this, the only moment we have together.

Everything is Under Review – Editorial #2

Welcome to the second issue of The Anvil Review, a collection of review essays about popular culture, literature, and radical material.

Popular culture seems to insist that each of us takes positions all the time, pro or con, yes or no, either/or. Most of these are choices between two equally stupid options. Wrap yourself in a flag, believe this or that about sex, drugs, responsibility, and file sharing and shut your mind. Take one side or another in difficult questions about living in a complicated world that is only increasing in complexity. The constant drum of celebrity gossip, manufactured outrage, and drama that completely obfuscates important things is deafening. We are deaf.

This deafness from the cacophony around us prevents us hearing the screams of the people of Northern Africa or of Rust-Belt America. It prevents us from taking our own problems seriously, or slowing down from the relentlessness of going to work, paying the bills, or hearing anything outside the drone of mundanity.

We live in a permissive world where things happen to us all the time without needing (or waiting for) us to consent. Want to work a forty-hour-a-week job? Want to eat crappy food? How about a cigarette, a joint, a credit card, or a pill? Do you want to be so-called connected to your friends primarily from the isolation of your bedroom?

But there is a moment when you take a pause, when you exert your will onto your life for long enough to evaluate the options you are confronted with (which are all assumed to be non-options because the answer is always yes) and choose none of the above. The first time you see a fork in the road and choose a knife is the moment you realize that you have the power, and ability, to put everything under review. It is your cautious intelligence that frees you from the cacophony of simplification and allows you to begin to question.

On the off beat we have the opportunity to make our own choices. When we are not battened down by our shitty jobs or the qualities of our limitations–our inability to communicate, lack of resources, alienation–we can come to our own conclusions. This moment, and the decision to ponder, is precious. Perhaps this is the most precious time each of us have in our adult lives, when we make real decisions about where the world (large and small) ends and we begin. Where we decide about the things we feel strong enough to say NO to. It is this no that drives the producers of the Anvil.

This project of review essays, at best, uses something real, something labored over and shared with the world, as a way to speak both to that labor and to something else. It could be that a review of the latest pop album speaks to the depth and composition of the alienation one feels or to the soaring joy of the ephemeral moment the album demarcates. At worst a review essay doesn’t say anything at all and serves only as a gravestone to a labor of creation and the potential that that creation served for its author. Of course, we aspire to reaching for depths and heights and not to the measuring of rows of gravestones.