Sunday, December 08, 2013

The Age of Innocence is Relative

As I was preparing coffee the other morning, I found myself unexpectedly thinking about the x-rated movies that played at Neeb Hall on the campus of Arizona State University when I was an undergraduate student (circa 1979). I don’t remember how many played in the course of a year, nor how long that genre continued playing there, but I know for sure x-rated movies were shown on campus. Several of us from Hayden Hall’s third floor actually attended one of those skin flicks too. It was the first x-rated movie I ever viewed. Most memorable was the funny, almost embarrassing feeling that came over me when the lights came up after it ended and I could see who was attending—and (gulp) they could see who was attending. I don’t remember wondering if other schools had the same kind of movies, and if someone had asked, I would have suspected that was the case almost anywhere. For the record, I don’t think ASU was ever known for any kind of radical behavior or activities back then. In fact, I think it was considered a fairly conservative school when it came to the country’s larger campuses.

For the record here, I’ll have you know that nothing became of this experience. We didn’t go out and attempt a rape, and none of us to my knowledge became involved in the porn industry or addicted to it. As college students, our reaction/response was probably typical—we giggled, laughed at how unrealistic it was (at least to us), felt a bit awkward, and then moved on. Further, of all the memories of my graduate years at ASU, going to that movie surely wasn’t one of those, “Hey guys, remember that time we…”

On a related note…

As a football cheerleader, we travelled to Stanford once. The day before the big game, we took in the campus. Amongst the beautiful architecture I remember most vividly the fragrance of marijuana in the air as students were smoking on the campus mall between their classes. I was a bit taken back as I never saw anything like this at my ASU (even if x-rated movies were shown there). Yet, after that trip, none of us on the cheerleading squad returned to ASU to initiate a movement for pot-smoking on campus. It was one of those, “Hmm, how about that. Yet another crazy thing attributed to Stanford; they smoke pot on campus and no one seems to care.”

And so, there I was pondering all of this over a cup of joe at 6:30 in the morning. I projected such activities to the Wyoming junior college where I work. I couldn’t imagine such activities permitted on our little pollyanna campus. But, then I wondered: are there still campuses that offer/tolerate such “atrocious” behavior today? Are things still the same in Palo Alto? Am I in such an isolated place that I don’t realize what is happening beyond this high desert, or are such campus escapades a thing of the past? And if they are something of the past, how did that come to be? When did it all shift to something more like the 1950s and Leave It To Beaver?

I mentioned all of this to a friend, and his answer was simply, “Reagan… President Ronald Reagan.”

A few other colleagues chimed in as well. When it comes to pornography, some thought that because the Internet provides a sense of privacy, we will never see it in such everyday public settings (like a major university). And as the legalization of marijuana becomes more widespread, a couple of them thought a day will come when we will see students having a toke or two between classes—assuming they are the same campuses where alcohol is permitted.

As I sit here thinking about all of this, I still wonder: What was that part of my past all about? For the most part, it’s not unusual to consider the things we do and experience today as stupendous in light of our past, especially when technology is factored in. Yet, here is something that was incidental back then that comes across as monumental today. Although I don’t have any hard and fast explanations, it is truly fascinating.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

There Goes The Neighborhood

Red Lodge Riders by mdt1960
Red Lodge Riders, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
My favorite Harley joke...

Q: How is a Harley Davidson like an old dog?
A: They both like to ride in the back of pickup trucks.

Well, the “The Red Lodge Iron Horse Rodeo” has come and gone which means this quiet little mountain town is now in recovery mode from an onslaught of loud motorcycles (mostly of the Harley Davidson variety). I’m happy to report that the Subaru corps of Red Lodge are slowly reclaiming the main drag again. Like a Jekyll and Hyde story, Red Lodge transformed from a quaint and tranquil enclave into a village of chaos and paranoia located next to an easy-escape-penitentiary. Some of the locals compared it to an infestation of cockroaches.

Now that it is history, I find myself questioning the communities that kowtow to the loud Harley events/rallies. Typically we are told that it’s good for commerce, but there are obvious costs in hosting this particular crowd—for starters, extra law enforcement and emergency services are always beefed up when a “rally” comes to town. No doubt, a few watering holes probably do extremely well during these rallies, but one has to wonder how an entire town truly benefits, especially if alienating many of the permanent residents of the community is part of the fallout. And this: might there be other groups a community could cultivate that would generate as much (if not more) commerce without all of the consternation? After all, I don’t recall anyone ever informing me how great the Harley crowd is when it comes to tipping or splashing out with their dough.

As one Red Lodge resident pointed out, “I bet I spend a lot more money in Red Lodge over the course of a year than the average Harley rider that is here and gone for one weekend. Why should I be told to leave for the weekend if I don’t want to tolerate them?”

When walking up and down on Broadway, Red Lodge’s main drag, the rally was akin to a circus freak show. Harley riders and non-riders sit or stand, gawking as the the parade of roaring bikes go by. Often you see the same riders go by several times within the hour. I wonder if they are reliving their teenage years of cruising or making up for the cruising that eluded them as a teenager.

One also has to wonder if the riders see themselves as some modern-day outlaw (à la Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter character) riding into town hoping every local will stop what they are doing while staring with their mouths wide-open.

As long as I’m speculating here, I’ve gathered that many of these riders are likely singing to themselves Bon Jovi’s “Dead Or Alive” as they make that first pass down a community’s main drag.

I’m a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride.
I’m wanted dead or alive.
—Jon Bon Jovi.

Too funny.

On a related note, I also found myself chuckling as one rider who was decorated with the obligatory black vest that spelled out “Lone Wolf” on the back—cruising Broadway with all the other bikes. One is hardly a lone wolf if they have to wear a label telling the world such.

One friend asked recently, “If Harley riders are the ideal of American rugged individualism, why do they all wear the same clothing that usually entails some ensemble of a black leather vest with patches, black leather riding chaps and blue jeans, and a black t-shirt (often sleeveless) advertising some Harley Davidson dealership? In reality, they are conformist lemmings.” My suspicion here is if the Grateful Dead groupies were as loud as the Harley crowd, they wouldn’t be allowed in any town.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh. My partner simply said it this way, “It’s a chance to dress up in a costume and be someone they aren’t.” In essence it’s a Halloween party on wheels.

Though I’ve never owned a motorcycle myself, I do understand the excitement, passion, and that feeling of being free associated with riding a motorcycle. Perhaps I’ll even try it someday, but what I fail to process is the need to carry out this activity on a piece of equipment that overpowers every other sound including a normal conversation—not to mention the need to rev the engine excessively or when it's really not required at all. Such is hardly a practice of respect or considerations for others—which seems to be sooooo unAmerican these days. As I see it, every time a rider revs their loud Harley Davidson, it is simply an outcry for everyone to look at them. And usually I do—with great disdain. Like a dog barking excessively at us, we all should be encouraged to yell back “SHUT THE FUCK UP” every time a deafening Harley goes by. And, if noisy scooter trash is now permissible in America, then such outspoken replies should be licit as well.

In short, the excessively loud Harley Davidson motorcycle has become the quintessential illustration of today’s loud, overweight, underperforming, entitled and overbearing American. Surely such “audible” gatherings of machines would never have been tolerated in the same way back in the 1950s.

And through it all, somehow this particular loud and unruly group that commonly displays messages like a skeleton’s middle finger on the back of their riding vest, or patches that celebrate guns and death, with grandiose, stereotype depictions of Native Americans is somehow considered patriotic. How is that… because they ride an under-performing, oil-slobbering, gas-guzzling, overpriced and overbearing motorcycle that’s made in America?

When will the noise-based, “look-at-me” Harley contingency finally ride that “Highway To Hell”...and not return?

Monday, May 06, 2013

Thoughts on a Phony Parade

Grip and Grin Euphoria.

The following email came out today from the fearless Vice President of Public Relations at Northwest College:

You’re invited to a brief groundbreaking ceremony for the college’s new Yellowstone Building next Thursday, May 16, at 4PM at the construction site just west of the tennis courts. An invitation post card was put into your mailbox this morning. As you’ll see, the post card also includes announcement of President Prestwich’s Farewell Reception the day before; more about that event will come to you from Board of Trustees President Mark Westerhold.

I hope you’ll put the groundbreaking ceremony on your calendars and plan to help NWC launch construction of our exciting new instructional building.

Thanks, all.


After reading this, all I could imagine was that this would be another one of those dull gatherings featuring old, important-people-dressed-in-suits carrying on with a bunch of sterile, gold-plated, one-time-use shovels resulting in another one of those overblown grip-and-grin photo sessions.

In short, a phony parade. And the only people more phony at a phony parade are those that attend. 

Yet, my hope is that this ground-breaking ceremony will result in something less predictable than the above scenario.

I have a couple ideas.

How about a bunch of students with regular shovels doing the actual ground breaking? Any students… whoever wanted to come up and shovel. Perhaps even a Bobcat handy to give the students a “construction thrill.” We can leave the important people in suits on the sidelines. They get paid enough as it is. They need no further recognition.

Could we have a ground-breaking contest? As in, who can shovel off the most sod (measured in square feet) in… say, five minutes.

I don’t know. Honestly I haven’t given it much thought, but I’ve given it a lot more thought than anyone who organizes a phony parade.

I was going to send my suggestion in a “reply all” response, but I have a tendency to get in trouble when I make suggestions like this via a campus-wide email, so I’m subscribing to that “once burned, twice-shy” outlook—and safely posting it here.

Maybe I’m wrong, maybe the ground-breaking ceremony will be something with a little more imagination, but I doubt it. After all, we are talking Northwest College here—a place where we tout originality and creativity, but when it gets right down to it, we fall in line and follow everyone else to justify our institutional direction.

At the risk of being a phony, I may have to attend just to see if I’m wrong.

Postscript: As expected the groundbreaking ceremony was ceremoniously unimaginative. Each VIP took turns at the podium to bring the sparse audience to a level of excitement they hadn't experienced since... um, ...maybe lunch that same day. Gold-plated shovels (spray-painted by one of the physical plant employees) were driven into the already-broken ground by the hard-hat wearing VIPs in nice suits (with the exception of the one token student)

Photo by:

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sour Grapes and Bullshit

My Newest Art Project by mdt1960
My Newest Art Project, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
Like past years, I had no realistic expectations of winning anything in this year’s Project Launch photo competition. But, I had expected that whatever projects were selected, I would be totally blown away (or at least impressed) by their entries. Yet, after reviewing the top awards (with the exception of Will Steacy’s “Deadline” project), I’ve concluded I know nothing about “art” or “photography” based on this year’s top choices. And, after three attempts, I won’t be bothering The Center with future entries as my work is clearly not vague enough, not quirky enough, nor is it eccentric enough for anything to do with The Center’s idea of “award-winning” photography.

I found myself contemplating how much weed the jurors had been smoking as they made their (what seemed to me) willy-nilly selections for 2013. Perhaps only as they were coming out of the fog had they finally started to appreciate Steacy’s project and thus gave a wee bit of credence to what they were doing.

Reading up on the comments by some of the jurors was painfully laughable. Juror Christopher McCall awarded Laia Abril’s project that “documented” those who embrace eating disorders. This so-called photographer went about her craft by taking pictures of her computer screen (or perhaps just used screen shots generated by her computer… not that it really matters). Rather than seeking out, getting to know, and photographing those with eating disorders, this “artist” has simply decided to photograph self-portraits posted by members of this community on the internet. As long as that’s the case, perhaps Abril should only be considered a “virtual photographer.”

Juror McCall justifies Abril’s “photographic technique” saying, “Abril’s use of the computer monitor—with its banding, smudges and stains across the screen—render her subjects through a lens inherent to the technology and social media prevalent in society today.” Catcher in the Rye protagonist and antihero Holden Caulfield would have had a field day with these remarks. Talk about “art speak” bullshit. If Abril had simply posted links to all of the websites she stalks and “photographs,” the experience of this subject-matter would have been the same.

I suppose further comments should now follow on the winning selection from a Swiss-born Japanese kid who had the hard luck of being turned down for Japanese nationality because he was already a Swiss citizen—a tough and compelling life indeed. David Favrod sets out to create “my own Japan, in Switzerland…” through his obscure and disjointed images. Sounds riveting, yeah?

Simply put, it’s a sad day when shoddy-to-mediocre work is promoted (undeservingly) as award-winning art or photography.

When I hear others claim that today’s art and photography worlds are mostly a ruse, I will surely recall the majority of this year’s Project Launch selections.