Citizen Tleilax

YouTube Comments Have Literary Merit

FIRST! – A Book of YouTube Comments
Edited by Pablo Capra
Published by Brass Tacks Press
Zine/Booklet – 23 pages

Well, perhaps “literary merit” is an overstatement–however there is certainly a value in such expressions, however base they may predominantly be at first glance. The comments referred to here are mainly those which are posted as instantaneous reactions to what has just been viewed, requiring probably less than 2 seconds of thought on the part of the authors. These types of comments are of course not limited to YouTube; they can occur in various places across the internet: Facebook statuses, 4Chan (and related) forums, etc. Taken as a whole, the myriad collections of such comments on all manner of topics across the web present a revealing view into the state of mind of a mass segment of our internet-infused culture. I view them as a sort of collaborative folk art, combining to create a humorously absurd, abstract tale of the frivolity and often intellectually stunted nature of many of the internet’s denizens. These negative aspects abound, certainly, yet a keen sense of highly developed and succinct comedy appropriate to its environment is perhaps just as frequently displayed, if one has the correct mind to interpret it.

While one need not look far to read multitudes of such commentary in their natural habitats, Capra’s published collection recognizes that this incidental output from our society deserves more than a cursory glance as we wander through these very spaces on our own missions. Presenting these small blips of text on paper as a uniquely modern form of automatic poetry or literature imbues them with the strength of cultural documentation, a strength which allows them to outlive their inherently unstable environment where all might be lost when a video is removed or a thread deleted. I have myself thought on many occasions that similar things should be published, and I am glad to see it done here in this small booklet.

NY Times Exposes Egregious Corporate Waste, Sabotaging Dumpster Diving

On January 5th, 2010, Jim Dwyer published an article in the NY Times exposing how H&M Clothing destroys and discards large amounts of useful items. As I am completely against corporations sabotaging their useful trash, and completely supportive of people dumpster diving for useful trash, I was very happy to see an article exposing this egregious offense and wrote a letter to Dwyer with a CC to the editor of the NY Times:

I would like to thank you for writing an article exposing H & M’s irresponsible and completely insensitive actions. This is far too common of a practice for corporations all over the country, and the amount of waste that is generated from perfectly usable items of all sorts is utterly disgusting. That usable items are regularly disfigured and trashed is an insult to the communities they are supposedly a part of, and a slap in the face to those who can’t afford to patronize the company. Such actions show that ultimately they’d rather let people freeze to death than see them get a useful, discarded item for free from a dumpster. That is far too cold-hearted a practice to tolerate if we are to be a “civilized” society, and I believe your article sends this message.

Exploration of Local Territory on My Bicycle

June 8th, 2009:

Today I embarked upon a mission of exploration throughout the topography of nearby urbania, accompanied only by my bicycle. This particular mission lasted a total of five and three quarter hours. I brought a small bag of peanuts but no money or tools, as I was confident if I needed anything for some reason, I would find items which would help me. The universe frequently provides me with resources in unexpected ways, consistently enough to almost count on it. Other than thoroughly decorating the streets with my energetic trails and increasing my general knowledge of the local territory, this mission provided a few notable elements which I shall describe below.

First was the discovery of a small collection of accidentally discarded items which appear to have formerly been possessed by some sort of middle-aged “bum”. These were lying in disarray halfway on and off a sidewalk. There were a few calling cards, a bunched up gaudy thing that used to be a cheap necklace but was now hopelessly entangled, three almost-full lighters, a ticket for drinking in public dated three days ago (indicating the ticketee as a male in his forties), and two giftcards. One was for a store I can’t recall but had no interest in, the other for Starbucks– I took the latter, leaving the other as a potential gift for someone else who might find it. I suspected the cards might have some value still, because the loss of these items did not seem intentional, which I judged by the ticket and the fuel levels of the lighters. I also took the necklace bunch (I’m fond of such things), two of the lighters (the third was covered in grime), and went to the nearest payphone to check the balance of the giftcard. It had $2.75 left, and later in the day I used it to refresh myself with an iced green tea from a company I would never patronize otherwise, guilty as it is for its deplorable role in the homogenization of culture and aggressive approach to stamping out independent competition.

Much to my elation, on my way home I discovered a community of flourishing dandelions in a nice little unused patch of space short-walled off from the sidewalk and adjacent to a rundown looking motel. The green of their leaves was healthy and vibrant and they were in various states of growth, many having already gone to seed, with others soon to convert their yellow flowers into the familiar white spherical puff of pappus-equipped seeds. They were poking out of several cracks in the cement and between the paving and the side of the motel, with a few young ones growing in a weedy square patch of loose dirt. Using a nearby discarded plastic bag from 7-Eleven, I gathered leaves from many different plants, being sure to not take an amount that would cripple any given individual one of them. This is to ensure they remain viable for future gatherings. I uprooted a few of the young ones, as the dandelion’s thick taproot is very valuable as well. As payment for my harvest I took several seed wands and blew them around many locations to help the dandelions establish themselves elsewhere–much, I’m sure, to many people’s ignorance-induced chagrin. Were they aware of the myriad nutritional and medicinal benefits this plant provides, they would relish its presence.

As I proceeded to work my way back home, I rode through a neighborhood filled with very nice–and expensive–houses. Ambling down the street, I noticed an alley which had a wall almost completely covered in perhaps 50 brightly colored neon posterboard rectangles, each with writing on them. Thinking this must be some sort of school project from a nearby private school, or perhaps someone’s fun decorations, I approached the wall to read what it had to say. Interestingly, nearly every single one said almost the exact same thing, but worded in different ways with a unique message every once in a while. All of them were accusatory declamations against the person who apparently lived in the house opposite the alley from the colorful wall of disapproval. The main topic was four cameras which were located around the person’s heavily fortified property, pointing at the sidewalks and the alley. The author of the posterboards was very upset that people were being filmed against their will and in violation of their rights by the “coward” and “peeping tom” who installed them. The writings emphasized that he is purposefully focusing on children and that one of the cameras is aimed at a playground across the street, implying the man is a pedophilic pervert.

This was a very strange sight in what seemed to otherwise be a calm neighborhood populated by well-off people. I looked at the camera positioning, and while they are indeed filming public territory, they could also simply be security cameras installed by a paranoid and overprotective property owner. However, in order to receive such a virulent public rebuking, I suspect the issue goes much deeper than surface appearances. I rode on and, upon arriving home, made a delicious sandwich with the dandelion leaves I had acquired. Thus conclude the mild tales of another day’s experiences, garnered while wandering almost aimlessly, going in whatever direction any fleet whim propels me.

“Easily Seduced” Not Limited to Youth by Any Means

Recently Governor Schwarzenegger signed a bill that lowers the voter registration age in California from 18 to 17. Note that this does not affect the actual voting age, but is intended to engage students still attending high school and interest them as citizens in preparation for when they become eligible to vote once they do turn 18. The prospect of actually lowering the voting age would certainly provide a great deal of controversy, because many people tend to feel that the youth is much more likely to be “easily seduced” by slick politicians who make attractive promises with no intention of actually following through and delivering them. People would argue that young folk are simply too irresponsible to be handed such power, seeing as they are so commonly in the throes of idealistic passion, only partially thought out viewpoints and the like, and would vote for anyone who claimed to represent some romantic, yet unrealistic, perspective.

Of course, if anybody believes these things only apply to those under 18, they must not be very observant when it comes to social matters. Perhaps “idealistic passion” is more common among those who haven’t yet aged into jaded or apathetic pessimists (since most people certainly don’t age into intelligent and conscientious activists), but I think that being idealistic is a good thing, if one approaches it in a practical manner. In any case, I would certainly posit that, in general, high school age adolescents are equal in their decision-making abilities to the average American voter from any other age bracket. I will partially illustrate my perspective using an example from my personal experience with numerous “responsible” and “thorough” (as they often are assumed to be) citizens of legal voting age.

During August and September of 2009 I volunteered with a grassroots campaign for LA City Council. It was a race which had a few extremely well funded candidates, and several barely funded independent candidates. One of my roles in the campaign was to call voters on the phone, as well as engage them face-to-face in public places like Farmers’ Markets. Since the candidate I was volunteering for had little money, his name was not known to the thousands of voters who received several mailers from the big-money candidates. I definitely talked to far more people than what sociologists would consider a truly representative sample (at least of people living in a particular district of LA), and of those who were planning on voting, a massive majority had no interest whatsoever in learning about a candidate they had not already heard of–they had already chosen based purely on what came in their mailboxes, or in the instance of one candidate, how their official party affiliation told them to vote. If this does not qualify for “easily seduced”, I’m not sure exactly what to call it… other than completely willful ignorance. Voters absolutely did not want to pay attention to–much less authentically consider–the actual choices they had or look into the differences in the actual issues, simply because the grassroots candidates did not have material that arrived en masse in the voters’ mailboxes with flashy colors and almost insultingly simplistic promises and goals.

These voters were not informed, nor did they want to be. Very few knew enough to tell me anything about what they were actually voting for or why (besides just whimsy or being told to), and these were the people who actually were voting–which ultimately was less than 12% of eligible voters in the district. And they are the ones who decided which candidate was elected to City Council–which by the way is a very important post, particularly in Los Angeles. I can honestly say that high school students, (hell, even middle school students!) have the exact same grasp on issues as many of these people–people who paid attention to nothing but the base fact that there was an election, and a plethora of shamefully superficial ads that came in their mailboxes. A child of any age can point at an image it likes and “choose” it. The quality of information commonly presented in mailers is more or less equivalent to a promise to give the voter candy in exchange for a vote, while the opposing candidate(s) will take it away from you if you vote for them–useless and deceptive.

While I don’t know what would happen if the voting age was lowered, I definitely wouldn’t make the typical arguments against it. For all I know, it might even be a positive thing to shake up our desperately ignorant country. There is already a massive problem with voters not being authentic or informed, so it is a rather incompetent move to hold voting-age people up as any sort of example opposed to what slightly younger voters might be like. My experience with directly talking to hundreds of voters in a very condensed period via phone calls and face-to-face conversations has clearly illustrated to me that the youth in general is no more “easily seduced” than every single other demographic.


As a side note, it’s well known that local elections generate less interest and turnout than statewide or national elections. They are of course just as important, perhaps even more so at times since these are the people that directly affect our immediate environment, and ones that we have easier access to as our representatives. Despite this decreased interest, I believe that the same amount of ignorance and deceivability is present in larger elections. Though I have only my own experience to draw from, I find it reasonable to assume that the percentage of ignorant voters versus highly informed voters scales for any size election for an official (ballot propositions are a different matter). I.e. if only 5% of voters in a local election are truly informed, I find it likely that only 5% of voters in a larger election are truly informed. There’s more of them, but still the same percentage of those actually casting a vote and making the decisions in our society. This assumption is reinforced by the fact that mass media consistently refuses to cover candidates who are not Democrat or Republican, and the fact that candidates of those stripes rarely convey detailed information themselves, requiring people to actually dedicate an often significant effort towards doing their own research. And anybody interested in politics knows how few people actually spend their valuable time on that.

Compelled To Take A Stand

I’ve been reading through the blog Please Pass on the Plastic by Michelle Walrath, executive producer of the anti bottled water film TAPPED (which I actually still have not seen), and it is a very potent example of the experience and concerns of a real person motivated to “green” living by what seem to be essentially survival concerns. She has young children and so lives the life of a mom, writing about normal things that she naturally comes into contact with that, upon investigation, are fraught with chemical danger.

If one wasn’t into this sort of thing–being concerned about what surrounds us Americans by default–they might think she’s gone a bit over the edge with all the “restrictions” placed on her or her children’s lives. The way she is with plastic reminds me of the way some people are with animal products in their diets, though she is not as completely exclusionary since plastic is even more omnipresent and potentially more difficult to completely avoid than animal-derived consumables. In addition to my environmental health concerns, I myself am an ethical (and environmental) vegan and have had much experience with being concerned about the ingredients and origins of everything.

There are several parallels in the way one who adopts wide filters to their behavior must interact with other people who don’t, whatever those particular filters may be. We often appear to be at least a little crazy, overly anal, and potentially offensive just on the fact that our own restrictive behavior implies that we don’t approve of things that other people are themselves commonly doing, which can make them feel uncomfortable and defensive in various degrees. And, of course, they are right–we don’t approve. But a little common sense and consideration leads rational abstainers to not hang the fact over everybody’s head all the time. I mainly just want to do my own thing unless it’s appropriate to discuss the philosophy of it to someone who wants to listen. Friends could do without a berating every meal you share together, or whatever the case may be.

Ultimately the difference here all comes down to logic, and how far one takes it. An understanding of logical implications is what compels people to make sweeping changes to their behavior, to take a stand on things and live their lives differently. Some people choose to not pay any attention to all the things that are presented to us as normal, whether that be food types, packaging methods, product origins, political choices, whatever. They either don’t care, won’t dedicate the effort to care, or simply can’t afford the time to research potential issues and alternatives, or even come to the realization that research might be necessary. They all end up just taking what’s given from whoever is doing the giving, because that’s where things end for them–the end product and their obvious use of it. There is no further investigation beyond those surface functions. The process of things arriving to our possession is far enough removed from the end-user that it’s easy to not think about what negative things might have happened on the way, or what negative things have yet to result from those processes.

Other people, however, have connected an array of evidential dots in their minds that has led them to the realization of undeniable facts: that there are significant problems involved in current socially established procedures which affect the whole of humanity, and all life on this planet. Following the facts to their logical conclusions clearly shows that regularly contributing to and participating in these social procedures represents many more serious problems, ones that we ourselves as individuals are responsible for.

In the end, these problems are very basic and deal with things that almost everybody is concerned with on some level, things such as health, and death. “Sustainability” means staying alive. “Green” means preventing debilitating disease and suffering. People who are very short-sighted often overlook the real meanings of these words. They are only concerned with what affects themselves personally, and even still in only particular, limited moments. It’s a simple fact that many people are blunderingly self-centered, and cannot or will not expand their consciousness beyond their own compact and immediate little existence. Perhaps they are overly stubborn or have yet to deal with personal issues that prevent them from seeing pieces of a larger picture. Or perhaps they’re waiting for a convincing presentation to release the cerebral chokehold that false arguments designed to stifle change have locked them into.

In any case, I myself find it intellectually and creatively stimulating to find out all the things I should not be participating in, everyday things that are commonly taken for granted. It’s a fun challenge to see how much I can alter my life beyond the status quo everybody operates from in their average consumer lives. I look forward to having multiple filters that to the uninitiated might make my behavior seem like that of a strange and obsessed neurotic.

My economic protest means that my energy (finances, time, focus, etc) is sent in more appropriate directions and ends up working more for me, my goals, and my philosophy, instead of supporting people that make exploitation their business and pass it on to you in the form of life-destroying products and processes. I become more self-sufficient; instead of depending upon people who care more about money and power than anything else, I reclaim that power for myself and extract myself from their oppression. I reap the benefits of my truly increased freedom. The logic of these benefits is yet another compelling force encouraging me to take a stand and actually change my life to match the moral and practical philosophy that I have developed.