Weekly Rochester Events #328: I Had a Cheese-Steak Sandwich at Blarney South
Thursday, April 21, 2005With recent talk about 1040's and AGI's, I got into a funk about the influence of income on self-worth. I've been chewing through savings and it's starting to run out — unfortunately in jumps and starts rather than gradually like I'd like to see — and I'm entertaining nightmares of ending up penniless on the street by winter.
I started thinking about opposition to universal healthcare and what that means: that the cost of universal healthcare per person is more than the dollar worth of the health of each person. That led me to consider the disparity between the capitalist ideal and the capitalist reality.
In the capitalist ideal, the best products will be provided in the most efficient means possible. Any idea will evolve into its ideal form through the market forces of supply and demand — both for the product itself and through all its component parts. However, the reality is that the ideal form of a product is, by definition, where the supply and demand meet equilibrium, and this isn't necessarily what anybody would call "best."
This model has been applied to people: "in America, if you work hard, you can grow up to be whatever you want" is the mantra. A person's self-worth is tied to their worth to society, and a person's worth to society is tied to how much money someone else is willing to pay them for their skills. The trouble is that a unit of currency doesn't represent any sense of absolute worth.
I mean, think about someone like Vincent van Gogh or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: both died poor, yet I doubt anyone would say they offered nothing to society. On the other hand think of someone who has acquired a lot of money but isn't valuable to society (but don't say it out loud because they're likely to be the kind of person who sues everyone in sight.)
But even this discussion is flawed: the very concept of tying monetary success to personal value — bums on the street have value as people even if they don't have financial value. The trouble lies in one of the subtleties of capitalism: units of currency represent some tradable quantity of value. By that, I mean you can use currency to exchange things that you could otherwise barter: a gallon of milk or a day's work, for instance. However, it doesn't work for things with intangible value or that are otherwise un-tradable: the appearance of the Grand Canyon in its natural state, your life, or the sound of your grandmother's voice — these are things for which it's absurd to apply a monetary value.
Anyway, Thursday night I went to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Nothing Sacred which is billed as a screwball comedy. Unfortunately, my personal taste has been tainted: the first screwball comedy I ever really noted was Bringing Up Baby which is arguably the best of all of them — thus, I was a bit disappointed with Nothing Sacred. It's not bad: the theme is a woman in Vermont who believes she's dying has her story grabbed by a New York City reporter who decides to play up the story and invite her to New York. As he arrives to meet her, she finds out she's not dying after all, but wants so badly to go to New York that she plays along anyway. The levity of the whole thing is dragged by an undercurrent of somewhat sinister deception and greed.
Ah, greed: one of the core desires that capitalism seems to unearth, transcending the morality of the day. For instance, e-mail is so cheap a medium to broadcast advertising, that if even one person in 10,000 buys your product that you can make a hefty profit — courtesy be damned! (And just what the hell is wiagra or v1gara anyway?)
But the desire that capitalism exposes best is sex. It seems that no matter how much a former-Hitler-Youth pope (willingly or unwillingly) wants to make us feel bad about it, we somehow always come around (no pun intended) to still wanting it. Consumer desire burns so hot and strong it would arouse even the least perceptive businessperson's curiosity.
And I wager it has for all time.
See, on Friday, I went to George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) again to see their Blue Shorts program: a collection of short pornographic or otherwise "blue" movies presented by conservator at The Harvard Film Archive (24 Quincy St, Cambridge, MA), Julie Buck. The crowd was a bit rowdier than normal and threw out some (sometimes) amusing comments between flicks. Anyway, everything was at least interesting. What was particularly odd was that the older films seemed to break more taboos.
For instance, the infamous animation Buried Treasure features a man with an unusually large penis: long enough, in fact, that he uses it as a third leg for locomotion. Things start off with him waking from a nap to find flies flying around the head of his penis, so he does what anyone would do: he pulls out a gun and shoots them. When the smoke clears, his penis is gone and he finds it hiding behind a nearby rock. Among his escapades (which also include a woman with crabs [beach-sized ones] and a mischievous goat) is when he discovers a woman lying under a pile of sand. He hops on and humps away only to have the sand pile fall away to reveal that he's actually having anal sex with the woman's male partner. He runs away but his penis is stuck inside the other guy whom he drags behind ... and so on. It gets worse.
And this was 1924. Similarly perverse — and of the same era — was the live-action silent film Getting His Goat which features (skipping the bulk of the plot) a man having sex through a hole in a fence while three naked women force a goat to endure his amorous advances. It's an image inexorably burned into my psyche. Interestingly, film archaeologists believe these were both made after-hours at major studios, owing to the cost of equipment and materials and to the quality of the resulting films — that latter film even had professional title cards.
On a completely different note I made it to A|V Art Sound Space (#8 in the Public Market, off N. Union St., formerly The All-Purpose Room) on Saturday to check out the show titled The Space Between featuring glass sculpture from artists Sarah Gilbert and Katie Maurer. I really enjoyed the show favorite titled "Thought Bubbles" which were glass bubbles hanging on the wall with the flat side mirrored and the rounded side partially painted with a scene; the mirror reflecting the scene painted on the inside which complemented the outside. It's really quite subtle. The maze-like quality of "Exposure" is really interesting, as is the woman-in-repose-styled "Red Lady" consisting of red-tinted glass spheres.
On Tuesday I made it out to The Bug Jar (219 Monroe Ave.) to see some experimental bands. First was Like Language whom I had a hard time defining. As close as I can explain is that they were a hard-edged rock/punk band. Hilkka was next and played a set of songs each with its own basic melody that was spun into derivatives in a relatively interesting way. Finally was Ten-Ton who did really good experimental, high-energy effects-and-looping.
Earlier that night, I got out again to George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Zabriskie Point. I guess it was a pretty good counterculture movie. I liked that it made the cops and "normals" seem a bit alien in their methods since the balance swings to the other side in day-to-day living: press coverage assumes the police act nobly and that the "alleged perpetrators" are de facto guilty.
In addition, it seems that because society as-it-is-today functions reasonably well, that the idea of change can only be for the worse. Those who want make changes to the way it runs are forced to prove the impossible: that their changes would be a benefit, and that all possible failures are accounted for. The status quo, however, has no such requirement — when a failure happens (ending up penniless on the street, for instance) it's just accepted as the way things are. There's no reciprocal requirement to fix the failures.
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On this day ... April 21
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Movie links courtesy The Internet Movie Database. Map links courtesy MapsOnUs. Some movie synopses courtesy UpcomingMovies.com
About the title ... The Blarney — South is at 328 South St., Philadelphia, PA. Their menu says their cheese-steak sandwich is "Voted #1" — by whom or when is unknown. More info is at the 2002 trip to Philadelphia page.
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