Wednesday Wonders: Another curious route to a story

How buying a cheap pair of wireless headphones six months ago and a random discovery about a new computer led to an epiphany about the timing of nostalgia.

I can tell you exactly how this particular story came about. It all started when I ordered a pair of wireless headphones in order to do Zoom meetings way back in March, when I started a new job that is 100% remote.

Now, the problem was that I needed something that wasn’t BlueTooth, because my computer didn’t have that, so I wound up settling on an RF model. That is, one with a transmitter pack of the type that would plug into the computer’s audio jack, with the headphones themselves completely unattached.

It’s not really at all unlike what a reporter or performer would wear — a battery pack, usually taped to their back, connected to an audio source, like a microphone, with the audio signal picked up elsewhere.

It worked great, even though I did have to wind up buying extra rechargeable AAA batteries for the transmitter and a whole set of rechargeable 9-volt batteries for the headphones.

Side note: Something I learned during lockdown: Rechargeable batteries are the best investment you can ever make. Get enough for all the little battery-operated doodads you have around the house, and then double that. Sure, it costs a lot up front, but you’ll save an assload pretty much instantly.

Case in point: The two times early on that I forgot to turn off the headphones and drained the 9-volt battery would have cost me more in non-rechargeable replacements than five rechargeable 9-volts with recharger cost in the first place.

But there were two big issues with these headphones. Number one is that I could not leave them on all the time so as not to run them down, meaning that I would have to go through the start-up process just before every Zoom meeting started — power up transmitter, switch on headphones, push ‘activate” button and then “connect” button, and hope that it worked.

Still, not being physically tethered to my computer with a cable was totally worth it — and I’d accidentally wrecked too many of those at the business end by forgetfully walking away while they were plugged in and on my head.

And no, I’ve never driven away from a gas pump with the nozzle in my car, thank you.

Of course, a lot of headphones are also just cheaply made crap. Even the Beats by Dre ear buds that we were all given one year as an office present didn’t last long after the internal wiring crapped out on one side. I’ve had earbuds I’ve gotten at the 99 Cent store that lasted far longer and sounded just as good.

Surprise, surprise — cheapness turned out to be the problem with these. It wasn’t more than a week before the foam earcups just detached from the headset, and no way in hell I could get them back on, because the retaining edge had clearly been machined into the earcup, and I just didn’t have the machinery to do it.

Meanwhile, after a month or so, the control buttons on the right ear cup — i.e., the ones absolutely necessary to make the things work — suddenly pushed in, as in sank below the surface of the back of the ear cup, so became useless.

Still, since they were so cheap, I ordered another pair. These lasted a bit longer, although they still had the foam problem and, eventually, the part where the headband attached to the left ear cup just snapped, and not with any particularly sudden or sharp movement.

I’m not going to call out the brand, although I will say that, since they worked with a computer, these technically were digitAL earphones.

After the second pair died, I spent eight bucks at the Rite-Aid next door for a plug-in pair that didn’t have the greatest sound quality, but did what I needed, and so it went until a week ago last Monday.

That morning, I read a news story explaining why it might not be a good idea to update to Windows 11 right away, so I had to check to make sure that “auto-update” was not turned on. I only found out later that Microsoft is actually allowing people to opt out this time, miracle of miracles!

Anyway, in the process of looking for the setting, I inadvertently discovered, nearly six months after I’d bought it, that my new computer does, in fact, have BlueTooth.

I tested it by tethering to my phone and, sure enough, it worked.

Well, fuck me sideways with a wooden hanger.

Delivered the next day — a pair of BlueTooth headphones that have been working like a charm, and have the best of both worlds, and more. For some reason, they have an FM tuner built in, an SD card slot for off-line music listening, a built-in battery with 30-hour life that’s rechargeable via USB-C (the best of the USBs) and the ability to also connect to an audio device via a cable.

Not to mention that the sound is just lightyears better than that from either the crappy RF phones or the cheap wired ones. And so is the battery life. I’ve had them on most of today, after their first full charge, and have been through several Zoom meetings and lots of audio, and the battery is still at 60%.

So this led me to testing out their audio qualities, and I began searching left and right for things to do that it with. Eventually, a vague memory that led to a search for “Star Wars disco” opened up a portal on a ton of albums from the late 70s that were basically DJ’d into the EDM of the era, but all based on Big Band music from the 1940s, and that’s when I was reminded of the great Truth of Nostalgia.

Nostalgia runs in 30-year cycles.

Why? The simple reason for this is that this is the point when kids who grew up on something have come of age but have also achieved enough power within various industries to start shaping culture instead of just consuming it.

So 1980s kids were consuming pop culture. As grown-ass adults in the 2010s, thirty years later, they started remaking, reimagining, or reforming all that shit from their childhood. Right now, we’re seeing the 1990s coming back.

But this is nothing new.

Let’s go back to the 1950s, for example, when one of the most popular movies was Singin’ in the Rain. And what was the story about? Why, the transition of silent films to talkies in the 1920s, and how new technology threatened traditional art forms. Westerns and gangster films were also big. The former were a big film genre in the 1920s, and the latter were an actually thing in the 1920s, thank you Prohibition.

And yes, Singin’ in the Rain was most likely a subtle commentary on the threat that television presented to theatrical films at the time via new technology, since it parodied the reaction to Hollywood and the introduction of talkies — i.e., films with sound.

Meanwhile, a teen idol from the 1920s, Rudy Vallée, made a huge comeback in film and TV in the 1950s. Brace yourselves for Harry Styles coming back in our 2050s, at the start of which he’ll be (gasp!) 56.

Then again, in 1950, Rudy was already 49.

But let’s get back to the nostalgia pattern. The 1950s definitely locked onto the 1920s because they both experienced post-war booms that kind of petered out, transitioned from somewhat liberal to very conservative, and saw new technology changing life as they’d previously known it.

The 1960s, meanwhile, mapped onto the 1930s, because both decades were eras of protest and economic uncertainty, along with foreign wars (The Spanish Civil War and Vietnam) leading up to World Wars (WW II and the Cold War.)

Both decades were also periods of sexual liberation, even if the 1930s were more subtle about it, but, for example, in big cities, gay men and lesbians were absolutely accepted in certain fields, like theatre or interior design. In Hollywood, a lot of gay people were openly so within the industry, provided that any hint of it never leaked outside of studio walls and publicity dates with persons of the opposite sex could be arranged and manipulated in the press.

Talk about “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” although that ironically came back in the third wave of the 1930s/1960s, also known as the 1990s, which are coming back right now one more time, although I guess that the “don’t tell” part now refers to whether a woman has had an abortion.

One big phenomenon from the 1990s — groups like Squirrel Nut Zippers, and the whole swing revival. They were actually modeling the 1930s, not the 1940s. Two very different styles — neither of them involving Harry or watermelon sugar, which may or may not be Style’s nostalgic callback to Richard Brautigan’s 1968 novel, seeing as how Harry falls into the 1960s/1990s/2020s/2050s pattern.

But it was finding all of this music from the 1970s that made me realize the 30 year thing, especially the epiphany that disco was just a playback of 1940s post-war big-band music. In the 1970s, it was post-Vietnam and party time, while in the 1940s, it was post-WW II.

Both artforms, though, had the same goal: Drag asses onto the dancefloor and get them to all shake their booties, and, sure enough, in the 2000’s, Christina Aguilera came along to bring it all back with her song Candyman — aka the video that makes every gay man question his sexuality.

This was also right around the time when the successor to the 1940s and 1970s crash-landed on the scene as EDM, or electronic dance music, and went mainstream.

Guess which decade the 1980s lapped up. Yep. That would be the 1950s, and it’s abundantly clear in both New Wave music and styles — remember those skinny ties, black suits, and poofy skirts? They were just the 1950s with neon highlights.

And punk wasn’t immune from 1950s influence, either. In its roots, they were just a revival of the Rockers and Teddy Boys of 1950s England, with the New Wavers and second generation glam acts like Adam Ant and Boy George cast as the Mods.

Cinematically, one of the most interesting curious from the era is Walter Hill’s 1984 film Streets of Fire largely forgotten now. It’s mostly notable only for marking Willem Dafoe’s screen debut as the villain, which he performed when he was… 29, or just a year short of being nostalgic for what he was appearing in. He really broke out in the movie Platoon, made when he was 31.

But the thing about the movie is that it was completely ambiguous as to when, exactly, it was set. A lot of the design aesthetics were firmly stuck in the 1950s, but the soundtrack and the attitudes were decidedly modern. Well, for the time.

Jump ahead to the 2010s, and both the 1950s and the 1980s feature prominently, with films like The Master and Inside Llewyn Davis nodding at the eras. The former was set in 1950 and, while the latter is set in 1961, it’s still before the assassination of JFK, which really was the emotional border between the two decades.

And remember that Best Picture Oscar winner Moonlight? Yep. Set in the 1980s, and so is Stranger Things, which debuted in 2016, and Call Me by Your Name, set in 1983 and released in 2017. So is The Wolf of Wall Street, which I have to honestly say is one of the worst movies I ever forced myself to sit through. The only redeeming feature in that hot mess is Joanna Lumley.

So here we are in the 2020s, with the 1990s, 1960s, and 1930s sneaking back into the zeitgeist. Once again, we have the sexually and socially liberated vs. the repressed would-be oppressors, the economic battle between the haves and the have nots, and simmering protests that break out into hot fires at the drop of a hat.

In the 1930s, unemployed workers took to the streets, protesting the same economic inequalities that we have now, all in the shadow of the Great Depression. In the 1960s, it was students occupying their campuses and taking to the streets, initially to fight for their First Amendment rights on campus, then ultimately to protest the Vietnam War. Remember, the military draft lasted until the 1970s, so they had a direct stake in objecting.

The 1960s also brought us events like the Watts Riots, echoed by the L.A. Riots in the 1990s, and the George Floyd BLM protests of this decade. and every one of these events happened for the same reasons: Police abuse and murder of people of color.

While the 1930s were a bit open about sexuality in a very hush-hush manner mainly in large cities where anonymity was much more possible, in the 1960s, the sexual revolution came roaring out of the closet, and not just for gay people.

Suddenly, women had The Pill (literally approved as the decade began), which gave them a lot more autonomy over their reproductive choices than relying upon trusting their partner to either wear a condom (without slipping it off)  or pulling out (without still managing to splash the target.)

Of course, the fun police in various states tried to make it illegal for married couples to use birth control because, um… “You must make babies, dammit?” At least Planned Parenthood was there to get these laws overturned through court battles, ensuring that a married woman could take The Pill and still bang her husband as of 1965.

The idea of sex before marriage being a sin also pretty much fell by the wayside as modern teens scoffed at old morality and started doing it left and right. By the way, these people are what are known as Boomers, although given their sexual behaviors in the 1960s — well, at least that of the cool ones — maybe some of them should be called Bangers.

The 1960s were also when the modern Gay Rights Movement got going with a little incident called the Stonewall Riots, which were the endcap on the decade.

In the 1990s, the gay rights movement really took off big time, largely in response to the absolutely abysmal response of the Reagan administration to the AIDS Crisis that had started in the 1980s. This was the decade when the first celebrities started coming out (Scott Thompson long before any of the others), gay characters started to show up in mainstream media and not as stereotypes, RuPaul first burst onto the scene, and someone being gay started to become not as big a deal as it used to be because of increased visibility.

In the 2020s, we’ve got all of that, plus the Nirvana Baby trying to sue the band and other entities over his appearance on the cover of their 1991 album Nevermind. Never mind that the grown-up version of that baby has reshot that cover three times, twice while underage, albeit with his dinky winky covered in the other versions.

And you know how old that baby, Spencer Elden, is now? Take a wild guess.

That’s right. He turned 30 in February of 2021, so his nostalgia meter is right on track, apparently. None of which absolves him of being an asshole, of course.

Update: Also right on track, the day after I wrote this story, this bit of news popped up. They’re creating a spin-off of That ’70s Show starring the parents from the original and it’s called… That ’90s Show. Guess when it’s set.

And does anyone remember That ’80s Show? It only ran for a few months. Premiering in 2002, it was a decade early and might have done a lot better in the 2010s.

Image source: paul bica from toronto, canada, (CC BY 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday nibble #20: Estos tiempos raros en un mundo desconocido

Like most sites that generate daily content, I’m always working a bit ahead and pre-scheduling posts, and I don’t think that should be any big secret. Short of hosting a live podcast, there shouldn’t be any pretense that the content happened spontaneously.

Even a lot of what you see on broadcast news isn’t live, outside of the in-studio reporters introducing the pieces. Here’s a surprise: You know those “Live from…” stand-ups that reporters do? Unless they’re interacting directly with the on-air crew and answering questions, those aren’t quite live, either.

And, of course, there are occasional reruns, something that broadcast TV does regularly — although streaming has made it another on-demand feature. But this didn’t start with TV. It goes back at least to newspaper columnists having their “best-of” columns re-run when they went on vacation, and re-issues of books and albums are the same thing.

It also depends on whether there’s a particular theme or format, which I gave myself at the beginning of this year, although I’ve certainly stretched my own rules a few times. I’ve also allowed myself a couple of spots where I can go freeform, like Sundays.

But as I write this piece, we’re ending the seventh day of protests around the country over the murder of George Floyd. And yes, unlike the news outlets that won’t call something what it is, I’m not going to say “the death of George Floyd.”

I mean, I was upset about the deaths of both of my grandmothers, but they were old. I was also upset about the death of my dog a month ago as I write this, but she was also very old.

Death is something that just happens, and tends to come when time and health dictate it. Accidental death is a sudden incident, probably random and unforeseeable, that quickly leads to time and health dictating it, like a car skidding on black ice and crashing through a crowded bus kiosk.

Murder is a death that is imposed from outside with intent, and there is nothing random or unforeseeable about it.

George Floyd was murdered, the entire world is protesting it, and things don’t seem to be getting better here yet. Perspective: in 1992, the Rodney King riots and concomitant martial law, curfew, and shut-down lasted about a week.

Paradoxically, these protests are both more peaceful and more violent than 1992. It all depends on where you are and how your local police respond. They are also more organized, and it is quite obvious this time that the organized, peaceful protesters are also trying to stop the opportunistic looters from stealing and destroying property.

Pile all of this on top of an ongoing lockdown that, at least in L.A., had just started its eleventh week last Friday and pending retail re-openings may have been completely derailed, especially once we see whether and what effects the protests had in making the coronavirus spread faster.

I couldn’t have predicted this a week before it started, and from this point of view I certainly can’t predict what the world will be like when you read this on June 7th, or whenever you get to it. All I can say is that we are truly going through trying times, like nothing I’ve ever experienced before — and yet probably far milder than what anyone who has ever lived through an actual warzone has had to experience.

Outside where I am, it’s quiet. There was some looting and a fire a few miles northwest of here earlier today, on streets I’m very familiar with, and Hollywood (as usual) was another hotspot. The county has been on overnight curfews that started at 6 p.m., although at the last minute they cranked Monday’s back to start at 5 p.m.

Still different than 1992, when the initial curfews were 24/7, so there’s that. But we are indeed living through strange times in an unknown world.

Be safe, be well.

Sunday Nibble #10: Plus ça change

It seems that any sudden societal upheaval in America follows the same basic pattern as the COVID-19 situation, as follows.

  1. Rumors of something bad coming, ignored.
  2. A little bit of the bad thing happens, the media starts to mention it.
  3. A couple more bad things happen, and suddenly the media turns it into a trend.
  4. Continue escalating hype until people freak.
  5. Store shelves stripped bare.
  6. The government fails to react.
  7. Shit gets real.
  8. The government finally sort of does… something?

Specifically, I’m thinking of the L.A. riots, which were nearly 30 years ago, but the same pattern seems to apply to the AIDS crisis (without the hoarding but with the freaking, I think) and it probably applies to the Watts Riots and the Spanish Flu and every other sudden crisis.

But I’m having a definite déjà vu over this one, even though I was a far younger and very naïve person (politically and otherwise) back on April 29, 1992. Okay, same day of the month as this post, a month early, totally unintended.

But that April day was when Los Angeles exploded in violence because the police officers who had beaten Rodney King for no reason were acquitted.

From what I remember, the story broke by the minute, and my dad freaked out about it as soon as he heard the verdict. Of course, he had lived here through the Watts Riots, so he had previous experience. I did not.

Time to stock up on everything, said he, and the stores were insane — much like they were a week before all of California shut down ten days ago.

Water and TP aisles empty, a lot of other essentials practically gone. Well, you know the drill. You all just lived through it.  At the time, though, the assholeishness of it didn’t occur to me because I was still working on installing that whole self-awareness subroutine, but, looking back… yeah. Even my dad had been a greedy asshole about it. Everyone had.

The shutdown due to the riots lasted all of about five days. And, on top of that, I realized that my dad really shouldn’t have been so worried. It was Woodland Hills, way out in the West Valley, aka “The place all the white people moved to in the 60s in order to avoid sending their kids to school with non-white people.”

Poetic justice: I went to school there with a lot of non-white people, and now a lot of the part of Woodland Hills I grew up in and where my parents lived is now heavily Hispanic. I love it. It was when this influx began that all the scared whypipo moved to the Simi Valley.” (My parents tried to join the exodus, but no one wanted to buy their house.)

As for Simi Valley, it’s the home of the Reagan Library, which tells you everything you need to know about it and its demographics. They wanted the place built there, even though the only real connection he had to the city was that he was once governor of the state.

Oh, yeah. One other thing Simi Valley: It was also the venue to which the trial of the cops who beat Rodney King was moved, apparently, with the ultimate defense goal of finding a jury favorable to… the cops. Why would that jury be favorable? Because so many police officers lived there.

And then LA. exploded into violence over a jury verdict delivered in a different county. But that explosion never got anywhere near Woodland Hills because, of course it didn’t.

Now, the eight steps at the top of this article seemed to have taken place all in one day in the case of the L.A. riots — maybe because it threatened rich white people?

Other times, events have moved in much slower motion. Reading the history on it, in the case of the AIDS crisis it took well over a decade to go from point 1 to point 8, and point 6 was intentionally extended, most likely causing the deaths of tens of thousands of people.

And in our modern age, we’ve gone through the cycle in a hyper-fast manner. Still slower than the L.A. riots — or maybe not, because all of the trial drama and build up for that  one took months.

But when it came to Corona Lockdown, we went from 1 to 8 in about three months at most, also stalling for far too long at 6, and we all reacted in the same damn exact way.

Let’s be greedy little bitches and grab everything we can.

And that is wrong, wrong, wrong.

I think that the key, though, is in step 7, as in when shit gets real, but for the 1%. First off, when they realize that they are not immune — and we’ve already had an A-list actor and spouse, several members of Congress, and various other celebrities test positive.

Second is when this realization is going to make them start spending their money on fixing shit, and they’re going to realize that they only caught it because the people they depend on do not have the same access to health care and income security that they do.

All the sheltering in place in the world does no good if their maid has to take public transportation because she can’t afford a car or insurance, and can’t take sick days off if nobody pays her for them.

If a billionaire can’t work for a month it makes no difference, because all of their passive and residual income from investments or rents and royalties keeps rolling in. Until, of course, the stock market tanks and their investments become a bit less valuable, and that’s another thing that makes them think about how helping others will help themselves.

Did I mention that the maid and all those other low-paid workers who interact closely with the billionaire probably don’t have the best health insurance or lowest deductible plan, if any?

And that Mr. or Ms. 1% doesn’t even really notice the help much so that they certainly don’t notice when the maid is coughing all over the counters while cleaning them, or that they themselves have a habit of leaning over their personal assistant from much closer than six feet while telling her what you need her to schedule, all because they’re trying to stare down her top.

They won’t even put two and two together when they suddenly feel feverish, because the only way they’re going to decide to get tested is if they come down with full-blown symptoms or if they hear that someone in their social circle has tested positive or reported symptoms.

Even then, and even if they test positive, they aren’t going to do a thing to help anyone outside of their circles until the big red flag is hoist.

That’s right. We won’t see really important action from the 1% until the grandest event of them all: Somebody in their class dies from this virus — and that is inevitable. Once that happens, you’re going to see mountains moved like never before to block the spread and find a cure.

Just look at how the straight community’s tune changed the second that Magic Johnson announced he was HIV positive. Hey, there’s a reason Magic is still alive and a year older than Rock Hudson was when he AIDS killed him. You do the math.

Yep. Suddenly, death comes calling on their kind and the 1% goes socialist harder than your Bernie bro nephew who’s majoring in PoliSci at Berkeley.

“Pay the peons to stay home and the hell away from me! Give them all the health insurance they need for free so they don’t make my family sick. And let’s do something about all these homeless. No more evictions for now, everyone gets enough money to pay their rent. Ah, hell. Here’s property I bought and never developed, cover it in motor homes. Just keep the homeless the hell out of where I am, okay? And figure out how everybody who can works from home. Give ’em the equipment to do it.”

It’s Scrooge the morning after the four ghosts visit. Sad, but if they’re paying for your Christmas goose, just shut up and cash the checks, no matter how big an asshole your Scrooge was up until their sudden revelation.

Kind of ironic but fitting, really, that the deadly virus of “Trickle Down Economics” that Ronald Reagan foisted on America in the 80s — and which directly created the shitshow we’re living now — might actually start to trickle the hell down because of another deadly virus.

See, the big flaw with “trickle down economics” was the assumption that if you gave rich people more money, they would liberally toss it down on their subordinates, everyone would get raises, and it would be good times.

In reality? Not so much. The only trickle down the working class experienced was getting pissed on by the owners.

The fatal flaw of capitalism is that people — no matter their social status or personal wealth or lack thereof — tend to act, on an anonymous playing field, in their own best interests and no one else’s.

Yes, there are definitely altruistic human beings. Mr. Rogers’ “helpers” do exist, but they are few and far between.

In capitalism, which is a zero sum game, most of the players will only be altruistic when incentivized, and the incentive that works the best is to steer them toward an action that, while serving others instead of themselves, will ultimately cost them less in the long run.

Death is the great equalizer, after all. Not to mention that there is no one so rich that they wouldn’t trade their entire fortune in exchange for fending off death. If our modern robber barons can pull the same trick for only a quarter of their fortune, they will think it had been worth the price, and their selfishness might ultimately leave the world a better place.

We shall see.