Day 19: Advertisments, Part 1

The first thing you notice about the difference between Australian, Canadian or British television compared to American television are the ads. There’s a few for the same sort of things – new cars nobody can afford, fast food restaurants, banks – but many are in a different style, looking like they were produced in the 90s and not changed since then. And then there’s the different, and the truly bizarre. This one is just about the ‘different’.

Video games are kind of a big deal these days, yeah? They sell a lot more than many movies or albums and the average age of someone who plays video games – an increasingly pointless description to use, like an inverse “someone who reads books” – is now in the 30s. In Australia, you wouldn’t realise this, but in the United States, it’s quite obvious. Ads for new video games are almost as popular as ads for new movies during ad breaks. More significantly, most of the time when gamers are depicted in said ads, they’re always at least in their mid-20s, and often look like they could be in their 40s. It’s curiously representative of the size and demographics of what is still, in Australia, unironically referred to as “The Gaming Community”.

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Day 18: Word Ambiguity

I will never stop giggling when Americans talk about their “fanny”.

Day 17: Big Government?

Being anti-‘big government’, whatever that term may mean at the time, has been the catchcry of American neoconservatives for the last 30+ years. And anyone who has had to deal with American bureaucracy knows why it’s such a popular rallying cry – my experience trying to simply buy a car has made me more familiar with it than I’d really like. Of course, it never works like that, and it’s just used as an excuse to gut social services so more money can be redirected to the military-industrial complex and corporate welfare, but that’s beside the point. The thing is that nobody wants to be associated with big government, and liberalism is hardly a pro-interventionist school of thought, either. So the vast majority of people in government in America sell themselves as anti-government.

Don Chipp, the late founder of the late Australian Democrats (no really guys, stop kidding yourselves) had great views on a lot of things. Asked about politicians he’d interacted with, he’d respond, “well, my first instinct was to punch them in the face” to more than half the names. One of his more memorable lines was about celibacy. Chipp believed that the only people who didn’t want, enjoy or regularly have sex were those who were no good at it.

Frequently, I think the same thing about most American politicians. They want smaller government because they’re no good at governance.

Day 16: Stuffabouts

I decided to purchase a van for my trip around the US. Now, I figured that it would probably be a similar process to how it works in Australia – a simple transfer of funds, taking the registration paperwork to the relevant office and getting it signed over to a new name.

Ha, ha, ha. Tell him he’s dreaming.

Go to one office. Wait in line for 45 minutes. Get told to go to another one. Wait half an hour there. Get paperwork. Sort out paperwork, then take it to another office. Get told one set of information. Come back a week later and get told contradictory information. Wait three weeks – three weeks! – for paperwork to get mailed to you.

All I can say is thank christ I’m buying from someone who’s been through this whole buying/selling malarkey before, because I’d be completely and utterly lost otherwise.

Day 15: Das Racist, Danny Brown and Despot

I missed out on two sweet-arse gigs last week by finding out the day after they actually happened. First BlackStar played, then Mastodon supported by Dillinger Escape Plan. So when I read about this gig happening the morning of, there was no way I was willingly going to miss it.

Despot’s been around for a few years, without ever making a huge impact. This probably has a bit to do with the fact that he was on Def Jux until El-P closed down the label, while sounding a lot like a less vicious El-P and looking like a cross between El-P and that gay ranga from Modern Family. He apparently has a new record coming out produced by indie crossover darlings Ratatat though, which should distinguish him enough (as opposed to getting production from, erm, El-P. Not that I can blame him, El-P’s awesome).

Danny Brown doesn’t look like any other rapper alive. He wears skinny jeans and what looks like a dude with frizzy black hair attempting a circa-2005 emo fringe for… what sake? Idiosyncrasy, I’m guessing, though he hardly needs an image for that – his rapping sounds halfway between Pharaohe Monch and Jello Biafra. He’s also incredibly smart, a walking tome of hip-hop history with a great attitude toward the genre and making and enjoying music in general as evidenced in this recent interview. He’s also great on the live level, getting the audience roaring along to the hooks of a song they’d never heard before.

And the main act, Das Racist. Holy crap. Smarter and funnier than any other hip-hop act while also being better rappers than most (Heems’ brag of “worst rapper on this track/third coolest” notwithstanding, or rather balanced out by his other brag of “yeah, I’m fucking great at rapping!”), making fun of hip-hop because they love it, having an appreciation of rap’s history and paradigms just so they can bust them up. Dap, a superfluous non-presence on the records, comes into his own in the live arena, and Lakutis – sort of like their DJ, except it’s on Ableton on their netbook rather than a set of decks – seems to be making a career for himself as an MC, dropping some really good verses and further pushing DR out of hip-hop’s comfort zone by looking more like someone you’d see at a metal show – white guy, long hair, black t-shirt – than a hip-hop show, and also by stage-diving and never breaking flow while being carried around the crowd. And the core two rappers, Heems and Kool A.D., not to be outdone, take the show to higher levels, trading lines, talking shit, leaving the stage to deliver verses from the merch stand and basically acting like they were born to save hip-hop from taking itself too seriously and not seriously enough at the same time.

The fact that this will struggle to make the top five live sets I’ve seen this year just points to how much of an unprecedentedly good year I’ve had with live music.

Day 14: Homelessness

Some of the best friends I’ve made here in the US so far either have been or are homeless. No, I haven’t been slumming it that much, and this is not my take on George Orwell’s classic Down and Out in Paris and London (tempting as that might be for a poofy class tourist social sciences student like myself). It’s simply that in the United States, homelessness is a fact of life for a huge portion of the population.

It’s something that simply can’t be comprehended if you’ve never visited the US and spent time among locals. There is, for all intents and purposes, no welfare other than corporate welfare, minimum wage is far below anything resembling a living wage and even then comes loaded with loopholes employers can use to avoid paying even that paltry $7 an hour or so, and IR laws are thirty-nine different types of rooted.

The net result of all this is that in the United States, you can work a full week – not Scandinavia’s thirty-five hours, Australia’s forty, Britain’s forty-five but often well in excess of fifty or fifty-five hours a week – and still not be able to afford a roof over your head. It’s pathetic. This is a failed state by any real measure. And it means that if you live in the States or have spent any amount of time here and don’t know any homeless or ex-homeless people, you live one hell of a sheltered life.

Day 13: Katamari

Katamari Damacy is a Japanese video game. The core premise is that you roll around a sticky ball (the titular Katamari) picking up small things at first, then bigger and bigger before launching it into the sky to make a new star – or something like that, it’s Japanese and ergo wholly incomprehensible. It’s also got the catchiest title song of any game ever, for what it’s worth.

I mention this because I like to think of myself (after reading it used to describe a musician – it was either Sufjan Stevens or Das Racist, I can’t remember – and stealing the metaphor) as a cultural Katamari. I roll around picking up bits and bobs from here and there, ever greater ideas and knowledge and folklore and pop culture. People hear this in the way I speak, where a sentence will have an English “well” (used as an intensifier) and a Scottish “aye”, an Italian “boh” (an apathetic “don’t know”) and a Spanish “maƱana” (literally “tomorrow”, but practically “We’ll get around to it whenever”), along with the usual selection of Australianisms (“stoked”, “piker”, “buggered”) which Americans have been swooning over. And as noted previously, two decades of exposure to American popular culture has brought its own influences: “hella” from California, “y’all” from the south, “nahmean” from black New York.

I’ve sort of realised that I should probably ease up on those latter ones in case someone thinks I’m taking the piss and gets offended by it.