For some unknown reason, I have to tell you about this one time in the mid 90s when I was playing Mortal Kombat with some black dudes at the Landmark arcade (an iconic establishment in Milwaukee which incrediblystill exists.) First though, some brief background info. Playing arcade games against random people of all kinds was a common activity for teenagers and young adults at that time, as everyone my age probably remembers. When I say “all kinds,” I mean people whom you would be unlikely to associate with or have neutral interactions with under almost any other circumstances. Sometimes games had the potential to become awkwardly tense, if the person one was playing against had a bad temper or was some kind of thug/wannabe gangster. I myself had a tendency to enrage players by winning in a cheap fashion (such as doing the same move over and over.) There were a few times I nearly got my smarmy ass pummeled by Starter jacket wearing “wiggers” that didn’t take kindly to being hit with Nightwolf’s cheesy Shoulder Charge move like 5 times in a row (and having to continuously insert more quarters in the machine to subject themselves to it.) Before getting “mad online” and “rage quitting” social media was a thing, there were people who got angry about video games.
Anyway, that didn’t happen on this particular occasion, and it’s not my intention to go off on a social tangent here. There is no hidden Klostermanesque pop culture “metaphor for society” lurking in this post, unless I’m expressing it subconsciously and don’t realize it. Digression over….
So, this one fine 90’s afternoon, I was playing Mortal Kombat with a group of local young black dudes (probably all astronauts by now.) One of them looked at the screen and yelled “Sub-Zero! That nigga coooooold!”
(To get the full effect, you have to realize he pronounced “cold” like the word code,)
For some reason the quote has stuck with me ever since then, and I have never been able to forget that moment in time. Even to this day, whenever there is a slight chill in the air (by Arizona standards, which equates to about 60 degrees in winter or that shivery feeling when you’ve just stepped out of a swimming pool,) my friends and I will blurt out something along the lines of “Sub-Zero! This nigga cold.”
Of course, one can’t really get away with saying that anymore since it is 2018 and all, but I still do, and I don’t really care.
One big change is the Made in the USA tag. Its commitment to producing all of its collections in downtown LA factories – Charney refused to outsource from the US – defined its former incarnation. Now, the brand splits manufacturing between its own factories in Central America and Gilden-approved vendors governed by its Genuine Responsibility programme around the world, including Mexico and China.
Is anyone falling for this crap? Basically American Apparel is now just another H&M or Forever 21, perhaps differentiated only by having more annoying and preachy social justice ads (probably motivated more by claiming a profitable niche market than by any genuine sentiment.) They also claim to be “sweatshop free,” but this is to large extent a distinction without difference. Whether or not a factory can technically be called a sweatshop or not distracts from the fact that companies manufacture in other countries in order to undercut American workers, skirt US labor laws and avoid environmentally protective regulations. So yeah, maybe the central American garment sewer isn’t being beaten with a whip all day, but let’s not pretend there’s any real ethical considerations going on here. It’s just the construction of a rather shrewd PR angle.
Outsourcing is an American value
The whole charade serves as a metaphor for contemporary America. There is no physical country, no place. Everywhere is America. American Apparel promotes American values, values which it redefines as anything abstractly inclusive anywhere in the world (in stark contrast with almost all of American history and any known value which might actually work toward America’s benefit.) Anything which enriches CEOs at the expense of interest of the American worker or the interest of the nation itself is now an “American value.” If America includes everyone, then it ultimately includes no one…since there’s nothing to distinguish it from anywhere else. In a tragic sense, American Apparel does represent contemporary American values. For added insult, the company offers customers the opportunity to pay extra for items “designed and sewn in USA,” which like “assembled in USA” is yet a common weaselly worded obfuscation corporations use to denote something not actually made in USA. Perhaps they do make a handful of garments in the USA, but if so it’s such a trivial amount that it can’t be seen as anything but a token PR ploy to provide cover.
Say what one will about the original American Apparel and its attempt to redefine American ideals as the promotion of mass third world immigration (the likes of which have never been supported by any US immigration law prior to 1965) and the sudden promotion of various LGBTQ causes. There was at least genuine commitment to favorable conditions for workers and a focus on product quality. Their clothes were actually made in the USA, which made even someone like me happy to buy them, even if I was not fully on board with Dov Charney’s conceptualization of America. The old American Apparel was also one of the few places I could still buy a velour tracksuit. American Apparel, with its unitards, 70’s pornwear accessories, and shiny, Buck Rogers era disco attire…always seemed to cater to a period in fashion which I’m probably one of the few people who admires. There’s no getting around it. When it comes to clothing, Dov Charney and I have the same tastes. People also made a big deal about the sexual advertising, but I personally thought the ads were terrific. Maybe they pushed the envelope a little too far, but I’m not a huge prude so I never found them offensive. They ended up being a canary in the coal mine though for what has now become completely common: the rising sexual puritanism of the left and the icons of liberalism being consumed by their own pets. If you support the open sexuality of females you’re exploiting them. If you promote sexual modesty, you’re oppressing them. If you are “pro-white” then you’re a nazi white supremacist. If you advocate for colorblindness, you’re also a white supremacist for not challenging the “privilege plus power structure.” If you are a white person that’s anti-white, you’re engaging in socially acceptable white supremacy, since you’re seen as appropriating “poc” issues and denying blacks their own authentic voices.
For those who appreciated the old American Apparel, there is some good news. Dov Charney has also returned with an amusing, generically named spinoff company, Los Angeles Apparel. He purchased much of the original equipment, and one can rediscover the familiar Made in USA clothes that can’t really be found anywhere else.
You Had me Until Number 10
Los Angeles Apparel has a “values” page, featuring a list of what should be common sense, ethical corporate values (yet are sadly lacking and would be considered heretical at most major corporations.) Elsewhere on the site Charney claims to be a proponent of “Contrarian Thinking.” Upon closer inspection though, what Charney euphemizes as “contrarian thinking” could at times be better described as self-contradicting. Others might also recognize that far from being any kind of contrarian, he seems to be conforming to some of the most common Jewish stereotypes (as articulated by Sarah Silverman here.) The stereotypes I’m speaking of, are mainly the following:
A. The promotion of open borders and mass third world immigration as some kind of retroactively discovered Western value, (which never existed before.)
B. Hostility toward any form of explicit nationalism (in Western or European countries,) whether it’s economic nationalism, civic nationalism or ethnonationalism.
C. Advocacy of a sexually promiscuous culture, a wide assortment of sexual orientation and an appreciation for sleaze aesthetic (Hey, I didn’t say all Jewish stereotypes were inherently bad.)
The self-contradiction comes here:
10.We Support Free Trade
We are not nationalists. We support worldwide free trade. We believe we can compete globally and still produce value for our customers while remaining true to our sustainability and efficiency commitment. We want to sell our products to the world and we understand the importance of other countries having access to our market.
This isn’t really contrarian thinking. It’s just self-defeating. Perhaps you can “still compete globally” by filling a niche or novelty market for clothing Made in USA, but what about the little yarn shop you’re sourcing materials from? They don’t have a gimmick and as a result of your promotion of free trade will have to compete with factories in the third world that can produce a similar quality product at a fraction of the price. The ultimate result of this is what Ross Perot described in his “Giant Sucking Sound” answer in the 1992 presidential debates, a lowered standard of living for American workers, util it at some point equalizes with a rising (yet still much lower) standard of living for the third world.
Rather than global free trade, what is needed is to form a trade bloc with other countries that have similar wages, labor and environmental regulations. This would actually encourage third world countries to adopt better working conditions and environmental controls in order for them to have access to our markets. The current “free trade” system incentivizes developing countries to make things as cheaply as possible, since achieving the lowest production costs and consumer prices are the only relevant priorities in gaining a foothold in US markets. What is the point in fighting for a $15 minimum wage if you’re going to have to compete with overseas factories that pay employees 10 cents per hour? You’re not going to make up the difference in money saved via shipping costs. On the same token, what is the point of having a $15 minimum wage, when unlimited amounts of people can come here. You might win at the ballot box and feel good about yourself, but there won’t be enough $15 an hour jobs to go around for all the millions of people you’ve invited.
If you are not “nationalists” what exactly is the point of prioritizing and supporting the local community, if there is nothing to differentiate said community from the global community at large. If there are no borders, and the whole world is your community, why demonstrate any preference for local businesses and workers at all? Charney would do well to just simply embrace economic nationalism, the sort of which up that most democrats championed, even well into the 1990s. “Nationalism” itself isn’t a dirty word, especially when its forces can be constructively channeled away from those with imperialist ambitions. Most countries aim to conduct national and international policies which are in the best interests of their citizens. Denmark, China, Japan, Czech Republic…most countries engage in some form of nationalism, and that is okay.
Having said all that, I would still prefer to buy from Charney’s Los Angeles Apparel over the farcical reanimation of “American” Apparel. Los Angeles Apparel is a more ethical company, and engages in nationalism in practice even if it shies away from embracing it in principle. “American” Apparel is like a shitty movie remake looking to cash in on someone else’s proven idea. It’s very nature is more shamelessly exploitative than even the sleaziest of original American Apparel billboard advertisements. Los Angeles Apparel is a genuine manifestation of someone’s style, dreams and ideals. For that reason, I will enthusiastically purchase some sunglasses from them.
“Mystery shopper” has to be one of the scummiest occupations. The mystery shopper is basically a low level informant, spying on underpaid retail employees and helping big corporations enforce compliance with all kinds of pointless rules and tedious protocol (which smart employees often ignore to maintain efficiency and prioritize the achievement of broader goals.)
A typical mystery shopper review would consist of something along the lines of the following:
“The employee failed to give the official FashionMart 4 point company greeting when I entered the store. The associate also took a sip of water while at the counter and leaned on it as well while sipping the drink.”
First off, almost no one follows company guidelines to the letter and the only people who fetishize them are overpaid executive do-nothings whose time is spent dreaming them up and perhaps a few overzealous cultist true believers in retail management. The only other employees that blindly adhere to them are the natural slaves of retail who never question anything and are easily exploited like pawns.
What mystery shoppers and their nefarious puppeteers do not realize, is that they are not entitled to what they have decreed as the ideal shopping experience. Why? Since they are not genuine customers, mystery shoppers do not deserve to be treated like them. By misleading the employee as to their intentions and ultimately wasting everyone’s time, the mystery shopper is not acting in good faith. If the company demands employees that employees make genuine personal connections with shoppers (a demand which is inherently oxymoronic in itself,) this is not possible with the mystery shopper, because everything about the mystery shopper’s interactions is phony. The entire premise they present for their visit is a facade. They are there to spy on you, to trick you, to watch you, and ultimately to catch you in violation of some sacred creedo on a technicality.
An employee can often sense when someone is not genuinely interested and there are all kinds of reasons why they will be inclined to be less helpful. The mystery shopper may have a resting bitch face. They may appear like too much of a busybody. It may creepily show in their eyes that they are sizing the employee up and judging their every move. Truth be told, there are plenty of shoppers which give off such an annoying vibe, that an employee will prefer the customer would just go away, concluding that the person’s business just may not be worth the potential hassle of future customer service issues, inevitable returned merchandise, arguments over warranty, etc.
The worst part about being preyed upon by a mystery shopper though, is the lack of recourse. The employee has no opportunity to face his/her accuser and refute the mystery shopper’s claims. The report is filed, and management accepts the account provided by the mystery shopper uncritically. It doesn’t matter if the mystery shopper was grossly exaggerating, failed to take into consideration possible context or misperceived the entire course of events.
In conclusion, mystery shoppers are among the lowest forms of humanity, right down there with people who eat chips loudly in public places. Employees do not owe them anything but scorn. Retail employees have enough to juggle with in the form of genuinely shitty and irritating customers: middle-aged women that ask to speak to the manager, aging suburban wiggers attempting to shoplift, fat white men with neck tattoos and Star Wars t-shirts that talk shit because they don’t understand purchasing etiquette in the 21st century. The last thing the retail employee needs is a fake customer, whose sole purpose is to tattletale and document behaviors from the perspective of those with dubious motives and a limited understanding of the situation on the ground.
Skytrain to Nowhere is an imagination driven and esoteric volume of free-form poetry. The book documents the author’s experiences, thoughts and observations while riding the skytrain at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport over the period of several weeks. Since the skytrain is only designed to transport travelers between various terminals and parking facilities at the airport, someone spending nearly 50 hours riding it purely for recreation and artistic inspirational purposes is highly unusual (to put it mildly.) Aside from occasional quirky anecdotes about various passengers, the poems mostly deal with themes of motion, the passage of time, and nostalgia. The author grapples with these issues from a retro-futurist perspective. Skytrain to Nowhere celebrates the realization that our vitality hinges on our ability to always keep moving, while recognizing we are unwilling or unable to leave some things behind on the journey.
“Read old books” they say. Well, I went ahead, dug into my closet looking for some light reading and found an astrology paperback I picked up about 7 years ago from Half Price Books. It’s from 1975 and titled Off the Top. The author was a famed astrologer named Sydney Omarr (note that despite the Arabic sounding name, he was actually born Sidney Kimmelman and was Jewish.) Anyway, as you might imagine, I’m not a huge believer in astrology but have always been intrigued by it and favored the aesthetic over other religions. I do in fact believe that forces in the cosmos probably do affect us to some degree but in ways we have not yet been able to pinpoint with specificity and perhaps never will. I went through a phase several years ago when I was looking for 1970’s-80s astrology books mostly for the illustrations and laid back writing style they often featured. I even had a sterling silver, crab pendant necklace in honor of my own zodiac sign, Cancer. Having worn the necklace for about a year, I eventually lost it and have been too lazy to buy another one since.
When reading Off the Top, I sometimes felt reminded of that scene from Leaving Las Vegas when Nicholas Cage is looking at the sign for “The Whole Year Inn” but instead sees it as saying “The Whole You’re In.” I mention this because the book is mostly Omarr’s casual thoughts and ruminations about astrological signs, taken “off the top” of his head (or the opening paragraphs of his syndicated newspaper forecasts.) Off the Top might just as well be a euphemism for Out the Ass, depending on your point of view.
Amusingly, even in a light hearted book like this it only takes Omarr one paragraph into the book before he brings up the nazis and the holocaust, within the context of the role of astrologers played in WWII. However, this quickly leads into one of the more interesting parts of the book, which is a lengthy introduction featuring a fast-paced hodgepodge of favorable quotes and anecdotes about astrology relating to various public figures and personalities. Often the endorsements seem a little out of context but are interesting tidbits nonetheless. Among the first are a couple of quotations from Carl Jung:
“We are born at a given moment, in a given place, and like vintage years of wine, we have the qualities of the year and of the season in which we are born.”
“Astrology represents the sum of all the psychological knowledge of antiquity”
The intro also has some rather ridiculous paragraphs from Omarr himself, noteworthy only for their chutzpah:
Becoming proficient in astrology demands knowledge of astronomy, history, mathematics,literature and psychology. Not all astrologers live up to the highest standards. Sadly, neither do all attorneys, physicians and educators. The key in this Space Age is to set aside preconceived notions, academic prejudice and aim toward progress. If astrology, among other subjects leads the way, so be it.
It also includes zillions of “factoids” which seem kind of far-fetched but which I don’t have the time or energy to research to verify their accuracy. Example:
Outbreaks of murder appear to be triggered by the moon tugging on “biological tides” within the human body, according to Dr. Arnold L. Lieber of the University of Miami medical school
You get the idea. The introductory portion actually goes on for over 30 pages, nearly 1/3 of the entire book.
Moving on to the actual signs, Omarr dedicates several pages to each one. They offer comprehensive and detailed overviews, written in a very entertaining, no-nonsense and matter of fact tone. Some statements are unintentionally, hilariously accurate, such as:
The United States is a Cancer nation and has been known to feed the world.
Being a Cancer myself, I got a kick out of how much time Omarr devotes to talking about how Cancer is a great cook and loves being in the kitchen. My own idea of “cooking” is to throw a brick of tofu in the microwave, add some cheese and grape seed oil vegenaise to it and presto! My home cooked meals for most of my 20’s to mid 30’s consisted almost exclusively of microwave popcorn and cheap wine. The late Sydney Omarr must have gotten the last laugh though when I realized he had me pegged after all:
The classical Cancer native has a tendency to repeat facts and deliver monologues. Members of this zodiacal sign savor childhood memories, even bitter ones.
I recommend this book, even though I’ve been somewhat critical of it and don’t take much of it seriously. It is written in a very entertaining style, and believe it or not I learned a few things I did not know (too many to mention actually.) It also does contain a few of the kind of 70s paperback illustrations and fonts which were the reason I purchased it, so I can’t really complain.