Dancing, Playing Scrabble, and Fighting Dirty

It’s good to be back.

I mentioned that I’d like to write aphoristic posts from time to time; this will be my first shot at doing that.

Thanks to alert reader A.R., I added a new blog called apophenia to the blogroll. It’s Danah Boyd’s blog about digital life, with a particular focus on social networking sites like MySpace. Since, of course, Boyd has a MySpace page, I figured it was worth seeing how she tackled the problem of doing what she writes about.

Here’s the important quote:

I like to dance, play Scrabble and goof around with friends.

The question is, why do people who do post-undergraduate work of some kind (grad school, law school, etc.) always emphasize that they love to dance? First of all, let’s be clear about what they mean: they mean mostly solo dancing, either in ironic situations (small-scale house parties) or in alternative clubs. They don’t mean dancing at “The Rage,” the club where I used to sit in Sacramento, wondering how slowly I could drink my drink, listening with an increasing feeling of hatred of Sacramento to “In Heaven” by DJ Sammy.

Of course, hedonism draws a lot of water. But something else is at stake, too: the association of pleasure with continual movement. Irony is really a kind of dance, expressed in the graceful movement from the articulation of a position, to the ironic disavowal of that position. The love of irony means taking pleasure in the movement between one gesture and the next.

The last time that gesture, irony, and dancing was fused so tightly was the 18th century. Which means that electroclash is hiding Mozart inside its rusty metal heart.


Scrabble is the most popular game among people I know. Why? Is it only because all of them make their living using words (as lawyers, journalists, grantwriters, Ph.D. candidates, etc.)? Partly that, and partly because “making a living using words” itself means playing language games — looking for the word that fits the frame. For example, several of my friends have had to scale their writing to a particular level of reading proficiency.


Here’s a wonderful piece of illogic from Chuck Klosterman (via Chuck Klosterman IV). It reminded me of the issues circling around my Lolita post and its children:

Don’t get pissed off because the Yeah Yeah Yeahs aren’t on the radio enough; you can buy the goddamn record and play “Maps” all goddamn day (if that’s what you want)….Basically, don’t get pissed off over the fact that the way you feel about culture isn’t some kind of universal consensus.

This, as you might expect, is the thundering conclusion to an essay about how scared Klosterman was to discover that most people “don’t merely want to hold their values; they want their values to win,” something he discovered when he heard somebody celebrating the amount of radioplay Nirvana got for making difficult, alienated music.

No matter how much anybody says against young Harry Potter, or in favor of Joanna Newsom, it will still be possible to listen to the new Beyoncé album and to read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. That is the ironic thing about Klosterman’s statement: he puts the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on the margins, and tries to shove their outspoken fan inside a pair of headphones, as though opinions themselves were dangerous to everyone’s happiness unless those opinions are reduced to the sign language of playing something over and over. I read all kinds of nasty things about the new Gwen Stefani album, most of them accurate, and still found a place in my heart for “4 in the Morning.”

Live in an apartment with thin floors, as I do, and you definitely cannot play the Yeah Yeah Yeahs all goddamn day without making the neighbors seriously angry. Meanwhile, everything that is currently on rotation will not survive 20 years. There will be a cull. In 2027, people will want to know that when you heard “O Valencia” come on the radio, as I did this weekend, you felt for a second that all was right with the world. Albums like that are worth hearing, and anything else is a disappointment. Or, to put it another way, if you don’t want your values to win, then they aren’t your values.