Getting back on track

We’ve been on something of a hiatus here, but that’s been partly in keeping with the spirit of the last post: we’ve been spending a lot more time with cultivating interests and activities that don’t have a lot to do with what’s going on in the world.

But for a variety of reasons, both personal and professional, I hope to get back into the swing of the blogging thing.

If you want to see one of the things I’ve been working on, you could check out my new band, The Calm Rads, and the music we’ve been making.

I guess I should actually say new/old band, since we used to play in a different band way back in the misty ages past (i.e. at university in the late 80s/early 90s).

The new part also involves our working over the transatlantic distance, as I live in Germany and the other two in the American Midwest. Which has been interesting. And Challenging. (This is something that I might be writing more about.)

Our main SoundCloud is here. There are also some YouTube videos of selected songs.

Because the songwriting has been far more prolific than our production capacities, me and the other main songsmith in the group have also started our own side-clouds for ideas, demos and works-in-progress. You can find mine here and the other one here.

Well, that’s enough for now, I think. It’s nice to be back.

Functional Cultural Illiteracy

So this is the advertisement that I asked students of English, English Literature and Culture and American Studies at a large university in Germany to analyse in the final exam on a Cultural Studies lecture:

The task was to apply the categories used by Roland Barthes in his essay “Rhetoric of the Image”, which we had discussed at some length during the semester (I’m off the theory these days, but still partial to early Barthesian semiotics, which can provide a helpful framework for the systematic interpretation of all kinds of artefacts, especially advertisements).

While on the whole students handled the task quite well, many of their responses confirmed my long-standing disaffection with my discipline and the humanities at large (which I know I share with some of my colleagues and many more interested outsiders). Of the 50 students who took the exam only two noted the double Biblical reference (visual and verbal) in the advertisement (although a few more realised that there was something special about the phrase “your daily bread”, but couldn’t place it). In case you’re wondering: most of the students were white, Western (in fact, probably from our mainly Catholic area) and therefore likely to have grown up in a Christian context (Lord’s Prayer and all).

By contrast, seven students read the image as an illustration of toxic masculinity, with bread a symbol of “masculine superiority over women” and the charming old bloke in James Harriot get-up an incarnation of “raw” patriarchal power.

Roughly the same number of students came up with a crypto-Marxist commentary about the ad’s complicity with the exploitation of the industrial (sic) working class, whom it urges to consume bread of the brand to maintain constant availability to the forces of capitalism. Not a single student seemed to know that a person who works with wood is called a carpenter and that this particular carpenter is working in his own workshop (another unfamiliar term), not a factory.

All this spouted with knee-jerk automaticity, as if imbibed already in the nursery.

What saddens me most, however, is the deadly seriousness of it all. No real appreciation of this punchy piece of advertising genius, so little sense of humour – only a dire and dour moralising. Being twenty-something these days must be a god awful experience.

A new start

This post commences the new stage in the development of Obscene Desserts, the blog that we began in 2006 at another location. In recent years, a variety of things conspired to get in the way of keeping the old blog going. Above all, I suppose, it was a wave of work-related commitments on both our parts.

But there was also the feeling, perhaps, that we’d run out of things to say about most of the issues on which we’d written, sometimes at great length. Part of it was I think a kind of blogging fatigue.

I still find a lot of good things when looking back at those old posts of ours. But I also see how much we — and the world — seem to have changed in the last dozen years.

Our faltering blog was, of course, not alone. In general the great blog explosion of the 2000s gave way to other forms of social media. But they, to me anyway, are really inadequate in actually saying anything.

So it seemed time for a new beginning. In a new home.

But with the old name.

And the same crew.

It’ll no doubt take us a while to get back up to speed.

But you never know.

We’ll see.