Freedom of Choice


Band: Devo
Album: Freedom of Choice
Best song: It’s easy to say “Whip It,” being that it is probably the band’s most famous song. I’m going to go with either the political title track or the lovely sad love song “It’s Not Right.” “Girl U Want” is a popular one.
Worst song: “Ton o’ Luv” isn’t wonderful.

(If this is disjointed, it’s because I have four or five ideas I want to get into this piece and don’t have time to flesh out proper transitions. Sorry.)

Wikipedia, the newspaper and knowledge

I recently finished my Master’s Degree in journalism. Most of the discussion in modern journalism schools appears to be about the modern state of journalism and where the newspaper fits in the grand scheme of the Internet.

Basically, newspapers are losing money and cutting staff because ad revenue is down by a lot. Circulation is being lost — who has time to read through a proper paper newspaper when all the information is online? — and people are moving toward more specialized news organizations. In lieu of a general news source like the Washington Post, people are moving toward a specific political Web site or a sports site or whatever. The sturm und drang around the stories you want to read — ads, other stories, photos, etc. — are unnecessary, so people move toward personalized news and headlines and whatever. Active participation v. passive participation in news and knowledge acquisition, if you will.

I’ve done a crap job of recounting the issue. Just Google “Future of journalism” or “journalism and the Internet” and you can see what I’m talking about.

Anyway, one of the concerns that my non-journalism friends — aka the people who don’t think that journalism is of the same import as surgeons or educators — have is the value of the sturm und drang around the preferred stories. You know, the stories next to the one you want. Maybe you want to read about President Obama’s speech and next to that story is one about Russia or something. Maybe a photo catches your eye. Essentially, the classical light browsing.

Now.

The Web has things like this. The Most-Read modules on most news sites are worthwhile for browsing. The New York Times’ Web site is particularly good for this. You might read some news via Twitter or Facebook or some other recommended place. This is part of the burgeoning Recommendation Culture — as coined by The Long Tail — and it’s certainly a factor in expanding non-sought knowledge.

Also, many sites have sections with related stories. This is less of case of expanding general knowledge than it is to gain expertise in a particular subject or group of subjects. Nevertheless, these sections will move people into reading more news and learning more.

(As someone who works in Web news, every news site desperately wants you to stick to their site. Each organization tries to put as many places on each page to keep you from leaving the site.)

But, ultimately, this type of browsing tends to exist within the things you care about. Maybe you end up reading something about a different video game than the one for which you were looking. Maybe you read a story about the Pittsburgh Pirates instead of the Houston Astros, your local team. Overall, you’re still reading about baseball or video games.

It’s easy to get bored with news, I think. Because of the nature of news, timeliness is nearly finite, so a reader can easily get tired of reading the news of the day.

Enter Wikipedia.

The Wikipedia loop is something we’ve all experienced. Here’s the scenario:

I want to look something up about, say, Planet Earth (my girlfriend and I have fallen in love with the show). I then, while on the PE page, clicked on the entry for the Roseate Spoonbill, because I didn’t know what it was. I then read the entire entry. I think clicked on the sidebar link to aves. This got me to
the entry on penguins, a favorite animal of mine. This got me to the emperor penguin. Which then got me to several other different penguin species

This led me to the story of the Roy and Silo, the homosexual penguins at the Central Park Zoo. Which got me to the Wikipedia page for homosexual behavior in animals.

That’s a long way from Planet Earth, is it not?

I gained a great deal of knowledge from this little loop. I read about different birds and sexuality in animals. I learned a lot more than I would have just reading a newspaper.

Bro-mance, sexuality and A&A

Reading about homosexuality in animals made me think a lot about the recent idea of “bromance” (as I write this, the most bought TV show episode is one entitled “Bromance” from a show called Greek) as a thinly veiled term for male homosocial behavior. Eve Sedgwick, of course, said that homosexual and homosocial behavior among men are difficult to separate; there is homosexuality in homosocial behavior.

It makes some sense. The closest of friends, no matter the gender, connect in a way that just average friends do not. Does that mean these friends want to boink? Probably not, in my experience. But, the idea that someone wants to be closer to someone of the same sex is not a crazy notion.

I’m a big believer in the sliding scale — the Kinsey scale — of sexuality. Yes, sexuality is more complicated than that, but more people, I’d suggest, fit in the 1-5 range than in the 0 or 6 sides.

Because of societal pressure and moreover, simplicity, most men would probably say that they are a zero, exclusively heterosexual. I’d say I’m probably a 1.5. I am extremely passionate for women — specifically a certain shape of woman — but I sometimes find myself attracted to men. Granted, it’s not often, but it happens.

(And let me say this: I think it’s kind of important to pick a major there. Bisexuality seems to be the domain of the screwed up, so while I would do it with, say, Brad Pitt, I am straight.)

I look back to my freshman year of high school (and here’s where we get to the music). I was a very green boy of 14 and I got interested in radio. I don’t really remember why, exactly, I found my high school’s radio station (yes, my rich, liberal white kid high school had a radio station) to be my point of interest, but it was. I met two gentlemen while doing the normal initiation stuff for the station and fell in love with both.

The first (we’ll call him A) was an awkward, pale, bespectacled guy with a decent voice and a somewhat troubled past. He also liked a different strain of music than I was used to. He was into indie rock, though at a top level (he introduced me to Yo La Tengo, for example). A’s first passion appeared to be radio more than anything and he’s since gone into professional radio. To which I say, good work.

The other (we’ll call him M) was more laid-back and apparently into the station for some other reason. He did a show that focused more on the roots of rock and roll, soul music and R&B. I don’t know what he’s doing now, but I don’t think it’s in professional radio.

Anyway, I had huge crushes on both of these guys when I was a freshman in high school. I imagine if either wanted to make out with me, I probably would’ve.

That’s neither here nor there. The point is this: M’s favorite band was Devo.

Freedom of Choice

Devo’s third album is probably the band’s best. Keeping with the band’s political themes, the album touches on self-determination (“Whip It”), individual rights v. collectivism (“Freedom of Choice”) and the obvious themes of 1980 (“Gates of Steel” and “Cold War”).

The album had the band moving away from the guitars of earlier albums (“Girl U Want,” for example, is more reminiscent of earlier Devo records). “It’s Not Right,” though, is the picture of the band’s new direction. It’s a synth-driven record recalling the emerging musical styles of the time — New Wave and dance — backed by a sad little chorus lyric.

I love you, darling.
It’s a crying shame.
The way you run around,
like you’re in a big game.
I’m so happy, I could cry every time.
I think about you.

Of course, the song is known for this video, the one for “Whip It.” The song’s riff is tripled on a keyboard, the bass and a guitar. The video is iconic for its time and the stackable hats have proved to be something of a symbol for the band.

Nevertheless, the album is more then “Whip It.” It’s a record that had Devo in transition and proved to be the band’s biggest hit.

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