Welcome, gentle reader! As your new columnist, it will be my

pleasure to guide your erudite and cultured mind through the

scintillating and altogether arousing world of LIFESTYLES! Those of you

familiar with this word only through the backs of condom boxes and those

of you who have become hermits to escape the ravages of modern culture

may ask, "What, exactly, is a lifestyle?" A bit of history, then, is in

order. In the beginning, back when men still smoked cigars without

worrying about the phallic implications of such an act and women wore

corsets in order that they might better approximate the figure of the

Barbie doll, people lived lives, wherein the men went to work and feared

communists, the women lived a variant of "Kinder, Kuche, Kirche" that

involved buying fashionable kitchen appliances, and they all lived the

post-war dream together. Wealthy industralists and their families, who

had the money to hire people to do their jobs for them, could devote

their time to a wide array of enriching activities such as golf, riding

horses, and consuming expensive alcoholic beverages, given journalistic

immortality in a newspaper's "Society Pages".


However, with the advent of greasy long-haired pelvis-gyrators like

the Dave Clark Five and the infiltration of rogue weirdo intellectuals

like Adlai Stevenson all that changed. The youth of America (and

probably other countries too, but as an American, I am required by the

cultural ethos of this great nation to systematically ignore historical

occurances in foreign lands) started running amuck in motorcycle gangs,

growing their hair to egregious lengths, spending their money on birth

control pills instead of washing machines, and generally engaging in

activities they characterized as "changing the world". Under the

mesmerizing spell of cunning linguists like Noam Chomsky (well, maybe

not him, but he's the only linguist I've ever heard of), they came to

the conclusion that the terminology of their parents was entirely

inadequate for the purposes of bringing about a new beautiful planet,

plus they could really confuse their parents with all these new words,

and so it was they replaced the word "life", which they perceived to be

staid, dull, and altogether too monosyllabic, with "lifestyle", which

they believed was vibrant, energetic, and full of zest.


In the end, however, these brave young prophets of a new age realized

they smelled sort of bad and really ought to have washing machines after

all, stopped smoking pot, and became respectable decent citizens. By

the time this had happened, however, the media, which if you recall your

cultural studies courses from college, is run by the ponies, had decided

the young idealists were really on to something with that language, and

by using it could remind them forever of the fun times of their youth.


As market studies showed that people were more likely to buy stuff when

they were in good moods, this worked out extremely well. So it was that

every newspaper gained a column labelled "Lifestyles", usually right

before the sports section, where they would print the slowly shrinking

comic strips and tell you what you could watch on TV. The "Lifestyles"

section has also slowly absorbed the function of the Society Pages in

the local newspapers, with the privileged classes turning to other

methods of circulation to advertise their business gatherings and

cocaine parties.


This leaves us in the new and entirely modern (or perhaps

supra-post-modern; the eternal philosophical question "What time is

it?" has taken on deepened significance in this clime of approximated

schizophrenia) era of the '90s with a vexing question: What exactly

*is* lifestyle? Is it a successor to the societal functions of the

1950s? Is it what TV shows we watch, what church we attend, what we

eat, who we fuck? Well, for the purposes of this column and for the

benefit of befuddled journalists everywhere, "Lifestyle" shall be

defined as "The study of the development and practice of trends."


Trends, as defined by the definitive lexicon of 20th century cultural

hagiography, "The Adventures of Greggery Peccary" by Frank Zappa, are

exemplified by "the Twist.. or Flower Power"; in other words, a

prepacked culturally approved way of spending time not occupied by one's

job, "rejuvenating the national economy and providing for bored,

miserable people everywhere some great new THING to identify with."

("Greggery Peccary" again).


The "Lifestyle" moniker, of course, comes with the associated buzzword

(buzzword is, of course, itself a buzzword, an oddity I would dwell on

further were I William Safire) "alternate lifestyle" or "alternative

lifestyle". There is again some dispute over what qualifies as

"alternative", especially considering the fact that some things still

considered "alternative" are in fact favored by a huge segment of the

general populace. For the purposes of this column, we can generalize

that an "alternative lifestyle" consists of anything Jesse Helms would

not do in his spare time.


Whew! That was a great deal more complex than I anticipated, and it

looks like we're out of room for this time. No matter. Next time,

we'll talk about SISKEL AND EBERT.




Well, despite my firm intentions last time to write a mildly

engaging and vaguely time-occupying Lifestyles Article about

the gut-wrenchingly serious theme of Siskel and Ebert, I

attempted instead to work on a second topic on the theory that

the Siskel and Ebert one would occupy insufficient space.


In such situations I usually do one of two things: change the spacing

and margins, which obviously isn't applicable in this case, or

pad out the article with stuff that is pretty much completely

irrelevant to the purposes of the article but sounds damn

neat. However, my tangential meanderings happened to usurp

the ostensible topic in this case, and in sheer joy at having

written something vaguely coherent, this is what will be



The UK is currently suffering the final weeks of that dreaded

disease known as "the electoral campaign". In years past, I

have been blithely oblivious to this sort of thing, holding

the cherished belief that the continent of Europe was actually

spelled "Yurip" and consisted mainly of Greeks such as Mr.

Papadopolous from "Webster". However, what with the

globalization of the information economy, the fact that the

library where I work only carries reputable newspapers

concerned with important world trends, and the fact that

demographically speaking, the UK is the second most populous

country on the Internet, I find it tragically difficult to

ignore their political foibles.


Now, some of you might think that a political campaign is

definitely outside the range of my duties as a Lifestyles

columnist, but upon closer examination it indeed holds up to

scrutiny. First off, what with the virtual elimination of all

policy-based initiatives in the modern political campaign,

elections have indeed become a venue for entertainment,

albeit (judging from polls of Concerned Citizens everywhere)

not a very effective one. Entertainment has been the

tantamount priority of voters everywhere since the days when

campaigners made up idiotic folk-songs to promote their

candidate. Secondly, any residual political aspects of the

race are more than compensated for by the fact that most

foreign elections have absolutely no bearing on any facet of

life in this great stinking cesspool of a country I'm

stationed in (the USA, for those of you taking notes). Third

and finally, while it may not be as scintillating as

scurrilous gossip about the Royal Family, the British election

involves many well-known entertainment archetypes.


Having observed the events surrounding the upcoming election,

as I usually do, through a haze of media-induced filtering,

half-formed gossip, and nearly total ignorance on my part, I

am struck by several things. The first is how similar it

seems to the pathetically banal electoral event we in the

States finished suffering through last fall and four years ago.


A conservative leader, not facing any major crises, but

generally regarded as a pathetic shadow of the tart-tongued,

hard-assed, and charismatic '80s party leader, loses

popularity fast because of a perceived lack of leadership

qualities. All his political points are usurped by the leader

of the ostensibly liberal party, who, though not exactly a

great leader, nevertheless comes across as a much better

conservative than leader of the conservative party. In

desperation, the conservative leader takes a stand he doesn't

really agree with, but which will distinguish him from the

leader of the other party, at least. He decides to come down

hard on foreigners.


I hope to God (or a reasonable fascimile thereof) that these

countries aren't looking up to us as a paragon of successful

electioneering. I had always had the impression that British

politics had some redeeming qualities, despite the

interminably dull exploits of the Royal Family and their

tendency to welcome utter twats like Andrew Fucking

Lloyd-Webber and Paul McCartney as members of the "ruling

class", though considering the track record of the "ruling

class" perhaps it was well in keeping with their standards.


For one thing, they at least had the decency to curse each

other out on the floor of the lawmaking house, calling each

other "dreaded ungulates", "wankers", and other such endearing

terms. We haven't had that kind of action in our lawmaking

bodies since the renowned "Bloody Sumner" incident of the

1850s, which is one of the only things I recall about American

history. This veneer of false civility is extremely

disingenuous to me, if only because I'd very much enjoy

seeing, say, Sen. James Exon (D-Neb.) and Sen. Jesse Helms

(R-NC) attempt to beat each other to a bloody pulp. However,

those halcyon days seem to be numbered, as the six-limbed

beast that passes for "American Culture" creeps across the

horizons of the world. As Frank Zappa said on British

television in 1968, "Something's gotta be done, before America

scarfs up the world and shits on it."


In any case, at least the current electoral campaign has some

salient features which, while not exactly enjoyable in a

straightforward sense, can be cruelly mocked as indicators of

the downfall of civilization in general. First off, the

chicken incident. This was brought to my attention by a

poster to the alt.slack newsgroup. While this may seem

woefully unprofessional, given the propensity of posters to

disreputable Usenet groups (which is, in fact, nearly all of

them) to claim things such as the death of Ernest Borgnine

from child molestation and the suicide of Xuxa, both of which

are completely untrue, my reliance on such a medium might be

considered highly suspect and/or completely unoriginal.


Nevertheless, this is completely in line with the methodology

employed by Modern Media Experts, so I feel completely

justified in this. C'est la vie ("La vie!") Unfortunately,

Americans suffer from a peculiar disease whereby the identities

of people from foreign countries are rendered indistinguishable,

so I can't precisely identify the person in question. The

"chicken issue" in question revolves around the fact that the

Tories, who represent, roughly speaking, the "right wing" of

British politics, have sent a giant chicken out to follow

around Labor (representing, roughly speaking, the "left wing"

of British politics, though they seem to have moved away from

supporting organizations that claim to support the workers, as

nobody really wants to think about work during a political

campaign) MP (which is an inscrutable political title,

somewhat akin to "Whip" in the US system, though I have not

once in my life seen Newt Gingrich in dominatrix gear. Not

that I want to. It might stand for "Prime Minister" in

metric.) Tony Blair, apparently to signify that he's bought

and paid for by the amusement park greeters' union. This is

notable for several reasons. The first of these is the

similarity of this ploy to the Democrats' usage of a guy

dressed up like a cigarette who followed around Bob Dole,

indicating that Mr. Dole was beholden to "Big Tobacco". This

is nicked from an idea by alleged political cartoonist Garry

Trudeau, who has cute ways of representing politicians with

breakfast foods and Macintosh icons. Personally I find this

to be an exemplary attempt to make politics a thing of

interest to all and sundry. Labor can dress protesters up

in autoerotic asphyxiation gear in salute to the time-honoured

Tory practice, mummies, vampires, and zombies could be hired

to follow politicians around for political effect; there could

be an entire entourage of freakish cartoonlike exaggerations

of the perceived faults of the would-be "leaders". And for

those without the funds to pay for an entire costumery, one

could simply hire real winos to follow around the

politicians! What could work better?


The second area of appeal of the chicken suit leads to its use

as a time-hallowed piece of burlesque in not only Britain, but

also here in the States. In fact, the chicken suit was

instrumental in halting a federal investigation into the

identity of the Unabomber. Back in the 1980s, before the

Unabomber had been given his cool superhero name, the federal

agency responsible for investigations was looking very closely

at college students, apparently primarily because they played

role-playing games. This is of course a trend on the

resurgence in America nowadays, what with two sets of idiot

Kentucky residents going on pseudo-Satanic/Role-playing game

inspired killing sprees in the last year, and is no doubt

somehow linked to the "goth" trend, wherein it is believed

that wearing large amounts of pancake makeup will put you in

touch with occult powers. So it should not be too hard for

the contemporary observer to see why pretending to be an

orc-slayer equated in the minds of the nation in general, and

these federal agents in particular, with being a violent felon.


However, the canny students caught onto this, and in a

brilliant tactical act one of them went down to Langley,

dressed in a chicken suit, and demanded to speak to the

investigating officer. When faced with this spectacle, the

agency apparently concluded that anyone with the insight,

wisdom, and time-honored collegiate sense of humour to wear a

chicken suit could not possibly be a psychotic killer, and

moved their worthy efforts elsewhere. Despite the fact that

this has been reported by major news-magazines, no

corresponding rise in the sales of chicken suits has been

noted since that time, which is a shame, since as this article

has hopefully demonstrated, they are truly worthy to have the

label "trend" affixed to them.


In further attempts to appeal to the people, the British have

brought out Margaret Thatcher again. As she is not suffering

from a degenerative memory disease, this is generally

considered a good move, especially as charismatic leaders have

even MORE pull if they are not put in positions of great

power, where they attract pesky criticism which must then be

suppressed so as to preserve the fond memories of them for

posterity. She's even been endorsed by Britain's greatest

singing sensation since progressive rock group Frankie Goes to

Hollywood, the Spice Girls. Again, this shows a move towards

celebrity endorsement that can serve politics well in the

future; George Bush benefitted from endorsements by

body-builder Arnold Schwarzenegger. Indeed, if we combine the

celebrity endorsement theme with the puppet theme, we can

expect to see political endorsements by the Muppets in the

near future. This move will be made even more effective by

the fact that polls show Sesame Street enjoys a strong degree

of popularity among the Youth Market, for whom possession of

past media commodities is both a chance for cultural

integration and a chance to show off ironic media-savvy



Whew. I keep having this tendency to talk about Serious

Issues, don't I? Maybe next time I'll talk about some

lightweight fluff like the allegations that among the sexual

fetishes Tom Cruise will be acting out in the next Kubrick

film will be not only transvestitism, but forced auditing. Or

Carl Orff. Or something. I can't promise you anything.



(Note: The rate of serious depression in Paris is 15.4%, if you

find this significant.)