By Brikena Ribaj
Gadgets have a way of making me happy. Switching to the iPod was the next natural step. The other gadgets were an oh-so-20th century. That little gadget. My chosen box of possibilities. The iPod. Having in mind the theoretical approach of Judith Butler on gender I have long thought about how easily the iPod lends itself to being queer. Music precedes partners, relationships, most thoughts and sensations, even good writing. To me, at least.“If music be the food of love, play on. Give me excess of it ,” says Count Orsino in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. And I concur. Entirely. One can never overdose on music, after all. I’d venture so much as to say that I’m not capable of producing good work sans music.
The fluidity of existence is rendered possible via music. Judith Butler maintains a number of identities are occupied by the same person thanks to the many different roles that the same individual can play in society. And these roles, I would add, can only be played if music were in the background. One is not just an athlete, a music lover, a mentor, a tutor, a child, a partner, a parent, and so forth. One is all of these things. And one does not just listen to Mozart, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Mina , Puccini, Wagner, The Stones and so forth but to a cornucopia of things. This need for diversity in music selections seems to match an inherent human need to diversify identity-wise.
Again, the fragment and the whole go hand in hand. One single role is as important as the sum of all the roles we play our entire lives. Mozart’s Requiem comes to me with as much exuberance as The Killers Indie Rock ‘n Roll. Even the most beautifully executed Rachmaninoff piece after being played non-stop all one‘s life can lose some of its grandeur, if not in the company of some other pieces, let’s say decadent rock and even some Schönberg and Stravinsky in the mix.
“Your music collection is just so queer.” See? It’s not the individual performers the friend was referring to. That elusive ‘queer’ did not just refer to Madonna, Muse, Mandalay, Belle & Sebastian, or The Magnetic Fields. He found the collective to be queer. So much variety in one little box! The white box oozes queerness.
In her Bodies That Matter, Judith Butler observes that crafting any positions or what she refers to as “reciting a given position in society always involves becoming haunted by what’s excluded and the more rigid the position the greater the ghost and the more threatening [it] is in some way. ” I experience such haunting by what was excluded on the 15th of June 2005. That day, my life as I knew it, changed radically.
I was riding my Honda Metro scooter listening to The Killers’ singing Indie Rock ‘n Roll and I remember noting that moment in time as a happy one. A thought I had at that point is how a little thing like a rock song could capture my attention so much that I’d be oblivious to anything else of importance.
Goethe once noted that great things should never be at the mercy of things that mattered least. In that moment, it was all about rock. Unfortunately, that moment, like so many moments in time, was painfully finite. When my iPod fell on the ground, I felt a disconnect. It was suddenly lying on the hot asphalt of 13th East in Salt Lake City. A tourist bus containing a plethora of people crushed it and my heart sank. My music was gone. It was taken from me. I felt wounded. I retrieve the iPod when it’s safe to do so and it’s defunct. No life in it. No music coming out of it. “This is just great!”
A few days go by. I get another iPod. It seems to strange to me. It’s a 60 GB! I look at it as if it were an original Monet or the wet lips of a good kisser. It’s so beautiful to me, it’s hurting my eyes. It’s so pristine, so white, so virginal. And it’s all mine. I like white things. They beg for attention, they appear so delicate, and yes, pretty. One little white thing, the all-present iPod. I have to spend more time on it. It’s like meeting someone new and sensing the pool of possibility they exude and then wondering if you’ll have enough time to get to really get to know them. I do. I take the time.
I create the iPod for me. The right partner that will accompany me daily as I go jogging, biking, hiking, shopping, flying to places, thinking. I have spent more time with the iPod than will close friends, partners, colleagues, and acquaintances. I choose five different protective skins for it.
When I’m feeling jovial, my iPod looks orange to purposefully mismatch the rest of my colorful ensemble of multicolored socks and shirts. Ah, the things one does in the name of postmodernity. The iPod adds to the queerness of the external presentation. The iPod is dressed in black when I don’t want it to clash with my more serious outfits. Then, there’s the blue cover for working out at the gym. The pink, to confuse my girlfriends, and of course, the white, my choice lack of color.
The white iPod is like a tabula rasa. It signified such a new beginning, such a sense of possibilities. I think about what it means to pull off white. That color almost compels the user to match the pristine nature of the box itself. Being known for losing things compulsively, I am amazed at the fragile behavior I espouse when I touch my white iPod. That color demands gentleness, care, love.
A number of blissful months ensue till that sinister Saturday morning. That very Saturday I could finally point to a moment in time when an abstract feeling of loss was rendered concrete. It was concretely lying on my hand. The dead, white box. “Come on, don’t be so puerile! It’s just one iPod. You’ll get another.”
What a strange way to console someone. See, to me, the iPod is anthropomorphized.
It’s the one thing I allow to accompany me everywhere. The iPod is my journal. I look at my writing and most of the time I can unequivocally remember what music I implemented. Emails to partners, mostly rock, emails to Dad, Verdi. Editing, punk, only punk. My writing process is apparently accompanied by a nod of the head that imitates the sounds of the music I’m listening to. Naturally, it must be a gene-determined mannerism. If my iPod were to be taken from me now, I would be inconsolable.
The first thing I do to cope with a crisis at hand is turn on my iPod. Then I can breathe. It feels as comforting as a smoker’s first cigarette or a starved person’s first bite of a delectable dish. The iPod caters to my very basic instincts, it feeds me. Then, there are the streets, those of London, Seattle, Portland, Detroit, and Salt Lake. They all seem to be full of white earphone carriers; a world of people who choose to focus on what is being poured into their brain by way of the iPod.
Some say we are becoming more and more marginalized and detached from the world. I would say the iPod is forcing many of us to look inside a bit more, perhaps at the risk of being hit by a bus, being distracted so much that a connection is missed at the airport in a foreign land. Be that as it may, the little box demands attention and pure love. It always delivers. At least until it’s attacked by a mean vehicle which suffocates its voice. The iPod. It represents a universe of possibilities. Where I seem to go, it goes there as well.
The absence of music is the presence of impotence. While a popular literary concept would stipulate that absence is as important as the presence of a subject, I would say that the absence of music would equal the absence of the written work. As some readers of Nietzsche would concur, music is the ultimate form of expression, hence it precedes all. But back to the iPod.
My whole music library in one little gadget. I remember thinking of the cumbersome nature of the red CD player. The little CD player only played a CD at a time. Making the transition to the iPod came as naturally to me as most of Europe switching from feudalism to capitalism. Perhaps comparing my switch from a CD player to the iPod to a major shift in the political and economic system is too much of a stretch but I do so on purpose.
Having a gadget like the iPod is a necessity in this time frame. Few other things manage to therapize me as effectively and very few things manage to keep my attention longer than a few hours.
So much information coming out of that white, pristine box. The consciousness of this twenty-first-century being is fed by the best-designed box of them all, the iPod. The fluid iPod can be a number of colors, it can shift identities as readily as a twenty-first-century punk rock-loving, serious-looking, farming-interested academic. It is here and it is queer.
And after many deliberations with many a person, the best I can do to explain the term ‘queer’ is that it is ubiquitous. Yes, everywhere. It cannot help but be everywhere. It graces the streets of Salt Lake, Chicago, Rome, London, Toronto, the world.
There where we are, there it is also.