The OC Blog Back Issues Our Mission Contact Us Masthead
Sudsy Wants You to Join the Oregon Commentator

Shakra To The Future!

March 11th, 2005 by olly

An old friend weighs in.

So it is not unexpected that Commentator staff members would turn to the First Amendment instead of taking responsibility for their privilege. And as the microcosmic vanguard for white, patriarchal America on campus, the law fully supports the publication’s position. Of course, “feelings” aren’t considered within a system of law that prides itself on supposed “rationality” and “objectivity.”

No, they “aren’t”. And “microcosmic vanguard for white, patriarchal America”? If this is how people are reading the mission statement, no wonder there’s been all this confusion.

After all, if we were to consider feelings in our decision-making process, how it feels to have your privacy invaded might count.

I detect a note of petulance in this piece: nobody cared when we said mean things (or, as he would put it, engaged in “white, heterosexist journalism”) about Shakra, because he’s white, heterosexual, and obvious comedy gold. He also apparently considers his newspaper column to be some kind of personal territorial bubble, within which he is protected from criticism; I see no other way of interpreting his claims of privacy invasion. Also, when he exhorts us to

look beyond this [conservative/liberal] spectrum, and even the rules themselves, to take responsibility for creating a safer campus and a more tolerant community

the irony is so thick you can float pennies on top of it.

Either way, it’s good to see he’s still rolling along. For what it’s worth, I stand by what I said here:

I am still convinced that Shakra is the quintessential student columnist. His writing is a closed system upon which the outside world barely impinges – and when it does, it does so in unpredictable ways, as when he discovers that he has a literature paper overdue. He represents the very worst tendencies in all of our writing – towards grandiloquence, obfuscation, melodrama, narcissism, and cant – to such an extent that it would not surprise me to learn that the whole thing has been a spoof. But even if it is, it has been a valuable one. Believe me, folks, there’s a little Aaron Shakra in all of us.


June 20th, 2004 by olly

Before we get started, I have a couple of things to say about Aaron Shakra which may seem out of character, and which have kept me from being all mean-spirited about his last few commentary pieces as I am now exhorted to do…

  • I appreciated him being a good sport about bringing the comedy for our Hate issue, and I have to acknowledge his point about the “near-fetishistic level of detail” in which we (and mostly I) have responded to his work.
  • Also, I was mightily amused to learn from his Hate piece that someone has taken to leaving copies of the OC on his desk: thank you, whoever that was.
  • He deserves a shout-out for this piece on Jim White, whose “No Such Place” album has never been far from my CD player these past four years. The writing is vintage Shakra (“The existence of Jim White might be likened to some ripple in the fabric of space-time.“) but the subject matter, at least, is right on.

    However, that said, we are left with this.

    So now, as it’s finally over, I struggle to exist in the moment I’m experiencing.

    I am still convinced that Shakra is the quintessential student columnist. His writing is a closed system upon which the outside world barely impinges – and when it does, it does so in unpredictable ways, as when he discovers that he has a literature paper overdue. He represents the very worst tendencies in all of our writing – towards grandiloquence, obfuscation, melodrama, narcissism, and cant – to such an extent that it would not surprise me to learn that the whole thing has been a spoof. But even if it is, it has been a valuable one. Believe me, folks, there’s a little Aaron Shakra in all of us.

    And, as he wanders off into the sunset, what do we have to conclude the rants about Society, materialism, militarism, feminism, and (more often than not) haiku?

    Because after all, these stories are merely conception, a narrative I construct to order my experience, to mark beginnings and ends. When I take time to breathe, I know better.

    Well, quite. Happy trails, sir.

    Perhaps these words will linger a while longer, as ashen sage smoke swimming amongst the places where I once existed, leaving traces of who I once was. Perhaps some will remember.

    I think we will. And that ain’t sage, incidentally.

  • And we used to sing Shakra la la la la la la la la la te da

    June 18th, 2004 by danimal

    This is, simply, a plea to Mr. Ruff to fulfill his duty by fisking Shakra’s farewell column. Sure, it’d be two weeks late, but, man, he’s reached self-parody! Let’s be done with it! Witness:

    I could have taken more women’s studies classes, taken more African dance and drumming, Japanese literature courses — I could have taken Urban Farm every term. If only …

    It’s uncanny. I used to make jokes that began like this.

    Double Fun Shakra: Zerzan, Lord Of The Jungle

    June 3rd, 2004 by olly

    An epoch is drawing to a close. Soon we will no longer have Aaron Shakra’s biweekly attempts to alert us to the insidious evils of a media-dominated culture through the medium of a column in the newspaper. He’s leaving us with a treat, though: a meeting of minds (given his incongruous affection for Star Trek, I should probably say “melding”) with local nutjob, green anarchist, and professional babysitter John Zerzan. Interview here.

    The questions are mostly softballs (“Do you feel that art in popular culture is a tool of social control?”) but we learn that Zerzan’s principal objection is, in fact, to symbolic representation of all types:

    It’s representation, most basically. That urge or desire to represent reality. Art is just part of the symbolic culture, symbolic communication.

    So: speech, gestures, sketches on cocktail napkins, the Mona Lisa, and Green Anarchy magazine. Best to cast a wide net, I suppose. And what’s the alternative?

    For example, one thing that really struck me, is some of the anthropological data, for example that we were cooking with fire almost 2 million years ago, and doing other interesting things. Another recent thing is, they’ve determined that humans were able to navigate on the open sea 800,000 years ago. And yet, art is very recent. Art is only like 30,000 years old. So people were obviously intelligent for a couple of million years, and they didn’t seem to need art.

    Always good for a laugh, that guy. And he’s right: why bother doing anything? Art, communication, technology, anything to improve the lot of his fellow man strikes Zerzan as a further estrangement from our natural state of poverty, disease and squalor – a state in which people evidently once thrived. Or, to put it another way: “Apparently, people were satisfied with just digging nature…”

    The philosophy of Zerzan (and Shakra, for that matter) is a weird kind of solipsism in which society’s perceived indifference to them must be cast in terms of being “cut off from nature” for maximum rhetorical heft. As you can tell, I’m a big fan.

    Shakra & Kobe

    May 13th, 2004 by olly

    Hindsight is 20/20, especially if you’re using your third eye to look backwards. What evidence does noted political theorist Aaron Shakra offer us that Condoleezza Rice’s testimony before the 9/11 Commission was, in the words of From The Wilderness Publications’ Michael Ruppert, “perjury – a felony” based on her denial that the administration had “specific advance knowledge as to the time, place and method of the attacks”?

    For example, what about the well-documented insider stock trading throughout seven countries only days prior to the attacks? This might be excusable, but considering the trading involved only corporations — including United Airlines, American Airlines, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, and Citigroup — that were severely financially affected by the stocks, the traders may not have known the specifics, but they knew something.

    Good Lord. The conspiracy was wider than we ever could have guessed. American Airlines knew, man.

    (From The Wilderness Publications may sound like hippies, but they are in fact to be found on the web at – and if you’ve read that site before, you’ll be rolling your eyes along with me.)

    The blood of the nameless will spill and spill and spill for a war started over a perverse fallacy.

    For God’s sake, give it a rest. Please. I’m not particularly gung-ho about nation-building in the Middle East, and I’m as up in arms about the Abu Ghraib scandal as everyone else – the abuse itself, and also some of the responses to it. (UPDATE: See also here – I know I said no more Reason links, but it’s on-topic, honest.) However, I don’t understand the psychology of people who seem determined to actively root for the worst possible outcome.

    Shakra Was A Rolling Stone

    April 29th, 2004 by olly

    Here‘s this week’s exciting episode. I like the new practice of ending columns with cliffhangers, by the way.

    Unfortunately, patriarchy is continually propagated as the perverted norm. Now add to this the concept of compulsive heterosexuality.

    I’m pretty sure he means “compelled heterosexuality”, but it’s certainly funnier this way. Here we go again with the gender roles. I liked it better when he was rewriting term papers.

    This segregation exists in the forms of gendered spaces, friendships, and spatial separation between boys and girls — with boys typically controlling areas such as large playing fields, and girls controlling smaller enclaves like hopscotch. Examples like these solidify the gendered orientation for each group.

    Ladies, can you speak to this? I know I’ve often speculated as to the origins of my deep-rooted fear of hopscotch.

    Seriously, I think my problem with the notion of “patriarchy” as usually explicated on this campus is that it’s so deeply collectivist: the underlying assumption is that there is a concerted effort underway by all men (and gender-traitor females) to oppress “women, nature, and children”. This oppression is everywhere, like the Matrix, and absolutely everything can be viewed as a symptom of our pernicious “hetero-patriarchal” socialization. What results is columns like this one: unintentionally humorous and utterly devoid of semantic content. I’m every bit as opposed to forcing people into traditional gender roles as Shakra claims to be, but I (as regular readers will have surmised by now) think he sounds like an asylum inmate when he starts talking about the patriarchal attitudes instilled in us by the institution of elementary school. (And my heterosexuality remains, alas, compulsive.) As ever, though, the ideas become much clearer when cast into verse:

    Or, like one of my favorite poets once said: Break free songbird, break free — break free songbird, break free.

    Oh, the humanity! But rhyming “free” with “free” is cheating, sir.

    Shakra To The Drawing Board

    April 15th, 2004 by olly

    Perhaps the least surprising thing about this piece is the revelation that our hero Aaron Shakra lives in Whiteaker.

    But as I passed Mac Court, something finally did stop me. It was the blue box of the Register-Guard, the newspaper inside reading: “Submit or die, Marines tell holdouts.”

    I take a deep breath.

    “Submit or die.” This is rape culture. This is death culture, repackaged and represented in an easy-to-digest form, available for withdrawal from a blue box. Or whatever color box — They’re all the same shades of gray.

    Ah, so that’s what rape culture is. One hears the term bandied about so much, it’s good to finally get some specifics. And now, with a typical display of acrobatics, we find ourselves talking about gender roles:

    Feminist biologist Anne Fausto-Sterling has noted that the idea of there being only two sexes is yet another gendered social construction — if we consider hermaphrodites, there should be five sexes…

    First of all, if he actually opened the blue box and read the damn newspaper, he might pick up on the fact that the Marines have not been called into action to subdue an unruly crowd of hermaphrodites. Secondly, while his point that biological characteristics do not conform exactly to a “dichotomous system” is fair, in the overwhelming majority of cases – let’s face it – biological characteristics distinguish between men and women quite effectively, for what that distinction is worth. Thirdly, so what? If you want to be androgynous, go ahead. If you don’t, that’s fine too. As Dan Savage would put it, occupy the role that makes you feel comfortable, and kindly quit your incessant bitching.

    There is no “us versus them.” It doesn’t exist. Yet, we rely upon it and we learn to conform to it.

    Speak for yourself, jackass.

    The first place to fight this conformity is with our bodies. Stop subscribing to this culturally imposed gendered social control. Our bodies are the site of direct action — it’s time to begin. It’s time to sing these songs of dissent.

    To be continued.

    Now, where do we think this is going? Proposed future headline: “Aaron Shakra Wants Everyone To Know Why He’s Wearing A Dress.” He should team up with Scott Austin on this one, I think.

    Shakrafreude (Did We Use This One? I Hope We Haven’t.)

    April 2nd, 2004 by Timothy

    I’m nowhere near as clever at this sort of thing as Mr. Ruff, but, sadly, he hasn’t posted anything in over a week. So, dear readers, I’ll give it my all, but I can make no promises as to quality.


    The Most Beautiful Quote:

    Clocks and capitalism stand unmoved, like phallic monuments constructed in the name of progress and condemning the unprivileged to death. This is nothing but slavocracy in modern day disguise.

    I, for one, have always hated my penis-clock and have for some time been looking into one that’s a little more vaginal, or perhaps breast-like (boobular?).

    DJ Serpentine Makes A Triumphant Return: The rhymes, oh the rhymes…

    Nature is dying. Governments keep lying. And no laws can keep in check a culture of death.

    And the puppeteers of the masses produce the entertainment that keeps us on our asses.

    This boy is sitting on the shore wondering what it was he came here for.

    I’ll lay even-odds that he’s got a bright future in the rap/metal genre. Oh, Shakra, it’s so good to see ye return!


    PS: Dear Oliver, please come home. Your family misses you so.


    UPDATE: Link Added.

    Time To Shakra Off This Mortal Coil

    March 5th, 2004 by olly

    In conclusion: There is no conclusion.

    In his end is his beginning. The column is being retired, folks. But more on that anon.

    [Audre] Lorde reclaims the term [“erotic”] from its common, plasticized definition and says that the erotic is true knowledge, a true understanding “which can only wait upon, or clarify, that knowledge, deeply born…”

    Leaving aside the harmless fun that Audre Lorde seems to be having with her definitions, I would like to draw attention to the use of the word “plasticized”. I think we all know what he’s talking about. That’s right: dildos.

    Despite its vague meaning, in the context of this particular society, true action is when we begin to distinguish who we are from a society that increasingly values thoughtless visual captivation, fear, conformity and domination.

    Lorde says that once we have experienced a fullness and depth of feeling, we go “beyond the encouraged mediocrity of our society.”

    To a sort of super-mediocrity? Oh, never mind.

    Actually, these quotes pretty well sum up everything I find infuriating about this kind of piece. The unfocused bleating about Society, the pompous aphorisms about poetry, the endless preening over the word “spiritual”. As PJ O’Rourke once put it: “Here we have the very worst kind of person: the self-righteous beatnik.”

    The next logical step is to stop writing about this stuff and take it to the streets.

    But of course it is. I am pleased to report that Shakra’s mission is well underway, being put into action by an army of rigorously-trained disciples. During the twenty minute walk from my apartment to campus, I have passed as many as half a dozen people wandering around on the street in small circles, mumbling incoherently to themselves. I presume this is what he’s talking about.

    Shakra Bleu!

    February 25th, 2004 by olly

    A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,

    A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread–and Thou

    Beside me singing in the Wilderness–

    Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

    Alternatively, there’s the new Aaron Shakra piece.

    Where to begin? What to say that hasn’t been said before? Have we done this to death? Are we at a point where we can just let these columns just pass by unremarked upon, with nothing more than a wry laugh and a shake of the head? Is it time to move on? Has that blessed day arrived, the day upon which we finally pronounce our last word on this sage of modern times, this hirsute prophet, this… hang on a second.

    Violence doesn’t solve problems; it escalates them… Yet perhaps Star Trek is a bit too idealistic in this day and age… Like children sucking on the proverbial teat, we’re milked on this stuff from birth… In this visual nation, there is little respite from the addiction to violence…. For a defenseless viewer, violence becomes associated with pleasure… without the exploitation and subjugation of women, nature and foreign peoples and countries, Western civilization simply could not exist… “progress” and “advancement” have come at the expense of a violence that is justified as truth… Violence is not just a vice rooted in the American way of life, however. It telescopes out a global scale…

    People, that day is still a little further on down the road. And the road – if you’ll permit me to coin a phrase – is telescoping out on a global scale.

    (Incidentally, I’m sick of seeing that Francis Bacon line about “subordination, suppression, and even torture of nature, to wrest her secrets from her” in pieces like this. For a self-professed poet, his understanding of metaphor seems to be lacking. However, I agree with him that the practice of milking children is reprehensible. And the milk that results is, frankly, substandard.)


    February 19th, 2004 by olly

    Damn you, Atkinson. You left me some pretty choice bits, though. I read this piece while walking along E. 11th this morning, and I don’t recommend the experience. It was this line that put me over the edge:

    Regardless of whether it’s a poem or not, consider this exercise: Try listening to something else — your friend, a stranger, an enemy, a tree — without forming any judgment or waiting for your turn to talk.

    Here I collapsed in giggles and had to close the paper. For the next two blocks I was looked at unkindly by strangers – a glimpse into the life of the poet, to be sure – because I couldn’t keep a straight face. The rest of it doesn’t quite approach the same heights, though there are flashes of greatness:

    Yet it goes farther when it comes to our core; the writer of a political poem places his or herself in a room full of mirrors, where they see themselves in everything.

    Yes. I couldn’t have put it better myself. That’s exactly the problem: seeing yourself in everything. The reason most political poetry (and virtually everything the esteemed A. Shakra puts on paper) is so irritating is precisely its bottomless narcissism. Alas, there are many things in this big old world that couldn’t care less about us. Even the trees: they may seem like they’re always there to lend a sympathetic ear, but you should hear how they talk about you when you’re not around.

    Sittin’ on the Shakra the Bay?

    February 19th, 2004 by danimal

    It was the best I could do. Hate to crowd in on Olly’s turf, but this can’t sit out there too long:

    There is one stretch where I can see river and highway adjacent to one another. The first time I was there, I thought how much the freeway of cars was really like a river of water.

    Wow. This man is miles above us.

    But even the great thinkers err from time to time:

    Listening for the sake of itself isn’t a value that this culture cherishes.

    This would be a compelling point, if you turned a blind eye to the stubborn popularity of live and recorded music.

    Also, as to Shakra’s point about political poetry cutting too close to a writer’s “core,” how can some half-baked eco-femmy rant possibly expose the poet’s inner what-nots more than, say, a poem about one’s inability to love, or one’s fear of death, or the fact that as a child, one’s uncle made one get naked and watch snuff films with him?

    Oh wait, I’m actually trying to debate Shakra. Damn, the Shakra Beat is treacherous. Sorry, Olly, I’ll leave you to it.

    "The Heart-Ache And The Thousand Natural Shakras/That Flesh Is Heir To…"

    February 11th, 2004 by olly

    If you’re on the brink of the traditional Valentine’s Day pit of existential despair this year, there’s a special place that you can go. You can’t mend a broken heart, you can’t put your arms around a memory, you can’t take your love to town, you can’t violate that restraining order, and you can’t get served any more of those fancy whiskey drinks once you’ve started crying in them. However, you can be enlightened and uplifted by the stylings of… well, of he who needs no further introduction from me.

    Why must it work this way? Why must a hierarchy of love exist? Why must we divide the concept? Don’t we know divided love can’t work?

    Enlightened and uplifted yet? I thought so. This is a pearl from start to finish, folks, right from the moment he adds “a state of total confusion” to his outlook in the first paragraph. And there are more tantalizing glimpses of the inner man to come:

    Unfortunately, I am not equipped with the knowledge to make a successful critique of monogamy, so I won’t even try.

    If you read between the lines here, I think he’s trying to tell us that he’s got game like Parker Brothers.

    It’s only the obligation-based aspects of monogamy that bother me.

    See? He’s a stone-cold player. Mind you, you can replace the word “monogamy” in that sentence with virtually anything. Especially “journalism”. Virtually every line here demands its own rejoinder, but I’ll stop at one more:

    What confuses me is how someone can claim to “love” another person and yet still condone, or do violence, [sic] to another. How can we hold our girlfriend’s and boyfriend’s hands in joy, but then berate a stranger based on the lone fact that he or she is unknown as we pass each other on the streets?

    Because we’re in a bad mood? Because we mistrust strangers? Maybe because they write breathtakingly shitty columns in the local student newspaper? Because strangers stole our wallets and ran over our dogs? Who the hell knows? The pledge to unconditionally love all beings – “living and non-living”, even – doesn’t just devalue the notion of love, it renders it utterly meaningless. That may be the idea, of course: this is the kind of writing that just sucks the marrow out of any concept it brushes up against.

    Great White Shakra

    February 5th, 2004 by olly

    I’m blogging this for completeness’ sake more than anything, as I don’t have anything much against the latest from our furry friend at the ODE. Other than the spectacularly superfluous first four paragraphs, that is:

    To illustrate: Picture, if you will, a smiling, bearded man walking the streets of Eugene in the heat of a clear, red summer day. This man wears nothing but sandals, a stark white flowing galabia (this is a loose Egyptian garment) and a blue baseball cap with the word “Kerouac” emblazoned on it.

    When it comes to exercises in imagination, a bearded man wearing sandals walking around Eugene is not the toughest one I’ve had today. And actually, hang on a second:

    Much like the sea itself, reading the poem [Kerouac’s “Sea”] was refreshing.

    Oh, ow. No, really, that hurts. OK, the piece is pretty bad. Diane di Prima, a poet who I really hope is spared the AS treatment in a subsequent column, correctly diagnosed the problem here many years ago:


    I believe

    I might have become

    a great writer


    the chairs

    in the library

    were too hard.

    Shakraspeare In Love

    January 22nd, 2004 by olly

    Some days you open the paper and just know you’re in for a treat. We can’t blame him for the headline, but everything else in Plath’s talent overshadowed by death lives up to that stellar billing. From the opening paragraph, in which we learn that “it’s blatantly obvious the word ‘ablution’ doesn’t come off the top of your head when writing a poem” – as opposed to the word ‘douche’, presumably – to the conclusion, in which we learn that our hero doesn’t know what the word ‘juvenilia’ means, this is pure patchouli-scented gold. I hope that if this column is also being used to make up an overdue term paper he does very, very well out of it.

    It all builds up to this line, which has had myself and the office-mate convulsed with laughter for the last twenty minutes:

    Suicide is clearly an idea that Plath gained a mastery over…

    Yes, she certainly did. As opposed to Eugene O’Neill, who never quite got the hang of it.

    Taken as a whole, it’s sacrilege. Or, perhaps, Shakralege. But that’s why we love it. Please, Brad Schmidt, if you’re reading this, make him do T.S. Eliot next.