Archive for June, 2009
danah boyd speaks at the Personal Democracy Forum about “The Not-So-Hidden Politics of Class Online”
For decades, we’ve assumed that inequality in relation to technology has everything to do with “access” and that if we fix the access problem, all will be fine. This is the grand narrative of concepts like the “digital divide.” Yet, increasingly, we’re seeing people with similar levels of access engage in fundamentally different ways. And we’re seeing a social media landscape where participation “choice” leads to a digital reproduction of social divisions. This is most salient in the States which is intentionally the focus of my talk here today.
I suggest you read it all, it’s not terribly long, but if you’re part of the tl;dr generation, the salient point for libraries is this
If you are trying to connect with the public, where you go online matters. If you choose to make Facebook your platform for civic activity, you are implicitly suggesting that a specific class of people is more worth your time and attention than others. Of course, splitting your attention can also be costly and doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be reaching everyone anyhow. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. The key to developing a social media strategy is to understand who you’re reaching and who you’re not and make certain that your perspective is accounting for said choices. Understand your biases and work to counter them.
Last year in Ideas, Joanna Weiss wrote that the George Mason economist Peter T. Leeson was at work on a book that would demonstrate that “the democratic tenets we hold so dear were used to great effect on pirate ships. Checks and balances. Social insurance. Freedom of expression.”
Leeson’s book is finally here, “The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates.” And, true enough, the economist gives democratic aspects of pirate life their due. (Pirates elected their captains, for example, and could depose them by a vote.) But what most stands out is just how eager Leeson is to rescue pirates from the clutches of left-wing historians and social theorists, and to claim them as avatars of right-wing economic theory. Pirates, Leeson suggests, were avid Hayekians avant la lettre.
In Five Easy Pieces (dir. Bob Rafaelson, 1970) Robert Eroica Dupea, played by a young-ish Jack Nicholson, has "dropped out" by dropping down a couple of levels in the class structure. Frustrated by the constraints of a serious classical music career, when we first meet him he is working on an oil rig, hanging out with his working class buddies at the bowling alley, and dating a diner waitress (Karen Black), in a thorough rejection of his upper class background and ideals.
However, his new identity doesn't fit him all that well either. Stuck in a traffic jam on the way to the fields one day, he leaps out of the car and discovers an old piano on the back of an open moving truck. Pulling the cover off, he starts playing Chopin's Fantasie in F Minor on the out-of-tune upright, accompanied by the Art Brut of the commuters' horns. Then the one-two punch of discovering his girlfriend is pregnant, and his father is dying, sends him back on the road, ostensibly to visit the family compound and pay his last respects, but really to question again his place in the scheme of things.
So he jumps in the car and starts up the Pacific Coast. While his girlfriend smothers him by alternating baby talk with Tammy Wynette tunes, they pick up a pair of hitchhikers bound for Alaska. Providing social commentary as comic relief, one hitchhiker goes on what is presumably a states-long rant about consumerism, the environment, and the hidden costs of late capitalism. All of which is right but none of which you can imagine yourself wanting to hear when trapped in a car together for days. But it puts a little space between him and the waitress, as if to remind us that the structure of society does play a significant role in who we get close to, despite experimentation with social spaces.
In Puget Sound his family maintains an Ingmar Bergman-like compound on an island, where, following their ex-prodigy patriarch, they have all dedicated themselves to classical music. It is inferred that Bobby was the most talented of all, and we see some black and white Van Cliburn-style photos. It was this hothouse atmosphere of high art that Bobby rejected when he left. With the entire 1960s happening a ferry ride away, how could a young person with any passion insulate themselves by playing prewritten notes from hundreds of years ago? Yes, there is artistry in interpretation; in fact classical pianists predicate their careers, and themselves, on exactly that. But all the notes are neatly contained in measures, all the roles are prescribed, all the interpretations are determined: adagio, forte, pianissimo, glissando, legato -- da capo. Where is there room to find yourself? Where is there room for something new? Thus the oil rig, the nonintellectual friends -- and "classic" country music.
But while at the compound he tries to reach across anyway, attempting an affair with his brother's fiance. Catherine (Susan Anspach) lives fully within classical music. She is attracted to Bobby's freewheeling energy, but realizes that he's not rejoining her world, and she, despite the open door, has no intention of embracing the uncertainty on offer in his. The tragedy, it is suggested, is that only with a fellow social refugee can Bobby have the option of finding or creating some kind of new identity and new world into which to fit himself.
In an emotional scene with his father, he breaks down and confesses that he hasn't found any answers "outside," either:
"I move around a lot, not because I'm looking for anything really, but 'cause I'm getting away from things that get bad if I stay."
But the father has had a stroke, and cannot speak. What do you do when the promise of the 60s doesn't pan out? When the predetermined role is not what you want, but your class-based road-tripping is revealed as tourism? The father says nothing, as if to say, "well, this was what we had to offer. You didn't want it. We (the establishment) don't have any advice for your new world. And if you don't want that either, well . . ."
The most famous scene is of Bobby ordering toast in the diner. Toast is not on the menu. So Bobby tries to order a chicken salad sandwich, hold the mayo, hold the lettuce, hold the chicken . . . he does not get his toast. That he doesn't get his toast is only further confirmation of the fact that he has not found a place in either high- or lowbrow culture. It is not on the menu.
The best scene of the movie, though, is the one under the closing credits. A long shot of a gas station, it sums up the entire decade to come, its broken promises, its open-ended swarm of attempts and options, its apathy and confusion. Life doesn't stop just because you haven't figured it out. Right. So, what's next?
[From my review on the Brattle Theater Film Blog.]
More info from the Korea Society site:
$10 for members and students, $20 for nonmembers
(Walk-in registration will incur an additional charge of $5.)
Ed Park is a founding editor of The Believer, a four-time finalist for the National Magazine Award. His novel, Personal Days (Random House, 2008), was a finalist for the PEN Hemingway Award and was shortlisted for the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize. He writes a monthly book-review column for the Los Angeles Times and contributes to many other publications, including the New York Times, Bookforum, and Modern Painters. He was an editor and writer at The Village Voice for many years, where he was also the editor of the Voice Literary Supplement. Park teaches creative writing at Columbia University.
Janice Y. K. Lee was born and raised in Hong Kong, where she currently lives, and went to boarding school in the United States before attending Harvard College. A graduate of Hunter College's MFA program and a freelance writer, she is a former features editor at Elle and Mirabella magazines in New York. Her critically acclaimed first novel, The Piano Teacher, a New York Times bestseller and Richard and Judy Summer Read pick. The book will be published in 23 languages.
Sung J. Woo’s short stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times, McSweeney’s, and KoreAm Journal. His debut novel, Everything Asian (Thomas Dunne Books, 2009) has received praises from the Christian Science Monitor, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus Reviews. His short story “Limits” was an Editor’s Choice winner in Carve Magazine’s 2008 Raymond Carver Short Story Contest. A graduate of Cornell University with an MFA from New York University, he lives in Washington, New Jersey.
The Korea Society
950 Third Avenue @ 57th Street, 8th Floor
(Building entrance on SW corner of
Third Avenue and 57th Street)
I’m getting a lot of email about the Life Inc Dispatches we’ve been posting. They are loving the weekly video podcasts, and even suggesting I write a book based on these facts, insights, and strategies for reclaiming commerce as a human (rather than just a corporate) activity.
And while I’m glad people think there’s a book in this, I really do want them to know I’ve actually already written one. So it seems my fear of “over marketing” and thus distorting the purpose of my book has actually led to under-communicating its very existence. Live and learn.
I’m going to try erring on the other side and see what happens. Anyway, here is the link to the Life Inc Dispatches page. We’ll be creating a way to subscribe via rss and iTunes as soon as we can figure that part out. In the meantime, subscribing to the rss of this blog will certainly get you links to those dispatches when they come out. Here’s #1: “Crisis as Opportunity”
but then sometimes the glass like all fictions melts away into a thousand drops …
The Last Picture Show (dir. Peter Bogdanovich, 1971) presents the enigma of the old western wrapped in the mystery of the new. Set in the early 1960s in a windswept Texas town -- the kind of small town that springs up on the way from somewhere to somewhere else -- the story focuses on two high school seniors, Sonny and Duane, co-captains of a football team so monumentally inept that at one point they manage to lose 121 - 14. The future they face seems as bleak as the empty streets in the town and the endless flat plains of the surrounding land. They sense it as they stumble through the paces of late adolescence: girlfriends, jobs, uncertainty.
The acting is naturalistic and remarkable; you feel as if you are there despite, or perhaps because of, the choice to shoot in black and white, and the camera's occasional intrusion right into the characters' faces. You don't know them deeply, it is a film more of surfaces than interiors, but you know them as well as they know themselves.
And this may be enough. The Last Picture Show was adapted for the screen by Larry McMurtry from his loosely autobiographical novel of the same name. Throughout his career McMurtry has both memorialized and desmystified the west, and the western (including Lonesome Dove, which won the Pulitzer Prize and was made into a TV miniseries, and Brokeback Mountain, for which he co-adapted the screenplay), wrestling with what he sees as its central question: do we -- can we -- make any difference in all this space?
This is the challenge posed by the west to the western-as-genre. It is not nature seen as Ruskin's sublime, or tamed into gardens, or courted at its edges by cities and ports. The great Yellowstone post-volcanic caldera is clearly not cultivated with human interests in mind. And despite our continuing attempts at such cultivation; the west has implacably insisted on its scale, its silence, and its terms.
The film keeps a respectful distance from its characters while doing a close reading of the landscape. But how can one do a close reading of emptiness? One way is to look closer. What seems empty has been significantly altered by its human inhabitants: the trees, as one character points out, were not there when he was young, they have been planted since. And the pond where they fish had not been a pond, before people arrived who felt like fishing. We carve out little habitats in space to suit us. While fishing, Sam ("the Lion"), Sonny's ersatz father figure, remembers a love affair:
"If she was here, I'd probably be just as crazy now as I was then in about five minutes. Ain't that ridiculous? Naw, it ain't really. 'Cause bein' crazy 'bout a woman like her's always the right thing to do."
As you watch you realize that the entire place has been imagined into being by films. America defined itself by identification and confrontation with the west -- its size, its inhabitants, its demands and its freedoms. The western got its start as a literary and theatrical genre almost the minute that the actual frontier closed -- the fences were still down in the landscape of ideas. In films, the western turned hardscrabble Civil War veterans into icons, and invited suburban WWII vets to imagine that they too were larger than life despite the end of the battlefield. Any lingering feelings of insignificance were both justified and mollified by the oversized vistas, as man could not hope to be heard by distant rocks, themselves marked only by the passage of geologic time.
The echoes of Bresson and Godard here are not accidental. Faced with the impersonality of the natural landscape, existentialism seems an almost "natural" response. How do we fit into this immensity? What are we doing here? And yet, existentialism is not the right response; it is too interior, and also, oddly, too bleak. The landscape has not been tamed, but it has been modified, and it may not require huge amounts of introspection to do something about it.
The literal last picture show in the movie is an 'old' western, a showing of Red River, the John Wayne classic dramatizing one of the first cattle drives and the beginning of the free-range cowboy. But the final few frames are themselves framed by the run-down theater, and when the lights come up you can see all the empty seats. The new western is not cowboys fighting with Indians, or each other. The new western is a confrontation with emptiness, and the challenge to make something up to fill it, something worth it. The American response to just showing up without a script is -- well, let's make something of it. As Lois, the femme fatale mother of the high school's femme fatale puts it,
"I guess if it wasn't for Sam, I'd just about have missed it, whatever 'it' is. I'd have been one of them Amity types that thinks that playin' bridge is about the best thing that life has to offer."
Pragmatism, not existentialism, is the result of an uniquely American confrontation between individual and social desires -- desire in general -- and a landscape so unmistakably made for itself.
[From my review on the Brattle Theater Film Blog.]
AMIDST THE CYCLE of encomiums spurred by Michael Jackson’s death last week, his weirdness has been treated as an unfortunate epiphenomenon and distraction from his greatness. But the weird—a thoroughgoing weird without stint or scruple—was essential to MJ’s work, and whatever we term his greatness can’t be understood without acknowledging this.
Casting about for a useful analysis of Jackson’s fey glamor, we were pointed towards a penetrating, prescient essay by James Parker in the Boston Globe. Parker was writing in 2004, when Jackson’s child molestation trial coincided with the centennial of J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. “Michael and Peter go way back,” Parker observed. “In his weirdness and calculation the King of Pop may have reached deeper inside the myth than anyone else would care to.”
Parker’s essay reveals the essentially infernal nature of MJ’s lure, a magic stranger even than the Pan’s expiatingly feral freedom. For Jackson was as profoundly, illimitably uncanny as a Greek god or one of the death spirits the Japanese call Shinigami. His voice was a vortex of keening ecstasy; his dancing was palsied, but magically; his wonted innocence was pixillated, elfin. The iterations of his persona revealed themselves as so many nested dolls of abominated brilliance.
And yet he won the adulation of millions—less a case of mass delusion than a revelation of the power of the uncanny. “His rise was phenomenal, unbelievable,” Parker observes; and he concludes with startling foresight: “Guilty or not, his fall will be Luciferian.”
A fond farewell to three brilliant artists, of varying degrees of weirdness. What frequently gets missed in discussions of MJ is his uncanny skill as a choreographer; he was possibly America’s greatest pop choreographer since Jerome Robbins. All will be missed.
Saxon’s band The Seeds performing their 1966 hit “Pushing Too Hard” (immortalized on the Nuggets compilation) on a sitcom whose name I don’t have on hand:
Pina Bausch’s Wuppertal Tanztheater performing the Rite of Spring:
MJ Performing “Thriller” live in 1987:
Yesterday, just below and to the right of a serious discussion of Robert Wright’s new book, “The Evolution of God,” on Bloggingheads.tv, there appeared a striking ad for an online role-playing game called Evony. The central image was of a radiant, amply endowed (serious décolletage), quasi-medieval-looking maiden, her head tipped back in an attitude suggestive of incipient ecstasy, and the tag line was, “Play now, My Lord.” Come again?
Yes, there’s that God-Lord link. But what demographic niche could Evony’s makers possibly be shooting for? Is there data to show that consumers of theological debate also like Harlequin-flavored gaming? Interesting, if true!
Several lit-bloggers have flagged this typically allusive passage by James Joyce (“Finnegans Wake”), for its deployment of the word “blog.” Consensus seems to be that it’s a play on “bog,” not any kind of techno-prescience.
Also, everyone seems to agree that the phrase “thomistically drunk” is particularly fine, even if it is hard to parse.
I put this on Twitter last week while I was trying to figure out how to get permission to post one of these photos. The link got buzzed around really speedily and the photos were everywhere. I figured I’d drop it here for posterity too. Aren’t these trucks great looking? Another neat thing from Johnson County Library System (KS).
Police Admit They Have Run Down Every Clue Without
Reaching a Solution of the Mysterious Brooklyn Murder
The mystery surrounding the murder of saloonkeeper Frank McNally of No. 104 Park Avenue, Brooklyn is as far from solution as ever. Today Capt. Toole of the Flushing Avenue station authorised this statement:
“We nave worked every clue in our possession its end and have discovered nothing We have no information which warrants us making an arrest.”
It developed today that less than a week before the murder McNally’s apartment over his saloon was robbed. Toma Hanlon, the actress, to whom he was engaged, said that she went to see McNally about two weeks ago, and that she found the door of his rooms open. She summoned McNally from the saloon below. He, after making a search, announced that a roll of bills amounting to $57 had been taken from the pocket of a pair of trousers.
“About the story told by two boys that I had a key to Frank’s apartment, I want to say that either the boys are either vicious liars or they are simply fools, who are repeating something they have heard somewhere. I never in my life had a key to the flat and never even had the use of Frank’s own key. He wore it on a ring attached to his trousers by a chain and never took it from the ring.”
An expert was employed to open the safe in the saloon today and McNally’s brother, Owen J. McNally, Capt. Toole and half a dozen detectives were present to investigate the contents in the hope of discovering some thread to have a clue on. They found a piece of gaspipe, a lamp shade and slate containing the names of customers who had sought credit in the saloon, a few old bankbooks, and a fire insurance policy. There were no letters or memoranda of any kind.
— The Evening World, 26 September 1904
There is a pier, an old-school sea shell shop, and the sands are crowded with multiethnic families, chilled-out cholos, and crews of gangster-ish and red-faced skater-surfers, seemingly proud to be calling this their turf. Every summer a major sand sculpture festival happens here.
With easy access to parking and an extra-heavy dose of that laid-back Southern Cali feel, IB is also an ideal place to dip into the Pacific and lie away a few hours on a vacationy sort of Sunday afternoon.
So asks Robin Hanson at Overcoming Bias, a blog I like reading because it presents a smart, well-thought-out, likeable account of a style of thinking and valuation so utterly alien to my own that I can hardly believe human beings manage it.
Hanson objects to the speaker at his son’s graduation saying things like “Never let anyone tell you there is something you can’t do,” and “You’ll have setbacks, but never let them discourage you.” He remarks:
I was embarrassed to be associated with such transparent falsehoods, but apparently I’m in a minority. What obvious lies have you heard at commencement, and why do you think such lies were told?
Surely this is one of those questions only an economist could be puzzled about. Lots of posters and commenters on Overcoming Bias seem to live in a weird Gricean dystopia in which every utterance is a mechanism for, and only for, modifying our degrees of belief about the truth-values of various propositions. Which means, I guess, that every utterance that fails to do this is a “lie.”
Of course, lots of utterances — especially utterances produced in public, and directed at a heterogeneous audience — aren’t like this. Love, for instance, is not “all you need” — oxygen, protein, and sunlight are at least as essential to life. But the Beatles aren’t liars. For each person in the commencement audience, there is indeed something they cannot do. And that doesn’t make the commencement speaker a liar, either. Commencement speeches, like songs, are mainly intended to produce feelings. This is not worthless. But now I’m puzzled, because Hanson obviously knows all this. He is not — I assume — the kind of person who, when asked “Would you mind passing the salt?” answers “No, I wouldn’t,” and keeps the salt.
Anyway, comment if you too find Overcoming Bias interesting and alien, or if you find it interesting and mainstream and think I’m the alien. That would be good to know.
In 2006, Kevin Smokler, the speaker and editor behind Bookmark Now, partnered with Chris Anderson, editor of Wired, and software developer Adam Goldstein to determine just how information about bookstore events and authors might be collected at an online hub. That central place turned out to be BookTour.com, which purports to make “finding when a favorite author is coming to your town as easy as checking the weather.”
This sunny mission got a much needed dose of radiation back in April when BookTour received a $350,000 cash injection from Amazon.com. While the news was eclipsed by the Amazonfail contretemps at the time, the big financial push certainly suggested that BookTour.com wasn’t about to set into the sunset anytime soon.
At the time the deal was announced, nobody had remarked on the grand irony of an online giant like Amazon using events listed at independent bookstores to make a quick buck. Fortunately, BookTour CEO and Chief Evangelist Kevin Smokler was kind enough to take some time out to answer some vital questions.
BookTour is financially supported by Amazon. Isn’t there a conflict of interest here? If, for example, a customer sees the BookTour link on an Amazon Author Page but the customer is encouraged to purchase the book from Amazon (instead of the bookstore at an author appearance), doesn’t this result in a lost sale for the bookstore? What steps are you taking to ensure that independent bookstores are able to secure the sales they require to support the financial burden of an author appearance?
Ed, we’re in the awareness business. Our job is make author events known to the greatest number of people that we can. No doubt that some potential customers who spot an event on Amazon will buy the book there and either (a) not go to the event at all or (b) go to the event with that Amazon purchase in hand. However, there’s an entire other second class of potential event attendees who will go to an event and may wish to reserve judgment on buying a book until they see the author in person. At that point, only the bookstore is in a position to sell the book to them. Also, we must consider whether that person would have known of the event at all without it being listed in such a high traffic place like Amazon.
Bottom line: The level of awareness that an event receives when listed on Amazon, to our mind, far outweighs the potential loss of sales. As to whether a store can financially support an event, that’s up to them. There are plenty of ways to run a bookstore in the 21st century and we believe smart booksellers know much more about this than we do.
Since BookTour is reliant on the Amazon Author Page for its infrastructure, have you worked out a scenario in which an Indiebound link will be available on an Amazon Author Page?
Sort of. Amazon has a corporate policy which disallows any outside linking to anybody. It’s a policy that BookTour disagrees with and which we have made known to Amazon. We hope to change this as our relationship with them deepens and moves forward.
For now, any bookstore may include a link to their e-commerce operation inside the description of any event happening at their store, so long as they added the event to our database. If their store’s website is powered by IndieBound, they need only include that link in the event description and the feed arrangement we have with IndieBound takes care of the rest.
(That link is not a clickable link, only one that can be cut and pasted into a separate browser window.)
We realize this is far from an ideal solution and we have told Amazon as much. We hope to change this going forward.
You say in your press release that Booktour represents the largest database of author and literary events. Do you mean to say that you now have relationships with every publisher? What are you doing to ensure the reliability of this information? Do you have someone on board who is checking the data on your site against the bookstores and the publishers?
Many publishers, but not all. Via our syndication relationships with both chain and independent booksellers, we can assure that we cover nearly every event happening in America in a bookstore. Libraries, universities, corporations, civic institutions and individual authors and publicists all actively list with us as well.
Reliability: Every event that enters our database is checked against several automated scripts and algorithms. We also do an additional level of checking by human eyes. All told, incorrect event data rarely lives on BookTour for more than 24 hours.
Checking: For more than a year, we’ve had syndication relationships with the major bookstore chains and Indiebound. Meaning they send their upcoming events in an automated feed to us which we update every 24 hours. We just set up a similar relationship with Simon & Schuster and we have several such relationships under active development with other publishers.
Is the information on Booktour proprietary in any way?
Are you applying any DRM?
Is Amazon claiming it to be proprietary because it appears on their pages?
If Booktour is open source, do you have a specific agreement in place with Amazon to ensure that the information, as disseminated through their pages, remains open source?
Yes. Part of the terms of our deal with Amazon was that anyone else is free to use our data exactly as Amazon does, now and in perpetuity.
You’ve introduced EventMinion, which will take author tour data in any format and permit professionals to enter it into your database at $1 a pop. Yet users will still be able to add events for free. How are you distinguishing between EventMinion-added events and user-added events?
We’re not. To us, an event is an event is an event.
Will you place greater priority to listing EventMinion events over the user-added events?
No. See above.
TourBuilder gives the author an opportunity to receive an automated itinerary of bookstores. Are you charging for this service?
Are you prioritizing some cities over others for this?
No. Users choose which cities they want to visit. If they don’t, we suggest larger cities with more available venues.
Big box stores over independent stores?
Then what is the methodology behind TourBuilder?
Venues are suggested based on where authors with similar books have toured in the past. Which means that the more authors that use TourBuilder, the smarter it gets.
If Amazon controls the minority stake, who controls the majority?
The three founders and our one employee.
To what extent is the majority committed to not being bought out by Amazon (as they are wont to do with such handy services that it deems valuable)?
We’ll certainly entertain an offer should they put one forward. But that also doesn’t preclude us from entertaining offers from other interested parties.
Playlist from The Acousmatic Theater Hour with Karinne and Jason G on WFMU, from Jun 29, 2009
In early June, Charles Guan was part of an M.I.T. team that won first prize, and $100,000, in the Buckminster Fuller Challenge, which recognizes projects that have “significant potential to solve humanity’s most pressing problems.” The team’s “Sustainable Personal Mobility and Mobility-on-Demand” proposal involved a citywide network of foldable electric scooters and partly collapsible minicars that could serve as alternatives to gas-powered vehicles.
All very high-minded, of course, making it considerably different from Guan’s other, simultaneous project (which, amazingly enough, got more attention in the tech blogosphere): At MITERS, the engineering school’s “build-anything-you-want” workspace, Guan has been busy fashioning a shopping cart capable of reaching 45 miles per hour …
Mickey Kaus’s often-exasperating, usually highly readable blog celebrates its 10th anniversary.
Kaus looks back on some of his greatest hits (and misses), and nominates a satirical memoir about his supposed friendship with JFK, Jr. as ” the best-written piece I’ve published.”
One of the leading proponents of Holocaust denial in the United States lived with a Jewish woman for eight years, in the 1970s. Another has a sister who converted to Orthodox Judaism, and he’s terrified that his “peers” in the anti-Semitic underground will find out about her.
The world watched with awe and horror at massive demonstrations in opposition to the results of Iran's presidential elections this month, and paramilitaries' deadly crackdowns. But the modern world's attention span is severely screwed. Two weeks later, a mood of melancholy is enveloping normally frenetic Tehran, reported the NYT over the weekend. Although a smaller demonstration occurred Sunday, the opposition's options are dwindling fast.
And suddenly now, the planet is on MJ overload.
Here's how we can honor both tragedies: The above video mashing up Michael Jackson's protest anthem "They Don't Care About Us" with images from the Iran unrest. (Pop-meta-meltdown once more, albeit with that awful "Jew me, Sue me" lyric still floating in there.)
"Freedom is near," the video says, "Don't give up." Could it be? From one of the many forwarded dispatches sent to me from inside Iran:
There is the possibility that those imprisoned remain there, that Moussavi is done away with by some means (exile, house arrest, etc), and that Ahmadinejad remains the illegitimate president of an unlawful dictatorship. If this happens, the next four years would mean major organizing in the underground and a new stage in Iranian political activism. One thing is sure: people are no longer going to accept the self-censorship or fear that has been imposed upon them.
For a long archive of beautiful ephemera in Iran, visit the photoblog Life Goes On In Tehran.
And for smart looks at Michael Jackson's death and legacy, from African and African American male perspectives, see here and here. Ernest Hardy discusses Jackson's most overlooked inspiration -- Diana Ross -- and Paul Tiyambe Zeleza cites Frantz Fanon to lament Jackson's long-ago death "as a black man."
Here’s what I said in response to Colleen’s What A Girl Wants question about whether we still need to care about the girl detective (and I strongly recommend reading the whole post with everyone else’s responses as well):
“Why aren’t we friends any more?” “When did everyone else stop wearing this brand of jeans, and why didn’t anyone tell me?” “Are anyone else’s parents like mine?” “He asked what I got for question five, does that mean he likes me?” “I’m tongue-tied and I can’t stop looking, does that mean I like her?” Girls, or at least the sort of girl I was in junior high, are trying to simultaneously construct their own identities and decode everyone else’s around them. They are endlessly engaged in largely futile attempts to solve the mysteries of their own lives. Enter the girl detective, focusing her analytical skills on deducing who stole the jewels, rather than on why the necklace she got from The Limited failed to bestow popularity. Though honestly, I read and loved girl detective books well before my teens. By junior high, I was much more a fan of Agatha Christie. By then, I didn’t require my detectives to be girls, but I needed them to tie up all loose ends by the last page. I did not want ambiguity. I wanted resolution. I liked thinking that there was an answer to be found and that the detective was capable of finding it.
What do we lose when we lose the girl detective? Most importantly, we lose that sense of a girl using her intelligence to solve problems outside the realms of romance, family, and her place in the social hierarchy.
But I think the place of the girl detective may be taken by the girl spy. Exchange detection for espionage, and your clear (and reductionist) solutions and straightforward good versus evil framework are replaced by a world of ever-shifting motives and allegiances, with the constant possibility that you’re being double-crossed. It’s a less immediately comforting narrative frame, but a girl spy can have some of the same admirable characteristics as a girl detective: intellect, action, independence. And perhaps the moral greyness of spying more accurately reflects our times — not to mention junior high and high school.
…So I kinda derailed the comment thread on that post by talking about The Wire. Those of you who know me in real life (and/or who are longtime readers of this site) will not be surprised that I could not restrain myself. In my own defense, I can only say that it was relevant in context. We were talking about whether it would be possible to create a “girl detective” type of character who would operate credibly in a contemporary high-crime, gang-affected neighborhood — and by extension, whether it’s possible to write a YA mystery in the sort of setting that, in real life, presents significant threats to its residents. Zetta Elliott said, “I don’t want to insert teenage girls into grim scenarios where they already figure as the victim.” I brought up the show because I wanted to highlight what a fine job the writers did (not to mention the actors, the directors, the set designers, etc.) showing the incredibly limited options kids have in those kinds of neighborhoods. It would be a huge challenge to create a girl detective who could live past her first investigation — but the idea of such a character (Laurel Snyder immediately and memorably christened her “Hope Jones”) is really compelling.
But in my next response, I’ll try to keep in mind where I’m posting, and talk about a few more YA books! I have a feeling each of my responses will be longer than the previous one, and perhaps after the next post (which will be up in early July) I’ll do a summary rather than a remix.
Of course, this post and the other one I did haven’t really, technically, been remixes either. I’m using that phrase the way some friends and I used to, to refer to any longish discussion that followed up on a previously raised subject. Which was most of our discussions, come to think of it.
The Caerleon Art Collective is hosting a virtual exhibition, Aequitas, to compliment a rl exhibition at OSA Artspace, in Washington Heights, New York. Artists were asked to mine their childhood memories for inspiration. Nebulosus Severine and two other artists created a vignette, or stage set, on which guests can place themselves. Severine built an evocative and typical scene for many children shipped off to summer camp each year, called Summer, 1985; a platform tent in the woods; sleeping bag resting on thin mattress, bag of clothes stuffed damply beneath the rusty springs of the bed, can of repellent rolling across the floor. Visitors are asked to lie on the bed and listen to the radio. Stations quickly change as though someone were spinning the dial looking for a good tune. Snatches of 80s anthems blare - Shout by Tears for Fears, Its Much Too Late for Goodbye by Julian Lennon, Freedom by George Michael (*cringe*). Severine remarks that her camp experiences left her feeling fairly traumatized, being separated for the first time from her family. Each installation acts as a therapeutic setting where those first time moments, of feeling lost, unloved, lonely or scared, can be reenacted. I found myself slipping into the 80s when sitting next to Severine’s bag of camp clothes. I had terrible homesickness at camp. I participated in all of those typical activities; wrapped the boy’s dorms in toilet paper, sang a Squeeze song at the talent show, learned how to sail, did my chores...When my mom picked me up, however, I had bandages wrapped around both knees and hands from a big tumble down a hill, poison ivy all over my limbs, a fever, and conjunctivitis in both eyes. She took one look at me and started laughing. Nevertheless, I was sent back again and again for another tortuous round. Childhood memories are bittersweet...we crave the simplicity of being young, but remember most the times when things were – complicated. Be sure to spend some time also with the installations by Dekka Raymaker - Fear & Hatred in Rookley Close, Untitled by Banrion Constantine and Things Change at Nighttime by Penumbra Carter.
Exhibition up until July 3rd.
On June 28, 2009, I attended The Flower Parade. I knew nothing about the parade, but learned very quickly that its intent was to celebrate Colombia. The above film, “Dia de los Vivos,” presents the spirit that I observed and participated in.
I’ve seen wild narcissism from authors in reaction to a review, but Alice Hoffman’s recent tweeting takes the cake. The Boston Globe’s Roberta Silman reviewed Hoffman’s latest book, The Story Sisters. Silman wrote that Hoffman’s latest novel “lacks the spark of the earlier work.” The main character is “incredibly passive and doesn’t seem to have any of the normal anxiety of a mother in a time and place where hormones are raging, drugs are rife, and dangers abound.” In fact, Silman even commends Hoffman for one section of the book “described with real skill and precision” and notes “some wonderful passages” near the close.
This review is hardly nasty or vicious at all. And Hoffman must be a truly sheltered and out-of-touch writer indeed to consider this easily ignored slap on the wrist some ineffable form of damnation. Silman’s review and Hoffman’s disproportionate reaction is the intellectual equivalent of confusing a few droplets of water hitting your skin with a torturous session of waterboarding. To call Hoffman’s reaction histrionic is an understatement.
Silman’s review is a considered piece written by someone who didn’t take to Hoffman’s latest. The kind of review that any reasonable author would walk away from and say, “Oh well. Maybe she’ll dig the next novel.” I mean, it’s not as if Silman declared Alice Hoffman “the worst writer of her generation” or anything.
But since Hoffman has publicly posted Silman’s phone number and private email address, I think it’s safe to say that Alice Hoffman is certainly the most immature writer of her generation. One expects such behavior from a whiny brat in a boarding school who didn’t get the latest iPhone, not a 57-year-old bestselling author who won’t have to beg for a writing assignment or a hot meal anytime soon.
Hoffman has gone out of her way to invade Silman’s privacy. And maybe this is a desperate form of publicity or a desperate cry for attention. But I’m with Ron Charles on this. You write a sharp, witty response instead. Or even better, you develop a modicum of humility. (That, and the ability to spell Verizon correctly.)
[UPDATE: Alice Hoffman has deleted her Twitter account and apologizes.]
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, this week, to the following high-, low-, no-, and hilobrow heroes. Click here for more Hilo Hero birthdays.
My heart still skips a beat when I look at old Rolling Stone photos of GILDA RADNER (1946-89), an early childhood crush and, then as now, one of America’s greatest comediennes — and it still breaks when I think of her death from ovarian cancer at 42. Whether it was her malapropisms as Emily Litella, her primordial nerdiness as Lisa Loopner, or her general non sequitur insanity as Roseanne Rosannadanna, Radner breathed life into post-Nixonian/pre-Reaganite archetypes that will be forever indelible from our collective memory of the 1970s. The mind reels when thinking of her acting debut: the 1972 Toronto premiere of Godspell, starring Radner, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, and Martin Short. If I had a time machine, that would surely be my first stop. — Jason Grote
After the disillusioning Democratic convention of 1964, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee split into two factions, one of which favored nonviolent tactics and integration-oriented policies. The other, increasingly revolutionary faction was led by STOKELY CARMICHAEL (1941-98), a Trinidadian-born activist newly graduated from Howard with a philosophy degree; the era we know as the Sixties (1964-73, IMHO) began at precisely this moment. Influenced by Malcolm X and Frantz Fanon, Carmichael called for black Americans “to define their own goals, to lead their own organizations”; the Civil Rights Movement’s unintended function, he claimed, was to integrate blacks more securely into America’s invisible prison-state. His anti-anti-utopian vision of Black Power finally led Carmichael out of SNCC and out of the United States — he relocated to Guinea, and changed his name to Kwame Touré. For the rest of his life, he invariably answered the telephone with the same greeting: “Ready for the revolution!” — Joshua Glenn
For much of the 1940s, LENA HORNE (born 1917), Hollywood’s “sepia Cinderella,” was relegated to one or two set-piece numbers per film. Opulent, glamorous, and static, her turns in Two Girls and a Sailor and As Thousands Cheer bespeak segregation in action, but even these were risky at a time when so much as an eyeline match between black and white characters could get a scene (or a whole film) cut from Southern distribution. Among the revelations in Stormy Weather, James Gavin’s new biography of the singer, is that her career’s early direction owed no more to MGM than to the NAACP: her activist grandmother signed Horne up for the organization at the age of two, and it was political pressure that led Louis B. Mayer to place her under contract. In later decades, she grew far more independent, artistically and especially ideologically, admiring Malcolm over Martin, and telling talk-show host Mike Douglas that blacks and whites “don’t really need to love each other.” Eventually, she would speak with open bitterness about the studio system (and much else) in Lena Horne: Her Life and Music, her 1981 one-woman Broadway comeback. Gavin’s sleuthing suggests that Horne’s construal of events was as fantastic as any publicity hack’s puff piece — but this time, at least, the fairy-tale was of her own devising. — Franklin Bruno
“They threw me off the hay truck about noon.” The celebrated first line of The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) by JAMES M. CAIN (1892-1977) tersely illustrates his verbal and narrative economy as well as his acute ear for American speech, and suggests his compellingly driven use of the first person singular. Cain, who wrote about crime without being a crime writer, was instead a kind of sawed-off Zola, a stranger to mystery. His other great novel is Double Indemnity (1943), which symmetrically enough has a famous last line. (”The moon.” You’ll have to read it to find out why.) It was made into an equally indelible movie by Billy Wilder in 1944; the best adaptation of Postman is Luchino Visconti’s unauthorized Ossessione (1943). Also noteworthy are a few books that have something wrong with them: Mildred Pierce (1941), the deeply strange Serenade (1937), and the totally overlooked The Moth (1948). Cain was a classic instance of a novelist with only one story; the further he strayed from the fatal triangle the more likely he was to embarrass himself. — Luc Sante
Playing twins who change places, a teenager who swaps bodies with her mother, and a couple of appealing outcasts who find a way in, LINDSAY LOHAN (born 1986) once portrayed duality with an irresistible coarseness. Today, you can’t take your eyes off the paparazzi’s LiLo. Unlike her onetime friend, preeny Paris Hilton, through her pretty, pretty scowl and aviator shades Lohan radiates pure fury — the fury of a suburban teen. She still uses a teen’s strategies, too. The cocaine in her pocket couldn’t be hers, she told police in 2007 — they weren’t even her pants. She admitted to Vanity Fair that she had done drugs — “a little” — and you imagine her dipping a cocktail stirrer into a pile of coke and extracting one grain with her tongue. LiLo has spent more time in rehab than on movie sets; the 84 minutes she served of her one-day prison sentence apparently didn’t allow for much moral inventory. According to the movie industry, she’s “unemployable.” But don’t ask her whether she’s OK: “It’s like ‘Yeah, motherfucker, I’m fine.’” — Ingrid Schorr
Patrick C. stared in silent disbelief at the bureaucrat who sat on the other side of the desk. Eventually he gathered himself and spoke in an exasperated plea: “You want me to write 150 words on FRANZ KAFKA (1883-1924)? How am I supposed to pay tribute to such an important literary influence in the space of a mere paragraph?” The bureaucrat stared back coldly. “You are required to write the piece. I’m not at liberty to tell you how or why.” Not for the first time that day, Patrick C. felt alone and defeated. Why did he have to do this? Why was nobody offering to help him? Should he focus on the novels or the short stories? And how would he end the piece? By noting the appropriate fact that Kafka, highly competent insurance clerk, wanted to render his existence as a writer totally futile by having all his work posthumously burned? Or by pondering on why so much of Kafka’s work remained unfini — Patrick Cates