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By: Emily Smith Pearce,
Blog: Emily Smith Pearce
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One of my favorite things is Terry Gross’s show, Fresh Air, on NPR. I especially love the interviews with actors and writers. Lately I’ve been listening to the podcasts while I’m doing something boring, like folding laundry.
Sometimes there just aren’t enough of Fresh Air interviews, though, so I’ve been looking for more conversations with authors and artists. Here are a few good ones I’ve found:
This Creative Life, created by YA author Sara Zarr (who btw also blogs here). There are interviews with a lot of writers and other creatives about how they work and live. I especially enjoyed the one with author Andrew Auseon (who is also a video game designer).
Mini studio-tours with artists at Little Scraps of Paper make me smile so much. The one above is of three collaborators who make these wacky wonderful costumey-snuggie-kind-of-things. Trust me, you just have to watch it. The videos are so beautifully filmed and just the right size for a quick pick-me-up. Thank you to Blair Stocker of Wisecraft for this hot tip.
Here’s a video of young fashion blogger/ Rookie magazine editor Tavi speaking at TEDxTeen about the strong female characters she’s looking for, and not always finding. YA writers, if you don’t know Tavi, you SHOULD!
What about you? Do you have any favorite creativity-related podcasts?
And by the way, are you on Twitter? I’ve been on it for years but am really just now learning the language and getting into it. I’m discovering all kinds of things there, including some of the above links. Meet me on Twitter @emilysmithpearc
A few other random things:
-Speaking of talks about art and writing, if you’re in the Charlotte area, check out the April meeting for the Women’s National Book Association (yes, men, you can join us, too): Monday, April 22, 6:30 – 8:30 PM at Consolidated Planning. The talk is titled “Latin American and Latino Women Writers and Literature in Translation.” More details here.
-Did you hear about the break in the Isabella Stewart Gardner art heist case? Soooo exciting. I used to work down the street from this lovely, one-of-a-kind museum.
-Saw Natalie Merchant the other night with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. Great show. Her new material is as complex and thought-provoking as ever, though I have to admit my favorite part was the 90′s set she did for an encore. The nostalgia factor is hard to beat. Seriously, what pipes she’s got—and what a talented songwriter.
-Lastly, I love this DIY magic potion kit over at Elsie Marley.
What’s got you inspired these days?
Tonight in SoHo, a panel of comics all-stars will discuss the Carol Tilley’s Seducing the Innocent, which purports to expose industry bete noire Frederick Wertham as a fraud. What’s more important for us today, however, is understanding why he was right.
Tilley’s article has received a fair bit of play in recent months, and understandably so. Besides bringing to light new details from the recently opened Wertham archives, the article also affirms the fundamental righteousness of the comics community and other free-speech progressives continuing to oppose calls to censor pop culture. As Jeet Heer and others have noted, Wertham is the community’s own super villain, a totem of the arrogant self-deception threatening all that is good.
Yet the misbegotten pursuit of virtue can go both ways. While we tug at a few stray details in our effort to prove the man whose research helped end segregation was nothing but a lying racist prig, we tend to overlook how Wertham’s intuitive grasp of comics, society and law was actually more insightful than our own. To recognize this is not to concede that his programmatic agenda in regard to comics was correct–in fact, it can help us understand how our community can respond more effectively to similar challenges today.
Was Wertham a fraud?
Given the meme now circulating as to Wertham’s campaign of deliberate deceit, it’s worth pausing for a moment to note a couple caveats about the charges themselves. First, as Tilley notes, her charges against Wertham aren’t actually new, at least in their broad strokes–there were critics of Wertham’s evidence and techniques back when his influence was at its peak.
Which in itself should not be a surprise. There’s a fine tradition in academia and the sciences of criticizing the methodology of the previous generation, and Wertham, a German immigrant pushing 60 at height of the anti-comics furor, exhibited an approach to information gathering and interpretation that was cutting-edge in the 1920s but seen as woefully inadequate by then modern standards.
Plus ca change and all that, of course–today’s empirical scholarship is itself a reaction against the alleged inadequacies of analytical patterns from a couple-three decades ago, which in turn criticized the approach then current among many of those who were attacking Wertham. While such critiques can have their merits, they can also descend into pettiness and character assassination in ways that reflect agendas outside of the pursuit of more accurate research, as exemplified by critics’ glib dismissal of Wertham as “imperious,” priggish and guilty of such horrendous sins as citing examples from comics that were five years old.
In fact, one could even turn the same critique against Tilley’s article. Instead of aggregating all of Wertham’s factual claims and calculating how many of them had a credible basis, the article slags the man’s entire reputation for veracity on the basis of a few anecdotes. Moreover, these anecdotes themselves arguably don’t fairly represent what Wertham claimed. For example, Wertham acknowledged that he was drawing the work of other colleagues and junior researchers, so the fact that a couple of his stories came from cases he didn’t handle personally is no more the sign of a clueless fraud than popular books by psychiatrists today that include anecdotes from a clinic or colleagues.
Yet there’s a danger in this sort of devil-in-the-details bloodsport, as illustrated by the rejection of one of Wertham’s contemporaries whose work was similarly rejected due to its alleged lack of research rigor and fudging of details. Today we celebrate Marshall McLuhan as the prophet of the electronic age, but at the time academics savaged McLuhan’s work as that of a fraudulent hack. Whatever the flaws in his approach to gathering and presenting data–and yes, they were many–McLuhan’s capacity for pattern recognition was nonpareil.
The example of McLuhan is particularly relevant to the Wertham case, inasmuch as Wertham, like McLuhan, was engaged in making an inventory of the effects of comics as a medium.
Consider the accusation that Wertham skewed his research by focusing on comics-to-crime correlations while hiding other factors. In fact, in Seduction and elsewhere Wertham was forthright in asserting that he wasn’t making a comics-to-crime direct correlation. His argument was actually more subtle. As Wertham repeatedly explained, he was making a broader point about how even small influences within a social environment can have disproportionate effects.
Although we don’t tend to use the same language, Wertham’s argument’s are more familiar and accepted than we admit. Wertham’s understanding of comics as a medium that shapes our perception, identity and actions is McLuhan before he became McLuhan, albeit with one important exception that we’ll discuss later. Nowhere is this more evident in Wertham’s assertion that comics were making the younger generation illiterate, an assessment that McLuhan and his disciple Walter Ong would soon systematize in their landmark discussions of the shift away from a linear textual culture.
Wertham’s disavowal of direct correlation in favor of indirect systemic effects reflects the emergence of dynamics systems theory, which at the time was continuing the development that had begun in the early 19th century and the birth of modern social science. In this regard, Wertham’s metaphor of social health anticipated our current analytical vocabulary in interesting ways. Take, for instance, his description of comics as a “bacillus” that had spread throughout our social environment. Today we would call this going viral.
Where Wertham differed from a media or systems theorist was his preoccupation with social order and legal responsibility. Bart Beaty has already done a stellar job of describing Wertham’s place in the shift from reform-minded progressive research to the more (ironically) Germanic scholarship of the contemporary academy, but rather than focusing on how Wertham was superseded it’s worth focusing on how he was trying to advance our understanding beyond the dominant frameworks of the early twentieth century.
Wertham’s emphasis on health metaphors had a different resonance in the 1940s and 1950s than they have today. They marked a subtle shift away from the genetically based eugenics that had dominated Western progressive thought in the decades leading up to World War II and even a few years afterward. Wertham’s argument, expressed not just in his comics work but his research in support of desegregation, was that non-whites and the poor were not inherently defective. Segregation, prejudice, mass incarceration–the mainstream’s response to poverty, crime and difference was not only counterproductive, it failed to respect others’ core humanity as well as the corruption wrought by the mainstream environment itself.
While certain particulars can be seen as outmoded, the core insight continues to be relevant today, from urban strategy based on the broken windows theory to the use of architecture, zoning and social design to enhance community life. Wertham’s approach is also consistent with the current struggle within legal theory with such issues as America’s incarceration culture to the culpability of human agency in light of the subconscious shaping influences of our social environment and cognitive processes.
Comics as change
This brings us to Wertham’s specific allegations about comics. Once again, if Wertham’s a fraud, he’s a damn clever one. While we might disagree with his critique of some of these effects (most notably his views of human sexuality, which at the time were the clinical norm), his assessment of values and themes evident in comics was for the most part correct.
Comics fostering a sense of unbounded imaginative transformation? Sure, for Wertham it’s sinister, but if the core description is bunk we might have to rethink our affection for Calvin and Hobbes.
The gay subtext in comics? Today you can get tenure writing about how Warhol aptly distilled it his 1962 painting Superman – Puff; art galleries and charities regularly explore the theme; and Michael Chabon won a Pulitzer with a novel that in part turned this subtext into text. A similar point can be made in regard to Wertham’s finding sado-masochism in Wonder Woman (a direct hit, confirmed by what we later learned about Moulton) as well as the sexually exploitive depiction of women more generally.
Superman as a fascist corporate power icon? Yes, it’s easy to call out Wertham for missing Siegel’s and Shuster’s judaism, but his central point regarding icons of corporate control is textbook proto-Foucault (and proto-Frank Miller, proto-Watchmen, proto-Kingdom Come …). We should also acknowledge–following the lead, if I recall correctly, of Craig Yoe–that Wertham called attention to DC’s systemic mistreatment of creators years before the comics community itself.
On a deeper level, what connects all of these assessments–including the assertion that comics can be a factor in antisocial behavior–is Wertham’s conviction that comics as a medium have the power to change who we are. Just as McLuhan saw artists as prophets of a culture where people have fluid identities with multiple roles, Wertham sees comics as a medium that both depicts and transforms.
For an example of the same point made in more positive terms within comics itself, we need look no further than a comic that came out today–Grant Morrison’s Action #18, which expresses his decades-long theme of comics as a medium that creates a new reality, making the impossible possible. Sometimes the effects are destructive, even nihilistic, but properly understood the same transcendent impulse can enable us to become something more.
Dismissing Wertham as a hack and fraud may make us feel good about ourselves and our community’s past, but outside of that it has little probative or strategic value as a means of countering censorship today. The same goes for the adamant insistence that comics have no relevance to antisocial behavior. In contrast to Morrison’s more honest and accurate metaphors, our model of comics in academics and advocacy tends to be anodyne. Comics have power, yes, but only the power to be comfortable, familiar and safe.
However, comics, like all media, are dangerous. By insisting otherwise, we come across as naive and self-serving, much like ideological researchers whose empirical research always just happens to align with their agenda. We also do a disservice to comics themselves, which are valuable precisely because of their capacity to foster systemic change.
Instead of engaging in a futile campaign to persuade people that the fusion of words and image is not what is, we would do better to concede the point. For instance, Wertham presented an intriguing opening with his uneasy blend of cutting-edge media theory with his most glaring retro mistake: the more traditional, linear depiction of comics as an instruction manual that served as a textbook for crimes. Trying to refute this on its own terms was a self-defeating distraction. There was far more potential in explaining how comics are indeed powerful and disruptive, so much so that they only way to deal with them effectively is not to impose restrictive laws, but to teach kids how the medium works.
If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you may remember my first encounter with real Easter grass, in my son’s German kindergarten. I was almost amazed at the simple thought of growing something that we’d always bought manufactured from plastic, in plastic bags.
But really, it’s the simplest, easiest thing you could ever grow, and the payoff is huge. This year, we’re growing our own at home. I’m just as excited as the kids to watch the green pop up.
I got a package of wheat grass seeds from the garden center, we filled some pots, lay the seeds on top, and watered. My son, now 5, told us not to cover the seeds with any dirt.
It’s got me singing Now the green blade riseth…
P.S. The lovely bird pot was a gift from our friend Sally Brotman, she of chicken kebab fame I love, love this pot!
There is a lot to love about the time we live in.
We're more connected to each other than ever. We can be more productive. We can do more with less time. We very often take it for granted.
I remember when my parents had to sit down once a month to "do the bills," which meant spending an entire night writing checks, balancing accounts, licking envelopes, and driving to the post office the next day.
Now, I write precisely one check a month and it's to my landlord, and in fact, it's one of the few times a month I write anything
by hand. There are few bills I don't pay automatically, and it's easy to manage things online.
I remember phone chains where people scheduled events and spread the word about changes in meeting times by going down a list and calling people one by one. I remember how precarious it could be to meet someone when they could have an unexpected delay and had no way of letting you know. I remember how I sometimes didn't know baseball scores for two days because the games ended too late to be printed in the next morning's newspaper.
And I'm only 32!
At the same time, as the Arcade Fire memorably put it, We Used to Wait
. We used to have to be patient. We didn't have to unplug because the default state was unplugged.
The consequences of this constant bombardment is well-documented, whether it's car accidents caused by texting or an inability to sleep because of blue light from the laptops we tote to bed or chronic short attention spans.
For me personally, I find the consequences most acute when it comes to brainstorming new creative ideas and especially when I try to making decisions.
Creative thinking requires a calmness and a blocking out of distractions in order to let ideas come to you. Decision making requires you to truly be in touch with how you feel and to stop and listen to yourself. They require concentration, which can be in short supply.
It's not at all easy for me to find calm moments when inspiration can strike, so I try to block off one day on the weekend for a trip to the park or a walk through a museum or both. Even then it's hard not to peek at my phone, but the fresh air of the park, the sunshine, the quiet... it's vital. I don't always make it, but I do my best to carve out small spaces for myself when I let myself be still.
As we do more and more sometimes it can be productive do less.
How do you carve out calm moments in a distracted world?Art: Pastoral Landscape by Alvan Fisher
As I'm sure you heard, during the Oscars the humor site The Onion tweeted an extremely unfortunate joke attempt
about nine-year-old Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis.
The outcry on Twitter started off merely aghast. Then, as can happen when people collectively find something to be outraged about, the anger cascaded and multiplied. People called The Onion out, called for resignations and firings, called for heads, and often in language as offensive as the language people ostensibly found objectionable.
On a night where my Twitter feed had started with people being complete jerks to Anne Hathaway for no apparent reason, all the negative energy swirling around Twitter suddenly found an even easier target.
I'm not defending The Onion's tweet by any means. It wasn't a good joke and they rightly apologized for it
But it's kind of amazing to me how the Twitterverse can be correct about something but manage to take its self-righteous outrage so far it somehow starts feeling wrong.
It starts feeling like a witch hunt
. In a medium that by its nature is effectively devoid of nuance to start with, whatever balance is possible is completely lost. And good luck to anyone who tries to stand in front of the herd and appeal for reason.
It reminded me of a similar feeling after Hurricane Sandy, when Mayor Bloomberg had decided the marathon should proceed. The Twitteverse reacted with complete and hysterical outrage.
Before the marathon was eventually canceled, the runners themselves were called out for their decision to run, nevermind that many had spent the entire year raising money for charity
, some had been volunteering to the relief effort leading up to the race, and whether the marathon would go forward or not was outside of their control.
A lot of people on Twitter had tons of ideas about what the runners should be doing with their time, apparently missing the irony that they were doing so while staring at their screens and not really doing anything to help. And if you lived here and tried to volunteer, you may have been turned away as I was because there were already more volunteers than were needed.
A lot of the vitriol was channeled when the New York Post
spotted some generators used to power the marathon press tent while some of the city was still blacked out. In classic Twitter fashion people were outraged about it, while missing the nuance that those generators could not have been used to power anyone's home or apartment because of technical limitations, and in the end weren't used at all
Meanwhile, that same Sunday the New York Giants football game was allowed to proceed in hard-hit New Jersey with nary a complaint on Twitter, despite all of the emergency personnel and food needed for such a huge event. And after the Oscars, I couldn't help but wish that people felt 1/1000th the amount of outrage about 8,000 people in Haiti dying due to alleged U.N. negligence
that they did about one stupid tweet.
I initially scoffed when Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article asserting that the revolution will not be tweeted, but I now wonder if he's more correct than I gave him credit for. He argued that the weak ties between people in the social media sphere don't readily lend themselves to actual concrete activism
I still think Gladwell underestimates social media (it's basic human communication after all). But it does seem to me like it gives people the illusion of action without being actual action. It doesn't readily lend itself to compassion for the people the Twitterverse decides has erred.
Woe betide someone who crosses Twitter, but woe betide us if we don't take a step back from an instantaneous medium devoid of nuance and stop and think. Chances are there's something out there more important to be outraged about and something far more productive we can do to channel our anger.Art: The Deluge by Francis Danby
It’s not particularly grim oop North if you head to the right parts, and you can’t go wrong with Kendal. It’s a lovely part of the world, and the perfect place for a comic book festival. And conveniently that leads me to mention The Lakes International Comic Art Festival, which will see Sean Phillips and Bryan and Mary Talbot as founder patrons. Located in Kendal, the Festival will be setting up tables for it’s first year of existence this October. So it’ll be a beautiful – flippin’ freezin’ – festival.
The festival has just announced the first ten guests, all of whom were lured in with the promise of mint cake galore.
The initial line-up are:
Alongside Phillips and the Talbots.
Heavy coats and scarves all round, everyone! Although Andy Diggle already lives in the North, so he’ll probably be able to wear shorts. Tickets go on sale in May. I imagine The Beat will make their presence known too! S’only a stone throw away from here.
Wow did we miss the boat on this. Two days in and we finally link to it. Shameful. On the other hand, it’s a sign of comics ongoing academic respectability that a three day comics symposium featuring Nick Bertozzi, Josh Neufeld, Erin Polgreen and more could be taking place and there would be so much other comics stuff going on that it would only be the most serious of six or seven other top notch events. Anyway read all about it here, and there’s still time to get in on the fun with tonight’s keynote and tomorrows panels:
Friday, Mar 1st, 2013:
Keynote Address with Nick Bertozzi – 7:00-8:30pm
Location: Residential College in the Arts & Humanities Theatre, Snyder/Phillips Hall Basement, Michigan State University
Nick Bertozzi, award-winning comics creator and professor will deliver this year’s keynote address. Bertozzi received a Xeric Grant and multiple Harvey Awards and Ignatz Awards for his cartooning. He is the writer and artist of the graphic novel Lewis & Clark (First/Second). He collaborated with Jason Lutes on the graphic novel Houdini: The Handcuff King (Hyperion/CCS) and drew Glenn (The Colbert Report/Daria) Eichler’s STUFFED! (First/Second). Bertozzi is author of The Salon (St. Martin’s Griffin) a graphic novel about Picasso, the discovery of Cubism, and magical absinthe. He is hard at work on a cartoon biography of Lenny Bruce for Houghton-Mifflin, written by Harvey Pekar and you can read his ongoing sci-fi/fantasy cartoon, Persimmon Cup, for free every week at ACT-I-VATE (http://activatecomix.com). For the past several years Bertozzi has been teaching cartooning at NYC’s School of Visual Arts, as well as teaching stints at Rhode Island School of Design and at The Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont. For more information visit his website at: http://www.nickbertozzi.com/
Saturday, Mar 2nd, 2013:
Artist Alley and Panel Discussions – 11:00am-5:00pm
Location: Residential College in the Arts & Humanities LookOut! Gallery, Snyder/Phillips Hall 2nd floor, Michigan State University
The Forum will feature an Artists Alley with dozens of creators exhibiting their work in comics. For more information on individual artists featured, please reference the Artists Alley page on this website.
Panel: Comics Redefined
Time: March 2nd, 2013 from 11:00am – Noon
Location: Snyder/Phillips 2nd floor classrooms
Description: This panel explores new approaches and ideas in comics through elements of culture, creator, and character.
Presenters and Presentation Titles:
Zack Kruse – Steve Ditko, Spider-Man, and the Romantic Hero
Justin Wigard – It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s Edward Cullen!
Andre F. Peltier – (De)Constructing Masculinity in Fan Boy (and Fan
Panel: Golden Age: Comics and Graphic Novel Resources in Libraries
Time: March 2nd, 2013 from 12:15pm – 1:15pm
Location: Snyder/Phillips 2nd floor classrooms
Description: Have you ever wondered how your local library feels about comics? Librarians deliver a lively and informative presentation on what is available to comics readers at different kinds of libraries across the country, followed by a question and answer session.
Lisa Rabey (Librarian)
Kristin LaLonde (Librarian)
Andrew McBride (Librarian)
Panel: Artist Spotlight
Time: March 2nd, 2013 from 1:30pm – 2:30pm
Location: Snyder/Phillips 2nd floor classrooms
Description: Do you want to break into the comics industry? Are you curious about the trials and tribulations of self-publishing? Do you have process, craft, or other technical questions about comics creation? We have you covered. Our artists will share their wisdom and answer any question you might have.
Nick Bertozzi – (2013 MSU Comics Forum Keynote Speaker, Lewis and Clark, Houdini the Handcuff King)
Josh Neufeld (University of Michigan Knight-Wallace Fellow in journalism, A.D.: New Orleans After The Deluge)
Jerzy Drozd (Cartoonist and Teaching Artist, The Front)
Panel: Comics and Journalism: Practice, Publish, Innovate
Time: March 2nd, 2013 from 2:45pm – 3:45pm
Description: A star-studded roundtable of industry professionals will discuss the developing field of comics journalism with a focus on key learnings for up-and-coming creators.
Darryl Hollida (Writer and Founder of the Illustrated Press)
Josh Neufield (University of Michigan Knight-Wallace Fellow in journalism, A.D.: New Orleans After The Deluge)
Erin Polgreen (Co-founder, editor, and publisher of Symbolia)
Panel: Documentary Screening of Comic Book City, Portland, Oregon, USA
Time: March 2nd, 2013 from 4:00pm – 5:00pm
Location: Snyder/Phillips 2nd floor classrooms
Description: Comic Book City is a documentary film from Shaun Huston which explores the community of comics creators who live and work in Portland, Oregon. It is grounded by conversations with artists and writers about their creative processes and their choices to locate in Portland.
Shaun Huston (Comic Book City, Portland, Oregon, USA)Wow did we miss the boat on this. Two days in and we finally link to it. Shameful. On the other hand, it’s a sign of comics ongoing academic respectability that a three day comics symposium featuring Nick Bertozzi, Josh Neufeld, Erin Polgreen and more could be taking place and there would be so much other comics stuff going on that it would only be the most serious of six or seven other top notch events. Anyway read all about it here, and there’s still time to get in on the fun with tonight’s keynote and tomorrows panels:
We all want Wonder Woman to be in a movie. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say we want her to be in EVERY film. And every TV show. Maybe a few music videos. But for one reason or another, we’re repeatedly disappointed by a world which does not seem to share our desire for Diana to take over the entirety of culture. She can’t get a TV show off the ground, her film scripts never get put anywhere near production, and Nicki Minaj hasn’t dressed up as her ONCE.
So step-forward first-time director Jesse V. Johnson, a stunt co-ordinator who has worked on films like Lincoln, Thor, and Spider-Man, to show how it’s done. Johnson today uploaded a film trailer for Wonder Woman, to show off his ability as a director for potentially-interested parties… and it’s pretty darned good, you guys. It’s even got this poster, created by Robert Sebree.
Casting actress Nina Bergman as Wonder Woman and Peter-flipping-Stormare as her Nazi captor, this fan film captures basically everything William Marston could have possibly wanted to see in a Wonder Woman movie. There’s fighting, and empowerment, some light bondage, and even a touch of psychological theory. Johnson describes the project’s origins:
It was my manager / producing partner Kailey Marsh’s idea to shoot the trailer. She really believes I should be a studio director, and thought shooting Wonder Woman would be a great way to show off my skills in a fun way that people could get excited about.
So without further ado, here’s the trailer for the movie. What do you think?
Female Super Hero Fan Film from Jesse V. Johnson on Vimeo.
TweetA sign that the UK creative scene are eager both for conventions and the opportunity to queue, exhibitor tables for Leeds Thought Bubble Convention went on sale yesterday at 1pm, and had sold out by 3pm. This follows a very recent trend in the UK for conventions to sell out exhibitor tables at an increasingly [...]
By: Heidi MacDonald
Blog: PW -The Beat
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TweetA curious but interesting move today, as Marvel and Hyperion have just announced that they will be releasing a series of YA novels this year based on some of Marvel’s most prominent female heroes. So far Rogue and She-Hulk books have been announced, to the delight of Dan Slott. This is one of the first [...]
TweetAll this business about DC’s “WTF month” got me thinking — while you’ve got the whole gimmick cover thing as an attempt to get attention (they’re getting the attention and it falls under “no such thing as bad publicity), this really screams of something where the consumer is supposed to pick up the book off [...]
By: Nathan Bransford,
Blog: Nathan Bransford
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The Super Bowl is this Sunday, and I won't be watching.
After I posted in May about the ethics of watching football
and how uncomfortable I am with the growing evidence about endemic and lasting brain injuries I stayed true to my post and I didn't watch football this year.
Of all the years.
Stanford made the Rose Bowl for the first time since I was in college back in 2000 (and this time they won). The 49ers are headed to the Super Bowl and Colin Kaepernick is one of the most exciting young players in football. But I've never seen him play.
To be honest, I haven't gone completely cold turkey. If I'm at someone's house or at a bar and football is on I don't leave the room or insist that people change the channel. I still read football articles and in fact could give you a pretty thorough breakdown of the Alex Smith vs. Colin Kaepernick decision. I still keep up with scores and records.
But I'm not watching, week in, week out. I can't tell you what a change this is. I was once the chairman of Stanford's Axe Committee
, which has its roots in the Stanford/Cal football rivalry. I'm not sure if I'll go to another Big Game. I grew up watching Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. I won't be watching the Super Bowl.
Junior Seau's death was the ultimate catalyst for my decision not to watch, and I made it without even knowing for sure whether he had the degenerative brain disease that has afflicted so many former players. It turns out he did
There is mounting evidence that the NFL has not taken this issue seriously enough
, but ultimately I think end of the sport will not come with a bunch of fans walking out of a stadium, but rather youth and high school teams unable to find insurance policies and forced to close up, a generation of parents pushing their kids into different sports, and a decline of the sport into the realm of horse racing and boxing.
For my part, in place of football on the weekends I've been watching, well, football. Soccer has become my weekend tradition. I wake up, fire up the coffee, and settle in for some writing and the English Premier League.
Anyone else find their habits changing as more news of former players emerge?
By: Nathan Bransford,
Blog: Nathan Bransford
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So. You ready to take the best 100 movie challenge?
This has been a random procrastination activity of mine for quite some time, and now I'm ready to share my list with the world. I have spent way, way too much time thinking about this.
Behold... my 100 favorite movies of all time!
But this isn't all! It would be great if we could all share our own list for the Top 100, because I love looking at these lists. If you create your 100 and post it in the comments section I'll add the links to this post.
- The Godfather
- City of God
- The Godfather Part II
- Citizen Kane
- The Up Series
- The Empire Strikes Back
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
- Jules and Jim
- Schindler's List
- The Shawshank Redemption
- Star Wars
- The Battle of Algiers
- Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
- Trouble in Paradise
- The Nightmare Before Christmas
- The Warriors
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail
- The Usual Suspects
- Children of Men
- Sunset Blvd.
- Lawrence of Arabia
- The Wizard of Oz
- The Best Years of Our Lives
- Dog Day Afternoon
- Raging Bull
- The Manchurian Candidate
- Before Sunrise
- Groundhog Day
- The 25th Hour
- Hoop Dreams
- Back to the Future
- The Bridge on the River Kwai
- The Last Picture Show
- Before Sunset
- The Big Lebowski
- The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
- Gone With the Wind
- Office Space
- Into the Wild
- Ghost Dog
- Butch Cassidy and the Sudance Kid
- The Graduate
- Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
- Pulp Fiction
- Ferris Bueller's Day Off
- Edward Scissorhands
- North By Northwest
- Duck Soup
- Saturday Night Fever
- The Truman Show
- A Hard Day's Night
- Le Samourai
- The Double Life of Veronique
- The Big Sleep
- Stray Dog
- The Philadelphia Story
- Midnight Cowboy
- The Lives of Others
- True Grit
- Do the Right Thing
- Rebel Without a Cause
- It's a Wonderful Life
- Singin' in the Rain
- Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
- From Here to Eternity
- Apocalypse Now
- Coming to America
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind
- To Kill a Mockingbird
- Funny Face
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- His Girl Friday
- Mildred Pierce
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By: Heidi MacDonald
Blog: PW -The Beat
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, Top Comics
, Center for Jewish History
, Danny Fingeroth
, David Weiss
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, Harry Donenfeld
, Jenette Kahn
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TweetThe Center for Jewish History hosted a celebration of the 2013 75th birthday of the seminal superhero Superman on January 27th with co-sponsorship from Columbia University Library. Though Superman’s cover-date advent in comics occurred in June of 1938, celebrations are gearing up early to take a look back at the Kryptonian’s origins and the impact [...]
By: Nathan Bransford,
Blog: Nathan Bransford
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I'm by no means old, but I've lived long enough that I can mark the passage of time by the lives of others: I can remember the events around every presidential election since Bush/Dukakis, the players who were rookies when I started paying attention to basketball are in the process of retiring, and the actresses I have crushes on are starting to play moms.
But there's nothing quite like following a band over the course of a lifetime.
I had the great fortune of discovering my favorite band, Yo La Tengo
, when I was college and the Internet opened up the entire musical world to anyone who had the fast Ethernet connection to find it. YLT were already well into their musical careers in the late '90s, and since then they've not only remained together, they've remained really good, releasing a strong album every three years like clockwork.
When I listen to their albums now they evoke a pastiche of memories and images of where I was and what my life was like and what device I was using to listen to the album.
I went to a now-defunct record store to eagerly pick up And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out
in 2000, very deep into the college experience, writing papers, with a sense that the future was in front of me. (CD player)Summer Sun
from 2003 evokes my early adult life in San Francisco, climbing hills and taking long walks home as the afternoon fog rolled in. (iPod)I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass
from 2006 conjures BART stations and hikes up a different hill - I had just moved back to San Francisco after a couple of years in New York and this was the soundtrack of my new commute and my return to California. (iPod with Video)Popular Songs
from 2009 is bittersweet, perched on the transition between being newly married and things falling apart
. The song "Avalon or Someone Very Similar
" was the soundtrack for a happy end-of-year recap video, "All Your Secrets
" encapsulated that sense of hanging on, "And the Glitter is Gone
" was a fitting coda. (iPhone 3G)
Now Yo La Tengo just released a fantastic new album, Fade
, and I'm in a new place with a new life, and I'm sure in the future it will make me remember this time of transition into whatever is ahead of me. (iPhone 5)
I've seen YLT countless times in concerts too, but strangely, even as the audiences age with the rockers themselves, those concerts feel like points of continuity rather than marking the passage of time. Instead of bringing us back to the past, concerts blur into timelessness and remove everything but the now. It's those quiet moments listening to albums on our own that take us back in time.
Music has such a strange power. It certainly doesn't feel at all momentous when you're listening to a new song, but that song places an anchor in your brain and it takes nothing but a repeat listen years later to bring memories rushing back to a time you might never have remembered without it.
" from Fade
, with its reminder that nothing ever stays the same:
Yep. I read it.
I have a series of reactions to Fifty Shades of Grey
:1) This book is popular.
I mean, really, really popular. It is bigger than Harry Potter
popular in the UK
, it was responsible for 20% of all book sales in the spring
, it sold 25 million copies in 4 months; by contrast, it took the Stieg Larsson Millennium
trilogy four years to sell 20 million copies
Pop. U. Lar. 2) I called it. (Well, sort of.)
I've long maintained that although the e-book era favors people with existing audiences, freakish unexpected hits would come out of nowhere
, including from authors without a major platform at all. Much like viral videos.
And make no mistake: This book came out of nowhere. It started as Twilight
fanfiction, then was released as an e-book and POD paperback by Writers' Coffee Shop
in Australia. From there it managed to attract so much word-of-mouth attention and sales it was acquired for a rumored near-million dollars by Vintage Books, part of Random House, and has gone on to aforementioned further massive success.
The publishing industry did not see this one coming. I think it's safe to say that virtually no one did. Even five years ago it's hard to see how this book would have rocketed to such success so quickly, if would have found its way to publication at all (I'm guessing it wouldn't have).
But note that Fifty Shades of Grey
needed a publisher to get truly big. Publishers may not have seen it coming, but they caught up to it very quickly. I wouldn't use this as an opportunity to sneer at publishers. The industry's role as gatekeeper is changing quickly, it's likely evidence that they were missing books like this in the past and cared too much about writing quality
, but they're still making money on this hand over fist.3) It's not as bad people say it is
Given the howls have accompanied this book's success and the snarky takedowns, I was really expecting drivel.
It's not drivel. It's not Shakespeare, but from a prose perspective I would call it competently written.
Yes, there are writerly tics, yes there are elements that are implausible, yes yes OMG a helicopter called Charlie Tango, more on all that in a minute. But the end of the world for books this is not.
I've read worse.4) That said...
I'm not exactly an expert, but I can see why some people have wondered aloud if this is one step back for feminism
. Much of the book hinges on very confused 21-year-old virginal Anastasia, seemingly plucked straight out of the 1950s, wondering whether this 27-year-old experienced, troubled-but-heart-of-gold self-made billionaire industrialist likes her no I mean really likes her no I mean really really really
Their times apart consist mainly of Anastasia confusedly spurning the advances of other men who are interested in her, talking herself out of the notion that Christian Grey no I mean really likes her, and finding new reasons to feel jealous about his past, aided and impeded by both her subconscious and inner goddess (separate voices!), who alternately scold her and high five her for her adventurousness. Anastasia has few thoughts, feelings, emotions, or ambitions regarding anything other than how much Christian Grey actually truly no I mean really likes her and whether she can abide by the terms of the written contract and tortured legalese (in more ways than one) that governs their relationship.
Christian Grey is the type of person who will scare Anastasia to death then introduce her to his mom, leave her bruised and then soulfully play the piano, all the while being so stricken by his attraction for Anastasia (including, it can't be said enough times, the way she bites her lower lip) that he is willing to break all sorts of previously unbendable rules, such as being affectionate and sleeping in the same bed as her until, spoiler, whiting this part out, select it with your cursor if you want to read this: she concludes after a savage spanking that much as the great Meat Loaf sang, she would do anything for love but she won't do that. Well. At least pending the sequels
This, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the very most popular books of all time.5) So, um, why is it so popular?
Needless to say, I am not exactly the target audience for this book.
But even I can see how Fifty Shades of Grey
fits neatly into a very old archetype that continues to resonate in our culture. The aloof, successful, mysterious, wildly attractive rogue who shows interest in a woman despite her initial resistance and even after that man warns the woman about himself: It's not a new story. You can trace that archetype from Jane Eyre
to Pride and Prejudice
to Fifty Shades of Grey
and countless other iterations. It's a new spin on a very old trope: romantic entanglement with a Byronic hero
I also don't think it's only women who are prone to stories of an ardent and attractive suitor arriving to shake up their life, as the manic pixie dream girl
movie genre can attest. Many heterosexual guys seemingly want a hot girl to come along and take care of everything as well, preferably when she's played by Natalie Portman or Zooey Deschanel.Fifty Shades of Grey
may not break new ground, but surely it benefited from being released in the Kindle
era (where onlookers can't easily see/judge what you're reading), it gave an urbane veneer to a romance genre that very often skews rural/suburban, and if you'll excuse the metaphor, Twilight
may well have primed the pump for a book that maintains the same archetypal romantic dynamic while allowing its protagonists to consummate their relationship.
Why now? Maybe as we sprint toward chartering new gender and relationship dynamics with more sensitive guys and greater equality there's some appetite to escape into a story with a less complicated and familiar throwback to a dominant man and submissive woman. Maybe we've become such a sexually open society people were ready for the needle of mainstream edginess to be moved a little farther over. Maybe Christian Grey and his dorkily named helicopter are just that hot.
Maybe, at the end of the day, bestsellers are largely random
What do you think? What has made Fifty Shades of Grey
such a phenomenon?
By: Heidi MacDonald
Blog: PW -The Beat
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Well, this is certainly one of the most British things I’ve ever heard. Please whistle the theme tune to The Archers while you read this article.
Yesterday Neil Gaiman announced on his blog that BBC Radio 4 have gathered a stunning collection of actors to record a radio adaptation of his story Neverwhere, which was first seen on television in the 1990s. Co-written by Lenny Henry, the story was sort-of simultaneously adapted into a novel by Gaiman, which was subsequently rewritten and adapted into radio plays and, well, all sorts of stuff happened with it, really.
This adaptation for radio, however, has managed to gather an incredible line-up of actors – several of whom sent this message across to Gaiman, which he shared earlier:
Which sight excites you most? Manly David Harewood? Game of Throne’s Natalie Dormer? James McAvoy? Giles from Buffy? Benedict Crumpetpatch? Hold on tight, because this photo only skims the surface of an utterly incredible cast.
Also appearing will be Andrew Sachs, Sophie Okonedo, Christopher Lee, Don Gilet, Johnny Vegas, Bernard Cribbins, Lucy Cohu and Romola Garai. And that’s still not all! Gaiman also teases that there will be a few other secret cameos and appearances tucked in amongst everything else. Zoinks.
Scheduled for release as a 6-episode series in 2013, Neverwhere will be produced by Dirk Maggs. Okay, you can stop whistling now.
Comic book podcasting has become more and more popular over the years, but House To Astonish remains the one to beat. Hosted by Paul O’Brien (hey, that name’s familiar) and Al Kennedy, the fortnightly show is a funny, insightful look at the current top comic books and the world around them. As part of their never-ending mission to interview the world (not true: they don’t typically run interviews), Al came down to Thought Bubble this year to mingle with the stars.
In the process, he put himself in my crosshairs, and we sat on a cannon (true) to talk about how House To Astonish was started, what it’s about… and how Mark Waid was integral to the whole thing starting out.
Steve: How’re you finding Thought Bubble so far?
Al Kennedy: I got thrown out the bar last night at 3am, which is always a good way to start a convention. They moved us out the bar and into the foyer, and then out the foyer and into the street.
Steve: ….So! You were both bloggers before you started House to Astonish. You did 100 Days of Comics, and Paul writes The X-Axis. How did you get started in comics commentary?
Al: I decided to set myself a writing challenge, where I’d write about something every day. I figured that comics would be something I could easily find things to talk about, so every day I did an essay about something to do with them. It was more an exercise in writing discipline than me having 100 burning things to say about comics, but I really enjoyed doing it as well.
Once it wrapped up, Paul and I had known each other for many many years.We were sat in the pub one night and talking about online comics journalism, and thought “well why don’t we do one of these new-fangled podcasts?” Back when we started it was a far less packed field, and that’s where the thing came from.
Steve: Who else was around?
Al: iFanboy… and John Siuntres was already doing his thing… a few others!
Steve: Do you view it podcasting as a community, or does it feel like you’re all in competition?
Al: I think that the field is broad enough and people are doing enough different things to allow for different voices to be heard. I know that there are some groups of podcasters, where if you listen to one, you’re likely to listen to all of them. I know we share an audience with Graeme and Jeff at Wait, What?, for example. There’s certainly some crossover with Evie and Aaron of Awesomed By Comics, as well as Chris and Euge/Chris and Matt at War Rocket Ajax – although I think their audience is larger than ours!
Steve: Many other podcasters focus on reviews and interviews, but House to Astonish starts with a news roundup. Was that always the idea? That the podcast would focus on criticism and commentary?
Al: Yes. We decided to steer away from interviews for the most part… although… I am here to do some interviews… because the thing about doing interviews is that you have a very high bar to clear in John Siuntres. He’s absolutely brilliant, and if you go into podcasting with an aim to do interviews, you’d better be able to keep up with him.
Originally we were going to do a round-up of what people are saying on blogs and message boards as well as an editorial-style polemic we’d deliver each episode. But instead it turned out that we went on tangents and talked nonsense. So we start with news stuff, three reviews, and then some mucking around at the end.
Steve: Do you think of yourself as a journalist? Does podcasting sit alongside journalistic sites like, say, Robot 6, or Comics Reporter?
Al: I don’t see us as journalists. I think we’re commentators, which is a different thing. In terms of comics journalism, there are a few really terrific sites which cover the majority of aspects of the comics industry, and beyond that I don’t think we have that much to offer in terms of actual reportage. We talk about the news and hopefully share some, but we’re both reviewers – Paul obviously has been doing the X-Axis for 15 years, and I’ve done my own bits and pieces through 9th Art and 100 Days. But we don’t report or investigate, and get scoops and news, so I don’t think it’s journalism.
I like to think that especially in light of legal issues – Paul and I are both lawyers in our day jobs – we try to look into stories and work out what is actually going on, and what the ramifications are. We do go beyond the press releases where we can. History is written by the winners, so when you see a legal verdict reporte, there’s often a framing around it which backs whoever won the case. Which is fine, but you need to be able to look beyond it as well. I think just regurgitating news is not helpful to people. If they just wanted to see press releases, they can just go online and find them. I think we offer a discursive aspect beyond mere repetition, and do it with good humour and a bit of insight
Steve: I think that’s the case with your review, as well. Unlike perhaps some other podcasts, you don’t just review the same 3 comics every episode – you’re going beyond the standard choices and picking new comics to review. Is that a conscious decision – to review things other people don’t?
Al: Absolutely. We each order a lot of first issues, which we will not follow up on. We don’t read many issue 2′s. We go through a lot of first issues and starts of new story arcs, new creator teams etc, because we like to keep it varied and bring different things to people’s attention. I know Paul and I are also both Marvel kids at heart, but we do try to make sure at least one of the three books isn’t a big two title, or is non-superhero.
We try also not to have two books by the same publisher, as well. Sometimes it’s unavoidable – we could easily, this week, do three Marvel Now books. This week there’s a new issue #1 for Fantastic Four, Thor, X-Men Legacy, All New X-Men, but we’ll only do one of them, and focus elsewhere for the other two. Colder was also out this week, and that was excellent. 47 Ronin was excellent.
There are a lot of options, and I think it does a disservice when you review the same three books every time.
Steve: Do you ever think to go further and do digital work, or webcomics?
Al: We have done it to some extent with Bandette from Monkeybrain, which was terrific. We tend to have quite a well-trodden remit in that we usually pick three print books. People have asked us to review webcomics and serials, but I think it requires a different approach. Somebody asked if we would review Penny Arcade – but it’s a different format. It’s a three-panel strip, and it’s not the same as reviewing a print issue.
Steve: Do you find with reviewing that it can sometimes be hard, if you know the creators involved? How do you go about reviewing a comic if you know the writer or artist?
Al: I was actually talking about this a few weeks back. I don’t know if you saw this, but there was a furore about games journalists being too close to studios and publicists.
Because we only do three books an episode and we’re not in America, doing interviews, we tend to not have as much contact with creators as some other have. I am good friends with Kieron Gillen, but we’ve been friends since before he was a comics writer, and we tend not to review stuff by people we know. Sometimes we do, but we would never review it because they are our friend and we want to give them some publicity. If we do interview someone we know we make sure we’re upfront about it, and call them a friend of the podcast.
I think you have to be upfront, declare the interest you might have, and then be as objective as you can.
Steve: You finish with a feature called The Official Handbook to the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, in which you scour the old Marvel handbooks for an obscure character, and then walk listeners through their history, which tends to be really really weird. How did you come up with that idea?
Al: ….this is all lost in the mists of time…
We knew we wanted to do something to round the podcast out which was funny, and we’re both nerds for the official handbook – I have every one that’s been published. We decided it would be fun to look through the handbooks and come up with characters who are silly and ridiculous, and wonder how they could be rehabilitated I think Wizard magazine used to have a feature similar, called Mort of the Month, where they’d pick an old character and slag them off. What we try to do is take that further and wonder if there’s anything we can do to rehabilitate them.
Speaking of the mists of time — I found recently a bit of paper which had all the names we came up with when first trying to name the podcast, and I think I’ll put them up for the 100th episode.
Steve: How did you decide on House to Astonish?
Al: House to Astonish itself came from the Amalgam Comics. In the wake of Marvel vs DC they did a series where two characters would be smooshed into one body – like Darkclaw, who was a mix of Wolverine and Batman. He fought a cross between joker and sabretooth called Hyena. There were some great ones, and they obviously enjoyed doing it – they took Ice Cream Soldier from Easy Company, mixed him with Izzy Cohen from Howling Commandos, and came up with Ice Cream Cone.
Apparently a load of titles were pitched, and Mark Waid pitched House to Astonish, which would mix House of Mystery and Tales to Astonish. I think I read that in 1997 and thought it’d be a fun name.
Steve: How do you think the podcast has developed over the years you’ve done it?
Al: We haven’t changed anything! We’re basically creatures of habit.
We’re better at it, and more confident, I suppose. There were more pregnant pauses and talking rubbish when we were starting out- not that the rubbish quotient has gone down, but we talk better rubbish now. One thing we tried to always do was keep it short – one hour is about as long as you’d want to go.
Joining Comics Should Be Good has been an honour, and it’s terrific to be a bit more well-known and respected than when we started. Our impressions are… better?
I think we’re part of a community now. We’re part of a firmament. we’ve been around so long we’re probably not going away now. In that we’re like Action Comics – once you hit a certain number, you’re here to stay.
Many thanks to Al for his time. And as luck would have it, a new episode of House to Astonish was released only a few hours ago! You can find it at the website, and find Al on Twitter @housetoastonish. Paul is also on Twitter, at @ifdestroyed
the following information appearing on Asia in the Heart, World on My Mind
We are looking for children’s book illustrators from countries around the world to design bookplates for International Book Giving Day 2013! If you are interested in designing a bookplate, please contact Amy Broadmoore at amy dot broadmoore at gmail dot com.
International Book Giving Day is a grassroots, 100% volunteer initiative to encourage people to give books to children on February 14, 2013. To celebrate, people are invited to 1) give a book to a friend or family member, 2) leave a book in a waiting room for children to read, or 3) donate a book to an organization that distributes books to children in need.
Children’s book illustrators are invited to design bookplates that celebrants can attach to books they give to children. We welcome bookplates written in a variety of languages. The bookplates must be 11.4 cm x 6.9 cm (or 4.5 inches x 2.7 inches) in size. We will make the bookplates available for free at the International Book Giving Day website for people to download and print themselves. We will also offer the bookplates for sale as inexpensively as possible at International Book Giving Day’s Zazzle store.
Other ways for children’s book authors and illustrators to support International Book Giving Day:
*Add your name to the list of people giving books for International Book Giving Day. Fill out the very brief form on the home page of the International Book Giving Day website.
*Invite others to celebrate International Book Giving Day.
*Take a photo of yourself leaving a book in a waiting room, giving a book to a child, or otherwise celebrating International Book Giving Day for us to share at our website or Instagram page (#giveabook).
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at Sandy Hook Elementary School was the sixteenth mass shooting
in the U.S. in 2012.
Looking back on my post about "Utopia and the Gun Culture"
from January 2011, when Jared Loughner killed and wounded various people in Arizona, I find it still represents my feelings generally. A lot of people have died since then, killed by men with guns. I've already updated
that post once before, and I could have done so many more times.
Focusing on guns is not enough. Nothing in isolation is. In addition to calls for better gun control, there have been calls for better mental health services. Certainly, we need better mental health policies, and we need to stop using prisons as our de facto mental institutions, but that's at best vaguely relevant here. Plenty of mass killers wouldn't be caught by even the most intrusive psych nets, and potential killers that were would not necessarily find any treatment helpful. Depending on the scope and nuance of the effort, there could be civil rights violations, false diagnoses, and general panic. (Are you living next door to a potential mass killer? Is your neighbor loud and aggressive? Quiet and introverted? Conspicuously normal? Beware! Better report them to the FBI...)
That said, I expect there are things that could be done, systems that could be improved, creative and useful ideas that could be implemented. I'd actually want to broaden the scope beyond just mental health and toward a strengthening of social services in general. I'm on the board of my local domestic violence/sexual assault crisis center, where demand for our services is up, but we're hurting for resources and have had to curtail and strictly prioritize some of those services. It's a story common among many of our peers not just in the world of anti-violence/abuse programs, but in the nonprofit social service sector as a whole.
What we have is a bit of a gun control problem, a bit more of a social services problem, and a lot of a cultural problem.
One of the best books I've encountered on this subject is James William Gibson's Warrior Dreams: Paramilitary Culture in Post-Vietnam America
. It's from 1994, but is in some ways even more relevant now.
Gibson ends a chapter called "Bad Men and Bad Guns: The Symbolic Politics of Gun Control" with these words:
To argue ... that many of these murderers could have been stopped solely by increased gun control is to pretend that the social and political crises of post-Vietnam America never occurred and that the New War did not develop as the major way of overcoming those disasters. Paramilitary culture made military-style rifles desirable, and legislation cannot ban a culture. The gun-control debate was but the worst kind of fetishism, in which focusing on a part of the dreadful reality of the decade — combat weapons — became a substitute for confronting what America had become.
We seem to be a generally less violent
country than in the past, and yet this specific type of crime (mass killing) is on the rise. Coverage of killers
in the media certainly adds to the attraction of these acts for people who seek such glory. More broadly, mass killings such as this should cause us to consider hegemonic masculinity
, a culture of child-killing
, and the privileges
of white male terrorists
. (Those last 4 links via Shailja Patel
.) We should remember that the President who shed tears for the deaths of children in Connecticut authorized drone strikes that have killed
many times more children.
The desire to get rid of all the guns is understandable, but it is useless and counterproductive. 300 million (or more!) guns aren't going away, sales have been strong
for at least 10 years, with at least 1 million guns sold legally every month (good luck finding reliable statistics on illegal guns).
Meaningful policy needs to be pragmatic. We've got tons
already. Additionally, the utopian desire to get rid of all guns only plays into the paranoid narrative the NRA uses to keep fundraising strong: "The liberals want to take your guns! Send us money to stop them! Meanwhile, stockpile because the liberals always win and they're going to ban all gun sales next week!"
Many people have called for a renewal of the assault weapons ban
. I expect the gun manufacturers would be thrilled. First, because it would incite panic buying. Second, because it's primarily based on particular rifles' aesthetics, and the last time the ban was in place, the manufacturers found easy loopholes. So they get the best of all possible worlds: increased demand, which allows them to raise prices on items they've already manufactured, and then relatively easy design changes that don't cost them a whole lot of money and still allow them to sell lots of guns. Indeed, if anything, the ban increases the aura around such weapons, making them even more desireable to would-be killers. The NRA would love it, too, because they would finally be able to pin some actual gun control measures on the Obama administration, and their fundraising would skyrocket. They'd never say it publicly, but the gun industry and the gun lobby might as well stand there just waiting for the assault weapons ban to be renewed, saying, "Go ahead. Make our day."
Probably the most practically effective part of the ban has nothing to do with the guns themselves, but rather how much ammo they can hold before reloading: the magazine capacity limits. Ban all magazines beyond a certain capacity and no matter how scary the gun looks or how light the trigger action is, it's not going to be able to fire lots of bullets. To control guns in the US most effectively may mean controlling not the guns themselves so much as their components and ammunition.
Which brings us to a worthwhile question: What sort of practical gun policies might have prevented what happened in Newtown, Connecticut? The sad, frustrating answer seems to be: maybe none. Even a fantastically perfect system for preventing potentially mentally ill people from buying guns wouldn't have worked: the killer used his mother's
guns. She bought them legally. She could, presumably, pass any background check. I'm all for better funding and implementation for the background check system, but let's not pretend it would have done anything in this case.
What about bans on high-capacity magazines? That has more potential. Such magazines would still exist, so the effect of a ban would not be immediate. It would have been entirely possible for the killer's mother to have some high-capacity mags that she'd bought some time before the ban, or bought second-hand. There are hundreds of thousands, or perhaps millions, of such magazines out there. Even a draconian confiscation system wouldn't eradicate all banned magazines; it would create a black market. Still, we know from experience that high-capacity magazine bans do generally cause prices to rise and supply to fall.
Then there are the arguments from the other side of the issue: More guns!
If you don't regularly spend your time among the core gun-rights-at-all-costs activists, you might think such a suggestion is a joke. It's not. It's the only direction in which the absolutist philosophy of the NRA, Gun Owners of America, and similar groups can go. And there's a core of a truth-like substance to it: crime rates generally have been falling. (But individual gun ownership may also be falling
.) The fundamental problem with the MORE GUNS! argument is that it is based on a wild west mystique that assumes far too much competence among people in crisis moments and ignores how easy it is for mistakes to become deadly when guns are involved. Even if the premises of the argument were reasonable and desireable, it doesn't take a lot of deep thought for the practicalities to show their problems.
That's not to say that people don't successfully defend themselves with guns, or reduce the number of casualties
in some situations, or even that the presence of guns does not deter some crimes. In plenty of such situations, though, if everyone were armed, the likelihood of the moment escalating into total, even more deadly chaos would increase. I'm completely in favor of more gun safety training (in a nation of guns, it makes sense for as many people as possible not to freak out when they encounter one), but I don't want to live in a world where everybody feels the need to be armed.
An important point to note, though, is that the current situation didn't just pop up out of nowhere. It was constructed over the course of decades, and the NRA is partly to blame. But they couldn't have done it alone.
There's an insightful post at Talking Points Memo
, a letter from a reader who, much like me, grew up in the gun culture. The reader notes the rise in popularity of military-style weaponry since the mid-1980s.
I can’t remember seeing a semi-automatic weapon of any kind at a shooting range until the mid-1980’s. Even through the early-1990’s, I don’t remember the idea of “personal defense” being a decisive factor in gun ownership. The reverse is true today: I have college-educated friends - all of whom, interestingly, came to guns in their adult lives - for whom gun ownership is unquestionably (and irreducibly) an issue of personal defense. For whom the semi-automatic rifle or pistol - with its matte-black finish, laser site, flashlight mount, and other “tactical” accoutrements - effectively circumscribe what’s meant by the word “gun.” At least one of these friends has what some folks - e.g., my fiancee, along with most of my non-gun-owning friends - might regard as an obsessive fixation on guns; a kind of paraphilia that (in its appetite for all things tactical) seems not a little bit creepy. Not “creepy” in the sense that he’s a ticking time bomb; “creepy” in the sense of…alternate reality. Let’s call it “tactical reality.”
Some of these people are my friends and acquaintances; indeed, when I inherited a gun shop and got an FFL
to sell off the inventory, I sold some of those tactical guns to my friends, the fetishists. I certainly don't think they'll go on a rampage, but I do think they live in an alternate reality — a reality my father was very much part of, where black helicopters fly over the house to spy on us, where conspiracies and threats lurk in every social crevice, and where anybody without a bug-out bag
is a moron who will die in the ever-impending apocalypse.
The TPM reader who notes this proposes the change in US culture happened sometime between 1985 and 1995. It's probably a few years earlier, but in general that seems right to me (and fits with the information and argument in Warrior Dreams
). It was in the early 1980s that my father started selling fully-automatic machine guns, then moved to primarily military-style semi-automatics after the 1986 Firearms Owners Protection Act
banned the civilian ownership of new machine guns and added a lot of regulation and taxes to existing machine guns, turning them essentially into collectors' items (many cars are cheaper to buy than a legal machine gun these days). Business was very good for a while, and the threat of the assault weapons ban helped sales considerably. When the ban was in place, those guns became even more desirable — much like banned books or banned movies, once somebody says, "No, you can't have that!" then people who never wanted it before suddenly become interested.
I haven't been able to find any reliable statistics on gun sales in the 1980s (good data on gun sales isn't easy to get, for various reasons
), but 1984/1985 seems plausible as a critical mass point for the shift in gun culture — conservatives' push within the NRA to shift the organization's tone and political attitude had succeeded*, Reagan was President (the first President endorsed by the NRA), TV shows like The A-Team
were popular, G.I. Joe
and other military comics were common, various paramilitary books and magazines filled newsstands, and Hollywood had started making movies like Red Dawn
and Rambo II
The last fact is significant. When Dirty Harry
came out in 1971, sales of the Smith & Wesson Model 29
increased significantly. But that was just a big revolver. In 1985, Rambo II
seemed to do wonders for sales of the H&K 94 and MP 5
. Warrior guns.
It would be facile for me to end by pretending I have any easy or immediate solutions. I don't. Perhaps we need some feel-good measures, but I fear they make us think we've accomplished something when we haven't. There's a strong desire right now, it seems, to do something
. But symbolic laws and security theatre won't help us.
Here's the final paragraph of Gibson's introduction to Warrior Dreams:
Only at the surface level, then, has paramilitary culture been merely a matter of the "stupid" movies and novels consumed by the great unwashed lower-middle and working classes, or of the murderous actions of a few demented, "deviant" men. In truth, there is nothing superficial or marginal about the New War that has been fought in American popular culture since the 1970s. It is a war about basics: power, sex, race, and alienation. Contrary to the Washington Post review, Rambo was no shallow muscle man but the emblem of a movement that at the very least wanted to reverse the previous twenty years of American history and take back all the symbolic territory that had been lost. The vast proliferation of warrior fantasies represented an attempt to reaffirm the national identity. But it was also a larger volcanic upheaval of archaic myths, an outcropping whose entire structural formation plunges into deep historical, cultural, and psychological territories. These territories have kept us chained to war as a way of life; they have infused individual men, national political and military leaders, and society with a deep attraction to both imaginary and real violence. This terrain must be explored, mapped, and understood if it is ever to be transformed.
*Jill Lepore in The New Yorker sums up the change
In the nineteen-seventies, the N.R.A. began advancing the argument that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to carry a gun, rather than the people’s right to form armed militias to provide for the common defense. Fights over rights are effective at getting out the vote. Describing gun-safety legislation as an attack on a constitutional right gave conservatives a power at the polls that, at the time, the movement lacked. Opposing gun control was also consistent with a larger anti-regulation, libertarian, and anti-government conservative agenda. In 1975, the N.R.A. created a lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, headed by Harlon Bronson Carter, an award-winning marksman and a former chief of the U.S. Border Control. But then the N.R.A.’s leadership decided to back out of politics and move the organization’s headquarters to Colorado Springs, where a new recreational-shooting facility was to be built. Eighty members of the N.R.A.’s staff, including Carter, were ousted. In 1977, the N.R.A.’s annual meeting, usually held in Washington, was moved to Cincinnati, in protest of the city’s recent gun-control laws. Conservatives within the organization, led by Carter, staged what has come to be called the Cincinnati Revolt. The bylaws were rewritten and the old guard was pushed out. Instead of moving to Colorado, the N.R.A. stayed in D.C., where a new motto was displayed: “The Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms Shall Not Be Infringed.”
I know you all saw this picture yesterday of President Obama and a staffer’s child dressed as Spider-Man, but it is too cute not to ass along. The photo is by White house staff photographer Pete Souza, and he took it around last Halloween. The official Obama twitter feed tweeted the picture today.
As pointed out here this is not the first time the President has struck a knowledgeable nerd pose.
“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.”
On this, the 200th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the document continues to be housed in the National Archives.
Emancipation Day is celebrated in African American communities throughout the United States.
Filed under: Causes, culture Tagged: Emancipation Day
By: Nathan Bransford,
Blog: Nathan Bransford
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Like many of you noble lords and ladies, I have been thoroughly sucked into the period costume drama slash soap opera Downton Abbey, with its potboiler plot lines (Cousin back from the dead! Or is he!), breathtaking pace (pretty sure World War I was over in half an episode) and brilliant Maggie Smith one-liners.
What's amazing about a drama as well-received as Downton Abbey is the sheer simplicity of its moral universe. The good characters are good and the bad characters are bad. That's that. No one learns lessons, no one evolves (with the possible exception of Miss O'Brien), no one is especially complicated. Carson will always be dignified and Thomas the footman will always be a jerk. We don't exactly spend a lot of time plumbing the depths of souls.
What's even more amazing to me is the extent to which the good characters are measured by their devotion to an aristocratic universe that is usually vaguely unseemly and sometimes outright reprehensible. The good members of the staff are those who are wholly devoted to the maintenance of a system in which their employers live in opulent, lazy and unearned extravagance while they are lucky if they have the free time to find time to date, let alone reproduce.
But whatever, we love it! Who's ready for a fancy dinner?
How in the name of Kemal Pamuk do they pull this off? (I mean. Aside from the fact that everyone and everything looks fabulous.)
For one thing, the makers are fantastic at finding the seams in characters' competing desires and priorities and bringing them out in a heartwarming way. We all know that Maggie Smith's character is an unabashed devotee of aristocratic privilege and tradition (Dowager Countess: "What is a weekend?"), but she is also, at heart, the biggest advocate for the unity of the family.
So (mild spoiler), when we find out that she is the one who sent the money for Lady Sybil and her low-born Irish husband to travel back for Lady Mary's wedding, we are pleased and surprised that she set aside her distaste for his horrid apparel in favor of having her granddaughter present. Love of family > tradition.
A similar dynamic also works with the Earl of Grantham. Nearly every plotline on the show: He tries to adhere to tradition and the ways of the past, which ends up upsetting his daughters, and he caves to their wishes after a touching conversation. Love of daughters > aristocracy.
We like to see characters do the right thing when presented with competing options, and the creators of Downton Abbey are really skilled at creating situations where characters' honor are tested.
This ends up getting a little odd when it comes to the staff, as the ones who are good are the ones who are self-effacing enough to succeed in a world where doing the right thing involves preserving a world that sucks up their humanity lest the people who live upstairs have to lift a finger. We are charmed by the butler Carson's prideful attention to detail and Mrs. Hughes' polite competence (occupational competency > personal life) without being horrified that their entire lives revolve around the needs and desires of a group of people who have done less work in their lifetimes than the staff do in a day.
The third season started last week and there were hints that the newly arrived American Martha Levinson, Lady Grantham's mother, would shake up the moral compass that underlies the show, and there seems to be some dawning awareness that perhaps one should do something with one's life besides employ a staff with an acquired fortune, judge local flower contests and host fancy parties.
And this is why the show faithfully keeps up with one of the important characteristics about a great setting
. It's not just the beautiful surroundings. In a great setting, change is underway
that impacts the character' lives. The aristocracy, and Downton Abbey itself, seems to be headed for a reckoning.
We'll see, anyway. Something tells me the Dowager Countess will win in the end. As she herself said, "Don't be so defeatist, dear. It's very middle class."
By: Nathan Bransford,
Blog: Nathan Bransford
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Like many out there on the Internet, I was rather shocked by Harper's Magazine
publisher John R. MacArthur's recent broadside against Google
. I wasn't horrified because I disagree with the sentiment, though I do, but because it displayed shocking ignorance and incuriosity about one of the most important powers shaping the future of words.
If you harbor fears about whether the leaders of traditional publishing are equipped to shepherd their institutions into a digital era, I urge you not to read it.
I'm sure I don't have to remind you about the storied history of Harper's Magazine
, founded in 1850, the place where Moby-Dick first found print, and one of the important literary institutions this country has ever produced.
As Mathew Ingram points out in a similarly horrified
response to MacArthur's screed, other old media publishers like The Atlantic
have thrived by innovating in the Internet era
with a stellar roster of bloggers, new formats, and a firm embrace of the era of Teh Google.
In fact, it was Atlantic
Senior Editor Alexis Madrigal who had one of the best retorts to MacArthur's lament that Harper's does not readily apfpear when one Googles "magazines that publish essays."
I don't blame people for being disquieted by the rapid rise of new technology and the effects it has on our lives, and there is also a long tradition of literary technophobia
that MacArthur is seemingly stepping into.
I do blame people for incuriosity and failure to investigate the enemies you see in your midst. I do blame people for failing to adapt to the inevitabilities of the future. It's not Google's job to do your work for you and bring readers to you because... why again? It's your job to understand how Google works and adapt accordingly so your existing readers can find what they're looking for and so you can attract new ones.
You can cover your ears and eyes and shout as the future approaches, but prepared to get drowned as the tide washes over you.Photo by me