Saturday, April 24, 2010

And Their Heads Were Hot And Fat

Towards the end of an interview David Foster Wallace gave to a German TV book show in 2003, he observes:

The thing about it [rebelling] is that in America we think of rebellion as this very sexy thing, and that it involves, y'know, action, and force, and looks good. My guess is the forms of rebellion that will end up changing anything meaningfully here will be very quiet and very individual and, uh, probably not all that interesting to look at from the outside. I'm now hoping for less interesting rather than more interesting.

(The raw interview is available on You Tube in ten sections, clip below, question and answer start at 2:25; and really should be seen in its entirety. DFW's book of essays, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, is, I gotta say, required reading.)

I bring up this very prescient observation now to mark how futile the T-Bag movement was from the get-go--old-fashioned made-for-TV kookyness, high in entertainment value, and utterly lacking any meaningful force. That an outlet so keen on reporting its details now calls its importance exaggerated, something clear from the start, is as fine an illustration of how the Hungry Ghost media devours its own empty stomach that I can think of right now.

Say, is it my imagination of did the whole GOP project just snap the last of its drive belts this past week? We had the story quoted above; a Senate candidate who repeated her ka-razy call to barter livestock and produce for medical care (and this from a citizen from one of the desert states); the senate minority leader erasing his line in the sand over financial reform legislation after about 36 hours; the risible GOP party chair telling the truth about the party's Southern Strategy; wingers seeking to out a GOP senator from South Carolina; the gov. of Fla. looking to leave the party; while Newt Gingrich, against all evidence to the contrary, is still regarded as smart; with everything wrapped into the merry bloggy debate (followed over at Matty's and Sully's blogs) regarding the closed epistemology loop of right-wing pundits, and the pure entertainment aims of their output.

Now a lot of this stuff has been grist of the old H&J mill here for quite some time. In the information age, the guidance of doctrinaire, and stupid, leaders goes from being a solid shield to a distinct liability. What Wallace's above observation should make clear is that the old rules of media engagement and direction cannot be applied anymore. If they did, as I am fond of repeating, then the ACA would not have passed, and McConnell and Cantor would be nattering successfully about bailouts to block financial reform. Nope, all that old GOP PR-driven, TV-based, group-focused magic stopped working a few years ago, and they are fucked.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


My close friend, and Cliffhanger Press editor, Joe Gioia has decided to give the new paradigm a try and has released the first chapter of his nearly-completed book to Amazon's Kindle store.

The Temple of Music is a stand-alone chronicle of the strange goings-on at the 1901 Buffalo Pan American Exposition, something that Joe likes to call fugitive history; that is, a historic account of weird stuff that really happened, but was then quickly forgotten for being too weird.

He writes: "The Temple of Music" uncovers the strange and forgotten story of Buffalo's Pan-American Exposition; the summer when singing gondoliers mixed with ghost dancers, Geronimo charged five bucks to have his picture taken, Dreamland opened for business, an electrified indian walked the night sky, and William McKinley was shot down in the ornate Temple of Music--only to have the train that took his body back to Washington end up on an Elvis Presley single a half-century later.

Alright, then. I think it's a very entertaining and informative read, and certainly worth the $3.50 to while-away a plane ride or bout of insomnia. But honestly, I'm prejudiced.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Latest Book News

Word reached the office last week that one of the five copies of Divide's Guide I donated for sale to benefit the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library was placed in the library's permanent collection in the Grosvenor Room. That my little book now resides forever in the company of the manuscript of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a breathtaking honor.

And speaking of Twain and libraries. . .

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Wave Goodbye

The usual apologies for my late absence here. I have been thinking, though. Sometime last fall I sort-of promised to handicap the 11/10 elections sometime in April, and I've been trying to come to grips with the currents, if, that is, such a thing is possible.

For god knows what reason, polling wizards, most significantly Nate Silver, last summer decided that 2010 was going to be a bad off-year for the Dems, and their predictions morphed into received wisdom, right and left, with breathtaking dispatch. For months now, hotshot bloggers like Matty have taken the approaching tidal wave as a done deal, the better of them chalking it up to a natural ebb and flow of our politics, the notion that the president's majority party always does badly in the first off-year referendum of his administration.

What I needed to know in thinking about all this is which numbers are connected to "bad", and which to "good". Those were a little harder to figure, until recently at 538 Silver when came up with a figure of 15 House losses at the low end, and upwards of 50 at the high for the Dems. So, okay.

My own, long-held belief--like, going back five years--is that 2010 would be the last for the GOP as a coherent national party, an utter trouncing that would break the back of their failed beast once and for all. After reviewing the landscape, I am not inclined to trim my sails (which might be my favorite mixed metaphor so far this year.)

The GOP strategy, as yesterday's line-in-the-sand stand against financial reform indicates, is apparently total resistance to anything Democratic, reliance on angry T-Party voters, and a confident assurance that "wave" history will send them to huge gains. While I do not track these things closely, this also seems to be the dominant narrative along cable alley, indeed a sure thing.

There are some problems with the above. First and foremost is that the GOP is still dominated, at nearly every post of legislative and administrative power, by exceptionally stupid men, as yesterday's line-in-the-sand stand against financial reform indicates. These guys have been wrong about everything for years, and have some impressive electoral and policy defeats to show for it.

This can't be emphasized enough. There has been for generations an institutional distrust of smart people, "pointy-heads" as they were once called, in the GOP which reached a terminal stage in the administration of that squalid little man, who was, as I am still fond of saying, the apotheosis of every country-club nitwit who ever got rich selling a business his father started. Stupidity at that level is a political statement, that one relies on the power of the system to keep one safe and protected from the consequences of dumb decisions.

Well, as most of us see, the system has changed, and I would point to the TP'ers as Exhibit A for that. Since when, exactly, has a major political party--not to mention one once based upon ideals of modesty, conformity, and devotion to authority--relied so heavily on the goofy apparatus of street theater? Even taking into account that these people are rather-more-exercised Republicans getting their freak on, and promoted as significant by the craven, rightest TV medium--those ding-dongs have yet to score ONE election victory in, let's see, six recent tries.

Now there is certain to be some shakeout in this election, retirements, poor campaigners, and jackass votes (Zack Space, I'm looking at YOU) to account for. There's a lot to be said too for sweeping away those representatives who go south when the chips are down. But whatever the under for the Republicans is, I'll take it. While I've not looked closely at the Senate (watch this space), I'm calling an overall loss of 10-15 for House Dems, which will include, besides some traditionally conservative seats reverting to form, a few districts formerly dependably-red going blue.

The GOP will realize at last it's true identity as an angry regional party, one of ever-shrinking demographics; the election results less a tidal wave than the wash left by a big ship going down.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Reader Writes. . .

Someone you might call a satisfied customer sent me this regarding Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I mean I really, really enjoyed it. I haven’t had that much fun in a long time. [....] [I]t was very much like attending a great dinner party and listening to someone so well versed on a subject that he can hold an entire table’s attention. Great style…great humor…great insight. I am passing my copy on to other good friends here.

In other news, Divide's Guide is available in Chicago at Quimby's Bookstore and, beginning later this week, at Left Bank Books in St. Louis.

You can, of course, also order it here.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Lost Art

I want to write more of these things, honest I do. But, you know, I get so tired of politics, especially the worn out American brand. Even our champion president, who I give more credit to than most poli-bloggers, is having a hell of a time dragging a fat and fearful nation in a better direction. No, the last thirty years have been too good for some, and too awful for others, and even those of us like yours truly, who made it through relatively unscathed, now need to come to grips with the damage, and we are old.

There's plenty left to come unglued. I do believe the only thing that can help us now is art, and art right now is not getting through--not enough anyway, to enough people. A great work of art, as Mr. Mailer was wont to say, makes you doubt the way you are living. Let me carry that forward a bit; such a challenge then gives meaning to the day. Our experience then becomes an adventure, maybe even a quest. This does not have to be an enormous, especially life-shattering shift, just a new way of seeing or feeling about something.

Art, and I use the term very broadly, then is the conduit of what's new. Bad art treads in very stale paths, trading for money in what was once new and is now mostly reassuring. Here let me say, reassurance is wonderful; everyone needs it, some of us need a lot of it. (If you need an example of a company that shuttles its products very expertly from art to reassurance, let me suggest Disney, which has been in the national reassurance business since the Great Depression.) Thing is, too much reassurance, the message that the world is fine exactly so, becomes a cultural monotone, dead to the sense of quest. Let me propose that this broadly social no-place is where we are stuck right now.

Bad art brings on boredom, which promotes numbness, which is then treated by any number of addictive measures. Our commercial media do nothing but reassure us, and are we a nation of addicts, right? At the risk of going too abstract here, allow me to say that the easiest response to this numbness is rage, violence. The human spirit needs to feel something, and the easiest thing to feel, our default setting, is fear and loathing of the other.

Which brings me back to our politics.

Both parties are heavily invested in the politics of reassurance, bad art if you will. BUT only one is actively hostile to the possibilities of good art, who altogether hates the idea of challenging, even in small ways, the daily assumptions of how we are supposed to live. It rages instead against the mainly imaginary threats against those assumptions. Imaginary in that though our way of life is under the stress of constant change, at a pace which appears to be speeding up, they have no bloody clue where those stresses really lie, or any idea how to begin to come to grips with them.

So you see, we need good art. But here's the problem. Traditionally, great art reaches us either from the top, by way of wealthy individuals who support it to make a lasting mark upon an otherwise indifferent world, or from underneath, from people who make it for themselves or their neighbors to add beauty and meaning to otherwise hard and dreary lives. For years now the rich have been paying dearly for as much reassurance as they can get, in the museums and from the GOP. And the poor folk (I use both words with all secondary and tertiary meanings in full) were bullied long ago to mainly disdain any true art of their own.

For about 100 years, a very creative commercial press brought pretty good art, stimulating, graphic, and creative, to a mass audience in this country. But that ended about 1980, when magazines gave up against TV. Even bad old TV had its own high art period lasting about 25 years, until about 1980, when executives realized it really didn't need to be any good, anywhere, at all. As for the movies in this country--don't get me fucking started.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Swell, Baby, Swell

Though the president's unexpected announcement to open up eastern coastal waters to offshore drilling has riled the predictable, right and left, and left behind a wary commentariot, let me slip in a couple points.

First, near as I can tell, the act merely removes a federal ban, leaving the states to allow the advent of the rigs offshore if they so choose. This not only knocks a talking point from the grasp of the Washington drill-baby-drill set, it also leaves the issue to the legislatures of, let's see. . . . South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, three states full of ding-dong GOP lawmakers (all of whom are challenging the constitutionality of the ACA) who for decades have gotten a free ride slagging environmentalists while keeping their coastal waters perfect for tourism.

Well now all those jerks have to decide, right?

In an election year where a badly-riven, and poorly-led GOP is going to need its shit together to take advantage of a roiled political climate, that Obama guy just goes and tosses them one more very charged issue they'll need to take sides on.


Copyright Infringement Theater Presents

Something happy