Sunday, September 30, 2007

Art is different, but the same. But different.

If the old avant garde is dead, what took its place?

Veteran indie pop band Imperial Teen come back after five years with a new release, and the cover looks like the poster for a Garry Marshall movie. Why did the band and the art director make this choice? Were they satirizing middlebrow Hollywood sensibilities? Maybe in part. But the cover also speaks in a trusted visual language. Whether or not they went to see The Runaway Bride, fans will get this image.

Consider artists making decisions along these lines with every work they put out. That's the subject of Johanna Drucker's 2005 book Sweet Dreams: contemporary art and complicity. Now, in contemporary culture, two years can be a long time. And there are other ways that it's always been a long time. One of the promising artists profiled here, installationist Jason Rhoades, died in 2006 at the age of 41. But I think Drucker's insights are still relevant and will continue to be so for some time.

Merrian-Webster defines "complicity" as "association or participation in or as if in a wrongful act." Thus saying that contemporary art is built on complicity sounds accusatory. But while Drucker sometimes takes issue with the claims that artists make for themselves, this is not a jeremiad.

The thrust of the book centers on a contrast between twentieth century avant garde theory and twenty-first century practice. There was always an assumption (per Drucker) that art existed apart from institutions of the broader culture, such as church, state, or capitalist enterprise. And it was also thought that artists could and should maintain a critical distance.

But what if art as administered now is an institution in itself? One that is intrinsically bound up in other institutions (church less now, but business and culture industry more.) What does this say about artists and their "distance?"

In Drucker's formulation, artists are not rebellious and critical in the way that modern or post-modern theories would have them be. They conduct trade with the broader culture, and benefit both economically and aesthetically.

Fine art operates in a formal dialogue with its own (many) traditions and the glut of visual culture's offerings. Imaginitive work is currently being created beyond the boundaries of policed aesthetic correctness, often in explicit dialogue with the culture industry. While visual culture seems poised to overwhelm fine art through its massively capitalized appeal and claim on the market share of public attention, fine art continues to challenge consensual norms through surprising means.

So there may be criticism, but it comes from within.

This book has theory, no doubt about it. And some of her judgments and interpretations are debatable. But the nice thing is that this isn't a book of academic formulae with a few artworks squeezed in to prove a point. Drucker, also a noted typographer, enjoys, appreciates, adn shows enthusiasm for the artists and works she describes.

And the fourth chapter limns several forms "complicity" in art can take. There are a few directions taken here. Some are more interesting than others. But the sheer variety is a hopeful sign.

I'll probably come back to this book a few times.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Clean bill of tooth

The dental cleaning today seems to have gone pretty well. Once the topical was on, I only felt pain like, twice. So that would seem to be a good sign. Of course the hygienist took a mess of x-rays, and I do have to wait and see how those turn out. But she didn't wince in horror and disgust, or mutter "Dear God." I would have been a little worried were that the case.

With that fascinating info shared, I now sign off. Remember to floss.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


I just called work. No one's there. Despite the West Coast time displayed on this page, it's getting close to midnight where I am.

So why did I call? To leave myself a message. There are 4-5 things I need to do tomorrow, and it's very possible I could forget one or two.

The act of speaking these things aloud creates a kind of muscle memory (larynx memory?) Basically you remind yourself by leaving evidence that you cared enough to remind yourself. Now whether I listen to the whole playback is of secondary importance, although it wouldn't be a bad idea.

I've done this before and I've neglected to do it. It does make a difference.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Daily dose of awesome

If you haven't heard this song before, be warned: It will not be denied.

Their love isn't in the cards, it's in the grids.

Here's a happy story. That much the moreso for me because I was able to solve it Sunday afternoon. Again, spoiler alert for Globe readers still working on it, but the answers to the puzzle manage to work in the names of both the proposer and the proposee. Because I had recently come across the fact that Winston Churchill's mother was named Jennie Jerome, I was prepared for that one.

BTW, did you know that Churchill's mother was from Brooklyn? His family's New York background most likely meant that he and FDR had social contacts in common long before they became war allies. That would give them a lot to talk about, and even more not to talk about.

Anyway, I'm cheered to know that there are a couple of smart nerds willing to take a chance on love. Best of (fortune, 4 letters.)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Better comics through chemistry

In the letter's section of The Umbrella Academy #1, editor Scott Allie says that he had never heard of Gerard Way's band My Chemical Romance, "as my musical tastescalcified around the time Gerard was born." Mine hadn't, as I think I'm only ten or twelve years older than the peroxide peril. And I was glancingly familiar with My Chemical Romance, although not really grabbed. In both voice and appearance, Way had always struck me as a fashion-android replicant of Billie Joe Armstrong.

Then there's the whole dillettante trend in comics, that Allie also alludes to. With some exceptions, this trend has been somewhat noxious. Virgin Comics has already blown whatever credibility they might have had by taking pitches from... Nic Cage? Deepak Chopra? neither of whom were willing to actually do the work of scripting. And while TV writer Allen Heinberg started well on Wonder Woman, his productivity on the book dropped to zero when he got the Gray's Anatomy gig.

So I was not predisposed to say, "A Gerard Way comic! Wow!" But, #1 has a good cover, which helped suck me in. And the comic book store cashier/daughter of the owner gave it a thumbs up. (She's more in MCR's target demo than I am, but was descriptive about the book too.) Having bought it, and read it, I have no regrets. In fact, whatever Way does or doesn't know about rock'n'roll, he understands the comics medium pretty well.

TUA is about... Let's start over. Plot elements in the book include a group of children who were born at the same time that a wrestler knocked out a space squid in a public match (happens every day.) Seven of them are adopted by an ecentric millionaire and Nobel-winning scientist who is secretly (not much of a spoiler as it's revealed on p.3) an extraterrestrial. Together they fight crime, or to be more specific, weird science threats. Of course, benefactor Reginald Hargreaves may have hidden some things from them.

This title puts into play some of the best things about comics. To elaborate in list form:
1. It takes out-there, potentially goofy ideas and commits to them. I think we've established that.
2. Two words: visual medium. That means it should be fun to look at The seven orphans, whom Hargreaves calls only by number, are shown wearing black domino masks as newborns! Later they adopt old skool boarding school uniforms, which gives it a Roald Dahl/Lemony Snicket feel. And their mission involves the Eiffel Tower coming to life and going berserk. All this is freshly rendered by Gabriel Ba, whose style is reminiscent of Kevin O'Neil, Alan Moore's artist on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
3. Movement. Things happen in TUA, and you don't have to wait for the trade to find out what they are. It's billed as the first chapter in a six-part series, but #1 tells a satisfying story in itself, with a mystery opening out at the end.
4. Lightness. Oh there's a dark undercurrent to the story, but it can, and should be enjoyed on the level of wacky adventure.
5. A good bastard. Hargreaves, aka the Monocle, is cold, and really no kind of parent, but he's interesting. In this interview, Way identifies Grant Morrison as a prime influence, and I think Hargreaves has some of Morrison's treatment of Doom Patrol founder Niles Caulder. It will be interesting to see if he's ultimately good or evil. Or if he just is.

Remember how I said the story moved. Well, this issue contains a twenty-year time jump. That allows the team to show a gratuitous ass-shot of outcaste music prodigy #7 without engaging in kiddie porn. Gratuitous, but by that point they've earned it. Hopefully they'll continue to do so.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Common themes.

Example #1: Nalini Ghuman. Musicologist. Lives in California. No one seems to have accused her of anything. No matter. She's had her visa revoked anyway.

Example #2 Andrew Meyer. The University of Florida student who was tasered in a doomed attempt to get John Kerry to stop being boring. Seems to have a good deal of exhibitionist in him. And no doubt even attendees who agreed with him would have appreciated him not pushing ahead of him. Still, this was a case for a good sergeant-at-arms, not potentially deadly force. That's not an exaggeration. If Meyer had been epileptic, he'd likely be dead.

In Homicide's reunion movie, Frank Pembleton comes back to investigate the shooting of his much-admired Lieutenant, Al Giardello. Captain Walt Gaffney, who has always hated Pembleton and is a major all-round tool, orders the no-longer Detective Pembleton off the case. Another ex-Detective, the long-retired Bolander, says that he'd better get out too. Gaffney replies, "No, you can stay. See, that's the great thing about power. It's arbitrary."

Very honest. You very rarely hear those words. But you see the actions. And the underlying message is there. "We can do this. We don't have to prove that we're justified. Maybe you'd be better off not asking. Power is arbitrary, bro."

If our country is to survive as any kind of democracy, citizens will have to recognize that this is what's being said. But not accept it as the truth.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Scene and heard

While out and about on Saturday, I strolled through Waterplae Park. This was a day belonging to a Waterfire night, and some vendors and performers had already set up, doin' their thing.

Among the latter was this group called (I think) Sgt Fifer's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Only part I'm not sure of is whether they included the "Sgt." Anyhow, this was an indie rock guy and a couple of buddies, playing songs from Sgt Pepper while his 8-ish daughter sang.

Rapt attention, man. Fr'real. When I first started to walk by, they were doing "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite." Very basic. The girl sang in an almost toneless voice, rising up for phrases like "In his way Mr. K will challenge the world." The musicians also kept to basic repetitions. But there was something fasinating about this performance I had trouble putting my finger on. Maybe just the fact that they were doing songs from one of the Beatles' most elaborate productions, and this wasn't elaborate at all.

Anyway, I was glad that I was able to stop for a while. Even if they skipped over "Good Morning, Good Morning."

Drums and Wires

Okay, I'm back online. And back here. I'd been off for a few days because I plum just couldn't get online. Well, today I called my ISP, Cox Communications, and told them the trouble. The guy I talked to sounded very nice, maybe a little baked. After trying and failing the Ip config, he concluded that it was probably a not-so-good ethernet cable. Well, lomg story short, I happened to have an ethernet cable lying around that I wasn't using. Why I stopped using it, I don't remember. But after running it between modem and computer, everything's back on track. This cable works until it doesn't, so I should probably get a bakup.

While fumbling around for a solution, I discovered the Sound Effects Manager in my control panel. It's kind of a neat toy. Basically you can manipulate any sound that comes out of your speakers, changing the tone and adding effects. For example, the first song on this page is an infectious love ditty with a Spectoresque wall of sound. If you use the "drugged" effect, it becomes a threatening barrage of noise, albeit one with a sweet tune running under it. Not something I'd want to listen to all the time, but it's an interesting way to change perspetive.

Must be a few Mac apps that let you do something similar.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Service down

Not currently able to do much updating. For the last couple of days, whenever I've tried to log onto the internet at home, I've gotten this "network cable unplugged" message. Despite the fact that everything I can plug in is well-plugged. So there seems to be a problem with the external line. Whatcha gon' do? So I'll have to get on the horn with Fox and tell them they needs to get fixin'. That's always fun.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A reflection on what will last, and what won't, by Dame Sitwell

Here in the fashionable quarters of the city,
Cold as the universal blackness of Hell's day,
The two opposing broherhoods are swept
Down the black marble pavements, Lethe's river,
First come the worlds of Misery, the small and tall Rag-Castles,
Shut off from every other. These have no name,
Nor friend to utter it... these of the extinct faces
Are a lost civilization, and have no possession
But the night and day, those centuries of cold.
Even their tears are changed now to the old
Eternal nights of ice round the loveless head
Of these who are lone and sexless as the Dead.
from "The Song of the Cold" by Edith Sitwell

Contemplating this kind of stillness. People will often try to scare you, rattle you with this or that worst case scenario. But they're just as ephemeral as you are.

The Anniversary: a Stray Thought

As every American knows, a lot of people died six years ago today. A lot of good people, I'm sure.

Think of your end. How do you want to go. (Nice idea, sir, but be sure to warn the young lady ahead of time.) And, how do you want to be remembered.

The dead of 9/11 are remembered, in a sense. Their families and friends definitely carry on their memory. In the public, individuals are named, but tend to be overshadowed by the event itself. Perhaps this is inevitable. But something is missing. A lot of he's and she's, really, are missing from the account.

In addition, there's 9/11 as a political prop. The victims are used to justify certain policies, their legacy invoked to make politicians look tougher.

Would they approve? It's impossible to say for sure. In all likelihood, some would and others wouldn't.

The fact is, though, that they didn't approve. We're not asking them. We're telling each other.

How to best respect the dead? Maybe by not pretending that we serve them.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Mixed response

Can't say I'm overjoyed about this. Not that I've always been Chuck Hagel's #1 fan. His closeness to the voting machine industry made him a little hard to trust. But he was/is an honest conservative, and an important voice of dissent. Rumor has it that the GOP are cracking down on dissidents, which is probably bad for them in the next election. However, it's not really good for democracy either. May say more about that later.

Thursday, September 6, 2007


Writer's block. What is it. How do you fight it?

[Cue Maury Povich sound effects]

Earlier this evening I sat down to do some work on a story I've been working on. When I started I felt a little lost. Sort of a case of the blahs, wondering if I could really shape these words into something interesting, or even get myself jazzed enough to really try. As it turns out, I did make progress, and then started thinking about a few things that seem to help.

1. Awareness/awakeness. If you're just jotting ideas down, testing out titles, or if you've got a few phrases that make up a wacky short poem, then okay, 1:15AM just before you collapse is as good a time as any. But for in-depth stuff like fiction or creative nonfiction, you have to have your wits about you. That's because things can change and you might have a better idea in two minutes, so you have to be ready for it.

2. Tension. Not a lot. Not enough to give you a headache. But being too relaxed can make you apathetic.

1 and 2 make 3. Sobriety. This is something I've noticed. It's hard to get worked up in your writing if you've been drinking. Even one beer or glass of wine can make you want to chill too much. Haven't smoked any marriage-a-wanna lately, but I would guess smoking a joint has much the same effect.

4. Concentration. Sometimes you have to make up your mind not to be distracted. You can make it easier on yourself. In an interview, I read Kelly Link saying that she does a lot of writing in coffee shops so that she doesn't get distracted by blogs and articles. That seems like a good example to follow. (Needless to say, if said coffee shop offers wi-fi, don't take it.)

5. Low expectations. Or maybe no expectations. I've found that if I sit down and say "This is gonna be so cool" or "I've got something to say"*, that's a form of self-sabotage. Better to say, "I'll let some words come out, and see where we go from there." And sometimes it does turn out to be kind of cool.

I'll stipulate that so far, my writing has only managed to entertain my parents and a few friends. But this is just a series of personal observations anyway. If anyone has others they want to share, feel free.

On a related note, if any erotica writers drop by, I'm curious. When you write a really hot scene, do you masturbate before, after, or sometime in the middle?

*If your "I've got something to say" is followed by "I killed your baby today", that's a different situation.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The place to be

How do you like that?

I just navidgated over to When Fangirls Attack!, to see if there was anything thought-provoking. And who do I bump into while there? Why, me, of course. My own post on The Spirit is the fourth linked item for September 5. Nice, and a little intimidating. I'm still in early stages here, so I don't have a big archive to look at yet. Um, unless you're reading this in the future and things have gone well.

Note 1. WFA is a great site that links to a lot of gender-issues-related comics articles that are nowhere near as boring as that might sound. David Bird has a neat look at Grant Morrison's Bulleteer (think a spandex version of "American Beauty" that's sympathetic to the wife) and I'm expecting to find more good stuff.

Note 2. Since the Spirit post, I've gotten better at links. Half of this is adding HTML capability. The other half is cribbing from this page. Credit where it's due, they know their stuff.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Moment of Zen

Just stumbled across this link and I have to say, "Point well taken." Yes, I know what it looks like. That's the point.

Happy Labor Night to all.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Spooky radio stuff

Through Old Time Radio Fans, I'm hearing an old thriller show called "Beyond Midnight." This particular episode is called "Something on his Mind", and involves a cuckolded husband who uses an earwig as an instrument of revenge. Yeah, it's a little on the naz-tay side.

But very stylish and cunning. It's a British show, and I notice a difference compared with American radio programs. It's hard to explain, but "Beyond Midnight" sounds like a film that's been deprived of visuals, and has knowingly adjusted. But I don't really know anything else about it. Anyone out there familiar with it?