Thursday, January 31, 2008

Beating about Splitting Hairs

Two of my distinguished colleagues - one also a husband, the other also a friend - have managed to beat me by seconds in the run for posting thoughts on the Atlantic Community. This is the second time today that men, tall men, have topped me. Now I must respond, and I can just as well announce that this post will be feministic in tone. Before I go on, however, I'm beginning to suspect that Stuart, the website editor, may be getting more than he bargained for when he asked the former (me) and current (Steen and Bent) musketeers at Aalborg U to contribute to the blog. Before I go on - here comes the second however - it should be mentioned that both Steen, the friend, and Bent, the husband, are feminists. This means that I'll use their examples of beating women instrumentally. Steen, we've almost lost to Tromso (I leave out the diacritics), but he has changed his mind in the last minute and accepted a position at Aalborg U. I hereby congratulate him for coming up in the world. This means that he will get to beat about in Bent's company, and as Bent has just announced, there'll be a chance to revisit the whole concept of 'beat' breathlessly and beatifically. While they won’t miss a beat where their teaching and researching is concerned, I am bound, for now, to feel off beat, as academic life at Roskilde U runs its course as it always has, with men at the wheel and women tagging along, if they ever get noticed. Which they do, drum-wise. Today I’ve been told that upon someone’s objection to the lack of women working in the international basic studies programs, the response was this: yes, but the two working there are very feminine. Being one of them, something struck me: what does that mean?

I’m preparing for my first session of my own course: ‘I’ is another: autobiography across genres, and as I look through video material on the internet for my introductory lecture, I come across the new Bob Dylan film I’m not There. I’ve missed its running in Denmark, so I have to settle with watching some trailers.

I find myself humming to the lines ‘how does it feel’ from Dylan’s well-known tune Like a Rolling Stone. What attracts me to Dylan is that he knows how to die: rolling in the uber cosmopolitan haystack. The hair says it all; whether it’s Cate Blanchet’s hair as Dylan’s, Richard Gere’s as Dylan’s, or the up-and-coming, yet now gone already, Heath Ledger’s hair as Dylan’s, it’s all the same to me. The reason why Dylan became an icon is because he always managed to be another, and these ‘others’ that play him now, are thus the others of others. I suspect that this is what the title of the movie hints at. I try to take notice as a woman, and I ponder a line that another feminist and academic man has served me today, toppling me over: “it is only mediocrity that saves one from celebrity”. It occurs to me that I’m surrounded by feminist males who see me not only because I dye my hair for them, but also because I make an effort not to be there where the feminine, in other men’s schemes, only serves to celebrate the arrogance of presence. On the other hand, it also occurs to me that my dylanesque/rimbaudian/other absence was felt in the remarks of the students I try to teach something about the importance of the visual in American studies. Last semester some female students said that my looks are smashing. Some males said that my sense of style beats everything. Beats me why. In my own off-beatness, I must be beat.

Blogging Thoughts

Hello all, my name is Steen Christiansen and Stuart kindly invited me to contribute to this blog, which I am grateful for. My primary interest is in the way culture and aesthetics intersect and influence each other, and this will probably the subject of most of my posts. Here, however, I will briefly sketch a view of blogging.

The blogging medium is a difficult beast to get a handle on, as it feels more transient than more traditional media such as journals, papers or magazines. Its cultural status is also lower than a journal, since it requires very little to initiate a blog.

However, a blog has something which no journal can ever have: immediate reader feedback, for better and worse. While one can submit responses to articles and opinions, it will inevitably take longer than posting a comment on a blog, and equally longer for further responses from the original author. This is where the blog really shines, and is also the best indicator of a blog's successful status. High-profile community blogs such as Long Sunday have a very engaged reader/writer relation and often the boundaries between reader and writer are blurred - prolific commentators may be as significant as official contributors.

A successful blog differs from a journal in the way that it needs more than just readers - it needs active readers who will participate and extend the posts that come from regular writers. In this way, a blog becomes more like a forum for further ideas to develop; by blogging one's thoughts, one gains the opportunity for others to reflect on them. I hope this will happen here.

Kerouac times

2007 was a very good year for Kerouaciana. Not only was it the 50th anniversary of the publication of his break-through novel On the Road, but it was also a year marked by many new scholarly initiatives and publications, media products and artistic productions of various kinds, and not least a full blossoming of Internet attention to the old King of the Beats.

Ever since an American teaching assistant named Norman decided not to lecture on Shakespeare but to have his students at Aalborg U. read Kerouac instead, I've personally been hooked on the spontaneous bop prosody of Jack. Like most migrant workers Norm didn't hang around very long, but I still owe him a good deal of gratitude for a reading list including not only two Kerouac novels, On the Road and Dharma Bums, but also Kurt Vonnegut, Ken Kesey and Joseph Heller...

This semester I am offering an elective course at Aalborg U. called "The Beat Generation Revisited". You are all cordially invited to tag along. The course has its own website, and I have collated links to some of my many Beat Generation writings at the bottom of the page. The course itself is quite basic in that we only use one reader, Ann Charter's Portable Beat Reader, which has all the essentials but naturally mostly in excerpts. But in accordance with the Aalborg U. project based learning model, I hope that students will spend the latter half of the coming semester writing projects on Beat related topics.

One obvious project would be to look at the spate of publications that came out last year, the jewel of which has to be The Original Scroll version of On the Road. Unfortunately Penguin didn't actually publish the legendary manuscript in scroll form, so what we get is still a square traditional book, and not a neat little roll of teletype paper...

For scroll fetishists I recommend this little article and the video pasted below...

What is good about the new edition is that not only are there very comprehensive introductiory essays (100 pp.), but the text itself has all the real names of the cast of characters: Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, Bill Burroughs etc., instead of the rather silly pseudonyms Kerouac was forced to use in the original published version (Dean Moriarty?!?). Furthermore we get a more breathless punctuation style in this version which emphasizes the speed of Kerouac's prose style (not unrelated to the speed he reportedly ingested while typing the scroll), and we also get a version that is not edited by Malcolm Cowley who, without consulting Kerouac, made some cuts in the manuscript in the original Viking Press 1957 edition.

To supplement the reading of the scroll version, I recommend that one consults Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954 which covers the period of composition of Kerouac's first novel The Town and the City and of On the Road. I am not too keen on the editing done by Douglas Brinkley for this edition, but I suppose he did what he could with the budget and time allocated to the project. What I am missing is more of the paratext (doodles, drawings, marginalia) Kerouac adorned his notebooks with, and actual plates reproducing more of the notebook pages (the ones that are there are tantalizing). That said, I respect Brinkley for the archival work he has done and for the working out of what Kerouac actually scrawled in the apparently increasingly illegible notebooks. The problem is also that there are so many other notebooks left behind by Kerouac that this publication only makes a small dent in the available stuff.

The two volumes of Kerouac's letters, edited by Charters are also invaluable companions to a new reading of On the Road. Volume 1 covers 1940 to 1956 (and thus the composition of the novel), but you'd also want vol. 2 for references to the battle of getting On the Road published in the first place.

Finally, I've enjoyed watching What Happened to Kerouac, a mid-1980s documentary which finally came out on DVD in 2003, as a companion piece to going on the road again with Jack. In this film all Kerouac's friends, lovers, wives and literary peers speak about aspects of remembering 'Memory Babe' as Kerouac dubbed himself. Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Herbert Huncke and Burroughs are only some of the colourful male figures we meet in the film, but Edie Kerouac Parker, Carolyn Cassidy, Ann Charters, Diane Di Prima, Joyce Johnson, Jan Kerouac and other women voices supply a much more provocative take on Kerouac (and his mother!)

The course will end with a look at some of the many Internet sites celebrating the Beat/Kerouac legacy. First and foremost among these is Levi Asher's Literary Kicks, but did you know about the Kerouac House project in Florida with its rotation of writers-in-residence? Or Beat Angel - the independent fim based on a play titled Kerouac: The Essence of Jack? Or the French project, Memory Babe: A Tribute to Kerouac, that you can still participate in?

The Beat goes on...

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

(some) Florida Primary Results

A McCain nomination is Democrats worst nightmare.

Several months ago, McCain was virtually on life support, so what happened? David Nye chalks it up to Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth.

1.9 million people turned out for Republicans vs 1.7 million turnout for Democrats. This is the first primary/caucus this cycle where Democrats did not turn out more voters than Republicans.

* Lower Democratic turnout could be due to delegates not counting towards the convention. However, Florida has been a fairly solid Republican state and generally conservative.

A democrat has only won 2 of the last 8 general elections in the delegate rich state, Carter '76 and Clinton '96.

Female voters continue to be a factor both for Clinton and generally as a voting block. 59% of Democratic voters were women, compared to 44% Republicans. This has been the general trend in all primaries. The general election could see the highest number of female voters ever (should Clinton be the nominee). The question then is how many more men will go out and vote against her?

Also, Clinton is pleading with the Party to have the Florida delegates counted at the convention.

I'll never forget when I heard the Danish Ambassador to Washington say McCain was his kind of politician. I'm not quite sure what he meant.

But one thing seems certain with Giuliani dropping out of the race, there is no longer room for social liberals/moderates in the Grand Ol' Party.

Finally, John Edwards finished with a decent 14%, all things considered. This is one of the many reasons I hope he stays in the race.

A Post-Broadcast Politics

One of my "hobbies" as it where, is studying and reflecting upon political imagery. This image here reminded me of a photo I saw last June on Michael Shaw's blog, Bag News Notes.

Shaw has a new piece at American Photo, "Campaign Visuals in the Age of Facebook." In it, he interviews photographer Stephen Ferry to discuss this photo which resembles a "Facebook mashup." Ferry says his photo captures what he calls the, "Facebook zeitgeist." He explains the action of the photo thus, " this is a photograph of a transmission: from subject into camera and from camera onto the Web."

I'm intrigued by the act of transmission and how transmission is reconceptualized within a digital culture. In the Ferry photo, the subjects are both Obama and a "fan taking a photo" ready for immediate upload onto Facebook or some other online social media. In this image above, there are also two subjects, but they are not Hillary and the person shooting the video. The "real" Hillary is blurred, the campaign sign is even upside down. However, the digital image of Hillary is clear and focused which is connected to the video camera being held by an anonymous hand. The two subjects are thus machine and digital image, even the human hand is secondary. From this perspective, the image portrays a postmodernization of political campaigning. It's the political reflection of TIME's 2006 person of the year as the new citizen journalist. The digital transmission onto the Web is naturally assumed.

However, this image for me captures more than just the "Facebook zeitgeist." It also reflects the shift away from the hierarchical broadcast model of information transmission to the decentralized network model of inter-subjective community driven "transmission." Perhaps this could be called the era of post-broadcast politics. The centrality of the camera's view finder, which invites everyone into the role of transmitter reinforces this shifting narrative. What do you think?

photograph source unknown

UPDATE: Matt Stoller has an article in the Nation, "Dems Get New Tools, New Talent," where he analyzes the impact of internet technologies on Democratic campaign organizing.

We are in the middle of a massive wave of campaign innovation, led by organizers who will eventually spread outward to every nook and cranny of progressive politics. The larger significance of this architectural revolution in progressive politics isn't clear, but it is the first sustained challenge to the dominance of television and direct mail in the political system since those media displaced urban party machines in the 1960s.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Slave Scale

hat tip ww at the Agonist.

See here for more.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Could you pass the US citizenship test?

Here are 14 questions among 100 currently used in a US citizenship test. To pass, one needs to answer 7 or 8 of 10 questions correctly. See how many of these you know. You can check your answer by clicking for the next page:

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Song of America

An interesting project of history writing through music appeared last September. It's a 3 CD compilation of American songs stretching from 1492 to present day. Added interest in the project may be offered by the fact that the executive producer of the compilation is former Attorney General, Janet Reno...

Reno has this to say about the rationale behind the project:

I think they [students] can learn more about their country, I think they can be inspired by what they hear, from some of these songs. They can remember when they are facing adversity that people were able to overcome terrible situations in their life and in the history of our country. When you think about it, the Depression, which this project talks about in clear detail, was such a dark cloud over this nation. I remember my mother's stories of the Depression. If my mother could carry a tune she would have composed one of these songs that talks about the Depression, because it was so much a part of her life. And then to come out of the Depression into World War II, into the greatest war we have ever had, and to face the challenge of the atomic bomb, ever present after that war, gives us a sense of the challenge we face. But it's also there to say, "Look, we did it, we can overcome, we can get past this time in our history."

Reno says a few things similar to this in a short Washington Post interview which also has a mildly humorous tone to it (comparing her selection to a hypothetical "John Ashcroft presents American history in song"-disc).... Mainly the interview shows her firm belief in the songs as a great new type of teaching material in a history or American studies class.

The set itself consists of three 'colour-coded' discs: Red, White and Blue - natch'... The Red disc starts with a First Nations perspective ("Lakota Dream Song", later leading to the "Trail of Tears") but quickly moves into Puritan territory with a number of hymns, and then into independence times and nation building celebrations. It covers the 1492 to 1860 period. The White disc (19861- 1945) starts with Civil War tensions, covers reconstruction times and the final westward expansion, moves into the 20th century with its end to isolationism and WWI participation - only to turn homeward and trace the Great Depression era and the US's slow spiral back onto the international scene during WWII. Finally, the Blue disc (1946 - present day) takes us through Cold War times, the Countercultural upheavals of the sixties, the gender wars of the seventies, the renewed focus on racial matters in both those decades and beyond, the repercussions of AIDS in the eighties, the ecological awakening, the chilly wake-up call of 9-11 (perhaps not best represented by Alan Jackson's simplistic song), and finally a return to the First Nations voices and tears (Scott Kempner's cover of Johnny Cash's "Apache Tears").

The voluminous 24 p. booklet (available here as a big PDF file), replete w. wonderful historical photographs has good cover notes which highlight the thematic complexes covered by the songs: Unity (division), War and Peace, Work, Family (home and away), Faith and Ideals...

The programmatic statement at the beginning of the folder could in fact be a quote from the call for papers for any major conference in American Studies (compare w. the theme of the upcoming EAAS 2008 gathering):

The United States has always been an extremely diverse nation, peopled by different nationalities and ethnicities. Some of the songs on this album explore the great American paradox E Pluribus Unum, the mosaic of one nation created from many different cultures. Music has allowed even the most disenfranchised to speak up and be heard– that peaceful dissension that is at the heart of the democratic process.

Not surprisingly, war and anti-war songs are featured prominently on the CDs. Some were originally stirring, recruiting, morale boosting efforts, some already from the onset questioned the wisdom of war as a conflict solving means in general. As the liner notes point out:

During wartime, songs become means of persuasion, of rallying public support, and of providing comfort. Songs document the patriotism, propaganda, and protest that have accompanied every one of America’s major military conflicts.

Virtually all the war related cuts on this set show a critical distance from the artists' side to the material, continuing a long tradition for oppositional thinking on the part of folk musicians and songwriters. It is not incidental that outspoken pacifists and anti-war agitators such as Woody Guthrie (writer of 3 tracks, including "Reuben James") and Bruce Springsteen (2 tracks, including "Youngstown") have a massive presence in this selection (fellow spirits such as Dylan and Neil Young have only one song each represented).

Similar tensions between celebration and opposition are detectable in the selection of songs depicting work, the changing conditions of labour and the organization of workers in unions. The human consequences of the change in the forms of work (due to industrialization, and later de-industrialization, for instance) or migration and immigration are traced in songs such as "Peg and Awl", "Seven Cent Cotton and Forty Cent Meat" and "Deportee", whereas "Rosie the Riveter" puts a more positive spin on work (as a woman's patriotic chore). The recovery work of finding some of these tracks is impressive, but precedents can be found in the work of earlier musical archaeologists such as Ry Cooder.

The strengths of the liner notes (co-written by the excellent scholars of the Center for American Music at the U. of Pittsburgh) should be stressed, including their insistence on historical context, reclaiming the proper frames for songs that we otherwise might consider moribund and cliched chestnuts (such as "Home on the Range" or "Happy Days Are Here Again"). This, coupled with the contextualization the notes provide for innovative performances of 'problematic' songs such as the racially charged "Dixie's Land" (the fragile version by The Mavericks emphasizes loss and grief over bravado and parochial nostalgia and is as far from a rebel yell as one can imagine), works to greatly enrich the set, both for the casual listener and for the teacher/scholar who wants to use the set professionally.

My favourite of the three individual discs has to be the Blue one, also because it covers my own main research area, the 50s and 60s and their aftermath. Here the oppositional focus is at its strongest with must-includes as "Little Boxes" (a scathing if naive critique of suburban conformity - subversively performed by ex-homeless troubadour warbler Devendra Banhart) and "The Times They Are A Changing" (which still has a pointy message to a number of wanna-be presidential candidates: Come senators, congressmen/Please heed the call/Don't stand in the doorway/Don't block up the hall). The bluegrass version here by the Del McCoury Band is quite successful and somehow channels Pete Seeger more than it does Dylan. It's nice to also hear new versions of Neil Young's "Ohio" (indictment of the guilty in the Kent State Massacre) and Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?" (an early instance of eco-criticism in song). The talent on these two tracks, Ben Taylor (son of James Taylor and Carly Simon) and Anthony David, respectively, is considerable. The fellow-feeling which is the positive complement to the critique of the will-to-power and -empire is fairly represented by sing-along numbers such as "Get Together" and "This Land Is Your Land" (John Mellencamp's strongest effort in a good while - and he includes the politically divisive, radical verses of Woody's song too!).

Overall, the music is predominantly folk- and what is now known as 'Americana'-tinged, but almost all American genres are represented to some extent (with the rather surprising exception of jazz (unless one counts Andy Bey)): Blues, Gospel, bluegrass/Old Time, soul, funk, hip hop, brass band, classical/opera, musical, vaudeville, Latin, rock 'n' roll, Country (and Western! Yeeih-hah)... you name it - Reno's guys and gals got it. But it is the singer/songwriter who is in focus, and therefore guitar-driven performances, whether acoustic or electric, predominate. African-American performances are prominently featured on all 3 discs, and esp. Bettye LaVette shines in her powerhouse rendition of the AIDS-melodrama "Streets of Philadelphia", whereas the funk and hip hop efforts seem less relevant, perhaps because James Brown and Grandmaster Flash are hard to beat at their own game ("Say it Loud") - but then so are Dylan and Cash... The feminist strand in American culture, on the other hand, is showcased well by performers such as Martha Wainwright, Janis Ian, Suzy Bogguss (actually her "Rosie The Riveter" is quite jazzy) a.m.o. Latino culture is not numerously represented but of course touched upon in Guthrie's "Deportee" (and comes through strong in the Norteño arrangement of Old Crow Medicine Show) and weirdly mediated via a recording made in Slovenia of Alejandro Escovedo's "Wave", featuring independent singer/song-writers Gary Heffern and Chris Eckman (of The Walkabouts fame)...

Highlights of the first two discs include:

Blind Boys of Alabama whose rendition of communion hymn "Let Us Break Bread Together" is full of impeccable 4-part Gospel harmonics.

John Wesley Harding's hilarious arrangement and performance of "God Save The King" where the middle part has a brass band spiralling out of control into atonal and jarring disharmonies mirror the secession from the old empire perfectly.

Harper Simon's "Yankee Doodle" version features a wacky, syncopated march time signature interlaced with neo-folkie and alt-rock guitar sounds, reminding us of the satirical (British army) origins of the song which originally poked fun of Washington's rag-tag militia recruits...

Take 6 do a terrific barber shop version (allowing the last stanza to go mildly discordant) of "Star Spangled Banner", one of several more or less official 'national anthems' featured on the set (others include "Stars and Stripes Forever" and "This Land Is Your Land"...)

Minton Sparks' insistent Southern drawl in her reading of the Seneca Falls Conference "Declaration of Sentiments" - the feminist equivalent of the Declaration of Independence and the Communist Manifesto all rolled into one...

Marah's folk-punk rave-up version of "John Brown's Body" is exactly as irreverent as one needs to be with tainted material such as this... - in contrast to Joana Smith's sugary but sincere "Battle Hymn of the Republic".

Otis Gibbs' version of "The Farmer is the Man" is the closest thing to progressive redneck singing you'll ever want to hear...

Judith Edelman's whispered intensity in "Sleep, My Child/Schlof Mayn Kind" and its eerie accompaniment reminds us that not every Jewish child made it out of Europe to sleep easy on American shores.

Jim Lauderdale provides a workingman's bluegrass version of "Seven Cent Cotton and Forty Cent Meat" that'll please even a purist.

There are several good resources providing background to the project:

NPR has a couple of good interviews - one with Reno and her niece's husband Ed Pettersen (who co-produced the set), another with just Reno talking about her personal connection with some of the songs... From this site you can also access 5 tracks form the set, including Harper Simon's (that's Paul Simon's son, btw) "Yankee Doodle Dandy" version...

If one prefers to befriend the set through MySpace this is also a possibility (how does one actually develop and maintain a friendship with a CD?). From the MySpace site one gets the superb contributions from Bettye LaVette ("Streets of Philadelphia"), Devendra Banhart ("Little Boxes"), John Mellencamp ("This Land Is Your Land") and Andrew Bird (whistler and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire) for free. There are also two 'the-recording-of' videos worth watching - esp. Jake Shimabukuro's ukulele rendition of "Stars and Stripes Forever"!!

The links above, and more are collated at the record company's site for the release.

The set is highly recommended and will no doubt be the topic of future conference papers at American Studies conferences... Go ahead and scoop me if you want - there is plenty for everyone here.

Bent Sørensen -
Aalborg University

Test Post

america adrift

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Dodd to Filibuster, again

Senator Dodd has threatened again to filibuster the telecom bill which would grant immunity to telecommunications companies which aided the Bush Administration to conduct illegal electronic wiretaps. A presidential order, signed in 2002, was a clear violation of the FISA law. FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, came into law as a result of the Watergate Scandals under President Nixon. FISA is meant to prevent the government from conducting domestic intelligence against American citizens and confirms the constitutional requirement that the government attain a warrant.
The Fourth Amendment states;

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

In December of last year, Dodd threatened to filibuster the legislation and Reid temporarily backed down.
Dodd objected to the motion to proceed to the bill early this morning and remained on the floor for almost ten hours, taking a stand for the rule of law and the Constitution with his statements throughout the day. At approximately 7:30 P.M. Majority Leader Reid announced the FISA reform bill would be pulled from the Senate calendar and reconsidered in January.

The press release goes on to state;
“Today we have scored a victory for American civil liberties and sent a message to President Bush that we will not tolerate his abuse of power and veil of secrecy,” said Dodd. “The President should not be above the rule of law, nor should the telecom companies who supported his quest to spy on American citizens. I thank all my colleagues who joined me in fighting and winning a stay in the rush to grant retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies who may have violated the privacy rights of millions of Americans.

Senator Edward Kennedy speaking last year against telecom immunity on the Senate floor. Kennedy was one of only a handful of Senators to support Dodd last year.

Dodd was then still a presidential candidate and received a significant amount of press coverage, aided by citizen journalists. The other democratic candidates took a stand in support of Dodd, which no doubt added momentum to the cause.

It is January and Reid has returned to the FISA amendment legislation as promised. Dodd is no longer a candidate and their is less reporting coming from the MSM. A simple Google search will bear this out. The activist blogosphere however is on fire. So far, only two candidates have come out with statements supporting Dodd, John Edwards and Barack Obama.

In Washington today, telecom lobbyists have launched a full-court press to win retroactive immunity for their illegal eavesdropping on American citizens. Granting retroactive immunity will let corporate law-breakers off the hook and hamstring efforts to learn the truth about Bush's illegal spying program.

"It's time for Senate Democrats to show a little backbone and stand up to George W. Bush and the corporate lobbyists. They should do everything in their power -- including joining Senator Dodd's efforts to filibuster this legislation -- to stop retroactive immunity. The Constitution should not be for sale at any price."
"I strongly oppose retroactive immunity in the FISA bill. No one should get a free pass to violate the basic civil liberties of the American people - not the president of the United States, and not the telecommunications companies that fell in line with his warrantless surveillance program [… T]hat is why I am proud to stand with Sen. Dodd and a grassroots movement of Americans who are standing up for our civil liberties and the rule of law."

Hillary has thus far been silent. A filibuster is a long and difficult process and Dodd would need his fellow Senators to support him by asking long winded questions, allowing him time to rest.
It's unclear what Edwards can or will do to actually help Dodd and it doesn't seem Obama will leave campaigning in South Carolina to actually lead or "unite".

from Wikipedia
A filibuster, or "talking out a bill", is a form of obstruction in a legislation or other decision-making body. An attempt is made to infinitely extend debate upon a proposal in order to delay the progress or completely prevent a vote on the proposal taking place.

Senator Dodd's office yesterday released the following;
"Few things are more detrimental to this country than the erosion of and attack on the civil liberties we enjoy. This isn't a Democratic issue or a Republican issue; this is an American issue. If after debate, the Senate appears ready to pass legislation granting telecom providers retroactive immunity I will use any and all legislative tools at my disposal, including a filibuster, to prevent this deeply flawed bill from becoming law. More and more, Americans are rejecting the false choice that has come to define this administration: security or liberty, but never, ever both. For all those who have stood with me throughout this fight, I pledge, once more, to stand up for you."

I sure miss Dodd's presence in the Democratic race. His presence helped draw attention to the core constitutional issues he was fighting for, much like Edwards' presence has brought attention to issues of economic justice. Dodd is also one of only a handful of senators working on legislation to restore the writ of Habeas Corpus, the cornerstone of Anglo-American civil liberties.

It's just accepted knowledge that the Bush Administration has over the last seven years gutted the constitution. But everything he achieved was passed into law with the complicit support of Democratic members. In 2006, the Democrats took back both houses and things were expected to change. Yet Dodd is not only fighting Bush but his own party's leadership, Harry Reid.

Glenn Greenwald explains (via the Agonist)

Harry Reid -- who has (a) done more than any other individual to ensure that Bush's demands for telecom immunity and warrantless eavesdropping powers will be met in full and (b) allowed the Republicans all year to block virtually every bill without having to bother to actually filibuster -- went to the Senate floor yesterday and, with the scripted assistance of Mitch McConnell and Pat Leahy, warned Chris Dodd, Russ Feingold and others that they would be selfishly wreaking havoc on the schedules of their fellow Senators (making them work over the weekend, ruining their planned "retreat," and even preventing them from going to Davos!) if they bothered everyone with their annoying, pointless little filibuster.

To do so, Reid announced that, unlike for the multiple filibusters from Republican colleagues, he would actually force Dodd and company to engage in a real filibuster.

The Democratic led Senate has accomplished absolutely nothing towards rolling back the unconstitutional legislation passed by the previous Congress, let alone push forward its own agenda. How exactly will a Democratic presidency change the formula in DC? All three leading candidates, (with the exception of Senator Dodd when he was in the race) have not actually led on anything. Obama and Clinton after all are still supposedly serving in the Senate. The blogosphere will be ablaze as will liberal and progressive organizations like the ACLU and I admire Senator Dodd for his courage. But how could it ever get to the point that a minority faction coup within the Democratic led Senate must fight its own party leadership to uphold basic fundamental constitutional rights? Perhaps an outpouring of grassroots activism will lead to action from the candidates or other members of the House and Senate. Perhaps the blogosphere can influence media coverage which at the moment is focused on the cat fights between Obama and the Clintons. There is something terribly rotten in Washington and its not just George Bush. There must be more important "business" to attend to in Switzerland.

photo of Senator Dodd attributed to public

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

MLK III to John Edwards

The Honorable John R. Edwards
410 Market Street
Suite 400
Chapel Hill, NC 27516

Dear Senator Edwards:

It was good meeting with you yesterday and discussing my father's legacy. On the day when the nation will honor my father, I wanted to follow up with a personal note.

There has been, and will continue to be, a lot of back and forth in the political arena over my father's legacy. It is a commentary on the breadth and depth of his impact that so many people want to claim his legacy. I am concerned that we do not blur the lines and obscure the truth about what he stood for: speaking up for justice for those who have no voice.

I appreciate that on the major issues of health care, the environment, and the economy, you have framed the issues for what they are - a struggle for justice. And, you have almost single-handedly made poverty an issue in this election.

You know as well as anyone that the 37 million people living in poverty have no voice in our system. They don't have lobbyists in Washington and they don't get to go to lunch with members of Congress. Speaking up for them is not politically convenient. But, it is the right thing to do.

I am disturbed by how little attention the topic of economic justice has received during this campaign. I want to challenge all candidates to follow your lead, and speak up loudly and forcefully on the issue of economic justice in America.

From our conversation yesterday, I know this is personal for you. I know you know what it means to come from nothing. I know you know what it means to get the opportunities you need to build a better life. And, I know you know that injustice is alive and well in America, because millions of people will never get the same opportunities you had.

I believe that now, more than ever, we need a leader who wakes up every morning with the knowledge of that injustice in the forefront of their minds, and who knows that when we commit ourselves to a cause as a nation, we can make major strides in our own lifetimes. My father was not driven by an illusory vision of a perfect society. He was driven by the certain knowledge that when people of good faith and strong principles commit to making things better, we can change hearts, we can change minds, and we can change lives.

So, I urge you: keep going. Ignore the pundits, who think this is a horserace, not a fight for justice. My dad was a fighter. As a friend and a believer in my father's words that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, I say to you: keep going. Keep fighting. My father would be proud.


Martin L. King, III

Monday, January 21, 2008

Wood S Lot

The exquisitely designed culture/theory/aesthetics portal, Wood S Lot, has been showing us some 'blog love' over the last couple of days - for which we thank them, and reciprocate...

I am always very inspired by their photography finds - check out this wintry image, for instance. There is always something to look at and think about on the 'Lot', and before you know it you find yourself delving into images from Wisconsin history, or contemplating the circular wisdom of quotes like this one:

Beware of thinkers whose minds function only when they are fueled by a quotation.
- E.M. Cioran

Best not think too much about that one...!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Going to the Chapel?

Those of you who can read Danish might be interested in visiting Kulturkapellet, a new Aalborg based portal featuring reviews of all things cultural. It covers film, literature, theatre, music, games and the arts. Also featured are occasional essays - slightly longer and more 'academic' pieces on cultural and philosophical issues. There are also reviews of non-fiction - and one piece for instance is of clear Am. Studies interest: Steen Christiansen's piece on Apokalypsens Amerika. More are sure to follow... The 'Chapel' welcomes guest reviewers if anyone cares to sign up - check the contact page for details.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

John Edwards setting the agenda

The Nation has a great piece on John Edwards,
Populism's Candidate by Christopher Hayes

New Hampshire proved that writing off campaigns or predicting outcomes is a mug's game. But no matter who wins the Democratic nomination, the fact remains that the Edwards campaign has set the domestic policy agenda for the entire field. He was the first with a bold universal healthcare plan, the first with an ambitious climate change proposal that called for cap-and-trade, and the leader on reforming predatory lending practices and raising the minimum wage to a level where it regains its lost purchasing power. Edwards's rhetoric has started to bleed into his rivals' speeches as well. "Too many have been invisible for too long," Clinton said in her victory speech Tuesday night. "Well, you are not invisible to me. The oil companies, the drug companies, the health insurance companies, the predatory student loan companies have had seven years of a President who stands up for them. It's time we had a President who stands up for all of you."
Edwards may do better than expected in Nevada this Sunday. He just needs to meet the viability threshold (15%)to pick up delegates as he's done in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Some recent polls have show the Nevada race as a statistical 3 way tie so he may wind up far better than expected. So far the delegate count is Obama 25, Clinton 24, Edwards 18. A candidate needs a total of 2208 out of 4275 to secure the nomination, so there is still a long ways to go. This race is far from over for John Edwards. If neither Clinton nor Obama have 51% of the total delegate count then Edwards may very well go into the Democratic convention as king/queen maker. Then again? If Edwards manages to stick around, picking off delegates here and there, the narrative may become, "why won't this guy just go away?" He is after all, the most feared candidate by the corporate elite.

This is all just speculation of course with many ifs. However, it's clear that the Edwards campaign is playing for broke. Have a look at this new Edwards' ad. He directly challenges the msm's two horse race narrative. The implication is that both Clinton and Obama are part of the corporate media conspiracy to shut out the people's voice. One lesson from New Hampshire was that "the men" mustn't be perceived as attacking "the lady." Edwards gets around this nicely, implicating Obama and Hillary together. Absolutely brilliant.

John Edwards Media Blackout

from the Horses Mouth

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Fair Use of Digital Media

MediaCommons reports, "YouTube purges: fair use tested"

Last week there was a wave of takedowns on YouTube of copyright-infringing material — mostly clips from television and movies.

Fortunately, since we regard these sorts of media quotations as fair use, we make it a policy to rip backups of every externally hosted clip so that we can remount them on our own server in the event of a takedown.

This is their fair use statement. I'm personally more liberal with what I'll post here. However, if you are in doubt, this is as good a guideline as any.
MediaCommons is a strong advocate for the right of media scholars to quote from the materials they analyze, as protected by the principle of “fair use.” If such quotation is necessary to a scholar’s argument, if the quotation serves to support a scholar’s original analysis or pedagogical purpose, and if the quotation does not harm the market value of the original text — but rather, and on the contrary, enhances it — we must defend the scholar’s right to quote from the media texts under study.

In Media Res
, a MediaCommons project, has an innovative "blog." They "provide 30-second to 3-minute clips accompanied by a 100-150-word impressionistic responses." See the latest post, Two Words: Chuck Norris here for example.

Image: "Steal this Album" by The Coup

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Robert Gibbons

My previous post introduced you to the Canadian poetry journal Studio, where a shorter version of the following piece has just appeared. Studio's practice of only allowing 800-word reviews meant that my piece on prose poet Robert Gibbons had to be abridged considerably, but the wonderful world of blogging and the generous policy of Studio to allow reprints, permits me to bring it to you in full length:

"A burst of language following a collision with a large piece of furniture…"

Robert Gibbons is one of the finest practitioners of prose poetry in the US today. His words flow with speed and grace across white pages or screen spaces, framing the emptiness of their own margins, being larger inside than their boundaries would suggest possible, folding back on themselves and spilling off the margins of the pages. As Charles Simic suggests in the quote I have taken as the title for this review, prose poetry always explodes out of a linguistic collision in the mind of the writer. Poems such as these that are created through the process Jacques Derrida has dubbed ‘double invagination’ possess so much energy within their folded boundaries that text alone threatens to be unable to contain it for long. Unfolding such an invagination can in fact also be dangerous both for the author and for the unwary reader, as the chiasmic relations concealed behind the double fold may turn out to be highly charged and potentially explosive.

The burst of language Gibbons creates in this recent suite of texts communicates with us in a rising and falling arc of signification. In these particular poems he seeks to move ‘Beyond Time’, as the title of the collection suggests. The textual space that he uses up in the effort is minimal and liminal at the same time. The 38 pieces making up the suite, or chapbook, use a mere 4.600 words to evoke multiple spaces and places and to generate a vast historical sweep. Yet the space of the poems is always tangible and concrete – one is tempted to say his poetic space is ‘real’ even on the occasions where it is clear that Gibbons is imagining his settings and locales. The page space that his online publisher, DeadDrunkDublin and other Imaginal Spaces, has given him shimmers around the few lines each screen contains, while Syrie Kovitz’s luminous photos in black and white occupy the left half of each page, sometimes commenting on the words of the poems, sometimes oddly contrasting with them. Mostly, everything is white, beyond limits of text, image and ultimately space and time.

But let me fold back and begin again. Over the last couple of years I have been in the privileged situation of being the recipient of new poems from Robert via e-mail, at an amazing rate and in an almost constant flow. I therefore have known many of the Beyond Time poems ahead of time (of publication). I also know his previous book (ably reviewed here by our very own Camelia Elias) of prose poems, Body of Time, which is alluded to in the title of the new suite of poems, as a very much live body of work… Last summer I even had the joy of meeting Robert and his wife at a poetry conference in Scotland, an event which took Robert on a new journey of discovery in exotic locations such as Glasgow, Edinburgh and Bridge of Allan – places that are breathed into life in some of the pieces in Beyond Time. All this is to say that I do not read Robert’s poetry innocently (as if any reviewer ever does read a text innocently), but at the same time I do so with the greatest of sympathy, as a man might read dispatches from the frontline from a friend who has been in the campaigns for a long time: with a mixture of anxiety and excitement. In the pieces I recognize Robert himself, his references to life and work in Portland, Maine, to his travels, to his readings, to his wife and muse and special caregiver, Kathleen, as ‘real’, yet of more general interest than such references would have in a personal letter to me. This reading position is perhaps unique to me and a few other friends of Robert’s, but yet there is a candour and openheartedness in Robert’s work that invites other readers into an equally giving and generous relationship with his words. We are all seated in Robert’s great circle of friendship and community, and enriched thereby.

Similar to the best work of Frank O’Hara, Robert Lowell and Jack Kerouac, Gibbons confesses to us the trials and tribulations of the quotidian, but in doing so he does so much more by pointing to the constant struggle for transcendence – beyond ourselves and our time-bound existence – that we all engage in whether willy-nilly or by design. Robert is a seeker by nature, but one who lets serendipity do its subtle work and one who is unafraid to embrace and celebrate the results thereof. The design that he shapes in his life and texts in turn shapes him and his texts and life. Connection being all, Gibbons has graciously supplied another set of dots that we can study and begin to draw lines between in the small opening manifesto that prefaces the 38 poems. The arc of those poems spans the internal and the eternal, reaching from dream to memory. The connector here is the body as a living carrier of language – language not disembodied, but pulsating, rhythmic, fluid as blood. Gibbons’ practice is one of discovery (of trees, birds, books) and of “documenting experience”, or as he suggests, of living twice, once in the experience (or the dream thereof), and once again “as intense, or more so” in “the second life of writing”. The collection is thus suspended between the four points of the double Derridean chiasmus of dream, remembrance, discovery and writing: the invaginated X marking the spot.

His poetics, never disembodied or vapidly spiritual, suggests the tactile quality of language. Words caress you or may be caressed as bodies do and are. Words are therefore all we have and all we are, but they are never enough: “I’d film words like Godard, if I could, chant like Coltrane, if need be paint a sign like Kline,” Gibbons states. The poems bear this out in their flow of sounds and images referred to, described, alluded to, suggested, created anew. Other great improvisers also waft through the lines and emotions of the poems: Keith Jarrett on piano, O’Hara on museum stationary, Pollock dripping blood and paint on canvas… The burst of language in the prose is violent, flowing with great energy and speed as a molten lava mass from the core – only to end up a suspended, shimmering substance captured on the page or screen, inert, but upon reading, becoming unstuck in time again, speeding into the reader’s mind. “Speed of language counts. Prose speeds.” Gibbons is utterly committed to spontaneity, to the improvisation that knows not where it is going to end “until last tap at keyboard”. Again the spirit of Kerouac and Ginsberg lives on in such statements, as does the bravado of older prose writers such as Hemingway, tossing off great chunks of copy in little time (Gibbons: “I dropped off a couple manuscripts at the post office”(31)).

The arc that rises out of the “Anonymity of Time” (1), reaches an apex in “True Improvisation” (19) and descends into the long coda of “Beyond Time” (36) (with echoes of Proust’s (“old teahead of Time,” as Kerouac once called him) Time Regained), “Oracular Time” (37), and the vision in “I Saw Time” (38) takes the reader from the blank beginning line seeing Time as possessing a “grand anonymity”, expressed through absence of name, visible in the mass of “unmarked graves” of the unknown dead, to a final, perhaps not triumphant, but at least hopeful, look at Time beyond Death, peeking out more humanly, with a face perhaps, from “behind Death’s mask”. Time, which at first was an unknown and unknowable quantity (“I have never tried to write about Time”), is at the end of the dreaming and documenting another entity altogether, humanized and embodied: Time “danced in Flux with a body made of ethereal energy” – a friend, a familiar, a presence.

On the ride through the apex (“riding the same elliptical curve, as if sent from an unknown Time” (35)) towards the final gaze at Time “hover[ing] in the East, kindly, without intent” (38) the reader’s sense of gravity and linearity is happily challenged. The references along the way to world and biography as well as to texts, intertexts and fantasy sweep us off our feet, yet simultaneously keep us busy thinking, reaching for our encyclopaedia or our keyboard, inviting us as true hypertext navigators to download from YouTube Bill Evans I Do It for Your Love, Google Matisse’s The Three O’Clock Sitting, reference Pietro Aretino’s 16th century pornography, look up the good ship, Polar Adventure, in the shipping news, etc., etc. All of that we do for Robert, but also for ourselves, for what it’s worth, for what we might learn and be the richer for. Again my mind refers me to Kerouac as the last writer whose erudition and drive compelled me to pull down the roadmaps and follow him along every by-way of his ramblings.

But let us not forget that there is another fold, so let us begin again with the body which harbours these longings and desires and for which we really do all these things. The poems describe such longings, urges and fears of departure as can only be found in an old, battered but still desirous, great-hearted body. Not surprising then that the poems are home to a “she” who rapidly – more rapidly than Time – becomes personified and specific as a “Kathleen”, named only the one time, but with such a naming that one is not likely to forget: “the all-too-real phenomenon of Kathleen” (10). She permeates all of the poems, though, in her pronominal guise: as a “she” or as part of a “we”. Sometimes she speaks, having dreamed a pure transformational fairy-tale of 300 oysters’ potential of yielding 300 pearls, sometimes she handles more nurturing tasks: “She saw me off to work filled with coffee & autumnal root soup” (15), and sometimes she is away, but longed for with intensity: “Surely the new house isn’t the same without her” (21) (a longing that prompts the poet’s preoccupation with Aretino’s “how-to manual” – Gibbons’ “large piece of furniture” being a bed in this poem). Yet there is more return than departure (“She walked by in that classic summer dress of nothing” (27)), and she is the key to the poet’s dreams and joy in every sense: “We counted down the minutes toward the equinox […], then the seconds, as small as anchovy bones, making that much the most of summer, so that no time at all was lost” (31)

Many of Syrie Kovitz’s photographs, accompanying the poems, depict waif-like women, nude or scantily dressed, yet the photos, which are interesting in themselves with their range of ambiguously depicted phantasms, are often out-imaged by Gibbons’ texts in terms of substance and dream matter. One might argue that his poems need no photographic counterpoint, being themselves plurivocal, full of contradictions, full of sounds and images. Kovitz’s best work in this collection is that which accepts that it is placed in a framing function, and the title image (repeated of course with the title poem (36)) of a mantel shelf, adorned with many menorahs and other Jewish paraphernalia, upon which a Kovitz waif is seen balancing as well, only her bare feet and white flowing hemline visible, is certainly striking, haunting and beautifully mysterious.

DeadDrunkDublin has provided a fitting home for this chapbook sequence, being a worthwhile site that harbours many other fine poetry, prose and multimedia texts in well-designed and aesthetically pleasing and challenging lay-outs. Gibbons’ work has previously appeared online in both Exquisite Corpse and The Drunken Boat, so it’s nothing new to him to cavort (with or without Time) in dark and dangerous venues. Even so, the light of poems such as “I Saw Time” ultimately drives away any untoward demons lurking in dreams or memory.

Robert Gibbons’ forthcoming retrospective volume of poetry, which borrows part of its title from the online sequence I have discussed above, Beyond Time – New and Selected Work 1977 - 2007 promises to form a rare vantage point from which to discuss not only the themes of language and self, but also more political issues in his work. Over four decades Gibbons has remained an unincorporated, strongly political, and consistently dissident voice in the American landscape of little magazines and independent publication. Unaffiliated with any formal movement or coterie Gibbons has instead focused on developing his personal poetics of nonconformity, specializing in the hybrid form of the prose poem.

While being forced early on to depend on the acceptance of journal editors to find publication outlets, Gibbons has latterly begun utilizing internet and web-based publication options to a much larger extent. His spontaneous composition ideals make his output, which at times mimics forms such as the journal, the almanac and the blog, ideally suited for a quick turn-around in terms of publication. His confessions and reportage from a place-bound life on the streets of his favourite cities and among clean, well-lighted book-stacks balance carefully between the personal and the political, detailing the vagaries of having a compulsion to write for dear life while simultaneously being compelled to work for a living.

Parallel with his increasing utilization of ‘fast’ media, Gibbons has continued to work within more traditional little magazine outlets, such as The Evergreen Review, where recent poems have just appeared. The multiplication of publication outlets provided by the Web means that publication and gate-keeping in the arts have changed completely, and that whole new rules for peer, coterie and/or self-publication are now in place. Gibbons has navigated this new multifaceted field in a manner that could well be characterized as a celebration of ‘indefatigable privateness’, i.e. the visions of the individual – yet equally so as an indefatigable political commitment to a community, both local and global.

Robert has quite recently taken the full step and gone on-line with his very own website, which contains links to many of the people and publications mentioned above. It also hosts the most generous offering of his poetry I can imagine, in the shape of what Robert calls his log, where – on an almost daily basis – one can read a new prose poem by Robert, literally logging the movements in space and time of his body and mind. This generous outpouring of fresh work is in some ways becoming a Pepys-like diary in poems, but in keeping with the vocabulary of the medium it presents itself in, we should of course simply call it a blog of poetry. On one hand, I personally miss getting these poems one by one in my mailbox, but the archive now being created will in time come to stand as the most comprehensive one-man library of prose poetry available on-line. Robert Gibbons, thus, remains one of the finest practitioners of prose poetry, not just of today, but beyond time.

- Bent Sørensen,
Aalborg University

New online journal issues

This has been a rather good weekend for new issues of online journals of American Studies and general academic interest.

The excellent poetry journal out of UBC, Vancouver - Studio - has its second issue out, or at least ready for a sneak preview here. The editor, Rishma Dunlop, is an excellent poet in her own right and the journal does a good job both presenting established and emergent poets, and in providing essays on poetry, particularly pertaining to the pedagogical aspects of using poetry in the classroom (check the Poetry & Education section). The first issue of Studio had especially interesting stuff by multicultural poet Meena Alexander who is a terrific voice both poetically and intellectually. The current issue has excellent stuff from Robert Gibbons (here pursuing an O'Hara-like poetry of the quotidian) and Evie Shockley (poignant prose fragments), among others, both of whom I highly recommend checking out. You can also read a short review, written by myself, of an online chapbook by Gibbons.

By fortuitous coincidence, this weekend also sees the publication of the new issue of Janus Head, an interdisciplinary journal which covers literature, art, philosophy and psychology. Janus Head is entering its 10th volume and all essays are available online as PDF-files as well as in a print volume form. This issue has particularly interesting essays on iconic representations of suffering in Buddhism and Catholicism (a neat a propos to our recent discussions of American icons on this blog) by Alan Pope, and on race and gender issues in the work of poet Sylvia Plath by Ellen Miller. In the fiction and poetry section we again find Robert Gibbons, this time decidedly more political and historical in his deadly accurate aim. One should also not miss the 14 Paul Celan poems featured in translation in this issue.

Friday, January 11, 2008

European Journal of American Studies (Online)

This is great news. We love open-access! Here's the letter that was passed on through DAAS.

The second issue of EJAS for 2007 is now fully on line, having recently been complemented by two new articles. Please accept my apologies for the slight delay in publication, due to server trouble. Also, do spread the word in your associations, telling their members to read EJAS , write in it and spread the news of its existence. May I remind you that a special issue has been advertised for 2008 and that two accretive issues are planned for the same year ?

Both issues for 2007 are, it seems to me, quite varied and interesting. The Journal is now welcoming submissions for 2008. To the members of the Editorial Committee who worked hard toward these results, my grateful thanks. The Committee will meet in Oslo to iron out crinkles and make plans for the future.

A very good year to all.

Marc Chénetier

This the first article listed;

Either you bring the water to L.A. or you bring L.A. to the water:
Politics, Perceptions and the Pursuit of History in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown
by Ian S. Scott

Being that I had just finished (re)watching Chinatown I was immediately drawn to it. I'll be checking it out again from the library after reading this fascinating piece. What I found most interesting was Scott's analysis of how this film and others in its tradition present the city spatially. Despite the broad and wide-open spaces, Scott notes that the LA cityscapes find a way to close in around the characters, creating claustrophobic anxiety. Michael Mann's Heat immediately comes to mind which Scott also examines in this article.
It is these visual pretensions of a city at once constructing and deconstructing its image, much copied in recent Hollywood accounts of Los Angeles, that not only give clues to its contemporary cinematic relevance but which are also an important link to the history played out in Chinatown and in the city’s later urban development.As Neil Campbell points out in his work on the “new west,” Polanski and Towne, like Chandler before them, recognized that cities were the lifeblood of the west and operated in binary aversion to the space around them.[emphasis mine]

Contemporary Californian historian Kevin Starr has commented that McWilliams had an ambivalent, divided image of the state. Like Jake Gittes and the fictional companions that follow him, he was “both mesmerized and appalled by the demotic vigor of the Southland, its confusing profusion of people and half-baked ideas” (Starr 19). Gittes is a disciple of such views and films like Blade Runner, To Live and Die in L.A., Heat and Collateral, as well as Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down (Warner Bros; US, 1992), Lawrence Kasdan’s Grand Canyon (20th Century Fox; US, 1990) and John Singleton’s Boyz ‘n the Hood (New Deal; US, 1991). All cinematically reinforce a post-structuralist vision of characters in each movie that resent the intrusion of this metropolitan force upon their lives but who are powerless to resist all the same [emphasis mine]. Starr sums up the dilemma for which Chinatown the movie has become shorthand identification. “Here, after all,” he says, “was an overnight society in search of its history, which it would both discover and manufacture” (Starr 19).

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Disney isn't racist!

I was led to this post, The 9 Most Racist Disney Characters while reading Sivacracy. What really caught my attention, apart from the references I hadn't previously thought about, where the reader comments (over 600 and I didn't read them all). The overall impression is one of white denial and a total lack of understanding. Here are just a few examples;

I think the racist one is the person who posted all the crap with some real classic entertainment!! Someone needs to find a new hobby...

do people have nothing better to do these days???? its so easy to throw the race card down at every little thing its ridiculous.

Which is more racist? Finding Racism in characters, which is what they are, made up characters that have character, or making comments like Aladdin being a "white piece of cornbread". We all have characteristics which can be stereotyped into a demographic. We can either be adults and get over it, or maybe even get a sense of humor and be able to laugh at ourselves. Or we can contribute to the problem and blame the world for being mean.

These disney films are for kids, they teach morals and self values. In no way what so ever are the meant to be seen as racist.

People just WANT to be offended these days. I really wish the hyper-sensitive PC gestapo would just off themselves. The real world is just too hard for the poor delicate dandies.

Have a look at the link above. Perhaps you have other examples that come to mind, there are so many. Below is a montage I found on Youtube.

My point is not to conclude that the majority of White America is still overtly racist. But I think these comments could be instructive. There seems to be on the one hand, a real desire to "get past race," as evidenced for example, from the overwhelming popularity of Obama's "post-racial" presidential campaign. On the other hand, people want to deny or ignore that there was and is any racism to "get past." It seems that much of America doesn't so much want to get past racism as it wants to get past the discussion of racism.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Hillary Clinton as Political Icon

Bent's last post, with this image got me thinking a bit more about political iconography and this image from the NY Times "At Debate, Two Rivals Go After Defiant Clinton."

This image was taken after Saturday's New Hampshire Democratic debate. If you've totally missed the news, Obama won the Iowa caucus and Edwards defeated Clinton for second. The two men are running a populist/progressive campaign against Hillary's self described "experience platform."

While Hillary has tried to portray herself like the Angelina figure in the Kate Kretz image (see Hillary's "presents" video for example)it seems to come across as contrived and scripted. Jolie rises above materiality, whereas Clinton embraces it. Interesting, all the women in the Wallmart store resemble Clinton's cornerstone demographic, suburban 50+ women.

The Times, and other msm outlets have been all too willing to portray Hillary as the American Madona of politics. In this image, with Bill and Chelsea in the background, Hillary seems to almost float above and out of the image, suspended by light. I especially like this one, attributed to Kevin Sanders/AP.

But here above, we see the two men who beat her in Iowa almost conspiring against her. Richardson, who is rumored to support Clinton, looking confused and left out. Edwards' stance is confrontational, Obama looks like he's "up to something." Hillary is set apart from the fray, not rising above but certainly standing apart.

If we continue with the meme of Hillary as Madonna or savior then the image can also be read as Obama as Judas, committing a betrayal as he turns his back on Hillary. Compare to here, here, and here, where the two had been, up until Iowa, portrayed as the two friendly front runners.

On another level, the image plays into base sexism. The men are united against Hillary not on the issues but because of her anatomy.

Obama (as a progressive populist) and Edwards (economic populist) portray Clinton as a post-colonial liberal "master". Her "experience" is equated to power relations with special interests.

This user video by an Obama supporter turns the Madonna image into something horrific rather than benevolent. Ripped from the brilliant Apple commercial that was first published in 1984, this "re-mix" tells us not only something about Hillary but also about a whole new generation of political activism. That however is for another post. What are your thoughts?


I hope everyone here had an enjoyable holiday season and wish you all much success and happiness in 2008. I've been in Paris, completely unplugged for the last week. As things around here get back into action I'm reminded of the Chinese proverb (or curse) "may you live in interesting times."

Also, I wanted again to welcome both Bent and Camelia. We appreciate the positive responses to their posts. We will be looking forward to more.