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AS WE LEFT OFF YESTERDAY, I’d finally gotten around to reading Looking Backward, Edward Bellamy’s (1850-96) 1888 utopian tract.
In it, a “refined” young man of 1880s Boston awakens from a 113-year trance to find himself in the all-enlightened, worry-free Year 2000. The doctor who’d revived him (and the doc’s comely daughter) then spend the rest of the book telling him how wonderful everything has become.
The chief feature of Bellamy’s future is a singular, government-run “Industrial Army” that owns all the means of production and distribution, employs every male and childless female citizen from the age of 21 until mandatory retirement at 45, and pays everybody the same wage (less-desirable jobs offer shorter hours or other non-monetary perks).
Some other aspects of Bellamy’s ideal state:
One person’s utopia, someone I can’t remember once wrote, is another person’s reign of terror. You don’t have to be a Red-baiter to see elements of other folks’ dystopian nightmares within Bellamy’s utopian dreams.
Soviet-style communism used some of the same ideals spouted by Bellamy to justify its police-state brutalities. But the “human face” experiment of post-WWII Euro-socialism had its own problems–uncompetitive enterprises, bureaucratic sloth & corruption, massive worker dissatisfaction.
Of course, neither of those systems went as far as Bellamy would’ve liked. They still had rich-poor gaps and ruling classes. But that’s reality for you.
TOMORROW: Back to the (more likely) future.
LAST FRIDAY, we discussed Beloit University’s annual list of once-ubiquitous pop-cult references incoming college students might not know about.
Yesterday, we began our own such list.
Now, in the spirit of equal time, a few reference points today’s 18-22-year-olds get that folks closer to my age might not:
(Though the self-congratulatory hype surrounding the electronica scene can be just as annoyingly smug as that surrounding “progressive” rock. But that’s a topic for another time.)
TOMORROW: Can Net hype REALLY sell movie tickets?
century will be the ‘storyteller'” (found by Rebecca’s Pocket)….
SOMETIME LATE LAST YEAR, erstwhile Stranger music writer Everett True called for a “Campaign for Real Rock” (inspired by the British beer-lovers’ lobby, the Campaign for Real Ale).
True’s premise: Just as the great British brewing traditions were being threatened by callous cost-cutting measures at big corporate breweries, so was classic American hard rock n’ roll threatened by the commercial-pop acts manufactured by the major record labels.
True’s gone back to the U.K.; but without him, real rock (or, as Backfire zine editor Dawn Anderson calls it, “Rawk”) is back. Alas.
Lost in most mainstream-media coverage of rape and pillaging at Woodstock 99 was the fact that the festival bore only a trademark connection with the ’69 original. This festival was not a corporate exploitation of “Peace and Music” but a showcase for harder, louder, more aggressive acts, especially on its last night.
Now there’s a radio station devoted entirely to the likes of Limp Bizkit, KORN (the group which relegated BR-549 to being only the second most popular band with a Hee Haw-derived name), Eminem, Kid Rock, etc. etc.
It’s called “The Funky Monkey,” though its official call letters are KKBY. It had been a fairly progressive, Tacoma-based R&B station, but hadn’t turned a profit with that format; so it’s now going straight for the white-gangsta-wannabe market.
The contrast between the station’s new and old formats couldn’t be much more stark.
The old KKBY had played music by and for African-Americans who’d long ago gotten weary of gangsta rap, that “authentic ghetto voice” concocted or at least pushed by Hollywood promoters eager to nakedly exploit white mall kids’ stereotypes of young black men as sexy savages.
The new KKBY plays mostly white artists who’ve taken the gangsta acts’ “Xtreme” hiphop (via such crossover pioneers as the Beastie Boys and Jane’s Addiction) and removed all blackness except for a thin veneer of supposed street-credibility. White artists “admiring” their black gangsta forebearers for fostering an image of doped-up, violent, woman-hating jerks with a finely-tuned fashion sense.
In other words, “Angry White Rappers.”
A mostly-white continuation of former black-music trends many black listeners had rejected. (Which is nothing new. Black audiences have long rushed to the Star-Off Machine after a black-music subgenre had been infiltrated, then taken over, by white acts, from big-band to doo-wop.)
This new white-rock-rap genre (KKBY calls it “the new heavies”) is at least as stoopid as most other Rawk waves over the past three decades. What’s different is the level of personal aggression–a rage often not against the machine but against one’s peers and the opp. sex. Rock n’ roll used to be about trying to seduce, to woo, to attract sex. The “new heavies” are often boasting to other males about their sexual prowess, while snarling at females to shut up and take it.
I’m really trying not to sound here like an old fogey–or worse, an old rock critic. There are too many parallels in what I’ve written above to the ’50s critics who loved authentic black R&B but loathed that commercialized white teenybopper corruption of it known as rock n’ roll.
And, there are some signs of non-idiocy within the genre. Eminem, at times, approaches the electro-laconic wit of, say, MC 900 Ft. Jesus. And those old-school new-heavies, the Beastie Boys, know the ultimate idiocy of the “Wigger” stance (and also shouldn’t be blamed too much for having some of the same retro-fetishes as Quentin Tarantino).
But compare these SK8-rappers to the best real hiphop and a wide creative chasm remains. Even the most corporate of fin-de-siecle R&B product-suppliers, such as Missy Elliott or Sean Combs, has a sense of the complex potentials of their music you can’t find in Insane Clown Posse, and certainly not in white doodz who wish they were Insane Clown Posse.
TOMORROW (in person):Get everyone you know, plus any strangers you might run into, to get to the big promo event and reading for The Big Book of MISC. tomorrow night, Aug. 26, 7:30 p.m., at the venerable Elliott Bay Book Co. Be there or be isogonal.
TOMORROW (on the site): The beauty that is The Imp.
IN OTHER NEWS: The good news is Seattle’s public-access cable channel’s getting a massive infusion of new studio equipment. The bad news is the whole studio will be out of commission for at least two months during the renovation, so everything on Channel 29 (probably starting in October) will be pre-taped on location, or a rerun of an older studio show.
ELSEWHERE: This new learning-tools site for schoolkids features some of the dumbest adult-writers-trying-to-sound-young slang ever attempted–even in the plot summaries of major books!… Speaking of learning tools, will Microsoft’s new print dictionary include nonstandard definitions for “monopoly,” “coercion,” or “protection racket”?… Now, for a limited time only, you can make up your own Netcolumn. The professionally-constructed ones you find here at Misc. World, of course, will still be better….
I COME TO YOU TODAY to ask a blunt yet necessary question.
How prejudiced are you?
No, I don’t mean the person next to you.
I don’t mean your parents.
And I don’t mean All Those People supposedly out there in Bad Old Mainstream America.
When I say You, I really do mean You.
It’s something that’s been running around in the background-processing cache of my brain for some time now.
It came to the foreground when a kind reader, who’d noted an older page here in which I’d talked about that deconstructionist buzzword “The Other,” slipped me a copy of a long academic essay which used the term profusely. The piece was ostensibly about men’s stereotypes about women, but ultimately turned out to exemplify certain women’s stereotypes about men’s stereotypes about women.
Only the piece’s authors didn’t realize that was what they were really writing. They were too caught up in the fashionable notion that Dehumanizing The Other is something done only by Those People Who Aren’t Like Us.
But it’s not just sexist “anti-sexists” who practice this eternal double standard. It’s darn near everybody. Even people who listen to NPR. Even people who sort their recyclables.
Even people who read ‘hip’ websites.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR!: More live events for The Big Book of MISC. are comin’ at ya. The next is Thursday, Aug. 19, 6 p.m., at Borders Books, 4th near Pike in downtown Seattle. If you can’t make it then or want a double dose, there’s another one the following Thursday, Aug. 26, 7:30 p.m., at the venerable Elliott Bay Book Co. Be there or be a parallellogram.
MONDAY: If the Religious Right collapses, who will liberals complain about?
ELSEWHERE: Cereals of the Apocalypse; plus The Trouble with Tang…
AFTER ALL the self-parodic inanities on TV attempting to appeal to “guy culture,” finally came something that put it all into historical perspective.
A brief voice-over passage in Showtime’s Sex in the 20th Century noted that, as a Nation of Immigrants, the U.S. has long had a sub-population of sexually-frustrated single men. In the late decades of the last century and the early decades of this one, our big cities and factory towns teemed with tens of thousands of Euro and Asian settlers who came over without moms, wives, girlfriends, or kids. (Chinese-American immigration was officially male-only for many of those years.) Westward expansion created frontier and ex-frontier communities comprised mostly of unattached males.
It was for the patronage of these men that America developed the rowdy saloon culture and the raunchy/satirical burlesque shows (both of which were fought by women’s suffragists and other “progressives”). Not to mention underground porn, “stag films,” and a once-booming brothel biz. (The documentary noted that prostitution provided the only coital opportunity for these immigrant and pioneer men.)
Anti-censorship and sex-freedom advocates today like to blame the differences between U.S. and Euro sexual attitudes on a damaging legacy of Victorian prudes. What the activists neglect is how and why those prudes came into power in the ’20s and early ’30s.
As women gained more political clout (and neared gender-parity in these ethnic and working-class communities), their sociopolitical agenda almost always included the eradication of the “guy culture” of the day.
To the “progressives” and the suffragists as well as to social conservatives, the world of single men, especially the hedonistic elements of that world, represented everything icky and worse–pre-penecillin STDs, the self-destruction of alcoholism and other drug abuse, laziness, cynical attitudes toward patriotism and the work ethic, a flight from family commitments, disrespect toward women, profanity, irreligiousness, and the pigsty living conditions still commonly associated with the undomesticated male.
So the saloons were shut down (Prohibition speakeasies had a much more coed patronage). Red-light districts were quashed one city at a time. Burlesque houses were busted. By 1934, Hollywood movies were strictly censored.
(One could also mention the implicit racism in the progressives’ “clean” and bland civic aesthetic, but that’s a topic for another day.)
To this day, the single male is treated as a social-sexual pariah in many “progressive” and even “alternative” circles, and not just by radical feminists either. Some “sex-positive” authors and journals that advocate women’s sexual liberation have a heck of a hard time accepting non-gay men’s right to sexual expression (except in the forms of masochism or servility). “Swing” clubs routinely ban femaleless males from attending; the more wholesome nudist movement used to do the same (some nudist camps still do).
And the current wave of “guy” magazines and TV shows wallow in icky-man stereotypes as universal givens.
And both corporate porn and reverse-sexist writers allow no exceptions to the premise of male=brainless sleazebag.
But beneath all these one-dimensional overgeneralizations lies a basic truth. Men need women. For sex and a hell of a lot more.
And women may no longer need men for brute-strength labor or protection, but a society unbalanced on the yin side is just as dysfunction as a society unbalanced on the yang siade.
Gender parity will happen not just when men are forced to fully respect women, but when women allow themselves to fully respect men. Then more women and men might feel more comfortable with their own yang energies, and we could all feel freer to enjoy wining, dining, coiting, and other hedonistic pleasures.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR!: More live events for The Big Book of MISC. are comin’ at ya. The next is Thursday, Aug. 19, 6 p.m., at Borders Books, 4th near Pike in downtown Seattle. Be there or be rhomboidal.
TOMORROW: Web journals, the evil (or is it good?) twins of Weblogs.
ELSEWHERE: UK essayist Theodore Dalrymple’s got an alternate explanation for our troubles accepting the hedonistic life: “Southern Europeans seem to enjoy themselves more than northerners”–including the Brits and much of the folks in their North American ex-colonies–“who regard even pleasure as a duty… in the south one drinks to enhance life, in the north to drown one’s sorrows”… Once there was a nation whose leaders openly denounced liquor, tobacco, and even meat, and which funded pioneering cancer research. Too bad about some of its other policies…
LAST FRIDAY, we mentioned the recent explosion in “Weblogs,” sites that contain little or no original content but instead provide highly selective links to articles and stories on other sites.
MISC. World isn’t turning into a pure Weblog. Don’t worry; there’ll still be all-new stuff here all the time.
But, from time to time, we like to mention some fun and/or serious stuff being written elsewhere in Netland. Such as these pieces:
For everybody who loves/hates the inanity of misspellings on huge public signage, it’s the Gallery of “Misused” Quotation Marks. A recent item: “A billboard for a bank in Idaho Falls reads: ‘We believe that “PEOPLE” should answer our phones.’ ‘PEOPLE’ are about the same things as ‘robots with Gap clothing,’ right?” Speaking of inanities…
Rocket writer Jason Josephes has a hilarious listing of “The Top 20 LPs Among People Who Hate Music,” as determined by what he sees most in thrift-store record bins. (I personally disagree with Josephes’ #1 choice, Abba’s Gold. I recently listened to a cassette somebody in Belgium had made, collecting every known cover version of “Dancing Queen,” from elevator to punk, and was blown away by the tune’s sheer endurance capability.) Speaking of hatreds…
Now that press coverage of the delayed Buffy the Vampire Slayer season finale’s allowed journalists to revisit their post-Littleton pontifications, Philip Michaels has something called “Your Guide to High School Hate,” showing once again that the pontificators had it all wrong and Buffy has it metaphorically right–high school, too often, really is a Hellmouth. Speaking of teen insecurities…
Understanding Comics author-illustrator Scott McCloud is back with a wistful, beautiful reminiscence of his adolescent retreat from peer pressure into the ordered, rational universe of gaming, in “My Obsession With Chess.” It’s a comic strip meant to be read online, with panels arranged in the sequence of chess moves along a “board” that would be about 16 feet long in real life. Simply gorgeous.
TOMORROW: Continuing in this vein, some wacky search-engine keywords that brought people, perhaps mistakenly, to this site.
UPDATE #1: “Oh oh, must have been another Bite of Seattle riot!” That’s what certain Belltown bystanders muttered when they saw throngs of teens, about half of them Af-Am teens, streaming out of Seattle Center toward the surrounding sidewalks around 9:30 p.m. last Saturday night. But it wasn’t a riot. Center authorities had simply brought in cops to empty the grounds, including the Fun Forest amusement area, after the Bite’s scheduled 9 p.m. closing time. (The incident last year wasn’t really a “riot” either. Somebody made a noise in a crowded Fun Forest that sounded like gunfire but might have just been a leftover fireworks noisemaker, and a few dozen kids started running in panic.) Ah, the “enlightened, liberal, diversity-celebrating” city that still can’t grasp that dark-skinned teenagers are not necessarily gangstas… (sigh)…
UPDATE #2: In happier news, the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which previously was stripped of much of its entertainment-licensing authority by a federal judge, is now proposing rules that would allow afternoon or early-evening all-ages music shows in the dining areas of restaurant-lounge spots. The proposed rules would still be stricter than those in Oregon, but it’s a step.
SIX MONTHS AGO, you couldn’t see a string of TV commercials without at least one website address flashing on-screen.
Today, you’d be hard-pressed to see a string of TV commercials (except maybe on Pax TV) without at least one ad that’s all about a website.
Yet despite the hype over e-commerce and the dubya-dubya-dubya as a marketing tool, the Web remains what I hoped it would become five years ago–an all-accessible repository for great, immediate writing.
Herewith, a few examples of fine online verbiage that are not Salon and heavens-not Slate:
McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Accompaniment to the print somewhat-less-than-quarterly McSweeney’s alterna-lit journal, but sharing no content with the paper version–just the same sense of literate whimsy and post-postmodern graciousness.
Rat Bastard. Washington, DC-based Don Bruns doin’ the personal-net-diary thang, with self-effacing wit to spare.
Exquisite Corpse. Andrei Codrescu’s little paper litmag is now indeed a corpse, but he continues to present brash-yet-thoughtful voices online.
My current fave: James Nolan on American doublespeak in the age of spin-control (a topic that gets beaten to death every election cycle, but he manages to bring it back to life).
Bittersweets. Each day, a one-paragraph narrative or observation about the wistfully-regretful side of life.
The Napkin. Like Bittersweets, but shorter, usually less bitter, and sometimes even cosmic (in a nice way).
Word. Besides the fun contemporary-art pages, the pages of found-objects pix, and the “Junk Radio” section full of moldy-oldies in streaming audio, the words on Word are themselves darned interesting and lively. Current best example: Philip Dray’s probably-fictional yet realistic reminiscence of being “a Jewish caddy at a WASP country club.”
You can tell the folks running Word have the right attitude if you hit “View Source” on your browser when you reach its homepage. There, amid all the HTML codin’, is this hidden (until now, anyway) treat:
“META NAME=”Description” CONTENT=”Forget about whatever you were searching for. It’s not important. You may not be aware of it consciously, but you really want to read Word instead. So go on — click here. You’ll be glad you did! Satisfaction guaranteed!”.”
Random Story Generator. I know it’s just an automated version of Mad Libs, but damned if it’s not a total laff-riot each and every time.
ELSEWHERE: There’s a big convention of ethnic-minority journalists in my town this week. The Seattle Times has been dutifully covering and previewing the event, but its big Sunday feature story tie-in was strictly about the “minority” the Times, and Seattle, are most comfortable with–upscale, white women (preferably blond and blue-eyed); in this case, TV anchorwomen.
TOMORROW: David Foster Wallace’s new fiction collection is anything but ‘hideous.’
MISC. WORLD, the online column that still hasn’t seen the new Star Wars, is proud to announce The Big Book of MISC. has now gone to press. Even better, online ordering is now up, at this link! The prerelease party’s Tuesday, June 8 at the new Ditto Tavern, 2303 5th Ave. near Bell Street in Seattle’s glorious Belltown. Be there.
FAST FOOD FOR THOUGHT: The Denny’s Diner concept, first mentioned in Misc. about a year ago, will now be phased in at all U.S. Denny’s restaurants. From the looks of the prototype restaurant out by Sea-Tac Mall, it won’t be as big a revamp as the newspaper stories promise. The one I saw looks largely like a regular ol’ Denny’s. The interior’s done up in muted greens instead of garish orange shades, with a few touches of aluminum trim. Aside from a few soda-fountain items, there’s not much on the menu that’s not on the regular Denny’s menu. And there’s a reproduction juke box playing some oldies-rock CDs, along with many “hot country” and easy-listening stars.
The chain’s officially doing this because its research found younger eaters don’t identify with its established suburban-bland image, and thinks this way it can become perceived as slightly hipper without turning off the older crowd. Of course, Denny’s has had a bigger image problem than that in recent years. Amid allegations of racial discrimination in both employment and customer service, the company’s had to pull out all the PR-spin stops to proclaim it now welcomes everybody, and has put managers and franchisees thru sensitivity classes. So why, one might ask, is the chain re-imaging itself around nostalgia for those bad-old-days white-lower-middle-class hash houses where African Americans felt particularly unwelcome back in the day? (Remember, the first major sit-in of the civil rights movement occurred at a Woolworth lunch counter.) Elsewhere in bobbysoxer-land…
THE SOUND OF SILENCE: The Velvet Elvis Arts Lounge (which has hosted all-ages music shows these past six years in the former home of the punk-parody musical Angry Housewives) and the Colourbox (the rock venue that stuck with local bands after bigger bars turned their emphasis to touring acts) are closing in June, due (indirectly in the former case, directly in the latter) to Pioneer Square gentrification. RKCNDY will be demolished for a hotel sometime later this year. Nothing much could’ve been done to save the Colourbox (and, anyway, the nearby Rupert’s has been serving much the same function). But the VE’s another story. Its pretty-much-all-volunteer staff has every right to feel burned out and to move on, now that its recent sold-out Annie Sprinkle performances have paid off its debts. But there should’ve been some way they could’ve passed the torch onto a fresher crew, to keep the space going as long as it still had the lease. If someone can get such a crew together to assume the space, they’d better do so soon.
(Both the Colourbox and the Velvet Elvis got front-page pictures in the P-I‘s Saturday item about the city’s tuff new anti-noise law and schemes by some city councilmembers to relax those limits in designated “entertainment zones,” a little too late to save either club.)
BESIDES A DECENT ALL-AGES SPACE and zoned relief from anti-nightlife legal putsches, what does Seattle need? That’s your next question at the luscious Misc. Talk discussion boards. And we’re still seeking your nominations about which 1995-99 Seattle bands oughta be mentioned in the forthcoming update of Loser: The Real Seattle Music Story. Elsewhere in new-addition-land…
WATCH D.T.S., GET THE D.T.s: The Casbah Cinema, that beuatifully-designed but poorly-marketed boutique theater in Belltown, has been revamped by new owners as the Big Picture. It’s now a beer-and-wine bar with a fancy-schmancy digital video projection system in the old Casbah auditorium room. The owners believe, as I wrote here some time back, that theaters shouldn’t just be for feature films and tavern TVs shouldn’t just be for sports. They plan to have a whole schedule of fun programming events, ranging from cult movies and sports to X-Files episode screenings and music-video nights. It’s also available for private parties, software-company demonstrations, anime fan-club meetings, movie-studio sneak previews, etc.
I probably will continue seeing most of my movies-on-projection-video-with-beer at 2nd Avenue Pizza, but the Big Picture’s HDTV setup is truly awesome. It’s much sharper than the analog HDTV system I saw a couple years back at the old UA Cinemas; even a basketball game (live sports are the ultimate test of digital video) looked clean and crisp. Elsewhere in visual-entertainment-land…
CONJUNCTION JUNCTION: After years of the sleaze-sex mags getting closer and closer to The Act, Penthouse has finally started running apparent actual hardcore pix as of its June issue (in a sword-and-sorcery fantasy pictorial), and (along with its almost-as-explicit competitors) has faced the expected legal challenges in the expected southern and midwestern states. Either the publishers seem to think they can win the court cases and vend images of actual coitus thru mainstream magazine outlets, or the competition for wankers’ bucks has gotten so intense the publishers believe they have to do this to compete with hardcore videos, websites, CD-ROMS, etc.
The demand for explicitness in sex-entertainment has increased steadily in the three decades since hardcore films and images first went above-ground. Today, hardcore tapes can be rented in almost every non-chain video store (and can be purchased in non-chain convenience stores); while softcore tapes (other than those depressing , anti-intimacy “erotic thrillers”) are in far fewer outlets and often for sale only. Of all the new girlie mags in recent years, only Perfect 10 (and retro-zines like Kutie) appeal to a classic pin-up aesthetic instead of simply piling on as much raunch as the distribution channel will bear.
Some observers claim this trend signifies a failure of imagination, of good taste, or even of respect for women. I think it means something else–that smut consumers are, on the average, moving away from passive “pedastel” female ideals and instead prefer to fantasize about women who are active, enthusiastic participants in The Act.
Then, of course, there’s the little matter of what makes hardcore hardcore. It’s not how much you see of the women, but how much you see of the men. The triumph of hardcore means more and more straight-identifying men want to look at other men’s sex parts in action, photographed as sharply and clearly as possible. One recently-notorious subgenre, the “gangbang” video, shows its straight-male audiences dozens of male bodies surrounding just one woman.
But gangbang videos are ugly, as is hardcore in general. As I’ve previously mentioned, the hardcore anti-aesthetic literalizes the phrase “ugly as sin.” While the action scenes in Penthouse are at least competently lit and photographed, they still adhere to a formula of garish colors, contorted expressions, and grotesquely obvious implants. Historically, the formula leads out from the old days of underground smut, all dangerous and anti-propriety. Today, it leads from the porn-video industry’s ruthless combination of tiny budgets and strict requirements. But it’s also a look its target audience seems to prefer. Perhaps these men have such poor self body-images, they can only comfortably look at other men’s bodies when they’re depicted among ugly surroundings.
Will this ugliness change as coitus imagery goes further beyond porn-specialty stores and into your local beer-and-cigarette shop? Many cultures around the world have found beautiful ways to depict coitus via the arts of painting, drawing, and sculpture. Contemporary erotic photography has produced many beautiful works, but almost all of them (even Robert Mapplethorpe’s) are predicated on The Pose, not The Act. Posing involves a person or persons openly displaying their personas out toward the viewer; actual sex (if it’s any good) constitutes two people becoming all caught up in one another and themselves, ignoring the rest of the world. I’ll still prefer softcore images, even if hardcore becomes less icky-looking, for this reason. I don’t want to vicariously imagine myself in some other man’s body, feeling what that other man gets to feel; I want to imagine my (real) self in the woman’s body.
‘TIL NEXT TIME, when we hope to have topics less prone to too-obvious puns, embrace the warmth, question the war, and consider this by Jane Austen: “I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.”
Your high-test online Misc. welcomes the imminant arrival of Tesoro gasoline to Washington. Yeah, the name sounds a lot like “testosterone” (the name’s actually Spanish for “treasure”), but it’s a growing indie refiner that’s become very big in Alaska and Hawaii, cementing Washington’s “Pacific Rim” consciousness. It’s bought the ex-Shell refinery in Anacortes and is snapping up gas stations whose franchise agreements with other companies are lapsing. This arrival comes as we might start saying goodbye to the Arco brand (formerly Atlantic Richfield, formerly Richfield). The L.A.-based company, which rose to dominance in the western states when it dumped credit cards and service bays and installed all those AM/PM convenience stores, is in talks to sell everything to BP (which itself has just absorbed Amoco).
AMONG THE PIONEER SQUARES: This month’s gallery choices are Wes Wehr’s exquisitely detailed tiny line drawings of adorable fantasy critters (at the Collusion Gallery), and Malcolm Edwards’s narrative photo-essay of Rosalinda, a golden-years woman recalling her life’s journey from a convent to careers in stripping and belly-dancing, and who’s still sexy and radiantly beautiful today (at Benham).
JUNK FOOD OF THE WEEK: Sunrise Organic cereal is General Mills’ attempt to muscle in on the organic-cereal trade now the province of the major indie makers servicing the separate health-food-store circuit (but who’ve recently gotten an in into big regular supermarkets, as those chains try to muscle in on the “natural” stores’ business). It’s sticky-sweet and hard-crunchy, thanks to all the honey slobbered over the Crispix-like hexagons. Like an increasing number of “healthy choices” type food products, it boasts modern-day health-food buzzwords such as “organic” and “natural,” without making any claims to be better for you than any other foodstuffs. It lets you have your sweet-tooth fix while pretending you’re doing your body good.
AD CLICHE OF THE WEEK: Both Columbia Crest wines and Eddie Bauer have billboards these days showing their products as the end of a rebus-like visual arithmetic equation. Example: (Thread) + (mountain) + (sunshine) = (Eddie Bauer outdoor shirt). Here’s one I’d like to see instead: (Clip-art catalog) + (addle-brained ad manager) + (arterial street) = (dumb billboard).
SOMETHING FISHY: Recently seen downtown, a “Darwin Fish” car plaque only with “QUEER” in the middle instead of “DARWIN.” It’s one thing to boast of scientific evolution as the heart of a worldview more rational and even human-centric than religious mysticism. But to boast of gays (who typically spend a lifetime of childlessness) as comprising an advanced stage of evolution isn’t quite in keeping with Darwin’s theories, which stated that the the main lines of any species’ evolution involved those who bred the most survivable offspring. But a case might be made that our own species reaches a more advanced stage of social evolution when it becomes more accepting of non-reproducers and other cultural mutations. Speaking of which…
SPREADING OUT: A 3/29 NY Times op-ed piece (reprinted in the 4/1 P-I) claimed the outmigration of Californians across the rest of the west (writer Dale Maharidge specifically mentioned the mountain states, but Washington also qualifies) is an even more inisdious matter than some commentators (including myself) have pictured it. (You know, the old “Californication” imagery of rural hamlets transformed into Little Malibus, where cell-phone-hogging movie stars, agents, and dealmakers have their enclaves of expensive homes and fancy restaurants with made-up “regional cuisines,” driving the locals to the fringes of their own former communities.)
But Stanford prof Maharidge (author of the book The Coming White Minority) describes it as a matter of white flight. Instead of running away from neighborhoods and cities and school districts when too many minorities and immigrants start showing up, these fleers are abandoning a whole state. This would help solidify the national partisan alignment of the Clinton era, by helping Democratic presidential candidates in electoral-vote-rich Calif. while ensuring GOP control over the U.S. Senate (where those sparse mountain states already have power far beyond their population). It’s also potential bad news for those of us who’ve hoped the rest-of-the-west would grow more diverse, less monocultural; who’ve wanted to trash the illusion of comfort associated with the image of the rural or exurban west as a white-mellow paradise where everybody’s in harmony because everybody’s alike. Speaking of the new western monoculture…
BOOMTOWN RATTING: It hasn’t just been the winter of my own discontent. Just about everywhere I go, I run into another artist, writer, musician, graphic designer, tattooist, etc. who can’t stop repeating how they absolutely hate Seattle these days. But when I ask them to elaborate, usually they just shrug an “Isn’t it obvious?”
Occasionally I can get a few details. Some of these details involve the old saw that nobody here supports anybody from here; that you can’t make it as a DJ or a fashion designer here unless you have the proper pedigree from the big media cities. More often I hear the boomtown economy’s just made them too pessimistic. When the Seattle alterna-arts metascene was still struggling, many artists of various genres dreamed of a time when there would be money and patronage and outlets for work; then their struggles would be recognized. Well, there are such outlets now, but to a large extent what they want to buy is work that’s as un-reminiscent as possible of the old, pre-Gates Seattle. Nothing nice and funky and small and personal, nothing that hints of negativity in any way. Just big art, glass art, expensive art that looks expensive, third world crafts which affirm an ecotourist image of third worlders as happy little semihumans. And everywhere, architecture and cars and clothes and gourmet foods that remind the new elite of just how precious and special they believe themselves to be.
Last week, I wrote how the local entrepreneurs behind the ARO.Space dance club had successfully tapped into two of the key aspects of the New Seattle mindset–smug, self-congratulatory “good taste,” and the unquestioned belief that Real Culture still has to come from someplace else. It’s more than an appropriate theme for a dance club. It’s a double-whammy for anyone already making art here of any type other than that which tells smug rich people how utterly wonderful they are. Of course, the “fine” arts have always depended upon patrons who’ve exerted various degrees of creative/curatorial control, and commercial arts have always depended on what the traffic would bear. “Alternative” arts were supposed to be about finding interstices and open spaces between the commercial demands, so one could create according to one’s own muse. So why are modern local alternative artists complaining so much about their lack of commercial success? Maybe because the stuff that’s been successful in ’90s American commercial culture so often involves a veneer of “alternative” street cred, without actually being too outre or questioning the socioeconomic premises of its world. Real rappers/rockers/graphic designers/painters etc. can see ever-so-slightly more marketable versions of their own work selling, and feel they’ve lost their own shot at the brass ring.
Also, financial survival for the non-wealthy has turned out to be just as tough in boom years as in bust years. What with stagnant incomes and exploding rents, not to mention the fact that no non-millionaire who didn’t buy a house in Seattle three years ago will ever get to buy one.
So, upon the fifth anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death, we’re left with a town that’s just as dysfunctional as the town he died in, but in different ways. Instead of there being no career opportunities for artistic people in this town, there are plenty of career opportunities here for people other than the people who struggled through the down years here. And instead of the brief “slacker city” period in which it seemed one could make art or music with only the least demanding of day jobs, daily survival has again become an issue for anyone not at the economic top (while many of those near the economic top are stressing themselves toward an early grave just to stay at or near the top). To paraphrase that famous Seattle-abandoner Lynda Barry, the good times just might be killing us.
‘TIL NEXT TIME, work for peace and/or justice, enjoy the last weeks of Kingdome baseball, and consider these words from the restless Carl Jung: “Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you.”
NO, YOU’RE NOT living out a real-life version of that TV show where the hero gets tomorrow’s newspaper today. Your online Misc. dose now comes on Mondays, in a change from the Thursday posting dates that had coincided with the column’s former publication in The Stranger. Now you can start your week with these fun & informative insights. Or, you can wait until midweek and still find a relatively-fresh column waiting your perusal. It’s just one of many changes in the works, to make Misc. World one of the most bookmarkable, remarkable pop-cult-crit sites on the whole darned Web.
ONE MORE REASON TO HATE SAN FRANCISCO: The December Wired (now owned by NYC magazine magnate S.I. Newhouse Jr. but still based in Frisco) has this cover story listing “83 Reasons Why Bill Gates’s Reign Is Over.” I actually got into it, until I got to entry #31: “All Microsoft’s market power aside, building World HQ near Seattle has not shifted Earth’s axis or altered gravitational fields. The Evergreen State is still the sticks….” A sidebar piece recommends Gates “get connected–move software headquarters to Silicon Valley.” Look: You can badmouth the big little man all you like (I’ve done so, and will likely do so again). But when you disparge the whole Jet City and environs, them’s fightin’ words.
BEDLAM AND BEYOND: Ultimately, the Planet Hollywoodization of America’s urban downtowns is the same process as the Wal-Martization of America’s small-town main streets. Bed Bath and Beyond, a suburban “big box” chain that does for (or to) shower curtains what Barnes & Noble does for (or to) books, represents something else. Some call the big-box chains, which normally hang out off to the side of malls, an extension of the Wal-Mart concept. I differ. Wal-Mart (and such precursors as Fred Meyer and Kmart) offer a little of everything. But big-box stores (also represented in greater Seattle by the likes of Borders, Sleep Country USA,Video Only, Office Depot, OfficeMax, and Home Depot ) try to bowl you over with their sheer immensity, to offer every darned item in a product category that would possibly sell. Speaking of which…
NAILED: Eagle Hardware, the Washington-based home-superstore circuit, is selling out to Lowe’s, a national home-center chain with no prior presence up here. Flash back, you fans of ’70s-style ’50s nostalgia, to the Happy Days rerun where Mr. Cunningham lamented the threat to his Milwaukee hardware boutique by an incoming chain from out of town called Hardware City: “They’ve got 142 different kinds of nails. I’ve only got two: Rusty and un-rusty.” Now, flash ahead to the mid-’90s, when P-I editorial cartoonist Steve Greenberg ran a fish-eating-fish drawing to illustrate mom-and-pop hardware stores being eaten by regional chains like Ernst and Pay n’ Pak, who are then eaten by big-box superstores. Greenberg neglected to include the final fish, the national retail Goliath eating up the superstore operators.
PHILM PHUN: Finally saw Roger Corman’s 1995 made-for-Showtime remake of A Bucket of Blood a week or two back. The new version (part of a series he produced for the pay channel, and released to video as The Death Artist) of is not only more slickly produced than the 1959 original (which I know isn’t saying much, since I’d promoted the original’s last local theatrical showing, in 1986 at the Grand Illusion), but the story works far better in a contemporary setting.
Largely known today merely as the precursor to Corman’s 1960 Little Shop of Horrors (both original films were written by Charles Griffith, who had to sue for credit when Little Shop became a stage musical which in turn was filmed in 1986), the horror-comedy plot of Bucket involves a struggling young sculptor named Walter Paisley trying unsuccessfully to break into the hipster Beatnik art scene–until he sticks plaster onto a dead cat, displays the resulting “artwork” to hipster audiences enthralled by his combination of realism and gruesomeness, and finds he has to make more and grislier “works” to maintain his new-found status, to the point of seeking out street bums to turn into “artistic” corpses.
In the original, Corman had to fictionalize the beat art-scene beyond recognition in order for the beat art-scene characters to fall in love with life-size dead-man statues. But for the ’90s Bucket, he and his collaborators merely had to accurately portray the postmodern art world with all its adoration of cartoony morbidity.
END THE BEGUINE ALREADY!: One good thing about this column no longer appearing in The Stranger is I can now comment on things that are in it, such as freelancer Juliette Guilbert’s 7,000-something-word diatribe against retro-swing mania.
One of Guilbert’s more curious stabs against the movement is its embracing of big-band pop jazz and not the more intellectually challenging modern stuff that started later in the ’40s. Of course, college undergrads aren’t going to get into bebop on a mass scale. Even Guilbert acknowledges the whole point of bebop was to make a black music that whites couldn’t easily take over.
The Swing Era was not the nadir of race relations Guilbert makes it out to be but rather was a first, halting step out from that abyss (at least for African Americans–Japanese Americans faced problems of their own at the time). I’ve previously written about the previously-nostalgized Lounge Era as the dawn of the Age of Integration. The seeds of this progress were sown when white sidemen first played under black bandleaders, when Josephine Baker calmly demanded to be served at the Stork Club, when Jackie Robinson first donned a Brooklyn Dodgers baseball uniform, when thousands of black families migrated from the rural south to industrial jobs in northeast cities (and in Seattle), etc.
And sure, there aren’t many modern-day African Americans in the swing revival. Traditionally, black audiences rush to the Star-Off Machine to abandon black music forms once they’ve gone “mainstream” (white), which with retro-swing happened sometime after Kid Creole and the Coconuts. (When ruthless Hollywood promoters turned rap into gangsta rap, nakedly exploiting white mall kids’ stereotypes of young black men assexy savages, black audiences rushed to support acts you or I might consider sappy love-song singers, but they saw as well-dressed, well-mannered, prosocial alternatives to the gangsta crap.)
Similar statements could be made gender-wise about the swing years, esp. when thousands of women took over civilian jobs during the war. It was at swing’s end when gender roles temporarily went backward. The Pleasantville movie connection here, of course, is Ozzie and Harriet. Ozzie Nelson was a swing bandleader, Harriet Hilliard (who still used her own last name when their show started on radio) an RKO contract actress who’d become Ozzie’s singer and wife. When they saw the market for swing bands collapse after V-J Day, they invented new, desexualized, images for themselves on their radio show. It was the end of the Swing Era that coincided with (or presaged) the movement to get women back in the kitchen.
Besides, gay men are forever celebrating the style and glamour of decades in which their own sexuality was thoroughly repressed. What’s the Cadillac Grille on east Capitol Hill but a work of fetishized nostalgia for, well, for the Ozzie and Harriet golden-age-that-never-really-was (especially for gays)?
As you might expect from these summaries, Guilbert also finds something semi-scary in the swing kids’ dress code; the stuff their grandparents wore and their baby-boomer parents rebelled against. What she doesn’t realize are the reasons for voluntarily dressing up today can be quite different from the reasons for involuntarily dressing up yesterday.
Guilbert ultimately assigns the swing movement to plain ol’ materialism, “the late 20th century tendency to define the self through purchased objects.” That might be the case with some collectible-hoarders among the retro crows, but it sure doesn’t apply only to retro folks. You see it in people who define themselves by what they do or don’t eat, what they do or don’t drive, etc.
My conclusion? It all goes to show you. If a lot of young people do something (anything), some grownup’s gonna whine about it. Having lived through at least three or four attempted swing revivals (remember Buster Poindexter? Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive LP? The Broadway revues Five Guys Named Moe and Ain’t Misbehavin’? The movies Swing Kids and Newsies?), it amused me at first to see a new generation actually pull it off. Of course, as with anything involving large masses of young adults, it tended to become something taken way, way too seriously. Guilbert also takes it very seriously, perhaps more seriously than the kids themselves. My Rx for her: A good stiff drink and a couple spins of that Ella Fitzgerald sampler compilation.
IT’S THAT TIME OF THE YEAR when we’re supposed to find things to be thankful for. It’s been an up-‘n’-down year around Misc. World HQ, but I’m way, way grateful for my web server Speakeasy.org, which is helping me construct the next version of the site, and to the many kind letters, phone calls, and emails supporting the column’s online continuation. I invite you to share what you’re thankful for this season to email@example.com; selected responses will appear here next week.
SCARY POST-ELECTION, post-Halloween greetings from MISC., the popcult report that, on the night MTV aired the last episode of The Real World: Seattle, was at Pier 70, in an ex-retail space right next to the ex-Real World studio, where two campaigns (No on 200 and Yes on Libraries) held election-night parties. You’ve seen enough TV coverage of such parties to know how they went down. The KCPQ news crew there even had a script prepared for both contingencies: “The crowd here cheered/groaned when the first returns were announced.”
As it turned out, just about every progressive stance won, with one extreme exception. The anti-affirmative-action Initiative 200 won big. Why? At the bash, the main explanation handed about was the initiative’s clever ballot wording, which, by purporting to oppose racial/gender discrimination in public hiring or education, may have confused anti-racist voters. My old personal nemesis John Carlson, I-200’s official leader, is politically sleazy enough to have promoted such confusion, but not clever enough to have thought it up. For that the credit/blame has to go to the Californians who actually drafted the measure. Hard to believe, but some well-meaning friends still ask why I’ve never moved to the fool’s-golden state. After Nixon, Reagan, Pete Wilson, the “English Only” initiative, the anti-bilingual-education initiative, and the original anti-affirmative-action initiatives now being cloned in assorted states, it’s way past time we all stopped believing the hype about Calif. as some sort of borderline-pinko progressive paradise.
Adding to the confusion, anti-200 campaign leaders apparently feared racial divisions in Wash. state had gotten so bad, white voters wouldn’t vote to keep affirmative action unless it was marketed as helping white women. So all you saw in anti-200 ads were white-female potential victims of the measure. The pro-200 forces (who wanted to restore old white socioeconomic privileges) flew in out-of-state black conservatives to speak for the measure (and even flew in paid out-of-state black signature gatherers), while the anti-200 forces (who wanted to preserve the legal remedies that had jump-started workplace diversity) presented a public face of soccer moms and blonde kindergarten girls.
HALLOWEEN ROUNDUP: Only one Monica Lewinsky in sight, at least among the parties seen by me or reported on by readers.
Misc.’s crack team did report sighting a few South Park costumes, several Spice Girls quartets and quintets, a couple adult Teletubbies, a lot of devils and vampires and waitresses and scullery maids, several construction workers and Catholic schoolgirls, two male Hooters Gals, and one Linda Smith.
My second favorite sight was at Champion’s a couple days before, where a real policewoman stood doing crowd-control duty right next to the life-size cardboard cutout of Xena.
My first favorite sight was outside Sit & Spin, when a guy in an Edvard Munch “Scream” mask started to converse with his pal dressed like Steve Urkel–in sign language. A deaf “Scream”! More perfect than perfection!
NEIGHBORHOOD OF MAKE-BELIEVE DEPT.: Why haven’t any reviews of that awful new movie Pleasantville mentioned the title’s connection to Reader’s Digest? For decades, the now fiscally-embatteled RD has trucked its mail from the post office in Pleasantville, NY to the town 10 or so miles away where its offices really are. It’s quite possible Pleasantville writer-director Gary Ross created his fantasy of a fetishized ’50s sitcom town less from the sitcoms of the period (none of which resemble it) than from a non-RD reader’s received ideas about the hyper-bland, ultra-WASP, problem- and temptation-free Real America RD is supposed to have championed, particularly as the ’60s came along and conservatives’ rant targets moved from Commies and labor unions to the sort of unwashed bohemian types who’d grow up to make dumb fantasy movies.
In reality, of course, RD‘s editorial stance was more complex than its rigorously-enforced simple writing style. It was running improve-your-sex-life articles years before GQ, and has run more anti-smoking articles than most other big magazines (it’s never accepted cigarette ads). For that matter, as film reviewers have pointed out, those TV sitcoms weren’t really as “postively” life-denying as Ross suggests. Anything that has to explore the same characters week after week, in formats light on action and heavy on dialogue and close-ups, will by necessity come to explore the characters’ inner and outer conflicts, torments, and sexual personalities–even if the shows scrupulously avoided what used to be called “blue” material.
So Ross’s fantasy world is really about today’s nostalgia/fetishized memories of the media-mediated visions of the ’50s, not directly about those original fictions. Already, we’re seeing nostalgia/fetishized memories of the media-mediated visions of the ’80s, via nostalgia picture-books that claim Ronald Reagan really was universally loved and brought America together again. There are now plenty of movies exposing the dark side of the ’50s (from Parents to Hairspray and even JFK), but will future fetish-nostalgia filmmakers depict the ’80s as exclusively a time of Rambo and Risky Business? Speaking of filmic fantasy worlds…
PLACE OR SHOW: The PP General Cinema elevenplex means, even with the permanent closure of the UA 70/150 (the “200 penny opera house”) and the temporary closure of the Cinerama, there are now a whopping 39 commercial movie screens in greater downtown Seattle (including Cap. Hill and lower Queen Anne), plus the Omnidome, IMAX, and 911 Media Arts. No more the days when high-profile new films would premiere no closer to town than the Lake City, Ridgemont, or Northgate (still open!) theaters…. Lessee, what would have been the movie for me to see in this giant multiplex, on the top two floors of a massive, climate-controlled environment totally dedicated to commercialism and with no visible exits? Hmm, maybe–The Truman Show? (To update one item on last week’s list of things Seattle needs,” the elevenplex will indeed have a cocktail lounge in its upper lobby level once the permits come through. No booze will likely be allowed in the theater auditoria themselves, tho…)
As for the mall itself, a tourist overheard on opening day of Pacific Place said, “It reminded me of Dallas.” I can imagine the likes of J.R. Ewing and Cliff Barnes hanging amid the huge, costly, gaudy, yet still unsophisticated shrine to smugness. This penultimate major addition to downtown retail (the last phase of downtown’s makeover will occur when the old Nordstrom gets permanent new occupants) constitutes one more shovelful of virtual dirt on the old, modest, tasteful Seattle. The PP management even kicked out a branch of the Kay-Bee Toys chain the day before it was to open, solely because Kay-Bee’s Barbies and Hot Wheels weren’t upscale enough for the tony atmosphere the mall wants everything in it to have!
At least one good thing you can say about PP is it makes the 10-year-old Westlake Center (also built with partial public subsidy) look comparably far more egalitarian, with its cafeteria-style food court and its Beanie Baby stand and its “As Seen on TV” cart selling your favorite infomercial goodies: Ginsu knives! A “Rap Dancer” duck doll! Railroad clocks that whistle on the hour! Magna Duster! Citrus Express! EuroSealer! Gyro Kite! Bacon Wave! EpilStop Ultra! And Maxize, $39.95 Chinese-made foam falsies (“Avoid risky, expensive, ineffective surgery”)!
STACKED ODDS: Pacific Place’s Barnes & Noble, more than any other book superstore I’ve seen, clearly displays the book-superstore concept’s tiers of priorities–literally. On its small main-floor storefront level, B&N displays a few tables and shelves of highly advertised new releases, plus audio books, coffee-table picture tomes, and magazines. For everything else (including the everything-for-everybody, indie-bookstore-killing miles of midlist titles), you’ve gotta take an escalator to the basement. Of course, most big bookstores have a special display area front-and-center for a few dozen highly advertised or “recommended” titles. Big publishers will routinely cut deals with superstore chains for these prominent spots. Powell’s City of Books in Portland makes it more explicit than most, with a separate room for the up-front goodies. The University Book Store makes it less explicit than most, almost hiding its prime-display tables in the store’s geographic center, past the remainder tables.
(Also in the B&N basement: A small but selective CD department, including preprinted divider rack-cards for “Tributes” and “Benefits.” And the ground-floor magazine rack’s the first place downtown to sell British Cosmopolitan, still the raunchiest mainstream women’s magazine in the English language.)
‘TIL NEXT WEEK, presuming no heretofore-charted comets hurl toward Earth, welcome the early sunsets, and watch the Seattle Reign instead of complaining about any lousy NBA lockout.
AS PROMISED three weeks ago, here’s the official Misc. list of the 64 arts and sciences a modern person should learn; as inspired by one of the nonsexual parts of the Kama Sutra. (Here’s the original passage; here’s how to get the whole book.)
I’m not claiming to be an expert on all of these, or any. They’re just things I, and some of you, feel folks oughta know a little better, in no particular order:
street hockey, et al.).
cinematography, videography, Photoshop).
Subject: 64 Arts for the Modern Person Sent: 7/27/98 9:20 AM Received: 7/27/98 12:45 PM From: erinn kauer, firstname.lastname@example.org To: email@example.com
Interesting topic. All modern persons should bone up (no pun intended) on the various methods of BIRTH CONTROL. To include: proper condom etiquette, taking the pill on time, abstinence, getting off without actually having intercouse, and covering one’s butt by always having a supply of the newly available emergency contraceptive pills (actually just the regular pill, taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse, it reduces the chance of actual conception by about 75%… this is not RU486, and does not abort anything, it just does not allow the conception to take place). PLEASE include this particular item in your list, there would be far less unwanted pregnancies occuring, either resulting in having the child because the misguided fool believes so strongly that abortion in wrong (like having a child unprepared and setting them up in this world on a shaky base is right) or in having the costly and scary and stigmatizing abortion and suffering needless guilt because of it. However, abortion is not the end of the world, and should be seriously considered if all other options are not viable at that point. Please call the FDA at 301/827-4260 and ask for Lisa D. Rarick for more info on the 72 hour emergency contraception pill, or 1-800-NOT2LATE, or your local pharmacy. Do not let the pharmacy give you any bullshit about having to get it through your doctor, it is available WITHOUT a prescription and is perfectly legal, etc, etc, etc. I found that my pharmacy balked at the notion, but this has only recently been approved and they are simply not used to it yet. They need to be shaken though, they are needlessly telling people to go through their doctor, but you DO NOT HAVE TO, this should be available OVER THE COUNTER.
Besides contraception, folks of the modern age should study organic gardening, meditation (stress-buster, dream fulfiller, life lengthener), keep an eye on politics and actually know something about the world and the U.S. of A., and how to make a good latte…
I am sure there is much more, and my list is pretty lame, but the CONTRACEPTION/ FAMILY PLANNING is extremely important.
Thanks for hearing me out!
Erinn Kauer / eakamouse
P.S. Concert ettiquette, Gourmet Camping, and the fine art of bodybuilding (look good now AND later!). Whatever. Bye.
THE 1998 MISC. MIDSUMMER READING LIST: For the second year, we’ve a pile of old and new bound verbiage (in no particular order) to recommend as mental companions while you sit in airports, on ferry docks, in the breakfast nooks of RVs, in rain-pelted tents, and wherever else you’re spending your summer leisure hours.
The Ruins, Trace Farrell. In the ’80s I was involved in “Invisible Seattle,” a group of writers who (among other exercises) fantasized about an alternate-universe Seatown with Old World traditions and grit. This is what local author Farrell’s accomplished in her hilarous parable of working-class discipline vs. New Money hedonism; set in an Old World seaport town but based on a real Seattle supper club and on Seattle’s current caste-and-culture wars.
The Incomparable Atuk, Mordecai Richler. From the Great Canadian Novelist, a 1963 fable still relevant amid today’s Paul Simonized nobel-savage stereotypes. Atuk’s a supposedly innocent native boy from the Northwest Territories who’s brought to Toronto as part of a mining company’s publicity stunt, and who quickly falls right in with the city folk’s hustling and corruption.
Machine Beauty, David Gelernter. One of these skinny essay-books everybody’s putting out today; only this one’s in hardcover. The premise is admirable (advocating simplicity and elegance in the design of industrial products and computer software), but it’d have been better if it were longer, with more examples and illustrations.
Consilience, Edward O. Wilson. Giant essay-book by biologist Wilson, who proposes all human behavior (and indeed all knowledge) can be ultimately traced to biology and physics. He puts up a solid defense, but I still disagree. To me, the world isn’t a tree with a single trunk but a forest of interdependent influences. Life is complexity; deal with it.
The Taste of a Man, Slavenka Drakulic. For “erotic horror” fans, a novel of psychosexual madness by the Croatian author of How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed. Not much laughing here; just a heroine who takes the female sex-metaphors of absorption and consumption to their logical extreme.
Self Help, Lonnie Moore. Short stories by the author of Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? and Anagrams, reworking women’s-magazine clichés into a far less “motivational” but more realistic worldview.
Coyote v. Acme, Ian Frazier. Light yet biting li’l funny stories like the old-old New Yorker used to run. The cast includes a cartoon lawyer, a Satanist college president, Bob Hope, Stalin, Mary Tyler Moore, and “the bank with your money on its mind.”
Eastern Standard Time, Jeff Yang, Dina Gan, and Terry Hong. Asia’s economies are on the ropes but Asia’s pop cultures are going strong, as shown in this breezy coffee-table intro to everything from pachinko and sumo to Jackie Chan and Akira Kurosawa.
Sex, Stupidity, and Greed, Ian Grey. For all haters of expensive bad movies, essays and interviews depicting Hollywood as irrepairably corrupt and inane (and offering the porn biz as an example of a slightly more honest alternative).
Behind Closed Doors, Alina Reyes. An ’80s teen-romance series, 2 Sides of Love, told its stories from the girl’s point of view on one side of the book and the boy’s on the other. Reyes (author of The Butcher and Other Erotica) applies this gimmick to more explicit sex-fantasies, putting her two protagonists through separate assorted sexcapades in assorted dreamlike settings with assorted opposite- and same-sex partners before they finally come together at the middle.
Soap Opera, Alecia Swasy. Intrigued by Richard Powers’ corporate-greed novel Gain (based on Procter & Gamble, and named for one of its detergents)? This real, unauthorized P&G history (named for the broadcast genre P&G helped invent) is even stranger.
Underworld, Don DeLillo. Mega-novel spanning four decades and about many things, principally the U.S. power shift from the northeast (symbolized by NYC’s old baseball dominance) toward the inland west (symbolized by chain-owned landfills). But with the Yankees back in dynasty mode, and financiers now overwhelmingly more influential than industry (particularly resource-based western industry), DeLillo’s march-of-history premise seems like reverse nostalgia.
The Frequency of Souls, Mary Kay Zuravleff. The best short comic novel ever written about refrigerator designers with psychic powers.
AND A READER SELECTION of sorts:
Subject: Northwest Lit Sent: 7/26/98 5:29 PM Received: 7/26/98 5:36 PM From: LSchnei781@aol.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Your review of the above subject completely ignored the best of the lot–Ivan Doig. Here in Fort Wayne IN where more books are read per capita than in any other city in America (there just isn’t much else to do), Mr Doig’s books enjoy a wide readership, and he is considered by many of us to be in the first rank of contemporary American writers. Lynn Schneider (LSchnei781@aol.com)
WELCOME TO A MIDSUMMER’S MISC., the pop-culture column that hereby calls for a one-year moratorium on any further motion pictures depicting the violent destruction of computer-generated replicas of New York City.
UPDATE: The Cyclops restaurant, closed last year when its building was demolished in the Belltown redevelopment mania, will be reborn later this summer as a beneficiary of that same mania. It’ll be in a part of the ex-Peneil Mission/ Operation Nightwatch building, whose new landlords wanted more potentially lucrative tenants than the perenially underfunded social-service sector could provide. Since the building’s side sports half a faded old Pepsi sign blending into half a faded Seven-Up sign (the two have long had the same local bottler, which was once based in that building), it’d only be appropriate if a mixture of the two took a place on the beverage menu…. In other real-estate news, the nearby Casbah Cinema’s turned its SIFF-month closure into an indefinite one. The beautiful screening room in an alley location without dedicated parking is still for sale. And the former U District Clothestime juniors’ clothing store is now a National Guard recruiting office (talk about your yin/yang dualities).
OVERREACTION DEPT.: The supposed “gang riot” last Saturday at the Fun Forest was, as far as I’ve been able to determine, really just either an argument or an exhibition of horseplay by a handful of rowdy teens; climaxing either with a few gunshots into the air or (more likely) firecrackers. The ensuing scramble among sweaty, crowded kids set cops scrambling into crisis mode and herding all opposite-race youths off of the grounds. Live TV reporters got all hussied-up about a Sudden Threat to Public Safety, while the kids passing by just giggled or mugged it up to the cameras–this was a big Dionysian revel that had merely gotten a bit out of hand, not the huge angry mob depicted. More telling was the scene the following late afternoon, in which teams of cops with plastic face masks and billy clubs shooed any and all groups of three or more young Af-Ams not just off the Center property but out of the larger vicinity. It’s not just the Sidran gang and the anti-affirmative-action cadre who fear blacks, particularly young blacks. The fear is ingrained in the popular image of a clean, ordered city where everybody’s soft-spoken and unassuming. Lots of real Af-Ams are just like that, of course; but lots of whites still think (consciously or sub-) that Black + Young = Gangsta. (White teens can get rowdy too, but tend not to inspire such wholesale crackdowns.) Elsewhere last weekend…
DAYS-O-FUTURE PASSED: The Mariners’ Turn Ahead the Clock Night promotion, with uniforms and stadium signage supposedly harkening forward to 2027, finally let the Nintendo people put their graphic stamp on the team they co-own, at least for a one-game gimmick. The oversize, maroon-and-black, not-tucked-in jerseys with the huge, tilted logos and the “Xtreme-sports” style lettering, accessorized with metallic-colored batting helmets and racing-stripe pants legs, harkened back to an early-’90s computer-game interpretation of cyberpunk’s retro-modernism. Of course, it was all completely antithetical to the modern-retroism of the new Mariner stadium; so no regular Ms’ uniforms will probably ever look like that. (‘Twas also fun to ponder the fake out-of-town scoreboard listings for Venus and Mercury. If you think the thin air in Denver affects the game…)
DESIGNS FOR LIVING: A bookseller of my acquaintance recently tipped me off to one of the nonsexual passages (yes, there are several) in the Kama Sutra: a list of “the sixty-four arts and sciences to be studied” by a learned man or woman. They include some universals (“singing,” “dancing,” “tattooing”), some obscure-around-these-parts cultural practices (“binding of turbans and chaplets”), and some practical matters of life in ancient India (“storing and accumulating water in aqueducts, cisterns, and reservoirs”). Anyhow, it’s inspired me to compile 64 arts and disciplines (from the practical to the spiritual to the just plain fun) a modern person should know. As always, I’d like your suggestions, to email@example.com. Results will appear in this space in three weeks.
(Here’s a link to the original Kama Sutra list)
(Next week: The 1998 Misc. Summer Reading List.)
AFTER YEARS OF SEEING favorite radio stations die from low ratings, what should happen but I get my very own one-week Arbitron diary. For $2 cash, I was to faithfully record every station I heard, whether at home, in car, at work, or blaring out the neighbors’ apt. at 2 a.m.
To carefully choose which stations deserved my temporarily-important endorsement, I kept the dial moving all week. Herewith, selected results:
It’s also an opportunity for those who’ve been yearning for a real progressive community station. There’s several low-rated, probably unprofitable conserva-talk stations in the 1200-1600 AM neighborhood (plus new frequencies now being allocated in the 1600-1700 range). The progs should get together, hit up some friendly moneybags in the music and tech bizzes, and buy one of these.