There’s a new film adaptation of On The Road. Like a lot of people, this was a super important book to me when I was 16. I must have read it 20 times or so in high school. When I tried to re-read it a couple years ago, though, I found that I couldn’t. The reality of the book itself didn’t hold a candle to the memories of what it meant to me at a certain point in my life.
That being the case, I was worried when I heard there was a film adaptation of the book. When you have such a complicated past with a book, approaching it again (especially in a different medium), can be a strange experience. And so if I’m nervous about re-reading the book, I’m twice as nervous about seeing the movie: if the original book can’t stand up to my memories, how will a film adaptation?
My fears weren’t assuaged by the trailer.
Here are a few rapid reactions to it:
Neal and Jack were poor, and they looked it. These kids look rich. They look like they’re on break from Sarah Lawrence, on a 2-day road trip to Cleveland to discover “real America.”
What’s with this cheesy voice over? Jack Kerouac sounded youthful, exuberant, nice, and even joyful. This guy sounds like a butthead.
Viggo Mortensen is perfect for Old Bull Lee. Nice choice. He’s the best part of the trailer.
Does Neal really say in the book what he says in the trailer, about not understanding his own motives?
Kristen Stewart makes a kind of awesome Marylou, but shes a bit skinny. She’s missing the “buxom,” but she looks about the right age.
Again, why the voice over?
I hope I’m wrong, but I was always worried that if a movie adaptation was made, they would play up the “exciting” parts of the book, to the detriment of the spiritual parts. I guess I was afraid it would be a movie about kids out having fun and doing drugs, instead of a sometimes lonely and painfully gloomy but overall spiritually joyous voyage through America’s mysterious identity. Hard to tell, since trailers always play up soap-opera melodrama and mindless action, so I’ll have to reserve my judgement for now.
In the days before most Western women could control the size of their families, obtain no-fault divorces, or achieve financial freedom, a magnificent breed of novels portrayed the lives of spirited women who beat helplessly against the societal walls that confined them.
While the best of these novels have retained their aesthetic charm, their plots have come across as mercifully dated — until very recently. If a woman wants to divorce her husband because she doesn’t love him, for example, she can do so in 2012 America. It is no longer possible to frame a contemporary American novel around a woman who can’t escape her legal ties to her husband.
The notion of women’s rights does not cross the mind of a character like Emma Bovary, the adulterous protagonist of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1856). Emma is more concerned with romance and luxury than with gender justice. Yet the power to divorce her kindhearted, thickheaded husband in favor of a more suitable mate might have been precisely the tonic required to keep her story from hurtling toward a poisonous disaster.
Like Emma, Anna Karenina of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1877) feels trapped in a loveless marriage: her husband Alexei Alexandrovich is wealthy and socially well-positioned, but his demeanor is cold and his personality dull. Anna, full of sparkling life, finds the warm-blooded Count Vronsky more suited to her taste. Her gender renders her nearly powerless to control the devastating consequences of her adultery; her married brother, on the other hand, faces few major consequences for his own adulterous behavior.
Lest we think only European men wrote novels about the bleak lives of powerless married women, let’s jump across several decades and the Atlantic Ocean.
Edna Pontellier, protagonist of Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening (1899), is tellingly introduced via her wealthy Creole husband’s gaze on her sunburned body: he appraises her “as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered some damage.” It is not long before Edna seeks economic independence and the affection of a man who sees her as a person, not as property. But her chosen partner refuses to run off with her, claiming he loves Edna too much to see her become a ruined woman in Louisiana’s strictly Catholic society.
Clare Bellew of Nella Larsen’s Passing (1929) also flirts with ruin. Her parents were black, but Clare herself is blonde, pale-skinned, and married to a racist white husband. Initially confident that marrying a wealthy white man is her ticket to a better life, Clare comes to believe that any alternative — even the shame and destitution that would surely be her lot — is better than the misery of living in constant fear and loneliness.
The plots of Bovary, Karenina, Awakening, and Passing are all spurred when Emma, Anna, Edna, and Clare respectively decide that their current marital situation is untenable. These four characters might identify with different nations, races, and languages, but they have much in common: they are all attractive, all intellectually curious, and all married to men whose financial position ensures that their wives serve primarily as status symbols, rather than as workers or childcare providers in the household economy.
Most importantly, these characters are all ultimately willing to forsake their status and material welfare for a chance at happiness, despite the extreme price that their societies exact for breaking the constraints imposed on women’s bodies.
The novels that contain these desperate women — all of whom are mothers — don’t necessarily approve of their behavior. Each one, in fact, juxtaposes its central fallen woman with a socially obedient (and rather boring) counterpart: the young ingénue Kitty sets off Anna, for example, and the rigid Irene Redfield sets of Clare, reminding her to “think of what would happen to [her daughter] Margery if Mr. Bellew should find out” that Clare is black.
Yet even if this soulful-woman-trapped-in-soulless-marriage genre doesn’t condone adultery, it avoids condemning the very women it creates. These novels suggest that a certain population of women — and not a small one — simply cannot thrive in societies that restrict their bodies while allowing male bodies nearly limitless freedom. When women cannot thrive, families suffer. A miserable mother can do little to promote her children’s welfare; nor can a dead mother.
It’s a lesson worth remembering today, as women are once again fighting to maintain the rights we thought were long recognized and established in law. Oppressed and passionate women have historically made for great literature — but let’s keep them far away from today’s reality.
Over the past weekend, Russian authorities arrested suspected members of Pussy Riot (the members of the band keep their identity secret), a feminist punk band that has bravely ridiculed the recently re-elected Putin regime. According to the New York Times, the two suspects are being held for up to 60 days, “until a hearing scheduled for late April.” Both arrestees are young mothers and have been denied bail.
The timing of the arrests, on the eve of the Russian presidential election, illustrates the political (and possibly illegal) justification behind their detention. The Guardian reports that the two suspects, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhin, have begun a hunger strike until they are reunited with their children. If convicted of “inciting religious hatred as part of a planned conspiracy” (one of their performances was inside Moscow cathedral, criticizing Putin’s close ties to the Russian Orthodox Church), the two women could face up to 7 years in prison.
Our own Helen Stuhr-Rommereim provided a translation of some of Pussy Riot’s “guerrilla performances,” reprinted below (with video):
Putin Pissed Himself
A mutinous column marches on the Kremlin
Blowing up windows of FSB offices
Bitches piss on the Kremlin walls
Announcing a riot, Abort the System!
Act at dawn? Don’t start to question
For our and your freedom we’ll whip them to submission
The glorious Madonna will teach us to fight
The feminist Magdalena stood up for democracy
Revolt in Russia! Charisma of protest!
Revolt in Russia! Putin pissed himself!
Revolt in Russia! We exist!
Revolt in Russia! Riot! Riot!
Walk out on the street!
Live on Red Square!
With citizen rage!
Dissatisified with a culture of masculine hysteria
An uncontrolled autocracy devours our brains
The Orthodox religion is a hardened penis
Coercing its patients to accept conformity
Soon the regime will censor our dreams
The time has come for the battle to explode
A band of bitches of a sexist regime
Asks for forgiveness, armed with a feminist spike
Revolt in Russia! Charisma of protest!
Revolt in Russia! Putin pissed himself!
Revolt in Russia! We exist!
Revolt in Russia! Riot! Riot!
Go out on the street!
Live on Red Sqaure!
With citizen rage!
Occupy the city, it’s your kitchen, it’s your frying pan
Walk out with a vacuum, have an orgasm
Pervert the battalions of political chicks
While stripped naked cops celebrate the new reforms
Fuck the sexist fucking Putinists
Kropotkin-Vodka splashes in our stomachs
You are doing fine, but those Kremlin bastards
Have got an uprising of out-houses, a deadly poisoning
Migalki won’t help, soon they’ll meet Kennedy
Fuck the snitching fucking bosses!
Took some kind of nap, but the day still grinds on
Brass knuckles in my pocket, feminism with a sharp edge
Carry that soup over to Eastern Siberia
Then our riot will become sufficiently rude
Last weekend Atlas Sound — the pseudo-rock n’ roll solo project of Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox — played a show in Minneapolis, the 7th stop on a mini-tour that spanned two continents and five states. At some point during the show some drunken yahoo yelled out a request for The Knack’s 1979 hit “My Sharona.” Cox (someone who has developed a reputation for his unstable personality and polarizing performances) obliged, covering the four-minute song for over an hour. Sally Hedberg, in a review of the show for Minneapolis’ City Pages, makes it clear that things quickly got uncomfortable:
The transition was stark and instant, as if Cox suddenly felt mocked or distrusting of the audience he had gradually opened dialogue with throughout the course of the night. He obliged to play the song, which at first was generally entertaining. But it morphed into something bizarre, a unending cover that rivaled the length of a Phish concert… Yet, “My Sharona” endured still, as did Cox’s increasingly awkward interactions with the audience. He asked people to take their clothes off. He shouted seemingly intoxicated defenses about his art. He simulated fellatio. Eventually, after inviting the audience onstage he seemed to get the picture that the show was over and bid his adieu, dedicating the show to “the death of folk music and the birth of punk.”
The performer-audience relationship is fraught with natural inconsistencies and inherent elements of antagonism: an artist is at once an exalted figure and a dependent figure, and, for some, the role of performer is not as important as the role of creator. At some level we expect a certain level of disdain from our finest creative-types: there is something noble about shrugging off popular taste and sticking with your guns. Why should they listen to anything that we tell them when we listen to everything that they tell us?
Bob Dylan (who said, “What good are fans? You can’t eat applause for breakfast. You can’t sleep with it,”) famously pissed off an entire folk festival by having the audacity to go electric, and the incident helped cement him as an legend, both as an American and an Artist with a capital A. Dave Chappelle once got mad at an audience during a stand-up performance, berating the crowd, “You know why my show is good? Because the network officials say you’re not smart enough to get what I’m doing, and every day I fight for you. I tell them how smart you are. Turns out, I was wrong. You people are stupid.” A year later he walked away from one of the most successful sketch comedy shows of all time, citing an instance where, while filming a sketch (the infamous pixie sketch), he felt that a member of the filming crew was laughing in a way that made him feel uncomfortable. “It was the first time I felt that someone was not laughing with me but laughing at me.”
Sometimes it’s worse than that. Kramer lost his shit in 2006. Last year an Odd Future show caused a near-riot in Detroit after fans started throwing bottles on stage and ended with a shirtless Tyler the Creator attempting to fight the one responsible. Seven years ago a basketball game between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons ended in an actual riot, the image of a crazed Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace) rushing the stands now as iconic as anything American sports have ever provided. In Space Jam, if Michael Jordan lost the game to the Monstars, his punishment would have been to work at an amusement park on Moron Mountain. “You’ll be our star attraction,” Mr. Swackhammer, the proprietor of Moron Mountain tells Jordan. “You’ll sign autographs all day long. And play one-on-one with the paying customers. And lose. Do we have a deal?”
What Bradford Cox did is more interesting than eventful — mostly it’s funny, but also a reminder that a majority of social contracts are bullshit, and that we all tend to kind of resent the people who love us (“I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member,” said Groucho Marx). There are so many subtle lines to be drawn everywhere, everyday, between everything and everyone, and sometimes it’s just easier to sit in a room and play “My Sharona” until all your friends leave you alone.
If there were a meme generator for contemporary criticism, the instructions might read like this: step one — take text/social phenomenon. Step two — write that the subject given is actually about — or exists as a consequence — of social media. With that safely out of mind, I’d like to earnestly proclaimthat The Academy’s best picture of the year, The Artist, is actually an allegory for courtship in the Facebook era.
The Artist is unusual in that it’s a romantic story about a man and a woman who could not be called lovers, or even have it said that they were in love. The short synopsis is that two people, George and Peppy, meet, dance a little, and become smitten. One falls from grace and the other climbs to it, while fate, in one of her more understated turns, dictates they lead largely separate lives. For the entire second act George and Peppy’s physical interactions are limited to a couple chance encounters and one emotionally dampened doorstep-in-the-rain conversation. [SPOILER ALERT] At the end of the movie one character saves the other from poverty and death and they celebrate with a tap-dance finale.
How does this work? Don’t most unkindled love affairs fade to the back of memory, if not out of it entirely, maybe now and then returning uninvited while one is otherwise getting on with his or her life? (Especially if that life involves a meteoric rise to fame in the talkies?). Well, it’s much easier to stick in someone’s life if your picture is constantly being thrust in front of him, like it would be if you were a silent film star, or if perhaps both you and your (in)significant other happen to be on Facebook.
Facebook is perhaps the world’s most intense medium — a curated and condensed performance of an individual’s life on display twenty-four hours a day for an audience as wide as the entire Internet or as selective as your best friends. Most Facebook users probably don’t view their profile as a mediated performance resulting in a second, virtual self, yet that doesn’t mean they don’t treat it as such by selecting pictures, quotations and other signifiers (in earnest or in jest) to represent themselves at their desired level of humor, sophistication, affluence — in a word, attractiveness.
Like the stars of The Artist, not a few of Facebook’s 845 million must be involved in one-sided relationships with two-dimensional representations of people they’ve met hardly or not at all. I say must be because it is just so damn easy to let your mind run free when you’re looking at what amounts to a gigantic PowerPoint presentation of everyone you’ve ever known, even without Facebook’s artificial intelligence (with the same level of uncanny aggression only ever seen before in 2001’s Hal and Microsoft Word’s talking paper clip) constantly twisting the knife by ever-so-casually mentioning you haven’t talked to so and so in a while.
Whatever kind of romantic attachment there is in The Artist is fueled by the type of voyeurism not unlike that which is commonly referred to as “Facebook stalking.” In between their fleeting real-world meetings, Peppy nurses her curious feeling for George by watching all his movies and following his clippings in the press. It is a sort of stalking, yes, but in this case the prey is a narcissist and exhibitionist who lives for the game. Most people have at one point been aware that they’ve been using Facebook to stare, rather than look at somebody else, but the less acute symptom of widespread Facebookism is that even relatively subdued sharers are opening the curtains to exhibit their own exhibitionism.
What then, is the effect when voyeurs and exhibitionists meet in real life? In The Artist George and Peppy avoid the quandary of how to simply be together by performing together. Alas, I wish tap-dancing were as useful in real life, where voyeurs and exhibitionists pass each other in relative ignorance of the relationships they inhabit.
It would be impossible to write an all-encompassing article about any AWP Annual Conference & Bookfair, but before embarking on the 2012 session in Chicago, our first AWP ever, we had our sights set on covering as much as was humanly possible. Full Stop accepting our piece made us journalists first and attendees second. Makeshift press hats were considered. An evenly balanced schedule over the three days of 550 book fair exhibitions, 400 panels, the keynote address, and countless readings and off-site events would be struck — some fiction here, some poetry there, an occasional smattering of MFA and teaching-related discussions in between. In order to cover the most ground we decided we’d split up each morning, separately sit in on different panels, individually wander sections of the massive book fair, rock, paper, scissors for the off-site events we both wanted to attend.
And then we realized that was stupid. We must confess we had little interest in spending 75-minute blocks on any panel with “pedagogy” in the title or listening to writers debate whether or not to publish on their iPhone. And our ambitions to divide and conquer were pushed aside when we realized how many talks we were both excited about, and how silly it would be to crush that excitement for the sake of parity. Amidst thousands of strangers, it would be nice to have a friend to share everything with.
We didn’t see the keynote address, we fell asleep while authors with Pulitzers and PEN/Faulkners read their brilliant work, and most regrettably, we went to very few panels that featured poetry. In the end, with our weak writerly immune systems, we felt happy enough just to emerge relatively unscathed. So here it is: the trade secrets, the panels and moments we kept bringing back up over meals — really, everything that inspired us to discuss hotel arrangements for the 2013 AWP in Boston on our El ride home.
Some Food For Thought
Hannah Tinti: “You are Hugh Jackman.”
Donavan Hohn: “I chased the toys because I started writing about them.”
The moderator of “There Will Be Blood: Writing Violence in Fiction”: “[Benjamin Percy’s] got nothing [to say] about violence. It’s because his characters are all bears.”
Marilynne Robinson: “My fiction embodies the things I hope my nonfiction will protect.”
Lauren Groff: “There’s no one better than Satan.”
Events We Wish We Were Still Attending
“The Long and Short of It: Navigating the Transitions Between Writing Novels and Short Stories”
Moderator Bruce Machart admitted that he formed the panel after recently encountering difficulty switching between forms. Erin McGraw, detailing her struggles to find sustainable ideas, and Hannah Tinti, speaking about her moments of crises when it comes to ending stories, matched his frankness. Kevin Wilson won us over with his talk on failure, confessing that three-fourths of his story conceits fail, which he now accepts as an integral part of his process. We, bobble-headed in the sixth row, nodded endlessly in agreement.
“Beyond Pulp – The Futuristic and Fantastic as Literary Fiction”
Leave it to Brian Evenson to aptly label George Saunders a gateway drug that exposes literary readers to genre work and vice versa. Despite all of Evenson’s insights, it was Kevin Brockmeier whose speech we dwelt on afterward. He read aloud from four genre and literary passages, J.G. Ballard and William Maxwell among them, to illustrate how unnecessary and inaccurate such barriers are.
“There Will Be Blood: Writing Violence in Fiction”
Over bottles of Bud Light, Antonya Nelson, Alan Heathcock, Benjamin Percy, and Alexi Zentner participated in one of the more charming panels, despite its grim topic. Some highlights: Percy and Zentner discussing the disturbing trend of undergraduate male writers composing long, titillating rape scenes; Percy’s synopsis of Chuck Pahalniuk’s “Guts” as “a long list of anal injuries”; and Zentner describing a story whose title and author he couldn’t place, only to realize, with some help from the moderator, that it was Heathcock’s “The Staying Freight.”
“The Rumpus Reads for 826 Chicago”
We arrived at The Boring Store late and found ourselves stuck behind two excited college-age girls. “Oh, my god,” went one. “That’s Stephen Elliott.” Which made us both crack up, not because it’s ridiculous to be excited to see the editor of The Rumpus, but because in the world outside of AWP, that sort of giddiness would be reserved for C-list celebrities and contestants from The Voice, at the very least. We reserved our giddiness for Cheryl Strayed, who made her first public reading appearance since her coming out party for Sugar. Hearing her “Write Like A Motherfucker” column read aloud almost brought us both to tears.
“Short but Not Sweet: Three Emerging Writers Read from Debut Story Collections”
This panel’s three young authors — Emma Straub, Stuart Nadler, and Megan Mahew-Bergman — read from their recent (and forthcoming — Mahew-Bergman’s Birds of a Lesser Paradise comes out this week!) debut short story collections before speaking eloquently on the strange experience of publishing story collections in a novel-centric market. In the Q & A, the barrier between the speakers and audience seemed thin — the questions were specific and personal, and it was obvious that some audience members were struggling to sell their own collections. We talked to Straub (who was wearing great lipstick, one-half of this reporting team noted) after the panel, and she advised us not to go to grad school until we were ready. This was a nice change of pace from the barrage of MFA-related questions we had been asked at the conference: Are you in a program? When are you going to apply? What’s your top choice? “Being twenty-two is confusing enough without worrying about MFAs,” Straub said. We agree.
Oh, the bookfair. Our first impression was pleasant surprise. “Oh!” we exclaimed. “We thought this would be totally overwhelming, but it’s totally manageable!” “Look how well-lit and spaced out these booths are!” And then we realized that this was only the first ballroom. There were four. And descending into two of these rooms was like going below the deck in Titanic, except without a young Leo DiCaprio to hold your hand. The lighting was prison-or-public-school-grade florescence, the tables were crammed into the aisles, and there were people everywhere, thousands of writers all having thousands of crowd-induced panic attacks. Better reporters than we would have figured out what determined the class divide — was it money? seniority? some other quality determined by the Grand Elders of AWP? Though it did seem like a lot of larger organizations, university-affiliated and well-established magazines and presses were in the high-rent district and their newer, smaller counterparts in the shantytown, there were plenty of exceptions.
Besides the Jack/Rose dichotomy, the biggest impression we left with was incredulity that so many magazines existed, tempered by the sad fact that many of them, due to a lack of funds, might not make it to next year’s conference. It also warmed our hearts to see the local magazines and presses (Knee-Jerk Magazine, Artifice, and the beautifully-designed Featherproof Books) there in full spirit; such is the joy of attending AWP in your home city.
Memorable Marketing and Swag
A matchbox with to-scale book cover from the press’s catalog. (Atticus Books)
Free mini Slim Jims, for the fair attendee who is tired of all the free candy and longs for some good ol’ mechanically separated chicken. (Birmingham Poetry Review)
Buy a subscription to our magazine and stash your stuff (coats, tote bags overflowing with books and lit-mags, tiny dogs) at our booth! Savvy. (Eleven Eleven)
Free, albeit slightly stale fortune cookie which read “Your simultaneous submission will be accepted by five magazines at once.” Very funny, cookie. (Jabberwock Review)
And marketing we vaguely remember, though at this point, it all feels like a fever dream: a raffle for a vintage typewriter, the opportunity to take a picture wearing one of Edward Gorey’s twenty-one fur coats in exchange for a donation, and a ring toss onto the antlers of a paper-mache stag.
Authors in our Dream All-Star, All-Male Barbershop Quartet, Based on the Melodiousness of Their Reading Voices
Lead: Alan Heathcock
Tenor: Kevin Brockmeier
Bass: Benjamin Percy *
Baritone: D. A. Powell
*Apparently, Percy absolutely KILLED at AWP Karaoke (the song was Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”), as did Lauren Groff, who was the highlight of “Villains and Killers and Criminals, Oh My: Representing Evildoers in Literary Fiction.” We did not attend this event and will regret it for the rest of our swooning, growly-voice-less lives.
Events We Wish We Were Still Attending
“One Story Magazine Celebrates 10 Years”
We were obsessed with One Story throughout the conference, signing up for discounted subscriptions and scooping up single back issues at Chicago’s Open Books. Editor-in-Chief Hannah Tinti and publisher Maribeth Batcha discussed their decade-long history at a 9 a.m. panel, which, in our drowsy stupor, had the loose, behind the scenes feel of a DVD commentary. The session was a celebration of the small triumphs — maintaining low printing costs, mentoring and spotlighting emerging writers, becoming a nonprofit, acquiring an office — needed to keep literary publications alive.
“Why Time Matters: A Discussion Across the Genres”
This meticulously-organized panel discussed how to deal with the passing of time in five different genres: the novel, the short story, the play, the nonfiction essay, and the poem, with an ambassador from each genre like a literary U.N., minus the tiny flags. Poet Fred Leebron was the hero of the day. His remarks on Larry Levis’ “After the Blue Note Closes” were, well, remarkable, and the success of the whole talk should be noted by those planning panels for next year: more cross-genre panels, please! Not only does it make for more interesting discussions between panelists, but it also encourages cross-genre friendships, because we all know that poets and prose writers make great friends.
“Ambitious Fiction: Tackling Big Ideas, Lots of Characters, and/or Lush Language”
Organized by indomitable half-human-half-penguin Lucy Jane Bledsoe, this panel’s speakers advocated for ambitious, complicated, risk-taking fiction. “Sprawling and uneven is higher praise than perfect and meticulously realized,” said the charming Jane Smiley. “The epic can’t be written economically,” said bilingual writer and translator Achy Obejas, whose comments on her Spanish and English writing voices were fascinating. With everyone’s remarks came caveats — no one was endorsing purple prose or over-writing — but that big topics (Bledsoe’s Antarctica, for instance) require big prose.
Book and Stories Recommended by Panelists
Rebecca Barry, Later, at the Bar: A Novel in Stories
Brian Evenson, Last Days
Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian
T.C. Boyle, “The Love of My Life”
Robert Stone, “Helping”
Peter Carey, The Fat Man in History
Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian
Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines
Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian
Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian
A warning: by the end of AWP, it will be difficult to keep your eyes open. Not only because you’ve been moving non-stop for three days straight with little sleep in between, or because three days of artificial hotel lighting start feeling like barbells attached to your eyelids, or because, in this sleepy stupor, hearing somebody read to you makes you regress to elementary school bedtime rituals. It especially didn’t help that the last person we saw read at the conference was Marilynne Robinson, whose prose is so seamless and voice so comforting that one of us began to nod off immediately. The panel, “Literature and Evil,” had been put together by the Center for Fiction, a new conference sponsor, and featured Robinson, Ha Jin, and Paul Harding. It was held in the Grand Ballroom of the Hilton and was surprisingly hard to find considering the room was as large as an airplane hangar and as exquisitely gilded as Louis XIV’s fanciest underpants. Robinson’s reading summarized the three days we’d spent navigating hotel lobbies, squeezing into elegant conference spaces, listening to writers whose books we’d read in subway cars and (aptly enough) in bed reading from those same books beneath chandeliers. And in that brief few minutes we remembered why we had scrapped our lofty journalistic goals in the first place. We weren’t here to report anything back. We were here because we wanted to listen. And so we did.
Everyone who’s seen The Wire loves it. But not everyone goes on The Wire walking tours of Baltimore, even though you can see the corners where the young hoppers sling and the bodega where Omar was shot. The tours go through real neighborhoods with real people living in them, which seems filthy: a combination of race and class tourism.
You can also go on walking tours of Jeffery Dahmer’s Milwaukee neighborhood. In fact, the first official tour took place this past weekend. It was met with a small protest, but what isn’t these days? One of the protestors, a sister of one of Dahmer’s victims, said that the organizers of the tours were “just as evil” as Dahmer himself. While that might be up for debate, there is something a little weird about wanting to be physically close to where the crimes took place. It’s pretty morbid. I can’t decide if it’s awesome.
How famous does something have to be to justify it having a walking tour? How heinous the crime? If there’s a market for it, and I’m sure there would be, why not do walking tours of random street crime scenes? The We Really Didn’t See It Coming Suicide Walking Tour? Check that, SEGWAY tour.
What are some walking/Segway tours that you would like to be a part of? I’ll give you a couple to warm you up:
1. Walking Tour of the Absolutely Worst Kids in the World
Comic book speech balloons are, according to David Carrier, “a great philosophical discovery.” In The Aesthetics of ComicsCarrier makes the case that the speech balloon, visual and verbal at once, is the element that best defines the medium of comics.
If the speech balloon is the most comic-booky element of comic books, what about THOOMs and KAPOWs and BLAMs? Sound effects are the excited, obnoxious siblings of speech balloons, and are equally as associated with comics — especially superhero comics. Sounds like the THWIP of Spider-Man’s web-shooters and the SNIKT of Wolverine’s claws are so well-known they now function as character catchphrases.
These words aren’t contained in white balloons like dialogue or neatly boxed like narration. They’re scattered over the page in bright colors and enormous fonts. Often they’re added by the letterer, layered on top of the art. These effects look like they’re sitting outside of the action. They could almost be the sounds made by an excited child as they read along with Batman’s adventures. Or — yes, okay, fine — an excited adult. I’ll cover my embarrassment with academia: “Comics are read as if aloud,” writes Robert A. Petersen. In his article “The Acoustics of Manga,” he states that comics encourage the reader to “sound out the narrative.” Readers are always “performing the comic for themselves, just as a ventriloquist might bring a voice to a puppet.”
It’s this performative aspect that makes sound effects one of the strangest and silliest comic conventions to new readers, I think. It’s hard to take literature seriously when you’re sounding out consonant-heavy explosions. Part of the genius of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen was probably to leave all sound effects off the page; Rorschach’s spoken “hurms” are the closest you’ll see to onomatopoeia.
When comic artists provide their own sound effects, however, it can highlight the visual dimension of RATATATATs as well as the verbal. A perfect example of this arrived last year in Marvel’s reboot of their blind crime-fighter Daredevil. In fact, the cover of Daredevil #1 by Paola Rivera shows the hero swinging high above a world made entirely of words. Passing birds are formed of FLAP. Streets of SCREECH. Water tanks shaped out of GLUG and HISS.
Throughout the series, the sound of Daredevil’s partner eating junk food — KRONCH — becomes the corridor that carries him across to complain about that same noise. A boat explodes with FA-THOOM taking the shape of its target as though painted on its side. Bullets don’t make sound; the sound itself is the bullet – BUDDABUDDABUDDABUDDA – with the letters shattering his window as Daredevil dives for cover.
Daredevil is in no way the only comic to use techniques like these, and this isn’t meant to be a history lesson. Many artists over the years have integrated sound effects into the architecture of the page, whether inside the panels or through the shape of those panels. (I swear Sin City’s Frank Miller would only draw panels sculpted to spell B, L, A, and M if he could.) But Daredevil’s particular powers — heightened senses, a radar-like ability — seem to encourage the title’s best artists to experiment. Regular pencillers Paola Rivera and Marcos Martin have made it one of the best-looking superhero books on the shelves.
(Sadly Marcos Martin has already moved on, but the oncoming new artist Chris Samnee is also excellent. Mark Waid’s writing, deftly old-school without wallowing in nostalgia, will provide continuity between his artists.)
It did get me thinking, though, about how these sorts of sounds ring in our heads. If they’re presented an as integrated part of the comic book world, do we see them more and hear them less? Are they more concrete and more weighty — or do they now seem to belong more to the realm of the symbolic? Think of how the Hulk was crushed beneath the text of his own enormous logo on Jim Steranko’s 1968 cover for Hulk King-Size Special #1, or how the title of Will Eisner’s The Spirit would appear carved in stone or fluttering in paper, as if the city itself was saying his name. Maybe it was. God knows, stranger things than that happen in comic books.
Other artists have an even more playful relationship to spelling out sound. Bryan Lee O’Malley’s celebrated Scott Pilgrim uses video game logic to spell out things like GAME OVER in the air. Faith Erin Hicks’ comic Friends With Boysillustrates two brothers embracing with a MANLY HUG hanging over them. And Brandon Graham’s recently (and finally!) collected comic King City has characters clasping hands for the first time — and the word TRUST appearing next to them.
Is it meant to be a kind of disembodied narration? Or is it a representation of a noise like BANG or THWIP or SNIKT? Something only Daredevil’s heightened senses — and by extension, our own — could hear? I don’t know. I like to believe TRUST makes a sound.
Martyn Pedler is a writer and critic in Melbourne, Australia. He’s the regular comic book columnist for Bookslut and – for some reason – is writing tragic backstories for everyone who dies in the Steven Seagal movie Under Siege.
Gregorian leap day is a simple enough concept: the earth takes about 365 days and six hours to make a full revolution around the sun. Rather than starting our year a quarter of the way through the 366th day every year, we even out by adding a day every fourth year. Leap day generally comes and goes with little or no fanfare, save the occasional TV special and last-minute schedule adjustments when you realize that this year has that extra day.
Leap day hasn’t always been a given, though, since the Gregorian calendar hasn’t always been a given. Implimented by a 1582 Papal bull as a reform to the Julian Calendar, it wasn’t adopted by Britain until 170 years later. Those largely Protestant nation-states in Europe took umbrage to a Catholic calendar, and some took over a century to warm up to the idea. Three years after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey became the final country to implement the Gregorian calendar.
A calendar does more than measure our position in relation to the cosmos — it has to do more, since the cosmos are awfully remote. Signposts within the year — holidays, anniversaries — help us tether our lives to a larger temporal framework.It’s effectively a kind of assimilation, taking on the calendar of another culture. From one person to entire religions, we distinguish ourselves by the ways we mark time. Occasionally, groups will reject the Gregorian calendar outright as an act of liberation or rebellion — both the French Revolution and the Paris Commune broke with the Gregorian calendar in favor of the French Republican Calendar, comprised of twelve 30-day months and five national holidays at the end of the cycle (six days in the event of a leap year). The first time this calendar was implemented, it lasted twelve years. Its implementation in 1871 lasted 18 days. It’s both curious and telling that the U.S. didn’t attempt any calendar reforms during its revolution. In a grotesque analog to this kind of calendarial iconoclasm, the U.S. and Canada (ONAN) in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest operate on subsidized time, in which each year is sponsored by a product (e.g., Year of the Whopper, Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment, Year of Glad). Heavy-handed as it is, it’s a brilliant illustration of the triumph of rugged individualism and corporate/capitalistic gain over matters spiritual, etc.
Against the backdrop of the hegemony of the Gregorian calendar, there have been multiple ideas for calendar reform. I’ve gathered a few here:
The Pax Calendar, proposed by James Colligan in 1930. Thirteen 28-day months. The added month, Columbus, would come between November and December. Every six years, years that end with 99, and century marks not evenly divisible by 400 have a leap week (Pax) added between Columbus and December. Every year would start on a Sunday, as would every month. This way, it would be easy to keep track of holidays, as they’d happen the same week every year. Never mind the drift away from the current solar calendar that happens when the leaps are larger and happen more infrequently. This calendar would singlehandedly destroy the wall-calendar industry, since you wouldn’t need to buy one every year. The same goes for…
Symmetry 454, which was not invented by a machine. It was proposed by Dr. Irv Bromberg, calendar reformer by day, bad pun-er by night. February, May, August, and November would all have 35 days, which is a total bummer since February is perennially awful. In leap years, which occur every five or six years, December also has 35 days. All the rest of the months have 28 days. Advantages to this calendar: consistency, and no Friday the 13ths. According to Bromberg, “many people are superstitious about bad luck occurring on Friday the 13th.” To avoid the problem, it might make more sense to avoid 13s in months altogether, the way buildings do. But then when we’d reintroduce those days every leap year, we’d be entering a world of pain.
Positivist Calendar, proposed by August Comte in 1849. Again, we have a 13-month calendar where each month is 28 days, but leap years occur every four years as in the Gregorian Calendar. Months had names like Homer, Moses, Shakespeare, and Gutenberg. None of the months were named after women.
The Simpsons Calendar, proposed by Matt Groening. It’s essentially the Gregorian calendar, but with a leap month, Smarch, added at will. Smarch (as in “beware the Ides of Smarch”) generally occurs after December. Again, showing little regard for drifting away from Earth’s true solar path w/r/t 24-hour days.
The Garfield Calendar, proposed by Jim Davis. Each year would consist of twelve thirty-day months. Each week would be six days long, and would begin on a Tuesday. A thirty-day leap month would happen every six years.
Groundhog Day, by Harold Ramis. If you are Bill Murray, every day is Groundhog Day. There are no leap years, no changing seasons. “It’s gonna be cold, it’s gonna be grey, and it’s going to last you the rest of your life.”
Overall, though, at this point it’d be tough to make a complete switch from the Gregorian calendar. It’s become a matter of convenience, not one of politics. And it’s been so long that the calendar itself has become secularized. Either way, it might be tough to get used to Smarch coming in like a lion.
Grindr is a popular GPS-based dating service for men looking to meet other men. Anyone can make a profile, but you don’t need one to start “cruising” for anything from random sex to a LTR (otherwise known as a long-term relationship). Though you can hide your exact distance from other users, profiles are listed by distance from you. Pictures are optional, which is frustrating when some faceless string of text offers you a blowjob — asking for a “facepic” just kills the mood. Profile pictures are screened (nothing even suggesting nudity is allowed), which necessitates an enthusiastic and heady trade in “dickpics.”
Some people limit profile details to height and age; others compile virtual biographies: “I like men that act like men. So to be completely honest, I’m not out nor have I messed with guys, and I’m not looking to hookup tonight either. 420+” Many declare their physical self-awareness: “Sexy, GL Masc Prof for same” (that’s good-looking, masculine and professional, looking for same). “Handsome, athletic prof…and thanks for the compliments.”
Some assert or imply an aversion to anonymous sexual encounters (“Not looking to hookup. Looking for that butterfly feeling. Love ambition and humor!” “Looking to chat and meet new people. I’m friendly so hit me up.”), while others facilitate such hook-ups with detailed requirements: “I Takeit like a Man /U Give. Prefer Tops who like to command the situation.”
You’ll also see more intellectual profiles that distill the user’s views on life: “Say what you mean, mean what you say. Not sure what I’m looking for besides a reason to get rid off grindr,” “I enjoy beers in the shower and proper grammar,” “Misery deserves company. Company doesn’t deserve misery” (?).
Some profiles are made by couples looking for new friends or a ménage-a-trois. Some men have no face picture because they fear for their job if they are discovered. Some are married. Some use a picture of someone else because they have adult children who live nearby or because they worry they are too old or too young or too heavy or too thin. Some are just looking to trade pictures and some are explicitly uninterested in such practices.
Common demands: “drama free,” “down to earth,” “straight acting” and “real men only.” (I suspect all are rather close in meaning.) I was pleased to find men who demanded “real men” initiating conversations with me, but, given my prepubescent-girl body, these users are obviously defining the term less physically than I. There is also a fair amount of self-deprecation and insecurity being tossed around; when I didn’t respond to someone quickly enough, he apologized for his greeting and said, “I’m probably not your type anyway.”
This reflexive “I’ll put myself down before you can,” is familiar to anyone who has ever been to a gay bar, watched a sitcom with a female character, read my joke about not having been through puberty, or been to middle school (or college. Or a café.). This self-effacement is encouraged in no small way by the outsized emphasis on physical appearance that has long been bemoaned in the queer community, and facilitated by an app that encourages snap judgments based on physical appearance. For every user judging you unfit for a purely physical encounter, there is someone shaming those users as sluts: “Have a face pic and some self respect!” “People Can Be So Repulsive! Don’t Expect Too Much!”
That said, my experience with the app has been extremely positive. For everyone whose pick-up line is invasive (“naked pics,” “Hi! Interested in getting sucked off and making some cash,” “We’re close, wanna fuck?”), there are many polite and lovely people: “Hello. How are you?” or “What a nice smile!” There are also amusing pick-ups: “Did you go to Hogwarts, too?” and, “Top of the morning to ya!” (at 1 a.m.), as well as the amusing-for-the-wrong-reason: “Hokkup” (at 4 a.m.). Using Grindr, I have met (in person) people I like very much and I’ve talked to many men who just want a nice conversation. My positive experience, I’ve been told, is not atypical.
This is not to privilege the social use of the app over the more carnal: for those in the closet or in isolated or close-minded communities, Grindr might be one of the only ways to find a partner either platonic or physical. And even for out men, the app solves a problem that heterosexuals often aren’t even aware of: when I go out, I don’t assume (like the girls I am with) that most men not giving off signs to the contrary are fair game for flirting and more. I can be more certain only at specific bars and events — and on Grindr.
The Grindr community, like the rest of the queer community (also, the world), can at times be too judgmental or too shallow; some people will find it dirty and unwelcoming. But it is always entertaining. I can only hope this same playful attitude was shared by the man who received a message from me that had been autocorrected by my phone to say, “Wait, are you a molester?!”