Friday, August 29, 2008
You may accuse me of cynicism if I note that the experience of watching televisually adept political rallies held in athletic stadiums makes me think of the late Leni Riefenstahl.
I might confirm your characterization by asking whether you noticed that Barack Obama wore a red tie for his big speech last night.
The magic podium that came up through a trap door on the stage in front of the faux-Corinthian columns from which the 21st century Apollo emerged and then went back down when it was time for the onstage family fest customary at such public rituals was also red, or at least it looked that way on the CNN HD broadcast I was watching.
The candidate's wife and children, when they emerged for their big photo op, were also wearing red, as was the Vice President's wife.
This apparently deliberate signaling of a mood of revolutionary change is interesting to me as a longtime observer of the media semiotics of the use of color to depict American political parties. In the recent past, the media convention has been to associate red with the Republicans and blue with the Democrats. As you may be well aware if you have ever been castigated at a dinner party for "living in a red state," or heard one of your neighbors rationalize "we live in a blue dot in a red state."
Having long felt that much of the purported difference between America's dominant political parties is, viewed in the context of other polities with greater political diversity, a bit of a tribal "red team/blue team" delusion, I have found the adoption of this contemporary cultural parlance particularly annoying. You may say, that's convenient for me as someone who lives in a "blue dot in a red state." (To which I might point out, my color is brown.)
These particular color associations with the two parties are a relatively recent development. The default associations used to be the opposite.
While it is probably silly to think that the networks intentionally assigned the colors, the fact that they have stuck with such memetic power suggests they capture some deeper emotional/tribal associations in the age of the GWOT. Surely the gurus of brand marketing would tell you that color associations are among the most important tools in the semiotic toolkit of mass manipulation of public opinion. Why else would they have fought so hard some years back to ensure that corporations can obtain federally registered trademarks for the use of particular colors in connection with particular types of goods and services. Consider, for example, that one of the primary trademarks of the Discover Card is the "orange glow," and that United Parcel Service has morphed its brand image to simply "Brown." And in politics, there is of course the longstanding example of "the Greens."
For an excellent discussion of this phenomenon, consider this 2004 article by Phil Patton in the AIGA Journal of Design:
One Fate, Two Fates, Red States, Blue States
One fate, two fates, red states, blue states—have red and blue replaced red white and blue as our national colors?
We refer to the red states and the blue states so regularly now that the association seems long established. But only the 2000 presidential election established the linkage of blue with Democrats and red with Republicans. In earlier years, the television networks and magazine maps had reversed the association. In 1984 rival networks associated red with Democrats and blue with Republicans. The Reagan sweep of that year was called "Lake Reagan" in one context.
In many ways the link goes against tradition. Red has long stood for the left and one has to suspect that the first usage of it to represent Republicans was inspired by an effort to seem non prejudicial.
The end of the cold war made red baiting and pinko artifacts of a time past; the critical mark of the change may have come when the old red baiter, Richard Nixon, visited “Red” China.
On the other hand, blue was the color of the Union army uniforms, by contrast to gray, and has a historical link to the party of Lincoln. But in the Revolutionary war blue was the color of the Continental army uniform: red that of the British, of course.
Wrapping the candidate in the flag is the hoariest cliché of bumper stickers and posters. Post 9/11, with every politician in the land sporting a flag lapel pin, even clothing seemed to aspire to flagdom: red tie, white shirt, blue suit became common.
The colors of the flag are more than ever the staples of campaign graphics. (And despite Nader in 2000, who today could imagine that Jimmy Carter in 1976 adopted green, a hue that these days is as likely to evoke Islam as environmentalism?) But this year’s campaign graphics seem to have lost the traditional white of the trio. John Kerry’s stickers show a hopeful sea of Democratic blue, with flailing strip/stripes of red and a single tiny white star. They recall the Bank of America’s recent abbreviated flag logo.
It is as if in all the flag waving of the last few years the white in the red, white and blue had vanished. The blue-red opposition has come to stand for a wider sense of political and cultural polarization—between cultures, incomes and classes. Has white vanished out of fear of suggesting surrender? Does it mean all hope of truce or compromise has vanished?
I have to think that it is not a coincidence that the traditional association of red with the party to the left expired sometime after the death of the Soviet Union. Which also happened in parallel with the Reagan-era association of the G.O.P. with a more aggressive military posture, and, in the age of the Iraq War, with an openly scarlet military adventurism. The idea of popular revolution being dead, the party of blood on the streets becomes the party of Mordor-like mechanized military might. Shock and awe is red, not blue.
As are rednecks, especially as seen from certain urban quarters.
(Can it be any accident that the W.-era Republican red tie fetish recalls the historic wearing of red bandanas by Scottish Presbyterians to represent their having signed manifestos of religious identity in their own blood, a practice which is the true origin of the term "redneck"?)
And blue, of course, is the color of dipassionate professorial cool, of Tory reserve, of the Establishment. The color of Yale University, National Public Radio, and those cryptically named pharmaceuticals that keep you from getting in a bad mood.
Phil Patton suggests the real message (and cause for alarm, literally) comes from the spectral dipole:
Red and blue joins red and green—stop and go—and even Stendhal’s red and black as a basic binary.
Each color has its associations. Blue is cool and dispassionate, red heated. But it is neither the red or blue alone where the meaning lies, it is in the combination.
It is a pairing with overtones of alarm. Light bars atop police cars strobe warnings in red and blue. Not long ago activists protesting gang violence in Irvington, New Jersey marched with mock coffins, alternately covered with red and blue representing the Bloods and Crips gangs.
Is our division into red and blue a new national emblem in itself, like Swedish blue and yellow? Usually it takes three colors to make a national color scheme: French tricolore, German black red and yellow, Jamaican green yellow black. Red and blue meet white in the Russian flag. Red and blue were the colors of Paris joined with the white of the King of France in the tricolor.
Any melding of blue and red suggests an impossible purple—the color of royalty, rich as the vain dream of national union hoped for by nation builders who bring shabby deposed kings back to conflicted nations—an early scenario for Afghanistan. But purple has also occasionally been used to indicate “toss up” states on this year’s electoral map: the overtones of bruise are appropriate.
At best, red and blue might inspire a contemplative Rothko glow, a study of a wider and more profound opposition. The pairing was seen differently by the great blues singer Robert Johnson, who in his song “Love in Vain” considered a departing rail car and the loss it meant, rolling out of the station “with two lights on behind. The blue light was my blues and the red light was my mind.”
My own suggestion is that, as a revolutionary act of independent thinking (and given that you can't watch television without being reminded that you have a patriotic duty to get a new one before analog transmissions from the ether go the way of the vacuum tube), each American make habit of manipulating the color balance on her television set to thoroughly subvert the color schemes of the political semioticians who want to control your mind when you walk into the ballot box in November. Flush out all the red and all the blue, and see what happens.
Wikipedia on colors, their associations and etymologies:
Red states and blue states.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
“Lassie, I’m nae a performing dog what’ll sit up and do tricks on command for ya,” Flavius growled. “Nae matter what ya ken of me, with all this talk about ‘lesser sentients’ and the like, I’m more than a plaything for the women of the Eternal Dominion. I’m descended of Bellona's bridgroom and Sajal be damned, I’ll nae jump to when ya snap yer fingers. I’ll thank ya to remember that!”
The color’d drained from Anacaona’s face as Flavius raged, her eyes casting furtive glances left and right at the other diners who’d interrupted their conversations to stare at the commotion. When she spoke, her voice was a timid squeak.
“I... I apologize for my affront to your dignity. You shame me. I will not bother you anymore.”
Flavius rolled his eyes. “Are ya daft? I’ve been marching with Bonnie Prince Charlie for six months, down to Derby and back up through Glasgow. I wore out two pair of boots chasing around with him, but dinnae chase a single lassie the whole time.” He leaned back, crossing his arms. “I’ve gone so long without, I’d say ‘Aye’ to yer blind gran if she offered. Of course I’ll have a go at ya, but it’ll be on my terms, nae yers.”
Anacaona blinked at Flavius, struggling to process what he’d just said.
“I hope ya ken what yer in for,” Flavius said, popping the last few spondl into his mouth. “A stout Scot is nae to be trifled with.”
The tables abruptly split apart, carrying the uncertain Anacaona away. On cue, one of the aerial waiters swooped down to gather the empty plate.
“Aye, beastie. Take it away and bring me something savory,” Flavius muttered.
Through the crowd, Flavius spotted Parric. Remembering the mysterious featherscale, he waved as his table drifted along.
“Hoo! Parric! Over here!” he shouted, drawing startled stares and whispered comments throughout the dining hall. “No, nae that way, ya stupid table. How do ya steer this damned thing? Oh, bugger it.”
Flavius grabbed the side of the table, planted his feet on the floor and threw all of his weight to the side. The table groaned, a piercing, hollow echo of metallic agony that reverberated through the dining hall. But it slid toward Parric.
“Excuse me. Coming through here,” Flavius said, grunting as he shoved the table along. “Sorry about that. I dinnae ken it’ll stain. Was that yer foot? My fault. Out of the way, now.”
Finally, Flavius shoved his table into Parric’s. They neatly merged together. Parric stared at the fused seam, then looked up at Flavius. “Well,” Parric said, “you’re nothing if not subtling.”
“Watch it, beastie,” Flavius said, waving a finger. “I’m in nae mood for yer--”
An aerial waiter interrupted him, setting a steaming plate before him of thick, ropy coils drizzed with a translucent blue sauce and a stylish garnish of what looked like garden weeds. The waiter rotated in place, setting before Parric a dish of what looked like boiled eggs, except for the fact they were a startling purple in color and stood about a finger-length above the plate, supported by nasty looking red spines that radiated out from them.
“Egh,” Flavius said, prodding his entree suspiciously. “I ken the lot of ‘em are barking mad, what with this food they expect us to eat. D’ya ken what that last dish--that spondl stuff--they served the rest of us was?”
“Peq testicles,” Parric said, scooping up several of the spiny eggs in his beak. The spines made a satisfying crunch as they splintered.
“Right. And so I-- bastard!” Flavius’s face twisted in horror. “Yer having me on!”
Parric shrugged his antennae. “They grow back.”
Flavius slumped in his chair, face buried in his hands. He moaned pitifully before peeking at the current course in front of him. “Tell me, beastie. Is that one of them aphro-whatsits, too?”
“I’m believing so. The Empress Malinche is making many changes to the menu,” Parric said. “She is watching you closelying. She is seeming pleased with your appetite for spondl.”
Flavius groaned. “Just throw me to the wolves now, and get it over with.” He grabbed his drink and emptied it with a single gulp. The taste was bitter and woody, but it burned nicely on the way down. The edges of his vision flickered in a way that promised more to come. “I dinnae suppose yer plate there’s filled with the spiky balls of some exotic beastie as well?”
Parric shook his head. “No, these are... well, they’re not having a name. Or rather the name is a descripting of the preparing process. I’m finding this most curious, actualling.”
An aerial waiter refilled Flavius’ flute. It only made it halfway back up its thread before Flavius drained his glass, forcing it to return for another refill.
Parric leaned over. “It’s not a foodstuff widely knowing outside of my home. The first two courses, they are commoning. I’m eating them here previously. But this...”
“Parric, by ‘home’ do ya mean--”
“My home cosm.” Parric crushed the last spiny egg in his beak, gulping it down with relish. “It is actualling something of a delicacy. I’m at a loss as to how they are learning of it.”
“I ken I might have an idea how,” Flavius said, pulling up his sporran. “Open yer maw.” He reached in, and with a flourish pulled out the crimson featherscale. “What do ya think of this?”
Parric’s antennae sprang straight up. “I’m thinking three things,” Parric answered slowly. “And two of them are bad.”
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
In the department of you can't make this stuff up, envision if you will the upcoming Bollywood satire of Harry Potter, as implied by this squib from yesterday's times:
Warner Brothers Sues Over Indian Film
NY Times, August 25, 2008
Warner Brothers has filed a lawsuit over an Indian film whose title it says is too similar to that of the Harry Potter series, The Guardian of London reported. The studio is suing Mirchi Movies over “Hari Puttar: A Comedy of Terrors,” which is scheduled to be released Sept. 12. The film, which does not appear to be based on the J. K. Rowling books that form the basis of the Warner series, is about a 10-year-old boy who moves to Britain and becomes involved in a series of adventures. Munish Purii, the chief operating officer of Mirchi Movies, said: “We registered the Hari Puttar title in 2005, and it’s unfortunate that Warner has chosen to file a case so close to our film’s release. In my opinion, I don’t think our title has any similarity or links with Harry Potter.” A spokeswoman for Warner Brothers said it would not comment on litigation. An Indian court was to hear the case on Monday.
Based on the official website, a more accurate pitch would be "Hindu Harry Potter does Home Alone at a Defense Ministry War-on-Terror Hogwarts." The dance numbers on that one are going to freaking rock.
Not that anything will ever match the wonder of Koi Mil Gaya, pitched as "Forrest Gump meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. (with a healthy does of Flowers for Algernon) in Bollywood." Complete with a dance number involving little aliens who are, yes, Krishna blue.
Check it out and see if this isn't enough to make Dick Cheney want to play with pink unicorns:
Already missing Bob Costas beach bikini volleyball fun? Envisioning Shawn Johnson dismounts as you leave work? Awkwardly following the debate over Ben Stiller's use of "the 'r' word" in his new satire, Tropic Thunder? Wondering what the fine patriots at Blackwater have to do with all of that? Well, they are playing bocce ball for the Special Olympics. From the Blackwater press release:
The game Bocce Ball has elements of bowling, horseshoes, shuffleboard and billiards. To start play, the pallino, a white ball the size of a golf ball, is rolled onto an 8’ X 60’ grass court. The pallino then becomes the target. Players roll larger balls to see who can come closest to the pallino. Players can move the pallino with their balls or knock opposing balls further away. The game is enjoyed by players of all ages and athletic abilities. The Special Olympics serves a unique group of people, and this event brought a widespread of involvement from the surrounding communities to support this cause. A corporate sponsorship request was sent to Blackwater for sponsorship participation in the 1st Annual Bocce Ball Tournament. Blackwater gladly accepted and became a corporate sponsor at the gold level. Gary Jackson, President of Blackwater stated, “There is nothing more worthy than helping others less fortunate.” Blackwater employees and their families volunteered their time to be the official judges for this tournament, assisted in locating community volunteers and teams, and even recruited other employees for teams to participate in the tournament for this event. It was estimated 100 four-man teams competed in the tournament. There was great food, frozen drinks an exciting and fun Bocce Ball Tournament with the businesses and other groups competing against each other. This event was wrapped up with a dance under the starts at Waterfront Park in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.
Do you suppose they're giving out these cute logoed Teddy bears from the Blackwater pro shop as trophies?
Wonder what it would be like to get one of these sweet open positions at Blackwater? (Richard Butner, they are looking for a proposal writer in the NC HQ!) Check out this choppers' eye view virtual tour.
If all that's not special enough, then you better start training for this:
Blackwater Escape and Evasion Adventure Race
November 7th – 8th
Blackwater Extreme Racing and Don Mann Productions are proud to announce the Blackwater Escape and Evasion Adventure Race, a distinctive and exciting athletic event unlike any other. The Blackwater E&E will challenge adventure racers, triathletes, military personnel and anyone else looking for an innovative endurance competition.
This 24-hour race will pit teams of two against one another in the traditional adventure racing disciplines of trail running, mountain biking, paddling, and orienteering. But, as the name implies there is more to this race than just reading a map and finding checkpoints. Racers will also be challenged along the course by a series of Special Operations type events and surprises that could only be made possible by the combined expertise of the Blackwater Extreme Racing staff.
What the competition needs is a couple of teams of scrawny sci-fi types to go all meta on their asses. It'll be like Rocky meets Full Metal Jacket on the set of Starship Troopers!
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Monday, August 25, 2008
But I'm not sure I really nailed what bugged me about the concept until I came across Tom Kaczynski's brilliant treatment of the issue in the thinking man's comics collected in his Cartoon Dialectics, Vol. 1.
Who knew a few panels of pen and ink could weave the threads among Kurzweil's Age of Spiritual Machines, Jared Diamond's Collapse, Erik Davis's Techgnosis, Hakim Bey's T.A.Z. and Business Week better than any critical essay? Who knew there were comics that combined the alienated suburban emotional frisson of Dan Clowes with the critical edge of Mark Dery? Like Eightball with footnotes! (or at least, in this case, an actual bibliography.)
I have been reading comics since the late Silver Age, but frustrated in the last few years by my inability to find new independent comics auteurs who I really connected with. So much beautiful work, so full of the ennui of contemporary life, but somehow striking me as a bit too satisfied with the kind of cloying, navel-gazing, unwittingly self-important memoir that also infects the sort of contemporary American fiction cranked out by MFA programs. In other words, lots of work of exceptional quality and authentic emotional depth, but short on big ideas and more macro-scale intellectual punch. For this reader's tastes, at least.
You might suggest that to search for that in comic books is a fool's quest. These birds would disagree.
Last year, thanks to one of the staff members at Austin Books, I discovered the work of Anders Nilsen and his current serial project, Big Questions (specifically, Big Questions #10). Opening up the pages to pure wonder, with scruffy smart-ass birds talking to each other as they watch some dude in the woods rummage through a plane crash, sharing thoughts on the availability and worth of a box of donuts scattered in wreckage. Capturing better than any other work of art I have come across the feeling of being an alienated early 21st century American roaming the little hidden-in-plain-sight borderlands where wild nature collides with human urbanity and the random detritus of our material culture. A better realization of the power of slipstream than any purely written work I can think of from the last few years. Mapping our psychic landscape with pen-and-ink sonar pings of mind's subtle and generally unnoticed interactions with the interstices of the city. Pure psychogeographical mapmaking.
Last month, thanks to the guidance of the proprietor of Austin's new Domy Books, while searching unsuccessfully more more issues of Big Questions, I discovered the Fantagraphics serial anthology Mome, and, therein, the work of Tom Kaczynski. Flipping the pages of the tome, I was immediately captured by Kaczynski's "Million Year Boom," with its opening page scene of a new economy Ronin landing in another city and traversing an exurban landscape I know too well, with its trapezoidal office buildings harboring secret projects:
"My cab was a bathysphere stumbling upon some ancient submerged civilization."
"Million Year Boom" ingeniously discovers the latent wonder of a familiar alienated Office Space scenario, as the protagonist shows up for a corporate branding assignment in some emotionally remote exurbia, and slowly discovers a conspiratorial Business 2.0 stealth company planning to reap entrepreneurial benefit by egging on the release of the savage nature lurking in the sliver of woods left behind the office building, and in the primate brains of the men occupying that building. The artist-author, like his protagonist, manages, without premeditation or planning, to discover some profound truths encoded within a corporate brand finally produced as a 21st century cave painting of blood, sweat and semiotic design at the end of a trail of excrement and allergens. Mandatory.
How appropriate that the marriage of meat and abstract mind is rediscovered in a medium of ink on paper.
Tom Kaczynski: Robot26.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Get your Zeitgeist smelling salts right here: Get Your War On, at 23/6
For more on some of GYWO's cultural virus, see "Anthems for the Earnest," NFOTF, October 1, 2007.
Friday, August 22, 2008
M.J. Engh honored by SFWA as 2009 Author Emerita
LOS ANGELES -- Mary Jane Engh, author of Arslan and Wheel of the Winds among other works, will be honored as Author Emerita by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America for the 2009 Nebula Awards® Weekend in Los Angeles, Calif.
The moved was announced by SFWA President Russell Davis. The Nebula Awards Weekend will be held April 24-26 in Los Angeles, Calif., at the Luxe Hotel Sunset Boulevard, with the awards presentation banquet to be held on the UCLA campus to tie in with the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.
“Well, I hope ‘emerita’ doesn't mean ‘over the hill,’ but I'm truly honored -- blown away, in fact,” Engh said. “It's nice to know that somebody has noticed me.”
Under the pseudonym Jane Beauclerk, Engh published her first science fiction story, “We Serve the Star of Freedom,” in the July 1964 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Over the next four decades, her short fiction appeared in a wide range of markets including Universe 1, Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine and Arabesques.
In 1976 Engh published her first novel, Arslan, about a future United States conquered by a third-world power, to widespread critical acclaim. She followed that with Wheel of the Winds in 1988 and Rainbow Man in 1993.
“The reason I haven't been turning out SF in recent decades is that I'm up to my neck in historical projects,” Engh said. “I've been working on The Womb of God, a projected trilogy of historical novels on the life and times of the 5th-century Roman empress Galla Placidia, and--the biggest time-absorber--collaborating with my historian friend Kathy Meyer on a massive reference work to be called Femina Habilis: A Biographical Dictionary of Active Women in the Ancient Roman World from Earliest Times to 527 C.E.
“Plus, I do have a few chapters of a science fiction novel I hope to finish someday,” she said.
Engh’s other works range from non-fiction (2007's In the Name of Heaven: 3,000 Years of Religious Persecution) to children’s fiction (1987's The House in the Snow) as well as poetry. Her honors include the National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship Grant, 1982, the Mellon “Starving Artist Award,” 1997, and the Women’s Classical Caucus Oral Paper Award for 1999, shared with Kathryn E. Meyer.
Engh lives in eastern Washington state where she shares a house and a very large garden with her younger son and daughter-in-law, one dog and four cats. She maintains a website at www.mjengh.com.
Founded in 1965 by the late Damon Knight, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America brings together the most successful and daring writers of speculative fiction throughout the world.
Since its inception, SFWA® has grown in numbers and influence until it is now widely recognized as one of the most effective non-profit writers' organizations in existence, boasting a membership of approximately 1,500 science fiction and fantasy writers as well as artists, editors and allied professionals. Each year the organization presents the prestigious Nebula Awards® for the year’s best literary and dramatic works of speculative fiction.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Courtesy of Lawrence Person, further evidence that the crew at The Onion has been trolling this blog:
Michael Phelps Returns To His Tank At Sea World
The Onion, August 21, 2008
ORLANDO—Fourteen-time Olympic gold medalist and SeaWorld main attraction Michael Phelps returned to his seven-million-gallon water tank Wednesday to resume his normal schedule of performing in six shows a day for marine park crowds every day of the week.
Phelps, the 6'4", 200-pound aquatic mammal, and the first ever SeaWorld swimmer to be raised in captivity by foster swimmers (Mark Spitz and Dara Torres), was recaptured by trainer Bob Bowman in a hoop net baited with an entire Dutch apple pie following Phelps' final Olympic event last Sunday. Phelps was then tethered to the rudder of a container ship bound for St. Petersburg, guided down local waterways, and introduced back into his home habitat, the tank in SeaWorld's 5,500 seat stadium, known to park officials and visitors alike as "Phelps' Happy Harbor."
"Michael seemed really excited to be back," said Bowman, adding that the male swimmer became playful upon entering his tank, breaching the water and sounding repeatedly. "He just started swimming freestyle and backstroke, and only stopped to slide belly first onto the tank's platform so he could be fed dozens of fried egg sandwiches."
Cf., "Eating Michael Phelps," NFOTF, August 15
Of course, their take on the story is funnier.
More seriously, what better confirmation of the weird subtext of the media narrative of this All-American mutant wonderboy? Our attention was drawn the other day to reports that Phelps even has noticeable physiological advantages over normal humans, with "paddle-sized hands," "flipper-sized feet," and legs that are disproportionately short relative to his massive torso. We can't wait to see his web-footed children.
(Hyper-specialization may be where capital wants you to go, but that doesn't mean you can't hold out for a more diverse, but still accomplished, life.)