Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I can't stop thinking about Goddam America.

I've lived in America my entire life and I still don't know what the hell I think about this country. I grew up mired in ignorance only really understanding America through the snippets of history I knew from school. Revolution - Civil War - World War II - Cold War. That's all that really stuck for me. I still barely know anything about the War of 1812, not even why it started.

With World War II being the big focus for me, I threw myself into researching the Pacific Conflict, devouring books, and drinking in the carnage and bravery of it all like only a young adolescent mind can. I grew a sort of adulation of the military and often fantasized about a new war to be brave in. The whole thing existed in the context of a Time magazine cover; a stolid marine (usually me) was carrying a wounded comrade fireman style as an artillery shell goes off behind him. For some reason Time Magazine was like my portal into this adult realm of world politics, which I tried to be interested in but I usually ended up flipping to the Arts & Film section.

Anyway, the irony was that I often imagined this war in a middle eastern dessert setting. Not hard to believe because even before 9/11 the middle east was being painted to be our next Russia; a new boogie man to wave our cannons at, but I still can't believe how much my attitude about patriotism and war changed after 9/11.

9/11 changed everything and that's what I hate about it more than anything. The loss of human life is tragic but is quadrupled weekly in the third world. What really set me off is how that a time of peace was hijacked by cowards both foreign and domestic. Right as that sense of "We're America! Stand as one!" was wearing off we were somehow marched into Iraq and though I was only in 8th grade I already could tell that this was complete and utter bullshit.

The first thing I turned on that March night we started bombing the hell out of Mesopotamia was the Daily Show, but being a pre-recorded show they urge I turn to the real news. So I did and there was a fuzzy green video of us blowing up shit in another country.

It was so fuzzy and abstract. Deep inside the idealistic patriot leftover from all those books on Iwo Jima had been expecting heroic marines carrying eachother away from danger in a grand display of bravado. Nope. Just white hot flashes of green that signified someone's apartment being shelled or a man's livelihood converted to rubble.

Honestly everything that's come after Iraq has felt like bullshit to me. I relished in my hatred of Bush and would get in furious arguments around his election year. I still had hope in politicians, just not those who were in office. Somehow John Kerry, a vietnam veteran, stirred a little of that Iwo Jima Patritotism in me and I thought if we could just get him in everything would get better.

7 years later and Obama did what I hoped Kerry would. He got elected. Then he proceeded to do jack shit about Iraq and everything else that 9/11 fucked up in this country. Politics died for me the day Bush won his second term but it struggled back when Obama was campaigning only to fade away about a year after his election. Apathy and dissapointment caused me to try and swear off politics though I never can. I'm too addicted to the show. It's better than reality TV.

Bickering, whining, lying and all the other games make politics so infuriating also make it kind of addictive. I'll probably keep paying attention to it on and off like I did in college but the one thing I got from my ride with politics is an understanding of two Americas, the politics and the populace. Next time, I'll talk about how I learned to love the heartland more than any place on earth.

Friday, September 9, 2011

America's Funniest Videos Part 1: You put the cat in the tub

I've never understood why America's Funniest Home Videos (AFV) doesn't get very much attention for how trailblazing it really was. I believe it is sometimes penalized for it's lowest common denominator humor, where babies falling down and people ripping their pants are the norm, but at it's core it was really a very democratic and diverse program that paved the way for other forms of media in the future.

Clip shows weren't invented by AFV, they were popular throughout the history of tv as an easy way for tv producers to block up time on their schedule easily. What makes AFV, and what helped it's longevity with the show going 20+ years strong, but it's the everyman style of the show. The show is based on a japanese show "Fun TV with Kato-chan and Ken-chan," where japanese people posted videos of their goofy japanese pranks, and America producers saw an easy way to fill time. Little did they know that American's had thousands upon thousands of ridiculous home videos.

The show was like an analog version of youtube where the videos you see were vetted by a group of writers, but there still was a tournament style every episode with thre videos competed for the audience's approval culminating in a Caesar-esque thumbs-up/thumbs-down situation with the audience voting on who is the winner and who the loser.

But usually the funniest videos come in 5 minute themed burst and that is where the true beauty of AFV shines out, blocks of American's at their happiest, most vulnerable and simply unguarded. The act of peaking into hundreds of people's home videos in an hour block is like flipping through the channels of peoples lives. Mostly at times of leisure where you just see families lounging on a living room floor, working on their roof, or sledding. There's always sledding clips, even in july.

Next time I'll go more in depth on the content and it's significance as well as the Legacy of AFV.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Magnolia Electric Co and the live thunder

Magnolia Electric Co. is one of those bands that I love to death but I completely understand why others don't. There songs are dense with mood and sparse sonically. Lead by the haunting voice of Jason Molina who plays the wounded angle better than any other singer out there. He bleats the music in a smooth croon that evokes Sun Records era country.

In the Beginning MEC wore it's influences on it's sleeve and played satanic interpretations of the Neil Young & Crazy Horse method of tearing the roof off of clubs. There first official release, 'Trials and Errors' is a live album that shreds freely with out ever really bending down to rock staples. Many of the songs are formless, ambling along dangerously without a normal song structure (like verse-bridge-chorus) slowly mutating with the arhythmic permeation of Molina and lead guitarist Jason Groths intertwined guitar playing.

This is really an aquired taste. In the wrong mood, or with only half your attention diverted, MEC can sound kind of like a fat hog, lumbering drunkenly but they control this beast and when they pull on the reigns and let it whail the results are spine tingling.

The Last 3 Human Words is a perfect example. The lyrics themselves are worthy of a whole different post but the song has a very simple structure, based around returning to a heavy, pounding chorus after etheral interchanges between sparse guitar notes and a dark trumpet. Listen

Live. Real. Thunder.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Comic Book Journalism, the works of Joe Sacco and Matt Bors

There is a notion that comic books are kid stuff. It permeated the literary world up until the beginning of the 21st Century when writers like Daniel Clowes, F.C. Ware (an Omaha Native!) and Ivan Brunetti all began to show the world that "graphic novels" were as true a literary form as any novel ever could be.

But what about the comic form as a medium for journalism? Preposterous you say? "Comics are relegated to the political cartoon section and thats it!"
There are two authors I think prove that good journalism can exist in comic book form. One is far greater than the other but we'll start with the lesser one, Matt Bors, just because I have a lot to say about the other, the infallible Joe Sacco.

Matt Bors is primarily an internet political cartoonist, updating his strip "idiot box" fairly often with left-wing stabs at the tea party, network news and even Obama for not doing more to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but his trip to Afghanistan for a month is where his comic really shines. Through simple quotes from real people set to even simpler portraits one gets the feel for the Afghan people as they really are. Much more than you would if they were just in the photo above the wordy article on the cover of the Washington Post.

(His entire trip can be seen here just keep clicking Next to see them all)

The real king of comic book journalism is Joe Sacco, though, he's been at it for years and has illustrated the pain and suffering of some of the world's most forgotten people. The first book I read of his, that introduced me to the whole comic journalism concept, was Safe Area Gorazde, a chilling book filled with first hand accounts of the terrible Bosnian War of the early 90s. The interviews are conducted by Sacco and illustrated by him also. He also fills in footnotes where ever stories clash or where official documents contradict people's statements.

The stories often take on a journal type as we follow Sacco either trying to fend of the Bosnian teens begging him to bring them Levi Jeans or in his books on Palestine, trying to track down people who would admit to having taken part in the Fedayeen of the early 60s. His books will empty out your soul and wring it out to dry but I'm always glad I've read them and I'm sure you would be too.

His style is photorealism and seeing the horrors of the Bosnian War illustrated makes a conflict that barely even mentioned in most public schools come to life in an all too jarring way. Sacco's book take events and portray them solely as the people who lived them described them and if that's not journalism then I don't know what is.

For a sample of Sacco's work click here, here or here

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Final Salute to Blog postings

The articles from the Rocky Mountain News (sadly there was no coffin for this fallen soldier) are a difficult read. This isn't because of some lachrymose nature on my part, but because anybody with a heart beating in their chest will find it torn asunder by these detailed accounts of fallen soldiers and the people they left behind.

The one I found most interesting and thought to be well written was the Part 2 in which we are introduced to Lt. Beck and are simultaneously given a quick history of the Marines way of notification and a harrowing portrait of a man who never signed up for this but has a sense of duty that compels him to do the job to his best abilities.

"Beck looks like the job: hard and soft. His white cotton gloves cover calloused hands. They lead to thick, regular-guy arms shaped by work instead of weightlifting, and a round, pale face with big cheeks that turn red when he hasn't had enough sleep, which is most of the time."

There's a quality to Jim Sheeler's writing that makes it read more like prose than journalism. I'm always fascinated by this style of writing. I find it to be very interesting but difficult to actually replicate. Trying to draw the line between the truth and my own interpretation in descriptions is tough for me. I've had a lot of training in writing the bare facts and inversely in creative writing classes I've trained in writing like fiction is true fact but when I try and combine the two style I find it messy and not quite right, like putting bacon in your ice cream.

Something should also be said of Sheeler's tactful leads. Almost everyone except for a few are one short, taciturn sentence. Sometimes they're slightly poetic and sometimes they're frank and to the point like the lead for Part 7: "Casualty notification isn't always conducted with the same care." That was another that was hard to read not just for the sadness that hung over every part of the story but because you knew that these people had to go through an extra inch of indignation after losing their loved ones due to some carelessness or red tape snafu on the Army's part.

This writing is beautiful, heavy, poetic and sparse. The story is also informative, fair and doesn't push a political stance on the subject. It's everything good writing should be and it's everything great journalism should be. I'd list it as the best of all the blog readings so far.

Now for a field recording of a man walking around Arlington cemetery with bagpipes in the background.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Portrayals of Journalism in Harry Potter

Harry Potter is huge. No denying it. No need to. It's a part of almost every kids life who was born between 1985-1993. We grew up with that little squirt until he turned into the brooding teen he is now. So it only makes sense that I'd find a way to tie into my Journalism blog and Rita Skeeter is that way!

Let's go over a quick recap of who Rita Skeeter is in case your lame and do know your Harry Potter characters. She's the snooping, bespectacled chatterbox who is always pushing her own agenda in interviews. Generally, she's a stereotype of a character who is used to pester Harry constantly and remind readers of how reluctant he is to be as famous as he is. In the last book she pours salt on his wounds by writing a tell all about Albus Dumbledore shortly after his death.

What's really interesting is how she contributes to the archetype of the skeezy journalist who will do whatever it takes to not only get the story (she turns into a beetle to eavesdrop on people) and will often manipulate the truth to make her story more interesting. Why do writers choose to portray Journalists in such a way? I mean ournalists and writers are like cousins!

Because its easy is why. Watch any cop show and see how they portray journalists. Along with the slimy politician (that's ones true though) it's just an easy trope to use. One wonders if these stereotypes are damaging to journalists as a whole. They could portray journalists as conniving and jingoistic. For the most part, there's enough positive portrayals of Journalists in the media (think Spider-man) to balance it out. Also, I feel like the ever changing journalistic job market is something of more concern. So in conclusion, Harry Potter's Rita Skeeter si just a harmless little 2D character in an awesome book series.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

David Foster Wallace Channels Hunter S. Thompson

I don't know if you've ever read Hunter S. Thompson but he's crazy; entertainingly crazy, but he's still crazy. He goes on wild political speeches and accuses a great deal of people of being on drugs, which is something that people on drugs often do. Underneath it all though he was a damn good reporter who gave readers a fresh and interesting look at politics without the usual 6 o clock ho-hum boredom. David Foster Wallace channels the great Thompson in his article The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys and the Shrub, the best piece of political reporting I've read in a long, long time.

It was a very good choice on Rolling Stone's part to send a writer as talented as Wallace on the campaign trail. His description of daily life on the campaign trail is interesting, funny and not too secretly scathing of the whole broken political process. He disects, the yes men, the snotty upper crust journalists, the hanger-ons and the poor schmucks who have to film it all with an eye for detail and a vocabulary that portrays how great a writer he really is.

A lot of the details he catches are the kind of things that you just don't imagine happening on the campaing trail, mostly because reporting on it is usually so bland you'd mistake it for plain white rice if you tried to eat it. The exchange between Mike Murphy, McCain's Aide-de-camp and one of the 12 monkeys on page 10, made me chuckle pretty enthusiastically.

I also really agree with his portrayal of John McCain turning into a salesman while trying to run for president and that the real John McCain is still in a box in Hoa Lo, waiting to come out. I remember watching the 2008 elections and seeing McCain and wondering "How was this once a level-headed man, who I could respect?" It's easy now to see how advisors and marketers can manipulate a peson until he becomes a product they want to sell you. It's sad really.

The one complaint that I'd have against the article is the same thing that's kept me from reading anything other than Foster's short fiction. It's so damn long! I mean it's entertaining the whole way but I think a good editor could've sat David down and helped take a little off to help slim the article down.

Though in the end this is an amazing piece of journalism and an excuse for me to crack open a Blue Moon sit by the window and cry tears of intellectual sadness at the fact that we lost such an amazing talent so soon. Oh, David Foster Wallace, I know you're writing really long, immaculately worded, beautiful stories in heaven right now with Hunter S. Thompson.