Cultural engagement

I happened to have gone to a panel at FantaCon this month with Steve Bissette, Kris Gilpin and Dennis Daniel, all of whom used to swap bootleg horror films, fifth-generation recording dubbed in German or Dutch. THEY are ecstatic that those films are now available in a nice Criterion collection.

The cover of the September 20/27, 2013 Entertainment Weekly, its Fall TV Preview, says “get the scoop on 119 shows, PLUS the best new series.” If I need a reminder that the medium has diffused, that’ll do it.

Yet on two successive episodes of the Bat Segundo Show podcast, host Ed Champion declares that there is an “American epidemic of gravitating to mainstream culture in an age of limitless choice.” He and guest Kiese Laymon discuss “why America is terrified of rich and variegated cultural engagement.” Then Champion and Alissa Quart dissect “how outsiders and iconoclasts have been appropriated by institutional forces. Why have we shifted to a culture hostile to original voices? Why is it all about being liked?”

I found myself arguing and agreeing with the dialogues in about equal measure. On one hand, there’s no doubt that a lot of the “outsiders” get co-opted. And there’s the “you’re an idiot if you’re not watching this” meme that Jaquandor discussed, in this case, about Breaking Bad. He’s seen two episodes more than I have and is disinclined not to see any more, which SHOULD be OK, but apparently is not, at least for some tastemakers. (Hey, I haven’t seen either Game of Thrones (and won’t) or Downton Abbey (Bought the Wife the DVDs, so I probably will – eventually).

On the other hand, when there are so many movies, so many TV shows, and I have a finite amount of time and money, why CAN’T I at least look at Rotten Tomatoes, and get a sense of the critical mass of movie reviewers? Maybe I WILL go see that movie with the 12% positive reviews, though probably not.

There was this whole argument on one of those podcasts about finding the obscure films, it seems, for the sake of seeking them out, proving one is “cutting edge” or “outre”; it all felt a bit affected to me. I happened to have gone to a panel at FantaCon this month with Steve Bissette, Kris Gilpin, and Dennis Daniel, all of whom used to swap bootleg horror films, fifth-generation recording dubbed in German or Dutch. THEY are ecstatic that those films are now available in a nice Criterion collection.

Speaking of Mr. Byzantium Shores, he called BS on the Louis CK rant about smartphones. He may be correct about the inauthentic specifics, yet I found it oddly affecting theater. I think a commenter describing smartphones enabling “a sort of rude, in-the-bubble behavior” feels right. Or maybe it’s just my reaction to the people on the bus I see every day, about 2/3s of which are totally detached from the person sitting three feet from them makes me more than a bit melancholy.

Going back to that EW issue, one of the “best new shows” this season is supposed to be the FOX comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Our local social media maven posted one of those flippant comments on Facebook, “Where have all the sitcoms gone?” to which a guy noted that he was watching one at that moment, Brooklyn Nine-Nine. She wrote back, “Isn’t that a drama, and an hour?” Well, no, a simple Google search would reveal that was a new “ensemble comedy about what happens when a talented, but carefree, detective [Andy Samberg] and his diverse group of colleagues get a new captain [Andre Braugher of Homicide: Life on the Street] with a lot to prove.” I thought his information (which I augmented) required an acknowledgment at least to him, but I guess that’s just my projection.

Oh, and I can tell you that many of the sitcoms are now on the Disney Channel. I’ve seen several, none of which are particularly good.
Lots of folks are upset that the Emmys had an individual tribute for, as one person put it, “that filthy drug addict Cory Monteith” by “that no talent Jane Lynch” (I actually read that, naturally on Facebook) while not doing so for Jack Klugman, who was one of my favorite actors, or for Larry Hagman. I thought Mark Evanier addressed this rather well, which is that these things are never “fair.”

What Your Reading Rules Reveal About Your Personality

Maybe I like my fiction with pictures and my non-fiction without.

OK, is that a pretentious title, or what? My “personality”? My preferences, maybe.

Anyway, the meme comes from Jeanette at Book Riot. Then Jaquandor did it, and added questions (after #5). SamuraiFrog did it, and added #9.

1. Always stop at the end of a chapter. Always.

Well, I’m not hung up on that.

Certainly, I want to have a good jumping-off point, so I’ll see if there’s a natural section break.

2. Use specific bookmarks.

Oh, goodness, no. Whatever I find that’s thin enough I’ll use. A ruler, a bus schedule, the envelope from a bill, a Post-It note. It’s not that I don’t OWN bookmarks; it’s that I’m not organized enough to FIND them when I want them.

2a. No dog-earing, bending, or folding of pages.

I HATE dog-eared books; I find them inherently ugly. As a page (clerk) at the Binghamton Public Library many years ago, I noticed how people would do that, and it rather ticked me off.

2b. Weirdly enough, spine-breaking is fine, just don’t get too crazy with it.

And I REALLY hate that! I’ve had books come apart in my hand in two or three sections, held together by some strands. It was not just aesthetically unpleasing, it made the reading experience too much work. Not to mention a cost to the taxpayers.

Re: a comment on someone’s blog, no, I can’t use a book as a drink coaster, either!

3. Always read two books at once.

Depends. Generally, I get so engrossed in one book that I’ll just finish that one, then forget where I left off with the other, not physically, but emotionally.

4. No (or minimal) writing in books.

I tend to agree with this, except for some used textbooks I once had to buy back in my college days. Sometimes the previous owner even used a highlighter, and that was sometimes OK too. But in general, for most purposes, no.

5. Rereads must be earned because there are too many great books out there to read an okay one twice.

It’s been so long since I reread a book, can’t really speak to it. In my teens and twenties, I did all the time, and they weren’t necessarily “great” books, but ones that resonated with me. It’s more that I don’t have time to get through all the books I want to read, but that “earned” stuff seems like elitist snobbery to me.

Now, there are sections of books I’ll read. A Grimm fairy tale or a Shakespeare sonnet or a particularly nice passage But most of the books I have are comic books in hardcover form – Mr. Frog has been reviewing the early Marvels, BTW – or reference books on movies, TV, music, sports, and general knowledge, some of which I have NEVER read (though some histories of programs such as The Twilight Zone and The Dick Van Dyke Show, I have). In some ways, the vast majority of books I have I consider reference books, even if you would not.

6. Not finishing a book is OK.

I had a REALLY hard time with this for a LONG, LONG time. But after I passed 50, I got less driven about that. Too many books to worry about THAT one, even if I’M “supposed” to have read it to prove how well-rounded I am. Partly it’s that I don’t care to meet that amorphous expectation.

7. It is always better to take more books on a trip than you think you’ll possibly have time to read.

Seriously, it’s only in the last two years that I took ANY books on trips. It was usually periodicals I took because if they get lost/damaged, I don’t care as much. I once left a book at a motel, and to get it back, it cost more than it would have I just purchased it again. That said, I don’t get much reading of any type done on a trip, except in the car, and that HAS to be a magazine, where I can navigate and read at the same time.

8. Having a favorite genre is fine. Getting stuck in that genre is bad.

Meh. Several times I’ve tried to read fantasy, and most of the time, it just didn’t take. Indeed, most of what I read is non-fiction, and the only fiction I read last year, 11/22/63, was based on a real event. Yet, I read comic-related material for years. Maybe I like my fiction with pictures and my non-fiction without?

9. Reading on a tablet is still reading.

Well, sure. I mean I don’t do it, not likely to do it, have no interest in doing it, but I don’t find anything wrong with it. I’m more bothered that they are leasing the book to you, essentially, rather than you owning it, but that’s commerce and ownership issues, not reading issues. (Jaquandor answered this question of mine on this topic recently.)

I just listened to the Bat Segundo Show podcast with author Norman Rush. About 45 minutes in, Rush noted that what he likes to do when he visits people’s houses is to look at what’s on their bookshelves. That would be lost with the adoption of the tablet, though I suppose Good Reads, or other online reading lists, can be inadequate substitutes.

Books on tape are also reading, I decided. I mean, how else, save for braille, can the blind read? There’s REAL snobbery in this arena. If one is actively listening, as opposed to having on the background the way some people play music, then it’s reading. Love this short but sweet story.

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