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by Kevin M. Brettauer

12 Nov 2009

The twin themes of identity and individuality have been persistent, domineering forces in storytelling, and, indeed, everyday life since the days of cave paintings in the cradle of civilization. For good or for ill, these twin aspects define humanity and don’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.

The slave trade? Segregation? What ended up happening to the persons involved was entirely dependent on their skin color.

The Crusades? The Inquisition?  One’s personal religion either vilified or redeemed them.

McCarthyism? Rigged elections? Dependent on one’s perceived political proclivities.

One needs to do no more than research the Indian caste system, South African apartheid, American marriage laws and health care concerns and the various attempted genocides in the Middle East and Africa to know that identity-based persecution isn’t going to go the way of the dinosaurs anytime soon.

Though it takes place in 1994 and is loosely based on H.G. Wells’s 1897 classic The Invisible Man, Jeff Lemire’s insightful and touching new graphic novel The Nobody is both timely and timeless, its artwork and narrative lending a haunting air to a world on a slightly different vibrational frequency from our own. In this version of the tale, ostensibly occurring pre-9/11 but obviously created many years after the attacks that changed the world forever, a small town’s concern over a man garbed head-to-toe in bandages is palpable, but only serves as a potent reminder of the secrets that every resident of every small town on this planet has. This version of the transparent strange, here called “John Griffen” as opposed to “Doctor Griffin” (no doubt as an homage to “Jack Griffin”, as in the 1933 James Whale film of The Invisible Man) is feared not necessarily because he could have a terrible communicable disease, an upsetting, scarred visage or even a record of dire criminal activities; he is feared because his very physical essence is a reminder of humanity’s own deep, dark hearts and minds, and the secrets carried beneath every individual’s “bandages”.

by Evan Sawdey

12 Nov 2009

All these years later, Adam Young still can’t sleep—and that just might be a good thing.

When the then-20-year-old Adam Young suffered from intense insomnia while living in his parents basement, he used his non-sleeping hours to carefully construct his own brand of Postal Service-indebted synth-pop, eventually self-releasing two albums under his Owl City moniker (2007’s Of June EP and 2008’s Maybe I’m Dreaming) to decent acclaim but somewhat marginal sales. When he put his music on MySpace, however, a following gradually began to grow around Young’s abstract, optimistic tales of love, his whimsical song “Hello Seattle” gaining particular notoriety. It wasn’t long before he got signed to Universal Republic, began collaborating with Relient K vocalist Theissen, and began forming an near endless litany of side-projects (with animal-friendly names like Swimming With Dolphins and Insect Airport).

Yet a funny thing happened following the release of Ocean Eyes, Young’s major-label debut. The quirky single “Fireflies” began picking up steam, first via MySpace, and then through the video outlets like MTV and VH1. Next thing you know, the 23-year-old Young has a chart-topping hit on his hands, is touring the nation with a full band, and is still selling hundreds of thousands of downloads every week, making him one of the brightest pop stars to emerge out of 2009. In short, these past few months have been a bit of a whirlwind for the dark-haired pop maestro, but—as is revealed in this short yet illuminating interview via e-mail—Young hasn’t let success go to his head at all. Being tackled by biker chicks, discovering Taco Bell, and still (still!) suffering from bouts of insomnia—these are just some of the moments that have colored Adam Young’s life this year. If his success is any indication so far, Owl City’s ride is just beginning ...

by tjmHolden

11 Nov 2009

Walking around the streets of Daejeon recently, I was struck by this promotional still.

It was outside a motel, and, judging from how TV and movie stills adorned nearly every stay-for-pay in the neighborhood, I interpreted this as a strategy for advertising the paid channels featured in this particular establishment.

The reason I took the photo, however, was not to document the local strategy for scoring motel occupancy; rather, it was due to the content in this particular still. A man, a woman, an apple . . . a knowing wink. Hm . . . why does this combination ring a bell?

 


by Rob Horning

11 Nov 2009

At Generation Bubble, Anton Steinpilz brings up Whit Stillman’s 1990 film Metropolitan, which played as a sort of fond lament for the1980s. The film is extremely enjoyable despite being borderline reactionary—it’s open to an interpretation (not a likely one, but one useful for the suspension of ideological disbelief) in which the implicit politics are meant to be foibles of the characters rather than Stillman’s own, which makes it pleasantly watchable. (I’m especially fond of its weird, stilted Hal Hartley-esque quality, it’s closet-drama dialogue.)

The beaus and debutantes of Stillman’s hyperstylized New York were meant to be old, old money—so old that social-capital preservation was never supposed to be a concern for them. But as Steinpilz notes, the film is shot through with melancholy at the possibility that the whole social-capital system (which the film, with its coming-out balls and stilted drawing-room conversations and Victorian concerns about moral turpitude, lovingly depicts/invents) is becoming supplanted by a raw-money culture in which manners don’t matter. The unleashing of the financial sector brought about a whole new class of “vulgar rich,” the sort of people that Tom Wolfe (in many ways Stillman’s artistic grandfather) scorns in his work. Stillman’s characters—even the crypto-Marxist among them—all subscribe to the primacy of social capital; they are all entranced by the same chimeras of tradition, which they take to be lineaments of an eternal and proper social order—the inverse of the Fourierist fantasy one of them espouses. Rather than an explicit program that must be imposed, entailing all sorts of overt dislocation, the traditional order Stillman idealizes works hegemonically, which means that it has an effortless grace, the sprezzatura of the privileged. Though the character Charlie appropriates the term “bourgeoisie” for his neologism “urban haute bourgeoisie” to describe the characters in the film, they are really anachronistic petit aristocrats (which makes sense, since they are styled after the gentry from Jane Austen’s novels.) The bourgeoisie, in actuality, were the ones who routed Charlie’s kind in the 19th century. The bourgeois ideals—opportunity, mobility, enlightened self-interest, economic transparency, etc.—are what Charlie rejects; he implicitly endorses a rentier system where social betters are ensconced in a divinely ordained hierarchy.

Arnold Kling recently cited a quote from Gordon Wood that I think is relevant here:

After all, wealth, compared to birth, breeding, ethnicity, family heritage, gentility, even education, is the least humiliating means by which one person can claim superiority over another; and it is the one most easily matched or overcome by exertion.

That’s a justification for wealth betokening meritocracy, an order to supplant the unjust aristocratic one based on inherited social capital. The virtue of hard work supposedly replaces the genetic lottery, though humanity is basically consigned to eternally squabbling over status as part of its inherent nature.

Nowadays, the term “urban haute bourgeoisie” most likely does not conjure up debutante balls and Upper East Siders. For me, it evokes the scene on the Lower East Side, the cultural entrepreneurs and their hangers-on. It turns on cultural capital rather than old-style social capital, which has perhaps receded to an inaccessible demimonde, far away from hipsters and reality TV cameras.

by Kirstie Shanley

11 Nov 2009

It was like driving through a dark night with David Lynch at the wheel.  Mount Eerie, the moniker of Phil Everum who also has released albums as The Microphones, has always been more on the human side than most musicians dare venture, exploring the outer regions of cerebral metaphor.  Elverum has also proved himself to be adept in his collaborations with others, most recently with Julie Doiron for 2008’s Lost Wisdom.

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