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Thursday, Mar 6, 2008
by PopMatters Staff

13ghosts
The Lonely Death of Space Avenger [MP3] (from The Strangest Colored Lights releasing 18 March)
     


Beyond the Door [MP3]
     


Colin Meloy
We Both Go Down Together [MP3] (from Colin Meloy Sings Live releasing 8 April)
     


Santogold
L.E.S. Artistes [Video]


Tokyo Police Club
In a Cave [MP3]
     


Left Lane Cruiser
Busket [MP3]
     


Teargas & Plateglass
One Day Across the Valley [MP3]
     


The Helio Sequence
Keep Your Eyes Ahead [Video]



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Thursday, Mar 6, 2008

I’m ignoring all the stories about autobiographical mendacity to report some good publishing news.


Ready?


Kurt Vonnegut is back from the dead. Kinda.


A year, believe it not, has passed since his death, and soon we’re gonna get just a little more from him thanks to Armageddon in Retrospect, out from Putnam next month.


The book, introduced by the author’s son, contains fiction on and non-fiction pieces from a variety of eras. Inside are letters, time-travel stories, more great speeches, and pieces of advice (i.e. “get a dog”).


While we’re at it, let’s revisit Vonnegut’s How to Write With Style essay. You can find it in a range of places, but I’ll send you here. A taste? Here’s rule number three:


As for your use of language: Remember that two great masters of language, William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike when their subjects were most profound. “To be or not to be?” asks Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The longest word is three letters long. Joyce, when he was frisky, could put together a sentence as intricate and as glittering as a necklace for Cleopatra, but my favorite sentence in his short story “Eveline” is this one: “She was tired.” At that point in the story, no other words could break the heart of a reader as those three words do. Simplicity of language is not only reputable, but perhaps even sacred. The Bible opens with a sentence well within the writing skills of a lively fourteen-year-old: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”


Now, I’m off to re-examine my childhood, and make sure nothing has been left out. Like that time I was a child soldier, for instance.


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Thursday, Mar 6, 2008

In San Francisco. Walking along Van Ness toward the wharf. Came across this nightclub exterior ‘round ‘bout the corner of Broadway . . . give or take a block or so.







It got me to thinking—a propos of nothing more than the title, I guess—about the U.S. presidential election.


“What? What would possibly make you make


that

connection?” you say . . .  (I know, I know. My mind is a simple thing.)



But . . . sad as it is to say, in this country, for an African American to win a presidential election might actually require a magic spell. At least some might aver. That particular, pessimistic, author calls it the “The Coon Affect” (sic). Well, whatever name it goes by, the fact is that the United States has only had five African Americans campaign for president in its two hundred and thirty-two years—Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun, Jesse Jackson (twice), and Al Sharpton—all five trying their hand in the past thirty-six years, and none of them managing to steer their campaign caravans out of the parking lot.


Despite the grave doubt that Americans are ready for an African American president, a recent poll suggests that this particular ride might actually make it all the way down the road and end up parking in that big driveway on Pennsylvania Avenue. Although both democratic candidates currently fare better than John McCain in head-to-head matchups, it is Barack Obama who holds the current edge.


A magical possibility in the offing? Check back in eight months.


 



 


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Thursday, Mar 6, 2008

I’ve wondered for a while now whether conservative theory could ever experience a vogue in the soft humanities (literature, cultural studies), not because of any intrinsic merit in the material but because it would supply a new niche for graduate students to exploit, fresh territory on which to stake a claim. Maybe this is already happening, or already happened: First, a tentative survey of the literature from a critical perspective: an examination of the tropes of conservative discourse, say, and how they have evolved—something like Hofstedter’s The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Then, a deconstruction that shows conservative thought (something like Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom or Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy) is actually liberal thought. Then, an actual embrace of the reimagined or rehabilitated conservative works, and their use to explicate the raw material of humanities courses—Bronte novels and the like. I want to see the Hayekian reading of Jane Eyre, dammit!


Anyway, relevant to this fantasy, there’s been some discussion in the econoblogosphere, prompted by this Tyler Cowen post, about the dearth of conservative works of theory that stand the test of time. Cowen’s central claim about 20th century conservative political theory books seems right to me: “I opined that none have held up particularly well, mostly because they underestimated the robustness of the modern world and regarded depravity as more of a problem than it has turned out to be.” In other words, social conservatism is purely reactionary and history (the modern world’s robust ability to encourage tolerance) leaves such people behind.


Jacob Levy restates the problem this way: “there’s no modern work to teach alongside Theory of Justice and Anarchy, State, and Utopia that really gets at what’s interesting about Burkean or social conservatism…. The problem isn’t… that the conservative temperament isn’t easily reduced to programmatic philosophical works…. One of the problems is that history keeps right on going—and so any book plucked from the past that was concerned with yelling ‘stop!’ tends to date badly to any modern reader who does not think he’s already living in hell-in-a-handbasket.”


Brad DeLong sees no problem in this. He thinks we need to stop kidding ourselves that social conservatism has any theoretical component: “I say cut the Gordian knot. THERE ARE NO ATTRACTIVE MODERN CONSERVATIVES BECAUSE CONSERVATISM SIMPLY IS NOT ATTRACTIVE. DEAL WITH IT!!” He then uses Burke as an example to illustrate that “conservatism is a sometimes useful rhetorical weapon, not a set of principles.” There’s no point pursuing some kind of equal time for conservative theory to teach alongside libertarian or liberal theory because there isn’t any.


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Wednesday, Mar 5, 2008


Thirty-nine is just too young, no matter how you look at it. Life provides such limited opportunities that, to lose them all at such an age smacks of cosmic injustice. Many of you may not have heard of John Polonia, nor know of his work. He was a leftover from the Super VHS craze of the late ‘80s/ early ‘90s, a kid at heart with dreams just as naïve and wide-eyed. Along with brother Mark, he made horror movies - cheap, no-budget straight to video genre exercises that filtered an obsession with US and foreign fright into shockingly original terror visions. Prolific to a fault, the Polonias were the trademark example of the new technological age. They were teens (at the time) that wanted nothing more than to express themselves on film - and the scientific progress within the medium helped them achieve that goal.


And now John is gone - taken down by a heart aneurism just short of his 40th birthday. He leaves behind a devoted brother, an equally loyal spouse, and a young son. As Mark began the painful process of sending emails out to individuals he felt connected to, a strange kind of sadness swept over the outsider arena. It wasn’t just the tragedy of a career cut too short of an existence ended before its time. No, there was a sense of loss for the medium as well, a weird kind of ennui that suggested something equally depressing. It seems, no matter how hard you work, no matter how hard you try, you’re one solid step from notoriety - or nothing. In the case of John Polonia, it appears only a privileged few have had the pleasure of experiencing his creativity - or understand the man himself.


There’s no denying the Polonias specialized in what can kindly be called grade-Z schlock. It was what they loved. It was where their passions lied. Growing up during the startling transition from the post-modern ‘70s to the home theater ‘80s, the boys were literally inundated with cinema. Birthday gifts included camera equipment, and collaborations with other like minded moviemakers yielded special effects and actors. Together, they forged a grass roots loyalty to Argento and Fulci, Carpenter and Romero. They made slasher films, vampire epics, tongue in cheek monster movies - they even spoofed themselves with last year’s winning Splatter Beach. Thanks to DVD and the ease of distribution it provides, the boys were just breaking away from the notion of mainstream indifference. Instead, websites were championing their films, with offers from independent studios starting to pour in.


Yet the tragic loss of John underscores the main problem in today’s progressive media. Back before anyone could make film, there was a keen sense of perspective and preservation. True, a great many decent efforts were tossed on the coals of disposability, but at least the masterful ones stayed somewhat safe. Today, everyone’s an artist. There are no aesthetic checks, no creative balances. John and Mark Polonia were able to make movies and have them seen as a direct result of these critical barriers being breached. It is not meant to be a putdown, simply a statement of fact. By direct corollary, one fears John’s work will be lost among the DIY rabble, frequently scoffed at as interchangeable and easily dismissed.


What’s not so readily removed is how much true fan affection the Polonias put in their films. From the puppet like aliens in Feeders to the wood demon of their latest film, Forest Primeval, there was a wonderful throwback element to the days of tacky creature features and Saturday matinees. They also adored gore, making their movies as bloody and as disgusting as possible. When you look over their entire output - and it’s a massive canon, to say the least - it’s like retracing at the entire history of horror. They reflect the changing attitudes in the genre, from comedy to cruelty, invention to outright rip-offs.


Ever-present were John and Mark, twin brothers with bushy moustaches and voices carved out of a clear Northeastern cadence. Fighting the cusp between able and amateurish, these like minded siblings sought to express themselves in ways that played directly into their personal proclivities. They always remained technically proficient, even working on other people’s films as actors, writers, and editors. They were genial, often self-deprecating about their product, using the burgeoning digital format to explain themselves in featurettes and commentary tracks. There was always a wistful quality to their discussions, an acknowledgment of luck in an industry that rarely rewards anything save nepotism and ‘who you know’ networking.


With John gone, it will probably be difficult for Mark to immediately move on. As he said in his recent email, it just won’t be the Polonia Brothers anymore. But spirit is a funny thing - it tends to infuse itself (sometimes indirectly) into the remainder of reality. No matter what he does from this point forward, Mark will always carry his spitting image offspring with him. That means that, if and when he makes another movie, it will clearly be a joint effort. If any good can come out of this tragedy, it’s that the messageboard attention John’s death received will provide some renewed interested in the Polonia’s films.


Tempe Entertainment, who released Primeval, is already planning a tribute for the last film the brothers made together. Not surprising, it’s a send-up of the genre entitled Monster Movie. In many ways, it’s a fitting end for a collaboration that often celebrated the weird and the whacky. Thirty-nine is just way too young. Here’s hoping John Polonia will be remembered more for his films and not for such an untimely passing. 


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