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by Sara Cole

11 Jul 2009

In early 1995, Craig Newmark, a newcomer to San Francisco began sending out a weekly newsletter of mostly techie events and opportunities (jobs, apartments, lectures, etc.) to friends of his. Now some 14 years later, because of Craig Newmark, many cities now have a one-stop spot where you can find an apartment, find a jogging partner, sell your old furniture, or even find someone to have a ‘casual encounter’ with. And all this you can do ad-free and free of charge.  For many of us, especially city dwellers and young people, Craigslist has become an everyday reality and an indispensible tool for carrying out our daily lives.

What, might you ask, does Craigslist have to do with comics and sequential art? Had you asked me this question last year, I honestly would have been hard pressed to come up with a connection. I Saw You, a collection of comics inspired by Missed Connections on Craigslist (as well as some from newspapers), now provides an answer to the previously posed question. 

I Saw You seems like a particularly interesting addition to the comics canon as it’s one of the first to utilize the internet as a subject rather than a medium. While web comics like xkcd, Achewood, and The Perry Bible Fellowship (all recommended)  have all eventually decided to offer hard copy paper collections, I Saw You went the old-fashioned ink and paper route from its onset despite its use of the internet as inspiration. This choice elicits some interesting questions: what might a traditional, paper-based comic offer that web comics can’t? What about the space of the comic book store as a place of community for the comics reader that is generally absent from the consumption of web comics? How has the internet changed one’s sense of community in general and how has it specifically shaped and affected the community of fans and creators of comic art? These questions will be examined in more depth in an upcoming Iconographies post focusing on I Saw You as a lens through which to understand the complex ways the internet has shaped comics and community.

by Bill Gibron

11 Jul 2009

What does it say about today’s modern woman that fashion has taken the place of feminism. Is the battle for equality and professional recognition really over when the more mature members of the gender flaunt their fading sexuality and call themselves “cougars”? Or what about the younger generation who views a sex tape as success or materialism as a Master’s Degree. Where did it all go wrong? When did Gloria Steinam turn into Carrie Bradshaw? These questions and many, many more instantly come to mind the minute you settle into Touchstone/Disney’s ditzy RomCom Confessions of a Shopaholic. Unfortunately, this feather light comedy fails to provide a single insight.

Based on Sophie Kinsella’s popular series, this particular story centers on Rebecca Bloomwood, a spoiled suburban drama queen who longs for the days when she can tear up the typeface as a member of Alette, the world’s biggest fashion rag. Named after its renowned owner, the magazine is the answer to all of Rebecca’s dreams - and the solution to a few nightmares as well. Deep in debt and continually piling up the financial obligations, she just can’t stop shopping. She shops instead of paying her rent. She stops instead of buying food. She shops instead of sleeping. Of course, with such an addiction comes a few minor annoyances - like a collection agent named Derek Smeath who has a tendency to stalk her like a lovelorn ex-boyfriend.

Naturally, Rebecca loses her job, and seeing it as her opportunity to win over potential employer Alette Naylor, she puts her best foot forward for the interview. Instead, she is rejected, and must settle for a gig working for humble British hunk Luke Brandon and his financial report Successful Saving. Rebecca seems lost at first, unable to grasp the complicated elements and intricate theories involved. But with her personal penury looming large, she applies her theories of shopping to the situation and - BINGO! - she’s a big fat industry smash. With Smeath hot on her name brand high heels, however, and Luke showing more than a passing interest, it’s going to take a miracle to get Rebecca’s life straightened out.

There’s a fine line between likeable and lightweight, a blurry border that Confessions of a Shopaholic crosses early and often. Unfortunately released near the apex of America’s current economic meltdown, the tale of a shallow city slicked stick figure who can’t understand the concept of fiscal moderation became more mean spirited then high spirited. Watching a person - fictional or not - fret over not having a $500 pair of shoes seemed self-consciously self-indulgent on the part of producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director PJ Hogan. While amiable actress Isla Fisher finds numerous ways to keep us forgiving and engaged, the cruel consumerist context drives a nail directly into our far more fidgety common sense.

Without a keen eye behind the lens, this would be unbearable. It would reek of the kind of wanton wish fulfillment that gets little girls to dream of white knights in shining armor instead of long nights studying for exams. This is the kind of flawed fairy tale that, through no real fault of its own, ushers in a misplaced mindset that sees success measured in dollar signs and designer outfits, not personal growth and individual actualization. Thanks to Hogan, whose resume includes the equally adept Muriel’s Wedding and a magical adaptation of Peter Pan, a pink candy patina is draped over this otherwise ill-conceived message. Without him in the director’s chair, we’d be mired in unbearable pro-Prada announcements.

And Fisher is fine as well, working both the physical and personality aspect of Rebecca in an energetic, endearing manner. Sure, the slapstick doesn’t succeed at all, but that’s not her fault. Few filmmakers working within the last 50 years understand the basics of a perfect pratfall. There are also Ms. Kinsella’s claims to consider. By moving the story to America (the original story is set in London) and amplifying the whimsy, what might have worked across the pond comes across as tired and trying as a third rate sitcom. Even the excellent supporting work of seasoned veterans like John Goodman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Hugh Dancy, John Lithgow, and Joan Cusak can’t completely salvage this silliness.

Yet for some odd reason, Confessions of a Shopaholic still manages to endear…kind of, sort of. The script does find an interesting way of explaining Rebecca’s obsession - that is when it’s not giving the character a series of whiny tantrums to trip over - and we grow to care for this otherwise one-dimensional gal. Since her struggles with money and mounting bills hit so close to home, there’s an inherent compassion for her clearly self-made traumas and since she’s true to herself (no matter how flawed that conceit really is) we rally around her desire to change. In fact, the best thing about this movie is that Rebecca never really relishes her obvious problem. The joy is momentary, as fleeting as the balance in her bank account.

Still, there is something intrinsically wrong about a narrative that tells its audience to value things over thoughts. Rebeeca eventually wins, not because she is smarter or more sensible than those around her. No, as in any good fable, she finds a man to defend her honor while lucking into a solution that more or less solves her problems. It’s a mangled message for sure, an adolescent’s daydream retrofitted for a time when such skylarking should be cast aside. As a mainstream entertainment trying to do little more than entertain and please, Confessions of a Shopaholic is fine. It proves that Isla Fisher and PJ Hogan can elevate even the lamest source material. But if you come here looking for something deeper, you’ll de disappointed. The only real point is one of “more”, not meaning.

by Rob Horning

11 Jul 2009

You can’t fix climate change by yourself. This is a simple truth. It’s too big for individual action; it’s the sort of problem that gives the lie to the idea of individualism über alles—sometimes social action must be regarded as a real phenomenon if we are to have any hope at all. But if we can’t fix the environment by ourselves, why then do we carry on with token gestures that prove our commitment to environmental causes? Is it because they are all we have, and we would rather do something than nothing, even if that something has no real effect? In our society it’s even worse—the token gestures that resonate are consumerist ones; we have to buy something that signals our attitude, as if signaling the attitude alone is tantamount to praxis, to doing something.

So we shouldn’t be surprised by the results of this study (via Richard Florida) in which Prius owners surveyed about what motivated them to buy the car put “It makes a statement about me” at the top of the list. That is how public action works in a consumer society: conspicuous consumption. The Prius happens to be one of those rare objects that can be both a conspicuous signal of wealth and conservation—most conservation efforts are stubbornly invisible, sine they are aimed at not buying more things and ultimately wasting more. But the Prius smooths over the fundamental contradiction between consumerism and conservation.

But could buying a Prius to make a statement about the sort of person you are still be an earth-friendly gesture? The researchers associate the conspicuous consumption of green products with the prestige of noblesse oblige altruism.

Supporting the notion that altruism signals one’s willingness and ability to incur costs for others’ benefit, status motives increased desire for green products when shopping in public (but not private), and when green products cost more (but not less) than nongreen products.

That is to say, being green only makes sense for some when others can’t afford to be. That shoots down the theory that the idea behind an individual’s green gestures is to set an example for others, to make green behavior seem cool or even ordinary and second nature. In that scenario, an individual’s actions can help create a social climate in which everyone joins in, beneficial actions aggregate, and flow naturally into a collective response to a threat. Green gestures would not be for showing a neighbor how much better than them you are, but to encourage that neighbor to follow suit. The study, however, makes it seem as though the opposite remains true; that we would ultimately rather feel superior to our peers than save the planet.

by Craig Fehrman

11 Jul 2009

Two bits of news reminded me of a story I wrote last summer for PopMatters. In the first, CBS Sports reported that, after Xavier’s Jordan Crawford threw down an ostensibly hellacious dunk on LeBron James, Nike operatives confiscated all videotapes of the event. Predictably, the Internet uproar over this has reflected far more poorly on James than even the worst dunk could have.

But even more predictable is the fact that James would fuss over his image. James is, by all accounts, a supremely decent person and a positively extraterrestrial talent, but, as I wrote in “LeBron James and the Beat Book”, which surveyed the surprising number of books about LeBron James, he’s also “the most hands-on athlete today—remember, he created his own sports marketing agency.”

Which brings us to the second piece of news: Buzz Bissinger just co-wrote a new book with (and about) LeBron. Do you suppose it will have any Friday Night Lights-like revelations?

by PopMatters Staff

11 Jul 2009

The Avett Brothers
I and Love and You
(Columbia/American)
Release date: 11 August 2009

SONG LIST
1. I and Love and You
2. January Wedding
3. Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise
4. And It Spread
5. The Perfect Space
6. Ten Thousand Words
7. Kick Drum Heart
8. Laundry Room
9. Ill with Want
10. Tin Man
11. Slight Figure of Speech
12. It Goes On and On
13. Incomplete and Insecure

The Avett Brothers
“I and Love and You” [MP3]
     

Here is a live performance of the album’s title song.

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