Joe Walker of Breakfast at Sulimay’s fame interviews Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger about upcoming Fiery Furnaces album I’m Going Away. As is often the case with his interviews and reviews, Walker fits a history lesson or two into the conversation, which is intercut with songs from Widow City and the new album.
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The “Paul Is Dead” conspiracy seems to me one of the most interesting spontaneous social creations in the mass media era (to put it as pompously as possible). It’s not exactly a work of art, but I’ve had hours of entertainment from it, and it has enriched my appreciation for the Beatles immeasurably. Something similar, I must confess, is true of the bizarro Charles Manson reading of the White album, which enriches the music with the spirit of chaos and upheaval that then reigned in culture. That’s not to excuse the murders he and his cult committed out of a misguided sense of social protest. My point is that conspiracy mongering is one of the most durable forms of “remixing” culture, a primary mode of folk art in the midst of an information surfeit.
So I can partly understand why Joseph Niezgoda would write a book like The Lennon Prophecy: A New Examination of the Death Clues of the Beatles, reviewed here (via Metafilter). The author’s urge to create in the conspiratorial mode seems to have been cloaked or excused here by religiosity—which also suffuses the review and, incidentally, enhances the ironic, distanced appreciation for a secular apostate like me. Irony is probably not the best way to consume conspiracy; it’s probably much more fulfilling to be caught up in it, to give yourself over completely to the fantasy that any association you can think of has weighty significance, that all things can finally be connected if you are sufficiently zealous to weave a large enough web. Enjoying conspiracies ironically is to take a condescending and ultimately dismissive attitude toward creative (albeit misdirected and possibly insane and destructive) human energy.
Could it ever have been any other way?
In The Ultimates, writer Mark Millar offers a radical inversion of a popular Marvel theme; superheroes and the media. Spider-Man, Daredevil, the Fantastic Four and even mainstream Marvel Avengers have never been strangers to media scrutiny, but with The Ultimates, Millar provides something of a reversal in a team that relish media attention. The media often being cast as an antagonist in Marvel stories, always seemed to foreshadow a moment when a superhero, or group of superheroes, would actively embrace media attention. The other side of visual equation, the collaboration between superheroes and military intelligence has similarly been a Marvel mainstay, with such heroes as The Hulk, Wolverine, Iron Man and even Captain America himself either confounding or aiding in military operations.
The power of this Millar-Hitch image comes by way of a number of vectors, not least of which is the image’s resilience at imbricating the reader in the act of storytelling. Does Captain America somehow belong among the bright lights of Times Square? Is his joining the vibrant bustle of NYC nightlife a foregone conclusion? And if that reading is imposed, does it signal the presence of the military as somehow sinister? Or could an entirely different narrative arise from the panel? Is the bustle of city life at night somehow unsafe? Is the encroachment of advertising the means to subliminal control of the populace? Is the government, in an effort to intervene and protect the lives and property of its citizens, correct in enlisting the aid of superhumans?
Does the true danger lie with the military sworn to protect citizens, or with the city that despotically organizes the minds of civilians? The true power of this panel lies not in its search for an answer to this question, nor in the visual of the superhuman dwarfed by both military and media, but in Millar and Hitch’s skill in posing the question.
A rather opaque video from the directorial vision of Clyde Petersen.