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Monday, Apr 23, 2007

Via Julian Sanchez, a link to a New Statesman review of Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music. The book apparently chronicles the long history of the music industry turning authenticity into a product, and various folk musicians into mediums for authenticity’s distribution. As reviewer Jeff Sharlit explains, this reification of authenticity promotes “what Barker and Taylor call an authenticity ‘trap’—the harder you try to ‘keep it real’, the more artificial you become.”


The thing about authenticity is that, much like spontaneity, it can’t be self-aware. It’s only something that others can recognize in you, and the more you are aware of your reputation for it, the more likely it is you will lose that reputation. Pop music, like pop culture generally, packages ready-made lifestyles with nothing authentic about them. Some people, however, like “authenticity” (the product) in their lifestyle mix, hence the efforts to sell certain musicians—blues men and Appalachians in past decades, gangsta rappers more recently—as epitomizing realness. I tend to fall into a corollary trap where, after recognizing that contrived authenticity is worthless, I revel in gleefully inauthentic music, like bubblegum, thinking in part that this proves my piercing insight. But this is obviously no better. The real desideratum is to enjoy pop culture without deriving part of your enjoyment from the self-image you it helps you project. Ideally, when you start down this road of critical thinking, you want to consume the music, not some version of yourself, not some vicarious fantasy. You long for a route to the thing itself, an experience in which the thing ceases to function as a sign and just is. But this too would merely cater to a vicarious fantasy: by apprehending the music, in itself, we would see through to how we too can exist for ourselves, without needing to worry about grooming our identity and how we come across. I listen to, say, Tony Burrows, and for a minute I can fool myself into thinking that I don’t care what anybody else thinks, I’m just enjoying this song for what it is and nothing more. But at best I’ve bought myself a moment of self-forgetting. If there’s a distinction to be made between pop culture and “high culture”, it may rest in the way pop culture encourages you to consume yourself consuming—to revel in the image of yourself it foments—while high culture presents a challenge, demanding you apply some knowledge you’d acquired previously in order to try to understand a thing, and in so doing to forget yourself, lose yourself in the effort.


 


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Monday, Apr 23, 2007

This is, in part, just a quick note to echo Nikki’s official welcome-to-the-blog post.  Like Nikki, I’m largely convinced sites like PopMatters can deliver on the “long tail” and to make possible new conversations about books (and other formats with interesting writing), and Re:Print is a part of that.


And while there are a lot of fine literary blogs already out there, let me just point quickly to two recent discussions that suggest now is an auspicious time for a new one:


  • In the wake of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s decision to drop the position of book review editor, the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) has launched a Campaign to Save Book Reviews.  (You can read more about it at Critical Mass, the NBCC’s blog.) 
  • And over at TNR’s Open University blog, Jeffrey Herf recently issued a call for a new American review of books, noting that book reviews in the major papers are largely ignoring the intellectual work going on at university presses and other venues for serious nonfiction.

As a complement to PopMatters’s book review section, Re:Print can help do this work, for all the reasons Nikki outlined this morning.  This should be interesting!


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Monday, Apr 23, 2007

A call to arms by the people at No Depression over an unconscionable mailing rate hike went out.  This increase threatens the survival of not only No Depression but also many other print zines who rely on set postal rates to keep their publications around.  To read more about this and to sign a petition to make your voice heard on this matter, see Grant’s Rant.


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Monday, Apr 23, 2007

Economists aren’t always thought of as enivronmentalists, but both are concerned with scarce resources and how they are distributed. Environmentalists happen to be concerned with “public goods”—the sorts of things that often seem free to citizens, like clean air and a livable climate. It’s difficult to align self-interest to secure the provision of these goods, since many people basically take them for granted and want someone else to worry about them. Economists, along with scarce resources, study incentives and even the most conservative of them will suggest ideas for aligning them with sustainable resource distributions; one of those is a tax on carbon usage, another is to end farm subsidies.


Michael Pollan, not an economist but the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a series of case studies in the forces that shape how we eat, has a passionate essay in today’s NYT Magazine about U.S. farm legislation, which he argues is the reason junk food (Made of corn and soy and wheat and the livestock corn feeds) is cheaper than healthy food (other vegetables).


A public-health researcher from Mars might legitimately wonder why a nation faced with what its surgeon general has called “an epidemic” of obesity would at the same time be in the business of subsidizing the production of high-fructose corn syrup. But such is the perversity of the farm bill: the nation’s agricultural policies operate at cross-purposes with its public-health objectives. And the subsidies are only part of the problem. The farm bill helps determine what sort of food your children will have for lunch in school tomorrow. The school-lunch program began at a time when the public-health problem of America’s children was undernourishment, so feeding surplus agricultural commodities to kids seemed like a win-win strategy. Today the problem is overnutrition, but a school lunch lady trying to prepare healthful fresh food is apt to get dinged by U.S.D.A. inspectors for failing to serve enough calories; if she dishes up a lunch that includes chicken nuggets and Tater Tots, however, the inspector smiles and the reimbursements flow. The farm bill essentially treats our children as a human Disposall for all the unhealthful calories that the farm bill has encouraged American farmers to overproduce.


Later Pollan suggests that the farm bill regards American eaters as “food processors” who vacuum up “industrial raw materials” manufactured by agribusiness. He urges Americans to complain to legislators about the farm bill (which ought to be called the agribusiness bill) and argue for one that puts consumers’ rather than producers’ interests first. But because the U.S. Constitution protects the interest of small states in various ways (the Senate, the Electoral College), this is easier polemicized than done. The major presidential candidates are far more likely to call for more subsidies for corn (to boost the ethanol industry unnecessarily, since it’s cheaper and better for the environment—the whole reason to use ethanol in the first place—to make the fuel from Brazilian sugar) than to campaign for their withdrawal.


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Monday, Apr 23, 2007

For newspapers struggling to harness the Internet, the road up ahead is foggy at best. Still, editors at daily papers across the country are beginning to find their way.

At The News Tribune in Tacoma, Washington, public life editor Hunter George describes his organization’s most recent efforts: “Our web editor has been talking about ‘reverse publishing’ for a year or so. Funny how long it’s taken; we are just starting to do it more and more.” In one example, “Our staff writes blogs and then we ‘scrape’ the blogs for information that hasn’t been put in the paper and put it in there.” In other words, newspapers are learning how to take information developed for the Web and adapt it for use in print.


Scraping is a way to promote the Internet edition in the paper, but it’s also a way to save time – something newspaper reporters desperately need in this era of dual responsibilities: that is, writing longer articles for the print edition AND filing short updates for the Website throughout the day.


“We’ve spent most of our careers trying to feed the beast. Now we have another beast,” George says. But he’s quick to concede payoffs. For one, editors and writers can see which stories are popular, because the website tracks articles that get the most hits. When an online story filed during the day spikes suddenly, George explains, that’s a sign that maybe it should be placed on the front page rather than buried inside the print edition.


“We’ve never known before how many eyeballs were looking at a story,” George says. “You just used to stick it in the paper and assume people were reading it. Now there’s proof.”


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