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Productivist bias

For a column about consumption, Rob Walker's "Consumed" in The New York Times Magazine has a quite a productivist bias. Generally Walker will identify some newly popular species of product on the American market -- Cafe Press tchotchkes, organic food, fur, catastrophe novelty items -- and then he'll interview the manufacturer of the product to find out more about it. rarely will he interview consumers of the product in question; it's as if they have said all that really matters, all they are competent to say, by buying it. This is generally the economic attitude toward consumer behavior -- it can be fickle, caparicious but ultimately it is immaterial. If something gets bought, that's good. If something lingers in the inventory, that's bad. Otherwise consumer goods are morally neutral and consumers are sovereign -- no one judges their right to make whatever decision they want about how to dispose of their resources. If they want to eat cat food and drive a Hummer, so be it. That's freedom in action.

But the price they pay for this sovereignty is a certain neglect that Walker's column illustrates. Their point of view isn't taken seriously; they are always regarded as the prey in the warrior competition in the marketplace. There is never anything heroic and clever in their decisions, whereas ingenious entrepreneurial decisions to sell this or that object, or to try this or that distribution channel or advertising method are routinely lauded. Thus the active aspects of the consumer's decision -- as hedged and manipulated and circumscribed by the wiles of marketers as it may be -- get lost and the inventive uses to which they put goods are neglected in public discourse; that information remains a subject for private discourse, though perhaps blogging is changing that. It may be that because people's aims in consumption can vary vastly -- there are as many uses as there are subjective notions of pleasure -- writing about it becomes too diaristic, too personal and too specific. But there is always one single aim in production: profit. Everyone can understand that and everyone can understand how well that aim was accomplished in reading about it. Or it may be that we don't recognize something as production until it's done for profit rather than personal use or enjoyment. What makes you happy is your own affair; what makes money, that's something we all want to know about.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

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To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

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