February 25, 2011

Nihil Obstat

Brendan Halpin has some thoughts on self-censorship in YA.

He's right that a variety of forces, from within and from without, can combine to cause a fairly warped picture of actual teen life in a quite a lot of teen fiction. The model he describes (sex and drugs are okay as long as someone suffers horrible consequences as a result -- so let that be a warning to you) is still very much with us, as an aesthetic tradition as well as an unspoken rule of thumb. The weird thing is, pretty much everyone is aware of this and sees it as a bad thing, a regrettable relic of a past where teenagers were seen not as autonomous readers who ought to view fiction and other types of art like regular people do, but rather as mere objects for social conditioning.

But of course, fiction is still written with an eye to showing how people ought to behave, by people who don't acknowledge or don't even realize they're doing it. Our aesthetic and moral pretenses have shifted a bit since the days of the dreaded Victorians, but the essential dynamic of societal disapproval and squelching remains the same; and just as many, if not more, bad things are frowned upon and put up the "red flags" that people are so concerned about when it comes to fiction these days, I'd reckon. Moreover, it's a two-way street. Readers can be quite unforgiving when characters in fiction do things of which they disapprove. If you've ever written a novel in which a character makes questionable choices or expresses disagreeable or objectionable opinions, I guarantee there will be a contingent of readers (and perhaps quite a sizable one, if the flags are particularly "red") who will conclude that yours is a "bad book." Writers want to avoid clichés like the bad kid who, say, smokes marijuana and winds up causing the death of his entire family or something, but they also want to be liked. There is a subtle pressure to pander to your audience's expectations that is far more powerful than anything "the industry" can exert.

The upshot is that depicting reality (or, indeed, satirizing it) when it comes to sex and drugs and what have you becomes a fraught, worrisome issue regardless of your intentions. You at least have to consider that it may be fraught. Maybe, you think, it would be better simply to avoid the whole topic rather than open that can of worms. You pull punches, make oblique references, or, most commonly, your characters and their world undergo a gradual, silent "make-over": your protagonist becomes the one teenaged guy in the history of the world who isn't obsessed with sex, who thinks there has to be something more and doesn't understand why other guys like pornography and such when all he really wants to do is go the museum and stare at the Cézanne and think about helping people. And he attends the one high school in the country where no one ever smokes, or even mentions, weed. It happens. I've never knowingly done it myself, but I can sure see why.

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February 21, 2011

I'll be in touch so don't leave town in a big black car

This song made quite a big impression on me when I was a kid and it was played over and over on all the big AOR FM stations. I used to play it in my bedroom and walk around at school singing it in my head, and sometimes even kind of whisper-singing it to myself which would elicit funny looks when anyone overheard me doing it because basically, let's face it, my muttering the word "homicide" over and over with a very serious facial expression probably confirmed some general suspicion about me. I mean, I assume it must have. In this day and age, I'd have been locked up and sent off for therapeutic brainwashing or whatever they do, and maybe I should have been at that. (And speaking of facing things, "Let's Face It" was another one I used to "perform" this way, a song that was possibly a little more relevant to my own life than "Homicide.") I think my old band in high school used to do a (likely pretty terrible) version of it, too.

Anyway, I picked up the old acoustic Yamaha just now and for some reason I started playing and singing "Homicide," and cracked myself up by how silly it was that I used to sing it then, and that I was doing it now. That guitar was a Confirmation present from my parents, so it's the same guitar I used to play it on back then, too.

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February 16, 2011

Still Blue

Some people were asking if I still had those Love is Dead sunglasses. I wasn't sure, but it turns out I do, and here's what's left of them:


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February 14, 2011



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February 11, 2011

Dong Dong Diki Diki Dong

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February 06, 2011



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February 04, 2011

Playing with Fire


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All great American literature has at its root the failure of the father

Interesting post on the quest-to-get-to-know-the-missing-father theme in Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Brock Clarke's Exley, and King Dork.

I'd never heard of the Exley book before, but its basis for the paternal investigation is a startling and possibly quite brilliant one: the father in question is a fan of Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes, so the protagonist sets out find the author and understand his work as a window into his inscrutable father's soul. If you've read the book, you'll know what a wild notion that is, and it certainly would seem to "out-meta" King Dork's CEH Library conceit by several layers of meta-ness. Seems worth a look.

And if you haven't read A Fan's Notes, you really should.

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Bulaq 666

Lashtalians discuss the fate of the Stele of Revealing in the midst of the Cairo riots.

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Whatever You Want Babe

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February 03, 2011



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With Mittens

A chance conversation about band anxiety dreams this morning reminded me of this one show a ways back -- one of the early MTX shows, opening for Flipper somewhere in San Francisco. Guitarist Ted Falconi hadn't shown up and they asked for volunteers to play guitar and Jon von stepped up to do it. (The reason this has to do with band anxiety dreams is that such dreams so often involve not being able to find a band member at showtime, or being called on to play a set when you don't know any of the songs.)

Now, Falconi's guitar set up was all crazy, over-driven, feedback-heavy, noisy to the point where the noise was quite a bit more prominent than any chords or tones intentionally played: the chords are definitely there, somewhere, but they're buried. Just listen to any Flipper recording and you'll know what I'm talking about. The result was that when Jon just played "Blitzkrieg Bop" over and over for three songs, it still sounded pretty much like Flipper. Which was, as I remember thinking at the time, rather wicked. I still think that now.

One of the signature parts of Flipper's act in those days was that the singer would amble on-stage after the band had been playing for a while and ask another bandmate (though into the mic, too, so the audience could hear): "what song is this?" It was funny the first time I saw it, and then, as I saw it more and realized it was a schtick, it just became kind of loveable. But it was never better than when he said it to Jon von, who in response just continued playing "Blitzkrieg Bop" with a bug-eyed shrug.

I got my shot at playing with Flipper, too, though my moment in the spotlight got cut off after about a minute when Ted Falconi finally showed up. The noisy guitar set-up was a small revelation to me. The sound was like a wild, elusive, sparking coil you could barely control, something you had to point in the general direction of the music, doing the best you could to nudge it here and there, but in the end just hoping for the best. It was a sixty-second adventure. And I realized: oh, so that's how he can do things like play the guitar with mittens on.

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February 02, 2011

Poor and Weird

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Stephan Edgar


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Kenneth Grant


Requiescat in pace.

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