September 24, 2013 1 Comment
My father told me this joke when I was a kid.
I don’t know why it’s a Jewish joke. I figure that’s just the way dad heard it.
individualism for the masses
September 23, 2013 3 Comments
I will not argue over the question of when a golden age of television begins. It will always be a matter of opinion, not necessarily marked by the beginning of a particular TV series. I should have said that each of the three golden ages took place or flourished under a Republican president.
He also draws our attention to some details that Professor Thompson got wrong in the page and a half I quoted from his book Television’s Second Gold Age about the relationship between Republican presidential administrations and the quality of television drama.
Scott is correct about Laugh-In debuting while LBJ was still president, and about Hill Street Blues debuting five days before Reagan’s inauguration, not after.
But I’d like to argue that the connection that Professor Thompson draws between "conservative Republican" administrations and creative freedom on the small screen is valid.
August 28, 2013 Leave a comment
The New Mexico state government has become significantly more gay friendly in the last week or two.
Sadly, one result is that individual freedom in the state is on the wane.
On Monday, a New Mexico judge ruled that the state’s marriage law "doesn’t specifically prohibit gay marriage," and the next day court clerks began issuing same-sex marriage licenses.
I look at the photographs of gay and lesbian couples tying the knot yesterday in Albuquerque, and I feel moved by them. Knowing how they’ve struggled to achieve the moment captured in those pictures, I feel much happier for them than I would for most strangers. And I think of the same-sex couples I know, none of them married by any legal definition, and I wonder if the piece of paper would matter to them.
This is how the state tricks libertarians into supporting the growth of government power.
August 12, 2013 1 Comment
In his comments on my recent blog post "lowbrow," Scott Lahti points us to this article from the Atlantic:
I hadn’t realized there was such a consensus that we are now in a new golden age of television, but if the current age stretches back 10 or 15 years, I have to agree. TV writing is so much smarter, funnier, and more compelling now than it was when I was growing up, watching way too much of it.
If now is the new golden age, when was the previous one? The established wisdom, apparently, is that TV viewers were their most fortunate in the 1950s.
Paul Cantor talks about that original "Golden Age of Television" in his lecture series "Commerce and Culture" and Wikipedia confirms that the term refers to an era that "began sometime in the late 1940s and extended to the late 1950s or early 1960s."
Why these peaks, and why the trough in the years between? Read more of this post
July 22, 2013 Leave a comment
My fixation on female national personifications continues:
Socialist president François Hollande has successfully courted controversy in his Bastille Day announcement of a new national postage stamp.
Since 1944, each new French president has chosen a new illustration for France’s postage stamps — always an image of Marianne, the Phrygian-hat-wearing feminine symbol of the French Republic (the way the UK has Britannia and the US used to have Columbia before Uncle Sam elbowed her aside).
"I decided following my election," said Hollande, "that the Republic’s new stamp would have the face of youth, that it would be created by youth, and that it would be chosen by youth."
Chosen by youth? Read more of this post
July 1, 2013 5 Comments
This post comes from southern France, near the Pyrenees.
Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones (or was it Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way?) noted that Ernest Hemingway and other American authors of the Lost Generation wrote about their home country from Paris, then wrote about France after returning to America.
That fits my own experience. I certainly think most about American culture and character when I’m abroad. All the little details, the background texture of life, are different in other countries: beyond the obvious differences, like the size, shape, and color of money and all the advertisements and instructions that are no longer in English (or in a noticeably different English if you’re visiting Britain), there are other more subtly alien aspects of mundane life, such as the shape of door handles, light switches, power outlets, and absolutely everything in the bathroom, including the question of whether all the "bathroom" amenities are together in one room or separated into two; I expect license plates to look different, but I’m caught off guard by how narrow the streets are, and how narrow the trucks and vans have to be in consequence — they’re driving on streets built for medieval horse carts. Different products are on display abroad; especially different are food and drink.
The longer you’re away and the more you’ve acclimated to these foreign details, the more of an adjustment it is to return home, too. I recall landing in the United States in the late 1980s, after half a year abroad, mostly in Israel but also visiting Egypt and Amsterdam. It was so weird to me that all the signs — street signs, store signs, billboards — everything was in English. I’d grown so used to understanding only maybe a tenth of all the written messages around me. Being surrounded by English felt like information overload — so much more than I wanted to know. The forest of neon signs in a foreign city center can be beautiful. Those same signs in my own language look garish.
My recent time in Paris was less of an adjustment. I’ve been there often enough that its mundane details are more familiar. But I still think more about America while walking Parisian streets. While crossing a bridge the other day, I saw, dwarfed by the Eiffel Tower behind her, a small version of the Statue of Liberty. The one in New York Harbor was a gift from the French government, so I can imagine Parisians consider Lady Liberty to be as much a French symbol as an American one.
But as I mentioned in the blog post "worshipping the wrong goddess," it’s hard for an American to see a lady with a torch and not think of her as "ours."
In fact, however, Lady Liberty’s appearance is much less uniquely American now than it used to be, certainly less clearly nationalist than Columbia, the feminine personification of America in popular use from 1776 through World War I, by which time, draped in the American flag — or rather, draped in classical robes with the very non-classical colors, stars, and stripes of the American flag — she implored Americans to sacrifice their individual interests for the sake of the bankers and crony capitalists whose investments were threatened by the war in Europe. That’s not how she put it, of course.
Garance Franke-Ruta in the Atlantic attributes Columbia’s retreat from the American scene to a different cause: "Uncle Sam’s older, classier sister," she writes, "fell out of favor after women got the vote."
She does acknowledge other contributing factors:
Perhaps it had something to do with the rise of Lady Liberty as an icon, though in the 19th century the two were sometimes visually interchangeable, if not identical. Perhaps it had something to do with Columbia’s role beseeching citizens to endure hardship during the Great War.
But she clearly prefers the gender-war interpretation:
Or perhaps it was something bigger: Female national personifications in general fell out of vogue as women took on a growing role as emancipated citizens.
By "female national personifications," Franke-Ruta is referring not just to Columbia but also to the UK’s Britannia and France’s Marianne. Portraying nations as women was apparently in vogue in the 18th and 19th centuries, less so in the 20th. Franke-Ruta would like to see Columbia make a comeback in the 21st:
A century later, Columbia looks like a lady who knows how to lean in. Enough time has passed, it seems, that we might consider reviving her spirit, and returning her to the pantheon of America characters for the years to come.
The suffragettes adopted Columbia as a figure of strength and determination for the cause of women’s rights, and it is this application — Columbia’s ability to "lean in" — that appeals to Franke-Ruta most: "When the suffragettes donned robes and armor, they garbed themselves in her rebel warrior’s spirit."
The warrior’s spirit I see, but did Columbia manifest a rebel’s spirit as well? She did so in the 18th century, when Paul Revere and other American patriots invoked feminine personifications to represent both Britain and America in the colonial struggle before independence.
In her earliest representations, Columbia (or Lady Liberty — as Franke-Ruta acknowledges, "the two were sometimes visually interchangeable, if not identical") was an American Indian, sometimes dressed in classical robes, sometimes naked, as in this political cartoon:
The proper English lady (an early interpretation of Britannia?) declares, "I’ll force you to Obedience, you Rebellious Slut."
The rebellious slut is defiant: "Liberty, Liberty forever, Mother, while I exist."
But where is there any rebel spirit in the Columbia of World War I? She has become an apologist of interventionist foreign policy and a manipulator of public sentiment — a source of sacrifice and guilt rather than backbone and righteous indignation.
I can’t speak to the withdrawal of Britannia or Marianne from popular nationalist semiology, but I disagree with Franke-Ruta about Columbia, both her diagnosis and her prescription.
Library of Congress researcher Ellen Berg describes the change from feminine, idealist Columbia to severe and scolding Uncle Sam as tracking the US government’s foreign-policy shift from noninterventionism to imperialism.
Around the same time, the previously fluid boundaries between Columbia (a symbol of the nation) and Lady Liberty (a symbol of, well, liberty) became more distinct. By the early 20th century, their separation was complete, with only one icon still clad in the Stars and Stripes, the other holding not a sword but a torch.
The American imagination did not reject the feminine, only the feminine warrior. The dissonance became too stark. The suffragettes may have embraced the lady with the sword and shield, but Americans more generally preferred the one with the flame of freedom. Let masculine Uncle Sam represent the narrower national interests; the feminine symbol stood, torch held high, for a much greater cause.
When I saw Lady Liberty in the Seine, I thought, Good! The French could use more liberty. So could we all.
To long for a return to the Columbia of 100 years ago is to seek a giant step backwards.