Friday, October 28, 2005

The good news and the bad news

Actually, there are a couple of batches of both:

The good news: I have an office. Whoo-hoo! Yes, that's right, a real, honest-to-goodness office with a desk, a bookshelf, four walls, a door, and a window. No cubicle for me! Sure, I've had a desk before, but this is a whole new ball of wax.

The bad news: Apparently, one has to decorate an office. I don't need window treatments or anything, but at least two people have told me on two separate occasions that I "really need to do something" to spruce up my big blank empty walls.

The good news, part 2: I actually do have a handful of old prints and drawing that we didn't have wall space for in the new apartment, and I've even finally remembered to drag them in to work.

The bad news, part 2: I bought the wrong kind of mouting hooks, so with one exception, all the prints and drawing are sitting on the floor, more or less below where I expect to hang them, whenever I get around to exchanging the mounting hooks for the right ones, and as long as it took me to get this far, who know how long that will be.

A related dilema: I still have a lot of space on my wall, and I have a large paiting by a friend of mine sitting behind the entertainment center at home. It would be pretty cool to have an original work in my office, but the painting has a semi-nude cartoonish mermaid figure featured prominently in the composition. I hate feeling prudish, but it's a very big, colorful work, which would certainly atrract attention, and if a student is coming to me for advising, I really don't want to make them uncomfortable.

Ah well. I'll figure something out.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Oddly enough, good Batman movies help

I don't often get to revel in capitalist materialistic fetishism (my book budget is even in doubt, which puts me in a place of deep anxiety), so I'm reveling in my current bought-it-on-the-first-day two-disc mixture of comic book goodness and rock 'em, sock 'em American action filmmaking.


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The biggest little question

I suppose that the musings in this post may stem from my recent realization that my problems are not all that interesting, but perhaps not entirely.

My first formulation of the problem on my mind was "is it really possible to be an artist outside of New York," but while that question my be a bit shallow on its own, it echoes a deeper query: are the resources of a large urban area necessary for certain modes of artistic expression?

Of course, my first thought is the theatre, which does seem to require the large concentrations of both resources and audience in order to exist, particularly as contrasted to film. Making a movie and staging a play are both prohibitatively expensive endeavors. In the cinema, however, the costs of producing a film (which are extremely high) are distinct from the costs of screening the film (which are extremely low). Thus, if the resources can be marshaled for production, it is relatively easy to drive a return through multiple screenings across a broad geographic base as well as sales of copies of the film to individuals for home viewing.

In the theatre, the costs of production and the costs of performance are inseparable, the size of one's audience are limited by both by the capacity of the performance space and by the demographics of the immediately surrounding area. A film can travel across the country for the cost of shipping a print. A traveling theatrical production is a bit more demanding.

Of course, all this is obvious. Broadway is Broadway for a reason.

A novelist can live anywhere he wants. It is easier to live in New York and be close to one's publisher, but certainly not necessary. Is the same thing true for a playwright?

Monday, October 17, 2005

Copyright law

I've had a number of reasons to think about copyright law in the past week or so. The first was a post by Robin Sloan on Snarkmarket, which generated some interesting comments, some of them even my own. The second was this opinion piece in the International Herald Tribune, found on Arts & Letters Daily, and the third was this article in the New York Times on the increasing difficulties in licensing copyrighted material for use in documentaries.

I think it's pretty clear that copyright law in this country has been stretched to the point that it makes little sense. There's no real purpose in extending copyright until 70 years after the death of the original copyright holder. While I believe that an artist (and, closer to my heart, a writer) has the right to make a living from their work, I do not believe that the same privilege extends to an artist's children and grandchildren. I may not believe that collage is the highest art form, but I think that the public is better served by a broad definition of fair use rather than a narrow one. I think that a compelling case can be made that even artists themselves are served best by specifically defined, limited term copyrights.

Worst of all, copyright law has been extended repeatedly over the last century not to benefit the ability of individual artists and creators to participate in the financial benefit of their work, but to serve the interests of large corporate holders of intellectual and creative property. (In fact, in recent years, much of the blame can be laid at the feet of Disney, which has successfully kept Mickey Mouse out of Public Domain.)

As an aspiring writer, my initial reaction to the International Herald Tribune's proposal for limiting copyrights to a single one-year term was negative. Upon further reflection, however, it is hard to argue with. The vast majority of revenues generated by creative properties, be they book, film, or music, are generated within the first year, and even the first six months of public release. Furthermore, with an increasing market overload, and decreasing production times (think about DVD releases--it is becoming more unusual for the DVD release of a film to follow its theatrical release date by more than 90 days, and increasing market discussion focuses on simultaneous release) that profitable window is shrinking.

With more and more titles being released and going out-of-print within any given 12 to 24 month period, the rationale justifying indefinite possession by corporate copyright holders seems thin indeed.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Of note

Harold Pinter was announced today as the winner of the 2005 Nobel Prize for literature.

I suppose now I should actually read the man. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

One tasty Apple. . .

As most of my small group of loyal readers know, the computer sitting on my desk at home is the old sunflower-crossed-with-a-grapefruit iMac, and its predecessor was one of the original, revolutionary, bondi-blue first-generation iMacs, so I have some history with the box that saved the house that Jobs built.

These days, iPods get all the attention, and, sure enough, Apple today announced an iPod update that allows video to be played on the higher-end models, and a deal with ABC that will start making individual episodes of popular television shows available for purchase and download a la iTunes.

This is all well and good. At the same time, however, the iMac is quietly fulfilling and surpassing all the predictions that Mr. Jobs' box was going to revolutionize home computing and lead to the sort of multifunction convergence that would make Bill Gates drool. The new iMac models are looking more and more like an interactive flat-screen TV (the new model even comes with a remote), and my guess is that the ability to access ABC's "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" marks the beginning of the next logical step in the TiVo revolution.

Imagine making micro-payments for the content that you want, when you want it. No re-runs, no commercials, and infinite potential for specialized content to find the audience it so richly deserves.

Down with the DVD market, I say, and up with iTV!

(If only I had a digital graphic genius to work the apple logo into the "Desperate Housewives" Eve-and-Adam-with-the-apple image, then this post would really rock.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The story of O.

It's been a while since I've written about Oprah's book club, mostly because it doesn't figure anywhere near as prominently in my thinking now that I'm no longer working in a bookstore.

The update, in short, is that finally having fulfilled my prediction that Oprah, a huge Toni Morrison fan, would have to pick a William Faulkner novel now that her book club was reading "the classics" (in fact, she picked three simultaneously, which seems a little ambitious even to me. I love Faulkner and I've only read three of his books.), Oprah has now reopened the club to living authors, including biographies, memoirs, and historical works. (This is not actually news. Oprah's book club has already included at least one memoir.)

Oprah's first new pick is James Frey's memoir of addiction and recovery, "A Million Little Pieces." Salon has a pretty good take on the whole deal, aptly summed up by two of the concluding paragraphs:

A literary novel that sells 20,000 copies is considered a success; many books bearing Oprah's stamp have moved a million copies or more. As Sonny Mehta, the chairman of the literary publisher Knopf, told the New York Times recently, "The fact that [Oprah] had 300,000 people reading William Faulkner over the summer—she should be given a cabinet post."

Like practically everyone else in America, I love Oprah. However, I can't help but hope that she'll return to fiction again soon or, at the very least, choose a different kind of nonfiction book for her next club—something that seems more distinct from the other content on her show. The problem isn't that Frey's book is a memoir per se; it's that it's a memoir of addiction, of recovery—and a bad one at that. The books in her club—especially during the "classics" years—were markedly different from much of the rest of Oprah's show, which already covers this terrain. With James Frey, the book club is losing its identity as a literary feature, morphing into yet another vehicle for self-help. His story might be shocking, but it isn't art.

As seems increasingly rare these days, I actually have a bit of insight of my own to offer. Back in my Schuler days, we tried to get a public book group going, and one of the first picks was Mr. Frey's book. (Primarily because it looked interesting, there was a fair deal of hype surrounding it, and the author was available for a phone-in store appearance.) I tried reading the book, and gave up two thirds of the way through. Salon's writer, Hillary Frey (no relation to Mr. Frey), seems to take "A Million Little Pieces" at face value, as a relatively factual account of Mr. Frey's time in rehab. I do not. I became more convinced as I read that Mr. Frey was taking great liberties with, if not creating entire characters and situations.

Having never been through rehab myself, I recognize my lack of authority on the subject. But the book read too much like a junkie film, and all the characters that Frey likes have happy endings, save one or two, and all the characters he dislikes die unpleasant deaths. Sure, unpleasant death and addiction are constant companions, but it's all a bit too neat and tidy for me.

I think Oprah was stretching her book club by focusing on the classics. It may have been an admirable stretch, but I can't be surprised that she wasn't able to keep it up, and I couldn't criticize her if she simply looked at the sales numbers and decided that her audience would simply prefer something else. Oprah is a juggernaut, and there's no reason for her to run a second-tier book group, even if I'm not interested in anything she's reading.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Shockingly self-centered

It's nice to not have world-historical problems. It's also somewhat dull.

There have been times when my life has been at least somewhat interesting. The past year was not one of those times, but with a little luck I'll soon be able to regain some interest in the near future.

I just have to figure out exactly how I'm going to do that. I'm back in a university environment, and so it would seem logical to take a few classes and work on an advanced degree. I don't really know that I'm Ph.D. material, though, and I need to do some digging and find out what sort of MA options I'd have here in East Lansing, and figure out which of those would be worthwhile. For example, I'm not terribly interested in an English MA in critical theory, and I'm not certain that the creative writing concentration is still being offered.

There are other things I can do. I have friends starting to work in film and theatre, and I would love to put together a script or two. I did some dramatic writing in my undergraduate days, and it was a form that made sense to me. (Of course, like most undergraduates, I had some poetry printed in local 'zines, but I don't really count that for much.)

If only I were Truman Capote, then I would be deeply interesting, but then, he wasn't very happy, was he?

Monday, October 03, 2005

Yet another passing

For those of us who live outside of the New York area, it can be tough to gauge what's going on in American theatre, much less what's really important.

August Wilson was one of the exceptions. His plays have been staggeringly important not only to the telling of the 20th Century African-American experience, but to American dramatic literature as a whole.

Mr. Wilson died on Sunday of liver cancer. He will be missed.

I had the privilege of hearing Mr. Wilson speak at Michigan State Univeristy on April 15, 1998. Click here to hear his lecture.

Good old Mr. Bush

This may not be the most intelligent post that you'll read regarding President Bush's new nomination to the Supreme Court, but it's an honest gut reaction.

I'm sick and tired of Mr. Bush's seeming inability to reach beyond his list of pals when trying to fill vacancies in important positions. It's the sort of thing that doesn't merit complaint were it to happen simply once or twice, but how bad is it when the head of a search committee simply recomends him/herself for the position, and Mr. Bush seems to not only have no problem with that, he seems to consider that the best case scenario.

It was one thing when Dick Cheney, after conducting extensive interviews, no doubt, simply says "hey, I'd kind of like to be the Vice-President," but how much worse is it when the White House Counsel, a person with no experience on the bench, says "hey, I'd kind of like to be on the Supreme Court"?

In all fairness, Harriet E. Miers seems to have extensive and impressive experience in a wide range of legal and civic positions. I don't have any specific problems with any of her actions or postions, even compared to Alberto "The President can use torture if he wants to" Gonzales. Maybe she'll be a great justice, and part of me is happy that Bush nominated a woman.

I'm not the first person to say this, and it's disgusting how it continues to hold true no matter how often it's said, Mr. Bush's administration seems to have missed the memo about avoiding even the appearance of impropriety.

Hell, maybe we'll at least get a Democratic Congress back in 2006, if things keep going the way they seem to be going.