ebay and looting: Archeologists were freaked out when ebay first appeared that the democratization of the antique market would lead to an upsurge in looting. But actually, looting has decreased over the years. Why? Because the massive growth of the market has instead fueled a boon for the antique forgery industry. Not sure whether this is good, bad, or funny. (via)
Why don’t people boo more at the opera? Tyler Cowen thinks he knows: “When these high-status people are slighted, as they might be by a bad performance, their privately optimal response is to ignore the slight. Reacting to the slight suggests that they have let it bother them …” I’d think it has everything to do with herd mentality and accepted tradition, which could just as easily have gotten started randomly (and which a couple of spontaneous instances of booing could turn around).
Misael and I sometimes debate the relative artistic merits of film vs. television. Lots of different analogies are possible in these discussions (e.g. film as short story, television (think The Wire, etc.) as novel), none perfect. In the end though, I think this exercise is a little like arguing the relative merits of dance and architecture; each is a distinct artform that deserves to be judged on its own merits.
Or maybe it makes more sense to say that each is a family of different artforms. Shows like Murder She Wrote have very little to do with shows like Lost, and few things are as open-ended as a feature film (I note Gummo without further comment). Nonetheless the argument that film is inherently an inferior artform (because (1) a television series is not conceived as a single artistic statement, as every film is, and (2) however deconstructed and contemporary, every episode of every television show must be stand-alone satisfying to a certain degree) has obvious appeal, on its face. And “sometimes you’re in the mood for bubble gum” is sort of like damning TV with faint praise.
But so I’ve been watching 24 lately (I’m on season 3). Structurally, the show is fascinating: each season is 24 episodes, each of which is part of one intense 24 hour period in the life of the California anti-terrorism unit. The show runs in real-time, while juggling numerous interconnected story lines. The politics of the show are sometimes questionable, but the achievement of crafting the stories is staggering.
Yet what’s most impressive about 24 is something else. The Ramones claimed that their idea was to take the peak moment of pop music — the most energetic dizzying crescent — and create music that was about extending that moment for an entire song. Somewhat analogously, 24 takes the most intense moments of spy movies (Bond), and attempts to stretch them into an entire season. The idea is that the tension does not let up — indeed, does not even ease — for the entire 24-hour season (this is best experienced, as much modern TV is, by watching the entire season on DVD over a short period of time (in fact, a season of 24 could arguably be best experienced in an actual 24 hour period, watching time synchronized to the fictional time)). This is odd, since even a Bond movie has peaceful and romantic interludes between sequences of action. Here are 24 hours of unrelenting tension.
I’m not making a case for 24. I’m making the case that despite the illusion that film is a more free-form artform, in reality television has the ability to do certain things that cannot be done in any other way.
One of the truly inspirational and thought-provoking things I’ve read is Howard Gossage’s essay from the February 1960 issue of Harpers, How to look at billboards. I got so exited when I found it yesterday that I whipped up a little home for it on the internet. Thanks to Carrie McLaren for hosting it all this time. It’s probably through Stay Free that I originally ran across it (but I couldn’t find it despite much googling when I was writing about billboards back in 2006).
Gossage is not prescient — he argues that billboards are on their way out. But his arguments that billboards have no right to exist rings just as true as it ever has:
What a billboard looks like has nothing to do with whether it ought to be there. Nor does the fact that it carries advertising have anything to do with it, either. It would be the same thing if it were devoted exclusively to reproductions of the old masters; just as the open range would have been the same thing if they had only run peacocks on it. The real question is: has outdoor advertising the right to exist at all?
The industry says it has. It claims two rights, in fact. In asserting the first of these it clasps the flag firmly to its bosom and, in cadences worthy of William Jennings Bryan, invokes the spirit of free enterprise. Now, it should be understood that the outdoor industry is fighting only against what it regards as discriminatory regulation. It seems never to have occurred to the industry to question its basic right to any existence whatsoever. Therefore, when it protests against operational restrictions, it is not effrontery, as one might think, but outraged indignation. Its reaction is that of an old-time cattle baron the first time a farmer dared to fence in his potato patch.
Outdoor advertising is, of course, a business and as such would ordinarily have a strong case against inroads on its domain. However, there is a very real question whether it has title to its domain. Outdoor advertising is peddling a commodity it does not own and without the owner’s permission: your field of vision. Possibly you have never thought to consider your rights in the matter. Nations put the utmost importance on unintentional violations of their air space. The individual’s air space is intentionally violated by billboards every day of the year.
Please go read the whole thing. It’s a pleasure, and while its arguments are unlikely to sway any public policy now, almost 50 years later, you never know. At the end, Gossage asks you to complete a little billboard ballot, indicating “there ought to be billboards” or “there ought not to be billboards,” and send it back to him so he can track the results. The Stay Free version of the article says, “since Howard Gossage is dead, you can send your coupon to us at Stay Free! . . . and we will take care of it.” I’m not sure whether someone is still compiling these, but even if so it doesn’t seem particularly useful. If you don’t like looking at billboards, I think a much better course is to write to your city, county, and state elected officials. They are the ones that can actually do something, and a little sometimes goes a long way with moving your local governments. Good luck.
Wow, Dr. Jack Kevorkian was radicalized by his time in jail — he gave a talk at Nova a couple of weeks ago, and got the crowd riled up, at one point breaking out a US flag modified with a Swastika. So, it turns out uVu, South Florida’s odd little video service, has an archive of the talk: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5. There’s also an interview.
Scenes from Pakistan. What strikes me is the vast overwhelming number of these photos show street scenes, without a single woman in sight. Of the photos that show men and women together, there is a scene of refugees fleeing from an area overrun by war, a husband and wife in hiding because they married without their families’ permission and so risk death, and a group of Christians in prayer.
The New York Times floats the idea of turning newspapers into non-profit organizations. Nice idea, which I liked even more when I had it, back in 2005. Also find if funny that the New York Times would be mentioning this idea at this particular time, when Michael Hirschorn just reported in the Atlantic that there is a small but not indistinct possibility of the Times going out of business, perhaps as early as May. (Thanks, Squathole)
“Paranoia is just another word for ignorance.” Hunter S. Thompson motivational posters.