Who Watches the Watchman?


o-GO-SET-A-WATCHMANGo Set A Watchman, Harper Lee’s prequel/retelling of to To Kill A Mockingbird is considered highly controversial, in part because of the way some readers consider this a betrayal of their version of the character Atticus Finch.

This is far from the first story re-telling that readers or viewers have deemed to be somehow “wrong”, writing over their own version of events. One of the first presentations Keidra and I did was at MIT – about the difference between canon (what is actually in the work itself as produced by the author or copyright owner) and “fanon” (what fans consider the story to truly be – filling in gaps, jumping over discrepancies, and shipping (oh, the shipping!).

A much older (and now well-known) occurred during the eight years when the character Sherlock Holmes was “dead” – any fanfiction written by fans in the interim was subsequently overruled. In that case, the fans were mostly just happy that there were new stories by the original author.

And in some ways, the views of this retelling/continuation of the story in Maycomb is a sideways version of the new canon of Star Wars. After all, now not all previously authorized work, such as the expanded universe, is canon. Instead, it is in a nebulous state of former canon (or even more honestly, it is now fanon).

VegetaBabyTrunksBulma But there is an even more interesting parallel to the continuation of the story of To Kill A Mockingbird – and one that continues to emerge – that of the anime Dragonball. The series Dragonball GT continued on without the story guidance the creator of Dragonball, Akira Toriyama. This month, there is a new show, Dragonball Super that supersedes what happened on GT. Many fans are happy about this retelling, as they felt the characterization in GT was watered-down compared to the earlier shows.

Interestingly, both the Dragonball and Mockingbird re-tellings/continuations show father/child relationships that are different than what was previously shown. Fan favorite Vegeta, who previously spends a significant chunk of DBZ beating up his time-traveling adult son in an attempt to train him in martial arts, spends much of GT driving his teenage daughter around for shopping. (I will not even touch here on the dumbing down of Bulma in GT). And in Go Set a Watchman, Atticus Finch is shown to be a racist segregationist, despite defending an innocent African-American defendant earlier in his career. It is still yet to be determined whether Vegeta will be driving Ms. Bra, but the new branch or retelling of the Dragonball story seems to be hitting the right note with fans.

However, Mockingbird doesn’t seem to make fans happy in the same way. Even the New York Times has wrote a think piece about the disappointment of people who have named their kids Atticus rethinking it after the publication of the new book. As long as authors can change the story, those that have “decided” what the canon or official story should be always run the risk of being disappointed. After all, The Wizard of Oz was originally viewed as a political allegory. If we would accept – even for a moment – that the first book was a story about America and powerful forces, Baum was perfectly capable of changing the story into a fantasy/fairy tale, thereby allowing for multiple sequels that would be more amenable to a larger market.

I Read A Book: Eva Hemmungs Wirten’s Making Marie Curie: Intellectual Property & Celebrity Culture in an Age of Information

Peg Plus Cat Marie Curie Albert Einstein

Marie Curie on Peg Plus Catby Raizel Liebler

In an episode of the PBS children’s show Peg Plus Cat, Marie Curie shows up to discuss making mistakes and persevering alongside Albert Einstein and Billie Holiday (and a whale, since this is a kids show!). Considering she is one of the only female scientists that non-scientists know — and now also small children are aware of her — how did this happen? Why has Marie Curie’s discoveries and her persona become so sticky in the public’s memory?

Eva Hemmungs Wirten’s Making Marie Curie: Intellectual Property & Celebrity Culture in an Age of Information (University of Chicago Press 2015) delves into the whys of how one female scientist remains with us in public perception. This very academic book is nevertheless fascinating — delving into issues including but not limited to public versus private persona, intellectual property, decisions surrounding whether to patent inventions, women’s rights and autonomy, and French and American laws. Perhaps the only good way to describe this book is as a book you didn’t know you wanted to read, and it only makes you want to know more.

Wirten demonstrates how Curie was limited by law and institutional structures regarding how she constructed her own persona — and showed the world what she could do, considering that even if she had patented radium she would not been able to defend the patent from infringement because she was a married woman:

Because the law excluded her from the status of person upon which these intellectual property rights depend, the “property” road was closed to Marie Curie. The persona road was not. And while the law did not allow her to be a person, she was becoming very good at cultivating her persona.

Oh, and for those who want action, there are also discussions of being kept out of professional organizations, duels, an affair, “the trial of the century” and claims that Curie was not for women’s suffrage, which she publicly suffered the fools who had misstated her viewpoint.

But there is also discussion of how the decision to not patent radium, resulted in her receipt of a large quantity of radium, paid for by small contributions of the women of the United States:

Twenty years after they had ceded radium to others by abstaining from patenting their discovery and the processes of its extraction, the Curies’ disinterested action of sharing information and samples was collectively reciprocated when the female populace of the United States gave Marie Curie an equally disinterested gift in return. Yet the disinterestedness that was such a significant part of the interchange between these givers of gifts was in fact a multilayered vortex of symbolic and financial gestures around both radium and Curie.

The Curie “brand” story in the United States — and how it was sold to the public — help show why Marie Curie still has a singular, unique role in the public’s perception of female scientists.

Summary: A fascinating book that would be great for history of science, history of intellectual property, and intellectual property survey classes.




I Read A Book: Choi and Maliangkay’s K-pop: the international rise of the Korean music industry


by Raizel Liebler

bigbangcookiesK-pop: the international rise of the Korean music industry (2015), edited by JungBong Choi and Roald Maliangkay, is another entry in the quickly growing world of edited collections about kpop. Like many edited collections, there isn’t an overall theme; instead, one’s interest in each essay will likely vary based on the subject matter of each essay. They are all well-written, but …

Yes, I am ready for an essay collection that truly delves into these topics touched on in this collection and others – by focusing solely on the influence of kpop on the Japanese music industry (I have yet to read an essay about BoA!); masculinity and femininity (and neither and both) in kpop; the internationalization/localizing of influences and the spread of kpop; or Girls’ Generation (seriously, they deserve their own book). This is not to critique this collection of well-written essays and likely says more about what is accepted in a book proposal for an academic press, but it does make it difficult to compare one academic press kpop book from another (especially considering I try to read them all – like Pokemon)!

Haerin Shin’s The Dynamics of K-Pop Spectatorship: The Tablo Witch-hunt and Its Double-Edged Sword of Enjoyment is a unique addition to the collection. This chapter talks about the anti-fan campaign regarding the Korean rapper Tablo’s graduation from Stanford University. I don’t think Western audiences ever would care about the education of a celeb (see: lack of caring about Tyra Banks + Harvard Business school), but this situation demonstrates the difference between Western and Korean audiences regarding the backstory of a celebrity – and determining the truth behind it.

I’ve included this picture of Big Bang cookies as the image because a similar image was used in the book. How I wish it had been the cover image!

Summary: Good collection of academic essays about kpop. But if you have read another collection, this one doesn’t stand out.

I Read A Book: John Palfrey’s BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More than Ever in the Age of Google


by Raizel Liebler

Palfrey-BiblioTechJohn Palfrey‘s BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More than Ever in the Age of Google (2015) is a call to arms for the future of libraries — and their value. Immensely readable, this book charts where libraries were, where they are now, and where they are and should be. I truly loved this book and felt inspired by it — but I also fear that librarians will view this book as another “libraries are great!” boosterism solely rather than as primarily as an exemplar of a choice — evolve or die.

This book doesn’t reject the value of for-profit information sources, like Amazon or Google, but it does contextualize them: they exist to make money, not to make information available to the public regardless of pay. And what that means is that there is still a role for libraries — to share and explain information of value to the public even if it does not make anyone money.

Palfrey has experience as a library director — of the Harvard Law Library. Therefore, he spends time talking specifically about the future of law libraries, and mentioning both the beautiful reading room of the Harvard Law Library (traditional!) and the finals therapy dog (new way to look at libraries!). But much more of the book is focused more generally on libraries, library services, and librarians. He sees libraries and librarians as leaders in information literacy, both for present users and making available knowledge for the future, through digitizing and archiving born-digital and originally print materials.

Palfrey sees libraries both as physical places and as spaces of information. He recognizes that there is a tension between seeing a library as a locale for the stacks and a community center, and suggests that moving towards digitization and collaboration will allow for more of both — the keeping sacred of the past while serving the immediate needs of the present. His most challenging call is for more collaboration between librarians and libraries to better serve the public, preserve culture, and make more information accessible. The book calls for innovation, but within the context of rejiggering resources within institutional structures for all to be more together than alone.

Considering Palfrey’s background is law, it isn’t surprising that there is an entire chapter dedicated to both copyright and privacy. He explains why librarians have such an issue with licensing materials rather than buying them, despite publishers’ push to move to this rental-style model — and why expanding the first sale doctrine is important for the future of libraries.

On a personal note, this book helped to reinforce the ideas I have for making obscure, but important sources truly available to the public is needed — and needs to be done. In remarking about his experience as Harvard Law Library director, he remarks on how publishers come to the library for older versions of their works. This proves both the value of first sale — and how placing value only on that with present monetary value limits the preservation of culture for the future.

Summary: Highly recommended — not only for the librarian in your life, but even more so for all that think that corporations can solve all problems regarding information access.





I Read a Book: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed


by Keidra Chaney

I’ve been thinking a lot in the past couple of years about the pitfalls of living a public life on social media and the scrutiny (or, sometimes, danger) that comes with sharing one’s opinions in a public forum. A lot of it comes from observing the fallout as people that I know — some friends, colleagues, strangers, even some people I’m not too close with, but most of them writers — become targets of online harassment, usually for publicly stating their opinions about some issue connected to racial and/or gender equality. Sometimes it’s as abstract as a gendered or racial insult, other times it’s specific and targeted: a threat of lynching or rape, doxxing, etc. It’s frightening and chilling to watch, and in the past couple of years in particular, I’ve become much more selective and closed off in my actions and my intent to share online, even as I applaud the bravery of my colleagues who continue on, some of them mining the depths of their own personal trauma, to make a broader point about issues of race and gender online and off.

At the same time, I’ve cringed a number of times as I’ve witnessed the cycle of Twitter outrage over issues large and small online, as some random Twitter user is publicly raked over the coals by thousands of people for some random comment or off-color joke they thought they were making to a small group of friends online. Sometimes the statement is truly abhorrent, say for example the college baseball player who called 13 year old Little League wunderkind Mo’ne Davis a “slut.”

Other times it’s simply a comedy or errors, where someone’s sarcasm or dry wit is misunderstood by masses and a person is publicly humiliated for a comment taken completely out of context, like the guy who saw Neil Degrasse Tyson on the subway and called him a “dumbass nerd” (It really was a joke.) Either way, the cycle of public outrage on Twitter does happen about every eight to 14 hours and you can be guaranteed that as long as there are no dead celebrities to publicly mourn, someone’s being publicly called out for a perceived or actual misdeed by a few hundred people.

Sometimes the ramifications are severe, like the college baseball player, who was suspended, other times it’s not. Michael Hale, the “dumbass nerd” guy had his mentions overrun by angry nerds for a few days, He wrote a blog post about it on Gawker, I bet he made enough to pay for a nice meal for himself at a Brooklyn brewpub. If you’re a high profile person of color or a woman on Twitter, or both, you don’t necessarily need a lightning-rod viral tweet to bring people in your Twitter mentions calling you a “nigger” or a “cunt” pretty much daily.

All of this to say, if you’re a media professional and/or highly active on social media, Jon Ronson’s latest book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed won’t be a revelation to you. You probably know about the book already and may have watched many of Ronson’s “case studies” as they unfolded online: disgraced author Jonah Lehrer, Justine Sacco of #hasjustinelandedyet fame, and the complicated issue of “Donglegate” which I’ll get into more detail about later. You’ve probably experienced some level of the social media shame cycle (hopefully not personally) and you probably have some thoughts about the book even before you’ve read it.

I know I did. I’ve actually enjoyed Ronson’s past work, I’ve read essays and articles from him before, I enjoyed his film “Frank.” I figured there was a chance he could pull off the kind of critical analysis that the topic of online shaming deserves. Whether or not he succeeded, I guess, depends on how one defines online shaming and what one thinks the worst possible outcomes of being targeted and shamed online could possibly be. For Ronson, it was clear that for him the worst possible outcome was the possibility of losing one’s reputation, status, or employment. This was the common narrative in many of the stories in “Shamed”: Whether it was Lehrer, whose plagiarism damaged his own career as a pop-psychology speaker and guru, or Sacco, whose off-color tweets about Africa and AIDS deep-sixed her New York PR career, or “Donglegate” the controversy that led to the firings of both Richards and “Hank” the software developer whose puerile joke was called out on Twitter by her.

Ronson is a not a social psychologist or sociologist, but he is a talented wordsmith and empathetic storyteller. I believe he intended to write “Shamed” with the intent of telling the stories of those impacted by online shaming and those who take part. Unfortunately he undermines his own attempts to place this topic into a broader analysis of online culture by wrongly conflating the embarrassment of shaming with the fear of online harassment.

Most of Ronson’s examples in “Shamed” revolved around those whose professional reputations were damaged online. But if you belong to any kind of marginalized group online (a woman, a person of color, trans, etc.) you may also be acutely aware that shame is but one part of the risk of living a public life online. Being personally attacked, or having your safety (or the safety of your family) threatened. And while all such threats may not be “credible,” I don’t know any people who have ever been threatened with violence who have waited around to find out if their harasser was serious about carrying it through.

The professional risks that stem from any kind of online fallout are arguably much greater for marginalized people in any profession. They are compounded for anyone who makes any public statement or criticism about race or gender discrimination (or even discomfort) in their profession. The examples put forward by Ronson are an example of this, though likely not his intent. Donglegate left “Hank” without a career for several months, but he eventually got another job. Meanwhile, Adria Richards was essentially frozen out of her own profession in addition to being threatened with threats of rape and violence by strangers online.

I came into reading the book bracing myself for Ronson’s analysis of Donglegate, which I followed closely when it happened a couple of years ago. (Full disclosure: I was on a panel with Adria Richards, the woman of color at the center of Donglegate, a few years ago, and I admire her work. As a woman who has existed on the periphery of the startup/tech conference scene for years, and never felt particularly comfortable or welcome, the fallout of Donglegate and how it affected her career weighed heavily on me.)

“Shamed” would be skewed towards a putting forward a particular “party line” among some journalists about the so-called “toxic” nature of social media. Articles like Michelle Goldberg’s “Toxic Twitter Wars” piece in The Nation or Jonathan Chait’s New York magazine article put forth the idea that online “mobs” (primarily women or people of color) have the collective power and influence online to destroy the professional reputations of well-meaning people with presumably false accusations of racism, sexism, etc.

Ronson doesn’t say these things explicitly in “Shamed,” but he tells his stories from that very perspective, one that positions those on the periphery of the media and tech industries (women, people of color, freelancers, social media participants/”hashtag activists”) as mere interlopers. It’s an incredibly myopic view that fails to acknowledge the structural power dynamics (whether its race, or gender, class, professional connections, etc.) that ultimately protects media professionals like Sacco and Lehrer but not the so-called “shamers” of social media.

That’s a bigger story than “Shamed” could ever tell, however. It’s a story that goes far beyond the personal narratives of social media relationships and gets to the heart of how disruptive social technology has been to traditional media (yet not disruptive enough to topple the institutional structures that keep marginalized people out.) Frankly, Ronson isn’t the person to write this book but I doubt the people most qualified to do so will be getting book deals any time soon.

I Read A Book: Amy Gajda’s The First Amendment Bubble: How Privacy and Paparazzi Threaten a Free Press

first amendment bubble

by Raizel Liebler

first amendment bubbleAmy Gajda’s The First Amendment Bubble: How Privacy and Paparazzi Threaten a Free Press (Harvard University Press 2015) is a highly interesting exploration of the limits of First Amendment protection of the press — and how we got here.

The book starts with placing our present understanding of the limits of freedom of the press within a historical context. Ranging from showing the impact of the famous 1890 law review article by Warren & Brandeis through the Restatement and a plethora of case law.

She suggests that like other areas, like “housing, the tech industry, and financial markets, where heedless expansion ultimately proved unsustainable,” the First Amendment is on a similar bubble. This bubble is based on

the scope of reporting and claims for constitutional protection both are continually expanded–encompassing a broader range of push-the-envelope publishers and reckless disclosures–until First Amendment freedoms so far exceed their original foundation that they are at risk of a calamitous collapse, jeopardizing all future protection.

She analyzes how much what a journalist is has been pushed far beyond the traditional limits of the Fourth Estate — and she argues that the ability to protect sources is in serious jeopardy:

if we are all journalists, then, ultimately, not a one of use is because the law simply will not protect every single person who declines to testify when government attorneys come calling.

Her suggestions regarding drawing the difficult line between journalists and non-journalists is mostly about the practice of doing journalism:

journalists need to begin making hard choices in the way they conduct their business, as well as in the ways that they define themselves and their craft. In this era of media pushback and increased privacy protections, they must tread more carefully in their news choices, and must also refuse to be led along blindly by unethical publishers who call for continually extending press rights to shield every conceivable disclosure of information, no matter than source and no matter the resulting harm.

Gajda calls out both tabloid “journalism” and traditional journalism that is now seeking clicks over investigation for making it possible for First Amendment protection to be slowly stripped away by several courts. Instead, she suggests that protecting news

in a way that a journalist steeped in the traditional, ethics-abiding mainstream journalism world might well define [news]– would lead to news that is richer, more important, and, for some, more interesting.

Summary: Strongly suggested for those interested in the First Amendment, the press, and how online communication has changed our interaction with mass media. This easy accessible book should be taught both in journalism school and law school. Lots to discuss, even if one disagrees with Gajda’s guidance for next steps.



I Read A Book: Kim Gordon’s Girl in A Band


by Keidra Chaney

kim-gordonSonic Youth has always been one of those bands I respected more than I actually liked but I have long admired Kim Gordon, who seemed to embody cool. While she didn’t directly inspire me to pick up a bass, I won’t deny that seeing her be so badass in the “Bull In The Heather” video  didn’t make an impact on me in some way later on. More than anything though, I looked at Gordon’s marriage to Thurston Moore as like the rock and roll feminist ideal, as many of us did. A true artistic and romantic partnership with a dude who seemed to be totally cool with her individuality and creativity. Much like my delusions about Queensryche (I’ll get into that at some point in a later post) I thought that Gordon and Moore were two Grownups Who Have Their Shit Together In This Crazy Rock And Roll World. So, of course, the news of their divorce in 2011 was a huge and unexpected blow for a lot of people who thought they were too cool to root for a celebrity couple (not me though, I will shamelessly root for celebrity couples). And when news was announced that Kim Gordon was writing a memoir, a lot of people too cool to be interested in celebrity memoirs couldn’t wait to read Kim dish the dirt and maybe toss in a few barbs to alleged cheating jerk Thurston Moore.

Of course, Kim Gordon’s life and art encompass much more than just her marriage to Moore, and especially more than their eventual breakup. Her life and work encompass much more than even Sonic Youth, and reading Girl In A Band the wide expanse of her life and work become clear. It’s less of a dishy memoir and more of a look back at a how a creative life was shaped a very specific, fleeting moment in time for artists and musicians (Southern California and New York City in the early to mid 80’s).

Gordon’s a great writer, she’s candid and emotional but it doesn’t read in a way that makes it sound like she’s oversharing or pimping out her own feelings.  She rips the band-aid off early, starting the book’s first chapter with Sonic Youth’s last show and detailing the announcement of the band’s breakup and the dissolution of her marriage. She doesn’t mince words either, she’s honest and raw about the hurt that she’s feeling playing that show but also intersperses this with an interesting tidbit about how the band placed themselves on stage, based on some funky gender dynamics and the music industry. She says.

“for high end-music labels, the music matters, but a lot comes down to how the girl looks. The girl anchors the stage, sucks in the male gaze, and depending on who she is, throws her own gaze back out into the audience.”

And it’s little things like that, Gordon’s ability to weave in broader commentary and criticism into her own personal narrative, that make Girl In A Band more than just the usual rock memoir.

In the early chapters, Gordon details her life in California with her college professor father, homemaker mother, and troubled older brother, is a languid, evocative read. Her childhood wasn’t a rough one (she grew up solidly upper middle class and highly educated) but it wasn’t an easy one either (her brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and she endured some level of emotional abuse, or at least turmoil by him growing up.) She manages to avoid sugarcoating her experiences while also showing how her creative, intellectually rich environment she grew up in impacted her life.

When Gordon writes about being a part of the New York City art and music scenes in the early 80’s, she achieves this odd balance of being both wistful and dispassionate, like talking about a loved one long gone. I’m not entirely sure whether her distance is due to the changed face of New York City itself or the fact that the city is what led her to her marriage.  I guess it’s both, as she even admits when writing about New York, “it’s hard to write about a love story with a broken heart” and it’s never clear what love story she’s referring to her. But I love ambivalence and shades of gray in writing, when they’re done right, and I think Gordon knows how to strike that tone just right.

The last few chapters of the book, the ones detailing her eventual spilt with Moore, actually read as the most distant of all. What’s interesting is that Moore almost feels like a minor player in the book as a whole. He doesn’t really come in until about chapter 16 and when writing about her discovery of his affair it almost reads as rote, like she’s just going through outline notes. She’s probably too raw from the experience to write about it just yet, which makes sense, but it actually such a change in tone from the earlier part of the book it distracted me.

I’ll admit to a certain bias here, I think bass players tend to be fantastic writers, because they tend to choose their words carefully, and give out just as much as they need to get the point across. Gordon definitely achieves this tone in her writing. What really struck me about the book is how much of it reads like an extended artist’s statement, in it, you’ll get a much clearer view of Gordon’s influence, philosophy and process as an artist and musician. She write a bit about gender and the music industry, how that perspective informs her songwriting (like Karen Carpenter and the Sonic Youth song “Tunic.”) It was illuminating for me, because it is woven in and out of her own personal story in a way that you don’t really read in rock memoirs, especially by women.

She, of course mentions relationships, romance, and some of the more titillating details of her life (Who knew she once dated Danny Elfman?) But it’s all couched in a broader story, the story of her life as a creative, which keeps it from reading like a tell-all. When she mentions her not-so-friendly working relationship with Courtney Love, it doesn’t seem like she’s dishing the dirt, just being honest about how she really feels (shorter: Kim doesn’t like Courtney). The only thing that felt superfluous, and truly mean was her off-hand comments about Lana Del Rey, which were highly publicized but taken out of the publication copy of the book.

I’m glad the comment was taken out, not just because it felt a bit sour, but because so much of the media coverage of the book before it was released focused on the comment and painted the book in a particular light, as some kind of chatty, catty memoir, ala “I’m With The Band.”  And of course, a memoir by a woman musician is going to be overanalyzed for relationship dish and backstabbing other women. It does a disservice to Gordon’s writing and her personal story.

Summary: If you’re a fan of Sonic Youth and 90’s alternative rock of course GIAB is a must read, but I think it’s also a worthy read for any fan of rock/music memoirs in general.

I Read a Book: Jessica Silbey’s The Eureka Myth Creators, Innovators, and Everyday Intellectual Property


by Raizel Liebler

eurekamythJessica Silbey’s The Eureka Myth: Creators, Innovators, and Everyday Intellectual Property (2015) is an important book — and will likely be one of the most influential works of legal scholarship this year. [Editor’s note: I’m reading Frank Pasquale’s Black Box Society, which has a similar level of import.] Why? Because it has the potential, if used by policymakers and lawmakers to reshape how we view and protect intellectual property.
There is so much scholarship about why people create — and whether intellectual property law, especially copyright law and patent law, fully protect creativity. There have been some experimental studies, but most of the scholarship that existed before this book was theoretical, rather than talking to those that create. Silbey actually interviews artists of all stripes (musicians, journalists, visual artists and more) and scientists, and those that surround them — business partners, employers, lawyers and managers, describing how and why creators create and innovators innovate. She asks them about the role — if any — that intellectual property law plays in the process.
And what is the overall answer? Creators don’t create based on the existence of intellectual property law, mostly. IP law can be a way to help them — or their employers make money, but it is not their internal driving force. Instead, IP law is frequently in the way of creators, an annoyance wielded by their lawyers. Sibley states
businesses and individuals engaged in creative or innovative work achieve personal and professional goals–autonomy, productive relationships, and revenue–under misaligned and ill-fitting IP regimes. … IP law reformers might consider formalizing the informal restraint IP rights holders demonstrate when they tolerate certain kinds of infringement, permit uses that would otherwise require authorization, and generally underenforce their IP rights. (104)
One of the most interesting chapters focuses on the role of lawyers in the creative process, told from their own perspective. While all of the book should be read by those interested in intellectual property and incentive policy, this one chapter should be used in law school classes about practice because it details and describes the importance of the differing roles a lawyer can have — an advisor, a teacher, a Cassandra of impending danger, a contract reader — in addition to all of those things that television says will cause a lawyer to be called “counselor” in a extremely pitying way.
Silbey’s long empirical study concludes continuing to focus on the interests of those who create, rather than on retaining our present system of intellectual property law.

People crave work and relationships that are remote from wealth. … Separating the people who do and make everyday IP from those that benefit from it generates unproductive schisms and irrelevant rules. The misalignment of IP with the myriad goals creators and innovators pursue helps us identify and thereafter preserve only those IP rules that remain right for [creators]. (284-85)

Want more? Check out Jessica Silbey’s talk about the Eureka Myth from December 2014 at Berkman Center at Harvard University

Summary: Read this. This book will hopefully change the moral rights-ish arguments made about intellectual property rights in the United States. But even if not, you will learn much about the interaction (or not) of IP and the creative process, in the voices of those that create.

I Read A Book: John Lie’s K-pop: Popular Music, Cultural Amnesia, and Economic Innovation in South Korea

Girls Generation

by Raizel Liebler

Girls GenerationJohn Lie’s K-pop: Popular Music, Cultural Amnesia, and Economic Innovation in South Korea is a good, but poorly named book. The book’s strengths are not in the discussion of the present state of k-pop, but in the historical, cultural, and economic answer to how k-pop happened. If you are trying to read a basic overview book in English on kpop, this shouldn’t be your starting point.

But if instead you are seeking a musical journey through the musical influences that led to kpop, including the Japanese pentatonic scale and the long history of taking Western music and making it Korean, then this is the book for you. The first two-thirds are quite interesting, explaining the various threads that led up to the musical melange that is kpop, shaped by local folk music, Western and Japanese music, imperialism, war, and censorship.

Lie writes about how government censorship up until the death of President Park in 1979 shaped popular music, by helping trot — a musical genre that is like a cross between 60s tv show theme songs and unfunky disco (think the Ranma 1/2 theme song) — remain popular precisely because it was not viewed as “proper.”:

“Trot was too Japanese, Japanese songs were imperialistic, rock was sex-addled and drug-infused, and folk songs were anti-government; even composers of classical music … came under fire for their political views. … The government-sanctioned healthy songs had cheerful lyrics and melodies … and at least one of these songs had to be included on every LP. (Imagine listening to a Bob Dylan record and finding a Pat Boone song at the end!)” (48-49)

So the historical section — up to and including the 90s — is well-written and useful for any academic or semi-academic who wants to understand Korean music. But the short section that is actually about present-day kpop just isn’t where I would recommend for this information. Yes, it does include information about the trainee programs that labels have, and on some of the songs that retain the pentatonic scale, but the same zip from the earlier sections just isn’t here.

For example, there is inconsistent naming of Girls Generation. One section refers to them as Girls Generation, but an earlier section uses their Korean name, So Nyeo Shi Dae, but even then he uses the McCune-Reischauer translation of Sonyo Sidae. A simple solution exists of using their abbrevated name of SNSD throughout, since that is used by Korean, Japanese, and English speaking fans. There are other oddnesses in the present kpop section — for anyone reading footnotes, Hyuna hasn’t left 4Minute just because she also is in Trouble Maker!

Summary: This book is good for understanding the historical and cultural backstory of kpop from an academic perspective. Look elsewhere for analysis of kpop of today. If this book is too academic, check out Euny Hong’s Birth of Korean Cool from a journalistic perspective. (The reverse holds — if you are looking for a more academic take than the Birth of Korean Cool, read this.)


I Read a Book: How to Wreck A Nice Beach


The vocoder is misunderstood. It gets name-vocoderdropped by music fans a lot but it often gets mistaken for a talk box, or autotune. People complain about its use in songs but then lionize lots of artists that swear by it. If you brought up a vocoder to a lot of people, they wouldn’t know what it is, but if you played a song with a vocoder in it, they’d recognize what it sounds like. In How to Wreck a Nice Beach: The Vocoder from World War II to Hip Hop, The Machine Speaks (yes that is the full name) Dave Tompkins digs deep – real deep, it’s more than 300 pages – into the vocoder’s complicated and multifaceted history, from its initial use as a speech synthesis device and voice-masking tool by the U.S. military during WWII, to its use as a musical instrument in pop, rock, hip-hop and beyond. In a fractured music writing environment it’s rare to find a book that includes interviews with everyone from Afrika Bambaataa, Laurie Anderson, and Donnie Wahlberg from New Kids on The Block. Thoroughly (one might say obsessively) researched, the book serves as both a social history of a piece of technology and a defense of its use in music.

Because it covers so much ground, How to Wreck A Nice Beach is both a fun, fascinating read, and a dense, frustrating one. Tompkins is not-quite-linear in his storytelling, his focus both jumps and meanders across decades in a way that may irritate those who are looking for a straightforward history or are more interested in one element of the vocoder’s history than the other.

His stream-of-consciousness style both bothered me and fascinated me as a reader because we so rarely see this style anymore in non-fiction writing, which tends to be deliberate to a fault at times: “this is what I think and this is why I think it.” To be befuddled at times but still fascinated enough to keep reading was an interesting reaction for me. I honestly wish it was more common, to read a piece in anticipation of where it goes next, but not really knowing. What’s consistent (if you’re looking for consistency) is Tompkins’ understated, dry sense of humor throughout the book which is balanced by an seemingly incongruent sensitivity to the engineers and musicians whose own stories are indirectly told through the history of the device.

As it’s more of a historical/cultural history than a scientific exploration of the device, gear heads may not find the book as meaty as they would like, but great historical writing about technology is (or should be) as much about technologies evolving social meaning as much as it is about how it works. In this, How To Wreck A Nice Beach more than succeeds.

Summary: A dense, engrossing social and cultural history of a misunderstood piece of technology.

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