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

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

kim_gordon_girl_in_a_band_book_cover

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

eurekamyth

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

640px-Kraftwerk_Vocoder_custom_made_in_early1970s

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.

I Read A Book: Exile on Guyville (33 1/3 series)

33_1_3-300x177

by Keidra Chaney

lizMusic writing tends to gets a bad rap, but for good reason, I’ll admit. For one thing, it’s hard to find much that stands out in an age where listicles and hastily written think pieces endlessly proliferate online.

But to be fair, music has always been difficult to write about – the whole “dancing about architecture” thing – And there’s only a handful of spaces, online and off, that allow writers the time, mental space – and the word count – to truly explore the ideas and concepts that make for great music writing. Often that’s rarely about the music itself, but about the people who create it, the fans that love it and its overall historical and cultural impact. It’s one of the elements that makes the 33 1/3 book series so such a stellar one. Gina Arnold’s contribution to the series, a reflection on the Liz Phair’s critically adored/maligned debut album is an example of the series at its best.

And yes, what you may have heard about the book is true; it’s not about the making of the album at all. Instead it’s about a number of things that are more compelling than hearing from studio engineers about the production process: it’s about the culture and mindset of the early 90′s indie rock scene in Chicago and beyond, the hyper-masculine, hyper-obsessive club dubbed “Guyville” by Phair and others at the time. It’s also about the changes in technology and culture that have changed what it means to be a part of the indie rock scene as a performer or a fan in the past 20 years. It also challenges – or at least explores – Phair’s assertion that “Guyville” was a track-by-track response to the Rolling Stone’s “Exile on Main Street” while also briefly touching on Arnold’s own former Rolling Stones fandom and it’s bitter end.

As you can see, the book covers a lot – a hell of a lot – in 116 pages. And expectedly, it’s a little messy. Not incoherent, mind you. Arnold’s writing is thoughtful, complicated, conflicted – as she deconstructs and pieces together her relationship to indie rock, and Phair’s relationship to the scene. She approaches the work as a fan, a participant and observer of the scene, and a critic, and doesn’t attempt to unravel these identities.

I think the fact that she doesn’t attempt to write with some false notion of “objectivity” that gives the book its voice and perspective. Her exploration of gender and indie rock fandom will sound very familiar to anyone following the misogyny in gaming/geek culture debates. Arnold writes:

There is a curious conundrum that haunts not just rock, but music itself. Somehow female fandom is both valuable (in that it generates cash) and at the same time laughable, while female connoisseurship, female artistry, and female ownership is … a lesser thing.

In fact, so much of what was going on in the indie rock scene at the time reminds of what is currently playing out online with women in gaming/geek culture, it’s rather eerie. Lest anyone thinks that somehow the indie rock world, even with its boys club mentality, have historically “played nice” when it comes to gender, there’s the jaw-dropping quote from Phair herself that you could pretty much do a search and replace and say it’s about geek culture today:

“Guyville” was a specific scene in Chicago – predominately male, indie-rock, and they had their little establishment of who was cool, who was in it, who played in what band. Each one wore their record collection, so to speak, as a badge of honor. Like “this is my identity, this is what I’m into, and I know a lot about it…

Guyville is not dead, as Arnold asserts, it’s just moved to a different medium.

While Arnold’s criticism and writing is solid there are a couple of “Whoa Nellie” moments, for example, when she attempts to make a connection between Phair’s “Guyville” and Franz Fanon (it’s a stretch). And there’s a lot more that could have been said about the economics of indie rock and gender, namely her assertion (i think I am paraphrasing idea this correctly) that women are now more accepted and prominent in the indie rock scene because there’s no real economic power or exclusivity in it anymore. It’s been “pink collar-ed,” I actually think there’s some truth, and would love to read more exploring this theory.

But the fascinating thing about this book is that it’s not attempting to make some kind of declarative statement about rock criticism and gender, or indie rock in the age of the Internet. She doesn’t spend time trying to convince you that the album is a musical masterpiece. Good god, you can go to pretty much any rock-bro blog or message board and find a bunch of guys having that conversation at any time. The book intends to do something more. It’s meandering, touching on a lot of different ideas, but not lacking in focus. Music writing, interesting music writing, that is, touches on the personal, the political, the cultural, the historical and gives you something to chew on to make you want to listen to the music itself, even if you’re not a fan.

I’m actually not a fan of Liz Phair at all; when “Guyville” came out I was gorging on a diet of metal, new jack swing and mainstream hip-hop, and gave all things indie rock the gas face. I likely never will be, but reading Arnold’s analysis makes me want to revisit “Guyville” in an attempt to see things through her eyes.

Summary: A thoughtful, complicated look at 90′s indie rock culture with Phair’s album as a jumping off point. Highly recommended.

I Read A Book: Euny Hong’s The Birth of Korean Cool

BirthofKoreanCool

by Raizel Liebler

BirthofKoreanCoolTo badly quote Bart Simpson after going on a Squishee bender, this is the book I’ve been telling you about. Or at least this is the book I have been waiting for — to explain everything from Psy to kimchi to soft power. Euny Hong‘s The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture is a book about Korean culture from the perspective of an insider/outsider, a Korean-American who spent much of her formative years in Korea, at the point the country was moving from a third-world country to one where luxury brands set up shop. This book is not a snapshot of what is cool now, but how Korea got here — and why it is likely staying there.

Unlike many of the other Korean culture (and specifically kpop books) reviewed here at TLF, The Birth of Korean Cool isn’t academic. Instead, it is somewhat personal essay — in the style of Oliver Sacks — but more than the story of one person, it is the story of a country that has decided to focus on supplying pop culture to the world. Hong writes the improbable tale of a country that went from banning rock music up until 1978 to being the pop music factory that is K-pop. Hong’s understanding of Korean culture helps to elucidate many answers to questions about “why Korea?”, including the factory-style produced music via trainees that within a different cultural context would not exist. As Hong puts it about one interaction that is

“emblematic of the absurdity of modern Korea: in what other country would a B-boy [breakdancer] try to make the case that he deserves his government’s support?”

And Hong explains how hallyu — exported Korean culture — is different than Japanese cultural production. Japanese cultural production is turned internally rather than externally, considering the size of the country allows for cultural production, like music, to be focused on domestic, rather than international audiences.

On the other hand, Hong explains how the Korean government specifically is interested in exporting Korean culture — and has spent the last twenty years helping home-grown culture make it worldwide. Hong doesn’t ignore economic influences, such as the IMF impact on Korea due to the 1997 Asian financial scandal. In the midst of the discussion of soft power, Hong titles chapters things like “K-Cinema: the Journey from Crap to Cannes”. And “Samsung: The Company Formerly Known As Samsuck”.

Is there anything negative about this book? Considering I know that I will be quoting this book all over the place I really wanted an index — but at least there are some sources listed. And of course, in addition to the government policy and economics issues, I wanted to know more about the legal environment, especially with the spread of Korean products worldwide based on the creative industries (copyright!), brands (trademark), technological industries (patent), and stars (rights of publicity). The one teaser about these issues is that according to Hong, Korean industries fit an

“apparent paradox: Being number one matters, but being first does not.”

If readers are looking for a show that helps to demonstrate the just a little-bit-old environment Hony grew up in, I strongly recommend the first half of Answer Me 1997, before the time jump.

Even if you have had no previous reason to read anything about Korean pop culture, you will not be disappointed with this book.

Summary: Detailing the present and past of Korean cultural production, from kimchi, to k-dramas, to k-pop, to k-cinema, to Korean video games, to electronics, in a lively book that will be of interest for everyone — with or without previous interaction with Korean culture. Because after you read this book, you will understand why Korean cultural products have become so ubiquitous worldwide. Super highly recommended.

I Read A Book: Displaced Persons

Scan_2282014_192141

by Sarah Best – Wilson

Displaced Persons, a graphic novel written by Eisner-nominated author Derek McCulloch and illustrated by Anthony Peruzzo, has a plot that might appeal to Whovians who also love noir movies like The Big Sleep.

Scan_2282014_192141
In 1879, an orphan is taken to a convent. In 1939, a private detective is put on the case of locating a missing heiress. In 1969, twin brothers, one a cop and one a father, both find themselves in some trouble. And in 1999, a woman discovers that something is terribly, terribly wrong with her husband. These disparate stories are tied together by common threads: a house in San Francisco, a heart-shaped locket, and a string of cold cases left in the wake of mysterious disappearances.

8117551582_55218a77a1_z

The illustrations are muscular and angular like a Max Beckmann painting (from another lost time and place). They’re also richly detailed. I found myself lingering over each pane, intuiting relationships and absorbing information about each character, time and place from a series of domestic details. A cribbage board two grandparents are crouching over. A seductive curl of smoke painted in a white wash over noir lighting. A VW van at a drive in. A old chestnut tree. A man on a couch sleeping under a blanket covered in horses, next to a VHS player.

To communicate the way that characters move in time, Peruzzo adopts a monochromatic color scheme that is unique to each era. 1879 is illustrated in yellows, 1939 in moody blues, 1969 is red and so on. When characters travel through time they appear in yellow on blue, blue on red, appearing in the color of the time that they originated in.

I wish that McCulloch’s story held up to Peruzzo’s illustrations. There was a lack of attention to detail on the part of the author of making the dialogue from each time period pick up the flavor of each era. This is particularly a shame in the detective story set in the 30s, which is crying out for a more authentic hard-boiled Raymond Chandler treatment. In many cases, the dialogue falls flat, not adequately doing the work it needs to do to establish each character as having a distinctive voice.

14060141120_53d429da08_z

Because I loved the illustrations so much, I could live with this, but I what I can’t abide by is the way that the author portrays women and gay men. The women in the novel are all one-dimensional set pieces–grandmothers, mothers, blonde daughters, victims of abuse or other forms of violence, maligned as sluts and whores. Gay men are not equally presented in an equally wooden way, but the author uses denegrating terms for gay men and lesbian women–sometimes having the words come straight out of gay characters mouths–and what little character detail it gives are stereotypes.

Learned Fangirls, unless you feel particularly compelled to check out the illustrations I’d take a pass on this one.

Displaced Persons is published by Image Comics and is available in paperback for $17.99.

I Read A Book: Soap Opera Divas Paper Dolls

divas

by Keidra Chaney

A couple of things first: I didn’t so much read this book as I oohed and ahhed over it. Also, this isn’t so much a paper doll book as it is a paper museum of a long-vanished segment of pop culture. It’s been three years since the cancellation of All My Children and One Life To Live essentially put the final nail in the coffin of the soap opera as a genre, but it seems like longer, because the slow decline of the soap opera started at least a decade before. Still, there’s still a couple of generations worth of soap fans out there that carry the cultural memories of these shows (and the history, passed down from grandmas, aunts, and friends). This book is a fascinating walk down memory lane for anyone old enough to remember who Eileen Fulton, Robin Strasser, and Linda Dano are.

However, a hardcore soap fan may come away disappointed from the fashion choices. Many of the clothes are actually pretty dowdy, and I can’t help but note that it may have to do with the choice of actresses. Susan Lucci and Deirdre Hall are certainly A-list soap divas but it’s the B and C-list soap divas/villains that have traditionally had the most memorable outfits: Lucy Coe from General Hospital  and her red wedding dress; Reva Lewis from Guiding Light and her red “slut” dress; Trisha from Loving and her hideous wedding monstrosity.

99f8a44a186cf2ce7ca5888a10d05fe4

Trisha and Trucker’s wedding. I mean seriously, look at this hot mess.

There are only 13 actresses in the book, so there’s not enough room for everyone, clearly, but in this case, I imagine classic soap outfits would be of more interest than  the actresses themselves. Honestly, if there was ever a sequel to this book, a Classic Soap Weddings book would be my recommendation. I actually might play with that, seriously.

Of course, this also begs the question of who exactly this book is for. Contemporary children probably don’t play with paper dolls (or paper anything, I would imagine, in the iPad age) and anyone old enough to remember who Linda Dano is  certainly too old to actually play with paper dolls (even though I totally understand the temptation.) Is there an active paper doll collector community out there? I’m not being facetious, I actually don’t know, and would love to hear from someone about it.

%d bloggers like this: