ARTS & CULTURE UNDERNEWS Music Undernews
Biography & Memoirs
James Baldwin: The Cross of Redemption: "As an openly gay, African-American writer living through the battle for civil rights, Baldwin had reason to be afraid and yet, he wasn't. A television interviewer once asked Baldwin to describe the challenges he faced starting his career as a black, impoverished homosexual to which Baldwin laughed and replied: 'I thought I'd hit the jackpot.'"
Exit Through the Gift Shop: A street film about streeet art. gets 97% on Rotten Tomatoes
The Art of the Steal: How a governor, mayor, major foundations and the Philadelphia establihsment ripped off a $25 billion art collection. This 2009 movie is not just about art, however; it is about how a corrupt city really operates.
In 2007, a whopping 400,000 books were published or distributed in the United States, up from 300,000 in 2006, according to the industry tracker Bowker, which attributed the sharp rise to the number of print-on-demand books and reprints of out-of-print titles. University writing programs are thriving, while writers' conferences abound, offering aspiring authors a chance to network and "workshop" their work. The blog tracker Technorati estimates that 175,000 new blogs are created worldwide each day . . . And the same N.E.A. study found that 7 percent of adults polled, or 15 million people, did creative writing, mostly "for personal fulfillment.". . . IUniverse, a self-publishing company founded in 1999, has grown 30 percent a year in recent years; it now produces 500 titles a month and has 36,000 titles in print, said Susan Driscoll, a vice president of its parent company, Author Solutions. . . Driscoll said that most writers using iUniverse sell fewer than 200 books. Other self-publishing outfits report similar growth. Xlibris, a print-on-demand operation, has 20,000 titles in print, by more than 18,000 authors, said Noel Flowers, a company spokesman. - Rachel Donadio, NY Times
Art is the serendipity that occurs when imagination meets discipline and skill. Every work of art is a challenge to the status quo because it proposes to replace a part of it - Sam Smith
Financial Juneteeth - The Los Angeles Times is reporting that Detroit creditors in the citys municipal bankruptcy case are pushing for the entire collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts to be sold to help repay a portion of the citys debt. The museums collection contains 66,000 pieces, and the Detroit News is reporting that bankruptcy managers have started the process of appraising them.
The previous appraisal of the 1,700 pieces purchased with public funds was completed by Christies auction house and estimated the art to be worth between $454 million and $867 million. Creditors led by Financial Guaranty Insurance Co. stand to lose as much as $1.1 billion if the city defaults on its current debts.
Improbable Research - Attn. artists! Can you get a higher appraisal for yourself and your art by behaving more eccentrically? Say, by hacking off your own earlobe or cavorting around in little more than a thong? Such questions have been examined in a new study from Dr. Eric R. Igou (University of Limerick, Ireland) and Dr. Wijnand A P van Tilburg (University of Southampton, England) which tested, for the first time, the hypothesis that eccentricity increases perceptions of artistic capacity and quality of art. A series of experiments investigated various scenarios.
Whether, for example, experimental participants would rate Van Goghs work higher if they were first informed of the famous ear-hacking incident.
Or if Lady Gaga is or isnt perceived as a highly skilled artist, depending on participants viewing photos of her behaving eccentrically or (relatively) normally.
Or whether ratings of Joseph Beuyss artworks would vary if viewers were informed that he had carried roadside stones on his head to the construction site of his cottage, and that he continued doing this for the rest of his life.
The conclusion :
In everyday life, people are often confronted with judgments about art. We found that these judgments depend on the displayed eccentricity of the artist as long as the art is unconventional and the displayed eccentricity seems authentic. This research thus shows that the results of creative endeavors are clearly not solely determined by the quality of the creative outcomes but also depend crucially on the perceived degree of eccentricity of the artist a characteristic that is peripheral to the artwork but nonetheless impactful for its evaluation.
From Van Gogh to Lady Gaga: Artist eccentricity increases perceived artistic skill and art appreciation. is scheduled for publication in the European Journal of Social Psychology. -
Chris Dodd gets paid $3.3 million to lead the movie lobby, MPAA. That's five percent of MPAA's total income.
The longest commercial in history
Man of Steel, the new Superman movie, set a record before even one ticket was sold: It had the most promotional tie-ins ever, with more than 100 companies paying around $160 million to get close to the man in blue.
Looks like piracy doesn't hurt;
Hollywood sets record
Art museum commissions, then destroys art
This past week, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles commissioned Blu, an international street art rock star, to paint a mural on a nearby wall in conjunction with their upcoming Art in the Street exhibition. Less than 24 hours later, the same museum ordered the work destroyed. For an uncomfortably long time, MOCA remained mum as to why they rushed to cover up the work, which featured rows of coffins draped in dollar bills. Then, they finally issued a response, stating that the work was inappropriate given that their neighbourhood included a war monument and a veterans hospital.
CREATED BY JOHN GRAHAM-CUMMING
ONE OF THE WORLD'S TOP ART EXHIBITS
CHECKING OUT AN AUDIO BOOK FROM THE CLEVELAND LIBRARY(IN 22 STEPS)
IT CAN STILL BE A LOT OF FUN
MEMORIES OF MONK
Circulating on the web are some great quotes from Thelonious Monk, as collated by fellow musician Steve Lacy. Some excerpts:
- Just because you're not a drummer, doesn't mean that you don't have to keep time.
- Pat your foot and sing the melody in your head when you play.
- Stop playing all that bullshit, those weird notes, play the melody!
- Make the drummer sound good.
- You've got to dig it to dig it, you dig?
- Don't play the piano part, I am playing that. Don't listen to me, I am supposed to be accompanying you!
- The inside of the tune [the bridge] is the part that makes the outside sound good.
- Don't play everything (or everytime); let some things go by. Some music just imagined.
- What you don't play can be more important than what you do play.
- A note can be small as a pin or as big as the world, it depends on your imagination.
- Stay in shape. Sometimes a musician waits for a gig & when it comes, he's out of shape & can't make it.
- (What should we wear tonight?) Sharp as possible!
- Whatever you think can't be done, somebody will come along & do it. A genius is the one most like himself.
- They tried to get me to hate white people, but someone would always come along & spoil it.
Your editor never heard Monk, but recalls one evening in the late 1950s a friend returned from a Boston club to report seeing Thelonious sit at the piano for innumerable choruses, just smoking and listening to the bass player and playing no more than one or two notes. Someone at a front table shouted out, "Hey, Thelonius, play something." Monk let his cigarette drop to the floor and then kicked it onto the complainer's table. He then got up and slowly stalked the outside aisle of the club before leaving and reportedly ended up in a mental institution that night.
The Wikipedia account makes a reference to LSD, peyote and Timothy Leary, who even had the Harvard football team on mushrooms at the time.
Wikipedia - Monk's manner was idiosyncratic. Visually, he was renowned for his distinctively "hip" sartorial style in suits, hats and sunglasses, and he developed an unusual, highly syncopated and percussive manner of playing piano. He was also noted for the fact that at times he would stop playing, stand up from the keyboard and dance while turning in a clockwise fashion, ring-shout style, while the other musicians in the combo played. Bassist Al McKibbon, who had known Monk for over twenty years and played on his final tour in 1971, later said: "On that tour Monk said about two words. I mean literally maybe two words. He didn't say 'Good morning', 'Goodnight', 'What time?' Nothing. Why, I don't know. He sent word back after the tour was over that the reason he couldn't communicate or play was that Art Blakey and I were so ugly." A different side of Monk is revealed in Lewis Porter's biography, John Coltrane: His Life and Music; Coltrane states: "Monk is exactly the opposite of Miles [Davis]: he talks about music all the time, and he wants so much for you to understand that if, by chance, you ask him something, he'll spend hours if necessary to explain it to you."
The documentary film Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser (1988) attributes Monk's quirky behavior to mental illness. In the film, Monk's son, T.S. Monk, says that his father sometimes did not recognize him, and he reports that Monk was hospitalized on several occasions due to an unspecified mental illness that worsened in the late 1960s. No reports or diagnoses were ever publicized, but Monk would often become excited for two or three days, pace for days after that, after which he would withdraw and stop speaking. Physicians recommended electroconvulsive therapy as a treatment option for Monk's illness, but his family would not allow it; antipsychotics and lithium were prescribed instead. Other theories abound: Leslie Gourse, author of the book Straight, No Chaser: The Life and Genius of Thelonious Monk (1997), reports that at least one of Monk's psychiatrists failed to find evidence of manic depression or schizophrenia. Others blamed Monk's behavior on intentional and inadvertent drug use: Monk was unknowingly administered LSD, and may have taken peyote with Timothy Leary. Another physician maintains that Monk was misdiagnosed and given drugs during his hospital stay that may have caused brain damage.
One last Monk tale found in a web comment: "My dad grew up in the Village in the 40's and 50's and saw Monk play dozens of times. One time he was at the bar at one of the clubs and in between sets Monk comes up next to him, orders a Coke, drinks it down, looks at my dad and says 'man, if alcohol tasted like Coke, the whole world would be drunk.' He then goes back and starts his next set.
Institute for Policy Studies - Programs that paid thousands of artists and writers comprised one of the most creative aspects of the New Deal. Thousands received relatively small outlays of funds for their work, and the nation's artistic heritage was greatly enhanced. The same kind of initiative is needed today.
Congress needs to recommend that the government spend one percent of the stimulus plan on arts and culture (that would mean $6 billion if the final package is $600 billion), building on the New Deal's Federal Art Project and the Federal Writers Project.
The Works Progress Administration was created in 1935 to bring jobs to those who had become unemployed or underemployed during the Great Depression. Since artists and writers were also hit by the economic hard times, two divisions of the WPA were assigned the task of creating suitable jobs for such people - jobs that would not only take advantage of these individuals' talents, but would also serve to enrich America's cultural heritage and embellish public spaces. The grouping of the largest of these programs is collectively known as the "Federal Project Number One." Included in this collective were the Federal Writers' Project, the Historical Records Survey, the Federal Theatre Project, the Federal Music Project, and the Federal Art Project. All of these programs were divisions of the Works Progress Administration. Out of the approximately $4.8 billion allocated to the Works Progress Administration, Congress permitted $27 million to fund the Federal Project Number One projects.
The Federal Art Project, along with several other WPA-backed programs, created well over 5,000 jobs for American artists. These artists created over 2,500 murals, over 17,700 sculptures, 108,000 paintings, and 240,000 prints. The project's legacy still lives on, since it supported artists like Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky, and many other abstract expressionists whose work helped shift the most dynamic center of the art world to shift from its traditional location in Europe to where it now resides, in the largest cities of the United States.
The Federal Writers' Project created over 6,600 jobs for writers, editors, researchers, and many others who exemplified a given level of literary expertise. Established on July 27, 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Federal Writers' Project, operated under journalist and theatrical producer Henry Alsberg, and later John D. Newsome, compiling local histories, oral histories, ethnographies, children's books and other works. These writers created over 1,200 books and pamphlets, and they produced some of the first U.S. guides for states, major cities, and roadways. In addition, the FWP was responsible for recording folklore, oral histories, and, most notably, the 2,300 plus first-person accounts of slavery that now exist as a collection in the Library of Congress. As with the Federal Art Project, the FWP's contributions to American literature were both significant and long-lasting, giving authors like Saul Bellow, Zora Neale Hurston, John Steinbeck, Sterling Brown, and many others the opportunity to continue their work in a time of difficult economic circumstances.
Here are some of the ways the funds could be used:
1. National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH): Increase funding for the NEA and NEH. Increase the staff at both agencies.
2. Archives: Support the preservation of literary archives across the country. Many collections need modern technology; staff needs to be hired at various institutions. We don't want to lose our past.
3. A Secretary-level post for Culture/Arts: The United States and Germany are the only wealthy nations without a Minister or Secretary of Culture.
4. Arts Education: Educational institutions, especially public school systems in low-income and underserved communities, would hire artists and writers. Funds would be made available for artist and writer-in-residence positions.
5. Arts in Public Spaces: Support for the arts in public places; especially parks, metro stations, airports, etc. Every major city and community should have access to concert series and readings in their major parks, especially in times of economic hardship.
6. Workplace: Funds to bring poets and writers into the workplace. Build literacy by enlivening the reading public. Contemporary writers would bring their work to the people. Readings could be held around noon at workplaces.
7. Document history: Document U.S. literary and cultural history on a city, state and national level. This would be similar to the old WPA program. Interview major writers and painters. It could be done by doing a series of films.
8. American Artists Overseas: Money should be set aside to send American artists overseas for three-six month periods, with an emphasis on countries where the United States has been at odds. They would serve as cultural ambassadors and give lectures and performances. They would also collaborate with artists of the host country to produce cultural events.
9. Fellowships/Scholarships awarded to working/low income individuals who wish to enroll in creative writing programs: Many older people wish to return to school to pursue careers in the arts but have no money for tuition.
10. Black colleges: Money should be set aside to develop creative writing programs at historically black colleges. No creative writing program exists at any black college. This would create teaching jobs for many African American authors.
11. Libraries: We should
support library infrastructure and provide writer and artist-in-residence
programs for our libraries, especially those in low-income communities.
Our nation's libraries are public treasures and many have been
closed in recent years. Money is needed to keep our libraries
open and alive.
From Christian Schubart's Ideen zu einer Aesthetik der Tonkunst (1806), translated by Rita Steblin in A History of Key Characteristics in the 18th and Early 19th Centuries. UMI Research Press (1983
C Major - Completely Pure. Its character is: innocence, simplicity, naivety, children's talk.
C Minor - Declaration of love and at the same time the lament of unhappy love. All languishing, longing, sighing of the love-sick soul lies in this key. . .
Eb Major The key of love, of devotion, of intimate conversation with God. . .
D# Minor Feelings of the anxiety of the soul's deepest distress, of brooding despair, of blackest depresssion, of the most gloomy condition of the soul. Every fear, every hesitation of the shuddering heart, breathes out of horrible D# minor. If ghosts could speak, their speech would approximate this key. . .
F Major - Complaisance & Calm. . .
G Major - Everything rustic, idyllic and lyrical, every calm and satisfied passion, every tender gratitude for true friendship and faithful love,--in a word every gentle and peaceful emotion of the heart is correctly expressed by this key.
G Minor Discontent, uneasiness, worry about a failed scheme; bad-tempered gnashing of teeth; in a word: resentment and dislike. . .
Ab Major Key of the grave. Death, grave, putrefaction, judgment, eternity lie in its radius.
Bb Major Cheerful love, clear conscience, hope aspiration for a better world. . .
WHEN THEY CAN'T FIND A DRUMMER
People who score high on intelligence tests are also good at keeping time, new Swedish research shows. The team that carried out the study also suspect that accuracy in timing is important to the brain processes responsible for problem solving and reasoning.
JAZZ: COOLER AND CHEAPER THAN WAR
A HALF CENTURY AGO , jazz musician Dave Brubeck became a star in an anomaly: some American foreign policy that actually worked. He recently was in Washington celebrating his participation in the Jazz Ambassadors program of the 1950s,which sent musicians abroad to show a different side of America. Among the other participants: Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Thelonius Monk, Benny Goodman and Miles Davis.
In 1958, Brubeck visited 12 countries, including Poland, Turkey, East and West Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Iran and Iraq. As Brubeck explained it, "We were out 120 days without a day off, and it was rough travel. The water wasn't fit to drink, but you got so thirsty, you drank it. The State Department didn't want us to come home. They wanted us to stay out. They cancelled our concerts here at home."
In an interview with National Endowment for the Arts chair Dana Gioia several years ago, Brubeck told how the Voice of America had been his warm-up band: "Most of the people, when they spoke to you in English, sounded like Willis Conover from the Voice of America. His show came on every night worldwide. . . To this day . . . you can hear his voice. In Russia, people sound like Willis. If you listened to my recordings in the Soviet Union during the darkest days of the Cold War, you could be sent to Siberia or worse. They listened to my records, and they called it 'Jazz in Bones.' Using X-ray plates, they could record Willis Conover and get a fairly good recording. If you were caught with that, you were dead. But the doctors and the nurses and the students would very carefully listen to these recordings, and they had underground jazz meetings all the time."
Listening to Brubeck recall his tour under the prodding of Hedrick Smith at a Library of Congress event the other evening, it was clear that Brubeck had added his own flair for diplomacy. And not just from the stories. The Brubeck Institute Quintet played tunes between the anecdotes. The musicians were all 18-20 years old but the 87-year old Brubeck treated them with respect and enthusiasm, turning his chair to watch each solo and even at one point signaling to Christopher Smith that he noted the bassist hadn't got his solo. It's one of those things that happens to bass players so they both shrugged and smiled.
Brubeck himself only played one number all the way through and when it was time for his "Blue Rondo" he stood behind Javier Santiago and announced, "This piece is so damn hard that I'm going to have him play it." Santiago masterfully tackled the opening, relinquished the piano bench to Brubeck for the solo and then returned for the close. You don't see many legends do that sort of thing, especially when it's their tune.
As I watched Brubeck and the young musicians under his influence, I recalled being an 18-20 something drummer and buying a ten inch LP called "Jazz at Oberlin," which I would play repeatedly in my room and on my college radio station show, "Jam With Sam." Maybe I even played it while Brubeck was on his tour in 1958, my junior year. One thing is certain, for young college musicians and jazz fans of my vintage, trapped behind the Iron Curtain of 1950s values and culture, there was no doubt that Dave Brubeck revealed the meaning of life better than your parents or your professors. And if you were a young white musician, it was a sign that there was room for you, too.
Brubeck crossed the generations like it was just another national border in the Cold War. Matt Schudel of the Washington Post quotes the NEA's Gioia as saying: "There is no American alive who has done more extensive and effective cultural diplomacy than Dave Brubeck. Dave is not only one of the greatest living American artists, he's also one of the greatest living American diplomats."
Just the sort of guy you would have wanted to send to Poland in the midst of the Cold War. Brubeck told Gioa, "When we played in Poland in 1958, I had gone to Chopin's home, and I had seen the statue that the Nazis had almost broken. I had been in his home and seen his pianos. So that night on the train to the last concert in Poland, I composed in my head a song dedicated to Chopin and the Polish people. As an encore, we played it, and there was absolute silence in the auditorium. I thought, now I've ruined all 12 concerts. They're shocked that I would play in a Chopinesque kind of way. And then, the place went insane with applause. . . It's called Dziekuje, which means 'thank you' in Polish. Here it is 2005 - that was 1958 - and they still remember that piece."
[FROM THE BRUBECK COLLECTION, UNIVERSITY OF THE PACIFIC]
It hadn't been easy getting to Poland. A Hedrick Smith documentary website notes:
"The tour also featured a stop in Poland, which required a journey into communist-controlled East Berlin. Because of a State Department snafu, the group didn't have the necessary visas. A tour official found a way to get papers, but collecting them required a risky illegal journey through Berlin's Brandenburg Gate and into communist territory. 'I was supposed to be in [music promoter] Madame Gunderlach's trunk to go through the gate,' Dave explains, 'And of course, there were plenty of signs telling you not to go through. Many people that had gone through into East Germany disappeared for about six months or longer. So I didn't want to be in that position.'
"Brubeck refused to ride in the trunk, but did crouch down in the backseat and was dropped off at a big, non-descript building. 'I sat there for two hours alone in this bare room,' he said. 'And this guy, very shabbily dressed came and sat next to me. He said, 'You Mister Kulu?' And I said, 'No, Mister Brubeck.' And he said, 'No, you Mister Kulu.' And I said, 'No, I'm Mister Brubeck.' So he took out a Polish newspaper and there's a picture of me. And under it, it says, Mister Kulu. So I figured it out - "Mr. Cool Jazz, that's what Kulu means. He thought that [was] my name. But he had the papers for me to continue on through East Berlin into Poland."
The problems didn't end there. Reports Schudel: "Later he climbed aboard an East German train bound for Poland with his wife, son, three band mates and a musician's wife. When guards demanded to know why the Americans were carrying so much luggage, Brubeck recalls, he had to pantomime drumming to explain that they were musicians traveling with instruments. His boom, boom' drew suspicious glares, but they eventually made it to Warsaw."
In India that Brubeck found only one decent piano - a 12 foot grand in Bombay with gold in its keys. He wondered aloud what he would play at a major event the next day. His hosts answered by gathering 20 men who lifted the piano and carried it to the stadium. In Afghanistan it was tougher. Kabul, recalled Brubeck, "was a hard place to find a piano." They located a terrible one, but Brubeck said it was okay; there were "just certain notes I won't play."
But Brubeck didn't just perform. He learned. In Turkey it was about 9/8 time. In India about a different standard for improvisation that Deepak Ram explained at the Library of Congress event: "We encourage improvisation after you have studied 12 years." Everywhere Brubeck went he not only played, he listened. Out of it came a number of tunes including Blue Rondo a la Turk based on the Turkish zeybek,
And he kept at it. Thirty years later, Brubeck had Mikhail Gorbachev tapping his fingers to "Take Five" at a break during a stalled summit meeting. The next day Secretary of State George Shultz gave Brubeck a big hug and credited him with breaking the conference stalemate.
But then this was a white musician who had won the first jazz poll ever taken by the black newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier. And Schudel tells the story of Brubeck and William "The Lion" Smith doing a tour in the Netherlands, during which Smith is asked by a journalist, "Isn't it true that no white man can play jazz?" Smith, Brubeck beside him, replied, "I'd like you to meet my son."
It was not unlike what Louis Armstrong said to Jack Teagarden on their first meeting: "You're ofay, I'm spade, let's blow."
It isn't that jazz musicians are better people; it's just they have better things on their mind than national and cultural anger. Finding these better things is the quickest way out of human conflict: the commonality of appreciation overcomes fear of the uncommon. Jazz has always been a metaphor for this: a place where everyone gets to solo but only if they also back up everyone else - that mystical blend of individual and community that makes some human societies thrive. One day we may even learn how to make it work for countries as well.
DAVE BRUBECK VIDEOS
THE VOICE THAT FADED FAR TOO SOON
ONE OF THE PLEASURES of your editor's life was to have caught a performance by Eva Cassidy before the incredible singer passed away at the age of 33. Reader John Gear has tipped us off to some links to videos of Cassidy singing.
HOW THE ARMY FINDS A BAND
RECORDING INDUSTRY ONCE SANG A DIFFERENT TUNE ON PERSONAL CD COPYING
BOING BOING - Dan Gillmor points out that the recording industry used to have a different opinion on personal use. It removed the following statement from its website: "If you choose to take your own CDs and make copies for yourself on your computer or portable music player, that's great. It's your music and we want you to enjoy it at home, at work, in the car and on the jogging trail."
Gillmor adds: "Also, from the Supreme Court oral arguments in the Grokster case, Donald Virrelli, on behalf of the entertainment companies: 'The record companies, my clients, have said, for some time now, and it's been on their Website for some time now, that it's perfectly lawful to take a CD that you've purchased, upload it onto your computer, put it onto your iPod. There is a very, very significant lawful commercial use for that device, going forward.'"
ARSTECHNICA - To some music lovers, the fact that Josh Groban's Noel was the highest-selling album of 2007 is all the proof they need that major-label music is dying. To shareholders and label execs, though, the numbers are more important, and the numbers are grim: music sales are down 21 percent this Christmas season. . . RIAA companies have seen sales drop by 11.6 percent between 2002 and 2006, even as movies hold steady and games are showing sales increases.
The recent news suggests that people are turning away from the CD as a Christmas present, due in large part to the rise of online music services like iTunes, eMusic, and the Amazon MP3 shop. Now that non-DRMed music is widely available from many popular artists, giving the gift of digital downloads can be an attractive option for holiday shoppers. Certainly it's becoming more mainstream; even my local supermarket now stocks iTunes gift cards.
ECONOMIST CALCULATES OPTIMUM TERM OF COPYRIGHT IS 14 YEARS
BOING BOING - Rufus Pollock, a PhD candidate in economics at Cambridge University, has just released "Forever Minus a Day? Some Theory and Empirics of Optimal Copyright," a brilliant new paper on the economically optimal term of copyright. He's presenting it in Berlin this week, but it's already online. Here's the abstract:
"The optimal level for copyright has been a matter for extensive debate over the last decade. This paper contributes several new results on this issue divided into two parts. In the first, a parsimonious theoretical model is used to prove several novel propositions about the optimal level of protection. Specifically, we demonstrate that (a) optimal copyright falls as the costs of production go down (for example as a result of digitization) and that (b) the optimal level of copyright will, in general, fall over time. The second part of the paper focuses on the specific case of copyright term. Using a simple model we characterise optimal term as a function of a few key parameters. We estimate this function using a combination of new and existing data on recordings and books and find an optimal term of around fourteen years. This is substantially shorter than any current copyright term and implies that existing copyright terms are too long."
MORT SAHL HITS 80
PAUL KRASSNER - Mort Sahl is now 80 years old. He was a pioneer in stand-up comedy. He broke through the tradition of jokes about airplane food, Asian drivers and frigid wives, instead sharing his wit and insights about political hypocrisy, racism and monogamy.
I first met Sahl in 1953 when he was a guest speaker in a course I was taking at the New School for Social Research. I was inspired by his satirical approach to serious issues. "Every word I do is improvised," he once told me. "I don't rehearse anything. I start it on stage." In the beginning, though, he would write key words on a rolled-up newspaper, which became his trademark prop. In 1960 he wrote jokes for presidential candidate John Kennedy, and Sahl's picture graced the cover of Time magazine in August during the conventions.
When Kennedy was killed in 1963, Sahl endangered his career and was blacklisted as a result of becoming an associate of New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison in his investigation of the JFK assassination. In 1967, I was a guest on Sahl's TV show, which had been dealing outspokenly with contemporary controversies, so when his option wasn't renewed ostensibly because of a low rating, there was much suspicion. But Sahl also had a nightly radio show and asked his listeners to write in to KTTV. By the time 31,000 letters arrived, the channel's executives had conveniently discovered another rating service and the option was renewed.
On the program, Sahl had a blackboard on which he wrote things in chalk like "We Demand Faith in the Future," and the audience applauded faithfully. He wanted to have a mock trial on the show as a preview of the Vietnam War Crimes Tribunal, and he asked me to return and act as defense attorney. He wanted me to actually defend war criminals such as Lyndon Johnson, Dean Rusk and Robert McNamara. I agreed to do it, but the mock trial never took place. My plan had been to plead insanity.
This September, Sahl will teach a semi-weekly course in critical thinking at Claremont McKenna College. He continues to perform occasionally. At McCabes, he observed that, during the Republican debates, when the candidates were asked who didn't believe in evolution and a few raised their hands, and Sahl pointed out that, "If you watched the debate, you wouldn't believe in evolution either."
DECLINE OF RECORDING INDUSTRY CONTINUES
ROLLING STONE - Overall CD sales have plummeted sixteen percent for the year so far -- and that's after seven years of near-constant erosion. In the face of widespread piracy, consumers' growing preference for low-profit-margin digital singles over albums, and other woes, the record business has plunged into a historic decline. . .
In 2000, U.S. consumers bought 785.1 million albums; last year, they bought 588.2 million (a figure that includes both CDs and downloaded albums), according to Nielsen Sound Scan. In 2000, the ten top-selling albums in the U.S. sold a combined 60 million copies; in 2006, the top ten sold just 25 million. Digital sales are growing -- fans bought 582 million digital singles last year, up sixty-five percent from 2005, and purchased $600 million worth of ring tones -- but the new revenue sources aren't making up for the shortfall. . .
[From a great profile of pianist Billy Taylor]
THE DECLINE OF HIP HOP
THE SEMINAL - Hip hop sales are down. According to Nielsen Sound Scan, sales in the Rap category dropped 20.7% compared with sales in 2005. That is the second largest drop behind the New Age category, which fell 22.7%. Right behind in this dismal race is R&B with a drop of 18.4%. Of course record sales are down across the industry, but the average change is only -2.4% with some genres, such as Classical, gaining as many percentage points as Rap lost. Clearly hip hop, which has been the darling of the record industry these last few years, is in trouble.
Countless articles, including a recent high profile story from the AP, have said the problems with hip hop stem solely from its content. . . But here's the real deal: If you go out there and just replace all the negatives in rap lyrics with positives, replace every Young Jeezy-type MC with a Common and every call to murder with an exhortation to love your fellow man, hip hop sales would still be down. Why? Because people fail to realize that hip hop first and foremost is a musical art-form. Right now, hip hop just isn't living up to musical standards. It's just plain bad. . .
CONGRESS ALLOWED RECORDING INDUSTRY TO RIP OFF INDEPENDENT ARTISTS, LABELS
DAILY KOS - There has been an understandable public outcry against the RIAA's attempts to more than triple the sound recording copyright royalties on Internet radio. One solution proposed by Webcasters is to just not play RIAA-member songs under the assumption that then they don't have to pay the royalty to the RIAA's collection body, Sound Exchange. Webcasters would then just pay the independent artist the royalty.
This sounds fair and just because it is. However, the RIAA is not about being fair and just. The game is rigged and the RIAA has rigged it in their favor. The strategy of playing only non-RIAA songs won't work though because the RIAA has secured the right to collect royalties on all songs regardless of who controls the copyright. RIAA operates under the assumption that they will collect the royalties for the "sound recording copyright" and that the artists who own their own copyright will go to Sound Exchange to collect at a later date.
the MacDowell Colony
ZOOT SIMS PLAYS SWEET LORRAINE
HOW TO RESPOND TO RIAA HARASSMENT
[Just a bit from a classic legal letter to RIAA's attorneys composed by Attoprney Merl Ledford III of Visalia CA]
MERL LEDFORD III - It is not too late to correct your clients' (and your law firm's) mistakes.
Mr. and Mrs. Merchant's emotional condition puts a premium on immediate case resolution. Thus, although I generally do not make opening legitimate offers as defense counsel, the clients' non-monetary interests and their probability of recovering their fees and costs in this matter (at a minimum) suggest that a defense settlement offer would not be inappropriate. Therefore:
My clients are willing to accept dismissal of the litigation in exchange for
1. Payment of Mr. Merchant's reasonable fees and costs including retainer of $6,880.25. The payment represents good value considering what your own firm's billings will have been to date and use of those billing records as the loadstar rate for Mr. Merchant's award. . .
2. Apology on your firm's letterhead by your supervising partner for inappropriately filing and maintaining an action against Mr. Merchant without probable cause and for the emotional hardship that such litigation caused; and
3. Execution of a mutual general release of all claims in my office's usual form. The RIAA form of release I have seen will not be used. It is my practice in these kinds of cases to require that the plaintiffs indemnity my clients against claims by third parties as part of my general release language. (E.g., your clients sue a site for posting guitar tabs to copyrighted music; my client visits the site, read the tabs, plays them on his guitar, and get sued by way of cross-claim by the guitar tab site. . .
4. Confidentiality: It is my general practice to disfavor confidential settlements. Under the circumstances, and so long as your clients are prompt and candid in dealing with their mistaken, misplaced lawsuit, I would consider a reasonable confidentiality provision. Again, quick response, full payment, and immediate dismissal will allow confidentiality as an option. . .
The authorized settlement offer expressed in the preceding paragraphs of this email . . . may be accepted by signing a copy of this email and returning it to my office by fax no later than the close of business on Friday, March 30, 2007. . . It is the best offer that will be made in this litigation based on the facts and circumstances as they are known at this time. Substantial discovery, investigation, and exchange of information remains that could substantially alter the settlement position of the parties to the betterment of either side in ways that cannot now be responsibly predicted. The case settlement value will, however, trend upward the longer I have to work on it. And the emotional distress damages for willfully filing and thereafter maintaining claims for relief without probable cause will only increase as the matter drags on. . .
Procedurally, we need to address how best to move the case to the Fresno Branch so you can enjoy our new Courthouse and avoid Judge Levi's wrath for filing in the wrong court. . .
Once the case is moved to the Fresno Branch, your clients should consider cleaning up their complaint. The FRCP and collateral estoppel from other RIAA law and motion matters require much greater specificity in pleading than your clients provided in the complaint I reviewed. Dates of the alleged downloads, which plaintiff (or affiliate) holds which copyright to which track, etc. must be specifically pleaded and proven. You are as familiar as I am with the results in other cases where RIAA's general allegations have been challenged. Let's get over that hurdle without unnecessary law and motion practice. . .
GREAT BOOK TITLE SHORT LIST
[An annual service of the British site, Bookseller]
People Who Don't Know They're Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It
How Green Were the Nazis
The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification
Tattooed Mountain Women and Spoon Boxes of Daghestan
Proceedings of the Eighteenth International Seaweed Symposium
Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence
Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice (1978)
Natural Bust Enlargement with Total Power: How to Increase the other 90 per cent of your Mind to Increase the Size of your Breasts (1985)
Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality (1986)
Lesbian Sadomasochism Safety Manual (1990)
Living with Crazy Buttocks (2002)
Bombproof your Horse (2004)
GROUCHO MARX'S APPROACH TO COPYRIGHT LAW
[Written by Groucho Marx after Warner Brothers threatened to sue if the Marx brothers went ahead with a moving called "A Night in Casabanca"
Dear Warner Brothers,
Apparently there is more than one way of conquering a city and holding it as your own. For example, up to the time that we contemplated making this picture, I had no idea that the city of Casablanca belonged exclusively to Warner Brothers. However, it was only a few days after our announcement appeared that we received your long, ominous legal document warning us not to use the name Casablanca.
It seems that in 1471, Ferdinand Balboa Warner, your great-great-grandfather, while looking for a shortcut to the city of Burbank, had stumbled on the shores of Africa and, raising his alpenstock (which he later turned in for a hundred shares of common), named it Casablanca.
I just don't understand your attitude. Even if you plan or releasing your picture, I am sure that the average movie fan could learn in time to distinguish between Ingrid Bergman and Harpo. I don't know whether I could, but I certainly would like to try.
You claim that you own Casablanca and that no one else can use that name without permission. What about "Warner Brothers"? Do you own that too? You probably have the right to use the name Warner, but what about the name Brothers? Professionally, we were brothers long before you were. We were touring the sticks as the Marx Brothers when Vitaphone was still a gleam in the inventor's eye, and even before there had been other brothers - the Smith Brothers; the Brothers Karamazov; Dan Brothers, an outfielder with Detroit; and "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" . . .
Now Jack, how about you? Do you maintain that yours is an original name? Well it's not. It was used long before you were born. Offhand, I can think of two Jacks - Jack of "Jack and the Beanstalk," and Jack the Ripper, who cut quite a figure in his day.
As for you, Harry, you probably sign your checks sure in the belief that you are the first Harry of all time and that all other Harrys are impostors. I can think of two Harrys that preceded you. There was Lighthouse Harry of Revolutionary fame and a Harry Appelbaum who lived on the corner of 93rd Street and Lexington Avenue. Unfortunately, Appelbaum wasn't too well-known. The last I heard of him, he was selling neckties at Weber and Heilbroner. . .
This all seems to add up to a pretty bitter tirade, but I assure you it's not meant to. I love Warners. Some of my best friends are Warner Brothers. It is even possible that I am doing you an injustice and that you, yourselves, know nothing about this dog-in-the-Wanger attitude. It wouldn't surprise me at all to discover that the heads of your legal department are unaware of this absurd dispute, for I am acquainted with many of them and they are fine fellows with curly black hair, double-breasted suits and a love of their fellow man that out-Saroyans Saroyan.
I have a hunch that his attempt to prevent us from using the title is the brainchild of some ferret-faced shyster, serving a brief apprenticeship in your legal department. I know the type well-hot out of law school, hungry for success, and too ambitious to follow the natural laws of promotion. This bar sinister probably needled your attorneys, most of whom are fine fellows with curly black hair, double-breasted suits, etc., into attempting to enjoin us. Well, he won't get away with it! We'll fight him to the highest court! No pasty-faced legal adventurer is going to cause bad blood between the Warners and the Marxes. We are all brothers under the skin, and we'll remain friends till the last reel of "A Night in Casablanca" goes tumbling over the spool.
DON'T BAN YOUNG PEOPLE FROM CLUBS
1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.
80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
57 percent of new books are not read to completion.
70 percent of books published do not earn back their advance.
70 percent of the books published do not make a profit.
[ Jerold Jenkins, www.JenkinsGroupInc.com ]
A successful fiction book sells 5,000 copies.
A successful nonfiction book sells 7,500 copies.
[ Authors Guild, www.authorsguild.org ]
On average, a bookstore browser spends 8 seconds looking at a book's front cover and 15 seconds looking at the back cover.
[ Para Publishing, www.parapub.com ]
MOVIE INDUSTRY SUFFERS FROM FAR MORE THAN DOWNLOADING
ZOGBY - Survey shows high ticket prices and poor film selections causing some to think twice about heading out to catch the latest blockbuster. Nearly half (45%) said that while they still go to the movies, their movie attendance has decreased from five years ago - 27% said it is much less, and 9% said they never go to the movies anymore.
Zogby finds that those age 25-34 are most likely to say their attendance has decreased over the past five years - and the oldest respondents (age 70 or older) are most likely to say they no longer go to the movies at all (23%). . .
High ticket prices (30%) and a dislike for the movie selections (30%) are the top reasons given for falling movie attendance - 13% said they don't like the crowds in the theater. Those age 18-24 are most likely to complain about costly tickets - nearly half (46%) said high ticket prices have kept them away from the theater. Among older adults, dissatisfaction with the film selections is the main deterrent - 46% of those age 65 or older said this.
More than a third (37%) of respondents said they go to the movies fewer than six times per year - 21% said they don't even make it to the movies once a year. Overall, 10% said they never go at all. The youngest adults in our survey (those age 18-24) are most likely to say they go to the movies several times per month (9%) - this age group leads all others among those who said they go to the movies between 6 and 12 times per year. Attendance numbers decline among increasingly older respondents, the Zogby Interactive survey shows.
MORE ARTS NEWS
NEW LEAP IN ON DEMAND BOOKS
ROWAN WALKER, OBSERVER, UK - A machine that electronically stores 2.5 million books that can then be printed and bound in less than seven minutes is to be launched early next year. It prints in any language and has an upper limit of 550 pages. The 'Espresso' will be launched first in several US libraries. The company behind the project - On Demand Books - predicts that, within five years, it will be able to reproduce every book ever published. . . . It is estimated that the books will cost less than 1p per page - but a machine of your own costs about L25,000.
INTEREST IN AUDIO BOOKS GROWING
NY TIMES - Unlike onscreen e-books, which never quite caught on, downloadable audio books have taken off, driven by the explosive popularity of the iPod. According to the Audio Publishers Association, downloads have grown sharply, rising to 9 percent of audio book sales in 2005; that is a 50 percent increase over the previous year. Audible.com, which pioneered downloadable audio books nine years ago, also sells them through Itunes and Amazon and has a membership model similar to that of Netflix; its membership has grown 54 percent over the last year, to 345,200. Going exclusively to a downloadable format saves publishers the expense of duplication, packaging and distribution. And the savings are often passed along. Audible's full-price version of "The Audacity of Hope" by Barack Obama costs $20.97 (although various discounts are available), while the CD version retails for $29.95; undiscounted, unabridged versions of Michael Crichton's "Next" are $34.97 by download and $49.95 on CD.
ARTISTS RECYCLING IN RESIDENCE
The Artist-in-Residence Program at SF Recycling & Disposal, Inc. local artists with the opportunity to create art using materials they gather from San Francisco's refuse. This includes 24 hour access to a well-equipped studio, a monthly stipend, and an exhibit at the end of their residency, but artists seem most excited about having 24 hour access to the materials.
& DC'S HIDDEN MUSIC HISTORY
DEFENDANT GETS TO CHALLENGE RECORD INDUSTRY ON HOW MUCH DOWNLOADS ARE REALLY WORTH
NEW YORK COUNTRY LAWYER - In UMG v. Lindor, in Brooklyn federal court, the presiding judge has held that Marie Lindor can try to prove that the RIAA's claim of $750-per-song statutory damages is a violation of the due process clause of the Constitution, since she has evidence that the actual wholesale price of the downloads is only 70 cents. This decision activates an earlier ruling by the magistrate in the case that the record labels must now turn over 'all relevant documents' regarding the prices at which they sell legal downloads to online retailers, and produce a witness to give a deposition by telephone on the subject. Judge Trager rejected the RIAA's claim that the defense was frivolous, pointing out that the RIAA had cited no authorities contradicting the defense, but Ms. Lindor's attorneys had cited cases and law review articles indicating that it was a valid defense.
AUSTRALIAN REPORT BLASTS MUSIC INDUSTRY PIRACY CLAIMS
AUSTRALIAN - A confidential briefing for the Attorney-General's Department, prepared by the Australian Institute of Criminology, lashes the music and software sectors. The draft of the institute's intellectual property crime report, sighted by The Australian, shows that copyright owners "failed to explain" how they reached financial loss statistics used in lobbying activities and court cases.
Figures for 2005 from the global Business Software Association showing $361 million a year of lost sales in Australia are "unverified and epistemologically unreliable", the report says. . .
The study, which says some of the statistics used by copyright owners are "absurd," will be redrafted after senior researchers disagreed with its conclusions. . .
HOW TO SET COPYRIGHTS FREE
[From a Wikipedia bulletin board. Wales was Wikipedia's founder]
JIMMY WALES, WIKIPEDIA PIPER MAIL - I would like to gather from the community some examples of works you would like to see made free, works that we are not doing a good job of generating free replacements for, works that could in theory be purchased and freed.
Dream big. Imagine there existed a budget of $100 million to purchase copyrights to be made available under a free license. What would you like to see purchased and released under a free license?
Photos libraries? textbooks? newspaper archives? Be bold, be specific, be general, brainstorm, have fun with it.
I was recently asked this question by someone who is potentially in a position to make this happen, and he wanted to know what we need, what we dream of, that we can't accomplish on our own, or that we would expect to take a long time to accomplish on our own. - Jimbo
COUNTRY MUSIC BEING SHUT OUT OF BIG CITY RADIO
MARC FISHER, WASHINGTON POST - With last month's format switch in Los Angeles, the nation's two largest markets now have no country on the radio. New York lost its last country station in 2002, a year after San Francisco fell into the same status. Country's decline on the radio seems paradoxical at first, because the genre is doing better than much of the rest of the music industry these days. . . Country attracts an almost all-white audience, and in some big cities, including Los Angeles and New York, whites are in the minority. Increasingly, radio companies believe they can fine-tune other music formats to create the largest possible audience of black, Latino and white listeners. . . Country fans in some big urban centers eventually might find themselves with nowhere to go but satellite radio. . .
ANOTHER REASON NOT
TO BUY CORPORATE CDs:
GUITAR TAB UNIVERSE - The company which owns this website has been indirectly threatened (via our ISP) with legal action by the National Music Publishers' Association as well as the Music Publishers' Association on the basis that sharing tablature constitutes copyright infringement. At what point does describing how one plays a song on guitar become an issue of copyright infringement? This website, among other things, helps users teach each other how they play guitar parts for many different songs. This is the way music teachers have behaved since the first music was ever created. . .An attack on this website is really an attack on every one of you who have told someone (in person, or via the written word, telephone, or e-mail) how you play a song on guitar. And who, especially among small websites, has the deep pockets to fight the NMPA/MPA?
MOMENTS IN HOMELAND SECURITY
MAY 2005. . .
THE PROBLEM WITH BOOK
SCOTT PACK, THE BOOKSELLER - Book reviews should inspire reading. They should excite, stimulate, agitate and empower readers to discover new books and avoid bad ones. They should turn you on to undiscovered authors, prompt you into finally reading the writer you have never quite got round to, and make you wonder at the world of delights that remain unread. But let's be honest. They don't, do they?
A full-page review of a biography of a largely forgotten academic with an unfeasible beard. A literary fiction hardback that everyone else reviewed months ago. Nearly 2,500 words on yet another Nazi history. Four "chick-lit" books reviewed in one piece, at the end of which the reader is none the wiser as to their relative worth. Hardly a recipe for inspiration, but these were the lead features in a particular newspaper one Saturday in April. It was very dull. The beard was the highlight.
The result of this awkward mish-mash is that reviews no longer sell books in the volume that they used to. In more unguarded moments, usually involving a glass of something, you can get publishers to admit that they only push hardbacks for review so that they can generate quotes for the paperback jacket. Hardly the most sincere of motives.
DO IT YOURSELF GUIDE
TO AN ART MUSEUM
ART MOBS - Last year we hosted a gallery event at Marymount Manhattan College. Now we're focusing our attention on the Museum of Modern Art. We've produced (unofficial) audio guides for MoMA, and we're making them available as podcasts. . . Why should audio guides be proprietary? Help us hack the gallery experience, help us remix MoMA.
Need inspiration? Here's a sample of our projects:
- If a painting could speak, what would it say? Two MMC students and a cinema professor go slumming as they lend character and voice to an expressionist painting set in a conspicuously disreputable French cabaret.
- We do it for moving images, so why not compose soundtracks for still images? Listen to our student musicians - and a professional hip hop artist from Brooklyn - as they they sample and remix everything from symphonic themes to vintage 1950's television ads to speed-metal licks and wafts of ambient trance, all inspired by selected MoMA works.
- Do you like your art criticism served up more sardonic than saccharine? Thanks to an MMC art history professor who knows his profession but doesn't take it too seriously, you'll hear things you'll never hear through MoMA's headphones.
- Two MMC students and a digital media professor take on the inscrutable forms in a Jackson Pollock painting. Is it art interpretation or Rorschach test?
DAVEY D, FNV NEWSLETTER - I have been doing this Hip Hop thing for over 20 years, and I finally had enough. For now on my motto is 'No More Bad Shows'. I'm not sure what's going on. Nor am I sure as to why, but with Hip Hop being more than 30 years old, there is no excuse for continuous bad shows and I'm sick of it. Over the years there have been more than enough examples of stellar artists who deliver tip top performances. KRS-One, Naughty by Nature, Outkast, Public Enemy, Kool Moe Dee, The Roots, Hiero and Run DMC are among those who get busy on stage. . .
Gone are the days when people would actually rehearse for their shows and work on well timed routines. Far too often it feels like the acts I'm watching got word several minutes before they came on stage that they are performing. The word 'Rehearsal' seems like a foreign concept and unfortunately no one has been honest enough to let cats know that getting high or getting drunk before you hit the stage will improve your performance. But hey, we live and learn-so today I'm gonna pass along a few gems.
Below are some 5 hard and fast rules that I want everyone to pass along to up and coming artists so you don't have to pay hard earned money to see a popular act that can't hold his weight. I included one bonus Golden Rule
1- DON'T TELL THE SOUNDMAN TO TURN YOU UP - If you're not the headlining act you will only be given so much sound. .
2 - ALWAYS LEAVE THEM WANTING MORE - This applies to new groups. Look, let's be honest, if you new to the scene, do 2 or 3 songs and bounce. Don't do an entire album worth of material. . .
3 - ALWAYS HAVE PLAN A, PLAN B AND PLAN C - Look, we all been to enough shows to know the sound is always messing up or that the turntables are gonna skip or the CD player isn't working correctly. This has occurred enough times for us to know that a prudent rapper will have back up plans ready to go in case of a malfunction. . .
4 - DON'T BRING 50 PEOPLE ON STAGE UNLESS THEY ARE INVOLVED IN A CHOREOGRAPHED ROUTINE .- This has got to be the biggest complaint folks have about rap shows. You have a guy who is either insecure in his showmanship abilities or he feels like he owes his homeboys a thing or two, so he invites everyone on stage who in turn decide that they wanna be big stars like the act we paid to see. This is extremely wack. . .
5 -LEARN TO WORK THE MIc - It seems simple enough, but apparently for many artists the simple task of holding a microphone correctly alludes them. Please stop cuffing the mic. Hold it away from your mouth so we can hear you clearly. . .
BONUS RULE - STOP YELLING 'EVERYBODY SAY 'HO' - Yes I know getting a crowd to respond to your every command can give one a sense of power. How can you not be seduced? . . . Let's keep it real folks. For most people who do the whole 'Get the Crowd' hype thing, it's a crutch designed to hide the lack of skillz. . .
Also let's please refrain from doing that tired bit where we try to see which side of the room is the loudest. It's old. It's worn. It's 2005 lets try something new.
ADVENTURES IN BOOK
MYSTERY BOOKS FAVORITE
LIBRARY CHECK OUTS
REPORT: FILE SHARING
HAS NO IMPACT ON CD SALES
ART CRITICS HATE AUDIENCES BUT THAT DOESN'T MAKE THEM RIGHT
WHY YOU DON'T HAVE TO CARE ABOUT MICHAEL JACKSON
MEDIA BIAS is not limited to bad politics; it includes bad math, typically manifested in an inability to count above the number two. According to the mass media, our world is one giant 'Crossfire' show divided into pro and anti, liberal and conservative, war and appeasement, free market and socialism. When such bifurcation fails because of the number of participants - as in sports, Democratic primaries, or reality shows - the media solves the problem by ultimately reducing the number to one, with everyone else a loser. It is by such means that the media discovers the outstanding average American male.
This is a form of semiotic suppression as bad in its own way as political propaganda for it steals opportunities, options, and subtleties from us, turning us into either cheering sycophants or worthless outsiders. It also is the playing field on which we learn mindless acceptance of the minimal choices that the media offers us in the political and economic realms.
We are, for example, supposed at this moment to be obsessed with football, especially if one is a virile male. In fact, however, only about a half of American males are interested in football. A 2002 poll found that only 28% of Americans listed football as their favorite sport, with 16% preferring basketball and 12% baseball. Add them all together and you are still left with nearly half of America having something better to do. But you would never guess it from the media.
The same is true with popular music. Michael Jackson, the latest media fetish, is a not atypical example. If you only followed the "news" you would have to be wondering what was wrong with you if you did not find the fate of Jackson of concern or, worse, never liked him or his music in the first place.
Jackson sold 47 million copies of "Thriller," which sounds like a lot until one realizes that Dunkin' Donuts sells more cups of coffee than that in one month. In fact, more people have a cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee than watch Bill O'Reilly on the same day. But note where Dunkin' Donuts stands in the media cultural hierarchy compared to Jackson and O'Reilly.
It's actually far worse than that. An ABC News poll last year found that 38% of Americans considered Elvis Presley the greatest rock star ever. Jimi Hendrix came in second at four percent and Michael Jackson tied Lennon, Jagger, Springsteen, McCartney, and Clapton at 2%. In all, pollees list 128 different names. Even among 18-34 year olds, Presley beat Hendrix 2 to 1, albeit getting only 19% of the votes.
The ABC News poll is unusual in that it gave actual percentages. Normally, such surveys only list rank, leaving the reader who prefers number six on the list feeling out of it and leaving all readers badly misinformed.
One way to create more honesty in such surveys would be not only to use actual percentages but also instant runoff voting in which second and third place votes would be factored in. These celebrity surveys instead use the same misguided principle that distorts our politics, confusing whoever is first past the post with the consensus choice.
The matter is further complicated by the fact that we do not know how the over 200 million Americans who did not buy a copy of 'Thriller' felt about Jackson. Some were married to a purchaser, some have downloaded it, some picked it up second hand or from a sibling. But is it not possible that among this vast pool we might not actually find a many people who disliked Jackson's music as liked it?
Yes it is. And although I have not been able to find an American study that deals with this issue, a fascinating examination of Japanese adolescent tastes in western music suggests what we might discover.
Here are the percentages of Japanese adolescents who liked very much a genre of music followed by the percentages of those that didn't like it at all:
Note that rock is the only category in which the percentage of those not liking it at all does not approach 50%. Note also that one of the most disliked genres is something the media has labeled "easy listening."
One of the reasons the media doesn't tell you things like this is that it would be too embarrassing. Far better to using rankings that obscure the fact, for example, that you could fit the entire American audience of CNN into a place the size of Washington DC. Fox News does even worse with a 25-54 audience of about 350,000. MSNBC has 82,000.
One of the few people honest about all this is Don Imus who says he wouldn't cover the Jackson story, which repels him, were it not for the ratings boost. But that boost, of course, is based on the media's past success in convincing us that Jackson was worth caring about. And even if MSNBC's ratings doubled we're still only talking about three big stadiums full of people.
So if you can't stand Jackson or his music, don't feel bad. You are just part of the silenced majority. Go down to Dunkin' Donuts have a cup of coffee like a real American.