Friday, July 31, 2009

PhD


Thirty one years ago this August, I was awarded the PhD at the University of Florida. This photograph, which only recently surfaced, confirms it.

Gross-Cohen

Terry Gross interviews Sacha Baron Cohen (as SBC) on Fresh Air.

Yellow Mountain (Huangshan Mountain)




Many years ago--sometime in the Spring of 1981, I climbed Huangshan Mountain, known to the Chinese as "Yellow Mountain," the most beautiful in The Middle Kingdom.

I was teaching in Shanghai (East China Normal University) and travelled to Huangshan in Annui Province by train and bus. (Joyce and six month old Rachel stayed behind in our lovely "Foreign Expert" flat on campus.)


The weather was beautiful when we started the climb--mostly up a series of steps (see photo to the right and here) built into the mountain side, but the weather turned very nasty in the early afternoon, with freezing rain coating everything including the steps, many of which had sheer drops of hundreds of feet on one side.


We ended up spending the night, glad to be alive, in the mountain hotel (pictured), where we "slept" in a horribly crowded hallway among fellow stranded travelers. (Huangshan is a kind of Chinese Niagara Falls, popular among honeymooners.)

The next morning at dawn I remember being annoyed/amazed by the theme from Shaft blaring from a Chinese teenager's boom box. The weather had cleared again, and the descent was a lot less frightening, but I have never been more exhausted, nor more fearful for my life, than the days I climbed Huangshan.

Quote of the Day (7/31/09) (Writers/Writing Week)

Has not writing been for centuries the acknowledgment of a debt, the guarantee of an exchange, the signs of a representation? But today writing gradually drifts toward the cessation of bourgeois debts, toward perversion, the extremity of meaning, the text.
--Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes

Thursday, July 30, 2009

"Obama Axes Pentagon Plan To Build Billion Dollar Tank In Shape Of Dragon"

I missed this surprising development--from The Onion

Heard on "The Rachel Maddow Show"

Coming up we will talk about the Birthers, and I will try to not get too much kook on my hands.

Stalking Weiner


The stuff of childhood nightmares--if you ask me. My daughter Rachel--pursued.

Later: Rachel notes that she is a vegetarian.

Heard on Colbert


What's the state of racism in America? I'm going to go with Alabama.

Nancy Grace, Dick


So glad to see that Nancy Grace has finally made it into the Dickipedia.

Quote of the Day (7/30/09) (Writers/Writing Week)

The whole world can be divided into those who write and those who do not write. Those who write represent despair, and those who read disapprove of it and believe that they have a superior wisdom—and yet, if they were able to write, they would write the same thing. Basically they are all equally despairing, but when one does not have the opportunity to become important with his despair, then it is hardly worth the trouble to despair and show it. Is this what it is to have conquered despair?
--Soren Kierkegaard

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wilmore on Gates-gate

The Daily Show's "Senior Black Correspondent" illuminates the Gates affair. Watch it below. My favorite moment--this actual photo of Gates (Wilmore: "Does this man look oppressed to you?")



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Heard on Conan

Possible name for a future Sarah Palin television show:

Am I More Coherent Than a Fifth Grader?

Quote of the Day (7/29/09) (Writers/Writing Week)

[Writers] should be—and biologically have to be—agents of change. . . . Writers are specialized cells in the social organism. They are evolutionary cells. Mankind is trying to become something else; it's experimenting with new ideas all the time. And writers are a means of introducing new ideas into the society, and also a means of responding symbolically to life. I don't think we're in control of what we do. . . . we're expressions of the entire society—just as the sensory cells on the surface of your body are in the service of your body as a whole. . . . I have the canary-bird-in-the-coal-mine theory of the arts. . . . artists—all artists—should be treasured as alarm systems.
--Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

"I don't hate the South, I don't."

Remember when Quentin Compson kept repeating this over and over in--was it in Absalom, Absalom?

In an interview Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) said this:

We got too many Jim DeMints (R-S.C.) and Tom Coburns (R-Ok.). It’s the southerners. They get on TV and go 'errrr, errrrr.' People hear them and say, "These people, they’re southerners. The party’s being taken over by southerners. What they hell they got to do with Ohio?"

A New Holiday

"National Drink a Beer with Someone Who Arrested You Day"--this Thursday.

Andy Borowitz has the news.

Quote of the Day (7/28/09) (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Week)

Phaedrus remembered a line from Thoreau: "You never gain something but that you lose something." And now he began to see for the first time the unbelievable magnitude of what man, when he gained power to understand and rule the world in terms of dialectic truths, had lost. He had built empires of scientific capability to manipulate the phenomena of nature into enormous manifestations of his own dreams of power and wealth but for this he had exchanged an empire of understanding of equal magnitude: an understanding of what it is to be a part of the world, and not an enemy of it.
—Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Monday, July 27, 2009

God Resigns

McSweeney's has the deity's statement, as channeled by Lucas Kavner.

If you find this of interest, try Ian Watson's mind-boggling "A Letter from God."

Painting of the Week (7/27/09)



Raoul Dufy, Henly Regatta

Quote of the Day (7/27/09) (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Week)

Between the lines Phaedrus read no doubts, no sense of awe, only the eternal smugness of the professional academician. . . . There was nothing in his style to indicate that Aristotle was ever one to doubt Aristotle. . . . The reason why, if he were not more than two thousand years dead, he would have gladly rubbed him out is that he saw him as a prototype for the many millions of self-satisfied and truly ignorant teachers throughout history who have smugly and callously killed the creative spirit of their students with this dumb ritual of analysis, this, rote, eternal naming of things. Walk into any one of a hundred thousand classrooms today and hear the teachers divide and subdivide and interrelate and establish "principles" and study "methods" and what you will hear is the ghost of Aristotle speaking down through the centuries—the desiccated lifeless voice of dualistic reason.
—Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Julie Phillips on Italo Calvino



The wonderful Julie Phillips, author of one of the best biographies in memory (of James Tiptree, Jr.), reviews the complete Cosmicomics of Italo Calvino.

Movies I've Seen (ctd.)

I have watched the following films since February on DVD (last time I posted a list probably interesting only to me):

Appaloosa
Australia
Body of Lies
Bolt
Caprica
Changeling
Deception
Defiance
Doubt
Eagle Eye
Flash of Genius
Friday the 13th
Frost/Nixon
Gran Torino
Gun Crazy
Knowing
Lakeview Terrace
Max Payne
Milk
Mirrors
Night and the City
Nightmare Alley
Oldboy
Paul Blart: Mall Cop
Punisher 2: War Zone
Push
Quantum of Solace
Quarantine
Rachel Getting Married
Religulous
Revolutionary Road
Right at Your Door
Role Models [Unrated/Rated]
Taken [Extended Cut]
The Day the Earth Stood Still
The Duchess
The International
The Reader
The Spirit
The Wrestler
Tropic Thunder
Twilight
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
Valkyrie
Wall-E
Wonder Woman
Zack & Miri Make a Porno

Quote of the Day (7/26/09) (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Week)

One thing about explorers that you don't hear mentioned is that they are invariably, by their nature, mess-makers. They go forging ahead, seeing only their noble, distant goal, and never notice any of the crud and debris they leave behind them. Someone else gets to clean that up and it's not a very glamorous or interesting job.
—Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Saturday, July 25, 2009

"Lost" News from ComicCon

EW reports.

My favorite bit:

*Funny recurring gag: In attempt to prove that they haven't been writing the series on the fly, the producers locked the final page of the series finale script in a box, and said that the box would be opened on Jimmy Kimmel Live! the night that the series finale airs. When Josh Holloway came on stage, he tasered Lindelof, and forced Cuse to open the box. Michael Emerson did a dramatic reading of the page, which turned out to be... a scene from Heroes. Darnit!

Jackson 2000 in 1985


The Retrocomedy.com website unearths Ebony's 1985 prediction of what MJ would look like in the year 2000.

From "The Hub"


My writing partner Lynette Porter reports from Cardiff, where her travels have currently brought her:


I went to the door of the Hub--the front that still exists by the waterfront that was the door to Torchwood's tourist info office. Fans had placed flowers and all kinds of messages on the door. A local woman told me that someone clears them out every day and has for the past two weeks, but more people keep leaving flowers and cards. A couple today were for Jack and Gwen: "Dear Jack, running away won't solve your problems." And what better way to say Happy Pregnancy to Gwen than with a bunch of dying daisies. But the messages for Ianto were a little OTT, even for fandom. It was strangely fascinating.

John Ridley on Gatesgate

The always interesting John Ridley puts the whole matter in context.

America is Like Michael Jackson

A rather brilliant New Rule from Bill Maher (for the record, I do not approve of his Harry Potter stance).


New Rule: All the good news stories have to stop breaking while I'm on vacation! You know, I go away for a mere three weeks to work with my charity, Hot Tubs Without Borders--I've asked Jason to be on the board many times--and Karl Malden dies and also Michael Jackson. The most famous white lady to die since Princess Diana.

And one question gnawed at me the whole time: why, why did America lose its collective shit over Michael Jackson?! And then, like Michael's father, Joe, it hit me. Michael Jackson IS AMERICA!

We love him so much because he reflects our nation perfectly: fragile, over-indulgent, childish, in debt, on drugs and over the hill.

Now, let me state clearly, I don't wish my country was all of these bad things. I just don't want to be like one of those people Michael Jackson had around him, the ones who just tell you you're great and that your destructive behavior is totally normal, and they give you whatever you want. You know: doctors.

So, let's go down the list and see if I'm crazy, or if, indeed, America is unfortunately all the things Michael Jackson was.

Is America fragile? Well, what do you think would happen if there was another terrorist attack here? I'll tell you what would happen. We'd repeal the rest of the Bill of Rights, forget about health care, elect Toby Keith president--and fire me again.

Are we fragile? The stock ticker in Times Square yesterday said, "What the f*ck are you looking at?"

Over-indulgent. I defy anyone to watch ten minutes of "My Super Sweet 16" on MTV and not want to strap on a vest and blow up that little snot's birthday party.

Did you know that a third of children in America are overweight? Michael Jackson didn't have a heart attack. His play date rolled over on him.

Childish. Well, we think "Harry Potter" is literature and Batman movies are profound meditations on the human condition. Our morning coffee has become a milkshake with whipped cream. And 64% of the people believe Noah's Ark actually happened.

And what could be more childish than what our news media chooses to cover? My God, since this Michael Jackson thing happened, I have no idea what's going on with Jon and Kate!

In debt. Please, this week, the deficit --that's just what we've run up for the year -- went over one trillion dollars. To give you an idea of how much that is, take what your home is now worth and add one trillion dollars.

On drugs. If you don't think America has got a drug problem, you must be high. Children are on Prozac. Athletes are on steroids. The pharmaceutical industry sold $291 billion worth of pills last year. Mostly to Michael Jackson, okay, but still. And that's not counting the potheads and the drinkers. Yes, America is on drugs.

And, by the way, people also do just as much coke as they ever did. They just don't share it anymore.

And finally, is America over the hill? I don't know. I hope not. But, Monday is the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong first setting foot on the moon. And I can't think of any ambitious goal we've reached since then. It's sad when your peak was a moon walk that occurred decades ago.

So America faces a choice. We can go the Michael route and keep living on debt and the world's affection for our early work, or we can get our shit together like Britney Spears--put on our circus costume and go out there and show the world we've still got it!

Quote of the Day (7/25/09) (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Week)

He was trying to use the mountain for his own purposes and the pilgrimage too. He regarded himself as the fixed entity, not the pilgrimage or the mountain, and thus wasn't ready for it. He speculated that the other pilgrims, the ones who reached the mountain, probably sensed the holiness of the mountain so intensely that each footstep was an act of devotion, an act of submission to this holiness. The holiness of the mountain infused into their own spirits enabled them to endure far more than anything he, with his greater physical strength, could take.

The ego-climber is like an instrument that's out of adjustment. He puts his foot down an instant too soon or too late. He's likely to miss a beautiful passage of sunlight through the trees. He goes on when the sloppiness of his steps shows he's tired. He rests at odd times. He looks up the trail trying to see what's ahead even when he knows what's ahead because he just looked a second before. He goes too fast or too slow for the conditions and when he talks his talk is forever about somewhere else, something else. He's here but he's not here. He rejects the here, is unhappy with it, wants to be farther up the trail but when he gets there will be just as unhappy because then it will be "here." What's he's looking for, what he wants, is all around him, but he doesn't want that because it is all around him. Every step's an effort, both physically and spiritually, because he imagines his goal to be external and distant.
—Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Friday, July 24, 2009

"Torchwood" Comes to an End

If this was the end, it was a truly great television finale. Exciting, poignant, powerful.

The children of earth saved from the never-quite-seen but repugnant 456 (who we learn on Day 5 are drug addicts who use chemicals produced in the bodies of our young as a recreational drug). √
Gwen and Rhys given a happy ending, pregnant with possibility. √
Bridget Spears gets her moment of heroism, as does Johnson. √
Captain Jack, gone, using the Vortex Manipulator to depart a too small, too full of tragic memories Earth, and disappear into space. √

I was astonished how dark and depressing this miniseries was. The British government was nearly as evil, and certainly as complicit, as the 456. John Frobisher was a tragic figure, slaughtering his family to prevent his children's fate. Ianto dies. Captain Jack's grandson dies while saving the race. Clement McDonald dies.

"Children" is not wholly original. It owes a debt to Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End (obviously), to Liquid Sky's drug-addicted alien, to The Empire Strikes Back (Jack imprisoned in cement--as Han Solo was encased in carbon). But it was wonderful nonetheless. Best television of the summer.

"Why 2024 Will Be Like Nineteen Eighty-Four"

Farhad Manjoo's brilliant and scary piece in Slate on "How Amazon's remote deletion of e-books from the Kindle paves the way for book-banning's digital future."

You can listen to it here (on NPR's "Marketplace").

Quote of the Day (7/24/09) (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Week)

Quality is what you see out of the corner of your eye.
—Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Gordon Liddy on "Hardball"

Just watched Chris Matthews totally dominate the despicable Gordon Liddy (re "Birther" bullshit) on Hardball.

Amazing how timid Liddy becomes on MSM.

"Lost" University

How cool is this? The latest ARG from ABC.

I so want to teach there.

"Children of Earth" (Days 1-3)

I watched all of Seasons 1 and 2 of Torchwood when I was in the UK, and it never came close to being as good--as powerful, moving, exciting, funny--as "Children of Earth" has proved to be so far.

Great stuff. Can't wait to see how it turns out. Two more nights.

The Birthers' BS

Once more, it has taken Jon Stewart and The Daily Show to truly expose a contemporary beyond-the-pale insanity--to "eviscerate" (HuffPo's characterization) the Birther movement.

Only the language of the absurd, it seems, is powerful enough to lay bare, through the power of reductio ad absurdum, such lunacy.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Born Identity
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Political HumorJoke of the Day

The True Identity of Sarah Palin



From Salon (Tom the Dancing Bug).

The Most Interesting Man in the World (ctd)

I have already written about this ad campaign.

In the newest ad we learn that TMIMIW "is fluent in French--in Russian."

Quote of the Day (7/23/09) (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Week)

[F]or Quality is the generator of the mythos . . . the continuing stimulus which causes us to create the world in which we live." And outside those tracks lies the "terra incognita," a terrain, a topology of being, that only the mad enter and explore.
—Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Jensen on Cult TV

EW's Jeff Jensen on Cult TV.

First in a series.

Political Music Missappropriation

In addition to a report on the GOP's apology to Jackson Browne for misuse of "Running on Empty," Salon offers a brief history of other cases of musical misappropriation (mostly by Republicans).

Two Unrelated Weird Coincidences


1. The young soldier now being held captive by the Taliban, Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl--the one whose execution by his captors a FOX military expert suggested would save us a lot of trouble (he presumes he's a deserter), is from Hailey, Idaho. Do you know what famous American poet, later found guilty of treason in W.W. II, was born in Haley? Ezra Pound! (pictured)

2. While reading about the "The Family" that Christian-politco support group/enabler/boarding house in D.C. (an article by Jeff Sharlet in Salon), I learned that The Family's archive is housed at The Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Illinois, a campus I have visited because it is the home of the Wade Center as well, an archive devoted to the Christian British authors C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, George MacDonald, Dorothy Sayers, G. K. Chesterton, and Owen Barfield.

Crypto-Muslim Health Care

When I am out and about, as I was this morning, I sometimes listen, thanks to my masochistic tendencies, to Gordon Liddy on the 'Boro's spot for crazy talk WGNS, owned and operated by the seemingly benign father of a long time friend of my oldest daughter.

This morning the subject was health care, and a fairly articulate caller wanted to make clear that Obama's push for reform of the system now islinked to our President's "crypto-muslim, Manchurian candidate" nature. Obama's secret plan to not only slaughter babies in the womb but require suicide for the worthless elderly (the caller insisted that the legislation actually stipulates this)is all intended to winnow out Christians in order to make America safe for Islamic conquest.

I live in the same nation with these folk. OMG.

Quote of the Day (7/22/09) (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Week)

His lack of faith in reason was why he was so fanatically dedicated to it. You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow."
—Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Failed States

Foreign Policy's interactive map of failed states.

Williams v. Stewart

Last night's Daily Show interview with Brian Williams was hilariously contentious. As in his famous smackdown of Cross Fire years ago, Jon Stewart wanted to talk about something other than what was planned. Williams had clearly come on to talk about the passing of Walter Cronkite, but Jon wanted to talk about how journalists, including Williams' NBC colleague David Gregory, had sucked up to Mark Sanford in order to get the first interview. Williams was not pleased.

Finally Jon turned to Cronkite and we got this brilliant exchange--maybe the best ripostes since Mailer/Vidal on Dick Cavett:

Stewart: Walter Cronkite was a giant in the industry. Is that a man you looked up to, a man who . . .?
Williams: That's who I wanted to be. He was like Carrot Top to you.
Stewart: How does it feel to fall so short?
Williams: I think that ended up about even.


The whole interview can be viewed below:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Brian Williams
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Daily Show
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Political HumorJoke of the Day

Quote of the Day (7/21/09 (William Irwin Thompson Week)

With the death of the last male Shaker, America had lost that reverence for the profound simplicity of the craft. Everything that was cheap, shoddy, and deceitfully wrapped in "country farms" packaging rose in my mind and turned in my stomach. I could see a picture of coast-to-coast food distributors serving all the restaurants the same frozen cardboard French-fries, water-injected ham steaks, papier-mâché peas, and a carbonated water called beer. Orwell had good sense when he characterized 1984 as a time when good food was as unobtainable as sexual love.
--William Irwin Thompson, The Edge of History

Monday, July 20, 2009

Palin, Edited

Vanity Fair takes the trouble, since she didn't.

Tancharoen Reads

Maurissa Tancharoen, Whedon collaborator (Dr. Horrible [writer, Hammer Groupie #1], Dollhouse [writer]), and Jed Whedon's spouse, reads from her teenage diary.



Hat-tip to Ian Maull.

Photographic Invasion

In a SF story I often teach by cyberpunk patriarch William J. Gibson, "The Gernsback Continuum," a photographer's assignment to record still-existing signs of the predicted-but-never-materialized chromed future leads to its alternate reality bleeding into this one as he begins to discern its "reality" all around him.

A gallery on Flickr, Franco Bombilla's "Invading the Vintage," creates a similar kind of effect by interpolating robots and aliens into yesteryear's sunny, optimistic postcards. Here's one of my favorites.


Brilliant. Hat-tip to The Daily Dish.

"Voyage to the Moon"


Another Moon poem, this one by Archibald MacLeish. Decidedly more reverent than Eastlake's.

VOYAGE TO THE MOON
Archibald MacLeish

Presence among us,
wanderer in the skies,
dazzle of silver in our leaves and on our
waters silver,
O silver evasion in our farthest thought--
"the visiting moon" . . . "the glimpses of the moon" . . .
and we have touched you!

From the first of time,
before the first of time, before the
first men tasted time, we thought of you.
You were a wonder to us, unattainable,
a longing past the reach of longing,
a light beyond our light, our lives--perhaps
a meaning to us.

Now our hands have touched you in your depth of night.

Three days and three nights we journeyed,
steered by farthest stars, climbed outward,
crossed the invisible tide-rip where the floating dust
falls one way or the other in the void between,
followed that other dawn, encountered
cold, faced death--unfathomable emptiness . . .
Then, the fourth day evening, we descended,
made fast, set foot at dawn upon your beaches,
sifted between our fingers your cold sand,

We stand here in the dusk, the cold, the silence . . .
and here, as at the first of time, we lift our heads.
Over us, more beautiful than the moon, a
moon, a wonder to us, unattainable,
a longing past the reach of longing,
a light beyond our light, our lives--perhaps
a meaning to us . . .

O, a meaning!

Over us on these silent beaches the bright earth,
presence among us.

"Whitey's on the Moon Now"

In honor of today's 40th anniversary of the Apollo landing, here is William Eastlake's sardonic prose poem.

WHITEY'S ON THE MOON NOW
William Eastlake

I had a Papago Indian intellectual friend over to watch the first man on the moon.
The Papago Indian intellectual brought over a Papago Indian cowboy to watch.
"They are about to land," I said.
"You said something about beer."
"Wait."
"What for?"
"'Till they get on the moon."
"Are they on the moon yet?"
"Yes."
"Can I have the beer?"
"The white man on the moon said one small step for a man and one giant step for mankind."
"That's nice," the Papago cowboy said. "Can I have the beer now?"
"What he means," my friend the Papago Indian intellectual said, "is that his people are starving. He's not interested in the white man on the moon."
I got the Papago cowboy the beer.
The Papago cowboy, now that he had the beer can, smiled, "How much did it cost to get to the moon?"
"Forty billion."
The Papago cowboy smiled and shook his head at the white man on the moon.
"What he means," the Papago intellectual said, "is that he hopes they are happy on the moon."
"Who's that?" the Indian cowboy said.
"President Nixon."
"Why."
"He says it's the biggest thing since creation."
"Why?"
"What he means is he hopes President Nixon is very happy on the moon."
"Would you like all the white people to go to the moon?"
"Yes."
"Never come back from the moon?"
"Yes."
"Would you like some more beer?"
"Yes."
When the Papago Indian cowboy got the beer he thought awhile and said, "No."
The Papago intellectual said, "He means why do you want to destroy another planet."
"Curiosity."
The Papago Indian cowboy thought about that and laughed.
"He laughs because the Papagos are all cried out," his friend said.
"They will bring back moonstones," I said.
"Will they kill all the people there?" the Papago Indian cowboy said.
"No."
"Put them on reservations?"
"No. Because there are no people on the moon," I said.
"Will the white people come back?"
"Yes."
The Papago Indian Cowboy got up.
"Where are you going?"
"To the moon."
"Of course you can't," the Papago intellectual said.
The cowboy sat down.
"You see," the Papago intellectual said, "the Indian would very much like to get off this planet. If you will not get off his land."
"One small step for a man on earth . . ."
"And forget the moon?"
"Yes."
"What he means," the Papago intellectual said, "is he would like another beer."
That is why they call my Indian friend an intellectual Papago. All over Arizona they laugh at him because he does not want to settle for Overkill Rockets at Tucson or a dam on the Grand Canyon or the London Bridge over Havasupi or for mankind to take its first giant steps on the moon.
"Why can't they take that first step here?" the Indian said.
"Would you like another beer?"
"Why can't we take it here?"
Like all Indians my intellectual Indian Papago friend and the Papago Indian cowboy are mad, not mad crazy, but plain damned mad. Not moonstruck. Just two hungry, angry Indians watching Whitey on the moon.

The great American people
Lived in the Year One.
Two was a good year, too.
Every year was a good year
Until the white man showed
With an axe.

Now we come to the part
Where America was cut down.
White wild men,
Savages
With blue eyes
Pink asses
And guns
Erected Royal Crown Cola signs,
Massacred the Indians
Shit in the creek,
Left for the moon
Without so much as a
Thank you for the use of this
Planet.

When those three spacemen
Were burned alive at Cape Kennedy
The black men thought, now
They will give us a chance
To
Fly, brother, fly.
But the space program is still
All white.
You can't dig the moon
Until you dig the earth.

Whitey's on the moon now.
Isn't that a kick in the ass?
Soon he will be on the sun.
Burn
Baby
Burn

Saw a man going to the moon the other day
He was dressed in a neat moon outfit.
The kind of person you would want your mother to
marry.
Going to the moon is expensive
So he must be rich,
American.
A rich American
Moonstruck
Bastard.

The moon people
Who don't believe in God,
Have no respect
For the flag,
So Thou Shalt Not Kill
Does not apply to
Indians
Or
Moon people.
Pass me the gun.

How far will the revolution go?
Will it extend to the Indian reservation?
Yes?
Will it extend to songs?
Yes.
Our poetry?
The women?
The children?
Yes. And it will go beyond that to the
Enemy.
And it will go beyond that to the
Land.
The earth that has been wounded
Will be made good.
And the water that is
Black
Will be made good.
This will be a conservative revolution.
We will tear down the black-pluming
Smelters that smelt lives
And return the earth
To the
Earth
And the air will be made good
And we will see the moon
We lost
In getting there.

That explosion of silence
You hear from Indian
Country
Is just the Indian lying
Low
Until we blow ourselves
Up.
Then the Indian will
Come back
And in quiet amaze
Wonder
How we took so long to
Kill ourselves,
When we were bent on that
From the beginning.
When the white man arrived
Here the white man had had already departed.

Painting of the Week (7/20/09)


Andre Derain, The Turning Road

Quote of the Day (7/20/09 (William Irwin Thompson Week)

America's critical role in the planetization of humanity does seem to be that of the catalytic enzyme that breaks down all the traditional cultures of the world, be they Asiatic, Islamic, or European. With Disneyland in Paris and Tokyo, the United States is well on its way to dissolving all the world cultures, and I do not think any nativistic revolt of Islam will succeed in stopping it any more than Marxist-Leninism did.
--William Irwin Thompson, The American Replacement of Nature

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Unloseable Book


In 2003, when Rhonda Wilcox and I toured Australia (Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne) as the "Mother and Father of Buffy Studies, we both took Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix as our trip books.

On four different occasions during the two weeks I almost lost my copy only to have it find its way into my hands again like a very good bad penny.

In Adelaide, at an outdoor cafe over some very good Oz wine, our Australian friend Sue Turnbull (who had just finished Phoenix, Rhonda (who is a world class Spoiler Virgin), and I talked about the latest. Without thinking, Sue commented in passing "Shame that Sirius had to die." Rhonda screamed in dismay.

When we were leaving for home out of Sydney, I realized, only after I had just heard the United flight's doors closed and locked, that I didn't have my Phoenix. My luck had run out at last! But then, a minute later, a Flight Attendant came to my seat and asked "Did you lose something?" From behind her back, Phoenix materialized, reborn from the ashes.

The unloseable book!

Inconceivable! A New Zoidberg!

Bad news indeed. New voice casting for the soon-to-be-reborn Futurama.

I refuse to watch.

Quote of the Day (7/19/09 (William Irwin Thompson Week)

The cosmic food-chain is an energy symbiosis, from the plants that feed off the sun to the devas and asuras that fed off the astral emanations of collective human thought. Just as we corral beasts to keep them in their place for our use, and as we sit on the fence and watch them ruminate all day long, we wonder how they can stand to eat all the time; so do the gods and demons corral us in history, and as they sit on the edge, they wonder how we can stand to think all day long. Within our corrals of history they come to stir up our wars and passions, so that we can be fat with the astral emanations that sustain them. Knowing that we are afraid of death, they catch us with its linked opposite, sexuality. Eros is thus the attractive jailkeeper in the prison of Thanatos.
--William Irwin Thompson, Passages About Earth

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Quote of the Day (7/18/09 (William Irwin Thompson Week)

We are experiencing the initiation of the human race into a new level of consciousness, and that is a very terrifying experience. It does no good to turn and run from the terror of our darkness into light; we must sit it out: zazen. We must take our counsel from The Tibetan Book of the Dead and realize that these frightening projections of famines, economic disasters, ecological catastrophes, floods, earthquakes, and wars are all only the malevolent aspects of beneficent deities. If we sit and observe them, do not identify with them, but remember our Buddha-nature, we will not be dragged down by them into an incarnation of the hell they prefigure. If we run from them, we validate them; we give the projections the very psychic energy they need to overtake us. Then, as Jung has pointed out, the situation will happen outside as fate.
--William Irwin Thompson, Evil and World Order

Friday, July 17, 2009

Colbert on "The Neutral Man's Burden"

An absolutely brilliant, and incredibly funny, "Word" explaining why "neutral" white men like Alito may use their personal experience but Sotomayor must remain invisible.

I have not seen a single broadcast news outlet that has shown that Alito clip, in which what he says would, if it had come out of Sotomayor's mouth, would have gotten her crucified.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Colbert Report: The Word - Neutral Man's Burden
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorJeff Goldblum

Quote of the Day (7/17/09 (William Irwin Thompson Week)

To understand contemporary culture, you have to be willing to move beyond intellectual definitions and academic disciplines. You have to be willing to throw your net out widely and be willing to take in science, politics, and art, and science fiction, the occult, and pornography. To catch a sense of the whole in pattern recognition, you have to leap across the synapse and follow the rapid movement of informational bits. You treat in a paragraph what you know could take up a whole academic monograph, but jugglers are too restless for that: the object of the game is to grasp the object quickly, and then give it up in a flash to the brighter air.
--William Irwin Thompson, Evil and World Order

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Crazy Person

So heartened to see that Blackburn, a Mid-Tenn congresswoman, is supporting the Birther-inspired POTUS birth certificate bill. Alas.

Murfreesboro actually has a quite sane congressman, Bart Gordon, but Blackburn, up the road, is almost as nuts as Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who represents a place where I used to live, St. Cloud.

Colbert Demands Keith Olbermann Name Him "Worst Person in the World"

Steven prepares to slap a baby with a puppy in order to make his case.

Heard on "The Colbert Report"

Is this a wand in my pocket or am I just glad to see the new Harry Potter movie?

Quote of the Day (7/16/09 (William Irwin Thompson Week)

A university can provide you with a library, but what makes the book you are not looking for fall off the shelf into your hands to give you the material you need is not understood by any university.
--William Irwin Thompson, Darkness and Scattered Light

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Smoking is Expensive

Heard on Anderson Cooper 360: a man bought cigarettes in a convenience store, and his debit card was charged for $23,148,855,308,184,500. And $15 for overdraft.

Captain Ahab Buys Boat Insurance

I like this. Ahab hopes to buy a fish finder with the money he saves with Progressive.

What would Melville think? When he died, Moby-Dick had already been forgotten and would remain forgotten for decades. Now it's the stuff of mass advertising!

"The Tragedy of Michael Jackson"

Bill Wyman talks some sense about MJ in the WSJ.

"HPHBP"

Just saw Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and it's just about as wonderful as the reviewers have been saying.

Too many little kids in a filled-to-the-brim theatre. Damned PG rating.

Dick and Rob (and "Veronica")

I am writing an essay on Rob Thomas, creator of Veronica Mars, for a forthcoming book by Rhonda Wilcox and Sue Turnbull.

I thought I would offer a tease here.
---------------------------------------------
In the relaunch of the Friday the 13th franchise (Marcus Nispel, 2009), we encounter an idiotic character named Nolan, one mindless member of a group of pre-doomed partiers headed for a wild weekend in a house unfortunately located in Jason Voorhies’s backyard. The cypher is interested only in booze and women, and, less than fifteen minutes after we meet him, he is killed by Jason’s arrow while piloting a power boat with his water-skiing woman in tow (his would-be conquest dies at Jason’s hands soon after).


At first glance, neither the movie nor the death scene would seem to have any relevance to a consideration of Veronica Mars. But Nolan is played by Ryan Hansen, Veronica’s wonderfully obnoxious, meta-vacuous 09er Dick Casablancas, in a performance that makes Veronica devotees wonder if the progeny of real estate scammer Richard Casblancas hasn’t emigrated from small screen to big, from Neptune to Crystal Lake. In reality Nolan and Dick have little in common but the actor who plays them. Dead in fifteen minutes, Nolan is two-dimensionally movie shallow. Dick, who appeared in 52 episodes of Veronica, is three-dimensionally quality television shallow—profoundly shallow.


In From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China (Murray Lerner, 1981) one of the virtuoso violinist’s Chinese pupils plays a passage from Mozart on his instrument. It’s perfectly done in a way, every note exact, and yet it has no resonance, no soul. But then Stern plays the same notes, exquisitely, soulfully. The difference between the two renditions is much more than day and night—let’s call it the difference between winter and spring. The Chinese violinist’s version is austere, lifeless, cold; Stern’s brings the music to life. The same might be said for the difference between Nolan and Dick. Dick is wonderfully, repulsively alive, real. And the animating force, the Isaac Stern of the analogy? Rob Thomas, the former teacher, novelist, and screenwriter who brought Veronica Mars into this world.

Heard on "The Colbert Report"

I'm not a monster, partly because my HMO will not fund my tentacle attachment surgery.


"The Word's" comment on Steven's insanity:

White Men Can't . . .


Again, The Daily Show nails it with a pop culture reference.

Noting how impassively Sotomayor sat while listening to the Senators pontificate, Jon Stewart observed that the SCOTUS nominee's screen saver actually came on.

Countries I've Visited (Rachel Lavery)

Here's my daughter's impressive world map.


visited 35 states (15.5%)
Create your own visited map of The World or Like this? try: Triposo Travelhacks

Quote of the Day (7/15/09 (William Irwin Thompson Week)

I imagine a future architecture in which you turn on a building the way we now turn on the lights. These buildings will be temporary, like concerts, and not enduring like the pyramids; and so when the use of the building is finished, the people can move on. The culture will be similar to the nomadic way of life of the old Paleolithic hunters and gatherers; the people will carry their culture in their souls, and so familiar will they be with earth, wind, and stars that civilization will be unnecessary. Perhaps, rather than imagining the future, I am merely seeing the past. Perhaps even before Atlantis the hunters and gatherers of the past were not savages but initiates in cosmic mysteries. Past or future, it does not matter, for the distant future will see a return of the remote past.
--William Irwin Thompson, Darkness and Scattered Light

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

States I Have Visited


visited 43 states (86%)
Create your own visited map of The United States or Best time to visit Saudi Arabia

Countries I've Visited


visited 15 states (6.66%)
Create your own visited map of The World or Best time to visit Istanbul

"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" is Drawing Raves

Stephanie Zacharek loves it, and so does Lisa Schwarzbaum.

Stan "The Man" Musial

Watching Stan Musial introduced at tonight's MLB All-Star Game as "Baseball's Perfect Warrior," I couldn't help but think about all the all-time greats I have had the fortune to see play in my 49 years of following baseball: Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks, Harmon Killebrew, Yogi Berra (to limit myself only to hitters and only to the generation that was in their final years when I first came to baseball)--I saw them all play, live or on TV.

"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"

Watching Goblet today, in my continuing HP movie marathon, I was struck by the realization (thanks to my incipient Alzheimer's, which makes movies seem always new) that I was watching The Doctor (David Tenant) and Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson)--Bartey Crouch, Jr. and Cedric Diggory respectively.

Last time I watched this I didn't know who either of them was.

Showing No Quarter

Conan unveiled some very funny new state quarters last night.

Click on each image to see a larger version.



Toy Movies

In EW, Scott Brown proposes the next entry in the toys-made-into-movies trend:

Michael Bay's Slinky: Revenge of the Stairs

Drinking Games on CNN

The television drinking game has been a standard of viewing fandom since at least The X-Files. ("Every time Mulder or Scully uses a flashlight, hoist a drink.")

But I was surprised to hear CNN suggest, in a Carol Costello preview on "American Morning" on today's Sotomayor hearing, that we should take a drink every time the word "empathy" is uttered.

A bit later, Kiran Chetry tells us (of course) that the drink need not be alcoholic. Coffee will do. No it won't!

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Tuning of the Oceans


Years ago, I found Canadian composter/musicologist R. Murray Schafer's The Tuning of the World an amazing eye-opener, arguing as it did that we live in the least hi-fidelity age in the history of the world. Urban noise, moozak, everything human conspire to obliterate any trace of the original soundscape of the natural world. (Go here to see a Quote of the Day from Schafer.)

Out walking the dogs and listening to Terry Gross's Fresh Air interview with Charles Siebert, author of a NY Times article about gray whales, and Toni Frohoff, a marine biologist, I learned that Schafer's thesis now must be extended to the watery part of the globe. Prior to man's conquering of the ocean, the only sounds of the ocean depths were the songs of sea-going mammals, whales and dolphins. Now they are regularly confused by the noise we bring--from propellers to sonar. The beaching of whales may be one of the side effects, and whales have been found dead from "the bends"--the result of surfacing too quickly from the depths, trying (Frohoff hypotheses) to escape disorienting noise.

Quote of the Day (7/14/09) (Simone Weil Week)

We must take the feeling of being at home into exile.
We must be rooted in the absence of place.
--Simone Weil

Painting of the Week (7/13/09)


Jean Dubuffet, The Cow with the Subtle Nose

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Quote of the Day (7/13/09) (Simone Weil Week)

Necessity is the screen set between God and us so that we can be. It is for us to pierce through the screen so that we cease to be.
--Simone Weil

Crying Wolf

Watching "State of the Union" on CNN. Reminded again, as ever, how much I despise Wolf Blitzer.

His speech patterns alone drive me up the wall--constantly "ah-ing," pausing and emphasizing at all the wrong places in every sentence. But it finally comes down to this. Wolf comes across as a portentous asshole.

Imaginary Tweets

Maureen Dowd imagines a Twitter exchange between John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

"Lost" Maps

Lynnette Porter and I served as consultants for this lovely Lost map now published in Mundo Estranho ("Strange World") in Brazil. Thanks to Marcel Nadale.

Yes, it's in Portuguese.


Potter Marathon

I am rewatching all the HP movies in preparation for seeing HPHBP on Wednesday. My daughter Sarah has already Fandangoed the tickets.

Quote of the Day (7/12/09) (Simone Weil Week)

A very beautiful woman who looks at her reflection in the mirror can very well believe that she is that. An ugly woman knows that she is not that.
--Simone Weil

"Lost" Map

Lynnette Porter and I served as consultants for this lovely Lost map now published in Mundo Estranho ("Strange World") in Brazil. Thanks to Marcel Nadale.

Yes, it's in Portuguese.


Ironics PSAs

The ten most ironic Public Service Announcements of all time (for example, James Dean on the behalf of safe driving).



From The Consumerist via Andrew Sullivan.

The Other David Lavery

World literature has produced many a story of doppelgängers, inexplicable, often creepy, doubles--Edgar Allan Poe's "William Wilson," for example.

Google "David Lavery" and you will discover that I have one namesake who works for NASA (whereas I wrote a book highly critical of space exploration) and another who is one of the world's foremost experts on the "diabetic foot" (who knew?).

My doppelgänger, however, lived for a time right here in Murfreesboro. First, I started getting his misdirected phone calls. The phone would ring and when I picked it up I would hear "Is 'Dayv' there." The uneducated Southern accent and use of the diminutive clearly indicated wrong number. A check of the phone book revealed that the 'boro did indeed have another "David Lavery."
.
One day my daughter was renting a pair of shoes at a bowling alley and was asked, after the attendant saw her driver's license, if she was "the David Lavery's daughter," only to learn, after she acknowledged she was, that he wasn't referring to the "famous" TV scholar but to a champion bowler, renown in the establishment.

Soon after I was in Wal-Mart when I heard a page go out for "David Lavery." Was Joyce calling me? I worried about an emergency at home but a quick call relieved my fears. Later, a student who works at Wal-Mart confirmed that the store did indeed employ Doppelgänger Dave, where he worked as a stocker. The prospect of having us change jobs, reality TV style, with me filling the shelves with canned goods, my Other lecturing on Wallace Stevens or postmodernism at MTSU, momentarily filled my thoughts.

DD has apparently slipped town. I know this because we were harassed for a time by the Murfreesboro Medical Center for not paying our bill. A little investigation convinced them the debt was incurred by DD, not me.

BTW, I am sometime recognized as the real me--even in Wal-Mart, as I wrote about in another post.

Friday, July 10, 2009

"The Goldbergs"


Great interview on NPR (ATC) with Aviva Kempner, who has made a documentary about Gertrude Berg, the woman who gave us The Goldbergs back in the 1950s, a pioneering sitcom about a lower middle-class Bronx Jewish family.

For more on The Goldbergs and the role of Jews in American TV, see David Zurawik's excellent book.

Quote of the Day (7/11/09) (Simone Weil Week)

We do not have to acquire humility. There is humility in us, only we humiliate ourselves before false gods.
--Simone Weil

Thursday, July 09, 2009

"A High Wind in Jamaica"

I really enjoyed this review on NPR of a book I have long admired.

Quote of the Day (710/09) (Simone Weil Week)

The bridges of the Greeks. We have inherited them but we do not know how to use them. We thought they were intended to have houses built upon them. We have erected skyscrapers on them to which we ceaselessly add stones. We no longer know that they are bridges, things, made so that we may pass along them, and that by passing along them we go toward God.
--Simone Weil

"Space Boosters: Reflections on the Marketing of Unearthliness"


When this chapter was published in Late for the Sky: The Mentality of the Space Age, I was not able to include, to production costs, a selection of ads I had collected to illustrate my argument. Instead, I could only describe what I had seen. I have now reclaimed the ad images from low tech slides and can, for the first time, combine the text with the images here on my blog.
____________________________________________
Space Boosters: Reflections on The Marketing of Unearthliness

The Pythia of Delphi has now been replaced by a computer which hovers over panels and punch cards. The hexameters of the oracle have given way to sixteen-bit codes of instruction. Man the helmsman has turned the power over to the cybernetic machine. The ultimate machine emerges to direct our destinies. Children phantasize flying their spacecrafts away from a crepuscular Earth.
--Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society

. . . the emphasis on surface; the blankness of the protagonist; his striving toward self-sufficiency, to the point of displacement from the recognizable world. . . . Does the icy quality of an artificial outer space, the self-conscious displacement and blankness of car commercials, MTV, and "Miami Vice," correspond to a glacial inner space?
--Todd Gitlin, "We Build Excitement"




In a late 1980s issue of Marketing Week, a columnist laments the post-Jetsons lack of real Space Age advertising and calls for campaigns more in keeping with an era of Star Wars and SDI (Myers 12).

Surely he cannot read magazines or watch television. Advertisements could not be spacier than they are now. Never slow to capitalize on the tacit tendencies of the cultural psyche, advertisments, "soak . . . up certain ideals in circulation at the moment, and squeeze . . . a version of them back at us." According to Todd Gitlin, ads present "the incarnation of a popular ideal--or rather, the ideas of that ideal held by the marketer." An advertisement is thus, in a sense, a "tiny utopia." The commercial "conveys what we are supposed to think is the magic of things; those things which, if we buy them, are supposed to work miraculous transformations in our lives" ("We Build Excitement" 141). In the Space Age, it seems, the advertising industry has realized that virtually anything can now be sold to us through appeals to our otherworldliness.

In their 1953 novel The Space Merchants, Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth imagined a Madison Avenue advertising agency given the task of convincing the human race that it should migrate to an uninhabitable Venus. In Ridley Scott's 1982 film Blade Runner, we see an early twenty first century Los Angeles cityscape in which huge, floating video billboards beam promises that "a new life awaits you in the off-world colonies." Neither of these science fiction prophecies has come true (though Sony has now developed multistory video billboards), but they now hardly seem fantastic to us, for though we are not yet being sold Venusian real estate, we are being sold unearthliness.

In 1981, I lived and taught in Shanghai, People's Republic of China. When I left with my family on a long Pan Am flight to an alien world, the space shuttle Columbia, then on its maiden voyage, orbited the Earth. It touched down soon after our arrival in Asia. In the Far East edition of Time, I read that the successful mission had given post-Vietnam, post-Watergate America a "mighty lift"; and President Reagan, convalescing from an assassination attempt, waxed eloquently to the Columbia's heroes, telling them (I learned), "Through you, we feel as giants once again."

On my return to the United States later that summer, badly culture-shocked from my time in the People's Republic, I struggled to acclimate myself again to the frenetic, spacy American way of life. More than ordinarily attuned to its peculiarities and absurdities, I began to notice a new kind of advertisement appearing with surprising frequency on television (and, I might note, I watched television with open-eyed wonder after months without it in Shanghai). The image of space was, throughout the decade, everywhere.

--I saw Space Age microphotography--designed, we are told, to view the Earth from space--reveal the epidermis of a woman's skin in order to convince us of the positive effects of an antiaging cream.

--I saw the three-ply lamination of Glad garbage bags fuse together, set against the backdrop of interstellar space.

--I saw Maybelline Dial-a-Lash tubes shoot off from launching pads.

--I saw an ad for an ad for Always Plus Night Super Maxi Pads depict the feminine hygiene product as a UFO.


--I saw a fashion model, standing on the lunar surface, wear Revlon lipstick said to exhibit "out-of-this-world colors."

--I saw a Technics turntable orbit the Earth.

--I saw the Cincinnati Bell logo transformed into a space station.

--I saw a ready-to-assemble "wall system"--labeled, of course, as a "Space Age" product--offer "new heights in organization" and "infinite" possibilities for creativity, solving storage needs by allowing the owner to "fill unlimited space."



--I saw a United Negro College Fund appeal, showing African-American scholars in graduation robes and mortar boards set against yet another cosmic backdrop. (For, after all, this solicitation for contributions informs us that the mind is as "vast as space.")

--I saw Taster's Choice--like Tang before it--offered to us as the choice of astronauts (the shuttle astronauts in this case).

--I saw a spot for Home Box Office show a family in its living room flying through space, watching HBO.

--I saw an insurance company's famous "piece of the rock" appear in a cosmic landscape resting on an Earth seemingly without atmosphere (the moon appears only miles away), orbited by a ranch-style, two-stall garage home, a sports car approaching on a highway through space, and a floating sailboat followed by frolicking dolphins--all in keeping with the advertisement's promise that "With the Prudential, the sky's the limit."

--I saw cartoon children carried into space by Bubblicious balloon bubbles. ("It tastes so unreal it'll blow you away.")

--I saw, during a decade in which (inspired by Reagan-era deregulation) it became increasingly difficult to distinguish Saturday morning television programming from its advertising, "kidvid" become more and more spacy. (A television critic notes that producers--under the influence of both George Lucas's and Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars"--came to agree that "outer space, high tech and faraway enemies in a distant future are a safer, tidier, less complicated way" to capture an audience (Engelhardt 1986, 88-89).

--I saw a vacuous blonde, female astronaut in a lunar lander proclaim to her companions, "Go ahead without me. I've got a run!" ("She would have been the first woman on the moon if only she'd worn Sheer Business Panty Hose.")

--I saw Timex watches link together to form Star Wars-type spacefighters, accompanied by a montage of images of a man and a woman in space suits on an alien world, while a voice-over tells us that "Timex performs with all the accuracy and beauty of the cosmos."

--I saw a special new antiplaque electric tooth-brush ("Interplak"), bearing a striking resemblence to the starship Discovery in 2001: A Space Odyssey, majestically dock into its recharger on a bathroom sink --choreographed to a Strauss waltz.

--I saw woofers and tweeters of a Delco-GM Sound System become a formation of flying saucers beckoning us to "Ride into the Sound Set."


--I saw a youth, dressed in Levi's jeans, launched toward distant skies while a voice explains that in the famous jeans "the mind knows no limits."

--I saw an ad for a Chevrolet pickup truck instruct us not to "leave Earth without it" and insist that a new model has "brakes so good they're almost extraterrestrial."

--I saw two female astronauts extol the benefits of a new roll-on deodorant called "Real": "We have seen the future and it is Real."

--I saw a man, traveling through a magically real yet alien landscape (Earth visible on the horizon), have a "vision of the future," not, we are told, of "space travel" or "time machines," but of the financial welfare of his family (through the assistance of Equitable Insurance). Upon his arrival home, he then witnesses his garage door open--like the entrance to the mother ship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind--to disclose a blaze of white light out of which emerges a figure we take to be an alien but which turns out in fact to be his daughter, excitedly pronouncing, "Daddy!"

--I saw "Almost Home" chocolate-chip cookies float in space in order to optimally display their "almost out of this world" taste.


--I saw a man in a cumbersome space suit EVA into the cockpit of a new Toyota compact and then--so impressed is he with the car--leap in ecstasy out of the frame, beyond the limits of gravity, never to come down. ("Oh what a feeling!")

--I saw the new Hyundai Sonata, introduced to us as a "space vehicle," soar off into the cosmos at the commercial's close.

--I saw an image of a patch of lawn, complete with a house, shade trees, and two family dogs, floating in outer space, evidently removed from the Earth by cutting along a still visible dotted line surrounding the property, advertising the Invisible Fence "dog containment system."


--I saw a solicitation for new members of the National Space Society illustrate its motives and goals through two paintings: The Ultimate Sandbox (by Michael Whelan) showing a little girl in a "Miss Piggy" space suit building a sand castle on the moon; and Leonardo's Finale (by David Brian), in which the great Renaissance man, sitting in his study surrounded by drawings and plans for future discovery, holds a prototype model of the space shuttle in his hands.

--I saw three former Apollo astronauts ("Schirra, Apollo 7," "Bean, Apollo 12," "Gordon, Apollo 12"), looking for all the world like has-been athletes, testify--in extreme, unflattering close-ups--that Actifed relieved their snuffy noses in spaces.

--I saw an Always Ultra-Thin Panty Liner become an unidentified flying object.

--I saw a small, evidently sick young girl lying in bed, a thermometer in her mouth, securely wrapped in sheets with a sky and cloud pattern (which, because they fill the frame of the advertisement, make her appear to be floating), reassuringly touch a space helmet--all beneath a headline that reads: "When your little space traveler has a fever . . ."






--I saw both Motorcraft spark plugs and oil filters blast off, as if from launching pad, from the hoods of Ford automobiles toward distant skies.

--I saw the Chevrolet Astro minivan circle in orbit about the Earth and yet (we are promised) still remain small enough to "fit right in your garage!"

--I saw--in yet another image plagiarized from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (promoting McDonald's "Spaceship Happy Meals")--children look up at the sky with true cosmic yearning (fantasizing, no doubt, about "flying their spaceships away from a crepuscular Earth").

--I saw a poster in a McDonald's restaurant (advertising a "Space Age Calendar") instruct parents to "help your child into outer space."

--I saw the traditional Jewish child's toy top, the dreidel, no longer satisfactory, undergo a Space Age sea change into an "Outer Space Dreidel" (made in Taiwan)--a battery-powered model that not only lights up but "makes outer space sounds!"

--I saw, prior to the feature presentation, a short subject, sponsored by theater owners and intended to discourage littering, depict an interstellar cloud of snack bar-debris--popcorn, Raisinettes, straws, nachos, Milk Duds--out of which an exemplary soft-drink cup/rocket speeds toward the brightly lit landing dock of a trash receptacle/space station.

--I saw a Canon Typestar typewriter blast into orbit ("A new Typestar lifts off"), its "lift-off" correction key in turn lifting off from it, like a communications satellite out of the cargo bay of the space shuttle.


--I saw a cartoon Albert Einstein plug the "genius" of Betamax while ensconced in an armchair in a living room floating in the cosmos.

--I saw the "baby of today" in the "diaper of the future" (actually old-fashioned 100 percent cotton!) orbit about the Earth in the arms of a New Age father whose legs--evidently his means of cosmic propulsion--dissolve into beams of light.


--I saw Concept Custom Length electric guitar strings ("The Final Frontier" in guitar strings) advertised by an image of a spaceman strolling the lunar landscape, an American flag planted in the moon to his left, the Earth visible in the background; and I saw Kahler guitar strings, in comparable "far-out" imagery, become in effect the orbital path of a space vehicle made of tuning pegs.


--I saw the Nady Systems Lightning Guitar and Thunder Bass--instruments with "the right stuff"--billed as the first electronic guitars of the Space Age and advertised in copy divided into sections entitled "Countdown," "Liftoff," "All Systems Go," "Ground Control," and "Link Up" and in the usual "product in orbit" imagery; and I saw the Carvin V220 guitar blast off from Earth in an ad whose headline proclaims the instrument to be "One Step Beyond."


--I saw an ad for a Kenwood stereo satellite receiver announce the company's proud claim that "after conquering Earth, we headed into space." (An image from the Japanese science fiction film The Mysterians [1959] appears at the top.) "We've been a force in home and car audio on this planet for over 25 years. But now we're aiming even higher." "Get on board now," we are warned in a class Space Age threat. "Or get left behind."


--I saw a space colonist, showered by the spores of a huge, menacing flower on an alien planet, plagued by allergies ("No matter where you go, there's going to be pollen"), at least until he uses Contac.

--I saw us encouraged to give to the college of our choice through an image of a young boy in a Day the Earth Stood Still space suit and his dog standing beside a space capsule/doghouse accompanied by the following text:

Today he's off exploring the back yard. Tomorrow, he may be off exploring new galaxies.

But before kids of today can conquer the frontiers of outerspace, they'll have to conquer the complexities of mathematics, physics and chemistry. That's where you come in. For only with your help can they be assured of the first-rate college education they'll need. . . .

So please invest in the future. Give generously to the college of your choice.

You'll be helping launch America to a successful future.


"Help him get America's future off the ground," the public service advertisment's headline pleads.


--I saw a woman, once "in the dark about blinds," open her Levelors --blinds "enlightened by Space Age technology"--to watch, as if from the Archimedean point, an Earthrise.

--I saw a woman in Sheer Energy slippers blast off from the Earth's surface--finally able, with their support, to overcome the harsh demands gravity has placed on her feet and distance herself from its draining effect on her energy.

--I saw a new breakfast cereal from Ralston-Purina called Freakies--marketed as "multigrain . . . crunchy honey-tasting spaceships with marshmallow"--offer "out of this world fun with earthly nutrition."


--I saw the legendary Barbie herself enter into space. "Barbie's on the Moon," proclaimed the cover of an issue of Barbie magazine, and there she was, in her "Astronaut Barbie" manifestation. (Later, in the "Barbie Drama" section, I learned that being the first woman on the moon was all a dream, though a spacy date with Ken at the "Lunar Lounge" made it all come true!)

--I saw in a Space Age toy store a new line of dolls called the Shimmerons, a species of alien Barbie clones. "Lacy-Spacy--Out of this World . . . Space Cadets" with spindly bodies and sparkling wardrobes, they have come to Earth--according to their back-of-the package mythology --because our planet offers not only the cosmos' best shopping but also the most awesome parties! ("What on Earth are they doing here? Well the Shimmerons wanted to discover why the Planet Earth is number one for teenage fun, and show you how fun is done on the Planet Shimmeron." "Here on Earth, the Shimmerons are discovering skateboards, hot dogs, rock music, and shopping malls!")

--I saw us encouraged to "Expect the World of ABC News," for, as their advertisment--showing the Earth from space, coupled with a cosmic telephoto lens and an extraterrestrial Peter Jennings--made clear, the network evidently covers the planet from the Archimedean point.


--And I saw that entrepeneurial plans are afoot (I cite but three examples) (1) to bury people in space (several companies have marketed such schemes, one of which involves a three-hundred-pound spacecraft containing no fewer than fifteen thousand "cremains" launched into polar orbit ["Ashes of the Stars"]); (2) to offer extraterrestrial vacations (Davies; "Orbital Jaunts" 32-33); and (3) to develop robotic "space pets" (Liversidge).

Space has, no doubt, been sold to us along with our meat and potatoes for some time now. As early as the 1960s, space ads--like those represented here--exhibited most of the ascensionistic cliche 's we find in later ones.22 Nor is the cosmic exaggeration of such advertising really new. It can be understood as an extension of what Daniel Boorstin describes as "Booster Talk: The Language of Anticipation," a way of speaking about things in which "what may be is contemplated as though it were in actual existence" (Boorstin is quoting an early nineteenth-century British observer of American ways). Booster Talk is not misrepresentation--or at least it does not seem that way to Americans--but rather a kind of clairvoyance, "not exaggerating but only anticipating--describing things which had not yet 'gone through the formality of taking place'" (Americans 296-98). But why, in the decade of the space shuttle, did the pace and intensity of the pitch increase so prominently?

Interestingly enough, in 1965 the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci found the possibility that space might be marketable beyond belief. In If the Sun Dies 135-37), she contemplated the possibility that the astronauts might be commercialized but is told by a NASA spokesman that the idea is ludicrous: "Can you imagine a billboard in Times Square with a photograph of [Gordon] Cooper [one of the original Apollo 7 astronauts] smoking a certain brand of cigarette? The cigarette of space! Up in space Gordon Cooper smokes only . . . Inconceivable! None of them. . . ." This was, of course, years before an astronaut became head of a major airline, and famed test-pilot (and hero of Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff) Chuck Yeager lent his image in support of his favorite spark plugs.

Even as she wrote, Fallaci herself was already helping to advertise space. She confesses, "When I returned to Milan I stuck up in my study a huge map of the moon that had been sent to me by the advertising office of Nestle's Powdered Milk. On the Mare Copernicum was printed: Feed Your Babies on Nestle's Powdered Milk, but it looked beautiful to me." Only two years later Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey demonstrated conclusively, with its open display of brand names in extraterrestrial settings, that "space was finally going to be conquered by Coca-Cola and AT & T."2 And by 1970, when Norman Mailer published Of a Fire on the Moon, it had already become apparent that "a new kind of commercial was being evolved. NASA was vending space" (45).

But only in the 1980s did the vending become blatant: a prominent feature of our cultural landscape. (As Andre' Marchand's Advertising the American Dream shows, advertising "paved the way" for all that we think of as modern; now it paves the way for the postmodernism of the extraterrestrial.) "The master fantasy of the Reagan era," which informs the "little utopias" of the Space Age advertising chronicled here, may now be, as Todd Gitlin suggests, "the fantasy of thrusting, self-sufficient man, cutting loose, free of gravity, free of attachments" ("We Build Excitement" 143).

Implicit in most advertising, according to John Berger, is the following hidden transaction: "The spectator-buyer is meant to envy the person he will become if he buys the product. He is meant to imagine himself transformed by the product into an object of envy for others, an envy which will then justify his loving himself." Thus, Berger concludes, the "publicity image" of an advertisment "steals love of oneself as one is, and offers it back for the price of the product" (134). Is it too much to say that the Space Age advertisements catalogued here--which sell, in a package deal, not just mascara, or a Betamax, or Big Macs, but a hyperreal longing for space-steal--or seek to steal, not just our love of ourselves, but our very earthliness? But it does not, as in the normal marketing dialectic, then offer it back. In a "bait and switch" duplicity, it would rob us of it permanently.

And we seem so ready and willing to have it stolen. As Boorstin observed (in The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America) at the very beginning of the Space Age, Americans are ruled by a powerful will-to-illusion.

When we pick up our newspaper at breakfast, we expect--we even demand--that it bring us momentous events since the night before. We turn on our car radio as we drive to work and expect "news" to have occurred since the morning paper went to press. Returning in the evening, we expect our house not only to shelter us, to keep us warm in the winter and cool in the summer, but to relax us, to dignify us, to encompass us with soft music and interesting hobbies, to be a playground, a theater, and a bar. We expect our two week vacation to be romantic, exotic, cheap, and effortless. We expect a faraway atmosphere if we go to a nearby place; and we expect everything to be relaxing, sanitary, and Americanized if we go to a faraway place. We expect new heroes every month, a new literary masterpiece every week, a rare sensation every night. . . .

We expect everything and anything. We expect the contradictory and the impossible. We expect compact cars which are spacious; luxurious cars which are economical. . . . We expect to eat and stay thin, to be constantly on the move and ever more neighborly . . . to revere God and to be God.

Never have people been more the masters of their environment. Yet never has a people been more deceived and disappointed. For never has a people expected so much more than the world could possibly offer. (3-4; my emphasis)


When Boorstin wrote these words in the early 1960s, he thought he was speaking figuratively.

In 1983, I went to see E.T.: The Extraterrestrial in a movie theater in Huntsville, Alabama (a city which, because it is home to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, takes pride in its nickname: "The Rocket City"). At this, my second viewing of Steven Spielberg's touching story of the triumph of the values of the heart, I watched with interest a preliminary commercial for Atari (screened before the film, I surmised, because producers and distributors had convinced the game company the demographics of a typical E.T. audience indicated openness to such a sales pitch). In the ad--which exhibited special effects not unlike Tron's--a young man sits, back to the camera, dreaming up ideas for video games, and the games he invents miraculously materialize around him, filling the screen. As his dreams become wilder and wilder, as he imagines "Asteroids" and "Space Invaders," he finds himself floating--as does the audience--in interstellar space.

The image is a common one now, of course; I'd seen it all before. But it struck me that day in that context that it presented an ironic counterpoint to the evocative tale of homesickness I was about to watch. Here, during a single Space Age afternoon's entertainment, I was being asked to imagine myself as unearthly, and then to feel the pathos of a poor alien creature trapped far from home. I suspect that, against its own better wisdom, E.T. has promoted in many of its viewers not that supreme value which E.T. himself cannot live without--the need for a place, for a home--but rather extraterrestrial urges. The desire to become precisely that which tortures E.T., robbing him eventually of his very life (at least momentarily), extinguishing his heart-light, the longing to become homeless and displaced ourselves, is so prominent now, so much an everyday search image, that it would not surprise me if many viewers of the film--if they could trade places with Elliott--might reply affirmatively to E.T.'s petition at the movie's close to "Come."