Friday, January 18, 2013

Why Taylor Swift is one of my top 20 favorite current celebrities

Taylor Swift is a "country" singer -- I put the word "country" in quotes (ironic quotes) because first of all I don't know if she's still pretending to be a "country" singer and second of all, her music always sounded more "pop" to me (or at least "soccer mom country," a term I put in sneer quotes as opposed to ironic quotes) -- whose music I do not care for. Her song "Mean," for instance, a whining and petulant "anti-bullying" song (please note the platitudinous quotes) made me root for the bully, and her song about the "Kanye West MTV Awards incident" (a term I've chosen to surround with melodramatic quotes) led me to believe that Mr. West didn't go nearly far enough in interrupting her.

But Ms. Swift is one of my favorite celebrities. She is a young, attractive, wealthy and famous person. She has opportunities that the vast majority of people can only dream of. And she takes advantage of them. She does what young people should do, which is date lots of different people. She travels. She seeks out new experiences. She attends fabulous events. She wears fabulous clothes. She does these things on a scale that is worthy of her position as a young, attractive, wealthy and famous person.

Young people are supposed to take full advantage of their youth. It's a time to date around, to make spectacular mistakes, to be overly emotional. Ms. Swift does this.

In his essay "Writing as an Art," the great Charles Willeford wrote
The novel is the case history of the writer. Look Homeward, Angel, Ulysses, The Trial, A Farewell to Arms are great novels. They are also case histories of the men that wrote them, and they are written with the heart. Each is an account of what happened to the writer and also what might have happened to him. Fact and fiction cunningly combined.
Even though I don't personally care for what she creates, Ms. Swift is an "artist" (those are sincere quotes), and as such she draws upon her own personal experiences in her creative process. Often this includes writing about her ex boyfriends. For some reason, this seems to bother some people.

Maybe it's that Ms. Swift's personal life is so much on display. Sure, we expect artists to use their own lives as inspiration, but do we expect to know so much about those lives? It turns us all into annotators -- we can't just appreciate and relate to the art in question, we have to (or, if you prefer, "get to" [optimistic quotes]) interpret the art, thereby creating an almost scholarly buffer between us and the art we consume:
When Taylor Swift releases a new single it's inevitably an opportunity to carefully dissect the lyrics and determine just which of her past romances left her jilted, heartbroken, and full of seemingly endless material for her hit songs. 
The fact that we know so much about Ms. Swift's private life is perhaps off-putting to some people. And it probably doesn't help that Ms. Swift can afford to hire a private jet to fly her boyfriends to her when she misses them so much. We can all relate to the pain of a long distance relationship. But how many of us can actually fly our romantic partner to us when that pain gets to be too much?

Whatever the reason(s), some people don't approve of Ms. Swift's mining her own life for artistic material. One of those people is the actor Michael J. Fox:
"But Taylor Swift writes songs about everybody she goes out with, right?" Right! "What a way to build a career."
Mr. Fox was asked about Ms. Swift in the context of an alleged "joke" (critical quotes) told by Golden Globes host Tina Fey, something about keeping Ms. Swift away from Mr. Fox's son, who was this year's Mr. Golden Globe, or something, who cares, the point of the "joke" (grumpy quotes) was that Ms. Swift is a little tramp who dares to use her own life as fodder for her art.

Mr. Fox's implication is that somehow the ex-boyfriend of Ms. Swift is victimized by her act of creation, presumably because Ms. Swift is so famous and her private life is so well-known and covered that there's no anonymity for the ex boyfriends who gave her material. But if that's the case, then no art should be created, ever. Especially today, when everyone with a Facebook profile is famous.

Would Mr. Fox tell Michaelangelo to "back off" from Biagio da Cesena? Or tell Victor Hugo to leave poor Henry Sibson alone?

The Charles Willeford quote is taken from the book Writing and Other Blood Sports, which is well worth your time.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

When will Vice President Joe Biden start investigating the influence of the novel on our society?

Over at Unleash the Fanboy, I've got a new post up about the current anti-video game wave. A sample:

On April 21 and 22, and June 4, 1954, the US Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency held public hearings at which certain experts in juvenile crime were invited to testify along with artists and publishers of comic strips and comic books. Comic books as a medium did not fare well in the proceedings, as this Reductio ad Hitlerum testimony by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham suggests:
“It is my opinion,” Wertham told the senators and the cameras, “without any reasonable doubt and without any reservation, that comic books are an important contributing factor in many cases of juvenile delinquency.” The child most likely to be influenced by comic books, he said, is the normal child; morbid children are less affected, “because they are wrapped up in their own fantasies.” Comic books taught children racism and sadism—“Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic book industry,” he said. In his book, he said that “Batman” comics were homoerotic and that “Wonder Woman” was about sadomasochism. He was even critical of “Superman” comics: “They arouse in children fantasies of sadistic joy in seeing other people punished over and over again while you yourself remain immune,” he testified. “We have called it the Superman complex.”
Note that the above quote, from a New Yorker review of The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, says that Dr. Wertham was speaking to senators and cameras. That's because these hearings, set up to discover the causes of the epidemic of juvenile delinquency, were televised. Today, of course, we've evolved beyond such nonsense. Today, when elected officials hold investigations into how the media is responsible for horrific crime, those hearings take place in secret.
Vice President Joe Biden said on Friday he was “shooting for Tuesday” to get President Barack Obama his recommendations on how to battle an epidemic of gun violence and warned “there’s no silver bullet” to stop the killing. Biden was meeting in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House with executives from video game companies whose products have often been blamed for making players insensitive to real-world violence.
Just like the comic books of the 1950s, when Superman "arouse[d] in children fantasies of sadistic joy in seeing other people punished over and over again while [readers remained] immune," the video games of today have "often been blamed" for making players "insensitive to real-world violence." And the federal government is on the case.

Read it all here if you want.