TBT: The Tyranny of the Original Idea

This was originally published in May 2009. This idea that we have to present new ideas in order for our writing to be useful and good is something I still see in my blogging friends. Let’s just say I disagree. See also.

Two youngsters fall in love. Their love is forbidden because they belong to two worlds at war with each other. Realizing the futility of the feuds that keep them apart, they decide to flee. Confusion follows and our story ends in death.

Romeo and Juliet, of course. Or is this West Side Story? Sung in Shadow? Or Pyramus and Thisbe? Perhaps even Ha-Buah?

Earlier this week, Mike posted about feeling that his writing wasn’t original enough. Bah. I hate it when I see someone denigrating their own work this way. It’s silly and pointless and keeps people from contributing to the world. And may I point out, I’m hardly the first to say so. [Read more…]

When They Called Me, “Rasta”

Last week, Shelley Segal posted a video from her new album. The song is “Morocco”, and the video was shot in a market. I’m pretty sure I smelled the food when I watched it.

I have a weakness for footage of Mediterranean bazaars. The food, the clothing, the music from happier pieces of my childhood and adolescence without the dust, the din of voices, the crowds that I have a harder time handling now.

Then there was Shelley and the song. I particularly like Shelley as a live performer, and this song captures her energy better than I think her older recordings do. It’s always nice to see the face of someone you’ve gotten to talk to and like too. It made her more of a proxy for me in the Moroccan market, a sense added to by the fact that I would stand out there in some of the same ways she did, though not necessarily the ways featured in the lyrics.

The song itself has come in for some criticism from Moroccans, and Shelley has been attacked, for the fact that the lyrics deal with drug use, poverty, and sexual harassment. In part, I get it. I sympathize. When something is titled “U.S.A.” and covers materialist consumption, contempt for the poor, and bible thumpers, I know it’s giving a skewed version of the reality of my country. Those things are there, but they aren’t everything.

On the other hand, I also know that what someone sees of a country they visit depends on who they are. I’ve received a discount on my lodging, had servers and shopkeepers bring up local art and music events, and had conversations about politics and history when I’ve traveled because I’m not “one of those Americans”. What kind I am, I’m not sure, but people obviously make judgments about what I’ll be interested in based on how I look and carry myself. Sometimes, they’re even right. When they’re wrong, it can make an interesting story.

So when I hear Shelley’s song, I don’t hear someone saying this is what defines Morocco. I hear someone saying, “I went to Morocco with dreadlocks, a guitar, and a lip piercing. Here is what they said when they called me, ‘Rasta’.” That isn’t just not the whole of Morocco. It’s a slice of Morocco that very few people visiting would get to see.

“Morocco” isn’t so much a picture of how one tourist viewed a country as it is a story of how one country viewed a tourist. As a fellow tourist and a person who loves story, that makes the song worthwhile to me, even as I understand that people in that country may object.

Hullo!

The stereotype of hula dancing is a bunch of slim young women in grass skirts and bikini tops gracefully waving their arms and swaying their hips. Let’s just say there’s a little more to it than that.

(Warning, image stabilization processing does strange things to dance footage sometimes. I found the dance easy to follow in these, but having the background swim occasionally was disconcerting.)

Yep, that’s definitely not what I’m used to seeing. In case you’re curious, women also perform this stronger, more muscular form of hulu.

Swim Home

I found out last week that Mikael Rudolph, who performed out at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival for many years, died in February. It’s not surprising that I didn’t know. I’d drifted away from the bulk of the crowd we shared. Two bouts with cancer enforced some separation on his part as well.

This video gives a good sense of the range of work in his later shows. He called himself Mikael the Mime, but that doesn’t start to get at what he did.

If you’re doing your own act, though, don’t ever pick up that “kiss on the cheek” trick. The person who tried it on me just about got reflexively flattened.

Reading Vox Day

Yesterday, PZ wrote about having read “Opera Vita Aeterna”, the novelette that was nominated for a Hugo Award this year in a bloc voting move. Coincidentally, I was reading some excerpts from Vox Day’s political writing elsewhere and marveling over the (lack of) quality of the prose. I thought that if his fiction were as awful, it might cross the line into unintentionally entertaining to read. And as I personally relate to him mostly as that sad, whiny pest who will be arrested like his father if he ever tries to return to Minnesota, reading his work in which his racism, sexism, and delusions of religious persecution weren’t the main focus wasn’t much of a chore for me.

So I went out and found a free copy. It turned out Day was inviting people to read the work by offering it for free. I’m not going to link his site from here, but it’s not too difficult to find someone who did from a search based on the story’s name.

As it turns out, the story was not entertainingly bad. Don’t let that lead you to think it was good, however. It was dully, prosaically bad, with rookie problems that most critique groups would point out if he gave them the opportunity. Of course, in order for that to be useful, Day would have to be able to respond to criticism with something other than atavistic hostility.

This means I can’t recommend reading his story for the same lulz you’d get from a Steven Seagal movie. I can, however, give you a taste of that experience and spare you any misguided curiosity. [Read more…]

The Failure Mode of Naked

Note: This post contains an image you may not want to view at work. You can also read a pdf of the post with a description of the painting rather than the painting, produced for an art teacher who wanted to share this with their students. This pdf may be reproduced for use in an educational setting.

A few years back, John Scalzi wrote a blog post with a line that has made its way around the internet. “The failure mode of clever is ‘asshole.'” It’s a useful thing to remember on its own, but it’s even more useful in the context in which it was presented in the post.

1. The effectiveness of clever on other people is highly contingent on outside factors, over which you have no control and of which you may not have any knowledge; i.e., just because you intended to be clever doesn’t mean you will be perceived as clever, for all sorts of reasons.

2. The failure mode of clever is “asshole.”

It isn’t just that you really need to succeed at being clever. It’s also that clever is ridiculously difficult, because it’s a two-party interaction. You can put work and thought into being clever, you can test your material on other people first, and you can still find that your audience isn’t in the mood, has heard the joke too many times, has a sore spot under what you intended as a gentle poke, or just has a very different sense of humor.

While Scalzi is talking about dealing with strangers in this post, I’ve seen clever fail among friends for all these reasons too, particularly during times of stress. The difference in that case is that your friends are somewhat less likely to dub you an asshole for one failed case of clever.

Why do I bring this up nearly four years after Scalzi’s post? Because I’ve been chewing over a different case of failed communication in the last few days, and I realized that it can be generalized to a rule very much like the one Scalzi posited: The failure mode of naked is “objectification”. [Read more…]

How Does This Become a Thing?

Off in a random corner of YouTube, I accidentally “discovered” mime dance. It had to be an accident, because I would never have thought this up myself. Not only did someone else think this up, but it caught on. There are thousands of these videos, and the vast majority of them appear to be religious videos. Some are several years old.

Watching them–and I’ve watched several now in fascination–I can see some continuity with the physical expressiveness of many gospel singers. I still have to wonder, though, how you move from that to the white makeup and gloves, lip syncing and dramatic literalism of mime dance. Articles and sites that talk about mime dance don’t seem to be very clear on its history. Rather they’re focused on its spread and on individual performers. I’d love to find out how it coalesced into its own form with its own traditions. [Read more…]

Hind, Heart, and Head

I’m a bit behind the times here, with my only excuse being that War Horse is not really my kind of story. If, like me, you still haven’t seen this puppetry, you need to watch this.

The making of the puppets is astonishing artistry in its own right.