Thursday, June 10, 2010

Get what done? Make it right how? You really, really don't want to know.

Get What Done? Make It Right How? You Don't Want to Know.
This BP newspaper ad keeps popping up. Here's a handy translation:

We will get it done. We will attempt to limit our liability by any means possible, including bald-faced lies, secrecy, and co-opting government agencies to keep news media as far from the worst of the oil spill's impact as possible. We will consistently low-ball estimates of the magnitude of the oil spill, mindful of the fact that each barrel cost us $4,000-plus per barrel in fines -- but only only if someone can make real figures stand up in court. We'll use all our resources to make that as hard as possible and probably impossible. We will spend millions promoting pretty pictures and meaningless words in paid advertising and a massive PR campaign. Pictures of oil-stained, dying animals are the enemy of our corporate interests. Combating them is a dirty job, but somebody has to do it, and we will get it done.

We will make this right. Not for the public. Not for displaced workers. Not for the millions of creatures we are killing, not for entire ecosystems that are being ravaged. We will make it right for ourselves, if we possibly can -- whether that means hiding behind bankruptcy protection or merging into invisibility. We will do our best to avoid personal responsibility and stay out of jail. You bet we will make this right.

You just want to scream. Especially after reading Tim Dickinson's new article in Rolling Stone about how this thing unfolded -- and especially about how BP and the government both low-balled public estimates of the rate of the spill by an order of magnitude or more. The result: Now that BP has partially capped the well and is capturing a significant share of the original public estimates of the spill, there's apparently still more oil flowing into the Gulf than there supposedly was in the first place.

Screaming is not enough. We need to wake up and get real.

Robert Stone's "Fun with Problems"

On a rainy afternoon earlier this week I was browsing through the new fiction at the Sequoya branch of the Madison Public Library and came across a new story collection, Fun with Problems, by novelist Robert Stone. I looked forward to curling up with it, since Stone's incandescent walks on the wild side included some of my favorite American novels of the Sixties through the Eighties -- books like A Hall of Mirrors, Dog Soldiers and A Flag for Sunrise. I hadn't read any of his short fiction and wondered if the stories would resemble his longer works in theme and tone.

Yes and no. Many of the stories cover similar territory, but lack the scope and amplitude of the novels. They don't really come alive for me as the novels did. They're just not as resonant. You can tell they're by the same writer, but they just don't really take off.

Take Children of Light, Stone's novel about a screenwriter's relationship with an actress. A screenwriter/actress novel seems mandatory for every novelist who has ever written a screenplay, or simply had a novel adapted for the movies. It's hard to do anything original with the theme (which always -- surprise -- seems to end with an older and wiser screenwriter survivor), but Stone's version had a resonance that made it stand out from most such efforts. The actress in the novel is schizophrenic and parts of the novel had a really deranged, hallucinatory power that may have drawn on Stone's own memories and emotions of having grown up with a schizophrenic mother. Stone's short story, "High Wire," covers similar territory, but now the characters are just a neurotic losers rather than a sacred monsters. One survives, the other doesn't, and it really doesn't seem to matter all that much.

There was one real surprise in the book. "The Archer" really is a new departure for Stone, in which he mines a comic vein I really don't associate with this writer. It's the story of an over-the-hill academic screw-up named Duffy, and it begins:
It was said of Duffy that he had threatened his wife and her lover with a crossbow. His own recollection of that celebrated night was scattered, but the heroic archaism of the story, featuring Duffy, his ex-wife Otis, the young novelist Prosser Spearman and Duffy's well-oiled, homemade, hair-trigger mechanical bow and arrow, kept it ever new. Each autumn it was revived, like a solar myth, for a new generation of art students.
Duffy seems to be channeling the Lucky Jim of Kingsley Amis, the Grady of Michael Chabon, and for good measure, a hint of somebody imagined by Letter from Here commenter Dr. Diablo. It's funny, satirical and even somewhat touching.

Photo appropriation of Banksy's "Exit Through the Gift Shop" at Sundance 608

Point and Shoot Homage to Banksy's "Exit Through the Gift Shop"
I confess. I may be an intellectual property criminal. I photographed the screen at Madison's Sundance 608 during their showing of street artist Banksy's movie Exit Through the Gift Shop. Call it a mockumentary, call it a documentary -- seeing the movie is a genre-bending experience in which nothing is what it seems. The hooded figure here with the electronically altered voice may or may not actually be Banksy. Even the title is a satiric reference to the typical museum-going experience, in which art lovers are "monetized" right down to the last dime in their wallets -- a process of commercialization that hasn't exactly stopped now that the work of supposedly free-spirited street and graffiti artists has moved into galleries and museums.

I never take pictures in theaters. It's not allowed. Besides, you can normally get better stills on the web. But in an outpouring of sudden Banksy-worship, I felt compelled to honor him in my own way, through an act of spontaneous photographic appropriation. I took the Coolpix out of my pocket and snapped a photo. T watched in bemused embarrassment as her companion violated accepted norms of movie theater behavior -- fully prepared, as she noted later, to deny having anything to do with me if it came to that. Was my behavior inappropriate? Probably.

Did I violate anybody's intellectual property rights? Who knows. (Although I would argue fair use in my defense.) I just felt it was in the spirit of the film -- and the anarchic street art ethos in general. After all, Shepard Fairey -- who adapted a Manny Garcia photo for his Obama poster and was sued by AP as a result -- was a co-producer of the film and featured prominently in it (without a hood). How could he or Banksy possibly object to my friendly bit of appropriation?

Go see the movie if you have a chance -- it's a lot of fun and thought-provoking at the same time. And who knows, maybe you could take a photo and turn it into a stencil. That would really complete the circle.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The science fiction side of everyday life

The Science Fiction Side of Everyday Life
I shot this Sunday at Ride the Drive. The tonal range and the "Spaceport Moderne" look of the Monona Terrace looming over everything gave it a sort of old science fiction black and white movie vibe, at least for me. I was looking for an appropriate caption, but couldn't think of anything.

Any ideas?

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

When it rains it swans

Storm Light, Swan White
The swan boats at Wingra Boats have seen quite a bit of weather the last few days. This afternoon this guy had about a half-foot of water on the floor.