11 August 2010

Isolated Link Sausages Still Touching in Places

  • One of the major debates on Government concerns the independence of subordinate units. In the US's federal system, states have considerable autonomy, but are not truly independent. Some advocates of "states' rights" mistakenly cling to 17th-century notions of "sovereignty" (from a time when the concept of nationalism and sovereignty was still being worked out, later imported into the 18th-century Articles of Confederation and Constitution without adequate consideration of the preceding century) and advocated far greater independence for the independent states, with only a very loose supervision at the next-higher level. That sounds positively feudal; or, perhaps, positively European.

    Why should writers and artists care about this? For starters, writers and artists are citizens, so they bloody well should care what their own governments look like. Too, historically freedom of expression has been more likely to be enforceable under a stronger central government, rather than a loose confederation (which is not to say always, or even most of the time!). But the key aspect is for their works, particularly for anyone whose writings/creations have any aspect of governance at even the periphery: All of those pseudomedieval/pseudofeudal secondary-world fantasies; all of those spy thrillers in postcolonial/postwar nations; all of those space empires; etc., etc., etc., need to both maintain some sense of plausibility and take advantage of what the real world offers. Adding a little consideration of why new nations choose presidential or parliamentary systems of representative democracy (PDF) (for some value of "democracy"... and, for that matter, of "representative") might help, too.

    And for isolationist Yanks, even the extreme right's screeds against non-US sources of law cannot prevent those sources of law from existing, and influencing expectations. I suppose, though, that's the point of isolationism... presuming it has one.

  • Not all isolationism is bad, though. In particular, isolationism regarding foreign attempts to suppress speech is a good thing... and that's one way to look at The SPEECH Act, which was signed into law by President Obama (H.R. 2765, Pub. L. No. 111–223, codified at 28 U.S.C. §§ 4101–05). The contrast with the previous sausage is purely intentional, since many of those worst-offending nations could learn from the US experience — especially the parliamentary nations, which almost uniformly put undue limits on free speech.
  • Lee Goldberg makes a cogent point about H'wood hitmaking that applies equally to publishing:

    So The Glades has more viewers than Entourage, Hung, and Mad Men... and yet isn't drawing anywhere near the same amount of media attention or adoration. Which, I suppose, may prove it's not how many viewers are actually watching your show that makes you a hit... it's how many people in the media say that you are one.

    (typography corrected) A cynic might ask the same question about books, such as whether there's any correlation whatsoever between a certain Big Six publisher's radio ads for contemporary suspense novels and sales thereof; or conversely, whether we should treat Tolkein with more commercial respect than "James Patterson" (as some unaudited numbers seem to indicate...). However, unlike H'wood (and even the music industry), publishing doesn't publish its sales figures... not even unaudited.

  • A contrast in lists of authors from odious, non-inclusive sources: A blog at the antiscience (and antispeculative fiction) HuffPo lists 15 "overrated" writers, while a blog at the antireality PW lists 15 (and then 60) "underrated" writers; and both lists are drawn from the same basic marketing category: Contemporary realist quasiliterary fiction, with only a couple of items outside that limitation. It is quite apparent that neither blogger has much knowledge of books that would not ordinarily be considered publishable by FS&G. And that's not a slap at FS&G; it's only to note that FS&G is probably the one publisher whose reputation — justly or otherwise, as it also publishes this guy's novels — is that of a "post-MFA literary novel" house. Wait a minute, though: "That guy" taught fictionwriting at Stanford before going to law school... even if his novels are as much alternate-history Chicago as they are anything else, with the most memorable repeating character being Kindle County itself.