05 June 2021

A Politics-Free Platter

…that is entirely about the arts and computers. OK, I lied — one cannot avoid "politics" in those areas; as Orwell noted, the decision to "remove" politics from the arts is itself a political decision.

  • Cities aren't politically neutral — not even, and perhaps especially in, their very architectural forms. They're built for 6-foot-tall white men who are native speakers of the dominant/official local language and have no mobility, visual, or auditory impairments… or children. Even "accommodations" tend to be relentlessly imperialistic; for example, many local crosswalks have an auditory "Wait" message while inactive, and then might say "Crossing University Avenue" when active. In English only. Not cool.
  • A former athlete (who actually earned his degree in anthropology) justifiably trashed awards shows as corrupt:

    Awards shows will always be controversial because good artists will lose to other good artists. Put a Picasso next to a Dali next to a J.M.W. Turner, and who gets best artist award? That’s fun controversy when we can argue about worthy opponents, championing our favorites but also not being mad at who won. Unless you fail to even include Black artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat or Jacob Lawrence or Lina Iris Viktor. It goes from fun controversy to furiously frustrating when the awards deliberately exclude worthy people based on lack of familiarity or because they exist outside the judges’ comfort zone.

    Art enhances society by bringing us closer, by articulating our hopes and despairs, by making us see who we really are and who we could be. Awards have the power to publicize great artists, both popular and obscure, to expand the boundaries of what art is, how it is expressed, and who expresses it. Salvador Dalí said, “A true artist is not one who is inspired, but one who inspires others.” If the Golden Globes, Grammys and Oscars want to remain relevant, they need to recognize that those who inspire — and need inspiring — may not look, speak or create like them.

    Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Just What Are Awards Shows Awarding?, The Hollywood Reporter (04 Jun 2021). The biggest hint that the award shows (and, for that matter, awards for other aspects of the distributed arts) have been thoroughly corrupted by purely commercial considerations is their timing. In film and television, for example, nominations open before the entire eligibility period has ended… and close before there's a realistic possibility of public reaction. Combine this with the goofiness of eligibility being tied to the exact dates on which a film is exhibited in Los Angeles County and things begin to get really subject to manipulation (right, Harvey? oh, you've already used up your prison phone allowance this week? sorry to disturb you).

    It's at least as bad for books. The National Book Award, the National Book Critics' Circle Award, and the Pulitzers are all awarded before eligibility period end (based on publishers' schedules). At least so-called "genre fiction" waits to open nominations — let alone final awards — until the books are actually all in bookstores/available online!

    I suppose it could be worse. Much worse, rising to publishing and marketing malpractice. One wonders if that publisher has any replicable, double-blind studies demonstrating a positive, predictable correlation between blurbs and increased sales. Hint: Not even close, bud; that would represent questioning received heritage and wisdom in publishing, and we can't have that.

  • Those of us who care about books are immensely worried about publishers. They're fairly good at invoking the magician's assistant to distract from their own perfidy (pardon me, Ms Pallante, can we talk about "improper and unlawful demands to treat manuscripts as works made for hire" and its effect on copyright for a moment? how about "improper refusal to honor notices under §§ 203 and 304(c)"? how about "failure to register when contractually obligated to do so, resulting in later loss of the right to statutory damages, attorney's fees, and effective injunctions, and possibly even loss of the copyright itself"?). Even beyond hypocrisy concerning copyright, publishers aren't so good at recognizing what they're doing in the first place; one wonders just how much "cancel culture" goes into publisher-demanded pseudonyms to hide "unfavorable" past sales histories… or worse.

    Until publishers (and other transferees and distributors) acknowledge the First Amendment rent and its place in determining "appropriate" or "acceptable" returns, we're just going to end up with more Bowie bonds that don't acknowledge Bowie.

  • But it could be worse. It could be much worse. It could be COBOL for the twenty-first century. Which begs the question of the reading comprehension of the typical manager who will insert himself into the process (it's almost always "himself," both demographically and because women who become senior enough to do so are usually perceptive enough not to — if only because their own careers have taught them so).