Monthly Archives: January 2011

Mannequins and MTV

This is the best thing I saw today:

If you can’t make it out, that’s material knitted to resemble my favorite thing–a pigeon! I like that it’s a fake pigeon pecking what appears to be a real plant. This is exactly the kind of window display I would put together if that were my trade.

Here’s the first image that comes up when you do a Google search of “worst window displays”:

I was expecting something worse than that, to be honest. There’s nothing all that shocking about it. Though the mannequin on the right looks a lot like a Canadian man I once knew.

Here’s “bad window displays”:

I appreciate that the smallest mannequin’s eyes are being covered. I hate when tender-aged mannequins are exposed to explicit sexual acts.

That reminds me of a newspaper article from today’s New York Times about the new MTV series “Skins.” There have been ads ALL OVER the subways the past couple weeks. I didn’t catch the premiere Monday night, but I suspected that the show involved teenagers doing drugs and having sex. And the article confirmed that and then some, saying, “In recent days, executives at the cable channel became concerned that some scenes from the provocative new show ‘Skins’ may violate federal child pornography statutes.”  That’s because all of the actors MTV gathered are under 18, the youngest being 15, and they’re filming scenes featuring “simulated masturbation, implied sexual assault, and teenagers disrobing and getting into bed together.”

I don’t care if it is a realistic portrait of life for modern day teenagers.  It still upsets me.  It mainly upsets me because I was not this breed of teenager.  I was not wild and adventurous, trying new substances and boys at every turn.  I was naive and confused and awkward.  The kids in these ads plastering the subways are sexy and confident and know how to apply makeup so well.  Is this realistic?  Or is this just the reality that MTV wants to sell and attract impressionable viewers with?

Advertisements

“What I am is a writer…” (taking comfort in the insight of others)

George Orwell means a lot to me.  I don’t know more than the basics about him, and I haven’t read all that much of his work.  But I credit him, in part, with helping me realize I am a writer. 

Writing for me isn’t everything, but it’s extremely high on the list of the things that define me.  The things that make me feel like a worthwhile person.  The things that I think about and mean to do each day.

I suspected I was a writer for a long time, but it wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that it felt like a confirmed fact.  That was the year my English teacher assigned Orwell’s 1984.  Even though I was an avid reader, I often didn’t finish the books teachers assigned (A Tale of Two Cities).  I was a big fan of the mystery novels I regularly took out of the library at the time, especially Mary Higgins Clark.  Fast-paced intrigue and sex and crime.  I think I might have actually read too much as a teenager.  Often I stayed holed up in my bedroom instead of making efforts to lead a fulfilling social life.  I guess I’m not much different today…

Anyway, I did read all of 1984.  And at the end of the semester, my teacher gave our class options for the final project.  We could either write a regular essay about some of the themes in the book, or, we could opt to do a creative project.  It was 2004 at the time, so the creative project would be a twenty-years later epilogue to 1984.  Which is kind of brilliant and makes me think my teacher actually enjoyed being one.

I was one of the only ones who chose to write the epilogue, I think.  But my excitement toward the assignment made up for the rest of the lack of enthusiasm. I got really into it.  It was the first time I’d ever sat down and composed a legitimate short story.  The assignment required only 8 pages, font size 12, double spaced.  In the end, I wrote 20.  There was intrigue and sex and crime.  I read it over and over again I loved it so much.  And I titled it: “2004: The Love Child.” (Because Julia has a baby. And Winston is the baby daddy. Sex! Crime! Intrigue!)

I don’t think I still have a copy of that piece.  It probably disappeared along with an old hard drive.  But I remember the feeling it gave me.  If I had to pick one word to describe that feeling, it’d be empowered. 

I’m reminded of all this because I recently took a copy of George Orwell’s Why I Write out of the library.  Held in the hand it feels like a chapbook, which I guess is what it is.  A chapbook of essays.  I haven’t gotten very far.  I’m on page 9 out of the 120.  But Orwell writes something in these early pages that struck me.  He writes about the “four great motives for writing.”  Reading it felt like getting a long awaited diagnosis from a doctor and finally, finally knowing what’s wrong.  Only in this case, just what is.

I don’t know if I’m allowed to reprint this much of the text, but I’m going to do it anyway in light of how much I love it and want to share it.  He writes:

They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living.  They are:

  1. Sheer egoism.  Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc. etc.  It is humbug to pretend that this is not a motive, and a strong one.  Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen – in short, with the whole top crust of humanity.  The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish.  After the age of about thirty they abandon individual ambition – in many cases, indeed, they abandon the sense of being individuals at all – and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery.  But there is also the minority of gifted, wilful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class.  Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.
  2. Aesthetic enthusiasm.  Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement.  Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story.  Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and not to be missed.  The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or a writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc.  Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.
  3. Historical impulse.  Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.
  4. Political purpose – using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense.  Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.  Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias.  The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

It’s like the Myers-Briggs personality test for writers. At this point, I think I’m mainly motivated by aesthetic enthusiasm, secondarily by ego, a pinch of politics, and history lastly. I’m curious what other identified writers feel about this. If they think there’s truth to it and what motives they identify with.

I know this post is already long, but writing this reminded me of something else I recently read. It made me feel better about the periods in my life when I haven’t been productive or creative. It made me feel glad that there are people out there who understand the solitude and introspection and idleness that often accompany the days of a writer.

It comes from Emily Fox Gordon’s new book of personal essays, Book of Days:

What I am is a writer, and during the twenty years when I was producing nothing, covering my existential nudity with an inadequate garment composed of patches of housewife/graduate student/mother, I was serving the writer’s apprenticeship, letting the world trickle through me to leave behind sedimented layers of impression.  All through my protracted apprenticeship I felt anomalous and apologetic, subject to fits of self-loathing and panicky self-consciousness, inclined to take refuge in the comfort of grandiose fantasies.

I confess, sometimes imagining that I’ll truly live the life of a writer (my version of it) feels itself like a grandiose fantasy. But it is comforting. And it’s one I badly want to be my reality.

The Media Ruins Everything, or, Take that elderly woman home!

You’ve probably heard about Ted Williams, the guy with the “golden” voice who the media has jumped over almost as much as Jared Loughner, whose terrifying face is on the cover of every newspaper I’ve seen today.  I know Loughner is responsible for a tragic shooting, and the nation and the world deserve to be informed of that…I just wish the media didn’t scoop these things up like candy. Or crack.  I can just hear the discussion: “This guy’s picture has traumatized every speck of my being.  Let’s take up half the front page with it and see how many copies we sell.”  

Anyway, back to Ted Williams.  He got noticed through a YouTube video that featured him panhandling on a corner and showing off his impressively professional announcer’s voice.  In light of all the hits it received, yup, you know what happened: the media.  And I was really digging the story.  He’s been sober for two years, he’s just trying to get a job doing what he’s qualified to do.  He praises God.  Cool.  But then I saw this video on CBS’s website, and I instantly soured toward the whole thing.

You’ll see what I mean toward the end of the video.  It features a CBS Early Show reporter accompanying Ted Williams’ 90something year old mother to the airport to reunite with her son after ten. years.  It’s TV gold.  Too bad it feels so forced and awkward.  I feel bad for this woman, picked up by some TV producer, forced to spend a whole day talking about and anticipating her son’s arrival–ONLY TO BE STOOD UP AT THE AIRPORT. 

It’s awful.  The reporter says that Williams was immediately overwhelmed by other media outlets at the airport and that’s why there was no reunion that day.  Mother and son have since had their reunion and it was tear-filled and hug-filled and nice, but it doesn’t make up for this:

(Why do they hate embedding so much?  Watch it here.)

Seems to me, that in a rush to be the show that first captured the reunion, the Early Show didn’t nail down all the details.  Or, Ted Williams chose the media over his mother.  Either way, it doesn’t make me feel good about the world.