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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

What Are You Doing Right Now?

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Source: Douglas Rushkoff

A study conducted by the good folks at Ball State University (hat tip: Scott and Troy) has found that the Average American spends more time using media devices than she spends doing anything else while she is awake.

Get that: more than any other waking activity, the average American interacts with media devices.

This is deeply troubling for two reasons: first, we must be the first civilization since the dawn of time to spend the measurable majority of our time interacting with experiences mediated through electronic devices, be they televisions, computers, iPods, or radios. And what would you expect from a people who interact more with screens than they do with people? A decline in civility? A rise in violent crime? The failure of pariticipatory democracy?

The other reason this is troubling is that most media exists for the sake of advertising. This means that the average American spends the lion's share of his day subjecting himself to advertising messages. The report doesn't miss this fact: "Media strategies should perhaps no longer be media centric," it says, "but should focus on consumers. For example, if media usage increases on Fridays based on the assumption that people are planning social activities, then this would be potentially the best day to advertise movies, drink and food specials and other products."

A proposed benefit of all of this media-consumption is that we are becoming a people more capable of multi-tasking, interacting with more than one media at a time (as I type, I am listening to music at the same time--John Hiatt, if you must know). And what is that good for? I'll leave that for others to answer. But I will suggest that the ability to concentrate--really concentrate--on one thing at a time is one valuable capacity that we are rapidly losing. The more I interact with media, the harder it is for me to pay attention to my wife, my work, and my self.

T.S. Eliot has famously asked, "Where is the knowledge we have lost in information"; to the proposed benefit of multi-tasking, a contemporary poet might ask: "where is the work we have lost in tasks?"

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:12 AM | link | 3 comments |

They Never Called Me For A Quote

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Who here has never Googled their own name, just to see what comes up? It's the ultimate misuse of the internet, I'm convinced, a sort of Being John Malkovich-esque turn toward the narcissistic and self-indulgent; but, from time to time, I do it.

Tonight I discovered that I have been written about in that journalistic juggernaut, the Davis Enterprise. It turns out that I attended a wedding in July which featured a Davis (CA)-bred bride. When will these papers get enough of me? I mean seriously, people!
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:25 PM | link | 0 comments |

Word Verification

I got some automated spam comments to my last two posts, so I've activated the "word verification" feature of Blogger. Please, friends, leave comments; they're the fuel that this blog runs on. And I apologize for the step of having to authenticate your comment by entering a word-in-a-box, but blame the spam man. And comment, comment, comment.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 4:53 PM | link | 0 comments |

In Pursuit of Poitier, Part II

Man, this one's good. It oughta be, considering both Poitier and Curtis were nominated for Oscars for their performances. Coming three years after "Blackboard Jungle," "The Defiant Ones" has a simple and compelling premise. Two jailbirds, one white and one black, escape when their convoy overturns (the film's first scene is the classic "dark and stormy night"; who can drive a truck full of inmates in such conditions?). The catch, though, is this: the two fugitives are chained together by the wrists.

The statement that the premise makes is too obvious to merit any elaboration. But, obvious as it is, it's troublesome--in a good way. Because, if we haven't noticed, things haven't gotten much better between white and black Americans in the last 50 years. This movie cries out for a contemporary remake.

What's so good about "The Defiant Ones" is that it's not a bleeding-heart exhortation to anything so shallow as "unity" or "understanding"; it's a stark stament of a simple fact: the fates of white Americans are inseperably tied to those of Black Americans, and vice versa. For better and for worse (the best bit of dialogue in the movie comes when Curtis' character protests, "I aint married to you," to which Poitier's character responds: "you are married to me, and [indicating the chain] this is the ring!"). Curtis' character has it better off when the bullets start to fly, and he knows it. The script reveals a character who is weak and not unwilling to sell out his counterpart to save his own skin. But the character changes, as does Poitier's.

The thing about this movie is that it understands the dynamic complexity and simplicity of its' central problem. And in that sense it's timeless. It isn't simply that blacks and whites in America (and this is a particularly American problem, and thus a particularly American movie) have differences and need to learn to understand each other. It's that whites in this country, by an overwhelming majority, experience opportunity at a much, much higher rate than our black neighbors. It's systemic, and no amount of liberal hand-wringing or conservative "values" will change that.

What will change it? Far be it from me to say. But maybe some answers would be forthcoming if people like myself (and those who read this blog) really believed in the implications of "The Defaint One's" central claim.

As to Poitier's performance. Awesome. It's remarkable what has happened to his cadence and movement (it's a very physical movie) in only three years' time. Best of all, though, is what has always been his greatest asset: his eyes. Probing, condemning, forgiving. Sidney Poitier does more with his eyes than most actors can do with their whole bodies, including their mouths.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 4:28 PM | link | 0 comments |

In Pursuit of Poitier, Part I

While driving to Denver a few weeks ago, I listened to Sidney Poitier's autobiography on tape. I had seen it at the library a couple of days before and grabbed, thinking only of how delicious it would be to spend eight hours listening to that distinctive voice, richly textured and deliberately paced as it is (in contrast to the Kansas landscape).

Well, as a result of that hearing, my Netflix queue is now full of Poitier movies. The goal is to go through the highlights of his career chronologically. The first installment was "Blackboard Jungle," released in 1955, and filmed during the year that school segregation was made illegal. A modern viewer will no doubt expect this 50-year-old depiction of juvenile delinquincy to pale in comparison with the contemporary alternative; and the modern viewer would, in one sense, be right in so expecting. But she would also be surprised at just how little has changed. The biggest difficulty faced by the virtuous teacher (played by Glenn Ford) is the complete disregard his students have for any kind of "authority" or order. They taunt him, they threaten him, and he responds by lashing out at the institution that was supposed to train him to do this job: "I wasn't prepared for this!" It's an indictment of the (largely white) halls of America's institutions of higher learning, liberal and well-intentioned, but completely out of touch with what's going on "in the trenches."

Of course, if "Blackboard Jungle" were to come out today, the inner-city hoodlums would certainly not represent the racial diversity that they did in 1955. And I think we have come to realize the emptiness of the image of the heroic white educator risking life, limb, and career in the inner city school (hat tip: Jim Belushi and Michelle Pfeifer). Because, while those individuals display an unthinkable sense of purpose and mission, they also have had to face the systemic institutional failures that have produced the problems they face in the classroom, failures that we are all, to some degree, implicated in.

Considering David Brooks' recent editorial about the broadening gap in America between those who have educational opportunities and those who don't, "Blackboard Jungle" is worth watching. And if for nothing else, the movie features a really good early perfomance by Poitier, complete with still-broken English and akward physical scenes.

Next up: "The Defiant Ones."

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 3:59 PM | link | 1 comments |

She Simply Rocks

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Ahh, that was sweet: an hour and a half of Kathleen Edwards at the Grand Emporium. It's the perfect venue for a performer like her. It's intimate, yet it still allows for some all-out rockin' if the song permits (which, I assure you, it did more than once).

This was the first concert I had been to in almost two years (the last being Patty Griffin in New Jersey), and as I explained to my two companions, it was carefully selected. Back in high school and college it was the thing to do to go to all of the big concert tours that came through town, to buy the T-shirt, and then to talk about it for a week afterward (i.e. "Watchtower!!"). But now that musical temperments have cooled and refined themselves with age, concerts are a treat. And when you want to really enjoy a treat, you don't eat too many of them. I assure you that the 90 minutes of music and two whiskeys that made up this treat were well savored and will be well remembered.

Perhaps the most memorable part of the evening was the part where she asked about the local radio station that used to play her so much but that has now "changed formats" (see below). She asked, "Is there anyone here from that radio station?" And when someone bravely raised her hand, Edwards demanded of her: "What the hell happened?"

We all applauded the question.

Thanks to Brian and Troy for their companionship. That stout, frolicking elf man thanks you too.

Click here to hear and/or see Edwards' live in-studio performance on KCRW's "Morning Becomes Eclectic" last March.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:45 PM | link | 0 comments |

97.3 The Planet: A Eulogy

Monday, September 19, 2005

It came as a shock to me on Saturday morning that my favorite radio station in Kansas City had "changed formats." Where I tuned in anticipating some Coldplay or Robert Randolph or even Kathleen Edwards, I quite unexpectedly found Bon Jovi and Journey. Dude, that's just not right.

When I returned to Kansas City a little over a year ago, I was delighted--and I do mean delighted--to discover that a new, locally-owned radio station had popped up in my absence. 97.3 The Planet bore a pleasant resemblance to the mother-of-all-radio-stations, 97.3 KBCO in Boulder: the frequency was the same, the tagline ("World Class Rock") was identical, and the format was obviously lifted from the pages of KBCO, only with a little less Grateful Dead and a little more Green Day. And not only that, but 97.3 The Planet was "The FM home of the Royals," meaning that you could hear weekday Royals games on FM.

Alas, it was all too good to be true.

What I discovered when I called the ZZ Top-blaring monstrosity on Saturday morning was that the "format change" was long expected and was made necessary by the fact that The Planet was struggling along in DEAD LAST in FM ratings. My anger morphed. I wanted to be angry at The Man, the suits who had ripped an organic and integral community radio station from the airwaves without a thought; but The Man is in business, even if he is a local owner, and if The Man can't sell ads at a 2% listener rating, then what can he do?

Instead, my anger shifted to the mullet-headed, pickup driving radio listeners of Kansas City. Maybe is says more about me than it does about the heartland citizenry, but I obviously had no idea as to the severity of the situation. I was bopping along in my car every day in the blissful illusion that everyone else in town was doing the same thing. Somehow I pictured 20 and 30-somethings all over Kansas City humming along to Keane and Ben Broussard just like I was. How very, very wrong I have been.

This region is more Olathe than it is Kansas City, more Independence than Westport. The little midtown bubble in which I live is, alas, only that: a tiny bubble on the surface of a lake full of country and trailer rock radio stations.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:15 AM | link | 2 comments |

Dad Was Right

There's a new link on Not Prince Hamlet: Dad Was Right.

It's authored by my friend Scott Strawn, who lives in Santa Clara, CA, and is awaiting the birth of his and his wife's first child. Scott is a thoughtful guy, and even though his fantasy baseball tactics have taken a turn for the shady, he's still one of the most stand-up people I know.

Check out Dad Was Right when you have a minute.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:10 AM | link | 0 comments |

Tell Me A Story

Thursday, September 08, 2005

On vacation at my parents' house in Colorado, one of the benefits is that they have cable, a commodity that I am too cheap to pay for myself. So while here, I watch cable. Specifically, I watch C-SPAN.

For nearly an hour yesterday afternoon, the family gathered 'round the telly and watched press conferences, mostly the White House press conference held by Press Secretary Scott McClellan. More than a question-and-answer session between the press and the administration's spokesperson, it was a dazzling display of storytelling.

The story, in basic outline, goes like this:

Once upon a time there was a horrible natural disaester. Lots of people died. Suffering was immense. Into that time of death and suffering rode one President George W. Bush, trailed by his heroic band of problem-solvers. They knew their work would be challenging, and they knew the life of an entire region was at stake. But their biggest enemy would not be toxic flood waters; their biggest enemy would be those people called "the press," who constantly assail our hero with attempts to engage him in a "blame game," and "finger-pointing." Luckily for us, our hero's resolve is sure, and he will deflect the attacks of his pen-wielding adversary in order to focus on "the task at hand." He is our hero: The Problemsolver.

This is the story coming from the White House. Over and over again the Press Secretary deflected questions of accountability with the charge that "some people in this room" were trying to engage the administration in a blame game. This exchange was emblematic:

Q. "Scott, does the President retain confidence in his FEMA Director and Secretary of Homeland Security?"

MR. McCLELLAN: "And again, David, see, this is where some people want to look at the blame game issue, and finger-point. We're focused on solving problems, and we're doing everything we can -- "

Q "Does he retain complete confidence -- "

MR. McCLELLAN: "We're going to continue. We appreciate the great effort that all of those at FEMA, including the head of FEMA, are doing to help the people in the region. And I'm just not going to engage in the blame game or finger-pointing that you're trying to get me to engage."

Q "Okay, but that's not at all what I was asking."

MR. McCLELLAN: "Sure it is. It's exactly what you're trying to play. "

This is the Bush administration at its best, weaving a story from the bungled detais, trusting that the press and the public don't have the attention span to get to the bottom of the truth. In this case the issue is accountability. The administration's story is that questions of accountability are "finger-pointing" and "blame-gaming." Further, by characterizing those questions as such, they take the focus off of the people who need focused on, replacing them instead with the press itself.

It's so Rove-esque as to be frightening: tell the press a story, casting yourself as the hero and somebody else as the villain. Details are unimportant--impression is everything.

And by the time we get around to actually answering questions of administration accountability, our attention will have moved on to something else.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:59 AM | link | 5 comments |