Saturday, October 13, 2018

some links for the weekend--corporate art sponsorship, contemporary polemics about Columbus Day can forget that Italian Americans were viewed with suspicion , and Atlantic musing on who America's enemy should be

At The Altantic Samantha Culp has an article on gigantic corporate brands like Nike and Pepsico have become arts patrons and how ambivalent-to-hostile the art world and the arts press can feel about this.  That may be yet another thing to keep in mind in the wake of the Banksy stunt, for that matter.
The question “What if Nike is the new Medicis?” began as an art-world in-joke about a decade ago, but has grown less absurd over time. With the diminishing impact of traditional advertising, companies are seeking new ways to capture the attention and goodwill of the public. In exchange, brands provide financial opportunities to emerging artists. “In some ways, the goals are a little amorphous,” Natasha Degen, a historian of the art market at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, told me. “The lines are becoming very blurred between corporate social responsibility, philanthropy, and marketing.” In a vacuum of meaningful public-arts funding, and in contrast to the stratified commercial art market, brands have the potential to be an alternative pillar of support for artists. Can this new gray area be called patronage, and if so, what would that mean for art?

Nobody seems hugely distressed about the degree to which The Beatles were a boy band fashioned at a corporate level into becoming the biggest pop act in history, though.  It's a bit strange how that works or doesn't work in relationship to visual art and plastic arts. 

Yoni Appelbaum proposes that Columbus Day has become the victim of its own success, revisiting how a century ago Italian Americans were not viewed as being as "really" American as they have since been regarded as being.  A push to regard the day as Indigenous Peoples Day might skip past the part where Italian Americans might be regarded with suspicion as anti-American papists or unionizing socialists or ... insert terrible stereotype where applicable.  I have no particular regard for the day as a day regardless of whether it's for Columbus or for Native Americans.  Since a good number of the Native American nations practiced slavery and were busy killing each other I can't regard the tsunami of death catalyzed by those who followed after Columbus as necessarily being on the head of Columbus.  Should we hold it against all Spaniards that South American nations have lost so many of their native American peoples?  Where the anger against Columbus and his legacy seems too selective is at precisely this point, because in an era in which people are worried about what the Trump administration may do to people who are described as having brown skin, the concern is about people from Latin America and yet ... if the legacy of Columbus is to be repudiated then how is it that Spain and Spaniards aren't targeted for opprobrium?  That would be stupid, mind you, but it seems as though the outrage can be for show if it doesn't take that additional step. 

Meanwhile, considering how many Italians were regarded as sub-American or potential traitors I don't think that complaining that Columbus day celebrates colonial/imperial legacy makes a lot of sense and I write that as someone whose lineage is half white and half Native American.  Advocating for the legal rights and liberties of Native American people sounds like a great idea!  Expressing anger that a holiday formed by the efforts of Italian Americans to be taken seriously as American citizens because people want to pin blame on an Italian for serving the imperial interests of Spain seems daft.  When we have a military power that could incinerate every living thing on the planet the idea of Americans bewailing the imperialism and cruelty displayed by Spaniards or Italians in implicit contrast to the legacy of the United States, the first nation to drop an atomic bomb on anyone, seems foolhardy.

Whereas Columbus Day polemics seem foolish this, this seems like a perfectly good idea.

assuming there's, you know, no inherent intractable problems with the nature of museums but that's an entirely separate topic and arguably moot in light of the nature of the Western/First World milieu in which we live. 

Belhan Salam raises the question of whether the United States should choose to view China or Russia as the adversary against which to define itself in foreign policy ...

Well, what if we are the bad guys against which they are defining themselves?   Or to put it another way, if the alliances in the NATO era were built around defending Western (American-British interests with Western Europe along for a post-Marshall Plan ride) interests, what benefit would there be in sustaining those old alliances if the U.S. made China its adversary?  Good luck with that since our economic systems are so intertwined.  Russia ... well ... the idea that the United States has to be against another power in order to define itself seems dubious.  I am vaguely aware there's a streak of conservative thought that has it that ethnically polyphonic empires never survive whereas ethnically centralized empires can go for centuries.  The upshot of that is supposed to be that the more explicitly and deliberately multicultural the American empire tries to be the more it will fail whereas China has a dominant ethnicity and is on the rise ... but ... I'm not sure contemporary reactionaries imagining that a bunch of white men in the Roman empire made a giant empire on the basis of a unified ethnicity.  What Rome had that we theoretically don't have is an imperial cult and an expansive polytheistic religious idiom within which to subordinate or rank interests. 

A lot of people seem really committed to the idea that Russia is the enemy.  I'm not sure I could really say that either Russia or China is "the enemy".  They haven't done anything I'm aware of that would warrant the United States being at war with them.  Endless ranges of human rights violations can't be construed as a reason to start a war.  As an older fellow I knew in college put it, you should never start a war for an ideological reason, there's got to be some clear-cut attainable goal to justify the use of military force and that after every other option has failed.  No domino theory, no bombing people in the name of human rights, none of that.  Over time I began to work out that whatever kind of conservative I thought of myself as being I wasn't a neoconservative and that became clearer over the last twenty years on foreign policy.  You don't have to be a leftist or a liberal or a progressive of any conventionally identifiable stripe to want the United States Department of Defense to be about defense rather than offense.

Maybe because we've exported so much of our manufacturing base to Asian nation states the enemy is going to have to be Russia.  Cold War 2.0 or someting.  Ironically some of the critis of Gulf War 2 and the War oN Terror proposed the problem was we had a bunch of policymakers who were trying to litigate the Cold War all over again with Islam as the new Communist threat.  Not so sure about that ... it can seem that Russia is still the enemy to contain ...


Banksy's self-shredding painting; the commodity of anti-commodification art; and Adorno's old observation that it is not self-evident art has any right to exist

For a moment of didactic reflection on the arts we should avoid getting to the letter `B' until we have started at the letter `A'.  Before we can get to the latest headlines about Banksy we might as well pass to that topic through the writings of Adorno.

Theodor Adorno 
Aesthetic Theory
translated, edited by Robert Hullot-Kentor
edited by Gretel Adorno and Rolf Tiedermann
copyright (c) 1997 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota
ISBN 0-8264-6757-1

page 1
It is self-evident that nothing concerning art is self-evident anymore, not its inner life, not its relation to the world, not even its right to exist. ...

page 2
As a result of its inevitable withdrawal from theology, from the unqualified claim to the truth of salvation, a secularization without which art would never have developed, art is condemned to provide the world as it exists with a consolation that—shorn of any hope of a world beyond—strengthens the spell of that from which the autonomy of art wants to free itself. [emphases added] ...

page 21
... Baudelaire neither railed against nor portrayed reification; he protested against it in the experience of its archetypes, and the medium of this experience is the poetic form. This raises him supremely above late romantic sentimentality. The power of his work is that it syncopates the overwhelming objectivity of the commodity character—which wipes out any human trace—with the objectivity of the work in itself, anterior to the living subject: The absolute artwork converges with the absolute commodity. [emphasis added] The modern pays tribute to this in the vestige of the abstract in its concept. If in monopoly capitalism it is primarily exchange value, not use value, that is consumed, in the modern artwork it is its abstractness, that irritating indeterminateness of what it is and to what purpose it is, that becomes a cipher of what the work [page 22] is.  ...

page 340
... The absence of theological meaning, however modified, culminates in art as the crisis of its own meaning. The more ruthlessly artworks draw the consequences from the contemporary condition of consciousness, the more closely they themselves approximate meaninglessness. [emphasis added] The more ruthlessly artworks draw the consequences from the contemporary condition of consciousness, the more closely they themselves approximate meaninglessness. They thereby achieve a historically requisite truth, which, if art disowned it, would condemn art to doling out powerless consolation and to complicity with the status quo. At the same time, however, meaningless art has begun to forfeit its right to exist; in any case, there is no longer any art that has remained inviolable. ...

Of course it isn't self-evident that nothing about art is self-evident to a great many people. The inner life of art and the unquestionable nature of its relationship to the world and most of all its right to exist are, if anything, more axiomatic in our age than they have probably been in some time.  In the wake of Richard Wagner's declaration that it is for Art to take up the truths that are obscured in the dogmas of religion art in the West, as Adorno noted himself, has become a religion to a comfortable and striving class of people.  Nevertheless, let's suppose for a moment that Adorno was right.

We can attempt to translate what Adorno was saying by putting things this way: the shackles that chained art to promulgating the ideals of throne and altar might have been broken, but having social and cultic norms and functions by its very nature art was going to serve something and someone.  Art, liberated from fealty to throne and altar, found a more pitiless and inescapable master, the market.  Held up as being able to speak truth to power, to reveal the real self and the immortal in humanity, art didn't exactly do any of these things consistently.

In Adorno's taxonomy of the social functions and means for art, the origin of art is fuzzy and if people were to propose that art had roots in some ancient sympathetic magic it's not clear that the art of today has really been separated from that impulse.

page 13
... If according to its own concept art has become what it is, this is no less the case with its classification as a source of pleasure; indeed, as components of ritual praxis the magical and animistic predecessors of art were not autonomous; yet precisely because they were sacred they were not objects of enjoyment. The spiritualization of art incited the rancor of the excluded and spawned consumer art as a genre, while conversely antipathy toward consumer art compelled artists to ever more reckless spiritualization. ...

page 127
Art is what remains after the loss of what was supposed to exercise a magical, and later a cultic, function.

Art can be thought of, in this highly polemical range of definitions, as the vestigial spell that is recognized to have and wield no magic powers at all but which can be appreciated for its own sake as art.  That is art as a relic of cultic norms and functions.  Art for "itself" has only its forms and range of norms , a bag of tricks that are used to enchant even if the world itself has been supposedly disenchanted.

But the world has not really been disenchanted.  The concept of enchantment has been commuted from nature to technique and technology.  This isn't just something someone like Adorno could point out, it's something Jacques Ellul has written about and Ellul regarded Adorno's obsevations about the aporia of contemporary art as the most persuasive summary he'd read.

In lieu of having anything or anyone to enchant in a disenchanted world, a dogma of art for the sake of art emerged in the West during the Romantic era.  If art could not enchant in a disenchanted world what was left for art to enchant or exercise power over as if a magic spell was ... itself.

But we live in a world in which there is fractional reserve banking and adjustable interest rates for fiat currency.  Arguably anything that was even vestigially magical about the arts has left the arts, which now have theoretical and technocratic intra-guild manifestos and disputations about technique, and the magical has transferred over to finance.  The spells with which the world is guided have little to do with art, though fealty to a residual art religion still guides the art worlds in the West, and a whole lot more to do with data mining, information cultivation, mass computation and theories of currency.

In such a world what art can do, that Adorno at times described as "the spell", is bereft of anything beyond itself to point to yet unable to divest itself of the power to cast a spell to gain and keep our attention.  Untethered from social and cultic contexts art, art can only become a commodity.

As Adorno put it, the absolute work of art converges with the absolute commodity.  This is a double bind that can't be escaped.  If you attempt to make explicitly political points your work devolves to being nothing more than simple propaganda (and therefore has stopped really being art) but if you attempt to make art for the sake of art there's no longer a purpose to that art beyond its exchange value, lacking any kind of cultic context in which it would have meaning. Art is either forced back into becoming something like a magic spell to influence people or it devolves into a self-encouraging pep talk in which the glow of hoped-for salvation is self-conferred.

I've been playing with this idea for a while that Wagnerian style art religion has metastasized into a meta-art religion of arts criticism.  As I wrote in a little haiku a few years back

every arts critic
must consecrate consumption
to live with their craft

If art has nothing inherently sacred about it an arts critic has to confer some kind of sacred quality to it in order to regard the art as worth talking about.  Everything else, and particularly any and all forms of creative activity that an arts critics opts to neither praise nor condemn, is common.  Praising a god or cursing a demon is to concede some form of the divine, however benevolent or malign.  

That the market defines for better or much worse what the art canon is or has been or will become has so many detractors it suffices to pick any lament about this.

But in a way this is to affirm what Adorno wrote half a century ago, that art shorn of attachments to throne and altar, anything and anyone that could in some way sacralize it as having a social purpose, is more pure a commodity the more purely it is an art object.  The prophet Isaiah lampooned not just the idea but the acts through which people carved gods out of wood and worshipped them as if the process of carving the god conferred some power to wood that, independent of the carving and shaping, was just literal kindling for a fire they warmed themselves by.

The aforementioned link has a comment about how cultural hegemony shifted geographically from Europe to America.  Sure, I suppose that's true and one of the signal offenses of Richard Taruskin's Oxford History of Western Music for some in the UK is that he unapologetically regards Western European art as mainly nothing hugely worth talking about compared to American and Soviet developments.  High art and hegemony are pretty close to impossible to separate.  Whether you can even use the tools and systems of the art world to meaningfully critique the art world is a question we may never have a fixed, satisfying answer for.

What is the art world, anyway?  I am less sure that what Banksy has done is necessarily about art than about arts journalism.  The painting was only in the headlines this last week because of a stunt, because it was something that warranted journalistic coverage. Would it even "be" art if the art journalistic scene didn't cover it?  Had the painting not self-shredded with a shredder built into the thick canvas the thing wouldn't even be news.  Instead, it did self-destruct, partly and went viral.

One of the things in our era regarded as some kind of divine seems to be the event that has gone or been "viral".  Why this might have what Adorno called "the spell" has been talked about.  If currencies are the magic of our era rather than art then the magic question has been whether Banksy's self-destructing painting its worth more now after the stunt than it was before.

While Banksy’s prank has become the talk of the artworld, there’s no consensus about what to make of it. People’s interpretations of the deeper significance (or lack thereof) of Banksy’s provocation are colored by how they regard the perpetrator (serious artist, agitator or PR stuntman?), the art market in general (a purveyor of genuine value or a hype-inflated bubble?) and the auction market in particular (a gauge of fair market value or a pre-orchestrated charade?).
My own iconoclastic take is colored by my reverence for artistic creation and my skepticism about auction-house machination: I see Banksy’s subversive act as a clever metaphor for the self-sabotaging auction houses, which, through opaque side deals, secret pre-arrangements and favored treatment for those who enter into such compacts have damaged their credibility as a transparent public marketplace where buyers can feel reasonably confident that they are paying fair market value, equitably arrived at, on a level playing field.

I'm going to float the more iconoclastic idea that no one ensconced in the art world, whether as artist (Banksy), auction (Sotheby), or arts journalism is even capable of being iconoclastic about art.

Whether anyone will pay for Banksy’s painting of a girl and a balloon, which began shredding itself moments after it sold at auction, for $1.4 million, in London on Friday night, remains to be seen. Sotheby’s hasn’t disclosed the buyer’s identity. (Such opacity is business as usual in the art market.) If this person was shelling out for love of the image alone, I would suggest picking up a replacement at Target, where a print version is currently on sale for $36.79, down from forty-six dollars. But, if the painting was purchased as an investment, the buyer might as well follow through. The picture’s destruction, like that of Tinguely’s machine, was halted before the job was complete, and there is already speculation that the work in damaged form will become even more valuable than it was before. If the stunt was intended to mock the spectacle of art being reduced to a price tag, the joke might be on Banksy. But since it was clearly also a bid for more notoriety—for an artist bent on maintaining anonymity, Banksy does not shy away from the limelight—a cynic might call this is his best art work yet. Since Sunday, the spectacle has been viewed nearly nine million times, in a video that Banksy posted to Instagram. The clip, which also purports to show Banksy concealing a shredder inside the painting’s thick frame “a few years ago,” is captioned with a quote misattributed to Picasso (the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin is the man who said it): “The urge to destroy is also a creative urge.” So much for the outlaw who used to reject the label “artist” in favor of “quality vandal.” Now Banksy joins the ranks of Jay-Z, name-checking the Spanish painter in a bid for masterpiece cred. [emphasis added]

Was someone at Sotheby’s in on the prank? The company denies it, but conspiracy theorists point to the convenient timing of the lot hitting the auction block at the very end of the sale. Grand finales aren’t part of auction theatrics, but sound bites are, and “It appears we just got Banksy-ed”—as Alex Branczik, the auction house’s head of contemporary art in Europe, told reporters at the post-sale news conference—has already launched countless headlines. The last work of Banksy’s to perform this well at auction was a collaboration with Damien Hirst, who, too, is no stranger to gaming the system. In 2008, Hirst staged an unprecedented sale of his own work, also at Sotheby’s, consigning more than two hundred pieces directly from his studio, rather than in the pre-owned condition that is customary at auction. The two-day event raked in a hundred and eleven million pounds, or about two hundred million dollars, just as Lehman Brothers was collapsing, making Hirst a symbol of art-as-excess. Here’s a theory: Hirst was the seller of “Girl with Balloon” and was in on the prank. Of course, the identity of the consigner is as shrouded in mystery as the buyer’s is. What is a matter of public record is that the seller acquired the picture directly from the artist, in 2006, the same year that Banksy agreed to participate in a show that Hirst curated of his art collection, at London’s Serpentine Gallery. Early last week, Hirst announced, through a spokeswoman, that he is scaling back his operation “to cut the corporate elements of the business.” Here’s hoping he has better luck than Banksy, whose stunt cutting fails to rise above the level of empty gesture.

Well, what is the gesture?  It's because I never ended up working in journalism despite having gotten a journalism degree that I think we might want to step back and ask whether the art object is the thing to consider here.  As modern art gets ever more abstract and esoteric, it's possible that the self-destructing painting was merely the catalyst for something else.  It was just some painting until it self-destructed.  To be absurd about it, the art isn't the painting but the journalistic cycle of coverage that designated it as an art object in the wake of the Sotheby incident.  Yes, the painting was sold on the market but the extra "spell" of the journalistic coverage is what completes the art object.  It was metaphorically nothing to write home about or think about until journalistic coverage made it a painting to be talked about.

I don't know if I'd say that what happened is we were shown an art work that critiques its own commodification.  That bromide is easy to find and it's presented over at Vox.
Essentially, Banksy likes to produce works that critique their own commodification. But he also seems to be increasingly critiquing the public’s attitudes toward art, and its complicity within the system of that commodification. [emphasis added] The Dismaland project implicated the “tourists” for their enjoyment of the experience as much as it implicated Disney itself. With the Central Park experiment, the entire experience — the pop-up art stand and the art sold within it, as well as the night-and-day opposing responses from the public both before and after the reveal that Banksy was the perpetrator — became a piece of art.

With these exhibitions, Banksy is also increasingly using his work to explore and critique the idea of virality, and how it influences the perceived value of a work in the minds of both the public and the artistic establishment.

To understand more about this, I turned to Zardulu, the anonymous street artist who’s gained a cult following for staging viral moments, often involving animals. Zardulu is known for espousing a belief that pranks, hoaxes, and the manufacturing of virality are all part of the creation of modern-day mythology. Her current debut art show presents several of these moments through the framework of mythos in order to explore what myth-making means in a contemporary context.

“Banksy is in a unique position that he can simply release a piece of work and it goes viral,” Zardulu said, “the same way Kim Kardashian can tweet a selfie and it gets more attention than the overthrow of a foreign government.”

“But this piece is different,” she adds, referring to the Balloon Girl auction. “He wanted to create a viral moment, a viral video, and he obviously wanted us to ask whether the piece is now worth more or less now that it’s been part of a viral moment.”

Zardulu sees Banksy as extending a tradition of pranks as an art form that began in the 1960s with Situationism, a small but highly influential movement of avant-garde political reactionaries and artists that sprang up in Paris in the 1960s. Situationists held a complicated interplay of beliefs about art, culture, and capitalism, but their main thesis was the idea that human behavior isn’t natural, but rather defined by one’s situation — and that a “situation” could be carefully crafted and manipulated.
Situationist artists believed that creating “situations” was itself art, and this found resonance in everything from politics to punk music to the development of postmodernism — and now, in situations like the one Banksy has just created.

“For whatever reason, [Situationists] didn’t ever do anything to physically substantiate their performances,” Zardulu said. “So when I started to do my work, I always thought it was important to have a component represent the performances. It’s part of the declaration I made in my manifesto. My manifesto also specifically refers to the environment we’re in today, that we can create these fabricated viral moments, and that there’s something unique and special about that. So, Banksy has really done exactly that. Created a viral moment, and the object that physically substantiates it is the frame and the shredded painting.”  

Why don't we take a step further back from the arts world axioms.  What if Banksy has tried to do something going beyond a stunt about art and commodification to create a painting that can't go viral unless the arts journalistic machinery makes it viral?  After all, if in the news cycle the painting became a "new" work by dint of getting shredded and thus garnered yet another headline ... 

It may be the reason arts journalists don't understand that the joke is on them would be because it's literally and figuratively their job to consecrate which art objects merit attention for praise or blame.  Journalists can decide the stunt is an empty gesture without realizing that without their writing about it it wouldn't even be a gesture, in journalistic or historical terms.  Does that mean I'm a Banksy fan?  No.  All too many artists delude themselves into thinking their art matters on the basis of theoretical musings presented alongside their work or as a necessary supplement to their work having any discernible meaning.  

But I don't think the self-shredding painting is an empty gesture. It's a meaningful gesture if we stop looking at the painting as a commodity that resists commodification (since, clearly, it utterly failed to pull that probably impossible feat off) and start looking it as a "performance" that is only possible to the extent that a range of institutions from the auction system to the press make it the performance that it has been.  If there's a stunt in this painting the stunt could be "if you wrote about it in an art publication then it's about you."  The painting can be thought of as a catalyst for who the formal and informal priests of the art world are by dint of what they have to say about the self-shredding painting.  

There's a paradoxical necessity to reify reification, to distill into a commodity a stunt protest against commodification.  But as Adorno put it half a century ago, attempts to break "the spell" simply strengthen "the spell".  Nothing could be more emblematic of "the spell" of conversations and debates about whatever it is that Banksy does than the cycle of journalism and art theory that emerges in the wake of this or that stunt.  You might be able to jokingly suggest that nothing Banksy does is the art so much as those art objects are merely catalysts for the journalistic and theoretical discourse and public consumption that becomes the performance and that that is the art. But if that's the case we're back to Tom Wolfe's quip in The Painted Word about the  possibility that art theory ascended so far up its own fundamental aperture it comes down from the heavens as ... literature. There may actually be nothing Banksy has done that could match what Tom Wolfe simply wrote about the art world in the modern West.

This latest stunt from Banksy could be an opportunity to consider how what Adorno called "the spell" is cast in institutional and market terms.  The self-shredding stunt painting is, so to speak, the magic word, the question is who is saying the word to cast the spell?  Banksy, obviously, for having painted the painting and setting up the stunt, but also everyone along the way who helped make the self-shredding painting a headline.

If you want to see what advertising companies have done inspired by the Banksy painting, you can check out, for instance, a Macdonald's logo

Which may or may not be part of the Banksy plan.

Adorno may have been on to something suggesting, in so very many words, that the more powerful artists tried to make their art to be the more impotent they revealed themselves and their works to be.  Banksy's painting isn't the art work, the news cycle around it is the art work, for which the painting is simply the catalyst.  It's not that the sale of a self-shredding painting doesn't make history in some way, it's that the painting itself is a mere footnote, and nothing much to speak of.  Had the press not reported that the painting shredded itself there'd be nothing to talk about.  I'm tending to think that this is not about resisting commodification at all.  What kind of art world and arts press do we have that can make this Banksy stunt news or even "history"?  That seems like a more pertinent question.  Countless people shred things every day and it's neither news nor art.  That an auction could put up a painting for auction that, once bought, shreds itself and that it can be rebranded and presented as a new work, and the art world and the arts press talk about it as if it's news seems far more likely to be the real punchline than some old saw about a painting or an art object "resisting commodification".  I doubt the joke is on Banksy so much as that Banksy tried to find a way to show the entire art world and the arts press and historians of the arts that they're the joke but don't know it yet.  Just a guess, offered somewhat tentatively on a weekend.

If it were up to me what art I'd spend time with this weekend I'd probably watch an episode of Venture Bros season 7 again ... or an episode of Samurai Jack (episode XL, for instance).


Didn't spot this at The Baffler earlier but ...
I thought of the Warhol auction last week when someone working with the street artist Banksy remotely activated a shredder embedded in the back of the frame of his spray-painted work, “Girl with Balloon”—right at the moment it sold to an unnamed buyer for $1.4 million at a Sotheby’s sale. The event was met, like the Sotheby’s auction in 1988, with a lot of talk about the art market, who the buyer was, whether the half-shredded work lost or gained value; only this time journalists and Twitter users also wondered if Sotheby’s colluded with Banksy in the stunt. My first thought was the same as Indiana’s when he arrived at the Warhol auction: “Get me out of here.” My second was that Sotheby’s must have colluded. But then I remembered that I don’t care. All auctions, even the spectacular, are short-lived moments of shopping.

Nevertheless, a wave of titillation, most prominently on the part of critic Jerry Saltz, who praised the prank as an intervention in the art market (though he doesn’t much care for Banksy’s work), gave way to the stern disapproval of The New Yorker. “If the stunt was intended to mock the spectacle of art being reduced to a price tag, the joke might be on Banksy,” wrote critic Andrea K. Scott. This is, from one way of looking at it, a fair complaint. If art is a form of shopping, Banksy’s prank was not just counterproductive, it was rude—imagine if Charles Simic remotely melted your new copy of Voice at 3:00 A.M. right after you swiped your credit card. From another angle, however, Scott’s criticism is a bit hasty. If Banksy’s aim was to draw attention to a work of art’s price tag, he succeeded. And, anyway, Banksy never claimed that the purpose of the performance was to devalue his own work by shredding it; his only statement on the act was to verify, by way of a popular video, that he installed the shredder in the painting’s frame years ago. On Instagram, the video’s epigraph, a quote curiously attributed to Pablo Picasso instead of Mikhail Bakunin, reads, “The urge to destroy is also a creative urge

Maybe we should take Banksy at his word. Or, more generously, we could attribute to his motives the idea, very much implied by his wayward Picasso quotation, of Schumpeter’s gale. If the urge to destroy is creative, and if capitalism relies on creative destruction, perhaps Banksy is hinting that his intention was to increase the value of his work by destroying it. The proof, I think, can be found in his name, which brings to mind a small, one-man bank. If that doesn’t convince you, look to the latest news: the artist has just re-authenticated the trash-work and renamed it “Love is in the Bin,” to the satisfaction of the original buyer. Judged as an episode of extralegal short-term price-fixing, Banksy’s act of autoshredding was an accomplishment for all involved; in the long-term, its status as the supposed first work of art created at an auction means that it will likely appreciate wildly in value. In this respect, with all things being equal, Banksy is the Thomas Kinkade of his generation, inasmuch as both rely on opportunistic financial schemes and clashing effects: Kinkade’s sinister warmth, Banksy’s dark money do-gooderism. [emphasis added]

“Art, which once reflected values aloof from simple (or complicated) greed, has been insidiously absorbed into the economy of commercial products,” Gary Indiana wrote in 1986, “its cash worth determined by dicey variables unlike the ones fixed for ordinary commodities.” The difference now is that the variables that determine art’s monetary value are no longer seen as dicey. Instead, they’re understood as art itself.

Banksy as the Thomas Kinkade of his generation ... if that's what he is than what role is played by Jeff Koons? 

It seems Adorno was right when he wrote

... The absence of theological meaning, however modified, culminates in art as the crisis of its own meaning. The more ruthlessly artworks draw the consequences from the contemporary condition of consciousness, the more closely they themselves approximate meaninglessness. 

and the pure artwork converges with the pure commodity ... perhaps even more when art is allegedly resisting commodification than when artists embrace commodity.

an NPR piece on how the guitar isn't "dead" for rock and roll, more women are taking up the guitar

The rock and roll bro may have been receding but the guitar hasn't been going away, according to an article at NPR, there are more women playing guitar.

Ida Presti thankfully gets named.

That women play guitar across styles hardly needs to be said but I suppose it is news in the sense that rock journalism probably played a role in defining the guitar as somehow a "masculine" or rock or country or blues thing.  In the 19th century, as Matanya Ophee chronicled, there was a bias against the guitar expressed by saying it was a maiden's instrument and not serious enough to be on par with concert instruments or a symphony.  A guitar wasn't going to hold a candle to a Lizst piano sonata might be a blunter way to put it.

And the rock and roll came along and another sort of myth about the guitar, a comparably dubious and biased one, emerged, maybe not entirely among guitarists as among journalists and historians who deigned to write about the styles of music so often associated with the guitar. 

HyperAllergic and The Baffler offer different reads on Hannah Gadsby's Nanette as alternately revolutionary and insignificant

Seventeen minutes into her new Netflix special, titled Nanette, Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby announces her decision to leave comedy: “I have built a career out of self-deprecating humor, and I don’t want to do that anymore,” she says. “Because do you understand what self-deprecation means when it comes from somebody who already exists in the margins? It’s not humility. It’s humiliation.”

In this exquisitely structured performance, Gadsby, who has a degree in art history, stands to force an unexpected reckoning in the comedy world, the art world, and beyond. She unpacks the tricks of the standup trade, reflecting on the ways in which artists and comedians often reinforce, rather than challenge, entrenched power structures and oppressive cultural narratives. Her performance could change the game for the comedy genre’s limited framework. If The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling was a revelation, Nanette is a revolution.

Gadsby grew up in Tasmania, where homosexuality was a crime until 1997, and where some 70% of her community believed homosexuals were subhuman pedophiles. She learned to hate homosexuals well before realizing she was one. “You don’t get to just flip a switch on that,” she says in Nanette. “You internalize that homophobia, and hate yourself … soaking in shame.”

As an adult, every joke about coming out reopened those wounds, preventing resolution. “Punch lines need trauma because punchlines need tension, and tension feeds trauma,” Gadsby says. Her exceptional control of such tension, she claims, derives from her lifelong sense that she is the tension.

But at this point it's so pedestrian an observation that the artist "is" the art that there's nothing particularly unique about the claim except subsidiarity marketing based on identity studies. 

Comedians can do a lot of variations on jokes but there are ultimately two modes of humor--laughing with and laughing at.  These modes can continuously overlap, obviously, but there are still these two modes.  There may be a lot to be said in favor of advising people to feel shame about who and what they have been willing to laugh at but there's nothing necessarily revolutionary about that.  

Gadsby’s thoughts on trauma and art history merge in a powerful reflection on her own experiences with abuse and on the abusive behavior of some of history’s powerful artists, such as Pablo Picasso, who had an infamous sexual affair with a 17-year-old girl, Marie-Thérèse Walter. “Picasso said, ‘It was perfect, I was in my prime and she was in her prime,’” Gadsby says. Picasso’s behavior is often framed as evidence of his magnetism and unbridled passion, despite the fact that, in France in 1927, corruption of a minor was a crime punishable by imprisonment. At one point, Picasso moved closer to a children’s camp that Walter attended, and would pull her away from pool activities to a cabana for sex. “Our mistake,” Gadsby notes, “was to invalidate the perspective of a 17-year-old girl because we believed her potential was never going to equal his.”

Wasn't it earlier this year that an academic by name of Ronell was defended as having made important contributions to the field as a variable to keep in mind in the wake of allegations of harassment?  The trouble at this point is that it's not just artists for whom defenses get made that they've done so much ... .  

Now it may be cynical to say that ultimately all arts coverage is still some kind of publicity but when we get this next part it seems to prove the point.

The New Yorker recently deemed Nanette the perfect comedy performance for the #MeToo movement. But it is up to consumers of art to ensure that Gadsby’s contribution to the #MeToo discourse does not get put on one metaphoric shelf while abusive artists persist on another, heroism preserved. Artists who abuse power should, at minimum, carry a big asterisk next to their names in books, classrooms, and museums. Great art alone does not justify the actions of abusive and morally corrupt men. If Picasso’s cabana series, painted between 1927 and 1938, is inspired by the sexual abuse of a minor, that should be included in contextual descriptions. What institution would be so bold? Why is the notion of including such contextual information considered bold in the first place? Do the creative contributions of an abusive artist somehow offset the damage he does? Picasso once said that women were “goddesses and doormats,” which, as Gadsby points out, echoes art history’s lose-lose dichotomy of women represented as virgins or whores. Gadsby’s critiques of both comedy and art history demonstrate that these respective disciplines, the institutions that uphold them, and the audiences that consume them often leave marginalized people with few desirable opportunities to be heard.

“I love angry white man comedy. It’s so funny, it’s hilarious. They’re adorable. Why are they angry? If they are having a tough time, the rest of us are goners,” Gadsby jokes. Several times in Nanette, she critiques the male voices that dominate comedy, punctuating the tension with comments like “just jokes” or “lighten up,” appropriating the average comedian’s default, flippant response to accusations of bigotry or offensiveness. In just two words, Gadsby illuminates how, since time immemorial, men have gotten to decide who is pathological. Just ask Zelda Fitzgerald or Vivian Eliot, who died in mental institutions, where they were placed by their husbands. You know who owns their written work today? The estates of the men that discarded them. Even women artists who retained their own creative legacies are often still overshadowed by men. For example, the books of Martha Gellhorn, the famous American war correspondent and Depression-era journalist, can be found next to her ex-husband Ernest Hemingway’s novels in your local library. She published before she married Hemingway and after they divorced, yet her story is now a subtitle to his. As Kate Zambreno wrote in Heroines, “the patriarch decides on the form of communication. Decides on the language. The patriarch is the one who rewrites.”

Pointing out that Hemingway was a self absorbed lout is so pedestrian and staid an observation it can be made by an author at National Review.  Terry Teachout summed up how much can change in the perception of an author when he wrote about a Hemingway biography just last year:

If they had much else in common, I’m damned if I know what it is, though a case can be made that they shared a fair amount of doubt about their masculinity. Hemingway, needless to say, was a textbook bully, snuffling out weakness in others in order to paper over his own middle-of-the-night terrors. It says everything about him that he gossiped in print about the size of Fitzgerald’s penis.  [emphasis added] As for Fitzgerald, he was a charming, chronically unsure drunk who doubted everything about himself but the size of his talent, about which he had no doubts at all. They were far too ill sorted to be friends but went through the motions anyway, which is one reason we persist in thrusting them into the same Bruckner-and-Mahleresque pigeonhole: Scott & Ernest, Inc., Great American Writers of the Lost Generation.

The trouble with Hemingway, seen from the privileged vantage point of hindsight, is that he looks increasingly like a great influence but not a great author in his own right.  [emphasis added] No 20th-century writer would leave a deeper mark on his contemporaries, and as late as 1948, Evelyn Waugh, no respecter of reputations, unhesitatingly described him in print as “one of the most original and powerful of living writers.” Yet all but the very finest of his short stories now sound mannered and artificial, while the novels come off as little more than sustained exercises in mirror-gazing and pose-striking. I would like to like him more than I do, but the truth is that I find him almost unreadable, and my chronic distaste for his work is more than merely an allergy.
What is it about Hemingway that so many of today’s readers find so off-putting? The fact that he proved to be so imitable is a big part of the problem, and it didn’t help that most of the imitation was popularization. Among other things, the author of “The Killers” inadvertently invented the detective story, not to mention film noir, and inspired a generation of hack writers, all of them men, who longingly mistook his self-constructed legend for reality. [emphasis added]...
Unlike Teachout, I've never really liked Hemingway and I don't feel the least bit bad about having never liked him as much as some people actually like Hemingway's work.  Even if Hemingway "really" invented the detective story in the hard-boiled sense he didn't invent the parlor mystery and other writers refined the more modernist hard-boiled detective story.  But a generation of hack writers, that seems on the mark.  So while Gadsby may have plenty to say about Hemingway reception vs. those women whom he had his flings with, there's just about nothing revolutionary about noting that hacks behaving badly being greeted as heroes of their respective generations.  

Fast forward a few months and over at The Baffler a substantially different take on Gadsby emerges.  It probably doesn't need to be said that in quoting from HyperAllergic and The Baffler I'm quoting from two self-identified left/radical publications.  If Joss Whedon wanted to make a case that the trouble with left/progressive writers and social media users is they too often attack each other this "could" be some kind of case study ... but it's kind of hard to take Joss Whedon seriously at this point.  After twenty-five years the one-trick pony nature of his shtick has worn thin for me.    But for the previously reported quitting of comedy ... 

In terms of overall quality, Nanette is mediocre. While other high profile comedians take a break from standup to give TED Talks, Gadsby’s special erodes the separation between the two, down to the oversized, antiseptic set and the comic’s persistently neutral affect, physically restrained, with a voice that often sounds like a soothingly patronizing life coach. Much of her material is equally familiar, presenting near-platitudes covered endlessly in the wake of #MeToo—the myopic male gaze in art, the separation of art from the artist, the limited view of woman as either virgin or whore, the unwelcome, transgressive anger of women, the control exacted over our stories by powerful men like Harvey Weinstein. “Do you know who used to be an easy punch line? Monica Lewinsky,” Gadsby tells the Sydney Opera House audience three months after the former White House intern had deployed the #MeToo hashtag, eliciting a culture-wide reassessment of her treatment post-Clinton.

“Gadsby’s material is almost two years in the making and seems to harness the broader fury of the #MeToo moment,” writes Moira Donegan in The New Yorker. “Gadsby, like many women, is done hiding her anger, and in Nanette she bends the bounds of standup to accommodate it.” Except she doesn’t. Gadsby doesn’t bend the medium, she abandons it. “This is why I must quit comedy, because the only way I can tell my truth and put tension in the room is with anger,” she says. This is not revolution, it is surrender. Unable to subvert the status quo or to reinvent it, Gadsby claims to reject the system in which she continues to operate. [emphasis added] Bending the bounds of standup to accommodate your anger is Mo’Nique performing a meta-set called I Coulda Been Your Cellmate within the grounds of an Ohio women’s prison and using the suspension of reality created by her act to break the facility’s rules and summon a group hug.

Nanette validates the mainstream culture’s belief that oppression is not something you can joke about. “You do understand what self-deprecation means from somebody who already exists in the margins?” Gadsby asks, re-evaluating her prior approach to comedy. “It’s not humility. It’s humiliation.” Again, it sounds good, but it’s not entirely true. Maria Bamford is just one counter-example. The frenetic genre-bending comedian uses self-deprecation to destigmatize mental illness by illuminating its absurdity. In 2006’s The Now Show she sings an improvisational tune her therapist prescribes to quell her anxieties. “If I keep the kitchen floor clean, no one will die!” she caws. “As long as I clench my fists at odd intervals, the darkness within me won’t force me to do anything inappropriately violent or sexual at dinner parties!” Margaret Cho, on the other hand, uses self-deprecation to highlight Hollywood’s racism. Discussing her sitcom, All-American Girl, during her show I’m the One That I Want, she says, “Because I wasn’t Asian enough, they decided to hire an Asian Consultant. Because I was fucking it up as an Asian.” On Twitter, writer Peter Moskowitz characterized Gadsby’s dismissal of self-deprecation as “lazy” because it erases a tradition found in both queer and Jewish cultures. “Self-deprecation allows us to find our self-hatred from living under cis/hetero/white supremacy and excise it, laugh it off. It is a liberatory act,” they tweeted, adding, “Why do you think Jews gravitated toward comedy? It’s because of that—because it feels good to laugh at yourself, and make non-Jews feel uncomfortable in the process.”

It is understandable that Gadsby, as badly treated as she has been by men, would want to reject an industry they continue to dominate and use, no less, to further abuse women. How to operate as a queer woman within such a system? The simplest, most palatable answer is to refuse participation, and Gadsby knows it. [emphasis added] She is well aware of the resonance of such a choice in today’s politically charged climate of art consumption, in which a socially “necessary” work needn’t concern itself with any of the standards by which we’ve traditionally judged art—say, by whether your standup routine is funny. As she told Variety, “in order to find this success, I really did need to declare I was quitting comedy and mean it.” The joke is on us for buying a story that has since proven as misleading as a punchline. “I said I was quitting, and if I quit, I’m an idiot now,” Gadsby said on The Tonight Show. “If the show had gone as badly as I’d planned, it would’ve worked, but now I’m left with the choice: I’ll either be an idiot or a hypocrite. I’ll be a hypocrite.” [emphasis added]

To buy the joke we first have to know who Gadsby is, and then take the further step of caring who she is.  For all of the neo-Calvinist American dudes who think it's a big deal what John Piper does or does not endorse a super-majority of English-speaking people, to say nothing of the world, are going to ask "John who?"  

Having read a smattering of journalistic coverage of Gadsby's show and having seen that arts coverage is publicity of some kind or another for someone who I'd never heard of before prior to the announcement of quitting, Gadsby may really have "meant it" at the time, but it comes off like the furniture store that has a going out of business sale every other year with the promise that this time it's for real until the sales ensure that the business can continue.  

Since humor is laughing at as well as laughing with it's simply not tenable to claim that self-deprecating humor is the only kind of humor, which anyone could observe.  Maybe it's supposed to be ironic that Gadsby found her success after declaring she was quitting comedy and meaning it but we live in an era, suffused as it is with internet-transmitted headlines and coverage, where it can seem like the only principle way to engage social media and media issues is to sell out.  It's not that the bad news is that that's always bad, the bad news is, for some people at least, that that kind of viral selling out seems to be the prerequisite for even "being" at all in the contemporary information economy.  If nothing less than viral is worth talking about then whether or not anything monetized and viral in the arts will even be talked about may be one of any number of things Banksy is theoretically getting at with the self-shredding painting.  

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Emily Belz piece at WORLD on Ann Voskamp and plagiarism as indicator of contemporary popular Christian publishing

The Voskamp file suggests that publishers and writers both have responsibilities in this brave new world. Zondervan, caught red-handed with The Broken Way’s plagiarized passage, deleted the plagiarized part from digital editions entirely—this is apparently common practice when publishers find instances of possible plagiarism. If you download a Kindle edition of The Broken Way today, it will not have the story about Voskamp’s dad and the seed.

Zondervan also removed the YouTube video promoting the book where Voskamp told this seed story about her father. Zondervan, owned by HarperCollins, declined to comment for this story.

Curiously, when I ran Voskamp’s plagiarized text from The Broken Way through iThenticate, the software did not detect the plagiarism. Others in publishing say it’s not unusual for software to miss such obvious cases. The situation underscores the ongoing difficulty with catching plagiarism in publishing, even with new plagiarism software that has vast digital resources to flag these problems.

“The best defense against plagiarism is good software combined with good editors,” said Ben McCoy, managing editor at InterVarsity Press. InterVarsity runs all of its manuscripts through iThenticate, but McCoy has found gaps in the software’s ability to detect plagiarism as well.

Multiple people in the publishing industry I talked to want better plagiarism software, but nothing appears to be in the works. Publishers tend to rely on authors to abide by their contracts, which include stipulations against plagiarism or poor attribution. And now in a digital age, they can edit problems post-publication without attracting much notice.

There may, in the end, but no substitute for reading as widely and deeply as humanly possible.  When the Mark Driscoll plagiarism controversy erupted in the wake of Driscoll's fateful interview with Janet Mefferd in later 2013 she blogged (the content is long since gone) that she wasn't even the only person to have publicly broached the question or issue as to whether a Mark Driscoll authored book had failed to adequately cite materials and made reference to Wenatchee The Hatchet.  As I was reading Real Marriage in the summer of 2013 I got to chapter 7 and it took half a minute to recognize that Dan Allender's work was obviously a significant influence on the ideas of the chapter; that both Mark and Grace Driscoll had explicitly name-dropped Allender as an influence; and that there wasn't even a single footnote's worth of attribution or thanks in the first edition of Real Marriage.  That has since been fixed.

Let's recall that the late 2013 to early 2014 period in which Mark Driscoll was embroiled in a plagiarism controversy before it also turned out Mars Hill Church had contracted with Result Source to make Real Marriage a best-seller on the NYT bestseller list was just a few years ago.  If Mark Driscoll has declined to mention these controversies in Spirit-Filled Jesus while making some jocular comment about his family feeling like crash test dummies in a car without seatbelts it's not because the controversies didn't happen and weren't part of the journalistic record.  The difference between first and second edition Mark Driscoll books can still testify to what catalyzed the controversy.
Two years ago WORLD investigated whether Christian publishers use plagiarism software, and at the time most of the “big five” publishers like HarperCollins did not as a matter of habit, while smaller publishers did. Zondervan said that it used software if editors found red flags in a manuscript, but not on every manuscript.

Unfortunately the most realistic response to that paragraph would be "duh!"

which case the article goes on to discuss, in fact.

There's some context for Zondervan and plagiarism cases mentioned in the article:
For all of this, Zondervan has a reputation of responding quickly to plagiarism accusations. In October last year, Andreas Köstenberger reported his own plagiarism to his publisher, Zondervan—or what Zondervan called “a series of inadvertently unattributed references”—in a Biblical commentary on the Gospel of John. Köstenberger had failed to cite a commentary from D.A. Carson several times, a failure he attributed to inadequate note-taking.
Zondervan went through Köstenberger’s part of the commentary and found the problems were too “extensive” to fix. In December, Zondervan pulled the book out of print. Köstenberger issued a public apology, apologized to Carson, “my esteemed mentor and friend,” and also said he made “financial restitution” to Carson and his publisher.
Köstenberger had written about plagiarism in a 2011 book, Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue. Addressing young Christian scholars, he wrote, “It is those engaged in biblical and theological studies who should hold to impeccable standards when it comes to respecting and referencing the works of others.”
Academic publications may still have some higher standards than pop inspirational books.  On the whole it eems that if you want to read inspiring stories as a christian you'd be better off these days reading inspirational literature that's public domain.

Someone named Paul once wrote a rhetorical question asking "what then is my reward?"  He wrote that his reward was that he shared the good news he had to share free of charge, thereby not making use of rights he might otherwise be able to invoke as one who was sent with a message, i.e. the Gospel.  1 Corinthians 9:18 for those who want to look it up and don't know the passage already.

HT Jim West, RNS reports grand jury indictment of owner of Christian Media Group, publisher of The Christian Post

RNS) — A New York City grand jury has indicted Christian Media Corp., the publisher of evangelical news website The Christian Post, and William Anderson, its former chief executive, on financial fraud charges, along with Etienne Uzac, who ran Newsweek magazine’s parent company.
The allegations center on more than $10 million in loans to buy computer equipment, but the proceeds were actually used to keep Newsweek magazine, owned by a related firm, operating, according to an indictment unsealed this week.

Some of those funds were funneled to The Christian Post’s parent firm, the indictment alleges.
The 14-year-old Christian Post — which has ties to both a prominent Southern Baptist ethicist and a controversial Korean pastor — claims to be “the #1 Christian website in the world.” According to research firm, the site has received 2.42 million unique visitors in the past six months, down 2.51 percent over the previous period.

Along with news aimed at an evangelical audience – The Christian Post advertises itself as “pandenominational” — the site is noted for publishing commentaries authored by conservative evangelical and charismatic commentators, including Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources; Michael Brown, host of the “Line of Fire” radio program; and John Stonestreet of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

The Christian Post also has ties to a number of high-profile national evangelical leaders. 
Uzac, in a statement, claimed the indictment was payback for an International Business Times article on the prosecutor.

 “I believe this very aggressive investigation is fueled by retaliation against me and my news media company for having uncovered that the Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. declined to press charges against Harvey Weinstein after his attorney paid Vance money,” he said.

Oct 10, 2018
The purpose of this statement is to share my personal perspective on a grueling two-year investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s into the acquisition of server equipment through equipment finance lenders. It culminates in my indictment today and officially signals that this aggression that was playing outside of the oversight of the court, will now finally be overseen by professional judges.

I believe this very aggressive investigation is fueled by retaliation against me and my news media company for having uncovered that the Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. declined to press charges against Harvey Weinstein after his attorney paid Vance money 

( da-after-he-declined-file-sexual). The firestorm that ensued badly bruised the DA’s office, led to his office to be investigated by the New York Attorney General and almost cost him his re- election.
Within 60 days of IBT publishing the story, the DA ordered that our server room be raided. For the government to dare raid a media company’s servers no matter what the circumstances is crossing a line and a violation of the First Amendment and the Freedom of Press. As a matter of fact, I believe this is the first time in US history that the government has raided a media company’s server room.

Things will just have to play out to see how things play out.

The claim that the investigation is fueled by retaliation for reporting that a district attorney declined to press charges doesn't seem as though it's material.  Let's put this another way, having documented the history of Mars Hill Church over the last ten years merely failing to take legal action isn't in itself inherently indicative of X or Y.  There was a RICO suit that was dropped because fees could not be paid but the judicial assessmet of the case was that it looked like there was a basis for a case. 

Alternatively, simply because, say, a Christian author could llitigate on charges of copyright infringement doesn't mean that Christian authors generally choose to do so (or that the lack of doing such means they shouldn't). 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Zondervan settles plagiarism case

Author Carey Scott and HarperCollins Christian Publishing (HCCP)/Zondervan have reached a settlement in Scott’s copyright infringement lawsuit against the publisher and Christine Caine, a Christian author and founder of anti-human trafficking organization The A21 Campaign.
Scott has declined to share details of the settlement, and HCCP did not respond to requests for comment.

Scott, the author of Untangled: Let God Loosen the Knots of Insecurity in Your Life (Revell, 2015), filed the suit in early May 2018 in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids, Mich., where Zondervan is based, citing copyright infringement issues between her book and Caine’s book, Unashamed: Drop the Baggage, Pick up Your Freedom, Fulfill Your Destiny (Zondervan, May 2016), which has sold over 150,000 copies to date, according to the publisher.

We seem to live in an era in which inspirational stories can make a lot of money and yet can seem extravagantly cheap. 

Years ago James Harleman hosted a Film & Theology discussion of the film District 9, and I recall that one of the guys I knew in my Mars Hill days said he hated the film because "there's no redemption".  Well, James addressed that idea at some length in a discussion about District 9, noting that in American cinematic convention "redemption" is more along James Cameron's Avatar lines--it's not good enough for Americans that someone be plucked from the team of the devil and turned toward the path of salvation, whoever was working for the devil has to voluntarily and defiantly switch sides and himself (because almost invariably in this sort of genre tale it's a "he") becomes the celebrate messianic figure.  Of course there are "strong female character" variants on the trope but the Chosen One is more "powerful" or "redemptive" if they have been hidden away all this time in the bowels of an evil empire. 

It can get a bit A Million Little Pieces after a while ... .

It's become clearer in the last ten years that it's not just "the world" that sells this packaged narrative of "redemption" in which the supposedly "nobody" person gets to rise to the level of hero, the American mainstream/pop Christian publishing industry (across the doctrinal/political spectrum) revels in selling this kind of thing.  Call it a moment of crankiness but it can seem as though in American pop cultural terms everything is supposed to be a mixture of Joseph Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces filtered through Save the Cat.  When a self-help book is billed with an ad that says self-help books don't help the rebel sell seems to run full course.  If self-help books don't help why write yet another one?  But we'll have to get to that book when it gets out. 

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

over at The Atlantic, a piece proposing that even if the China hardware hack is ultimately not a real-world threat it can still constitute a political crisis of confidence

So there's writing here and there about America facing the question of who to decide the enemy is for unifying national consideration, China or Russia over at The Atlantic.  Maybe we'll get to a link to that but for the time being ... a proposal for how there's a political crisis afoot to the China headlines whether or not the hack was what Bloomberg reported. 

It’s easy to forget in the app era, but Silicon Valley got its name from microchips. The generation that transformed orchards into Oracle did so by manufacturing electronic circuits that encrust “chips” of a semiconductor material, usually made of silicon. In the fertile purlicue south of San Francisco, the foundations of the electronic revolution were invented, designed, and manufactured. Shockley Semiconductor, Fairchild Semiconductor, Intel, and other integrated-circuit makers thrived. Computer makers who used their parts burgeoned too. Software and services came next, and then the venture capital to fund these efforts.

Today, the capital and the software remain, and some computer and device makers, too. But the integrated circuit business has largely left the region. Silicon is etched into Silicon Valley mostly in name. The reasons are many. Land, housing, and labor became more expensive. Other countries, most of them in East Asia, created incentives for semiconductor manufacture. Global just-in-time manufacturing, along with the low cost of shipping small, light microchips around the world, made vertical integration less desirable.

This is a useful lens through which to view an explosive story published this week by Bloomberg Businessweek. The report claims that Chinese spies systematically infiltrated U.S. corporate and government computer systems by installing hardware exploits on the motherboards of servers destined for widespread use, from video-streaming services to the CIA. According to Businessweek, the infected machines provided a backdoor into any network on which the machines were installed. The reporting claims that at least 30 U.S. companies were affected, including Apple and Amazon, the most valuable companies in the world. Both companies have vociferously denied the claims, but Bloomberg stands by its story.

Who is right is a matter of corporate and national security. The exploits and hacks that have rocked the tech industry in recent years would seem minor compared with a foreign state gaining stealth access to the entire networks of companies and government agencies that manage enormous volumes of sensitive information. But even if the situation turns out to be different than Businessweek’s report, the scenario outlined in the piece (or one like it) is totally plausible. That plausibility, made newly visible, could combine with an accelerant: A tough American stance on Chinese business, including President Trump’s love for tariffs and trade war, and China’s increased dedication to independence. The resulting blaze has serious implications for the American technology business, and it won’t soon burn out.


The international-trade scholars Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman speculate that those repercussions might weaponize U.S. dependence on China. If Chinese manufacturers offer the best or cheapest option for components needed for domestic manufacture, then it might become beneficial for China to take advantage of that need in order to conduct corporate or governmental espionage. The risks would be enormous, of course—the ZTE ban likely would have bankrupted the company had it not paid the hefty fine to lift it. But over time, if China’s investments in local sources for parts pan out, then China might not rely on imports from the United States and Europe as much as those regions do on China.

Up until now, cost has driven much of the U.S. reliance on Chinese manufacturing: In many cases, it’s the best way to get lots of parts produced fast and cheap. But there are downsides, too, like the lack of redundancy and weakened negotiating position that come from overreliance on one supplier, or on a cartel of regional ones. Labor, environmental, and political concerns are also mounting, hacked motherboards being just the most recent example. And besides all that, Chinese manufacturing has been getting more expensive anyway.

But unlike China, the United States isn’t prepared to rebuild its semiconductor and motherboard-manufacturing industries. Some of that effort still takes place domestically. Intel still makes some of its microprocessors domestically, at plants in Arizona, New Mexico, and Oregon. Texas Instruments manufactures integrated circuits in the Dallas metro area. Micron, which makes flash memory for use in solid-state drives, has fabrication facilities in Utah and Virginia. Patriot Memory makes USB flash drives in Fremont, California. But all these and other semiconductor companies also maintain fabrication facilities in Taiwan, Dalian, and elsewhere in East Asia.