31 October 2012

Nostalgia Was Originally a Disease

This summer I stumbled across bits of my childhood entertainment on YouTube.

Back when Bill Bixby was getting unlikably angry on CBS, he also hosted a kids’ version of Masterpiece Theater on public television called Once Upon a Classic.

Most of its drama specials and serials from Britain were based on classic (i.e., public-domain, no need to pay for rights) literature. When the supply ran low, however, the show broadcast some original shows, which I vaguely remembered.

There was also a Saturday-morning (or early afternoon) anthology show on one of the American commercial networks that broadcast an English slapstick comedy series called something like “The Jiffy Kids.”

That turned out to be “The Chiffy Kids,” and “Chiffy” referred to the Children’s Film Foundation (later Children’s Film and Television Foundation) in Britain. Financed by a tax on cinema tickets, the foundation cranked out a steady stream of domestic drama and comedy for school-age audiences.

TV Cream explains the CFF films’ place in British culture:
A joint enterprise between Rank Film Distributors and the most out-of-touch government you ever did see,…the Children’s Film Foundation turned out mini-masterpieces of pre-pubescent crime-solving about five times annually for over 35 years. . . .

crooks were foiled, bullies were trounced, pompous council officials were brought to rights and wacky inventions exploded on a regular basis on some waste-ground just outside London in much the same manner for over three decades, with a few, mainly cosmetic, alterations – the widening of the trousers, the democratisation of the protagonist’s accents – along the way.

The CFF films remain one of those odd cubbyholes of popular culture that are fondly recalled almost by default – not because of any inherent greatness in the films themselves, or any general joy to be had in watching them at the time, but more because they were so heavily plugged by local fleapits, the Beeb and well-meaning headmasters at end of term film shows, that they formed a part of the patina of everyday life, in the manner of the Toffo ads or Nationwide. In short, they were always on, we can’t not remember them.
And through 1970s American television’s need for material that might seem vaguely educational, or at least not completely commercial, some of those movies got broadcast here, too.

Then came the 1980s. In Britain, Margaret Thatcher‘s Tory government ended the tax that provided the funding for the C.F.F. In the US, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush’s Republican governments pulled back on standards for children’s television.

The foundation tried to revive itself in 2006 with a new website listing all its productions. But that soon became a cobwebsite.

Before disappearing, the foundation created a YouTube channel with the handle CFandTF to show the first five or so minutes of many of its movies. The channel is no longer active, but the individual shows can be found by their titles. Certain clips last just long enough to trigger memories in my brain: The ominous truck in “The Battle of Billy’s Pond”! The odd politics of “Robin Hood Junior”! And of course “The Chiffy Kids” as interior decorators! (In terms of a compelling plot, that’s rather like, “In this one, the Stooges are firemen.”)

Now if only I could find any mention of the Westinghouse Television special from about 1978 that involved Huck Finn being picked up in a helicopter to participate in interviews with modern troubled youth? He talked with pregnant teens and played basketball.

30 October 2012

“A terrible storm”

The opening paragraphs of Ozma of Oz, by L. Frank Baum:
The wind blew hard and joggled the water of the ocean, sending ripples across its surface. Then the wind pushed the edges of the ripples until they became waves, and shoved the waves around until they became billows. The billows rolled dreadfully high: higher even than the tops of houses. Some of them, indeed, rolled as high as the tops of tall trees, and seemed like mountains; and the gulfs between the great billows were like deep valleys.

All this mad dashing and splashing of the waters of the big ocean, which the mischievous wind caused without any good reason whatever, resulted in a terrible storm, and a storm on the ocean is liable to cut many queer pranks and do a lot of damage.
Having sent Dorothy Gale to fairyland by cyclone (tornado), for her second trip Baum turned to this storm at sea. Next, in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, he used an earthquake. And then, since he’d exhausted the range of natural disasters, her next two trips were caused by magic from the Emerald City.

In The Scarecrow of Oz Baum had Trot and Cap’n Bill start their journey via a whirlpool—another type of nautical disaster. As with the earthquake suddenly opening a huge crack in the ground in Dorothy and the Wizard, people in the 1910s believed that such whirlpools existed in nature, but they don’t really. Does that mean magic must have been at work in those journeys too?

28 October 2012

Dick Grayson as DC Comics’s First Overt Male Sex Symbol

Earlier this month Thoughts About Dick Grayson considered when DC Comics began to present Dick Grayson as sexy:

I’m just spitballing here, but I don’t think DC really presented Dick as sexy until the 1980s in New Teen Titans, and I don’t think he became an icon for sexiness until the 1990s.
I agree with the first part of that conclusion, but I also think Dick Grayson was the company’s primary male sex symbol in the mid-1980s because he was the first hero frankly shown to be having sex.

That was a big change from the early days, of course. For the first thirty years of his existence, as the most prominent minor in a genre with strict rules about sex and everything else, Dick Grayson was kept far away from sexual feelings. In fact, Batman, #1, ended by showing how Robin was immune to the Cat[woman]’s charms even as Batman succumbed.

In 1963’s the “Prisoners of Three Worlds” story ended with Robin and Bat-Girl going off hand in hand while Batman blushed and gulped at Batwoman’s advances, but Dick and Betty would surely do nothing but kiss. In contrast, Alfred’s imaginary stories in the same era presented the clear possibility of Bruce and Kathy having a child.

Similarly, while there was a lot of flirtatious banter with Wonder Girl in the early Teen Titans stories, Robin never really connected with her, Harlequin, Batgirl, or other possible partners. In solo stories Dick’s college girlfriend Lori visited his dorm room, but he stayed dressed in his turtleneck sweater.

But then came New Teen Titans, by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, in 1980. And that was one sexy comic book, from its very first images of Starfire in her barely-legal and completely impractical armor. Cartoonist R. C. Harvey tried to analyze the runaway popularity of that magazine in The Art of the Comic Book:
Upon first looking into issues of Perez’s New Teen Titans, I was struck by two aspects of his drawing style—how pretty his people looked and how copiously his detail abounded. . . . His people were statuesque hunks and glossy glamour girls, hothouse heroes and heroines cavorting in shapely perfection amid uncluttered and tastefully appointed settings.
The Titans were often working out in skimpy clothing or lounging around pools. Gar Logan’s jokes always drew attention to the beautiful girls, though they also made clear he wasn’t getting any. Even characters who weren’t supposed to be or think of themselves as physically appealing, like Changeling, Cyborg, and Raven, were gorgeous.

Pérez made no bones about designing sex appeal into the magazine in an interview with The Comic Times in 1980:
Starfire…was definitely created for pure sex. The fact is she’s sexy, she enjoys sex, and she makes no bones about it. She attacks Robin in the second issue. You know, really gives him one right across the mouth. The thing is. Starfire is an alien from another planet, but she can learn the language by touch. That’s just the way she chooses to touch. She likes Robin because he’s one of the few guys who's gutsy enough to show his legs. I hate that damn costume of Robin’s. but at least we’re going to have a little fun with it.
In 1983, Pérez repeated to Comics Scene that “Starfire was created as the group’s sex symbol.” Part of the fun of her early aggressiveness came from how Robin was such a straitlaced fellow, both as a character within the story and as a symbol in the larger American culture.

But soon Starfire wasn’t the only Titan to be sexy. In 1983 The Comics Journal’s Dwight R. Decker told Wolfman during an interview: “the Titans aren’t hopping into bed with each other, but there’s still an undercurrent of sexuality.” Wolfman acknowledged that Donna Troy (Wonder Girl) was in a “very healthy sexual relationship” with her boyfriend, Terry Long.

And there was more going on than Wolfman was ready to acknowledge. In New Teen Titans, #28 (dated February 1983), Dick visits Kory’s apartment and on a later page is wearing nothing but his pants while Kory is down to her nightgown. It didn’t take a lot of reading between the panels (or, to put it another way, in the gutters) to figure out what they had been doing. Later Wolfman joked about that scene but at the time he apparently had to be more circumspect.

In 1984, DC Comics launched a new New Teen Titans magazine with better printing and a higher price. This was sold only through comics shops, not newsstands, relieving the creators of worry about what innocent children might stumble across. And in the first issue of that magazine, one panel showed that Dick Grayson and Kory have been sleeping together. (As if we didn’t know.)

In the book Focus on George Pérez, published in 1985, the artist said that panel was his idea:
the simple reason that Dick is 19 years old. I was married at 19. . . . they are both consenting adults, and no matter what—the title says Teen Titans—at 19 years old, those two are legally adult. . . .

And, that one panel, which I did as tastefully as I could, there was no nudity involved, nothing was shown of the act, it’s just the fact that she was in what was established as being his bedroom, because I’d drawn the bedroom before. It’s the bedroom set I have. And, make no question about it, they were in bed together...
The company received “a few letters,” Pérez said then; “about three or four,” he recalled in 1987. But enough that Wolfman as the magazine’s editor felt he should respond on the letters page:
this has become one of the most controversial panels we’ve ever presented. Many readers wrote in saying “Way to go!” and others said “How could you do that in a book about teenagers?” The question cannot be resolved in a letter column. We didn’t mean to use Dick and Kory as role-models. That’s never been our intention anyway, but we realize by their being printed and portrayed as heroes (which they are) the mantle of being a role-model rests on their shoulders.

We acknowledge the problem some of you had with the scene and we apologize if it bothered you. We honestly had no idea there would be any problem. We also acknowledge that premarital sex obviously does exist, end we neither condone nor condemn those who believe or disbelieve in it.
In 1987 Pérez said:
As far as the backlash, it seemed like more only because Marv wanted to deal with the actual question. Even though there were very, very few letters about it, Marv wanted to deal with that and state something about it. I think Marv didn’t go far enough, myself. But again, I have an opinion on that type of thing, or am more vocal in some respects.

Unfortunately, by doing that, it called attention to it, and I think that it probably got more of a backlash of attention brought on by putting it in the letters page than it ever did appearing in the comic, itself.
Indeed, regardless of his denials, Wolfman’s discussion of the characters as “role models” raised the question of what they symbolized. Dick Grayson had been a comic-book role model since his first appearances. He had also symbolized youth, and now the former Boy Wonder was in bed with an alien supermodel. What was America coming to in 1984?! Next we’d be noticing that the President and his wife had gotten married in a secret ceremony eight months before the birth of their first child.

Pérez pointed to preceding examples of comics heroes having sex: Bruce Banner in The Hulk and Charles Xavier in X-Men. But those were:
  • Marvel magazines, not the more traditional DC titles.
  • characters established as adult.
  • not a character America had known as a youth since 1940.
Sex meant more when it involved Dick Grayson. As Wolfman and Pérez had planned, that character’s growth to independence, soon to culminate in taking the new name of Nightwing, was intimately tied up in his leadership of the Titans and his relationship with Kory. And that relationship included sex, even if it wasn’t yet a marriage. As an original reader of those magazines, I can attest that the characters’ behavior didn’t seem scandalous; it seemed natural.

Of course there’s a delightful irony in the fact that the original kid sidekick became the first unmarried male DC hero to have a sex life. I think that made Dick Grayson the company’s primary icon of male sexuality all the way back in 1984.

Within a few years, other DC characters followed. Dick came to represent monogamous values while other heroes of his generation were more freewheeling (providing yet another way for Roy Harper to screw things up for himself). But, just as he was always comics’ first and thus leading kid sidekick, Dick Grayson would always be DC’s first sex symbol.

27 October 2012

Quandaries of Proofs and Historical Proof

Roger Sutton of The Horn Book just wrote about Unspoken, by Henry Cole, a picture book clearly designed around the myth of quilt patterns as guides on the Underground Railroad. The magazine was all set to publish a mixed review of the book, praising its art and storytelling but criticizing the perpetuation of a myth. But, just in time, the publisher changed the book’s afterword to remove all references to the myth.

Since the body of the book is wordless, there was no main text to change. The quilt remains a significant visual element, however. Sutton thinks the story remains “terrific and intriguing,” but he can’t help noticing that quilt hanging there.

By coincidence, this week I sent The Horn Book my review of an upcoming picture book about an event during the Revolutionary War, also generally praising its storytelling but pointing out a significant historical error. That error didn’t originate with the author-illustrator; it’s an all-too-common exaggeration of the event. The mistaken line could be removed without greatly affecting the larger story—but with the book already in proofs, it’s probably too late.

Sutton’s posting notes that Deborah Hopkinson and James Ransome’s picture book Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt linked quilt patterns and escaping from slavery in 1993. That was a story about a girl improvising a patchwork quilt to serve escapees as a map. The “quilt code” myth goes further, positing a widely known, prearranged, and yet secret code based on patchwork patterns, some not documented until after the U.S. Civil War.

Leigh Fellner, one of the quilt scholars working to disabuse of this myth, found the earliest manifestation of the quilt code myth to be a “brief statement in a 1987 feminist video” with no supporting citation. Sweet Clara… followed, probably independently and probably doing more to promote the linkage of quilts and escape routes.

After that picture book, a woman in Charleston, South Carolina, named Ozella McDaniel Williams told a similar story to Jacqueline Tobin while selling her quilts. After three years of fruitless searching for confirmation, Tobin went back to Williams and interviewed her at greater length. Based on that one source, Tobin wrote Hidden in Plain View with Raymond Dobard, Jr. One Oprah appearance later, and a new American myth was born.

26 October 2012

Sununu’s OIP Derangement Syndrome

In July, Romney campaign co-chair John Sununu said President Barack Obama “has no idea how the American system functions” because, in part, he spent ages six to ten in Indonesia. That same day Sununu told reporters, “I wish this president would learn how to be an American.”

A couple of days later Sununu apologized for “using those words,” but stood by their sentiment. Sununu, incidentally, was born in Cuba.

In September, during the Democratic National Convention, Sununu declared that Michelle Obama’s dress cost more than $1,000 and that her husband’s campaign was lying about that figure. A mechanical engineer by training, Sununu had never shown any knowledge or interest in ladies’ fashion before.

People who do follow that field immediately pointed out that the designer who made Michelle Obama’s dress usually prices her work at well under Sununu’s figure (and that Ann Romney had worn an Oscar de la Renta dress costing $1,990 at the Republican convention). And indeed, the Obama dress has an announced price of $398. I can’t find any remarks from Sununu acknowledging that.

Early his month, after the first Presidential debate, Sununu called Obama “lazy” and said, “When you’re not that bright, you can’t get better prepared.” His television interviewer gave Sununu a chance to rewrite his “lazy” comment, and he endorsed it.

Sununu has even criticized the way President Obama walks onto a helicopter. One might recall that Sununu left his job as George H. W. Bush’s chief of staff because he had used government helicopters and planes for several expensive personal trips.

This week, former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed the President for a second term, laying out reasons for supporting Obama and a detailed critique of Romney’s shifty foreign policy. Sununu told an interviewer he thought Powell had “a slightly different reason. . . . I think when you have somebody of your own race that you’re proud of being president of the United States—I applaud Colin for standing with him.” Today Sununu retracted that comment based on his friendship with Powell, not the obviously racist thinking behind it.

A man can only retract and apologize for comments only so many times. Sununu’s antipathies are undeniable. He displays the symptoms of OIP Derangement Syndrome.

24 October 2012

Denslow in Cherokee

While researching a story, I came across this webpage from Western Carolina University’s Cherokee language program.

It uses the art from W. W. Denslow’s picture book Three Little Kittens, originally published in 1904. Those pictures come with a new Cherokee translation to create a tool for teaching that language to kids today. There are audio and PowerPoint versions, plus videos of classroom discussions and sample handouts.

There’s a similar interpretation of Denslow’s Five Little Pigs.

23 October 2012

Finally an Explanation for Dorothy’s Strange Dream

Caleb Crain alerted me to the existence of this public safety poster from the Allegheny County (Pennsylvania) Health Department:
Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer’s wife. Their house was small, for the lumber to build it had to be carried by wagon many miles. There were four walls, a floor, and a roof, which made one room. One day after returning from the outhouse, Aunt Em forgot to wash her hands, which caused a bacterial infection to spread among the whole family, including the dog. In addition to severe stomach cramps and a dreadful fever, Dorothy started to have some really strange dreams.
Okay, there are less appealing Oz stories than Dorothy Return to Oz.

This poster was part of an award-winning public health campaign. There are also germ-driven versions of Treasure Island; Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret; and other classics.

22 October 2012

Lemony Fish

Yesterday the Boston Globe ran an interview with Daniel Handler, representative of Lemony Snicket, which included this exchange about childhood reading:
BOOKS: What was the first adult book you read?

HANDLER: It was “Fish Preferred” by P.G. Wodehouse. I picked that one for its title…
If young Daniel had expected a story about a liking for fish, he would have been disappointed. Fish Preferred refers to the novel’s male lead, Ronnie Fish, and the ups and downs of his stock—not as in “fish stock” but as in “the stock market.”

When Fish Preferred was published in July 1929, speculating in the stock market was all the rage. Even ordinary readers knew the difference between “preferred stock” and “ordinary stock.” Of course, speculation by ill-informed investors was part of the stock bubble that burst just a few months later.

Wodehouse had originally titled that novel Summer Lightning. That was the name of the serialized versions that appeared in both the US and UK earlier that year, and that was the name on the British edition published the same month as the American.

The British edition includes a preface from Wodehouse that explains the situation:
It is related of Thackeray that, hitting upon Vanity Fair after retiring to rest one night, he leaped out of bed and ran seven times round the room, shouting at the top of his voice. Oddly enough, I behaved in exactly the same way when I thought of Summer Lightning. I recognized it immediately as the ideal title for a novel.

My exuberance has been a little diminished since by the discovery that I am not the only one who thinks highly of it. Already I have been informed that two novels with the same name have been published in England, and my agent in America cables to say that three have recently been placed on the market in the United States. As my story has appeared in serial form under its present label, it is too late to alter it now. I can only express the modest hope that this story will be considered worthy of inclusion in the list of the Hundred Best Books Called Summer Lightning.
That preface also contains Wodehouse’s reply to a common criticism:
A certain critic—for such men, I regret to say, do exist—made the nasty remark about my last novel that it contained “all the old Wodehouse characters under different names”. He has probably now been eaten by bears, like the children who made mock of the prophet Elisha; but if he still survives he will not be able to make a similar charge against Summer Lightning. With my superior intelligence, I have outgeneralled this man by putting in all the old Wodehouse characters under the same names. Pretty silly it will make him feel, I rather fancy.
And indeed, Summer Lightning/Fish Preferred is a sequel, one of the early Blandings Castle novels. Apparently all current editions have reverted to Wodehouse’s preferred title.

21 October 2012

Weekly Robin Historical Extra

Some comments at Scans_daily alerted me to a discrepancy in the corporate memory of Stephanie Brown’s brief time as Robin.

Back in December 2005, scripter Bill Willingham gave an interview to Comic Book Resources in which he said:
The death of Spoiler was locked in before I was asked to take over the series, but it was my idea to let her become Robin for a short time before that. My thinking is that it would be nice to give her at least one moment of glory, accomplishment and success, before all of those horrible things that were destined to happen to her.
Newsrama just transcribed remarks by DC Comics executive Dan DiDio at New York Comic-Con on the same storyline:
You know, me and Stephanie, we go way back. The story with Stephanie Brown goes, they came to me as Executive Editor with the War Games story, and said we’re going to kill Stephanie Brown. I knew Stephanie Brown for who she was, and said, “I don’t know, if this is going to be the big ending to your story it doesn’t feel big enough at the time, because the character wasn't strong enough yet.” So I said, “Why don’t we make her Robin for a short period of time, build some interest in her, and then we kill her!”
Big DC and Marvel superhero stories are the products of many minds working together, and scripter Dylan Horrocks has described bad memories of a weeklong discussion of that crossover plot. Undoubtedly both Willingham and DiDio could have had input into the storyline. But did they really come up with the same idea independently?

Willingham’s recollection came much closer to the event, at a time when that suggestion was still quite unpopular with a vocal set of fans and in an interview in which he was happy to state that other plot points were decided for him. I suspect it’s accurate.

I know this is a political period, but I can’t help but be reminded of how in the last Presidential debate Mitt Romney took credit for recruiting women for his gubernatorial administration:
And I said, “Well, gosh, can’t we—can’t we find some—some women that are also qualified?” And—and so we—we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, “Can you help us find folks?” And they brought us whole binders full of women.
But it turned out Romney was actually taking credit for a women’s initiative, as David S. Bernstein of Boston’s Phoenix newspaper explained:
What actually happened was that in 2002—prior to the election, not even knowing yet whether it would be a Republican or Democratic administration—a bipartisan group of women in Massachusetts formed MassGAP to address the problem of few women in senior leadership positions in state government. There were more than 40 organizations involved with the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus (also bipartisan) as the lead sponsor.

They did the research and put together the binder full of women qualified for all the different cabinet positions, agency heads, and authorities and commissions. They presented this binder to Governor Romney when he was elected.
And ten years later the governor convinced himself that that effort had been his idea all along, that approving an idea brought to him made it his idea. Did DiDio do the same?

“Robin wants to get her to be her superhero self.”

Last year when DC Comics launched its “New 52” magazines, HiLoBrow asked eleven-year-old Max for his reviews. This is late, but I wanted to acknowledge the quality of his responses to the Batman family of books.

Max took seriously his brief to review the books as a kid. For example, on Detective Comics, #1, in which the Joker slices off his face, he said: “I would not recommend it to readers my age.” And DC Comics would be the first to say that many of these titles aren’t meant for young readers.

But of course they’re all linked within the same fictional universe, one has the word “teen” in the title, and another co-stars a ten-year-old. So kids will be picking them up. Some of those young readers would be thrilled to see content not meant for them. But Max has some pretty firm ideas of what’s appropriate, both for comics storytelling and for upright heroic behavior.
Teen Titans #1 [here]: The overall idea was pretty good — Robin looks up all these heroes on his super-computer, and goes to find them. In this one, he finds Wonder Girl — but she’s naughty. She steals. Robin wants to get her to be her superhero self. This chopper starts firing at them — she’s forced to turn into Wonder Girl. Good action scenes. I’m excited to read more issues, especially because its plot merges with Superboy’s plot.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #1: It had a little nudity — Starfire — that I did not like. Great action scene at the beginning, but too bloody. I liked how funny it was, but otherwise it wasn’t that great.
Though Starfire showed a lot of flesh in this issue, and early plans called for a see-through bikini, she wasn’t actually nude. But nudity for an eleven-year-old is different. I thought Red Hood and the Outlaws, #1, was well aimed for males in their late teens who have Maxim under their mattress and think their older brother’s girlfriend is really hot but are scared of trying to converse with her. But maybe I do its core readership a disservice.
Batman and Robin #1: I thought Robin was a little rude to his father. His father is Batman. He kinda reminds of a vampire, how Robin looks — pale skin, and dark lines around his eyes, and black hair pulled back. He’s sleeping in a bed and Alfred the butler is coming to wake him up, and as Alfred is about to tap him, Robin grabs his hand and says, “I’m awake.” There wasn’t a ton of action in this issue, but I’m sure there will be more action in #2. The graphics were OK — more realistic than Batman #1 but less realistic than Batwing #1. I’m guessing this one will get better and better.

Batgirl #1: When she was in her costume, Batgirl creeped me out. But when she moves in with her new roommate, it was realistic and good — because it was funny. I liked how they incorporated Batman a tiny bit in the story. It had a bit of a mystery story, which I think I’ll like. But I don’t like how sadistic the burglars are in the beginning — why does every comic that’s not for babies have to have torture in it?

Nightwing #1: Pretty good. The graphics were appealing, I liked the front cover. I liked how Nightwing looked in and out of his costume. There were a lot of good acrobatic scenes, where he’d do flips and crash through a train window or whatever. There was too much murder.

Catwoman #1: The graphics were like Batman and Robin #1. It was a little gross at the end — between her and Batman. Sex, is what I’m trying to say. There were some cool action scenes.
Some older readers might have found the rooftop climax in Catwoman, #1, to be the sort of “cool action scene” they were looking for. Along with the cheesecake cover, it certainly established that magazine to be on the “adult” side of this line. (Sex is what I’m trying to say.)

19 October 2012

OIP Derangement Syndrome Under Debate

The most remembered moment of the latest Presidential debate shows the dangers of OIP Derangement Syndrome to those who suffer from it. As Mitt Romney tried to repeat one of his campaign’s major lies about President Barack Obama, he was caught flat-footed—apparently in genuine disbelief—at being told that he was wrong.

For decades Republicans have tried to paint Democrats as weak and ineffective on foreign policy. This goes back to attacks on the United Nations, “Who lost China?”, overuse of the word “appeasement,” and more. When Barack Obama—a non-white man named after a Kenyan father and raised for a few years in Indonesia—became President, the Republicans naturally thought they could paint him as too quick to compromise with other nations.

The problem with that line of attack is that President Obama is forceful and effective on foreign policy. Indeed, many observers felt that he has a stronger record there than domestically, in large part because he hasn’t faced so much interference from the Republicans in Congress. If a Republican President had been in office when the US government helped remove Osama bin Laden or Muammar Qadaffi, the party would have gladly run on that fact. Instead, they have to run against a President who oversaw both those events.

The Republicans tried various ways to mount their usual foreign-policy attack: lies about an “apology tour,” about “vacillating” whenever the President studied a situation, and so on. This critical stance sometimes required reversing positions 180° in two weeks (Newt Gingrich), talking tough about Qaddafi two years after talking amiably to Qaddafi (Lindsey Graham), or dashing away from press questions until the party consensus formed (Mitt Romney).

After fatal attacks on American diplomatic sites in Cairo and Benghazi on 11 September, the Romney campaign perceived an opportunity to bring out the picture of a Democratic President as a weak. But Romney’s initial statement and press conference the next day hurt his standing. Rather than showing him as forceful, they showed Romney to be ignorant, hot-headed, and exploitative.

Republicans retreated for a while, then concocted a new way to raise the same accusation. Even though Romney had exemplified the pitfalls of speaking too rashly on the 11 September attacks, he and his supporters complained that the Obama administration was too slow to describe the Benghazi attack as planned. In their desperation, some Republicans even claimed officials had conspired to mislead the public about that event.

Romney formulated his party’s claim on 25 September: “That’s an act of terror. But the White House doesn’t want to admit it.” As Zack Beauchamp pointed out at Think Progress, that was the first time Romney himself had used the word “terror” in connection to the Benghazi attack. And in fact, President Obama had called that an “act of terror” back on 12 and 13 September. But neither his friendly hosts on FOX News nor any of his advisors warned Romney that he was wrong.

Kevin Drum at Mother Jones wrote of the Republicans:
I suspect they're caught up in their own echo chamber, the same one that insists Obama wants to take your guns away and has spent the past four years apologizing for America. But the more they dive into the conspiratorial weeds on this, the worse they look to ordinary Americans who don't really mind that President Obama waited a few days to sift through the evidence instead of going off half cocked within a few hours.
Adam Serwer added:
…thanks to their penchant for cherry-picking information, the GOP left their presidential nominee on stage with his mouth agape, struggling to understand how something he knew for a fact wasn't a fact at all.
Romney and his team had come to believe their own lies. So when Romney wound up to repeat it during the debate, President Obama could sit and say, “Proceed, Governor,” wait a few seconds, and then snap, “Get the transcript.” Moderator Candy Crowley stepped in to confirm Obama’s statement—which caused Republicans to whine that she was biased.

Actually, this was one of many recent cases of the facts having an anti-Republican bias. That situation will remain as long as the party is in the grip of OIP Derangement Syndrome.

18 October 2012

A Wrinkle in Lettering

Powell’s really really really needs to add Madeleine L’Engle as a linked author on its webpage for Hope Larson’s adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time into comics form. It’ll sell more copies that way.

I was struck by this detail from MTV Geek’s interview with Larson about the particular challenges of adapting A Wrinkle in Time, with its cerebral vibe, to a graphic format:
I tried to trim the dialogue for space wherever possible, but most of the time it wasn’t. The dialogue carries the burden of almost everything that happens in this book. What saved me was doing final lettering as part of my thumbnail step, so I was sure there’d be room for everything before I put pencil to paper. There are a few panels where the characters are being crushed under a ton of text, but those are infrequent. By making the book nearly 400 pages long, I was able to air it out some.
That reminded me of the method Gene Luen Yang used for Prime Baby, as he described here:
Because Prime Baby was both text-heavy (the protagonist is a wordy little sociopath) and limited in space (it was originally published in The New York Times Magazine), I laid out the words in Photoshop first and then sketched over print-outs of the dialog.
Looking ahead to L’Engle’s sequels, Larson said:
I can’t see myself doing another adaptation. I talked to friends about this adaptation being like grad school—I got my Masters in L’Engle, and now I’m done. I’m done drawing comics, period, for the time being. I felt similarly after completing Mercury, and took a year off drawing, which was the same amount of time it took me to draw that book. Maybe I need to be off drawing for two years, since that was how long it took me to draw Wrinkle. I’ll reevaluate things next September.
So if you were the publisher, considering how long adaptations take, would you have already recruited another graphic novelist to adapt A Wind in the Door? And whom would you choose?

17 October 2012

“Putting men in a position of power over women”

Earlier this month a congressional race in Tennessee was shaken up a bit by the transcript of Rep. Scott DesJarlais’s phone call with his mistress demanding that she have an abortion twelve years ago.

Since DesJarlais has presented himself as an anti-abortion politician, this caused a problem for him. He’s been reduced to pleading that the woman wasn’t really pregnant and he brought up abortion just to get her to admit that.

Amanda Marcotte at The New Republic tried to extrapolate from DesJarlais’s behavior to today’s anti-abortion movement:
As DesJarlais’s case shows, attacks on abortion (and increasingly on contraception) serve a different purpose: Putting men in a position of power over women. But that doesn’t sound as good as waxing poetic about “life,” which would explain why they rarely talk about it in those terms.

The biggest difference between legal and illegal abortion isn’t how often it happens, except insofar as abortion tends to be more common in countries that heavily restrict it. No, the biggest difference between legal and illegal abortion is who controls abortion, and therefore who has power over women’s bodies and lives. Prior to Roe v. Wade, if a woman wanted a safe abortion, her best bet was having a wealthy man to help her. . . .

Conservative men’s anger at having lost control of these matters comes across clearly in the transcript of DesJarlais’ phone call with his former mistress. He insists repeatedly that she owes him this, claiming at one point she is solely to blame for the pregnancy. When she insists on her right to make the final decision in an attempt to get some concessions from him, he loses his temper. As a listener, you finally begin to understand the conservative male longing to return to the abortion laws of the 50s, when a pushy mistress could be controlled with the threat of social ruin and the promise of granting her access to a safe abortion.
Many anti-abortion commenters have responded to Marcotte’s article by saying that DesJarlais doesn’t represent their thinking. And indeed most people in that movement aren’t doctors who had affairs with patients and want to maintain their public images in the middle of contentious divorces and political campaigns.

But as to Marcotte’s larger link between the anti-abortion movement and control of women, that seems quite solid. If people oppose abortion because they view the fetus as a human individual and wish to minimize the killing of human lives, then logically they would support:
  • medically accurate and widespread sex education, which has been found to reduce unwanted pregnancies and thus abortions.
  • access to contraception, which is designed to reduce unwanted pregnancies and thus abortions.
  • equality for same-sex partnerships, which don’t create unwanted pregnancies and thus abortions and do provide more loving couples interested in raising unwanted children.
Instead, there’s a strong correlation between the anti-abortion movement and people who are against all those things. Which shows that the movement isn’t driven purely by a wish to minimize what they see as killing; it also involves a desire to control the private behavior of other people, and women in particular.

16 October 2012

Theories of the Great Book of Records

In the third issue of his Ozopolis comic book (available here), Kirk Kushin offers a theory about Glinda the Good’s Great Book of Records.

L. Frank Baum introduced that book at the end of The Emerald City of Oz. It records everything that happens in the world—with very little detail, naturally. Glinda reads the book regularly to keep watch on threats to Oz.

Sometimes the Book of Records is useful for setting plots in motion, as when Dorothy and Ozma read about a war between the Skeezers and Flatheads in Glinda of Oz and decide to go put things right. At other times the book provides a quick explanation for a necessary plot twist, as in Tik-Tok of Oz. But most often it, like Ozma’s Magic Picture, is an obstacle to building a suspenseful plot. Since the rulers of Oz can very quickly learn what’s going on, how can anyone threaten Oz? How can anybody from the Emerald City get into trouble?

Despite all he and his successors wrote about the Great Book of Records, Baum never explained how it worked (besides “magic”) and how Glinda came to possess it. In The Marvelous Land of Oz, Glinda tells the Scarecrow that she has a book with lots of facts about the Wizard, of the same level of triviality and limited helpfulness that the Book of Records is later shown to provide. But the sorceress says she came by that information from spies.

The Ozopolis theory ties the Great Book of Records to the beautiful young women whom Glinda recruits as her handmaidens. Baum mentioned them multiple times, always describing them doing ordinary genteel handwork.

Kushin’s artist, Gonzalo Martinez, instead shows a couple dozen seated in front of a giant crystal, blindfolded and writing with quills in small notebooks. “The same thaumaturgical engine that powers Ozma’s Magic Picture enhances the scope of my maidens’ visions,” says Glinda. What they write in those notebooks gets magically transcribed into the Great Book. This system “was created soon after Ozma’s coronation,” Glinda says, and the passive voice doesn’t conceal that she herself seems to be the driving force behind the creation.

I have a different theory, but I view Glinda as practicing more realpolitik and secrecy than some like. I posit that the fairy queen Lurline created the Great Book of Records for Ozma’s adoptive father Pastoria, king of Oz. He wasn’t able to keep up with its information before being kidnapped and enchanted. Glinda took possession of the book for the sake of the country, at first concealing its existence through her cover story about the spies. After Glinda helped Ozma ascend to the throne, Lurline gave the new little queen the Magic Picture and Glinda got to keep the book. As for how it actually works, I go back to “magic” and let the handmaidens tend to their embroidery.

There are no doubt other theories to explain the Great Book of Records. In fact, there’s probably a one-to-one correlation between Oz fans and theories about Oz’s mysteries.

15 October 2012

A Somewhat Radical Suggestion from 1987

Yesterday I shared a panel from Teen Titans Spotlight, #10, published in the spring of 1987. The letter column in that magazine included this missive from a fan angling for DC Comics to publish stories from, well, people like him. The reply in italics came from editor Mike Gold.

Ironically, this was about the time that Marv Wolfman was starting to suffer from writer’s block, even as the need for monthly Titans stories was expanding. But with its small staff, tight deadlines, and universe-wide storytelling, DC couldn’t open the transom to just anyone.

Whatever happened to young Barry Lyga from Maryland, with his naive (but shared) vision of fans writing superhero stories? How did his submissions fare? Did he ever break into the comics business or get his stories published? Oh, yeah.

14 October 2012

“Like, Titans Together, y’know?”

Today’s weekly Robin presents one of the oddest images of the Teen Titans in the DC Comics canon.

This picture comes from Teen Titans Spotlight, #10, dated May 1987. The script was by John Ostrander and the penciling by Erik Larsen.

The image is actually a hallucination forced on Aqualad, known to his friends as Garth, by occasional troubled trillionaire Mento/Steve Dayton, who’s stepfather to another Teen Titan called Gar. (There was also a team hanger-on named Gnark, just to confuse newcomers.)

This panel refers to the adventure in New Teen Titans, vol. 2, #20-21, published a year before, in which Wonder Girl had assembled a team mostly of former Titans. That means the Robin in Garth’s vision with the buck teeth and math textbook is the second Jason Todd—as no one has ever pictured him before or since.

12 October 2012

A Foreign Policy Steered by OIP Derangement Syndrome

Among the symptoms of what I’ve been calling OIP Derangement Syndrome are:
  • saying obviously false things critical of President Barack Obama.
  • changing one’s position on issues in order to oppose President Obama.
Since Mitt Romney already has a tendency to say obviously false things and to change many positions, it’s can be hard to know if he’s developed OIP Derangement Syndrome, is pandering to people who have it, or simply doing what comes naturally to him.

Romney’s recent speech on foreign policy provides a case study. As Rick Ungar wrote on the Forbes website, Romney lied when he said, “The President has not signed one new free trade agreement in the past four years.”

In fact, President Obama renegotiated treaties with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea; pushed them through Congress; and signed them in 2011. Given how much value Romney finds in free trade, I have to assume he follows that topic closely, so his inability to acknowledge the truth even after multiple corrections looks like OIP Derangement Syndrome.

Romney also said, “I will roll back President Obama’s deep and arbitrary cuts to our national defense that would devastate our military.” That refers to the “sequestration” forced by the intransigence of Congressional Republicans, including Rep. Paul Ryan, which the President actually hopes to avoid. In sum, Romney blamed President Obama for a problem his own running mate had helped to create. But that looks like pandering to OIP Derangement Syndrome.

Then there’s the problem of Israel and Palestine. In his foreign-policy speech Romney said:
I will recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel. On this vital issue, the President has failed, and what should be a negotiation process has devolved into a series of heated disputes at the United Nations.
However, earlier in the year Romney told a closed-door fundraiser in Florida:
I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say there’s just no way. So what you do is, you say, you move things along the best way you can. You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem.
Romney thus called the problem unsolvable yet blamed President Obama for not solving it. He also implied that the Obama administration doesn’t have “the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel” while he does. So that’s a lie, a reversal, and an unfair accusation all in one. Definitely OIP Derangement Syndrome, as well as pandering.

And then there was Romney’s criticism of the Obama administration’s handling of Libya. As early as October 2011, Jake Tapper at ABC News noted that Romney had been for more aggressive action, then against it, then for it again—though never specifying what action he would prefer. At one point he ran away from reporters asking for a comment on the issue. He preferred to wait for Republicans to reach some consensus and then try to position himself there—an odd tactic for someone who complains about a leadership vacuum. But that’s what comes naturally to Romney in a field he doesn’t know much about.

On Libyan policy Romney’s only consistency over the last two years has to claim that President Obama was doing it wrong—somehow. Then came his first response to the Benghazi attack, when he blamed the Obama administration while also misstating basic facts—and maintained that position even after his errors became clear. That incident showed how Romney’s criticism of the President’s foreign policy isn’t based on facts or judgment. It’s based on OIP Derangement Syndrome.

(The photograph above, courtesy of the Charleston, South Carolina, Post and Courier, shows the London Sun’s response to Romney’s previous attempt to establish his foreign-policy credentials.)

11 October 2012

Memories of the Mad Duck

I reread a lot of favorite books as a preteen and teen, but I think there was only one in which I actually marked the chapters with stars to designate my favorite parts. That was Mad Ducks and Bears, George Plimpton’s second football book.

In Paper Lion Plimpton recounted his weeks embedded with the Detroit Lions as a fourth-string, pre-season quarterback in 1963. In contrast, Mad Ducks and Bears is a grabbag of reminiscences: watching Paper Lion turn into a movie starring Alan Alda, Plimpton’s similar turn with the Baltimore Colts in 1971, training-camp pranks, and so on. And it’s hilarious.

Providing the extra energy in Mad Ducks and Bears is one of the defensive linemen Plimpton had met on the Lions: Alex Karras, the Mad Duck, who died yesterday at age 77. (The Bear was John Gordy, another lineman Plimpton remained friends with.) Some of the book’s funniest chapters describe the prank-ridden Alex Karras Golf Classic, for example.

But there are also great insights into the life and work of football players. The book transcribes recordings of Karras and Gordy during a game, for example. Karras was so near-sighted he couldn’t see the action from the sidelines, and he trash-talked most of his time on the field. Plimpton followed the players after they retired, observing that ex-backs put on weight while ex-linemen finally got to slim down.

In November 1970, Tom Dempsey of the New Orleans Saints lined up to try a field goal of more than sixty yards against Karras’s Lions. That was the lineman’s last season. Karras went on the Tonight Show later that month, talking about how none of the Lions believed Dempsey had a shot at making such a long kick, so they didn’t even try to block. In fact, Plimpton wrote, Karras (number 71) was the first defender through the line of scrimmage, heading for the ball, the way the game was meant to be played.

10 October 2012

When Mark Twain Met Tom Sawyer

Smithsonian magazine offers a profile of Tom Sawyer, volunteer firefighter, saloon owner, and civil servant, whom Mark Twain—then still plain Samuel Clemens, aspiring journalist—met in the early 1860s in San Francisco.

Most of the article appears to be based on interviews with Sawyer in the 1890s, after Twain had become a famous author, in large part based on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. At that time, Sawyer was telling people how he used to share anecdotes of his childhood with his drinking buddy Sam, and thus inspired the famous character.

How much can we rely on Sawyer’s memories and claims? A passage from Roughing It indicates that Twain did know someone named Sawyer in San Francisco. However, it also says the young writer met that Sawyer for the first time just before his first speaking engagement, and that doesn’t match the timeline that the real Tom Sawyer recalled.

Sawyer claimed Clemens had told him that he was ready to write a story about boys in 1864. But at that time Twain seems to have wanted to write a serious novel, not humor, and he didn’t start on Tom Sawyer until 1873.

Furthermore, Twain later denied naming the character Tom Sawyer after anyone. His 1923 biographer Alfred Bigelow Paine listed three people as inspirations for the character, one of them the author himself. Tom’s home town is based on Hannibal, Missouri, while Sawyer the San Franciscan had grown up in Brooklyn, New York. Tom’s house, as I wrote here, is clearly based on the Clemens house.

On the other hand, Twain never appears to have objected to Sawyer’s interviews and claims, which were published and reprinted in his lifetime.

What are we to make of all this? I suspect Mark Twain borrowed Tom Sawyer’s name as a rhythmic stand-in for this own Sam Clemens, but little else. Well, perhaps the braggadocio that’s so much part of Tom’s personality. And perhaps Twain felt a little guilty about that authorial appropriation, preferring not to mention it. Meanwhile, out in San Francisco, the saloon-owning Tom Sawyer’s stories got better and more detailed over the years. And now they’ve resurfaced in Smithsonian.

09 October 2012

The Ruby Slippers Go on the Road

The Smithsonian is lending its pair of ruby slippers from MGM’s Wizard of Oz to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London for an exhibit on Hollywood costume. This will be the first time any original pair of the slippers is displayed with one of the blue and white dresses that Judy Garland wore through most of the movie.

The Guardian reported:
The slippers were designed along with all the other costumes for the film by Adrian Greenberg – always just known as Adrian – the chief costume designer at MGM studios, whose favourite childhood book was Frank L Baum's 1900 classic, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

In the original screenplay, Dorothy's shoes were silver: scriptwriter Noel Langley is credited with changing this to "ruby slippers", which would give a more striking colour contrast when she is magically transported from black-and-white, storm-torn Kansas to the Technicolor magical world of Oz.

They were made in Los Angeles by a veteran shoemaker, Joe Napoli, from red satin shoes with a one and a half inch heel, covered in red sequins hand-stitched on to fine chiffon, with a centre bow edged with red glass beads and crystals. Visitors to the exhibition may be surprised to see that they are actually a deep winey garnet colour, designed to photograph as scarlet in Technicolor.
These aren’t the only ruby slippers to survive from the movie. The studio had several pairs made, two as prototypes and then perhaps half a dozen in the final design. There were pairs for Garland and for her double. There were shoes for dancing and shoes kept pristine for close-ups. Most of those that remain are in private hands. One belongs to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. And one pair was stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, in 2005 and is still missing.

07 October 2012

Another Kid in Crime Alley

For years I’ve owned copies of Batman, #408, in which Max Allan Collins introduced the second Jason Todd stealing tires off the Batmobile in Crime Alley, and Batman, #410, in which Jason makes his debut as Robin.

Curiously, it was harder for me to find the intervening issue, which should theoretically be less prized. Last month I came across an unbagged, 25-year-old copy in the dollar bin at Bedrock Comics in Framingham.

“Just Another Kid in Crime Alley” is an odd little story, penciled by Ross Andru and inked by Dick Giordano. Having found Jason living alone in an abandoned building with nothing but his cigarettes, his vest, and his elaborate stereo system, Batman decides he needs a better home. So he drops the boy at an orphanage.

This orphanage has a reputation for “unorthodox” teaching methods, Bruce Wayne knows it’s had “difficulties with the board of education and various social agencies.” The woman in charge is named Fay Gunn. But somehow Batman’s keen detective instincts don’t clue him in that she’s training the orphans to be a criminal gang.

After several violent incidents Jason decides Ma Gunn is “batty” and runs away. Meanwhile, Batman revisits Crime Alley and meets a fedora-wearing man (it’s a very old-fashioned neighborhood), who discovers that his tires are missing. Now Batman’s deductive power kicks in. He decides that in Gotham City only one person could have committed that crime: the boy he left at the orphanage.

So Batman tracks down this nefarious criminal in…the same abandoned building.
Jason defiantly tells Batman the truth about Ma Gunn’s orphanage. Batman watches Jason reattach the tires (apparently Alfred handles that task at home). And they discuss the serious issues of crime.
And that’s when Batman realizes he’s found a new little friend.

06 October 2012

SideScrolling Through Life

When I first read that Matthew Loux’s SideScrollers had been challenged as a title on a high school’s summer reading list for incoming freshmen, my response was:

Who in the world put SideScrollers on a summer reading list?! Bwahahahahaha!

As Loux just told the National Coalition Against Censorship:
SideScrollers was inspired by my own slackerish social life when I was a teen, hanging out with friends during the summers after high school and college. In retrospect it was a great time of very little responsibility or expectations allowing the freedom to work at a crappy job and use the money earned on snacks, toys, and video games.
In sum, SideScrollers is the absolute antithesis of the summer reading list.

This is a story about lazing around and doing nothing productive. By dint of great effort, followed by mortal necessity, the heroes manage to save a girl from date rape and stand up to bullies. But most of the time their level of motivation is half a step above the self-preservation instinct of sea slugs.

Evidently one Enfield, Connecticut, parent objected to the book’s blue language. And yes, one parent shouldn’t be able to dictate an educator’s choice of reading possibilities for an entire class, especially when the list offered plenty of other books to choose from. But I have a hard time believing that educator had actually read SideScrollers before assigning it. (Loux has become better known for his Salt Water Taffy series for younger readers.)

Assigning SideScrollers as summer reading goes against its very nature. It’s the sort of book that should be recommended with a sly sidelong whisper: “Hey, kid, are you that bored? You want some mindless fun?” And then the young folk might learn something.

Fortunately, the local TV station reported:
The book has become very popular among young readers and there is a wait at the library and local bookstores to purchase or borrow it.

However, SideScrollers will not be on next year's summer reading list, [school superintendent] Schumann said.

05 October 2012

Mapping OIP Derangement Syndrome

In April 2011 the New York Times’ Politics blog published this map showing the change in votes for presidential candidates between 2004 (Bush v. Kerry) and 2008 (McCain v. Obama).

There are three parts of the USA where the victorious Obama-Biden ticket did over five percentage points worse than the defeated Kerry-Edwards ticket four years before. A couple of isolated spots are in Arizona and Alaska, the home states of the 2008 Republican ticket. But the biggest concentration is a swath of the inland South extending from western Pennsylvania and West Virginia through eastern Texas, including most of Tennessee and Arkansas, plus parts of coastal Louisiana, Georgia, and northern Florida.

At The New Republic, Alec MacGillis wrote of this region:
It is, almost to a T, what Colin Woodard, in his fascinating new ethnographic history of North America, American Nations, defined as the territory of the "Borderlanders" -- the rough-hewn Scots-Irish who arrived in this country from the "borderlands" of northern Ireland and Scotland, and claimed for themselves the inland hill country, far from the snooty Northeastern elites and Southern gentry.
MacGillis noted that this vote occurred while the Bush-Cheney recession was obvious, the land wars in Asia had become unpopular, and Obama hadn’t instituted any policies. It wasn’t a reaction to anything Barack Obama had done; it was a reaction to him.

In June 2012, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a graduate student in economics at Harvard, released a paper (PDF download) positing another way to measure animus against the President. As he explained for the Times, Stephens-Davidowitz analyzed Google searches that included racist terms.
I used data from 2004 to 2007 because I wanted a measure not directly influenced by feelings toward Mr. Obama. From 2008 onward, “Obama” is a prevalent term in racially charged searches.

The state with the highest racially charged search rate in the country was West Virginia. Other areas with high percentages included western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, upstate New York and southern Mississippi.

Once I figured out which parts of the country had the highest racially charged search rates, I could test whether Mr. Obama underperformed in these areas. I predicted how many votes Mr. Obama should have received based on how many votes John Kerry received in 2004 plus the average gain achieved by other 2008 Democratic Congressional candidates. The results were striking: The higher the racially charged search rate in an area, the worse Mr. Obama did.
Stephens-Davidowitz estimated that racial animus affected 3-5% of the overall vote in the 2008 election.
Many analysts have suggested that Obama has trouble appealing to white working-class male voters. But Kevin Drum at Mother Jones pointed out, using the graph above, that the two main Presidential candidates this year are running about even with white working-class voters except in the South. That’s not because Romney has any special ties to that quadrant of the country; in fact, the South is the only one of those regions where Romney hasn’t had a luxury home. That’s because of heavier concentration of anti-black racism, a common if indignantly denied ingredient in OIP Derangement Syndrome.

As MacGillis noted, in this year’s Democratic primary over 40% of West Virginians chose Texas prison inmate Keith Judd over the President. In Kentucky, rural Democrats preferred “uncommitted.” There was a similar result in Arkansas, with President Obama receiving only about 60% of the vote in the Democratic primary. Some observers tried to argue that was a response to President Obama’s policies. However, as the map at top and the search-terms study show, those states were already the epicenter of anti-black, anti-Obama sentiment.

04 October 2012

Ooh, Drama!

There are three major girl characters in Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel Drama: protagonist Callie, her best friend Liz, and a classmate named Bonnie who fills the three roles of middle-school queen bee, Callie’s romantic rival, and leading lady in the school play.

In contrast, there are six major boy characters, by which I mean characters involved on one side or the other of the story’s many crushes and tentative relationships. My count includes Callie’s brief initial boyfriend Greg, his younger brother Matt, twins Justin and Jesse, leading man West, and stage manager Loren. (I’m not counting male members of the stage crew who appear throughout the book but stay outside the romantic roundelay, nor Callie’s little brother.)

Numerically, that ratio is quite different from my understanding of middle-school theatricals: that a director has to find parts for about a dozen boys and four dozen girls. True, Callie’s on the stage crew. (In fact, she spends much of the book solving a technical problem involving a timed explosion—no sewing costumes for her!) But Callie’s circle is divided between people working in front of and behind the curtain.

Telgemeier’s male-heavy cast would also appear to present problems if Drama were headed for the classic comedic ending with all the boys and girls neatly paired off. The book is, after all, framed and structured as a play itself, with the cast members walking on stage in the first pages and a spread labeled “Intermission” partway through.

But this story is about a modern middle-school drama club. The book not only acknowledges homosexuality but puts it at the center of the plot. In fact, the only pairing that appears still to be on its feet at the end of the book is between two of the boys. But despite all the lines and color on cheeks, no one in the cast has actually died of embarrassment, and in middle school that’s about as much as you can hope for.

02 October 2012

No Climbdown from Baum on “Climb Down”

I started this series of postings with a quotation from L. Frank Baum’s Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, with Dorothy admonishing a horse about how to talk properly:
“She couldn’t climb down, Jim,” said Dorothy. “To climb means to go up.”

“Who said so?” demanded the horse.

“My school-teacher said so; and she knows a lot, Jim.”

“To ‘climb down’ is sometimes used as a figure of speech,” remarked the Wizard.

“Well, this was a figure of a cat,” said Jim, “and she went down, anyhow, whether she climbed or crept.”
Soon afterward the horse tells another character, “You may go down, but you can only climb up.” But Jim does so “with a twinkle in his round eyes.” Evidently he still thinks this rule is silly.

And did Baum himself accept the proscription against “climb down”? A search through his books shows that he definitely didn’t.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz uses five variations on the phrase “climb down.” Baum’s other fantasy for 1900, The Magical Monarch of Mo, uses three. That was the same year that The Inland Printer, a Chicago trade magazine that Baum knew well, advised against the phrase.

In The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1902), the title character “climbs down” chimneys five times. Other Baum novels that contain the phrase include Ozma of Oz (once), Rinkitink in Oz (twice), Sky Island (twice), and The Magic of Oz (three times). Those titles nearly cover the breadth of Baum’s novel-writing career.

In having Dorothy correct Jim’s grammar, Baum was probably just setting up a joke. But that scene also showed Dorothy’s somewhat bossy side (evident in other conversations in other books), and added to illustrator John R. Neill’s gentrification of a plain Kansas farmgirl. Despite her elided words, she was becoming more snooty about language than her creator.

01 October 2012

Baum and The Inland Printer

In the 1890s L. Frank Baum and his family moved to Chicago. He supported them as a freelance journalist and traveling salesman before parlaying his (brief and unsuccessful) experience as a shopkeeper in Aberdeen, South Dakota, into a job editing The Show Window.

In 1900 a Chicago-based trade magazine called The Inland Printer described Baum’s magazine in a squib that might have been supplied by the editor himself:
The Show Window, edited by L. Frank Baum, Chicago, is growing in interest from month to month. It is the official organ of the National Association of Window Trimmers of America, and contains an amount of information in this line to be had through no other source. Its half-tone illustrations of window display are worth more than the price of the publication. No storekeeper can afford to be without such a magazine. Its suggestions for Easter window decorations in the special Easter number are a treat to even the uninitiated.
By then Baum also had a second career as a children’s author. The Inland Printer noted that as well a few issues later:
The author of “Father Goose,” Mr. L. Frank Baum, has followed up his success with a remarkable juvenile entitled “A New Wonderland,” which is shortly to be issued by R. H. Russell, of New York. The reader is introduced to a marvelous and hitherto undiscovered country, peopled with the quaintest and merriest characters ever conceived to delight childish hearts. Frank Ver Beck has made many colored pictures for the new book, which bids fair to attain a popularity seldom accorded a juvenile publication.
That book is better known now under its reissue title, The Magical Monarch of Mo.

The Inland Printer didn’t take note of Baum’s other fantasy for children published in 1900, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. However, that year’s volume did feature illustrations from W. W. Denslow, including the spooky “What’s the Use?” and three bookplates for the Wilkins family (two reproduced here via Google Books, and thus at less than optimum crispness).

So we know Baum was almost certainly reading The Inland Printer, and probably contributing to it. Which gives more significance to another item from the 1900 volume, a response to a reader’s proofreading inquiry on whether “climb up” was incorrect.

The Inland Printer’s editors said the word “up” was unnecessary and noted other common phrases that were equally redundant. The column added:
No dictionary except one even mentions the phrase “climb down,” and that one, the Funk & Wagnalls Standard, says that it is a United States colloquialism.
Thus, when Baum had Dorothy Gale pass on a lesson from her teacher not to say “climb down,” he was echoing advice he’d probably read a few years before.

TOMORROW: But did that usage bother Baum?