Sunday, November 20, 2016

the healthy effect of advertising on content

(click for larger view)

Friday, November 11, 2016

the incompetent adult in kids' stories



An author friend says that, on occasion, an adult will write to him, expressing annoyance about how incompetent many of the adult spies are in his books. They feel this isn't very realistic.

This kind of reaction, which most children's authors will tell you they get in a steady stream, mainly comes from people who believe that children's literature exists to instruct children in some way.

Interestingly, it's that very concern that leads to the problem: throughout history, human cultures have seen need for stories with children protagonists who must display resourcefulness and bravery (or whatever other virtues we're trying to instill). They must, then, be in situations where an adult would ordinarily intervene — but without the adult. A great number of stories solve the problem by dispatching the parents on the first page. But that still leaves stories where a kid must encounter an adult world that somehow leaves an authority-and-safety vacuum that a kid protagonist can fill.

So, today's parents often complain about the "stupid dad" meme or the "incompetent adult" meme, because of their concern for the teaching duty of stories — a concern that created the very memes they complain about.



Tuesday, November 8, 2016

putting on the pantsuit

Ah, the pantsuit. It's been an object of derision for as long as it's been around. Of course, it's little different from the suit — leaving aside the essential difference, namely who's wearing it.

There's a tidy iconographical rhyme in the phenomenon of Pantsuit Nation. It's yet another way in which a group of Davids reclaims a symbol or term ("bitch"; "queer") to wield against Goliath.

Anne Hollander was talking about this in the 90s. She pointed out that the Western woman's silhouette was denied legs, the symbol of action and agency. Every time women got a bit of power — say, in the 20s, when women, newly enfranchised to vote, entered the urban workforce in a new way, or in the 60s, when they began to clamor against other forms of disenfranchisement — the female silhouette gained legs. It happened either through the raising of hemlines to reveal the leg, or through pants.

At this fun moment, our culture seems ready to embrace all it considered dorky a moment ago. Men are embracing the previously unsexy mantle of soccer-dadhood. (Witness the ads for the newly revamped Chrysler Pacifica, which aim to make the minivan an object of neighborly admiration. Minivan: The New Grill!)

And, this Election Day, women are putting on pantsuits, the fluorescent-lit symbol of all that is dreary about the workplace. For five minutes, the pantsuit has become a badge of honor and a tribute to the strength of those who paved the way.

Hope that idea has legs.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

costume and custom



I was delighted to see that this week's poem for memorization in Greta's class was by Gelett Burgess. (It's his most-known work, the nonsense poem "The Purple Cow.")

Early in my adult life I came across a first edition of his 1901 book The Romance of the Commonplace, and I've gotten it out and enjoyed its prose (purpler than his cow, I'm afraid) every couple of years since. I guess he's my second-favorite essayist, the first being the incomparable Robert Benchley, whose collections I discovered in my parents' library and read and loved from 8th grade on.

Only a short while back, before the poem came along, I'd pulled it off the shelf again. I especially love one piece, "Costume and Custom," which puts forth so much of what I've always thought a man should be: whimsy, standards, a mind opened and closed to the right things.

Click on the book cover to read.