The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

Something for the Weekend

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A Period of Digestion — Music journalist and author Simon Reyolds talks about his new book Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction To Its Own Past with the A.V. Club:

[S]o much happened in the 20th century and things moved so fast, and you had this enormous capitalist engine generating all these toys and gadgets and things that became rapidly obsolescent. It’s all piled up, hasn’t it? And you think of the sheer amount of recording that went on. It always blows my mind whenever I go record shopping how many records I’ve never seen before. I’ve been in record stores forever, decades I’ve been looking through them, and I still see things I’ve never seen, artists I’ve never heard of. The sheer amount of recording that was done, it is almost like this universe of music. Daniel Lopatin in the book actually says it’s a period of digestion, we’re digesting and processing all this stuff that happened musically and in other senses in this really runaway, fast period of time of production. And perhaps that’s fine. Perhaps that’s what we need.

And on a not unrelated note…

A wide-ranging interview with Alan Moore about his new book, Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 1969, comics and popular culture, for Wired:

[T]he overall legacy of the first decade of the 21st century has been one wherein culture mirrors what was going on in our politics during those years. We had a form of politics that was concerned with spin and surface at the expense of any kind of moral or even rational content. In keeping with our well-spun political landscape, I think a lot of contemporary art, if it has a concept it is a concept in the advertising sense. It’s a little mental pun, something that you can use to sell cars or burgers. But in terms of art, once you’ve got the idea of joke, if you like, there is absolutely no need to ever look at those works again.

And sticking with comics…

From Superheroes to Superbrands — Paul Gravett on Grant Morrison’s new book Supergods: Our World in the Age of the Superhero and the poor treatment of the original creators of the comic book superheroes (thx Ed):

How easy is it for fans and pros today, so hypnotised since childhood by these ubiquitous, constantly repromoted properties, to ignore their tarnished histories? I’ve talked recently to some fan readers who are troubled when I mention this horrific, disfigured portrait lurking beneath the polished profiles, masks and capes, hidden in the attic, but who can’t seem to help themselves from still wanting to follow these perfect-looking, super-powered Dorian Grays, no matter what. Morrison prefers to elevate the superhero as an indestructible concept, almost an independent, self-actualising entity, acknowledging only slightly its murkier commercial side, but glossing over the exploitation rife in this business, then and now. Unlike earlier ‘public domain’ gods and goddesses from antiquity and religious faiths, Superheroes are as much Superbrands, properties that must make profits for DC, part of Time-Warner-AOL, and Marvel, bought by Disney. While Morrison and his ilk earn tidy sums from endless, spiralling makeovers of these franchises, both publishers are aggressively fighting lawsuits over ownership against the estates of Siegel and of Jack Kirby, joint architect of the Marvel Universe.

And finally…

A fascinating article by Adrian Hon on ‘cargo cults’ and Unbound, a crowdfunding site for books, in The Telegraph (via Waxy):

Unbound isn’t some fly-by-night operation; it was heavily promoted at the Hay Festival, it’s received gushing praise across the media – yet it may end up with a one in six success rate.

So, why was Unbound set up in the first place? It’s because they constructed a cargo cult, believing that if they mimicked the superficial elements of successful crowdfunding, they could enjoy the same success as others – but perhaps even more, thanks to their relationships with publishers, agents, authors, and the media.

It is perhaps a little unfair to single out Unbound. Traditional publishers who jump on the latest genre bandwagon without truly understanding what made the original popular are just as guilty.

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