Saturday, July 31, 2010

Slightly imperfect

I've actually been keeping up with my New Yorker reading lately (the double issues always help me catch up, since they're twice as long but half as interesting as a normal issue, and then I get a week off). Skipping the stuff I know I'll hate is helping me pick up the pace, and not stopping to blog about that or anything else has been helpful as well. But this week I blogged not once but twice at dotCommonweal about various features of the August 2 issue. First, I recommended Atul Gawande's excellent article about death and health care. And today I picked on some aggressively secularist posturing in the "Briefly Noted" section, along with a less disdainful but similarly clueless Bible reference in an earlier issue.

I'm hoping I don't need to explain what's funny about that last one to the audience over at dotComm, but for those who haven't visited a religious bookstore lately, let me clarify: the NRSV Bible is a translation, not a specific print edition. (Wikipedia puts it this way: "The New Revised Standard a thorough revision of the Revised Standard Version.") It comes in all shapes and sizes, the way Bibles do. So describing something as "about the size of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible" (as Meghan O'Rourke does) sounds knowing and specific, but is actually very vague.

Nox, according to, is 9.1 x 6 x 2.6 inches. So there are some editions of the NRSV that are about the same size. Perhaps it was this imitation leather "award Bible" O'Rourke had in mind? Or, if you wanted to get really specific, you might say it's about the size of a New King James Version Precious Moments ® Small Hands Edition Bible, available "slightly imperfect" from I did not know it was possible to purchase a "slightly imperfect" Bible. The very idea seems slightly blasphemous―and yet, I would say a Precious Moments ® Bible is "slightly imperfect" by definition. Score one for truth in advertising.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Leave Chelsea alooooone

"Why are people so fascinated with this wedding?" the NY1 anchorwoman asked the field reporter on the scene in Rhinebeck, NY. The wedding in question is that of Chelsea Clinton, which I gather is taking place tomorrow. NY1 has created a graphic for the occasion that says "The Clinton-Mezvinsky Wedding." I had to laugh at that one, because seriously, nobody cares about the groom, but nice gesture.

Which brings me to my point, which is that -- so far as I can tell -- nobody really cares much about the bride, either. Why are people so fascinated? Which people? I personally would prefer that news organizations not devote any resources to covering this "story." If I want to read about celebrity weddings, there are glossy tabloids filled with news of same. I do not need updates on NY1, or CNN. This is not a matter of national importance. But the news media is committed to giving the impression that it is, because it's something they can cover without worrying too much about "balance" or "informed commentary." It's entertainment masquerading as news -- but they can hide behind the fact that Chelsea Clinton is the child of important government figures and pretend that makes her wedding a nationally significant affair. Gee, we'd love to report on the war in Afghanistan or the potential for climate-change legislation, but there's this wedding we've got to cover! It's basically a matter of state!

So, NY1 is showing footage shot from helicopters of white tents and green shrubbery and such, like it's the O.J. Simpson highway chase, rather than an event planned by a couple of families striving desperately for a modicum of privacy. And this reporter is on the ground in Rhinebeck, describing what she sees and what she's heard about the wedding. But, she notes, none of the details have been confirmed by the families. Attention "news" organizations: please take the hint. Try covering a red-carpet premiere or something else designed for your consumption. Or, at the very least, quit acting all miffed that the Clintons and Mezvinskys are keeping you in the dark, because it's you and not they (and not "people" in general) who are turning this into a media circus.

Someone on the street in Rhinebeck noted that, unlike Britain, our country has no royal family. True enough. But take heart -- we do have a self-obsessed, aggressively shallow mainstream news media. And they will hound the grown daughter of a former president all the way to the altar, despite her obvious desire to be left alone, and blame it on you and your insatiable appetite for details. I mean, really, why so fascinated, America?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Copyright law, or: the bitch of living

When I was a teenager the Internet was new and limited and slow, and while I did use it to indulge my theatre geekery, that mainly took the form of long and passionate email conversations with my friend Sarah about which cast recording of Company was the best and who deserved to win (or lose) a Tony for shows we mostly had not seen. It's fortunate for me that I had to do most of my geeking out the old-fashioned way, dubbing cassettes and going to the library to scour the Burns Mantle Best Plays anthologies and so on, because if I'd had the means I probably would have started embarrassing myself on the Internet much earlier.

With that said, I want you all to read Jason Robert Brown's latest blog post, "Fighting with Teenagers: A Copyright Story." It is first of all useful, in that he explains in great detail why copyright laws matter, and why certain violations made possible by the Internet are not as harmless as their convenience makes them seem to be. But it is also highly entertaining, because it takes the form of an email exchange with a teenager who, in arguing for her right to distribute illegally copied sheet music, raises self-absorbed impertinence to an art form. She's wrong on the merits, and yet you kind of have to love her. And feel sorry for her, too, not just because she's probably embarrassed by this (I hope so, anyway), but also because, as JRB himself puts it at one point, "It really sucks to be a teenager." The self-righteousness, the self-pity, the total lack of perspective. "I'm just not lucky enough to have someone as famous as Jason Robert Brown email me." How hilarious and sad is that.

Part of the fun of reading this exchange (which is long!) is trying to figure out when, if ever, this young person realized she was talking to the real JRB. It's odd that she gets more confrontational, not less, as it goes on, but maybe by the time she caught on it was too late to dial back the attitude? I think this may be my favorite part:
If you're really who you claim to be, then I assume you know that Parade, Last Five Years, 13 The Musical, etc. are all genius pieces of work and that a lot of people who would love to have that sheet music can't afford it. Thus the term "starving artist."
This is also wonderful:
You're a genius and your stuff is amazing to perform, but apparently, you're a jerk. We in theatre should support one another and that's not what you're doing.
"We in theatre." Teenagers! Hug one today.

I think this kid will grow out of it. That's what college is for. On the other hand, she'd fit in fine on a lot of blogs today just as she is -- there's a lot of this "I'm articulate enough to have strong opinions without also needing to be informed" commentary going around, and much of it is penned by ostensible grownups. That empty rationalizing to justify a lapse in morality? You'll find a lot of that out there, too. I hope she looked up "sophistry" (as in, "Your answer is sophistry, Brenna") when this was over, because she'd be doing herself a favor if she learned to recognize what that is and resolved to hold herself to a higher standard. You can get by on sophistry and attitude alone, especially online, but you shouldn't.

P.S. Who's Jason Robert Brown, you ask? See here.

P.P.S. As you can see, I've redesigned. To be more accurate, I've just updated my "template" to one of Blogger's newer offerings. I wish it were more customizable than it is, but I think this is generally an improvement on what came before. Comments?