THE BEST OF 2013: Five Books

Newcomer

◆ by Carrie Newcomer

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry Rachel Joyce

Recently retired, Harold Frye receives a letter from a friend he has not seen for 20 years.  Instead of mailing his response he decides to walk many hundred miles across the English countryside to deliver it in person. This is a lovely little story about a physical journey, but also a journey toward forgiveness and redemption.

The Sweet By and By Todd Johnson

This tender book is narrated through the voices of four very different women. It is a beautiful exploration of memory, aging and the power of a small kindness. It was refreshing to read a story that explores what we lose and what we embrace as we age.

Flight Behavior Barbara Kingsolver

Set in the hills of Appalachia, Kingsolver again has created a window into community, family and the natural world. I absolutely loved the character of Dellarobia, a young woman confined in so many ways and learning how to fly. Kingsolver seamlessly presents social and environmental issues within the context of a very powerful human story.

Breakfast with Buddah Roland Merullo

This book is a delightful twist on the “road buddy” story.  The main character begins a journey back to the midwestern home of his childhood.  Unexpectedly he ends up traveling with a Buddhist monk, encouraging a new perspective on the American landscape.

The Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar Cheryl Strayed

A collection of letters that were originally part of an advice column called “Dear Sugar.” The letters and Strayed’s responses are tender and edgy, human, wise and funny, all at the same time.  It will make you laugh and sigh and think, “Yes, life is like that isn’t it.”

[Carrie Newcomer (pictured at the top of this post) is a singer-songwriter who will be releasing her new album and a book of essays and poems, both entitled A Permeable Life, in the spring of 2014.]

The Ryder ◆ January 2013

THE BEST OF 2013: Music

Charles Bradley

We feel confident in declaring 2013 one of the top ten years in new music in this century. Our reviewers list their favorite albums of the year.

by Jason Fickel

Robbie Fulks Gone Away Backward

A breathtaking set of songs from one of our greatest songwriters. This album is what all the other little Americana-country albums want to be when they grow up.

Daft Punk Get Lucky

We didn’t know it and couldn’t know it in the 1970’s, but disco became our New Folk Music. The New Dylan: Nile Rodgers.

Alex Chilton Electricity by Candlelight/NYC 2/13/97

Chilton

The power-pop/soul genius at his Ardent peak plays an acoustic set of covers when the power itself goes out at the Knitting Factory. He brings it all (Gershwin, Cash, Baker, Monroe, Wilson, Harpo) and then just gives it away like it was nothing.

Allen Toussaint Songbook (Deluxe Edition)

Another NYC live set, this one has the composer playing highlights from his own wonderful catalog, including Southern Nights and Holy Cow — a Chilton favorite. If there’s someone more central to the music of this nation than Toussaint, I’d like to know who it is.

Charlie Musselwhite, Billy Boy Arnold, Mark Hummel, James Harman & Sugar Ray Norcia Remembering Little Walter

Today’s harmonica masters celebrate the Earl Scruggs of the humble harp. Walter could swing it like nobody and these guys have fun keeping it going.

[Jason Fickel is a singer-songwriter-guitarist and performs frequently with vocalist Ginger Curry as Jason & Ginger.]

by Cathi Norton

James Cotton Cotton Mouth Man

A celebration of James Cotton, a heavy harmonica and blues influence on generations of players.  Many artists guest on this disc (Buddy Guy, Greg Allman, Keb Mo, Ruthie Foster, Delbert McClinton, etc.) to honor Cotton’s pervasive influence over his long career as a blues man. Top of the line stuff.

Trampled Under Foot Badlands

Trampled Under Foot

Trampled Under Foot is great at respectfully working traditional blues into something of their own.  Each member plays like blazes, song-writes like champs, and lead vocalist Danielle Schnebellen’s vocals are by turns scorching and sweet. She and brothers Nick and Kris Schnebellen make up a full power trio that rocks-, funks-, and blues-it, soaring all the way.

Toronzo Cannon John The Conquer Root

Toronzo bursts out of the cannon (pun intended) with high-octane performance mojo. Describing himself as “a bus driver that plays guitar,” he quickly proves that an understatement. A love of Jimi Hendrix and respect for blues has not been lost on avid audiences. He’s lately been setting the blues world on fire with expressive vocals, great originals, blistering guitar work and fun-loving showmanship.

Cash Box Kings Black Toppin’

Post-war blues aficionados from Chicago spread out — mixing in Delta and Louisiana “swamp” blues and even rockabilly with their trademark jump tunes. It’s great to hear a younger set of Chicago players hit the blues groove as solidly as these boys do.

Sugaray Rayford Dangerous

Native Texan Sugaray Rayford is a big man with a big voice who reminds me a lot of Howlin’ Wolf without the growl. Backed by great L.A. session players, Rayford’s voice is the real deal as he moves through blues with soul deep conviction and easy confidence. Glad we can add another soulful singer to the blues world.

[Cathi Norton is the Blues Genre Director at WFHB 91.3/98.1 FM radio.  She reviews most of the blues CDs for the station and also works as a disc jockey for the “Blue Monday” show.]

by Michael McDowell (Top of the World)

Leyla McCalla Vari-Colored Sings

Fine Haitian folk songs meet the poetry of Langston Hughes on Leyla McCalla’s debut; if that’s not enough, she also plucks and strums the cello. You might have seen McCalla, who usually tours with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, on her own at the inimitable Lotus World Music & Arts Festival of 2013.

Ballake Sissoko At Peace

Accompanied by French cellist Vincent Segal, Sissoko, a kora virtuoso, weaves melodies rare and exquisite on At Peace, a dream dedicated to his troubled homeland, Mali.

Various Artists The Ladies at Joe Gibbs

Beverley, Hortense, Marcia and more — the ladies are here, singing sweet roots reggae over sultry rhythms that rock slow. Legendary producer Joe Gibbs gave the world some of the best music to come out of Jamaica in the seventies, and this album contains some of his finest work.

Yasmine Hamdan Ya Nass

Hamdan

Yasmine Hamdan founded what may have been the first indie/electro outfit to appear in the Middle East, Soapkills. Though she now lives in Paris, Hamdan began her career in Beirut, and this is the roundabout tale of Ya Nass, a unique blend of popular and traditional Lebanese music and contemporary indie sounds. And it sounds nice, too.

Roberto Fonseca Yo

Roberto Fonseca took Ruben Gonzalez’s place in the Buena Vista Social Club. He has toured with Omara Portuondo (also of the Club), and is widely regarded as one of the most gifted to pianists to emerge from Cuba in decades. This adventurous album melds contemporary jazz, African influences, and the rhythms of Cuba, and is absolutely an item to add to your collection.

[Michael McDowell is the World Music Director at WFHB.]

by Markus Lowe (Electronic)

Kaleidoscope Jukebox Infinite Reflection

Indiana native producer Clint Carty takes you on a global-electronic fused journey. Plenty of smooth and soulful chilled beats, old swing reworks, sitar-laced rhythms and warm horn drenched space funk.

Letherette

Wolverhampton duo brings you trappy and trippy dance music that bubbles with fun. Brilliant synth glitch arrangements and atmospheres take in many moods from the introspective to the upbeat.

Alunageorge Body Music

Long awaited debut album from duo Aluna Francis and George Reid. Slippery and seductive sounds that breathe 90s pop/R&B flavor with modern electro groove and styling.

Boards of Canada Tomorrow’s Harvest

Scottish duo surprise return offers their most dark and visceral sound to-date with rich textures and deep layers that unfold like a haunting film score transmitted from a distant galaxy.

Daft Punk Random Access Memories

Daft Punk

Triumphant return of French robot rock pioneers, ditching the computers and crafting an astonishing blend of their signature robotic sound with vintage disco dance rhythms and smooth instrumentation.

[Marcus Lowe is the WFHB Electronic Music Genre Director.]

by David Smith (Metal)

Abyssal Novit Enim Dominus Qui Sunt Eius

Abyssal have created a terrifying monster of an album. Their superb musicianship creates an atmosphere that is unimaginably dense, absorbing, and perfectly claustrophobic.

Aosoth IV: An Arrow in Heart

This black metal masterpiece is full of menacing riffs that are at once rhythmic and cerebral. Aosoth balance their understated, avant-garde tendencies with focused brutality.

Church of Misery Thy Kingdom Scum

The thick, fuzzed-out, groove-laden guitars and massive beats lay the perfect foundation for this Japanese doom quartet to explore the darkest realms of the human psyche.

Gorguts Colored Sands

Gorguts

With their first release since 2001, Gorguts exceeds all expectations. They have taken their trademark dissonance and meticulous composition to new heights in this deep and dizzying collection.

Nails Abandon All Life

An absolutely crushing, perfectly-engineered amalgam of hardcore and metal, these short bursts of intelligent aggression and fury pummel the listener into a state of blissful submission.

[David J. Smith is metal genre director and host of “Sedimentary, Igneous, and Metalmorphic” every Friday night on WFHB.]

by Jamie Gans (Acoustic Roots, Bluegrass, and Celtic)

The Paul McKenna Band Elements

Upon my last visit to Scotland, I was asked by a native Highlander, “Where ye frome, lad?” “Indiana”, I told him. “ “Ach aye, well I guess, someone’s gaw’ta be from thaya”, he jokingly responded.  Hailing from Glasgow, The Paul McKenna Band is currently recognized as one of the top Celtic groups.  They’ve cranked out one of their most inspired albums yet, Elements, which includes their heartfelt rendition of Farewell To Indiana about a Scotsman’s return to the Scottish Highlands from living a few years in the lowlands of Hoosierland.

Liz Carroll On the Offbeat

Chicago-Irish musician Liz Carroll recently came to Bloomington to perform at The Buskirk Chumley Theatre for the 2013 Lotus Festival, treating us to her dazzling, virtuosic fiddling. Her new album, On the Offbeat, is adorned by some of the best players in their field including the internationally acclaimed Scottish harpist, Catriona McKay and Belfast guitarist, Sean O’Graham. Liz raises us to the next dimension of her musicianship on both her on and off beat.

Ruth Moody These Wilder Things

Moody

From indie rock to indie roots, Canadian vocalist Ruth Moody of The Wailin’ Jennys takes us on a sleigh ride of her new original material. This thoroughly enchanting album is tastefully seasoned with some of the finest instrumentalists and vocalists from both sides of the border and Atlantic including Jerry Douglas, Aoife Donovan and Irish piper, Michael McGoldrick.  Ruth’s golden voice swings us into only the best of moods on These Wilder Things.

Ron Block Walking Song

As the guitarist of Alison Krauss & Union Station, Ron Block demonstrates his prowess not just as an instrumentalist featuring a few toe-tappin’ tunes, but most remarkably as a singer and melody maker on his new solo recording, Walking Song. Ron composed the music, but he collaborated with poet Rebecca Reynolds, who wrote the lyrics to this collection of mesmerizing originals that are guaranteed to melt your heart.

Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby Cluck Ol’ Hen (Live)

If you say you are on the fence about bluegrass music I can tell you that you will soon be off it dancing in your own imaginary meadow of bluegrass to Skaggs and Hornsby’s new live album, Cluck Ol’ Hen. Ricky Skaggs and his band of high talent, Kentucky Thunder, will dazzle you. But the real power ingredient that will make you roll off the fence with joy is Bruce Hornsby’s inspirational piano playing (and singing). Makes you wonder why the piano isn’t a regular in every bluegrass band.

[Jamie Gans is both a self-employed musician and a radio programmer for WFHB’s “The Celtic Road” and “Rural Routes” shows.]

by Robert Meitus

Charles Bradley Victim of Love

Charles Bradley

Before you listen to Charles Bradley, watch the documentary Charles Bradley: Soul of America, and you will be sure to fall in love with this 65-year-old former James Brown tribute singer.  He was discovered by Daptone Records and has taken the world by storm, including Bloomington, now a regular stop on his tours. 100% joy and love listening to CB. Even better to see him live.

Milk Carton Kids The Ash & Clay

It’s not unusual for me to learn about something very cool mid to late in the game. This duo is what you might get if you mixed the DNA of Simon & Garfunkel with that of Gillian Welch & David Rawlings. Great songs, great vocals, great guitar work.

Bela Fleck & Nashville Symphony The Imposter

Buy this album to hear what you missed when the Nashville Symphony cancelled its performance with Fleck at the IU Auditorium last fall. It was a great concert nonetheless, with Abagail Washburn saving the day. But the album is also very compelling if you are open to a banjo concerto.

Bear’s Den Agape

I discovered these guys opening for Mumford & Sons this summer and have fallen in love with their simple melodic folk/rock sound. Reminiscent of Sufjan Steven’s Michigan era at times.

Olafur Arnalds For Now I Am Winter

A very quite, beautiful album of mostly instrumental strings and loops.  Also, Icelandic and highly creative, but much mellower than Sigur Ros.

[Robert Meitus is an entertainment lawyer. He purposefully excludes his clients’ albums from this list (e.g., great new releases from Joshua Bell, Cage the Elephant, Foxygen, and others).]

The Ryder ◆ January 2014

THE BEST OF 2013: TV

"House of Cards"

 

Meth Dealers and Time Traveling Aliens ◆ by Dan Melnick

 

Thanks to the ubiquity of the DVR and streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, many like to say that we live in the golden age of television. Whole seasons are only a click away with next to no commercial interruption and a year’s worth of episodes being delivered at once. Sometimes it feels like waiting week to week for the next installment is a thing of the past. With networks like HBO and Showtime raising the bar, cable has had no choice but to follow suit and offer a similar level of excellence to its programming in an effort to compete. Years ago, everyone talked about HBO, but it’s AMC, a staple of basic cable packages that had the best show on TV in 2013. There may be internal wars going on between basic and premium channels; the internet and cable providers, but one thing is certain, we the consumers are reaping the benefits. And oh, the bounty is plentiful. It’s been a great year of television.

Justified

Season four was a way of reinventing itself. The show has had its ups and downs, but the season four finale proved that it was worth the wait.

House of Cards

 

[Photo of Kevin Spacey as Francis Underwood at top of this post.]

 

The best example of the new TV model. It may have had a rocky first couple of episodes, but having all of season one available from the start greatly helped this show get off the ground.

 

Happy Endings

Sadly, 2013 saw the cancellation of this sprightly comedy that was so much more than a Friends rip-off. It could have gone on for its own ten seasons if only it was seen for the gem that it was.

Archer

 

"Archer"

The current season was more dialogue heavy than spy thriller, but it proves that good writing is good writing. It may be a cartoon, but many a show could take characterization lessons from Archer by watching a few episodes.

The Big Bang Theory

 

"Big Bang Theory"

Now that the creators have embraced situational humor over cheap shots at nerd culture, TBBT continues to expand, attracting viewers like stray electrons making it one of the most watched shows on television.

Parks and Recreation

It may have started as a clone of The Office, but it’s become so much more since then. PaR continues to grow in terms of scope and in characters in new and wonderful ways. There’s no tighter cast on TV.

Game of Thrones

 

"Game of Thrones"

Each season gets better than the one before. The source material only provides so much as it’s the striking visuals and impeccable casting choices that keeps this show fresh. Political intrigue is so much more interesting when knights and dragons are involved.

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary

A perfect retcon, reboot and revitalization, this love letter to Doctor Who fans had three Doctors on screen at the same time — one of them, John Hurt! — what more could Whovians have asked for? Thank you, Steven Moffat.

Sons of Anarchy

Another example that bad guys have more fun, the boys of SoA have never been better. Utter destruction is always one step away and no character is safe. Each episode is like racing down the freeway on the back of a motorcycle without a helmet. It’s OK to scream while you hold on.

Breaking Bad

 

"Breaking Bad"

A perfect end to a perfect show. The five-season arc from mild mannered chemistry teacher to drug kingpin was completed with a painter’s grace. We’re sad to see you go, Mr. White, but it was one heck of a ride!

The Ryder ◆ January 2014

THE BEST OF 2013: The Year In Television

"Orphan Black"

The Most Cutting Edge Series of 2013 ◆ by Robert Singer

 

Television in 2013 has shown us that it’s evolving at a rapid pace both technologically and conceptually. Where Hollywood seems to be stuck in a creative rut with every other film release being an adaptation or a remake, television is proving to be the breeding ground for uniquely original visual storytelling. Fueling this creative renaissance in television is the understanding by today’s showrunners that the serial nature of television lends itself perfectly to delving deeper into the development of characters and experimentation with form in ways that few films these days can. The following list is the best that TV had to offer in 2013.

Arrested Development ● Netflix

"Arrested Development"

The return of a cult classic started off rocky but ended up worth it by season’s end. While this fourth season of Arrested Development was its weakest, it proved that it is still smarter and funnier than the majority of comedies on television today.

Doctor Who ● BBC

"Doctor Who"

The classic British sci-fi import celebrated its 50th Anniversary this year with a bang and shattered ratings for BBC America. This season had its ups and downs but the Anniversary Special and Matt Smith’s performance as the Doctor made up for the season’s flaws. The popularity of Doctor Who keeps rising not just in Britain but also around the whole world.

Legend of Korra ● Nickelodeon

The sequel series to Avatar: The Last Air Bender came of age this season as we saw the series tackle questions of spirituality, political persecution, and the connections between good and evil. The animation has skyrocketed from its already top-notch quality to create some of the most striking visuals on TV this year, especially when paired with the show’s exquisite music. This is definitely not just a show for kids.

Fringe ● Fox

The best hard science fiction series on television ended its five-season run with a suspenseful, thrilling, and heartbreaking fight for our Fringe agents against a dystopic future. This show needed a shot of energy after its mediocre season four and it got one with this game-changing final season. It is outrageous that John Noble has never been properly recognized at the Emmys for his brilliant performance as Dr. Walter Bishop.

Mad Men ● AMC

"Mad Men"

Just when you think that Mad Men might be losing steam with its characters devolving back into old habits, Matthew Weiner and company throw a whole bucket of wrenches into the gears, forcing every character to have to deal with a myriad of status quo-altering changes. Don’s evolution (or degeneration depending on how you look at it) provided many entertaining shocks this season.

Downton Abbey ● BBC/PBS

Really Julian Fellowes? Really?! Killing not one but two major and beloved characters? Ugh! I’ll never forgive you. Ever. But seriously, can January hurry up and get here already? We need more intrigue and melodrama of the highest order. Fine Fellowes, you have me for one more season and then that’s it! I mean it! (Let’s be honest this show is too addictive.)

Orange Is the New Black ● Netflix

"OITNB"

Netflix has a gem in this show that feels like OZ meets Weeds, making for one of the best surprises of the year in TV. Orange Is the New Black began as a send up of white privilege but eventually evolved into an absurdist dark dramedy about the necessity and power of human connections, especially when we are at our most desperate.

Orphan Black ● BBC

 

[Photo of Tatiana Maslaney at top of this post.]

 

The sleeper hit of the year is this British-Canadian sci-fi drama about a young woman who discovers she is a clone when one of them commits suicide right before her eyes at train station. Tatiana Maslaney deserves every major television-acting award for her portrayal of six, yes six, different characters (the clones) that all have their own unique personalities, idiosyncrasies, and body language. If Orphan Black is any indication, Maslaney is an actress to watch in the years to come.

Game of Thrones ● HBO

Dragons. Giants. Undead. Murder. Betrayal. Torture. Honor. Weddings. Just a few words that could be used to describe the latest season of the HBO series based on the George R.R. Martin Song of Ice and Fire books. The first two seasons saw change come to the Seven Kingdoms and the Free Cities across the Narrow Sea, but this season showed how change begins to truly affect the show’s ever expanding cast of characters. No one felt the change more than the victims at the Red Wedding, the most shocking and horrifying plot twist in the history of television.

Breaking Bad ● AMC

TV’s best drama the last five years finally ended in 2013 with one of the strongest, most satisfying final seasons ever broadcast. The conclusion to the saga of Walter White’s evolution from glum schoolteacher to cold-blooded drug lord was everything a fan could have hoped for: intense, shocking, bloody, funny, and, much like Walter, precise. We’ll never look at Stevia the same way again.

The Ryder ◆ January 2014

THE BEST OF 2013: Ten (Plus) Sound Bites

Cruz

◆ by Kevin Howley

 

On August 21, Pfc. Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking classified documents to the whistleblower website WikiLeaks. In a press statement Manning said, “If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society.” Manning’s sober assessment of his life and times was one of the more moving sound bites of 2013: a year marked by dramatic revelations of NSA spying, a divisive and costly government shutdown, and all manner of gaffes, blunders, and apologies uttered by politicians, pontiffs, and other media personalities.

10. But the difference with Green Eggs and Ham is when Americans tried it, they discovered they did not like green eggs and ham and they did not like ObamaCare either. They did not like ObamaCare in a box, with a fox, in a house, or with a mouse.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz [pictured at the top of this post] channels Dr. Seuss during his “sort of” filibuster of the Affordable Healthcare Act, September 24.

9. Women go to the doctor much more often than men! Maybe they’re smarter or maybe they’re hypochondriacs. They live longer. Who knows?

FOX News “analyst” John Stossel offers his expert opinion on women’s healthcare, October 31.

8. Sure, he could turn over every bit of his weapons to the international community within the next week, without delay. But he isn’t about to.

When asked what Bashar Hafez al-Assad could do to avoid US military strikes, Secretary of State John Kerry stumbles toward a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis, September 9.

7. Words are important. I understand that, and will choose mine with great care going forward. Behavior like this undermines hard-fought rights that I vigorously support.

Baldwin

Serial offender Alec Baldwin makes amends with GLADD for homophobic remarks the actor hurled at a member of the paparazzi, November 15.

6. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.

President Obama explains “American Exceptionalism” during a nationally televised speech on the prospects of US military intervention in Syria, September 10.

5. I’m no different from anybody else. I don’t have special skills. I’m just another guy who sits there day to day in the office, watches what’s happening and goes, ‘This is something that’s not our place to decide, the public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong.’

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden explaining his decision to leak classified documents detailing the scale and scope of US surveillance programs, June 9.

4. If I knew, I would tell you.

House Speaker John Boehner, when asked when the government shutdown might end, during an appearance on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, October 6.

3. I would never do that. I’m happily married. I’ve got more than enough to eat at home.

Toronto “crack mayor” Rob Ford defending himself. Again. This time for allegations he propositioned a female staffer to perform oral sex, November 14.

2. If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?

Picture 3

Humility becomes Pope Francis in comments regarding the Catholic Church’s
position on homosexuality, July 29.

1. I’m not the most believable guy in the world right now.

Armstrong

Cyclist Lance Armstrong reveals a gift for understatement during his
“worldwide exclusive” interview with Oprah Winfrey, January 20.

Honorable Mention

Now people expect me to come out and twerk with my tongue out all the time. I’ll probably never do that shit again.

Miley Cyrus has second thoughts on her headline groping grabbing performance at the Video Music Awards, September 24.

In Memoriam

If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America. They don’t care for human beings.

Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013.

The Ryder ◆ January 2014

FILM: 12 Years a Slave (2013) For Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1927)

From "12 Years a Slave"

◆ by Brandon Walsh

 

12 Years a Slave has received near-universal acclaim and in the coming weeks is a good bet to win several Best Picture™ awards. The story of Solomon Northrop, a freeman kidnapped and sold into slavery, is not only the best visual representation of the horror of American slavery, but helps Hollywood look past its own sordid history of racial representation. One ledger in this history is Harry Pollard’s 1927 film adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, one of Hollywood’s most famous, and troublesome, depictions of slavery.

Both Uncle Tom’s Cabin and 12 Years a Slave are close Hollywood adaptations from period works, told with A-list actors, addressing slavery with epic stories of African-Americans enslaved on plantations with abusive owners. But this is where the similarities end. Although they may be cut from the same cloth of history, the two films apply very different stains.

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel was given a big Hollywood treatment ($1.8 million, one of the highest budgets for a film at the time). Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in 1852, overshadowing Solomon Northrop’s 1853 autobiography, becoming one of the best-selling books of all time. Between 1903 and 1927, at least 10 silent film adaptations of Uncle Tom’s Cabin were produced, culminating in the famous 1927 adaptation.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin opens to a scene of a vibrant Georgian plantation scored by “Swanee River,” immediately eliciting nostalgic imagery of the lavish American South. Slave children dance around the hero of the film, Eliza, a mixed-race maid entered into slavery. The film was progressive for its time in casting James B. Lowe, a black man, as Uncle Tom, however all other slave characters are portrayed by white actors in blackface. Eliza’s portrayal by a white actress assumes that 1920s moviegoers could only empathize with slavery when white characters were in bondage. Uncle Tom himself is given less than 10 minutes of screen time, the film paying more attention to large action scenes, laden with stigmatic black characters. While the story itself largely faithful to Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery story, Hollywood’s habit of exploitation is equally present.

From "Uncle Tom's Cabin"

Little Eva and Topsey in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”

12 Years a Slave is an unflinching view of slavery, devoting its screen time to accurately depicting the labor, politics, and violence of slavery, documenting the machinery of society and using Northrop as its spectator. British director Steve McQueen, fresh off his provocative films Hunger and Shame, which deal respectively with political and psychological imprisonment. McQueen continues his sustained, metonymic visual style, which translates well to Northrop’s story. Though making more use of dialogue than his other films, uninterrupted images carry the film’s emotional weight. In one torturous shot, Northrup is left to tiptoe for his life in the mud as he is left halfway-hung on a lynching tree. This shot is a far cry from the “gentle rule typical of the south” mentioned in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and illustrates why 12 Years A Slave is the better film — it stings.

Where Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a harrowing adventure film designed to entertain, it is almost impossible to relax during 12 Years a Slave, a subversion of Hollywood entertainment. The whipping of Uncle Tom and other travesties are merely hinted at in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Northrop’s story is unsentimental. Skin is flayed, children are torn from their mothers, drunkards are patriarchs, and survival is granted by blind chance. Pollard uses slavery as a backdrop for popular Hollywood conventions: love defying the odds, the thrill of the chase, a child’s innocence. Throughout Hollywood’s history, films have too often used social issues as a frame for Hollywood narrative without historical consciousness, making 12 Years a Slave all the more important today.

Hollywood congratulates itself when given the opportunity in the best picture category, to the point that the subject matter can be a stronger consideration of a film’s worth than aesthetic/cultural value of the film. (Look no further than Crash, or even last year’s best picture winner Argo, where the hero who saved the day was Hollywood.) Awards are a way of writing history, and what else is history but a rewriting of history? If McQueen’s film is selected as best picture, it won’t be in the most comfortable company, but its inclusion, as well as the attention to Northrop’s story, is nonetheless overdue. If Uncle Tom’s Cabin showed audiences that social issues can be brought into popular entertainment, 12 Years a Slave shows a modern audience that history can be rewritten the right way, packaged in a piece of unsettling entertainment. It’s a film that wants to remind us, in every image, “Never forget this crime against humanity.”

[Brandon Walsh is an undergraduate senior studying and producing films at Indiana University. Caption for Featured Image: The opening shot to Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave (Fox Searchlight).]

The Ryder ◆ January 2014

DANCE: Hot Times On A Hard Floor

Percussion Dance

by ◆ Paul Sturm

 

As a kid, I had square dance class every other Friday in my grade school gym  It was part of our requisite phys ed regimen. Not ballroom or ballet, modern or tap, mind you; not Lindy Hop swing dances for jitterbugs (which I only saw in movies); not sassy “jazz” dance moves, which hadn’t yet migrated from Broadway to rural vernacular. We were years away from rock bands’ dominion over school dances. Our media piped the likes of Mitch Miller and Lawrence Welk, and the American folk music revival was in full voice — and no one really danced to Burl Ives, The Kingston Trio, or Joan Baez.

So square dancing, and occasional contra dancing, was what we had to know to be socially adept in our ‘50s/‘60s farm-&-coal belt heartland. At church socials and barn dances, in schools and public gatherings, if people danced to music – and people love dancing to music – square dancing was it.  (It’s still the official state dance in 21 states and the official state folk dance in 3 more.) In some communities, they peppered their square and contra dancing with the hard-soled rhythmic stomp of flatfooting and clogging. More visceral than tap, clogging gave every reluctant pre-teen Terpsichorean a much-welcomed invitation to make noise with their feet. Add fruit punch and white cake, and what’s not to love?

What I didn’t then know was that square dancing, contra dancing, clogging — all of these “American” dance forms derive from European dance styles that extend back centuries.  And what I couldn’t then predict was that I’d end up living in a bodacious hub for traditional American dance: our humble burg of Bloomington.

In 1972, IU folklore student, Dillon Bustin, and a cohort of likeminded B-town twenty-somethings began a weekly gathering to revive traditional American old-time music and dance, becoming known as the Bloomington Old-Time Music and Dance Group — an informal army of old-timey enthusiasts who gather weekly to this day.

[For those who want to learn more about this grand Bloomington tradition, John Bealle has written an affectionate history entitled Old Time Music and Dance: Community and Folk Revival, published by IU Press.]

One of the more significant outgrowths of BOTMDG was the formation of Shuffle Creek Dancers, a cadre of five dancers whose skill and dedication to traditional dance moved into a professional caliber and aspiration. Shuffle Creek Dancers became Rhythm In Shoes, which continues as a professional trad-dance ensemble, now located in Dayton, Ohio. Even though the dance company, and many of its members, came and went, a few local souls have kept percussive dance alive in Bloomington — most significantly, Tamara Loewenthal.

Loewenthal was one of the founding members of Shuffle Creek Dancers, back in 1980. Today, she is half of the performing duo Fiddle ‘n’ Feet, with her partner, Jamie Gans, on fiddle. She is an Indiana Arts For Learning Artist as well as an Arts Learning Artist for Ohio and Kentucky). She teaches percussive dance classes, and she is a multi-year Indiana Arts Commission (IAC) Individual Artist Grant recipient. In addition to performing and teaching traditional dance, Loewenthal calls square and contra dances for the Bloomington Old-Time Music and Dance Group and for Bloomington Contra Dance. (She called a great afternoon of square dance at Lotus in the Park during Lotus Festival 2012.)

The weekend of January 23-25 will be chock-full of BOTMDG, On Thursday, the 23rd, Loewenthal is presenting her Seventh Annual Percussive Dance Extravaganza at the Ivy Tech Waldron Center.  This year, with the support of IAC funding, she’s also offering a series of master class workshops on clogging and old time music on Friday and Saturday. (See the lineup of events below). She’ll call a public square dance on Saturday night in the Harmony School gym.

I asked Loewenthal how rehearsals are going for her upcoming Dance Extravaganza. “The process has been going really well. With the IAC grant, we started the rehearsal process earlier, and the body of work has grown;  the concert this year allows the presentation of my accumulated body of work which includes several new pieces. I choreographed everything that we’ll perform.  Even when I began dancing, I was choreographing. I love figuring out the dancers’ directions, how to ‘get there.’ What’s the pathway? How are we going to move in the space? I like seeing shapes, like those old Busby Berkeley movies where the camera pans over the dance scene and you see these great, kaleidoscopic shapes and patterns, and you wonder where everything will go next. I’m inspired by that effect in creating my dances.”

Many know Loewenthal as a solitary dancer/clogger. She and Gans often perform at the Farmer’s Market and elsewhere, and she has danced on stage with several Lotus World Music and Arts Festival performers over the years. But it’s in the ensemble dances she features in her annual concert that Loewenthal’s choreographic talents shine. Whether for duo, trio, quartet, or larger forces, she keeps her dancers moving, and she moves them across the floor with inventive interplay and geometric design.

Loewenthal also maintains variety in her annual Dance Extravaganza concerts by presenting much more than clogging. Each year, the concert incorporates a range of traditional dance styles, and this year’s extravaganza is no exception.

“The largest portion of what we’ll be doing is in the clogging and flatfooting tradition. It’s very conducive to the old time style of music I feature in our concert. We add a little bit of hand clapping, some body percussion, and a little bit of tap on some dances. Clogging is very much about the downbeat and keeping everything steady, while tapping has a lot of syncopation and is often about pushing the beat.

“We’re also doing some French Canadian stepdance, which is different than English clogging. It’s a very ‘up’ style because the French doublé rhythm is more upbeat. You shuffle more with double-toe movements rather than the heel-toe of clogging. So you dance more on your toes, with a lot of precision, and your arms are more at your side.

“But clogging is my favorite style of dance because I feel so clearly how it connects to the music. In terms of dance, for me, I loved the music first, and then I social danced to it through square dance, and when I realized you could make rhythms to this music, that’s when I got excited about dance.  I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Traditional American dance forms aren’t readily taught anymore, so it requires a special commitment to master the many dance styles in Loewenthal’s repertoire. “In 1981, I began going to dance camps around the country where people could go and learn more about traditional dance styles.  I went to several of those dance camps, and that’s where I learned about and studied all these different dance styles.”

Loewenthal has studied with many great step dancers including Gregory Hines, Savion Glover, Brenda Bufalino, Benoit Bourque, Pierre Chartrand, Mandy Sayer, and John Timm. She’s won awards for her clogging, including a blue ribbon at the Mount Airy (NC) Fiddler’s Convention, and in 1999 she received a prestigious Arts Council of Indianapolis Creative Renewal Fellowship to study with masters in the French Canadian stepdance field.

In many ways, and to many people, Loewenthal is the irrepressible engine for Bloomington’s clogging revival of the last decade. Between classes, concerts, Farmer’s Market performances, school programs and more, she keeps this tradition alive in our town and in the Midwest. I asked her how she stepped into that role.

“By around 2000, Rhythm In Shoes had already moved to Dayton, and several of the dancers had left Bloomington to pursue other career opportunities, and there just wasn’t any percussive dance presence in town anymore. So I began teaching classes in 1998, 1999; and as my students wanted an outlet for more of this kind of dance, I wrote an Indiana Arts Commission grant in 2007 for a concert. It got provisionally funded, so the first Percussive Dance Extravaganza concert was in January, 2008.

“I think there are two reasons why it’s difficult to sustain a performing dance troupe. Learning to dance a rhythm in an accurate way is difficult, and keeping the stamina and fitness to continue practicing this kind of dance performance is difficult. So when I was interested in starting up a group again, I started with lessons because that was an easier way to attract and engage people. As dancers realized that one class a week was enough to only learn one dance over several months, we were able to add more classes and more rehearsals. Everyone lets me know how much they want to do, and I build my percussive dance concerts around how the dancers want to participate. It’s such a joyful, shared art form that people love doing it, and viewing it.”

This growing posse of traditional dance practitioners has allowed Loewenthal to plan more performances, with more frequency. She’s coined these dancers her “Foot Squad” and she and Gans did a couple Fiddle ‘n’ Feet concerts last year where the duo was expanded with Foot Squad dancers.

Led by Loewenthal, the “Foot Squad” company for the Percussive Dance Extravaganza will feature dancers Annie Bartlett Stowers, Suzannah Edgar, Mary Beth Roska, Cliff Emery, Allana Radecki, and Katie Zukof, as well as students from Loewenthal’s percussive dance classes.

Given her love for old time music, Loewenthal gives each Extravaganza concert an added blast of artistic excellence by recruiting all-star old-timey musicians from Indiana and beyond. This year’s Extravaganza Old Time Band includes Jamie Gans and Brad Leftwich on fiddles, Sam Bartlett on banjo and mandolin, Robert Widlowski on bass, and special guest John Schwab on guitar. Additional musicians will include Eric Schedler on piano and accordion, Zach Moon on Irish flute and whistle, and Marielle Abell on vocals. Hudsucker Posse members Paula Chambers and Clara Kallner also will perform.

Following the Thursday concert, and as a big-hearted invitation for Bloomingtonians to “embrace all things old-time,” Loewenthal has organized the first ever Extravaganza Weekend with a series of classes and events all held at Harmony School, 909 E. 2nd Street.  All events have paid admission; contact Loewenthal for pricing and registration info online or at 812-219-1890.

Friday, January 24, features an old-time guitar workshop with John Schwab (7-9pm).

Saturday, January 25, events include:

  • Clogging master class with Tamara Loewenthal (2-4pm)
  • Old-time guitar workshop with John Schwab (2-4pm)
  • Irish fiddle workshop with Jamie Gans (2-3pm)
  • Old-time fiddle workshop with Brad Leftwich (3-4pm)
  • Old-time banjo workshop with Sam Bartlett (3-4pm)
  • Square Dance in the Harmony School gym, 8pm.  (The Extravaganza Old Time Band pulls out all the stops for a square dance called by Extravaganza Weekend artistic director, Tamara Loewenthal.  No experience — and no partner — necessary!  Just bring your most comfortable dancing shoes.)

For newbies and the uninitiated, the Seventh Annual Percussive Dance Extravaganza will offer a memorable evening of exceptional old time music and traditional rhythmic footwork – including English clogging, flatfooting, tap, French Canadian stepdance, and a longsword dance – conceived and choreographed by Tamara Loewenthal, and performed by Loewenthal and her Foot Squad dancers.

According to Loewenthal, “I think anyone who comes to the concert will experience an incredible amount of joy and beauty, not only in the complexity of the dance but also in the wonderful, dynamic interplay of dancers and live musicians.  The exactness of everything commands attention.  It’s very exciting and filled with joy.  The Extravaganza is an expression of the vital old-time dance and music scene in Bloomington, and a celebration of the joy of making beautiful and powerful rhythms with our feet.”

Tamara Loewenthal’s Seventh Annual Percussive Dance Extravaganza is Thursday, January 23 at 7:30pm in the Ivy Tech Waldron Center auditorium, 122 S. Walnut St.  Admission is $15 in advance, $18 day of show; tickets are available at Bloomingfoods or from Loewenthal online or 812-219-1890.  The concert always sells out, so I recommend getting tickets in advance.

The Ryder ◆ January 2014

Books: Victorian Roots, Postmodern Conditions

Book Cover

Patrick Brantlinger’s “States of Emergency: Essays on Culture and Politics” ◆ by Tom Prasch

Perhaps a reader will realize that Patrick Brantlinger’s States of Emergency is something more than just another editorial writer’s book-gathered plunge into assorted aspects of contemporary crisis near the end of his delightful send-up of the Tea Party in current politics (chapter 3), when Brantlinger offers a Mad Hatter variation on contemporary politics that sounds more Lewis Carroll (and rather more Charles Dickens) than any recent Johnny Deppish incarnation of the character: “MAD HATTER,” Brantlinger shouts. “Treacle for one and all! A treacle well in every tittlebat’s back yard! Let’s end our dependence on foreign treacle—!” Tittlebat, you say? Haven’t seen one of those mentioned since last time I read Pickwick Papers.

But the clues have been there from the outset: in the opening chapter’s allusions to Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Matthew Arnold (as well as the more predictable presences of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels) to provide context for a defense of the centrality of class conflict to an understanding of present contestations; or when, in a second chapter critiquing neoliberal economics, Brantlinger does not just quote the familiar Thomas Carlyle line about economics as the “dismal science,” as the average editorialist would, but provides a historical context for the line (in Carlyle’s reaction to Thomas Malthus’s essay on population) and then brings in Dickens again.

Brantlinger is, unmistakably, irretrievably, a Victorianist.

To those already familiar with Brantlinger’s name, this comes as no surprise. He has authored, after all, eight substantial studies of Victorian subjects, from Spirit of Reform: British Literature and Politics, 1832-67 (1977) to, most recently, Taming Cannibals: Race and the Victorians (2011); in addition, he has edited Victorian Studies and chaired IU’s Victorian Studies program and, well, much else. Indeed, his only previous significant meanders away from his home Victorian turf were scarcely meanders at all, but engaging efforts to incorporate theoretical perspectives (accounting for cultural studies in Crusoe’s Footprints [1990]; analyzing the ways in which corporate models of the university, rather than theory-driven revisions of canons, have undermined American education in Who Killed Shakespeare? [2000]), mostly in order to bring those new theories to bear on Victorians.

To those who know Brantlinger only through States of Emergency, this conclusion will become equally evident over the course of the book. After trumping the Tea Party, Brantlinger proceeds to recall John Kenneth Turner’s 1908 visit to Mexico to contextualize his account of the country’s contemporary struggles. He tracks the notion of “waste” back to John Locke and through Adam Smith, Malthus, Carlyle, Marx, and Dickens before turning to a close reading of two turn-of-the-twentieth century figures, Thorstein Veblen and H. G. Wells (and then balancing Wells against contemporary novelist Don DeLillo). He borrows from Carlyle for an epigraph in an essay on the age of “terror” and anchors an account of Australian Aboriginal identity in the country’s colonial Victorian roots. He enriches a discussion of the poverty of today’s veterans with an exploration of the ideas of “surplus population,” from Malthus through early nineteenth-century debates sparked by Marx and “Marcus” forward to Francis Galton and George Bernard Shaw at the century’s end. Whenever Brantlinger needs a contextual hook to illuminate contemporary crises, he reaches first for a Victorian echo of current debates.

Which leads to a simple question: What’s a good Victorianist like Brantlinger doing in a place like this? What might lead him to offer a collection of essays on subjects like the efforts of the World Social Forum (WSF) to redress the inequities of globalization, school shootings, the Iraq War, the lasting legacies of media theorist Marshall McLuhan, and (besides their being an almost irresistible easy target) the Tea Party? There are three basic answers to the question.

First, and most simply, Brantlinger is a Victorianist. He is not a Victorian. He lives now, in this world, and can scarce not respond to it. Indeed, alongside his formal academic career, he has a long record of engagement with contemporary social issues, some of which are directly reflected in the essays in States of Emergency, as in the case of the WSF piece, which draws on Brantlinger’s Global Exchange trip to a WSF meeting in Brazil.

Second, as anyone who knows Brantlinger’s earlier books can attest, his has always been a deeply engaged scholarship; his work, even when focused on the Victorians, has resonance for his own times. He searched for the political meanings in Victorian novels in the wake of the upheavals of the 60s in Spirit of Reform, sought the Victorian roots of more contemporary theories of mass culture (and more contemporary forms of mass culture) in Bread and Circuses (1983), and turned to issues of banking and the state in British fiction during the Reagan/Thatcher years in Fictions of State (1996). And anyone who cannot glimpse the contemporary resonance of his magisterial survey of literature’s collusion in the business of race and empire (in the trilogy of Rule of Darkness [1988], Dark Vanishings [2003], and Taming Cannibals) hasn’t much noticed what world we live in today.  States of Emergency thus merely reverses Brantlinger’s usual direction: now finding in the terms of contemporary crises resonance with Victorian debates.

But that final point leads us to the third reason for this collection: if we are truly to understand the multilayered crises of our present condition, the Victorians are where we should begin. After all, if industrial and postindustrial capitalism is at the heart of many of the specific sites where Brantlinger locates contemporary crisis, it’s the Victorians who invented those machines, and the Victorians (across an ideological spectrum from Carlyle to John Stuart Mill to William Morris, with John Ruskin somehow landing on both ends of it) who first theorized about the impact those machines would have on class systems, on the social fabric, on city life, on the forms of culture. And if globalism is Brantlinger’s other central concern, as it shapes first-world/third-world inequalities, the sites of modern war, or the terms of cultural exchange, the shadows of Victorian empire haunt these contemporary formations. Who better, then, than a Victorianist to illuminate the now?

The book offers a dozen essays, divided into two broad sections: “Class Conflicts” and “Postmodern Conditions.” The division is less than firm: Brantlinger’s analysis of class-based conflict informs every one of the essays, and he engages postmodern theory in defending his understanding of class. Still, the terms provide useful organizing principles for the whole, the book’s first half more deeply engaged in the contemporary discourse (or failure of discourse) about class, and its latter half more engaged with postmodernity, above all as one dimension of globalization. Certain deep themes recur throughout the collection, notably: Brantlinger’s critique of neoliberal economics (explicitly derided in the second chapter for its masking of its biases in favor of capitalism through the mystification of mathematics and the sanctification of free trade, but that complicity becomes a leitmotif for the volume); his reflections on the meanings of globalization (which very differently shape, for example, his essays on Mexico’s state of crisis, the Iraq war, and Australian Aborigines’ search for literary voice); his powerfully hopeful search for a road to reform for the crises he himself frames at the outset, following Slavoj Žižek, as apocalyptic (“In an imperfect world, utopianism is a necessity,” Brantlinger insists, in his discussion of the WSF’s agenda); and his constant search for a theoretical ground from which to engage in a critique over such a wide range of topics.

The search for theoretical ground provides an especially rich subtext for this collection; indeed, in some ways, the essays here can be read (if you don’t mind ignoring their actual subjects) as a critical assessment of the range of theories that have been deployed in recent decades to understand society, culture, and literature. Brantlinger’s own theoretical position strikes me as a complexly layered construction, crafted over the full course of his career, with roots in those nineteenth century sages to whom his essays so often revert (most especially, unsurprisingly, Marx), allusions to early twentieth-century thinkers he likely encountered as an undergraduate (Veblen, Emile Durkheim), accretions from the Frankfurt School whose roots were in the interwar era (Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer; the figures so central to Brantlinger’s earlier excursion into ideas of mass culture in Bread and Circuses), later strands of Marxist thought (such as hegemonic readings rooted in Antonio Gramsci, or the ideological state apparatus of Louis Althusser), and then forward to the major poststructuralists (Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, Jacques Derrida; Jacques Lacan is, mercifully, absent), to postmodernist thinkers (Frederick Jameson, Jean-François Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari), to the major voices who framed the debates of cultural studies (E. P. Thompson, Richard Hoggart, Raymond Williams; the group of thinkers key to Brantlinger’s earlier Crusoe’s Footprints), to postcolonial theory, and on to contemporary thinkers like Žižek

But this is hardly a haphazard assemblage. Brantlinger critically assesses the values and limits of the varied strands of theory he employs. Of Marx, for example, Brantlinger notes in his opening chapter: “Marx’s prediction that the ultimate outcome of class warfare would be a classless utopia was wrong, but that does not mean he misinterpreted the past.” Brantlinger in the same chapter takes to task postmodernists like Lyotard and Baudrillard for being blind to the continuation of class conflict in the postmodern condition. He later sides with McLuhan against “crash theorists” like Arthur Kroker and Michael Weinstein: “The crash theorists tend to be dismissive of McLuhan as a techno-optimist, utopian, or even cryptotheologian…. but their own brand of apocalyptic postmodernism begs to be read as a continuation of McLuhanism by other means.” Brantlinger’s theoretical grounding thus, like his literary analysis and his political critique, is rooted in close, careful, critical reading of key texts.

The opening section of the book, “Class Conflicts,” begins, foundationally, with Brantlinger’s defense of the idea of class conflict as a means to understand both historical and contemporary struggles. Addressing politicians’ rejection and postmodernists’ dismissal of the term, Brantlinger asserts: “Despite the obfuscations of the mass media, of neoliberal economists, and of some theorists of the postmodern condition, class struggle continues to shape American culture, a fact that the 2007-8 crash has made glaringly obvious.” The second chapter critiques dominant neoliberal economics, above all for its masking of its own ideological biases: “Economists … present the notions that capitalism is the only system that works and that political and social freedoms depend on free markets. These notions are presented as unassailable axioms.” Brantlinger will proceed to assail them. In chapter three, he has fun with the Tea Party, whose partisans he compares to the Know-Nothings of the 1850s. Chapter four offers a detailed cultural-studies take on the Virginia Tech shootings, charted along four axes: “race, class, gender, and America’s ‘gun culture.’” Ranging from Turner’s 1908 visit to Mexico back to the Mexican-American War of 1848 are forward to the emergence of the Zapatistas in the wake of the NAFTA agreement in 1994, the fifth chapter seeks to explain the long-term economic crisis of the Mexican state; for Brantlinger, NAFTA and the Zapatistas constitute “opposed but causally linked outcomes of economic neoliberalism,” rooted in a century and a half of unequal relations between north and south. The section’s final chapter (coauthored with Richard Higgins) evaluates “waste” as the inevitable byproduct of consumer capitalism (existing in “reversible” polarity to wealth). The authors survey the role of waste in a range of economic thought, from John Locke to Marx, before focusing more closely on Veblen and Wells.

The second section, “Postmodern Conditions,” opens with “Shopping on Red Alert,” a brilliant analysis of the discursive role of “terror” in American politics and culture since 9/11 (and contrasting it to the lackluster response to the Katrina disaster). Brantlinger concludes: “Perhaps what is new about terrorism today, apart from the rhetorical hype that sustains it, is its exhaustion—its angry impotence in light of the desire of the vast majority for peace, stability, prosperity, and freedom.” The section’s second essay sarcastically plays the war in Iraq against America’s history of transcontinental subjugation summarized by the phrase Manifest Destiny: “There are very few places in the world that should not be considered for statehood in the United States, and Iraq is not one of them.” The ninth chapter of the collection (like the eleventh) echoes themes Brantlinger explored in his examination of discourses of extinction (typically of “lower” or more “primitive” races) in Dark Vanishings. Examining the range of representations of Aboriginal Australians in recent literature, he highlights the nostalgic primitivism and commodification of aboriginal tropes, considers the interesting problem of “fake” Aboriginal writings, and concludes by calling into question any sort of authenticity as an anchor to identity: “In both racial and literary terms, the stress on authenticity is misleading,” since “a printed text is, in some sense, already inauthentic.”  Next, Brantlinger turns to Marshall McLuhan and the technological apocalyptic strands of thought (from postmodernists to GRAIN thinkers to crash theorists) he sees as McLuhan’s heirs. In Brantlinger’s penultimate chapter, he poignantly places the impoverished and all-too-unsupported veterans of recent American wars in the context of previous generations’ use of “exterminist” discourses to justify their inattention to “surplus” populations. Brantlinger closes the collection on an optimist note, contextualizing the work of the WSF in challenging dominant global economic structures, and insisting, against those who would dismiss such aims as utopian: “If ever people everywhere needed to think in utopian terms, it is surely now,” facing the wide range of problems (war, famine, ecological disaster, economic breakdown) that constitute our current “emergencies.”

Brantlinger’s collection is not without flaws. Some of its pieces seem comparatively lightweight (as much fun as it is to satirize the Tea Party, it’s sort of like fishing with dynamite); some seem somewhat out of place (exactly what McLuhan is doing in here is never quite clear). As careful as Brantlinger typically is with his sources, he lets a few writers off too easily (perhaps it is only from Kansas that the deep flaws in Thomas Frank’s thought become apparent, but Brantlinger credits his analysis too easily). As wide-ranging as Brantlinger’s theoretical perspectives are, there are still curious gaps (like the absence of Stuart Hall, whose cultural-studies credentials and strikingly parallel attempt to tangle with Thatcherism in the midst of its deprecations in Hard Road to Renewal [1988] should have recommended his inclusion). And Brantlinger really should get to more movies; Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer really belongs in his discussion of Mexican labor issues, and any number of robotic nightmares, from I, Robot to the Terminator series, could illuminate his discussion of “Nanoculture” among McLuhan’s heirs (and both David Cronenberg’s Crash and J. B. Ballard’s source text for that film certainly deserves a place in that chapter as well).

But these are minor quibbles. Overall, Brantlinger’s States of Emergency is a masterful series of excursions into contemporary crises that. The essays both display the deep value the capacity of cultural studies to come terms with contemporary issues and reveal how understanding the Victorian roots of today’s culture can illuminate our present conditions. Deeply researched (with full footnotes and bibliography), carefully thought out, and eloquently argued, they offer a refreshing relief from the babble of mainstream social and political commentary, and a source of hopeful vision against the varied voices of apocalypse.

The Ryder ● December 2013

Film Review: Ender’s Game

Asa Butterfield as Ender

◆ by Lucy Morrell

Set in the future following an insect-like alien species’ near destruction and failed colonization of Earth, Ender’s Game is written and directed by Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and is based on the first book in Orson Scott Card’s popular Enderverse science fiction series in which human leaders train gifted children for warfare in order to defend against any further attacks. Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a brilliant strategist and a child-sized cocktail of empathy and aggression, is humanity’s last hope. At just under two hours, the movie speeds through the events of the book, hitting all the highlights but diminishing each moment’s import in its simplification.

The implications of war, nevertheless, are made all the more intense by the active participation of children. But while the film is able to convey the overarching story and themes, it loses some of the more striking aspects of the book by substituting stock scenes for unique development.

The audience doesn’t actually see how Ender earns the trust and loyalty of his highly competitive peers, but he must because in one scene the children relocate en masse to his cafeteria table from his rival’s. The movie reduces a complex fight for allegiance and power to a petty display of lunchroom dynamics, which could just as easily be in any movie ever set in a high school.

General Graff (Harrison Ford), who oversees Battle School and takes a singular interest in Ender, is unnecessarily injected into scenes. His shouting never changes, but seems to act as a running commentary for the audience to recognize just how special Ender is — instead of allowing us to see for ourselves. In the book, Ender is always special but it often feels he is being singled out for mind games rather than epaulettes. With Harrison Ford constantly pushing him to high command, there is no such ambiguity. The focus shifts from Ender’s development in Battle School to the uninteresting and unchanging world of adults.

Ender is complex, and Asa Butterfield is expressive; he can handle the pressure of a close-up with no explanatory dialogue. The characters surrounding him, though, especially his siblings, are hopelessly two-dimensional. His brother appears only long enough to choke Ender in a fight, barely hinting at the sadistic cruelty he demonstrates in the book, and Valentine, played by a pouty Abigail Breslin, is no more than the overly empathetic female — valuable only in her concern and intuitive understanding. Of course, this is part of the point; Ender is the goldilocks just-right mixture for military command.

If you haven’t read the book, though, you won’t see the compromises, only the cleverness, for regardless of all that it skims through and cuts short, the movie has some awe-inspiring human ingenuity against a backdrop of stunning CGI.

[Image at top of post: Asa Butterfield as Ender Wiggin.]

The Ryder ● December 2013

The Push And The Pull

Keegan Adams Self Portrait

Two-person exhibition pays homage to IU’s historic printmaking traditions and offers promise for the future ◆ by Adam Rake

When we first met in 2012 at Indiana University’s MFA Printmaking Program we didn’t know our paths had already crossed 50 years before in Iowa City. Keegan’s grandfather, Thomas F. Chouteau, worked under the preeminent printmaker Professor Mauricio Lasansky at the University of Iowa in the early 1960’s. In the 1940s Lasansky’s program launched the “Printmaking Revolution in America” that brought printmaking on par with painting and sculpture as a fine art medium. His students fanned out to universities across America to establish new printmaking programs, including here at Indiana University with Professors Marvin Lowe, and Rudy Pozatti, a student of Wendell Black, one of Lasansky’s first students. Keegan’s Aunt, Suzanne Chouteau, Professor of Art at Xavier University, also worked with Lasansky in the 1980’s. When I told Keegan — who was about to enter his second year of the MFA program — that I was coming to Bloomington from Iowa City after spending the previous 7 years working with the Lasansky family, we both knew we shared passions for a particular era in printmaking.

I first became absorbed in Printmaking in 2000 as an undergraduate at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. I gravitated to its tactility, varied processes, and focused emphasis on drawing. Each medium within printmaking bends the artist’s intention to conform to its inherent properties. At its core printmaking is about resistance. The medium literally pushes back against us. We must contend with the copper plate, the woodblock, and the limestone slab. With them, we are involved in a continual process of preservation and decay, choosing what, when, where and how to allow forces — both chemically and directly from our hand — to act on them. Exactly how these forces will manifest in the final print is often unpredictable. Printmaking is my primary artistic medium because it forces me to relinquish my desire for complete aesthetic control and acquiesce to the beauty that only arises from the interaction between both human and natural forces.

Wanagi Tacaku

Keegan Adams’ “Wanagi Tacaku” Artist’s Book With Intaglio

Keegan’s father, Michael Adams, first introduced him to printmaking when he was 17. They etched a small drawing of a green pepper on a zinc plate using nitric acid. Seeing the print pulled changed his life. The combination of drawing, acid, metal, inks, paper, and thousands of pounds of pressure was exciting and seductive. It wasn’t until an introductory class in printmaking in undergrad that he discovered the full extent that printmaking had in his family’s history. Keegan avidly studied the history of modern printmaking, especially the Iowa legacy of innovation. New techniques, new sizes, new complexities of color and printing, and new thinking all came together. He understood that Midwest universities were the pioneers of this movement. Keegan recognized how intimate this print history was to the medium of printmaking as a whole, but even more intimately in terms of his family and own history. Indiana University’s leading role within this print Renaissance made their MFA program a premiere venue for graduate study. Its tradition of innovation was something he wanted to continue, like his relatives at Iowa, and nourish it further into the 21st Century.

In 2004 I packed all my belongings into my compact car and left Philadelphia for Iowa City. My hope was to work with the Lasansky family. A philosophy mentor of mine who grew up in Iowa City had introduced me to Lasansky’s youngest son Tomas’ work. I was enthralled. When I began to study his father’s work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art I knew these were the artists from whom I needed to learn most. After a year of knocking on his door, Tomas finally took me on as his printer and assistant. The opportunity he provided changed my life by providing me access to generations of artists and art, all with printmaking at the core of its creative essence. After 7 years, and without the prerequisite degrees to teach, I decided it was time to pursue a graduate degree. I chose IU for the same reasons as Keegan.

Keegan and I have the unique experience of being at IU during a period of transition. Ed Bernstein, Director of the program for over 20 years, who took over the position from Rudy Pozatti in 1991, just retired. Tracy Templeton, from Southern Oregon University has just taken the helm. Professor Templeton has already begun laying the groundwork to ensure IU remains a global center for printmaking in the 21st century. It is exciting for us to be able to add our voice to the future of the program. We hope our show pays homage and respect to the traditions that have lead IU’s program to its esteemed place in printmaking’s history. We believe the next century will be as important as the last to the survival of printmaking as an indispensible fine art medium. It will not survive without major research institutions like IU being the laboratories of innovation and stewards of its history.

It may seem that with its many technical concerns and idiosyncratic properties printmaking would be limiting in the pursuit of personal expression. But it is precisely how we push against and manage the resistance of those limitations–how we overcome them– that makes printmaking timeless.

Our current show, Keegan Adams/Adam Rake: Recent Works at The John Waldron Arts Center’s Rosemary P. Miller Gallery opening on December 6th, highlights the common origins and unlikely intersections of history that brought us together in Bloomington. Between our works one can observe what can be described as a distinctly “Midwestern vernacular” born out from that history. Yet, as newly appointed Director of IU Printmaking Tracy Templeton says, “both artists employ personal experience and identity to form compelling, tactile images that indirectly speak to the intimacy of their origins.” The show will include approximately thirty works. We will also display examples of the copper plates we used in the production of the prints, which are objects of importance in their own right.

[Image at top of post: Keegan Adams, Self Portrait, color intaglio.]

The Ryder ● December 2013

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