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

The Rise Of E-sports

E-sports

The Decline of Deodorant ◆ by Benjamin Atkinson

Ten competitors took the stage. They didn’t look like athletes. They were mostly small, scrawny, and gave no indication of recent exposure to sunlight. A single look on at their faces, however, belied an intensity, dedication, and focus that Peyton Manning or Lionel Messi would instantly recognize. After all, there was a $1 million prize riding on their performance that night.The stage was inside the Staples Center and the e-sport was League of Legends. “Sport” usually conveys images of sweaty bodies being tamed and shaped by endless hours of exertion, locked in a very physical contest. There is often an almost savage aspect reflecting a life-and-death struggle that was all too literal for many cultures throughout history. E-sports does not disparage participants in the classical sports, but seeks to take aspects from sport such as tenacity, focus, determination, ingenuity, teamwork, and a host of others that play out in a formal competition. Competition allows each player to take stock of his or her abilities and chart improvements from match to match in a public forum.

E-sports have been around for decades, maturing mostly in Korea where they have become a national pastime. Starcraft is practically the godfather of e-sports, but many other games receive the attention of millions of fans from across the globe. Street Fighter is a classic of the fighting genre, while Counter Strike is a leader among first person shooters. League of Legends is the top among the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena games, and its producer Riot Games has invested heavily in marketing e-Sports in general and its own game in particular.

Riot even arranged for a professional athlete visa to be granted by the U.S. government to Canadian Danny “Shiphtur” Le. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services determined that the League Championship Series met the stringent requirements of a professional sports league and issued Le a very selective P-1A visa, reserved for professional athletes who want to work in the US in order that they might “enrich the nation’s cultural landscape.” As far as the U.S. Government is concerned, e-sport competitors command the same status as Olympic athletes.

Attending an e-sport event is similar to attending any sporting events — thousands of fans, many rabidly exhibiting exuberance for their favorite team in the form of swag and signs. Thunderous applause for impressive plays. The competition among the fans is intense for a chance at an autograph or photo opportunity from the professionals. Viewers who stream games on their home computer can follow the play by play provided by professional “shout-casters” who offer color commentary and increase accessibility for those who don’t closely follow the professional scene or are new the game.

Video game enthusiast and former Minnesota Viking punter Chris Kluwe was featured in a Riot-produced video during the League of Legends World Championship match (it can now be found on YouTube). He notes many of the positive attributes shared between participants in classical sports such as football and those in e-sports, as well as the potential ahead for e-sports with its own unique advantages. The physical threshold for participating in classic sports is rather high, especially if one hopes to achieve any measure of success. The only threshold to cross in e-sports is access to a computer and time to dedicate.

NFL players enjoy the largest sports fan-base in America today, and e-sport gamers aren’t going to replace them anytime soon. But if this is the first you are hearing about it, you’re guaranteed to hear more soon. Viewer numbers for the championship match are not available yet but over 18 million world-wide tuned in for the All-Star game back in May. Kluwe notes that while there is indeed important physical aspects such as reaction time (watch any clip of professional gaming and it the movements seem prescient), e-sports focuses on mental challenges. Sport grew out of the vital need for teamwork and physical aptitude that have helped communities across the ages thrive and prosper in the face of harsh competition with nature and other cultures. But success in the modern economy depends upon intelligence, creativity, and other aspects of mental agility that are hallmarks of successful e-sport gamers. It seems fitting that as humanity dives into the computer age, sport does as well.

It was in this spirit of sport that Riot assembled 14 teams to compete for the title of best League of Legends team in the world. Representatives had been narrowed down in the professional leagues of China, Southeast Asia, Korea, North America, and Europe. A special International Wildcard tournament allowed the winner from other regions without their own burgeoning professional e-sports organization an opportunity for the title. But the lack of professional experience showed and the wildcard team was quickly eliminated. North America and SE Asia’s representatives fared no better, with all of their teams ousted at the earliest opportunity. Two of Europe’s teams managed to claw their way into the later stages, but the tournament was mostly a showcase for the prowess of the Chinese and Korean teams, who took three of the four spots in the semifinals.

Sports come and go. Baseball was “America’s Game” for a long time, but many fans have fled the ballpark for the football stadium. Boxing and wrestling are alive and well but neither command the public’s attention in the way they had throughout the centuries. Video games tend to have a short half-life as technology improvements pull players towards newer games. League of Legends may soon fade into the background but e-sports are just getting started.

The Ryder ● December 2013

The Boy Who Plays The Piano With His Elbows

Keys

◆ by Willis Barnstone

During the civil war in Greece, in one of the villages in Epiros at the foot of the Pindos Mountains, there is a boy musician who plays the piano with his elbows. He lost his hands and forearms on a hike near the Albanian border. There was not much action in the northern mountains, but somehow he stepped on a land mine. Soon after he came back from the hospital in Yannina, he took up the piano again, now with artificial fingers attached to the stumps where his elbows should have connected with the forearms. He no longer plays classical music in which he was a prodigy. Rather, he makes the piano sound like the Greek clarinet in the soprano trilling tunes of the tsamiko, the Greek mountain music. He uses a small portable piano, made in and donated from Athens, and he plays it with the local musicians whenever there is a baptism or wedding or a saints day party. When the older singer is too busy, he sings his heart out. No one sings like the boy musician.

These are cruel days. When the andartes (Communist guerrillas) are captured by government forces, they are routinely executed. In the areas where the andartes come in, even for a few days, they execute the mayor, the schoolteacher and the priest. Then in late 1947 Markos, the leader of the andartes, enacts a policy of abducting Greek children, taking them to the socialist countries where the dream is that they will be trained to return when they are older as dedicated officials of a Greece run benevolently by Papa Joe Stalin. They will be the new Janissaries. It is not a practice that wins friends among the mutilated families. Yanni, the child musician, is among the boys abducted.

Boy PIanoThey take Yanni away one night. His captors, making the rounds of a village fallen that very afternoon, seize the boy and his sister Xanthí, without realizing that the boy has no hands. Xanthí manages to escape. They see her run off but are reluctant to fire on her, and she is gone. Before long a fighter from another unit hears about the boy without arms, and informs his comrades that he has a special instrument so he can play the piano like an angel. And that he also sings. He is called, they hear, the boy with the voice of gold. But he won’t sing for the andartes or play their pianos. It is not the politics. Without his friends, his family, his own mountains, he has no desire to sing.

Since he won’t cooperate with them, they more or less abandon him, not sending him to one of the sanctuary countries across the border, nor giving him indoctrination of their own. It is not specifically a punishment. In time of war why waste energy on a mutilated child musician, who won’t even sing? They give him food, but ignore him, and he hangs around the village like a stray animal. And that is fine, for Yanni determines to make friends again, on his own, and away from the andartes.

At night he slips away from the village, follows a rocky goat path into the fields, and there, in the scant light from overhead, sits down among the thistles and herbs and sings alone. Soon animals came near. His songs have no words. They are scarcely songs of a human voice. At first his main audiences are stray dogs and cats. Soon every beast and bird knows he is there. When he sings the bats are disoriented and the love star Aphrodite never sets. He learns the voices of wild pigs and silent hare. He detects the melodies of every wild brook in the region, and those waters enter his voice. But one morning when he has stayed out all night, a foolish soldier takes out his belt and whips him brutally. The next evening he goes out and doesn’t come back.

There is no piano in the woods. Yet there are hollow trees, trees rotted out, which are perfect drums on which he strikes with his wooden forearms attached to his stumps. While earlier he played melodies with his artificial fingers, now, without a keyboard and piano, he makes the forest his percussion instrument. When the moon comes up like goat cheese in Artemis’s bowl, he gives his concerts. He sings and sings and leaves the animals dazed.

The writer Dante woke one day in a dark savage wood, and was visited by fearful animals. The forests on the Pindos Mountains, which run into obscure Albania, are also wild, but they are not very dark during the day, since Greece hardly has dense mountain forests, even in green Epiros, and except for the occasional explosion of mortars and rifle shots when the war drifts near, the region is not at all fearful. In fact, with the amazing singing of the boy, even on a rare starless and moonless night there is illumination for all the animals. It comes to the speechless beasts in the lake of the heart.

Getting food, however, is not easy. The boy lives on herbs, acorns, nuts, berries, even chamomile and wild orchids. He uses his stumps like chopsticks to gather, eat and store, with full dexterity. It is fine during the Greek summer, but with the first snows of winter—and there is much snow in the Pindos—he begins to starve. He can’t eat the meat of animals who are companions. Even if he found a dead rabbit or deer and found some way to consume it, it would have been a form of cannibalism. As snows begins to cover much of the forest, even the places where he has stored supplies of nuts and now frozen berries and honeycombs are emptied, and he begins to eat bark, some of which has a sticky sweet taste, and he survives. But barely. He is now so thin when he sings in the freezing evenings, his voice is not much more than a remote birdcall, but it is, nevertheless, exceedingly poignant. It pierces the wind, and reaches the ears of fellow beasts, including the vultures, who are not friends.

Yanni is in trouble. Unless he does something to change his existence in the mountains, he will die. He tries to eat what bigger and smaller animals ate, but grass, rodents, insects are impossible, even for the handless boy, though he has no pride of human habit. It is only bark now and frozen water, and he get weaker by the day.

Finally, he lies down and schemes. The andartes are gone. There are no thuds of bombs or rattling guns. For all he knows the war was over. He will go back. By now he almost talks to the beasts. Early in the morning they go with him as far as they dare, to fields bordering a small village in the lower mountains. Yanni can make out the Turkish‑style balconies of stone houses, the Byzantine dome on a small church, a ramshackle building, half‑destroyed, that seem to be the town hall. Smoke rises from the stone houses. There must be food and heat. He doesn’t want to leave his forest companions. The beasts lick his face and arms, and he stumbles toward the village.

Piano Elbows

When he get to within sixty meters of a granite block wall along the road climbing to the village center, he rests. And he sings a dirge, very quietly. Not a human but an animal song and his words are also the words of beasts. He lies quite a while in the field, and though flat on his back he holds his arms straight up, hoping he might be spotted. He even dozes off — these days he is not always fully awake — remembering long ago, or so it seems, the special piano, and wonders if someone in the village has some old instrument. He can stand on a stool, as he did before they gave him that special low keyboard from Athens, and start again to play. It will be a good life. But his immediate thoughts are how to be found and taken to some hearth, with bread and fire. He is ready.

As the boy musician lies there with his bare arm stumps raised like two crosses into the almost spring‑thawing air — he’s almost made it through the winter — a villager catches sight of the strange creature moving down below in the frozen wheat field. Several villagers gather. These are good people, mainly old peasants. The young are in the armies or gone to Yannina or Athens for jobs. They might be back for a few weeks in the summer. Peace has come. The village has been wrecked by both sides. As for children, there are none. This is a village from which the children were taken, and none has returned. At least near the Yugoslav frontier, most came back. The old peasants are bitter. The politicians are making a lot of noise on the radio, and the Albanian Greeks, in the more popular demotic Greek, are broadcasting horror stories, not about themselves, but about the Greek rightist troops and officials who are hard‑hearted and corrupt, or so they claim. The old people hear the anger from both sides of the Pindos Mountains, but anyway there is peace, at least, and food, though not very much.

But then the creature. It makes a strange noise, and is bigger than a dog. It can be a starving deer, with its legs in the air. Yet deer never howl. Deer are beasts of silent dream, and a staple of the local diet. Yanni, weary and beginning to freeze, abandons hope of immediate rescue, ceases to sing and tries to get up. They can’t find him, so he must go to them. He reaches upward as if the air is a post. But he falls down. He tries again. And as he almost gets back on his feet, the best shot among the older hunters in the village, takes aim at the rising animal, rubs the wet icy trigger, the cold metal trigger, and fires.

[The Boy Who Played the Piano with his Elbows previously appeared in the South Carolina Review. Author Willis Barnstone, born in Lewiston, Maine, and educated at Bowdoin, the Sorbonne, Columbia and Yale, taught in Greece at end of civil war (1949-51), in Buenos Aires during the Dirty War, and in China during Cultural Revolution, where he was later a Fulbright Professor in Beijing (1984-85) A Guggenheim fellow, he has received the NEA/NEH/Emily Dickinson Award of the PSA, Auden Award of NY Council on the Arts, Midland Authors Award, four Book of the Month selections, four Pulitzer nominations. His work has appeared in APR, Harper’s, New York Review of Books, Paris Review, Poetry, New Yorker, and the Times Literary Supplement. Author of seventy books, recent volumes are Dawn Café in Paris (Sheep Meadow, 2011), The Poems of Jesus Christ (Norton, 2012), Borges at Eighty (New Directions Press, 2013). He is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Indiana University.]

The Ryder ● December 2013

Bloomington Blue

Lovelace

The Forgotten History of Porn at Indiana University ◆ by Sean Smalley

Though it may not have been Times Square, from the late 1970s to mid-1980s screenings of hardcore films became a contentious fixture of campus life at Indiana University. By the time student groups and dorms started screening 70s hardcore classics such as Deep Throat, The Devil in Miss Jones, Behind the Green Door, and Insatiable, the allure of porno chic had already started to dissipate. The simultaneous rise of the religious right and anti-porn feminism at the end of the 1970s rolled back the ground of mainstream acceptability pornography had gained in the wake of Deep Throat. The fight over pornography was one of the most visible battles of the culture wars and university records show that this battle was especially heated at IU in the 1980s, leading to protests, bans and eventually prosecution.

This history is documented primarily in the Arbutus yearbooks, which are accessible through the Indiana Daily Student website. The Arbutus from 1977 is the first to reference a screening of an X-rated film on campus. The screenings were opportunities for the dorms to raise money for recreational activities such as Intramural sports and Little 500. Though they screened mostly mainstream, non-pornographic films such as Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein and The Exorcist, they made the greatest profits with screenings of Deep Throat. University administration debated whether allowing a screening of Deep Throat would tarnish the respectability of the university or not. The administration allowed the film to be shown to avoid being charged with suppressing free speech or acting as censors. The screening went on to gross close to $2300 for the Parkes House. Because the screening was such a financial success more hardcore films followed.

Movie Poster

By the time students began screening hardcore films at IU the porno chic period was already coming to an end. No hardcore film had received the kind of mainstream coverage that Deep Throat did, and no hardcore film has been able to repeat Deep Throat’s accomplishment. The attention that the press gave to Deep Throat made it one of the most profitable films of all time. The film did run into censorship issues in various cities across the country, but the grosses were so high that it led to an increase in film production. Not only were producers of hardcore films intent of riding the wave of popular interest, but they would do it with higher production values and a greater interest in building coherent narratives. A film like The Opening of Misty Beethoven owed as much to art cinema as it did to porn films. Deep Throat’s director, Gerard Damiano, even expressed hopes that his film would open Hollywood up to making more sexually explicit pictures. And given the high profile visibility of Deep Throat, they came close. Even President Nixon’s commission on pornography returned a report concluding that sexually explicit material did not have a harmful effect on those who consume it. This general goodwill towards hardcore films would eventually die down as the political winds began to change in the late 1970s.

There is little information about what took place from 1978 to 1983, but by 1984 the university administration felt prompted to re-open the issue. The administration seemed apprehensive about the fundraising methods and likely received complaints from students. However, regulating screenings became increasingly difficult by the end of the 1970s into the early 1980s. When Deep Throat played at the Parkes House in 1977 it was shown on film. However, the screenings were so successful that by 1979 the student groups could afford to furnish the common areas with playback machines for multiple video formats. In his history of home video, Lucas Hilderbrand noted that X and XXX-rated films were extremely popular, with the adult film industry reporting 950,000 tapes sold in 1979 and 1.3 million tapes sold the following year. Perhaps this explains part of the sudden urgency with which the administration responded to the issue in the mid-80s. The ease of showing films on VHS or Beta instead of 16mm would make it much more difficult for the University to monitor and regulate future screenings.

Meeting minutes of the Board of Trustees in 1984 shows that multiple groups filed complaints against the screenings and wanted the administration to encourage alternatives to hardcore for student group and dorm fundraisers (Indiana University Board of Trustees, October 6 1985). The IU Student Association was successful in passing a resolution in opposition to advertising and displaying pornographic material on campus. IU Dean of Students, Michael Gordon, saw this as the perfect opportunity to put an end to the X-rated events. He placed a moratorium on all screenings of hardcore films. Gordon’s moratorium did not last very long. Students, citing violation of their free speech rights, protested the ban and enlisted the Indiana Civil Liberties Union to help fight the administration. The threat of legal action prompted the administration to lift the ban. Once the ban was lifted the university took a different approach to managing pornography.

Lovelace

Linda Lovelace

The debates over pornography before the emergence of anti-porn feminism were centered on notions of taste and the perceived negative influence of obscene material on society. While the arguments of anti-porn feminism had inherited many assumptions on taste, cultural value, and moral corruption from the religious right, they attacked hardcore pornography as dehumanizing to women. While the porn wars were raging at IU, Deep Throat’s star, Linda Lovelace, was touring the talk show circuit to give the Reagan administration and the anti-porn feminists the ammunition they had desired: women who appeared in hardcore films, she claimed, were being manipulated and abused behind the scenes and raped on camera. Lovelace even testified under oath that the adult film industry had been in the business of producing snuff, though no instances of snuff films have ever turned up. So, by the time the university administration opened up the discussion about how to handle the “porn problem” it was largely framed in a way that would avoid direct censorship, but acknowledge the way it “frequently denigrates women” (Indiana University Board of Trustees, May 1985). With the embarrassment of the ban fresh in their memory, they encouraged student groups opposed to the screenings to distribute literature about the harmful affect pornography has on women. Instead of banning films, they would “educate” the larger student population into ending the screenings.

This approach had little impact on the events. The controversy over pornography at IU spilled into the community in 1986 when the Monroe County prosecutor, Ron Waicukauski, received public complaints and filed a civil suit against IU student David Henderson on obscenity charges for organizing a screening of the Marilyn Chambers film Insatiable. On the day of the second screening the police obtained a warrant through Waicukauski’s request and seized the film, effectively shutting down the event and costing Henderson and the student activities group in his building at least $700. Waicukauski argued that IU events (the Insatiable screening was open only to students, staff, and faculty) were not exempt from the laws of the community. Waicukauski also stated that he would prosecute other students who planned show X-rated films in the future. Henderson faced up to a year in jail and a $5000 fine.

Chambers

Porn & Advertising Icon Marilyn Chambers

The attempt to prosecute an IU student outside of the university was likely the deciding factor in the end of X-rated screenings in the dorms. With pressure from inside and outside, such screenings were no longer feasible. And as VCRs continued to drop in price throughout the 1980s it became more common for students to hold smaller, unpublicized screenings in communal and private spaces. The documents seem to beg other questions about these screenings. For example, how did those who participate react to the films? Where these screenings treated earnestly? Were they treated as participatory midnight-style screenings? It is difficult to gage from what is given. Also, the gender makeup of the screenings is never addressed. Historians of hardcore have shown that the appeal of these films extended beyond the typical heterosexual male, especially as pornography shifted from theatrical space to the home. Sadly, very little is mentioned about the gender breakdown. One could speculate based on the titles that were shown, but only a few of those are on record. What is on record, however, sketches an outline that reveals a fascinating synchronicity between the local and national that is rare.

The Ryder

Exploding The Senses

LuminoCity

Crossing Into The Unknown with Wine, Cheese and Music ◆ by Brenda McNellen and Kristen Strandberg

In the past, high-end restaurants like Eleven Madison Park in New York City have encouraged the transcendence that can come from focusing on one sense at a time; fully engaging with the spirit of the food by isolating it from the realm of the everyday. Its menu was a model for controlled experiences: a minimalist grid that looks almost like a periodic table, isolating each ingredient of a meal. The diners would select four elements they wanted and the chef would prepare a meal incorporating these as the center of each course. This mindfulness about food spread to other parts of the diner’s experience—serious diners would limit the amount of conversation during meals in order to focus on the food. Classical music resided in a similar realm—during the late 18th century a hush descended upon audiences when the culture of listening changed to include expectations of absolute quiet during performances and restricting applause to the correct places in a performance in order to avoid breaks in focus.  In many classical performances today, this tradition of a purely musical focus continues: consider the outburst of anger by the New York Philharmonic’s audience members and conductor, who stopped a 2012 performance when a patron’s cell phone rang during Mahler’s Ninth Symphony.

Demand for multi-sensory experiences however, is increasing, even in the realms of classical music and food.  This past August, the Cincinnati Symphony performed a free outdoor concert with images and 3D animation projected onto the front of its home building, accompanied with music by Tchaikovsky, Ravel and Strauss. In a move that shocked the restaurant world, Daniel Humm and Will Guidara of Eleven Madison Park announced in 2012 that the restaurant would be doing away with its grid menu in favor of a four-hour narrated meal encompassing the history of New York and including visuals such as a cheese course hidden inside a picnic basket, and a magic trick predicting the dessert. There was a lot of buzz about this change. Would Eleven Madison Park stay in business if diners had to commit to a four-hour meal experience? Would patrons see this change as a kitschy degradation of the dining experience? Would its ranking as number 10 in the prestigious World’s 50 Best Restaurants list be jeopardized?

As with Eleven Madison Park’s announcement, most of these changes, sometimes couched in terms of attracting a new generation to participate, are often met with a good deal of skepticism. What could happen if experiences become meaningless because of all this sensory overload? In an April Fool’s day post about the Jacobs School of Music from 2009, the school is (falsely) reported to have hired popular violinist Andre Rieu and installed in the Musical Arts Center a “new jewel-studded shell, incorporating festive colors, over 5,000 energy-efficient twinkling LED lights, and several dozen miniature mirrors with gilded Rococo frames,  . . . [and] a mechanized chandelier, capable of ascending and descending in under seven seconds.”

But what if these combinations can actually enhance or reframe our experiences? In Hallucinations, by Oliver Sacks (which made New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani’s 10 Favorite Books of 2012), the author discusses sensory deprivation as an aid to altering experience, but also includes the epiphanies produced by experiences in combination. He mentions being unable to remember how the color indigo really looked to him until it reappeared to him at a musical concert in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “a Monteverdi piece was performed, and I was utterly transported. I had taken no drugs, but I felt a glorious river of music, four hundred years long, flowing from Monteverdi’s mind into my own. In this ecstatic mood, I wandered out during the intermission and looked at the ancient Egyptian objects on display—lapis lazuli amulets, jewelry, and so forth—and I was enchanted to see glints of indigo. I thought: Thank God, it really exists!” (Sacks, 110-111)

In a quest to find out how those around us felt about multisensory experience in the realms of taste and music, we interviewed some well-known Bloomingtonians that were likely candidates for immersion in these types of experiences. We wanted to know whether the mingling of senses was a distraction for them or an integral part of broadening the mind and remembering experiences.

Patricia Stiles, IU Jacobs School of Music professor and renowned opera singer who has performed in the Kennedy Center and opera houses across Europe, describes how for her, as a performing opera singer, music was almost never experienced in isolation from touch, smell, and taste.  As a performer, Stiles said, the tactile experience of singing in an opera–the smells and feelings of being onstage—were inseparably linked to her experience of the music.  “That’s the thing about opera,” she says, “it’s everything at once.  Even the smell–there are a lot of different smells you would like to forget from the other people who have worn the costume, the sweat . . . and that’s part of the experience.”  She recalls love scenes in which the singer opposite her was drenched in sweat, and says that this changes the experience of the music for her, and becomes a part of her sensory experience as a whole.  Costumes bring a similar tactile element to the production.  She says that “the sensory feeling of the costumes and the whole look of the stage goes a lot with music for me.  The physical feeling of the costumes . . . [provide] a tactile sensation, and even the rustling sound when you move . . . it has a life of its own.”

One of Stiles’s most memorable costumes was that of a tree/human hybrid in a production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold in Germany.  She describes a bizarre ensemble that included fake tree limbs with leaves on her arms and head, high heels, and very realistic fake bare breasts.  She says that felt very odd, but was also liberating and fun to have such a bizarre costume that so drastically changed her appearance. She felt that she was transformed by the costume when onstage and will always remember the shift in perception that came from the feeling of wearing that costume in combination with performing the role of Erda, goddess of the earth.

For Jeffery Schauss, who is married to Patricia Stiles and also a wine buyer for Sahara Mart, analogous experiences like tasting wine and listening to music inform how we think about and describe them. Within both tasting and listening experiences there are layers of complexity. Individual wine tasters may focus on texture, flavor notes, or unexpected combinations of tastes that change from moment to moment as music listeners may focus on rhythms, harmony, sudden key or chord changes, or repeated patterns in music.

Schauss looks for balance in pairing wine with food or music, as he recommends that one sense not overpower another when layering sensory elements, even within a single sensory experience.  Cheaper wines, he says, possess one “note” or category of flavor that often takes over the taste of the wine, such as fruity, floral, or nutty.  By contrast, a higher-end wine “is like a symphony,” says Schauss, “it just keeps working,” as the taste evolves and changes over time.  Along with the taste itself, texture also plays a role in Schauss’s experience with wine.  While acknowledging that each person’s experience will be different, he says: “My mind goes more to that symphony . . . [or] to that velvet–not so much red raspberry or black cherry.”  Schauss considers texture, complexity, and layers, while sometimes describing the wine to customers in tactile or aural terms.

Dmitri Vietze, the director of Rock Paper Scissors, a Bloomington company that nationally markets and publicizes world music ensembles, feels that music and food are each accessible introductions to different types of people and cultures. He says, “People are trying to get a sense of who they are through understanding who other people are, and also expand the horizons of their own identity by experiencing other tastes, whether it’s musically or culinarily . . . it’s that diversity of options and opportunity that marks the era that we live in.” Similar to the complex wines referenced by Schauss, one of the main attractions of world music is its combination of familiar musical elements with unexpected sounds, rhythms and patterns that grab the attention of listeners.  The most frequent tactile sense associated with music, says Vietze, is not the taste of food or wine, but the feel of dance, including a heartbeat and moving body along with “the nervousness and the sexuality . . . the relationships, and the happiness” when music and dance are combined.

For Vietze as well as Stiles, a combination of sensory elements is what distinguishes unforgettable memories. One of his own most vivid memories stems from the day of his daughter’s birth.  “It was raining when my wife went into labor so there was the smell of rain. We played music in the early stages of labor . . . by Ayub Ogada, a Kenyan singer who also plays a little traditional lyre and taps his feet with jingles on his ankles.”  Vietze says that whenever he hears that music, “the rain, the smell, the music, the new hope and innocence of a new baby come right back to me.”

But is it possible to deliberately create these unforgettable memories for people with different sensory preferences by combining smell/taste/touch, and hearing/sight, in the way of Eleven Madison Park? Christine Buras, opera singer from the Jacobs School of Music and wine and cheese buyer for Bloomingfoods, thinks that while focus on certain aspects of the tasting experience are important, multi-sensory experiences can and should be constructed to deepen our enjoyment and understanding.

Buras remarks that getting customers to try a type of cheese may often entail convincing them to favor one sense over another. “Cheese doesn’t taste the way it smells. One of the smelliest cheeses we have is Taleggio, which is an Italian cow’s milk, soft-rind cheese, and it’s a pink, washed-rind cheese, cured in beer or wine. When you think of smelly, ugly cheeses, this is definitely in that category—it has green and white mold all over it normally, but the cheese inside is very mild, milky, clean and delicious. We don’t advise that people eat the rind. You would have to close your mind to the look and the smell of the outside, and open it to the taste of the cheese inside.” Very often, however, the texture of a cheese will complement the taste—people who know a lot about cheese will come in and ask for an aged cheddar or gouda with more granularity, which makes it crumbly.

As someone whose life revolves around wine, cheese, and music, Buras naturally thinks of ways to bring the three together. We asked her how she might create a beginning-to-end-of-evening experience with these three elements and she created a specific plan.  She would start with something “light and playful and spontaneous,” with a white wine, as moving from lighter to heavier is a good rule of thumb.  She would pair the wine with a fresh goat cheese or Saint-André, a French triple-crème cheese.  Buras suggests the piano music of French composer Erik Satie for this course, as it is fun and quirky without being intrusive.

For a second course of cheese, wine, and music, Buras recommends a full-bodied red wine such as a Malbec with Old Amsterdam (an aged Gouda), or an aged Cheddar or Gruyère.  The aged Gruyère, she notes, is something “we don’t see a lot of in Bloomington, but it’s worth finding.”  As an after dinner course, Stilton is often paired with Port. Some Stiltons have holes drilled in them and are then soaked in a ruby port. “By the time you get to that you’re fully into British culture,” says Buras, so she would pair it with Howells organ music, Elgar, Vaughn Williams— “something with really lush chords.”  For the wine, she recommends a fruity red such as a Zinfandel or Port.

While we may be losing the intensity of focus on one sense in realms like classical music and food (that have often tried to keep these experiences pure at their most elite levels), the trend of creating indelible memories by experimenting with new combinations of sensory experiences will probably be too great for most customers to ignore. What happened to Eleven Madison Park after their change to a four-hour experience menu? They jumped from number ten to number five on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and business is booming.  The World’s 50 Best Restaurants website calls it “a dining experience that is as delightful as it is engaging.”  Perhaps an “engaging” experience is just what diners and concert-goers are looking for, as multi-sensory stimulation is becoming the norm, creating new experiences with innovative combinations of existing elements.  Can’t afford the trip to New York and the $200 meal at Eleven Madison Park?  We hope that you take inspiration from them by experimenting with your own memorable combinations.

The Ryder ◆ November 2013

 

Falling In Love, With Panache

Photo Courtesy Jenny Grise Photography

From salsa to hiphop, local dance studio celebrates five years of mad moves ◆ by Rachael Himsel

Tom Slater’s first time happened after watching Saturday Night Fever.

He was 16, and he got hooked on the hustle. After watching John Travolta’s gyrations, Tom danced his own first dance, and will never forget his intro to dance: that first Latin hustle class, that fake ID, that first trip to a nightclub in Boston to try out his new moves.

Today, Tom is a World Exhibition Champion with a host of dancing, teaching and judging credits to his name; he’s toured cross-country and internationally, appeared in national commercials, and coached movie stars. Now, he spends much of his time at the dance studio he’s been with since the doors opened: Panache Dance.

Age 16 is considered a late entry into the art – but one of the key messages at Panache is that it’s never too late to learn to dance – and that anyone can dance.

And no one knows that better than Scott and Sandy. The two were in their mid-twenties when they discovered dance, after attending a free dance lesson in Fort Wayne. They fell in love with dance, and when they moved to Bloomington, they sought out a similar studio but had trouble finding one. They spent hours driving back to Fort Wayne and to Indianapolis to keep up their dance chops. They realized there was a need for an inclusive, fun dance studio in Bloomington and decided to build one.

That was five years ago. Today, Panache Dance Studio is home to over a dozen series dance classes and dance fitness classes every week. It is a place for people to lose their dance virginity, or deepen existing relationships with movement to music.

From the Pulitzer to Paris

Douglas Hofstadter’s first time was in Paris.

“It was 2010, and I was on sabbatical from IU and working very hard on a book on analogies. I started attending group classes in Cuban salsa twice a week at ‘Paris Mambo’…I loved salsa music and the astounding sensual grace of it, but I was a total beginner and, I must say, a rather slow learner. But I stuck with it and hung in there and in those eight months I learned quite a bit,” said Doug, the  Pulitzer-prize winning author of Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid (GEB), renowned academic in the world of cognitive science, and Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science at Indiana University.

But even Pulitzer Prize winners have their fears. Before he discovered the Parisian dance studio, Doug described the idea of dancing as terrifying. “I can’t say exactly why, but watching good dancers made me feel both very inferior and very jealous. Graceful dancing is just so beautiful and so natural that seeing people who could do it well always used to make me feel as if I was missing out on the true secret of what life is all about, and that sense of profound loss was a horrible, gut-wrenching feeling.”

“The aching yearning that I felt to be able to do that kind of thing myself is almost indescribable. In Paris, though, I finally screwed up my courage and bit the bullet. I took the first steps toward changing that sad frame of mind.”

When Doug returned from Paris, he felt he had to continue his salsa lessons, and found two excellent possibilities – Ritmos Latinos on campus, and Panache Dance. 
At Ritmos, Doug continued Cuban salsa, while at Panache he started learning LA-style salsa with Sandy, and cha-cha with Tom. “Both my Ritmos and Panache classes were inspiring to me and wound up having lasting impacts on my life, especially the classes at Panache.”

Lasting impact for Doug came in the form of Baofen Lin, a woman in Tom Slater’s cha-cha class.

“I had a crush on her from the very first time I spied her – but I didn’t know her name or a thing about her. Luckily, in Tom’s class, we had to rotate partners every few minutes, so I got to dance with this mysterious Chinese beauty every so often…I was a bit unsure of myself, so when we danced – and I was holding her in my arms! – we hardly exchanged any words at all. And it didn’t hurt that she was also one of the best dancers in the class, so that I had not just one, but two reasons for looking forward to her coming around to me every 20 minutes or so.”

One evening after Tom’s class Doug and Baofen began talking about their mutual interest in foreign languages, and walked down to Subway for tea and discussed having a ‘language exchange’ – what Doug says was, “A thinly-veiled way of saying, ‘Let’s get to know each other.’” A few days later, they had a real date at the Runcible Spoon, and soon “one thing led to another.”

Baofen and Doug were married on September 1st, 2012, at Deer Park Manor. To start the evening’s festivities, the couple performed an elaborate dance routine, beginning with the cha-cha (of course), then moving into a lively Cuban salsa “rueda”, a circle made up of the bride, groom and five other couples (including Sandy and Scott) in which everyone constantly changes partners. “That evening, was amazing for me – not only getting married to someone terrific, but also dancing up a storm, doing cha-cha and salsa and swing and a bit of rumba and fox trot,” remembers Doug. “I was nothing like the toe-tied teen-ager I’d been in Geneva, nothing like the guy who for so many decades was terrified to death of dancing of any sort at all. It was like I was a completely reborn person! What a revolution in my life!”

The Myers’ quickly discovered another need they could fill – dancing for fitness. The term ‘dance fitness’ includes a variety of styles – from hip hop to Zumba to Bollywood. Panache instructors are also known to take two styles and meld them together, creating unique dance fusions that are both fun and challenging for students.

One instructor, Darrelyn Valdez, has created several new dance classes. “That’s one aspect that I love about Panache. Sandy and Scott allow us to be as creative as we want. We have done some crazy fusion stuff!”

Darrelyn has been a driving force behind creating a class called Triple Threat, which gives several teachers the chance to lead dance numbers. At least four or five teachers lead songs in the 50-minute class, and as many as nine teachers have participated.

Besides Triple Threat, Darrelyn teaches Bollywood classes at Panache, and other dance fitness classes for IU, Monroe County Community School Corporation, and St. Marks Church, for a total of about 15 classes per week – all while juggling being a mom and working for MCCSC.

“I truly believe in everybody moving – that’s what’s important. It doesn’t matter what they do, as long as they’re moving. It’s about having fun and not worrying about whether you’re getting it right or not.”

A dance studio for the rest of us.

The fear of ‘getting it right’ is what holds many people back from walking into a dance studio, a worry that Donna Macri Stevens understands well. Mix in a busy schedule – Donna is Director of HR at IU’s School of Education and a mom – and it’s a small miracle Donna and her husband Phil made it to Panache. “I had wanted to take lessons for years, but couldn’t seem to find time for lessons in our busy schedules. Plus, all kinds of fears jumped to the surface – would we make fools of ourselves? Would we meet anyone our own age? Would it be all work and no play? Would people laugh at us as we stepped on one another’s toes?”

Donna and Phil were thrilled to discover their fears were unfounded. “The instructors helped us feel comfortable from day one, and all our fears melted away as we learned new moves and began to dance! Dancing at Panache was fun, and we found ourselves both comforted by others who were also just learning, and inspired by those who had been taking lessons for longer. Both groups of dancers, as well as the instructors, helped us to know that we had nothing to fear and inspired us to want to learn more…we’ve now made time for dance every week since.”

Donna and her husband Phil have taken classes in waltz, foxtrot, tango, rumba, mambo, salsa, East and West Coast swing, and the hustle. Like Doug, Donna also feels that she has found deep personal relationships at this little dance studio: “Through our lessons at Panache, we’ve developed lasting friendships with a wide variety of people, and we now have a fun and healthy hobby that brings us closer together and gets us out and about a bit more with a new group of friends. Panache is not only a dance and fitness studio – it’s also a family.” This family is made up of all genders, sizes, and sexuality. Many same-sex couples have come to Panache because of its welcoming reputation.

“Bloomington offers lots of opportunities to be a passive participant in the arts scene….you can go to the opera, take in a show, attend a gallery opening or hear a local singer songwriter perform. But there are few opportunities for the rest of us to be a more active participant in the arts scene,” Donna pointed out. “Dance is one way that each of us can actively participate, and it’s something that is accessible to people of all ages, from the very young to the very old. Panache helps provide a way to bring more people into the world of social dancing, making dancing a possibility for us all.”

Whether falling in love with the beautiful woman whose name you don’t yet know, or falling in love with your husband all over again after thirty years together, the power of dance is immense. Most of us remember our first time dancing – whether feeling a hot, sweaty post-dance buzz or gazing into your partner’s eyes, we experience dance in our muscles, in our bones, and in our souls. And here in Bloomington, Scott and Sandy Myers have created a safe haven for anyone wanting to be more physical, meet new people, hear new music, or maybe – just maybe – fall in love, one dance step at a time.

[Author’s Note: This month, Panache Dance Studio celebrates its fifth anniversary. As she looks to the future, co-owner Sandy Myers plans to continue creating an all-inclusive yet family-like feeling at Panache, while bringing in new clients: “I want to include more people in our community. I want more people to know what we’re about and come try it out. We are always growing, always learning.”] [Editor’s Note: Panache students will show what they have learned at their semi-annual showcase, a weekend of performances that lets Panache dancers of all skill levels share their talents: November 1st and 2nd @ 7:30 pm 
$15 adults, $12 students with valid school ID, $8 children 12 and under. Live band and dancing after the Saturday show at Panache Dance Studio, 325 E Winslow Rd.]

The Ryder ◆ November 2013

Surviving A Plague

From "How to Survive a Plague"

by Brandon Walsh

There’s a moment in How To Survive a Plague, David France’s documentary account of the earliest and darkest days of the AIDS epidemic, when ten thousand men and women march on the nation’s capital, carrying the remains of their loved ones lost to the virus. Officers on horses resisting the crowd, protesters on the frontline form against the White House fence, tossing the ashes forward in unison on the front lawn. A man weeps as he repeats, “I love you Mike.”

Heartbreaking moments such as this appear throughout France’s film, comprised of mostly archival footage, news clips, and home movies. In the decade the documentary chronicles, from 1986 to 1996, the epidemic claimed over 8 million lives worldwide, and yet the film voices a story of profound optimism.

How To Survive a Plague follows the history of the New York-based advocacy group “AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power,” more commonly known as Act Up. The organization came into the national spotlight with its inventive and effective media presence, civil disobedience, and its slogan “Silence = Death.”

Realizing that changing culture was not enough to address the lack of government attention towards AIDS funding, Act Up and TAG activists became engaged participants of the FDA’s drug-approval process. As result of this self-education, Act Up’s involvement directly resulted in the emergence of antiretroviral drug treatment, which has saved nearly six million lives since, yet is still unaffordable to many today.

France

David France

France paces his film quickly, highlighting Act Up’s successes and failures, meanwhile foregrounding the humanity of the passionate men and women who led the movement, who recognized the historic importance of their work as well as the likelihood of their own deaths. The film highlights the effects of the deaths, shaking the internal politics of the organization itself as well as addressing the guilt felt by those who survive today.

In many ways the film acts as a convincing endorsement for grassroots efforts and physical presence as a means of producing immediate social change, specifically relevant upon its release in late 2012, surrounding the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements.

As the documentary advocates for organized collaborative efforts, it is of little surprise that the film’s credits recognize 30 archival cinematographers by name, several of which noted as deceased. With such in mind the film memorializes the movement as much as it does the bravery of its leaders.

Though France works foremost as a print journalist covering LGBT-related issues, his directorial debut was awarded several accolades, including best documentary at the 2012 Gotham Independent Film Awards and Boston Society of Film Critics, as well as a nomination for best documentary in the 2012 Academy Awards. David France was nominated for a Director’s Guild Award and Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. The film currently has a 100% fresh rating on the film aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.

During one of the film’s protest funerals, Act Up leader Bob Rafsky says to a crowd, “When the living can no longer speak, the dead may speak for them. Mark’s voice is here with us, as is the voice of Perecles, who two millennia ago mourned the Athenian soldiers, who didn’t have to die, and in whose death he was complicit, but who had the nobility to say that their memorial was the whole Earth.” The film is dedicated to David Gould, France’s lover who in 1992 died to AIDS-related pneumonia.

How To Survive a Plague is a story of movement in the face of blockage, optimism in the wake of loss, voiced through the mouthpiece of those who led a social movement that saved millions of lives, but who are not yet finished fighting.

Director David France will be present for Indiana University’s 35mm screening of How To Survive A Plague on Wednesday, November 20 at 7:00pm in the Whittenberger Auditorium located in the Indiana Memorial Union. Following the documentary, Mr. France will discuss the film and accept questions from the audience.

The event is presented as part of the Union Board Film Series, in partnership with Sexploration Week, Indiana University’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Alumni Association, and Positive Link (a program of IU Health). The free, non-ticketed event will be open to the public. For more information visit the Union Board website or Union Board Films on Facebook.

[Brandon Walsh is the director of the Union Board Film Series, an undergraduate senior studying in the Communication & Culture and Telecommunications departments.]

The Ryder ◆ November 2013

Bobbing For Credibility

Goldthwait

Bobcat Goldthwait reinvents himself as a writer/director ◆ by Craig J. Clark

“If I had any goals, I really hope I can just keep making small movies. You know, I have a body of work that I’m pretty embarrassed of, so if I could just keep making small movies that appeal to a small group of people, I’d be very happy.” — Bobcat Goldthwait on the commentary for Sleeping Dogs Lie

Of all the standup comedians who entered the public eye in the mid-’80s, Bobcat Goldthwait may be the last one anyone expected to have serious filmmaking ambitions. An early fixture of the Police Academy series (in which he played street punk-turned-cop Zed), he soon graduated to the ensemble of Savage Steve Holland’s One Crazy Summer in 1986, played supporting roles in vehicles for Whoopi Goldberg (1987’s Burglar) and Bill Murray (1988’s Scrooged), and landed one of his own in the stock-picking talking horse movie Hot to Trot (also 1988). After that, the next logical step was behind the camera. The result was 1991’s Shakes the Clown.

"Shakes the Clown"

“Shakes”

On its painted face, Shakes seems like a film that can be encapsulated and dismissed in the same breath since it’s centered on the exploits of a foul-mouthed, alcoholic party clown (who is nevertheless capable of bringing joy to children and winning over their parents with his surprising professionalism). All one has to do is sit down and watch it, though, to see that there’s a profound strangeness at this Clown’s core that isn’t even hinted at by its surface trappings or even what is arguably its most famous scene, in which Goldthwait and his fellow greasepaint enthusiasts beat up a group of mimes (their mortal enemies).

For starters, the story takes place within the city limits of Palukaville (“The Nation’s Leader in Lard Production”), which has turned clowning into a cottage industry with businesses – including a clown bar called The Twisted Balloon – that cater directly to them. Naturally, Goldthwait’s Shakes spends a lot of his downtime between birthday parties hanging out at The Balloon with his clown friends (one of whom is played by a pre-fame Adam Sandler) and hitting on his barmaid girlfriend (Julie Brown), who dreams of being a professional bowler. As for Shakes, he hopes to succeed the retiring Peppy the Clown as host of the Big Time Cartoon Circus, but that job goes instead to first-rate asshole and drug fiend Binky (Tom Kenny, later to gain fame as the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants).

What little there is of the plot kicks into gear when Shakes is framed for murder by a coked-up Binky, who’s in the middle of a drug deal with a couple of rodeo clowns (yes, the film also has rodeo clowns) when his boss (Paul Dooley) walks in on them. Forced to go into hiding as a mime, Shakes attends a class taught by an abusive taskmaster (Robin Williams, who’s credited as Marty Fromage) and eventually convinces his friends to help him clear his name.

Like its unreliable protagonist, Shakes the Clown doesn’t work 100% of the time, and Goldthwait could have stood to explore Palukaville’s odder corners a little more. (A visit to a rodeo clown bar is a real wasted opportunity since we never go inside.) We don’t even find out where he met single mother Florence Henderson, who comes to in the opening scene with makeup smeared on her face after a one-night stand with Shakes. (“You’re my first clown,” she says, without much conviction.) All told, it would be another decade before he stepped behind the camera again. I guess he figured he had more to learn about his craft.

When Goldthwait decided to get back into the directing game in the early ’00s, he started small with segments of Comedy Central’s The Man Show, Crank Yankers and Chappelle’s Show. This led to him taking the reins of the 2003 TV movie Windy City Heat, which is essentially a feature-length practical joke on aspiring actor/comedian Perry Caravello, who’s impossible to feel sorry for since he’s loud, abrasive, anti-Semitic, homophobic and – worst of all – untalented. Of course, even if he did have some acting chops, it would be difficult for him to show them off with chuckleheads Don Barris and “Mole” (Tony Barbieri) tripping him up at every opportunity.

In addition to directing the film, Goldthwait also plays the director of the film-within-the-film, which is also called Windy City Heat and is about a “sports private eye” named Stone Fury, a part Caravello is right to believe was tailor-made for him. First, though, he has to ace his audition with casting agent “Roman Polanski” (Dane Cook) and beat out his main rival for the role, Carson Daly (playing himself). Once he does and the filming commences, Caravello suffers numerous indignities, as well as a series of petty pranks that Barris and Barbieri play on him, culminating in the myriad delays that make them late for the film’s only public screening.

One’s enjoyment of the final product will depend greatly on how much patience you have for the tiresome antics of Barris, Barbieri and Caravello (and the less said about Tom Kenny’s turn as a gay costume designer, the better). Goldthwait picks up the slack, though, with his directorial affectations, including his insistence on speaking through a bullhorn at all times, even when not on the set, and the boots and jodhpurs he wears as part of his ensemble. Also amusing is his absent producer’s demand that he “get cracking or you’ll be out on the street shooting Hot to Trot 2.” Considering how Windy City Heat turned out – both versions – that may have been preferable.

A solid argument for the belief that nobody can – or should – know everything about their loved ones, Goldthwait’s 2006 feature Sleeping Dogs Lie is about a grade-school teacher (Melinda Page Hamilton) who frets about whether to tell her boyfriend (Bryce Johnson) her deepest, darkest secret after he proposes marriage. And she has every reason to tread carefully since she performed fellatio on her dog when she was a bored undergrad. (This we’re told right at the top of the film, with Hamilton narrating the whole story, so it’s not like it’s a big secret to us.) Even if it was a one-time thing that she immediately regretted, she intuitively understands it’s the sort of thing that can fundamentally change the way a person thinks of you.

Hamilton is still conflicted when she and Johnson head up to her parents’ for a visit, allowing Goldthwait to switch gears and observe how being around her conservative parents (Geoff Pierson and Bonita Friedericy) and bitter brother (Jack Plotnick) throws her even further off her game. Because there wouldn’t be much of a movie if Hamilton never owned up, she eventually does, and her revelation floors Johnson and gives Plotnick ammo to use against her – and he doesn’t hesitate to. Frozen out by her family and ultimately rejected by Johnson, Hamilton gets her own place and goes on the rebound with a fellow teacher (Colby French) who’s curious about her past but doesn’t push her too hard about it. Still, every interaction with her ex or her family is fraught with tension since any one of them could drop the bomb at any moment. That’s when it becomes crystal clear why some pooches should be allowed to slumber.

As dark as Sleeping Dogs Lie sometimes gets, it was a mere warm-up for Goldthwait’s 2009 film World’s Greatest Dad, which stars Robin Williams as a frustrated novelist who ghostwrites an eloquent suicide note for his douchebag of a teenage son (a sullen Daryl Sabara) when he accidentally asphyxiates himself while masturbating. What Williams doesn’t anticipate is the way this simple act will transform his preternaturally unpopular offspring (who was considered a crude, homophobic bully) into a tragically misunderstood martyr – and alter his own life in the process.

 

This change is most readily reflected in Williams’s relationship with fellow teacher Alexie Gilmore, who seems to be on the verge of dumping him when things turn around for him. On top of that, his poorly attended poetry class is suddenly filled to the brim with eager students hanging on his every word, and the school’s grief counselor is hot to publish Sabara’s journal (which Williams has to forge as well). The only fly in the ointment is Sabara’s sole friend (Evan Martin), who’s well aware of Williams’s deception and could blow the whistle at any moment. That’s really a call for Williams to make, though – just not before he gets his moment in the sun on The Dr. Dana Show, where he nearly loses it on air. In all honesty, it would have saved a whole lot of people a whole lot of bother if he had.

Since Sleeping Dogs Lie and World’s Greatest Dad established him as a director to watch, Goldthwait has periodically returned to television to work on such shows as Comedy Central’s Important Things with Demetri Martin and FX’s Maron, starring Marc Maron. The project he really poured his heart and soul into, however, was the 2011 satire God Bless America, which proves that as a writer/director he has a lot to say about the culture we live in.

The action revolves around fed-up divorcé Joel Murray (who previously had a walk-on in Shakes the Clown), a man who has had his fill of his inconsiderate neighbors, the braying jackasses clogging up the airwaves, and his undiscriminating co-workers who parrot it back at him, inciting him to rail against society’s ills. He also has to contend with an ex-wife (Sleeping Dogs Lie’s Melinda Page Hamilton) who’s getting remarried and a daughter (Mackenzie Brooke Smith) who doesn’t want to visit with him. On top of all that, he suffers from severe migraines, so after he’s unjustly fired from his soul-sucking insurance job he goes to the doctor and is told that he has a brain tumor, which gives him the chance to do some Ikiru-style soul searching. Instead, he teams up with a young rebel (Tara Lynne Barr) who convinces him that he can do a lot more good by killing others who don’t deserve to live.

To Goldthwait’s credit, it’s really hard to take issue with any of the targets they choose (although the scene where they pick off the people talking and texting in a movie theater can be somewhat uncomfortable to sit through). And Murray is vigilant about drawing the line, which extends to his refusal to sexualize the underage Barr. He’s also cognizant of the need to pick the right time and place to take his final stand against the culture that got him up in arms in the first place. After all, if you have a message for the nation, you want to make sure the nation is actually listening.

That brings us to Goldthwait’s latest, Willow Creek, a found-footage horror film about a couple (played by Alexie Gilmore from World’s Greatest Dad and Bryce Johnson from Sleeping Dogs Lie) who venture into the woods in search of Bigfoot. The true nature of what happens to them is shrouded in mystery, but if his past work is anything to go by, whatever they find (and capture on their ever-present video camera) will surely be worth talking about.

[Bobcat Goldthwait introduces his films God Bless America and Willow Creek at the IU Cinema on October 31st and appears at the Comedy Attic on November 1st and 2nd.]

The Ryder ◆ November 2013

 

PHOTO CAPS

Goldthwait.jpg

Once known for his screechy-voiced stand-up persona, over the past few years Bobcat Goldthwait has been carving himself a niche as a writer/director of darkly humorous independent films.

 

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Bobcat Goldthwait as the title character of his misunderstood directorial debut, Shakes the Clown.

 

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Bobcat Goldthwait, in his unbilled cameo as a limo driver, commiserates with Robin Williams in World’s Greatest Dad.

 

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Tara Lynne Barr and Joel Murray take aim at an increasingly intolerable society in God Bless America.

 

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