Bloomington: One Puzzle Piece At A Time

Marc Tschida creates handcrafted jigsaw puzzles ◆ by Hannah Waltz

Bloomington’s Marc Tschida hesitates to call himself an artist, but his handcrafted jigsaw puzzles have caught the attention of the local arts scene. His puzzles feature images of downtown Bloomington and the Indiana University campus, drawing heavily from the work of local artists. “As a point of pride I’m just working locally right now,” said Tschida. “Mainly Bloomington-themed items. That’s what I’ve been specializing in.”

When he enrolled at IU at 19, the eclectic Bloomington arts scene exposed Tschida to a vibrant world he had never had access to growing up in Gary.

After two years of college, Tschida traveled to Alaska and worked on a fishing boat, spending thirty to forty days at sea at a time. The crew worked 18-hour shifts, seven days a week, to which Tschida attributes the growth of his patience and discipline. “The majority of time I stood in one place, at a conveyor belt sorting the catch. This extended period of time standing in one place concentrating on one thing, really has helped prepare me for what I do with the puzzles, standing at a saw for hours at a time manipulating the wood around a saw blade.”


Marc Tschida At The Jigsaw

After Alaska, Tschida moved in and out of Bloomington through his mid-twenties, eventually calling it home “when I realized it was a sense of community drawing me back,” said Tschida. “By the time I was 26 I was helping define some of the cultural activities. I just feel blessed.”

Growing up, jigsaw-puzzling was a popular holiday pastime for Tschida’s family, so his affinity for puzzles is deep-rooted and linked to childhood memories. But it wasn’t until his adult life that he returned to the hobby. “I used to work in the music industry, so when I transitioned out of that line of work, my biological clock kept me up really late into the night,” said Tschida. “I did jigsaw puzzles to stay out of trouble.”

Tschida managed Second Story and Bullwinkles until both closed in 2006. “What started me on the arts was when I became a music photographer and my photos were used by Wilco’s Steve Harris.” Tschida crossed paths with the band when he roomed with the brother-in-law of Max Johnston, one of the band members. Oftentimes Johnston would crash at Tschida’s place when Wilco wasn’t on tour.

But his involvement in the local arts doesn’t stop in the music industry: Tschida also served as the performance and technical director for the Waldron Arts Center as well as general manager of the Cardinal Stage Company–both positions that he held for three years–and continues to volunteer at WFHB. “One of the advantages I’ve had is experiencing about every perspective you can imagine in the music field and entertainment field,” said Tschida. “I got to a point where I was talking to people as a human as opposed to a fan.”

Tschida first conceived of creating his own jigsaw puzzles in 2005, but it wasn’t until 2012, a wait “due to time and confidence,” that he was able to begin learning more about the craft when he recognized a potential market for Bloomington-inspired souvenirs. Tschida’s incentive for the project came from a holiday exhibit at the Waldron Arts Center that called out for local artists. “I felt that there was room for a high quality Bloomington memento craft item, and it was a couple years later that I combined that idea with my enjoyment of jigsaw puzzles.”

As a kind of jigsaw puzzle town troubadour, Tschida uses his puzzles to express his admiration for the  Bloomington arts scene. “When I say these are Bloomington themed, I mean performance arts groups, Bloomington visual arts work, iconic Bloomington images.”

Tschida has been collaborating with local artists, using their pieces of art as images for his puzzles; he describes himself a “manipulator of the image. . . .It’s so important to work with the artists, but the puzzle itself isn’t valuable. It’s the image that’s valuable.”

Tschida’s relationships with other artists and art organizations have granted him access to many of the images he uses in his puzzles, such as local graffiti and band flyers, including the flyer for Andrew Bird’s first show in town. As former manager of the Cardinal Stage Company, Tschida’s materials come from the theatre company’s recycled lumber. “Since I’ve worked in the arts in many capacities in Bloomington in the past fifteen years, it’s been simple to contact people in the community. I’ve generally worked with the artist Joel Washington’s art. I think [the pieces] would lend themselves very well to a super limited edition of puzzles.”

Collaborating artists sometimes share in Tschida’s profits, but he works on a case-by-case basis. But since he’s just getting the ball rolling, many artists are happy to let him just “run with it.”  Alas, it seems his time supporting and working for the arts has roped him into the world of creation. “It’s a blast, I’ve always been a facilitator of the arts, so this is my first foray into being on the other side.”

Whether he considers himself one or not, the grueling process of crafting jigsaw puzzles requires the skill and patience of an artist. The “grizzly process,” as Tschida calls it, entails multiple steps for each puzzle. The first step involves securing the rights to an image (to avoid copyright infringement), and then printing that image on glossy paper that will be adhered to the wood. Once the image is sealed, Tschida uses a scroll saw to make the cuts in the wood, yielding the individual pieces of the puzzle. And here comes the tedium — he then finely saws the ends of every piece for an easy fit.

Having honed his skill at the scroll saw, Tschida is now producing unique puzzles with irregularly shaped pieces. For example, a puzzle depicting the Buskirk-Chumley features a center piece that looks like a dog bone to mimic the Indiana sign in front of the theatre. “I use a scroll saw with a hair thin blade that just goes up and down, so I maneuver the wood around the blade of the saw, allowing me to cut any shape I want.”

Tschida has cut about fifty different puzzles, each with a unique image. His largest puzzle has 280 pieces that fit together to display a local roller derby girl. Although a few are based on original art, most of the puzzles feature landmarks such as the Monroe County Courthouse, the Buskirk-Chumley, and views from the B-Line Trail. Tschida chooses images based on their aesthetic appeal and a high level of contrast. He plans to continue learning more about photography so he can work with self-shot photos of Indiana University such as the Jordan River.

The real sacrifice a handmade puzzle crafter like Tschida must make is one of time. Tschida admits it’s hard to put a price on his puzzles for all the energy poured into their construction, though he sells them for modest prices of about $20 to $30 per puzzle. “People are used to going to Walmart and buying a puzzle for $7.99, so they aren’t used to wood, handmade puzzles and their prices.”

The origins of jigsaw puzzle crafting dates back to the Great Depression when they were called “dissected maps,” and provided hours of entertainment at a cheap price. Conventionally, puzzle makers did not include a picture of the puzzle’s image, but Tschida likes the frame of reference, because, to him, it’s about the image as opposed to the puzzle itself. “Tradition states that you’re not supposed to know what the image is, that’s part of the joy, but I think that’s kind of bullshit.”

For Tschida, the image sells the puzzles, which he says are almost worthless without the image. He sees the human contact with the artist as invaluable. “There’s a buy-in with the image, which is why I’m focusing on Bloomington,” said Tschida. “You’re buying it for its connection to the town, it’s like a bottle of Oliver wine. I’m very much into the local shopping and economy. That’s what everything I’m doing revolves around.”

Recognizing a potentially collaborative opportunity to encourage “puzzle awareness,” Tschida hopes to reach out to IU’s Lilly Library, which currently hosts one of the largest collections of mechanical puzzles in the country.

Although their entertainment value may have lessened since the Great Depression, the market is still alive. For example, in 1974 family-run company Stave Puzzles was founded and still exists today, selling some of their puzzles for up to twenty-six thousand dollars. The national market for hand-cut wooden jigsaw puzzles sells individual pieces from one dollar to thirteen dollars.

Tschida plans to host a jigsaw tournament next spring, using the event to launch a new line of puzzles featuring the artwork of local artists, most likely Joel Washington’s art, his new focus for upcoming puzzles. For now Tschida is taking his business, officially named Press Puzzles, one step at a time. But his love affair with theatre has him figuring out how to marry his two interests.

“It’s the sheer amount of community involvement in theatre,” said Tschida. “I’m one man in my garage making puzzles, but the performance events bring the best of community out.”  Eventually he hopes to break into the national theatre scene, designing puzzles customized to particular productions. “That is part of where I’m heading towards, but I don’t have the capacity yet,” said Tschida.  “The next step is raising puzzle awareness.”

Tschida was able to place puzzles based on the Ghost Brothers of Darkland County into the hands of both Stephen King, a jigsaw fanatic, and John Mellencamp, as well as a puzzle to the Chief of Staff of the National Endowment of the Arts, Jamie Bennett.  “I’m beginning to get a lot of commissions too. For example, I’m making a puzzle with arrowhead-shaped pieces for a ninety-year-old as a birthday gift.”

But Tschida is still uncertain, perhaps you could say “puzzled,” about what the future might bring. “Whether or not this will ever become a career, I don’t know if that will ever happen, but time will tell,” said Tschida. “But my next weird career transition will be marine oriented. My next bucket list goal is to cage dive with sharks.”

[Marc Tschida’s Jigsaw Puzzles will be on display November 30th at the City of Bloomington Holiday Market; December 21st at the west side Half Price Books
on W. Susan Drive from Noon-5pm; and during a puzzle-making demonstration at WonderLab, January 3rd, 2014. His puzzles are on sale at The Venue Fine Art & Gifts and the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. The image at the top of this post is Tschida’s Buskirk-Chumley Theater puzzle.]

The Ryder ● December 2013

Film: The Winter Of Our Discontent

◆ by Craig J. Clark

When the temperatures start to drop, there’s no better time to make a mug of hot cocoa, curl up in a warm blanket, and bask in the glow of your television set (or computer monitor). While you’re doing so, here’s a selection of wintry movies to help you pass the time and make you glad you’re not outside.

Scene from "The Lion in Winter"

Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn in “The Lion In Winter”

The perfect film for anybody who’s obsessed with the doings of the royal family or can’t stand to be around their own is 1968’s The Lion in Winter. Set in the year 1183 and written by James Goldman, based on his own play, it stars Peter O’Toole as the title character, the roaring King Henry II of England, who decides to spend his Christmas holiday picking which of his sons will succeed him. The candidates are Richard (Anthony Hopkins, making his feature film debut), Geoffrey (John Castle, a stage actor who had previously appeared in Antonioni’s Blow-Up), and John [Nigel Terry], also making his film debut), all of whom are jockeying for position. Also present for the festivities: Henry’s wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Best Actress-winner Katharine Hepburn), who’s receiving a brief reprieve after being imprisoned for ten years; his mistress, Alais (Jane Merrow), who was once promised to Richard; and King Philip II of France (Timothy Dalton, also making his film debut), Alais’s half-brother, who plans to put the screws to Henry one way or the other. Spend two hours with this dysfunctional family and your own relations won’t seem nearly so bad.

Familial dysfunction can also be found at the center of 2010’s Winter’s Bone, which heralded the arrival of an exciting young talent. A devastatingly bleak film, its stars Jennifer Lawrence as a 17-year-old high school dropout in rural Missouri who’s raising her younger siblings because her mother is pretty much a basket case and her absent father is a wanted meth cooker. Director Debra Granik (making an assured second feature) and her co-writer Anne Rosellini establish their desperate situation in the space of a handful of scenes (the one where Lawrence has to give up her horse because they can’t afford to feed it anymore speaks volumes about her character) before making it even more desperate. Seems her father has put up their house and property as collateral on a bail bond, and if he fails to show up for court they’ll lose everything.

Scene from "Winter's Bone"

Jennifer Lawrence as Ree in “Winter’s Bone”

Thus begins Lawrence’s quest to find her father or, failing that, prove to the authorities that he can’t be found because he’s dead. It’s not always a pleasant journey – the threat of violence is ever-present and when it rears its head it’s profoundly disturbing – and Lawrence doesn’t get much help, even from people she’s related to by blood. (Calling them “family” would be something of a stretch.) Her steely eyed determination does win her some converts, though, including a former classmate (Shelley Waggener) who dropped out to get married and have a baby, and her quietly menacing uncle who goes by the unlikely name of Teardrop (John Hawkes) and backs her up at a critical juncture. Suffice it to say, everything that Lawrence does in the name of keeping her family together has weighty consequences, and no one knows that better than she does. It’s easy to come away with the impression that this is far from the first crisis she’s faced — and it won’t the last.

Another film that puts the ties that bind people together at the forefront is 1997’s The Winter Guest, which stars real-life mother-and-daughter Phyllida Law and Emma Thompson. The directorial debut of Alan Rickman, who co-scripted with playwright Sharman MacDonald based on MacDonald’s play, The Winter Guest is comprised of four interlocking stories, each of which follows a different pair around a small coastal town in Scotland. In addition to Law and Thompson, who talk around Thompson’s desire to move away after she’s widowed, the film follows two schoolboys who play hooky from school, two teenagers (one of them Thompson’s son) who embark on a tentative relationship, and two old ladies who are in the habit of attending funerals of people they don’t know. Considering how dead the town is at that time of year, there doesn’t appear to be much else for them to do.

Scene from "The Winter Guest"

Emma Thompson and Phyllida Law In “The Winter Guest”

In a way, a theatrical troupe can be like a family – at least as long as the show is still running. This is illustrated by Kenneth Branagh’s 1995 film A Midwinter’s Tale, which was originally called In the Bleak Midwinter before the American distributor decided a black-and-white comedy-drama about a group of struggling English actors trying to mount an underfunded production of Hamlet was a hard enough sell without the word “bleak” in the title. Something of a serio-comic warm-up for Branagh’s own star-studded adaptation of the play, which came along the following year, A Midwinter’s Tale stars Michael Maloney as a frustrated actor who tries to lift himself out of his creative torpor by directing and starring in what turns out to be a rather ramshackle version of Shakespeare’s most famous play.

A knowing look at the clash of egos that goes into any creative endeavor, A Midwinter’s Tale is also notable for featuring some actors that went on to appear in Branagh’s Hamlet in different roles, starting with Maloney, who was demoted from the title character to playing the role of Laertes. He’s joined by Nicholas Farrell, who made a lateral move from Laertes to Horatio, and Richard Briers, who went from playing King Claudius (opposite John Sessions in drag as Queen Gertrude) to Polonius. Newcomers to the fold include Celia Imrie (as frazzled production designer Fadge), Absolutely Fabulous alums Julia Sawalha (as Maloney’s myopic Ophelia) and Jennifer Saunders, and Joan Collins (as his straight-shooting agent). All involved bring their own baggage, both personal and professional, to bear, but to a man (or woman — or man playing a woman) they live up to the old adage that the show must goes on.

Scene from "A Midwinter's Tale"

Jennifer Saunders and Joan Collins In “A Midwinter’s Tale”

Even with its less portentous title, A Midwinter’s Tale underperformed at the box office, but one film that actually benefited from a title change was the one-time cult favorite Chilly Scenes of Winter. A winning story about a hapless romantic that didn’t do so hot when it was initially released in 1979 under the title Head Over Heels, it made out much better a few years later when it was re-released with the original title and downbeat ending of the Ann Beattie novel on which it was based.

Written for the screen and directed by Joan Micklin Silver, Chilly Scenes of Winter has an Annie Hall-like quality, which isn’t too surprising since both films are about a doomed romance that is being remembered by one of the participants after the fact. The one doing the remembering is civil servant John Heard, who is still pining for former co-worker Mary Beth Hurt one year after she left him to return to her husband. Heard’s inability to move on leads to some stalkerish behavior, but he only acts that way because he believes he’d be better for her than a husband who loves her too little. What ultimately drives her away, ironically, is the fact that Heard loves her too much. Now, is that really such a crime?

The forging of tenuous connections comes into play in a big way in Tom Tykwer’s Winter Sleepers, which was made in 1997 but not released in the U.S. until 2000 (after the runaway success of Run Lola Run). Based on a novel by Anne-Francoise Pyszora, who co-wrote the screenplay with Tykwer, the film follows a quartet of 20somethings whose lives intersect in unexpected ways over the winter holidays. Nurse/aspiring actress Marie-Lou Sellem and translator Floriane Daniel live together in Sellem’s villa, Daniel is seeing self-centered ski instructor Heino Ferch, and Sellem takes up with cinema projectionist Ulrich Matthes, who suffers from short-term memory loss thanks to a head injury and has to take pictures and record conversations on tape to maintain some semblance of a life. This comes into play when Matthes is involved in a freak car accident with farmer Josef Bierbichler, whose daughter is critically injured in the crash, and neither of them is able to clearly remember what happened – or who was at fault.

If that plot strand sounds vaguely reminiscent of Memento, keep in mind this film was made three years before Christopher Nolan’s breakthrough. And instead of jumbling the chronology, Tykwer emphasizes the interconnectedness of his characters by cutting between them at crucial moments, as if they had a weird kind of low-level psychic bond. He also relies on the propulsive score (which he composed with Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek) to move the action along and pieces by minimalist composer Arvo Pärt to get at the sadness and melancholy of the story. It’s a combination that makes for an extremely compelling film about the ways coincidence shapes life, a theme to which Tykwer would return with a vengeance the following year.

Anyone who wishes we could skip winter altogether might do well to check out 2006’s The Last Winter. Directed and edited by Larry Fessenden, who also co-wrote the film with Robert Leaver, it’s a chilling environmentalist fable about what happens when an American oil company gets permission to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The short version: it ain’t pretty.

The long version: Ron Perlman is flown in to find out what the holdup on the project is and why James Le Gros, the expert hired to do the environmental impact reports, won’t sign off on it. Seems there’s some concern about the melting permafrost, making the creation of ice roads impossible, but Perlman is less troubled by this than the fact that Le Gros has taken up with fellow outpost employee Connie Britton. Then things start happening that he can’t ignore, like crew member Zach Gilford going missing for several hours; he returns, only to take off his clothes and walk out into the night. Then mechanic Kevin Corrigan also starts acting weird, at which point it’s decided to get everybody out of Dodge, but Perlman and Le Gros continue to butt heads until the bitter end. (And considering how cold it is, that end is quite bitter, indeed.)

So, if The Last Winter is anything to go by, maybe a little cold weather isn’t such a bad thing after all. Plus, once spring arrives it’ll be time to get a jump on the summer movie season. And what is one of the first tentpoles being erected? Why, it’s Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier! How about that?

The Ryder ● December 2013

Theater: The High Cost Of Freedom

Caryl Churchill’s “Cloud Nine” comes to IU ◆ by Colin Bridges

Indiana University Theatre, fresh off a successful production of the Tennessee Williams classic Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, turns its attention to the work of a more contemporary European playwright – the female British playwright Caryl Churchill and her celebrated Cloud Nine, which received its world premiere in London in 1979.

The first act of the play is set in Colonial Africa during the Victorian era, and examines racial, sexual, and gender politics through the lens of a large British family, and their circle of friends and servants. The second act, set in 1980s London, ages the same characters only 25 years. This theatrical feat of time-travel allows us to compare our modern day mores with those of the past, as we question how our society has changed – or not changed – over the last tumultuous century.

Churchill subverts all audience expectations by casting women as men, men as women, a white man as an African servant, old men as young children, and even portraying the youngest child as a mere rag doll. In doing so, she crafts a dizzying, darkly humorous satire on the nature of sex and power, and the way these tidal forces can bring people together or tear relationships apart.

We spoke with second year MFA Directing student Rob Heller, who helmed this newest production of the gender-bending play that leaps across centuries and continents. After growing up in Philly and spending eight years in New York City developing new musicals, he was recruited to join the Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance at Indiana University. We spoke with Rob about bringing this challenging play to life with his group of talented IU students and designers.

Ryder: What is this play about? Can you give us an elevator pitch for it?

Rob Heller: This play is about how we contend with issues of family, gender and sexuality throughout all of time…How do we know how to function? What are our roles and how can we come out of it somehow loving each other and having community?


Rob Heller

Ryder: Why did you choose this play?

Heller: Caryl Churchill’s a playwright that I’ve been wanting to contend with. It’s lovely because she’s a female playwright and she also deals with a lot of issues that seem important to the world at large so it seemed like a good time, particularly now, to contend with this play in the midst of a lot of political issues about sexuality and gender and gender roles coming to the forefront at the moment.

Ryder: What’s your directorial take on this particular production that makes it different than others that have happened in the past?

Heller: [The original 1979 production] was created by the Joint Stock Company collaboratively. It was a collaborative workshop with a particular group of people with Caryl Churchill at the time, dealing with issues of the time and out of that came this play so I think the challenge each time is to create a group of people that will be unique in their approach to this play – that’s about them as much as it is about the play. So I think what’s unique about this production is that these particular actors bring just something different to the table.

Ryder: One of things that people always latch onto is the gender switching and the very obvious sort of theatrical devices. Could you talk about how that’s going to challenge the audience and how you worked with it?

Heller: Our first choice… was to put it in the round because there’s no tricks. We got no tricks for you. We’re showing you all our strings. It is a theatrical event.
It’s a great gift to an actor to have to play something that’s far from themselves. We talk so much about type (in America especially): What is your type? Who are you going to play? So it’s great fun to see sort of a light in an actor, just as a human, and say, “You’re going to play these two drastically different things.”

What we’ve discovered from going to the Kinsey Institute and from talking amongst ourselves is that these lines between male and female are so fuzzy; it’s not one or the other. Everyone is sort of in the middle somewhere.

Ryder: Does the gender switching play into a sense of comedy?

Heller: The humor comes from the moments. We are playing up some of the – “grotesque” is not the right word because we have connotations with that but – the clear differences in character vs. actor. And I think you’ll find that it gives the audience permission to look at the play in a different way: “Okay, It’s not realism . . . it’s realistic, but there’s clear things that are a little bit off …” I think in seeing the gender switch is it gives the audience a little bit more permission to laugh.

Ryder: In the first act we meet Clive, who the audience might see as the most emblematic of imperialism and male dominance. Do you make those sorts of judgments about the characters when you’re coming into it? Do you see Clive as a symbol or a character?

Heller: You know off the page early on that’s the investigation we have to do – myself and the creative team, the designers. Of course we look at those implications but once you get in there with an actor all you think about is: What does he want? What is he afraid of? Why is he putting on this mask? Who’s telling him this is what he’s supposed to be and when does that break? Because all these characters break relatively quickly from what we think they are into what maybe they really are.

Ryder: Without revealing any of the plot points, I think we can say that there is a very complicated set of romantic relationships between all of the characters, including some relationships we might consider unconventional or illegal. How did you approach that?

Heller: We have so many stigmas about nontraditional sexual relationships in our society, especially in America. The actors ask the question: What is it to have an intense love for someone? And what are the lines between love for an uncle, or a father, and a lover, and when you’re nine, how do you know the difference? It’s a bunch of very difficult questions.

Is sex only about lust? I don’t know. It might be about many things: about power, about status, about acceptance as much as anything else. (laughing) So, I only have more questions. We are exploring answers.

But you know, I think more powerful than the sort of large questions being asked here are the more personal: How do you create a family in the face of something different? Parenting by committee is a big theme throughout Churchill’s plays – this idea of having seven parents all sort of doing it together and some sleep with each other and some don’t and some do this and some do that. We have these very firm boxes that we try to put everybody into and maybe that doesn’t quite suit everybody.

Ryder: This is Indiana and, not to paint too broad a brush of Indiana, but I would say this play would clash a little bit with the conservative, Midwestern, almost bible-belt mentality. Can you talk about what you’re expecting from the audience?

Heller: I have never been a person that’s trying to goad you and to get you to be angry and to get you to leave here frustrated or angry. I want to question what we believe to be true. I think, like science, we keep coming up with hypotheses and proving them wrong…I would love for people to at least question what they believe to be true, and if they return to their previous beliefs – fine, that’s great and I hope it serves them, but if not – at least taking one evening’s coffee after this play to talk about why do we have these sort of roles that we’re meant to fill: Duty – they must say duty 70 times in the first act. “It’s my duty to do this its my duty to do that.” Well, is it?

Ryder: Martin at one point toward the end says, “There’s no point being so liberated that you make yourself cry all the time.” Do they lose anything by throwing away these established social structures?

Heller: Yeah, That’s what’s lovely about Churchill and I think about playwrights in general is that they’re not offering an answer.

The first act is very rigid. [Churchill] talks about it being almost “corseted” and Act Two is very wide open. The first people you see are the lesbians and the gays. All of this freedom and we can talk about it and we can say all these things out loud….

Yeah, It’s a double-edged sword. Is the freedom just as bad as the sort of corset?
And where’s the middle ground that we need to find?

Ryder: You don’t have access to Caryl Churchill except through her play. As someone who has worked primarily with new works, what is it like not having access to the playwright?

Heller: You know it was interesting coming here because in New York, my niche has been developing new musicals – it’s all I do. My whole resume is new work, which is exciting and cool and different but I came here to contend with a playwright who – the piece is written and I have to deal with it. So it was exciting for me…You have to unlock the answers for yourself; and Churchill’s a smart lady. She didn’t leave anything vague accidentally; so it’s for us to fill it and that’s a gift to an actor.

Ryder: There are a lot of different types of parenting going on in this show. Did you find yourself judging character’s parenting styles? Playing “good parent/bad parent?”

Heller: My parents divorced when I was in first grade… so right off the bat with divorce there was some sort of failure there. So I don’t think about good/bad; I think we have this assumption that suddenly you get married and have kids and you know how to parent. Its really hard, it’s really hard. We all fail at times and succeed at others.

There’s lovely moments: In Act Two, if you watch Cathy — who’s the young girl — if you follow her perception it’s really satisfying in that her mother will do something very awful to her – shocking to us probably – and 30 seconds later she hugs her mother. There’s forgiveness. I think that’s a big thing: to forgive others, to forgive yourself and to move forward, as opposed to sort of getting stuck in the past.

[Image at top of this post: Evelyn Gaynor (the boy) and Nathan Robbins (his mother) rehearse. “Cloud Nine” was presented at the Wells-Metz Theatre, December 6th & 7th. Colin Bridges is a filmmaker and visual artist. He holds an MFA in Theater from Sarah Lawrence College and currently works as the Video Coordinator for the Indiana University Office of Admissions. You can find more of his work here and here.]

The Ryder ● December 2013

Books: Victorian Roots, Postmodern Conditions

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

◆ 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

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

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

◆ 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

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.


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.


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