Remembering a great moment in the life of Ladies Home Journal

After 130 years, Ladies’ Home Journal will cease monthly print publication. The magazine still has a circulation of 3.2 million. Yet its aging reader base and the generally disastrous magazine financial ecosystem has undermined this flagship publication, a leader among the “seven sisters” that once dominated this segment of the business.

Every type of journalism has a craft to it, offering opportunities for excellence and contribution the outsider easily overlooks. That is certainly true of Ladies’ Home Journal and other women’s magazines.

Cover, Ladies Home Journal, May 1, 1950

It’s tempting to overlook some terrific journalism millions of readers found in these pages. When the moment is right, women’s magazines could ratify—and thus propel—larger social changes, too.

One such moment occurred on May 1, 1950, when Ladies Home Journal printed a taboo-breaking article by Pearl Buck called “The child who never grew.” Buck recounted her gradual discovery of her daughter Caroline’s intellectual disability, and describes her painful decision to institutionalize Caroline at the age of nine within the Training School at Vineland, New Jersey.

More here, from me, at the Washington Post Wonkblog section.

Stewardship

Really smart students are sort of a dime a dozen at my school; students who can finish in three years and get into graduate school, not so many.  This guy obviously has some real chops; too bad for me he was in such a hurry and didn’t have time to take any of my courses!  He has a really promising career in front of him; if it unfolds as it appears it will, it will be good for my health and yours down the line.

Unclear if that career will be as long as we might hope, though; the incredibly cool software he will code  after he’s, say, 40 may be left for someone else to do, or not done at all. See, to the best of my knowledge, our smart students do their thinking and like that with their physical brains, Brazinski too.  For some reason, Cal’s idea of how to take care of that particular device is to send it to collide with really big guys, again and again, to entertain the rest of us and pay for our fancy new stadium and coaching office palace.

Maybe that’s efficient use of a class-A brain; Mark weighs 305 lbs and will surely give us some Really Great Hits this season – the kind you can hear over the crowd and the announcers on TV – to go with all the one’s he’s taking and dishing up in practice. In the seven minutes of play he will probably get (that’s the average playing time of a member of our football squad), should be at least two or three of those!  As between doing some wonky computer stuff for a few decades, and steering an offensive lineman into collisions for a couple of years, don’t the fundamental values of a university clearly favor the latter way to use up a good brain?

Delicious

Lawrence O’Donnell has become a pompous, arrogant, humorless jerk.  His tough-guy, soi-disant realist, Irish pol schtick is more irritating than Chris Matthews’ and his pretentious sermons more trying than Keith Olbermann’s ever were.

Last night, he made a big mistake, right up there with that poor Fox News interviewer’s minute of infamy in the ring with Reza Aslan, and then he went on making the same mistake, as bullies with imperfect sociosensory antennae tend to do.  Clueless and blathering, I think he may have actually left the set thinking he “won” the bout.  No he didn’t.

The suits at MSNBC should be thinking about who could make better use of his hour.  “Please confirm for our audience the amateur, uninformed conclusion I’ve jumped to about this issue” is not a good interview question, especially to someone who actually knows things you do not.  For an old white guy to browbeat a young woman is anyway very bad optics.  Lawrence, you’ve worked as legislative staff.  Even if you think someone is shucking you or getting into more and more trouble, didn’t you ever learn about letting out the string? Let alone, that many things that are obvious to you are not true? I never got good at the string stuff, but it was lesson one in Massachusetts government.

I would like to see guests mistreated in this fashion respond, on-air and otherwise, as Ioffe did.  I would like them to start by saying “you’re welcome”, not “thank you!” when the host says “thank you” at the end, and to thus undermine the meme that they are on the show for their own benefit rather than the host’s and the audience’s.

Of interest to Chicagoans (possibly)

As some of you might know, I was one of a pair of “Dueling [theater] Critics” unceremoniously bounced from Chicago Public Media for being too expert.  (I am not making this up.)  However, you can’t keep a good battle down, and my colleague Jonathan Abarbanel and I have resumed our role as the Bickersons of Chicago theater on a podcast of our own design and creation.  You can hear us on soundcloud every Friday morning and/or subscribe to us on iTunes.

See you at the theater!

Goodnight, and May Your God Go With You

I was in my early teens the first time I stayed up late enough to watch a British television show that was being re-broadcast in the States on an obscure independent station. A roguish Irishman sat alone on a bar stool in an empty studio, smoking a cigarette, holding a drink and serving up hilarious helpings of sacred cowburger. He particularly liked to take the Michael out of the Catholic Church, but everything was fair game for Dave Allen, especially authority figures.

The show was Dave Allen at Large, and I am happy to see that BBC have produced Dave Allen, God’s Own Comedian (rave review by Martin Chilton here). Definitely one to watch for his many fans.

Not all of Allen’s comedic material holds up today, but his charm and stage presence certainly do:

Rachel Shteir versus Chicago: Performance versus Reality

I was in Russia when a tourist from New York turned to me and said, “Whatever happened to Chicago?” To this mysterious question he added, “I kept thinking it was going to break through, but it never did.” Nonplussed, I tried to think of a Chicago breakthrough. Eventually I must have sputtered something about Nobel laureates because he interrupted me dismissively. “Eds and meds,” he said. “Every second-tier city has those.” That concluded conversation between us–-for the rest of the trip.

And that’s the problem with Rachel Shteir’s article on the front page of last week’s New York Times Book Review. Conversation ended the minute she turned a review of books about Chicago into a pan of the city itself. Oh, there were responses aplenty, but most were reflexively protective, the kind you’d expect from a mother charged with having an ugly baby. So we’ve had a week of “So’s your old man” and “I’m rubber, you’re glue” without anybody’s communicating much of anything worthwhile.

Which is a shame, because Shteir’s review was a gigantic missed opportunity to investigate the fact that “Chicago” is a performance. Chicagoans perform the city’s epic nature, its street smarts, its unshockability. Most of all we perform its blue-collar roots even–especially–when we have none of our own. How could a professor of theater miss the fact that she’s in the midst of a production as deft and complicated and self-referential as Brecht? Continue reading “Rachel Shteir versus Chicago: Performance versus Reality”

Weekend Film Recommendation: Once Upon A Time in the West

After Sergio Leone completed the ‘Dollars’ trilogy in 1966, the studios granted him the license to make a Western without fear of studio intervention. The film that resulted, Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), is this weekend’s movie recommendation.

The film is set in a time of rapid industrialisation, when the railway barons raced to connect the coasts of America with iron track. The prospect held fabulously lucrative promise, and Leone constructs a world in which the laws governing the realisation of that prospect were frighteningly flexible. One such baron is particularly ambitious, and reluctantly hires a henchman with higher designs – ‘Frank,’ played by Henry Fonda – in order to help him get the job done Screen shot 2013-02-27 at 00.58.42before tuberculosis denies him satisfaction.

Don’t expect to see the moral probity of Juror Eight, Wyatt Earp, or Young Abe Lincoln in Henry Fonda’s performance. Instead, Frank is a terrifying, psychotic character with an appetite for child murder, corruption, and an unquenchable thirst for power. Charles Bronson appears opposite Frank as an enigmatically taciturn gunslinger. He is identified by the only thing about himself he is willing to reveal from his past – his hauntingly played ‘Harmonica.’ Harmonica cherishes his instrument with as much attention as he does his burning desire to kill Frank, for reasons that he’s willing to divulge “only at the point of dying.”

Frank’s and Harmonica’s stories coincide in the town of Flagstone. There, they meet Jill and Cheyenne, played respectively by the stunning Claudia Cardinale and the charismatic Jason Robards. Jill is an ex-prostitute trying to restore her reputation as an honest woman of means, and Cheyenne is keen to clear his name for the murders – perpetrated by Frank – for which he has been framed.

Screen shot 2013-02-27 at 00.54.15

Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack assigns a stirring leitmotif to each of the principal characters. The music matches each character’s idiosyncrasies beautifully: for Frank, the music is loud and jarring; for Harmonica, it’s un-placeably morose; for Cheyenne, it’s strangely whimsical; for Jill, the melodic soprano seems dissonant in the barren wasteland of Flagstone.

The feature of Leone’s work that I find especially compelling is his ability to construct a believable history for almost every one of his characters. There are very few character ‘props’ without personalities – Frank’s venal henchmen, the licentious bartender, and the exasperated sheriff officiating the auction – all are believable.

Make no mistake: Once Upon a Time in the West is brutally violent. Clocking in at almost three hours, it will also swallow a sizeable chunk of your weekend whole. It is an exhausting experience, but as the pinnacle of the spaghetti Western genre, it is deeply rewarding. Watch it if you want to see where the clichés come from: my favourite is the way the camera captures an extreme close-up of piercing eyes appearing from under the hat-brim as the head lifts, but you’ll surely notice countless other examples. Just remember that while they may seem dated, Leone is justly credited with having made them the ice cool hallmarks of dramatic cinema that they are today.

For trivia purposes, I think I’m going to play this one a little differently, given that Once Upon a Time in the West is already such well-trodden turf. I’m going to ask people to contribute instances where they think the film has been directly referenced by other films in the comments section. It shouldn’t be too difficult to provide a long list, especially given the love of Leone’s work by just about every director since (Tarantino in particular is a huge fan). The rules are that you must provide clear information detailing the reference between the new film and what scene or aspect of Once Upon a Time in the West to which it refers. Simply naming a film won’t do. Buona fortuna!

An Interloper Offers Weekend Film Commentary: Les Miserables

Based on its vivid colors and exaggerated gestures, one is tempted to dismiss Academy Award Best Picture nominee Les Miserables as a cartoon. But cartoons have clarity of line and a sense of direction, not to mention momentum from frame to frame. This movie is more like the result of dropping the Sunday funnies in a mud-puddle: smeared with detritus and coming apart at the seams.

Start with the source. The musical itself, though much beloved by aficionados of Glee and Smash, takes Victor Hugo’s outraged critique of post-revolutionary France and turns it into a parade. While purporting to address the depredations and degradations of poverty, Cameron Mackintosh’s production was staged so elaborately that it depended on $150 tickets to keep it running. Thus there was the awkward matter of cheering gaunt poor people on the barricades from plush seats in the orchestra.

Happily even overpriced movies like this one cost only $10 or so to see, reducing the contradiction between medium and message. But director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) and his collaborators have replaced that one difficulty with a raft of their own: frying pan, meet fire.

Continue reading “An Interloper Offers Weekend Film Commentary: Les Miserables”

Chocolate blasphemies

In 2007 the Italo-Canadian artist Cosimo Cavallaro secured free publicity with the condemnation by idiot American Catholic reactionaries of his harmless chocolate Jesus.

Here in Spain, you can have an entire chocolate Nativity scene, as a normal expression of commercially-tinged religious sentimentality. In fact a whole 1,450 kilo sugar Nativity Granada, in a chocolate factory in the small Andalusian town of Rute. (The other industry is anis.)
Chocolate crib general

The Nativity is rather nicely put into the Court of the Lions in the Alhambra.

Continue reading “Chocolate blasphemies”

Shooting the Messenger: Brent Musburger

Apparently Brent Musburger is in all kinds of hot water because of comments he made during last night’s BCS championship game.  When I read that it involved remarks about the Crimson Tide quarterback’s girlfriend, I really braced for something awful.

The subject was not Alabama’s 42-14 victory, but comments made during the game by the ESPN play-by-play announcer Brent Musburger regarding the girlfriend of Alabama quarterback A J McCarron. In the first quarter, ESPN showed McCarron’s girlfriend, Katherine Webb, who was sitting near his parents. Musburger called the 23-year-old Webb, a former Miss Alabama, a “lovely lady” and “beautiful,” and said to his broadcast partner, Kirk Herbstreit, a former quarterback at Ohio State, “You quarterbacks get all the good-looking women.”

“A J’s doing some things right,” Herbstreit replied. Musburger, 73, then said, “If you’re a youngster in Alabama, start getting the football out and throw it around the backyard with Pop.”

That’s it?  He says that a former Miss Alabama is a beautiful woman, that quarterbacks always get the girl, and that that is an incentive to be a football player?  I could understand an outcry if, say, the girlfriend was a Rhodes Scholar or a theoretical physicist or even a law student.  But she’s a former Miss Friggin’ Alabama.

That’s part of the culture of college football and of beauty pageants.  Jocks get the girl.  The pretty ones are Miss Whatever. Guys do what they can to date Miss Whatever.

And because of that, you might well say, “That’s right.  It’s the culture.  And that culture sucks and is demeaning to women and emphasizes idiotic masculine tropes.”  Fair enough.  I basically agree: I think pageants are dumb, and I am coming around to Mike O’Hare’s view that football is, too.

But it seems a little silly to me to blame Musburger for this.  Yes, I know: he’s reinforcing the culture yadda yadda yadda.  But don’t attack the messenger for a bigger — and really, a more important, and more controversial, and more radical point.  People aren’t attacking Musburger for going “over the line,” even if they say they are.  They are taking on college football.  They are taking a massive entertainment and financial juggernaut.  And they should.  But go after the big boys, so to speak.  Musburger is well-paid for what he does and obviously can take care of himself.  But he’s a cog in this stuff.  ESPN has apologized for Musburger’s comments and has said that he “went too far”, but why in the world was Webb on the screen to begin with?  ESPN like all networks is avoiding its own complicity in what is going on here.

Should we boycott Discover Cards for sponsoring the game?  Or FedEx for sponsoring the stadium?  Or all the other sponsors, and the NCAA itself?  Maybe we should.  But then focus on them.  Getting outraged at Musburger seems to me to be sort of cheap and safe way to avoid really making the critique that ought to be made.

UPDATE:  I don’t know why the comments have been disabled for this post, but am trying to fix it.

UPDATE UPDATE: Comments now back on.  Fire away.