Monday, April 30, 2012

The Occupy Movement and the General Strike on #MayDay

Professor and chair of comparative studies at Ohio State University

The Occupy movement has already spawned one general strike—a spontaneous mass reaction to police brutality in Oakland last November that ended up shutting down the fifth-largest port in the country overnight. The movement is now calling for a General Strike on May Day (May 1st), and so far, well over one hundred U.S. cities, along with groups around the world (in Germany, Greece, Hungary, and elsewhere), are planning actions. Occupy Los Angeles might have the most intricate strike plan: groups from the four points of the compass will march through their parts of the city, engaging in various interventions along the way, and end up together in downtown L.A. for a "convergence celebration."

A one-day mass strike represents a significant development of Occupy strategy. As everyone (including the initial organizers) knew, the occupation of public sites in North America was not destined to last through the winter, even if it did last far longer than expected. Rather than an indeterminate occupation of space, next week's general strike involves a determinate action in a strictly delimited time frame: its aim is to strike a single blow against a broad range of inequities in an equally broad range of places, all at once. The prioritization of time over space could have unexpected benefits for participants: using hand-held social media, marchers could alternate between concentrating in compact groups and dispersing as ordinary pedestrians (something like a flash mob, or a flock of birds), thereby becoming a more difficult target for police action.

Very much like the original Occupy strategy, however, general strikes are not about making specific demands. They are therefore very unlike your run-of-the-mill union strike, which revolves around specific demands at a specific workplace. Instead, the general strike involves anybody and everybody, and it is directed against an entire social order, economic and political. As the original name and location suggests, Wall Street serves as a convenient focal point for all kinds of discontent. So even if the general strike targets an entire system, that system is now obviously dominated by finance capital—by Wall Street and the "too-big-to-fail" banks.

And so the issue underlying the strike is no longer just the exploitation of workers at the workplace, but the indebtedness of everybody, everywhere: from students leaving college saddled with student load debts in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, to credit-card holders, to the countless homeowners facing balloon payments or foreclosure, to supposedly sovereign nations all across the globe forced to cut back on social services in order to repay bond-holders. (Just recently, student debt surpassed credit-card debt as the second-highest kind of personal debt, after home mortgages; U.S. student debt now exceeds 1 trillion dollars.) At this stage of the game (often referred to as "real subsumption"), the new rallying-cry is not so much "workers of the world, unite!" as "debtors of the world, unite!"—and rough estimates of the proportion of people sharing an "objective interest" in cancelling the debt run as high as ... 99%.

In this context, the "Occupy Student Debt" movement has faced a telling alternative: try to work within the system, or directly challenge it. One in-system alternative might involve something like a counter-Norquist "Jubilee petition." ("Jubilee" was a term for the regular and routine cancellation of outstanding debts, which occurred in all pre-capitalist societies.) Candidates would be asked to sign a petition pledging to side with the people against the banks (or even to cancel the debt). The other, direct-challenge alternative was for students themselves to pledge to go on a "debt strike"—to refuse to pay their students loans—once a specified threshold number of students signed the pledge. Unfortunately, the recent tightening of U.S. bankruptcy law made student loans one of the few debts that cannot be discharged through bankruptcy proceedings, so the threshold number is probably higher than initially proposed. But what if a student loan strike prompted a homeowners mortgage strike, which in turn prompted a credit-card strike? For one of the important effects of a general strike, rather than issuing specific demands, is to express solidarity, and to reveal the extent to which we, the 99%, are all in this together. If the breadth and depth of shared discontent can be demonstrated and widely recognized, there may be enough momentum to advocate for significant social change, working within the system as well as against it. (The possible relation between Occupy and the November elections is already a pressing issue.)

One distinctive feature of the Occupy movement that risks getting all but lost in the call for a punctual, one-day general strike—as important and exciting as it may be—is Occupy's instantiation of the Gandhian principle to "be the change you want to see in the world." With its lending libraries, collective kitchens, people's mics, general assemblies and so forth, Occupy struggled to model a more participatory democratic social order in defiance of the oligarchy our so-called "representative democracy" and the global social order have so obviously become. Along these lines, it is possible to reconceive of the general strike not as a punctual event but as a gradual process—as a slow-motion general strike that might start with the transfer of money from banks to credit unions, say (already taking place in the wake of the crash of 2008), and then combine with the growth of community-supported agriculture, fair trade, open-source software, and so forth and so on.

The point of such a slow-motion general strike would be not just to "be the change you want to see," but to slowly but surely free everyone from dependence on capital for their means of life (and thereby reverse the process of "so-called primitive accumulation" lying at the heart of capitalism). Pervasive indebtedness is only the most blatant form of that dependence, and it may turn out to be one of the unexpected (call it dialectical if you wish) ironies of neoliberalism that in drowning nearly everyone in debt, it ends up turning nearly everyone against itself.


Eugene W. Holland is professor and chair of comparative studies at Ohio State University and author of Nomad Citizenship: Free-Market Communism and the Slow-Motion General Strike.

"This is a brilliant and important book which provides both vital insight into our contemporary political situation and, through a novel synthesis of nomad Marxism and complexity theory, ways for thinking the future differently. Eugene W. Holland’s conceptions of an affirmative nomadology and free market communism make a fresh and invigorating contribution to the contemporary critique of capital and attempts to produce small and large-scale, long-lasting alternatives to its dominion. A superb achievement and essential reading."
—Keith Ansell-Pearson, University of Warwick

Friday, April 27, 2012

Marc Steinberg: From "the" sticker craze to my sticker craze

This sticker of Atomu, which the author
owns, dates back to 1963 or 1964.
This is Part 2 of a multi-part series in which Marc Steinberg, author of Anime's Media Mix, lets us into his own world of collectibles. Curious? Read the first part here.


Assistant professor of film studies at Concordia University

So how did I get stuck on the stickers? And how did they become so important to Anime’s Media Mix?

I first read about them in a booklet included with the DVD set of the original Tetsuwan Atomu in Japan, in a short but fascinating section on goods sold with the original series. From there I happened on the wonderful resource book of Atomu stickers put together by Tsunashima Ritomo, Atomu shiiru to Tetsujin wappen: 1963-1966 (Astro Stickers and Gigantor Badges: 1963-1966). Tsunashima is one of a small group of writer-collectors who spent his time and energy chronicling the material culture of early 1960s children’s culture in Japan (two other impressive writers are Machida Shinobu and Kushima Tsutomu).

But if I knew what the stickers looked like, what size they were, and what kids of the time did with them, well, that part required a trip to Mandarake in Nakano, Japan, to see and feel first-hand what they were like. As anyone who’s done archival work knows well, there’s a kind of thrill of discovery and contact that comes with working in an archive. You’re touching material documents of a particular time and place.

As you leaf through them the materials give you a sense of time travel, of being in the era, of truly living the excitement.

I first felt this in a visceral sense when I was reading through childrens’ magazines of the 1950s and 1960s. And I also felt this at the toy museums (granted, without the privilege of actually touching the stuff). But the strongest “WOW” moment during this project came when I actually came across a number of these "Atomu & friends" stickers in the Nakano Mandarake. Part of the store is a veritable time warp to another era; Mandarake absolutely lives up to its grandiose self-description as the “Rulers of Time.” Going to the store is like visiting a pop-cultural archeological dig into the past. While I’d been to Mandarake's less impressive (but still priceless) Shibuya store innumerable times, visiting the Nakano location was like stepping back into 1960s freebee culture – complete with Atomu stickers, Tetsujin badges, candies of the time, and everything. All the things that libraries don’t archive. All the things I was writing about.

And more.

This 1964 Marble Chocolates
television advertisement was one
of the first to feature Atomu.
It’s there that I found the sticker I initially wanted to put on the cover of my book (see main image above). A single sticker of Atomu, still encased in its plastic wrapper, originally included as an in-pack premium, probably dating to late 1963 or 1964. It’s actually the subject of a Marble Chocolates television ad from 1964, one of the first to see the animated character (as sticker) displace the former star of Meiji advertising, Uehara Yukari (left).

So why couldn’t I use this sticker as the cover? In a thoughtful review of my book, Jonathan Clements wonders why not feature Atomu on the cover, or better yet, the more contemporary Suzumiya Haruhi (who is so important to the later section of my book)? He suspects there is a legal story behind it, and he’s quite right.

While the people at Tezuka Production (the company that holds the rights to the Atomu image) were generous in granting permissions to use Tezuka’s trademark character inside the book, they were more cautious about granting me permission to use the sticker image on the cover. The sticker was, after all, a Meiji Seika product. I should contact Meiji Seika; if they granted me the right to use the sticker image, so would Tezuka Production. As I suspected at the time, that proved to be impossible. In this case there was no response from Meiji, and the clock was ticking on my book.

In the meantime, Brad Norr Design came up with an absolutely fantastic cover for my book – the present cover. I can describe why this cover just works. As Clements rightly suspects, part of the reason lies in not using an existing character. More books than I can count feature the iconic Atomu on their covers (including, I might note, the invaluable resource Clements put together with Helen McCarthy, The Anime Encyclopedia, as well as Fredric Schodt’s incisive and informative The Astroboy Essays). But maybe even more to the point, there was something refreshing about stepping out of the existing system of serial relations across media that is the subject of my book, and that my book would have supported if it had used a recognizable character, whether it be Atomu or Suzumiya Haruhi.

There was also something appropriately generic about the character invented for Anime’s Media Mix – something of a mix between Atomu, the Atomu knock-off Uchû Ace (at right) and Cap’n Crunch (which itself was the inspiration for a counter-stream of toys I’ll bring up in a future post: the vinyl art toy movement in Japan that got its start with Bounty Hunter’s “Kid Hunter”). Add in the retroesque color scheme and the print-outside-the-lines effect that mimics the print style of the time (found in the Atomu stickers in particular) and note the way the “M” for Media Mix uses the same font as Meiji’s logo of the time.

Finally, the cover gestures towards the proliferation of character images across media, evoked literally in the sticker and TV references, and figuratively in the out-of-frame and out-of-medial-bounds framing of the character.

What can I say, except that I was instantly won over. This was the cover I was looking for.


Marc Steinberg is author of Anime's Media Mix and assistant professor of film studies at Concordia University.

"Anime’s Media Mix is a must-read for anyone interested in the transformations of contemporary media. In portraying how anime characters are emblematic of mobility and connectivity in a broader media ecology, Marc Steinberg maps a new logic of production and consumption that shapes our world today."
—Ian Condry, MIT

"Marc Steinberg opens up brave new possibilities for the study of global media cultures. Attending to the watershed years of Japan’s 1960s and the ascendance of televisual animation he details how entire commodity regimes came to circulate around the idea of the anime “character.” Original and timely, historically dense and theoretically acute, Anime’s Media Mix definitively teaches us that anime can no longer be thought outside the networks of its transmediation."
—Marilyn Ivy, Columbia University

Monday, April 23, 2012

Roland Bleiker: What to do about North Korea?

View of the concrete wall and barbed wire separating South Korea from North Korea. Roland Bleiker studies North Korea's recent provocations and argues for an integrational approach to information diplomacy. Image from Creative Commons.

Professor of international relations at the University of Queensland 

Dealing with North Korea has never been easy.

Authoritarian and reclusive, the country's regime has for long held nuclear ambitions that regularly triggered major international crises. Its recent leadership transition, from the deceased Kim Jong-il to his 28-year-old son Kim Jong-un, has only made the situation more tense and unpredictable.

One of the first actions of the new leader, on April 13th, was the launch of a long-rage rocket: an act seen as signaling renewed nuclear ambitions. Although the experiment failed miserably, its effects have been felt worldwide. Experts now fear another North Korea nuclear test as compensation.

North Korea's provocations offer a direct challenge to President Obama, who only recently promised food aid to North Korea in response to promises that the country suspend its nuclear ambitions.

How are we to understand these provocations—and, more importantly, how are we to respond?

There are two explanations for North Korea's actions. The first is internal. The country's new leader may have all the official titles he needs, but this is not enough to gain legitimacy, particularly at such a young age. There is no better way to prove himself than to show strength and leadership in a time of crisis. This is why many Korea observers see the recent provocations in light of the leadership change.

The second reason is an external and more important one. North Korea’s main goal is surviving in a world surrounded by ideological enemies. But since the country is economically ruined it has very few means to do so. One of the main strategies—which North Korea has used for decades—is to create tensions in order to gain concessions from its archenemies.

The present crisis does, in fact, strongly resemble two previous crises, one in the early 1990s and the other in the mid-2000s. In each case North Korea embarked on a number of provocations, withdrew from the non-proliferation treaty and declared its intention to develop nuclear weapons. After tense crises periods and extensive negotiations, North Korea then abandoned its nuclear ambitions in exchange for economic aid, heating oil and security guarantees. Only to start all over again.

Policymakers and commentators are deeply divided about how to respond to North Korea's recurring nuclear brinkmanship tactics.

The traditional approach has been to confront North Korea with military threats and economic sanctions. But this approach, epitomized by the policies of the Bush administration, clearly has not worked. A military intervention is far too dangerous to be an option in Korea. Economic sanctions have had no success either. The regime was securely in power even during the most severe instance of starvation following droughts and floods. In fact, military threats and sanctions only increased Pyongyang’s perceived need for a nuclear based defense—and gave its leaders an opportunity to rally the population behind a common threat from the outside.

The alternative to confrontation is engaging North Korea in negotiations, hoping to find an arrangement that can bring stability to the region. This is, in my view, a far more promising route. But it too is littered with obstacles. For one, there are major ethical dilemmas in negotiating with or delivering aid to an authoritarian regime that commits widespread human rights violations. Add to this that North Korea has often promised one thing and, in secret, done another, as US policymakers discovered yet again recently.

What, then, is the most promising way forward?

The key, I believe, is to integrate North Korea as much as possible into the world community: to open the country up so that its population is more exposed to information—and ideas—from the outside world.

The North Korean regime is able to stay in power not only because of ruthless repression, but also because it controls the minds of its citizens. It is one the most reclusive societies on earth, anywhere, anytime. Average citizens have no access to foreign television programs, radio broadcasts or newspapers. There is no Internet. Travel beyond one’s place of residence requires permission. The country's official and only media is completely controlled by the state and geared towards one objective: the mythological legitimization of the state and its leaders. The propaganda machine is all-pervasive, entering virtually all aspects of everyday life.

If North Korea is to change, then the motivation and pressures for it have to come from the inside: from a budding civil society, from people who have not only the knowledge necessary to promote change but, eventually, also the numbers to do so.

This is why engaging North Korea politically, economically and culturally is the best way forward—so long as the engagement policy is doubled-up with efforts to open borders and promote the flow of information and ideas.

 This is why it is time for a new approach: information diplomacy.


Roland Bleiker is professor of international relations at the University of Queensland. He is author of Divided Korea: Toward a Culture of Reconciliation. From 1986 to 1988 he served as chief of office for the Swiss delegation to the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission in Panmunjom.

"One of the freshest analyses of Korean security in many, many years. Well worth reading." —Sungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies 

"Bleiker, formerly chief of the Swiss delegation to the Neutral Nations Supervisory commission, passionately argues that the prevailing approach of confronting and deterring North Korea will not work. Pyongyang should be treated with respect instead of constantly denounced in offensive terms."
—Foreign Affairs

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mulling things over: Anime collectibles from Marc Steinberg's closet

Dear reader: This is the first in a series of blog posts in which author Marc Steinberg invites us into his own world of anime collectibles, explaining what makes each object interesting and how it has contributed to the history and transformation of Japanese media culture.


Assistant professor of film studies at Concordia University

My recently published book, Anime’s Media Mix, is best described as the product of an intersection between a theoretical problem, a historical question, and material artifacts.

The theoretical problem was how to build a conceptual understanding of media connectivity in an age of proliferating media and things, and ever-stronger techniques of connecting them together. In Japan this phenomenon of interconnectivity is particularly intense, and goes by the name "media mix."

The historical questions were, when did the media mix arise in Japan, and how can we account for the central role that television animation or anime in particular (but also manga and related media) play in it?

Finally, the material artifacts. These were material facts, or pieces of living history. Of course each object comes along with a story, a history, a context. But it’s often through finding a particular artifact that I was able to begin to further unravel the story of the media mix.

Making sense of the objects was in many ways a point of departure for making sense of the way connectivity was constructed across media forms and platforms. The existence or non-existence of material artifacts was in many ways also the clue to the when-how-why of the media mix in Japan. If I make the argument that the genesis of the media mix in Japan can be traced to 1963 and the beginnings of made-in-Japan television animation with Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy) it’s because this narrative is backed up by the explosive proliferation of material objects related to the show. To be sure there are precursors, but the material archive suggests the importance of this year, and this event.

Needless to say, then, this book project involved not only the collection of documents, but also a collection of things. Thanks to the support of the good people of University of Minnesota Press, I had the chance to present some of these things in the form of image reproductions in my book. But there were a good number of things I didn’t reproduce, or couldn’t discuss. So I’ve decided to use the space UMP has provided here to introduce some new objects – collectibles from my closet – that I merely touched on in the book, or perhaps didn’t touch on at all. It’s safe to say that the book project projected me into collection. Allow me to do a little show-and-tell here, over the course of the next few posts – showing some objects, and telling some stories about the process of research that led to Anime’s Media Mix.

An Atomu sticker sheet accompanied many
a packet of Marble Chocolates in 1963.
While I already show it and tell it a lot in my book, there’s really no better place to start than this Atomu sticker sheet (at left). This sticker sheet is the genesis of book; the material kernel around which it’s built.

What is this sticker? It’s a freebie – in technical terms, a premium – that either came inside a Marble Chocolates pack or could be received in the mail by sending away several proofs of purchase to Meiji. Marble Chocolates are a kind of chocolate candy not unlike Smarties or M&Ms that come in a cylindrical box (below). They were a hit candy around the time of Tetsuwan Atomu came on the air, and they were made by Meiji Seika, the confectionary that was the Atomu TV show’s sole sponsor.

Marble Chocolates, made by Meiji Seika,
were a very popular candy around
the time Astro Boy came on the air.
Looking to increase their already considerable market share, the Meiji marketing department decided to include a sticker of Atomu in each pack of Marble Chocolates for a short period in the spring of 1963. After they found it to be a huge success, they started a second campaign whereby children would collect three Marble Chocolates caps and send away for an "Atomu and Friends" sticker sheet that would come by mail. The local post office became inundated with requests, and Meiji realized it was onto something. Atomu became a staple for Meiji for the subsequent years it was on air, and children’s chocolates were quite literally reorganized around made-in-Japan TV animation series. It also ignited the “chocolate wars” of the early 60s, and kick-started TV animation production in Japan, with Meiji’s rivals Morinaga, Glico, and Fujiya rushing to sponsor TV anime shows.

Once the stickers were deemed a hit,
merchandise across the board began to sport
Atomu images.
What made the stickers so interesting to me is the way they embodied the potential of the character image to be anywhere, anytime. Children could stick them onto objects, take these objects with them to school, to the playground, or wherever, and literally relive (or continue to live) the Atomu world. As such the stickers are a kind of theoretical and conceptual paradigm for character merchandising as such, and character merchandising quickly adopts the potential of the sticker and takes it to its logical conclusion: sell toys, notebooks, shoes, socks, and so on with Atomu images stuck on them already.

So simple, yet so much a product of the stickers themselves.


Marc Steinberg is author of Anime's Media Mix and assistant professor of film studies at Concordia University.

"Anime’s Media Mix is a must-read for anyone interested in the transformations of contemporary media. In portraying how anime characters are emblematic of mobility and connectivity in a broader media ecology, Marc Steinberg maps a new logic of production and consumption that shapes our world today."
—Ian Condry, MIT

"Marc Steinberg opens up brave new possibilities for the study of global media cultures. Attending to the watershed years of Japan’s 1960s and the ascendance of televisual animation he details how entire commodity regimes came to circulate around the idea of the anime “character.” Original and timely, historically dense and theoretically acute, Anime’s Media Mix definitively teaches us that anime can no longer be thought outside the networks of its transmediation."
—Marilyn Ivy, Columbia University

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Boston Mania: What drives us, professionals and amateurs alike, to run a marathon?

A statue of Greek soldier Pheidippides on Marathon Road northeast of Athens. According to legend, Pheidippides died after a 26.2-mile run from the Battle of Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over Persian invaders. Image from Creative Commons.

Associate professor of political science and international relations at the University of Delaware

Monday marks the largest sporting event in New England. Though less telegenic than Red Sox baseball or Patriots football, the Boston Marathon routinely draws crowds of half a million to watch more than 25,000 runners plow through the streets of Boston. One of the most prestigious marathons in the world, Boston crowds are no doubt drawn to see whether last year’s course record will be broken or if, finally, the two-hour marathon mark will be broken.

However, the largest draws are not the remarkable professional distance runners seeking to break the ribbon at the end of the race. The biggest draw is the pack of tens of thousands of amateurs who have trained and raced to qualify for the event. As a collective public spectacle, marathons place the limits of human body on display not only by the freakishly fast professional runners but by the ordinary people who haul their bodies up and down hills in front of throngs of supporters. The amateur marathoner who runs not for first place or for the cash prize but for personal gratification represents a cultural glorification of self-discipline that often fixates on the body.

As a sporting event, the marathon has changed remarkably in the last four decades from its origins as an exclusive event primarily dominated by male professional runners and former athletes. Indeed, 2012 will mark the 40th anniversary of the first Boston Marathon, in which women were officially allowed to enter. The race was considered so impossible and even dangerous for women that in 1967, when Kathrine Switzer entered as “K. Switzer,” one of the race organizers had to be tackled to be prevented from removing her number (and perhaps her physical body from the course) during the race. The refusal to allow women to race was a combination of a belief that women’s bodies were simply too weak to safely navigate 26.2 miles and a reflection of the mystique of the race itself.

The distance of the marathon is, of course, the stuff of legends, drawn from the supposed distance run by the Greek soldier Pheidippides from the Battle of Marathon to Athens. The fact that the soldier, after issuing his news about victory in battle, promptly died has made the event a classic celebration of pushing the limitations of the human body in superhuman feats of athletic prowess. As women entered races in increasing numbers in the 1970s, the marathon began its long journey from an elite and exclusive club to a community event with broad participation. Even as road races of considerably more manageable lengths have also proliferated, the marathon retains its allure as an exceptional achievement. Subsequently, the length of races has increased dramatically as race officials keep courses open longer to accommodate finishing times that range from just over two hours to over seven.

As a consequence of the growing popularity of marathons as a participatory rather than merely spectator sport, the market for runners’ gear has also multiplied. Running is not merely a matter of slapping on a pair of sneakers and heading out for a morning jog. In addition to the ubiquitous running gear that promises moisture wicking, cures for over-pronation, and more attractive race photos, the marathoner-in-training has an array of products from which to choose. Store shelves are now stocked with fluids for pre- and post-run hydration, gels to aid with electrolyte imbalances, and various protein concoctions for muscle recovery. The runner with means can avail herself of various tests to evaluate her gait efficiency, gauge her VO2 max, and get nutritional analyses.

The most recent innovations have been in the use of technology to provide runners with virtual trainers and training partners, human and non. The newest innovation has been the integration of technology like pedometers, GPS, and heart rate monitors with smart phone apps. Apps like “Map My Run” enable the runner to not only monitor their day-by-day training but to share that information with a social networking community, often billed as a way to “hold yourself accountable” to a larger community. More creative versions like the popular “Zombies, Run!” integrates daily runs into a virtual game in which the player's workouts lead to rewards in an ongoing survival game.

The explosion of popularity in a sport that is best known for killing its first participant and in which the average runner gets little tangible reward other than a T-shirt and race medal, raises the question of why marathoning has such a large popular following. Some of the allure of the race might come from the ability to claim the title of “marathoner,” not only in the sense of accomplishment but from the impressed nods of those who acknowledge the achievement.

Those nods, however, capture meaning of marathoning in popular lore.

To have completed a marathon tells us something about the person, a sense of commitment, self-discipline and management of the body. Even as the ill-fated Greek soldier’s run is a symbol of his great passion and commitment to his polis, the amateur runner’s race T-shirt is a symbol of their commitment to self-governance, to willing themselves to overcome the limitations of the body and to achieve a specific goal.

The sense of accomplishment is not merely external, however, but also represents the joy derived from practices of self-discipline. Long-distance running is less about crossing the finish line but about the process of getting there, the careful monitoring of nutritional intake, planning out a schedule months in advance, calculating distance and rest times, and squeezing in training runs in the lunch hour.

Unlike Pheidippides, driven by a love of country, the modern amateur marathon is driven by a love of the self, a self that derives pleasure from the exercise of self-control.


Claire E. Rasmussen is associate professor of political science and international relations at the University of Delaware. She is author of The Autonomous Animal: Self-Governance and the Modern Subject.

"This captivating book is about the paradox of freedom that we moderns experience as the compulsion to autonomy. Whether we are becoming adolescents, addicts, vegans, or athletes we subject ourselves to become independent so that we can experience freedom. This drive to experience freedom divides those who become autonomous (mature and respectable) and those who must be governed. The book is an impressive intervention on the paradox of freedom that is at once a space of possibility and oppression. Claire E. Rasmussen shows a behind-the-scenes glimpse of intriguing and inspiring subjectivities through that space."
—Engin Isin, The Open University

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Papa Jo Jones, Jazz Drummer and . . . Actor?

In honor of Jazz Appreciation Month this month, writer Paul Devlin has agreed to discuss Papa Jo Jones' little-known stint on Route 66, a series for which all episodes have been recently made available on YouTube. Hello, Good Night, Sweet Blues!


Editor of Rifftide: The Life and Opinions of Papa Jo Jones

Papa Jo Jones (1911-1985) was one of the greatest drummers of all time. He is perhaps best known for the innovations he made with the Count Basie Orchestra in the 1930s and 40s. Still, most people do not know that he also had a brief and wonderfully entertaining acting career. He starred alongside Ethel Waters in an episode of the thoughtful weekly drama Route 66, which gives a glimpse of an acting career that might have been. Jones had no dramatic roles on film before or after, though it is not easy to understand why.

Ethel Waters (1896-1977), the legendary singer and actress, became the first African American nominated for an Emmy Award for her moving role as a dying blues singer in “Good Night, Sweet Blues,” an episode of Route 66 that first aired on October 6, 1961. Waters was nominated for outstanding single performance by a lead actress, and while she did not win, the power of her heartbreaking performance leaves little doubt that she should have.

Route 66 was a stylish, smart production that featured two young (white) men from different class backgrounds, Tod and Buz, who travel throughout the United States in search of a place to belong (which they never find) and in the process have adventures and assist people in need. While it was a highly polished program, it was more Quantum Leap than Mad Men in that each week featured a new cast (aside from Tod and Buz). It was known for its intelligent themes, smart dialogue, and fine acting. (Another episode captures, with pitch-perfect precision, the paranoid, nativist strain in American politics and presages the Tea Party movement.)

Although Route 66 has largely faded from pop consciousness, it was an enjoyable, solidly middlebrow hour of television and within those parameters, the episode “Goodnight, Sweet Blues” is something of a masterpiece. It is the story of Jenny Henderson, a retired blues singer with a heart condition (the show was ahead of its time on the topic of women and cardiovascular health) who seeks to reunite her old band, The Memphis Naturals. As the episode opens, Jenny has a heart attack and nearly has a head-on collision with Tod and Buz on a highway outside Pittsburgh. They call for an ambulance and the scene shifts to her house, where an African American doctor (a general practitioner) is conferring with a white cardiologist about Jenny’s prognosis. After chatting with Tod and Buz, and realizing that Buz is a jazz buff, Jenny reveals her identity and conceives a grand plan. She wants to reunite The Memphis Naturals one last time. This is where the backstory becomes particularly interesting: three of Jenny’s six former bandmates are played by jazz legends Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldrige, and, alas, Papa Jo Jones. The other three are played by veteran actors Juano Hernandez, Frederick O’Neal, and Bill Gunn. The men are introduced by means of a faked old photo: that is, a 1961 photo made to look like it was 30 years older, for which Jones even dons a toupee.

After a 1976 after-dinner lecture to the Duke Ellington Society (which is included in Rifftide), Jones participates in a Q&A session with the audience. One of the audience members vaguely remembers Jones being in a television program some fifteen years earlier. (The "Good Night, Sweet Blues" episode actually re-ran several times throughout the 1960s, at least in the New York market, according to the television listings of the New York Times.) Jones replies that yes, it was indeed Route 66:

The man that wrote the show up studied piano with Teddy Wilson. Roy Eldridge started on drums. I started on trumpet! Now, don’t worry about it. I think we got about 2,000 people out here that can back us up; that’s still alive. ‘Jo, do you still play trumpet?’ I’m using my mother-in-law’s teeth! I can’t even… shoot! [audience erupts in laughter] NO! NO! ‘Why was you on the trumpet and Roy on the drums?’ I say, ‘didn’t you read the communique?’ It was written two weeks before came out. The man wrote a preview of what the show was all about, and why he selected us to do these things. But you notice it was done in good taste. At least Roy was in New York, playing in the studio. And Coleman Hawkins was playing in this big lavish place, you know, “Snooze.” Juano Hernandez, he had pawned his horn, he was a shoeshine boy. But this is thirty years later, when Miss Waters is dying and she wants to see her boys and she’s got enough money. She’s not a colored mammy down in Mississippi still picking cotton. She said ‘go find my boys!’ Now they find me because – I’m Lover Brown, yes! I’m in jail, still doing the same thing – I’m a bigamist! At least I wasn’t in there for nothing! I’m still flirting with the chicks in prison, you know what I mean. At least I’m a bigamist, I wasn’t, you know, a pot-hound. It was real funny. And they gonna run it again! …I don’t know what I’m-a get out of it. Next time they show it I’ll get 68 cents.

Hawkins, Eldridge, and Jones were major innovators on their respective instruments, so one thing that makes “Good Night, Sweet Blues” particularly fun is that in the episode Hawkins plays clarinet, Eldridge plays drums, and Jones plays trumpet. (Eldridge began his career as a drummer, and even after becoming one of the world’s most important trumpet players, would still sometimes play drums in Gene Krupa’s orchestra in the 1940s, when Krupa was out in front conducting. Later in life, Eldridge returned to the drums. Jo Jones played trumpet, piano, and vibraphones in the 1920s, prior focusing on drums in the early 1930s. To paraphrase what he says at one point: I tried trumpet, but there was Louis Armstrong: no good! I tried saxophone, but there was Coleman Hawkins: no good! I tried piano, but there was Art Tatum: no good!)

I cannot help but think that somehow behind the scenes, this episode is related to the comeback album of sorts, “Blues for Rampart Street,” recorded by the “Uncrowned Queen of the Blues” Ida Cox (1896-1967) earlier that same year. The Coleman Hawkins Quintet (Hawkins, Eldridge, Jones, Sammy Price, and Milt Hinton) accompanies Ms. Cox on that album. A few years later, when Milt Hinton interviewed Jones for the Smithsonian’s Jazz Oral History Project, they reminisced about making the album with Cox. Jones reminded Hinton that when Cox was rediscovered, so to speak, she was not “washing dishes in [the coffee shop in] Macy’s.” On the contrary, according to Jones, Ms. Cox still had her original diamonds that she’d bought in the 1920s. Jones told Albert Murray some years later, on one of the tapes that Rifftide was culled from, that Cox’s traveling show had consisted of an entourage of no less than eleven cars. (I'm unsure whether this means automobiles or train cars.)

On another note, when Tod and Buz track down the former members of The Memphis Naturals, they find the men in a wide variety of circumstances. In an era when some jazz musicians had turned to drugs, particularly heroin, thus creating an image that lingered to some degree in the public imagination, the creators of Route 66 did not wish to engage in such stereotypes. Recently, the trumpeter and singer Nicholas Payton, in his crusade against the word “jazz,” has lamented the fact that the image of the jazz-musician-on-drugs was so prevalent in the 1950s and 1960s. Yet “Goodnight, Sweet Blues,” which ran in re-runs throughout the 1960s, pitched middle America a very different collection of images. Route 66 presents a realistic portrait of several people gone their separate ways: some are successful, some are getting along, some down on their luck – but excessively morbid or maudlin images of the African American jazz musician as junkie are not indulged in.

Trumpet player “Lover” Brown (as Jones notes above) is in prison in Kansas City for bigamy, of all things. He has to say that his sister is ill in order to get a furlough for the weekend. (There is a little joke going on here – Kansas City is where Jones made his name and revolutionized jazz drumming with the Count Basie Orchestra in the 1930s.) In a notable exchange in "Goodnight, Sweet Blues," Jenny asks Brown about the tall, suited white man who has just entered her room along with Lover Brown.

JH: Who’s the gentleman?
LB: Oh, that gentleman? That’s my manager. You know, I can’t go nowhere without him. You know how it is when you become a star, you have accounts, and managers…
JH: [Seeing right through this charade] And wardens and guards…

This wonderful rapport in this and further scenes between Waters and Jones brings to mind when this duo first appeared on film together. Waters sang, accompanied by the Basie band, in the 1943 World War II propaganda film "Stage Door Canteen"; a still from this film appears in Rifftide.

Route 66 is a landmark for African Americans on screen, not just for Waters’ performance, but for the diverse portrayal of the other jazz musicians as well. It is also a welcomed artifact for the study of Jones, showcasing his on-screen dynamism and giving a hint of what his acting career might have been like had it found traction. For all the homage that the episode pays to the music, it does not damp down the earthy good humor and exuberance of the musicians and their personalities.

Indeed, it showcases the diversity and dynamism of their personality and backgrounds, and by extension, of jazz and African American history.


Paul Devlin is a doctoral student in the English Department at Stony Brook University. His writing has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, Slate, the Root, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among other publications.

"Jo Jones, an elegant, swinging dude, always had a style of his own. When he was with us, you could hear him, feel him—everything was right there."
—Count Basie


Paul Devlin is among the featured authors participating in the Alabama Book Festival on April 21st.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A little love, and a little luck, helped create the A.W. Tillinghast-designed Rochester Country Club members know today.

Freelance writer and former reporter and columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press

Minnesota is blessed to be the home of golf courses designed by some of the best golf course architects who ever drew a blueprint, laid out a fairway or placed a bunker.

Scotland native Donald Ross has six examples of his work in Minnesota (Minikahda, Interlachen, White Bear Yacht Club, Woodhill, Minneapolis Golf Club and Northland); Long Island surveyor-turned-golf course designer Seth Raynor designed three here (Somerset, Midland Hills and Minnesota Valley); prolific American architect Robert Trent Jones designed Hazeltine National; gifted Canadian Stanley Thompson designed North Oaks; and two-time British Open champion Willie Park, Jr., designed the first routing of Minneapolis Golf Club.

All were brought to Minnesota for purely financial reasons. Designing a golf course in the early 1900s paid anywhere from $500 to $3000, depending on the quality and reputation of the architect, and clubs would usually hire the most famous golf course architect they could afford.

One of golf architecture’s biggest names, however, came to Minnesota to design a course out of love.

A. W. Tillinghast — “Tillie” to his friends and admirers — was an early giant in the field of golf course architecture, and his most famous creations (Baltusrol, Winged Foot, San Francisco Golf Club and Bethpage Black) are still considered among the best courses in the world. Some continue to host major international championships.

The son of a wealthy Philadelphia rubber manufacturer, Tillie began his career as a journalist, became an accomplished amateur golfer and gravitated toward course design, where he showed aptitude bordering on genius. Though he traveled from coast to coast to lay out courses, it is altogether possible that Minnesota might never have been blessed with a Tillinghast course had his daughter not married Dr. Phillip Brown, a physician who was hired by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

When Tillinghast visited his daughter Elsie and her family in 1926, the Rochester Country Club members were waiting for him. Mayo physician Dr. William P. Finney (who would later serve as president of the Minnesota Golf Association), had invited Phillip and Elsie Brown to dinner at his house prior to Tillie’s visit, an invitation that surprised Elsie, who wondered why a young, unimportant couple would be invited to dine with one of Mayo’s most prominent doctors. By the end of the evening, Finney made his motives known: He asked if Elsie’s father might consider designing a course for Rochester Country Club.

And if so, how much would he charge?

When Elsie nervously relayed the request to her famous father, Tillie laughed and said he’d do it for free. “The charge will be carfare for Mother and me to come for a visit,” he told his daughter.

Once he got a look at the land, where members played on the club’s original 9-hole course, Tillinghast became convinced he could design a fine 18-hole course over the same hilly contours. And once he got to know club member, Mayo physician and amateur agronomist Walter D. ‘Pop’ Shelden, the project truly became a labor of love.

“They were both irascible visionaries and a rapport was established that lasted until the end of their times,” Elsie Brown wrote of her father and Pop Shelden.

After drawing up his plans—and taking the time to design the course at Golden Valley Golf Club, as well—Tillinghast was off to other projects, leaving Rochester Country Club in Shelden’s hands. Shelden was not a passive caretaker; he planted 30,000 pine seedlings around the course, which remain Rochester Golf and Country Club’s dominant feature. The visual effect of the trees is undeniably stunning; the narrowness of the golf course is equally vexing to those who don’t hit their ball down the middle. Though Shelden is given both the credit and the blame for the thick forests that line the golf course, there is evidence that Tillinghast may have approved.

After a visit to the course in 1936, Tillie filed a report with the PGA of America saying that “All of the tree planting scheme, which I suggested last spring, is being followed and it will be continued even to a greater extent.”

Shelden might well have planted more trees than Tillinghast had expected—Tillie died in 1942, well before Shelden’s forest matured — but not without the architect’s initial approval. It is unlikely Tillinghast would have approved of any alterations that might have flawed the course he designed out of love for his daughter.


Rick Shefchik is author of From Fields to Fairways: Classic Golf Clubs of Minnesota. As a young boy in Duluth, Minnesota, in the 1950s, he took his first golf lessons from Northland Country Club head pro Everett Stuart and has been playing golf ever since. He is the author of four novels. He lives in Stillwater, Minnesota.


Please join us at an event to celebrate the launch of Rick's book on Saturday, April 14th, 2012, at the Theodore Wirth Golf Club. Details here.


"A great addition to the written history of golf in Minnesota and one that every true golfer will want in the library."
—Reed K. Mackenzie, former president of the United States Golf Association

"Rick Shefchik brings to life the visionaries, architects, and personalities that built our classic courses and forever shaped the game we love. Minnesota is known nationally for the quality of our golf courses and this is a must for anyone who loves the history and traditions of Minnesota golf."
—Tom Ryan, Executive Director & COO, Minnesota Golf Association