Saturday, August 8, 2009

Selected Thoughts on The New Yorker August 10 and 17

Selected thoughts on the 10 and 17 August 2009 edition of The New Yorker:

The Courthouse Ring (by Malcolm Gladwell)
In this excellent article Gladwell revisits the character of Atticus Finch (from To Kill a Mockingbird) through the lens of James Folsom, the governor of Alabama in the 1950s. The main point is a discussion of the inability (or unwillingness) of nice, well meaning, privileged white men to see the true nature of the system of Jim Crow in the South. This essay, as the 50th aniversy of the publication of Harper Lee's novel approaches, forces me to see the novel in a whole new light. I have not read it since high school--where I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, and don't really recall any meaningful discussion of the inadequacy of Atticus's response to the apartheid society of the times. As Gladwell writes:

Finch will stand up to racists. He’ll use his moral authority to shame them into silence. He will leave the judge standing on the sidewalk while he shakes hands with Negroes. What he will not do is look at the problem of racism outside the immediate context of Mr. Cunningham, Mr. Levy, and the island community of Maycomb, Alabama.

Folsom was the same way. He knew the frailties of his fellow-Alabamians when it came to race. But he could not grasp that those frailties were more than personal—that racism had a structural dimension. After he was elected governor a second time, in 1955, Folsom organized the first inaugural ball for blacks in Alabama’s history. That’s a very nice gesture. Yet it doesn’t undermine segregation to give Negroes their own party. It makes it more palatable.

Gladwell's piece leaves me with a lot to think about. If you've ever read To Kill a Mockingbird (or seen the movie), then you should consider what Gladwell has to say.

The Price of the Ticket (by John Seabrook)
Seabrook's story article is a story about the nature of corporate mergers, competing motives, and the general state of the touring music scene. If you have ever felt ripped off by TicketMaster's fees, than you'll enjoy this article. The role of scalpers (the so-called secondary market), and their relation with below-market initial price levels is an interesting problem.

Travels in Siberia part 2 (by Ian Frazier)
The second part of Frazier's travelogue continues on where part 1 left off. My understatement of the day: Asia is a large and interesting place.

Revolutionary Road (by Nancy Franklin)
Franklin discusses yet another set of documentaries discussing the anniversary of various culturally important events from the 1960s and 70s. In particular, the topic is a forthcoming series of documentary from VH1 (the "Lords of the Revolution"). I think Franklin sums up many peoples thoughts with this sentence:

If your first response to the prospect of these shows is cynicism and dread, that is largely due to VH1's approach to popular culture, which is to put it all into a blender, puree it until you can't tell one ingredient from another, and feed it to boy ironists (and the occasional girl), who then spit the mixture up against the wall for their--and, supposedly, our--amusement.

The review does praise the documentary's treatment of the Black Panther movement. It makes me want to see that one episode.

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