Scott Timberg en Promise of 'Westworld': HBO Could Have Its Next Great Show on Its Hands <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The sci-fi-western series could be great if it weaves its nature-of-reality musings into the action without flubbing it.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2016-06-21_at_1.39.26_pm.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Not long ago, HBO was considered the most prestigious, most intelligent, most risk-taking network on television. But recent trouble—the low ratings and bad reviews for the $100 million series “Vinyl,” the presumed demise of the once-promising “True Detective” anthology, the likely implosion of two David Fincher productions, delays on a project by Steve McQueen—alongside the indomitable rise of Amazon and Netflix, has HBO in an awkward place. What the network really needs, after all this, is another “Game of Thrones.”</p><p>For months now, “Westworld” has been another one of those sore points. After production was delayed in December, some worried the science-fiction-western would be pushed all the way to 2017. But during Sunday night’s “GoT,” its new trailer—HBO’s hope for its next big, sexed-up, violent show—dropped, and so far the reception seems enthusiastic.</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="560"></iframe></p><p>“Westworld,” based loosely on a 1973 Michael Crichton film, is helmed by Jonathan Nolan, and executive produced by J.J. Abrams. Some of the excitement around it comes from the cast: Anthony Hopkins stars as a creepy doctor who designed a whacked-out amusement park stocked with androids. Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, and Thandie Newton also have major roles.</p><p>By the look of the trailer, the 10-episode series will be tense, slick, and thematically related to “The Matrix,” “Ex Machina,” and “Blade Runner,” involving questions about the nature of reality and the distinctions between human beings and artificial intelligence. It also includes a huge number of shoot-'em-ups and a teasing display of a gun case that’s a bit disturbing given recent news; the series, which launches in October, could try to push the envelope on violence. Will there be room for the ideas?</p><p>For what it’s worth, the trailer shows Wood’s android quoting Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” (“These violent delights have violent ends.”) We’re welcomed to Westworld and told that there is “no orientation, no guidebook,” and that we can be whatever we want there.</p><p>Nolan is the creator of “Person of Interest” and has worked with his brother Christopher Nolan on “The Dark Knight” movies and “Interstellar”; his short story provided the basis for “Memento.” Some sharp people are involved on the writing end, including novelist Charles Yu, author of “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.”</p><p>Watching the very confidently directed trailer, it’s hard to think of this as a troubled production. So what happened? It sounds like it was the network’s rigor. “Nothing that I have done prepared me for the sheer avalanche [of production requirements],” <a href="" target="_blank">Nolan told io9</a>:</p><blockquote><p>"The truth is, what we’re doing there is a 10-hour movie. It’s not really a TV series. When they say ‘It’s not TV, it’s HBO,’ they’re really not kidding…. We’re doing a period Western, and a science fiction [movie]. Basically, we’re shooting ‘Alien,’ ‘Days of Heaven’ and ‘Unforgiven’ simultaneously, and then cutting them all together… It’s just a massive, massive undertaking."</p></blockquote><p>The theme park in the original Crichton movie had three sections—Medieval World, Roman World, and West World. The film shows what happens when the robots (including Yul Brynner!) go crazy and start killing the park’s visitors.</p><p>The HBO version is a little different, seeming to concentrate on the androids. “Westworld is a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the evolution of sin,” the network’s description reads. “Set at the intersection of the near future and the reimagined past, it explores a world in which every human appetite, no matter how noble or depraved, can be indulged.”</p><p>HBO programming president Michael Lombardo has emphasized the difference between the film and the series. “[With] the film … you were very invested in one particular group of humans that were enjoying the park and their experience with the robots,” <a href=";utm_medium=social&amp;;utm_campaign=buffer" target="_blank">he said </a>at last summer’s press tour after showing the series’ first trailer. “This is not that. This is very much told from the POV of the robots. The corporate world’s as dimensionalized as the park. And I think the visitors to the park are really not the primary focus of our show at all. So again, without giving more than that away, I think all I can say is only one character that you saw in the clip is a visitor to the park.”</p><p>In other words, we could be in Philip K. Dick territory here, delving into the philosophy and psychology of A.I., as “Westworld” bounces between action and investigating what it means to be human. It could end up a violent, pretentious mess. If the show gets the balance right, this could be just what HBO, and audiences who’ve been salivating over the idea of a high-toned “Westworld” series, could be waiting for.</p> Tue, 21 Jun 2016 09:49:00 -0700 Scott Timberg, Salon 1058699 at Culture Culture westworld hbo television culture science fiction entertainment news Steve Earle — Backing Bernie Until He Is Out: Dems Have to Deal with Bernie and Warren at Convention <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Alt. country hero Earle on &quot;utterly bat shit politics.&quot;</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2016-06-05_at_6.02.30_pm.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Nashville songwriter, Townes Van Zandt disciple, and onetime actor on “The Wire” Steve Earle is one of the great ornery figures in alt-country. His latest album,“Colvin and Earle,” is a collaboration with the folkie Shawn Colvin — a short, winning album with a fair bit of rootsy twang. (“Colvin and Earle” also includes four covers, among them songs by Emmylou Harris and the Rolling Stones.)</p><p>The two met while performing a show at the Iron Horse in Northampton, Mass., in the late ‘80s; decades later, they met at the Nashville home of musician Buddy Miller, who produced the date. (The album comes out Tuesday.)</p><p>Salon spoke to Earle from New York; the interview has been lightly edited for clarity.</p><p><strong> </strong><strong>You and Shawn Colvin have worked together before, including a tour – whose idea was it to make an album together?</strong></p><p>It was my idea to make a record, Shawn’s idea originally for us to tour together… three years ago we did about 30 dates over the course of a year. But what intrigued both of us, the surprise was that we really sing well together, we think, and there’s something that happens when we sing that we just didn’t bargain on and that made me want to write for that group. For me it’s always trying to find an excuse to write a song. The older you get the harder it is to trick yourself into making art, especially in your home base. I’m a firm believer, because of [visual artist and songwriter] Terry Allen and a few other people I know that, the more discipline you can dabble in the more it strengthens your home base. I know what mine is, I know what my day job is. So I wanted to write for those two places that intrigued me; I wanted to write songs for that. I came up with that idea, we should write some songs and make a record.</p><p><strong>Did you have any sound you were going for?</strong></p><p>Sound, not necessarily, that sort of took care of itself. We just sort of instantly sounded like something to me. We knew we wanted to tour it, the way that we had been touring without a band, so that was it, probably, to some degree. It’s sort of like busking, is the deal, we wanted to be really self-contained. I’m not saying we wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a return of the band, it would be kind of cool, but we really do this stuff pretty well. When you’re making records it’s a different thing, but it works pretty well just the two of us live, so at least until we’re proven wrong that’s the theory we’re sticking to.</p><p>I didn’t play electric guitar anywhere on the record, but Richard Bennett and Buddy Miller handled all that. I played other stuff that I can drag along, make what we do — two people up on stage — more interesting. I played mandolin, octave mandolin, bouzouki, whichever one you want to call it. Don’t call it bouzouki when you’re going through security at an airport, is my advice.</p><p>The main thing was: It’s a group, it’s not duets. I like duets for every record I make, but they’re very much Steve Earle records and they sound like Steve Earle records with a girl singing along with me. I’ve written one for my sister, but it’s usually written with that girl’s voice in my head. The template’s not George [Jones] and Tammy [Wynette], the template’s Crosby, Stills and Nash. It’s a group. We think of it that way, we plan on doing it again, so we’ve had to kind of fight for it for people to understand that. That’s why it’s called Colvin &amp; Earle… we’re trying to establish the existence of something that’s never existed before, called Colvin &amp; Earle.</p><p><strong>You cover the Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” here; what made you want to cover a song that well-known?</strong></p><p>“Ruby Tuesday” itself I had brought to the table when we were touring before, but we never got around to learning it. It was my idea. The covers are essentially… it’s the shit we want to sing. She brought “Tobacco Road,” I brought “Ruby Tuesday.” And I like that version of “Ruby Tuesday” a lot, I’m really proud of it. And what’s new about it, the reason it has a reason to exist is because we sing in harmony all the way through it.</p><p><strong>Is that a tough one to play; are the chord changes difficult?</strong></p><p>Shawn seems to pull it off just fine. She’s the guitar player, I’m the octave mandolin player. On the record I’m not playing anywhere but the choruses. Live, I play other places, after the first verse just to add some color to it. But it’s pretty cool — I get to be Mick and Keith. I sing the melody on the verses and Keith’s part on the choruses and I get to be Brian Jones because I’m playing the weird instrument.</p> <p>[The Stones album] “Flowers,” which doesn’t exist anywhere in the States, that album is where I learned to play guitar. So it was a big deal.</p><p>I learned to play “Mother’s Little Helper,” but I wasn’t even close to playing it correctly.</p><p>Look, I love the Stones, but my favorite stuff is this stuff from this period when they’re competing with the Beatles and they know it and they’re writing great, great songs. The riff-rock period is cool and I love that stuff, but keep in mind that the moment in history when the Rolling Stones become the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world, is the moment that the Beatles break up. That’s my favorite stuff still, and I learned to play some of that “Flowers” album. It’s got “Ruby Tuesday,” “Have You Seen Your Mother,” it’s got “Sittin’ on a Fence,” which was only released here, and it’s got “Lady Jane,” it’s got tons of just great acoustic guitar stuff, but the chords structures are all a little counterintuitive, on purpose, because they’re competing with the Beatles and they know it.</p><p><strong>Does it seem that things have politically gone crazy recently?</strong></p><p>Oh yeah, they were always pretty nuts but now it’s completely, totally, utterly batshit.</p><p>A<strong>re you surprised by what’s happening?</strong></p><p>No, no, we get the democracy that we deserve. And I hate to say “I told you so,” but reality television really is bad. I don’t watch it on purpose because I’m trying to protect my intellect. And without believing that reality television is real and Fox News is news, Donald Trump as a viable candidate for president is not even possible. But it’s right because he pisses everybody on Fox News off, that people are at least trying to pretend to be conservatives; they helped create him. And MSNBC helped create him. So it’s one of those things, like OK, dumbasses.</p><p>And one of the most dangerous things that anyone can do that gives a fuck is to assume that he can’t get elected, because it’s simply not true, he absolutely can.</p><p>I’m going to support Bernie Sanders until he’s out of the race and I don’t think there’s any harm in doing that and he’s going to stay in to the end just exactly like Hillary did and she’s not going to be able to say a word about it. The Democratic party is going to have to deal with both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren when they get to the convention. They’re both keeping themselves in a position to have an effect and that’s fucking democracy. That’s what collapsed on the Republican side, and their convention is meaningless now because they let this happen before they even got there and they can’t just pull the plug, they can’t just nominate somebody else — then you see the little guy behind the curtain pulling the levers, like we don’t, but they wanna try and still have a party when it’s over. It’s arguably the end of the Republican party, so I may send him a thank-you card for that.</p><p><strong>How do you see MSNBC leading to Trump’s election? </strong></p><p>I watch fucking “Morning Joe” every day, it’s there, and it’s where I can find out what happened yesterday in Washington when I wake up in the morning and I get a 6-year-old ready for school. I can turn it down low and see what’s there… They just gave him more free air time off the bat than anybody else did. They worked it.</p><p>It reminded me of, did you ever see local TV shows, where there was some nut that would call in every day and everybody started to look forward to it? That’s what it reminded me of.</p><p><strong>They legitimized him?</strong></p><p>They absolutely did. Because ratings, ratings, ratings.</p><p><strong>It’s been fun to see you show up in movies and shows like “The Wire” and “Treme.” Do you have anything coming up?</strong></p><p>I would love to have another series, but a lot of plans have to line up for me to be able to do that, because I don’t make as much money doing that as I do with my day job so… and I’m paying a lot of child support and alimony, so it’s one of those things.</p><p> </p> Sun, 05 Jun 2016 15:00:00 -0700 Scott Timberg, Salon 1057807 at Culture Culture Election 2016 steve earlie bernie Good Riddance to The 'Devil Wears Prada' Economy: It's Not Just Exploitative, It's a Diversity Killer <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Low-paying jobs in &quot;prestige&quot; industries favor the kids of the rich—and that&#039;s not what culture and politics need.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_81163264.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Is the “Devil Wears Prada” economy coming to a close? Will the sort-of-abusive, round-the-clock, sadistic-boss culture of entry-level jobs in Hollywood, book publishing, fashion magazines, and Washington politics find itself done in by the new overtime rules?</p><p>A colorful <a href=";nl=todaysheadlines&amp;nlid=70003082" target="_blank">story in the New York Times</a> describes the custom, linking it to the movie based on life at Anna Wintour’s “Vogue.”</p><blockquote><p>But now, with the Obama administration moving to require time-and-a-half overtime pay for most salaried employees making less than $47,476 a year, that business model is suddenly under assault. The change presents more than an economic challenge for the companies that rely on the willingness of young, ambitious workers to trade pay and self-respect for a shot at a prestige job down the road.</p><p>The story quotes from a number of veterans of these jobs, and others who worry that they will have to hire fewer of these assistants and associates, or that the rigor of those early positions will decline.</p></blockquote><p>“Less will be asked of them,” Jill Salayi of Workman Publishing told the Times, “which means they will not receive sufficient career development or see timely advancement and/or promotions.” Susan Prytherch, who directs human resources for Clinton-antagonists Judicial Watch, said, “We would send them to the Clinton library if we’re doing an investigation. We may think differently before sending them off.”</p><p>There are probably good reasons to feel a sense of loss if this custom dies: There’s value to people who may one day be at the top of a field seeing what it looks like from the bottom. It’s worth it for anyone in any field to learn the value of hard work. And one advantage to having a job like that: Just about anything else will seem like an improvement.</p><p>But here’s the problem: If it takes a low-paying, schedule-devouring job to enter politics, the movies, publishing, or anything else, the only people who can enter those fields will be people with considerable financial resources. This would just be a footnote if our culture and our politics weren’t fairly important spheres of American life.</p><p>Here’s another bit from the Times story:</p><blockquote><p>A former employee of the Wylie Agency said assistant literary agents there — usually eight to 10 in the New York office — typically earned in the $30,000s and routinely worked 50 to 60 hours a week without overtime pay.</p><p>The former Wylie employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals, said that there was such an expectation of long hours that anyone arriving after 9 a.m. or leaving before 6:30 p.m. generally felt compelled to email the entire office, giving a reason for being AWOL.</p></blockquote><p>Any recent college graduate who can afford to work for something around $30,000 in New York without needing to take on additional part-time work must be getting money from somewhere else, probably parents. We end up with a cross between the Unpaid Intern Problem and the Taylor Swift problem – named for a musician whose career took off in part because of her banker parents spent enormous sums to support it.</p><p>Since <a href="" target="_blank">wealth inequality has widened along racial and ethnic lines since the Great Recession</a>, according to the Pew Research Center, this gap in opportunity affects not only diversity in socioeconomic background, but also in race and ethnicity.</p><p>Hollywood in particular has been criticized lately over its lack of diversity, particularly on race. The custom of the production assistant who earns next to nothing while fetching coffee and running errands for 12-hour days may lead to fun stories about dues-paying years later, and it can also lead to a job in Hollywood. But is it any wonder that it this system mean the field doesn’t vary much by race and class?</p><p>And since the people who work for movie studios, Hollywood agencies, publishing houses, and slick magazines typically produce or at least filter what the rest of us see and hear and read, this becomes even more consequential. It’s true in a slightly different but equally important way in politics.</p><p>Will people trying to break into creative fields no longer have to hear “Find me that piece of paper I had in my hand yesterday morning” or “details of your incompetence do not interest me?” That probably won’t change. But if overtime reform allows them to be paid enough to live, however humbly, in the expensive city in which they’re required to work, these professions might find themselves better for it.</p><p> </p> Tue, 31 May 2016 11:49:00 -0700 Scott Timberg, Salon 1057496 at Economy Economy Labor book publishing economy unpaid interns entry level jobs overtime rules I Don't Miss Jon Stewart Now: Samantha Bee's Hard-Hitting Political Comedy Just Keeps Getting Better <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Her sharp take on &quot;pro-life&quot; history&#039;s unambiguous connection to violent outcomes shows how good late-night can be.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/samantha_bee_abortion.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>As viewers continue to voice disappointment about Trevor Noah’s not-terribly political stance on “The Daily Show,” and as unsteady ratings for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” could be leading CBS to take the show in a more conventional direction, political commentary on late-night television is at a strange point. Will Seth Meyers become a great voice on political issues? Can Larry Wilmore keep his ratings from sliding?</p><p>The shows that air four and five times a week are an open question. But John Oliver and Samantha Bee have both been hitting hard. And <a href="" target="_blank">last night’s episode</a> of “Full Frontal” was one of its best yet. Bee has become so strong at both explaining political developments as well as jeering them that some nights, I don’t even miss Jon Stewart.</p><p>The centerpiece of last night’s episode was about the coalescing of the religious right around abortion in the 1970s. This sequence wasn’t just an opportunity to make fun of people who go to church, but an effort with a lot of research behind it.</p><p>The key bit of old footage showed Randall Ballmer, a respected professor of religion and Episcopal priest who now teaches at Dartmouth, saying that the abortion issue came out of a political conference call by conservative leaders. “Several people suggested possible issues,” he said, “and finally a voice on the end of one of the lines said, ‘How about abortion?’ ” (Bee compared it to ordering a pizza.)</p><p>“Full Frontal” also tracked down an avant-garde filmmaker whose youthful indiscretions involved making what looks like Bergman film for the pro-life movement. (These need to be seen to be believed.) One is called ”Whatever Happened to the Human Race?”, showing eerie figures in mime-like whiteface. Another shows a baby in a cage. And there is a bunch of cartoons that are even stranger than those.</p><p>The filmmaker, Frank Schaeffer, who now considers it a big mistake, says that his movies bombed: “Abortion was that thing Catholics worried about,” he recalls. “Most evangelical leaders didn’t want anything to do with it. They wanted to just preach Jesus, they thought politics was dirty, they didn’t want anything to do with it. We had to talk them into it.”</p><p>Also interesting: One of the movers behind the effort was Jack Kemp, usually considered a moderate or “bleeding heart conservative.” His supporters now mostly talk about his commitments to racial justice and empowerment zones.</p><p>Bee closes the segment recounting how this cynical attempt to stir up votes has led to serious violence—the arsons, bombings, acid attacks, and murders that abortion opponents have unleashed. “Pro life stuff,” he says before signing off for the break.</p><p>Last night’s opening bit was also hilarious, but shows a serious risk for “Full Frontal”: She looks at the debacle of the Nevada Democratic Convention and especially the bad behavior of frustrated so-called Bernie Bros. It’s genuinely appalling. Especially the voicemail messages Sanders supporters left on the state’s Democratic chairwoman’s phone: If you are wondering if sexism among Sanders supporters is for real, please watch this clip.</p><p>But it also makes me wonder, as funny as Bee is, and as on-target as “Full Frontal” can be, does she really want to be taking sides so unambiguously? Being a liberal/ progressive satire show makes sense given the huge number of people on that side of the aisle, and because it allows you to argue from a set of principles.</p><p>But does Bee – who has praised Hillary Clinton in the past—really want to be so explicit about supporting a candidate? As someone who’s neutral in the Democratic race, I’d like to see her be as tough on her as she is on Sanders over the next few weeks.</p><p>Bee has turned out to be one of the most welcome political voices on American television. Here’s hoping she stays funny and maintains some independence. Oh, and that her staff digs up more of those weird films from the ‘70s–they’re incredibly odd.</p><p> </p> Thu, 26 May 2016 07:51:00 -0700 Scott Timberg, Salon 1057214 at Culture Culture Election 2016 Media samantha bee late night comedy jon stewart election 2016 full frontal with samantha bee Father of Scientology Leader Goes After Inhumanity of the 'Church' as Controversy Builds Around His Tell-All Book <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The author of &quot;Ruthless,&quot; a memoir about Scientology and the father of its leader, David Miscavige, speaks out.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2016-05-09_at_10.31.06_am.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>What’s it like to have a son drift away from you? What’s it like to be virtually imprisoned in an abusive facility? And what’s it like to see a religion you believed in turn into what you feel has become a nasty cult? Those all are things Ron Miscavige describes in his new book, “<a href="" target="_blank">Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me</a>.” His tale is one of the most extreme examples of “disconnection” – the absolute breaking of ties between a Scientologist and a friend or family member — made even more extreme because the leader of Scientology is the son he raised in the church.</p><p>Except for a chilling prologue, the book starts innocently enough. Ron raises his four children, gets drawn into something that seems like a kind of self-help movement, and moves his family to a small town in England to get to know it better. According to his account, he gradually begins to see through the church at the same time he observes his son becoming vicious and calculating. Ron also describes escaping Gold Base – the church headquarters in the California desert – and leaving the church completely in 2012. Ron, who served in the Marine Corps and worked for decades as a professional jazz trumpeter, makes a likable narrator.</p><p>The book’s publication has been met with protest from Scientology and David Miscavige — lawyers have sent letters to the book’s British and American publisher warning of a <a href="" target="_blank">lawsuit for defamation</a>. A <a href="" target="_blank">statement from the Church</a> calls the book “a sad exercise in betrayal” and claims that “Ronald Miscavige was nowhere around when David Miscavige ascended to the leadership of the Church of Scientology, mentored by and working directly with the religion’s founder L. Ron Hubbard, and entrusted by him with the future of the Church.”</p><p>Salon spoke to the Milwaukee-based writer from New York, where he was touring behind the book. The interview has been edited lightly for clarity.</p><p><strong>It’s important to understand what the appeal of Scientology was for you and other people. What made you want to get involved with the church?</strong></p><p>Years ago, I got involved with a multi-level marketing scheme called Holiday Magic. We had an opportunity meeting and there were some people there; one of them was a guy by the name of Mike Hess. He happened to mention to somebody that he was a Scientologist, and I heard this and I kind of pinned him down and said, “What is that?” I made him tell me about it for about 30, 40 minutes. It just interested me right off the bat. He told me of a Scientologist who used to have meetings at his cafeteria every Tuesday or Wednesday night and I started going to them. I found it interesting that you could apply some of this data on an everyday basis and it helped you, such as in communication or maybe interpersonal relationships, and that’s how I got interested.</p><p><strong>How drastically has the church changed since you got involved?</strong></p><p>It’s a 180. That’s how drastic it is. In ’69 and ’70, it was kind of very laissez-faire. You could go to an organization, referred to as “orgs,” and you’d go in there and find people were friendly; you could do courses that just were immediately helpful. It was like a self-help movement. It’s hard to explain how nice it was to go there. Everybody was there for the same purpose and you met a lot of friends, and it was reasonably priced.</p><p>Today, basically the prices are aimed at people who are very affluent or wealthy. It’s not accomplishing any of the purposes that I thought it was set out to do in the ’70s. In those days, what you were trying to make is “auditors.” An auditor is a person who counsels another person and brings them to a greater awareness of life and how they are, and maybe get over some of their failings and some of the things that upset them. These days, most of the emphasis is on raising money to buy new buildings, which is not the same as it was then.</p><p><strong>Do you think the church should lose its tax-exempt status?</strong></p><p>I don’t see how belonging to the Church of Scientology is going to do the same thing as just maybe a normal mainline religion like Catholicism or being a Protestant or whatever. Because the one thing that you’d find, I think, in people having a religion, is someplace where they can go and find some [solace] to some of the sufferings or the upsets they have in life.</p><p>I know with the Catholic Church, I was raised that way, they had confession. You could go tell a priest your sins and kind of get it off your chest and he’d give you some little penances to say and you’d do that and feel better. You go to Scientology and you go to a confessional and anything you say in there is recorded and written down. There’s a documented record of it and they will use that against you if you were to leave them or be critical of the church. The Catholic Church doesn’t do that. Scientology does it as a matter of course. Because of that, in [that] definition of a church I just don’t see how they can qualify.</p><p><strong>Tell us about the Hole, which you describe in the book, and what kind of an effect it had on the environment.</strong></p><p>The Hole was started as a “handling” to the marketing area of Scientology being reduced in effectiveness. L. Ron Hubbard said if management destroys or knocks out marketing, they should all be disbanded, taken off post, and marketing should be built up again. That’s the central marketing unit. That happened, and David took all those executives and put them into these trailers and that’s how The Hole started. They spent all day in there writing up their transgressions, or supposed transgressions, and questioning each other. They lived sequestered from the rest of the base. They would march down to our mess hall for their meals sequestered from the rest of the base. They’d go as a group and take a shower down in the garage.</p><p>It was like a little prison within the bigger prison of the base. Because the base itself turned into that, where you were sequestered from life. You usually couldn’t leave that place and go to a store or call on your own. You didn’t have cell phones; all of your phone calls went through an operator; people listened in on the calls; your mail was checked before it came in and before it went out. But The Hole was even lower than that, and these people were on their own, put in that place to kind of rehabilitate them as very bad sinners. It was destructive, as far as I’m concerned, to the people who lived there, because they became shells of their former selves.</p><p><strong>When did you get the sense that your son was changing?</strong></p><p>First of all, he was a terrific little kid. I’d get along with him great. A lovable little kid; he had a great sense of humor. We had a lot of fun together. When he joined the Sea Organization he was 16 years old. He really wanted to do that and I allowed him to do it because I felt if he wants to do this and this is his life’s purpose, why stop him? Because even prior to that he trained to be an auditor and he was a very good auditor.</p><p>Then I joined the Sea Organization about nine years later, and one day I’m at the base and I’m coming out of the music studio and I saw him walking with his entourage about 30 yards away from me. I shouted out, “Hey, Dave!” And he turned and gave me a look that I knew that I would never do that again. I then realized that I was not his father on that base, but I was another staff member. I think that particular moment was when I sensed there’s something that’s gone different than prior in his life with his relationship with me. I firmly believe the statement that Lord Acton made, that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I guess it turned out I was right, because the more power he got, the more alienated he became to me, as a father-son relationship. As a matter of fact, on the base, he never referred to me as “Dad;” he called me “Ron.”</p><p><strong>And you started to hear and see things that he was doing to the whole base; it wasn’t just his relationship with you.</strong></p><p>Oh yeah. We had a torrential rainstorm that had a mudslide and it almost crushed these buildings, and he took us into our eating area, which was a big hall, and for 30 minutes just said that it was [the staff] that caused that to happen. Not an act of God, but it was our bad wishes and our bad thoughts, and we were just a nothing after that point. That was in the ’90s and we never recovered from that. That day stands out in my mind as a day that I didn’t think things would ever change for the better after that. As it turned out, I was right.</p><p><strong><a href="" target="_blank">You’ve described David</a> developing a whole range of antisocial tendencies.</strong></p><p>One of them is not caring for another person. That’s almost like you have no conscience. You can just do something to somebody and just walk away and you’ve done it.</p><p>I’ll give you an example. We were on the Freewinds, which is the ship that Scientology has for their uppermost level, and we had a performer there who said something onstage that he shouldn’t have said and it embarrassed David. The band was sent to the bilges as a punishment. The bilges in a ship, the temperature down there is between 125 and maybe 135 degrees. I was in my 60s, and prior to this I had somewhat of a heart condition, and he knew this but I had to go down there with the rest of the guys in that heat. It was inhuman as far as I’m concerned.</p><p><strong>There are a lot of examples like that in your book of people being punished in harsh ways.</strong></p><p>Oh yeah, absolutely. There’s just no concern for the person. Yet they will say that it’s totally the opposite, that he’s a kind and compassionate person, which just couldn’t be further from the truth. I personally know people who he punched, like Mark Fisher, like Tom De Vocht… I’m not going anonymous on any of these guys. There’s their names. They’ll go on camera and tell you what happened. Yet when it comes to anybody in the church who’s an official making their presence known and going on camera and being interviewed, they won’t do it.</p><p><strong>Was this book painful for you to write? To recount all of these painful events and have your son drift away from you must be really hard to take.</strong></p><p>You know the story about the PI’s, when they saw me grabbing my chest? Thought I was going to have a heart attack and they called… A few minutes later, David, or a person who identified himself as David Miscavige, got on and said, “Listen, if it’s his time to die, let him die. Don’t intervene. Don’t do anything.”</p><p>Even after I heard that—which was very painful for me, devastating as a father; I changed his diapers when he was a kid for Christ’s sake—even with that, I wasn’t going to do anything. I figured, alright, let me get in communication with him, and I called and I couldn’t talk to him. An attorney for the church got on the phone and said to me, “David won’t talk to you because he doesn’t feel he can trust you.”</p><p>He said that <em>to me</em>. After two PI’s getting paid $10,000 a week followed me around for a year and a half recording everything I did from eight o’clock in the morning to eight o’clock at night. That’s the convoluted type of thinking that goes on. But I said, “OK, then just tell him, ‘Don’t have people follow me anymore.’ I don’t like it, and just don’t do it.” I was going to let it slide.</p><p>So then I took the opportunity to go down to Florida with my wife in October of 2014 to talk to my daughters and see if I could repair the relationship, because by then they had stopped talking to me. So I went to my daughter Denise’s home and her husband came to the door, Jerry, and I said I want to talk to Denise and he says, “Well you can’t talk to her, she’s not here.” But she probably was there. After about 20 minutes of tap dancing with me, I said, “Hey Jerry, what’s the story here? Are you through with us?” And he said, “Ron, Denise and I are through with you and Becky forever.” That was the moment I decided to write the book.</p><p>Yes, it was not easy to sit down and do it, but I felt I had an obligation to do it. Not just for myself, but for the hundreds of other people who have been the subject of disconnection. People who no longer talk to their children, who no longer talk to their parents, friends of decades no longer talk to them. I felt somebody had to do something about it and I knew that I could get pretty good attention because of who I was. That’s why I wrote the book.</p><p>Once I started it, it just rolled out of me. Because I didn’t sit down at a typewriter or a computer. I tried doing that, but my fingers couldn’t keep up with my thoughts. I tried voice to text, but you spend 90 percent of your time correcting the words. So I got together with this friend of mine, Dan Koon, and we sat down at my house and he asked me questions. That book is a spoken narration of what happened and he took the recording and he put it into book form. That’s how it happened.</p><p>Once I got into it I knew that I was doing the right thing. Not only for my own self, but for the sake of a lot of people that I felt it might help. Will it help? Will it end disconnection? I don’t know, but I’ll tell you this: I couldn’t not do anything after that conversation with Jerry saying that they were through with me forever.</p><p><strong>Who is your favorite trumpeter?</strong></p><p>[Laughs] That’s a good question and it’s easy for me to answer it. There were two of them. One was Doc Severinsen and the other one was Louis Armstrong.</p><p> </p> Mon, 09 May 2016 07:29:00 -0700 Scott Timberg, Salon 1056124 at Books Belief Books scientology religion Why Robert De Niro Is in Over His Head in Controversy Over Anti-Vaxxer Film <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The actor thinks he&#039;s opening up the debate, but speaking in favor of the anti-science film just spreads nonsense.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/robert_de_niro_tff_2011_shankbone.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>It must be hard to run a film festival and have to decide which films to screen. It’s probably a lot of fun as well, but imagine the carping and second-guessing when a certain film is let in, another one isn’t, and people disagree with your judgements. If you’re a celebrity, you become even more of a target.</p><p>So it looked for a while like Robert De Niro just made an honest mistake by allowing the anti-vaccination film “Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Catastrophe” into the Tribeca Film Festival, which he co-founded. First, he issued a statement saying that he wanted to spark a discussion, because the issue “<a href="" target="_blank">is very personal to me and my family</a>.” Maybe De Niro just didn’t follow the debate, didn’t know the reputation of the director, Andrew Wakefield, the British surgeon who authored a now-discredited study that linked vaccines for measles, mumps, and other diseases to autism. He’s surely a busy guy.</p><p>Tribeca’s staff pulled the film from the festival after protests, and it seemed like the issue was closed. But the actor has now messed things up by <a href="" target="_blank">appearing</a> on The Today Show and calling the film “a movie people should see.” He admits he hasn’t followed the issue, but says “Definitely there’s something to that movie.” He’s the parent of a teenager with autism, and says he expects to have a role in the conversation.</p><p>De Niro’s larger point is a fine one: Let’s have a debate about the issue, and if the film isn’t persuasive, it will fade away. “People can make their own judgment…. Let’s find out the truth,” he says. Who can argue with that?</p><p>The problem is, Wakefield’s study was so bad he is no longer even allowed to practice medicine in the United Kingdom.</p><p>There is no evidence that these vaccines lead to autism, and a lot of evidence that vaccines keep children from getting sick. The more families that refuse vaccinations for their kids, the more that herd immunity it compromised, and everyone is put at risk. The medical world has come down against the anti-vaxxer case pretty unambiguously.</p><p><a href="" target="_blank">Here’s</a> how the New England pediatrician who writes under the name Russell Saunders describes it:</p><blockquote><p>For a sense of perspective, it’s important to note that Wakefield’s now-retracted study involved 12 total subjects. An investigation later reported that data about every single one had been altered or misrepresented in some way. By way of contrast, one study of Finnish children confirming the safety of the MMR vaccine followed 1.8 million children over a period of 14 years. Another study out of Denmark that showed similar findings included over half a million children.</p></blockquote><p>And the film’s path shows what can happen when a bad idea spreads. The movie will now play at the Angelika Theater in New York and at Laemmle cinemas in Santa Monica and Pasadena. People seeing the movie could come out of it persuaded of something that scientists have examined and decided was imaginary.</p><p>Ideally, we’d have a pure marketplace of ideas and bad ideas would die as good ones thrived. But anti-vaxxer hysteria is still strong enough, thanks in part to celebrities who appoint themselves experts on the subject, that screening this film is like crying fire in a crowded theater. De Niro is clearly trying to help other families like his; it’s hard to get too angry at him for this, even if he’s wrong.</p><p>There’s so much misinformation in the Internet age that we really don’t need a legendary actor adding to it. A controversial feature film is one thing, but a documentary about a made-up connection can be very dangerous: Until he’s done some real research and talked to doctors who still have their licenses, De Niro should stay away from this one. Let’s hope that in the next interview he does, he speaks about the 40th anniversary of “Taxi Driver” instead.</p> Fri, 15 Apr 2016 13:30:00 -0700 Scott Timberg, Salon 1054693 at Personal Health Culture Personal Health robert de niro Anti-vaxxers tribeca film festival Vaccine Truthers Are We Really Supposed to Believe That Apple's Spat Against the Govt Is a Fight to Protect the Freedom of American Citizens? <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Salon speaks to tech critic Douglas Rushkoff about the complexity of the Apple privacy case.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/apple.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Over the last few days, a debate has raged about the responsibility of a corporation to national security: Should Apple concede to a federal court order and unlock the phone of San Bernardino mass shooter Syed Farook, which might reveal useful information about the massacre and the Farook’s network?</p><p>Donald Trump thinks Apple should unlock the phone. (This would require Apple to “bypass or disable” a security feature that wipes out data after 10 bad password attempts.) Others – including many liberals, civil libertarians, and tech enthusiasts — shudder at the idea of the government cracking into a private device, even one carried by a killer.</p><p>Apple, which has opened locked phones in the past, has refused here. “We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government,” Apple chief Tim Cook wrote in a letter to customers. “Ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty is meant to protect.” It’s not hard to hear echoes of the much-hated Patriot Act in lines like this, or to recall the debate around the NSA’s use of metadata. To a lot of people, Cook is a hero for standing up to the U.S. government.</p><p>Douglas Rushkoff is a media critic and technology skeptic whose book, “Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus,” comes out next month. Rushkoff, who spoke to Salon while traveling, sees the issue as morally complicated. The interview has been edited for clarity.</p><p><strong>So the FBI wants Apple to unlock the phone of Syed Farook… Does that seem ethically reasonable?</strong></p><p>It’s one thing if the government says, “We want you to design future phones so this won’t happen again.” That’s one way of looking at it. But that’s not what they’re asking in this case. They’re saying, “We want you to reveal that the promise you made about this phone turns out not to be true.”</p><p>The time to do something about this would have been when they released this phone… The FBI should have done a cease-and-desist lawsuit, or whatever. And then when they won the court order or whatever, automatically disabled the phones…</p><p><strong>Yes – the FBI wants apple to “bypass or disable” the function that would normally clear all the date from the phone after bad attempts at passwords.</strong></p><p>So the interesting thing about this is that a technology basically invented to decrypt Nazi messages has again become a means of encryption in wartime. Weapons and encryption are really the two main tools of war. Encryption is basically what keeps nuclear bombs from being blown up by some enemy. It’s what keeps your armory safe.</p><p><strong>If we think of this as a war – a War on Terror, say – is there anything the FBI could find by doing this that would improve national security? Is there a justification for the FBI’s position?</strong></p><p>Well surely, being able to see and hear everything that everybody is seeing and hearing makes you safer in the short term. It would be hard to argue against that. It would be whether it makes us more resilient in the long term.</p><p>I tend toward an open society, where there are not all of these holdings of secrets… If everybody knows everything about everyone, we would kind of get into a beautiful utopian place.</p><p>This is a hard one to parse. Apple staked out its position back when it sold its product. So Apple has to defend its position.</p><p>Meanwhile, the FBI should have made this challenge earlier than now. They have to take this stance. But they’ve so tarnished their position with all the NSA snooping.</p><p><strong>Does it come down to this: Who are you more afraid of, the tech companies or the U.S. government? If Apple wins this, it gives Apple a very public moral victory – Apple wins a lot of soft power.</strong></p><p>It would be a mistake for people to think of this as “The People” against government security. That’s a ruse. Really, it’s the world’s biggest corporation versus the world’s most powerful military. That’s what we’re looking at. And while I do believe that we people should defend our right to privacy, I don’t see the individual’s right to military-grade encryption. I see Visa companies, or Bank of America’s need to use it on my behalf, if Chinese hackers are using it to buy condoms on my Visa card…</p><p>For me to have something that the full focused attention of the Pentagon – which I’m sure is involved – and the FBI… To have something that they can’t break into… Imagine a real-world metaphor for that. “Oh, you’ve got a lock in your house that’s so powerful that if they brought the freakin’ army, and tanks, they couldn’t get in?”</p><p>It seems to me it’s an absurd level of protection. And that the protection is being instituted at the wrong place in the equation. What protects my house from cops is the law – not my locks. Because they’re just gonna have bigger shit than we do.</p><p><strong>Millions of Americans have something the FBI can’t crack into.</strong></p><p>The other problem is that even if Apple caves – if the FBI puts a gun to Tim Cook’s head and makes him type the code in… If this is real, can’t anyone do this? Can’t I install it on my Android phone? It’s not Apple-centric.</p><p><strong>I wonder if there are international implications here? If we agree that Apple should do this, for the sake of national security, what about Saudi Arabia asking Apple to do something similar? China?</strong></p><p>I guess they would… But those are basically fascist repressive regimes…</p><p><strong>But where does Apple draw the line? If Apple does this for the U.S. government, does it do it for all governments?</strong></p><p>And is Apple American?</p><p>It’s a tricky one. My instinct is that first, there’s not going to be anything valuable on the phone anyway.</p><p>And you can use burners, and God knows what. If you can’t have a private cell phone with encryption beyond the [reach] of a court order, people just won’t use them. It’s easy – you go to 7/11, get one of those, and chuck it. It’s more expensive, I guess.</p><p><strong>So it’ll change the way criminals use their cell phones?</strong></p><p>I guess – but is that all we’re talking about? Whatever happens in this case, it won’t be the same afterwards.</p><p>And if nothing else, the anxiety we pay for this is the price we pay for that over-the-top NSA snooping. This is the other shoe of that one dropping.</p><p><strong>That’s why a lot of people not planning to blow up buildings are worried about this case. They’re been waiting for the U.S. government to do something like this.</strong></p><p>And I bet the crazy radio conspiracy theorists are saying the government set up all of it – to justify this moment.</p><p><strong>There you go – they waged the attack …</strong></p><p>There’s no easy answer in it. It’s hard for me to speak against our right to privacy. But something does strike me as incomplete or temporary about a network in which my right to privacy is enforced on the level of my handheld device being impenetrable to a multi-trillion-dollar agency. Something seems out of balance in that one.</p> Sun, 21 Feb 2016 07:06:00 -0800 Scott Timberg, Salon 1051086 at Civil Liberties Civil Liberties apple privacy Why the Media Refuses to Call the White Supremacists Who Shot Black Lives Matter Protesters 'Terrorists' <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The media accepts that ‘people who resort to violence are left-wing or Arab or both.’</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/1024px-cross_lighting_2005.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>The script has gotten familiar by now: Ideologically driven Muslim or foreigner does something violent and awful, and they are dubbed a terrorist. Ideologically driven white person does something violent and awful, and the term rarely comes up.</p><p>That’s the way the latest act of public violence – the <a href=";utm_medium=social&amp;utm_campaign=npr&amp;utm_term=nprnews&amp;utm_content=2050" target="_blank">shooting</a>, by white supremacists, of five Black Lives Matter protesters in Minneapolis last night – has worked out. Black Lives Matter Minneapolis has <a href="" target="_blank">called</a> this an act of “domestic terrorism.” But it’s harder to find in the news media. What does the term “terrorism” mean in the lingua franca?</p><p>We spoke to media critic Todd Gitlin, a professor at Columbia University and longtime writer on the counterculture, about the phenomenon.</p><p><strong>Scott Timberg: Another shooting – white supremacist this time. Why are we – the news media, at least – not widely describing them as terrorists?</strong></p><p>Todd Gitlin: You should ask them! But I can surmise – they have “terrorist” located as a compressed way to say Islamist-jihadist-enemy of America. If they know that there have ever been any other kinds of terrorists in America, that knowledge has gone down the memory hole.</p><p>I’ve been reading and writing on the Deep South in the early ‘60s, when black activists and others were pretty regularly being shot to death and burned to death and beaten up and abused in all kinds of ways. And my recollection is that even then the word “terrorist” was not ordinarily used. Look at the bombing of the church in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 and see if the word “terrorist” was applied. My guess is not very much. The term “terrorist” came forward to refer to the Weather Underground and people like that.</p><p><strong>ST: It wasn’t just an ethnic distinction, then.</strong></p><p>TG: No, I think it was reserved for the left, then. A terrorist is someone who used terror as a political instrument. Certainly the shooters in Minneapolis would seem to qualify. [Timothy] McVeigh and [John] Nichols were not trying to terrify so much as they were trying to destroy the state. I’m not sure of that. There are times when the gang-banging militias would qualify as terrorists in a strict sense: They see the violence as a platform for their spiel… I think the Unabomber would qualify as a terrorist: He had a manifesto ready. Certainly some of the right-wing and racist groups would qualify by any strict definition as terrorists. And the news media haven’t coded them that way. There is a fixation about the terrorists of Islamist inspiration, and that was probably already true before Sept. 11, 2001. What do the racists in Minneapolis want to do? One thing they seem to want to do is terrify the Black Lives Matter movement and drive them off the stage.</p><p><strong>ST: Has technology changed things?</strong></p><p>TG: It’s certainly easier in the age of Internet and social media to use images of the destruction as mechanisms to incite fear and recruit terrorists.</p><p><strong>ST: What are the consequences of this unconscious semantic decision we’ve made? For people who aren’t media scholars or in the news media, they see that when people on the left do something bad, they’re terrorists. When people of Middle Eastern descent, or radical Islamists, do something bad, it’s terrorism. When people on the right do something dangerous or insane, it’s either a crime involving a “shooter” or a “gunman”… What does this do to people watching?</strong></p><p>TG: It helps this practice of confinement of the term terrorism… It reinforces the idea that white American racism with violent equipment is somehow not exactly normal, but doesn’t need to be taken seriously as a social and political atrocity. It’s attributed to madmen. I think that’s a fairly common right-wing trope. Like that guy [Jared Loughner] who shot those people in Arizona, including the congresswoman… The right-wing framing of him is that he was just a nut. The point of the distinction is to leave undisturbed the presumption that people who resort to violence are left-wing or Arab or both.</p><p> </p> Wed, 25 Nov 2015 06:48:00 -0800 Scott Timberg, Salon 1046314 at Media Media News & Politics Todd Gitlin #BlackLivesMatter white supremacist terrorism black lives matter race racism white supremacism The Fascinating Reason We Feel Stress, Anxiety and Fear <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A psychologist on how to deal with stress.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/stress_ball-620x412.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>As if we weren’t already feeling stressed out enough – today is National Stress Awareness Day – a new report by the Pew Research Center just came out, describing the levels of stress that otherwise privileged American families are under. “The data are the latest to show that while family structure seems to have permanently changed,” a New York Times <a href=";action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;module=second-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news" target="_blank">story</a> reports, “public policy, workplace structure and mores have not seemed to adjust to a norm in which both parents work.” (The piece is headlined “Stressed, Tired, Rushed: A Portrait of the Modern Family.”)</p><p>As the <a href="" target="_blank">Atlantic</a> described the study’s two-income families: “these parents are stressed and harried, struggling to bring their family lives into alignment with their work lives.”</p><p>What is stress? Where does it come from? And is there something about contemporary life that’s amplifying it? We spoke to University of Texas psychology professor <a href="" target="_blank">Art Markman</a>, author of “Smart Thinking” and co-host of the radio show Two Guys On Your Head.</p><p>Salon spoke to Markman from his office in Austin; the interview has been edited for clarity.</p><p><strong>Before we get into specifics around stress, let’s start with the basics of stress. What causes it?</strong></p><p>All of the emotions you experience are related in one way or another to the motivational systems in your brain. The feelings you have are basically your motivational system’s way of telling you if you are succeeding or failing at whatever you are trying to do.</p><p>And because your motivational system is buried so deep inside your brain, those feelings – the emotions you experience – are basically the only mode of communication that that very evolutionarily old system has to communicate with the rest of the brain.</p><p>With stress in particular, the motivational system has two distinct modes: The one you engage when you’re trying to approach some really positive or desirable thing in the world – having a really great meal, hanging out with a friend, listening to really great music. And then there’s a second system, the avoidance system, that engages when there’s something really noxious in the environment you’re trying to avoid. It could be a source of danger – a bus bearing down on you – or it could be a somewhat more diffuse danger, like the prospect that you might get fired. When that avoidance system is active – there’s something in the world you’re trying to avoid, but you haven’t avoided it yet – you end up experiencing emotions of stress, anxiety and fear.</p><p><strong>Part of the reason we’re talking about this today is that it’s apparently National Stress Awareness Day. It seems like a bizarre name for a holiday – aren’t people who are stressed out typically aware of it? Or do people end up walking through stressful times without noticing?</strong></p><p>People who are stressed are aware they’re stressed, but they’re not always aware of where that stress is coming from or what they can do about it.</p><p><strong>There are lots of places stress can come from. A new New York Times story describes its origins in middle-class family life. Does that report surprise you?</strong></p><p>It’s not surprising – particularly when it comes to parenting. Parents, at least in the United States, often frame most of what they’re doing with their children as the avoidance of calamity. I don’t want my child to fail, I’m worried that my child won’t get into the right school or college, I’m worried they won’t be happy.</p><p>But how are they going to learn to be happy from a bunch of stressed-out parents? We spent all our time trying to avoid calamity, but don’t ask, What is a beautiful, desirable thing I could do today? Parents don’t model that kind of behavior for their kids: They create all these wonderful opportunities for their kids, and then they over-schedule them and make stress them out about being late to stuff. “Hurry up, we’re going to be late to dance lessons.”</p><p>So now we’re all stressed by the time we get to this thing that’s supposed to be fun.</p><p><strong>You’ve talked about the roots of stress that go back to early human evolution. But I imagine there are more specific factors amplifying stress in contemporary life, especially economic and technological factors.</strong></p><p>Well, let’s put this into perspective. Almost anything in the world can be framed as something I’m trying to avoid, or something I’m trying to achieve. The sources of stress in our world: There are specific things we choose to worry ourselves about. But what we should bear in mind is that… we’ve mostly got plenty of food – most of us. Again, not everyone – there are definitely people who don’t have anything to eat, don’t have a place to sleep, don’t have clothes. Who have legitimate survival concerns. But I would venture that the bulk of people who will read this piece are not at that level – they’re more existential crises.</p><p>Once we get to that level – people talk about <a href="" target="_blank">Maslow’s hierarchy</a>, once we get off the bottom of that – you have a real choice, in almost everything in your life, about how you want to frame it. There are health concerns – people get sick. There are truly fearful things in the world.</p><p>But an awful lot of what we encounter in the world, we have a lot of choice about. And we choose to frame them, as a society, in terms of avoiding negative outcomes, as opposed to trying to approach desirable outcomes. And that matters – because you can’t experience joy unless you put yourself in a situation in which there is a potential positive outcome you can achieve.</p><p>Because when you are anxious and stressed and fearful – when you’re trying to avoid something – the best outcome is that you successfully avoid it, and now you’re relieved. “I lived to fight another day.” And that’s no way to live. We worry about money, but we don’t have to set up our lives that way. What are some small, desirable things I can do for my family? If I don’t have enough money to go on that great vacation that we hoped for, what’s a wonderful place we could walk to, or drive to? Or a hike we’ve always meant to take in town? Or frankly, connecting with other people is a great thing. Can we volunteer at the animal shelter this weekend? Hang out with a dog – it doesn’t worry about much.</p><p><strong>What does stress cause people to do? What’s the wrong way to respond to stress?</strong></p><p>If we set ourselves the goal of trying to avoid things that are utterly out of our control, we put ourselves in a situation where we worry a lot about the future without there being anything we can really do.</p><p>Remember, the motivational system is all about getting you to act. So the trick in life is to focus on things you can do rather than things where you don’t have much control. So find an action you can perform, and then engage with it. And if your life is really not in peril, find a way to think about it in a way that allows you to enjoy the activities that you’re doing. Find the desirable piece that’s going to happen today.</p><p> </p>  Thu, 05 Nov 2015 08:05:00 -0800 Scott Timberg, Salon 1045285 at Personal Health Personal Health anxiety nervousness stress I Read Donald Trump’s Favorite Book (His Own) So You Don't Have To <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">In 1987&#039;s &quot;The Art of the Deal,&quot; Trump&#039;s obnoxious early roots are on full display.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screenshot_2015-10-06_at_3.40.05_pm.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>What’s the appeal of Donald Trump, who continues to be immensely popular among Republican voters despite longstanding predictions that his support would fade?</p><p>One of the key lines in Mark Leibovich’s much-quoted New York Times magazine story is that Trump preaches the secular version of prosperity gospel, “the idea that you follow a minister because he is rich and has his own plane and implicitly and sometimes explicitly promised that you, too will be rich.”</p><p>That complicated and entirely baseless promise is part of what attracted countless readers to the mogul’s first book, “The Art of the Deal,” which came out in 1987 and remained stuck at the top of the bestseller list for almost a year.</p><p>The book also reveals some of Trump’s unpleasant qualities, even though he wrote it with a co-author and was clearly doing his best to seem charismatic, reasonable, and good-natured.</p><p>The book is a series of victory laps about the deals Trump was proudest of – his acquisitions of various hotels and casinos in what it sometimes a blow-by-blow of phone calls, zoning battles, and financial exchanges. Through it all, Trump remains sunny, confident, happy-go-lucky. “I don’t do it for the money,” he tells us at the book’s beginning. “I’ve got enough, much more than I’ll ever need. I do it to do it. Deals are my art form.”</p><p>Though he also describes the relentlessness of his time on the phone – more than 50 calls a day, sometimes more than 100 – he also makes it all look easy. “I play it very loose. I don’t carry a briefcase. I try not to schedule too many meetings. I leave my door open. You can’t be imaginative or entrepreneurial if you’ve got too much structure. I prefer to come to work each day and just see what develops.”</p><p>Wow, that sounds great. This is the young Trump, one not ranting about immigrants or insulting women. (He tells us, in fact, that “I’ve hired a lot of women for top jobs.”) A kind of breeziness blows through much of the book. Much of this comes, surely, from the airbrushing that’s typical of many books in which an author wants to seem likable. But it also comes from the fact that Trump, despite what one reviewer called a “streetwise” tone, was from the start an entitled child of privilege who had his father’s money to play with.</p><p>Trump credits his success to trusting his instincts, knowing the market, aiming high, and so on. But while he praises his developer father as “my most important influence,” he seems entirely unconscious of the fact that his ability to “think big” and all the other business-book bromides his tosses out would be impossible if he didn’t start the game with significant riches. When Trump was in college, for instance, he and his father purchased a 1,200 unit apartment complex in Cincinnati, Swifton Village, for about $6 million: It becomes Trump’s first big deal.</p><p>His description of the way it went down shows some common sense smarts along with the usual nastiness (“I can always tell a loser when I see someone with a car for sale that is filthy dirty.”) And nobody expects him a sociological analysis or apology for his family wealth. But there’s no sense that all this was possible because Trump had millions to play with before he’d collected his diploma.</p><p>His beginning on third base and thinking he’d hit a triple – to borrow the phrase applied to George W. Bush – robs the book of any kind of arc or drama: Despite superficial similarities, it’s no “Wall Street” — or even “Wolf of Wall Street.” There are some individual enemies here, but no big obstacle to overcome. There’s a kind of obliviousness when he says things like, “When I graduated from college, I had a net worth of perhaps $200,000, and most of it was tied up in buildings in Brooklyn and Queens.” Despite its up-from-the-bootstraps tone, the book describes a rich-boy Horatio Alger.</p><p>Trump talks about the roots of his famous belligerence, writing about punching a music teacher in second grade (“I didn’t think he knew anything about music”) and his taste for trouble-making as an adolescent. (“I’d throw water balloons, shoot spitballs, and make a ruckus in the schoolyard and at birthday parties. It wasn’t malicious so much as it was aggressive.”) But while he talks about his admiration for loathsome attorney Roy Cohn, and occasionally tosses out an insult, and boasts a lot (the president of a social club was worried Trump would steal members’ wives “because I was young and good-looking”), this is mostly not the mean-spirited Trump we know now.</p><p>And two things we hear very little about in “The Art of the Deal” – from a man now running for president who has called the Bible his “favorite book” – are religion or politics. (More on one of those in a future post.)</p><p>We also learn that he hates market research, dislikes postmodern architecture, and learned a long time ago that controversy, even bad press, sells.</p><p>Trump is full of himself at times, entirely unreflective, and seemingly allergic to empathy for others. But he’s never as obnoxious or narcissistic as we’ve seen on television or on the campaign trail.</p><p>The back jacket of the paperback bears a blurb from Mike Wallace, who calls this early Trump “vainglorious” and “combative.” But compared to what Trump’s turned into, he seems almost laid-back and likable.</p><p>It shows how much more sensitive we were to personal arrogance back then — and how much more tolerant of it we’ve become since — that this milder Trump was seen as a swaggering ego at the time. You almost want to affix a cautionary preface to the book. Be warned, if you keep paying attention to this guy, his self-regard and aggressiveness will balloon beyond limit. The Trump in “The Art of the Deal” is at times brash and combative, sure, but clearly he was just getting started.</p><p> </p> Mon, 19 Oct 2015 10:11:00 -0700 Scott Timberg, Salon 1044340 at Books Books trump election2016 gop books book culture We Don’t Need More Optimists: Unchecked Positive Thinking Is More Dangerous than It Sounds <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">From The Secret to destructive management theories, unbridled optimism is just another way to ignore real issues.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/positive_thinking_0.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Depending on how you look at it, the mood in the United States of late has been either an overdue stock-taking — as we reckon with issues like racism, rape culture, runaway law enforcement and out-of-control income inequality — or relentlessly grim. Surely, unrelieved despair — either personally or more broadly, socially — can lead to paralysis. But despite a big Sunday Review cover piece in the New York Times, “<a href="" target="_blank">We Need Optimists</a>,” extolling the virtues of positive thinking, that habit without reflection can be just as dangerous, especially in our leadership.</p>As a society we don’t have a whole lot of patience for skeptics or even realists — our politics and popular culture has been dominated by people who tell us what we want to hear. Arthur C. Brooks, president of the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute, <a href="" target="_blank" title="AC Brooks on optimism">argues</a> that we need more of that positive thinking. His Times story lists some indicators of our current dour state. “In 2014,” he writes, “a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll revealed that 76 percent of Americans did not feel confident that ‘life for our children’s generation will be better than it has been for us.’ This is 10 percentage points worse than the poll had ever recorded.” If you’re one of the millions of Americans who feels these pressures — who sees the promise dying — this might be reason to try to identity the problems or work toward fixing this slide. Brooks, instead, blames “our politicians’ choosing the dark side. More than half of Americans said that our last presidential election was too negative, and complaints about the destructive, ad hominem discourse that dominates Washington have become a national cliché.”<p>Is our political sphere too negative? Sure, especially with the harsh noises in the reactionary echo-chamber. But it’s a symptom of a society that’s lost its direction, not a cause. If you want optimism, there are plenty of ways to find it — DVDs, motivational speakers, inspirational courses, churches begging for your money and promising riches. <a href=",8599,1929155,00.html" target="_blank" title="Ehrenreich on optimism">Here’s</a> Barbara Ehrenreich, the author of an excellent book on the perils of optimism, “Bright-Sided,” which looks at the dangers both personally and politically:</p><blockquote><p>But the question, before you whip out your credit card or start reciting your personal list of affirmations, is, What makes you think unsullied optimism is such a good idea? Americans have long prided themselves on being positive and optimistic — traits that reached a manic zenith in the early years of this millennium. Iraq would be a cakewalk! The Dow would reach 36,000! Housing prices could never decline! Optimism was not only patriotic but was also a Christian virtue, or so we learned from the proliferating preachers of the “prosperity gospel,” whose God wants to “prosper” you. In 2006, the runaway bestseller “The Secret” promised that you could have anything you wanted, anything at all, simply by using your mental powers to “attract” it. The poor listened to upbeat preachers like Joel Osteen and took out subprime mortgages. The rich paid for seminars led by motivational speakers like Tony Robbins and repackaged those mortgages into securities sold around the world.</p></blockquote>One of the interesting things Ehrenreich describes in “Bright-Sided,” which is subtitled “How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America,” is the origins of American optimism. While we typically assume that optimism and the U.S.A. have walked hand in hand from the beginning, the country was founded by Puritans, and it remained Calvinist — with its emphasis on depravity and sin — well into the 19th century. American optimism as necessary to pull away from all of that, but the happy talk got commodified, absorbed into corporate culture, and ratified through management theory — a strategy to keep powerless workers docile by pumping false hope through the office vents. There’s no question Brooks has a point that the nation needs to look forward. But despite some nods to things like optimistic bias, he ignores the larger context. The psychologist Gabriele Oettingen has done important research on the subject of positive thinking, and she’s found that it’s a very mixed bag. Yes, cheery optimism can help sooth us, but it can also make us think we’ve already satisfied our goals even when we haven’t. “Positive thinking is pleasurable,” she <a href="" target="_blank" title="Oettingen on optimism">writes</a>, “but that doesn’t mean it’s good for us. Like so much in life, attaining goals requires a balanced and moderate approach, neither dwelling on the downsides nor a forced jumping for joy.”<p>American society can’t give in to despair. But we’ve got a lot of work to do — and we need a sober, hard-headed realism about our accomplishments and failings, not empty cheerleading.</p><p> </p> Mon, 27 Jul 2015 19:23:00 -0700 Scott Timberg, Salon 1040003 at Culture Culture Personal Health the secret optimism positive thinking self-help industry The Donald Trump Silver Lining: He's the Best Thing to Happen to Comedy Since Sarah Palin <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The mogul could be very good for American comedy, as Letterman, Jon Stewart and &quot;Bloom County&quot; have shown.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/images/AFP/photo_1324675224144-1-0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>When Donald Trump declared his candidacy for president in the middle of June, it was greeted by political observers as an oddball declaration that would have little effect on anything but the real-estate mogul’s speaking fees and, perhaps, eventual book advance.</p><p>If it seemed like a bit of a joke at the time – “I’m really rich” was one of several odd lines he offered while announcing, along with a promise that, “I will never be in a bicycle race” and strange comments about the Chinese — it seems like a grand, genre-reviving joke now. Trump is – intentionally or not – funnier than he’s been since his original heyday in Spy magazine in the ‘80s as the nation’s favorite “short-fingered vulgarian.” Alongside the rise of Amy Schumer, Trump’s candidacy is the best thing to happen to American comedy in decades. He’s better, even, than Sarah Palin.</p><p>And as he may just be getting started offering ridiculous lines (like his notorious assault of Mexican immigrants as bottom-feeding rapists), comics may be just getting going in turning his offensive nonsense into comedy gold. And given how well Trump <a href="" target="_blank">seems to be faring in polls</a> – sitting on top of several of them – he may be around for a while.</p><p>Let’s take a look at what’s happened so far.</p><p>David Letterman spent weeks signing off his late-night show – this seemed like the end of an era — and we’d expected he’d be gone for a while. Letterman’s almost 70 now, and he’s been at this for a long time, and did not announce any plans to return to television or stage comedy.</p><p>“I retired,” Letterman said after walking <a href="" target="_blank" title="Letterman on Trump">onstage</a> Friday night in San Antonio, Texas, alongside Martin Short and Steve Martin. “I had no regrets. None. I was happy, I’ll make actual friends, I was complacent, I was satisfied, I was content … and then a couple of days ago Donald Trump said he was running for president.”</p><p>He offered a Top 10 list that included a knock at the tycoon’s narcissism (“during sex, Donald Trump calls out his own name”), his distinctive comb-over (“That thing on his head was the Gopher in ‘Caddyshack’”), and his unmistakable charm (“Thanks to Donald Trump, the Republican mascot is also an ass”).</p><p>Letterman made his name by being bemused and nonpolitical, and these new jokes were, as usual, more about Trump’s buffoonery than his corrosive ideology. But one of Letterman’s greatest heirs, Jon Stewart, matches absurdist comedy with a progressive point of view. We’re especially looking forward to seeing what he does with Trump throughout the race.</p><p>“Donald recently glided back into my life on his solid gold up-and-down people mover,” Stewart said after Trump declared, “cranked up the unauthorized Neil Young, opened up his crazy hole, and promised me I would never be without material again.”</p><p>After Trump’s line about Mexican immigrants, Stewart not only pounced on Trump but on those who’ve backed him up. “It is hard to get mad at Donald Trump for saying stupid things — in the same way you don’t get mad at a monkey when he throws poop at you at the zoo,” Stewart said on his show. “What does get me angry is the ridiculous, disingenuous defending of the poop-throwing monkey.”</p><p>And Trump, apparently, had at least something to do with the surprise revival of Berkeley Breathed’s “Bloom County,” a strip that thrived during the plutocrat-worshiping ‘80s and that has not published since 1989. From <a href="" target="_blank" title="Fortune on Bloom County/Trump">Fortune</a>:</p><p>“With Donald Trump returning to the Political Spectum [sic], I believe it is only fitting [that the strip should return],” read one of the hundreds of comments made by fans after Breathed’s Sunday tease.</p><p>“This creator can’t precisely deny that the chap you mention had nothing to do with it,” Breathed replied.</p><p>Trump, Letterman, “Bloom County,” Stewart … This race could get interesting: The possibilities are endless.</p><p> </p> Fri, 17 Jul 2015 11:08:00 -0700 Scott Timberg, Salon 1039512 at Election 2016 Election 2016 trump gop right rightwing “Why Grow Up?” Is a Political Question: Our Cult Of Youth Is No Accident — And It Has Dire Consequences <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">By telling young people they should savour the best years of their lives, we are telling them that everything afterwards will be worse.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/youth.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Whether you look at superhero-besotted Hollywood, the clothes alleged grownups wear in public, or the spread of video games out of the suburban family room, it’s hard to miss noticing that much of contemporary culture is caught in childhood.</p><p>Susan Neiman, an American philosopher who lives in Berlin and directs the Einstein Forum, tries to figure out the causes and effects of all this in her new book, “Why Grow Up?: Subversive Thoughts for an Infantile Age.” A.O. Scott of the New York Times <a href="" target="_blank">wrote</a> that “the real virtue of this short, sometimes frustrating book lies in its insistence that thinking for oneself is a difficult and lifelong undertaking.”</p><p>We corresponded by email with Neiman, who favors British spelling, from her home in Berlin.</p><p>When was it that you realized that our society was caught in an adolescent or childlike stage? Did you have a gradual, slow-developing sense something was wrong, or did it hit you all at once?</p><p>It dawned on me slowly, but two experiences were probably pivotal. The first was being told, starting at around the age of 50, that I looked younger than my age. I knew that this was meant in a compliment; but as I finally said to a close friend, the sociologist Eva Illouz: don’t you realise that these kinds of compliments do us damage? If you want to tell me I look good I’m happy to hear it; but by equating looking good and looking young you are not only fetishizing youth, you are also implying we can only look good when we appear to be what we are not, namely young.</p><p>The second experience was watching my children enter their 20s, allegedly the best time of one’s life; observing and trying to support them in their struggles has brought back the memory of my own 20s more intensely, and how terribly hard those times are; and how much harder we make them by telling them to savour the best years of their lives. Of course at the time I thought I was the only one failing to savour those years, which made the experience worse.</p><p>But very few people who are honest would actually like to repeat those years, and empirical studies show that people generally get happier as they get older. There are good reasons why those years are hard, and they have nothing to do with the financial crisis; young people are making their first independent decisions, they have no experience in doing so, so they experience every decision as fateful, determining the rest of their lives forever.</p><p>In thinking about this I realized that, by telling young people they should savour the best years of their lives, we are telling them that everything afterwards will be worse; and the real message is that they should not expect or demand very much from life itself.</p><p>How long does that notion go back – that the early years are the good years, the years where the soul is free, that things will only get worse afterwards, etc.? In some ways, the roots may be in the ’50s and ’60s, with the explosion of the Baby Boom, rock music, the development of youth as a market, and so on. But I also hear an echo of 19th-century Romanticism. And perhaps the era you turn to most often, the Enlightenment. Did all of those eras bring us to this point? </p><p>Lots of things get blamed on the ’60s, I think unfairly, and certainly slogans like “Don’t trust anyone over 30” helped feed the idea that the idealisation of youth was the ’60s’ fault. But the idea goes back to the turn of the 20th century. It’s actually quite a new notion, historically, and it doesn’t fit traditional societies still in existence today, as David Lancy’s exceptional book “The Anthropology of Childhood,” shows.  Descartes thought that the reason for human unhappiness was the fact that we begin our lives as children, and no classical author from China to Greece described his childhood as golden or expressed any yearning for it. Things began to change with Rousseau, who is said to have invented the notion of childhood. That’s too simple, of course, but Rousseau — very much in contrast to the practices of his day — was the first to argue that children should be allowed to be children, wear clothes that are made to move and get dirty in, for example. But he didn’t romanticize childhood — he thought it should be made better than it was then, but his goal was to lay the foundations for a free and self-determined adulthood.</p><p>The Victorians did some romanticizing of childhood, but I think a real turn was marked by Peter Pan. J.M. Barrie’s novel was published in 1911, and it’s interesting to follow the transformation of that myth, which is less a realistic description of childhood than a picture of how awful the adults are.  In the original novel, the adult is merely dull and conventional. In the film and play that I grew up with, in mid-century, the adult (Mr. Darling) is still conventional and boring, but he’s now so authoritarian that he’s slightly threatening, and could easily be a pirate. By the time Spielberg gets his hands on the story in the late 20th century, in his disturbing but in some ways brilliant “Hook,” the adult (now Peter Panning) has become ridiculous and pathetic. And we have so internalised this myth that some of the most interesting, alive, and grownup people I know can say that Peter Pan is their hero. He isn’t, of course, but what they mean by that is that they continue to rebel against the idea of adulthood presented by that myth. And they should keep on rebelling against that — not by wishing to remain a child or idealising childhood, but by changing our picture of adulthood.</p><p>Susan, you make a good point about the ’60s. You’re writing about a subject with deep roots, but that is unfolding today, in the 21st century. Why did Rousseau and Kant, two very different Enlightenment thinkers, seem like the right way to get into understanding this? </p><p>It’s important to look at the history of ideas so we can see how deep the problem goes. The difficulty of growing up is not about the Internet and social media, or the current financial situation, though in some ways they’ve made the problem harder. I have always been drawn to the much-maligned Enlightenment because as the beginning of modernity, it is a way to look at our own (best) roots. Before the Enlightenment, it was hard to imagine growing up as a problem because there wasn’t much choice about it — your choices were pretty much what your father’s (more rarely your mother’s, since class background was usually derived from the father) had been. It’s no accident that the problem of growing up was central for Rousseau and Kant. Though it would be hard to find two more different characters, they shared something very important: both came from barely educated families of small craftsmen. Rousseau’s father made watches, Kant’s father made saddles, and it’s quite certain that neither ever imagined the lives their sons turned out to live. And while they were different characters, and Rousseau was by far the better writer, their thoughts were deeply connected.</p><p>Though Rousseau lived a wild life, and Kant the dry routine of a Prussian professor, Kant wrote that Rousseau changed his life, and the only picture he had in his house was a portrait of Rousseau. It has become common to think of Rousseau as belonging to the Romantics and Kant to the Enlightenment, but that leads to false pictures of both philosophers and of the Enlightenment itself.</p><p>Rousseau wrote the world’s first manual for child-rearing, and though it’s actually impossible to follow all his prescriptions, much of the things we take for granted about liberal or progressive child raising comes straight from his book “Emile”<em> — </em>from the idea that babies should be nursed by their mothers and not kept swaddled, to the idea that children should be allowed to play and get dirty, to the idea that education shouldn’t be based on rote learning but should reflect the child’s natural interests and curiosity.</p><p>He recognised, however, how hard it is to raise children in a culture that doesn’t really want self-determined, free citizens. Kant, who called Rousseau the “Newton of the mind” after reading the book, expressed the problem succinctly in his most famous essay, “What is Enlightenment?” His answer to the question is that enlightenment is humankind’s emancipation from its self-incurred immaturity:  we are both lazy and cowardly, and prefer to let other people do our thinking for us. This is true, of course, but unfortunately many people stop reading there, which leaves you with a neo-liberal view:  there’s nothing wrong with society that a little effort and courage on your part can’t fix.  What he says just after that, however, is much more powerful:  the guardians of society do not actually want grownups, since infantile crowds are easier to manage than self-determining citizens.</p><p>This is a radical political critique. Our inability to grow up is not, or not only, our own fault. The social structures within which we live are constructed so as to keep us childish. The state has an interest in preventing us from thinking independently, and it cultivates and exploits our worst tendencies in order to do so, for grownup citizens are more trouble than they’re worth. The state’s desire for control and our own desire for comfort combine to create societies with fewer conflicts, but they are not societies of adults. Of course, the mechanisms by which states control their subjects is different in a Western, democratic society than they were in the absolutist culture of Kant’s day, but the structure of the problem is quite similar.</p><p>It’s remarkable that though we are constantly told to exercise our bodies regularly, we hear very little about the importance of exercising our minds after we’ve finished our formal education. Reading Rousseau and Kant is one way to do so. But more importantly, looking at the point where the question of how to grow up began to <em>be </em>a question shows us what is really at stake.</p><p>So clearly the thinkers of the 18th century are important to understanding where we are now in the 21st. But what are the stakes for our extolling of youth and downgrading of maturity? Some people would say a society with youthful values is healthier, more “vital,” etc. What price do we pay when we’re not able to really embrace adulthood?</p><p>I think the price we pay is terrible — and that’s been confirmed for me by the fact that the most enthusiastic readers and reviewers of my book have been under 30, who say the book has given them hope for their futures. We all suffer from the fact that we have no appealing models of adulthood — young people who fear that there’s nothing to look forward to as well as older people who fear they need to resign themselves to being able to do nothing interesting or meaningful after a certain point in their lives. It is this view that is profoundly unhealthy. I am not sure what you mean by youthful values — I know plenty of people who are vital, engaged, able to be surprised and surprising into their 80s, and a society that honors and expects that is surely better for all of us.</p><p>But our downgrading of maturity is not just a personal problem, it has a strong political dimension. As Rousseau and Kant teach us, society has an interest in our not reaching maturity. By encouraging our most infantile characteristics, and diverting us from the truly important adult questions, it distracts us from the social problems that need to be solved. We will not be able to solve all of them in a lifetime; but it’s hard to contribute to any solutions without reinventing adulthood, and embracing it.</p><p> </p> Sat, 04 Jul 2015 16:35:00 -0700 Scott Timberg, Salon 1038852 at Culture Education youth As Plutocrats Take Over Movie Funding, Movies Will Not Reflect the Truth About Inequality <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">If plutocrats take over movie funding the same way they&#039;ve taken over national politics, we all lose.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_126364154.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>What happens when you defund the arts? You get a culture bought and paid for by the very rich, arts halls named the David H. Koch Theater, and “public” television stations that get <a href="" target="_blank">overly skittish when a rich donor might not like a documentary</a>. What happens when the country punts on campaign finance and politics becomes all about big money? Worms like Sheldon Adelson become kingmakers and the Kochs (them, again) exert as much political influence as either of the major parties. We’re already talking about “the billionaire’s primary” taking place in the GOP right now.</p><p>So it all makes us a bit queasy when we hear that the Davos crowd is getting its paws even deeper into Hollywood movies. It’s true that America has a long history of art philanthropy that has funded the nonprofit arts since at least the heyday of Andrew Carnegie, but investment in for-profit business like Hollywood films is a different matter. Financiers have had a major role in the movies for a long time, but it seems to be taking a nasty turn for the worse. “At this year’s Cannes Film Festival, there seemed to be more partying plutocrats than there were hungry sales agents,” Variety editor Peter Bart, who worked at Paramount in the 70s, <a href="" target="_blank" title="Peter Bart on plutocrats">wrote</a> upon his return from the French festival. He quoted “one billionaire-producer” who asked not to be named who told him that “the new class of billionaires will change the landscape of Hollywood.” The producer added, “that’s a good thing because, like the moguls of old, they truly care, and want to be involved.”</p><p>Somehow, we have a hard time imagining that this will be any better for the movies than it’s been for politics. To be clear, some of these billionaires have good taste and really do want to support smart projects; Megan Ellison (she had the good judgment to be born to one of the world’s richest men, Larry Ellison, who earns every hour what the average American earns in a year), helped fund “Her,” “Zero Dark Thirty” and “The Master.”</p><p>But you don’t have to be a strict Marxist to see that what a billionaire knows and wants is very different from the way the world looks to those of us lower down. One of the key issues in our lives today – politically, economically, culturally – is the class war between the top tier of the 1 percent and the rest of us. Do we really want our culture to be shaped by the plutocracy as fully as our politics are? Read Chrystia Freeland‘s beautifully reported book “Plutocrats” and see what the long-term consequences of their dominance could be.</p><p>One gaping hole in the films of the last eight years has been the absence of movies that really reckon with the defining event of the last decade — the economic collapse. There’s been a very good, small, close-up movie about the eve of the collapse – 2011’s “Margin Call.” There have been some films that bump up against the crisis, either by using metaphor (“Wolf of Wall Street”) or context (“Blue Jasmine.”) But Hollywood studios have still not reckoned with this life-changing event in any serious way. The failure is even starker when it comes to the larger issue of inequality, which is as bad as it’s been since the 1920s. If you were watching America’s films from afar, would you even know that this is an issue unless you’d been one of the small handful to see Robert Reich’s “Inequality for All?”</p><p>When a single group or class takes over an aspect of culture, it’s not just what you hear and see – it’s also what you miss, what doesn’t happen. The process doesn’t have to be as hard and deliberate as censorship — rather, it’s about blind spots and emphasis and differences in values and points of view. And there is almost nothing – education, housing, medical coverage, foreign policy, the role of business, the place of government – where the billionaire class and the larger nation have a whole lot in common.</p><p>So why does this seem to be happening now? Part of it is because corporate Hollywood has gotten so terrible: The smaller distributors and semi-autonomous indie wings of the big studios faded with the economic crash, and globalization means that virtually every movie has to score internationally and recoup on a corporation’s profit-and-loss statement. The days of taking chances with labors of love are gone, for now at least; it’s increasingly sequels and bash-em-up action movies, with some Oscar bait around the holidays.</p><p>The other side of this is what’s happening in the executive suites. The rigged economy means that there are more Wall Street and corporate billionaires and they have more toys to play with. One high-earning CEO last year took in <a href="" target="_blank" title="CEOs party on">$156 million</a> – more than the entire budget of the National Endowment for the Arts. And despite hopes that new regulations letting shareholders vote on CEO compensation would curb the shifting of capital upwards, “CEO pay has risen on average 12 percent annually” over the last few years, <a href="" target="_blank" title="NYT on exec pay">according</a> to the New York Times.</p><p>Here’s Bart again:</p><blockquote><p>The new billionaire class clearly enjoys spending its riches. A record $179 million was bid earlier this month for a Picasso — an amount that embarrassed even art dealers. “The ‘hedgies’ are throwing money around as never before, in business as well as the arts,” noted one <a href="" title="corporate">corporate</a> CEO, pointing to Bill Ackman’s $3.3 billion move on Valeant Phamarceuticals.</p></blockquote><p>These people already buy and sell us every day of the week. They own much of the good real estate in London and New York and the Bay Area and have driven prices in surrounding areas through the roof. Some of them are not bad people, and some of them like smart and substantial movies and want to make more of them happen. But plutocrats already control our political life – let’s keep them as far from our dreamlives as we can.</p> Wed, 03 Jun 2015 12:05:00 -0700 Scott Timberg, Salon 1037323 at Culture Culture plutocrats hollywood movies inequality Taylor Swift is Not an 'Underdog': The Real Story About Her 1 Percent Upbringing That the New York Times Won’t Tell You <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Swift is the privileged daughter of plutocrats. She had a leg up.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/31e50ddb63715a7a0d3c1307da923d51d18ba679.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Over the last few years, Taylor Swift has become one of the two or three biggest pop stars in the world. She has accumulated no fewer than four <a href="" target="_blank" title="Swift's homes">homes</a> (including a $3.5 million place in Beverly Hills and a $20 million Tribeca penthouse) and drawn enormous press and media attention. She’s still on the cover of lots of magazines and we’ll probably see her there far into the future.</p><p>On its release last year, her “1989” record became the biggest selling album in more than a decade, at a time in which record sales have been way down. She became, according to <a href="" target="_blank" title="Business Insider of Taylor">Business Insider</a>, “the first woman to have three albums sell more than 1 million copies in a single week.” The album has now sold more than 4 million – the kind of number we thought, in the age of file-sharing, we’d never hear again.</p><p>Swift’s current tour will take her to stadiums all over the world, including Metlife Stadium in New Jersey, capacity 82,600. Her net worth is roughly $200 million – that’s about 3,550 times the median net worth of an American household. By every available measure, she seems to be doing pretty well, and at 25, she’s probably just getting started with her world domination.</p><p>But to the New York Times, she is, apparently, an “underdog.” The paper of record used the term twice in its <a href="" target="_blank" title="NYT on Taylor Swift ">review</a> of her show in a relatively intimate 13,000-seat arena in Louisiana and pulled it out for the headline as well: “On Taylor Swift’s ‘1989’ Tour, the Underdog Emerges as Cool Kid.”</p><p>Well, Taylor Swift may be a lot of things, but we’re not really sure “underdog” is one of them. Let’s back up a little bit.</p><p>Like a lot of country singers – that’s how she first broke in – Taylor Swift grew up on a farm. It wasn’t a subsistence farm in the rough part of Kentucky but a Christmas-tree farm in Pennsylvania. “Her mother worked in finance,” a New Yorker <a href="" target="_blank" title="New Yorker on Taylor">story</a> says, “and her father, a descendant of three generations of bank presidents, is a stockbroker for Merrill Lynch. (He bought the tree farm from a client.)” In Swift’s hometown, she told the magazine’s Lizzie Widdicombe, “it mattered what kind of designer handbag you brought to school.”</p><p>So let’s acknowledge that she began life with a slight leg up on the privilege escalator. But the playing field is about a get a lot less level: “When she was ten, her mother began driving her around on weekends to sing at karaoke competitions,” the New Yorker tells us. “Then she persuaded her mother to take her to Nashville during spring break to drop off her karaoke demo tapes around Music Row, in search of a record deal; they didn’t succeed, but the experience convinced Swift that she needed a way to stand out.”</p><p>When Swift was 14, her father relocated to Merrill Lynch’s Nashville office as a way to help dear Taylor break into country music. As a sophomore in high school, she got a convertible Lexus. Around the same time, her dad bought a piece of Big Machine, the label to which Swift signed.</p><p>This is hardly the first case of stage parents or a rich kid breaking into the music world. And along the way, Swift has worked hard, behaved reasonably nicely, and so on. But why are we describing her as someone who’s triumphed over adversity?</p><p>Part of this is because of a critical/journalist school that worships money, popularity and fame: Unlike previous generations of critics, or the traditional journalistic mission to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” Poptimists like the New York Times’ Jon Caramanica don’t buy the old small-is-beautiful premise. And what better way to reconcile the contradiction – to inject a bit of rebel cool into the story – than to make a millionaire daughter of the plutocracy into an underdog?</p><p>Specifically, the review refers to a much-quoted song, “We are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” which is about her relationship with one or another celebrity actor or singer or Jonas Brother. Here’s Caramanica:</p><blockquote><p>In the song, she’s lashing out at a dunderheaded ex: “You would hide away and find your peace of mind/ With some indie record that’s much cooler than mine.”</p></blockquote><p>Indie rock – and punk and alt-country, and left-of-the-dial R&amp;B and related genres that are uncomfortable with corporations or consumerism – is exactly the kind of thing an offspring of Wall Street like Taylor Swift is not going to respond to. So does her dissing a celebrity ex make her into an underdog? To a poptimist, maybe.</p><p>But this kind of thing is especially offensive since there have actually been plenty of musicians who really were underdogs.</p><p>Johnny Cash was raised by poor cotton farmers during the Great Depression. John Lennon’s mother and father abandoned him. Jimi Hendrix’s early life was a nightmare that involved shoplifting food so he could eat. For decades, the average blues and country musician came from poverty or close to it. Billie Holiday was jailed, as a teenager, for prostitution. And so on.</p><p>And even for the musicians raised middle-class – many were – a life in music has involved real risk and suffering. The punk band the Mekons has bounced up and down, from label to label, for decades. Jason Molina, who made transcendent records on tiny labels with Magnolia Electric Company until alcoholism took him down two years ago, never found a substantial audience. Chan Marshall of Cat Power recently filed for bankruptcy. In a post-label world where piracy has shredded artist’s earnings, just about everyone trying to play music professionally below the superstar label could be considered an underdog.</p><p>Somebody should tell the New York Times: Just because the Jack Black character in “High Fidelity” doesn’t think you’re cool doesn’t mean you’re an underdog. He doesn’t call the shots anymore, and really, he never did.</p><p> </p> Sat, 23 May 2015 08:45:00 -0700 Scott Timberg, Salon 1036774 at Culture Culture taylor swift How the 1 Percent Always Wins: “We Live in a Faux Democracy, Which Is Why Everyone’s So Cynical and Nobody Votes” <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The rich get richer, the middle class gets hollowed out. We all stay quiet. Steve Fraser explains why we allow it.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2015-04-04_at_8.25.21_pm.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Why aren’t we getting angry about the steady shifting of treasure from the middle class to the very richest? Why haven’t the few who are vocal and visibly frustrated coalesced into a real movement? Has there ever been a time when Americans made noise about this kind of thing? These questions are at the heart of <a href="">“The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power”</a> (Little, Brown), a new book by labor historian Steve Fraser.</p><p>Alternately hilarious, lucid and disturbing in its documenting of contemporary complacency, the book looks at the intense opposition to capital in the original Gilded Age and contrasts it with the silence today. It concludes discussing the 21st century versions of the Horatio Alger myth — the heroic billionaire, “the fable of the free agent” and “the folklore of limousine liberalism.” Fraser, a regular contributor to and co-founder of The American Empire Project, spoke to us from New York.</p><p><strong>In the historical section of your book — most of which takes place in the decades after the Civil War, as industrial capitalism and the Wall Street financiers were really getting going — I was amazed how much organized resistance, anti-plutocrat rhetoric and even violence there was from workers back then. Do most of us assume that other countries have a history of resistance, but that the U.S. has generally been more pliant?</strong></p><p>Yes, I do think that most people have that impression. I think one reason they do is rooted in both myth and reality. The myth is of course the myth of the American Dream, that America has always provided vast opportunities for people to start over, start anew, and to move, you know, upward mobility. There’s a lot of truth to that myth. A lot of people came from impoverished circumstances from around the world and they did improve their lives or at least those of their children. So I think that encourages the idea that there probably was very little conflict in America, class against class, haves against have-nots, as compared to other places in the Western world or Western Europe.</p><p>But as a matter of fact, in terms of sheer violence — and that’s hardly the measure of resistance, but it’s one measure — the American social landscape in the late nineteenth century was far more violent, filled with violent confrontations between not only workers and their industrial employers, but also between farmers and their relationship with the major banking and agricultural machinery interests and so on. America has, I think we can all agree, always been a kind of violent culture, but class violence was typical of America to a degree in the nineteenth century that it wasn’t true, say, of Western Europe at the time.</p><p><strong>The U.S. was founded the same year Adam Smith published “The Wealth of Nations.” It was just about the time the first factories in and around Manchester, England started billowing smoke. We assume that the U.S. is the offspring of industry and capitalism, but that’s not entirely true. There are other impulses and other kinds of lineages in the American identity and American history.</strong></p>Other stories recommended for you <p>Yes. First of all, America begins as an underdeveloped country when Adam Smith writes his book. The country revolts and a few years later wins its revolution and begins its life as an independent nation. It’s an underdeveloped, agrarian, non-industrial nation. There’s a handful of factories that begin around the turn of the nineteenth century like in Lowell, Massachusetts. But America is mainly an agrarian place, and a very egalitarian place. I don’t mean merely in credo and belief, which it was, but also in the condition of its population.</p><p>What Jefferson, for example, feared was that America might, if it weren’t careful, become like Europe already was, that is to say a society of haves and have-nots, of urban squalor, of great inequalities and so on. So his hope for America is premised on the notion that there’s this vast territorial landscape out there which can provide independent homesteads for Americans so that they won’t become slavish proletarians, they won’t become dependent. So the vision of America in the early years, even up to the Civil War, is one that does not necessarily entail urbanism, industrialism, or the kinds of social class inequalities that were already becoming apparent in Europe. But that prospect was feared by people like Jefferson and others.</p><p><strong>The main argument of your book is that during the long nineteenth century and especially the first Gilded Age, there was significant resistance to capitalism, to industry, to inequality, and that somehow that faded away when the second Gilded Age kicked in more recently. I wonder if it seems important that in the nineteenth century, Americans still had a memory of an agrarian or artisan kind of world that had been washed away by capitalism, but the psychology of those earlier forms weren’t completely gone. By contrast, by the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, we simply don’t have any kind of memory of what a pre-capitalist world was like. Is that significant?</strong></p><p>Yes, to me it’s vitally significant to the argument of my book. It’s more than memory. What we need to realize is that because America was for many decades a pre-industrial society, even while it was beginning the process of industrialization, people weren’t really remembering there were in fact independent farmers, there were in fact handy craftsmen and artisans, there were in fact small businessmen serving local economies, there were in fact immigrant peasants from Southern, Eastern Europe who knew a kind of village life that was quite different from the world that they were about to enter in America.</p><p>The argument in my book is that one of the reasons, perhaps the principal reason, why there is such concerted resistance to capitalism <em>tout court</em>, this new way of life — we need to remember than that it was a new way of life — was because on the one hand it threatened to destroy their older forms of existence, or as you put it their traditions and memories they had of those older ways of life, moral economies, one not entirely subject to the marketplace, one that lent them a certain independence which proletarianization deprived them of; they were threatened with a kind of existential extinction.</p><p>And on the other hand, they knew that capitalism was not a fate, was not an inevitability, was not the way the world was necessarily meant to be because they had either lived or had memories or had parents or grandparents who had kin networks abroad who were living very differently. That doesn’t mean that they were enjoying their former lives. I don’t mean that those lives were a kind  of paradise, but it gave them a measuring rod to say, wait a second now, this world of the market, of sweatshop labor, of 12-hour days in a steel mill, or down in a coal mine, of child labor, of all those kinds of things, this is not necessarily the way the world needs to be. So it gave them a kind of implicit indictment of that capitalism.</p><p>And as you put it the vanishing of those memories and those actual ways of life meant that the horizon about what was possible and not possible in the late twentieth century began to close in on us, where we began to feel, well, the market is the only real way to organize.</p><p><strong>Those rebels and agitators in the first Gilded Age that you write about, were they opposed to capitalism itself and able to articulate some kind of alternative, or were they upset about some set of local abuses that they hoped to reform or overturn?</strong></p><p>I think the answer is both. They were enormously aroused by all kinds of very specific grievances. For instance, the eight-hour day movement which comes to life in 1886 and sweeps across the country is on the one hand a movement which wants to reduce the hours of industrial labor — and that’s a very practical measure. But the eight-hour day movement was simultaneously an indictment of the whole industrial order, which didn’t seem able to grant that kind of civilized reform, that instead insisted that labor had to earn its keep in whatever the employer demanded. So that you had people who were aroused and radical both because of very specific grievances, whether it was child labor, or being evicted from their family farm out on the Great Plains, or working down in a coal mine and having their leg amputated — the rate of industrial accidents in America was enormous — but at the same time, they saw all these things in a more general framework.</p><p>And it isn’t just radicals and agitators, it’s novelists and poets, preachers. The Protestant church was split down the middle. It envisioned what they used to call the Social Gospel, which was a Christian Commonwealth. The Knights of Labor, which was a mass labor movement talked about the cooperative commonwealth, was a new kind of society that would replace “dog-eat-dog” capitalism. There were a lot of visions. There was socialism, of course. There were a lot of different competing visions; the point is they all were all striving for something other than the market/laissez-faire/Darwinian order that they were being subjected to.</p><p><strong>The historian Jon Wiener wrote, in his review of your book, that after the working class stopped talking about class struggle, the financial class doubled down on class struggle and began winning big. So he sees part of the issue, I think, as a failure of nerve on the part of the left and the labor movement. Do you think that’s fair to say?</strong></p><p>Well, I think that’s a complicated question. One must always recognize, even in our own age, and certainly back during the First Gilded Age, that the element of fear, and real legitimate fear, plays a role. If you want to talk about today, the One Percent, corporate America has become powerful in part because as the country has industrialized, the wherewithal for resisting the power of organized wealth has diminished.</p><p>The unions that were formed in the nineteenth century, and of course culminating during the New Deal during the 1930s, are a pale shadow of what they once were. They used to provide a defense mechanism. Without them, it’s harder, it’s dangerous, it’s very risky. Let’s say you’re an undocumented immigrant worker, which makes up 12 million people in the American economy, at super exploitative wages. They’re working for employers who they know are violating every wage and hour law on the books. But if you’re one of those people, are you going to have the courage to stand up and report your employer? Maybe not; you’re risking deportation. So fear plays a real role in this. The National Labor Relations Act, which presumably gave people the right to organize, has steadily been whittled away by Congress over the years, and especially Republican presidents over the last 25 years. So in a variety of ways, fear is part of the picture.</p><p><strong>To what extent is the ‘60s notion of personal freedom or liberation part of the acquiescence problem, or at least part of the fragmenting of resistance? It sort of turned into consumerism, didn’t it?</strong></p><p>I think it did. I think there was, pardon the expression, a dialectic at work. What began as a kind of liberatory impulse, and, for instance in the case of feminism, identified the family and the patriarchal family in particular as the site of a very intimate, personal oppression, and that one had to open up this private zone to private scrutiny in order to liberate women. And the whole counter-culture, which began to talk about personal liberation, some of which defied the kind of repressiveness and inhibition that had characterized life up until then, came into the hands of corporate America as a way of mining that psyche through the avenues of consumer culture.</p><p>So private rather than social emancipation becomes the goal, and you can achieve that emancipation in a thousand ways in the marketplace. You can achieve it in your fantasy life. You can achieve it in a variety of ways; corporate America became so sensitive to it that it was even prepared to make fun of itself if it could find a niche market that would buy into that ironic advertising. All corporate America cares about — they’re amoral, I don’t mean anti-moral, just amoral — all that matters is the bottom line.</p><p><strong>What role did the Reagan revolution play in all this, the social-cultural changes like money worship, celebrity worship, that sort of thing?</strong></p><p>Well, I think the Reagan era is obviously crucial. It’s a turning point in the history of resistance turning into acquiescence. Part of that is what you allude to, just to be very practical-minded about it; the administration practically <em>begins</em> with the breaking of the air-traffic controller strike, which was the signal to all of industrial and corporate America that it was open warfare on unions, kind of the green light to do that.</p><p>And of course there was this transvaluation of values. You had a free market during the era of the New Deal that had been constrained by various social and state inhibitions. Under Reagan, we begin to buy into the notion that freedom and the free market are the same thing, and that the way to unleash that freedom is to deregulate the whole economic arena, which gave license to… we began to worship the big financiers, the titans of finance, the Michael Milkens, the Carl Icahns, the Ivan Boeskys, the “greed is good” world, because they became the paragons. They became the pioneers of a new kind of market freedom. And we began to treat them, and the media began to treat them, as kind of savants, as gurus, as heroes, which was very different from the way the culture had treated them a hundred years earlier.</p><p><strong>How significant or consequential, at least in the medium run, was the Occupy movement? It seems the Tea Party is the more powerful of the populist (or faux populist) movements that popped up.</strong></p><p>There’s no question the Tea Party, whatever else one might say about it, must be credited with being durable, having sustained itself over an extended period of time, engaged in national organization. I don’t think it’s entirely a creature of a handful of dynastic businessmen. I think it’s more deeply rooted than that.</p><p>Occupy Wall Street was more ephemeral. On the other hand, it was enormously important. My book opens with a reference to OWS because although organizationally it vanished rather quickly, it did, as people said at the time, change the conversation, at least for awhile. Suddenly, what had been apparent for decades, that is to say the dominance of the “1 percent,” the gross distribution of wealth and income and political power in the country suddenly became, thanks to Occupy (it’s not entirely to Occupy) a topic of national, and for that matter international, conversation and debate. It was a rather ephemeral movement without deep roots among working people, which I argue is the only way, not that it’s easy to have done that. I don’t blame Occupy for not having done that. It’s not easy. But I think the only way Occupy could have grown was to find avenues into work-a-day America where that message also resonated.</p><p>We live in a kind of faux democracy right now, which is why everyone’s so cynical and nobody votes. We’re only interested in politics as a form of personal gossip, because the system seems to be immune to popular sentiment about a variety of things. I think the feeling of widespread hostility to the business and financial community is clear after the crash of 2008. But it never registered inside these political parties because they’re so beholden to those same corporate financial interests.</p><p>One form of acquiescence is a kind of abdication: Why bother? Nothing’s going to change. Even though polls will again and again show that people have various sentiments in favor of extending social welfare, universal health care and so on and so forth, none of this ever makes its way into the halls of Congress.</p><p>But anyway, to get back to your point, I think Occupy may have been a straw in the wind. Even if it didn’t itself persevere, there are other signs of restiveness in the country which I briefly allude to in my book, which may in the years ahead give rebirth to the kind of anti-capitalism that I talk about in the nineteenth century.</p><p>These are small signs. But I think one of the bigger ones is the environmental movement. After all, the environmental movement is certainly an exception to the rule that I’m laying down, that we live in an Age of Acquiescence. The environmental movement has lasted for decades. It’s grown; it’s grown in the teeth of having won very little. That might be a measure of its failure. But normally when movements fail they collapse. The environmental movement has, on the contrary, grown. I think, increasingly, people may see that capitalism, at least as presently constituted, and a sustainable environment are incompatible.</p><p>I think because there also is a kind of growing cynicism about democracy being kind of a faux democracy that people may conclude that what Mark Twain talked about in the nineteenth century of what we call today “crony capitalism” is so profoundly subverting democracy that they may have had enough. I think also this immigrant population is a volcano ready to explode. Not only do these people often have to live furtively and under the radar, but increasingly they work in an economy in which the sweatshop has become the norm, not an aberration, but the norm. Their combined need both to be recognized as citizens, as fully participating members of American society, and their super-exploitation at work may erupt sooner than people anticipate.</p><p><strong>A counter-force to everything you’re talking about is American tradition that runs from the Horatio Alger stories to “Joe the Plumber” to Silicon Valley dreams, that I may not be wealthy now, but riches are just around the corner for me, so I need to protect <em>their</em> interests. How does that function in American society and does it seem to be lacking or waning these days?</strong></p><p>I think that’s critical. I think it’s indigenous in the American make-up. It’s been here since the beginning, since the founding of the country. As I indicated earlier, it’s a promise that has been in part fulfilled over the course of the country’s history and it has enormously alluring power and it keeps reemerging in American culture and American life. For instance, in the last 20 years, before the great crash, when everybody was in love with Wall Street, it was Wall Street R Us. It wasn’t just a place where those big guys were going to get rich, but us day traders were going get rich too. We were all going to make it. And I think this notion of self-invention, self-creation, of self-reliance is a very powerful inducement to people, and contributes to this, it keeps the dream alive.</p><p>The Tea Party is a very funny movement. If you remember, they denounced the bank bailouts. I think one of the reasons they do that is they aren’t exactly fond of big business, but they are fond of business — that is to say, they want the opportunities themselves to become small and medium-sized businessmen; they value that as a way of life. But they resent the wealthy corporations and big banks that sometimes are their enemies. I think that dream of “I can make it on my own” thrives in the Tea Party, and gives it real roots. That’s what I said before; I think it’s a kind of family capitalism that gives it life in America.</p><p><strong>The populist left from the nineteenth century was united largely by economic concerns. What passes for a North American left these days is heavily anchored in academia, and is largely oriented around race, ethnicity and gender. How does that change the picture?</strong></p><p>In a way it’s the inverse of the subtitle of my book. What has happened since the New Deal and what I would I call the New Deal Extended in the civil rights movement and the feminist movement and so on, is that the rights revolution has spread widely and with great benefit obviously to African-Americans and to women and others. But what happened in the course of that is that the attention, the focus on organized wealth and the power of that organized wealth, has largely dropped out of the picture.</p><p>Also what happened, thanks to that rights revolution, partly in response to it, partly inherent in it, was a kind of identity politics which was understandable, but also shifted the focus away from the kinds of power blocs I’m talking about, and produced a certain kind of fragmentation. After all, the notion of identity politics is to say the primary reference group is not some broad economic class or social class, be it cultural, or racial, or gender-defined sub-groups. It’s very easy to understand where that identity politics came from. It’s also (easy) to take the measure of what it cost in terms of unifying people against the power blocs of our kind of neo-liberal, financially-driven economic world.</p><p><strong>I wonder if you’re getting “swift-boated” yet as the book’s argument gets out there. You know, “he hates our freedom” “Fraser’s a communist,” that kind of thing?</strong></p><p>I’ll tell you a funny story; the only one I know about is a well-known radio show that gets no call-ins, but it has a Web page. After the show the producer told me this story that the first guy to write in described me as a “another neo-Bolshevik scribbler.” I kind of like that. I did take offense at the word “another,” that he thought I was so common. But in a perverse kind of way it amused me because it was a return to a language that has gone out of existence, that language of plutocrats and class struggle and so on.</p><p>Scott Timberg, a longtime arts reporter in Los Angeles who has contributed to the New York Times, runs the blog <a href="" target="_blank">Culture Crash.</a> He's the author of the new book, "Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class."</p><p> </p> Sat, 04 Apr 2015 18:24:00 -0700 Scott Timberg, Salon 1034340 at wealth Astra Taylor’s Radical Internet Critique: “I Don’t Want to Give in to the Libertarian Logic of Our Time” <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Time for &quot;gee-whiz stupor&quot; about the Web to stop, Astra Taylor says, and for a real look at the damage done.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_135704435.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Astra Taylor, a Canadian-born <a href="">documentary filmmaker</a> who was involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, has just released <a href="">“The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age.”</a> Harder-edged politically than many Internet books, “The People’s Platform” looks at questions around gender, indie rock, copyright, the media, the environment and advertising. “The digital economy exhibits a surprising tendency toward monopoly,” she writes in her preface. “Networked technologies do not resolve the contradictions between art and commerce, but rather make commercialism less visible and more pervasive.”</p><p>An admirer of Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek (and director of a 2005 documentary about him), she frames the current crisis with European cultural theory. She’s also recently been playing accordion in her husband Jeff Mangum’s band, the recently revived Neutral Milk Hotel.</p><p>“The scariest book I’ve read in a while is almost the most exhilarating,” author Rebecca Solnit writes on the jacket; media critic Douglas Rushkoff calls it “perhaps the most important book about the digital age so far this century.”</p><p>We spoke to Taylor, who lives in upstate New York, during her visit to New York City.</p><p><strong>So there have been a number of cautionary books about the Internet already, some of them quite good. What story did you think that we weren’t hearing about the effects of technology?</strong></p><p>I definitely thought there was something missing, a critique or an analysis that really emphasized the economic underpinnings of this technological transformation; what I thought was missing, to use the academic phase, was a political economy of new media. And in that sense there wasn’t a book written for a popular audience that was a left critique of the Internet. Because there was Nicholas Carr’s good book “The Shallows,” which I actually quite liked. And <a href="">Jaron Lanier’s</a>more eccentric and interesting books. But they’re not leftist manifestos.</p><div data-toggle-group="story-13664438"><p>I felt like there’s something missing from those books too, about the continuation of not just economic hierarchies, which of course I’m paying attention to, because that’s what political economy is all about, but also social hierarchies. And both of them are very concerned with the way that creators have been demoted, and the devaluation of literature, and Jaron Lanier writes about the hive mind. But for me, as a woman, you have to cheer the toppling of the canon and hierarchies because otherwise there’d be no space for you. And to me, being a progressive is wanting progress, wanting change. But I want the change to be toward something more just, more inclusive, more diverse. And so I do think there’s something about being a leftist but also just being a feminist that puts a different twist on this.</p><p><strong>Your book is especially good on digital utopians. Can you remind us of some of the outlandish claims made for the Internet when it was new? I mean, those people are obviously still out there and still vocal, but it’s interesting to look back at all the stuff the Internet was supposed to deliver to us — democratizing culture for instance was one of them, and making a better or “more connected” world. What did they tell us we’re going to get?</strong></p><p>The Internet was supposed to either change everything for the better or for the worse; it depends who you were listening to. But certainly a more connected world, a cultural sphere that was inclusive, that made space for everyone. That didn’t require that you ask anyone for permission. Where you could do it on your own. And it was also going to transform politics. I mean, along with participating in the culture, it was also going to be easier to change the culture by finding people of like mind and joining with them. Or finding out the truth. And being a citizen journalist and revealing it. And doing a better job than the mainstream media, which has disappointed us for so many years.</p><p>So all of these prophecies were made very heartily by smart people for a very long time. And it’s not that it was just pundits or people who wrote these books for a living. You’d go to a conference on media reform and talk about the condition, the lack of reporting on the financial crisis or something, and there’d always be a question from the audience: Well, what about the Internet? Now we can tell the truth. So it wasn’t just that there was this class of techno boosters who were misleading us, there was a sense, and I think a valid sense, that technology was really powerful and was going to change things. And in many ways it has. I mean, that was something that I really struggled with in the book, was to recognize how awesome the Internet is, and how different it is than the old broadcast model. But that doesn’t mean that we just have to be put into this gee-whiz stupor and stay there. And I think people are snapping out of it. We almost risk at this moment a falling into a kind of disappointment or disillusionment because overnight it went from being this politically enabling, Arab Spring-empowering medium, to being a giant government spy apparatus. I feel like it’s kind of both and I feel like it’s time to grow up a bit and have a different conversation.</p><p><strong>Let’s go back to hierarchy. Originally, when the Internet broke in the ’90s, it came a few years after what we were calling “alternative culture.” And it seemed that like Nirvana and the rest of alt-rock or indie film, it was allowing us to get outside the mainstream media: It could be an extension of alternative culture. What happened from there? Did that end up coming true, and what happened instead?</strong></p><p>Well, what exactly happened, I’m not sure. But certainly there’s been a blurring of inside and outside. And the clear boundaries that might have defined alternative culture in the ’80s and ’90s… when it was obvious who the mainstream guys were, and then you had your underground and independent labels and zines, that’s gotten more muddled because all of the cultural exchange we do is on these corporate platforms. And there’s been this embrace even in subcultures of the rhetoric and logic of branding. Which is something I go after in the book, because I personally find that to be really repellent and not for me a way of understanding yourself as a human being.</p><p>I mean the reason branding developed, when you stopped buying your oats from a big bin from the local shopkeeper, but they were being mass produced, so they put a dude’s face on the oats. It’s a fake human they put on a box for you to buy. So if you’re a real human, you don’t need a brand. But it is symptomatic of the shifting landscape; it’s almost like, as much as alternative culture has suffused the mainstream, the mainstream and commercial culture has suffused the underground now.</p><p><strong>As you say, the lines used to be drawn a lot more clearly and the era of “corporate rock sucks!” was very different than a period when, now, even indie bands are embracing branding and various kinds of merchandising schemes.</strong></p><p>Yeah, but I think the thing is… I quote G. K. Chesterton and he basically says art, like morality, consists of drawing a line. So to me, you do have to. I’m not saying things are blurry and that we should embrace the blur or embrace the muddle. I think we actually need to look at the conditions that are giving rise to that muddle.</p><p>So there’s a lot of bemoaning the fact that younger people in younger bands have given up on the idea of selling out. And I look at the way that basically if you’re operating in a system where there’s less and less support for the art in itself, then what happens is advertisers step in and fill the gap. And so this is one area where I challenge my friends who have embraced the mantle of free culture. And I see that they mean free as in information, but it also in practice means free as in price. And if you want the uninhibited exchange of information online and you’re not paying for things, then what happens is, marketers are more than happy to fill the breach, because they want their products to spread. They don’t want scarcity, they want abundance, in the sense that they want their messages to go viral.</p><p>So part of it is the decline of the buying and selling of records and the move toward this kinda viral, digital model. But one of my first impulses for writing this book was actually going to one of these social media, Web 2.0, rah rah rah, conferences. And it was like, isn’t it great we can all make videos and we can all participate, and won’t it be cool when our videos get picked up and sponsored by Chipotle or something. And I was sitting there, and I was like, I’m sorry, I didn’t become an independent filmmaker to make an ad.</p><p><strong>Right. There is no anxiety among some indie people, whatever their field, about having connections to say, corporate fast food.</strong></p><p>See, but I think there is anxiety. I don’t believe that everybody’s given in. And I think that we hear about the people that say yes. And we don’t hear about the people who say no. And we get a bunch of skewed data. Because it’s not like you hear about the people who say no. You don’t hear about the people who say, “Fuck off, my song was made to dance to, my song was made to eat dinner to, my song was made to pick up my kid from school to, but it wasn’t made to sell your air freshener with.”</p><p>Those people, I think they do still exist. And I think that we have to see selling out as a kind of structural condition. Actually, I just wrote a little thing for the Guardian about this. It’s basically like, if you look at the architecture of social media too, Google changed its terms of service, kind of aligning it more with Facebook, where they can use your likeness in an advertisement. Facebook calls them social ads, and Google calls them shared endorsements or something. So if you glance at something on the Internet, then suddenly your face, your name, your likeness can be used to promote that product to people who aren’t you, then there’s this question, you’ve been an ad, you’ve been an ad your whole life, so the question of your personal purity is very different in that context than one where you’ve been able to protect that. Or you just haven’t been sucked into this whole system of advertising. So, I think we’re changing the status quo, and that’s not the kids’ fault, that’s the fault of grownups who work at these companies and are making the salaries, and making the decisions, and designing these new revenue mechanisms. I blame the grownups.</p><p>So I think, selling out: Often it’s about the choices that individuals make and we scrutinize people. While I personally do have lines that I care about and that I don’t want to cross, I can see that they’re subjective and they’re what I’m comfortable with. But I would like us to have less judgment on individuals and more judgment on larger society. Because the thing is, we as a society have chosen not to fund things through the public purse and instead we, say, have Purina brand our doggie park. Or we name the auditorium for Bank of America. So we’re making these choices all together and I feel like sometimes we just, we get really disoriented when we focus on one person or one band’s decision.</p><p><strong>You’re saying it’s a larger structural and economic issue. I wonder how your work as a documentary filmmaker helped inspire or shape the book?</strong></p><p>As a documentary filmmaker, I was thinking about how to operate. I kind of had this sense when “Examined Life” came out that it was possibly even more of a special experience because the film was actually blown up to 35mm and shipped around theaters and it was kinda before this shift to HD digital distribution, which has actually hurt a lot of independent art houses, because the projectors are so expensive, and they’re also proprietary.</p><p>So the shift has hardly been one where theaters are saving all this money and making a killing, which is sort of the digital promise. But they’re obligated to the distributors and they’ve got this insanely expensive equipment that may need to be upgraded in a couple years. So one was just me thinking about what is my work gonna look like in a few years, if I made another film, how would it go out in the world, would I bother with all of this, or would I just go directly to the audience and do it myself? And so I just started thinking more and more about it.</p><p>I was someone who was kind of raised on the media criticism of Noam Chomsky and Robert McChesney. I remember being 13 or 14 and watching the film “Manufacturing Consent.” And obviously that film kind of inspired me to make my philosophy documentaries, “Zizek!” and “Examined Life.” It’s kind of a combination of “Manufacturing Consent” and Agnès Varda; they got in my head and made me think that I too could make weird, nerdy movies. But that kind of media criticism was nowhere to be found, so I’d go to these conferences or read these books about the Internet and they basically had this inchoate sense that the old system sucked… It was almost like they felt it sucked because they weren’t the elites. It was almost like a right-wing populism. Like, “Down with the cultural elites, down with the journalists, down with the professionals.”</p><p><strong>That sentiment is alive and well.</strong></p><p>Yeah, exactly. Instead of down with the Wall Street guys who were wringing 20 to 30% profits from the newspapers and making them publish crapola. So the political economy, the Chomskyian or McChesneyan argument was about the corporate elite behind the scenes, and the Web 2.0 argument was about the cultural elite and so…</p><p><strong>There seems a missing piece.</strong></p><p>Exactly. There’s a missing piece, and what had motivated me to be an independent media maker and dabble in journalism and make these films was kind of a commitment to an independent alternative to that. It wasn’t that I was against journalists; it was that I was against a system that was ultimately profit-driven and corporatized. Which is ironic given that my book is now published with a mainstream publisher.</p><p><strong>Well, there’s usually not any other way to reach a large audience, so I won’t hold that against you.</strong></p><p>Well my thing was that I really wanted to work with the two women who run the imprint, who are editors of books I really admire, and I really wanted to become a better writer.</p><p>But yeah, definitely being a documentary filmmaker influenced my analysis and was also, I would be struck too, reading books by corporate consultants or by professors, whoever the sort of rah, rah, rah tech triumphalists of the day were, and they would be talking about cultural shifts and this and that but they never really talked to an artist before, the people trying to make their livings… I just thought there was something valuable to bring to the table, as someone trying to make it in the world making independent films. And then as I got more and more involved in Occupy, I felt like these tech boosters, they love the Arab Spring and they love the Twitter revolution in Iran, but the minute there was something in the United States, they didn’t have anything to say about it. It was just crickets.</p><p><strong>You bring a lot of different fields together in your book. You’re a filmmaker obviously and you have a concern about that sphere, you write about indie rock, and indie culture, but you also have a lot about journalism. I wonder why that seemed important and part of the same story?</strong></p><p>In a way, I wouldn’t mind being a journalist, except it’s just too much fucking work. The few times I’ve done it, I’ve just been struck by how necessary and hard it is. I think I quote <a href="">Tom Frank </a>where he said, “The point wasn’t to get rid of journalism but to do the job better.” I empathize with all of the criticisms of the mainstream media, and the disappointment in the idealism around the idea that we could do it better ourselves and be citizen journalists. But then when you actually try to go and report a story, it’s just an incredible amount of work, and if you are messing with the powers that be, looking at something they don’t want you to look at, they will do everything they can to stop you. So I think it’s just an incredibly important part of the story because, according to a statistic that I read recently, actual, professional, paid journalists, the number of them has shrunk between 40 and 50 percent since 1980, so basically since I was born. And there are 100 million more people living in this country so… and we know that, we should know that this is not something to cheer. Because who wants there to be no journalists? Corporations who are polluting the environment. Or politicians who are taking selfies.</p><p><strong>I mean, you write about that quite well in your section on the BP oil spill. And Doug Rushkoff and Robert McChesney have both documented as the number of journalists have gone down, the number of PR people and spinmeisters has increased, so the ratio has gone all out of whack. You have a lot more people trying to spin the news than to report it.</strong></p><p>And some people estimate up to 80 percent of what actually makes it into the news is ultimately brought to the table by PR folks. I felt with that chapter that in a way the subject had been done to death. And it’s hard to add anything new, but it’s something that I feel is very important. Journalism is important to the health of our democracy. All the clichés are true. And the thing is that the story is told too often as though the Internet came and changed everything and hurt newspapers and created this new model of clickbait. And it’s really important to emphasize that it’s actually about continuity because it was the conglomeration of the newspaper industry, the fact that this handful of companies were buying newspapers up and maximizing their profits, it was such an amazingly profitable industry for awhile, 20 percent, 30 percent profits, I mean amazing. The envy of the world. And as they were squeezing those profits, they were basically devising the techniques these digital first publications now have to totally cave in to. Making things short and sensational, shallow and digestible and all this. So the continuity needs to be emphasized, and the fact that ultimately it’s about the business model, it’s not about the medium. It’s not pixels or the page, it’s really trying to make money from something that is ultimately a public good. It’s really hard.</p><p><strong>It’s harder every day. That’s for sure. Something else that’s interesting: Americans on both sides of the aisle politically are outraged by NSA surveillance and other kinds of government spying. I wonder if we should be more worried about tech corporations, many of whom are run by libertarians who emphasize individual liberties, being left alone, and so on. The fact is, these companies are often keeping their eyes on us as well, and selling/trading information about us all the time.</strong></p><p>Yeah, I think we have to recognize the way corporate and government surveillance are intertwined and really hard to separate. I think the NSA debates have ultimately been so beneficial. I really admire Snowden and Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, who I actually talk about in the book, before all this really happened. She’s one of my heroes, and was well before this whole debate. I mean she was one of my heroes because of “My Country, My Country,” and “The Oath.” I just think she’s a remarkable filmmaker. So she’s been in my pantheon of heroes.</p><p>But I try to shift the conversation a bit away from the framework of the big bad government. Even though that’s true. I’m not denying it at all. As an activist I have to be totally outraged and it totally fits into the history of <a href="">COINTELPRO</a> and sabotage, and it sucks. But I don’t want to give in to the libertarian logic of our time, which kind of throws its hands up and says all institutions are corrupt. States are corrupt. Schools are corrupt and newspapers are corrupt and it’s all corrupt. I’m trying to articulate a more nuanced view.</p><p>So if I could do it again, if that stuff hadn’t broken toward the end of me finishing the book, I would try to insert some awareness to structural inequality into the surveillance debate. I’m kind of just riffing right now, but the debate is framed as government spying on us, but the hero figures are these white male hacker dudes. And they’re empowered by cryptography and they’re going to make cool software products that will help us be invisible. And I mean, more power to them. We need them, and I’m happy that… if people are more conscientious about encryption, I think that’s fantastic.</p><p>But ultimately it’s about, who is surveilled in this world? Well, it’s mostly minorities and people of color. It’s Muslim Americans, as we’ve seen. Or it’s poor people on the job who are being monitored and tracked. There are implications, the way that data brokers create these dossiers and potentially employ them to discriminate in terms of pricing or credit opportunities. So I’m interested in the way that these…that we need to look at surveillance as not just a First Amendment and Fourth Amendment issue but actually as a Fourteenth Amendment, which is about equal rights, and as more of an economic justice issue and not as the civil liberties frame that it’s thrust in. So that’s something… I haven’t fully explored that thought.</p><p><strong>The Internet evolved, in this country, in a post-Reagan, post-Cold War, neoliberal world where we’d given up on the idea of the public; markets and the private sphere were really triumphant. So it evolved in a certain direction because of that larger structure around it. But Europe and Canada, maybe Japan, and elsewhere have had a slightly different tradition. I wonder if we see the Internet taking different shapes in those places. Or does the fact that we’re globalized mean that this neoliberal, Washington Consensus thinking has shaped it almost entirely?</strong></p><p>One thing I wanted to do was to shift the debate back to the United States, because I think some of the metaphors and analogies we were using were misleading. So all the enthusiasm around the Arab Spring, to go back to that. We’re modeling what the Internet can do, what social media can do, but based on a political context that was so different from ours.</p><p><strong>Excellent point.</strong></p><p>Because the United States is messed up but it’s not a dictatorship. It’s certainly not the same. And these are questions that I get as an activist all the time. Again, it’s not just a few pundits. Well, look at the Arab Spring; you have social media, how does that change everything for you as an organizer? So I wanted to shift the frame and say, this is the United States, maybe we need to look at corporate power. Just some fantasy of an authoritarian control freak… That power works in different ways here, it is invisible and networked, and that it’s a context in which we are all invited to speak and come in to participate, but profits are still flowing to the usual suspects. We just saw, I think it was this week, Google and Apple are now the top two corporations in terms of market capitalization. So there’s still wealth and power but we’re not living in Egypt. We have to think about where we are. That’s why I think it’s so interesting that the pundits didn’t have much to say about Occupy.</p><p><strong>Well, I think what people have trouble understanding is that the Internet could have a liberating effect in say, China or a Middle Eastern theocracy. But could have a different kind of effect on the American middle class. That kind of nuance, that there can be good effects here and frustrating effects there, hasn’t really come into the debate on the Internet very well.</strong></p><p>Yeah. Or that there can just be good and bad effects here. That these two things can coexist and to critique Google isn’t to critique the Internet or to hate technology. I think your question about other countries, it’s an interesting one today because Brazil just passed this new quote-unquote Internet constitution. And it enshrines protections for free speech and some privacy protections and net neutrality, and it’s far from perfect, and I’m sure people will criticize it and dissect it. But it’s an example of another country taking charge and that follows victories for net neutrality in Chile and the European Union and so, and of course Europe has much stronger baseline privacy laws.</p><p>Here in the U.S. we don’t have basic, cross-sector privacy laws that can be applied to new technologies, to each sector on its own. So the new toy comes up, there’s nothing to fall back on. So I think there are… those laws are strong privacy regulations that will shape the development of the Internet in other countries. Because right now, the United States is pushing an Internet economy or digital economy that is based on advertising. It’s a business model based on surveillance. There are other ways of putting some sort of friction into the economy and so yeah, I think other countries. I think there’s also talk in France about, I don’t know if it’s a Google tax or if they called it something else, but taxing devices and gadgets and using that to fund culture. That’s something that’s happened before. Or in Britain, the BBC was funded through a tax on television sets or antennae or whatever it was.</p><p><strong>Right. Well in Europe and Britain there’s much more of a sense of culture as a public good, a sense that culture needs to be funded, and it’s a really different tradition than what we have here. Our tradition is a frontier model, I guess.</strong></p><p>Right, but that’s being exported, though. Our models are being exported. But I think there is still a chance to find other ways of doing things and we see ourselves as the center of innovation and it would be, once in a while, we should be open to the fact that someone else might be doing something right.</p><p><strong>Let’s close by looking forward for a second. Your chapter called “Drawing a Line” and the conclusion to your book, you talk about what you hope can happen in the future. You describe the cultural crisis, the democratic crisis… What would you like to see happen in the next few decades to bring things back into balance?</strong></p><p>I would like to see so many things. (Laughs) It’s hard to know where to start. The issues I’m raising can’t be considered in a vacuum, disconnected from larger economic trends. When you brought up the American middle class, I was just at the MSNBC offices, the American middle class is no longer the richest in the world.</p><p><strong>That <em>New York Times</em> story from the other day.</strong></p><p>“The Canadians are beating us!”</p><p><strong>And you’re secretly Canadian as I recall.</strong></p><p>I am so secretly… I mean, this book really reveals my secret Canadian-ness.</p><p>It gives the lie to this idea that there is only participatory culture now because of the Internet. No, people made things before they were on Facebook all the time. It’s not like we were all sitting there, lost. Okay: The issue of the middle class. I don’t see this book, this intervention, as separate from my work with Occupy Wall Street. I recognize that they’re intertwined and these issues we’re bringing up about the rich getting richer online, and wealth and power flowing to this handful of info monopolies, echoes the broader economy and you can’t separate it.</p><p><strong>Right. And as Thomas Piketty has documented recently, that’s a problem that is not going away, and it’s not getting any better, even though we’re talking about it way more than we did before Occupy. We have terms for it like “the 1 percent” and “income inequality,” and we have the numbers to show what’s happening, but it’s not like it’s reversing itself, just because we’re paying attention to it.</strong></p><p>Exactly. And I think it’s important to look at these platforms in these contexts. So okay, you may not feel like you’re being exploited by Facebook, you’re not a laborer. I talk about how some people have employed a feudal metaphor for these services, but value is being extracted from us, value is being extracted from areas of life that were once unprofitable, like conversing with your friends.</p><p>If we live in an increasingly networked landscape then it could be that we’re tracked as we move from space to space, park our car, turn our thermostat up or down. All these could potentially be sources of value extraction. So how is this digital economy basically helping or augmenting, I’m not saying causing, but flowing into this larger trend toward inequality?</p><p>And I think that is a fundamental challenge to this idea as a democratizing force.</p><p>That said, any campaign we mount to make the world more equal and just will have to use technology. And we will have to be savvy, and we will have to spread our messages through whatever channels we can access. But we will have to do something far more pointed and strategic than just spread the word online. We’ve seen the limits of that; we’ve seen that while social media can really help with spectacle it doesn’t really help us wrap our mind around the problem of building power and challenging power, so that’s why I wanted to put that word back in there in the subtitle. It’s not just about conversation and making your opinion known and “liking.” It’s ultimately about power. And that’s something that the left is really afraid of, I think, and shied away from over the years. What I’m trying to show is that despite all their heady rhetoric about democratization and sharing, that ultimately power is what’s being hoarded.</p></div> Sun, 04 May 2014 18:12:00 -0700 Scott Timberg, Salon 988896 at Visions Visions libertarian astra taylor radical internet books astra taylor internet JARON LANIER noam chomsky robert mcchesney Thomas Piketty Editor's Picks slavoj zizek nirvana INDIE-ROCK chipotle INNOVATION NEWS Technology News business news The Internet Is Slaying the Middle Class <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">In &quot;Who Owns the Future?&quot; Jaron Lanier examines how the Web eliminates employment and job security, along with revenues that give the economic middle stability.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/instagram.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Jaron Lanier is a computer science pioneer who has grown gradually disenchanted with the online world since his early days popularizing the idea of virtual reality. “Lanier is often described as ‘visionary,’ ” Jennifer Kahn wrote in a 2011 <a href="">New Yorker profile,</a> “a word that manages to convey both a capacity for mercurial insight and a lack of practical job skills.”</p><p>Raised mostly in Texas and New Mexico by bohemian parents who’d escaped anti-Semitic violence in Europe, he’s been a young disciple of Richard Feynman, an employee at Atari, a scholar at Columbia, a visiting artist at New York University, and a columnist for Discover magazine. He’s also a longtime composer and musician, and a collector of antique and archaic instruments, many of them Asian.</p><p>His book continues his war on digital utopianism and his assertion of humanist and individualistic values in a hive-mind world. But Lanier still sees potential in digital technology: He just wants it reoriented away from its main role so far, which involves “spying” on citizens, creating a winner-take-all society, eroding professions and, in exchange, throwing bonbons to the crowd.</p><p>This week sees the publication of <a href="">“Who Owns the Future?,”</a> which digs into technology, economics and culture in unconventional ways. (How is a pirated music file like a 21st century mortgage?) Lanier argues that there is little essential difference between Facebook and a digital trading company, or Amazon and an enormous bank. (“Stanford sometimes seems like one of the Silicon Valley companies.”)</p><p>Much of the book looks at the way Internet technology threatens to destroy the middle class by first eroding employment and job security, along with various “levees” that give the economic middle stability.</p><p>“Here’s a current example of the challenge we face,” he writes in the book’s prelude: “At the height of its power, the photography company Kodak employed more than 140,000 people and was worth $28 billion. They even invented the first digital camera. But today Kodak is bankrupt, and the new face of digital photography has become Instagram. When Instagram was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012, it employed only 13 people. Where did all those jobs disappear? And what happened to the wealth that all those middle-class jobs created?”</p><p>“Future” also looks at the way the creative class – especially musicians, journalists and photographers — has borne the brunt of disruptive technology.</p><p>The new book – which has drawn a rave in the New York Times — has already received a serious challenge from Evgeny Morozov in the Washington Post. The Internet-skeptic author of <a href="">“To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism”</a> <a href="">challenges</a> Lanier’s proposed solution that regular people be rewarded in micropayments when their data enriches a digital network.</p><p>But more important than Lanier’s hopes for a cure is his diagnosis of the digital disease. Eccentric as it is, “Future” is one of the best skeptical books about the online world, alongside Nicholas Carr’s <a href="">“The Shallows,”</a> Robert Levine’s <a href="">“Free Ride”</a> and Lanier’s own<a href="">“You Are Not a Gadget.”</a></p><p>We spoke to the dreadlocked, Berkeley-based author from the road, where he’s on a massive book tour.</p><p><strong>You talk early in “Who Owns the Future?” about Kodak — about thousand of jobs being destroyed, and Instagram picking up the slack — but with almost no jobs produced. So give us a sense of how that happens and what the result is. It seems like the seed of your book in a way.</strong></p><p>Right. Well, I think what’s been happening is a shift from the formal to the informal economy for most people. So that’s to say if you use Instagram to show pictures to your friends and relatives, or whatever service it is, there are a couple of things that are still the same as they were in the times of Kodak. One is that the number of people who are contributing to the system to make it viable is probably the same. Instagram wouldn’t work if there weren’t many millions of people using it. And furthermore, many people kind of have to use social networks for them to be functional besides being valuable. People have to, there’s a constant tending that’s done on a volunteer basis so that people can find each other and whatnot.</p><p>So there’s still a lot of human effort, but the difference is that whereas before when people made contributions to the system that they used, they received formal benefits, which means not only salary but pensions and certain kinds of social safety nets. Now, instead, they receive benefits on an informal basis. And what an informal economy is like is the economy in a developing country slum. It’s reputation, it’s barter, it’s that kind of stuff.</p><p><strong>So instead of somebody paying money to get their photo developed, and somebody getting a part of a job, a little fragment of a job, at least, and retirement and all the other things that we’re accustomed to, it works informally now, and intangibly.</strong></p><p>Yeah, and I remember there was this fascination with the idea of the informal economy about 10 years ago. Stewart Brand was talking about how brilliant it is that people get by in slums on an informal economy. He’s a friend so I don’t want to rag on him too much. But he was talking about how wonderful it is to live in an informal economy and how beautiful trust is and all that.</p><p>And you know, that’s all kind of true when you’re young and if you’re not sick, but if you look at the infant mortality rate and the life expectancy and the education of the people who live in those slums, you really see what the benefit of the formal economy is if you’re a person in the West, in the developed world. And then meanwhile this loss, or this shift in the line from what’s formal to what’s informal, doesn’t mean that we’re abandoning what’s formal. I mean, if it was uniform, and we were all entering a socialist utopia or something, that would be one thing, but the formal benefits are accruing at this fantastic rate, at this global record rate to the people who own the biggest computer that’s connecting all the people.</p><p>So Kodak has 140,000 really good middle-class employees, and Instagram has 13 employees, period. You have this intense concentration of the formal benefits, and that winner-take-all feeling is not just for the people who are on the computers but also from the people who are using them. So there’s this tiny token number of people who will get by from using YouTube or Kickstarter, and everybody else lives on hope. There’s not a middle-class hump. It’s an all-or-nothing society.</p><p><strong>Right, and also I think part of what you’re saying too is that it’s still in most ways a formal economy in that the person who lost his job at Kodak still has to pay rent with old-fashioned money he or she is no longer earning. He can’t pay his rent with cultural capital that’s replaced it.</strong></p><p>Yeah, well, people will say you can find a place to crash. People who tour right now will find a couch to crash on. But, you know, this is the difference … I’m not saying that there aren’t ever benefits, like yeah, sometimes you can find a couch. But as I put it in the book, you have to sing for your supper for every meal. The informal way of getting by doesn’t tide you over when you’re sick and it doesn’t let you raise kids and it doesn’t let you grow old. It’s not biologically real.</p><p>Actually, can we stick with photography for a second? If we go back to the 19th century, photography was kind of born as a labor-saving device, although we don’t think of it that way. One of my favorite stories, which might be apocryphal — I can’t tell you for sure that this is so, although photographers traded this story for many years. But the way the piece of folklore goes is that during the Civil War era, and a little after, the very earliest photographers would go around with a collection of photographs of people who matched a certain archetype. So they would find the photograph that most closely matched your loved one and you’d buy that because at least there would be representation a little like the person, even if it was the wrong person. And that sounds just incredibly weird to us.</p><p>And then, you know, along a similar vein at that time early audio recordings, which today would sound horrible to us, were indistinguishable between real music to people who did double blind tests and whatnot. So the thing is, why not just paint the real person, because painting was really a lot of work. It takes a long time to paint a portrait. And you have to carry around all the paints and all that, and you could just create a stack of photos and sell them. So in the beginning photography was kind of a labor saving device. And whenever you have a technological advance that’s less hassle than the previous thing, there’s still a choice to make. And the choice is, do you still get paid for doing the thing that’s easier?</p><p>People often say, well, in Rochester, N.Y. — which is a town that kind of lived on the photography business — they had a buggy whip factory that closed down with the advent of the automobile. The thing is, it’s a lot easier to deal with a car than to deal with horses. I love horses, but you know, you have to feed them, and they poop a lot, and you have to deal with their hooves. It’s a whole thing. And so you could make the argument that a transition to cars should create a world where drivers don’t get paid, because, after all, it’s fun to drive. And it is. And they’re magical.</p><p>And so there could really easily be, somebody could easily have asserted that photography is so much easier than painting and driving cars is so much easier than horses that the people who do those things — or support it –shouldn’t be paid. Working in a nice environment — if you go to Sweden and you visit the Saab factory, it’s really nice. Why should you even be paid to do anything?</p><p>We kind of made a bargain, a social contract, in the 20th century that even if jobs were pleasant people could still get paid for them. Because otherwise we would have had a massive unemployment. And so to my mind, the right question to ask is, why are we abandoning that bargain that worked so well?</p><p><strong>Right. Well, until about the year 2000 or so, some jobs had been destroyed by new technology. This goes back to the industrial revolution and earlier. But more jobs were created than those destroyed. So what changed?</strong></p><p>Of course jobs become obsolete. But the only reason that new jobs were created was because there was a social contract in which a more pleasant, less boring job was still considered a job that you could be paid for. That’s the only reason it worked. If we decided that driving was such an easy thing [compared to] dealing with horses that no one should be paid for it, then there wouldn’t be all of those people being paid to be Teamsters or to drive cabs. It was a decision that it was OK to have jobs that weren’t terrible.</p><p><strong>So it wasn’t inherent in the technology. In other words, there’s nothing inherently different about digital technology or the Internet than there is with factory technology or the assembly line or these other technological shifts that have developed?</strong></p><p>Yeah. I mean, the whole idea of a job is entirely social construct. The United States was built on slave labor. Those people didn’t have jobs, they were just slaves. The idea of a job is that you can participate in a formal economy even if you’re not a baron. That there can be, that everybody can participate in the formal economy and the benefit of having everybody participate in the formal economy, there are annoyances with the formal economy because capitalism is really annoying sometimes.</p><p>But the benefits are really huge, which is you get a middle-class distribution of wealth and clout so the mass of people can outspend the top, and if you don’t have that you can’t really have democracy. Democracy is destabilized if there isn’t a broad distribution of wealth.</p><p>And then the other thing is that if you like market capitalism, if you’re an Ayn Rand person, you have to admit that markets can only function if there are customers and customers can only come if there’s a middle hump. So you have to have a broad distribution of wealth. So there’s no reason technically for any technology to ever create a job. In other words, we could have had motor vehicles, and we could have had film cameras, we could have had all these technologies without any formal jobs. We just had a social contract in which we decided that we’d allow formal jobs in factories and in drivers and in users of cameras and creators of cameras and film.</p><p>It was all a social construct to begin with, so what changed, to get to your question, is that at the turn of the [21st] century it was really Sergey Brin at Google who just had the thought of, well, if we give away all the information services, but we make money from advertising, we can make information free and still have capitalism. But the problem with that is it reneges on the social contract where people still participate in the formal economy. And it’s a kind of capitalism that’s totally self-defeating because it’s so narrow. It’s a winner-take-all capitalism that’s not sustaining.</p><p><strong>Well, a lot of your book is about the survival of the middle class in the digital age, the importance of a broad middle class as we move forward. You argue that the middle class, unlike the rich and the poor, is not a natural class but was built and sustained through some kind of intervention. Has that changed in the last decade or two as the digital world has grown?</strong></p><p>Well, there’s a lot of ways. I mean, one of the issues is that in a market society, a middle class has always required some little artificial help to keep going. There’s always academic tenure, or a taxi medallion, or a cosmetology license, or a pension. There’s often some kind of license or some kind of ratcheting scheme that allows people to keep their middle-class status.</p><p>In a raw kind of capitalism there tend to be unstable events that wipe away the middle and tend to separate people into rich and poor. So these mechanisms are undone by a particular kind of style that is called the digital open network.</p><p>Music is a great example where value is copied. And so once you have it, again it’s this winner-take-all thing where the people who really win are the people who run the biggest computers. And a few tokens, an incredibly tiny number of token people who will get very successful YouTube videos, and everybody else lives on hope or lives with their parents or something.</p><p>One of the things that really annoys me is the acceptance of lies that’s so common in the current orthodoxy. I guess all orthodoxies are built on lies. But there’s this idea that there must be tens of thousands of people who are making a great living as freelance musicians because you can market yourself on social media. And whenever I look for these people – I mean when I wrote “Gadget” I looked around and found a handful – and at this point three years later, I went around to everybody I could to get actual lists of people who are doing this and to verify them, and there are more now. But like in the hip-hop world I counted them all and I could find about 50. And I really talked to everybody I could. The reason I mention hip-hop is because that’s where it happens the most right now.</p><p>So when we’re talking about the whole of the business – and these are not 50 people who are doing great. Or here’s another example. Do you know who Jenna Marbles is? She’s a super-successful YouTube star. She’s the queen of self-help videos for young women. She’s kind of a cross between Snooki and Martha Stewart or something. And she’s cool. I mean, she kind of helps girls with how to do makeup, and she’s irreverent. She’s had a billion views.</p><p>The interesting thing about it is that people advertise, “Oh, what an incredible life. She’s this incredibly lucky person who’s worked really hard.” And that’s all true. She’s in her 20s, and it’s great that she’s found this success, but what this success is that she makes maybe $250,000 a year, and she rents a house that’s worth $1.1 million in L.A.. And this is all breathlessly reported as this great success. And that’s good for a 20-year-old, but she’s at the very top of, I mean, the people at the very top of the game now and doing as well as what used to be considered good for a middle-class life. And I don’t want to dismiss that. That’s great for a 20-year-old, although in truth, in my world of engineers that wouldn’t be much. But for someone who’s out there, a star with a billion views, that’s a crazy low expectation. She’s not even in the 1 percent. For the tiny token number of people who make it to the top of YouTube, they’re not even making it into the 1 percent.</p><p>The issue is if we’re going to have a middle class anymore, and if that’s our expectation, we won’t. And then we won’t have democracy.</p><p><strong>You mentioned a minute ago that there’s about 50 in hip-hop. What kind of estimate did you come up with for music in general?</strong></p><p>I think in the total of music in America, there are a low number of hundreds. It’s really small. I wish all of those people my deepest blessings, and I celebrate the success they find, but it’s just not a way you can build a society.</p><p>The other problem is they would have to self-fund. This is getting back to the informal economy where you’re living in the slum or something, so you’re desperate to get out so you impress the boss man with your music skills or your basketball skills. And the idea of doing that for the whole of society is not progress. It should be the reverse. What we should be doing is bringing all the people who are in that into the formal economy. That’s what’s called development. But this is the opposite of that. It’s taking all the people from the developed world and putting them into a cycle of the developing world of the informal economy.</p><p><strong>You say early in the book, “As much as it pains me to say so, we can survive only if we destroy the middle classes of musicians, journalists, photographers.” I guess what you seem to be saying here is <a href="">the creative class</a>is sort of the canary in the digital coal mine.</strong></p><p>Yes. That’s precisely my point. So when people say, “Why are musicians so special? Everybody has to struggle.” And the thing is, I do think we are looking at a [sustainable] model.</p><p>We don’t realize that our society and our democracy ultimately rest on the stability of middle-class jobs. When I talk to libertarians and socialists, they have this weird belief that everybody’s this abstract robot that won’t ever get sick or have kids or get old. It’s like everybody’s this eternal freelancer who can afford downtime and can self-fund until they find their magic moment or something.</p><p>The way society actually works is there’s some mechanism of basic stability so that the majority of people can outspend the elite so we can have a democracy. That’s the thing we’re destroying, and that’s really the thing I’m hoping to preserve. So we can look at musicians and artists and journalists as the canaries in the coal mine, and is this the precedent that we want to follow for our doctors and lawyers and nurses and everybody else? Because technology will get to everybody eventually.</p><p><strong>It wasn’t too long ago that it was unskilled people on assembly lines who answered phones or bank tellers and it’s just crept up in the decades since. You’ve mentioned a few times this sort of digital utopianism that still emanates from Silicon Valley. Where does that kind of thinking come from and why does it exist despite all the evidence to the contrary?</strong></p><p>Well, it’s an orthodoxy now. I have 14-year-old kids who come to my talks who say, “But isn’t open source software the best thing in life? Isn’t it the future?” It’s a perfect thought system. It reminds me of communists I knew when growing up or Ayn Rand libertarians. It’s one of these things where you have a simplistic model that suggests this perfect society so you just believe in it totally. These perfect societies don’t work. We’ve already seen hyper-communism come to tears. And hyper-capitalism come to tears. And I just don’t want to have to see that for cyber-hacker culture. We should have learned that these perfect simple systems are illusions.</p><p><strong>Speaking of politics, your concerns are often those of the political left. You’re concerned with equality and a shrinking middle class. And yet you don’t seem to consider yourself a progressive or a man of the left — why not?</strong></p><p>I am culturally a man on the left. I get a lot of people on the left. I live in Berkeley and everything. I want to live in a world where outcomes for people are not predetermined in advance with outcomes.</p><p>The problem I have with socialist utopias is there’s some kind of committees trying to soften outcomes for people. I think that imposes models of outcomes for other people’s lives. So in a spiritual sense there’s some bit of libertarian in me. But the critical thing for me is moderation. And if you let that go too far you do end up with a winner-take-all society that ultimately crushes everybody even worse. So it has to be moderated.</p><p>I think seeking perfection in human affairs is a perfect way to destroy them. It just doesn’t work. So my own take on it is, actually another way I’ve been thinking about it lately is a balance of magisteria. “Magisteria” was the term that Stephen Jay Gould described science and religion. And I’ve been thinking that way about money and politics, or computers and politics, or computers and ethics. All of these things are magisterial, where the people who become involved in them tend to wish they could be the only ones.</p><p>Libertarians tend to think the economy can totally close its own loops, that you can get rid of government. And I ridicule that in the book. There are other people who believe that if you could get everybody to talk over social networks, if we could just cooperate, we wouldn’t need money anymore. And I recommend they try living in a group house and then they’ll see it’s not true.</p><p>My cyber-friends think if you can just come up with a perfect scheme, that some perfect digital scheme will solve all the problems. My belief is that if we deal with all of these things, they can balance out each other to prevent the worst dysfunctions of each one from happening. And at minimum if we can just have enough distribution of clout in society so it isn’t run by a tiny minority, then at the very least it gives us some room to breathe. And that’s the minimum requirement. Maybe not the ideal.</p><p>So what we have to demand of digital technology is that it not try to be a perfect system that takes over everything. That it balances the excess of the other magisteria. And that is doesn’t concentrate power too much, and if we can just get to that point, then we’ll really be fine. I’m actually modest. People have been accusing me of being super-ambitious lately, but I feel like in a way I’m the most modest person in the conversation. I’m just trying to avoid total dysfunction.</p><p><strong>Let’s stick with politics for one more. Is there something dissonant about the fact that the greatest fortunes in human history have been created with a system developed largely by taxpayers dollars? Military research and labs at public universities. And many of the people whom the Internet has enriched have become libertarians who earnestly tell you that they are “socially liberal and fiscally conservative,” and resist progressive taxation because of it.</strong></p><p>Yeah, no kidding. I was there. I gotta say, every little step of this thing was really funded by either the military or public research agencies. If you look at something like Facebook, Facebook is adding the tiniest little rind of value over the basic structure that’s there anyway. In fact, it’s even worse than that. The original designs for networking, going back to Ted Nelson, kept track of everything everybody was pointing at so that you would know who was pointing at your website. In a way Facebook is just recovering information that was deliberately lost because of the fetish for being anonymous. That’s also true of Google.</p><p><strong>Near the end of the book you talk about the changes in the book business. It doesn’t sound pretty. What’s going on there and what have you learned as someone who has now written several books?</strong></p><p>I don’t hate anything about e-books or e-book readers or tablets. There’s a lot of discussion about that, and I think it’s misplaced. The problem I have is whether we believe in the book itself.</p><p>To me a book is not just a particular file. It’s connected with personhood. Books are really, really hard to write. They represent a kind of a summit of grappling with what one really has to say. And what I’m concerned with is when Silicon Valley looks at books, they often think of them as really differently as just data points that you can mush together. They’re divorcing books from their role in personhood.</p><p>I’m quite concerned that in the future someone might not know what author they’re reading. You see that with music. You would think in the information age it would be the easiest thing to know what you’re listening to. That you could look up instantly the music upon hearing it so you know what you’re listening to, but in truth it’s hard to get to those services.</p><p>I was in a cafe this morning where I heard some stuff I was interested in, and nobody could figure out. It was Spotify or one of these … so they knew what stream they were getting, but they didn’t know what music it was. Then it changed to other music, and they didn’t know what that was. And I tried to use one of the services that determines what music you’re listening to, but it was a noisy place and that didn’t work. So what’s supposed to be an open information system serves to obscure the source of the musician. It serves as a closed information system. It actually loses the information.</p><p>So in practice you don’t know who the musician is. And I think that’s what could happen with writers. And this is what we celebrate in Wikipedia is pretending that there’s some absolute truth that can be spoken that people can approximate and that the speaker doesn’t matter. And if we start to see that with books in general – and I say if – if you look at the approach that Google has taken to the Google library project, they do have the tendency to want to move things together. You see the thing decontextualized.</p><p>I have sort of resisted putting my music out lately because I know it just turns into these mushes. Without context, what does my music mean? I make very novel sounds, but I don’t see any value in me sharing novel sounds that are decontextualized. Why would I write if people are just going to get weird snippets that are just mushed together and they don’t know the overall position or the history of the writer or anything? What would be the point in that. The day books become mush is the day I stop writing.</p><p><strong>Let’s close with music then. You’re a longtime musician and composer. You’re a collector of obscure and archaic instruments. How does your interest in music and especially pre-modern acoustic music shape your thinking and your life as well?</strong></p><p>Well, the original way I got into it is very personal. It’s just that my mother died when I was young, and she was a musician. My connection to her. I got involved in more and more unusual music because I didn’t want that connection to become something that was too static. It had to be constantly changing or it would become a cliché. So that’s how I got into it.</p><p>But as far as the connection to computers, the thing to me is that I’ve always been intrigued with music interface. Musical interfaces are such profoundly better user interfaces than anything we’ve done with a digital computer. They have better acuity. They create more opportunities for virtuosity. They work with the human body more profoundly, the nervous system. I mean good musical instruments. And I’ve just been intrigued by them. It made me realize that just because something is the latest, newest thing that seems like the cleverest thing we can do at the moment doesn’t make it better.</p><p>So to realize how much better musical instruments were to use as human interfaces, it helped me to be skeptical about the whole digital enterprise. Which I think helped me be a better computer scientist, actually.</p><p><strong>Did your life as a musician show you some of the things that you ended up excavating in “Gadget” and the new book?</strong></p><p>Sure. If you go way back I was one of the people who started the whole music-should-be-free thing. You can find the fire-breathing essays where I was trying to articulate the thing that’s now the orthodoxy. Oh, we should free ourselves from the labels and the middleman and this will be better.</p><p>I believed it at the time because it sounds better, it really does. I know a lot of these musicians, and I could see that it wasn’t actually working. I think fundamentally you have to be an empiricist. I just saw that in the real lives I know — both older and younger people coming up — I just saw that it was not as good as what it had once been. So that there must be something wrong with our theory, as good as it sounded. It was really that simple.</p><p> </p> Tue, 21 May 2013 14:53:00 -0700 Scott Timberg, Salon 843751 at Economy Economy internet Can Unions Save the Arts and Other 'Creative' Professions? <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Today, musicians work without record labels, journalists work as freelancers and book publishing is collapsing. Unions might take some risk and sting out of the creative destruction.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2013-03-20_at_11.51.46_am.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><small><em>This article originally appeared on <a href="">Salon</a>.</em></small><p> </p><div><blockquote><p><em>Being a musician is a good job, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to go broke doing it. –David Byrne</em></p></blockquote><p>They’re just for hard hats. They peaked around the time Elvis was getting big. They killed Detroit. They’ve got nothing to do with you or me. They’re a special interest – and they hate our freedom.</p><p>That’s the kind of noise you pick up in 21st century America – in politics and popular culture alike – when you tune your station to the issue of trade unions. Union membership, and ensuing muscle, have been in <a href="">steep decline</a> in both the public and private sectors. Just look at <a href="">Wisconsin’s “right to work” push,</a> the anti-teachers union “reform” movement, corporate union-busting, P.R. “messaging” firms hired by management to smear striking workers, hostility from the Republican right and indifference from a Democratic Party that’s reoriented itself around professionals and Silicon Valley.</p><p>Also in decline: America’s creative class — artists, writers, musicians, architects, those part of the media, the fine arts, publishing, TV and other fields — faced with an unstable landscape marked by technological shifts, a corporate culture of downsizing, and high unemployment.</p><p>So is it time for artists to strap on a hard hat? Maybe unions or artists’ guilds can serve and protect an embattled creative class. With musicians typically operating without record labels, journalists increasingly working as freelancers as newspapers shed staff, and book publishing beginning what looks like a period of compression, unions might take some of the risk and sting out of our current state of creative destruction.</p><p>“Musicians are trying to negotiate this changing landscape,” says Kristin Thomson, once a guitarist for the band Tsunami and an owner of indie label Simple Machines, now a director of the <a href="">Future of Music Coalition.</a> Many musicians ask the group how to deal with today’s complicated mix of outlets and platforms, or what to expect from label support. “Others saw their mechanical royalties falling off a cliff. There are revenue steams out there, but they’re all changing so fast. This is a difficult time for artists trying to understand it all. And there’s a lot more competition because the barriers to entry are a lot lower.”</p><div data-toggle-group="story-13243010"><p>To their partisans, of course, unions don’t just help the workers at a few companies; they can have a transformational effect on society as a whole. Supporters credit them with the 40-hour work week, the weekend, fair wages, safe working conditions, overtime pay – much of the edifice that build the American middle class in the mid-20th-century. Unions often set wage standards across a field, even for people who don’t belong to them; uncounted artists, writers and musicians can pursue their craft because their spouses have union-protected jobs, like public school teachers.</p><p>“And it’s because of the decline of labor that these things are going away,” says Thomas Frank, best known as the author of <em><a href="">What’s the Matter With Kansas?</a></em> “If you’re worried about inequality in this country, which is just galloping along, the main cause – even bigger than the skewed tax code – is the decline of unions.”</p><p>The journalist and author Scott Martelle has seen the issue from several angles. While working at the <em>Detroit News</em>, a Gannett paper, he served as a union activist during the 1995 strike, and rather than cross a picket line to work, left for the <em>Los Angeles Times</em> two years later. The locally owned <em>Times</em>, by contrast, still retained a whiff of old-school corporate benevolence: for some of that decade, the paper had employed a staff doctor on call for the newsroom, and sometimes sent writers on first-class flights to cover stories. We never formed a union, its staffers sometimes told each other, because they treated us well. (Disclosure: Martelle was a colleague of mine at the <em>Times</em>.)</p><p>But the good times didn’t last. When private-equity mogul Sam Zell leveraged a buyout of the Tribune Corp. – owner of the <em>Times</em>, the <em>Baltimore Sun</em>, the <em>Chicago Tribune</em>, the <em>Hartford Courant</em> and other papers – and <a href="">drove the company into bankruptcy,</a> waves of bloodshed for the newsrooms began. In the summer of 2008, something like 300 reporters and editors at the Times alone lost their jobs. Martelle was one of them. The next batch of firings came in October, and there was still no union to make the process more humane: Staffers were told they had until 5 p.m. to clean out their desks, and security was standing by for anyone who dawdled. (By contrast, the Tribune executive who steered the doomed sale to Zell, Dennis FitzSimons, walked away with a golden parachute in excess of $40 million.)</p><p>“In a lot of ways, the newspaper industry went along thinking it would be rich and fat forever,” says Martelle, who last year published the book <a href="">“Detroit: A Biography.”</a> “And the journalists were in the same situation. So when the Tribune Corp. blew up, it was too late to organize. People get motivated to join unions because they are frustrated or scared. And 10 years ago, no one was frustrated or scared.”</p><p style="text-align: center;">* * *</p><p>Trade unions and artists’ guilds – various bodies in which creative types collaborate politically — date back at least as far as the first stirrings of the market economy. Masons lodges, common in the Middle Ages, operated like a cross between movie studios and architecture firms. As early capitalism became a force nearly as important to artists as the church, artisans and artists joined guilds, which were less hierarchical than the lodges, and worked in some ways like contemporary unions. They asserted rules for training, apprenticeship and journeymen, not radically different from a blacksmiths’ or saddlers’ guild.</p><p>“Guilds in the Middle Ages arose whenever an occupational group felt its economic existence threatened by an influx of competition from without,” historian Arnold Hauser wrote in his definitive <em>The Social History of Art</em>. “The object of the organization was to exclude or at least restrict competition.” These guilds could be illiberal in some ways, but they also “marked a decided step forward in the artist’s freedom.”</p><p>This conflict between those inside and outside the guild exerted itself frequently in these years: Itinerant entertainers like jongleurs and wandering minstrels often enraged guild groups like watchmen or town musicians, who typically held a monopoly on performing at weddings and funerals, and were beaten back by established players. Stage actors experienced similar conflicts: Some were connected to a local guild, others wandered from inn to inn to perform for a passed hat, while some, as permanent theaters began to be established in Shakespeare’s time, joined standing companies and resented those who didn’t.</p><p>Guilds were hardly perfect – the Meistersingers were almost comically Teutonic in their earnest love of musical rules, and guild traditionalism sometimes put them behind artistic developments. But they were important to keep amateurs from stealing material – songs, for instance — in these days before copyright or contemporary notions of intellectual property. The nature of art means that these guilds did not function as smoothly as, say, blacksmith guilds. “There never was as period in their history,” British music historian Henry Raynor wrote, “when the town musicians were not engaged in a bitter struggle to preserve their monopoly.”</p><p>When the culture of the Renaissance told artists that they were individuals — even, in some cases, geniuses – that their talent was inborn, and that their role was to liberate the human spirit, many painters, sculptors and others decided they did not need some musty old medieval guild, with its years of training and numerous restrictions. But because artists have little power and influence in isolation, they found themselves soon migrating into academies of art that were more conservative and hidebound than the guilds. In 17th century Holland, similarly, a formidable group of painters emerged – Rembrandt, Hals and Vermeer among them – but because artists fell on the wrong side of the supply/demand curve, and there was no guild to protect them, even the best artists struggled, some selling tulips to pay the rent, some just going broke.</p><p>Romanticism in the 19th century doubled down on the cult of individualism: An artist or poet was a supernatural creature destined to soar about the dull crowd. As industry came into Britain and New England, creating inhumane working conditions and belching smoke into the skies, only the most political of artists saw anything in common with the masses filing into the sooty factory each morning. Unions started up in earnest about this time, and some guilds saw a revival. But by and large, artists were committed to an individualism either heroic (Beethoven, Wagner) or dejected/alcoholic/absinthe-sipping (Baudelaire, Poe).</p><p>The turn of the 20th century, flanked by the Progressive era, saw a growth of unions and successes such as child-labor laws. Perhaps more than any subgroup of the creative class, musicians – classical, Broadway and big-band artists especially – became unionized by the 20th century, generally with the American Federation of Musicians.</p><p>“The unionization of music in the United States has a mixed history,” says Ted Gioia, a music historian, jazz pianist and former corporate executive. “Many U.S. cities still had segregated musicians unions long after the Supreme Court said ‘separate but equal’ was wrong — in 1963 we still had 39 all-black locals in the AFM. James Petrillo, the head of the AFM, didn’t want to force the issue, and this one man had an enormous influence on what happened — or didn’t happen — in American music. Petrillo was also responsible for the musicians’ strike of 1942-1944, and though I’m sure he felt he had good reasons for calling a halt to recordings, many blamed the decline in the big bands to this decision. And even today, we face a gap in American music history.”</p><p>The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers – the songwriters’ union, dedicated to protecting and enforcing copyright – also made its share of mistakes. “When ASCAP launched a boycott of broadcasters in 1941,” Gioia says, “they opened up opportunities for its rival BMI, and eventually had to settle for lower rates from radio than what they started with. In this instance, the public was deprived of music and the composer ended up with a worse deal.”</p><p>Of course, the most consequential event in the recent history of unions has nothing to do with art or music. When Ronald Reagan – the only American president to come out of organized labor and simultaneously an avatar of “rugged individualism” – <a href="">fired</a> 13,000 striking air-traffic controllers in 1981, he helped erase unions from the American map. “The government had never done something like that, replacing striking workers,” says Frank, whose latest book is “Pity the Billionaire.” “It was a signal to striking workers, that it would side with management. It was the beginning of an offensive. For the strikes of the ’80s, over and over again, strikers just got replaced.”</p><p style="text-align: center;">* * *</p><p>In the right circumstances, guilds could be a force for stability for artists and artisans during unstable times. But between unions and creative types sits a long-standing cultural barrier.</p><p>“A lot of white-collar employees don’t see themselves as workers,” says Martelle, who now belongs to the Authors Guild. “They see themselves as ‘partners’ or some other euphemism.” Newspaper journalism has blue-collar roots, and typically the production staff was committed to unionism. “But by the ‘70s and ‘80s, journalism was more about kids coming out of college, from the managerial class.”</p><p>He saw this in action while striking in Detroit: Roughly half the journalists went to work during the strike, while virtually none of the drivers, printers or production staff did. “There were a lot of liberal journalists who talked a good game. But when push came to shove, they crossed the picket line.”</p><p>These days, he says, “journalists don’t see themselves as union people. The only difference is the tools we use in the trade.” Reporters and editors are brought up in a culture that discourages entangling alliances – they’re supposed to be impartial, which leads some to decline even to vote — and they’re discouraged from joining anything.</p><p>It’s nearly as true for many musicians, says Thomson. “When musicians enter this world – as a rock band, hip-hop singer or electronica act – a larger structure like a union doesn’t seem to make sense if they are still booking their own shows,” she says. “For musicians it just doesn’t align with how they see themselves. ‘I don’t have a salaried job, how can I go on strike if it’s just me and my band?’ ”</p><p>Many of them eventually join a union, she says, and many musicians around Hollywood studios, Broadway stages and Nashville’s music factory are unionized, typically with the 90,000-member American Federation of Musicians. Even some of the rock bands come around. “It’s when people see a larger career arc, or if they ever play on live television — say, as a guest on a late night talk show — as the AFM and SAG-AFTRA are almost always the conduit for payments. Or when a Canadian artist needs a visa to perform in the United States. Until then, it might never cross their radar.”</p><p>Says Frank: “You’re talking about people who went to college; they’ve been brought up thinking that unions weren’t for them. This whole idea of the ‘free agent society’ has gone so far; I don’t know how you reverse that. And they didn’t just sell it to management – they sold it to workers. They think it’s cool to not have health insurance or benefits!”</p><p>The key work of this movement, “Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself,” was written by former Al Gore speechwriter Daniel Pink. “Democrats are as deep into it as Republicans are,” Frank says. “The Democrats are embarrassed by organized labor, especially when they think about their future. It’s professionals – that’s who they want.”</p><p>This isn’t just a class, or ideological, problem. Artists, musicians, writers – even some journalists – go through periods of developing their individual voices, years of what jazz musicians call “woodshedding.” This can take place in graduate school, or while bartending or driving a cab – Philip Glass and Steve Reich ran a furniture-moving company – but whatever the details, it tends to reinforce a sense of individualism. Whatever a person’s specific politics, the artist’s path often discourages a sense of collective unity.</p><p>“Collective bargaining requires an obedient rank-and-file,” Gioia says. “But is there a profession more resistant to this than art-making? I’d rather try to put the toothpaste back in the tube than attempt to get artists to march in lockstep.”</p><p>One of several groups trying to make this work is Freelancers Union, a decade-old Brooklyn-based nonprofit that calls itself a “federation of the unaffiliated” for the nearly one-third of the workforce that works independent of a steady employer. But it’s not just graphic designers working from home in their pajamas: Founder Sara Horowitz was spurred to do something for freelancers when she took a law firm job and saw she was classified as an independent contractor, with no health insurance or retirement benefits. In 2008, she started the for-profit Freelancers Insurance Co., and in the fall opened the Freelancers Medical Center in Brooklyn. The group hopes to offer unemployment insurance as well. But some freelancers outside New York complain that they’d love to join the group, but wish it offered medical insurance west of the Hudson. (The group offers dental, 401K and disability nationally.)</p><p>Unions, though, typically require concentrated centers of population for some of their collective action to work, and in a creative class decentralized by a half century of suburbanization and several decades of the Internet, that’s harder and harder to find.</p><p style="text-align: center;">* * *</p><p>Despite all the difficulties and challenges faced by unions, there’s also one recent major success by a creative class union: The <a href="">Hollywood strike of 2007 and 2008</a> led by the Writers Guild of America.</p><p>The strike was launched over writers’ frustration at getting left behind by the shift to digital media. “We had been sucker-punched on a lot of previous technological advances,” says screenwriter Howard Rodman, now a WGA vice president, who was active in the strike, offering a long list going back to videocassettes and cable. With the Internet developing as a way of distributing films and television, the union decided to plant its flag in cyberspace, rather than wish they had a decade later. “We knew it we didn’t get it in that negotiation,” he says, “we never would.”</p><p>Despite the decline in union membership, workers still strike, and technological changes are sometimes the cause. Recently a number of symphony orchestras have fought with management, and found themselves on the losing end: The Minnesota Orchestra, asked to take a large pay cut by management, has been locked out, with no medical benefits, since October. These stories are depressingly familiar.</p><p>But here’s what happened in Hollywood: The writers struck for 100 days … and in the end got most of what they wanted. So, what happened?</p><p>Part of the writers’ success came because the Hollywood unions – including the Screen Actors Guild, the Directors Guild of America, the Teamsters and various unions of “below the line” workers – have deep roots in the movie business. (By contrast, the effects houses – one of which, Rhythm &amp; Hues, <a href=",0,384910.story">filed for Chapter 11</a> right before winning an Oscar for <em>Life of Pi</em> — are not unionized.) But previous Hollywood strikes have fizzled, like the strike of 1988 over video royalties.</p><p>The ’07-’08 campaign was also better run than most. Support by high-profile stars – Steve Carell calling in sick to “The Office” – helped, as did enlisting the showrunners who head a television program and often come out of the writers’ ranks. “These were people who made a lot of money for the studios, and who were used to working at the highest levels of the networks and studios,” says Rodman. “It wasn’t the suits versus the barbarians.”</p><p>During a period that cut into many writers’ savings, the union offered loans to some, which kept screenwriters’ homes from being taken or their medical coverage from being cancelled. (No strike is an unalloyed victory: The studios, who employ the writers, lost hundreds of millions it could have earned. The Los Angeles area, including it florists, caterers and other support workers, lost even more – something the messaging firm hired by studio management made clear as it worked to demonize the striking writers.)</p><p>Part of the reason Hollywood strikes can work is that the unions protect their position: Anyone who symbolically crossed the picket line can never be a member. “You can never come back – you are exiled,” Rodman says. That doesn’t mean that some writers (including some who penned soap-opera scripts) didn’t keep working. But there were not enough scabs to undercut the union.</p><p>“At the end of the day, the studios would rather deal with a writer than want to be in the cesspool trying to determine credit,” he says. “They don’t want to give the unions everything they wanted, but to borrow a title, it’s better than dealing with 10,000 maniacs.”</p><p>Some say Hollywood’s unusually liberal culture give unions power. But ask a striking graduate student at NYU or Yale, or the public radio staff whose unions have been broken or deflected, about how unsupportive liberal cultures can be.</p><p>Hollywood executives often support liberal social issues after hours, they don’t typically let politics get in the way of their earnings or their dealings with talent. And Hollywood films have hardly been consistently pro-union. “On the Waterfront” is a great film, but it also takes a cartoonish view of union leadership. Similarly, for decades gangster films – including the Godfather movies – portrayed unions as handmaids to the mob. For every “Matewan” – made outside the Hollywood studio system, incidentally — there is enough material like “Blue Collar” for an anti-labor film festival. “Remember that movie, ‘The Replacements’?” Frank asks of a 2000 film starring Keanu Reeves. “It’s about a scab football team and how awesome they are.”</p><p><a href="">The recent film “Won’t Back Down “</a>shows Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis as plucky heroines who stand up to a reactionary school system – weighed down by an ingrown teachers union – to save a Benetton ad’s array of kids. It was funded in part by plutocrat Philip Anschutz, who also supported the anti-teachers union documentary “Waiting for Superman.” It’s only a matter of time before the Koch brothers make one of their own.</p><p style="text-align: center;">* * *</p><p>Rodman sees unions as more important than ever, and the only institution making the middle-class writer and the working actor possible at a time of historic income disparities. “As the conglomerates change, as entertainment becomes a smaller percentage of [multinational’s] earnings, we’ll see if that changes.”</p><p>It may be that the crisis in capitalism –- a system with which unions have a fraught but also symbiotic relationship – means unions can’t operate the way they used to. Some union advocates see the 21st century economy as a return to the smoky early years of industrialism, before unions made themselves felt — the Information Age version of sweatshops and endless work weeks.</p><p>Technological shifts, in some ways, are making things harder. As the blue-collar employees who traditionally made newspaper production possible are replaced by automation, unions lose members and their strength dwindles further: The process is cumulative. “A union derives its power from organized action, with a strike as the big stick,” Martelle says. “If you can limp along putting out a paper with managers, then you can’t use that stick. They can always fill a paper with bullshit. But if you can’t put it on a truck, you’re in trouble.”</p><p>That was the old model. “If you look at the stories from the last few days – corporate profits up, with no hiring coming – you see the problem,” he says. “If people aren’t working, there’s nothing unions can do.”</p><p>Still, newspapers with strong guilds – the <em>New York Times</em> and <em>Washington Post</em>– have seen fewer layoffs and less brutal severances, on the whole, than those without. And the business was ailing in 2007, as well, but the lack of union protection at the Tribune’s two largest newsrooms, L.A. and Chicago, is part of what made Zell’s dirty deal – build on employee pension plans — possible.</p><p>There is certainly no shortage of problems – new and old — that an artists’ collective of some kind could address. In his insightful recent book, “<a href="">How Music Works,”</a> David Byrne talks about the difficulty of getting musicians paid for songs on Pandora, Spotify and other services. “Spotify has reached agreements with the major labels, just as MTV did before them,” he writes. “And just as before, the artist, who should be entitled to a share of that equity, is missing from the equation. Maybe this time around that will get fixed, and if it does then streaming will be an additional source of income for artists – especially if the artists hold on to the rights to their songwriting and recordings.” Without a powerful musicians guild, it’s hard to imagine this resolving any better today than it did in the MTV ‘80s.</p><p>“We know that a union would be a good thing,” Frank says, “but it’s very hard to start a union in a white-collar environment. When unions swept the country in the 1930s, very large workforces were concentrated in one place.” Creative professionals simply don’t have the numbers, and freelancers in the decentered age of the Internet are scattered geographically in a way that’s very different than the way legions of workers would get together under one roof every morning at a Manchester cotton mill or Detroit auto plant. “It’s harder for them to catch fire. You need unions, but you probably won’t get one.”</p><p>Gioia sees the current problem replaying the struggles of medieval guilds. “The biggest challenge to organizing creative labor is the large number of people willing to do the same work for free. This isn’t a problem when you are a coal miner or factory worker. But if you are a photographer, painter, musician, poet or some other creative talent, you soon figure out that the same gigs that you depend upon to pay your bills are someone else’s hobby. That other person might even pay for the opportunity to do what you are doing to make a living. This makes collective bargaining extremely difficult, because you have very little leverage in the negotiation.”</p><p>Some of the creative fields may figure a way out of the current mess; some won’t. It may have less to do with ingenuity and more to do with how fast the respective pies are shrinking. Despite some disruptions, and an output heavy on 14-year-old-boys’ testosterone fantasies, Hollywood studios continue to make enormous profits. Newspapers, magazines, book publishers and record labels, by and large, don’t.</p><p>Rich Yeselson, a D.C.-based writer who worked in the labor movement for two decades, considers unions the institutions that can best cut against income inequality and protect workers. “But a union can’t compensate for an industry whose business model is in crisis,” he says, “which is the real problem with the newspaper industry. If the business can’t generate surplus profits that might go to unionized workers, rather than to shareholders (that’s what the tug of war between management and labor is about), then the union is only bargaining, effectively, over severance and other closing costs (which is not nothing, but not wages and benefits going forward either).</p><p>“It often shocks conservatives to be reminded of this, but unions are capitalist institutions, they were founded in the early 19th century pretty much simultaneously with the development of modern capitalism. Managers and owners usually hate unions, but even the most militant unions look to cut a deal with management because the point is to use the union’s power to extract more money and better working conditions for workers. But there has to be profits to extract — unions can’t trump a dying industry.”</p><p>Somebody may figure out a way to make this brave new world less inhumane. But it’s going to take a while, and there will be plenty of pain along the way.</p><div> </div></div></div><div> </div> Wed, 20 Mar 2013 08:14:00 -0700 Scott Timberg, Salon 812215 at Labor Activism Culture Labor Media News & Politics labor unions musicians artists How Raw Capitalism Is Devouring American Culture <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The publishing industry is teetering again as Random House and Penguin plan to merge. It&#039;s time for a government policy to protect the arts</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/photo_-__2012-11-10_at_3.59.20_pm.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Around the same time a devastating hurricane smashed and flooded its way up the East Coast, leaving millions homeless or without power, another storm collided into a professional subculture based in New York City. While the second storm is only metaphoric, the transformation of publishing could have far-reaching consequences not only for those who work on Union Square, but for readers and writers across the English-speaking world.</p><p>As with Hurricane Sandy, it will take a little while to discern the long-term consequences of the <a href=";_r=0">Penguin and Random House merger,</a> the news of which was somewhat obscured by the storm and the election. But the short-term impact is not pretty — and it follows other recent bad news from the books world. The Free Press, known primarily for smart, contentious nonfiction from Emile Durkheim and Francis Fukuyama but also the publisher of Aravind Adiga’s best-selling Indian novel “The White Tiger,”<a href=""> just collapsed.</a> Several well-regarded editors are now out of jobs as the imprint is merged into Simon &amp; Schuster.</p><p>The Penguin and Random House merger would join two of the largest and most successful publishers in English. It’s likely to be completed late next year, and the new company will control more than a quarter of the global book trade. The number of major publishing houses will go from six to five, with credible predictions that it could easily go down to three. (Some in publishing note grimly that the publishers chose to announce this on Monday, Oct. 29, a day when the storm – which saw many editors and agents stranded at friends’ and relatives’ houses, without phone connections or power — would make meaningful news coverage almost impossible.)</p><p>The get-big-or-go-home strategy may allow bulked-up publishers to stand up to Amazon, which has become the industry’s Goliath. “The book publishing industry is starting to get smaller in order to get stronger,” the New York Times judged.</p><p>Lke a lot of publishing folks, Jonathan Galassi, publisher and president of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, doesn’t know quite how to read all this. But it’s significant: “Publishing is going through a sea change,” he tells Salon. “It’s going to be different when it comes out.” Whatever else is happening, “It feels like a contraction to me.”</p><p>The likely CEO of the combined publisher, Markus Dohle, <a href="">sent a cheery note</a> to agents, authors and booksellers. “For us, separately and in partnership, it is and always will be about the books. Your books,” he wrote. And he told the Times that the merger will not lead to the shuttering of imprints; there was no talk of “redundant” employees. “The idea of this company is to combine the small company culture and the small company feeling on the creative and content side with the richest and most enhanced access to services on the corporate side.”</p><p>That, after all, is what they always say.</p><p>But the implications are larger. If you work in, say, journalism, or the music business, you’ve seen this kind of thing before: the erosion and then collapse of an industry, often after mergers and acquisitions announced with buzzwords – “synergy”! – or reassurances that new ownership means that <em>nothing</em> significant will change because, after all, we really value the kind of work you people do. Will publishing continue to slide, gradually, or will it fall apart, like newspapers – which have lost approximately a third of their staffs since the recession and seen advertising revenue sink to 1953 levels — and record labels – where annual sales of the top-10 albums have gone from over 60 million to about 20 million in roughly a decade. Members of the <a href="">creative class</a> have been here, and it hasn’t worked out real well for them.</p><p>“It’s really painful,” says Ira Silverberg, a veteran editor (Grove/Atlantic, Serpent’s Tail) and agent (Sterling Lord Literistic) now serving as director of literature for the National Endowment for the Arts. ”I’m sure I’ll have tons of former colleagues looking for work, and they won’t find it. Regardless of what [executives] say, it’s going to be a smaller business.”</p><p>* * *</p><p>Publishing has seen various kinds of corporate mergers and acquistions going back three or four decades, as independent or family-owned companies have been absorbed by corporate masters. Random House, the largest and perhaps most prestigious American publisher, was bought in 1998 by the German company Bertelsmann. Things have been reasonably quiet since then.</p><p>So why is this larger shift happening now?</p><p>It’s no secret that the recession and slow-growth economy – and the long-standing flattening of middle-class wages that predates it – has bled nearly all cultural entities and venues. The process can be cumulative: Every time an independent bookstore closes, it makes things a little more difficult for publishers; when a chain, like Borders — which helped put those bookstores out of business — itself tanks, it makes things a lot harder.</p><p>But the biggest issue is digital technology – e-books, Amazon, Kindles — which has put downward pressure on author advances, which now stand, by some estimates, at about half of what they were just four years ago. The digital revolution has effectively marginalized traditional publishers, as the center of financial gravity shifts from Manhattan to Silicon Valley and Seattle. “Like record labels, publishers have become arms suppliers in the cold war between technology companies,” <a href="">Robert Levine</a> writes in his 2011 book “Free Ride,” about the Internet’s damage to the culture business.</p><p>These developments all come just a few months after the Department of Justice decision that ruled in favor of Amazon and against five publishers and Apple, whom it accused of colluding to fix prices for e-books. On the surface, this ruling keeps prices lower. But as media watcher <a href="">David Carr wrote in the New York Times</a> after the April ruling, there’s a high cost paid for the low prices. The DoJ, he argues, went after the wrong monopoly, since Amazon controls somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of the e-book market (and controlled roughly 90 percent in 2010). “That’s the modern equivalent of taking on Standard Oil,” he wrote, “but breaking up Ed’s Gas ’N’ Groceries on Route 19 instead.”</p><p>Blocking the publishers from setting prices seems, at first, like a victory for the customer.</p><p>“But pull back a few thousand feet,” Carr writes, “and take a broader look at the interests of consumers. From the very beginning and with increasingly regularity, Amazon has used its market power to bully and dictate. It leaned on the Independent Publishers Group in recent months for better terms and when those negotiations didn’t work out, Amazon simply removed the company’s almost 5,000 e-books from its virtual shelves. The Seattle Times <a href="">just published a series</a> with examples of how Amazon uses its scale not only to keep its prices low, but also to keep its competitors at bay.”</p><p>So these signs of publishing contraction, coming so soon after the DoJ judgment, are a bit like the wholesale defeat of anti-corporate candidates arriving right after the Supreme Court’s pro-corporate Citizens United decision.</p><p>Some think the Penguin/Random merger is necessary to allow old-line print publishers to stand up to Amazon: If the enormous online retailer, with revenues of about $48 billion last year, has the atom bomb, the other players need to band together and build their own arsenal. Since their previous efforts were judged to be collusion, maybe a merger is the only option left. “Maybe it’s more an alliance than a consolidation,” Galassi says. “They could gain heft in negotiations.”</p><p>More tangibly, these publishers racked up significant legal fees fighting a losing battle against the Seattle behemoth; two are still fighting. (Insiders say that Simon &amp; Schuster’s tussle with Amazon contributed to the of loss of Free Press.) In a business with a small profit margin, that money has to come from somewhere. Why not out of the hides of employees?</p><p>* * *</p><p>But publishing – after all — is just full of a bunch of English majors in overpriced suits taking three martini lunches, right? And in a day in which self-publishing is the rage — and the rhetorical war on gatekeepers, experts and other supposed “elitists” increases — what, really, does a publisher do?</p><p>“I firmly believe in the role of the gatekeeper,” says Silverberg, who adds that we’re in a cultural and technological shift that leaves us with several things happening at once. “Readers are picking up self-published work and saying, ‘That’s it!’ Editors are going through a pile of manuscripts sent by agents and saying, ‘That’s it!’ There’s a simultaneity.”</p><p>Generally, publishers do three things. They serve as banks for writers – offering advances in exchange for the promise of a copyrighted creative work. They aggregate services – offering editing, printing and distribution, book design, marketing and publicity, and so on, all at once. And they mitigate risk.</p><p>Of these things, says “Free Ride” author Levine, a former Billboard executive editor now living in Berlin, the most important is spreading risk. “For all the talk about new models, nobody has found a way to identify winners and losers,” he says. “You have to do a mix – you place a number of bets.”</p><p>And as with albums, most books lose money. The hits – especially the mega-sellers like the Harry Potter books or “Fifty Shades of Grey” – pay for a lot of others, if the author advances were not too enormous. (Skeptics wonder whether Random House’s $3.5 million advance for “Girls” creator Lena Dunham’s memoir will even pay for itself, and <a href="">muse</a> about how that money could have been spread among, say, 10 or 20 writers.) “The only thing you make a lot of money with is a surprise hit,” Levine says. “And there are not that many surprises.”</p><p>If you put your book in the hands of a traditional publisher, you keep only a small portion of what the book makes. But if it loses money, which is likely, it’s not your mortgage or grocery bill that goes up in smoke – the publisher eats it, and tries again with another book, by you or somebody else. And if they get the math right, they end up making a small profit overall. (The odds on any given book making money are not good; the traditional publishing wisdom is that seven out of 10 lose money.)</p><p>Publishers are not unique in this – the culture business in general is built around the probability of failure. “’The Avengers’ didn’t have to make enough money to be profitable; it had to pay for the money Disney lost on ‘John Carter’,” Levine says. “‘Game of Thrones’ has to make back the money HBO lost on ‘John From Cincinnati.’ ” (Digital pirates, unlike producers, don’t have to take these risks – they only duplicate and rip off the popular stuff.)</p><p>On the creative side, perhaps the most important thing a publisher does is edit a book. And whatever the trouble with publishers, there are plenty of well-regarded editors left at the major houses. Galassi at FSG, Gerald Howard at Doubleday Books, Alice Mayhew at Simon and Schuster, Bob Weil at Norton, and Ann Godoff at Penguin (who was fired when Bertelsmann swallowed Random House in ‘98 and could now go before a firing squad of bean counters again) all have at least cult followings among those who know the business.</p><p>The editor, Silverberg says, is the irreplaceable part of the traditional publishing equation. He mentions in particular Galassi’s editing of Denis Johnson, Jonathan Franzen and Michael Cunningham over the years. “They work with the writer to make the best possible book. We can’t afford to lose editors. Editor as arbiter, editor as teacher, editor as collaborator. It’s hard to sit in that room by yourself. Writers lose perspective; editors can bring perspective.”</p><p>One of the key roles of an editor, Galassi himself says, is to find little-known writers whose work deserves to be put between covers, and moved from obscurity writing short stories or articles into a cultural conversation. “Do writers want to spend their time marketing themselves, or writing their books? There’s no dearth of need for publishers.”</p><p>One publishing veteran who asked not to be named says the official voices will announce how essential editors are. “They’ll all proclaim, ‘The editors are the jewels in the crown …’ “ The stronger they insist on it, the faster the editors’ execution will come.</p><p>* * *</p><p>This could all lead to a silver lining for some parties: Lean, mean presses with focused missions – Graywolf, Seven Stories, Milkweed, New Directions – could do OK as publishing shrinks and six majors becomes three. “Poetry, translation, literary,” Silverberg says of the kind of boutique presses that could thrive. “They know their audiences better than they ever have.”</p><p>As wonderful as these presses are, they tend to give very small or nonexistent advances. Much of their funds come from philanthropy, the NEA and state or local arts agencies, and that money rises or falls with political leadership, tax codes and other variables.</p><p>And while self-publishing has brought some good work out along with a lot of bad, there is little to no money at the front end. (We tend to hear about the rare exception of runaway success, not the hundreds of thousands of self-published books per year that go nowhere or lose their authors money.) For the independently wealthy, those who married well, or businessmen writing valiantly on the secrets of their success, these are real options. As with much of the Internet-driven transformation of the creative class, authors hoping to make a middle-class living with a modest advance will increasingly be out of luck.</p><p>One thing that could have made this story end differently is if the United States had a significant cultural policy. We have a trade policy – we protect industries we value – and we have an anti-trust policy designed to protect consumers. We have arts and humanities endowments that assist institutions. But our cultural policy is mostly to let culture fend for itself in the open market. It works great, but sometimes it doesn’t.</p><p>Many counties in Europe have cultural policies, Levine points out. Germany has a thriving book business – with many independent bookstores and a rich mix of publishers – because the government forbids price discounts in most cases.</p><p>“If you’re a minister of culture,” Levine says, “it’s your job to further culture. It’s seen as something government should do. If you left it all to the market, almost no one would write anything in Swedish … because it’s such a small market.”</p><p>In the U.S., though, we’re accustomed to our culture – Hollywood movies, for instance – dominating, and our language serving as the world’s lingua franca: We never had to find a way to assist and preserve our culture on the world stage the way smaller nations did. (European nations developed various kinds of protections for their musical and arts “heritage” as American pop culture conquered the world in the postwar years.) So now we find ourselves with four of our six big publishers owned by European corporations. (One of the two “American” companies is essentially owned by a rogue Australian.) And with a deal between a German corporation (Bertelsmann) and a British one (Pearson, which owns Penguin) potentially rewriting American publishing.</p><p>State-steered culture probably goes against the American spirit, especially in these days of market fundamentalism. “I think we’re beyond cultural policy at this point,” the NEA’s Silverberg says, “because capitalism trumped it. There’s not even a battle to be fought there.”</p><p>Some suspect that publishers will instead find a way to make the digital revolution work for them. “I find it strange that more publishers have not decided to sell e-books directly to their readers,” says a longtime editor who asked to remain anonymous. “The publishing industry is so locked into its past, into the way it’s worked for a century and a half. It’s not in their DNA to sell directly. But some nervy publisher is going to take this up in the not-so-distant future.”</p><p>A shrunken publishing world could dampen the auctions that drive mid-list authors’ advances from the basement to reasonable levels. Those same limits, optimists hope, could also hold down unreasonable excesses, like the multimillion-dollar advances for celebrity memoirs, which are taking up more and more space in the field.</p><p>But at this point, publishing folk just don’t know. They’re jolted – even the ones whose apartments aren’t flooded. In a year or so, many of them may be bartending or getting real estate licenses or moving back in with their parents <a href="">like other downsized members of the creative class.</a> (Note to publishing’s rank and file: Pick up Louis Uchitelle’s “The Disposable American,” and try to get the phrase “to pursue other interests” taken out of your official farewell letter.) Or maybe the creative destruction will be minimal for now.</p><p>“It’s such early days,” says Silverberg. “It’s five or 10 years until we’ll know what the industry is going to be.”</p><p> </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Times; font-size: 16px; font-style: italic; line-height: 20px;">Scott Timberg is a former Los Angeles Times arts and culture writer who has also contributed to the New York Times, GQ and other publications. He is the co-editor of the book "The Misread City: New Literary Los Angeles." He blogs at </span><a href="" style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; font-size: 16px; vertical-align: baseline; list-style: none; color: rgb(255, 0, 0); text-decoration: initial; font-family: Times; font-style: italic; line-height: 20px;"></a><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Times; font-size: 16px; font-style: italic; line-height: 20px;">.</span></p> </div></div></div> Sat, 10 Nov 2012 15:56:00 -0800 Scott Timberg, Salon 742844 at Culture Books Culture News & Politics book publishing culture