I was filling up my tank at the local Getty station, and I noticed the Powerball lottery was up to 47 million dollars. Which got me thinking—what would I do with net 23 million dollars? By the time I got inside to pay, I had decided that winning all that money wouldn’t be worth it. I announced that my decision to Tom, who was taking my money, and though I don’t think he bought in to my general premise, we both got a chuckle out of my observation that winning such a sum would bring out contact with long-forgotten members of one’s high school graduating class. That, of course, I believe would be the least of one’s troubles…
The list of 2003 Fellows was announced by the John D. and Catherine T. Mac Arthur Foundation. The $500,000 over five years that goes with this fellowship is more to my liking. First of the all, that sum of money is manageable and what a reasonable person could live with and continue to do their work. Secondly, the talent and accomplishments of the MacArthur Fellows makes it a grand club to be included in.
Of course my (mild) disappointment at once again failing to be selected was balanced by the mild euphoria I felt at the Chicago Cubs playing baseball this late in the season. Some latent and primal instinct brought me back to the level of wonder and joy of the nine-year-old boy who lived a few blocks away from Wrigley Field. And I didn’t even mind that the Red Sox are still hanging around, too.
Speaking of youthful exuberance, I took Cuba to see School of Rock. Why a five-year-old would want to see this movie is explained simply by the barrage of commercials on the Cartoon Network. I think he liked the movie—mostly because he thought he was supposed to. Me, I thought Jack Black pretty much used up his trick bag early in the film. I would have liked a little more so-called subversion along the lines of the ‘sticking it to the man,’ which has an all-too-brief moment in the spotlight. Oh well.
And speaking of subversion, the celebration of Columbus Day only makes sense in the context of unexamined American Triumphalism— which I see as a subversion of any sense of decency. There have been many eloquent expressions on the topic of Columbus and his infamy, and here is a recent one by Anita Quintanilla:
"What is at issue here is what Christopher Columbus and the holiday stand for. Columbus Day, also known as Discovery Day, symbolizes conquest, genocide, and racism. Columbus Day is nothing more than a remembrance of the Western holocaust of 100 million indigenous peoples. For Native Americans, it is a day of mourning and the anniversary of the beginning of the European conquest of their world without borders. To celebrate Columbus Day and view this barbaric exploiter as a hero indicates the level of insensitivity, disrespect, and racism in our society for the original inhabitants of this land. If the parades are showcases that represent the best of Italy and the best of the Italian-American community, then the worst Italian should not be the honoree. Italians should feel shame, not pride, in this man; he should be reviled, not revered. Columbus is the one rotten apple in the Italian barrel. Italians have better candidates to represent their rich culture and history. This national holiday should be replaced with Italian-American Day at the state level."
Of course, there is Howard Zinn on what he calls "Invasion of Americas Day":
"In the standard accounts of Columbus what is emphasized again and again is his religious feeling, his desire to convert the natives to Christianity, his reverence for the Bible. Yes, he was concerned about God. But more about Gold. Just one additional letter. His was a limited alphabet. Yes, all over the islands of Hispaniola, where he, his brothers, his men, spent most of their time, he erected crosses. But also, all over the island, they built gallows–340 of them by the year 1500. Crosses and gallows–that deadly historic juxtaposition.
In his quest for gold, Columbus, seeing bits of gold among the Indians, concluded there were huge amounts of it. He ordered the natives to find a certain amount of gold within a certain period of time. And if they did not meet their quota, their arms were hacked off. The others were to learn from this and deliver the gold."
Occasionally some kind and alert person is moved to write me (in some instances email resembles and actually is, writing) and express appreciation for my published conversations and wonder that I have not been grabbed up by a so-called major media venue or book publisher. Part of me wonders about my anonymity, but the better (more professional?) part is well versed in the reasons that my view and work has not captured the imagination of Big Media. Now I am as ambitious as the next egomaniacal journo (except for maybe Neal Pollack), so indifference doesn’t explain my exile in the far reaches of our brave new world. Perhaps examining two cases will offer something approaching explanation.
Michael Wolff is the rebarbative media columnist who writes "This Media Life" for New York magazine and who of late is in the news because he 1) has a new book being published, Autumn of the Moguls: My Misadventures with the Titans, Poseurs and Money Guys who Mastered and Messed up Big Media and 2) he has initiated an effort to purchase New York magazine. Wolff understands the playing field and does quite well by his insights, "The media is, in fact, in the business of being noticed by the media." He is paid $450,000 a year for his column and such aphorisms, and he also received a $500,000 advance for his new book—which is pretty much a rehash of his magazine columns (he says the book has been "derived" from that column). Now there is no question Wolff is smart, clever and either brave or well armored. Some of those qualities were exhibited during the Iraq war, at a United States Central Command briefing in Doha, Qatar, where he was the only media person who had the cojones to ask, "why any self-respecting reporter would hang around for the thin gruel being dished up."
On the other end of my media spectrum is what I call the most recent perfect storm of media creation, Elizabeth Spiers, who has recently commenced to web log for New York magazine and contribute to its gossip column (New York, it would seem, is the breeding ground for these kinds of phenomenon). I have, since my discovery of Gawker, wondered what people found noteworthy about Ms Spiers besides a normal apportionment of dishiness and feigned ubiquity. Barely a few months later even the fly-over zone is celebrating her meteoric rise, "Her witty synthesis of media news and celebrity gossip was showcased on a frequently updated Web log (or ‘blog’) called Gawker.com, which made its debut late last year and soon became a daily stop for more than 40,000 Web surfers, including much of Manhattan’s media elite…Spiers’ spectacular career trajectory — from financial analyst to media insider in less than a year via the Internet — may be difficult to duplicate, but it’s not impossible." So there you have it, "witty synthesis of gossip" and gossip. And a clear intention, expressed obviously in her work, to rise higher in the food chain. That and fawning, sycophantic treatment of the tribal elders. Makes sense to me…