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Posts Tagged ‘garrison keillor’

In Which an Old-Fashioned Writer Praises New Media

Posted by Peder on 16 August 2009

Local columnist Garrison Keillor had another witty, pertinent opinion published in today’s paper. It rambles a bit more than some of his other pieces, but the salient takeaway is that new media, the blogosphere, has liberated the opinions of Americans by democratizing its publication and broadcast. Unfortunately he lays the groundwork for those who would argue the value of this populist movement when he contends that people use e-mail to share well reasoned opinions, and that the world would be better off without professional journalists.  But he brings his point home about two-thirds through the article when he comments on the factors that have left newspapers open to competition and casts luminous support of the independent American writer.  Ultimately Mr. Keillor is a writer who is first and foremost an advocate of his craft.  That he muses here on social and technological current events is merely a backdrop for that advocacy.

I’ve rebroadcast the article in its entirety below, but to get started I suggest you press play on the music file below (hosted by SoundCloud).

You know it’s going to be a difficult day when you wake up with “Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera, Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera” going around and around in your head and it won’t stop. You know that probably you should not tackle health care reform today, though brainlessness has not stopped other people from weighing in on it.

Here are mobs of flannel-mouthed robots denouncing Socialist Gummint Takeover as Medicare goes rolling along rather tidily and the private schemes resemble railroads of the early 19th century, when each line decided its own gauge and each stationmaster decided what time it is. Anyone who has tried to coax authorization for payment from Federated Amalgamated Health knows that, for incomprehensible standards and voluminous rules and implacable bureaucrats, the health insurance industry carries on where the Italian postal service left off. But don’t mind me, I’m a man with a viral song in my head and I should go soak it.

The goons who go to town hall meetings and shout down the congressmen are museum pieces. They can shout until the bats fall off the rafters, but if you really want to know about health insurance, you just look around on the Internet and it’s all there and more. The president gave a good solid tutorial on the subject back in June to the AMA, and you can still find it at YouTube. When you come to choose between him and the goons, you don’t have to think too hard.

This is the beauty of new media: It isn’t so transitory as newspapers and TV. Good stuff sticks around and people e-mail it to friends and slowly it floods the country.

What the new media age also means is that there won’t be newspapers to send reporters to cover the next war, but there will be 6 million teenage girls blogging about their plans for the weekend. There will be no TV networks to put on dramas in which actors in costume strut and orate and gesticulate, but you can see home video of dogs and anybody’s high school graduation anywhere in America. We will be a nation of unpaid freelance journalists and memoirists. This is not necessarily a bad thing.

It comes too late for Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton. In the new media age, there would not be a Watergate or a Monica Lewinsky. The president could conspire to break the law or canoodle with anybody within arm’s reach and likely there would be nobody in the forest to hear that particular tree fall. And that would be just fine. All we got from those enormous Old Media events, frankly, was entertainment. They were no more enlightening than a Harold Robbins novel.

I’m an old media guy and I love newspapers, but they were brought down by a long period of gluttonous profits when they were run as monopolies by large, phlegmatic, semiliterate men who endowed schools of journalism that labored mightily to stamp out any style or originality and to create a cadre of reliable transcribers. That was their role, crushing writers and rolling them into cookie dough. Nobody who compares newspaper writing to the swashbuckling world of blogging can have any doubt where the future lies. Bloggers are writers who’ve been liberated from editors, and some of them take you back to the thrilling days of frontier journalism, before the colleges squashed the profession.

The Internet is a powerful tide that is washing away some enormous castles and releasing a lovely sense of independence and playfulness in the American people. Millions of people have discovered the joys of seeing yourself in print — your own words! the unique essence of yourself, your stories, your jokes, your own peculiar take on the world — out there where anybody can see it! Wowser.

Unfortunately, nobody is earning a dime from this. So much work, so little pay. It’s tragic.

But one door closes and a window opens. The health care industry is wide open and there’s a need for writers. Old people are lonely, old people want to be listened to and their stories written down, old people need entertainment. That’s why I am opposed to the current health care reform bill — there is nothing in there for creative therapy and the artistic fulfillment of the sick and elderly. A humorist in every hospital ward. Laughter is the best medicine. Sick people need distraction. When you wake up in the morning with “Guantanamera” going around in your head, you forget about your troubles except for that one.

P.S. – I’ve previously offered my support of Mr. Keillor in a bad haiku.

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haikus are easy

Posted by Peder on 19 January 2009

Garrison Keillor
had it right in his op-ed:
Haikus are easy.

– Written in tribute to the original opinion published by the Star Tribune on Jan 18, 2009. [Link]

I like this government report saying that more Americans than before are reading novels and short stories — 113 million, in fact. Fiction is my cash crop, and that’s good news. Too bad, though, that the report was issued by the National Endowment for the Arts. A deep-down aversion to a-r-t is one big reason half of America stays away from fiction.

They’re afraid they’ll come across a sentence like, “She looked out the window and saw the reflection of her own pale face against the drifted snow.” Something girlish and moody like that.

These are guys who like to play video games in which you shoot people and spatter their blood on the wall. And what they might go for is manly fiction.

“Read my book, buttface,” said the novelist standing in the dim doorway of Brad’s garage. “Pick it up and read it.” “I ain’t gonna read your book, it’s got a lot of weird words like ‘languid’ and ‘luminous’ in it,” said Brad. He wondered if that was a real gun in the novelist’s hand. It was. BLAM BLAM BLAM. Blood spattered all over the garage and his workbench. Blood glittered on the gunstock that Brad had been sanding for his shotgun. He wouldn’t be sanding it no more. No sir.

Something like that.

People naturally want to be seen as sensitive persons of exquisite taste, and so America’s creative writing programs churn out MFAs to write stories in which she sees her pale face reflected. And the National Endowment for the Arts subsidizes that stuff.

But what readers really want is the same as what Shakespeare’s audience wanted — dastardly deeds by dark despicable men, and/or some generous blood-spattering and/or saucy wenches with pert breasts cinched up to display them like fresh fruit on a platter. It isn’t rocket science, people.

“Read my book,” the novelist said. “Are there breasts in it?” asked Brad. “Oh just grow up,” the man sneered. He didn’t notice Brad’s left hand reaching under the workbench for the .357 Magnum he kept taped there for just this eventuality. “I’m a serious novelist,” the man said quietly, “and I’ve won many awards.” But those awards weren’t going to save his skin from some serious perforation now. No, sir. BLAM BLAM BLAM.

You get the idea.

Unfortunately, writers are a gloomy bunch given to whining about the difficulty of getting published, the pain of rejection, the obtuseness of critics, etc. They sit at their laptops and write a few sentences about pale reflections and then check their e-mail and Google themselves. Maybe click onto a website where young women display their breasts like ripe fruit. They get busy messing around and don’t have time to write fiction so they write poems instead.

Poems are easy. A haiku is three lines of five, seven and five syllables. You can crank this stuff out with one hand, so people do.

But nobody reads poetry, thanks to T.S. Eliot, whose “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” we were forced to read in high school, that small dark mopefest of a poem about whether or not someone dares to eat a peach or wear his trousers rolled. And we got the idea that Literature is a Downer.

T.S. Eliot had no friends at all and he married a ballet dancer and they slept in separate bedrooms and she had a nervous breakdown. She wished she could’ve shot him three times in the chest, but they were in England at the time and there are no guns there.

A guy like that can’t be expected to write “Guys and Dolls,” and old Tom led a million writers down the path to writing reams of stuff that nobody wants to read. Literary quarterlies that sit on library shelves and nobody reads them except poets who want to be published in them.

“You got a problem with that?” said the poet. The columnist turned. He saw a beautiful woman with a gun in her right hand. Her long auburn hair hung down over her pert breasts. “You wrote this?” he said. “The part about looking out the window and seeing your pale reflection against the snow?” She nodded. He was going to say that hers was a reflection he wouldn’t mind seeing himself. But he never got that chance.

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