Flying Away From The American Way: Superman and National Identity

(Image from Comics Alliance)

I just read Comics Alliance’s description of the latest issue of Action Comics, and apparently Superman has renounced his American citizenship. While I have never been that taken with the writing of David S. Goyer (the Blade trilogy, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight), he may have redeemed himself with this little bit of “ripped from the headlines” superheroics, Here’s Laura Hudson’s recap of the moment in question:

The key scene takes place in “The Incident,” a short story in Action Comics #900 written by David S. Goyer with art by Miguel Sepulveda. In it, Superman consults with the President’s national security advisor, who is incensed that Superman appeared in Tehran to non-violently support the protesters demonstrating against the Iranian regime, no doubt an analogue for the recent real-life protests in the Middle East. However, since Superman is viewed as an American icon in the DC Universe as well as our own, the Iranian government has construed his actions as the will of the American President, and indeed, an act of war.

Superman replies that it was foolish to think that his actions would not reflect politically on the American government, and that he therefore plans to renounce his American citizenship at the United Nations the next day — and to continue working as a superhero from a more global than national perspective.

The timing of this moment could not amuse me more (it also, consciously or not, critiques another current  Superman story that began with the character walking around the country and aligning himself with crude, absurd caricatures real American folks from the flyover states). I’m sure smarter people than I will justify President Obama’s decision to engage so directly with the birthers, but it is also a little depressing to see a comic book so handily make contemporary political discourse look so cartoonish. While the world at large (and Warner Brothers) will surely regard  Superman as a cultural icon (and a brand) firmly aligned with American iconography and ideals, it’s great to see Goyer and the Superman team wrestling with questions of national identity.

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Odd Future’s Reception History

Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All

Check out “What We Talk About When We Talk About Odd Future,” a piece I wrote for my pal Ricky’s site, At A Glimpse. It’s a short essay, and it’s intended to get a conversation going on how the group has been reviewed and perceived by the press. A few quick notes:

-If you’re new to Odd Future, Pitchfork has an overview of their major records (and links to said records).

-The Bethelehem Shoals piece I mention in my essay can be found over at Poetry Foundation. It’s good.

-Speaking of casual homophobia, Kobe Bryant was recently fined $100,000 by the NBA for using the f-word to describe an official. Jon Amaechi’s take on the incident is worth your time.

-Speaking of the NBA, Knicks in seven. Unless Ray Allen continues to play like Ray Allen.

Does This Tumblr Page Make Me Look Smart? Infinite Snark and The Decline of Western Civilization

When a Facebook friend recently posted a photo of his hot-off-the-press copy of David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King, I groaned. Not because I dislike DFW: I have read and enjoyed his collections of essays, I wish his commencement speech could replace the one that Eliot Spitzer gave at my graduation ceremony, and I have been circling Infinite Jest for the last month or so. No, the groan was directed at the photographer and the possible reasons one might post such an image. If I’m in a bad mood (and clearly I was when I groaned), I might believe that this person is using the photo to delineate his standing as a Cool Kid: he’s the type of kid who uses Facebook to show off his DFW purchases, link to songs by The Weekend, and upload Hipstamatic shots of the New York City skyline. If I’m in a more gracious, introspective move, I might find more similarities than differences between these activities and my own Facebook pursuits: badmouthing American Psycho and other Cool Kid signifiers, digging up old clips of Adam McKay’s short films from Saturday Night Live, posting links to a blog where I talk about recent films that I have seen. I am sure my Facebook activity makes people groan all the time.

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Adapt or Die: Hanna and The Breakdown of Binary Oppositions

I spent part of yesterday listening to a recent episode of comedian Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, which featured Maron and The State alum Michael Showalter discussing, of all things, semiotics. Showalter, who is currently teaching grad classes in film at NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of The Arts, was discussing his interest in semiotics as an undergrad, and he was running through a general overview of how signs function in film: bad guys in westerns wear black hats, good guys wear white ones, etc.

The conversation ended up being a great warm-up for my afternoon screening of Hanna, a film marketed as what passes for a conventional in its unconventionality, comic-book-meets-pop-art action film in the tradition of Run Lola Run, Kill Bill, and Oldboy. While it’s certainly in conversation with the conventions and aesthetics of action films, Hanna is more interesting to me in the way that it turns a fairly routine story about coming-of-age into a hot mess about the limits of control. The Jarmusch reference is intentional there, as I think Hanna covers terrain mapped about by that director’s most recent film in a more immediately engaging and compelling manner (that being said, I do like The Limits of Control, and Hanna still loses out to Dead Man if you are prone to treating movies like American Gladiators).

(Spoilers Below: the short review is Go See Hanna)

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All-American Reading List

Nicki Minaj (photo from XXL)

I’ve been pretty busy this week getting some school work off the ground, but I did want to check in with a linkdump. It occured to me that all of these links are Americentric. And that I’m talking to myself again: believe me, I’ve read the blog’s stats. Anyway, here’s some brief notes on Major League Baseball, the New York School, Hip-Hop historiography, and Nicki Minaj:

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Ideas of Order in Fringe

I’ve spent the last few hours catching up with Fringe, one of my (many) guilty pleasures these days.  I say “guilty pleasure” because while I enjoy many elements of the show, its apparent investment in a strictly-ordered universe — most immediately present in the show’s warring alternate realities and the creepy, Powder-times-Data-divided-by-The Adjustment Bureau dudes who seem to be monitoring and / or running the show — remind me of an element of science fiction and fantasy narratives that I wish we could get beyond: The Chosen One(s) tasked with restoring order to a world that is both “broken” and capable of “fixing.”

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New Poetry Project: No New Yorker and Smart Phone Poetics

I have a new poetry blog called No New Yorker which has been up and running for a few days. There are some similarities between the work there and the poems I wrote on my old site, The Loss of Hope and Love, but I’m less chained to the cut-up process (and I’m trying to move a bit away from the label “cut-up,” which is pretty loaded and potentially distracting: that being said, I still utilize many “cut-up” techniques).

I’ve also decided to take part in Not Without Poetry, this year’s poem-a-day initiative in celebration of National Poetry Month (which I found out about via We Who Are About To Die). I’ve also decided to write and publish each poem via my smart phone, just to make things more interesting slash annoying slash gimmicky. Check out the site this month and let me know what you think of my poetry-on-the-go.

“the assassin of my orchids”: Frank O’Hara, Mad Men, and the Reshaping of the Recent Past

Don Draper reading Frank O'Hara's Meditations in an Emergency

Don Draper reading Frank O'Hara's Meditations in an Emergency

Note: The following post is a paper I presented at the 2011 Northeastern University English Graduate Student Association Conference. The theme of this year’s conference was “Raw Materials,” and my paper was part of a panel titled “Raw Poetics.”

In a recollection of his friend Frank O’Hara, written for Book Week less than two months after the poet’s sudden death in July of 1966, John Ashbery proposes a solution for individuals who are wary of “a supremely tribal civilization like ours, where even artists feel compelled to band together in marauding packs.” He advises: “Whatever it is, join it; you can examine it later and neutralize it, if necessary, from within” (Selected Prose 81). This talk examines one of the ways that O’Hara attempts to neutralize the conventions of reading poetry that were established by the prevailing marauders of his day. Specifically, O’Hara’s use of proper names — represented in this talk by the poem “To The Film Industry In Crisis” — raise questions about how writers and their readers approach such references in poetry. My discussion will also examine what happens when O’Hara and his work (the poem “Mayakovsky”) become points of reference for the AMC television program Mad Men. This revision of O’Hara’s work seems to evade the ways that O’Hara challenges assumptions about how to read and write poetry.

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Orr vs. Oprah: Poetry and The Myth of The “Great Divide”

In the first sentence of his latest piece for the New York Times Book Review, David Orr describes the “Poetry” issue of Oprah Winfrey’s magazine as a “starker” indication of “the coming apocalypse,” then spends the rest of the column backpedaling from this assessment. And in his retreat from this hyperbolic cliche, he brings up a lot of good points: the gender bias inherent in viewing the presence of poetry in a women’s magazine (although this doesn’t necessarily recuse him from the apocalyptic imagery he invokes to describe the appearance of poets in O Magazine; additionally, the title of the piece, “Oprah’s Adventures in Poetry” is more than a little condescending in tone, and intentionally or not, seems a little too reminiscent of Adventures in Babysitting), the wish that one piece in the issue had described “the actual experience of reading a poem” and what that is like for one person.

But Orr’s biggest concern with the poetry issue is that the effort does more to reveal a “chasm between the audience for poetry and the audience for O” than it does to bridge this gap, and his piece ends with an imagined set of poets (and readers of poetry) who “stare half-longingly, half-fearfully across that great divide at the golden palace of mass culture.” Orr’s tongue is in cheek here (and seriously, when is it not? Is Orr a member of the Poets’ Friar’s Club?), but he’s clearly invested in constructing the era of contemporary poetry as one very much concerned with a gap between poet and wide readership: his forthcoming book, Beautiful and Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry, sounds very much like a bridge (and it’s a lot catchier than “Verazzano-Narrows”: that sounds like an Orr joke, doesn’t it? Maybe I can open for him on the road?).

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“Making A Tin Thing Sing”: Kevin Young and Contemporary Poetry

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Note: The following post is a talk I gave at a grad student conference in March 2009.  It was written as a talk, so there’s a bit of repetition built into the language of the piece that is hopefully not too distracting. I wanted the piece to have an extended life beyond its 15 minutes of delivery back in ’09, so I’ve posted it here.

As of Friday [March 13, 2009], Nikki Giovanni’s recent collection Bicycles: Love Poems was Amazon’s best-selling poetry volume, outpacing collections of work by Dante, Milton, and Robert Frost, in addition to volumes of Dr. Seuss being purchased by parents and relatives for recent graduates. Giovanni’s stature seems to lend credence to Dana Gioia’s claim in “Disappearing Ink: Poetry at the End of Print Culture” that “an author’s print readership now heavily depends on attracting an audience initially through oral performance” (20).  Giovanni maintains a rigorous schedule of readings and public appearances (which included a recent appearance at the Lincoln Memorial celebration of the president’s bicentennial birth), she has appeared on National Public Radio and other media outlets (in radio, print, and television), she recorded a Grammy-nominated album of her work, and she was recently named one of Oprah Winfrey’s 25 “Living Legends.” Print alone did not elevate Giovanni tothe top of the charts, and the fact that the rhythms and cadences of her work can be easily transmittable through spoken performance allows her to utilize sites beyond the printed page to introduce her work to people who rarely find themselves in the poetry sections of a bookstore (be it physical or online).

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