"Hunky vampires or Barack Obama."
By way of McNally Jackson's blog, which I bite from every week or so 'cause it's awesome, comes a jeremiad about the rise of what the autho dismisses as middle brow escapist genre lit amongst college kids.
From the article:
n 1969, when Alice Echols went to college, everybody she knew was reading "Soul on Ice," Eldridge Cleaver's new collection of essays. For Echols, who now teaches a course on the '60s at the University of Southern California, that psychedelic time was filled with "The Autobiography of Malcolm X," "The Golden Notebook," the poetry of Sylvia Plath and the erotic diaries of Anaïs Nin.
Forty years later, on today's college campuses, you're more likely to hear a werewolf howl than Allen Ginsberg, and Nin's transgressive sexuality has been replaced by the fervent chastity of Bella Swan, the teenage heroine of Stephenie Meyer's modern gothic "Twilight" series. It's as though somebody stole Abbie Hoffman's book -- and a whole generation of radical lit along with it.
Last year Meyer sold more books than any other author -- 22 million -- and those copies weren't all bought by middle-schoolers. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the best-selling titles on college campuses are mostly about hunky vampires or Barack Obama. Recently, Meyer and the president held six of the 10 top spots. In January, the most subversive book on the college bestseller list was "Our Dumb World," a collection of gags from the Onion. The top title that month was "The Tales of Beedle the Bard" by J.K. Rowling. College kids' favorite nonfiction book was Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers," about what makes successful individuals. And the only title that stakes a claim as a real novel for adults was Khaled Hosseini's "A Thousand Splendid Suns," the choice of a million splendid book clubs.
Here we have a generation of young adults away from home for the first time, free to enjoy the most experimental period of their lives, yet they're choosing books like 13-year-old girls -- or their parents. The only specter haunting the groves of American academe seems to be suburban contentment.
I'm honestly conflicted by this article. Mostly I want to dismiss the writer's smug assumptions about the value of genre lit and deflate the self-important image of the '60s as a sort of golden age of intellectualism. Honestly, are college students really all the worse off because we read about Obama's vision for a liberal tomorrow instead of swallowing Cleaver's theories that the rape of white women is a legitimate weapon in the race struggle?
On the other hand, this news is slightly grimace inducing. I'm reminded of Pauline Kael's sad quote: "When we championed trash culture we had no idea it would become the only culture."
What Horror Movie are We Today?
Today we're Primeval.
From the UK-based Sky News wire: 'Monster Crocodile' Bites Girl's Head Off
A crocodile has bitten off a 10-year-old girl's head after knocking over the canoe she was travelling in.
She was on her way to a floating school on the Agusan Marsh in the Philippines when the huge reptile capsized the boat, the provincial government said.
The girl fell into the water during the attack on Saturday, but her headless body was not discovered until two days later.
A classmate who was with her was rescued by a man who had been escorting the pair in another boat, said Ruel Hipulan, head of the private group which runs the school.
"It's a monster crocodile," he said. Witnesses said the crocodile was about 30ft (nine metres) long.
Martians Go Home!
Music video goodness with a "Space Invaders" twist from Röyksopp.
Portrait of the Dictator as Young Man
I first met Kim Jong Il in October 1959. He was a senior at the elite Namsan Senior High School, and I was a 27-year-old professor of Russian at the Pyongyang University of Education.
Kim Hyun Sik was the infamous North Korean dictator's private Russian tutor for more than 20 years. Over at AlterNet, Hyun Sik presents an extended portrait of the early years of the now possibly insane tyrant.
From the article, on Jong Il's installation as commander in chief of the armed forces:
A short while later, Kim Jong Il was named the commander in chief of the Korean People’s Army. And a big sign inscribed with Kim Jong Il’s words, “A world without North Korea need not survive,” was duly installed at the exhibition hall, the nation’s flagship display of achievements in industry, technology, engineering, and agriculture.
On the eugenic policies of Jong Il:
Living under a totalitarian regime requires a daily suspension of disbelief. Nowhere is that more true today than in North Korea, where otherwise ethical people contort themselves into untenable moral positions because they’ve bought into the oft-repeated notion that their country is “Paradise on Earth.” Simply to survive in North Korea, citizens must believe they are living in a chosen land. And when ideological indoctrination morphs into reality, the dictator need not even be nearby to spread fear. Not if average people will do his bidding for him.
All of which is bad news for those who don’t fit into Kim Jong Il’s ideal of a healthy, vital citizenry. In the people’s paradise that is North Korea, disabled -- even short -- people are considered subhuman. In 1989, Pyongyang hosted the World Festival of Youth and Students. In preparing for the international gathering, the entire nation was encouraged to outdo South Korea’s hosting of the Summer Olympic Games the year before. Pyongyang’s event had to be bigger and more glamorous. One such method was to purify the revolutionary capital of Pyongyang of disabled people.
Six months before the festival, the government rounded up all disabled residents of Pyongyang and sent them away from the capital to remote villages. The majority were clockmakers, seal engravers, locksmiths, and cobblers who made their living in the city. Overnight, they were forcibly deprived of the lives they had known.
. . .
My friend, a well-connected physician at the time, told me that he had been ordered by the Communist Party to pick out the shortest residents of Pyongyang and South Pyongan province. Against his conscience, he went out to those areas and had local party representatives distribute propaganda pamphlets. They claimed that the state had developed a drug that could raise a person’s height and was recruiting people to receive the new treatment. In just two days, thousands gathered to take the new drug.
My friend explained how he picked out the shortest among the large group. He told the crowd that the drug would best take effect when consumed regularly in an environment with clean air. The people willingly, and without the slightest suspicion, hopped aboard two ships -- women in one, men in the other. Separately, they were sent away to different uninhabited islands in an attempt to end their “substandard” genes from repeating in a new generation. Left for dead, none of the people made it back home. They were forced to spend the rest of their lives separated from their families and far from civilization.
On Kim Hyun Sik life now:
Thirty years have passed since I last saw Kim Jong Il. Upon leaving Pyongyang, I spent some 10 years in South Korea. And now I am living in the United States, the land of my so-called mortal enemy.
. . .
In 1991, during a stint as a visiting professor in Moscow, I was approached by a South Korean agent. He brought me incredible news. He could arrange a meeting with my older sister, who had fled to the South during the Korean War and later moved to Chicago. Arranged by South Korea’s national intelligence agency, it would be the first time we had seen each other in more than 40 years. All that time, we thought the other was dead. I was overcome with emotion. She begged me to come back to the United States with her and become a minister -- our mother’s dying wish for me. Although I could not return with my sister, it was one of the happiest moments of my life.
Our joy was short-lived. Another agent who had allowed us to use his house as a meeting spot was, in fact, a double agent working for the North. I received instructions from the government to return home the very next day. But I knew very well I couldn’t; I would be killed as a traitor. I anguished over what my failure to appear would mean for my family back in Pyongyang. It’s bad enough for a soldier or a student to defect. But I knew intimate details of the ruling family’s inner circles. Surely they would view my betrayal as a personal insult.
I never returned to North Korea, and I never saw my family again. A few years later, I heard from a well-placed South Korean minister that my family had been sent to a gulag and murdered, the innocent victims of my treasonous crime. To this day, I know nothing of the details of their deaths, or whether they blamed me as they perished.