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Mar 142013

John Roderick recently lamented that “Punk Rock is Bullshit” at Seattle Weekly, writing,

For those of us who grew up in the shadow of the baby boom, force-fed the misremembered vainglory of Woodstock long after most hippies had become coked-out, craven yuppies on their way to becoming paranoid neo-cons, punk rock provided a corrective dose of hard truth. Punk was ugly and ugly was true, no matter how many new choruses the boomers added to their song of self-praise. It was this perceived honesty that we, the nascent Generation X, feared and worshipped. But over time punk swelled into a Stalinistic doctrine of self-denial that stunted us. The yuppies kept sucking, but by clinging to punk we started to suck too.

At SF Weekly, Manjula Martin responded with “The Jazz Age Is Bullshit,” a nice bit of satire on Roderick’s piece and an enjoyable skewering of generational nostalgia (to my mind). Martin writes,

We took this music, which was different and new and hated by our parents, and developed it into a vibrant youth subculture based on one core principle: to rebel against the prevailing social and political standards, and to do it by partying hard on the dance floor and wearing clothing with a new aesthetic. But man, it turned out that once I got a little bit older, the Jazz Age totally disappointed me. And now jazz means something different than it did almost a century ago when I discovered it. Now, young kids get into jazz who don’t even know what jazz really stood for. Jazz has failed us. So can we finally admit to ourselves that the Jazz Age was bullshit? Because it was. Here’s why:

It seems like something our students might be engaged by, as part of discussions of countering and/or taking an approach in WR101, or in WR121 sections in which music and pop culture are the foci.

Alanis Morissette lyric probably goes here

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Nov 202012

Many of you have probably already seen a piece making the webbish rounds this week, “How To Live Without Irony” by Christy Wampole. Here’s the opening:

If irony is the ethos of our age — and it is — then the hipster is our archetype of ironic living.
The hipster haunts every city street and university town. Manifesting a nostalgia for times he never lived himself, this contemporary urban harlequin appropriates outmoded fashions (the mustache, the tiny shorts), mechanisms (fixed-gear bicycles, portable record players) and hobbies (home brewing, playing trombone). He harvests awkwardness and self-consciousness. Before he makes any choice, he has proceeded through several stages of self-scrutiny. The hipster is a scholar of social forms, a student of cool. He studies relentlessly, foraging for what has yet to be found by the mainstream. He is a walking citation; his clothes refer to much more than themselves. He tries to negotiate the age-old problem of individuality, not with concepts, but with material things.

To judge by the comments (at least, the last time I read through them) the response among NY Times readers has been positive and concordant. Not so much among readers elsewhere, both those within the generation being critiqued and those within Wampole’s own generation who see irony as more crucially Gen X than she acknowledges (a criticism I agree with, by the way). Particularly good, I think, is this response from a writer I’ve been enjoying quite a bit lately on various sites, Stephanie Bernhard:

You know how it’s okay for you to make fun of your siblings, but it’s totally uncool for anyone else to take a jab at them? This is more or less how I feel about my much-maligned generation. So my sisterly hackles rose as I read Christy Wampole’s Saturday New York Times Opinionator column “How to Live Without Irony,” which is a rather reckless attempt to tear down the perceived culture of an ill-defined group of “Americans born in the 1980s and 1990s.” The article is so grating to my twenty-something ears that it’s easy to imagine there’s some truth to David Roth’s joking tweet, which suggests the Times posted Wampole’s piece exclusively for trolling purposes. If this were the case, silence would be dignified; since it’s probably not, I’ll indulge in a few indignant words.

If you’ll allow me a sommelier moment, this pairing will go nicely with Hochschild and other readings about generations and youth culture in Reading Culture. It’s also a good example of countering as one text directly engages — and disagrees with — the other, as well as a case of a text working for one audience but not another.

And finally, on a sad personal note, thanks to Wampole including her age in the essay, I know that every player in this argument between generations is younger than I am. So get off my ironic lawn, you kids.

The Ghost of Matthew Arnold

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Dec 182011

Many of my poet friends have been discussing, courtesy of Emerson alum Sarah Sweeney, Helen Vendler’s vitriolic recent review of the new issue of the Penguin Anthology of Poetry edited by Rita Dove.  Rita Dove issued an exasperated response (note Vendler’s dismissive reply at the bottom).  It is tempting to use the conversation that emerges between the two for a variety of reasons.  It offers a clear example of an attitude to responding to texts that goes against the approach Harris advocates for.  Moreover, I had a number of students this semester actually argue during the in-course evaluation that 101 needed more “L”iterature (whatever that means to them. . .I thought all of the texts we used were capital :)), so I think this offers a clear avenue for discussing the kinds of writing that we use in 101 and why.  Also, the discussion often exposes the means by which genre is regulated.

Here is an excerpt from Vendler:

Multicultural inclusiveness prevails: some 175 poets are represented. No century in the evolution of poetry in English ever had 175 poets worth reading, so why are we being asked to sample so many poets of little or no lasting value? Anthologists may now be extending a too general welcome. Selectivity has been condemned as “elitism,” and a hundred flowers are invited to bloom. People who wouldn’t be able to take on the long-term commitment of a novel find a longed-for release in writing a poem. And it seems rude to denigrate the heartfelt lines of people moved to verse. It is popular to say (and it is in part true) that in literary matters tastes differ, and that every critic can be wrong. But there is a certain objectivity bestowed by the mere passage of time, and its sifting of wheat from chaff: Which of Dove’s 175 poets will have staying power, and which will seep back into the archives of sociology?

And here is a bit of the response from Dove:

But as we know, every generation burrows into its own hard-earned defenses, and it is the prerogative of the young to challenge—yes, and shock—their elders. Vendler lets her guard down when she laments, rather condescendingly, that I am a poet, not an essayist, “writing in a genre not [my] own”—as if that alone disqualifies me from being capable of lucid prose as long as she, the master essayist, owns the genre lock, stock, and barrel.

Rewriting Banksy

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Nov 032011

Some of my students gave a presentation in which they talked about the gradual erasure and substitution of the Banksy piece on Essex Street that has been happening over the past few months as a form of countering and forwarding.  It was an innovative way to approach the topic, so I thought I might share.

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