Category Archives: Arts

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Flying above Idaho, returning from Portland. I usually don’t take pictures from airplanes, but I’m a sucker for mountains, especially ones as pretty as these. They sparkled.

Chicago-sunset

Chicago at sunset, as lonesome and resolute as the celestial orb overlooking it.

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William Fitzsimmons concert. I liked the natural quadrants that formed outward from the violinist, and the colors exaggerating those divisions.

The Typewriter: A Graphic History

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Janine Vongool’s The Typewriter: A Graphic History of the Beloved Machine is a gorgeous compendium of ads, photographs, and other artwork depicting typewriters and related ephemera from their invention in the late 1860s to the 1980s, when personal computers began to supersede their analog ancestors.

In other words: straight-up typewriter porn.

Some interesting tidbits:

The Name

Charles Weller, a clerk who witnessed the early development of the machine, talked years later about how the typewriter got its name: “Typewriter was an unusual name and had a unique sound, and so it was finally adopted, and then for the first time was heard a name, sounding oddly enough at that time, but which has now become so common throughout the civilized world that we wonder that any other name was thought of.” Other names like “writing machine” and “printing machine” didn’t quite fit, and in retrospect were clearly inferior choices to typewriter, which indeed is an unusual but perfectly apt name.

The War

Typewriters were recruited to the World War II effort just as other industries and product were. The Royal ad below: “Uncle Sam wants every typewriter you can spare because the fighting forces need typewriters desperately today. They’re needed to speed up production, the movement of supplies, orders to ships and planes and troops. The typewriter industry can’t supply ’em – we’re busy making ordnance.” Manufacturers implored customers to either sell theirs to the government or maintain them better, as supplies and repairmen would be at a deficit due to war production.

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A Secretary Is Not A Toy

Sex and sexism are common themes throughout the decades of typewriter advertising shown in this book. Early 20th century graphics often depicted the office secretary as the “temptress at work” or an idle daydreamer, with the word typewriter “often used to describe both the machine and its operator.” The ads above make winking reference to these assumptions with the bait-and-switch headline that’s actually just selling carbon copy paper. The ads below promoted using bright red fingernail polish to contrast with the style of the machine; in a brilliant move of synergy, Underwood even made its own “chip-resistant” polish secretaries could sample by writing in on their office stationery.

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Typewriters and Self-Worth

Showing us that some things never change, some mid-century ads promoted typewriters to young people as statements of social standing, self-improvement, and self-worth. One Corona ad from 1921 just comes right out with it: “You probably suspect that we are trying to sell you a Corona. Nothing of the sort. We are just trying to convince you that you need a Corona. That’s different.” Royal really hit the self-improvement theme hard, promising a 38% rise in grades due to all the “exclusives” the 1958 Royal Portable provided.

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While I would have appreciated more contextual information accompanying the artwork, Vangool mostly lets the many images speak for themselves. Overall, it’s a superbly made coffee-table book that fans of typewriters and the graphic arts especially will enjoy.

Postmortem No Aware

Only recently did a cruel reality suddenly appear before me: that after I die I’ll miss out on so many books and movies and albums. Leave alone everything that will be released after I die; I dare not ponder what greatness I’ll be missing, as it can’t be helped. There are just too many good things out there right now I still have a shot at. Too many for one lifetime.

The way I see it my options are: A) bank on a good draw upon reincarnation and try to use the extra time wisely; B) frantically read and see and listen to everything in a desperate yet futile fight against the crushing march of mortality; and C) cry.


Not lookin’ good…

Girl Meets Rainbow

I was heartened by the exceedingly successful Kickstarter campaign to resurrect Reading Rainbow, which will help bring a new version of the early-literacy television program back to solvency and into classrooms to foster a love of reading in today’s children.

But this article from Caitlin Dewey at the Washington Post gave me pause:

“Crowdfunding is theoretically supposed to bolster charities, start-ups, independent artists, small-business owners and other projects that actually need the financial support of the masses to succeed. It’s not supposed to be co-opted by companies with profit motives and private investors of their own … which, despite Burton’s charisma, is exactly what the Rainbow reboot is.

“But if you’re donating to Reading Rainbow because of the grandiose charity rhetoric Burton’s employing on Kickstarter, you might want to look elsewhere — maybe the nonprofit Children’s Literacy Initiative or the Washington, D.C.-based First Book, both of which get high grades from Charity Navigator. They might not have LeVar [Burton]’s nostalgia appeal, but there’s no doubt who those charities serve.”

Rainbow was cancelled in 2009 and had been existing as an app since then, so though its name already has a pedigree I think it still deserved a chance to ask its fans for money like any other cause, charitable or otherwise.

In this light, let’s also consider the impending arrival of Girl Meets World, the sort-of sequel to that ’90s TGIF mainstay (and personal TV favorite) Boy Meets World. The title character is the daughter of Cory and Topanga, adorkable teen sweethearts and stars of BMW. When word of the show’s development hit the internet in late 2012, I’ll admit I got excited. Boy Meets World was a seminal show in my adolescence. I saw in Cory and Topanga’s relationship a healthy model for friendship and romance: Cory was silly and Topanga was rational, but both were strong, self-sufficient people who loved the other despite their foibles and occasional conflicts. And the people around them were just as well-rounded: Shawn broody yet loyal, Feeny upright yet playful, Eric clownish yet sincere.

Like Reading Rainbow, the BMW brand—much-loved yet dated—has received new life thanks to the groundswell support of its fans. Though this new show will be its own story with a new protagonist and surrounding cast, but with Cory and Topanga back in the mix, and the original BMW producer at the helm, it might as well be considered a continuation of the story. But for whom?

It’s common, I know, for entertainment meant for kids to have something their parents can enjoy too. Whether it’s Sesame Street or the latest Pixar movie, the best filmmakers and producers find a way to appeal to many age groups. And perhaps that is why Girl Meets World is being made: to give Millennials with young kids something they already have an attachment to that they will (theoretically) be able to enjoy watching with their kids. But the Disney Channel audience of Girl Meets World either hasn’t seen the original series or hasn’t even heard of it. They will have as much emotional investment in the characters as they would for any new show they encounter. So why do we need Girl Meets World?

It’s not as if kids today lack any source of entertainment whatsoever; what BMW was to me and my Millennial ilk, they have today (I’m guessing here) in the variety of television shows, movies, apps, and YA novels being made specifically for them right now. Don’t they deserve to have their own Boy Meets World, a show or thing they discovered in their youth and will feel special kinship toward into adulthood? Boy Meets World was my generation’s thing; shouldn’t they have their own that didn’t descend from their parents’ cultural experience and sensibility?

Perhaps I’m just being possessive. Who am I to cling to a TV show that many, many others cherish as much as I do. I suppose this gets at another question relating to pop culture and our interaction with it: Do we own the culture we embrace or are we mere stewards of it? In our produce/reuse/recycle media culture, do we lose the right to claim something as our own? I don’t think so. Once a work of art is created and sent out into the world, it is the artist’s no longer. It becomes a public entity of which we can all buy shares and claim partial if ardent ownership, but we can never own it outright. My Green Bay Packers stock is tangible evidence of my intangible ownership and love of the team, but it’s not real stock. There will always be more Packers fans, and Boy Meets World fans, and Reading Rainbow students, no matter the form those things take.

So here’s to hoping that everybody wins: that Girl Meets World and the new iteration of Reading Rainbow will enchant young viewers and delight older ones, and that we’ll finally find out what happened to Mr. Turner.