An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles

June 1, 2010

The Baffler Rides Again

Filed under: media and pop culture — Tags: , , — Ethan @ 1:40 am

I started reading The Baffler magazine when I was in middle school. It took all my directionless, smug youthful cynicism and molded it into the carefully honed cynicism I carry with me to this day. Their unique mode of business culture criticism taught me to think clearly about when and where capitalism played into my own adolescent longing for subcultural authenticity. To admire the activist efforts of generations past, as well as their baroque snarkiness. But more than anything else, that magazine probably saved me from the lifelong humiliation of having had a full-blown, Ayn-Rand-reading  libertarian phase–I was the exact sort of too smart for my own good, but not smart enough to realize my flaws, brat who falls for that sort of thing for, oh, 2-50 years.

And, well, 14 year old me thought the whole catching the NY Times printing fake ‘grunge’ slang thing was pretty funny.

Of course, after the building that housed the Baffler’s office burned in 2001, the magazine was put on a wobbly hiatus  (I actually only recently discovered they’d published atall after the fire), which seemed likely to last–it seemed fitting to me that the magazine’s coma began just after the dot-com bubble burst. I remember thinking ‘Well, what would they write about now, anyway?’

Plenty, as it turns out. They’re back in semi-annual business, they have some full articles online, a blog full of fucking novella-length goodies (including some worthwhile reprints), and they’re selling subscriptions. Go do it. I will.

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May 16, 2010

In Which I Wax Unecessarily Nostalgic, or Something

Filed under: Government and Policy — Tags: , , — Ethan @ 7:42 pm

Not too long ago, I finished Thomas Frank’s The Wreaking Crew. (It’s excellent. Read it. Seriously) There’s one passage, barely a footnote, that’s gotten stuck between my teeth, so to speak.

Frank spends most of the book weaving together the history of 20th century conservatism in the US (especially from Reagan on) and the concurrent history of DC as a city–from the boom years of the New Deal to the current creeping mansionization of the suburbs. At one point, he describes his first reaction to the boxy, cookie-cutter houses that popped up by the blockfull in the 30′s and 40′s. As a college student/punk  in the 80′s, his first glimpse of all that uniformity could basically be summed up with ‘Fuck this, get me out of here.’

But now, as a middle aged adult living in a much more stratified, quantitatively shittier America, he says he sees things quite differently.  Those neighborhoods were full of affordable housing, just big enough for a family to have a little yard, some on-street parking and two stories to themselves. They were built on grids, within walking distance of  Metro lines, schools and grocery stores. They were priced so that a family could afford them on a single modest bureaucrat’s income,  and 50, 70 years later they’re still standing.

Sure, the houses are architecturally uninspired. But the barely-middle-class American dream they were meant to fulfill isn’t even an option anymore.  Real wages are falling. Housing prices are going up. Job security is vanishing at an uncomfortable pace.And slowly, those neighborhoods full of ticky-tacky faux-federalist houses are disappearing, as developers buy up the lots to know them down by the fistful, putting one huge, spit-and-drywall ‘luxury home’ where two or three brick cubes had been.

As an adult, Franks basically says he finds boring-but-comfortable an acceptable dilemma. Given at least the option of a decent-paying, limited hours  day job, people can find their own meaning in life. They can have friends, family, hobbies. They can paint their ugly little houses bright colors, throw up a front porch,  and plant gardens where the postage stamp lawn used to be.

I just graduated with what the Department of Labor assures me is a useful degree in a field I love. But looking at the options I have, it’s been hell explaining to my Baby Boomer parents that I just don’t have the same choices they did. There’s no guarantee I’ll be ok so long as I don’t fuck things up royally (which they both did, one by being an alcoholic douchebag,  and the other by going into an industry that’s been slowly dying since the Reagan administration). I may not make more money, or be more happy than my parents were.I  will almost definitely be less secure than my grandparents were. And we didn’t even get better looking houses out of the bargain.

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April 25, 2010

Ummm, what’s wrong with this picture?

Filed under: DIY,gender — Tags: , , , , — Ethan @ 10:10 pm

I knit. A lot. I make gifts for people I care about, but mostly I knit for myself. Finding patterns I like, that will fit me well, is always a challenge. So I was excited to see Man Made DIY review Knits Men Want,  a whole book full of patterns I might potentially want, photographed by knitting heartthrob Jared Flood. To be clear, I haven’t read it yet; I’m about to go off on a tear on general principle, because the thing that bothers me about this is something that has happened over and over again: a perfectly good, useful craft book tries to sell itself with some gender-retrograde, Men-Are-From-Mars bullshit.

It is surprisingly hard to find good collection of knitting patterns for guy’s clothes– most general-purpose knitting books will be 3/4 to 7/8 women’s clothes, with a sweater or two and some sock recommendations tucked in for the dudes. I’m not very gender-policy about my clothes, but I find that patterns aimed more at women can’t be made to fit me well. So, another halfway-decent collection on patterns for guys clothes is a good thing; I don’t want to have to buy 10 books to get 10 patterns I’d want to make for myself.  Judging this book solely on it’s cover and the short review I linked, the technical content looks pretty great. The piece featured on the cover looks like something I’d wear, and the review suggest the patterns come with plenty of detail for adjusting them to fit across a broad range of sizes and style preferences. And anything Jared Flood does is probably pretty great.

But the book isn’t aimed at men. It’s aimed at women, with the subtitle “The Ten Rules Every Woman Should Know Before Knitting for a Man.” I can’t stand the weird sexism & heterosexism here. Why should women be doing all the manly-sweater-making? I resent the implication that women should be hand-knitting sweaters for me. The women in my life have better things to do with their time, like having a life, being more successful than me, and making sweaters for themselves. Shouldn’t dudes make their own damn sweaters?

Like I said, I wouldn’t be so pissed if this were a one-off oddity, a book aimed at a specific niche, but it’s not. Based on my extensive survey of bookstores and  knitting specialty stores across the southeast, (ahem) there are only maybe 6 or so books in print that focus on knitting menswear. One is composed entirely of men’s sweaters with matching dog sweaters, so we’ll rule it right out. Out of the remaining 5-ish, at least one other (the otherwise handy Son of Stitch N’ Bitch) assumes a female reader, looking to make something nice for her husband/boyfriend. That book does a fair amount of what I’m accusing this of sight-unseen–gender-policing (don’t make your boyfriend something brightly colored, even if he goes to the store with you and picks out a multicolor Noro yarn!),disguising naratives that push women to cater to men as empowering ( like ‘those silly boys, if you don’t hand-knit them camelhair socks, they’ll never get themselves nice things’), and disguising  general-purpose, gender-neutral good advice as some deep insight into the mysteries of the Opposite Sex (for anyone wanting a big squishy sweater they can wear over other layers, it’s a good idea to measure a sweater they already like than to measure their body and guess where to add room)

To be clear, knitting is mostly a women’s hobby. I’m not arguing to the contrary; I get annoyed pretty quickly with guys who want the whole subculture to butch up just so they can feel comfortable. But most of the people I’ve met who really want whole books full of quality men’s patterns are queer men–we’re more likely to need the quantity of options, to have lots to chose from to make things for ourselves and still have new styles to use for the odd gift to partners, friends and family.  Given that audience, why posit such a Good Housekeeping-esque world where highly skilled crafters* need extra special help to make a series of tubes, just so they don’t injure their husband’s delicate masculinity with their lady-hobbies?

* I don’t know how difficult the patterns are in this book, but it does take much more skill and experience in general to take on a fitted women’s sweater than the looser, squarer cuts and simpler textures usually aimed at men.

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