20 November 2008

- lolcats essay -

Andrew Sullivan doesn't like this essay on lolcats, but I found it to be a worthwhile read. I think I see what Andrew finds objectionable in it: the bit he quotes on his blog — "the cheeseburger is not really a cheeseburger -- it's a symbol" — is almost a comically silly observation. ("Duh" doesn't even get to surface of what's wrong with it.) But I think that sentence is an anomaly in the essay, one that, to be sure, a decent editor should have caught and asked the author to rethink. If Andrew is right in calling the author on the carpet for it, he should have noted that its presence mars and undoes what might have been a really rather excellent essay on its topic. (That's why the passage is so devastatingly disappointing.) Instead, in just quoting it and labeling it with "Poseur Alert," Andrew suggests that the passage is representative of the essay and the thinking in it, which I don't believe it is.

Phenomena like lolcats are in need of this sort of contemplation (even if the letters to Salon suggest many find contemplation of such object intolerable), and if I don't believe that Dixit quite gets to what's culturally at stake in lolcats, his essay is a better attempt at making sense of their distinct appeal than I have yet seen.


Here is a good letter that addresses one of the more important aspects of lolcats not dealt with in Dixit's essay: the grammar:
Let's be clear: the language used in LOLcat captions isn't simply "mangled English". The deliberate misspellings and misuses of words like the verb "to be" reflect the ways in which White folks misunderstand the way Black folks talk in America. Dixit Jay's article may elide any discussion of race, but postings like this one (http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_48pIyTbrm4A/Ruc4lWH0clI/AAAAAAAAADE/Xn7698M88ME/s1600-h/I+just+wishes+i+wuz+white..jpg) make it pretty clear that race is very much a factor in these posts.

I don't, in fact, find that the grammar of lolcats particularly resembles Black vernacular English, nor does it seem especially akin to the various entertainment versions thereof. The particular grammatical deformations of lolcats are, however, characteristics of pidgin language in general; the errors are also characteristic of the way children speak. I would argue that any resemblance to the Black English of the entertainment industry stems from the way in which the entertainment industry likewise juvenilized the dialect as part of its juvenilized representation of African Americans. And what lolcats grammar represents, I would contend, is this juvenile relationship to language.

Now, a more interesting point might be that the representations of lolcats are filling an analogous role for the cultural imagination as the representations of Black folks did in earlier generations. And a further question would be to what extent that otherness that is represented in the grammar is necessarily a racialized other and, if it is, to what effect.
But to me, many of these cartoons reflect an unconscious equation, in the mind of their creators, of Black people with animals, and of Black culture (as perceived, or mis-perceived, by people outside of it) as something to be ridiculed.

The author seems to assume that the representation of otherness is necessarily racialized. But it is not clear to me that this is the case; indeed the otherness of lolcats seems deployed as a mirror to reflect back an alienated image of ourselves where we can recognize aspects of ourselves not otherwise visible. This, I take it, is Dixit's point. And it is not necessary to demonize or ridicule the cats in order to see this reflection. Indeed, any ridicule in the humor usual rebounds to us. In any case, it's certainly true that the representation of the African American in the entertainment industry has similarly served this function, so to that extent the comparison of the letter writer is potentially valid. But the question remains as to whether the the representation of otherness must necessarily be racialized?

From another letter, which points to the juvenilizing effects of the language but also sees in that otherness an alienness that can speak truth to power:
I also enjoy the way the "mangling" follows very definite rules and has its own sound and rhythm, almost as if it were poetry, and the way it creates its own reality. Lolspeak plays into our view of cats as furry little anarchists, refusing to follow rules. It reinforces our feelings toward our pets as our "babies". It's playful. And play is a good thing. We don't get enough of it in our lives.

- Bonus Stress -

The problem with this idea is that it presumes that executive bonuses are linked directly to performance. While in some cases this is undoubtedly the case, in others, bonuses seem to be more like a regular (albeit variable) aspect of the compensation. That is, many firms seem to give out large bonuses to their executives whether the company performs well or not. Usually the rationale is retention: the company needs to pay these bonuses in order to retain its best talent. But this factor calls into question the premise of the study: namely that high bonuses induce performance-debilitating stress. If high bonus is not directly related to performance, however, it's not clear how, if at all, the bonus might figure into the production of stress.

16 November 2008

- Help Wanted: A Smart Opposition -

Frank Rich notes that the Obama administration and the Democrats actually need a smart Republican opposition to keep themselves from doing stupid things:

The bad news for Democrats is that these are the exact circumstances that can make Obama cocky and Democrats sloppy. The worse news for the country is that at a time of genuine national peril we actually do need an opposition party that is not brain-dead.

13 November 2008

- Register the Pets! -

Gail Collins, who rose during the course of the election rose to being one of my favorite columnists:
Georgia has a Senate runoff Dec. 2, and the Democrats have dispatched tons of canvassers to help their candidate, Jim Martin. Martin is a long shot, but we should all be grateful that they’ve found something to do with the Obama campaign workers, who would otherwise have been set loose to wander the country, muttering about change and attempting to register household pets to vote.

All this energy, but no place to channel it effectively at the moment: I think this, not the high expectations per se, is going to pose the real challenge for the Obama administration.

How do you manage it for good?

03 November 2008

- Balance and the Newpaper Market -

Greenwald on WaPo's Ombudsman Deborah Howell's contention that the WaPo had tilted too far left in this election (as if):

In Howell's view, The Post shouldn't determine its news reporting based on what is factually true. Instead, it should shape its coverage to please this discredited, failed political movement -- in order to sell more papers.

As Greenwald notes, the placing of economics over fact is egregious (though there is no evidence I can see that a more rightward tilt would have sold any more newspapers). Even more troubling: this is the newspaper's ombudsman who is advocating making editorial decisions on the basis of economics rather than conformance to fact.

02 November 2008

- McCain Pulls a "Sad Grampa" -

Funny as hell, and it makes McCain seem human, but is this a winning strategy? I don't see it.

01 November 2008

- Obama in a Blowout -


55% Obama
42% McCain
3% Other

The undecideds will not break McCain's way; most of them will simply not vote. Indeed, the likely voter model will be found to have overestimated the likelihood that Republicans would vote.

The youth vote will be about what it was in 2004, but the high turn out among African Americans and general apathy among Republicans will make for the lopsided margin.

These are simply predictions, of course, but I remain convinced that McCain has a greater likelihood of underperforming his polling numbers than overperforming.