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J.D. Salinger is dead.  

Amazon.com is involved in another dispute concerning its Kindle software/hardware.  

Salinger was a recluse for the majority of his importance to American literature. Kindle takes some of your favorite literary works and converts them so they can be read on your iPhone, Blackberry, et al. Because The Crucible is best imagined while deciding whether or not you should text your jealous ex-boyfriend.  

I’m inclined to leave my feelings at that. Because I think that says it all.  

But I am opinionated. And verbose. And I believe in Art.  

I actually prefer pumpernickel!

 

We are already on a dangerous road. This road has already been paved. And the signs already dictate our destination.  

I have now seen every art form, aside from cave paintings, perverted by this technological race we’ve embarked upon.  

I repeat, J.D. Salinger is dead.  

Of course, I say. He was 91. Big deal.  

Kurt Vonnegut died nearly 2 years ago.  

Arthur Miller went in 2005. John Updike, nearly a year ago. Hell, even Michael Crichton is dead.  

Stephen King once said that one of his favorite things is the smell of the pages of a book with its spine freshly cracked.  

It is a fine smell, indeed, Mr. King.  

What have we left? Does an iPod have a scent? What does a Blackberry smell like? The device, not the fruit.  

I don’t know. And I don’t care to know.  

Salinger’s death hasn’t dealt any particular blow to the literary world. He was a hermit, after all. But his passing has made headlines, a fact which surprises me. I can only assume it’s because of his enigmatic nature. And probably because everyone has read Catcher in the Rye.  

Regardless, I am likening all of this not to the death of an individual but the death of an era – of an art form.  

Artists are aware of the way their intended audience is going to receive their art. For centuries, novelists have used the power of the page and adapted to it. No matter the strength of the tide, there have always been authors who really knew how to use that medium.  

Short stories have become a thing of the past because no one reads magazines or periodicals anymore. I don’t know how many American authors honed their skills, and supported themselves, through these means. Kurt Vonnegut often made mention of the fact that he pretty much had to start writing novels because, even in the ’50s, short stories were a dying market.  

If Hemingway were still living, he would be 111 years old. If A Farewell to Arms were still living, it would celebrate its 81st birthday this year.  

For what it’s worth, our socially-irresponsible and borrowed culture has produced an inordinant amount of brilliant novelists, essayists, dramatists, et al. Even the works of some of the not-so-good-but-popular (see Crichton or King) have translated to film very well.  

Not to put too fine a point on it, I am not thrilled by the idea of e-books. In fact, the “e-” prefix has always frightened me a bit. I’m not a tech-guy. I like the smell, the feel, and the sight of the printed word.  

And really, this is just another death in the long, long limitless line of deaths.  

…I’d rather curl up with my billionth-pressing copy of Catcher in the Rye and let everyone else think about the hell that’s being bestowed upon the literary world.  

Convenience is propaganda.

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And the winner is…   

If there is one thing we’ve learned so far this year, it’s the stupidity of your casual television viewer.   

For some reason, everyone has an opinion on the Leno VS. Conan VS. NBC debacle, a collision that is both unimportant and important at the same time. For pretty much the same reasons.   

I am reminded of the mob mentality: You’re either with us or against us.   

Conan O’Brien has been one of the few comedic heroes of our generation. In his much-publicized release from NBC, he’s come out not only the hero, but the martyr.   

So what happened to make this all…well…happen? If you don’t already know, Conan signed a contract with NBC in 2004 to overtake The Tonight Show five years later. Jay Leno’s job was being outsourced to a younger generation. Fair enough. When that five years rolled on by, Jay Leno, not ready to retire, signed a contract with NBC for a new show, in primetime.   

In the past ten years, there has been a new precedent set for primetime. Comedy is out, and drama is all the rage. So, understandably, ratings for Leno’s show weren’t all that hot. But neither were the ratings for Conan’s Tonight Show.   

Flashback: When Johnny Carson retired in 1992, it was widely believed and accepted that David Letterman would be the Tonight Show heir. He was not. Jay Leno, Carson’s permanent guest host, got the nod and stepped in. Letterman, feeling slighted, left the network.   

This seems oddly familiar, no?   

Strangely, Jay Leno has always been a controversial figure, not because of his PG-13 humor or politics, but because of his involvement with The Tonight Show.   

Television audiences have shown themselves to be largely in Conan’s corner. But let’s be fair, here. The media hasn’t exactly been kind to Leno in the process. It’s logical that most viewers would side with Conan.   

Flashback: When Letterman went to CBS, he was the late-night ratings leader. For two years. It wasn’t until the mid-’90s that Leno became a legitimate contender. But once he found his audience, he held onto them pretty strongly throughout his tenure (the first one) at The Tonight Show.   

A big deal has been made of the fact that Conan was only given 7 months to get the ratings NBC wanted. Apparently, NBC was expecting some carry-over from Conan’s Late Night that they just weren’t getting. This suggests that, ultimately, it was all about ratings.   

It wasn’t.   

This whole I’m With Coco campaign is ridiculous. The American attention span has decreased significantly since 1992. People missed Conan on Late Night, of that I’m sure. It was nice to see Andy Richter back in the fold, but Conan’s Tonight Show was missing so much from Late Night with Conan. But it wasn’t just Conan. And it wasn’t just Leno’s primetime series. Let’s be honest, late night talk shows have been lame and getting lamer for the past five or six years. The material, for my generation, hit its peak in the late ’90s, what with Monica Lewinsky. And then that silly George W. Bush guy running for office. That was late night humor.   

I'm With Coco

The best America can do.

 

So yes, let’s be honest. Conan got a raw deal, in that he wasn’t given a whole lot of time to get the ratings that NBC wanted. But Leno got a raw deal, too. The raw deal, however, didn’t come from any of the involved parties. Not from NBC, Conan or Leno. The raw deal came from the American television audience.   

Think about the modern expectations for television programs. They are minimal.   

Seinfeld, saviour to NBC, was constantly at risk of being cancelled every season until its 4th. The show that would one day go down as one of the finest ever produced, hung by a thread. For years. If you look at the ratings that Seinfeld received in those first 3 years, it would be considered a hit by today’s standards.   

Today, television programs are produced primarily with the intention of selling you things. Some take a very direct route, American Idol, and are massively successful. Some, Arrested Development, subvert that notion and turn it into a running gag, and are cancelled after only 3 seasons, despite the number of honorable awards earned.   

In the battle over late night, who wins? Nobody. Because the American television audience just proved its worth to every corporate entity involved in television production.   

Flashback: Mary Tyler Moore ran from 1970 to 1977. More than thirty years ago, regular episodes ran longer than 25 minutes, not counting product commercials.   

Flashback: The Simpsons began airing, in its sitcom form, in 1989. Still on the air after 20 years, it has lost more than 2 minutes of air-time to product commercials. The average running-time now is just above 21 minutes, not counting commercials.   

I’m with Coco. To the extent that Conan refused to let NBC change what he deemed a cherished American institution, I support him. However, I feel that this martyrdom is about 15 years too late. Television isn’t for television programs anymore. It’s for commercials. And if the American audience that supports Coco had been paying attention, they might have noticed in time to fix it.   

The networks don’t even do what you tell them to, anymore. You now do their bidding. Way to go.

Following the State of the Union address, the annual speech where Presidents try to convince us we’re not fucked, Chris Matthews (political commentator for MSNBC) uttered the now infamous remark, “I forgot he was black.”

This was of course in reference to our Commander-in-Chief. He’s a black guy, in case you, like Chris Matthews, forgot.

Many have been struggling to interpret the meaning of Matthews’ statement. The general conclusion seems to be that he meant, light-heartedly, that Barack Obama is so articulate, one might forget his heritage. According to Harry Reid, Obama lacks that “Negro dialect,” and that is why most have presumed Matthews’ context to be racist.

This assumption is rested on the idea that being black is a disadvantage, a handicap to be overcome. I wonder, do any of the legions of black men forced to serve prison sentences for crimes they didn’t commit think that their skin color might have been a handicap when the verdict came down?

Chris Matthews insists that he meant to suggest Obama has helped our country to transcend racism, just by being a competent President who happens to be black. Well, half-black, a point made by Harry Reid ages ago, when he suggested Obama’s dilluted blackness made him more electable.

News flash: Being so touchy on the race issue doesn’t help to transcend it. The fact is, America will never fully transcend race, and we shouldn’t expect to. There’s nothing wrong with noticing someone is a different color than you. Sometimes I look to the sky and notice that not all of the clouds look the same. Some are jagged. Some are white. Some are gray. Some are black. But they’re all clouds. My noticing their differences doesn’t suggest anything other than the fact that I’m observant. There was no inherent preference.

To that extent, we are all racist.

If there was any deeper meaning to be found in Chris Matthews’ statement, I think it might just be even more innocent than he intended. “We are all created equal. It’s in the constitution. Finally, we have a President that actually makes that seem true.”

When Barack Obama was elected, I rejoiced. I felt a part of some massive accomplishment for America. We ended World War II, we were a key negotiator in the Treaty of Versaille, we overcame the most intricate terrorist attack in history, etc. Bah, we’ve bungled every one of our accomplishments.

I thought maybe this time would be different. I thought maybe we would come to the national realization that it’s okay to notice that someone is different than you.

It becomes not okay when you use that platform, that instinctive observance, for reasons that are not just. If Obama gained the Presidency simply because he was black, then that is wrong. If he lost it simply because he was black, then that is wrong. I choose to believe he was elected wisely, but for the wrong reasons. But I may be wrong, as many other white people have been. (Hitler, Napoleon, Christopher Columbus, et al.)

Am I racist? You bet I am. Is Chris Matthews racist? Undoubtedly. Does pointing out Matthews racist comment just to attach some unintentional meaning to it make you not racist? Not on your life.

We need to be okay with these things. We need to accept our human nature. They say we’re all pink in the middle and that we all bleed the same blood.

If Obama weren’t our first black President (after 232 years of white dudes), this wouldn’t be as much of an issue.

These white dudes had sex with interns.

Then they say things like this, and I grow confused about what they really mean. Looking for others to be racist makes you just as guilty of racism. I’m talking to you Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

Peace and love…