Tag Archives: Culture

The Disappearing of Generation X

Generation X — Americans born between 1961 and 1974 — have been “disappeared“ from the media like a fallen-out-of-favor Soviet apparatchik airbrushed out of a picture from atop Lenin’s tomb.

Gen X was an important facet of the start of my career. I used to write and draw a lot about Gen X. I authored a seminal Gen X manifesto, Revenge of the Latchkey Kids (1996). For a while there, it seemed like we were going to take our rightful place as the third-biggest generational cohort—not the biggest by any means but at least…extant.

Now the Internet is talking about a CBS News infographic in which zero Americans were apparently born between Boomers and the Millennials. CBS listed four generations:

“The Silent Generation: Born 1928-1945 (73-90 years old)”

“Baby Boomers: Born 1946-1964 (54-72 years old)”

“Millennials: Born 1981-1996 (23-37 years old)”

“Post-Millennials: Born 1997-present (0-21 years old)”

(The so-called “cusp kids” born between 1961 and 1964 are demographically Boomers because of high birth years but culturally Gen X because they share cultural touchstones with younger Americans.)

That’s right, Gen Xers: to CBS News, you’re less real and alive and important than someone who is zero years old. So much for Gen X culture—“Reality Bites,” “Slacker,” “Singles,” “Clerks,” anything by Quentin Tarantino or Richard Linklater, pretty much all indie rock ever, alternative cartooning, oh and the Douglas Coupland book called, um, “Generation X.” To CBS, that stuff matters less than the pee and poo and puke and drool emanating from a zero year old.

The disappearing of Gen X is a genuine widespread trend. A New York Times op-ed by David Leonhardt discusses “the fleecing of the Millennials” by Boomers and attributes not only declining living standards but also the “burnout“ slur as being brand new to Millennials while in fact both of these characterized Gen X first, decades earlier.

When you read it, it’s downright bizarre that the phrase “Generation X” never appears anywhere. Online commenters were baffled.

These days all the conversation in the media is about the supposed stylistic differences and economic clashes between the Baby Boom and Millennial generations. Generation X is ignored; we don’t even get caught in the crossfire. In a recent SNL skit called “Millennial Millions,“ Millennials are offered prizes like free healthcare if they manage to shut up for 30 seconds while a Boomer talks trash about them. The game show host says, “I’m Gen X. I just sit on the sidelines and watch the world burn.” I’m Gen X so I laughed.

Being deemed irrelevant is bad enough. What will it do to our already close-to-nonexistent self esteem to realize that everyone else in the country doesn’t even know we’re alive?

A Philadelphia Magazine article—that came out last year, for God’s sake—feels like the last nail in our once-notable demographic coffin. “Whatever Happened to Generation X?” asks the headline. What happened, apparently, is that we got relegated to “whatever-happened-to” pieces in friggin’ Philadelphia magazine. (It’s actually a good piece, and you should read it, but you won’t because Gen Xers don’t read about themselves and Millennials and Boomers only care about themselves.)

Forbes explains, I think credibly, that Gen X is far more influential than anyone thinks, though this particular line is unintentionally hilarious: “What they lack in numbers — just 66 million to boomers’ 75 million — they make up with a stellar engine that has quietly been revving over the years.”

“Stellar engine”? That’s the name of my new 1980s retro-synth band. We’re influenced by Soft Cell. Also, “just”? 66 million is “just”? Even compared to 75 million?
Anyway, Anna Sofia Martin writes, “a whopping 55% of startup founders are part of Gen X.” So much for slacking. Anyway, who can afford it? We Gen Xers, not Millennials, were the first generation to get crushed by student loan debt. Even so, we have “31% of U.S. income, but just 25% of the population.” So latchkey kids really are having a sort of revenge.

“Masters of self-deprecation,” Martin calls us. She’s right. So, when Millennials and Baby Boomers insist us on pretending that 66 million people simply don’t exist we’re, like…

what-ever.

(Ted Rall, the cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Welcome to the Digital Dark Ages: Movies and Books Get Deleted as Selfies Pile Up

          Historians and archivists call our times the “digital dark ages.” The name evokes the medieval period that followed the collapse of the Roman Empire, which led to a radical decline in the recorded history of the West for 1000 years. But don’t blame the Visigoths or the Vandals. The culprit is the ephemeral nature of digital recording devices. Remember all the stuff you stored on floppy discs, now lost forever? Over the last 25 years, we’ve seen big 8” floppies replaced by 5.25” medium replaced by little 3.5” floppies, Zip discs and CD-ROMs, external hard drives and now the Cloud — and let’s not forget memory sticks and also-rans like the DAT and Minidisc.

We’ll ignore the data lost in computer crashes.

Each transition has seen the loss of countless zillions of documents and images. The irony is that, even as we’re generating more records than any civilization ever, we’re destroying so much important stuff that future generations will hardly know we ever lived.

Google Vice President Vint Cerf recently mused about Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius Of Abraham Lincoln: “Such a book might not be possible to write about the people living today … the digital content such as emails that an author might need will have evaporated because nobody saved it, or it’s around but it’s not interpretable because it was created by software that’s 100 years old.”

I got to thinking about our civilizational priorities the other day, while managing the photos on my iPhone. Few of us realize it, but the default settings of electronic devices like a smartphone is to keep, rather than erase. Take a photo or video, and Apple wants to send it and save it to all the gadgets on your Apple Store account. If you’re like me (and in this respect, most people are), you take lot more photos than you delete. But even your “deleted” stuff isn’t really deleted — it’s merely moved to a “Deleted Photos” folder. And it lives in the Cloud, like, forever. To really really delete something, you have to double-triple-delete it. Most people don’t bother. So all those mundane iPhone photos — countless pics of your kid at the school concert, boarding passes, the image of the wine you mean to get more of — accumulates.

Partly due to my failure to edit crap like that, some experts a looming data capacity crisis of epic proportions.

Keeping everything is a phenomenon of the digital age. Analog photos were expensive to develop and print. So we took fewer of them. And we didn’t develop them all.

More irony: Even as we’re keeping triplicates of, let’s face it, zillions of documents and images we will never, ever look at again, digitalization is erasing cultural works of epic importance en masse.

Of the 80,000 to 90,000 films considered to be in print on DVD in the United States, only a small fraction have made the leap to streaming. For the most part, this is because companies like Netflix can’t or don’t want to buy the rights for movies whose copyright holders want to get real money. The result is, if you want to see such classics as “The Bicycle Thief” or “Marathon Man,” your only hope is to buy an old used DVD on eBay (assuming you still have a DVD player). Of course, each change of format has left films, many of them important, unavailable to cinephiles. Many great films never made it from VHS to DVD.

Format transitions are also murdering our musical and literary legacies.

When I peruse music streaming services like Apple Music, I’m surprised how many albums by my favorite bands available: sorry, Lords of the New Church. This isn’t new: music geeks hunt down rare 78s for old-timey music that never made it to 33-rpm record. Tons of tunes got lost in the move from vinyl to CD. Maybe it’s the stuff that I like to listen to, but it feels like format loss has been more devastating this time around, as music storage goes from physical to ethereal.

It’s easy to forget how many books aren’t making the jump, especially when corporations sell products like Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, which lets you read any of 600,000 titles for a fee. Many titles, including some by big-name authors like Philip Roth and John Updike, aren’t there.

In case you were wondering, there were 129 million books in the world as of 2010.

Subscribe to Kindle “Unlimited,” then, and you’ve got access to less than 0.5% of the world’s books. But don’t worry, you’ll always have those photos of the school play.

Until you get a new phone.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net and SkewedNews.net, is the author of “Snowden,” about the NSA whistleblower. His new book “Bernie” about Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, is now available for pre-order. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

A Look Back at the Looks Back

It began with the March on Washington, or more precisely the 50th anniversary thereof: the 50th anniversary of the 1960s. Because Baby Boomers control the media, get ready for a decade of 50th anniversaries.

Why Does the Pulitzer Prize Committee Hate “Alternative” Editorial Cartooning?

Every year there is angst-filled anticipation over the announcement of the winners of the Pulitzer Prizes for journalism, and every year the results are greeted with a collective shrug. Someday, one hopes, people will learn not to anticipate something that proves so disappointing so frequently. You know, like the State of the Union address. It’s never good. It never makes news. Yet everybody thinks they need to pay attention. And everyone is surprised by the letdown.

This year’s selection for the editorial cartooning category, Steve Sack of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, alongside his two co-finalists, Jeff Darcy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Clay Bennett of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, continue a decades long trend. Nothing new here.

Steve Sack has been around a long time, is a nice, unassuming guy who is personally popular among the older generation of “mainstream” editorial cartoonists, so his win has been largely greeted as long overdue, sort of a lifetime achievement award as these things often are, a recognition of the fact that unlike many other political cartoonists who slavishly copied the artistic style of deceased Chicago Tribune cartoonist Jeff MacNelly, Steve developed his own drawing style. Like many other cartoonists at the so-called B papers, those in midsize cities, the finalist win has to come as a relief to Jeff. Clay Bennett, who has won every major and minor award in editorial cartooning, and whom I count as a friend, is in a tricky position. Personally, I think that once you win the biggest prize in journalism, it’s time to retire your contest applications, let other cartoonists have their chance, and focus on your work. After all, once you are a so-called Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist, no one really cares whether you are a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist. But there’s also a tactical consideration, one that Bennett coming in as a finalist highlights: for a previous winner to come in as a finalist makes him look like his career is on a downward trajectory. But there’s no way to avoid that risk when you apply for a second Pulitzer. Another reason that it’s better not to apply.

What’s depressing is that, once again, the committee has decided to snub my entire genre of editorial cartooning, the so-called alternative school of political cartooning. It’s not like we are new kids on the block. Jules Feiffer started it at the Village Voice in 1955. Matt Groening and Lynda Barry really launched the modern era of altie editorial cartooning in the 1980s, and things  took off  throughout the ’90s, with half a dozen cartoonists at the center of the scene: myself, Tom Tomorrow, Ruben Bolling, Ward Sutton, derf, Lloyd Dangle, and I’m probably forgetting a bunch of others. After 9/11, it could be argued – and I would – that the only relevant, truly hard-hitting,  challenging, vibrant editorial cartooning being done in the Western world has been this genre, based in the comics rather than older traditions dating to the early 18th century. Out of this scene have come younger artists like my friends Matt Bors and Brian McFadden.

Eschewing labels, metaphors, donkeys and elephants, Uncle Sam, etc. in favor of multi-panel, word-dependent, ironic, sarcastic and cynical takes on America and its politics, the alternative genre and its practitioners – Tom Tomorrow, myself, Ruben Bolling, Matt Bors, Brian McFadden and so on – have reinvigorated and breathed life into a hoary artform that has generified itself into virtual oblivion. Unlike many of the older mainstream cartoonists, our work is opinionated. (Most big-city daily cartoonists illustrate the news, showing what happened and/or making jokes about it, without making much of a political point.)

Yet the gatekeepers at the major daily newspapers, and the prize committees that are made up of editors from those same print publications, have repeatedly and carefully refused to acknowledge that we even exist. In the entire history of the Pulitzer Prize, for example, there have only been three finalists from the alternative category: Jules Feiffer, who won in 1986, myself, a finalist in 1996, and Matt Bors, a finalist for 2011. Many editorial cartooning prizes have never had either a winner or a finalist from the alternative category: the Fischetti award, the National Headliner award, and before last year, the Herblock award. Makes it pretty hard to get editors to take a chance on you when you can’t get validation.

Part of the problem is that many of the editors who judge these things don’t know a lot about editorial cartooning. Some judges at the Pulitzer Prizes work at newspapers that don’t even run them, and if they do, they certainly never see the alternative stuff. Still, given a lot of the results year after year, it’s pretty clear that some very mediocre finalists and winners are prevailing over some really excellent alternative cartoonists. Given the fact that the alternative field is much more popular online – where there is a true meritocracy because people can look at anything that they want there – it seems obvious that there is a conscious decision on the part of prize committees to exclude a lot of the best work in the field.

Why? Because it’s edgy? Because it’s left of center? You can’t get a straight answer. When you ask jurors who were there, who sat on the prize committees, they always say that alties were seriously considered, that many of us came very close but just didn’t make the final cut. Sorry, but when that happens 20 years in a row across half a dozen major prizes – 120ish times – it’s hard to believe.

Why do we even bother? That’s the question that my alternative editorial cartoonist colleagues and I ask ourselves every year. Even last year, when Matt was a finalist, we knew that this was a quantum singularity, that it didn’t mark anything other than a bizarre aberration. And in fact, here we go again.

Obviously what keeps us going is our love of the field, and the fact that drawing cartoons that make fun of the President of the United States sure beats holding down a real job. Still, there’s no denying that it’s  hard on the psyche to be repeatedly told, to be repeatedly sent the message, that the kind of work that you do isn’t serious, that it doesn’t deserve to be seriously considered.

It isn’t that I didn’t win. Although obviously I would’ve liked to have won. It’s that what I do – the way that I do it – my entire artform – has been shunned. Again. If one of my alternative cartooning peers wins, at least we know that the prize committee isn’t against what we do on an existential level. As things stand, we have to assume that the people who decide these things – our mainstream editorial cartooning peers, the academics who study the field of editorial cartooning who serve on these juries, and the editors and publishers who join them every year – think that what we do is somehow offensive and inherently unworthy.

That’s not a lot of fun.

More importantly to our culture, the committee that picked the three finalists for this year’s and previous years’ Pulitzer Prize in editorial cartooning once again missed an opportunity. Awards make a statement. Remember last year, when they decided not to award a prize for the fiction category, how independent booksellers and fiction writers were insulted by the idea that there wasn’t’t a single novel in the United States worthy of such an award? By repeatedly shunning new developments in the field of editorial cartooning, the prize committee is discouraging stylistic growth, stunting the development of the field, quashing new careers and stopping the careers of alternative editorial cartoonists from moving forward, and most of all sending the message to younger cartoonists considering the field that they had better copy the old styles rather than develop new ones of their own. Moreover, these committees are contributing to the death of editorial cartooning, by making it harder for new cartoonists to initially get hired. This is because the vast majority of winners and finalists already work on staff at papers. No alternative cartoonist has ever worked on staff at a paper or magazine. It is not inconceivable that an alternative cartoonist who won, for example, the Pulitzer Prize, might be able to convince an editor or publisher to take him or her on. But that is never going to happen unless an alternative editorial cartoonist wins such a prize.

Let me be very clear about this: there is nothing new about what happened this year.

These are the kinds of choices that I have seen over the last two decades as a nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist. These choices were no worse or better than any other year that I can remember. Just same old, same old. And that’s the problem. And that’s the point.

Safe and staid = old and boring.

You could draw a comparison to the Oscars, which haven’t done a great job of rewarding the most experimental and groundbreaking movies, but it would really be a false comparison since the quality of the work that wins is usually respectably solid. It’s not like Battlefield Earth is going to win an Oscar. Similarly, you could make a comparison to the Grammys, which are really a joke, but those seem to be based more on sales and popularity and again, the artists who tend to win the Pulitzer Prizes and who are named as finalists often have little to no fan base in the real world other than the couple of editors who hired them.

Congratulations to all the winners.  It’s always nice to be appreciated.

Not that me or my friends would know.

So what to do? This may be a question of what not to do. They say that you can’t win unless you enter, but the way things look after all these years, it seems pretty clear that you can’t win even if you do enter unless you draw in the same styles that have been around for decades. It may be that the best Pulitzer Prize that you can win is the $75 entry fee that you pocket, not to mention the time that you save, by doing something else rather than putting together a prize entry.

Of course, then they’ll blame us for not playing their sick game.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Iran – Because Two Wars Aren’t Enough

Why Doesn’t Anyone Call Out Romney for Warmongering?

Mitt Romney had a barnburner of a weekend in Israel. The GOP nominee apparent shared his unique combination of economic and anthropological wisdom, attributing the fact that Israel’s GDP and average income is many times higher than those of the Palestinian Occupied Territories to Israelis’ superior “culture.”

As if spewing one of the most overtly racist lines in recent presidential campaign history wasn’t enough, eschewing “containment” (read: “diplomacy”), Romney also endorsed a preemptive Israeli military strike against Iran in order to prevent the latter’s nuclear program—Israel’s own, illegal nuclear weapons stockpile is OK since it’s a U.S. ally—from moving forward.

“We have a solemn duty and a moral imperative to deny Iran’s leaders the means to follow through on their malevolent intentions,” Romney said, stating that “no option should be excluded.”

He didn’t say how he knew the intentions of Iran’s leaders. Clairvoyance? Bush had it too.

Though Mitt slightly walked back his campaign’s sabre rattling, the message was clear. If he is elected, Israel will receive a blank check to begin a war against Iran, one of the most well-equipped military powers in the Middle East—a conflagration in which the United States could easily wind up getting dragged into. (In a subsequent interview he reiterated that “we have all options on the table. Those include military options.”)

Most criticism focused on Romney’s flouting of the traditional proscription against candidates questioning a sitting president’s foreign policy while visiting foreign soil. Though, to be fair, the differences between his and President Obama’s approach to Israel and Iran are tonal and minor.

As usual with the U.S. media, what is remarkable is what is going unsaid. Here we are, with the economy in shambles and the public worried sick about it, the electorate tired of 12 years of war against Afghanistan and nine against Iraq, yet Romney—who could be president six months from now—is out ramping up tensions and increasing the odds of a brand-new, bigger-than-ever military misadventure.

Warmongering has gone mainstream. It’s a given.

In a way, Romney’s willingness to risk war against Iran is merely another example, like the car garage and dressage, of how clueless and out of touch he is. Most Americans oppose war with Iran. For that matter, so do the citizens of the country on whose behalf we’d be killing and dying, Israel. But even Romney’s Democratic opponents give him a pass for Romney’s tough-guy act on Iran.

The reason for the somnolent non-response is obvious: it’s nothing new. Year after year, on one foreign crisis after another, American presidents repeatedly state some variation on the theme that war is always an option, that the military option is always on the table. You’ve heard that line so often that you take it for granted.

But did you know that “keeping the military option on the table” is a serious violation of international law?

The United States is an original signatory of the United Nations Charter, which has the full force of U.S. law since it was ratified by the Senate in 1945. Article 51 allows military force only in self-defense, in response to an “armed attack.” As Yale law and political science professor Bruce Ackerman wrote in The Los Angeles Times in March, international law generally allows preemptive strikes only in the case of “imminent threat.” In 1842 Secretary of State Daniel Webster wrote what remains the standard definition of “imminent,” which is that the threat must be “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means and no moment for deliberation.” The enemy’s troops have massed on your border. They have superior force. What must be done to stop them is evident. There’s no time for diplomacy.

Iran’s nuclear program doesn’t come close to this definition, even from Israel’s standpoint. Bruce Fein, deputy attorney general under Reagan, told Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting’s Extra! Magazine: “It is nothing short of bizarre to claim, as the Obama Administration is doing, that the mere capability to make a bomb is justification for a preemptive attack. That’s a recipe for perpetual war. Almost any country could have the capability to make a bomb. They are torturing the word ‘imminent’ to the point that it has no meaning.”

By endorsing an Israeli attack against Iran at a time when there is no proof that Iran has nuclear weapons, intends to develop them, or use them if it does, Romney is going farther than Obama, who has engaged in back-channel diplomacy.

The Allies’ main brief against the Nazi leaders tried at Nuremberg was not genocide, but that they had violated international law by waging aggressive war. Yet every American president has deployed troops in aggressive military actions.

Aggressive war hasn’t been good for America’s international image, the environment, our economy or the millions who have died, mostly for causes that are now forgotten or regretted. But unless we draw the line against reckless, irresponsible rhetoric like Romney’s, it will go on forever.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com)

(C) 2012 TED RALL, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: How to Save Books

Why E-Books Need Print to Thrive

Borders and Barnes & Noble killed independent bookstores. Amazon killed Borders. Now Barnes & Noble, which sells more than 20 percent of pulp-and-ink books in the U.S., is under siege.

If B&N collapses: the death of books.

Cultural apocalypse.

Neo-feudalism.

You may remember such classics as “How the Internet Slaughtered Newspapers” and “How Napster Decimated the Music Business.” It’s always the same story: Digitalization destroys profits.

Whether it’s newspapers, magazines, CDs or books (“pBooks,” they call them now), the electronic assault on tangible media follows a familiar pattern.

First: Pricing is set too low; margins get squeezed.

I pay $43 a month to get The New York Times delivered; new digital-only subscribers get the app for $5. In the book biz per-unit net to publishers is actually a few cents higher for e-books. But that margin is deceptive. “If e-book sales start to replace some hardcover sales, the publishers say, they will still have many of the fixed costs associated with print editions, like warehouse space, but they will be spread among fewer print copies,” notes the Times. E-books also eliminate paperback editions, a big second chance for publishers to break into the black.

Second: Piracy runs rampant.

Piracy of print media was virtually unheard of. But digitalization makes piracy tough for even the most honest consumer to resist. It’s easy and it’s fast. E-book knock-offs look and feel exactly the same as the real thing. As of the end of 2011 an estimated 20 percent of all e-books downloaded onto Kindles, Nooks and iPads were pirated. That’s a 20 percent pay cut to authors, agents and publishers—a number that will only go up.

And “legal piratization” is on the horizon. On February 6th a federal court in New York City ruled that ReDigi, an online marketplace for “pre-owned” MP3 files, can continue to operate pending the outcome of a lawsuit by Capitol Records. And public libraries are already “lending” e-books to multiple “borrowers” with the click of a mouse—the same process as buying them. But free.

Third: à la carte sales whittle down revenues.

Twenty years ago if you liked a song you heard on the radio you paid $14 for a CD that had 14 songs on it—13 of which might be filler. iTunes’ 99-cent songs brought back the single—but cheaper. (45s used to cost $3.) The result: the collapse of the music biz. According to Forrester Research, total U.S. music sales and licensing revenues fell from $14.6 billion in 1999 to $6.3 billion in 2009—a decline of 57 percent in a decade. People still liked music. They just didn’t have to pay for it anymore.

There are already apps that sell e-books by the chapter. Some publishers give away free chapters as samples. Why should a college student assigned to read chapter two pay $40 for the whole thing? À la carte book sales will further depress profits.

Why should you care if traditional publishers go under? What about the democratizing effect of the Internet, which allows anyone—not just big-name authors hooked-up with fancy well-connected agents—to publish a book?

Granted, digitalization opens doors for writers who might never have been able to break through the “no unsolicited manuscripts” wall that surrounded old-media gatekeepers. Elitism was and remains a problem.

But there’s a bigger problem: removing the profit incentive from books means more titles about vampires and werewolves and fewer in the fields of history and sociology. Because lower profits make it tougher for publishers to invest in big time-intensive projects, it deprofessionalizes our highest form of popular culture. The historian Robert Caro began working on his brilliant five-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson in 1982. He expects to finish in 2015. Tiny digital royalties eaten away by piracy couldn’t have sustained Caro’s research for three years—much less 32.

“Inside [the Kindle’s] plastic case, other things lurk,” Sarah Lee writes in the UK Guardian. “Sci-fi and self-help. Even paranormal romance, where vampires seduce virgins and elves bonk trolls. The e-book world is driven by so-called genre fiction, categories such as horror or romance. It’s not future classics that push digital sales, but more downmarket fare. No cliché is left unturned, no adjective underplayed.”

Goodbye, Mr. Caro. Hello, 99-cent fan fiction.

You might not care. But you should.

Fourth but not last: the loss of a product’s brick-and-mortar distribution outlets reduces consumer consciousness of a product. In New York, where I live, all the music megastores—Tower, HMV and Virgin—are gone. So are most small record stores.

I used to spend at least one day a week hopping from one CD store to the next. I probably spent $50 to $100 a week on music. Now I spend the same amount in three months. I still love music. I just don’t think about it as often. iTunes is just a list of names and titles.

Now Barnes & Noble and what’s left of the independents are all that’s standing between an uncertain present and a disastrous—music-like—future.

“Sure, you can buy bestsellers at Walmart and potboilers at the supermarket. But in many locales, Barnes & Noble is the only retailer offering a wide selection of books,” notes The New York Times. A broad, deep book industry requires retailers willing to sell midlist titles and books that don’t do well—i.e., most of them.

Publishers say they want to save B&N, which is locked in an existential fight against Amazon. Things turned ugly after Amazon urged bookbuyers to visit stores in order to use their smartphones to scan barcodes of titles so they could buy them elsewhere—online, from Amazon, at a discount. B&N retaliated by banning books directly published by Amazon from its stores.

Amazon says it doesn’t want to drive B&N and other brick-and-mortar stores out of business. Their actions belie that. But if Amazon management were smart, they would subsidize stores like B&N. Remember what happened to the music biz when record stores disappeared—the overall music business cratered. All music sales, including those of iTunes, would be higher today if Tower et al. were still around.

Sadly, Amazon doesn’t seem smart. Like most American companies, it’s looting its own future in favor of short-term, quarterly lucre.

“Shopping on Amazon is a directed experience—it works best when you know what you’re looking for,” says Charlie Winton, CEO of Counterpoint Press. “But how does that help with, for instance, a first novel? When independent bookstores were in a healthier state, staff picks and hand selling could bring attention to great books people didn’t know they wanted. Now that’s much harder.”

And many of those bookstore “customers” would have eventually bought that book from Amazon.

E-books are here to stay. But there’s a way to save the overall book business for both print and electronic editions. The solution requires three parts.

Congress should join the other countries that have major book industries in passing a Fixed Book Price Agreement, in which booksellers and publishers agree on what price books may be sold nationally—i.e., no $25 books selling for $10 at Costco. In France and other nations studies have shown that FBPAs protect independent stores, increase the diversity and quality of titles sold, and support more authors.

Recognizing the unique cultural contribution of books as well as the threat to our national heritage posed by digitalization, Congress should exempt publishers from antitrust laws. This would allow publishers to collude to set prices and hold the line against predatory discounting.

Finally, publishers should flip the current arrangement, in which Amazon enjoys steeper discounts than brick-and-mortar stores. Even if Amazon gets charged a higher wholesale price they still have big advantages; many people don’t live near a store or are simply too lazy to visit one. And they carry everything.

It’s more than a question of preserving print as a fetish commodity. E-books won’t thrive if their print forebears vanish.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: It’s Mourning in America: Tacky and Weird

Somber is Out. Kitsch Reigns.

Americans don’t mourn right.

We are tacky.

We are gauche.

We turn tragedy into kitsch.

Last week’s news was dominated by the aftermath of the Tucson massacre: the memorial service, the funerals, even the reopening of the Safeway supermarket.

A memorial service at a sports arena. What is wrong with us?

I say “us” because this is not a Tucson thing or an Arizona thing. It’s all too American.

Thousands of cheering fans—er, mourners—donned “Together We Thrive: Tucson & America” T-shirts, handed out by the University of Arizona. They greeted the arrival of President Bar-Rock Star Obama with applause and wolf whistles. They interrupted with raucous hoots every couple of minutes—and he did nothing to tamp down the unruly crowd. Emergency responders got a standing ovation. Attendees clapped at the mention of the nine-year-old girl who was shot to death. Arizona governor Jan Brewer was booed.

Some called it unsettling, others unseemly. I thought it was weird and tacky. A memorial service should not feel like a WWE event.

On the lawn in front of the hospital where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was being treated, USA Today reported, people placed “hundreds upon hundreds of hand-scrawled notes, stuffed animals and signs condemning the violence.”

Outside the Catholic church where the funeral for Christina Green, age 9, was being held, firefighters hung a patchwork quilt “National 9/11 Flag,” oddly blending politics, religion, and George W. Bush.

Creeeep-y.

Each mass tragedy amps up the volume and surreal inappropriateness of Americans’ public expressions of grief. After 9/11 New Yorkers posted “missing” posters for people they knew were dead. Stuffed animals and grammatically challenged notes, soggy and runny, hung from the fence at St. Paul’s Chapel near Ground Zero while vendors hawked cheap framed photos of the Twin Towers a few feet away.

Obama politicized Tucson. John McCain did the same at the televised memorial service for Pat Tillman. A group of pro-Bush 9/11 widows preened for the GOP at the 2004 Republican National Convention.

From memorial pages on Facebook to memorial decals on SUVs, Americans think anything goes when you’re mourning the death of a loved one—or someone whose death made national news, which somehow makes you want to feel involved even though, of course, you are not.

Everyone has to deal with death. No one can or should tell you how to feel. Yet you do have an obligation to comport yourself with dignity, to “stay calm and carry on,” as the British poster from World War II urged. Death is inevitable, horrible, often tragic and, as Sartre said, absurd. But please don’t drag the rest of the world into your psychological abyss. Spare society the tawdry and ostentatious displays of over-the-top yowling.

Just be sad. It’s OK.

My best friend died when I was 16. I never got over it. His death still makes me sad. I’m OK with that.

I wore a suit to his funeral. There wasn’t any cheering. I don’t think an appearance by the president or the attorney general would have reduced anyone’s grief. It was a sad thing, so sad that no one could make it better, and nobody tried.

As the cultural critic Marita Sturken wrote in her 2007 book “Tourists of History: Memory, Kitsch, and Consumerism from Oklahoma City to Ground Zero,” all this tacky phony sentimentality serves a sinister purpose. Mainstream American culture is being manipulated by government and big business to separate us from what is real—death and horror—and to obscure who is behind it—our government and big business.

“This comfort culture,” says Sturken,” can be found in everything from the small souvenirs that promise reassurance at sites like Ground Zero and the Oklahoma City memorial…Much of the culture of comfort functions as a form of depoliticization and as a means to confront loss, grief, and fear through processes that disavow politics…an American public can acquiesce to its government’s aggressive political and military policies, such as the war in Iraq, when that public is constantly reassured by the comfort offered by the consumption of patriotic objects, comfort commodities, and security consumerism.”

As the economy and political system continue to collapse, we will likely see more mass shootings and terrorist attacks. Thus we should be prepared. And we should give ourselves permission to get real about mourning.

So, as a public service to the grievers of the future, I hereby offer my

Basic Etiquette Following a Massacre:

(1) When interviewed on television never say that your “heart goes out to the victims and their families.” We have heard that hoary chestnut a million too many times. Keep your heart where it belongs, inside your ribcage.

(2) If you are a public official holding a press conference about a school shooting/workplace shooting/terrorist attack, refrain from thanking a long list of local and state officials for their help. This isn’t the Oscars. You haven’t won anything. You are not going to meet Joan Rivers.

(3) Whether attending a memorial service or actual funeral, leave your hoodies, baggy pants and tanktops at home. No baseball caps. No T-shirts. Don’t wear anything with a team logo. Appropriate clothing is formal, black or very dark blue. Men wear suits with ties. Women wear long dresses. Don’t got ’em? Stay home. You don’t get to be on CNN.

(4) If you know one or more of the victims, ask their surviving relatives whether they would prefer flowers or a donation to a preferred charity. Otherwise simply choose an appropriate charity and make a donation in their name. Do not waste money on flowers and stupid stuffed animals.

(5) Unless the victims include at least one politician, no politician should speak at the service. If there is at least one dead or wounded politician, politicians who do speak should refrain from political rhetoric.

(6) No. Applause. Ever.

NEXT WEEK: Toilet etiquette. How to wipe. How to flush.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL