I am slowly making my way through a list of ~12,500 things I’ve previously noted as seeming potentially interesting and worth finding out more about (see the spreadsheet below!). Some of these things are brilliant and become a subject of an article, lesson or some other outcome, and some are not really worth pursuing. I want to publicise both the good and the bad because these evaluations are totally subjective and, because of a lack of time, usually pretty uninformed, and I don’t want to hide any part of this flawed process. If you’d like to help look stuff up, or notice any mistakes, please send me an e-mail. More information here.
Harvey Pekar was an American comic book writer best known for American Splendor, his autobiographical reflections on his life in Cleveland which were first published in 1976. After working and quitting many jobs as a young man, he worked as a hospital file clerk for decades, even after he became famous, turning down all promotions. He was a keen record collector, particularly of jazz records, and this shared interest led to a friendship with Robert Crumb, who illustrated Pekar’s early work. Pekar’s pioneering style was uncompromising, self-deprecating and socially realistic. He died in 2010 after an accidental overdose of anti-depressants. Pekar’s compulsion to write about his working class life without gloss or posturing was unheard of at the time of publishing. He is brutally honest about his own political biases and shortcomings, as well as those of the society in which he lived. Reading them, he becomes a proxy for our own troublesome navigation through the problems of our culture. It can be very cathartic. Even when he doesn’t provide resolution, or when he leads us into the most shameful corners of our identities, there is enough recognition of the moments of joy, magic, and humour that keep life balanced. His work is sometimes described as “transformative”, a word that I would usually associate with works of fantasy or escapism. That that applies here is really remarkable. Also, it is amazing how he presents working class living, poverty, and social division without fetishising it. I will include ‘The New American Splendor Anthology’.
American film director Ruth Leitman’s production company. Her first film, a documentary about the Wildwood amusement park in New Jersey, went viral in 2009. She has also made documentaries about early female wrestling, the American immigration process, and poverty in America, as well as shorter fiction films and music videos. She is currently working on a fiction feature film about early women’s wrestling. Leitman makes uncompromising, deep films with wit and a DIY attitude. They are accessible but challenging and REAL. I will include Lipstick & Dynamite.
American psychologist who invented the lie detector and created Wonder Woman. A maverick with his own set of psychological theories, he saw the educational potential of comic books and created Wonder Woman inspired by the women’s suffrage movement and his belief (informed by his work) that women should run the world. He rejected the “bloodcurdling masculinity” of the All-American male superhero archetype in favour of “a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman”. He described the comic as “psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should rule the world.” Its famous themes of bondage were symbolic of women’s oppression and also his own interests in BDSM and “abnormal” sexuality. He lived poly-amorously with Elizabeth Holloway and Olive Byrne in Rye, New York and had four children. He died of skin cancer in 1947. After his death, Wonder Woman became more sexualised and less politically symbolic. This is a very interesting story. Although I don’t admire Marston, I think there is a lot to admire in early Wonder Woman, and that’s inextricably linked to its origins. I will include ‘The Secret History of Wonder Woman’ and a collection of pre-194 7 Wonder Woman comics.
Prolific Kentish artist who has produced hundreds of records, zines, books, paintings and other artworks. He is proudly on the fringes of the art and music worlds and is outspoken and active in his rejection of the usual institutions. He rejects challenges to his independence with humour and imagination. He has produced an intimidatingly large body of work under an intimidatingly large range of names. His work is frequently fictitious yet autobiographical, creating a sort of self-mythology within a mythologised England. Before reading about Childish, I thought I hated him. He struck me as nostalgic and irrelevant, but having read about him – specifically, interviews with him – I see that this is a considered but honest response to contexts he has been in and that his celebration of friendship, joy in local surroundings and culture, rejection of institutions, use of pseudonyms as camouflage etc. are all ways of being self-expressive without any of the bullshit baggage of fame and “success”. The fact that he has gathered such a following while doing this is remarkable. He is a wonderful speaker and story-teller and from him quotes like “If you want to be rich, value what you have got” and “You have to take life very seriously, and realise that it’s all a joke. That is the art of living.” become less like the sort of fridge magnets your grandparents might have and more like revolutionary manifestos. As for what specifically to include, it’s easy and difficult – all of his stories are the same story, all of his songs are the same. I find some of his published work boring, but that’s all part of his approach and just doesn’t matter. Ultimately, I just want to include his brain. I will include The Idiocy of Idears, about the stupidity of the education system – something many children will related to.
British suffragette who became active despite her privileged background after meeting activists at a club in Littlehampton and hearing their stories of prison. She was a prison reformer who spent time in prison four times herself for her activism. She began carving “Votes for women” across her chest and face but became sick after carving the V too deep. When she realised that she was being given special treatment in prison because of her class, she got herself arrested in the guise of a working-class seamstress called Jane Warton. Her writing about being force-fed in prison helped end the practice. She never fully recovered from her abuse in prison and subsequent illness and died young at 54. Five years after her death, votes for women were granted. This is a fascinating life that is even more interesting considering her background and her “cross-class” dressing. Her writing is richly, viscerally descriptive. Her principles carried through into her private life too – when her mother refused her permission to marry a man from a “lower social order”, she simply refused to show interest in anyone else and remained unmarried her whole life. I think of Lady Constance Bulwer-Lytton as an amazing and exceptional example for becoming active in social justice late on in life, and despite her background. I will include ‘Prisons and Prisoners’, her law-changing personal account of her time spent in prisons.
Recently not included:
American graphic designer and director of music videos, adverts and feature films. He is married to Miranda July. He also played in the band Butter 08. His work is often described as quirky, which is a bit reductive but also sort of true. Some of his documentary films and, weirdly, adverts really get to the heart of stuff and have such pathos, but I find his own feature films to be on the wrong side of the quirky line and they end up feeling emotionally manipulative and hollow. Also there’s a lot of white male struggle stuff that’s a bit unbearable. Also his female characters are pretty empty. I don’t know. He seems like a decent enough guy. But also, why make adverts for Nike? Because he needs to pay bills and self-describes as wanting a big audience. I can understand that. I don’t know. Maybe it would make more sense to me if his less mainstream stuff really said something, but it doesn’t seem to be worth the corpo stuff to me, really. I mean, he makes better adverts than a lot of people, but they’re still adverts.
Louis Burns is a pioneering Chicago house and disco DJ who achieved crossover pop success with three Billboard number 1s, including ‘French Kiss’, which set a stop-start house beat to orgasmic vocals by Shawn Christopher. He also wrote a book called ‘A Man’s Diary’, in which he recounted his experience with every woman he ever dated. In 2015, he suffered permanent hearing loss in his left ear after a manager let off an airhorn close to his ear. “Louis Burns is a good man, and it seems – a great catch. Successful. Louis (aka Lil Louis) is a world famous platinum artist, producer and DJ. Attractive. Single. He believes in love, and has spent his entire life in search of one woman – his dream girl. So why can’t he find her?” Ewwwww gross.
Star Wars-themed comedy nerd rap project from New Zealand. The only trace I could find of this was a radio show playlist and a clip on YouTube which wasn’t great. The whole nerd rap thing seems pretty problematic.
American retro-styled psychedelic rock band formed in Washington DC in 1998, influenced by ’70s heavy metal and ’60s psychedelic rock. They have released many albums and toured internationally. It’s a good imitation with some great moments but I’d rather include their influences. The whole faux-vintage thing – Rickenbackers, Orange amps, filters on the cameras – bums me out.
Online project collecting pictures of people grumpy about local issues. Pictures are presented with the headline, a comment, and a link to the story. This is a nice project that says a LOT about NIMBYism and that particularly desperate sort of misplaced activism, but this project is supposed to be about hope. Why do people get so upset over not being served at a drive-through and remain ambivalent about climate change?