Friday, November 25, 2005

Turkey Week Update

Happy Turkey Week, everyone!
Mike has suggested that we try to keep the extraneous political commentary to a minumum on the forum, and I generally agree. The reason I delved into Detroit politics the last time (and the reason there have been so few updates) is that there really wasn't much studio news to report. That's changed a little bit.
I don't want to get into many details, but let's just say the work schedule has been shuffled a bit. Mike has some new illustration "day job" opportunities that I'm sure he will fill you in on eventually, while I continue in my standard pattern... scribing away whenever I get a chance, between classes and my own odd jobs.
Observant readers may thus come to wonder: What happened to the EBEJEEBIES animation project?
Um... it was abducted.
Seriously... I don't want to comment just yet, but something...
I'll let you know by next time.
Until then... do a drum roll, please.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Detroit to Suburbia: So There!

This is a bit old news-wise, but it kind of falls into the "notes" section for the Detroit project, so I'll have a go at explaining this to our readers outside the Detroit metro area...
The mayor's job in the city of Detroit was up for grabs this election season, with the young and brash incumbent, Kwame Kilpatrick, up against the cardboard-bland but competent Freman Hendrix. Kilpatrick has had, shall we say, a bit of controversey following him during his first term. The stripper party at the mayoral mansion that never happened, the firing and hushing of police officers because it never happened, the purchasing of luxury personal items on the taxpayer's tab, going to the national mayor's conference flanked by six armed security guys while no other mayor had even one, the ongoing budget crisis which the mayor has not, shall we say, handled too well, etc... Kilpatrick's reply when asked about this stuff has been a familiar one: because he's a young (mid 30s) black man who wears an earring (a big diamond one), people will believe anything... you fill in the blanks.
Freman Hendrix, a vanilla bureacrat who served with an earlier mayor's administration, played himself up as the voice of reason. And it worked, too. He held double-digit leads all the way up until the final week, when his percentage slipped into the single digits. Still, no problem. He led by 6% going into election day.
So what happened? Kwame won by 10%. Even a controversey over some absentee ballots and screwed-up voter rolls (allowing certain deceased residents of Detroit to vote, in the ultimate show of equality in suffrage) would not make any difference to the large margin. There were no signs of fraud, either... at least, not nearly big enough to cover the margin of vistory. Obviously, something odd had happened...
It was the reason for this oddity that got me to write this entry. It seems that the mainstream Detroit media, which is mostly aimed at the suburbs, had universally endorsed Hendrix and ragged on Kilpatrick. Detroit has, shall we say, a unique relationship with its suburbs. Each one blames the other for its woes (both are wrong). Each one believes it can survive without the other (both are wrong). Detroit is the most racially stratified suburb-city combo in America, and neither side really wants to work with the other. During the administration of Coleman Young, which lasted 20 years (1974-1994), suburb-bashing was made a sport, the refrain from which he built his political agenda. The suburbs hate us. The suburbs are full of racist whites who want to see the city sink. Yeah, yeah. The sad part is, Young was at least partially right...
Now Kilpatrick has picked up the refrain. He insinuated during the campaign that it was the suburbs that were really pulling for Hendrix (even though, of course, they couldn't vote for him). The suburban-controlled media were trying to influence a Detroit election! And we Detroiters all know we can't trust the suburbs. It got pretty ugly, with a few of Kilpatrick's people even suggesting that those Detroiters who didn't vote for their man were either supporting the white elite... or just "not black enough".
It worked. The youth vote turned out in droves. They voted overwhelmingly for Kilpatrick. He's back in power until at least 2010.
And so it was... an election turned into a huge bronx cheer, aimed at the suburbs.
Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I am not a resident of Detroit myself. I'm not going to judge. But I wonder if the people of the city really looked at how Kilpatrick has managed their wonderful town, or if they indeed felt powerless enough that they would sacrifice the city's financial solvency simply to say "stuff it" to the suburbs. It may have felt satisfying, but with receivership looming for the city and Kilpatrick's track record of budgetary incompetence, it may prove to be a costly "nyah-nyah", indeed.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

What Friends Are For...

One of the best things about friends is that even if you don't agree with them, they can make you think.
I dropped by the studio today to visit Mike and we ended up getting into a debate about a comic series. I absolutely adore the series and had loaned him the reprint volumes, expecting an equally enthusiastic response and a glowing report. I was surprised that he felt it had major shortcomings. Oddly enough, what I felt was its greatest strength (the writing, most notably the pacing) was what he saw as its greatest weakness. We went back and forth, and I left, still thinking about how two fellows who see eye to eye on a lot of stuff could see the same thing so differently. Brain-gears turning, I realized that the dynamics in our conversation related back to both a former blog post AND to some problems that the world faces today.
I wrote a few months back about how writers can create any sort of universe they want to, but to sell their vision to an audience, the logic of that series has to be internally self-consistent. This was the first point where we differed: I felt that the cues in the storyline were not only perfectly adequate to explain the character's reaction, but the characters' reactions themselves were important parts of the information process. Mike disagreed, because he felt that the character reactions did not adequately inform about the universe's background. That's fine; we have differing opinions. It was the realization I had in the car that was most interesting (to me, anyway).
It's not just that the internal logic of the story must be consistent. The audience must have some sort of contextual knowledge of that logic. What do I mean by this? Let's take a controversial comedian... say, Sarah Silverman (who uses a lot of normally taboo racial nomenclature and subjects in her act). If you were given a transcript of one of her stand-up routines without any surrounding context and asked to read it, you would no doubt conclude that she is a racist. However, seeing her live, hearing her delivery, watching her body language, and understanding her intent and purpose… to make fun, in an ultra-dry, tongue-in-cheek way, of the racists themselves… you would come to a totally different conclusion. Her routine is logically consistent within the boundaries she sets, and thus her controversial material can be safely laughed at.
This was the reason (one of them) it took awhile for Japanese comics to catch on in the U.S. The cultural context was totally different, as was the subject matter (which is a different level of cultural context). Once folks here began to understand the cultural cues and embrace the wider range of subjects, it caught on like wildfire. It wasn't that the humor wasn't funny, or the action didn't make sense... the U.S. audience had to learn a new shorthand, a new series of symbols, a new "language" of visual representation in order to accurately decode the foreign art and writing styles.
It's kind of like reading Shakespeare... "Get thee to a nunnery!" sounds like an odd thing for our pal Hamlet to say to Ophelia... even comical. When you know that "nunnery" is Elizabethan slang for "whorehouse", the statement becomes a lot more forceful and insulting. Either way, we know Shakespeare was going for a poke to the audience's ribs... but knowing something of the context (folks in Elizabethan times knew full well what ol' Will was trying to say) gives us a better understanding and a new appreciation.

In our debate, it seems that I’m more familiar with the genre and setting that the author of the comic series is attempting to parody, as well as a bigger fan of the associated movies, folktales, and books. In other words, no one is right or wrong here… I just “get it” on a different level, because I happen to be a fan of the associated culture. In the same way, Mike can enjoy “Kill Bill” a lot more than me because he has a deeper understanding and appreciation of both the associated genres being paid homage to AND of the shorthand of the action / martial arts film, which I am admittedly unfamiliar with.
So, applying this to the world at large… it’s more than just getting the fellow across the negotiation table to agree with you. It’s getting them to understand the underlying logic and context of the deal… as well as making sure that both sides have an equal interest, or at least an equal stake, in the matter under discussion.

In short… one person’s garbage is another’s treasure. Now, hopefully, I’ve explained why.