Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Year in Cultural Consumption

My answer to all the year-end lists coming out right now is one of my own, and yet chunky with paragraphing.  Here is my review of one librarian’s year in cultural consumption, encompassing my major food groups of media!

(And remember, like carbs, sugar and fat, TV and movies are not inherently bad for you, and can even be good for you as part of a balanced media diet that includes plenty of fresh books, graphic novels and more.  I feel like Tumblr is with me on this, but some librarians persist in being kinda snooty on this point…)

  • 2013 TV-in-review
    • Scandal
      • My favorite new show of the year.  It started in 2012 but I only just got on the bandwagon when I saw a nice-looking young woman tricked into poison-needling an innocent security guard to death, then all the business with the VP, and OMG I started Netflix bingeing and the Defiance scandal and and rich frat boys and spygames and the president isn’t as bad a guy as the critics like to say and holy heck, and Cyrus, my goddess CYRUS this is an awesome show.  Its protagonist, Olivia Pope, belongs to the school of “If you don’t do what I say I’ll repeat it louder and slower” AND. IT. ALL. WAYS. WORKS.  Love her.  This show combines my love of the fast-paced political action of The West Wing with the bare-knuckled intrigue of Game of Thrones.  Speaking of which...
    • Game of Thrones
      • Another strong season for my favorite show on television, based on some of my favorite fantasy books.  I believe that spoiler-sensitivity should stay in effect for decades after initial publication but suffice it to say that Thrones successfully delivered a much-anticipated, roundly dreaded gut-punch of a scene this season.  I only wish it had been built toward a little bit more. Other storylines were equally effective, particularly beyond the Wall and in the Riverlands.  King’s Landing was a bit light this year, hopefully in preparation for a return to the limelight in 2014….
    • Sleepy Hollow
      • I’ll join the chorus of those for whom this makes for a light, fun, oddly sentimental Monday evening.  Ichabod Crane’s awkward transition to the 21st century is a goofy joy to watch, and, every episode, like clockwork, there’s a self-consciously “aww”-inducing moment of emotional catharsis between him and his hard-bitten companion, Police Lieutenant Abby Mills.  It’s like a grown-up version of the Full House “lesson of the day” moment, with a treacly but nice soundtrack cue taking the place of the canned audience’s sigh of appreciation  I love it.  Oh, there’s always some paranormal A-plot too, but I tend to zone out during that part.

    • Revolution
      • I hope this show doesn’t fade away--I hear the ratings for season 2 aren’t so good.  I rather liked the conceit of this season, with the pursuit of restoring the world’s power from season 1 given an effective payoff without ruining the show’s premise.  I’ve loved seeing geeky Aaron deal with the rise of strange new abilities and puzzling out how they work (okay, it wasn’t that hard). And the show in general has done an almost Thrones-level job of getting us to sympathise with unsavory characters, like fallen military dictator Bas and barely-hanging-on-to-sanity, guilt-wracked Rachel.
    • Revenge
      • Thank goodness for a return to form in this season’s storyline, after S2’s confused devolution into shady extra-corporate conspiracy shenanigans.  I thrilled at the return of Emily Thorne’s photo and red sharpie!  Now the moment we’ve been waiting for has come and gone--the big wedding--leaving the future interest of the show in question.  I‘ll see out this season and then we’ll have to see if it’s worth continuing.

Sooooo satisfying

    • Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD
      • I’ve consistently enjoyed this show for its character dynamics while praying every week for more connections to the Marvel universe--see my post here.  The good news is that it has made some strides in that direction, with visits from Graviton and Scorch and two tie-ins to the recent Thor sequel.  There needs to be more, more, more, though.  I’ve heard that Arrow features all kinds of DC properties--why no you, Marvel??

TV Resolution: Make full use of Netflix to catch up on hits I’ve missed

  • 2013 Movies-in-review
    • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
      • Off-the-cuff observations in no particular order: I’m the only person with an opinion to be largely ‘meh’ about the movie as a whole but ‘right on!’ about the jarring ending (the point is, after all, to make it feel impossible to cope with the wait for the next one).  Tauriel is a strong addition but the love triangle is largely pointless--can we not have movie-relationships based on mutual respect and the jealousy that can sometimes form in such cases just as easily as in romances?  The over-powering of Gandalf and magic in general continues, with the mysterious eruptions of natural phenomena seen in Lord of the Rings replaced by visible, controlled, and thus diminished exertions of DnD style spells.   In all, the movie struggled to hold my attention, but became brilliant as soon as Bilbo and Smaug begin interacting.  In the end, I think that these films should never have been branded The Hobbit at all; let them be a series of further adventures in Middle-Earth, with a rough through-line of a Hobbit adaptation as one of the many plot-threads, but with Jackson allowing himself to go full-bore in his own envisioning of Tolkien’s material.  Purists would still grumble, but they’d have less legitimate fuel for their arguments that Jackson is appropriating the Hobbit’s good name and making it a vehicle for his own ambitions.  (For the record, I believe Jackson has nothing but the fairest of intentions, but he lets his abilities and enthusiasm get in the way of just adapting a children’s book.)
    • Iron Man 3
      • What more can be said?  Robert Downey, Jr. embodies Tony Stark.  A new Tony Stark who is more interesting than he ever was in the comics.  Not a huge fan of the treatment of the Mandarin, but I’d rather the MCU have the guts to stick with it rather than handwave it away in the face of angry Internets...
    • The Wolverine
      • I liked it.  The Silver Samurai was pretty cool, visually.  I’m a fan of plots that render immortal characters mortal for a while.
    • Man of Steel
      • Did anyone else have as big a problem as I did with Superman killing so many people?  How, exactly, is Metropolis still a functioning metropolis after that drubbing?  Ruined the fantasy for me.
    • Thor: The Dark World
      • I loved the first Thor film, and I loved this one.  See my previous Thor-centric post for proof.  I love that each Marvel movie has its own genre and is unafraid to inhabit it fully--in this case, a unique fantasy-cum-oblique-sci fi.
    • Hunger Games/Catching Fire
      • I saw both films this year, after a friend got me hooked through the books.  The first was disappointing, but the second blew me away.  This movie does everything right, and it’s devastating.  I love when my bias in favor of middle installments is confirmed.  (Yes, I will consider this the middle, even though we have two films to go.  And yes, I am mad at Smaug for not confirming my middle installment bias.)

"Katniss...*I* am your father!" (Note: That does not happen in this movie.)

    • World War Z
      • I liked it alright. Feel no need to ever see it again, though I am excited for the book. I know it’s a different animal--that’s why  want to read it.
    • Cloud Atlas
      • Not one of this year’s, but I’m so glad my best buddy convinced me we should rent this under-appreciated 2012 gem.  Hard to describe.  Go rent it.
    • The Conjuring
      • An effectively chilling horror movie.  Supposedly a true story--I love the vintage ghost hunting touches, like cameras on tripwires connected to spooky moving doors.  Devolves into SFX schlock towards the end, but it’s a rare horror film that makes you care about the characters as people and not just victims.  The wife in the married ghost hunter duo avers that their clients are a “nice family” that they want to help.  That makes two of those in this movie.

Movie resolution: See a few more in the theaters this coming year.  And maybe make sure a few of them aren’t genre-heavy.  But boy,  I am looking forward to Captain America, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Hunger Games part 3...

  • 2013 Graphic novels-in-review
    • Boxers and Saints
      • A bit of a letdown after Yang’s sublime American Born Chinese, but a good portrait of an interesting time in Chinese history nonetheless  The art is bright and detailed and gorgeous.  Sadly, though, I’m not a fan of the divided structure that everyone else seems to universally praise.  On the face of it, I like the idea of two plots connected by historical context and two brief cheek-to-cheek narrative moments, each giving the other some propulsion, but otherwise developing in isolation--it’s a very Sondheim-like conceit.  And I get all the comparisons of motivation and consequences that this approach engenders.  But I just feel like one of the stories comes off as rather slight--it’s significantly shorter than the other, for one thing, which is a sign.  It just doesn’t pack the same wallop.  And I just don’t see what was gained by isolating the stories that wouldn’t have been surpassed by interweaving them.  I’m not the author, so I shan’t throw stones, but it didn’t work as well for me as I’d hoped

    • Persepolis
      • I found this book to be largely ‘meh.’  It provides interesting historical data with a human context, but the art and writing just didn’t do it for me--generally not a fan of the more ‘cartoony’ style, even when paired with serious material like this.  Maybe when I’m in the right mood. I’d definitely recommend it for anyone with an interest in Iranian history and culture, though.
    • The Bloody Benders
      • I love these “Treasury of Victorian Murder” titles, and this one, idly picked up while waiting for a friend at the Ithaca Public LIbrary, did not disappoint.  The mystery of this family of brutal serial killers disappeared into the ocean of the unsettled Great Plains, their fates and true identities never to be revealed.  There’s nothing more enticing than that!  Pick up anything by Frank Geary and shiver away.
    • The Young Avengers Ultimate Collection
      • The only new superhero title I read this year, and it was very enjoyable.  The diversity of the cast is great.  I’m generally not a fan of too many stretches of issues that combine to cover a single event with no sense of time passing, but I can forgive it in what is essentially an extended limited series.  I look forward to catching up with the rest of this team’s adventures.

Resolution: Read more LGBTQ themed titles in support of my research interests.

Resolution: Read more non-fiction and works by women.

So there’s 365 days of information absorbed, minus TV cooking and paranormal ‘reality’ shows, stuff encountered for work, re-reads, and things too embarrassing to be mentioned.  I’m looking forward to an increasingly ‘tamed’ influx of art and culture in the coming year, as I use Goodreads, GetGlue and other sources to keep track of what I consume and my thoughts on same.  It’s never been easier to be the intellectual property equivalent of a hoarder!

Happy New Year!

ADDENDUM: My top-viewed posts of 2013.

Cutbacks on Prime Temporal Real Estate and Toward the Future of Asgard! (tie)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Policy of Kindness

I have a simple message for my readers in this holiday week of sharing and warmth and compassion.  

Don’t just be kind.  Institutionalize kindness.  And, just as important, root out institutionalized unkindness.

This article brought to my attention that some libraries actually have ‘personal hygiene’ policies in place that allow them to eject patrons based on offensive odors and other considerations.  One patron is suing a Utah library for the humiliation brought on by the exercise of such a policy, which states that “[p]rohibited conduct includes any illegal activity and includes, but is not limited to, the following… Having offensive hygiene, odor or scent that constitutes a nuisance to other persons.”

Stories like this always make my heart hurt.  It’s so tough to walk the edge between (a) providing a comfortable space for all patrons and (b) providing access for the most information-needy among us.

The plaintiff’s claims are questionable, of course--I should hope that library staff didn’t go out of their way to loudly humiliate him beyond asking him to leave.  It also seems unreasonable for the library to have banned him, rather than making clear that he was welcome to return after resolving his hygiene issue.  The article makes no comment on the veracity of that part of the story.

Just in case that’s all true, though, it seems to me that library policy ought to enshrine accountability for staff along with expected patron conduct to prevent unnecessary hardship for our guests.  If we must have hygiene policies, we ought also to insist that they be carried out in a respectful and private manner, and that patrons not be banned outright on the basis of hygiene.

What’s more, hygiene policies should carry exceptions for patrons who, to the best of staff’s ability to discern, are experiencing homelessness.  (If that means that some patrons who are not homeless get caught up in this exception, then so be it.)

But I’m of the opinion that hygiene policies in general are cruel and serve no purpose but to institutionalize biases against the homeless, the indigent, the impoverished and the mentally ill.  These are biases that librarians and staff have no business indulging in.

I want more people IN, not OUT.  Sometimes I look out the window of the library to the people trudging through the snow and cold and think, “Wherever you’re going, don’t you know you can come in here, even just to warm up for a few minutes?”

You won’t scoff, I hope, at the supposed naivete of my hope to see all people make use of the building, based on physical need as much as intellectual.  I hope you won’t reply, “That’s all well and good, but we’re neither flop-house nor warming shed nor utility for the physical convenience of anyone and everyone.  We work in LIBRARIES, for God’s sake!”

Because if you did, I’d point you to this Public Libraries article about the libraries across the nation who opened their doors to bicycle riders, acknowledging that they stopped just to rest, to get out of the elements, to refresh themselves and recharge their devices, and, as a secondary concern, to avail themselves of ‘traditional’ library services.

Smelly, sweaty, noisy...bike riders.

If we can serve this undoubtedly affluent and privileged subclass of itinerant bicycle daytrippers, then we can surely serve in similar fashion the overworked, unemployed, underprivileged, overburdened and transportation-poor members of our everyday communities.

Surely we’re not too elite for that; surely we don’t value squeaky-clean over human life.

And it is a matter of life or death.  Homeless people are dying across the country as climate change alters our expectations for winter cold and regional norms.  

Dunkirk, where I live and work, doesn’t have many homeless people.  But it also doesn’t have much free shelter.  The former is much more likely to suddenly change for the worse than the latter is to change for the better--the Great Recession reminds us of that every day.

If people need to get warm in my community, I’d like them to know that they can come to the library, if only for a couple hours.

Sadly, it seems as if the rest of society is turning its back on the neediest of people, or actively turning against them.  Take a look at this roll call of public shame:

And so on and on and on.

We, as librarians, need not join that dark chorus.  

Let’s respect all of our patrons’ dignity, and have some compassion for their suffering in circumstances beyond their control.

Our doors are open.  Let’s keep them open, and push them wider where we can--in this season and in all the seasons to come.