Stranger With A Camera

Today, at my work, we watched a film called Stranger With A Camera, which told the story of murder of a Canadian filmmaker, Hugh O’Connor, by Hobart Ison when O’Connor was filming a family who lived in a rental house on Ison’s property.  Ison’s anger was the expression of anger felt by many throughout Appalachia, who felt that film crews and photographers were taken advantage of their situation.  Shows like Charles Kuralt’s Christmas in Appalachia emphasized the extreme poverty in which many of the people lived but completely ignored people who were doing much better.  The entire region was labelled as being in poverty and needed to be helped out of this state; many of the residents resented that label and became angry at the notion that they needed help.  People in the area portrayed by the film were fiercely independent, and even if they didn’t have much, what they did have had been earned.

One anecdote that one of my bosses told us after the film was how she was sent to this exact area as a part of the VISTA program established as a part of President Johnson’s Great Society.  When she got there, as a college student from New York, she was greeted with suspicion and hostility.  She wasn’t able to do much of any of her stated goals, which included programs and classes at a local community center.  At one point she was poisoned by one of the residents and was sick for three straight days.

All of this is to say that programs like VISTA, which aims to fight poverty, must first establish a rapport with the people whom they are trying to help.  Sending college kids into impoverished areas for a summer, like the VISTA program did, is not going to really help anything.  You have to understand the community with which you are working first; when I was watching the film, the Clifford Geertz’s idea of thick description came to mind.  In order to understand a community, you can’t just look at the actions they are performing, but you must also look at the context in which they are performing them.  Geertz used this in his studies of tribes in Indonesia, but its principle can be applied here as well.

A blog that I sometimes read, Blue Virginia, has as its slogan “Think Globally, Blog Locally.”  I think that phrase can be adapted to many walks of life, including this.  The further away from the local level you get in government or any sort of aid organization, the more difficulity there will be in actually helping people.  Appalshop, the organization that produced the film Stranger With A Camera, is a local organization whose goal is to “support communities’ efforts to solve their own problems in a just and equitable way.”  These types of organizations are the ones who do the most good in a community since they are a member of that community.

An Archival Pipedream

I don’t know if this is even possible, or already in the process of being created, but its something I’ve been kicking around in my head. I don’t have the talent to build something like this, but since its been kicking around in my head so long I might as well post about it. I, and just about everyone else in the archival world, would love to see a unified digitization platform that combined finding aids and digitized portions of the collections all into one thing. This will be especially important as more and more born digital objects are donated to collections.

The idea that I’ve had in my head may not be feasible, but its whats in my head. My dream is something like the Evince document viewer, which shows images and pdfs but allows no editing, built into each finding aid and then when you click on a document it just opens up and you’re allowed to look at it right there in the finding aid. You would still have archival control over these born digital documents, still putting them into intellectual organization. Sound and video clips could use something like an embedded VLC player that can display almost anything. I would have our own players instead of having people download these files themselves for two reasons, the first being that they might not have a program that can open this file. But if we take care of that problem ourselves by using open source solutions, the patron doesn’t have to worry about it. Secondly, there is the problem of user registration and permissions. Before we allow people to reproduce the physical materials in a collection, they have to sign a reader registration form and a reproduction agreement. I don’t think its too restrictive to have people create an account before they download items, in effect signing a reproduction agreement. They will have at least had the legal language put in front of their face, whether they choose to read it or not. It also would allow the archivists to gather statistics more detailed statistics than things like Google analytics can give.

All of this sounds great, but it will never get going until somebody creates it. I think something like Greenstone could be a good basis for a project like this to start with, but it would probably end up having to be designed from the ground up. Maybe I should get back to trying to teach myself how to code, and perhaps concentrate on web applications.

Varsity Theater to close

Indy Weekly is reporting that the Varsity Theater is going to stop showing movies, starting on Friday.  One of the comments is one that I agree with, saying that the Varsity has never really known what kind of theater it wants to be.  It tries to show all sorts of movies that college kids might want to see, but thats not how I think of it.  Most people seem to think of the Varsity as an art movie theater; whenever there is a mainstream movie, like The Hangover, which is playing there now, I would think of Southpoint Cinemas well before I thought of the Varsity.  Unless you’re checking the schedule regularly, you automatically think of a regular big theater for those sorts of movies, rather than something like the Varsity.

However, the Varisty could have thrived by turning into something different than just a regular movie theater.  They could have embraced art movies, had partnership events with various UNC groups, served beer, turned into a dinner theater, offered anything else.  But they were never going to win by showing the same sorts of movies that regular movie theaters show.  And now they’re going to be gone and that makes me sad, because I really like the Varsity.  Maybe it will reopen with a new business plan, instead of standing empty and sad.

Drive through Orange and Caswell Counties

About a week ago, I took a drive through rural Orange County and Caswell County, and took some pictures that I think are interesting on the way.

Old abandonded gas station in Yanceyville, NC

This gas station has been closed for so long that there are no pumps there anymore; just this sign remains as a reminder of how cheap gas used to be, even within my own lifetime.

Thrifty Tog Shop, Yanceyville, NC

I enjoyed the Thirfty Tog Shop just because of the awesomeness of its name. When it was actually open, it was probably a regular thrift store or consignment store or something like that, but I commend the people who thought of that name.

There are more pictures, and I’m gonna spread them out over one or two more posts, and actually write some thoughts about how buildings become abandoned.

Life without TV

I’m actually kinda of surprised how much I haven’t minded living without TV. I got ride of my cable TV about a week ago now, and about the only thing I really miss is being able to easily watch live sports. But even with that, I’ve actually been watching a lot more soccer than I used to. The websites that I use to view streaming tv have a lot of non-American people on them, and so they post streams of soccer matches from all over the world in all sorts of languages. So, for example, I watched the Iraq-South Africa soccer match from the Confederations Cup in Arabic. I’ve also been listening to a lot more music, but that might also be because I’ve gotten so much good new music recently, such as Midtown Dickens, Lost in the Trees, and Holy Ghost Tent Revival.

But other than that, I really don’t miss it at all. I can watch most of what I want to watch online 12 hours later, like Daily Show or Conan O’Brien. The same will happen when regular TV comes back on in the fall. There are only a few shows that I absolutely must stay up with… for the rest of them, I can catch them or not, its not really a big deal.

As John Prine said in “Spanish Pipedream,” blow up your tv.

The Bell Jar

We’ll take up where we left off, Ether,” she had said, with her sweet, martyr’s smile. “We’ll act as if all this were a bad dream”
A bad dream.
To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream.

The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath, is one of those novels that I had always heard was so depressing and that the only people who read it are people filled with self loathing or dramatic theater types. But thats not really the point of the book. In the end, it is a book about a young woman struggling with depression in a world that does not understand that depression truly is an illness and not a mood that can be easily cured. That stigma about mental illnesses still exists today and it most certainly did in the early 1960s, when this book was written.

I think that the most interesting part of this book is the interactions that Esther Greenwood, the main character and stand in for Plath, has with the people around her. Her mother, in particular, cannot understand how her seemingly normal daughter became this way. Esther’s mother believes that Esther is inconveniencing her, and that if only she can get the right treatment it will all be like it never happened. To Esther’s mother, it is Esther’s fault that she became depressed and when she is cured she can be accepted back into society again. Even still today, many think of people with mental illnesses as weaker, as if by sheer force of will you can prevent a mental illness from happening.

Esther’s first doctor, even though he is a psychiatrist, also seems to doubt the true depths of a mental illness. He abuses his position of authority, ordering electroconvulsive therapy after only one in person session; not only was it not called for at that early stage, but it was administered poorly. He never gained her trust and she never gained his. This doctor, like her mother, seems to think that if he can just shake her hard enough, she will come out of this mood and realize that she has a good life. Esther’s second doctor, however, talks with Esther about her course of treatment, gains Esther’s trust, and when it is medically appropriate to do so, administers electronconvulsive therapy with Esther’s approval. Esther does not think that she is making progress in the hospital, but learns to trust that Dr. Nolan knows what she is doing.

Working at the reference desk

So for the past couple of weeks I’ve been working an internship at the reference desk for the Southern Historical Collection.  Well, technically its called Research and Instruction for Archival Materials, but who’s keeping track?  Its been an interesting and rewarding experience so far.  My main duties involve answering email reference questions, helping out the patrons who come to our repository, grabbing boxes from the shelves, and other things like that.  The range of questions and patrons that we get is really cool.

You might think that we would primarily get people who are working on master’s theses and PhD dissertations, and the do make up a large part of our patrons.  For example, there’s one PhD candidate who manages to get here every day at exactly 10am.  I hear the door open, him walking in, and I look at the clock.  He’s always right on time.

But we also get undergraduates, genealogists, local historians, people who just want to listen to some of the music that we have, most of which is bluegrass, country, and folk.  The genealogists have the largest range of requests.  Many of them just want copies of documents that were written by or to their ancestors.  There is a powerful draw to being able to see and touch and possess something that your blood ancestor wrote, perhaps hundreds of years ago.  For all that archivists ridicule genealogists in private, I must say that I can fully understand this desire to have your own copy of such materials.

They want to know what life was like for their ancestors.  And really, thats the point of an archive: to perserve cultural memory.  We shouldn’t be snobs about who wants to access that memory; especially in a public institution, every deserves the same service and respect.

Lost Girls

Our life becomes like our pornography

Lost Girls, a graphic novel by Alan Moore, is pornography. This is the key feature in analyzing this book. It cannot be understood properly if you are trying to understand it as a graphic novel, or a regular novel, or anything else besides pornography. It may look like a graphic novel or a comic book, and it does indeed take that format. But merely because it has the format of a graphic novel does not mean it should be evaluated as a graphic novel.

All of that said, Alan Moore uses the pornography in Lost Girls as a reductio ad absurdum on issues of sexuality in our culture. He takes common views on sexuality and takes them to the extreme. The parts of this work that I enjoyed the most were the ones that took place at the Hotel Himmelgarten, and not the flash back stories that put a pornographic twist on the stories of Alice in Wonderland, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, and Wendy from Peter Pan. It takes place in the buildup to World War I; one of the secondary characters, Rolf, is called up into the war after the death of Archduke Fran Ferdinand.

The book chronicles the sexual evolution of these three fairy tale women, mainly through a sexual retelling of their stories. Each of the stories, however, are told with sexual violence as the primary moving force. Alice is corrupted through drugs and sex; Wendy and Dorothy both experience incest. However, when they are at the Hotel, with each other, they are in a safe place of sexual freedom, where they are free to explore their every desire.

In the end however, the women each go their own separate ways, the hotel is destroyed by soldiers, and Rolf is killed on the battlefield. The violence that each woman had experienced in their lives had come back to find them through the war. The escape from reality, the safe place from all of the violence that the women had created at the Hotel Himmelgarten is gone. This world seems like it could have been the world of Watchmen, 70 years earlier, and told from the female perspective. It is a story, told at the extremes, of three women dealing with violence in their lives.

Concert at Local 506

So I went to a concert this past weekend with April from the Rare Book Collection at UNC. We got to see Midtown Dickens, Paleface, and Holy Ghost Tent Revival.  The first thing about the concert that sticks out in my mind is just the sheer amount of instruments used in this concert.  I was going to twitter about it, but it takes way more than the 140 characters that twitter allows.  Over the course of the concert, these are the instruments that were played: Acoustic guitar, electric guitar, upright bass, electric bass, mandolin, banjo, ukulele, harmonica, trumpet, trombone, baritone, drumset, accordion, bowed saw, spoons, keyboard.  There might have been more, but thats all that I can think of right now.

All three bands played at a high intensity, raucous sort of level that just didn’t let up the entire night.  The banjo player and the bass player for Holy Ghost Tent Revival were bleeding on their instruments  by the end of their set.  That’s one thing that’s really difficult to capture on a recording, that raucous atmosphere.  I downloaded the Midtown Dickens’ album (and probably will download the Holy Ghost Tent Revival album soon), and while the songs are all still great, they don’t have that reckless abandon that they had in the concert.  The reckless abandon is definitely better for a concert, but I don’t know how well it would translate to an album, especially as one as clean as a regular studio album.

I liked Midtown Dickens and Holy Ghost Tent Revival the best; Paleface was good, but he does some vibrato-y stuff with his voice that I just didn’t really like that much.  Maybe that comes out of his roots in the anti-folk scene; the few people I’ve heard from that scene, like Regina Spektor, do some strange vocalizations.

Projector and cable television

So I got a projector today! Hurray! I got it from UNC’s surplus warehouse, which is where they take all sorts of things when they are no longer used in the office form which they came. You can find all sorts of things there, such as old laptops, computers, monitors, projectors, lockers, tables, chairs, microfilm readers, satellite dishes, cell phones, blinds, and all sorts of other things. I got there at 8am this morning, and there was a crowd of people waiting outside the door. When it opened, four guys rushed in under the lifting garage door and ran for the electronics section, picking up cell phones and cell phone accessories, as well as some other things. My only guess is that they might be reselling these things for a higher cost. However, I made a beeline for the electronics section, saw a projector, and picked it up immediately. Once some of the people had left and it was a little more calm, I went up to the desk and asked if they would hold it for me while I got some money from an ATM. They did, I came back, and drove off with a projector for 75 bucks!

Now that I have this projector, I am seriously considering dropping my cable television and just using rabbit ears and my internet/projector to watch all of the shows that I care to watch. It’d save me like 40 bucks a month based on my current bill, and even more than that considering my special deal ends in August and my rate would go up even more.