How to Beat Amazon

OUR STRATEGY AGAINST MONOPOLY

c/o Jeff Spicer Getty Images

On-line seller Amazon has a current market value of $1.59 trillion and climbing. It’s the largest e-commerce company in the world and no one else is close. At the beginning of 2020 Amazon had over 30,000 delivery trucks and has put in an order with electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian for 100,000 more. Amazon currently has 175 enormous fulfillment centers in operation– 150 million square feet of space. If present trends continue, these numbers will increase. Quickly.

A CURRENT-DAY OCTOPUS

The Octopus is a 1901 novel by Frank Norris describing a railroad monopoly which was ruthlessly putting anyone who stood in its way of expansion and growing profits out of business. Sound familiar? In the novel (based upon actual events) a group of ranchers– self-employed businessmen– are utterly destroyed by the unfeeling monolith.

The good news is that 1901 was a sort of peak for the railroad monsters. A fledgling technology created and pushed by upstart entrepreneurs soon enough displaced the older technology with a more flexible alternative: the automobile.

Which means that even Amazon can be competed with– but it will take new ideas. A variety of them. We’ve come up with some of our own.

HOW THE MONSTER OPERATES

Amazon achieved its monopoly status, beginning with books, based on two basic ideas.

1.) Offer more choices than anyone else– ultimately, to offer every book ever published.

2.) Offer the products at a lower price than anyone else. Lower than anyone could possibly match.

The result has been a boon for the compulsive reader, but damaging to publishers– and devastating to writers.

WHY?

Because in these conditions it’s all but impossible for any new writer to stand out. For any single book to stand out.

At Barnes & Noble, the author was one out of 50,000. On Amazon, he’s one of millions.

Contrast this with a cultural entity at the beginning of its cycle. In the early days of hip-hop music in the late 70’s, how many prominent hip-hop recording artists were there? A handful?

Or take the rock n’ roll explosion in 1956. Again, fueled by a mere handful of stars who could create acceptable versions of the hybrid genre: Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, Little Richard, Elvis Presley– few others.

When the Beatles arrived in America in February 1964, they were the only British rock act in the vicinity, and stood out. Five years later, after every possible put-together group of mop-top Brits who could hold a guitar– in tune or not– had entered these shores, the value was not so much. It makes a huge difference if you’re one of one, or one of five– or one of 500,000.

In MFA programs across the U.S.A., students learn to craft fiction or poetry as well as– and indistinguishable from– that of ten thousand others. What, then, is the point?

THE GREAT LEVELLER

For books, Amazon has been like McDonald’s with hamburgers: The Great Leveller. Small-d democratic. Everyone can afford to eat hamburgers– and everyone now can afford to read any book. We’re all the same. In the process– with the commodification of the product– that product has been cheapened. Anyone now can read books but few are reading them. Books have lost their importance, their uniqueness, their value. They’re part of Amazon’s discount bin, rejects nobody wants.

DOING THE OPPOSITE

If Amazon’s strategy was to flood the market with books at rock-bottom prices, the antidote is to do the opposite, with a proviso.

Doing the opposite means offering a small number of authors, at a limited number of outlets. The proviso is the authors will need to have hyper-appealing personas– able to be “stars”– and the writing as well as the presentation will need to be notably different from anything else on offer. Attention-getting. The writing will need to be in a new style and genre, while the literary vehicles– books, if you will– will need to look like something other than a book. The literary upstart will need to offer–

THE SHOCK OF THE NEW

Which is why we put so much emphasis on innovation. Innovation of the art and the vehicle of the art.

A difficult task, with enormous potential payoff.

Our plan stands upon three basic ideas.

1.) Offer authentic artistic experience.

2.) Rebound away from the cheap.

3.) Make our products unique.

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In his quest to corner the market on books, Jeff Bezos cheapened the contents of those volumes: literature. Instead of a valued expression of the highest sentiments and ideals of mankind, literature became a bargain basement commodity, sold at discounts or given away. A race to the bottom. Our mission is to restore value to the literary art. To accomplish that will mean revamping the art, the way it’s presented, packaged, and marketed. All will need to be opposite to Amazon’s glorified bargain-basement discount shop.

The printed analog products– which we call zeens– we’ve created so far, three in number, are templates for those to follow. In the three zeens we express a variety of artistic ideas, attempt numerous effects, some partially successful, others more so. What we’re learning with our artistic and literary experiments will pay dividends in the future– on the road toward creating truly amazing literary journals.

To see those experiments, click on our POP SHOP. You may choose to order one or more of them– then open them when they arrive and fully see what we’re about.

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Nick Gallup versus George Saunders: Round Four

THE NEW POP LIT READING CHALLENGE CONTINUES

COMPARISONS OF TWO RECENT AMERICAN SHORT STORIES

A summary of rounds one through three:

Round One judging was done by William Rushing.

Round Two judging was done by Michael Maiello.

Round Three judging was done by Tom Ray.

This round– Round Four– is scored by Michael Kealan Moore.

Information on the Reading Challenge is here.

The Big Question: What do you think?

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“Two households, both alike in dignity.”

by Michael Kealan Moore

Gallup begins with thoughts and tones set by textual allusions and song lyrics—we are reminded of TV scripts, where, at times, writers rely heavily on the mood set by music; Netflix’s Pose for example. Jones’ Some Came Running brings a struggling writer and we lead into the mouth of “Just Another Silly Love Song” (JASLS) and enjoy the story of a slow to marry, air-cowboy. To say this is a “better reading experience” lays in the easily digested events, where the reader can immerse the self in the action and plot. The craft and construction is of professional stock as we go through the phases of the protagonist’s moves across a chessboard towards love and marriage. Joseph Campbell’s work comes to mind in both construction and characterization; Brown as the Mentor (also noted as “My mentor, General Brown”), the first date as “all is lost/dark night of the soul” etc. Further into the characters, they could be in any successful Film/TV romcom: blue-collar workers lookin’ for a better life, and love. The impact of JASLS shows us that it is not another silly love story but one with grace, action, adventure, grit, and American truth.

Ghoul” is a beast of a narrative which injects us into Postmodern tropes. This text takes time to simmer and cook in the mind, which adds to its genius—readers left to hack away stone to discover the diamonds underneath. We are reminded of Jean Baudrillard’s realms of the hyperreal in Saunders’ words and world, the characters working in a cursed Disneyland of sorts; this may well be the 13th floor of hell—but it is not, it is a possible America where one cannot speak the truth at times, otherwise they are kicked to death by their friends and lovers. We can summarize in Baudrillard’s words that this is a “desert of the real itself”. Is this a “better reading experience”? I will say it is a difficult read where the wheels of cognition are forced into motion, but ultimately we reread to fully comprehend. The craft involved in this text is above normal and within its construction we the readers are brought information through dialogue, notes/letters, body language, and action itself; where all scraps make the greater absurd whole. On the characters, I found them well crafted in that they are submerged in their own phenomenological experience of the hell they exist in—we are of course kicked back to Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Man in The High Castle, and Brave New World; particularly the human “savages” living out of reach. On the first reading the impact is entirely contrary to a second reading, the first leaving us somewhat confused—the second impact is sobering.

Both Ghoul and JASLS outperform each other in their respective styles; we can imagine fans of Postmodernism swooning over George Saunders while one who appreciates contemporary American writing will find joy in Nick Gallup’s words.

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Michael Kealan Moore holds a BA in Writing, English & Classics, an MA in Writing, and a number of qualifications in Psychoanalysis. He has worked in AI, Film/TV and Publishing for a number of years.

Ghoul versus Gallup: Round Three

ANOTHER ENTRY IN OUR READING CHALLENGE–

Not George Saunders. Different George. Same beard.

— ATTEMPTING TO ANSWER THE QUESTION: “WHICH STORY IS BETTER?”

We’ve been comparing two short stories. The first, “Ghoul,” is by renowned story writer George Saunders, author of the Booker Prize-winning novel Lincoln in The Bardo. (Bardo, not Beardo.) The second, “Just Another Silly Love Song,” was published by us and is by lesser known fictionist Nick Gallup.

Round One analysis of the story was done by William Rushing.

Round Two analysis was done by Michael Maiello.

Information on the Reading Challenge is here.

Our newest review of the two stories is by Tom Ray

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A REVIEW

by Tom Ray

“Just Another Silly Love Song” tells the story of the relationship between two individuals, Tyler and Roxie. “Ghoul” tells the story of a world divorced from our own reality, with the relationship between Brian and Amy being just one illustration of the relationship between individuals and society as a whole.

The characters in “Love Song” are realistic. We don’t know if Tyler loved his mother or if Roxie has daddy issues. However, thanks to narrator Tyler’s self-aware reflections as a mature man looking back, we know he was a typical late 20th-century man, obsessed with sex, concerned with proving his masculinity, yet not intimidated by a strong, intelligent woman like Roxie. As a woman of that era, Roxie is not afraid to show her independence, and will not define herself in terms of a male partner. On the other hand, she is attracted to a strong man who proves himself, as Tyler does, to be more than a macho stereotype.

The protagonist in “Ghoul” is also a young man. His reactions to events are how I imagine a young man in such a bizarre world would react, fearful of the consequences of breaking the authoritarian rules. All of the other characters, though, have no depth. They are cartoon characters put there to show how this crazy regime impacts Brian.

A lot of the humor in “Love Song” is self-deprecating, as the narrator recognizes his own foibles as a typical young man who got his life tips from reading Playboy. In “Ghoul” the narrator has no sense of humor, with unintended humor emerging in descriptions of the denizens of the underworld behaving like people working dull jobs in the real world.

Saunders is definitely the master in crafting this story. When Gallup’s story was first published in New Pop Lit I commented that he has a way of drawing the reader in. It was easy to draw me in like that, though, because the characters are realistic.

It was tougher for Saunders. I stuck with the tedious narrator, trying to figure out what the setting was. It seemed like a theme park, but as I read further it became obvious this was more sinister than that.

By the end of “Love Song” I was satisfied. The story is a little more sentimental than I usually care for, but it is light-hearted fun with wit. Toward the end of “Ghoul” I was able to say, “Oh, yeah, this is a metaphor; or is it an allegory, or a simile, or some other such thing that I stopped worrying about half a century ago in college English lit classes? Is it satire on life in the corporate world, or on religion? Who cares?” The corporate world sucks, we all know that, religion is bullshit, we’ve all heard that. “Ghoul” doesn’t say anything new on those subjects in an interesting way, and the tedium I felt in the first few pages returned in the last few. Not my cup of oolong.

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Tom Ray is himself an accomplished, widely published short story writer. Among the stories he’s written for us is this one, “Service.”

Another Ghoul/Gallup Review!

GEORGE SAUNDERS VERSUS NICK GALLUP ROUND TWO

ANOTHER writer-reader has generously weighed in with a comparison of the two short stories available for analysis as part of our current Reading Challenge. Michael Maiello graces us with his perspective, in a short essay titled–

Ghouls and Fools for Love

by Michael Maiello

When George Saunders hits The New Yorker, I PDF the stories and keep them in a desktop folder marked “literature.” I’m a fan, the same way I’ve been a fan of David Foster Wallace, Kurt Vonnegut and so many others who have that slightly “off” worldview. A Saunders story, for me, is a little event.

Every new Saunders story benefits from context. He writes frequently about people trapped in a warped capitalism — killing and dying and lying in the service of awful jobs and guided by Byzantine rules. In Ghoul, co-workers compete to rat each other out for procedural violations and when one person’s guilt is established, their fellow employees kick them to death. The system is so warped that you can turn somebody in for their failure to turn you in for your own crimes. Ghoul presents us with a heightened reality that will seem familiar to any American worker, particularly those of us who have dealt with duplicitous employers. Ghoul recalls other Sanders stories, particularly from CivilWarLand in Bad Decline and Pastoralia. Soon, Saunders will release a book of essays about Russian short stories and I wonder if it will be Gogol who most interests him, or if he will surprise me with a fascination for a more naturalist Checkhov.

Ghoul is, for all its social commentary, a love story, perhaps in a dysfunctional vein of 1984. Just Another Silly Love Song by Nick Gallup is also a love story, set in a more recognizable society. With quick pace and heightened detail, Gallup brings us along for the rollicky ride of Tyler’s maturation. It’s not that he falls in love, though he does, it’s that falling in love remains a mystery to him even as we, accompanying him on the journey, get to see how Tyler achieves this by growing into a full person, able to think beyond his needs.

Whereas Saunders gives us oppressed losers who cannot overcome their circumstances, Gallup gives us hard-working people who can overcome themselves. The stories are so patently different in aim that I’ll punt on the question as to which is “better.”

In laying down its challenge for readers to review these two stories against each other, New Pop’s editors say they hold Gallup with the same esteem accorded to the widely celebrated Saunders. Cheers to that. We all know the artists who command the most attention are not necessarily the “best,” given the roles of luck and circumstance behind society’s discovery of any creative person. Those of us who think about these things, though we’re often counseled to try not to, can’t help but imagine that even so widely regarded a figure as Arthur Miller wrote “attention must be paid,” about himself as much as he wrote it for poor Willy Loman.

I salute New Pop Lit for asking the question, as it motivated me to read Gallup and I’m glad I did. I will even PDF his story and save it in that folder marked “literature,” right next to the Saunders.

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Thanks much to Michael Maiello for his review– and to William Rushing for the prior review.

NOW— is anyone else ready to step into the ring and take the George Saunders versus Nick Gallup Reading Challenge? If so, let us know!

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Saunders vs. Gallup Round One

THE GEORGE SAUNDERS VERSUS NICK GALLUP READING CHALLENGE!

Trivia: George Saunders has never been photographed without a beard.

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(FOR INFORMATION on our Reading Challenge and how to participate, read this.)

FIRST PARTICIPANT

The first reader to bravely pick up the thrown gauntlet and offer a review of the two short stories is William Rushing. His review:

Apollo Creed vs. Rocky Balboa

by William Rushing

The dialogue from the dinner scene in “Just Another Love Song” was its high point.  Two characters meeting and flirting with each other for the first time.  Parrying each other’s attempts at a clever line.

Somehow Roxy ordering the Porterhouse seemed less believable to me than all the fantasy Ghoul World stuff that was in “Ghoul.” 

“Ghoul” had the natural born talent and skill.  Its pretentious, yes, but I enjoyed it.  It was stylish, and when Amy and Brian laid close to one another in their sleeping slot trying to find a way to forget or otherwise rationalize their betrayals for a life that they had dreamed of, I couldn’t help but relate.

Rocky was a one dimensional fighter with a lot of guts, but Apollo had special effects. 

“Ghoul” matched the dullness of learning about how and why Ty got a Corvette for a great bargain with an unsual underground world of disenfranchised ghouls that begin to learn important things that seemingly flip their dreadful world upside down while they struggle to balance trust, honesty, and loyalty.  All while trying to keep from being kicked and stomped to death by a mob of their peers.  

Ironically, “Ghoul’s” characters seemed more relatable and human to me.  Conversely, Ty seemed like he managed his life very well, but I see people like that every day.  They appear like they have it together on the outside – they don’t interest me as much as those that are openly flawed.  Had he been scared when flying the plane in Cleveland? Had he felt a twinge of superiority when he met Roxy for the second time?  DId he ask himelf if he was being honest with himself when he donated his $1,000 fee for the hot shot flight to the parents of the baby he helped save?  At the time he “didn’t know what came over” him, but surely he’s sorted it out by now.  

A successful boxer presents angles, feints, superior timing when they neutralize a puncher.  I can’t help but thinking that “Ghoul” was more successful in this instance.

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Do we strongly disagree with this assessment? Maybe!

But what do you think– about the review and the two stories? Is William Rushing on the mark– or not?

Weigh in!

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Movie Melodramas

IS MELODRAMA A LEGITIMATE GENRE?

(from the Warner Bros film “The Roaring Twenties”)

Melodrama in literature, theater, and cinema has gotten a bad name merely because there’ve been so many bad melodramas over the years. (Just as too many contrived happy endings have given happy endings a bad name.) Melodrama is a style open to abuse by hack writers.

But we forget that Charles Dickens wrote melodrama. Wilkie Collins wrote melodrama. Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas both wrote melodrama.

MELODRAMA IN FILM

One of the peaks of melodrama in art came more than thirty years after the end of the Victorian era– in Hollywood, care of Warner Brothers gangster movies. Fast-paced plot, with acting and dialogue completely over-the-top, accompanied by a blaring Warner Brothers soundtrack. The intent was to play on audience emotion– to give moviegoers cathartic release; escape from Great Depression life.

As with any genre created at a particular point in time, the output was uneven. At its best, when all the trademark studio elements properly meshed, the result was terrific art.

THE BEST FILM MELODRAMAS

There were quite a few good ones, but three of the Warners movies stand out.

“Angels with Dirty Faces” (1938)

James Cagney overacts relentlessly, with the Dead End Kids along as foils, Ann Sheridan as the girl, Pat O’Brien as a priest, and Humphrey Bogart as bad guy– a role he played in many of these stories, until World War II came along and– Rick Blaine-style– his characters switched sides.

Not a perfect film, but the story builds swiftly amid societal chaos toward a famous (or once-famous) conclusion.

“Each Dawn I Die” (1939)

Even the title screams with emotion. The ultimate prison film, as framed anti-corruption reporter Cagney is sent to prison, where he meets up with mobster George Raft. A ton of drama and violence follows. As good as it gets, except for–

“Kid Galahad” (1937, aka “Battling Bellhop”)

(an excerpt from early in the film)

— the story and original title later used for a bad Elvis Presley movie.

The original version is terrific, starring Bette Davis and Edward G. Robinson, with Wayne Morris as the nicknamed prizefighter, and a sneering Humphrey Bogart along for the ride.

“Kid Galahad” takes the genre to another level, with a theme of love, unrequited and not, underlying the violence, emphasized with a dollop of soft focus cinematography. The ending– the Bette Davis character staring at a poster– conveys waves of emotion. The culmination of an unceasingly melodramatic plot.

CAN MELODRAMA RETURN?

There’s no reason why it shouldn’t. As we at New Pop Lit look for ways of reviving a stagnant literary art, we’ll add any weapon we can find to our arsenal of artistic styles. Fresh angles to throw at the world.

Which has resulted in our newest zeen:

Crime City U.S.A.

Available NOW! at our POP SHOP.

The Non-Graphic Novel

A mini-controversy was ignited on Twitter over this tweet from S. E. Hinton about her novel The Outsiders. (She has since reconsidered her opinion.)

THE QUESTION raised though is: How to account for the popularity of graphic novels? Is there more to their appeal than the visual?

When we say graphic novels, we’re talking about a longer or more ambitious version of a comic book, which had its direct origins in pulp detective fiction.

Go further back, and you can trace influences to popular authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs and Edgar Wallace, and to great proto-noir French novels of the early 20th century. Such as–

FANTOMAS!

–as well as Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera— which trace their origins to Grand Guignol theatre and, ultimately, to the mid-19th century mystery novel serializations of Eugene Sue, AND to the most important influence of them all, due to its enormous popularity, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.

The Count of Monte Cristo is compulsively readable and endlessly fascinating– one of the great novels– not solely because of its revenge theme, but because of its:

A.) Atmospherics.

B.) Characterizations (especially the Count himself).

C.) Mysteries– which include a series of double identities.

The novel is melodramatic, particularly in its revelations of identity. Melodrama can get out of hand (in the hands of a Eugene Sue or the authors of Fantomas), but what it really means is the portrayal of extreme emotion.

CHARACTERISTICS OF COMICS

The epitome of both the comic book and the graphic novel, in this commentator’s opinion, is Batman, created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger in 1939. Reaching its apex in the Dark Knight series by Frank Miller in 1986, which, while not inventing the form, firmly established it as legitimate art.

WHAT has made Batman, in print or film, so meaningful and wildly popular?

Its sense of mystery– starting with a secret identity centered around a “bat” costume, which itself adds to the nighttime atmospherics. The Batman is a creature of the shadows and the night, of shadows in alleys, and silhouettes on rooftops. Combine with a good versus evil dichotomy, fast-paced plotting, and striking, usually insane villains, and you have a formula for stimulating the imagination and entering into the deepest recesses of the subconscious. A formula for even, on occasion, shaking the underpinnings of the soul.

FOR THOSE to whom art is an intellectual exercise, such formula can be easily dismissed. Some of us though seek art which strikes deeper chords.

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REJUVENATING THE NOVEL

TO REGAIN its preeminent place in the culture, should the novel come full circle and readopt motifs from the nineteenth century? Should it place renewed emphasis on exaggeration and melodrama, on extremes of characterization and plot– albeit in a realistic or hyper-realistic setting?

Could graphic novels be written without the graphics– words substituting for images?

WHY NOT?

This is what we’re attempting anyway with our next “zeen” print publication, available for purchase by Wednesday, October 28, if not sooner, at our Pop Shop.

Don’t miss it!

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Styles of Failed Literature

MOVING BEYOND THE PRESENT: A DISTEMPERED ANALYSIS

fahren 451

FEW individuals involved in the creation and packaging of literature would argue there are any failed styles. After all, the Big Five book conglomerates remain in place, authors still receive six-or-seven-figure advances, and several of their books sell millions of copies. The industry chugs along.

HOWEVER, if the goal is to push the art and industry to new levels– to no longer consider “literature” as a separate phenomenon, but to compare it with other cultural happenings such as sports, movies, music– then as a whole literature is failing, because it’s no longer at the center of culture (as it once was), and is not connecting to large segments of the public in any fashion.

CURRENT OPTIONS

What are several of the current alternatives for writers and readers?

MEDICINE LITERATURE

harper lee

This comprises novels and books you’re supposed to read because they’re good for you. They address a cause or societal ill. At times they’re “of the moment” and sell well. Usually though they’re hitting you over the head with a problem you already know about, are poorly written, and deadly dull. They win plaudits and awards, but 999 out 1,000 aren’t going to generate excitement within the culture-at-large, sorry. Life isn’t fair.

“LITERATURE” LITERATURE

oates 2

This category includes standard big novels written by the likes of Joyce Carol Oates, as well as short stories by Oates, John Updike, Jonathan Franzen, Alice Munro, ad infinitum. The works are distinguished by Detail Disease, aka word clot. Meaning, they’re a slog to get through. Only the most intrepid young person (or adult) will make the effort. For those who do, it’s all the same tepid insights and weak-tea conclusions. Going to save literature, when it’s been the cause of literature’s downfall? Nope.

ADOLESCENT FANTASY LITERATURE

martin 2

An enormous category with a host of big-selling authors cranking out massive volumes of unending sagas. Behind them await tens of thousands of other wannabe-novelists creating their own interminable tomes. Why are these novels not the answer? After all, they do sell.

They’re not the answer because they’re crap. It’s impossible for any serious person beyond the age of seventeen– or twelve– to take any of it seriously. Yes, many do. You see them dressed in bizarre costumes at fantasy or sci-fi conventions. The books are popular. That’s good. There are lessons to be taken from it. It remains silliness, not great art.

On top of that, none of the famed authors has the requisite charismatic persona to upend the culture. George R.R. Martin is not going to.

DYSTOPIAN AND POST-APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE

atwood

Margaret Atwood is the best-known contemporary practitioner of this kind of work. In the Age of Hysteria we’re living through, they add more hysteria. Truth is, there have been two or three, tops, of these kind of authors who’ve been any good, George Orwell among them. Even Brave New World is a terrible novel.

DEPRAVITY LITERATURE

martin-bukowski

Maybe horror novels can be grouped in this category (though many belong in fantasy with the vampires and werewolves). This category includes sub-Bukowski Lit, where the author becomes as gross and psychotic as possible in constructing the narrative– and likely, in real life, is. (Incel Lit is a new variation.)

NEOCON LITERATURE

brad thor

This category was popularized by Tom Clancy of Hunt for Red October fame, but might be more typified by spy novelists Robert Ludlum, Vince Flynn, and Brad Thor, who each presumably have teams of agents in Langley, Virginia writing their books for them. (They’d have to, because Ludlum and Flynn have moved on from this world.)

My attitude toward these novels might be typified by a review I wrote about one of their number back in 2012 at a now-defunct blog.

CONCLUSION

My informed conclusion is that nothing coming from one of these categories will rescue the literary game. They’re accepted and known.

What will take the literary art to another level?

THAT is what we’re working on. Stay tuned.

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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

 

 

Start-Ups and Upstarts

BUSINESS HISTORY AND THE ARTS

Muddy Waters

To understand the role start-ups have played in the economy and in reinvigorating the culture, one need only look at the music business. If America had been strictly a rigid tops-down nation, there would never have been the populist explosion of rock n roll, which began in the 1950’s. (And was followed by punk, hip hop, and other variations.)

WHAT if the only people entitled to call themselves musicians were decided by musicologists, requiring academic degrees and proper certificates? The institutional mindset.

sun

Rock n roll was started by low-rent hustlers like Leonard Chess and Sam Phillips, with upstart little record companies like Chess and Sun Records. Start-ups? Of course! They were nothing but– as was Motown Records, founded by Berry Gordy Jr. with $600 in seed money, “venture capital,” from his sister. (Gordy at the time was working on a Detroit production line.)

Rock n roll music, scorned by intellectuals and critics, was strictly a product of America’s lower classes. The entrepreneurs were two-bit salesman. The artists were from the poorest sections of the country, whether they be Muddy Waters, Elvis Presley– or the Supremes, who were discovered in a Detroit housing project.

supremes

Hundreds of other start-up little record companies failed. Such is the way capitalism works. Enough succeeded to transform American (and world) culture– and in the process multiply the music business many times over, providing pleasure to millions– and opportunity to hundreds of musical artists, who in a rigidly controlled system, managed by apparatchiks and credentialed experts, would never have had opportunity at all.

The irony is the nature of free enterprise capitalism, when turned loose, levels the playing field more than a system which depends on decision-making from above– where selections are made according to a.) standardized testing b.) cronyism and connections c.) how well one conforms to the prevailing ideology imposed from above. It’s the difference between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War. Between a dynamic system and a static one. (The dynamism of America, expressed through rock music, infiltrated the Soviet Bloc and contributed to its collapse.)

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graham bell

Upstarts/start-ups have been with us for at least 200 years– seen in the careers of imaginative individuals like Elias Howe, Cyrus McCormick, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Nikola Tesla, Henry Ford  — on up to Steven Jobs, Elon Musk and Travis Kalanick. They propelled the United States to quickly becoming the world’s largest economy, creating millions of jobs and many trillions of dollars of wealth in the process. Economic value is the product of the human mind. All of this should go without saying, but in this bizarro upside-down world we live in, it doesn’t.

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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Love Story Examined: A Writing Template

A VALENTINE’S DAY ANALYSIS

DSC06852 (1)

A WRITER who was far ahead of the curve with his writing style was Erich Segal, best known for his mega- best-selling 1970 novel, Love Story.

By accident or design (the book was based on his yet-unproduced screenplay) Segal keyed into a type of structure, with attached motifs, which made the novel a popular success but also left it as a template for experiments in future literary art.

Several literary projects including ours have decided “literature” in its current accepted form needs to drastically change. We’re analogous to fledgling auto companies fifteen years ago, knowing internal combustion engine technology was obsolete and scrambling to create its replacement.

The question is what the future will look like.

Creating a work with extreme clarity, as Erich Segal did– making it look simple– is more difficult than it appears, because everything is exposed: all flaws in the tale and the telling of it.

There’s nowhere to hide.

love story cover

Segal’s style could be called Hemingway Squared. No excess verbiage to impress and distance the reader. Instead, reliance on aesthetic basics– plot and character, but also form. (The novel opens with the ending, then shows what led up to it.)

Segal sets up a superstructure– a square blank canvas– and fills it in, like a painter adding paint daubs. Tangible details. The clarity of the style helps the “aesthetics” of the novel to stand out:

-The contrast between rich and poor.

-The tense dynamic between authoritarian father and independent son.

The tagline– “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”– is used twice, once right near the end for maximum impact. Dialogue throughout is super-tight. The spare lines used by the characters stand out because they’re not overwhelmed by unnecessary literary verbiage placed around them. They “pop out” of the story. 

That Erich Segal was a screenwriter was an asset. The narrative itself is very tight, and contains another kind of aesthetics– tangible details.

(A James Bond movie, for example, is filled with tangible details– clothes, drinks, accents, cars– which you don’t consciously notice but which impress themselves on your mind.)

One of Segal’s details is the Harvard Club. He doesn’t need to describe it– the reader imagines it. Fills in the blanks.

Everything in and about the novel sets up the ending. 

Manipulative? Sure. But so was Oedipus Rex. Audiences– including audiences of readers– want to be manipulated.

oedipus

The novel Love Story is a template– a starting point from which more can be accomplished.

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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS