I’ve long argued for the vulnerability of the top-heavy conglomerate model of publishing, centered as it is in two hyper-expensive global cities, New York and London. Lease rates, rents, cost-of-living, salaries– everything about doing business in those two towns should make them uncompetitive in comparison to a city like, say, Detroit. The prestige of a swanky address, and the ability to woo clients in Manhattan bars and restaurants, as a value can go only so far.
Newsweek magazine anyway seems to have discovered a way out. Go onto theirContactpage, and you see a large logo for something called EnveritasGroup. Enveritas is a digital marketing agency. Presumably they were hired by– or partnered with– Newsweek, to restore the publication to its previous standing. And lo and behold, the new strategy appears to have moved Newsweek headquarters to the most prestigious address in New York City: One World Trade Center. The lofty skyscraper built to replace the twin towers.
But has it? Search online the listed address with suite number included– 8500– and you come up with not Newsweek, but an outfit called Servcorp. Servcorp sells virtual office space– meaning, a prestigious address. They are, in other words, a glorified maildrop, for Newsweek and other companies.
Where is Newsweek magazine’s headquarters actually located, including their editorial office? Elsewhere in New York? Individual editors’ homes and on Zoom? A small town in Arkansas? We don’t know. But it sure looks as if Newsweek is perpetuating the illusion they’re still based in Manhattan, while cutting costs drastically by working elsewhere.
The downside: no more swanky three-martini lunches.
In any group, Ernest was the most impressive personality. -Charles Thompson, quoted in The True Gen.
THE HEMINGWAY PERSONA
First place to start in any examination of Ernest Hemingway is the larger-than-life Hemingway persona, which he spent a lifetime creating and perfecting. In that sense he was not unlike self-created Hollywood stars Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, and John Wayne. Intentional myth, which included his trademark macho bluster and swagger, but also his deliberately pushing himself into dangerous situations which could fuel that persona, that myth.
THE LOST GENERATION
Much of the author’s myth and mystique came from being part of an artistic movement of expatriate writers and artists who congregated in Paris after the First World War. With the publication of The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway placed himself at the center of that movement.
Hemingway fictionalized his experiences, many of which were traumatic, such as being wounded during the First World War. This is most noteworthy in his first two novels, in which he gave his intense experiences just the right amount of distance, creating powerful effect and universal meaning.He was also a hard-core student of craft. His short story, “The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” is the most structurally complex story ever written, with deft switches between time and viewpoint, yet making the complexity unnoticeable. Seamless.
REVOLUTIONIZING THE LITERARY ART
It’s impossible for us to fully realize today the full extent to which Hemingway’s writing style (building on what he learned from Gertrude Stein, Sherwood Anderson, and Ezra Pound) hit the world with the shock of the new. His concise, well-crafted, often abrupt fiction was like the introduction of a new technology. It didn’t just add to the art of writing and the world of literature, but transformed them. His writing changed the way people viewed the world.
The popularity of the Hemingway style and ethos influenced the way people thought and talked. The very concept of noir fiction, for instance, stemmed from early stories of his like “The Killers” and those included in his collection In Our Time. One could most notice the influence in early sound movies from 1930 on, via tough guy actors like James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Clark Gable (the early version), and Humphrey Bogart. Bogie in particular played a Hemingwayesque character– the scarred existentialist hero– in most of his starring roles, including in one of the best films of all time, Casablanca.
AT THE CENTER OF HISTORY
One of the reasons Ernest Hemingway stood out from other writers during his lifetime was that he put himself at the center of world events, from World War I as an ambulance driver; the war’s aftermath as a correspondent, his public socializing in France and Spain, including his writing about bullfights; participant and war correspondent again during the Spanish Civil War and World War II in Europe, and of course his adventures hunting in Africa and deep sea fishing in the Caribbean.
THE GLOBAL AUTHOR
It was because he placed himself visibly on the world stage– in addition to his compelling writings– that Ernest Hemingway became one of the best-known persons on the planet. Universally read (only Jack London among American authors is comparable). One of America’s chief cultural exports at a time, in the mid-Twentieth Century, when American popular culture was sweeping across the planet.
Ernest Hemingway was a popular writer and at the same time an artistically serious one, that too-rare combination, which raised the standing of the literary art and inspired countless individuals to take up that art as their cause.
Our zeens, especially Extreme Zeen 2, for best use require special handling to retain their unique characteristics which place them above every other literary journal on the planet.
-DON’T smear the cover or pages with grimy or greasy hands. For example, it’s not recommended to read EZ2 directly after a.) frying and eating hamburgers, or b.) working on a car or other machinery. (If your car is an electric vehicle using no gasoline or crankcase oil, an exception may be allowed.)
-DON’T place glasses of cold beer, soda, or other beverages upon your copy of Extreme Zeen 2.
-DON’T toss EZ2 willy-nilly across a room, or at someone.
-DO NOT use EZ2 to strike a person. Or even an animal. Animals have feelings also. Or to kill insects. (It is however allowable to strike an intruder entering through a window with EZ2, if the miscreant interrupts your reading pleasure.)
-KEEP your copy of EZ2 OUT of the bathroom. The toilet paper shortage is over.
-REMEMBER, Extreme Zeen 2 is not a generic book, and must not be treated like one. It is, rather, a rare collectible.
-BEST PRACTICE. Best policy of course is to purchase two copies of Extreme Zeen 2: one for reading and admiring, the other to retain in its sealed sleeve to be placed into a safety deposit box, or a vault.
-FINAL CAUTION. Be wary of loaning your copy of Extreme Zeen 2 to any other person. Not only may they not exercise proper care and handling of it, but you may never get the issue back!
“At the Opera” in EZ2 is a cut-up multidimensional short story inspired by the innovations of avant-garde pioneers William Burroughs and Kathy Acker– but also by the editing techniques of pop music (sampling) and cinema (montage). The presumptuous goal: to create a literary collage, using public domain writing by several of the greatest novelists who ever lived.
ABOUT THE FICTION
The three other main fiction works are subtly dystopian– subliminally speculative– about where our world is now, and where it’s headed.
ABOUT THE POETRY
The poems in EZ2 were chosen specifically either for their ability to comment on an adjacent story (“Common Note” by John Zedolik commenting on “Care” by Sam Paget), OR for their ability to be part of a word-and-design fusion, where the poem is not simply accompanied by an illustration or design, but fuses with it.
THE ANALOG EXPERIENCE
Extreme Zeen 2 is the ultimate in analog literary experience, presenting words and colors which “pop” off the page and cannot be duplicated on any digital electronic screen.
THE NEW POP LIT MISSION
The New Pop Lit mission is to create publications which can engage all segments of the population– with words and presentations that are fun, stimulating, and thought-provoking. Not off-putting text-dense books, but instead, inviting attractive zeens.
The fact that so many books still name the Beatles “the greatest or most significant or most influential” rock band ever only tells you how far rock music still is from becoming a serious art.
This is the opening sentence to Piero Scaruffi’s famous rant about the Beatles– which can be read in its entirety here.
Scaruffi’s article has been endlessly cited, quoted, and referred to. The kicker is we can see from the very first sentence that he’s operating under a misconception of what rock music is, was, and was intended to be– likely because he looked at the phenomenon retrospectively, through layers of rock music criticism built up between the years of 1964 (the time of U.S. Beatlemania) and 1999, the year Scaruffi wrote his essay.
What he misses completely– like a baseball player striking out–
— is that rock n’ roll music from the start was a popular-not-“serious” art. Like its antecedents, rhythm and blues and country music, it was music of and from the lower classes. This includes the low-rent hustlers who recorded it, promoted it and popularized it, from the Chess brothers to Sam Phillips to Alan Freed to Colonel Parker to Dick Clark to Berry Gordy Jr. The only people who took it “seriously” were members of its audience.
One can use numerous examples to illustrate this. Among them are the movies made to capitalize on what nearly all critics and tastemakers believed to be a temporary fad. For instance, “The Girl Can’t Help It,” starring buxom Jayne Mansfield and featuring Little Richard and other rock n’ roll stars.
Or, notice this sequence from the Elvis movie “Jailhouse Rock,” when Presley encounters a group of academics.
The entire point of rock music in its formative stage was that it was not in any way intellectual. It stirred the emotions and senses, was beyond analysis.
This was the situation when Beatlemania broke upon England, the United States, and the world. The Beatles’ appeal was aural and visual, direct and immediate, including their unique look. “Well, but they’re not serious artists!” hopeless reactionaries upset at their enormous popularity cried at the time.
Was rock n’ roll widely heard on college campuses before the Beatles broke big?
NO! College kids listened to jazz, classical, Broadway show tunes, or, increasingly, folk music from the likes of Pete Seeger, the Kingston Trio, Peter Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, and a fledgling songwriter named Bob Dylan.
As Scaruffi mentions, there was nascent activism at colleges in the early 1960s, but it centered musically around folk, not rock. The protest song became a cliche– “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “Little Boxes,” “Blowin in the Wind,” “What Did You Learn at School Today?” and so on. They were serious alright– but in no sense were they, or did they, rock.
A good way to judge the musical environment in the United States into which the Beatles arrived– to see what music was taken “seriously”– is to read thelistof Grammy Award nominations for the year 1964. Interesting– or comical.
ROCK GOES MIDDLE CLASS
First, the massive popularity of the Beatles, which converted entire social classes and age groups to the rock music cause.
Second, on July 25th in 1965, Bob Dylan “went electric” at the Newport Folk Festival, which outraged a significant portion of the audience as well as fellow performers, including Pete Seeger. Dylan in essence converted from folk to rock– and brought intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals along with him. (To be fair, the prod for this conversion was the April 1965 release of a rock cover version by the Byrds of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” which became a monster hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard top singles list.)
It was only after bourgeois acceptance of rock n’ roll that rock criticism came into being– and “rock” displaced “rock and roll” as accepted terminology for the genre.
In sum, rock music was wholly the creation of the lower classes, first in America, then in Britain. The Beatles themselves were working class, from the rough seaport city of Liverpool. “Serious” intellectuals– not unlike Mr. Scaruffi– appropriated the genre, some ten-plus years after its birth in the U.S., and made it their own. In so doing, they made it more pretentious and overblown– rock musicians taking what had been quick entertainment all too seriously. Which in turn led to the creation of punk music in the 1970s to burst that bubble of snobby pomposity.
AS we’ve stated in past years, New Pop Lit‘s nomination process for the Pushcart Prize is to a certain extent arbitrary. We had a lot of excellent work to choose from, would’ve loved to select all of it. Unfortunately that wasn’t possible.
The rationale for the choices we made is this:
Our knowledge that nominations have to be made by snail mail, and the Pushcart editors are flooded with submissions. Hundreds of envelopes. Thousands of nominations. The first objective, in trying to have one of our nominations selected to be an actual prize winner, is getting the editors to read what we enclose. The bias then isn’t toward stuffing the envelope we mail with reams of paper, but toward shorter work.
Our other objectives were these:
1.) To enclose a variety of writing styles. We’ve done that.
2.) To make sure the nominations are well-written, and different enough from the norm to (possibly) gain attention.
3.) Lastly, to make sure the nominations are attractively presented.
ALSO, we decided to split our six choices equally between on-line work, and writing which appeared in our first two print zeens.
The chief criterion of course is excellence, well-displayed in these selections.
–An excerpt from “The Spectre of the Rose”: by Frank D. Walsh. (Published in New Pop Lit’sExtreme Zeen in May, 2020.)
–”The Sacred Whore.” Fiction by Rachel Haywire. (Published in New Pop Lit’sExtreme Zeen in May, 2020.)
-”Vyvanse.” A novel excerpt by Brian Eckert. (Published in New Pop Lit’sZEENITH in July, 2020.)
We have a simple proposition to make. We invite readers far and wide to peruse two recently published short stories.
ONE is by much-lauded short story writer George Saunders, published in the November 9th issue (11-2 online) of the prestigious magazine The NewYorker, long considered the leading venue for short fiction in the United States.
WE INVITE any reader–any writer– to craft an honest comparison between the two stories– an evaluation, a criticism, a two-pronged review– answering the questions: Which story is better? Which presents the better reading experience? Which is better crafted and constructed? How well are the portrayals of the characters? How impactful is each story’s overall effect?
WE WILL publish any such review, submitted by anyone– twenty-five words to 500– as long as said essay reaches a minimum level of sense and coherence. We’ll edit/correct only for obvious spelling or grammatical mistakes. We won’t publish submissions we regard as obscene, or not in the spirit of the offer– but will give the writer of such submission notice, along with the opportunity to change what has been submitted.
THIS OFFER is open through the rest of the month of November, 2020.
The essays will be posted at this blog.
Are you up to it?
Please send your critiques to: email@example.com.
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”)
— 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.
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–
–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:
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.
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?
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.
A NEW NOVEL has appeared from one of mainstream publishing’s best authors– TheQueen of Tuesday by Darin Strauss. Strauss is a traditional novelist who specializes in imaginative historical fiction about celebrities or curiosities from past eras. His newest book covers the rise and life of classic television personality Lucille Ball– with an intermittent relationship between Ms. Ball and Strauss’s grandfather(!)– part real and part imagined– mixed in.
How capable a writer is Darin Strauss? His last book, a memoir, won a National Book Critics Circle award. The Queen of Tuesday has received rave reviews from the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Publishers Weekly, and many other outlets.
The Queen of Tuesday is about the creation of celebrity. Darin Strauss well captures the personality of the type. More, in the novel he’s tuned-in to celebrity culture, its glitz and hype– and by extension, to America itself. Celebrity is America.
An early scene–
THE BIRDS ABOVE Ocean Beach see the drum-shaped premiere lights slide glamour beams along the clouds. The birds see—with a clapped paper bag sound of wings passing—a giant steel-and-glass pavilion, all a-sparkle. The birds see Ziegfeld girls, restaurateurs, a late-arriving Broadway impresario exiting his pleasure sedan. That wind picks up, goosebumping eight hundred arms. The birds see pinups, radio luminaries, heartthrob clarinetists. They see the covetous attractive charmers who take root in the soil around celebrities. (These are the career fawners—the money-takers.) They see Bing Crosby in the flesh. And Ted Mack. And Mary Martin holding Vic Damone’s thick arm. They see clothes as a standard and elegant repression. They see the boardwalk as a splinter that pokes the beach in the eye.
1950’s glamour jumps from the page.
Lucille Ball’s career from failed Hollywood starlet to television phenom and production company owner is the quintessential American success story, more remarkable because Lucy did it in an era when women weren’t supposed to be in charge of a major company. When women were seldom seen at all in upper levels of the aggressively sexist three-martini corporate world of that era.
Strauss portrays the relentless hype of those times (with a Trump thrown in) and he captures the period’s Technicolor vibe.
It’s a fine novel. Darin Strauss is one of a cohort of hyper-competent authors deployed by publishing’s Big Five. Those who represent not mere temporary Sally Rooney trendiness, but the ability to produce well-crafted fiction seemingly at whim. Beautifully-crafted novels with gorgeous covers. Fit for display at the front of bookstores, so that publishers, editors, agents, the entire panoply of New York publishing can look at them and be well pleased with what they’re producing. Like a General Motors viewing an array of models at a dealership lot. No one could possibly produce a better literary product. No one could write a better book. On their own terms, these statements are completely true.
AND YET– ?
And yet– what’s wrong with this picture? If Darin Strauss isn’t the best contemporary American novelist, he’s near the top. His new novel is colorful and lively compared to those of his peers (from a Sally Rooney to a Jonathan Franzen). It displays every talent– yet, that Darin Strauss himself isn’t a celebrity, on a level which a Herman Wouk or Irwin Shaw reached in their day, says a lot not about Darin Strauss so much as the current literary system itself, and its place in society.
IN the 1950’s, the decade when Lucille Ball was achieving her fame, hyper-competent novelists like a Wouk or Shaw, a Gore Vidal or Norman Mailer or Ayn Rand or John Steinbeck (not to mention Hemingway) were themselves celebrities. Well-known public figures with large cultural footprints.
Today, for the greater American public, not even a Jonathan Franzen or Sally Rooney is a recognizable name– much less a face that would be recognized on the street.
One could write a book on what happened and be wrong in the analysis. But at some point it’s a failure of PR and marketing– has to be. Strauss’s publisher, Random House– the best out there– does everything by the book. It might be the same book from the 1950’s, and even if it’s not it’s time to change it.
(Though like General Motors with their internal combustion vehicles, the products all look wonderful on display, and run/read well, so why change anything?)
THE NEED FOR CHANGE
Another factor, in this commentator’s opinion, is the need in any business, art, or cultural activity for change. To offer something new. There hasn’t been anything new in the literary realm since the Beats– who came to prominence at the same time Lucille Ball dominated the TV airwaves.
The template for the novel currently in use might be the best possible. No one using it would dream of smashing it for something way more unpredictable, crude, and unwieldy. Yet like 19th century artists destroying the status quo template of the painting, such destruction might be the only way to offer a fresh artistic experience– a different way of viewing the world– than currently available.