Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Friday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:
Chris: Jeet Heer’s fascinating Comics Journal series exploring race and comics (ethnic caricature was routine in early strips) considers Harold Gray, the relatively enlightened, otherwise reactionary creator of Little Orphan Annie. He also notes evidence that contemporary black readers identified with certain atypical comics – Krazy Kat most of all, natch, but it wasn’t the only one: “In 1928 in Baltimore, there was a ‘Polly and Her Pals Club,’ where African-American dancers wore chic, flapper dresses in the manner of [Cliff] Sterrett’s heroine.”
Someone filmed a Disneyland band inexplicably playing “The Internationale.” Or perhaps it is explicable, since this happened in Paris.
And speaking of strangely compelling mash-ups…
Margaux: Transparent headed fish! – thanks to St. Charles.
Speaking of heroes, QUESTIONS for AYAAN HIRSI ALI, “The Feminist”.
Speaking of religion, How Christian Were the Founders? Good article by Russell Shorto about America’s constitution and educational system. Scary! From Kathy Miller (a witness to curriculum choices, mostly? made in Texas, for American schools): “It is the most crazy-making thing to sit there and watch a dentist and an insurance salesman rewrite curriculum standards in science and history.”
I read a list of movie production names and their origins. I can’t remember where I read it, but the origins for Danny Boyle’s company’s name “Decibel” stuck with me. It comes from the expression “knock hard: life is deaf.” I think it originates with the surrealists.
Carl: This CLICK THE SQUARES thing has reached lots of people before but it only reached me this week, via this link, and then I traced it back here. Essentially you click the squares and suddenly you’re making little kalimba-meets-techno silly symphonies. Pay attention to the math=rhythm, bass=best rules, and try opening multiple screens so you can switch various loops on and off. It lacks a record function, which is both irritating and kind of Zen. You are your own Buddha machine.
Speaking of Buddha, the later works of David Foster Wallace in many ways explore the necessity of those dharmas of detachment and service, particularly as received through the American 12-step movement, but with his own literary spin. Since his tragic death two-and-a-half years ago, more and more information on the place of that movement, addiction and depression in his life has become public, but there has been some sense of decorum, of respecting the feelings of the great writer’s friends and family, and his own dignity. So I have deep feelings of ambivalence about this piece in The Awl, which does the kind of deep literary scholarship on the collection of Wallace’s annotated books and papers at the University of Texas at Austin that normally takes place a generation after a writer’s death, not more-or-less immediately.
The piece is quite beautifully written (even if self-consciously so in places) and it’s really valuable for noticing that Wallace treated popular self-help books with great interest and respect – an insight that I’ve gotten from a couple of the smartest people I know personally (with the same argument: it’s not like you’re the first person with these problems, so why not look at the things that have helped other people?), although I’ve had trouble bringing myself to apply it, in much the same way the Awl documents Wallace having when he first encountered 12-step with his own literary snobbery.
On the other hand, I am put off by the invasive speculations about his very-much-alive mother and other family business, based on stuff I kind of wish they hadn’t had access to at this point – although grateful for the observation that his mom’s book on English grammar is basically the genealogy of his style, including the phrase “howling fantods.” Proceed at your own discretion.