Sunday, April 24, 2022

Steve Martin and -- cultural appropriation?

This weekend on Facebook, I shared a YouTube video of comedian Steve Martin's first performance of "King Tut". It's been 44 years since the song aired on Saturday Night Live, which is kind of an odd anniversary to mark, but I guess somebody mentioned it on Twitter, and it was off to the races.

Apparently, in the intervening four decades and change, the song has become controversial. Back in 2017, students at Reed College in Oregon got upset when they had to watch the video for an introductory humanities class. Members of Reedies Against Racism complained that the bit was racist. "That's like making a song...that's just littered with the n-word everywhere," one student told the college newspaper.

Some Millennials today don't get the joke, either. One tweeted: "I'm sure my parents found this hilarious in the 70's but I honestly dont get it." (sic) 

Okay, then. Let me explain it to you: It's satire. Moreover, it's a satire about consumerist culture.

Context matters. At the time the song aired on SNL, a major exhibition of grave goods from King Tutenkamen's tomb was touring the United States, sponsored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. More than eight million Americans saw the exhibit, which included the boy king's spectacular funereal mask. 

People around the world went wild for everything that had anything to do with Egypt. And as American, uh, entrepreneurs are wont to do, there were a ton of tacky Tut-related items offered for sale, up to and including women's t-shirts featuring a graphic of golden falsies with the legend, "Hands Off My Tuts".

The video that circulated on Twitter this weekend apparently included only the musical performance, without Martin's opening remarks -- in which he talks about how all the Tut tchotchkes inspired him to write the song. And then the music starts, and he goes into his usual manic schtick (backed by a band billed as the Toot Uncommons that included members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band). It's a hilarious bit. Here, see for yourself:

Would the skit make it on the air now, in this day and age? Maybe not. It's not as cool these days to dress up in another culture's clothing, even to poke fun at something wholly American.

But is this skit cultural appropriation? Is it racist? Come on. 


By the way, if you haven't seen Martin's most recent work -- Only Murders in the Building, co-starring Martin Short and Selena Gomez -- you owe it to yourself to grab a free trial of Hulu and binge the first season now. It's very funny. And then you'll be all set for season two when it drops on June 28th.


These moments of bloggy Egyptomania have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell (who does have a condo, but it's not made of stone-ah). Get vaxxed!

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Redefining city centers in the wake of COVID.

The New York Times ran a column by Ginia Bellafante this week called, "Wait, What if People Did Just Stay Home in Their Pajamas?" 

Bellafante writes that big-city mayors who are pushing the return of workers to their offices in central business districts -- in this case, New York City's Midtown and Lower Manhattan -- to "get back to normal" may be missing a different, and more sustainable, renaissance. 

Downtown office districts have been virtual ghost towns for the past two plus years, and city officials are pushing people to return to work in their high-rise office buildings, or else small businesses -- coffee shops, lunch places, food trucks, and so on -- won't survive. In essence, people are being guilt-tripped into returning to the office.

But people have become comfortable (for the most part) with working from home. Not only do their commutes no longer suck, but with the savings they've realized from sitting home in their jammies, they've been able to support businesses in their own neighborhoods. Bellafante cites as proof the hundreds of restaurant openings in Brooklyn and Queens over the past couple of years.

Hybrid work isn't going away, she says, and in fact the trend has been shifting in that direction for several years; the pandemic shutdown simply hurried it along. But city planning and governmental policies haven't yet shifted to support it.

I maintain that a big reason for it money. As alert hearth/myth readers know, I used to work in an office building in downtown Washington, DC, and I have some idea of how much corporate money has been sunk into the pricey real estate in city cores. It's a lot. A lot. If businesses largely abandon those buildings, city real estate tax revenues will crash, and we may end up with a lot of cityscapes that resemble the picture up top. (It's the background I used for the original cover of Scorched Earth, by the way.)  All those post-apocalyptic stories in which the characters poke around in abandoned cities? That scenario could be closer than we imagined. Already our suburbs are dotted with derelict shopping malls and big-box stores. Why not skyscrapers, too?

But it doesn't have to be that way. Some commenters observed that empty office buildings could be repurposed -- as housing, for one thing. Maybe the whole idea of a downtown business district needs to be rethought, to cater to people who live there, instead of office drones who only spend eight hours a day there, buying coffee and eating lunch out.

I recognize, too, that this whole discussion centers around only the lucky folks who can work from home, and not the people whose jobs have required them to show up to a physical workplace all along -- those "essential workers" who we loved when they were risking their lives to bring us groceries and teach our kids and save our family members when they were hospitalized, and who we maybe haven't thought much about since then. Even if downtown office buildings were renovated into apartments, what are the odds that essential workers could afford to live in them? I mean, does anybody build any apartments that aren't luxury units anymore?

I don't have a solution. I don't think anyone does -- not a practical one, anyway. But we're going to have to grapple with this at some point. We might as well start thinking about it now.


These moments of post-apocalyptic blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed! Get boosted!

Sunday, April 10, 2022

The spirit of a place.

I still buy paper wall calendars every year. And nearly every year, I think about picking up a Spirit of Place calendar, but I never do. The photos of striking landscapes are lovely -- don't get me wrong. But despite the name of the calendar, they don't really convey the spirit of the place -- at least, not to me. For that, I think, you have to be there. 

pegasustudio | Deposit Photos

Have you ever walked into a place that felt totally welcoming -- as if the place itself was glad you had come? Or maybe there was a time when a place you entered didn't welcome you at all. Both have happened to me a lot over the years.

Here's an example: Many years ago, I had a job interview in Chicago. I'd been to the Loop plenty of times, but rarely for a job search. As I walked from the train station to the interview, I felt a coldness and heaviness that I'd never felt there before. I did the interview, and as I left the building, I decided I might as well spend the rest of the day doing tourist stuff. Immediately, the feeling of coldness lifted. Now the city welcomed me! 

I didn't get that job, nor did I ever get a job in Chicago. Of course I was anxious on this occasion, as one is before a job interview, but I don't think the feeling of coldness was due to interview-related nerves. I think the city's spirit of place was telling me I wasn't ever going to make a home there.

Some time later, I walked into a different radio station for an interview, and right away it felt like I'd come home. The energy in that space felt comfortable to me. That job, I got.

Then there was the time when a realtor was showing me homes in Alexandria, VA. We saw a bunch of houses that day, but there was one that I couldn't leave fast enough. The vibe was just awful -- foreboding, even. I wondered whether the owners had had a huge fight (or worse) before leaving that day, and the bad energy still lingered.

I've learned to trust these feelings, both the "come on in!" and the "get out!" variety. And I relied on it when I was looking for a place to retire. Not totally, of course -- I had a list of more practical requirements, as well. But of all the places I visited in Colorado, none felt totally like home. Then I came back to Santa Fe and realized this city had been slyly courting me for years.

I've also incorporated the idea into my writing. In Maggie in the Dark, the first book of the Transcendence trilogy, Maggie Brandt is practically yanked off the highway as she drives past the Great Circle Earthworks in Ohio. The spirits of that place whack her upside the head, and the experience sets the story in motion.

A photo of a stunning landscape can stun and even enthrall. But to really feel the spirit of the place, I think, you need to be there.

What about you? Have you ever gotten a strong vibe from a place, either good or bad?


These moments of spirited blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Taking another week off.

Yes, I just took a vacation. Yes, I'm taking another one this week. No, I'm not sorry.

See you next Sunday.

These moments of vacationing blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed! Get boosted!