Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Lightly on the Death Toll for Boston Bookstores

I live in a darn educated city, and bookstores are plentiful. Seems like the recession’s been bad for them, however: I just learned that the New England Mobile Bookfair, a behemoth of a bookstore that’s been around for 50 years, is up for sale. Rodney’s Bookstore has been in an indefinite store closing mode for several months; plans to close the Central Square institution at the end of the year may be on hold.

As a former bookseller myself and a frequent supporter, I worry about the disappearance of these institutions. Not only do bookstores–and used bookstores in particular–provide a purchase point for us consumers, but bookstores are community spaces, solitude- and sanity-keepers, a refuge for those of us readers with short attention spans who leap-frog from one book to the next.

Counter to the trend of receding bookstore business is the hopeful story of The Strand. Whenever I’m in New York, I drop by this literary landmark and their 18 miles of books. Founded as a book stall more than 80 years ago, The Strand is still owned by the Bass family and owns its building.

Makes you wonder: Do booksellers make good businessmen? Why are we always lamenting the death of the indie bookstore?

Filed under: books, business, economy, literature, , , , , ,

What Motivates You?

Dan Pink explains it all for you. Think money’s the best motivator? That the bigger the reward, the better the performance?

Autonomy, mastery, sense of purpose: research shows that these oftentimes undervalued notions are greater incentivizers than simple cash. From studies on some smart kids at M.I.T. to the purpose-filled mission of the founder of Skype, the ability to work under one’s own direction–or the joy in accomplishing a task (no matter if it’s brain surgery or fixing a drain)–or the sense that our work results in more than a simple monetary equivalent: Pink notes that autonomy, mastery, and sense of purpose are far more powerful tools of motivation than either the carrot or the stick.

One of my favorite bits in Pink’s talk is the anecdote about software developers who are given free reign over their project, their collaborators, their time management–as long as they can present the fruit of their labor within 24 hours.

This lively animated video, courtesy of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, is only one of their fantastic archive (I love the British organization’s tagline: “21st century enlightenment”). Great ideas presented in a lively, eye-catching form.

Filed under: business, labor, pop culture, science, work, , , , , , , , , ,

BP, Capitalism, and GOP Brainwashing

Christopher Durang, the sardonic playwright and provocateur (I remember playing a minor role in his cutting play Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You when I was still in elementary school), writes a well-reasoned commentary on the oil spill and its evidence of so many ways we’ve gone wrong in today’s Huff Post. Not only does he soundly lambast those who like to rail against environmentalism (“the earth has always been changing” the conservatives say), but he takes corporations and greed-driven financial institutions to task.

The commentary has an air of sadness combined with anger, as if this disaster along our southern gulf is only the culmination of the poor oversight of business, the outlandish Tea Party claims of socialism, our communal overuse and abuse of resources for more cars, more production, more selfishness in sucking up the world’s riches. He’s not alone. I share his outrage. And I imagine he’d have a whole rally of frustrated Americans if we brought his case to the podium.

Citing Bob Herbert in a New York Times op ed, he writes:

If a bank is too big to fail, it’s way too big to exist. If an oil well is too far beneath the sea to be plugged when something goes wrong, it’s too deep to be drilled in the first place.

I’m reminded of the great Harvey Fierstein PSA a couple years ago, when Fierstein asks viewers, with a calm yet menacing restraint, “Where is our anger?” “Where is our anger?” he repeated, over and over. Why aren’t those of us who are pissed off with the greed of corporate America, the co-opting of the national conversation by ridiculous, fear-mongering people like Sarah Palin and the Tea Party maniacs, as vocal and organized and angry as those on the right?

The GOP, for all its misdirected views, has managed to organize and coalesce its values around Christianity and capitalism rather than humanism and rational dialogue. Christopher Durang questions these material values:

Has any Republican read the Beatitudes lately? They’re pretty significant, but you kind of have to be a saint to follow them. Republicans seem to have merged Christianity with … well, laissez-fair capitalism. I don’t think Jesus would approve.

Where is our anger? Have we become too comfortable with all our stuff? Why is it only now, after more than a month since the oil leak started, are we only seeing the devastating–but real–images of all kinds of wildlife covered in oil?

Maybe it’s because those of us with progressive views don’t want to sink to the Republican’s level of shouting. Their lack of discourse (and embrace of shock value and fear-mongering). What else will it take (because a catastrophic oil spill ain’t firing up the crowds) for more of us to get off our padded sofas and take the corporations to task?

Where is your anger?

Filed under: business, consumerism, media, politics, , , , , , , , , , ,

Whitewashing a Summer Blockbuster

The phenomenon of whitewashing is a little like racism’s polite younger brother. He takes his place at the table, mostly silent except for a “yes, please” or “no, thank you” when addressed, and hopes that no one will notice his presence. The Last Airbender is the latest film to receive Hollywood’s whitewashing.

Avatar: The Last Airbender, the source material for the film, was a children’s television show rooted in Asian culture, including Buddhist and Hindu philosophy, Chinese calligraphy, characters that were clearly Asian (with names such as Aang, Katara and Sokka), and, perhaps most promisingly, Asian actors cast in the lead roles.

This pride in the show’s Asian heritage changed in the last two years as the series made a transition to film. Out of the four lead Asian characters, four White actors were cast. Audition flyers explicitly solicited for actors in this way: “Caucasian or any other ethnicity.”

Later, when one of the four actors dropped out, Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire was cast. Good for the diversity of the cast; bad for the representation of Asians, since Patel was cast as the villain.

Though a single incident of institutionalized racism (and one understandable from a purely business point-of-view–after all, if the point is to sell tickets, you market to the largest audience, in this case, White moviegoers), the whitewashing of The Last Airbender reflects a larger, persistent history of whitewashing in the U.S. From the racist caricatures of Charlie Chan in the 1920’s to the casting of a White woman to play the Asian female lead in Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth as early as 1937, Hollywood has consistently reduced Asians to villains and minor characters.

Recent films such as 21, about a group of Asian students from MIT who created a plan to steal millions from Las Vegas casinos, was cast with Caucausian actors Jim Sturgess and Kate Bosworth in the lead.

The sad thing about The Last Airbender is the missed opportunity for Asian Americans–whether actors, moviegoers, or, most importantly, Asian American children–to see representations of themselves on the big screen.

How can you engage in a discussion of the problem? Racebending offers a video with some helpful tips below.

Filed under: asian america, business, film, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writing

BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
June 2017
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