Traveling to the Dark Heart of America | Street Jazz

Traveling to the Dark Heart of America

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This week we’ll be traveling to the Dark Heart of America, a town in western Oklahoma I have written about before, so that we can work on my wife’s mother’s estate.

It’s an odd little town, which had a certain charm while my mother-in-law was alive, but has a certain Heart of Darkness feel about it these days. This being an election year, the differences between Fayetteville and our destination will never be more starkly apparent.

Having cable/Internet hooked up at the house in 2008, all the cable guy could talk about was how “hot” Sarah Palin was - echoing so many men that year. Election material covered the city, including flyers from a man running for the state legislature who vowed to protect Oklahoma’s “borders” - meaning, I suppose, any Razorback fans who might lose their way on a Saturday night.

The city is in an area of the state which has bad roads, not terribly good schools, and yet takes a perverse pride in voting down bond issues, almost as if the voters can’t make the connection between the two.

There are two daily newspapers, which have a modicum of news, and the editorials, written in with a hint of conservatism, are designed to offend almost no one, nor are they likely to inspire anyone to leap into a career in journalism anytime soon. Neither offered a space for letters from the public.

Well, that was several years ago. Who knows if either paper survives today.

The book stand at Walmart was the town’s main bookstore.

An Indian stands on a billboard over a car lot, his hand in the traditional movie greeting.

The few liberals in town (and they describe themselves as liberal, not “progressive”) keep their views to themselves, almost like an ineffectual secret identity.

I’m not sure how much I’ll be writing over the next few weeks, but I’ll certainly give you a full report when I get back, if I don’t have time to write.

******

Everything Bad is Good for You? Just as we’ve always hoped

This book is the perfect antidote for the next time some dried-up intellectual prig sits next to you and starts whining about how television and video games are destroying the youth of America. And after you hit them over the head with it, read aloud a few passages from this short but excellent book.

Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter, by Steven Johnson, is the perfect answer for those who sneer at young (and not-so-young) people playing video games, or who get caught up in their favorite television series.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s not such soul-destroying garbage after all.

I think we are all aware of the comments about video games, typified by this quote from a recent edition of Dr. Spock’s guide to raising children: “ The best that can be said of them is that they may help promote hand-eye coordination in children.”

What are these people thinking, that all video games are good for is turning kids into fighter pilots?

I guess if that is all you see - using your eyes - then you might possibly be forgiven for such an asinine attitude. But there is a lot more to the world of video gaming than the non-gamer might realize - including worlds of incredible complexity.

And that complexity is what Johnson (who is also a contributing editor to Wired magazine) deals with in this book. For the first time we have a writer who is comfortable with writing about these technological issues, explaining the subject for a larger audience.

Ah, you may scoff, how is playing “Doom” or watching 24 or Prison Break or The West Wing going to make me smarter? Get thee behind me, Satan!

Well, you would be wrong. Aside from the complexity of the video games, Johnson writes about how television shows (well some, at any rate) demand more from their audience than at any time in the past. Things move at a faster pace, and situations in episodes depend upon events which may have happened last month, or last season.

And not just a few minutes out of each show - almost every other scene seems to require this attention from the viewer.

Not to worry- Johnson also praises literature. He is hardly making the argument that we should all burn our books and become couch potatoes.

But he does raise some interesting points about modern culture, and how smart young people really are. And along the way, he forces the reader to examine their own prejudices about these forms of entertainment.

*****

Quote of the Day: Hello, John Boehner?

Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel; the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty. - James Baldwin

sdrake@cox.net

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