Sunday, March 27, 2005

Oh Why Oh No

I can't take it anymore!

Vows, Schmows

I have been depressed of late: even Ms. Langtry can have the blues overwhelm her outrage and joie de vivre.

However, I am filled with new zeal today! What could be more totebaggy that the Vows Section of the New York Times? Veiled Conceit, I salute you!

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Holy Fucking Totebagger, Batman!

If Leonard Lopate drops his caramel latté from Starbucks in the woods, does it make a sound?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Aspiring Totebagger Du Jour

Truly, truly, a voice for our "Times."

Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Elements of Totebaggery

Totebaggers love rules. In place of direct experience and reason — that is, the ability and inclination to think for oneself — they have authorities to appeal to. Like the authorities who warn you not to end sentences with prepositions. And not to write sentence fragments.

Leonard Lopate is again our limit case. The Elements of Style is one of his favorite books. And of course it is. Strunk and White is the totebagger's Code of Hammurabi, not something to read or even to consult, but something to submit to, or at least to claim to submit to. Worst of all, it is something to subject young students to: students who might otherwise come to hear and love the music in English are instead taught to chant the monotonic dirge of arid prose and fatuous rules.

Ever read anything by Leonard Lopate? I didn't think so. The thing about Strunk & White is that no one in their right mind would want to read anything that conformed to its prosaic strictures. One writer who knew this was, well, E.B. White. The fundamentalist evangelist of prose has been caught in the back of the limo with the hookers and cocaine of prescriptivism: adjectives and adverbs. The very non-totebaggy people at Language Log point out that White's own use of modifiers was positively Proustian in comparison to what he preached to the congregation.

Which leads me to wonder how it can be that Leonard Lopate left À la recherche du temps perdu off his list of favorite books.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Totebaggery: A Novel Idea

Check out Ben Yagoda's essay on the totebaggery of long-winded book subtitles!

His very non-TB piece recalls a verrrry totebaggy trade paperback trope: the use of the name of an actual famous person as a modifier to confer some sense of extra-arty-ness to your novel. For example:

Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Flaubert's Parrot
Foucault's Pendulum
Paris Hilton's Lemon Zester

But let's not forget an even LAMER trope: appending "-- A Novel" to, of all things, your novel. It would stand to reason that if you have to TELL me that your project is " -- A Novel," it's probably not a very good one. While you are at it Mr. Writer Man, why don't you make some choo-choo train sounds while you guide that spoonful of deep-fried earwigs to my mouth?

Here are some titles that appear when searching for "a novel" on Amazon:

Gilead: A Novel
The Christmas Thief: A Novel
Housekeeping: A Novel
Lucia Lucia: A Novel
The Ha-Ha: A Novel
Middlesex: A Novel
The Wife: A Novel
Lord of Seduction: A Novel
Fight Club: A Novel
Conviction: A Novel
The Diet: A Novel
Prep: A Novel
The Birth of Venus: A Novel
Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress: A Novel

[Thank God for that last subtitle, as up to now I had only been familiar with the "Balzac And the Little Chinese Seamstress" muffler repair franchise.]

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Gift Shop

Someone just arrived at this blog by means of Googling "Rothko classic messenger bag."

Welcome, totebagger.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Whose World Is It, Anyway?

Big Bill Broonzy was no totebagger. When asked for his definition of "folk song," he said, "I guess all songs is folk songs — I never heard no horse sing 'em." Isn't then all music "world music"? Sun Ra aside, is there more than one world that music is coming from? Shouldn't we scrunch our noses at anyone talking about their passion for "world music" in the same way we would at someone telling us about "audible music," or "sequential music"? You'd think, right? But no. "World Music" is a genre, a way of life, a badge and a tote bag. To see this we must note that not all totebaggery is yuppie totebaggery: there is also hemp-totebaggery. Side by side in Starbucks sit the latte and chai drinkers; on one iPod may be Norah Jones and on the other it is Sounds of the Peruvian Rain Forest, but each is pulled from a tote bag.

My first experience with hemp-totebaggery was in college, when I made the mistake of pronouncing the name of Daniel Ortega's country as NICK-A-ROG-WA. Turns out that I was not only mispronouncing it, but was also disrespecting the sons and daughters of revolution, not to mention Spanish-speaking peoples in general, of which there turn out to be a lot (or so I was told by my serape-clad classmate from Grosse Point or Atherton, I forget). The correct pronunciation, I learned, is NEEEEE-HA-RRRRAH-HUWA. I followed suit. In fact, I then endeavored to give authentic pronunciation to all place names. But I soon learned that referring to Germany as "Deutschland" just didn't carry the same kind of moral currency, to say the least.

There is a similar double-standard at work in the very notion of "world music." Music from other cultures? Well ... "other"? Let's not go there. Non-American? No, I don't think we're talking about Robbie Williams or Led Zepplin. Yet plenty of "British Isles" musics make the rubric. Once you disqualify popular music and elevate "folk" music, all of these very progressive people listening to "world music" shows on NPR affiliates and college radio stations suddenly resemble 19-century anthropologists in their interest in what is "native."

What makes a world music totebagger a totebagger isn't the interest in other cultures, or even the ultimately condescending interest in "folk" or "native" cultures, but the fact that the interest is not interest in music at all, but rather a kind of armchair adventure travel experience. It's the hemp version of Condé Nast Traveller in audiobook form. Someone might be interested in compound time-signatures, fast dance tempos, and major-second harmonies. In that case, it would make perfect sense for him to be drawn to the music of Ivo Papasov, a Bulgarian musician. They might also then be interested then in certain forms of jazz, progressive rock, and Bartok. But what's the common thread between this music and, say, Rai, Tuvan throat singing, and Carnatic music?

Is it lost on anyone at all that what counts as "world music" is almost always the music of cultures that guilt-ridden white suburbanites perceive as "oppressed"? This is the secret to the success of those Peruvian guys (if they really are Peruvian) who are found in all major cities in what must be some sort of franchise operation. You know the ones. You've seen people put down their tote bags and clap their hands in time to these bands for a minute before dropping some change in the hat and rushing back to the SUV, having been reminded that their undocumented Dominican nanny needs a ride to the train station.

Good times, good times.