Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sunday Reading

The election is two days away, and I thought we could all use a little respite from the immersion.  So today’s Sunday Reading is politics-free.

I’ve Got A Bad Feeling About This — Tom Carson at The American Prospect does not like the idea of Disney taking over the Star Wars franchise.

Temporarily turning even Sandy’s aftermath into an also-ran all over the Twitterverse, the news earlier this week that Disney had acquired George Lucas’s entertainment empire for some $4 billion—including the right to make more Star Wars movies, with the first post-Lucas installment set to roll out in 2015—seems to have left fans about evenly divided between feeling stoked at the prospect (how can more Star Wars be bad?) and dismayed at Papa George’s sellout to the Dark Side. “Get your childhoods ready,” one negativist tweeted. “They’re about to get pissed on again.”

Since I don’t have a dog in this fight—not my childhood, kiddo, and we all know Disney will eat everything one day—it surprised me to notice I wasn’t totally indifferent. An as yet not-quite-formulated regret was creeping in, despite my basic allergy to Lucas and the Millenium Falcon he rode in on. While I’ve never bought into the “Star Wars killed the movies” rap that some of my crustier colleagues like to peddle, the whole franchise’s appeal has never exactly caught me up in its fever.

I didn’t even see the original until months after it had conquered the world, when it showed up paired with Roger Vadim’s Barbarella at a second-run movie palace in New York’s East Village. Already a convert to the Force, the high-school pal who dragged me there insisted that we had to sit through Star Wars first, knowing that otherwise I’d bail on him as soon as Barbarella (which I did want to see) was over. Since then, he’s raised two kids to adulthood on a steady diet of Star Wars mania—the movies, the tchochkes, the works—and no doubt they’ll pass the enthusiasm on to the next generation when their turn comes. Luckily, as a non-parent, I don’t have a dog in that fight, either.

Needless to say, given how I pay the mortgage, being allergic to Lucas doesn’t mean I haven’t had to think and write plenty about Star Wars-the-phenomenon over the decades. Anything that meaningful to so many people is worth analyzing, after all, especially the stuff fans themselves don’t spend much time spelunking around in and angrily reject as irrelevant to the series’s pleasures when some naysayer brings it up. Around ten years ago, when my friend Glenn Kenny asked me to contribute to his anthology A Galaxy Not So Far Away: Writers and Artists on 25 Years of Star Wars, I decided to make myself popular by crapping all over the series’s pretty damned undemocratic ideological underpinnings—something the second trilogy only accentuated by revealing that the Force depended on bloodlines, not merit or true-heartedness. The title Glenn chose for my essay, “Jedi Über Alles,” should give you an idea of how I exult in making friends and influencing people.

Aesthetically, like most of my peers, I prefer the initial trilogy’s clunky pop ingenuousness to the second one’s CGI overkill, bloated storytelling, and ever murkier mythologizing. All in all, though, it wouldn’t matter to me if all six Star Wars movies got wiped off the face of the earth tomorrow. Which means that, logically speaking, it shouldn’t matter to me what Disney does with the franchise either, right?

Um, yes and no. I think one reason for the deep bond fans feel with Star Wars is the awareness that the whole stupid, nutty legend all came out of one man’s head. Those tin-eared character names, goofball non-human sidekicks—Jar Jar Binks (boo) no less than Chewbacca (yay)—and inane narrative compulsions are all homely testimonials to an authorship that stayed idiosyncratic and personal even when Lucas hired other hands to direct four out of the six installments. Unless James Fenimore Cooper counts, the only real comparison may be to L. Frank Baum, another clod whose private crotchets hit mysterious paydirt.

Table for One — Traveling by yourself can be fun.

Ah, the holidays. The perfect time of year to be with the one you love the most: yourself.

If you are unmarried, divorced, widowed or simply apart from friends and family this holiday season, no need to wallow. Because while others are stuck in traffic on the way to Grandma’s house, you, dear reader, have the opportunity to be cosseted in a Venice cafe. Or learning Spanish on a Costa Rican beach.And chances are, you won’t be the only one. While there is no data showing precisely how many people travel alone during the holidays, solo travel overall is a growing trend, say travel professionals. Internet searches for “solo travel ideas” are up by more than 50 percent and searches for “solo travel destinations” are up by more than 60 percent year over year, according to Google.

Tour operators, like Abercrombie & Kent, are seeing more interest from solo travelers. The company, whose group luxury tours have traditionally attracted couples and families, has had a 29 percent increase in the number of solo travelers this year compared with last year.

Some of these travelers are striking out on their own; others are meeting up with friends. Those looking for romance are joining singles tours or — for company minus the come-ons — group tours open to all. Peggy Goldman, president of Friendly Planet Travel, said that the number of unmarried travelers seeking general group tours (as opposed to strictly singles tours) is on the rise, especially around the holidays. “It gives them camaraderie and companionship when they want it,” she said, “and the ability to be by themselves when they want to be by themselves.”

A Minimal Truck — An artist’s truck is no more than it needs to be.

PUTNAM VALLEY, N.Y.  Should you ever find yourself in this town, about an hour and a half north of Manhattan, and come across an old white pickup with its hood and tailgate painted black, you might chalk up the two-tone paint job to a D.I.Y. project gone awry.

But you’d be wrong. In fact, the handiwork was performed decades ago by one of the pillars of the Minimalist art movement, Donald Judd.

Judd, who stopped making paintings in the 1960s and died in 1994, was known for his geometrically precise sculptures and installations. In 1971, he moved from New York City to Marfa, then a dying town in the high desert of West Texas, less than 100 miles from Mexico.

“Because of the glare, he painted the hood black to kill the reflection,” said Evan Hughes, who bought the 1972 Dodge Power Wagon 200 from Judd’s son, Flavin, in 2000.

Judd didn’t stop there. He painted the tailgate and the bumpers black, which gave the truck its distinctive look.

The doors of the truck bear the symbol of one of Judd’s ranches in Marfa, which is known for its treeless — and flat — landscape.

“I don’t think it ever went up a hill before it got here,” said Mr. Hughes, referring to the very different terrain in the upstate area where he lives.

One brisk Sunday afternoon this fall, the old Dodge was parked in Mr. Hughes’s driveway under a tall canopy of elm, maple and oak, all a week or so away from peak color. Mr. Hughes, a furniture maker, wore a black shirt, bluejeans and black shoes.

When he spoke of the truck, he sounded like a docent leading a museum tour. In many ways, the truck is an artifact.

“It’s pretty much as it was,” he said.

Calvin and Hobbes — An artist’s life.