EM Forster’s best known for novels like A Room with a View and Howard’s End, but the English author also wrote extensively about politics and civil society, including an essay called “Anonymity: An Enquiry.” Originally published in November 1925’s The Calendar of Modern Letters, Forster’s piece seems relevant today, ahead of A Warning, the forthcoming tell-all by the anonymous White House staffer who wrote last year’s New York Times op-ed, “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.” I expected freedom of speech-loving Forster to support anonymity, full stop, but his take’s more nuanced, though perhaps not nuanced enough.
Hollywood circa the 1970s and early 80s spewed forth a slew of macho catchphrases. Here are a few examples; you’ll recognize every testosterone-laden specimen:
- “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?” – Harry Callahan, Dirty Harry, 1971
- “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.” – Vito Corleone, The Godfather, 1972.
- “You talkin’ to me?” – Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver, 1976
- “Go ahead, make my day.” – Harry Callahan (again), Sudden Impact, 1983.
- “Say hello to my little friend.” – Tony Montana, Scarface, 1983.
- “I’ll be back.” – The Terminator, Terminator, 1984.
Swashbucklers, cowboys, and tough guys had been Hollywood heroes for decades: Errol Flynn and John Wayne’s stock of masculine icons come to mind. Many even uttered catchy one-liners that became cultural mainstays, i.e. Rhett Butler’s “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” And some of said phrases were as aggressive as those above, such as The Honeymooners’ Ralph Kramden’s persistent threat of domestic abuse, “One of these days, POW!!! Right in the kisser!” But the Me Decade saw an unprecedented ejaculation of terse, violence-tinged retorts.
What drove this trend toward curt fury? Was this celluloid rage a reflection of a real-world torn asunder by Vietnam-era chaos? Did jaded, shock-inured audiences just need to be jarred and awed? Was it that Hollywood writers of that era were informed by television, a pithier media than the radio that nursed earlier scribes? All are plausible possibilities. Yet it’s just as likely these macho one-liners were a reply to the ascendant women’s liberation movement.
Writers and actors are a lot alike. Sure, the professions play different roles in the American imagination: actors are cast as sun-kissed faces of California dreams, and writers are portrayed as solitary, often curmudgeonly creatures; actors conjure ideas of red carpet wishes and designer-clad dreams, writers a wooly cardigan and a cozy cabin, or some similarly hermetic locale. But though actors peddle in scenes and writers work in syllables, the mechanics and business of these professions are very much the same.
And while the most obvious parallel is that actors and writers are both entertainers, which explains there are so many actors who are also writers — Tina Fey, Steve Martin, Tom Hanks, and Jamie Lee Curtis, to name a few, there are more nuanced similarities, as well.
Preamble accomplished, here are 15.5 ways writers are like actors.
[Note, this is not an exhaustive list. If you have a suggestion, let me know in the comments.]
1. Proceed with Caution — There’s an old joke that every LA waiter has a headshot at the ready. The same could be said about New York baristas and novels. Yes, the waiter could have a novel and the barista a headshot, but you get the gist: Just as there are scads of young, bright-eyed ingenues vying for acting gigs, there are just as many young, bright-eyed literary types trying to get published – all absolutely sure they have “it.”
In other words, writing and acting are both crowded, competitive, and all together quixotic career paths. Success is rare, and so is financial payoff. Nantucket? More like a cramped apartment. Designer dreams? Try a thrift store knock-off.
Considering the odds of success or monetary security, it’s therefore best that aspiring writers, like their theatrical counterparts, find a plan B. Unless, of course, you want a lifetime of debt, deadlines, nary a retirement plan and, most terrifying of all, writer’s block!
2. Mission: Audition — The process is different, but actors and writers both audition for their roles/bylines, and I dare say writers’ pitches are more difficult. While actors must undergo the nerve-wracking experience of auditioning for a room full of strangers, they at least have outlets like Backstage or agents who can tell them more about the part, i.e. “Sally, a twenty-something waitress waiting for her big break after fleeing her alcoholic mother.”
Writers don’t have such luxuries. We do have Submittable, where editors post editorial asks, or maybe an outlet will announce a specific theme, but for the most part writers stumble around in the rhetorical dark, sending cold emails to editors and hoping against hope we get a reply — which is essentially an audition without the script, name recognition, or the benefit of a face-to-face meeting.
Even when you do have name recognition or a previous relationship with an editor, that’s no guarantee of publication — I was just rejected by two editors with whom I’ve worked for years.
On that note…
Tuesday is traditionally the day book publishers release their latest titles. No one knows why they do this on Tuesdays. Literally no one. Some say believe it’s about optimizing best-seller results; some say that it’s to make life easy for distributors. But whatever the reason, I’m celebrating this week’s new book day with FIVE sets of vintage posters celebrating the written word, all sourced from the Library of Congress.
The first gallery is perhaps the most relevant to today: created between 1935 and 1942 by the government-backed Works Progress Administration, they urge patriotic Americans to embrace books as democratic tools. “To speak up for democracy, read up on democracy,” reads one, while another insists “Books are Weapons.”
In an era defined by a famously anti-intellectual president’s existential threat to our nation’s most storied institutions and norms, these are important reminders.
The second set of posters, born from a World War I collaboration between the Society of Illustrators and the Committee on Public Information, implores Americans to send books “over there” for our troops.
Third up: A circa 1936-1940 series of really fun WPA PSAs from the “Be Kind to Books Club.” One piece of advice: don’t gum it up!
Similarly, the fourth gallery celebrates Book Weeks from between 1949 and 1964. It’s fascinating to see the aesthetic shift over the years – and keep your eyes peeled for a piece by Maurice Sendak.
Meanwhile, the fifth and final collection, created by the National Association of Booksellers way back in the 1920s, suggests you buy books as gifts – advice I endorse any day of the week!
Read up on Democracy:
See the rest AFTER THE JUMP!
Happy New York Fashion Week to clothes horses everywhere! In honor of the sartorial splendor currently unfurling across the Big Apple, here’s a collection of images by Toni Frissell.
A groundbreaking photographer whose privileged upbringing garnered her access to the most famous faces and places, it was Frissell’s innate talent and innovative styling that made her a household name. Rather than taking typical fashion shots of static mannequin-esque models, Frissell brought her models into the world, showing that women were active participants in life, not mere observers. This approach earned her coveted features in Vogue, Harper’s, and Sports Illustrated, the latter of which also satisfied Frissell’s love of athletic endeavors.
Frissell also turned her lens beyond fashion: she worked for the American Red Cross and military during World War II to get front-line shots, as well as behind-the-scenes images, such as those glorious shots of Tuskegee Airmen preparing to defend democracy.
Described by Life magazine in 1966 as “The Patrician photographer of a vanishing age,” Frissell’s images are timeless.
Here, to get you in the NYFW mood, are 12 exceptional Frissell shots, all found at the Library of Congress.
See ’em all, AFTER THE JUMP!
Two classic American novels, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and Ragtime, expose an ongoing American tragedy.
The novels The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and Ragtime appear as different as night and day. Carson McCullers’s Heart takes place in the post-war Georgia circa 1930, E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime the pre-war New York City of 1902-1912; Heart revolves around solitude among outcasts in a rural berg, Ragtime around glitzy dreams in a churning, syncopated metropolis. Yet both books’ plots are propelled by a black man’s thwarted quest for justice — a sad story that continues to be told today.
The internet had a collective meltdown after Forbes described Kylie Jenner as “self-made” last summer. Many critics railed against Jenner’s privileged upbringing; others pointed out socioeconomic systems are inherently unequal; and the rest mostly noted there’s no such thing as self-made — no person’s an island, no lipstick developed alone, and all that.
One’s opinion of Jenner’s self-made status aside, the “self-made mogul” kerfuffle presented a terrific opportunity to explore the origins of “self-made” in America, its centrality in our national myth, and the dangerous expectations it creates.
I didn’t have a chance to write about this very pressing matter when the story first broke, but now, as 2018 comes to a close, here are a few words on Kylie Jenner and the timeless cult of “self-made.”