Saturday, October 04, 2008
There is something quite special about October. It’s full of promise, potential and usually surprises. Though these things always tend to line up every four years, you have to think about how impressive it is to have Presidential Debates, baseball’s Championship Series (aka in a former era, the “Pennant Race…”) and other assorted, yet not to be missed events. Tonight (Thursday) Sarah Palin was her folksy self, and Joe Biden his ‘see ya on Amtrak’ folksy self, and neither seems to have tumbled badly enough to have earned scorn from the Political Pundit class. I was slightly disturbed not to have seen that amazing body-rush thing that usually happens as the candidates walk on, and later, schmooze post-debate, when the press photo Pool (the selected and highly adorned group who take the still pictures) does one of those amusing bum’s rush – jostling, shoving, elbow to elbow – in order to get ‘the moment.’ Of course as the debates have become just another stodgy rule-filled event like the rest of politics, you see fewer real moments, and fewer pictures. The organizers feel, for some unknown reason, that letting photographers take pictures is hugely disruptive. I mean, what’s the deal? They’re not using Plate cameras with flash powder: no giant cloud of smoke will fill the auditorium when a shot is taken. In all probability (and, OK I Can’t Guarantee this one) there will be very little fisticuffs among the photographers, and many fewer elbows thrown than the traditionalists would have us believe. There was an old Fleet Street trick, of digging for ear wax (yes, it’s gross!) and when your competitor wasn’t looking, smearing it on the front of his lens. With the old cameras that didn't actually view thru the lens, the blurry smudge wasn't seen till you developed the film. But happily, most folks don’t do that anymore, at least the ones I associate with. I mean, ear wax, really, isn’t that a bit low class. Of course it does the trick.. It obliterates sharpness, contrast and about every other detail you can think of so it really does work. But who needs the mess? Maybe it's just that photographers in general have risen a rung or two in the human food chain, with greater access to Q-tips and other cotton swab type devices, and there is just less to smear on the lens. You see, a rising tide DOES raise all boats.
But October remains one of those months when the surprises are unending. I don't remember the last time anyone spoke of the May Surprise or the July Surprise It's pretty much gonna be October if it's going to surprise you. And given the tone of politics this year (nasty, in case you didn't notice) there is certitude that we will be the recipients of more surprises in the next four weeks. Today, walking down to the Union Square food market, I remarked, with facts that would have pleased Mr. Tolman, my History teacher, but continue to draw nothing but derision from blood relatives, that today was the fifty-first anniversary of the launching of Sputnik I, the first (Russian) earth satellite. It was the moment that launched the Space Age, the Missile Gap, the Math Gap, and a lot of other gaps. It happened to have occurred on Yom Kippur, and I very clearly remember being in my dad's big Desoto, dropping off my cousins back home, hearing the news on the radio. It was at once awe inspiring, and terrifying. We realized that so many of the physical (and psychological) shackles which had held men to the earth were broken, but at the same time, if we (the US) weren't at the forefront of that space exploration, we could be held hostage by the Soviets. There was always a bit of a paradox in that even at age 12 I knew my grandparents had come from old Russia to the US. The thought of being torn like that was a little unsettling, though there was never even a thought or a seconds doubt about where i stood. It just seemed kind of crappy that we might have to blow each other up. That was the annoying part. Funny now, though, looking back on it, even with hiding under our desks from Atomic bombs (yes, “duck and cover” drills were a regular affair), the level of fear was never anything like what has happened in this country in the last five years.
I will admit that in the early post 9/11 days, I was always imagining looking out the bedroom window east towards Washington, and seeing some kind of bright flash which would have indicated something terrible had happened. True, we haven't had anything of the sort since. Yet, the price we pay for some kind of certitude that we are 'in charge' and staying ahead of the 'terrorists', wherever they are, is becoming unreasonable. I would really like to organize a conversation, for example, with the chief of Police of Denver and St. Paul, and just ask them if, now that emotions from the conventions have calmed, they actually understand any of the basic tenets of Free Speech in the U.S. It seems, honestly, as if they have just tossed any ideas about the Bill of Rights into the trash. The way peaceful groups of demonstrators were man-handled and shackled for merely standing somewhere, is something which one would have perhaps expected in Stalinist Russia. I honestly wonder if they see anything wrong with dozens of newly outfitted ($40 million spent for security stuff at each convention) SWAP types, fingers resting on the trigger of their weapons, standing around trying to intimidate good ole fashioned Americans into being even more meek than they already are (that would be difficult, but that was their aim it seems.) We need to have some of these conversations before our world turns into a bad imitation of Germany in 1936. When things go badly as the markets have shown the past couple of weeks, everyone gets edgy, wealth is lost in enormous numbers, and people feel their very lives are being challenged. Before it gets out of hand, it would be nice to be able to have a conversation about what our Rights really are, and bring the supposed enforcers of those rights into the discussion.
Congress seems to have just totally checked out. Nothing new. They follow, they don't lead. Except when the smell of money is there. This week the Senate passed, and the House is considering a bill called the Copyright Orphan Works bill. The upfront intent is laudable: works created by artists and illustrators and, yes, photographers which has fallen into the cracks of history, should somehow be available for people to see, and publish today. Yet the law, by creating a very cumbersome (did someone say Government?) plan, will effectively give large corporations the right to “Say” they have tried to find the copyright owner, but couldn't and just USE the material, without any penalty. There is only one thing which keeps creative people out there doing what they do ... creating.. and that is being able to exploit, on their own terms, the marketability of what they produce. To have that right taken away by a set of laws which put the burden not on the creator, not the exploiter, means there will be very little future for artists and photographers to live by the sell and licensing of their work. Bad law, bad idea, and unfortunately sponsored by some very good Senators (Leahy-- a good photographer , and Orrin Hatch, from Utah, Okay, but not sure he's such a great photographer). If you have a chance to remind your Congressman/woman that this is bad law, the future of art and creativity will thank you. We know that eventually Google and Microsoft will own the whole frickin' world, everything in it, and control everything we read and look at. But does it have to happen so damn fast? Can't we just have a few years where us old codgers, who actually remember what “Space Rate” and “Day Rate” meant in the middle & late years of the magazine business, can adjust to the fact that the whole world is being run by people with iPhones. No slight to the iPhone, but until I have one, I think I will find them a bit over rated. That will probably change the day I get mine. Hey, it's the computer age. We're just sayin'... David