GRIFFITH AND TWISTER

April 30, 2010

After making his fortune directing Hollywood’s first “racist blockbusters”, D.W. Griffith squandered much of his money attempting to cash in on the Jazz Age craze for boardgames.

The majority of Griffith’s designs were failures, most notably his “Knuckleduster Calamity”, which led to a succession of highly damaging lawsuits.

The closest that Griffith came to success was with an early form of what would later become known as “Twister”. Griffith’s version was called “Contortion!”, and was based on a complicated set of rules involving a 12 sided die and various invocations to zodiac deities.

Although too arcane to attract a wide audience, “Contortion!” did gain something of a cult following in Hollywood.  Many of Griffith’s stars held exclusive “Contortion!” parties, open only to the most fashionable and limber of the A-list.  According to Hollywood lore, it was during one such soirée that Douglas Fairbanks and Anna Beth Sully inadvertently conceived their first child, Douglas Jnr.

Who includes knuckledusters as part of a boardgame?  What a woeful lunatic.

Griffith peruses the list of plaintiffs in the "Knuckleduster Calamity" lawsuit


MARLOWE AND PLUMS

April 27, 2010

Christopher Marlowe’s legendary love of plums has been a source of interest to scholars ever since his (almost certainly plum-related) murder in 1593.

The celebrated dramatist and espionage agent was vociferous in his love of the tart fruit, once writing that:

“The Mereste Smack of a Primy Plumb’s Deep-Sweete Nectar doth but at once reduceth me to the moste Fool-Begged of Want-Wits.”

Marlowe’s plum love is theorised to have stemmed from his time as a spy for Sir Francis Walsingham, who was renowned for his extensive and high quality plum fields throughout much of modern day Wigtwizzle and Flagg.

Although scholars believe that Walsingham originally paid Marlowe in plums for his services, it would appear that in time Marlowe’s love of the stone fruit outstripped his earning capabilities, resulting in disastrous debts and his eventual murder.

No mere historical curio, Marlowe’s addiction has provided powerful evidence for the “Marlovian” school, who argue that the works traditionally attributed to William Shakespeare were in fact written by Marlowe.  Proponents of the theory have pointed to the many plum references throughout the Shakespearean oeuvre (Guildenstern taking “Plumb and Crabbe-Apple Jam” with him during the trip to England, Lear ranting about “Plumb-Coloured Ducats (coins)”, etc.) as proof of their claims.

Marlowe was often seen in public with plum juice smeared across his lips and cheeks


DEAKIN AND MALE MODELING

April 20, 2010

In addition to his role as the “Father of Federation”, Alfred Deakin pursued a trailblazing career as Australia’s most successful turn of the century male model.

Deakin first found fame in his native Victoria, where local social commentators waxed lyrical about his “virile moustached face” and “brawnsome physique”.  Deakin used the opportunities of Federation to expand his modeling career into New South Wales, where he became known as the face of “Mr. and Mrs. Wittersleigh’s Electro-Vitaminical Rubbing Ointment Emporium”, and Queensland, where he found fame as the spokesperson for “Amalgamated Ham Corp”.

“Affable Alfred” was a proponent of innovative modeling techniques, most notably the “Reversed Chair” pose, which he discovered during a study tour in France. The pose was highly controversial at the time, and was notably opposed by Edmund Barton, who argued that it represented “nothing less than the ascendant dandyfication of the white Australian Briton.”

Deakin’s work is today memorialised by the Alfred Deakin  Centre for Development of the Posed Arts, at Deakin University.

Deakin demonstrating his "Reversed Chair" pose alongside early opponent Edmund Barton


WASHINGTON AND MAPLE TAFFY

April 19, 2010

Prior to his much storied political career, a 23 year-old George Washington suffered a major financial setback when he attempted to establish rural Virginia’s first dedicated Maple Taffy store.  Washington developed a fondness for the sugary treat during his youthful travels in New England, where it was long established as an after-dinner delicacy.  His business venture failed, with Washington bitterly noting in his personal diaries that:

“The Virginian’s coarser Palate does not lend itselfe to cultivation of such Delicate Pleasures.”

Washington himself would retain a great affection for the taffy, an affection which would cost him dearly in terms of dental hygiene and political credibility.  After being forced to take up his famous wooden dentures, political foes would often mock Washington with the derisive nickname, “Old Taffy Lips”.

Old Taffy Lips

'Old Taffy Lips' Washington would rue the business failure “'til (his) sweete dieing moment.”


VERNE AND TIDDLYWINKS

April 19, 2010

Jules Verne is widely revered as the “Father of Science Fiction”.  However, few remember his tenure as the All-France Amateur Tiddlywinks champion from 1897-1902.

Verne was fiercely proud of his title, and was reputedly “catatonic” with grief after he lost it to Gilles Veilleux, a plucky 18 year-old science student from Montdidier.  The trauma of the loss is widely considered a contributing factor to Verne’s death shortly thereafter.

Ironically, Veilleux would go on to defect to Germany during WWII, and was one of the principal architects of the V2 Rocket project, the technology from which would help realise Verne’s great dream of space travel.

Verne, pictured shortly after his humiliating defeat


LENIN AND POTATOES

April 19, 2010

Vladimir Illyich Lenin was known by his comrades to have an unnatural love for the smell of freshly boiled potatoes.

As low level apparatchik Dimitri Zubkov would recall in his autobiography, “Deeds Done”,

“(After the fall of St. Petersburg to the Bolsheviks) there was much carousing and rejoicing by all of us in the inner circle. We stayed up for days in the Winter Palace, enjoying all manner of fine liqueurs and cordials.

I recall after one particularly boisterous evening, rousing myself and shambling into the (formerly) Royal Kitchen. There I found a most confounding sight: None other than Comrade Lenin, standing over a saucepan of boiling potatoes and clutching at himself furiously!

‘Comrade Lenin!’ I cried, ‘What in heaven’s name!’

Lenin quickly turned around, and pausing only to compose himself briefly, chastised me for having invoked a religious curse.

‘One swears solely by the Deities of Proletarian Struggle now,’ he warned me.”

Lenin.  The Man.  The Potato Fiend.  The Pastry.

Post-Mortem, Lenin miraculously transmogrified into a delicious pastry, replicas of which are enjoyed every year on the anniversary of his death.


CLARIFICATION

April 21, 1993

In addition to being a vehicle for publishing slander about historical figures, this blog is also part of a Net Communications project on blogging and blog culture.

Hence, there will from time to time be “academic” posts here, as per the assessment needs of the course.

Unless you’re of the school of thought which considers the only thing cooler than regular blog posts to be blog posts discussing blog post theory, you are strongly encouraged to ignore these.

Good lord.

The two keynote speakers at the 2009 World Blogging Convention confer before addressing the multitudes

Originally published 21/04/2010


REFLECTIONS

June 4, 1988

My last post!  Goodness me.  What powerful, visceral emotions overwhelm one at a time like this…

Memoriiiees, lighttt the cornersss of my miiindd, mistttyyy water collourredd memoriessss…

Babs knows how it is

Babs knows how it is. (latimes.com)

But no, this is not time for that sort of nonsense.  Sober reflection on the creative process, coming up, NOW!

I suppose the most difficult thing about this blog has been the problem of combining academic style reflection with the whole blog aesthetic.  To be honest, this has seemed like a pretty awkward fit at times.  The problem seems to me that the style of writing associated with blogs is much closer to snappy PR writing than sober, considered academic stuff.

The fact of the matter is, people are not willing to spend a lot of time reading things on the internet. People will give up a few seconds of their day to read a post, if it is snappily written and looks interesting.  Unfortunately, no matter how well I write it, the only response I am likely to get for a 800 word reflection on Creative Commons is a roll of the eyes and a verdict of “tl;dr”. Hence, I feel we’re somewhat hamstrung in what we can accomplish here.  It just doesn’t seem that blogging’s breezy style lends itself to the kind of academic rigour we’re expected to demonstrate at University.  Anyway, I tried my best with it.

I have been fairly happy with the use of wordpress as my blogging vehicle.  It does seem a bit glitchy from time to time, and for some reason it hasn’t been letting me put alt-texts on my images lately, which has been a touch annoying.  But otherwise, it works about as well as I could hope it to.  Good job wordpress!

Unfortunately, my blog is not yet tearing up the intertubes.  There is no such phenomenon as “AlmostPlausiblemania”.  Yet.

IT'S ALMOSTPLAUSIBLEMANIA!

Not the kind of response Almost Plausible has been receiving. (anothergirl83.tripod.com)

Friends who have read the blog seem to like it, and they are usually cruel enough to tell me if something I am writing is lame.  I am fairly convinced that if I was to continue on with it, I would probably be able to find some sort of readership.  Obviously my burgeoning popularity has been somewhat hampered by my lack of regular posting.  Although I posted a flurry of “content posts” when I started the blog, I have lately been concentrating more on getting these blasted academic ones done.

I think I will probably continue with this blog once have I more time during the holidays to devote myself to leisurely pursuits.  It occurred to me that a good way of promoting the blog might be through republishing some of its content in a publication with a guaranteed audience, maybe Farrago (people actually read Farrago, don’t they?  I mean, they’re not just printing all those copies out of a undying hatred of trees, are they?)  This might seem like a kind of backwards way of promoting your blog in the era of iWeb2.0 and whatever, but I feel like it would probably be more effective than leaving sycophantic comments on other people’s blogs which conclude with “I have typed an interesting blog about this issue myself, maybe you would like to look at it ROFL”.

Thus ends my academic blogging career, and thus begins my career as enfant terrible of the satirical history blogging  scene.  Maybe.


CREATIVE COMMONS

June 1, 1988

What most interests me about Creative Commons is the remarkable similarity their logo shares with that of the Chanel Fancy Ties and Socks Emporium.  Isn’t it astonishing?

Watch out Creative Commons!  If it happened to Cut Copy it could happen to you too!

That is a lawsuit waiting to happen. Watch out Creative Commons!

You don’t agree?  Well, okay, I’m sorry I mentioned it.  I really am.
Anyway, Creative Commons.  Creative Commons is supposedly a effort by champion bore Lawrence Lessig to

increase the amount of creativity (cultural, educational, and scientific content) in “the commons” — the body of work that is available to the public for free and legal sharing, use, repurposing, and remixing.

Creative Commons attempts to do this by offering content creators “Some Rights Reserved” licences, which specify exactly the way the author will allow you to re-use their work.  The licenses specify, for example, whether the author allows you to “remix” the work, whether you can share it, whether you’re allowed to use it for commercial purposes, etc.

Lessig created the Commons in order to combat what he saw as the erosion of traditional American copyright legislation.  While the US’ Founding Fathers were all about getting cultural products into the public domain, like, practically as soon as they’d been published, legislators like Sunny Bono have in recent decades shifted the emphasis towards lengthier periods of private control.  The current US and Australian laws state that copyright now resides with the author’s estate for 70 years after the author’s death.

Now, I am certainly not of the opinion that this kind of extended copyright protection is even vaguely reasonable.  Is it right that Warner Bros owns the rights to all public performances of “Happy Birthday” until at least 2030?  Surely no sane man would think so.  Is it morally correct that Men At Work should be sued for writing a flute riff that sort of elaborates on the melody of Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree?  It would be the height of insanity to suggest that this is the case.

In fact, art has always relied on just this kind of cultural reappropriation and recontextualisation.  Homer’s “Odyssey” for example, has been generally accepted as the culmination of hundreds of years of retelling and refinement of traditional Greek stories.  As Jean-Luc Godard satirically put it, if the principle of copyright extension is pushed towards its logical conclusion, then Greece might be able to find a way out of its current financial woes by charging royalties for the use of democracy, philosophy and tragic theatre.

BUT, Creative Commons doesn’t really do anything to ameliorate the fairly ridiculous lengths that current copyright law has reached.  Warner Bros is obviously not going to slap one of those double c’s on their manuscript of Happy Birthday now, are they?  Not when there’s dollars to be scrounged they aren’t, no.

As Creative Commons themselves point out, Creative Commons is not an alternative to Copyright.  That is, the rights that the author specifies in their Creative Commons license aren’t rights that they wouldn’t have if they just had a normal copyright license on their work. So, if I decide not to have a Creative Commons logo on my blog, and then somebody decides to copy one of my hilarious historical inaccuracies and republish it on their blog, that doesn’t mean that I have to sue them, just because copyright gives me that option. In fact, I am most likely to be really cool about that whole thing, because I like to think of myself as being “not a prick”.

70 years, Sonny?  Really?  Get out of it, 70 years.  That's crazy.

Pictured, from left to right: Not me. (last.fm)

Now, I guess Lessig and his pals argue that the benefit of having a Creative Commons license on your “work” is that whoever is reading it will now know exactly what they’re allowed to do with it, without fear of being crushed by The Man.  But, if you’re really that concerned about being sued, you could always just ask me for permission or something, couldn’t you?  As noted, I am really cool about this sort of thing.

As you have probably gleaned, I have decided not to put a Creative Commons license on my blog.  I just don’t really see the point.  I am most assuredly of the opinion that cultural creation doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and that all culture is basically “remix culture”, etc. It just seems to me that a better way of ensuring that cultural production is left unfettered by silly legal constraints is by concentrating on destroying said restraints, instead of tip-toeing around the edge of them.


COMMENT CULTURES

May 29, 1988

Blogs are not going to save the world.  No.  That’s the bad news, I suppose.  With any luck, they also won’t destroy it, so that’s something.  But, yes, they are definitely not going to save it.

I would imagine that this is a fairly upsetting notion to the hippie hacker types who were around when usenet was doing well.  Following on from the idea of cyberspace mooted by William Gibson in his 1984 novel “Necromancer”, the web was imagined by its ‘pioneers’ as a place for the free and unfettered back and forth of ideas man, (and it seems generally to have been men) the chance to finally break the shackles of this workaday world, to transcend the earth’s physical limits, and like, really, communicate, baby.  Noted drug aficionado Tim Leary even went so far as to say that the Internet would be the LSD of the 90s.

Which is of course not at all how it turned out.  Whereas the idea of cyberspace seemed to be all sort of brilliant flashing lights and good vibes, anyone looking at the web today would conclude that its closest ‘real world’ equivalent would probably be a bunch of men in overcoats muttering darkly in the fetid corner of a pub, all furiously agreeing with the fatuous nonsense coming out of each others’ corpulent mouths.

Okay, that is taking it too far.  But, not that much too far.  As Geert Lovink points out:

“Blogs create communities of like-minded people. Debates happen within homogeneous webclouds … Most bloggers would admit that it is not their aim to foster public debate. If you disagree with a fellow blogger, it is even unwise to write a comment. Instead, it is much safer to post the remark on your own blog. “I blogged you”. The chance that someone will respond to it is almost zero. Herein is the limit of blogging”

Bang on, it seems to me.  One almost never sees anything approaching broadminded debate encompassing a wide spectrum of political beliefs on blogs.

Instead, it would appear that blog aficionados tend to “cocoon” themselves amongst others with whom they share ideological affiliations. This cocooning, as described by the legal scholar Cass Sunstein, has the unfortunate tendency of pushing people towards more and more extreme ideological positions.

EXHIBIT 1: The “Birther” Movement.  What started off as run of the mill racist paranoia morphed into an immensely popular conspiracy movement claiming that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and is therefore ineligible to be its President.  Although it’s difficult to ‘trackback’ the gestation of this theory, it seems that it gained momentum and popularity through discussion on right wing discussion boards such as Free Republic. The theory went on to be so widely held that the Democrats ended up setting up a website called ‘Fight the Smears’ specifically devoted to rebutting this sort of insane guff.

A man with an insane grievance

Blogging's logical outcome

EXHIBIT 2:  This insane blogpost by “dday” and its attendant comment thread on DailyKos regarding a post by my ‘blog hero’ (jesus…) Harry Hutton.  Hutton’s post was making fun of an earlier post on DailyKos, wherein one “ct” of the DailyKos community literally thanked DailyKos for having saved his and his baby daughter’s life, on account of how “ct” was at the YearlyKos convention when some drunk drove his car through “ct”‘s front living room, which is where “ct” and child might have been at the time, if they had not been at YearlyKos.

Got that?  Now, Hutton’s post basically made fun of  how “ct” was drawing a false correlation by suggesting that DailyKos was  responsible for saving his life, when in reality it was just dumb luck.  But that was not how ‘dday’ saw it.  Rather, he interpreted the post as an example of the “rising tide of eliminationist language” coming out of the Far-Right Blogosphere, and that Hutton (who is in fact generally quite left-wing in his politics) was clearly suggesting it would have been better for “ct” and his child to have been killed, because obviously all he cares about is the murder and destruction of liberals by any and all means necessary.

Which is obviously an insane interpretation of Hutton’s post.  But it was an interpretation readily accepted by many DailyKos readers,  hundreds of whom posted comments in support of dday’s ridiculous jabber.  So, just as the ‘cocooned’ community on the right wing FreeRepublic.com came up with the insane Birther Movement idea, so it is that the ‘cocooned’ community on the left wing DailyKos came up with the insane ‘Conservatives want to kill everyone who is a member of DailyKos’ idea.

‘Almost Plausible’ seems to have so far avoided this kind of insanity, thank God.  If I ever did provoke some sort of crazy fellow onto my site I could of course just block his comments, but such an eventuality seems fairly unlikely at this stage of the game.  Who is likely to argue with me?  If someone did get riled up enough to point out that Christopher Marlowe never had anything to do with plums, my only reasonable response would of course be to say, “Prove it, you swine.  Show me the proof.”  Nah, jk, lol.  I wouldn’t care.  Because I’m a blogger.  And bloggers are not in it for the reasoned debate, no they are not.