19 February 2009

The best distractions money can buy

I am still working my way through "Your Brain on Music", in between trying to finish a rough draft of a track that has been bugging me since Monday. The book is a serious distraction as I keep getting sidetracked with impractical ideas for the tune that would be fun as an exercise but would end up being akin to nails on a chalkboard in a real song.

I had tried to finish the book last week while the Very Understanding Girlfriend was working from home, thus exiling me from our shared office space, but managed to get sidetracked from my planned distraction by the arrival of the even shinier distraction of "Blood in the Game", the latest volume of Brian Wood's 'DMZ'. 'DMZ' is an ongoing series of graphic novels* set in a not-to-distant future where America finds itself in a stalemated civil war. Manhattan is the eponymous Demilitarized Zone, a no-man's land where a significant number of ordinary and not-so-ordinary folks try and eek out a life of hope in spite of the oppressive interventions of two opposing military powers, a story largely told through the eyes of a journalist who occasionally gets too involved with his stories.

As with most graphic novels, 'DMZ' is more a social commentary than a pure escapist fantasy, exploring the devisions between Red and Blue State America and the media's role in exploiting and propagating those devisions. The concept of journalistic ethics and integrity are central to many of the stories, none more so than in this latest volume which focuses on the election of a provisional government within the DMZ and the rise to power of a populist leader from the streets, and asks the question can journalism really be unbiased, and if it is what use is it to anyone?

Drawing upon the obvious parallels of the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the rise of Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and, closer to home, Barack Obama, the original individual issues would have hit the stands during the run up to last year's US Presidential election and explored the interaction between journalism and populism. What caught my eye with the graphic novel release was the Introduction by everyone's favorite journalistic curmudgeon, Greg Palast.

Palast is someone who takes his journalistic integrity seriously, working in quasi-exile from the US media establishment with most of his work commissioned by the BBC, as no US agency seems interested in exposing state-sanctioned voter suppression and other dirty campaigns. In fact much of his work only happens because he runs an independent investigative fund supported through sales of his books and dvds, and through donations. A graduate of the Chicago School of Economics with his fees paid by the Unions and acting as an undercover agent on their behalf, a student of Freidman (though not a disciple) and a contemporary of the Chicago Boys that destroyed the economies of South America and beyond, Palast is a driven crusader armed only with his raincoat and ironic iconic Press Hat. The stories he has broken show that sometimes journalists can be part of the solution, rather than reenforcing the problem.

During the last election Palast teamed up with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr to launch the 'Steal Back Your Vote" education campaign to increase voter awareness about caging and other dirty tricks both Parties used** to deny citizens their votes. The campaign saw the release of a comic book with artists Llyod Dangle, Lukas Ketner and Ted Rall and drew the support of a wide range of folks from Willie Nelson to the Suicide Girls, by way of Jesse Jackson. In the past he has worked with Ted Rall on a number of projects, so he is no stranger to comics as a medium for political expression. I don't think that I have seen him preface a work of pure fiction before, and it is always nice when people you think are cool like stuff that you like as well.

While there are no real surprises in "Blood in the Game", you pretty much know exactly where its going from the first five pages, the journey there is engaging and believable***. You could read it by itself, but to get the best out of it you should pick up the previous 5 volumes of 'DMZ', it will make a lot more sense then. Then check out Greg Palast's "Armed Madhouse", or "Best Democracy Money Can Buy" to see how elections really happen in the really real world.

Of course all of this is but a distraction to a distraction that is keeping me from finishing a track. Hopefully I'll have a rough cut up on SoundCloud soon enough, but in the meantime feel free to read DMZ.

and maybe some Palast.

This track could take a while.

* technically an ongoing series of comics, but a collection of graphic novels on one's shelves suggests to the casual observer that one is a connoisseur, a selection of single issues carefully wrapped in individual plastic bags suggests one has a fear of the opposite sex.

** true, but really it is was mostly the Republicans. And Bill Richardson. But mostly Republicans.

*** if one accepts the premise of a fair and free election held in a future demilitarized Manhattan between the candidates of two rival sides in an American civil war and a third populist candidate who is the current leader of a possibly drug dealing street gang. I know, 'fair and free election in America' stretches the bounds of credibility a bit, doesn't it?

DMZ, Volume 6: Blood in the Game
Brian Wood
Steal Back Your Vote
Greg Palast

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