From the mid-1950s to the late 1980s, the world of animation in the United States experienced a severe quality drought. Television animation was cheaply and quickly produced and loaded with errors. Feature-length animation experienced severe budget cuts, and the number of animated movies being released was drastically reduced. Cartoons that many generations grew up watching were made with “limited animation”—a style that utilized as few frames as possible, which resulted in choppy, simplified character motions.
It won’t come as much of a shock to anyone in the Fredericksburg area since our last Blockbuster was closed years ago, but Blockbuster is now closing all remaining stores. The age of video rental as a for-profit business is officially over. It would seem to affect the library very little. After all, we still provide DVDs to our customers, don’t we? And, yes, we will continue to add new DVDs, but the decline of Blockbuster and video rental as a business does have an impact because it changes the very nature of the product Hollywood puts out.
The Yugo was a small car made in the former nation of Yugoslavia that survives in the American consciousness as the ultimate automotive failure. Poorly engineered, ugly, and cheap, it survived much longer as a punch line for comedians than it did as a vehicle on the roads. The story of how this particular car became the most hated vehicle in the U.S. is a comedy of errors detailed in Jason Vuic’s book, The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History. A bewildering array of capitalist hucksters and impoverished communists desperate for revenue collaborated to create the Yugo, and what could have been a great international relations victory of the Cold War was ruined the moment consumers and auto critics actually got to drive it. Vuic examines the many failures of the Yugo venture and the people involved with a keen journalistic eye and a razor-sharp wit, making this a great read for anyone interested in automotive history or 1980s nostalgia.
In writing, and in life, it is incredibly difficult to deviate from the paths of least resistance. The established patterns seem so easy and inviting, and it takes amazing willpower and courage to do things a different way. As a writer, Jeffrey Eugenides gracefully avoids clichés and predictability. Both of his previous books, The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex, are memorable and unnerving. In his latest novel, The Marriage Plot, Eugenides is not alone in his avoidance of formulaic archetypes. The characters themselves are engaged in a meta-struggle to reject obvious and seemingly inexorable fates.
The Marriage Plot follows the intertwined lives of three central characters: Madeleine Hanna, Mitchell Grammaticus, and Leonard Bankhead. The novel opens in 1982, on the chaotic day that is supposed to send the three of them, and the rest of the graduating class, careening into adulthood. The collective mood is characterized by anticipation: professors have pulled out their dusty robes; parents have loaded new film into their cameras. But things are not as simple or inspiring for the young people who are supposed to leave the university’s protective cloister and fend for themselves in an uncertain world.
If you’re in the mood for a harrowing reality check, Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death is the antidote to your craving. Postman’s revelatory book was initially published in the 1980s, but his exploration of America’s preoccupation with entertainment is still sharp and pertinent. And it has retained its power to make us re-think the role of technology in our everyday lives.
Throughout Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman questions how the content of our culture has been radically altered by the emergence of new media. As he states, “our notions of truth and our ideas of intelligence have changed as a result of new media displacing the old.” The assertion that cultural practices and technologies constantly influence and respond to one another might seem like a value neutral observation, but as Postman delves deeper into his analysis, it becomes obvious that he views the shift from the Age of Exposition (text-based communication) to the Age of Show Business (image-based communication) as a profoundly problematic and troubling phenomenon.