Picture Books: T is for Talented Chapter Book Illustrators

Tasha Tudor and John Tenniel bring forward an issue: 

Are picture book images different from illustrations for chapter books? 

I don't care much for Tasha Tudor's art, but I admire her illustrations for The Secret Garden. My Frances Hodgson Burnett three-novel volume uses the illustrations of Gareth Floyd, and I prefer those illustrations (possibly partly due to nostalgia). But Tudor's illustrations are lush and beautifully presented in a recent edition of The Secret Garden

I have a very high opinion of John Tenniel as the illustrator of the Alice in Wonderland books and can't really imagine the books without his illustrations. However, unlike with Quentin Blake's pen & ink sketches, I find Tenniel's illustrations a trifle too unsettling to read a picture book exclusively devoted to Tenniel. 

In a prior post, I reference how much I enjoy Norman Rockwell's magazine covers, then add that I was entirely unimpressed by his picture book and the picture book created with his images. 

Likewise, in this list, I've read books where the illustrations were fantastic--the text less so--as well as books where illustration and text came together to form a perfect aesthetic combination. I've also seen illustrations that, when blown up to art gallery proportions, looked worthy of an art gallery, and I've seen illustrations that, when blown up to art gallery proportions, looked all wrong.

Medium matters and, I would argue, context. Tudor is all about rich wholesomeness. Many of her books tackle festivals and holidays and prayer. Tenniel was a political cartoonists. His illustrations are sharp, almost cruel in their focus. 

Neither one of them is Brett Helquist of Lemony Snicket fame. 

And it is doubtful if any of the three could pass as picture book illustrators as opposed to chapter book illustrators. 

It's an odd problem. And doesn't even reach the problem of manga and comic books, where the illustrations sometimes seem like mere placeholders for the story--

Except I have preferences there as well. 

No answers--just a lot of hmmm

Dune: The Previous Movies

In preparation for the upcoming Dune movie, release date October 22nd, I reread the book. I'm now rewatching the best-known movies: Dune 1984 and the Dune miniseries, 2000. I suppose if there's a version out there with gnomes, I'll watch that too!

First, Dune, David Lynch, 1984.

The strangest thing about this movie is that Dune is not a complicated plot. And Frank Herbert doesn't present it as complicated. The book starts by introducing the reader to Paul, not to Paul learning about Dune, not to Paul as a threat to the emperor. But Paul as the hero about to be tested and set on his quest.

The movie starts, fascinatingly enough, with Princess Irulan. But it then skips to guild stuff and honestly, who cares? 

Okay, Dune votaries may, but I don't. And when it comes to storytelling, the best approach is to quickly identify the hero's quest and/or the hero. 

Star Wars (the first Star Wars--Star Wars IV) starts with Princess Leia--that is, it starts by introducing the quest, the person and plans that will propel the hero into individual action. Lynch's Dune starts with background on Arrakis, then skips to the guild and the emperor, then skips to Paul, then produces a lot of discussion. 

The result: the movie appears to be written by people who LOVE the Dune mythos, not by people trying to tell a story. And they give too much away too early. The book--because, ya know, Herbert is a decent writer--allows the action on Arrakis to unwind naturally. The only "give away" the reader is provided upfront is the name of the traitor. Even there, the moment of betrayal is a shock to the system since it comes without warning (though later in the text than I had remembered).

Perhaps the reason for the lack of focus (I'm thinking of the film editors now) is that Kyle MacLachlan as Paul is not that appealing a character. He comes across as a yuppie who decided to take an extreme sports vacation. The Paul of the book from page one is reserved, self-controlled, reflective, unusually objective (even before his vision after Leto's death), and somewhat uncanny. His youth explains his occasional immaturity, not his inherent personality. Kyle MacLachlan in 1984 was too old to get away with this. (Interestingly enough, both actors debut the role at age 25, but Timothee Chalamet looks younger than his years, and Kyle MacLachlan looked older. Alec Newman was 26--I'll get to him later.)

I've noted elsewhere that Timothee Chalamet is a gifted actor. He also looks the part. I try not to raise my expectations too much before a release, but in other roles, Chalamet captures "uncanny" quite well. So my hopes are reservedly high-ish. (I would really rather I had none--but hey, investment is investment!).

Things I like about the 1984 version:

  1. The voiced internal dialog is quite effective. 
  2. The movie includes the scene where the Duke prioritizes the men over the spice.
  3. The Harkonnens are disgustingly awful, the ultimate decadent and self-serving aristocrats. They are memorably terrible, irredeemable bad guys. Not entirely credible as a ruling family--but effective. 
  4. So many great sci-fi folks show up! Dean Stockwell, Patrick Stewart, Brad Dourif (go figure!), Max van Sydow, and Linda Hunt, who hasn't done that much sci-fi, but, ya know, it's Linda Hunt!

Major problem overall: The movie doesn't establish Paul and the conflict upfront. It spends too much time on background details that the audience honestly probably doesn't care about (I honestly, really, totally don't care how ships gets from Point A to Point B: warp drive, spice, folding space, a magic door: whatever). It spends too much time on Caladan, reducing the last 1/3rd or so of the film to a mishmash of "and then Paul became really esteemed...fight scene!" 

The problem with the mishmash is that 1984 Paul is presented as a military leader. He isn't. He is a reluctant prophet/messiah who is trying to head off a jihad through specific choices and actions, and it is not entirely clear if he succeeded. Stilgar and others are his military arm. Without that insight, the film after Leto's death lacks any kind of character growth. 

I originally blamed this lack of growth on the book. But there's plenty of inner conflict in the book's second half. Paul gets a little boring when he has his vision, but he continues to maneuver partly in the dark. His uncertainty makes him interesting! 

Dune 1984 is a compelling example of a movie that indicates deep fan love--yet, weirdly enough, bypasses the book for the idea. It might have been better to focus on the book. 

Conversations with a Translator: High School 4

Kate: In several manga series, at least one volume tackles the "school trip"! It appears to carry as much significance as…

Actually, it is hard to say: prom, a high school musical, and homecoming all rolled into one. 
 
Eugene: I would compare the school trip to the prom and homecoming and graduation rolled into one. High school graduation ceremonies in Japan are not nearly as high-falutin as their American counterparts. The school trip ranks up there with the culture festival and sports day in terms of teenage rites of passage.

These festivals and activities belong in the "fish don't know they're wet" category. They are part of the cultural zeitgeist. The same way that American teenagers don't question the whole cap and gown business in a serious anthropological way. I'm always amused by the prom episodes in shows like Bones and CSI because I didn't care then and I don't now but some people sure do.

Kate: Location location location. In one series--His Favorite--high schooler, Sato, has never been on a school trip. In response, Yoshida states, "This may not be my first field trip, and I may have thought 'Aw, Man. Kyota and Nara, again...??'"

Are Kyota and Nara typical school trip spots?

Eugene:
The whole point of a school trip is that it is supposed to be educational. Well, the rationalization. So historically important places like Nara and Kyoto are favored. In Studio Ghibli's Ocean Waves, the school trip is to Hawaii. That kind of extravagance is rarer these days.

In Super Cub, the school trip is to Kamakura, which isn't very far from Kofu, so Koguma can ride her Super Cub there when she misses the bus. That is realistically treated as a big deal. Assassination Classroom turns these expectations into a running joke by interupting the school trips with major crises, after Koro Sensei has gone to his usual meticulous lengths to make them as normal as possible.

Which itself is a running joke because Koro Sensei is the least normal person in the universe.

Yoshida--the voice of balance
Kate: Hey, an ongoing joke in His Favorite is that Sato is a very atypical guy but he wants a "typical field trip." Sato and Yoshida's friends keep up a running commentary during the trip about what is typical versus what isn't. (They even get into an argument about whether meeting and flirting and fighting with students from other schools is typical.) Eating dumplings--typical (enjoying food in general is considered typical: even the obsessive art students do it!). Pillow fights--typical. Having the strongest girl in the school act as a protector so Sato can have a good time--less typical.

Eugene: Like sports day and the culture festival, the school trip is a rite of passage that is embraced as much for the ritual as for the experience. I believe the social stability of Japanese culture arises out of not just respecting but defending these well-established baselines. Chesterton's Fence, again. As I like to say, Japan's official religion is being Japanese. Getting the ritual right is often the whole point.

Kate: Granted, in any series with an arc, the unexpected must occur. In Hana-Kimi, the hero encounters his estranged brother on a school trip, which leads to all kinds of complications. I assume this is a common trope.

Eugene:
Precisely because the school trip is so ordinary makes it fodder for dramatic excess. Everybody knows what the baseline is so it's easy to mess with those expectations. That's why Assassination Classroom is so effective as both a comedy and a drama. Everyone, including Koro Sensei, keeps returning to that baseline no matter what utterly bizarre events might take place in the meantime.

Kate: A “baseline” makes sense. Unlike with American prom, I have encountered very few negative references to school trips in manga with older characters. In fact, one of the unnerving aspects of school trips in manga is that they carry such a charged expectation of togetherness. In Caste Heaven, the tone of the series suddenly shifts from near-cynicism (with a thread of romance) to one of gentle, sweet bonding during the school trip. In His Favorite, the bullying girls suddenly back off en masse to give Sato his desired "typical" school trip.

So, in a way, the school trip could be compared to getting one's driver's license--in terms of a rite of passage and others' collective goodwill (very little snarkiness; endless stories to share).

Eugene: A good analogy. Given that most Japanese won't get a driver's license until their late twenties, if at all, the school trip could also be compared to the archetypal American "road trip," the first time a kid piles into a car with a couple of friends and drives someplace far away.

From high school to gender wars! Stay “tuned.”

The Fool in Sitcoms

A great deal of comedy depends on the "fool," the character that others make jokes about or towards. 

In all honesty, it's not an entirely comfortable comedy trope since it can descend into bullying. It helps if the "fool" has one of three characteristics:

1. The fool is actually more competent than everyone else. 

Al is a great example here. Yes, Tim uses him for comedic fodder:

"Is this man boring? Yes. Tell me something I don't know!" 

However, Al is respected and defended by "Al's Pals." He receives more fan mail than Tim and acts as the straight man to Tim's antics. In some ways, Mike of Last Man Standing is Tim and Al combined.

2. The fool deserves to be fooled. 

This solution is more difficult. Shakespeare uses it with Malvolio in Twelfth Night. Unfortunately, the mockery by his opposition is rough enough that the audience's sympathy may possibly veer towards Malvolio.

One sitcom where this approach totally works is Andy Griffith. Barney's smug self-satisfaction, boastfulness, and self-delusion deserve to be poked at. Andy does it gently. Barney is so inherently good-natured that his threats to quit are quickly handled. The balance is possibly the most perfect in sitcom history. 

3. The fool mocks himself.

Wojohowicz from Barney Miller is a great example. "Canny dope" Kyle is another. Both are competent at their work. If they sidetrack into oddities (aliens, odd grandmothers, marijuana brownies, feral cats), it is out of almost aggressive naivety. They also have the impressive ability to re-examine themselves and consequently, carry a confidence and maturity that outstrips the people around them (although they rarely realize their own strengths).

Babette's Feast & Infinite Grace

Babette's Feast is an astonishing movie. 

It praises the desire of the true artist to create and, moreover, to reach an audience with that creation: "Through all the world there goes one long cry of the artist: Give me leave to do my utmost."

And it is itself great art--which means that without being loaded or heavy-handed, any one scene (especially the final dinner scene) is never just about one thing. 

These posts will deal with multiple facets of Babette's Feast

This post deals with grace, as interpreted by the general--and Martine.

Years ago, the general visited the tiny community, which is comprised of a Puritan sect and other community members, such as the postmaster/store owner. At the time, the general, Lorens, was a young lieutenant who was more or less waffling through life. During his visit, he met Martine and fell in love. Yet he was perceptive enough to realize that marriage was more or less out of the question. He returned to court, married a lady-in-waiting, and took his place on the world stage to become a general. 

Years later, he is visiting his aunt, a wealthy woman and patron of the tiny Puritan sect. He determines to revisit the group on the birthday of the now-deceased minister, the father of Martine and her sister Philippa. He wants to see if he made the right choice so many years before. 

Unknown to him, Martine and Philippa took in a Frenchwoman, Babette, years earlier when Babette's family was killed during uprisings in Paris in the 1870s. When Babette wins a lottery, she requests the opportunity to prepare a "real French dinner" for the deceased minister's birthday. The sisters don't realize until later that Babette spent all the lottery money (10,000 francs) on the meal (converting historical money is practically impossible but the meal she creates for 12 people is well over $5,000).

From a writing point of view, having the general at the feast provides the viewpoint of an "insider," a connoisseur who knows the value of the wine and caviar, etc. that Babette presents. 

But his presence provides a thematic purpose as well. Although Martine is a good Puritan woman, full of piety as well as fears that the meal will corrupt her deceased father's flock, she is still human and mortal. Although she might dismiss such vain thoughts, having an ex-suitor show up for a simple dinner and coffee would be humiliating. Maybe she shouldn't feel that way, but I dare any person with an ex-lover/suitor/somebody not to feel that way. 

Likewise, if the general had shown up to a simple dinner in a comparative hovel, he likely would have left as conflicted as when he arrived. Should he have abandoned worldly pursuits for a simple life? Wasn't his choice better? Maybe not, but borderline poverty is truly not that attractive. So what did he waste his life on instead? Social climbing? Were there no good options? 

Instead, the general is fed a sumptuous dinner surrounded by simple folk who treat the whole thing as commonplace (to avoid embarrassing the sisters). He is delighted, buoyed up. He brings his worldly knowledge to the banquet, but his worldly knowledge never descends into social posturing. Instead, his approach to the meal inspires others. He focuses on the food, on the company, on the experience. 

At the end of the meal, he gives a remarkable speech in which he declares, "Grace is infinite." He came expecting to perform a bargain with his past self. Instead, he concludes "that which is chosen is given us, and that which we have refused is also and at the same time granted us." The impossible is possible. 

Before he leaves, he declares his love to Martine again--to which she responds. They aren't going to marry, but neither is their love the love of saints or artists (those loves are tackled in the film too). Their love is the romance of lovers, and it is part of all life, all heaven. Why shouldn't it exist as well? 

This is the grace of a God I gladly believe in.  

Cesar Millan: The King of Analogies

I am rewatching early seasons of the Dog Whisperer. Cesar Millan is an astonishing role model to me. He isn't really all that alpha (with people), but like Mike Rowe, he has the ability to immediately find a place for himself in hierarchies--to the point where the people he is helping will risk their egos by emulating Cesar without feeling combative. 

With dogs, Cesar Millan exhibits no hesitation at taking a dominant position. Various dog experts argue about whether pack-dominance is truly how dogs behave in the wild. Whatever. It's how they behave in homes and parks because their owners don't take responsibility for them.

Bob and Charlie wait for dinner.

I say this as someone who loves big dogs but doesn't own one (although I could in my current home) since I know I don't have the discipline to be a good owner. If I am going to treat my dog like a cuddly toy, I don't deserve to have one. I have applied some of Cesar's techniques to my cats, and they have worked!

The aspect of Millan's behavior/teaching/personality that impresses me the most is his calm, especially his continued calm even when dogs get aggressive or a certain approach doesn't immediately work. He doesn't
blame the dog. He doesn't get frustrated. He doesn't give up. He starts over. He asks his people, such as Todd, to bring the dog back. 

In this post, I want to praise Millan's gift for analogies. When he walks into a home, he finds a point of comparison between his instructions and the household to inspire clients. If the client is a coach, he uses a coach analogy. If the client is an actor, he uses acting analogies. 

He does this in live performances too, by the way. And he does it during conversations when it is clearly not scripted. It doesn't surprise me that he already knows something about the clients before he starts. He claims (in early episodes) not to do background research on clients, and I believe him. But the way episodes are filmed and cut means that Cesar is there for at least part of the time when the camera crew is filming the family "alone." 

It doesn't matter. Things like television editing don't upset me. It is obvious that outside of any narration or scripting, Cesar thinks in terms of analogies. And I would guess that this ability is what got him where he ended up. He started out as a dog walker, "four hours in Runyon Canyon" (no wonder the people who hired Cesar loved him so much--he really gave those dogs a work-out!). He made contact with celebrities. He got support to do his show. 

And behind all of this is a guy who keeps looking, searching, pondering for what will work in certain situations. 

In an episode at a dog park, he compares the humans' territorial behavior to regulars claiming a chair in Starbucks. 

In another episode, he encourages a woman to be more assertive by walking like Cleopatra. 

To another woman with a bad dating history, he points out that "you can't rehabilitate unstable men with affection."  Or dogs.

In one episode where a wife and husband claim that their retriever likes to "show off," Cesar says, "Well, this is L.A." 

He is naturally funny. Watch him in live performances; he has the gift of a mimic. He generates laughter with relatable jokes followed by physical imitation. He does it unconsciously in the early episodes. He seems to have become more comfortable with this ability over time. 

Cesar Millan is one of the few celebrities where I might put his poster on my wall! Okay, I haven't because I'm not really a celebrity fan girl (Cesar and Nimoy are just about it). But Cesar qualifies. 

Conversations with a Translator: High School 3

The student council is more self-possessed
than any group of teenagers ever has been.
Kate:
Hana-Kimi by Hisaya Nakajo contains just about every single popular high school motif/plot on record, including the classic tale of the too-strict teacher who starts picking on a particular student until the other students stand up to the teacher and make him stop. Specifically, the picked-on student is accused of cheating and is badgered into signing a false confession. But then the R.A.s (student council) show up and confront the too-strict/mean teacher, who confesses he was in the wrong. End of story.

In sum, when the strict teacher shows up and tries to get the students to do something they don’t want to do, the students say, “But the school rules let us do this.”

How powerful are Japanese school rules? Do they allow students to take on mean teachers?

Eugene:
School rules (kosoku) dictate everything from the style of school uniforms to the length of girl’s skirts, the length of boy’s hair, and may prohibit the wearing of jewelry and the dying of hair and even the color of underwear. School rules may also stipulate how a student may travel to school, what a student can do outside of school in terms of where they live and part-time work. In Good Morning Call, Nao and Hisashi have to keep the school from finding out about their living arrangement, and are always at risk of getting blackmailed by the latest mean girl.

I have no idea about mean teachers. There are plenty of mean vice-principals. In Gokusen, the mean vice-principal conspires to rid the school of Kumiko and her delinquent students, but they win him over in the heartwarming conclusion. In Interviews with Monster Girls (Crunchyroll), the mean vice-principal turns out to be more right than wrong.

The opening arc of Hyouka (Funimation) delves into the mystery of why Eru’s uncle was expelled from high school. As it turns out, the school pushed through a policy change that got the students up in arms. Escalating protests resulted in them splitting their differences. But the faculty demanded a scapegoat and settled on Eru’s uncle, who was the class president (though in name only).

One thing this arc makes clear is that was then (the 1960s) and this is now, and the students today have a hard time imagining getting that riled up over what was essentially a Pyrrhic victory over what was in the long run a largely inconsequential change of school policy.

Kate: American students in fiction get picked-on, but I had a hard time thinking of an American story where (1) the students didn’t resort to external political pressure; (2) the parents didn’t get involved.

American students would not only resort to political, ah, blackmail, they would—at least thirty years ago—have fallen back on “individuality.” In Hana-Kimi, the strict teacher complains about the students’ haircuts. In a popular American John Hughes-type story, the students would protest, “But we’re expressing our individuality! We have the right to free speech! You can’t stop us from being who we are!!” In Hana-Kimi, the students again resort to “rules.”

How well would the “individuality” argument go down in a Japanese high school?

Eugene: Short answer: it wouldn’t. You do see some push-back in regards to school rules, but as a collective action involving the parents and lawyers. A recent (real-world) case involved a girl with naturally brown hair who was forced to dye her hair black. That rule was eventually rescinded for Tokyo’s public schools after they got sued.

In series like Clannad (Netflix HIDIVE), My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU (Crunchyroll), Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions (Netflix HIDIVE), and even Super Cub (Funimation), “individuality” sets the characters apart, to the extent that they have ended up outside the mainstream of student life. Over the course of the story, a new group coalesces around them, which has the effect of bringing them back into a somewhat normal social orbit, though with a few quirks remaining.

Four hundred years ago, John Donne perfectly described Japanese society: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man / is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

Kate: "'[I]ndividuality' sets the characters apart...outside the mainstream" sounds like Buffy! The course of her life may be inevitable, but she really wants to be a "normal" girl. Of course, the group that coalesces around her becomes a little odder as a result. Still, it seems like Joss Whedon might agree with a character in Hana-Kimi who states, “‘Self-sufficient freedom’ in which you carry your own responsibilities, and ‘self-destructive freedom’ in which you think you can do whatever you want are two entirely different things.”

Later in the story in Hana-Kimi, after the teacher confesses, the narrator tells us, “Both sides [the student council and the teachers] decided to hold assemblies to encourage better teacher-student relations every term.”

I had to read that twice. Really? Wow! An American version of this plot would get the teacher fired and all the students would stand around congratulating themselves for working together in an activist sort of way to take people down. I mean, talk about placing unity at the forefront of everything else! Collectivist cultures truly are harmony-oriented!

In fact, in a later story, the student accused of cheating goes to the strict teacher for advice. Granted, even within the story, this action is considered odd (though entirely in keeping with the personality of the student, who is a what-you-say-is-what-I-believe type of kid; if the teacher said he was sorry, he must have meant it!).

Although the other characters think the student’s behavior is odd, they praise him for going to see the teacher who accused him. They don’t say stuff like, “Oh, man, why would you trust that guy?! Teacher’s pet!” Instead, they commend him for his bravery and accept the teacher’s advice as good advice.

“Japanese high school trips” coming next!

Troubles of Biographers: S is for Schenectady's Star

Problem: What if no one knows about the subject except people in his hometown? 

At my oldest brother's encouragement, I chose Charles Proteus Steinmetz for "S." For most of his working life, he worked at GE in my hometown of Schenectady, New York. During his lifetime (and now), he is considered on par with Edison and Tesla and even superior to them in many ways. 

Despite growing up in Schenectady and having a father who worked for GE Research & Development for his entire career, I had never heard of Steinmetz. 

Or maybe I had, but I didn't remember. My brother Joe concurred. We certainly weren't taught about Steinmetz in school! 

My father, however, heard his name quite often at work.

Nevertheless, Charles Proteus Steinmetz is an unsung hero. There was one biography for Steinmetz in the Portland Public Library, and it was written in 1924. The general catalog (MaineCat) had far more works BY Steinmetz than about him. I interlibrary-loaned the selected biography; nearly every copy of that biography on WorldCat was from a New York State educational institution's library though I did receive the book from Raritan Valley Community College in New Jersey. In comparison, Tesla had 7 biographies just in the Portland Library, 1 non-fiction movie, and 3 children's books.

Biography: Bly, Robert W. Charles Proteus Steinmetz: The Electrical Wizard of Schenectady. Quill Driver Books, 2018.  

The biography is quite respectable. It was written by an chemical engineer and spends as much time explaining electricity--so the reader can comprehend and respect Steinmetz's achievements--as discussing Steinmetz himself. This is less distracting than it sounds. Quite often biographies of this type--a "biography" of Shakespeare that spends more time on Elizabethan politics than on Shakespeare or his plays--are irritating in the extreme, but Bly is placing Steinmetz in context while underscoring his accomplishments. I actually began to understand electricity--as more than a magic switch, anyway--while I was reading. 

Steinmetz

Steinmetz himself comes across as The Lord of the Rings persona of John Rhys-Davies. They are rather like the conservative and socialist version of a similar personality: rational, down-to-earth, family-oriented, willing to endorse certain types of activism, unafraid without being belligerent. And Steinmetz was four feet and hunchback--and a mathematical genius (an outlier), so...

The Lord of the Rings persona of John Rhys-Davies. 

Steinmetz's abilities were acknowledged early on. The company he worked at after immigrating to the U.S., E&O, was bought out by GE in order for GE to get Steinmetz. He knew and interacted with nearly all of the great scientists and inventors of his age. 

Before I discuss Steinmetz's mathematical genius, I must mention that he was a science writer when he first arrived in the United States. Later, he wrote all his own proposals, and they are remarkably clear even if one doesn't "get" the science.  (Bly reproduces one of his patent descriptions.) 

As well as a good writer, Steinmetz was a true mathematical genius. Bly states, "[M]any educators and professionals agree that students and practitioners with a mastery of higher mathematics have a big advantage over those who are less at home with numbers and equations" (47). 

In terms of Steinmetz's contributions, Bly does a great job placing him in context, but he doesn't always complete the context. Steinmetz helped establish the electric power grid. Okay, I get it, and I know what it is--but how about wrapping up that accomplishment?

I suspect that Bly, an engineer, imagines that the accomplishment is self-explanatory.

The one place where Bly does take Steinmetz's contribution/invention all the way to the end is with the Steinmetz Lightning Machine. He points out that this machine--and machines based on its principles--enable engineers now to do safer, reliable testing. 

Steinmetz had a sense of humor. To garner attention for his machine, he 

constructed a miniature model village out of wood, similar in size, scope, and appearance to the tiny towns that model railroad enthusiasts set up around the train tracks. Then he built a 120,000-volt lightning generator and positioned it about the model town. [He] advertised his demonstration. When members of the public were seated, he darkened the room, [f]lipped the generator switch. [S]hortly thereafter the generator hanging form the ceiling produced a miniature lightning storm that destroyed the model village in rather spectacular fashion. (92)

He once charged Ford $10,000 for fixing one of his engines. When Ford complained, Steinmetz itemized his bill (page 108): 

Making chalk mark on the generator [where it needed to be fixed]: $1 

Knowing where to make the mark: $9,999

Total: $10,000

Steinmetz's adopted descendants. Article here

In some ways, Steinmetz was the stereotypical  genius in his lab. He had a lab at GE. He had one at his nearby home. However, Bly challenges 

(1) the idea of the isolated genius.

Steinmetz adopted his lab assistant, Hayden Joseph LeRoy, whose family lived with him until his death. Their children and progeny are considered Steinmetz's grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren; 

(2) the idea that the supposedly isolated genius has no other interests.

Steinmetz had many interests. He loved kids. He taught at Union College. He extolled the idea of the "Renaissance Man." He grew cacti and orchids (Nero Wolfe!). He had pet reptiles. He enjoyed nature, such as canoeing. He was a bit of a prankster. He was part of a poker club called "The Society of the Equalization of Engineers' Salaries."

He was also a socialist, which may seem contradicted by his employment by a huge corporation. He was paid well though not as well as he could have demanded. But Steinmetz, like many leftists (only Steinmetz was more honest), perceived the big "parental" corporation as the answer to society's ills. He was very happy at GE.  

A thoroughly amazing guy! And well-deserving of a hero's adulation in Schenectady and beyond.

Conversations with a Translator: Humor in Manga

Although the Japanese reputedly don't 'get' irony, they deliver something that is awfully close. One of my favorite scenes from The Way of the Househusband occurs when one of Tatsu's friends makes and delivers a chocolate cake to his yakuza boss on Valentine's Day. The boss's nonplussed face (I don't get it) treads the line of irony.

Of course, irony is difficult to define--hence the website: Is It Ironic?

From my perspective as a teacher of literature, the scene would be definitively ironic if the yakuza boss actually loved chocolate (upending the readers' expectations) or was allergic (upending the character's expectations).

So what is the humor here?

I asked the Translator.

Eugene: My theory is that the comedy arises out of a juxtaposition of roles and expectations, a clash of context-based social values that are valid in one setting but not another. 
 
Because roles and expectations are so determined by social context in Japan, and are seemingly obvious to the objective onlooker (the audience), it's easy to upset expectations by creating situations where the roles (and the accompanying rules) don't match or trespass from one setting into another. 
 
This exchange from Only the Ring Finger 
Knows is practically incomprehensible--til
one realizes that Wataru left off the honorific
(unfortunately, most honorifics aren't used in
the translation) with upperclassman Kazuki.
Probably the easiest form of this kind of comedy simply has a character not using the correct honorifics, like referring to a senpai by name only (yobisute). Here's a good explanation with a relevant example.  
 
In The Way of the Househusband, the neighborhood housewives treat Tatsu like one of their own, so that's the role he assumes. But the yakuza treat him like one of their own too (as do the police). So you end up with collisions of wildly different expectations when the roles don't change to fit the setting. 
 
 
 

Grammar & Language: Jokes Based on Definitions

In "Andy's Rich Girlfriend," Andy Griffith Show, Season 3, Barney attempts to warn Andy about the perils of dating a rich girl. He paints a picture of the wealthy lifestyle that includes "a couple of nurses and a nanny."

Andy knows very well what Barney is saying but replies, "Two nurses and a goat?"

"No, no," Barney says. "This kind of nanny takes 'em to the park and speaks French...They go off to refinishing school--"

"Finishing school," Andy says quickly since he doesn't want Barney to stop describing his version of a wealthy lifestyle, which involves bicycles with lots of reflectors. 

Nanny = goat

Nanny = woman who takes her charge to the park and speaks French.

The mix-up is funny; Barney's belabored definition--mostly, it appears, culled from Hollywood films--is equally funny.

My favorite example of a vocabulary mix-up occurs in Home Improvement, Season 4, "It's My Party." Randy decides to have a boy-girl birthday party, mostly to get closer to a girl he likes. Unfortunately, his "nerdy" (Brad's word) parents keep embarrassing him. Tim (literally) over-waxes the dance floor. 

His mother digs up her "old 45s." 

Straight-faced, Randy queries, "You're going to let us have guns at the party?" 

Brad clearly thinks this is a great idea! 

45 = record

45 = gun

The hilarious point here is that today, what with police procedurals and CSI, most people likely know the latter definition more than the former. 

Of course, Home Improvement is always playing on language as Tim mangles Wilson's advice. Our brains know that language is weird and confusing and multi-layered, perfect opportunities for humor.

The Closemouthed Detective: Art versus Realism

A motif in many detective stories is the detective who presents the solution to a captive audience at the end of the story. The revelations are unexpected, the solution unknown to everyone in the audience.

Is it really believable? A murder occurs and only one person knows what's what?

As a literary motif, it works with private detectives. Monk is too finicky and Poirot is too pompous, in a sweet way, to confide.

However, a better solution is for the detective to tell people, just not the audience. Ngaio Marsh does this with Alleyn. In some ways, Marsh's treatment of her main character is a tad too worshipful--Alleyn does no wrong and everybody admires him, even cats--but she presents his relationship to his team completely right. Quite often, as early as a half or a third of the way through the mystery, Alleyn will sit down and explain things to his subordinates. But that dialog is kept from the reader.

In Final Curtain, Alleyn explains his inner thoughts to Fox, his right-hand man: "As they left [Scotland Yard], Alleyn took from his desk the second volume of a work on medical jurisprudence. It dealt principally with poisons. In the train, he commended certain passages to Fox's notice." In Scales of Justice, Alleyn explains his interpretation of important evidence to the local sergeant: "The explanation was detailed and exhaustive. Alleyn ended it with an account of the passage he had read in [the victim's] book." The local police are kept up-to-date on the latest developments.

Death in Paradise clearly uses a similar technique. The detective will have his epiphany: Ah, now I know how the clues fit together! The team is astonished. Yet in the next scene, when the suspects are gathered together, the team all know the answer. He clearly confided to them in the car and the team likely even helped him fit all the clues together.

Interestingly enough, Elementary uses a similar technique. Sherlock and Watson will arrive at a conclusion. In the next scene, the police are helping them and clearly have all the facts at hand.

Keeping the audience guessing is allowable. But if an arrest is going to follow the disclosures--other characters kind of need to know!

Troubles of Biographers: Revelatory Renoir

Problem: How does a biographer go about communicating the revolutionary nature of a subject when that subject appears not at all revolutionary now? 

Humans are forgetful. They are also egocentric, which means that the trials and tribulations and mindsets of their own time appear inordinately extreme and far-reaching and important while those of the past, which have already been assimilated into everyday life, appear ordinary and passe: "givens."

Impressionism is a case in point. In the nineteenth century, it was a change in "acceptable" art that set the art connoisseurs of France into a tizzy. "Impressionism" was not even the label adopted by the related artists; like so many enduring labels, it was applied by detractors and adopted by history. 

Impressionist paintings are now entirely ubiquitous, a "norm." They appear on tea towels, coffee mugs, shower curtains, and mouse pads. Jigsaw puzzles. T-shirts. And so on and so forth. I can't say if Manet or Monet or Degas would have been pleased to see their works used in advertising and plastered on college room walls. 

I'm not sure Renoir would have minded. Or he might have--but he would have made sure he got a cut. 

Book: Neret, Gilles. Renoir: Painter of Happiness. Taschen, 2009. 

What I discovered about Renoir was that not only did he rebel as a member of the revolutionary Impressionists, he rebelled against the Impressionists.

Unlike many of the Impressionists, Renoir came from the working class--the educated working class but still a step down from Degas and Monet, who both came from wealthy families. Also, unlike the leader of the movement, Monet, Renoir was only temporarily interested in Impressionism. 

He wasn't alone. In fact, continual experimentation and change is quite typical of artists: "[F]or all members of the movement, with the exception of Monet, impressionism represented a very short period in their artistic lives" (9). The same is true, Neret later points out, of cubist painters, such as Picasso. Although history likes to set artists and writers into categories (and I use the capitalized Impressionism to denote a particular art movement), people quite literally out-live their pigeon-holes. 

The movement was hardly a coherent collection of individuals in any case, running from Seurat to Manet to Cezanne. And some of them didn't like each other's art very much (although they did all know each other). 

Renoir produced some of the best-known of what we now label Impressionist works, but he had two notable characteristics that separated him from whatever ideology might, possibly, accompany the movement: he was interested in the classics. And he adored people, especially women.

Renoir did exhibit with other Impressionists in several of their "anti-" Salon shows, in part because he was drawn to scenes of everyday life; the Salon clung to its requirements of "acceptable" paintings of history or scenes from the Bible. But Renoir exhibited with the Salon when he was able to get in. He acquired impressively loyal and kindly backers and his works sold very well, especially when he began to paint portraits of individuals and families. 

"He decided to exhibit in the Salon in 1881 despite knowing that his fellow-painters would consider him a traitor to their cause [against the Salon]" (Neret 175). 

But, as Neret points out, Renoir wasn't abandoning a cause. He never really believed in it. He was interested and admired certain techniques of impressionism. But he wanted other things.

Aline Renoir: model to wife

"I believe one must try to paint as well as possible. That's all there is to it. I want to paint wonderful painting for you that you will be able to sell for a very high price," he stated to art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (175). 

And he truly didn't want to paint endless paintings of landscapes and light and wind, etc. etc. etc. 

He truly wanted to paint people. 

He excelled, especially, in painting women and children, and he painted them without artifice. He gave them a romantic gloss but he painted them as solid, tangible, real beings in a tangible world. He spent a great deal of his post-Impressionism life painting nudes, which, Neret argues convincingly, Renoir couldn't have done before his training in impressionism. He had to unlearn some of his prior techniques in order to capture easy relaxation. 

Renoir even indulged in sculpture towards the end of his life, which I did not learn until I read Neret's book. 

At 427 pages with hundreds of color prints, I enjoyed Neret's book  but felt no inclination to read further, which makes me reluctant to recommend Neret's book except as a supplement to another text. I came away with a thorough understanding and appreciation of Renoir as a painter but I was continually stymied by the book's layout. It uses a chronological set-up--chapters split up by years--yet the text skips around. The images do not even vaguely correspond to the text, which was highly irritating since I was constantly having to skip forward or back (sometimes several hundred pages) to find the painting being discussed. I realize that organizing color prints in a book may be inherently problematic, but I could discover no organizational purpose behind the layout choices. They didn't seem to be based on anything except that the famous Impressionist paintings do mostly come first and the nudes do mostly come last. 

In fairness, the book is an art book, not a biography (many artists' "lives" are split between both areas in the library). But, still, the layout comes across as oddly unprofessional for such a professional-looking book. 

However, the text did an excellent job of communicating the revolutionary tendencies of the time, the non-revolutionary ideas of Renoir and consequently, his inadvertent personal revolution on his own terms. 

And it left me with a love for Renoir, who felt true affection for women and children and communicated that affection in his work. 

I can relate to his love of people over scenery. When I was a young teen, I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There, I saw the below painting of Margot Berard. A few years later, it is one of the few art pieces (a print, not an original obviously) that I ordered and framed. I was twenty, in college at the time, and the process was a lot more laborious than it would be now. I have carried that framed print with me for over 25 years. It has hung in every one of my apartments.

And yes, it is a Renoir.    

Conversations with a Translator: High School 2

Kate: I’ve been reading more manga with high school settings, specifically the series Hana-Kimi by Hisaya Nakajo. And it seems that the more I delve into the genre, the more certain issues swim to the surface, including issues specific to Japanese teen fiction.

It seems like every manga series has at least one volume where the bratty girls drag the heroine up to the roof (geez, where are the hall monitors?) and bully her—I mean, bully her, like beat her up. The hero inevitably shows up to save the day although there’s one very funny series (High School Debut) where the hero shows up only to find that his girlfriend has thrashed the third-year girls.

The reasons for the bullying are, quite bluntly, that the heroine doesn’t know her place. Nobody pretends that the bullying is being done for personal reasons. It’s just “You shouldn’t be dating a senior” or “You get better grades than us.”

How mean are Japanese girls?

Eugene: Good Morning Call has almost the exact same scene. It long ago entered trope territory. But it reflects an ugly reality.

Bullying remains a big problem in Japan’s secondary schools, just as the realities of social class and hierarchy remain omnipresent. In an episode of Cool Japan on NHK, hosts went around asking teenagers and young adults about the traditional class markers in school and business (senpai/kohai: senior/junior, etc.). Hardly anybody was in favor of doing away with them and embracing American-style “egalitarianism.” It’s the water the Japanese still swim in.

Back to School at 35 is a live-action series in which Ayako Baba (Ryoko Yonekura) returns to her alma mater to complete her senior year. It covers all the relevant social issues, especially the problems that arise out of the homeroom class being the same class for all the students in that class for all their subjects. The series similarly concludes with the message that, well, yeah, the system sucks (a root cause in the bullying problem), but we prefer it that way.

One of the best movies in this regard is A Silent Voice (Netflix). It is basically an Afterschool Special, but was produced by Kyoto Animation, so it’s a really good Afterschool Special.

The big difference between boys and girls, of course, is that boys really do beat the crap out of each other.

Loud, sweet-natured, dyed-blond Natsuku from Osaka
Kate: Apparently, being from Osaka is the equivalent of being from the Jersey Shore and carries with it all the class-consciousness, or at least jokes, associated with the “guido” lifestyle (see Bones, “The Maggots in the Meathead”).

Characters in the series are constantly making comments about Osaka and at one point, the mother of an Osaka student shows up. She’s got big hair, a loud mouth, and dangling jewelry. The narrator keeps adding comments like, “Not all people from Osaka are like this,” the implication being that the mother represents common assumptions about Osaka. (This is Osaka, the area, not Osaka, the name, which, according to the helpful narrator’s notes, uses different characters.)

Eugene: During the Edo Period 1603–1868), the Tokugawa shoguns imposed an authoritarian form of federalism on the provinces. This was to keep discontented governors from banding together and overthrowing the regime, which was exactly what happened in 1868. But they kept it at bay for 250 years.

Traveling from one province to another required an internal passport and getting caught without one would get you tossed in jail (though the draw of the big city was enough that many risked it). As a result, the provinces developed distinct identities and dialects.

The traditional Osaka greeting is “How’s business?” A common dubbing mistake is giving characters from Osaka a Southern accent. You’re right; they should sound like they’re from Jersey. “It ain’t personal, it’s business.” After all, the Osaka (Kansai) region is also home to Japan’s biggest and oldest yakuza gangs.

Kate: Speaking of regions, Hokkaido is the “hicks” but in a cool way.

At one point, a manga character who lives in Hokkaido decides to go to Tokyo University. Everyone acts like he’s moving to the moon—America would be closer. I was so puzzled, I looked it up. It appears to be the same distance as Portland, Maine to Washington DC which, granted, is quite a ways (and in Japan, there’s a sea to cross) but not THAT far.

 I've since gotten the impression that it’s the Portland part of the equation that makes Hokkaido the “hicks”—that is, Hokkaido is “hicks” like Maine is “hicks” (as opposed to Arkansas “hicks”). It’s remote and mysterious and kind of otherworldly. Which is pretty much how people in Washington State reacted when I told them I was moving to Maine.

Eugene: Hokkaido is like Maine married to Minnesota only with volcanoes and earthquakes. There’s a ton of open land, but given the choice, hot and crowded Tokyo wins out every time. For example, Nana (HIDIVE) begins with two girls fleeing the sticks for the big city. Enough people are doing it that many rural towns in Hokkaido and elsewhere are drying up and blowing away.

Fifty years ago, the coal town of Yubari, made famous in the 1977 Yoji Yamada film, The Yellow Handkerchief, had a population of 120,000. Since the mines closed in the 1980s, the population has declined by over 90 percent.

A cute anime series that takes place in Hokkaido is Figure 17 (Tubi). An elementary school student moves to Hokkaido with her father (he’s apprenticing at a farm bakery) and runs into a bunch of aliens. It’s The X-Files meets Little House on the Prairie. The aliens aside, it puts the region in a romantic light (man-eating monsters aside), to the extent of making all that wilderness look downright exotic. 

Kate: Hey, I could go for The X-Files meets Little House on the Prairie. In fact, that may be Supernatural!

The deserted element definitely shows up in the manga I read! If a series has a ghost story, it takes place on Hokkaido. That is, Hokkaido is where spooky stuff happens—in the woods. Likewise, the two questions I was asked by folks in Washington State about my move to Maine were “Will you see a moose?” and “Will you see Stephen King?” (A third was, "Isn't Maine in Canada?") Bizarrely, I’ve seen the latter in-person but not the former.

Speaking of Americans, an assumption throughout many manga series is that Americans kiss more—all the time, constantly, and they kiss everyone and everything from pets to family members to significant others to people in the street. I think this perception may mostly be due to television.

Eugene: Actually, according to the people who measure such things, American do kiss more than Japanese (though not as much as Europeans). For what it’s worth, there’s more kissing in shojo manga than on Japanese TV. You can watch a bio pic series on NHK that covers the protagonist’s entire life, including marriage and children, and not see a single kiss.

You know what you see instead? Hugs. Like the nosebleed, it’s become symbolic shorthand for everything else.  

Kate: I’ve noticed the nosebleeds! In fact, the latest version of Emma hilariously uses it. At the climax, Mr. Knightly asks Emma to marry him and she is so stunned--because she once again misread the situation--she has a nosebleed. She crossly borrows his handkerchief and then declares that she is going to fix matters with her best friend who is in love with Mr. Knightly. I had to wonder if the director, Autumn de Wilde, was influenced by Japanese manga.

How symbolic is the nosebleed? Nineteenth-century women swooned. Not as much as literature depicts, but they did swoon (possibly due to corsets). Is the nosebleed a common occurrence, an uncommon occurrence that provides go-to emotional relief, or purely symbolic?  

Eugene: By this point, it’s entered the realm of the purely symbolic. For example, the aforementioned hugs. In Hanako and Anne (on NHK), there is a dramatic hug in the pouring rain between Hanako and Eiji, her future husband, but at the time married to somebody else. The plot developments and dialogue that follow only make sense if they slept (or almost slept) together, but that is left entirely to the imagination.

 As noted, the exception, and a fascinating example of cultural compartmentalization, is manga (and to a lesser extent, anime). Cheese! is an imprint of Flower Comics that targets a female audience starting in the late teens. It is often as explicit and gratuitous as Japanese law allows. A recent review of Yakuza Lover on ANN, published in Japan under the Cheese! imprint, reminded me of my Cheese! posts.

In one of those posts, I quote Tokyo-based writer Roland Kelts, who argues that

the strict codes of etiquette and behavior that govern daily life in Japan also allow for an extraordinary degree of creative and social permissiveness, the freedom to explore other identities, to test the limits of possibility.

It follows that, at least in terms of mainstream entertainment, the less abstract the artform (the live-action drama being not abstract at all), the more morally constrained it will necessarily become.

I wonder if there is something here that accounts for the huge success of manga and anime overseas, at the same time that Kdrama is orders of magnitude more popular than Jdrama. Unlike manga in the same genre, the characters in a Jdrama like Good Morning Call can at times feel they were transported out of a 1950s Golden Age sit-com.

To be continued as Kate discovers and inquires about more themes and tropes and motifs!