Tuesday, July 10, 2007


I’ve started commenting on the entries in FlyOver Country, which is a blog about the arts in smaller cities and presumably rural areas across the continent and which is sponsored by Arts Journal, an on-line automatic daily bulletin (actually, more of a magazine). Because I’ve had at least peripheral and sometimes central experiences with the arts in Montana for roughly half a century, posting makes me very nervous. Most arts issues -- as distinguished from promotions -- are handled quietly backstage so as not to interfere with business. (The parallel with the Catholic church and other denominations is quite marked. Art and religion share much, including an institutional base that is ideas -- and shifty.)

If one becomes “mouthy,” the consequences can be drastic. One’s job disappears, one’s rental is unavailable, one’s mechanic is busy, one’s loans come unexpectedly due, etc. This is part of the reason that I couldn’t come back without owning a house and living on a Social Security check. My banking is done out-of-state and my book is being published out of the US. So it makes me nervous to blog about art in this state.

But then I look at other comments on FlyOver Country and whom do I spy but that infamous Tim Barrus, speaking in his same outrageous four-letter-word way, but with a kernel of common sense.

For those who don’t know, Barrus purported to be a half-Navajo named Nasdijj who was trying to keep alive a young boy suffering from AIDS and who wrote a book about it called “The Boy and His Dog Are Sleeping.” In the tradition of the outrageous tales of suffering and injustice that Manhattan publishers love, it was much praised and given prizes. “Nasdijj” wrote a colorful blog about himself and more HIV and AIDS boys fleeing medical mismanagement and official victimization, uploading his raving and sometimes shocking photos through a cell phone or a satellite setup like a foreign correspondent in a war zone so he could presumably flee into the desert after transmitting. It was quite amazing. Every time I asked someone else their opinion about the blog, I got silence.

But then the Manhattan tradition continued when Barrus was “outed.” He was a prize-winning white porn writer from SF with a wife, a daughter, a dog, and -- well, maybe some boys. But the outrageous behavior didn’t stop. He didn’t limp off nursing his embarrassment. Instead he went right on with it all. Actually, he didn’t behave as badly as Paris Hilton since no one has accused him of drunk driving and we have not been subjected to photos of his shaven private parts. His language was bad but repetitious. Just the usual movie expletives. Our culture has become so coarse and knowledgeable about the sub-world (drugs, sex, violence and all that) that it’s hard to be really outrageous. Anyway, if one gets TOO far out there, no one will know it’s that offensive because they won’t know what it means. There’s no use being secretly offensive, which I’m sure is the reason he continues to blog and can always be found by Google.

Anyway, as a recent article points out, the corrosive attacks on the establishment by Hip-Hop culture have been ended by YouTube, where one can quickly post a sloppy video expressing the same contempt without having to spend time composing a lot of rhyming lyrics. Which is to say, obscenity and vulgarity are evolving so quickly -- partly due to technology and partly due to people becoming so used to it -- that it’s a lot harder to be offensive these days.

On the other hand, so much has become forbidden in order to protect business success and political control, that these topics are suddenly ripe for outrage. This is from a 2006 article in the LA Times. “Barrus, who is in touch with the L.A. Weekly but has declined to comment on the record thus far, made his first public comments to the News and Observer, responding to the charges against him by email-- “The real scandals are racism, poverty, disease, AIDS, FAS [fetal alcohol syndrome], autism, a medical system that is a train wreck, an environment that can barely breathe, and a war that is a self-created nightmare,” he said.”

Just the same, compared to O.J. Simpson’s might-have tell-all Barrus is an also-ran. The most shocking thing he can do is begin to make decent common sense. He’s like an aging hippy who can’t give up the old evils, even though he’s well aware of what the new ones are. (I agree with him on the new ones.)

Books are still dangerous. I bought “The Boy and His Dog Are Sleeping” from that respectable source of remaindered books, Daedalus. I see others in there that would be risky to have around the house. If I had more money, I’d buy more of them.

But the real point has to do with my own writing. Now that I’m a Grey Panther, I think I should risk more. Therefore, timidly, I begin to risk opinions buried in comments on a blog and the subject is art. Some people think art is innocent. Ha. Would Tim Barrus do art if it were innocent? He’s lookin’ for danger.

But I’m looking for some reform or at least some sunlight in dark corners. Blogs are ideally suited for that and have already turned the political tide in Washington, D.C. I’d love to see them have an impact on flyover country, which is the bedding ground of politicians.

1 comment:

Steve Durbin said...

I'd never heard of Barris before, but there are few secrets with Google. Reminds me of Danny Santiago. He wrote a great book (in my opinion), Famous all over Town, as if a Chicano teenager, then turned out to be a white senior citizen. He knew his subject from volunteer work in the barrios. You can read more on this and other pseudonymous tales from Joyce Carol Oates.

I agree about the kernel of common sense, so I'm glad to see Barris commenting on flyover. You too, of course. The blog needs more discussion; hopefully it will build with time. If nothing else, it enables other connections. Now I know about prairiemary.