"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 10 July 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Unsafe at Any Speed



Those who refuse to learn from

history are destined to repeat

themselves. Well-worn harangues

about the nation's shrinking

attention span often lose us,

but only because we've heard it

all before.


[Older Rail]

This strain of cultural

Weltschmerz has been around a

long time. Call it social

kinetophobia; it brings to mind

the earliest days of the

railroad when critics thought

the first man-made,

self-propelled vehicle that

traveled faster than a horse

would undoubtedly lead to

countless tragic deaths. But not

because of reckless driving:

many believed that moving

through air faster than a

galloping horse would actually

rob the passengers of their

breath, that they'd suffocate in

the vacuum of speed beyond the

30 mph barrier.



Still, if MTV were to blame for

the truncation of visual and

aural information into

bite-sized kibble, we'd at

least know who to shoot. Today,

there are very few filmic images

on TV or in the movies that last

longer than, say, 20 seconds.

Watch and see: no single

uninterrupted camera shot will

last longer than it takes to

open a can of 7-Up. And those

which do last jerk around as if

the on-duty cameraman was

digging in his pockets in search

of the Quaaludes he lost around

the time Reagan was elected.



Early cinematographers were

concerned that changing the

camera's position, and thus the

perspective of the shot, would

be disorienting, that the Point

Of View should retain its

integrity or risk generating

spontaneous nausea in the

audience. Thus, for the first

decade of live-drama TV,

networks simply installed a

single camera in one of the more

expensive seats in the house. It

didn't take long to realize

these concerns about the

sanctity of POV were a lot of

hooey. Audiences could take it,

loved to take it, begged for

more. What they really wanted,

and had to wait 50 years to get,

was the Terminator, blowing shit

up nine ways from Sunday.


What's perverse is that the

fracture of the space-time

continuum that began 50 years

ago with "Citizen Kane" hasn't

really happened yet in

literature. But there are some

interesting exceptions - or at

least connections - that prove

the rule. Last year, MTV contracted

dyspeptic hipster Douglas

Coupland to perform a half-dozen

spoken word collages.



The Vancouver 'geist-buster has

grunted out yet another liminal

text, replete with off-sized

pages, kitschy wire-service

photos, and chapter titles

lifted from Barbara Kruger

postcards. Polaroids From The

Dead is on shelves throughout

the land this month. You

probably won't resist buying a



The book is the latest addition

to a growing genre - "koobs,"

books which reverse the assumed

equation of "content >

style," whose value lies in

their mere existence. These

bound editions of rhetorical

filler are proof, to some, that

the novel is an anachronism, a

medium out-of-time that reeks of

info-have-nots. After all, is

there anything more indulgent,

more flagrantly Victorian, these

days than sitting around reading

300 pages of someone's personal

obsessions, ruminations, poesy,

and flights of fancy? Do authors

really expect to have that kind

of feudal control over readers




In his inimitable and

irresistible way, Coupland has

his feet in both worlds. He's

flexing his mettle as a

35-year-old twentysomething in

his new novel full of

bumper-sticker slogans posing as

plot, character, and narrative.

And at his brand new website.


[Coupland Again]

Filled with pop cultural

confections, the site is purely

and unmistakably the work of a

novelist. While you can serve

yourself at Coupland's

impressive buffet of

late-20th-century bad faith, bad

hair, and bad television, don't

expect to scurry out of the mire

of info-inequity just yet.

Coupland's site is thorough in

one way: it's radically

non-interactive, without so much

as an email address.


[Lazy Boy]

But it's pretty, and thanks to

the limitations of current

technology, it takes a good long

time to look at. His faith in

inexorable progress

notwithstanding, maybe

Coupland's huge multimedia files

of himself will be an unwitting

bulwark against the shrinking

attention span. Maybe the hours

of download time and the

unfiltered solipsism at

Coupland's website will, after

all, preserve the time-honored

soapbox of the modern novelist.

Sweet succor: there's still a

place - online, no less - for

the recalcitrant kinetophobe.

courtesy of R.U. Listening