Formula One Not so Hoity-Toity

Slate sits trackside at the French Grand Prix, revealing that the international Formula One racing series isn’t as hoity-toity as you might think. Except for the multiple languages, the fans would fit in at any NASCAR event. Though there are major differences, including the open-wheel cars, less passing, little “swapping paint” (you try rubbing metal fenders with your punctureable rubber tires sticking out like that), and most notably, left and right turns, which the writer notes is where the real driving happens (NASCAR take note).

Of course Sunday’s pit crew brawl really solidifies NASCAR’s good ol’ boy American image, something you probably won’t see in Formula One (then again, those Europeans sure know how to have a good soccer riot). And if you’re still anti-NASCAR, check out the conversion of this Sports Illustrated writer.

America as Spider-Man

Spider-Man 2A Newsweek article about Spider-Man 2, which primarily focuses on the near firing of star Tobey Maguire, includes this adept observation of how America sees itself:

Much has been made of the fact that “Spider-Man” was the first post-9/11 blockbuster, and the conventional wisdom is that the film was a phenomenon because America needed heroes again. But maybe it’s something more. To the rest of the world, the superhero symbol of the United States is Superman

The Rise of the Graphic Novel

The New York Times Magazine: July 11, 2004The New York Times Magazine gives a long (7,000+ words) look at graphic novels (registration required). The piece ponders whether or not the graphic novel will replace the normal, word-based novel as the next great literary form, the way the novel replace poetry once upon a time. It’s a toss-up at this point, though their growing popularity — and floor space in major bookstores — is worth noticing.

McSweeney’s Quarterly even dedicated a recent issue to comics. (Comics? Comic books? Graphic novels? What’s the difference? Comics are typically the multipanel stories you’ll find in the newspaper. Comic books are typically multipanel stories stretched out into a small magazine. Graphic novels take the multipanel story and stretch it into a novel. That’s my horribly inadequate definition, though there’s a lot of overlap. The issue of McSweeney’s is edited by graphic novelist Chris Ware and features many other graphic novelists.)

Scoring Music on iTunes

I spent a bit of my birthday money on iTunes downloading a few tracks that have been stuck in my head (I’m tired of Drive 105 telling me when I can listen to them).

Strangely enough, I had my own Brittish invasion. Of the five songs I downloaded, three were Brittish pop bands: Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out,” The Killers’ “Somebody Told Me,” and Morrissey’s “Irish Blood, English Heart.”

I also downloaded Michelle Branch’s “Goodbye to You,” thanks to its perfect placement at one of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s sixth season low points (of which there are more than a few).

Finally, I grabbed Standbye’s “Don’t Panic, Don’t Panic, Don’t Panic.” They’re a local band in a current state of not much happening. The song is available on the 2024 Records jukebox, but I wanted my own copy. 2024 recently added several of their artists to iTunes (including Romantica!), and it appears I’m the first one to download a Standbye song. Before I downloaded the song their list of ‘Top Downloaded Songs’ said “Contribute to this feature by purchasing music from this artist.” So I did, and now “Don’t Panic…” is listed. The ‘Listeners also bought’ feature also includes all the above bands — and only the above bands.

Sadly, I don’t think I won an iPod in iTunes’ 100 million downloads giveaway. Though someone from Hays, Kansas did.

Marketing the President

We Like IkeThe American Museum of the Moving Image has an online exhibit about the history of presidential campaign commercials, with ads ranging from an animated ‘Ike for president’ jingle from 1952 to the flood of TV and web ads in 2004.

The old school animated ads are just asking for a retro remake. They seem strangely akin to ads for breakfast cereal, full of singing, dancing, and pep rally cheer — hardly a fact in the whole presentation:

With a vote, vote here, and a vote, vote there,
And a vote for Stevenson everywhere …

The exhibit also includes web ads from 2004 which are a bit snarkier, including an animated attack on Bush with its own retro charm and a goofball Austin Powers spoof, John Kerry: International Man of Mystery.
(link via

Americans Reading Less

In what shouldn’t come as a surprise, there’s been a drop in the number of Americans reading. In the past ten years there’s been a 4 percent drop in Americans who read any book at all (from 61% to 57%) and a 7 percent drop in Americans who read literature (from 54% to 47%, and literature was defined as poems, plays and narrative fiction).

The National Endowment for the Arts is calling it shocking, but it seems surprising the numbers aren’t worse. With the rise of the Internet, video games, Tivo, the growing prominence of movies and an ever-shrinking attention span, it’s a wonder Americans read at all. Not even Oprah or Harry Potter can save us now.