- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2008

Babar le imperialist

“In the past few decades, a series of critics on the left, most notably the Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman, have indicted Babar in the course of a surprisingly resilient and hydra-headed argument about the uses of imagery and the subtleties of imperialist propaganda. Babar, such interpreters have insisted, is an allegory of French colonization, as seen by the complacent colonizers: the naked African natives, represented by the ‘good’ elephants, are brought to the imperial capital, acculturated, and then sent back to their homeland on a civilizing mission. …

“Yet those who would burn ‘Babar’ miss the true subject of the books. The de Brunhoffs’ saga is not an unconscious expression of the French colonial imagination; it is a self-conscious comedy about the French colonial imagination and its close relation to the French domestic imagination. The gist of the classic early books of the nineteen-thirties - ‘The Story of Babar’ and ‘Babar the King,’ particularly - is explicit and intelligent: the lure of the city, of civilization, of style and order and bourgeois living is real, for elephants as for humans.

“The costs of those things are real, too, in the perpetual care, the sobriety of effort, they demand. The happy effect that Babar has on us, and our imaginations, comes from this knowledge - from the child’s strong sense that, while it is a very good thing to be an elephant, still, the life of an elephant is dangerous, wild, and painful. It is therefore a safer thing to be an elephant in a house near a park.”

Adam Gopnik, writing on “Freeing the Elephants: What Babar brought,” in the Sept. 22 issue of the New Yorker

Home of the Mavs

“Josh Howard is caught on home video refusing to honor the National Anthem as it’s being sung to start a charity event. Why? Quoth the celebrity athlete, to the camera:

“‘The Star Spangled Banner’s going on right now and I don’t celebrate that [expletive]. I’m black.’

“So according to this cretin, to be an African-American and a patriot is to be racially inauthentic? Wow. Howard signed a four-year, $42 million contract extension in 2006. This country has been very, very good to that multimillionaire pothead.”

Beliefnet blog Crunchy Con

Death of the book

“In recent years, more accurate internal sales numbers have confirmed what publishers long suspected: Traditional marketing is useless.

“‘Media doesn’t matter, reviews don’t matter, blurbs don’t matter,’ says one powerful agent. Nobody knows where the readers are, or how to connect with them. Fifteen years ago, Philip Roth guessed there were at most 120,000 serious American readers - those who read every night - and that the number was dropping by half every decade. Others vehemently disagree. But who really knows? Focused consumer research is almost nonexistent in publishing.

“Marketing a book these days is like playing a slot machine; hitting one 7 won’t get you a dime. ‘There has to be this constellation of events,’ says Barack Obama has just bought it.’

“It’s plausible that publishing would already be in the red if it weren’t for CEO Jack Romanos.”

New York magazine

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