Surrealist Doodle

Surrealist Doodle
This was used as the cover of Karawane in 2006 and I have included it in on a number of bags and postcards over the years. Someone on the subway asked me if it was a Miro. I was very flattered!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Tracie Morris, Sartre, and Sound Poetry

In Sartre’s What is Literature, he says that painting and poetry cannot be political. This is because , “it does not transmit . . . .clear and unambiguous meaning. ” In other words, it is poetry’s lack of transparency that bothers Sartre. Sartre prefers language that lays it out, that spells out what it intends to do that interests him. In poetry, he argues, the poet serves words rather than utilizing them toward a political end. To a poet, words are signs, they are things to make use of, to point to other things. They are, for poets, “natural things which sprint naturally upon the earth like grass and trees. ”

But it is precisely their imprecision that poets can use to lay bare not only the world itself, but the very abuse of language, the ambiguities which today and in Sartre’s time as well, are used by corporations, governments, and demagogues to hide their actions and intentions. George Orwell wrote about this toward the end of his life, in both Politics and the English Language and then later in 1984.

Further, Sartre is overlooking the unique function that the image, which is what both forms truly work in, can play. And poetry, having the dual role of presenting verbal images has a very special role to play of bridging the linguistic and the visual. When the added component of performance is added, the image can be manipulated before our eyes, cut up, reorganized, rearranged, and it can be done uniquely and freshly every single time, something that avant-garde painters have been unable to do. Consider, for example, Tracie Morris’ poem Project Princess.

Project Princess is one of Morris’ most commonly anthologized poems – both on the page and in performance. In the 1990s it was published in Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets ’ Café (1994), The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry (1999), and in the booklet and on the website accompanying the cd and video documentary United States of Poetry (1996). Morris describes Project Princess as the first poem where she began to experiment with sound. terms of imagery and poetic language, the piece is relatively “straightforward,” particularly for a piece designated as a “sound poem.” That is to say sound poems have generally been associated with avant-garde practices, usually based on sound over meaning, breaking down of syllables, non-sense used for its sonic properties. Reading this in print, it is full of metaphors and visual images, rhyme schemes, all the things we have come to expect in a poem. This would not be a particularly difficult poem for an average reader of poetry to pick up and understand. It may be a particularly gratifying poem, especially for someone looking to see themselves, their childhood growing up in the projects, reflected on the stage.

Jed Rasula’s “Understanding the Sound of Not Understanding” focuses on sound poems as existing almost exclusively outside of intelligibility and emphasizes the sonic in poetry to the virtual exclusion of a literary genre anchored in meaning. In fact, Morris herself has cited “the work of Kurt Schwitters . . . which I first heard of via Edwin Torres” as one of the major influences on her sound poems. “Project Princess,” while thick with the “usual” poetic devices of description, metaphor, and the properties of rhyme, alliteration, etc., is a much more intelligible work than either of these two early Dada examples. The piece starts with a description, from the ground up, of this young woman:

Teeny feet rock layered double socks
The popping side piping of
many colored loose lace-ups
Racing toe keeps up with fancy free gear,
slick slide and just pressed recently weaved hair.

Jeans oversized belying her hips, back, thighs that have made guys sigh
for milleni-year
Topped by an attractive jacket
her suit’s not for flacking, flunkies, or punk homies on the stroll.

The actual performance of “Project Princess” is significantly different and I have attempted here to transcribe the United States of Poetry version for the point of comparison, notating emphasized words with boldface and indicating tempo and style of performance as best as I can:

Teeny feet rock layered double socks
So-so-s-s-s-socks [soft whispering s sounds]
Teeny feet rock layered double socks
So-so-s-s-socks [harder cks sound—almost moves into a cha cha cha sound]

Teeny feet rock layered double socks
The poppingsidepiping of many colored loose lace ups
Racing toe, keeps up with fancy free gear
slick slide, just pressed, recently weaved hair

[Scatting/jazz style]
Jeans oversized
Jeans oversized
Jajajala jeans ova jeans ova jeans oversized
bely her hip, back, thighs have made guys sigh for milleni-year

Topped by an attractive jacket
her suit’s not for flacking, flunkies, junkies or punk homies on the stroll .

This has, to my mind, a similar effect to that of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase or say one of Picasso’s Paintings of Dora Maar. It is not, as Rasula asserts, completely outside of intelligibility. It is still recognizable as an image, but the image has been interrupted, cut, redrawn in a new way that forces us to look at it differently. When you hear this piece performed, you perform the listening equivalent of a double-take, a second look. Like looking at a Picasso painting, you can focus purely on the aesthetics, in this case, the sound of Morris as she performs this poem, glossing over the changes, but for those who want to dig deeper, you can find meaning in the ways that the poem/image is disrupted. With Morris, each time she performs the poem, it’s different, allowing endless revisions and permutations.

The Audience/Reader and the Spoken Word Poet

The nature of reading is that it is a private act, and so reader response critiques and those theories that came after it are necessarily concerned with the identification of the reader with the story, of inner meaning, Freudian psychoanalysis that turns the reader ever inward. Spoken word performance, however, is more interactive and public and the performance itself has much more in common with theories of audiences than readers. Yet, most spoken word artists still consider themselves to be poets first, whose work has private meanings to other listener (reader) and author. Hence, the need to “bare one’s soul” to express one’s innermost thoughts, with the belief that someone in the audience will relate and through their relating, will be moved, will see themselves represented on the stage too, hear their story told, a feel a sense of solidarity and in that way, the poet will have effected some political change.

This anticipation of solidarity is heightened when the poem is performed for a room full of people, either at a traditional poetry reading or a poetry slam, where there is audience energy and interaction, where audiences can feed off of one another’s reactions such as gasps, hoots, laughter, disdain, etc. A response, voluntary or involuntary, from one member of the audience can elicit responses from others. This is in fact, encouraged by venues such as the Green Mill or the Nuyorican Poets’ Café, where varying amounts of time and effort are put into not only making the audience feel invited to respond (as opposed to a more traditional poetry readings for which there can be definite rules of decorum), but that response is expected. At the poetry slams at the Nuyorican Poets’ Café in fact, a good deal of time is devoted to whipping the audience up before a single poet even takes the stage.

When I was there in 2006, the host of the Nuyorican poetry slam described the Nuyorican as the “real McCoy” of poetry. He then went on to devote a great deal of energy on warming up the audience, exhorting to clap, and the right ways to respond. Instructions were given on how to score. The host asked questions like Do you feel like shaking hands with the poet vs. shaking the poet?” and “How do you put a number on someone’s pain & expression?” There is a lot of emphasis here, again, on the personal aspect of the poetry slam and on the unique status of poetry as the expression of the poets’ private experiences. Then there was both a “spotlight” poet who was featured and didn’t have to compete, and then a “sacrificial” poet to warm up the audience and get the judges ready by practicing on this poet. All told, this warming up of the audience took about 20 minutes before the actual slam itself began.

In Susan Bennett’s Theatre Audiences: A theory of production and reception,” she discusses the work of directors Piscator and Meyerhold, whose politically-oriented work sought to involve the audience, to indicate them to action, a “virtual mass hysteria,” as she calls it, that instead controls and manipulates the audience into proscribed responses, instead of encouraging the audience to step back and examine the issue and genuinely think for themselves. In that way, she contends, their work was doing largely the same thing as the mainstream, bourgeois theatre of their time, foreclosing reflective thought and enforcing group acceptance of the theatre’s message, only this time it was revolutionary thought rather than normative.

Bennett then discusses Wolfgang Iser’s theories regarding the work of Samuel Beckett, particularly Endgame, which seems particularly pertinent here to avant-garde poetry and performance:

“The constant obliteration of linguistic referents results in structured blanks, which would remain empty if the spectator did not feel the compulsion to fill them in . . . [making] it possible for a decentred [sic] subjectivity to be communicated as an experience of the self in the form of projects continually created and rejected by the spector.” (Bennnett 47)

“Iser finds Beckett’s plays ultimately dissatisfying . . . an attack on the macrosmic interpretive community of audiences.” She goes on to explain that his interpretation of the process of non-fulfillment of audiences’ desires as naïve, because in fact, audiences have become more accustomed to Beckett’s practices. This has a number of implications for spoken word poets.

Spoken word poets have a stake here, a somewhat real economic stake as for the first time since the Beat Generation, and the first time in our highly mediated culture of the past 30-50 years, poetry is a career again, thanks to doing shows, touring, and having cd’s, as well as more highly visible elements such as Def Poetry Jam, McDonald’s commercials, etc. My own “poetry band” the Bruitists were contacted several years ago about auditioning for a Chili’s Baby Back Ribs commercial (we declined). Spoken word poets now can actually achieve the dream of becoming a rock star, becoming known and getting paid for their work. It’s no wonder that spoken word poets want to be understood, transparent, not obscure in their work. Yet as with Bennett’s comments about Iser and Beckett, audiences will come along with you, will adapt. It is not necessary to work at the level of the understandable, but to bring audiences to new levels of understanding and appreciating poetic work, what Jauss calls the “horizon of expectation.”

In the horizon of expectation, “the work is measured against the dominant horizon . . . the closer it correlates with this horizon, the more likely it is to be low [or] pulp . . .” (49). I contend that it is by moving the horizon that we can move society forward. I think that the horizon can be moved in negative ways as well or that there can be negative consequences, so I don’t want to unreflectively champion this notion. But it’s an interesting notion and it bears mention here, particularly given the way in which culture—poetry, literature, film, television, music, etc.—is the first area in which we find the horizon to expand. And it keeps the onus doubly on us to expand it in worthwhile ways that liberate, rather than appearing to liberate but only end up creating greater structures of oppression.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

America's Next Great Artist -- Brought to You by Bravo

Ok, despite my protestations to the contrary, I did watch America’s Next Great Artist or whatever it’s called, on Bravo. I was surprised to see an artist that I knew of from my studies at NYU on the show, Nao Bustamante. I have to admit that as an artist I moderately dislike her work, so obviously I was hooked, just to see how she did. Sometimes I find her work moderately interesting, but mostly I just find it annoying. Case in point was the performance art piece that they showed when they introduced her, in which she put bags full of water over her head, there’s a moment of worrying whether she’s going to drown or not, and then she cuts the bag off her head. When I saw this piece at NYU, I’ll be honest, I had PMS. So to me, someone walking around with bags of water strapped to her body wasn’t all that revelatory. I was already experiencing that. And it was happening around all these electrical wires, so I wasn’t sure if accidental electrocution was an intended or unintended potential outcome.

Anyway, a lot of the art on the show was really good, especially the piece that won this week, and I’m not just saying that because he’s from Minnesota. I was very pleasantly surprised, because frankly, I was very skeptical. And it wasn’t only the most “commercial” pieces that won, although they did talk about the potential value of some of the pieces.

I was most gratified in my opinion of Bustamante’s work. For one thing, when she was one of the three in the bottom of the judging, she got defensive and said that she was not responsible for how the judges reacted emotionally to the piece. She was not the only artist to be defensive, and I thought, yes, this will be an interesting series, all those great artistes and their egos. Yes. I’m getting more hooked by the moment.

Moreover, the judges said that her work had a lot of concept behind it, but not so much in the execution, which is exactly what I have always thought of her work, too. There are sometimes interesting ideas behind her work, but not every good idea has to be followed up on or will make an interesting performance.

Which is the beauty of Conceptual Art, where it can be enough just to have the idea and to write about it, but the artist doesn’t have to actually execute it. You can make a diagram of a sculpture and make it or not, send it out to a forge to have someone else make it, etc. It’s the idea that’s important, not the execution.

Now, that said, I also do think that art is as well as a provocation, also experimentation. And you don’t know if the piece is going to be interesting until you actually do it. And in that regard, I applaud Nao. I always say that sometimes “bad” art or theatre is more instructive than pieces that you like or find effective, and can be great opportunities for discussion. I have told a number of people about Nao’s piece over the years (usually to deliver the punchline about having PMS). And I have been inspired by pieces that she did to incorporate some of her work into my own performance pieces.

So now I’m hooked on another reality show on Bravo, to see how Nao and all the other contestants do.

(And You’re Cut Off on VH1. I’m hooked on that too. But that’s a guilty pleasure, so don’t tell anyone.)

Monday, June 07, 2010

Gulf Requiem

Brown color pelicans with wings heavy,
Rendering, these chickens won’t come home to roost.
Imagine the world remember the one we
Thought we would inhabit, technological wonders and cures
Instead of disasters and wars, drugs to calm our fears, sedate our troubles.
Sticky wings won’t fly
Home to a coast inhospitable.

Pangs felt intermittently
Entwined extracted electric flashes
To be subdued, extinguished. We believe in
Resurrection miracles it will all be
Ok ,
Left to someone faraway and faceless
Empty like a pledge a promise
Unfulfilled, now painted black,
Mocking tomorrow.

On non-sense poetry and spoken word (semi-sensical and rambling as always)

The purpose of non-sense poetry is

To disorient, not to leave anything for you to hold onto.
Not sentiment.
Not intellectualism.
The two (assumed) poles of poetic enterprise.

Non-sensical poetry (as opposed to non-sensory poetry) is designed to thwart these tendencies to hook onto something you know in favor of something not only that you do not know but that you cannot know, that it is nowhere in your experience to know or to even imagine that you know.

In spoken word poetry there is the extra sonic bit, the potential for the sound to transport you, like in a trance. It is no accident that Breton developed an affinity (a fetish, if you must) for Native American objects and rituals, shamanistic tools that predate surrealism like a fairy tale, that open up the mind like a séance, trance dances, Desnos in a faraway dreamscape.

In spoken word poetry the performer is right in front of you and it’s easier to invoke sentiment, “relating to” the poet, but it’s also even easier to invoke other strange feelings, feelings that could be used to transport audience and performer to a different place, to transcend the person in front of you, to be lulled and pulled by the sound of the words on the language.

Jameson accused the Surrealists of practicing schizophrenic speech. At the risk of romanticizing a traumatic condition, what is there about the speech of schizophrenics, or aphasics, of those who brains “don’t work right” in modern sterility of medical-industrial complexes that can teach us not only how the mind works, how language works, but alternative ways of seeing and experiencing the world, talking about, knowing the word. Pick a textbook on language and psychology and there are pages of potentially interesting surrealism, ways of rewriting the rules of language, experiments to undertake by subverting the rules and making people think different.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

BP, Boycotts, and the American Lifestyle

So out on Facebook there’s a “group” to boycott BP gasoline. I don’t normally join groups because I find them ineffective and a way of feeling like you’re doing something when all you’re doing is clicking on a button and then never hearing anything about the group again. But this was a good cause and I’m pretty pissed off, like a lot of people are, about this oil spill and the feeling of utter helplessness. But then there ensued a discussion on one of my friends’ page about how BP stations are all franchised and so what you’re really doing when you boycott BP is to hurt the small station owner rather than BP itself.

Of course this is how it works. This is how corporations work these days, cushioning themselves from any actual economic impact by making sure that a boycott will hurt ordinary people before it can even touch them. The same goes for recessions. But the fact is that a BP boycott is definitely in order. But why stop at BP? They are the ones doing the offshore drilling at this particular site. But every other oil company is doing offshore drilling somewhere and right now they’re all breathing a sigh of relief that it’s BP and not them that set off this “leak.”

The fact is that for almost 30 years now we’ve had various and sundry “oil crises” from shortages to spills to endless wars. We’ve been “discussing” for years our dependence on oil and our politicians assure us that the problem is just our dependence on “foreign oil.” If we only drill in the wilds of Alaska or off our own shores, everything will be fine.

Can we once and for all say that we have to reduce our dependence on oil – all oil? Can the debate move beyond just a few environmentalists and hippies and now involve everyone in the United States? The oil is going to move out of the gulf and go up the Atlantic and eventually into our rivers. All of America is going to be affected by this. This is not just a gulf tragedy. Frankly, it is not even just an American tragedy, but it will affect us first and probably most powerfully.

Do we care yet?

I’ll say it again. Boycott all oil companies to the extent that you can. Reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. We don’t have to wait for car manufacturers to get on board or for the government to take the lead. But we do have to make some changes that Americans have been reluctant to make.

I have a few suggestions.

If you live in a city with public transportation, use it as much as possible.

I live in Minneapolis and it seems to me that every single person must be in their car every minute of the day. Frankly, I don’t even understand why some people here have houses, let alone big houses, except to have some place to store all their crap. They should just move into their cars and keep the things that matter most to them. I have lived here for 15 years and I have not had a car the entire time I’ve lived here. That may be a little confusing to some people – I have not had a car for 15 years. It’s a bit of a hassle to do grocery shopping and run errands, but I manage, as do thousands of other city dwellers who take their kids to day care or school, go to work, and like me, do their errands on the city bus, I just ran into an older woman the other day, probably in her 60s or so, who has never had a car and made sure to live within the city proper where she could live along bus routes. Just today, I took two buses to go to a grocery store about a mile and a half away. I brought home a canvas bag full of groceries, a gallon of milk, and two other plastic bags full of groceries. And lived to tell the tale.

Really, can’t you carpool? To work. To the grocery store. To the zoo. Wherever.

Do you know how many cars I count every day that only have one occupant in them? If you don’t have reliable public transport or you live in a small town, can’t you find someone to ride with? Maybe then you wouldn’t be on the phone or texting so much while you drive, which will make you a safer driver, so it’ll kill two birds with one stone. And in a world in which everyone is always lamenting a lack of community and personalism, in which we are always on our computers or cell phones in isolation from one another, imagine going grocery shopping with a neighbor. It’s almost unfathomable, isn’t it? Coordinating schedules with someone else instead of jumping in the car whenever you want to and making a quick run for one or two things, talking to your neighbors, having to make small talk with someone (which might turn into “big talk” after a little while). Having to listen to *gasp* someone else’s music!

Can we go back to buying cars that are fuel efficient, rather than big gas guzzling SUVs, Hummers, and PT Cruisers?

We went for a long time without caring about how many mpgs a vehicle got, as long as it was cool. Even when gas reached almost $5.00 a gallon, as long as we could afford it, it didn’t matter. Even when we were (and are) in a war ostensibly over oil (does anyone really believe that Iraq and Afghanistan are still about terrorism, if they ever were?) How short-sighted could we have been? Is it popular to talk about this again, and maybe to maintain our vision on this matter, even in good economic times?

Several ordinary people have tinkered with cars and made automobiles that run on ordinary cooking grease.

Are you mechanically inclined? Don’t wait for the car manufacturers to give us an environmentally sound car. Beat them to the punch. A few years ago a bunch of college students powered a Volkswagen bus on vegetable oil. Charlie Rose recently ran a re-run of an interview with Neil Young and he had been doing the same thing with a few cars that he had. If you like working on cars, why not REALLY work on them, do something really useful?

Some will say that boycotting oil will hurt people’s jobs and livelihoods. And it will. But as with oil consumption, maybe American consumption on everything could be scaled back. Does anyone talk about sacrifice anymore for the greater good?

I know it’s an apostasy to say that, especially since we were told after 9/11 that the most patriotic thing we could do was to shop. And especially with so many people losing their jobs or unable to get a job right now. I’m not being glib, believe me. I have lived in so many places that were economically depressed, especially throughout Illinois in the 1980s. But you know, if we cut back on worthless junk we don’t really need, then we won’t need to work 60 hour weeks to be able to afford the junk and maybe we won’t need two incomes either. If you don’t have two or more cars, you don’t need as much money.

The thing about American lifestyles is that it takes money to maintain and then we have to work too much, too long, etc. I have cut back my lifestyle significantly and yet I still have more than enough stuff. I still live like a relatively rich person compared to people in a lot of countries. Not as well as others, and I’m very very poor by American standards. But I have everything I need most of the time. (I do occasionally still have to do “fundraising” and borrowing to get through lean times, so I do know about poverty and am not insensitive to it.)

I’m not saying to not buy things that really, truly give you pleasure or that you need to have. In other words, I’m not saying do without. But look around your home. How much stuff would you really miss if you got rid of it? What about your kids—do they make use of everything you buy them? Would it really kill them for you to say no to some things? I’m just saying, ask yourself before you buy something, if you really really want or need it, or if you’re just responding to advertising-created need. (I’m not even going to get into the environmental impact of all those disposable, here-today gone-tomorrow products that we all thought we just had to have.)

I went by a nail salon yesterday and saw all those fake fingernails and thought about the environmental impact of those being thrown away and replaced every two weeks or month or however long they last. This was one store in one city. Think of all the shops throughout the country and imagine the impact. Can we do without fancy fake fingernails? That’s just one example.

This oil spill could potentially affect not only the gulf, but all of us for many years to come. Remember Bhopal and Union Carbide? I do and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. The spill is not as immediate and as pressing a danger to many as the Bhopal industrial accident. But then again, this crisis threatens to turn us into a “third world*” country, to affect our water, our land and our crops. It’s going to affect our wildlife, and it will affect our very health. The decision to cut back on our lifestyles might be made for us. The time has come, in fact, is long past, to talk about these things. But we must. And we all have to be part of the conversation—not just politicians and industrial “leaders.” This affects us all and the time has come to be part of the solution once and for all.

*I actually dislike using that term, because it has a very specific meaning dating back to the cold war. It was about non-aligned countries who were neither allied with the Soviet Union nor the United States, the prime example being India. It has come to mean underdeveloped or even poor and exploited nations. I’m using it here as a shortcut because most people have a tacit understanding when you say of the phrase“third world nation.”

Qwest Bundling: for misfits and psychopaths

Every time I watch a Qwest commercial, I find myself spontaneously rewriting/re-enacting the commercial, usually from the perspective of CSI or that show that has Mr. Big from Sex & the City on it. Remember the one with the obnoxious father running down his son? Always number 2. Couldn’t win the spelling bee, the track meet, number two in his class. In what universe is being number 2 in your graduating class a failure? I think of Bill Cosby who once did a comedy routine in which he said that no one celebrates number two, even though it’s equally an accomplishment. Would you rather go to the world series or not, even if you don’t win. Be in the Superbowl? How about Vice President?

But no, this horrible, dysfunctional dad not only runs down his son, but takes pleasure in doing so in front of his fiancée. It ends with the guy holding up a foam hand with two fingers that says we’re number two. Am I the only one who sees where this is going?

“The victim was found bludgeoned to death with this small trophy and this foam finger stuck up his . . . well . . . you know.”


The most recent one has a fellow who’s telling his paper boy about his new Qwest bundle, as he’s already told the whole neighborhood about it. At the end the kids says “so I guess with all the money you’re saving you can start tipping me.” The guy (who used to play Lois’s co-worker on Malcolm in the Middle) says “A tip? I’ll give you a tip . . ..”

I once stiffed a paper boy. I was working a summer internship and my money was really bad and I had overdrafts all over town – kind of like now – and the paperboy wrote me a letter asking me to pay him and there were little tear stains all over the letter which is why I still remember it 25 years later.

So that’s why I always imagine the paperboy saying “Yeah, you cheap jerk. I got a tip for you too. Watch your *&$! windows for bricks crashing through. ”


Then there’s the one with the guy who just got Qwest and is suddenly holing himself up in the house. Extreme paranoia rules the day. What’s that van doing outside the house. How long does it take to deliver flowers?

There are several answers to this. Maybe it’s “Flowers By Irene” like on the Simpsons. Maybe the flower guy is doing the neighbor lady, since we later learn that Charlie or Fred or whomever usually comes home late on Wednesday. It’s odd that this fellow would know that, and I often speculate that maybe he’s been doing the neighbor lady. So maybe it’s fortuitous that this guy was getting Qwest installed the one time that the neighbor comes home early. Count your lucky stars, Sparky.

But most disturbing is when he picks up his cat Mr. Pickles to see if he’s wearing a wire. Am I the only one who sees the end to this? Cutting open his cat to see for sure. Eventually standing on top of the house with a sniper rifle. Can anyone say Unabomber?


What exactly is the message of these commercials? That Qwest bundling is the choice for people with no social skills, who are paranoid schizophrenics or have dysfunctional families? If the closest relationship you’ll ever have is through your cable tv and wireless connection, if you increasingly can’t relate to other people, then boy, have we got a deal for you! Once we leave, you can close up all the blinds and windows and never have to leave your home again. Forget boinking the lady next door. Forget having a friendly relationship with your paperboy. And your dad? What a slave-driving jerk. It’s all about you now, baby. Forget ‘em all.

The thing is, American advertising is making us stingier and stingier. “Nobody
better lay a finger on my Butterfinger.” Doritos? “Get your own bag.” It’s the logical endgame to these kinds of ads. It’s not about sharing the love, teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony. This is the new millennium. We’re all paranoid, selfish, greedy, self-indulgent onanists who can’t share and don’t have to, so there. The Qwest commercials are just the latest and most egregious at the moment. They seem comically absurd on the surface and are ripe for parody, but they are also just one of many things gradually chipping away at our civility and our sense of community.