Friday Flotsam: Some Reading and Some Thoughts

1. Read classic noir pulp short Angel Face by Cornell Woolrich, about a savvy stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold trying to save her loser of a brother from a false accusation of murder with help from a sympathetic detective. Really exactly what you want in this kind of thing: snappy dialogue and narration (“One of them was kind of pash looking; I mean he’d washed his face lately, and if he’d been the last man in the world, well, all right, maybe I could have overlooked the fact that he was a bloodhound on two legs”), murder, mystery, danger, intrigue, ruthless crooks, a little romance, and so on, all packed into a few thousand words. Look it up if you get a chance (it was also published under the title Murder in Wax – odd, because there’s no wax in it that I can recall).

2. Rule for creating suspense: either tell the audience the plan and have it go wrong (“Call in ten minutes, and if I am not in mortal peril, I’ll cough to signal that there is no need to come to my rescue.” Murderous gangster happens to inhale smoke just as the call comes in), or don’t tell it to them at all, but lead them to think it’s something other than what it is (“He doesn’t live here. I live here”).

Whatever you do, though, don’t tell the audience the plan and have it go off without a hitch. Not unless you’re planning to have the same plan go wrong at a more crucial juncture later.

3. Other reading has mostly been revisiting Lord Peter Wimsey, including another turn with Murder Must Advertise, which I hadn’t read since college. In that tome, Lord Peter goes undercover at an advertising firm to investigate a murder, and discovers something much bigger. It’s classic Lord Peter, mixed with an inside-view of the workings of a British advertising company in the 1930s (Dorothy Sayers worked at such a company before becoming an authoress, and one of the female staff members seems something of a self-portrait).

This, naturally, involves quite a few critical and completely accurate remarks on the whole advertising process and the society that sustains it, as well as some sharp satire on corporate culture (which seems to have changed very little in the eighty or so intervening years). It’s all crackling good fun in that classic detective novel way.

4. At one or two points, either Sayers or her characters wonder just what would happen if the bulk of Englishmen ever felt actually contented: the whole system would grind to a halt. This is, I think, one of the great dangers of capitalism: that by its nature, it not cannot give contentment, but must discourage it. People must be kept in a continual state of dissatisfaction and anxiety, must always be encouraged to feel that they need something new to make themselves a little richer, a little more elegant, a little healthier, a little safer. Their lives must always need more, more, and still more.

Contentment is a crown seldom enjoyed by kings, but never by capitalists.

5. Don’t get me wrong; the free market is an excellent servant. But a servant nonetheless. Like most things that bear the label ‘free’, it needs something higher than itself to keep it in check. Rather like how if you remove the wolves, the deer overpopulate. In particular (for this case), it needs a set of enforced social values that do not allow for non-stop advertisements and endless expansion; something that would keep marketing to the market and not in the home or everywhere along the street. I hardly even know what that would look like (I’m not making practical recommendations, just offering thoughts), only that something of the kind would be necessary to keep capitalism from being so damn corrosive.

6. “State-provided education will make the population into educated voters who will vote for the best candidates.”

So, this state education will be provided by the bad politicians voted in by the uneducated voters, but will reliably produce educated and responsible voters who will remove those bad politicians and replace them with good ones?

7. From the book How Not to Write a Novel

“Giving a reader a sex scene that is only half right is like giving her half a kitten. It’s not half as cute as a whole kitten; it’s a bloody, godawful mess.”

One thought on “Friday Flotsam: Some Reading and Some Thoughts

  1. I have more than once considered that the whole notion of the market meeting people’s needs is only valid if they aren’t having made-up needs planted by advertising, and that it would therefore be very capitalistic to regulate advertising into oblivion.

    I might be a little weird though.

    Liked by 1 person

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