Wednesday, May 30, 2007

V FOR VENDETTA by Alan Moore and David Lloyd

V for Vendetta is Alan Moore and David Lloyd's comic book vision of future, dystopian England, where the fascist government is opposed by an anarchist terrorist.

The comic is considerably more complex than the film; V is crusading for anarchy, not freedom, and neither he nor Evey Hammond are as particularly noble as they are in the movie. This leads, then, as Moore intended, to the reader dealing with two extremes, neither one of which is perfect or necessarily even good.

V for Vendetta is a solid, thought-provoking work, although not Moore's absolute best (Watchmen). The narrative is heavy-handed at times, particularly at the beginning. There are some instances where the reader's suspension of disbelief is stretched rather thin (for example, how, exactly, did V come to have complete control over the Fate computer all these years?). The authors' decision not to use thought balloons or sound effects was avante garde, but ultimately benefits this work. Lloyd's art is on the whole quite realistic, which fits the story very well.

V for Vendetta is recommended to those who enjoy thought-provoking, multi-layered stories.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

DISPATCHES by Michael Herr

Dispatches is former Esquire writer Michael Herr’s book about his experiences in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The book chronicles Herr’s many in-the-line-of-fire experiences there, as well as his conversations with American soldiers.

At first, it appears that Herr is not writing chronologically, but jumping around with little rhyme or reason. Eventually, though, it becomes clear that things are relatively chronological. From there, the book settles into something of a pattern whereby Herr chats with combat-tested young grunts, does some drugs, listens to some rock music and quotes some song lyrics. This repeats, countless times, until the end of the book.

One of the most excellent things Herr has done here is capture the dehumanizing, personality- and behavior-changing aspects of war. Many of the soldiers Herr talked with had developed eccentricities or mental illness from their experiences. The overall effect is that the reader is left with a profound sense of the many crazy things that people did in Vietnam.

Dispatches is a piece of New Journalism, which was en vogue in the 1960s and 1970s. In this style, people write nonfiction using devices from literary fiction, including using scenes rather than historical narrative and using conversational dialogue. Herr does this and more, writing in a "cool", scattered, borderline incoherent style.

Herr was either not well-acquainted with the semicolon, or he eschewed its use in an attempt to strike another blow for New Journalism. He often strung complete and independent sentences together with commas, sometimes three and four at a time. Somewhat distracting also is Herr’s constant use of the word "spade" to describe black people, which is at the very least mildly derogatory, and at worst overtly racist.

It is rather obvious to draw the parallel between Herr’s writing style and the nature of the Vietnam War: both were disorganized, scattered, and lacking a coherent flow. On the one hand, this purposeful stylistic selection on Herr’s part helps to underscore to the reader what Vietnam was really like. On the other hand, it is used as an unchecked license not to write according to any accepted guidelines, and even to use words like "spade" needlessly.

Herr’s book was well received upon its release, but it does not hold up so well now. Herr used songs, lyrics and drugs to try to stretch the boundaries of what writing can be, but it does not quite work. Stephen King is another writer fond of frequently inserting song lyrics into his writing. The problem with this is, the songs and lyrics that have special meaning to the author may not have any significance whatsoever to the reader. So while the author may be accurately recreating even the background details of his experiences, as far as drugs and music are concerned, the reader typically cannot fully relate, if at all.

Herr certainly got plenty of mileage out of his Vietnam experiences – he also contributed to the screenplays for the films Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket.

Certainly, Dispatches is not as good as the gushing reviewers on the jacket would have us believe; at least, not any more. If, at the time it was published, it truly did offer revelatory insight into American culture, it has not held up so well. Yet Dispatches remains valuable and interesting, particularly as a journal of American culture in wartime Vietnam, but less so as a piece of New Journalism.


Friday, May 18, 2007

MYTHOLOGY by Edith Hamilton

Mythology is classicist Edith Hamilton’s book on Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology, illustrated by Steele Savage (no kidding). The bulk of the work is devoted to the Greek, and the Norse is mentioned only in passing. Myths are arranged thematically, not chronologically (except for the initial creation), which is disruptive to the flow of the work.

Hamilton does several things well. First, she gives history on the authors from whom these stories have descended, and differentiates between their styles. Second, she gives good insight into the character of the people of the time as well as into the character of the mythological figures. She obviously knows the material and cares about it.

Mythology reads like a history book. Many stories get wrapped up too quickly, and quite a few are told too simplistically. Many details are left out. The writing is juvenile at times, and paragraph flow is occasionally an issue. This is almost a Cliff’s Notes on mythology. Ultimately, Hamilton makes most of these myths boring. Others, with too many details cut out, the reader will find hard to get into.

Mythology has some good things to offer, but on the whole, this is an inferior way to enjoy the myths. This book may be useful to some as a quick-reference guide, but that’s about it.


Saturday, May 5, 2007


Brand New Justice is an exposition of marketing guru Simon Anholt's strategies for emerging market nations to develop their economies through branding. In this way, he suggests that emerging markets can begin to close the economic gap with the nations that have powerful brands, which continue to make most of the profit while poorer nations that supply the raw materials and handle the manufacturing make little profit and are often on shaky economic ground. Additionally, not only can products be branded by these countries, but the countries themselves can be branded.

Anholt begins with a list of five conventional objections to why poor countries cannot develop their brands: they cannot produce high-quality goods, they cannot afford to promote them internationally, they do not have the expertise to build international brands, people in rich countries would not want to purchase these products anyway, and corrupt individuals would suck up any profit (p. 10). The fourth argument, that, for example, Americans would not be interested in buying designer anything from a poor, prestige-less country, seemed most important, but Anholt goes on to address and, to a great extent, refute all these statements throughout the rest of the book.

In his quest to teach emerging markets branding, Anholt seems to show little regard for the consumer. The tone of Brand New Justice suggests that the consumer will buy whatever product is marketed best. That is, the consumer is, at least to some extent, a slave to marketing, or else they are fish to be lured by the most tantalizing jig. Anholt says, "Either marketing works, and it is a powerful tool for change, in which case it must admit responsibility for the absolutely central role it has played in creating the ever-widening inequality between rich and poor during the last century; or it is nothing…" (p. 17). Brand New Justice makes it clear that Anholt believes the former. So while Anholt goes on at length about the moral possibilities of marketing, he has little to say about the moral implications of consumerism.

Anholt speaks generally about how brands from emerging markets can achieve international credibility. Perhaps specifics are impractical; certainly there is no hard-and-fast formula to follow for brand success, and each brand's scenario has myriad variables.

The task that Anholt proposes, to use branding to help emerging markets achieve economic stability, is a noble, difficult and complex one. Brand New Justice is merely the beginning of a discussion on the topic, not a treatise on how to implement this strategy. If taken as such, as an impetus for creative planning and strategizing rather than a full treatment of the problem, then this is quite a good book that could benefit anyone in marketing, advertising, or international diplomacy.