By David Michael Newstead.
From powdered wigs to present day, here’s a look at presidential style throughout American history.
By David Michael Newstead.
With the upcoming release of Marvel’s Black Panther, I sought out the most avid comic book reader I know to discuss action, adventure, and diversity on the pages of pop culture’s most important industry. And while her identity has been kept secret, she is undoubtedly on the side of truth and justice.
David Newstead: So, did you always like comic books?
The Amazing Amy #1: I didn’t. In fact, when I was really young I went through a phase where I didn’t like reading at all. Because I started reading very young, my parents assumed passion for reading would follow. I read the books required in for my grade school classes, but wasn’t interested in expanding past that. My interest in reading was sparked and nurtured by my interest in comic books.
David Newstead: Do you remember the first comic books you bought? What was that experience like?
The Amazing Amy #1: My very first comic book was an Archie comic. I know many comic readers don’t consider it a true comic, but it’s in the name, so hold off on scoffing! The first superhero comic series I really fell in love with was Volume 2 of the Amazing Spider-Man. I identified a lot with Spider-Man and Peter Parker. He was just a kid like me; most of the problems he encountered were of his own making; and, he was a nerd who got to prove his bullies wrong! I still have a special place in my heart for Spider-Man. I even confess to liking all the film versions. Okay, not Spider-Man 3. I have some standards.
David Newstead: What are some of your favorite titles and characters right now?
The Amazing Amy #1: I’m gearing up for Black Panther, so I’m rereading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Panther stories and Roxane Gay’s Women of Wakanda, which were both sadly cancelled. I also really love the Saga series by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples.
David Newstead: Did you always feel welcomed in comic book stores or in the comic book community?
The Amazing Amy #1: I think there’s a general mistrust of women’s interest in comics. I’ve certainly experienced gatekeeping in comics and sci-fi fandom, where guys I’ve known have doubted my love for comics. When I somehow prove my fandom to them, there’s this gross line that I would hear – “Well, you really like comics. Other girls just fake it.” I don’t personally understand what faking an appreciation for comics would look like, why someone would do that, or why those guys care, but the mindset sadly persists. I do think the attitude towards women comic readers has improved in recent years, but I do not think that attitude has extended towards people of color or LGBTQ comic readers.
David Newstead: If I remember correctly, you frequent Fantom Comics in Washington DC, which seems to really lead the way in being welcoming and inclusive. What do you like about Fantom Comics? And what distinguishes them from other comic book stores in your experience?
The Amazing Amy #1: I do like Fantom Comics. I think they excel at giving personalized recommendations and they have a lot of really fun events. They’ve introduced me to some of my favorite comics including Saga. I will admit that I do get most of my comics from the DC Public Library though. If I didn’t, my reading and comic book reading habit wouldn’t be financially sustainable!
David Newstead: To kind of build off of your point about diversity in readership, I’m curious about your view on this. Should existing characters be adapted to reflect greater diversity and inclusion like Iron Man becoming Iron Heart? Or should we create brand new characters entirely?
The Amazing Amy #1: Both! Before Tom Holland was cast in the newest Spider-Man film franchise, I remember discussion about whether the film should center Peter Parker or Miles Morales. The main interest that I saw on the internet around choosing Miles Morales was so that Spider-Man could be played by a black actor in the film. But guess what, Peter Parker can be black! Obviously, a white guy was chosen for the reboot of Spider-Man, just like he was for the other two film series in the last couple decades. We should keep in mind though that it is possible for future reboots. And diversity is coming through in some other ways: open confirmation that Diana Prince is bisexual, diverse casting for secondary comic characters like in CW’s the Flash and Spider-Man: Homecoming. The cancellation of World of Wakanda after only two issues was very disappointing, and it doesn’t indicate that Marvel is committed to diversity in its creators or characters. Hopefully the success of on-screen formats like Black Panther and CW’s Black Lightning (with a black lesbian superhero!) contribute to more inclusion in the comics industry.
David Newstead: I guess I didn’t think about it much, but Marvel’s Nick Fury (portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson) was recast from a white guy with an eyepatch to a black guy with an eyepatch and no one seemed to care. That said, diversity in comic books typically attracts attention from people who have a problem with diversity in general. For example, last year one Marvel executive caused a controversy by blaming the company’s declining sales on their increasingly diverse line-up of heroes. Any thoughts on that sentiment?
The Amazing Amy #1: I think there is less concern for secondary characters being recast as a person of color. But, in both cases I mention above, there was a backlash from some fans. I think the difference we’re seeing is a reaction because a character is the hero’s love interest, as is the case for Iris West and MJ.
“Caused a controversy” is one way to put it. A corner (albeit small) of the internet practically exploded. I almost don’t want to address it because it’s such a ridiculous argument. But, sure, I’ll engage. I think people have lost interest in comics in the last several years, in part, because they didn’t feel welcomed or included in the comics world. I also think you need to give new characters, new authors, and new stories some time to breathe. People need time to discover and fall in love with characters and their worlds. One benefit of expanding the pool of voices in comic creation and on the page is that it brings new audiences, but it is a slow process. Change happens at a snail’s pace for DC and Marvel, so if you can’t wait indie comics have much more diversity!
David Newstead: The stereotype of comic book characters (and comic book fans for that matter) is that they are basically all white and male. That’s started to change for the better and I’m curious what you think the significance of these changes are for American culture as a whole?
The Amazing Amy #1: That stereotype exists around so much of pop culture and I think it has been harmful. Straight white male fandom can sometimes lead to gatekeeping and the growing awareness that the fandom doesn’t all think/look the same way is leading to great strides in pop culture. Whenever the stereotype gets particularly frustrating, I remember that the first sci-fi novel was written by a woman. Thanks, Mary Shelley!
David Newstead: So, why do comic books matter to you?
The Amazing Amy #1: Comic books helped me fall in love with books in general. I’m now a voracious reader, and comics opened my eyes to how reading could bring worlds to life and give me new perspectives. Who doesn’t want to imagine themselves as a member of the Dora Milaje or as Kal-El? Comics let you do that.
David Newstead: Final question… Are you going to see Black Panther on Friday? And if you could select the next superhero blockbuster, what would you pick?
The Amazing Amy #1: Of course I’m going to see Black Panther! And my choice would be—Ms. Marvel. There’s nothing quite as fun as a teen superhero.
In our next thrilling issue, the Amazing Amy battles against the diabolical villainy of the world’s most evil organization – The Patriarchy!
By David Michael Newstead.
In 2015, I started a blog series about repairing my grandfather’s old typewriter. The idea was to talk about my grandfather, how I got his typewriter, and my on-going struggle to repair this really cool machine. Somewhere along the way though, things got sidetracked and it’s been awhile since I featured The Typewriter Inheritance on my blog. I was still interested in the project, of course, and it’s not like I suddenly forgot about the typewriter sitting in my living room. It’s just that 2017 didn’t feel like the right time to work on stuff like that for a laundry list worth of reasons. But this year, I want to relaunch the series, redouble my efforts to repair the typewriter in question, and to write about some interesting things in the process. The good news is I’ve already begun that work. And this time, I’m going to stick with it until the end.
By David Michael Newstead.
With digital technology becoming more a part of our daily lives, The Revenge of Analog stands out for drawing attention to the limits of that trend. Author David Sax highlights the resurgence of some analog industries that were close to disappearing as technology continues to disrupt our economy. Yet in recent years, things like vinyl records, board games, and film photography have enjoyed renewed popularity despite the fact that there are now cheaper, more widely available digital alternatives. What exactly is behind this phenomenon? To find out more, I spoke with David Sax about his book, about analog versus digital, and its impact on everything from retail to cybersecurity. Our conversation is below.
David Newstead: So, I live in Washington D.C. and since I’ve read your book I realized two stores near me now sell vinyl records. There’s apparently a vinyl section in Best Buy. And there’s a cool cafe in Adams Morgan called Songbyrd that has a growing vinyl selection. Just because your chapter on vinyl was my favorite part of the book, I’m curious where you think the Vinyl Revival will go from here?
David Sax: I mean, I think it’s just going to keep growing. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be like it was in the 1970s or 1980s, but it’s shown no sign of slowing down. I think, in fact, more people are buying turntables. The only thing you can really do with a turntable is play records on it. And right now, demand is outstripping supply in the business. Obviously, it’ll level off at some point. It’s not as though the number of people who are listening to records is going to grow beyond a certain amount of the population. But right now, it’s still a relatively small part that’s been growing over the past ten years. So, I don’t foresee it contracting in any way for a while. But I think it’ll just reach a stable point where record stores are going to exist and there are going to be different record stores for different tastes. It will be a healthy part of the music business, which will still be dominated by streaming. But you know, it’ll exist in its own kind of way as its doing now. In fact, it’s still showing growth, which is to me really interesting.
David Newstead: There seems to be this common thread in your work focusing on culturally significant spaces. In The Revenge of Analog, for instance, you really emphasize record stores. And in your last book, Save the Deli, you talk about your love of Jewish delicatessens and their decline in recent years. Why do you think it’s important to preserve cultural spaces like these? And what do you think those places have to offer to people today?
David Sax: At the heart of it, we have this simplified notion of progress, which is that we move forward and onward and we discard what’s old and pick up what’s new and that’s the best. And the reality is that progress has many different faces. And sometimes, progress means re-evaluating what we thought we moved beyond and ascribing a new value to it.
So, you know with the deli book and with food in general you see this great example of that with like artisan sour dough bread. There’s that place in D.C., that tremendous bakery up by American University – Bread Furst. You know a place like that wouldn’t have existed fifty years ago. Everyone would have focused on the progress that we’ve made in processed bread like Wonder Bread as the pinnacle of baking. And then suddenly, we’ve come back to it where there’s artisan bakeries and craft beers and these sorts of things proliferating again, because we realized that for all the progress we’ve made in highly-processed and inexpensive food we missed something. And that was an experience, the flavor, things that the older, more archaic way of doing something gave us. And I think that’s the same with various types of food and it’s the same with different types of culture, right? I think it was only by almost closing down the record industry and having vinyl record stores almost completely disappear and book stores as well that we were finally able to ascertain what their true value was. And then, realize it was something we actually wanted and were willing to pay for in order to keep alive.
It’s that same thing: the experience of it. Is it more efficient to get your music on Spotify or Apple Music? Of course! It’s cheaper. It’s just a few taps with your finger. You don’t have to physically store anything. You don’t have to go anywhere. But in doing that, you’re sacrificing a lot of the pleasure around physical music and vinyl. It’s that same thing – the quality of the experience – more even than the quality of the sound. It’s the place that these things have in our community. You know we could do all our shopping online, but then what kind of neighborhood do you live in if it doesn’t have any stores or anywhere to go? So, I think that’s what really links these things together.
David Newstead: Just to kind of riff on that. There was a NPR piece a year or so ago and it was about cooking during the Great Depression era. And the reason it was interesting to me is that there are some things that I don’t consider of any significance that were really innovative for their time. Like eating canned food was once considered super exciting to people and new and modern. And one thing that occurred to me from reading your book is once something stops being new, it takes on a different meaning in our culture.
David Sax: I think we ascribe them a different value, right, because they’re no longer competing. No one is comparing peas from the farmer’s market to frozen peas from the super market. No one is comparing those, because those are totally different experiences now. You know what one is. You have the option to have both. Sometimes, you have some in the freezer and some you buy fresh. And I think it’s the same thing with a lot of this analog culture. It’s not an either/or thing. It’s both. So, people will have a Kindle and they’ll download certain books, but other books they want to buy from a store. It’s the same with music. There’s a lot of music that I just listen to on my phone when I’m walking around, but other stuff that I would want to buy on a record. But I can’t buy everything on vinyl and I don’t necessarily want to. It is the same thing with analog culture, right? It’s not a question of one or the other. It’s a question of creating that balance and having both.
David Newstead: The vinyl stores I mentioned earlier, you know I looked over the selection and a lot of them weren’t new albums. A lot of them were socially significant albums from the history of music. Like stuff you would want to own! The Beatles’ White album and things like that. Whereas whatever the hit pop single right now is, would people really want to own that on vinyl? Probably not. Maybe.
David Newstead: Shifting gears to your chapter on retail, one thing I wanted to ask you about that’s been in the news over the last year is the Retail Apocalypse. I’ll just use my area as an example. All the chain bookstores around me have closed down. And not only have they closed down, it’s as if they were never there and no one gives a shit. Meanwhile, there are numerous independent bookstores around the city that have lots of events going on and people really like them. Plus, everyone I know orders off of Amazon. So, I want to get your perspective on this change that’s going on not just in terms of books. Over the last year, there has been this decline in retail, but it’s almost like a decline of a certain kind of retail.
David Sax: I think that’s it, right? In the age of Amazon when you can buy anything you want with a click generally at a lower price than you could find at a brick-and-mortar, what justifies a retailer existing? What allows them to be competitive? Well, it’s no longer price and selection. The internet has infinite selection and you can always find the best price. Amazon, the dominant retailer, is willing to sacrifice price for anything. They don’t care, because they have so much more money and stock options. They’ve subsidized their prices. So, what allows a place like East City Bookshop in Capital Hill or Kramer Books or Politics and Prose to compete and actually make money and grow in a market that Amazon really owns? It’s not price. It’s not infinite selection. It’s a sense of place. It’s a reason to be there. It’s events and community. It’s a limited selection that’s been chosen by people that have knowledge and taste. It’s not a mathematical formula.
I think you see that there are lots of retailers that are doing poorly and closing down. But are we really saying that K-Mart and Sears and JC Penney are the pinnacle examples of intelligent and forward thinking retailers out there? No! I mean, we’re talking about the worst examples of what retail can be. And there are plenty of bright spots in retail that are actually doing well, because they are doing something that the internet cannot. And I think that’s going to continue. There are many things that people will buy and many reasons people will buy only for price and selection. If you’re competing in the realm, then you need to offer something else, because it’s going to be increasingly difficult to beat the internet on that. And I think those that do will survive and thrive. Look at Kramer Books. It’s such a great store, that place. It is packed. It is chaotic. It is everything you want in a bookstore, because it’s so visceral. So real.
David Newstead: You mentioned some good ones earlier. I would say Busboys and Poets is another great example. But like, all the most successful bookstores I know about in D.C. are all more than just bookstores. Meaning that they’re also probably bars and restaurants at the same time as well as venues for different kinds of events, etc. So, they’ve cobbled together all these cool aspects of having a physical location, which I assume strengthens and diversifies their business.
David Sax: Have you been to East City Bookshop in Capital Hill? That’s a great one. That’s one of the newer ones in town too. It’s this new, beautiful, independently run place. It’s really great.
David Newstead: I haven’t been to that one yet, but I’ll definitely check it out! Aside from books though, one thing that’s been interesting to me is watching stores like Dollar General and similar chains rapidly expanding nationwide. Meanwhile, stores like Sears and Macy’s are suffering.
David Sax: A lot of stuff that’s closing is stuff that’s in malls that were developed in areas that were assumed to be much bigger than they are. And post-recession, those areas are highly underpopulated. The Retail Apocalypse is the convenient scapegoat for a lot of different things, but the reality is that brick-and-mortar is still where it’s at. It’s like when some restaurants are closing down, they could blame it on the prices, the wages, and the labor. But that doesn’t seem to stop their competitors from doing well.
Again, it’s the type of thing where people assume an extreme example. They believe it’s going to be either/or, because that’s the kind of choice that digital makes us think of. Like it’s an A or B choice. It’s Apple or Samsung. It’s Windows or iOS. The reality is, the world isn’t that simple. It’s not a question of if it’s only going to be stores or only going to be online retail. It’s going to be a mixture. You know, the reason that Amazon is opening physical locations is that as much of the consumer dollar as they’re getting they’re still only getting a fraction of it, because there’s only so much shopping people can and will do online. There’s all sorts of other reasons that people like to go to stores and why they buy things in stores. And no matter how good the technology gets it can’t compensate for that.
David Newstead: To that point, do you think part of the reason people have gravitated toward digital is just because of advertising essentially? When I was reading your chapter on education technology, for instance, that was something that stuck out to me. Because something is new and “the best”, does that sales pitch pretty much account for the hype around it?
David Sax: Oh yeah, I think so. Everybody likes things that are new and novel. That’s what sells. And over the past decade plus, these companies (Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Google) have seen such tremendous financial success that it’s inevitable that people envy that and want to get a bit of that glitter. I think there is also conversely then a fear of missing out. It’s not just a cultural fear about missing out on what’s going on social media today. It’s a very real economic one. For example: “If our school doesn’t get these students computer literate then they’re going to miss out, because the Chinese are coming and they’re going to be so much better.” And that’s often to the exclusion of the real evidence that’s showing that that may not be the truth or maybe it’s more complicated. Again, it’s subscribing to a very simplistic notion of the role technology has and what exactly the benefit is. So again, often to the ignorance of what the evidence may show or what the reality is.
David Newstead: I talked to a couple friends about this and they’ve had similar experiences. The only time I’ve only seen a LaserDisc player was one that was sold to elementary school years ago. I just remember this giant CD and we maybe only used it twice, but all these school districts around the country got convinced to buy them. And that trend continues, I guess.
David Sax: It’s an easy sell: the new thing. It’s a much simpler sales pitch especially because something is maybe an unknown. So, you are selling someone on the promise of something fantastical and wonderful. And easy too! You just pop in that disc and this will take care of all your problems. And again, it ignores the complexity of what the real world is. But it’s no different than a company being sold some sort of new software and saying this is going to cure the ills of what they’re trying to achieve. You know the real problems are more complicated. They can’t just be solved with software with the snap of a finger. But we like simple answers and we often delude ourselves.
David Newstead: So, I hope this question isn’t overly speculative. But society is entering uncharted territory now in terms of the Internet of Things, virtual reality, and debates about voting online, etc. All of those have tons of implications. And in your view, what do you think should strictly be kept analog?
David Sax: Oh, good question. We’re talking about issues of cybersecurity. Let’s just acknowledge the fact that the term is an oxymoron. There is no such thing as cybersecurity, right? If it is built and digitized, it can be broken into. And yes, of course, even Fort Knox can be broken into, but no one has actually broken into it before. It requires a greater degree of resources and daring and manpower to do it. So, I think we’re often readily sacrificing the security of what we’re doing strictly because of the promise of ease and making things better or greater. With elections, whether it’s our fears of seeing an election stolen at the ballot box or whether it’s something more subtle like what happened with the Russian meddling in the U.S. election, these things have consequences. To me, it’s not whether one should or shouldn’t.
I think this is the same thing with debate on education, right? It’s not a question of whether all education must relocate to digital technology in schools or whatever. I don’t think anyone is arguing that view. But I think before you adopt something and digitize some process whether you’re talking about elections or the power grid, there needs to be an actual discussion and a very objective evaluation of what the cost and benefit is. And I think for too long we’ve just seen digitization as a pure benefit. “Oh, this is great. It’s going to be easier and better and cheaper. Blah blah blah. Let’s do it. You don’t want to be a luddite. Don’t stand in the way.” But the reality isn’t that simple. I think there’s a process that actually needs to happen so we learn from our mistakes, I hope.
David Newstead: At least with the Internet of Things, I say this half-joking, but I’m waiting for the day when Russian hackers have taken control of my refrigerator and Chinese hackers are holding my garage door hostage. And I can’t watch Netflix right now, because of the North Koreans.
David Sax: Well, remember what happened with that stupid North Korean movie that James Franco made? Sony was hacked and the movie was brought down. It is happening. The Russians hacked the power grid of the Ukraine. So, these things are very real possibilities. Again, they are being downplayed or in many ways ignored, because of the supposed benefits of automating things. But yeah, I think it will take some sort of catastrophic event just like what’s happened with social media in the election to have a reckoning of sorts and start really having that discussion in a concerted way.
David Newstead: With the Sony hack, I remember wondering at the time what level of effort a dictator would have to go to years earlier to do that? Like sending secret agents across oceans to steal film reels and breaking into file cabinets. It would’ve been a ton of work!
David Sax: I mean if you saw the movie, they did the world a favor, because it’s such a terrible film. Haha.
David Newstead: At the time, I wasn’t going to see it and then the whole news story got wrapped up with other stuff and it was like “Well because I value a free society, I guess I have to watch this…”
David Sax: Oh yeah, you’re a patriot! You’re a true patriot for watching that. Haha.
David Newstead: As a closing question, do you feel like you’ve struck a good balance in your own life in terms of balancing the digital and the analog and just your relationship to technology in general? Where do you come down on that?
David Sax: I do my best. I think there are times when I’m really good at it. I’m very good on a weekend with just turning my phone off. I was on vacation the past couple weeks and turned my phone off for days at a time. Or if I had it on, I would check it like once a day just to make sure nothing was there. And that’s good. But then when it’s on, I was checking it every few minutes when my kids were home sick yesterday, because I had to see whether something was happening. And you know, I was ignoring them when they needed me and it’s a shitty feeling to have and we’re all susceptible to it. So, I think it’s the type of thing that takes a concerted effort. You really have to kind of retrain yourself. It just doesn’t happen naturally. And it’s something that I strive to do more. And also still keep an open mind about the potential benefits of digital technology, because it’s not all bad. It’s not all evil. I have a tendency to see it that way just because of the view I’ve taken. So, it’s a hard thing, but it’s that idea of not seeing it as binary.