Thursday, August 26, 2004

The shipping news

The shipping commences tomorrow. I spent today sleeping in (after a longer-than-expected night of writing), praying, cleaning up, KTVing with friends, engaging in a little more BB gun play, watching *Big Fish*, and then hollowing out my laptop for shipping to its new owner. Basically, riding out the rain. *Big Fish* was enjoyable much more for the acting -- Albert Finney and Ewan McGregor were superb -- than for the movie as a whole. Finney's character was unforgettable and I loved the lighthearted surrealism that is Tim Burton's trademark. Admittedly, although each scene was a delight, the movie as an entire piece was rather plodding. I enjoyed what I was seeing, but my mind more than once wandered to *Collateral*. ;)

Throughout the day I've been reading Eric Schlosser's _Reefer Madness_, a typically lucid, meticulously well documented, and eye-opening work by Schlosser. _Reefer Madness_ is comprised of three essays in which Schlosser investigates the underground economy of the USA, exposing where the nation's real big money is made and moved: pot, cheap immigrant labor, and porn. By far the most interesting essay is the last and longest one about the US porn industry, "An Empire of the Obscene".

The two most riveting aspects of "An Empire of the Obscene" are, first, that porn -- hard-core movie porn -- has been in the USA since the beginning of the twentieth-century and, second, that most denunciations of porn ring terribly hollow coming from the same people that otherwise support the free market. There are no bad men out there irresistibly infiltrating the public air waves with prurience. No, we the people, and the nation as a whole, swallow all things in the name of market efficiency and personal preference. Also, I had no idea the porn industry -- one of the largest, most lucrative industries in the world -- was begun almost singlehandedly by an ambitious, defiant little business man named Reuben Sturman. Though the government never could pin a serious conviction on Sturman for obscenity, Sturman, like Al Capone, hit his biggest snags due to tax crimes.

As other reviewers have mentioned, I would have liked the first two essays, particularly the second one about illegal migrant labor ("In the Strawberry Fields"), to be longer. Having worked my way through (and enjoyed) Schlosser's first, (in)famous book, _Fast Food Nation_, I wanted more of the same extremely intensive reportage in _Reefer Madness_. But the first two essays are more like exposes than systematic investigations. Of course, Schlosser can't be blamed too much for doing a good thing too briefly.

I highly respect Schlosser[1], not only for his indisputable journalistic integrity and accuracy, but also for the moral depth of his work. That's called being a good writer. Two comments in particular in _Reefer Madness_ took Schlosser up several notches in my book. First, in his acknowledgments, just after thanking his children for their understanding while he was away from home so often talking to pimps, drug dealers, convicts, porn stars, Schlosser mentioned he hoped to write a book someday that he would allow his kids to read. That grabbed me. The man has children, he cares about what goes in their minds, and he has established concrete boundaries for them. That's called being a good father. Second, on the publication page, just under the usual line "All rights reserved", Schlosser added his own message: "The moral right of the author has been asserted". That grabbed me, too. Schlosser is not merely a reporter; he's a moral person writing for a moral (albeit not moralizing) purpose. [LET THE RECORD STAND: THIS IS YET ONE MORE PIECE OF EVIDENCE OF MY IGNORANCE. I DIDN'T REALIZE, UNTIL A READER INFORMED ME, THAT SUCH A PHRASE JUST MEANS COPYRIGHT CLAIMS IN BRITISH ENGLISH.] Schlosser not only has first-class journalistic ability, but also a living moral conscience. I smell a professional role model.

Well, now I'm off to bed.

[1] I can't wait for Schlosser's book on the prison system. His work -- and a short interview I did a couple years ago for an article -- may just be the reason I become a journalist.

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