Gweek 101: Mark Dery, cultural critic


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In this episode, I talked to Mark Dery, a cultural critic and frequent contributor to Boing Boing. Mark's books include The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink and Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century. His latest book is the essay collection I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts: Drive-by Essays on American Dread, American Dreams. Recently, Boing Boing debuted its publishing imprint, Boing Boing books, with Dery’s longform essay for Kindle, All the Young Dudes: Why Glam Rock Matters. He is at work on a biography of the author, illustrator, and legendary eccentric Edward Gorey (Little, Brown: 2014). Follow @markdery.

Here's how Mark Dery described the podcast to followers of his blog, Shovelware:

Zaniest. conversation. EVER. Mark Frauenfelder, the Dick Cavett of Nonlinear Talk and host of the Boing Boing podcast GWEEK, engaged me in the most deliriously free-associated, brain-ticklingly delightful interview I’ve ever conducted.

Keywords (for the time-starved): Bunuel’s recipe for the Platonic ideal of the martini, Norman Rockwell’s dark side, the horror of Disneyland caricaturists, Being Californian, and, of course, my Boing Boing e-single on Bowie, glam, gender, and masculinity. A hot-stone massage for the mind.

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Mark Dery: the "taxidermy of memory"

Mark Dery has a new essay -- "equal parts philosophical investigation (of memory, time, and museum vitrines) and memoir (mem-noir?)" -- up at the Thought Catalog. He says: "Why do passing encounters with the inconsequential lodge themselves in our long-term memory, sometimes forever? What makes seemingly throwaway images get stuck in the hippocampus and stay there, for a lifetime? Castle of the Living Dead (1964) is, by universal consensus, not high art. An especially forgettable example of the spaghetti-gothic thrillers turned out by Italian moviemakers in the '60s, it's a low-budget affair, badly dubbed, creaky with clichés, marred by hammy performances. Yet, for all its staginess, the film settled to the bottom of my unconscious the day I saw it, at the age of eight or nine, and has lain there ever since, submerged but still visible, like the drowned death car in Night of the Hunter."

Castle Of The Living Dead: Time, Embalmed

All the Young Dudes: Why Glam Rock Matters, by Mark Dery -- Boing Boing's first ebook!

“All the Young Dudes,” glam rock’s rallying cry, turned 40 last year. David Bowie wrote it, but Mott the Hoople owned it: their version was, and will ever remain, glam’s anthem, a hymn of exuberant disenchantment that also happens to be one of rock’s all-time irresistible sing-alongs.

Bowie, glam, and “All the Young Dudes” are inseparable in the public mind, summoning memories of a subculture dismissed as apolitical escapism, a glitter bomb of fashion and attitude that briefly relieved the malaise of the '70s.

Now, cultural critic Mark Dery gives the movement its due in an 8,000-word exploration of glam as rebellion through style, published as a Kindle e-book (and Boing Boing's first published e-book): All the Young Dudes: Why Glam Matters. As polymorphously perverse as the subculture it explores, “All the Young Dudes: Why Glam Matters” is equal parts fan letter, visual-culture criticism, queer theory, and true confession.

In bravura style, Dery teases out lines of connection between glam, the socioeconomic backdrop of the '70s, Oscar Wilde as a late-Victorian Ziggy Stardust, the etymology and queer subtext of the slang term “dude,” the associative links between the '20s-style cover of the Mott album on which “Dudes” appeared and the coded homoeroticism of the '20s magazine illustrator J.C. Leyendecker (considered in the context of the 1970s fad for all things 1920s), and Dery’s own memories of growing up glam in '70s San Diego, where coming out as a Bowie fan -- even for straight kids -- was an invitation to bullying.

Glam emboldened kids in America and England to dream of a world beyond suburbia’s oppressive notions of normalcy, Dery argues, a world conjured up in pop songs full of Wildean irony and Aestheticism and jaw-dropping fashion statements to match. More important, glam drew inspiration from feminism and gay liberation to articulate a radical critique of mainstream manhood---a pomosexual vision of masculinity whose promise remains only partly fulfilled, even now.

Buy All the Young Dudes: Why Glam Rock Matters, by Mark Dery

Read an excerpt

A Season in Hell

 Features Hell 1

“From the “Obscure Pleasures of Medical Libraries” to the “Aphrodites of the Operating Theater,” cultural critic Mark Dery is never one to turn a blind eye at our own gross anatomy. In 2006 though, Mark couldn’t look away even if he wanted to. That year, the author of the new essay collection I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts, spent his summer vacation at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center suffering through the poisonous cure of chemotherapy before punctuating his year with hours under the surgeon’s scalpel. Boing Boing is honored to publish for the first time Mark’s intense, moving, and deeply personal account of his Season In Hell.” — David Pescovitz

On the wall at the foot of my bed, a poster displays the Faces Pain Scale, a series of earless, genderless every men arranged, from right to left, in increasing degrees of agony.

“The faces show how much pain or discomfort someone is feeling,” the caption explains. “The face on the left shows no pain. Each face shows more and more pain and the last face shows the worst pain possible. Point to the face that shows how bad your pain is right NOW.” The blurb adds, helpfully, that your face need not resemble the cartoon visages in the Pain Scale.

It’s August 2011. I’m lying in a room at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, waiting to undergo surgery for a small-bowel obstruction, an intestinal blockage resulting from postoperative adhesions caused by my 2008 surgery for my first small-bowel obstruction, itself the result of my 2006 surgery for a rare and virulent cancer. Abdominal surgery begets scar tissue. Which gives rise to adhesions. Which sometimes cause bowel obstructions. Which may necessitate surgery. Which begets more scar tissue, which…

Read Mark Dery’s “Season In Hell”

Read the rest