Down And Dirty On Broadway

by Dish Staff

Laurence Maslon looks back to musical theater’s lurid past:

Coded references to risqué and sexual matters were catnip to the lyricists Lorenz Hart and Cole Porter. In the case of Pal Joey, Hart found a soulmate (and drinking buddy) in the book’s writer, the equally louche John O’Hara. Within the first 15 lines of the show, during which an aspiring nightclub singer is quizzed by a prospective manager, there are references to cocaine, alcohol, pederasty, and one-night stands. In this show, which Richard Rodgers wrote was the first musical “to deal with the facts of life,” the eponymous nightclub singer becomes the kept man of a wealthy socialite, while cheating on his more innocent girlfriend. The singer and the socialite rhapsodize about their affair in a song called “Den of Iniquity,” where they brag about the power of a radio broadcast of Tschaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” to heighten their sexual activity.

When Porter came to Kiss Me, Kate in 1948, the newer brand of musical, with its stricter narrative form, gave fewer opportunities for the naughty one-off numbers that made his reputation in the late 1920s, but with songs such as “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” he gets away with murder (or “murther,” if you are Shakespearean purist): “When your baby is pleading for pleasure/Let her sample your Measure for Measure” and “If she says your behavior is heinous/Kick her right in theCoriolanus. (Shockingly, this last couplet made it into the 1953 film version; someone was napping over at MGM.)

A Short Story For Saturday

by Dish Staff

This weekend’s short story is Tim Parks’ “Reverend,” just published in The New Yorker. You can surmise the subject matter from its title, which has autobiographical significance for Parks. In an interview, he had this to say about the story’s relationship to his own life:

Reams could be written about the autobiographical links, of one kind or another, in pretty much all of the fiction I have written. If anyone were interested, that is. Let’s say that the distance fiction allows—talking in the third person, declaring from the start, “This is not me, these are not people I know”—enables me to meditate on experiences close to home, on characters like myself, like my father, without being swept away by them. There is also a constant and, I hope, exciting tension between memory and invention, an awareness that, even when you try to say exactly how something was, it is still largely reconstructed through memory and language; it is still a “creative” act.

How the story begins:

After his mother died, Thomas started thinking about his father. All too frequently, while she was dying, there had been talk of her going to meet him in Paradise, returning to the arms of her husband of thirty-two years, who had died thirty-two years before she did. This would be bliss.

Thomas did not believe in such things, of course, though it was hard not to try to imagine them, if only to savor the impossibility of the idea: the two insubstantial souls greeting each other in the ether, the airy embrace. She had been ninety at death, he sixty. There would be some adjustment for that, presumably, in Heaven. The madness of it confirmed one’s skepticism.

Keep reading here. Read the rest of the interview with Parks about the story here, and peruse previous SSFSs here.

Face Of The Day

by Dish Staff

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Michael Zhang captions:

Photographer Shelley Calton grew up in Houston, Texas and was raised by a father who owned guns for both hunting and self-defense. She and her two sisters all learned to shoot firearms from a young age.

This background is something Calton shares with the subjects of her project “Concealed.” It’s a series of portraits that looks into the lives of women who arm themselves. Calton writes that, in doing this project from 2011 through 2014, she “sought to more deeply understand [the women’s] collective experiences as concealed carriers.”

Craig Hlavaty has more:

Most of these women grew up with guns, Calton says, so they didn’t have an aversion to them. Some women had a traumatic incident in their past that lead them to always have a handgun nearby. One was briefly kidnapped. Others were sick of feeling vulnerable and threatened. Some carry now because their significant others wanted them to be able to protect themselves and their children if needed.

“Some carry on their bodies everywhere they go, some in their purses, and some just in their cars and homes,” says Calton. One woman carries her concealed piece in a small Coach purse, with the pistol taking up most of the space.

Reinventing The Bio

by Dish Staff

Stuart Kelly wonders what would happen if biographers were as formally innovative as novelists:

There have been various attempts at experimental biographies. Although it’s an “academic” book, Samuel Schoenbaum’s Shakespeare’s Lives, published in 1970, is remarkable: a life told through attempts to tell the life, a source book for how legends arise and myths solidify into facts. More recently, Jonathan Coe’s Like a Fiery Elephant, about the avant-garde novelist BS Johnson, deploys a range of tricks – meandering footnotes, choruses of comments, an intrusive and sometimes indolent narrator – which would be recognizable to readers of the novels of BS Johnson. It is a fine example of form being determined by the subject itself.

He goes on to argue that “for literary biography to survive as a genre, it ought to take its lead from literature and go even further”:

The decline of written diaries and paper correspondence … means that future biographers may have to either resign themselves to lost sources, or spend hours with computer boffins recapturing every email, tweet and keystroke from Salman Rushdie’s iPhones and laptops: a kind of archaeology which might reveal nothing more than a penchant for Patience. But a life told innovatively and imaginatively holds out a lifeline to the form. I’ve read biographies of Dickens by John Forster and Peter Ackroyd, Claire Tomalin and Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, GK Chesterton and Edgar Johnson. I know the story. But I’d love to hear how Ali Smith or Jonathan Franzen might tell it.

Faces Of The Day

by Dish Staff

Kashmiri Shiite Boys Protest Over Peshawar Terror Attack In Pakistan

Kashmiri Shiite boys wear blood stained shrouds on December 19, 2014 in Srinagar, India as a sign of protest against the recent killing of the schoolchildren in the terror attack in Peshawar, Pakistan. The Pakistani Taliban killed 141 people, including 132 children, at an army-run school, and it was the deadliest in Pakistan’s history. By Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times via Getty Images.

Leaning In, Tumbling Down

by Dish Staff

Reacting to a story about Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, Annie Lowrey reflects on “the ‘glass cliff,’ a relative of the ‘glass ceiling’ that holds back businesswomen, the ‘glass closet’ that stifles the ambitions of gay executives, the brick walls facing many managers of color, and the ‘glass elevator’ that helps so, so many white bros up to the top”:

The term comes courtesy of two psychologists, Michelle K. Ryan of the University of Exeter and S. Alexander Haslam of the University of Queensland. In a pioneering study published a decade ago, they found that women were often promoted to board positions after a company had started faltering. Women weren’t picked to lead companies on an upswing, in other words. They were promoted to help manage turbulence and decline.

To show it, the researchers looked at the performance of firms before and after the appointment of a male or female board member. “During a period of overall stock-market decline those companies who appointed women to their boards were more likely to have experienced consistently bad performance in the preceding five months than those who appointed men,” they found. …

Why might companies gravitate toward female executives during times of turbulence and distress? The explanations tend to boil down to gender essentialism. Women are perceived to be more nurturing, and thus better at healing a broken business. It also might be easier for a corporate board to scapegoat a female executive than a male one, some researchers have theorized, given that women are expected to be worse managers in the first place. But perhaps that is just correlation and causation, as indicated by the glass-cliff theory itself.

Lowrey then pinpoints why the “glass cliff” matters:

The problem with the glass cliff is that it might cement the stereotype that women are worse managers and executives than men, all because they are asked to manage worse businesses then men. “Women who assume leadership offices may be differentially exposed to criticism and in greater danger of being apportioned blame for negative outcomes that were set in train well before they assumed their new roles,” the original study’s authors conclude. “This is particularly problematic in light of evidence that directors who leave the boards of companies which have performed poorly are likely to suffer from a ‘tarnished reputation.’” That might be why the stock of a company drops after the announcement of a female chief executive, but not a male executive.

Playing Ball With Cuba

by Dish Staff

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As Carl Bialik’s chart shows, Cuban baseball players are on the rise here in the US, and now with the thaw in US/Cuba relations, many are wondering about the implications for their shared national pastime:

Baseball has long been the most popular sport in Cuba and the island has long been a hotbed of baseball talent. Cubans have been playing professional baseball in the United States for nearly 150 years and even the embargo hasn’t stopped star Cuban players like Aroldis Chapman of the Cincinnati Reds and Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox from coming to the U.S. to play in the major leagues. But the embargo has meant that players who come to the United States have had to defect and suffer all sorts of risks to escape out of the country—including falling prey to smuggling rings.

But reforming the current, broken system will be complicated:

Fixing the smuggling problem, or at least mitigating it in some way, would likely require fully normalizing relations not just between the two governments, but between each nation’s baseball leagues as well. That first requires major policy changes between the American and Cuban governments. And even if that happens, Major League Baseball and Cuba’s government-run baseball federation would need to set up a system that allows Cuban players to transition from their league to the Majors in a way that is advantageous to both.

Ricky Doyle has the same concern:

[While] hundreds of professional-level Cuban players could become more readily available to MLB teams[, don’t] expect a free-for-all featuring open free agency, though. A more likely scenario would be the implementation of a new system that would allow Cuban players to make the jump to MLB while also ensuring that Cuba is properly compensated for what ultimately could be an exodus of talent. The system could be similar to how MLB clubs currently obtain players from Japan and Mexico.

Meanwhile, Buster Olney examines the possibility of an MLB franchise ending up in Cuba:

Cuban nationals who have defected describe a rabid appetite for baseball in their homeland, and you do wonder if many years from now — say, 25 years or so, depending on how the economy of the country evolves — if Havana might be a natural spot for expansion.

“While having an MLB team in Havana is a fascinating idea, it’s hard to imagine it happening within the next 15 or 20 years,” [agent and Cuban baseball expert Joe] Kehoskie wrote. “Even if Cuba were to become a capitalist country and then do everything it could to welcome foreign investment, it would likely take decades for the Havana area to build up enough wealth to support an MLB team. Adjusted for PPP (Purchasing Power Parity), Cuba’s per capita GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is currently estimated to be only one-third to one-fifth of that of the United States. In terms of the Caribbean region, Cuba is substantially less wealthy than Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Panama, none of which are remotely considered ready to support an MLB team.”

Dan Rosenheck considers how Cuba might look to benefit, as well:

To be sure, the government would salivate over the prospect of tax revenue from MLB contracts so large they can be measured in percentage points of Cuba’s GDP. Moreover, a rapprochement would in theory offer the SN [Serie Nacional, the Cuban baseball league], whose season is centred around winter months when MLB teams do not play, the opportunity to welcome back prominent defectors.

However, MLB has wielded an increasingly heavy hand with other Latin winter leagues, prohibiting high-priced players from participating or strictly limiting their usage to minimise the risks of injury and fatigue. If Cuba maintains its rule that players be available for the full SN season in order to approve contracts with foreign teams—a policy that would sharply reduce their value to MLB clubs—the best Cubans might still choose to follow the money and defect. That would exacerbate the devastation that defections have already wrought on the once-vaunted SN: in order to continue offering fans a quality product, it recently split its season into two halves, and lets the best teams draft players from the worst ones (which then disband) at midseason.

It will probably take years of fraught negotiations to devise a system for Cubans to play in America without defecting that satisfies MLB as well as the governments of both countries[.]