Author: Matthew Barlow

A History of Globalization

I read Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others last week.  For some reason, Sontag has always loomed on the fringes of my cultural radar, but I had never read anything by her, other than a few essays or excerpts over the years.  In some ways, I found her glib and in others, profound.  But I also found her presentist. At the start of the second chapter, she quotes Gustave Moynier, who in 1899, wrote that “We know what happens every day throughout the whole world,” as he goes onto discuss the news of war and calamity and chaos in the newspapers of the day.  Sontag takes issue with this: “[I]t was obviously an exaggeration, in 1899, to say that one knew what happened ‘every day throughout the whole world.’” We like to think globalization is a new phenomenon, that it was invented in the past 30 years or so and sped up with the advent of the internet and, especially social media, as we began to wear clothes made in China, rather than the US or Canada or Europe.  Balderdash.  Globalization has been underway since approximately forever.  Europeans in the Ancient World had a fascination with the Far East, and trade goods slowly made their way across the Eurasian landmass from China to Italy and Greece.  Similarly, the Chinese knew vaguely of the faraway Europeans.  In the Americas, archaeological...

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J. Roddy Walston & The Business: Destroyers of the Soft Life

Roddy Walston & The Business Destroyers of the Soft Life (ATO Records, 2017) I saw J. Roddy Walston & The Business in a small room in Chattanooga this summer. It was hotter than hot that night, and the venue, while heavily air-conditioned, was putridly sweaty. In other words, it was the perfect night for some Southern rock’n’roll. Walston & The Business have made their name with their live show. Walston himself is a nutter on stage, swirling around, long rock’n’roll hair flying, as he pounds on his piano and screams into the microphone. At Track 29 that night, Mama...

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Staging the Civil War

‘Everyone is a literalist when it comes to photographs,’ Susan Sontag wrote in Regarding the Pain of Others.  She has a point, sort of.  We expect photographs to represent reality back to us.  But they don’t, of course, or they don’t necessarily.  For example, she discusses an exhibit of photographs of September 11, 2001, that opened in Manhattan in late September of that year, Here is New York.  The exhibit was a wall of photographs showing the atrocity of that day.  The organizers received thousands of submissions, and at least one photo from each was included.  Visitors could chose and purchase...

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Black Grape: Pop Voodoo

Black Grape Pop Voodoo (UMC, 2017) Shaun Ryder is the quintessential survivor of the Madchester scene. His regular band, the Happy Mondays, burned out on a toxic pile of drugs and managed to bankrupt their record label, Manchester’s legendary Factory Records, with their 1992 stinker of an album, Yes Please! The Mondays then imploded and Ryder re-appeared a few years later with Ruthless Rap Assassin Kermit in Black Grape. Black Grape released two killer albums in the 90s and then faded into obscurity. Ryder and the Mondays cleaned up and re-surfaced around a decade ago and have been recording and...

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On Photography and Filtering

A few weeks ago, I posted this picture on Instagram.  Immediately, my more smart-arsed friends began to chatter.  I used the hashtag #nofilter, meaning that I did not use an Instagram filter.  Not good enough for the commentariat, though.  They commented on the mental filters, frame filters, and so on as I framed the photo and so on.  They’re not wrong. (The photo, if you are wondering, is of a creek about a mile from my home in Western Massachusetts). Of course this photo was filtered, from the way the creek caught my eye as I walked the dogs,...

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