Save the Music Industry – 5 Articles You Should Read Now About the State & Future of Music

In a time when music artists give their fans entire albums for free, ringtone sales rival the sales of singles, and Twitter has replaced PR agents, it’s no wonder record label staff and major music executives are scurrying around in hopes of finding a solution to plummeting album sales and skyrocketing illegal downloads. However, instead of mourning the “old days” when consumers actually went to record stores (what are those, again?) and bought entire albums, music industry professionals are looking to new technology and media strategies to develop audiences. These audiences, it seems, are no longer physical people waiting to purchase an album, but a digital audience full of sharing potential, thanks to sites like Twitter, Facebook and blogs, which can exponentially spread the word about an artist or band before you can even say “word of mouth.”

Here are five articles that surfaced over the last three years that each discuss how the music industry lost, gained, and shaped its audience, how musicians have changed the way they communicate with their fans, and how mainstream media has adapted, for better or for worse, to these changes.

1. NY Times, September 2010: “Hip-Hop’s New Medium for Choice Words” by John Caramanica

“Any of these artists might normally have taken to the studio to express the same sentiments they did on their Twitter pages — and maybe they still will. But for now, 140 characters has become the new 16 bars.”

2. Business Week, October 2009: “Labels Emphasize Artist-Specific Social Network Websites” by Eliot van Buskirk

“To an extent, we could be entering a disaggregation phase of music, as major labels grow new sites, apps, and social networks around specific artists, and indie bands approximate the same approach using Ning, Muxtape, and other tools. Once MySpace introduced artists and labels to the powerful cocktail of social networking and music, it was only a matter of time until they wanted to own more of that experience.”

3. The Village Voice, August 2010: “How Kanye West’s Twitter Killed Music Magaiznes”  by Zach Baron

“And though artist profiles in Rolling Stone, Spin, Blender, this publication, and elsewhere have always made sure to have purely critical sections, in which the writer reflects on the import of what they’re witnessing. Ultimately, most us bought these magazines, and read them, in order to find out what these guys were like.

Now, of course, we know. Or know as much as the writers do, anyway. Kanye West is no more or less mediated, selective, and calculating in what he presents to Twitter than he would be with a writer in the room. In fact, these days, he’s probably more honest without the writer in the room.”

4.Huffington Post, February 2011. Steve Stout’s letter to Neil Portnow, NARAS and the Grammy Awards.

“Where I think that the Grammys fail stems from two key sources: (1) over-zealousness to produce a popular show that is at odds with its own system of voting and (2) fundamental disrespect of cultural shifts as being viable and artistic.”

“Interesting that the Grammys understands cultural relevance when it comes to using Eminem’s, Kanye West’s or Justin Bieber’s name in the billing to ensure viewership and to deliver the all-too-important ratings for its advertisers.”

5. NY Times, January 2011 – “Music Industry Braces for the Unthinkable” by Eric Pfanner

“Industry executives say they are encouraged by the development of new digital services, particularly those that embrace the principles of cloud computing. These services can provide unlimited amounts of music to listeners on demand, through a variety of devices, from mobile phones to televisions…Music executives say Internet service providers hold the key to solving the piracy problems and helping the music companies recoup lost revenue.”

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Lies, Truth and Memory: The Memoir Debacle

In 2009, Stephen Elliott traveled the country on a D.I.Y. book tour to promote his memoir The Adderall Diaries. (This meant the tour was not sponsored by his publisher; he went where he was invited by readers, often in small towns instead of major cities, and slept on the couches of strangers). His last stop was in New York, where I attended his reading and a lecture on memoir writing.

Elliott told me, “the one rule of memoir is that you don’t lie.” He said you could conceal a character’s identity, and a good way to do this is by changing their physical appearance. “Just never make anyone fat,” he said. “You can make them so sickly skinny they might drop dead at any moment, but don’t make them fat.”

We discussed not lying as it applies to dialogue in memoirs, and how — unless you carry a recorder around with you for your whole life or have a photographic memory — there is no way to use verbatim dialogue in a remembered narrative. Our memories are inherently flawed. They need to be. We forget things because we need to make room for new memories. We forget traumatic things because of our brain’s protection instinct.

“The best thing to do,” Elliott said, “is to try to reflect the intention of what was said, to the best of your ability.”

We agreed that re-creating dialogue in a memoir was hardly a James-Fry-level moral misstep.

I met Elliott three years after the hoopla over James Frey’s false memoir, A Million Little Pieces, which made the subject of truth in memoir a water-cooler topic. (In case you managed to miss it, Oprah had Frey return to her show so she could publicly humiliate him for publishing the lies that she originally praised in her book club.)

Oprah apologized just last week for Frey’s public “lashing” but that’s hardly where this story ends.

Earlier this month, Greg Mortenson was sued for potentially fabricated details about his work building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan in his bestselling memoir Three Cups of Tea.

Both the Frey and Mortenson controversies have served as stimuli for a larger debate, already stirring, about the value of memoirs and the thin line between memory and truth.

Memoirs have greatly increased in popularity over the course of the past ten years. As their popularity increases, so does the criticism that the genre is worthless, self-absorbed and filled with exaggerative  lies — as well as essays in response to the criticism, defending the form and the hard task of cutting into one’s past, synthesizing memory and truth and trauma and making it all fit a narrative arc.

— One of the most recent inflammatory articles was The Problem with Memoirs by Neil Genzlinger in the New York Times Sunday Book Review, which called for “a moment of silence” for the “lost art of shutting up.”

Genzlinger laments the “bloated” genre, which used to be dominated only by writers who had achieved something (that Genzlinger deems) extraordinary.  Today, he says, “memoirs have been disgorged by virtually every­one who has ever had cancer, been anorexic, battled depression, lost weight. By anyone who has ever taught an underprivileged child, adopted an under­privileged child or been an under­privileged child. By anyone who was raised in the ’60s, ’70s or ’80s, not to mention the ’50s, ’40s or ’30s. Owned a dog. Run a marathon. Found religion. Held a job.”

Then Genzlinger, who has never written a memoir, goes on to list four prerequisites for writing about your life, while reviewing four recent memoirs in the process. (And hating on all but one of them, obviously.)

— In Get Me Up Close To the Lives of Others at HTML Giant, Roxane Gay says there is an inherent problem with blanket dismissals like Genzlinger’s — a problem with “Problem With” articles. “The ‘problem’ with dismissing memoir, and particular memoirs written by young writers or chronicling the ordinary life is that it assumes we can only become worthy reporters of our lives, and chroniclers of our memories through aging or experiencing something profound,” Gay said. “There is undoubtedly a certain wisdom that comes with age or experiencing something profound but there is also wisdom to be found in ordinary experiences.  Neither writing nor remembrance are easy tasks and as such I have a real respect for writers who take the journey inward regardless of what inspired that journey.”

But there is a difference between the slippery slope of “remembrance” and lying.  In Notes on Frey, an essay published in Creative Nonfiction, the memoirist Daniel Nester laments the Frey Effect on future writers (“The next Hunter S. Thompson, if there ever is one, should expect knocks on the door by the Authenticity Police, asking him if he really took that many tabs of acid that weekend in Vegas.”) and says there is no way to defend what Frey did. Like Elliot, Nester believes not lying is a rule. But he also believes that, by necessity, all memoirs contain half-truths. He uses The Story of My Life by Hellen Keller as an example. Keller describes, in great detail, becoming deaf and blind when she was 19 months old, an age of which, all neurologists and psychologists agree, humans retain few if any memories.

At the end of Nester’s essay, he has covered a lot of ground — including describing meeting James Frey and interviewing him for a magazine — but still cannot defend him in full.

“I don’t think I can defend what Frey lied about as such as much as his right to imitate and harmonize, these ‘rude improvisations,’ Nester says. “Single-source news stories will still run on the front page and be accepted as fact.  Future writers’ parents will wear wires. Everything will be transcribed into a public record; nothing will be edited or crafted, and no one will be dramatized into a character; no one will be disheartened or betrayed as the drudgery of documentation continues.  It might be a step forward.  But writers will always have the desire to imitate and transform, not simply record, real life.”

— In an interview in The Rumpus, Nick Flynn gets to the heart of the difficulties of writing about your own life, and determining whether your personal truth holds up to actual fact. “Memoir is actually the most egoless genre, even though it might seem ostensibly so much ego-driven,” he said. “In order for it to succeed, you have to dissolve the self into these larger universal truths, and explore these deeper mysteries. If it’s purely autobiographical and ego-driven, it’s going to fail.”

In his 2004 memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, Flynn explores his relationship with his alcoholic, bank-robbing, homeless father. A great defense of memoir exists not only in Flynn’s Rumpus interview, but in the way he presents his father in the book: sensitively, even lovingly. He shows his father’s negligence as a parent and his inability to care about anyone other than himself. But he also — as most good memoirists do — turns the same harsh lens on himself.

In the Rumpus interview, which is part of series of interviews with writers conducted by Sari Botton, Flynn says, “I was presenting myself in [Another Bullshit Night in Suck City], and especially in the next book [The Ticking is the Bomb], in not the most flattering way either. I think you have to be at least as hard on yourself as you are on whoever the bad guy is. That’s one of the rules. There’s a reason why whatever that bad guy is doing can affect you so deeply.”

— In “A brief history of memoir-bashing,” Slate writer Ben Yagoda show that criticism against memoir is about as old as the genre iteself.  “George Bernard Shaw was the first (to my knowledge) to play the veracity card,” Yagoda writes. “‘All autobiographies are lies,’ [Shaw] wrote. ‘I do not mean unconscious, unintentional lies; I mean deliberate lies. No man is bad enough to tell the truth himself during his lifetime, involving, as it must, the truth about his family and friends and colleagues. And no man is good enough to tell the truth in a document which he suppresses until there is nobody left alive to contradict him.'”

Maybe Shaw is right: Frey and Mortenson should have just held on for another few decades before hitting “publish.” Or maybe a more journalistic approach to memoir (watch the video in the side panel) will soon become the norm. Before time figures out the memoir mess, writers should be cautious before selling their work as truth. As my fourth grade teacher, or my grandmother, or — I don’t remember, someone important to me, idon’twanttolie — used to say, “the easiest answer is the truth.”

And if it isn’t, go write a novel.


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The Ongoing Revolution: Iranian Film and Censorship

Iranian director Hana Makmalabaf at film festival in Spain, 2009. Photo Courtesy:

Being a filmmaker in Iran is not easy. Sure there is beautiful scenery, exciting tales of real life struggles and the aftermath of a revolution and war to inspire, but all these visions may never get seen due to the strict and changeable censorship rules imposed by the ruling regime.  The battle for expression is not new in Iran and is now becoming a subject of many filmmaker’s works.

But I first became interested in Iranian cinema through a profile of Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. End Games featured in the March 14 issue of the New Yorker, unlike many other articles on film censorship dives into the themes and subjects of Kiarostami’s films to examine censorship from within the director’s art

“It may be that only a filmmaker with this kind of history would have imagined that a perambulatory couple could serve as the basis for radical work.”

Through David Denby March’s thorough examination he finds that censorship is not always a restricting factor for Kiarostami, who admits that it has forced him to become inventive.

Dan de Luce, of the Guardian, also looks at the affects of censorship when he questions Can Iran’s filmmakers survive the film censors?.  Written in 2004, before the unrest and tighter restrictions imposed on directors post-2009 election, this is a comprehensive look at the history of Iranian censorship.  De Luce also looks outside the major impact zone. Considering the affect of censorship on film critics and how censorship has proliferated child protagonist film roles.

“These ideological restrictions may explain why some of the greatest Iranian films focus on children’s lives or portray life outside on the street rather than inside the home.”

Delving again into the once-celluloid pools of a film makers world, Louis Godfrey, writing for Sound on Sight, tells Jafar Panahi’s story.  A story that has frequented culture pages and film festival blogs since his arrest and ban from film making was imposed by the Iranian regime last year.  Keep the Lighthouse in Sight, bookends Panahi’s struggle with the symbol of a lighthouse featured in a recently released video made in protest to Panahi’s arrest.

Godfrey intersperses his discussion with video clips that allow us to see the results of censorship and the filmmakers creativity and style.  Godfrey also relates Panahi’s struggle to other censored artists around the world.

“Through cinema, he confronts the basic modes of societal organization in Iran, refusing to accept them as a natural ordering, and exposing them as an arbitrary relationship designed by the state to exercise power over the citizenry.  For the audience, every frame is a call for relentless questioning, a challenge to imagine a fundamental restructuring of their world based on common human bonds.”

Mehrdad Oskouei questions the Iranian regime’s grip on his work as a documentary maker every time he collects an image.  Which he does regularly on his quest,

“to reconstruct Iran’s visual history, filling a vacuum left by a government that lives in constant denial of its pre-revolutionary past.”

The New York Times’ William Yong, tracks Oskouei’s plight with censors but also manages to explore the subject of his work, a film about the rise of nose-jobs in Iran due to the competition for eligible men after the 1980 war with Iraq.  As Oskouei reconstructs Iran’s visual history it seems the country and its image is being recreated too.

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Is model diversity on the runway chic? Apparently not.

I recently sat down to speak about the issues that ethnic models face in the fashion industry with David Ralph, Men’s Director at NY Model Management and Pierre Woods and Hollis, two professional runway, editorial and commercial models. After doing some research and exploring population numbers, runway breakdowns by race and number of shows on average held during a NY Fashion Week, it all became clear — is the fashion industry racist? The face of the fashion industry is certainly changing, but some people don’t think this change is happening quickly enough.
In 2007, controversy sparked when Women’s Wear Daily reported that out of 101 runway shows held at Bryant Park, one third did not employ a model of color. And many shows only employed one or two. A year later, Muccia Prada’s S/S 2008 runway show did not employ one model of color. Articles, studies and theories rose in response to the lack of color on the runways and in the advertisements.

Over the years, the numbers have increased and runways have become more inclusive, but in a world where every other industry sees no color, why is the fashion industry lagging? The articles I listed below helped to answer this burning question.

* Why Fashion Keeps Tripping Over Race by Robin Givhan (New York Magazine, 20011) explores the timeless issue of race identification in the fashion industry. Givhan opens with an anecdote from the Lanvin Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear show, where Elbaz’s finale consisted of a group of black women, which led to a widespread applause. Using this as a spring board, the article goes on to explore the before and after effects of this and other, monumental moments in fashion history for African Americans.

* Is Prada To Blame For the Lack of Black Models? by Dodai Stewart (, 2007) takes us back to 2007, where at the height of the issue regarding a lack of ethnic models, Bethann Hardison hosted a conversation. With big names like designer Tracy Reese, casting agent James Scully, stylist Lori Goldstein and designer Vera Wang in attendance, this discussion was aimed at bringing attention to the sharp decline of black models over the past decade. Stewart wrote this article after attending the event, providing an inside look to all those who were not there. Bethann Hardison has been an advocate of fashion becoming more culturally diverse and on the other hand, has been an active participant (as a blog) in covering this issue over the years as well.

* Conspicuous By Their Presence by Cathy Horyn, famed NYTimes Fashion Critic and blogger for On The Runway, explores racial predjedice in the fashion industry. And what people are doing to combat it.  The story contains quotes from the driving forces behind the Italian Vogue All-Black-Issue, Italian Vogue editor, Franca Sozzani and photographer Steven Meisel. Perhaps one of the strongest pieces on the issue of racism in the fashion industry, Sozzani explains that she was intrigued by the presidential race and Mr. Obama was one source of inspiration. All wware of the lack of diversity on the runways, Horyn’s journalistic, Meisel’s photoraphic and Sozzani’s editorial voices all come together in this piece to explore the issue and define beauty, as beauty.

* In my research, I found myself wondering what goes on in the heads of designers and directors when it comes time to cast a show. Christine Kearney spoke to designers and directors behind Yves Saint Lauren, Tracey Reese, Michael Angel amongst others in the Reuters article published in 2008. Do the clothes come first? Kearney reported this story and gave insight into the visions of those who visualize and create runway shows.

* Are we all failing? Or are there fingers to be pointed and people to be blamed? Megan K. Scott’s 2008 article, Black models missing on the runway, quotes some of the most famous black models of our time: Tyson Beckford and Naomi Cambpell. Both of them speak to the issue and express their concern over the lagging number of ethnic models on the runways.  Jennifer Vendetti is quoted as well and proposes the solution that only a non-black designer will be able to successfully take a stand against issue.

Despite the abundance of articles and blog posts on the issue of ethnic model under-representation in Fashion Week, only time will tell if the numbers continue to increase and reflect where our country stands, on the grander scale, in terms of racial equality.

*all photo’s courtesy of

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Third Dimension Divides Opinions: The Debate Over 3-D Films

For a brief moment, it seemed that 3-D movies had nowhere to go but out of style.

That extra dimension meant higher ticket prices and higher expectations. And when it was tacked onto films shot in 2-D, audiences felt swindled.

Then, 2010’s box office results came in. Six out of the year’s top 10 grossing filmsToy Story 3, Alice in Wonderland, Despicable Me, Shrek Forever After, How To Train Your Dragon and Tangled — were featured in 3-D. While overall attendance was down, the extra cash moviegoers spent on 3-D films kept the box office afloat.

That’s not to say that 3-D still doesn’t have its detractors. In his subtly titled Newsweek article “Why I Hate 3-D (And You Should Too),” Roger Ebert offers a point by point takedown of 3-D filmmaking. He opens with the observation that movies are, you know, already filmed in three dimensions. He then goes on about the dimmer picture quality and nausea tied to 3-D movies.

Ebert also argues that it adds nothing to the experience, that “[a] great film completely engages our imaginations. What would Fargo gain in 3-D? Precious? Casablanca?”

A companion to that 2010 article was recently published on Ebert’s blog. In it, the film critic cites a letter he received from Walter Murch, “the most respected film editor and sound designer in the modern cinema,” as evidence that 3-D is an inherently flawed format.

Murch essentially validates all of Ebert’s gripes, closing the letter, “So: dark, small, stroby, headache inducing, alienating. And expensive. The question is: how long will it take people to realize and get fed up?”

Other voices in the 3-D discussion have changed their tune. A 2009 Slate article by Daniel Engber mentions headaches, nausea and visual fatigue among the problems with 3-D movies. Engber’s argument hinges on the fact that while there have been advancements in 3-D film technology since the format debuted and fizzled out, “[t]he essential mechanics of the medium—and its essential side effects—haven’t changed at all.”

Since then, though, Engber’s become more patient and tolerant of the medium. “I’ve grown accustomed to the ocular aerobics, and the same format that gave me splitting headaches back in 2009 hardly bothers me now,” he writes.

Engber’s also become less patient and tolerant of Ebert’s opinion. “I’ve had enough of this persnickety crusade, marching, as it does, under the banner of pseudoscience,” he writes.

But aside from simply adjusting to 3-D films, Engber believes the format can add emotional depth, as well as visual. He closes the piece with a reference to a scene from Toy Story 3, when one of the characters realizes he’s been replaced by another toy and is separated from the child he loves: “If the scene were flat, Lotso and Daisy would be right next to each other on the screen; in 3-D, they’re spread across a lonely chasm, separated by rain-streaked glass.”

Since more 3-D films are guaranteed to be coming soon, this argument probably won’t be settled in the immediate future. But, if 3-D films really are too much of a strain, there’s a brand new option: glasses that allow the viewer to see 3-D movies in 2-D.

Photo of 1950s movie theater courtesy of The National Archives UK via Flickr.

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Where My Girls At?

Hip-hop has always been a male-dominated genre. But in its infancy, there was room for women to rock the mic next to big names in rap like LL Cool J and Run DMC, helping propel hip-hop into popular culture. Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Salt-N-Pepa, and Roxanne Shante are just a few of the female MCs who reigned supreme in the 1980s.

But when hardcore rap entered the music scene in the early 1990s, the role of the female rapper shifted. Instead of holding down the role of the empowered woman or playful sidekick, female MCs like Lil Kim, Foxy Brown and Trina were oversexualized and played the sex kitten role to compete with their counterparts. Writer Janell Hobson addresses this change in “Can’t Stop the Women of Hip-Hop” from Ms. Magazine.

Of course there were exceptions to that; namely Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott, and Eve, who were all big names in ‘90s hip-hop.

Throughout the ‘90s, the number of female rappers decreased to basically the handful of women listed above. And today, there is really only one woman left in mainstream hip-hop— Nicki Minaj, who the Associated Press credits for reviving the female voice in rap.

There are so few female rappers that a few years ago, the Grammy’s eliminated the “Best Female Rapper” category.

But why? In an article from CNN’s website, MC Lyte points to the greed of record labels as one possible reason. Sylvia Rhone, president of Universal Motown Records, said in a recent BET documentary, “My Mic Sounds Nice: A Truth About Women in Hip-Hop,” that there are so few women MCs today because they haven’t adapted to “changing tastes in hip-hop.”

The reasons for the lack of female MCs is varied, but blogger Quentin B. Huff said in order for women to get their footing back in hip-hop they need to band together and start a hip-hop women’s movement. It sounds kind of silly, but he may have a point. Otherwise, the lone star of female rap, Minaj, will have to carry the torch alone until another woman rapper emerges.

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B*tches ain’t sh*t: Profanity in Film and TV

Traditional comic-strip cursing. Image courtesy of

Traditional comic-strip cursing. Image courtesy of

This year in Hollywood, everyone seemed to develop a dirty mouth – publicly, that is. A few of the year’s bigger stories to date centered around two four-letter words, and one with five letters.

“The King’s Speech” garnered the most Oscar nominations of the year with 14 nods, and won four. The film, which concerns a future monarch’s struggle to overcome his stutter, also featured a scene which had Colin Firth exercise a few of George Carlin’s seven dirty words.

Naturally, right after something has won you awards, box office returns and helped you get your former reputation back, it’s time to change it. So Harvey Weinstein decided to release an edited, PG-13 version of the film after the Oscars. (The film had initially been rated R – not because the context of the words was seen as vulgarity, but because there were so many of them.)

Weinstein’s rationale was that he wanted to bring the story to a wider audience, and inspire kids who might also suffer from stuttering.

Not that that helped at all. The edited version actually made less money.

In short, everyone followed Bertie’s cue, and didn’t give a f*ck.

Over on the small screen, two pilots were ordered, each with the word “bitch” in the title. “Good Christian Bitches” centers around a Dallas woman who returns home to face her former high-school classmates, whom she tormented back in the day. “Don’t Trust The Bitch in Apartment 23” follows a girl who moves to New York City and rooms with a girl who’s a little different.

(The word will also show up on the big screen. “Twilight” director Catherine Hardwicke signed on to direct “The Bitch Posse” for a feature film.)

The buzz on these scripts is that they’ll both be ordered, but with new, b*tch-less titles. That’s already happened for one of them: They softened into “Good Christian Belles.”

“B*tch” is following in the footsteps of “sh*t,” having been anointed into TV-title territory last fall when CBS picked up a pilot based off the popular Twitter feed “Shit My Dad Says.” But the title was eventually modified, with the first word being spelled “$h*!” (Even though it visually resembled the original word, it was supposed to be pronounced “bleep.” Think anyone did that? Yeah-bleeping-right.)

Viewers will have to wait out this trend to see if it goes or sticks around. Or to see if producers come up with less familiar curse words on which to hang scenes and entire premises.

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Lesser-Known Sports Heroes For the Win


Scene from the Iliad (Creative Commons)

The hero trope in the world of sports is nothing new: even Patroclus’ funeral games in the Iliad weren’t the first time athletic achievement was used to signal heroism. (We’re talking about heroism as defined by excellence and by striving, not just by what the Atlantic’s Rob Goodman calls “social usefulness.”)

And being a hero means getting a statue, right?

So in an interview this week with Sporting News, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made the case that the lack of a statue of him at the Staples Center, home of the Lakers as well as several sculptures of athletes, is a major slight to his legacy.

But in the world of sports, it’s not the statue that defines the hero narrative. It’s the story.

Real life Rocky and Rudy stories are better than the movies. Plus, they can make lesser-known athletes memorable. Sports-journalism profiles are responsible for a lot of those cases. Here are a few of the best stories out there of athletes made larger-than-life by journalists—often beyond the scope of their own achievements. You may not care about wrestling stats or triathlons or statues at the Staples Center, but after you read these pieces, you’ll never forget the names.

  • The Man Who Wouldn’t Die,” by Michael Paterniti (GQ, August 2007), is the story of the many times wrestler Rulon Gardner nearly died—and even though you know he makes it, the story keeps you in a choke-hold the whole way there.
  • The Wheels of Life,” by Gary Smith (Sports Illustrated, April 18 2011), recounts a lifetime’s worth of races and triathlons, as run by a father-son pair. The catch is that the son is quadriplegic. Smith seems aware that the story is something Hollywood would cook up, but he deftly manages to juxtapose the very real challenges of their racing life and the made-for-TV motivational qualities of the fact that they keep going.
  • Still Going Strong,” by Joe Posnanski (Sports Illustrated, 27 September 2010), is another how-does-he-keep-going story, this time about 40-year-old baseballer Jim Thome, and when/whether he’s going to retire. It’s a little snapshot that shows how a good story can elevate the work of a player, even if he’s no Babe Ruth.
  • But sometimes social usefulness ain’t so bad either. “Out on the Ice,” by Mary Rogan,” (GQ, January 2010) is about former hockey star Brian Burke and his role as an advocate against homophobia in sports. It’s less movie-friendly fare—a lot of what Burke is doing is talking, not scoring dramatic shoot-out goals—but no less heroic.

And there’s hope too for those of us who lack the hand-eye coordination, upper-body strength, lung capacity, or plain-old pluck to be a sports hero! Frank Deford’s “Sometimes the Bear Eats You: Confessions of a Sportswriter” (Sports Illustration, March 29 2010) will be a comfort to anyone who wants his life story immortalized alongside those of Achilles and A-Rod, but would rather be writing about the game than playing it.

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The Black Swan Diet

Photo courtesy of Nemariella

Ballet has always come with an air of superiority. Often people feel it is a higher class of art, one you need to know something about before calling yourself a fan. But thanks to this year’s Oscar winning film, Black Swan, ballet made it’s way into the mainstream.

Of course it’s not the first time, but from fashion to Kanye, the ballet aesthetic seemed to grab hold of the spotlight. Which is no real surprise. Graceful and beautiful, strong but fragile, ballerinas are the epitome of elegance. But with this dichotomy also comes a much sadder reality. Body issues like anorexia and bulimia, both taboos of the ballet world, make their way into the story and became a part of the Black Swan media storm.

Since right before the movie’s release in December to now there have been an enclave of stories covering the “Black Swan diet.” For nearly six months the story has evolved, with many different outlets taking different approaches on how to handle body image in dance.

In November before the movie came out the stories were how you could look like Portman, who lost 20 lbs for the role through rigorous training with Mary Helen Bower of Ballet Beautiful. Even though these articles appeared in women’s magazines, they are only surface stories never going deeper into the body debate.
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A Hairy Situation in Fashion

Last week, I reported and produced an audio slideshow about the recession’s effects on small-scale high-end designers. These aren’t high-profile celebrity designers, like Dior or Prada, but New York City designers who are represented in upscale independent boutiques. During my reporting, I learned that these designers had to scale back on luxury materials, like fur, chiffon, and leather, because they became too expensive. This got me thinking about fur in particular–specifically, if fur has become too expensive for these designers, are celebrity couture designers also scaling back on it?

No, they’re not.

Back in March, The Wall Street Journal reported that designers, like Luca Luca, Michael Kors, among others, are pushing fur looks pretty heavily these days, regardless of the recession. According to the Fur Information Council of America, a non-profit trade organization that analyzes trends in the fur industry, U.S. fur sales reached $1.3 billion in 2010–up 3.1 percent from the recession-wracked year of 2009, but still under the 2005 high of $1.8 billion.

Although money may not be an issue, animal activists remain one. It’s quite funny how this same Wall Street Journal article details the steps that PETA has taken to calm down its approach. Now they throw parties instead of cans of red paint (though there still is the occasional protest), but they still urge designers to reconsider the materials they use–especially fur pelts.

But there still are some extreme animal activists out there and the debate continues. It even shows up in the media.

  • Fendi, Seoul Government Feuding Over Fur, Monday May 16, 2011: On Monday, news broke that the municipal government of Seoul, South Korea under pressure from civil animal rights groups forced Fendi to remove all of its fur garments from an upcoming fashion show on Jun. 2. Out of 40 total looks, 20 included fur. News spread from The Wall Street Journal to The Huffington Post, but this article in Women’s Wear Daily stands out among them. Why? Because this post included Fendi’s response: “Fur is part of the DNA of Fendi.” This begs the question: will fur always have a place in fashion despite what opponents do or say?

Not necessarily.

  • Oslo Fashion Week Bans Fur on Catwalk, Dec. 9, 2010: This article in Norwegian Fashion details how Oslo Fashion Week became the first Fashion Week in the world to ban fur from its runways late last year. It gives good insight into the reasons why a team of Norwegian designers sought to create ethical standards in the fashion industry, and their colleagues who supported their effort. Still, though, it also reports how Copenhagen Fashion Week–the neighbor to the south–does not share the same opinion. For the Danes, skin, leather, even fur are all parts of fashion.

Given the situation in Seoul, it seems that Oslo’s streak is spreading–should we be on the lookout for greater ethics in fashion? Hey, Tim Gunn is already on board. But this brings up another discussion: activism on the internet.

  • Anti-Fur Protestors Take Over DKNY’s Facebook Page, Nov. 29, 2010: In this Mashable post, Lauren Indvik writes that PETA activists staged an anti-fur protest on DKNY’s facebook page. For those of us who missed the event, Indvik also posted a screenshot of how the protest was organized: in quick succession, facebook users whose profile photos bore individual letters that spelled DK BUNNY BUTCHER left their mark on the page. It may seem like a small act, but the message spread to the page’s 200,000 plus fans.

But no matter what PETA does, there are designers who choose to stand by their materials.

  • Julien Macdonald: Defender of the Fur, Feb. 19, 2006: In The Independent, Welsh designer Julien Macdonald opened up about why he needs to include fur in his lines, regardless of what PETA supporters think. He saidthat 60 percent of his business is catered to the Russian market, and that his biggest sales come from fur. If he didn’t have fur, he said, he would have to close.

What do you think, readers? Does business trump ethics?

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