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Tag: Brooklyn

Krampus Hates Hipsters

One of 1000s of vintage Krampus postcards you can hotlink from your lazy, seasonal blog.

One of 1000s of vintage Krampus postcards you can hotlink from your lazy, seasonal blog.

As an American, the things you own and consume are your identity.  Your place in society is defined by your ability to acquire, and the discernment you apply in choosing, your stuff.  Even hipsters and self-exiled outliers who pride themselves in cocking a snook at American consumerism play a full role:  their rejection of the consumerist formula always involves a loud avoidance of the first part of the equation, and a whole spirited devotion to the second.  And because the premise of America requires the destruction of the old, and the constant, grinding acquisition of the new, the refinement of consumer taste must be eclectic and seasonal.  Even American intellectuals are constantly on the hunt for novelty, and the vast space between ‘intellectual’ and ‘hipster’, the seething, chaotic, meaningless reality of the ‘cultural critic’, is heavily populated.  Are you old enough to recall a time when sophistication in America meant a passing familiarity with Kabbalah, an ironic, encyclopedic knowledge of 70s sitcoms, and the ability to pronounce ‘Côtes du Rhône’?  Where is your truth now, hipster?

Google tells me that American interest in Krampus began in December 2010 with a groundbreaking survey of the Krampus phenomenon by professional blogger ‘TeenAngster’ (Real name:  Alison; Location: Brooklyn, NY; Turn-ons: folk art, vintage oddities and other stuff discovered in her first year as a ‘Lit Major’ at University of Iowa, then pared and refined obsessively during three years in Williamsburg).  Her survey sets the formula for American discoveries of Krampus over the last two years:  Krampus is a vaguely goth, anti-Santa Claus;  Krampus adds some edgy thrills (and lazy blog copy) to the hackneyed, consumerist Christmas myth.  Krampus is cool, and he comes with many sets of vintage postcards that are easily scanned or hotlinked.

But there is a problem.  Krampus is also fucking terrifying.  And he hates hipsters.  I have friends who grew up with the myth of Krampus, and, at best, they would find Brooklynites’ glib, seasonal fascination annoying.  One such friend spent his life in a Hapsburg satellite state.  On the evening of the Nikolo (December 6, the St. Nicholas festival), his grandfather would prowl around the house after bed time, scratching windows with thorny twigs and rattling heavy chains.  My friend would cower under his bed for hours, having wet himself, sobbing for the intercession of St. Nicholas before Krampus made it into the house; because if Krampus did find him, he would be roughly tossed into an excruciating basket made of thorns and TAKEN STRAIGHT TO HELL.  (Some myths claim children are taken to Krampus’s lair, but, whatever.  It’s all the same to a six-year-old Slav).

‘OK,’ you might write in your next Gawker article.  ‘Old world parenting techniques aren’t the best.  But Krampus is still über-cool.  Check out these hotlinked photos from a Krampuslauf, which means ‘Krampus run’ in German, and occurs during the month of December in Austria, Hungary, Northern Italy and…’

Let me stop you right there, Alison.  Have you ever been to a Krampuslauf? Have you ever been to Carinthia, the glorious Texas of Austria?  Those JPEGs you cut-and-pasted are from the Disney ‘Main Street Parade’ of Krampusläufe. Your goth alternative to mall Santa has a mundane reality:  on the morning of December 5th, Austrian ‘bros’ get wasted on beer and schnapps, they don shitty monster masks and fur suits, and then use the occasion and the anonymity to wander the streets of Eberstein or Treffen harassing girls and beating the crap out of fags and pussies with sticks.  Things usually get a little out of hand, but, like the high spirited fraternity ‘rager’, it’s allowed to pass and is quickly forgotten.

If you want to understand better what Krampus is all about, spend a few winter months in Carinthia or south Tirol.  Learn German.  Attend a local Nikolo evening.  And head out to a small town Krampuslauf to survey the action.  But leave the skinny jeans in Brooklyn, and be forewarned:  Krampus is an old world allegory that doesn’t make for easy or frivolous consumption.  Krampus can smell irony from 200 metres.  He’s drunk on schnapps, swinging a spiny pine sapling at your head, and, above all, Krampus hates hipsters.

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Publish and be damned!

My fiancée was tonight questioning my commitment to blogging, posterity, etc., because I hadn’t touched my stony, fallow patch of the blogosphere in five months.  And I was all, ‘Fuck blogging!  I wrote a bunch of great stuff, and I’m not even famous yet, let alone rich.  I hate the internet!’

As I uttered these words, I was in New York, cultural centre and de-facto capital of the United States, preparing a meal that included lacinato kale, hand roasted hazelnuts and mimolette cheese for a bunch of local sophisticates.  NPR droned in the background, and a young, nasal critic hailed the latest product of the grinding, senseless (and enormously profitable) New York publishing machine as ‘richly textured’, in the signature monotone of US public radio.  I nearly stepped on the dog as I dove for the laptop to login to my WordPress account.

Firstly, the regime that would rule the US in my darkest and most triumphant fantasy would pay particularly close attention to the publishing sector, and would have an exhaustive list of capital offenses, at the very top of which would be the juxtaposition of the words ‘richly’ and ‘textured’, or ‘deeply’ and ‘felt’ in any context outside of my own writing.  (The reader can be assured that any use I might make of these dismal phrases would ONLY be in the interest of national security).

This led me to think about publishing, the internet, and my own, recent, heartbreaking experience.

‘Wait a minute!’ say my Brooklynite friends, almost spilling their glasses of absinthe while pausing the latest episode of ‘Oddities’.  ‘I am, like, totally underpaid.  How can you say our industry is profitable?’

Anyway, by locking myself in the library and stuffing throw pillows under the door, the smell of burning dinner quickly dissipates, and I can hear the yelling and sirens only as echoes through the garden window.  You can whine about your parasitic industry in your own time, hipsters.  This is my blog.

Secondly, let me share a few facts with you.  Nature Publishing Group (NPG – a subsidiary of MacMillan) and their villainous cousins Reed Elsevier (Elsevier), are running a remarkable scam, which is exemplary of the problems with publishing everywhere.  Both of these houses publish top-tier scientific research, in Nature and Cell, respectively;  which would be fine if it weren’t for the way they go about it.

The hard truth hit me as I sat in one of the world’s best neuroscience laboratories and quizzed a group of researchers about their business with the aforementioned publishers.  (NOTE – these people all have PhDs from places like Princeton and Oxford).

‘How much does NPG pay you for the paper?  Do you receive an advance?  Royalties?’

‘Pay us?  What do you mean?’

The moment of disillusion that followed was second only to discovering the lie of Santa Claus.  I won’t go into the details, but here is how it breaks down.

a) Scientist are born defenceless introverts, and remain that way through their adult lives.

b) They conduct research funded by the taxpayer and private grants.

c) Elsevier and NPG charge the scientists for the privilege of publishing in their journals.

d) Legions of salespeople from Elsevier and NPG, who are highly paid and incentivised (and many of whom seem, mysteriously, to have backgrounds in jurisprudence) sell the journals back to the universities and scientists for many, many thousands of dollars for an annual subscription.  They are aided in their salesmanship by the very public nature of university budgets in most countries.  Further pricing advantage is created by a) above. 

This scenario raises a few questions:  what do Elsevier and NPG do to deserve their money (their business margins approach those of the Beloved Goldman Sachs), and how does this relate to publishing generally?

Answers:  ‘nothing’, and ‘in a lot of ways’.

There was a time when publishers performed many valuable services for their clients, and a few less valuable, but that seemed quite good anyway when tied in a bundle with everything else.  They offered essential printing and distribution, and less essential editorial and promotion.

But what do authors require today?  Certainly not physical distribution.  Written content flies around the internet more quickly (and more freely) than is comfortable for many.  Perhaps if the publishers specialised in digital rights management, and could bring order to the piratical free-for-all.  But nearly none of them does (with the strange exception of  those rascals Elsevier and NPG).  And who cares about printing?  It can be had cheaply and on-demand, if required at all.  And as for the promotional efforts of major publishing houses, I’ll let this satisfied customer explain it all: http://tcrn.ch/yQ2M1P

I would estimate that a little money spent on SEM and social media marketing with an expert agent would make more financial sense than leaving your nest egg in the hands of a comp lit major from Wesleyan.

So, what advice am I giving to authors (and researchers) in light of these disheartening facts?  Get a job with Elsevier.  They’re hiring:

Reed Elsevier
125 Park Avenue
23rd Floor
New York, NY 10017
+1 212 309 5498