Friday, May 11, 2012


It’s amazing how every challenge to capitalism ultimately becomes just another commodity to be bought and sold in the marketplace. Even the most nefarious of threats—the dreaded Red Menace of Communism—has become a quaintly nostalgic meme to be either ridiculed, fashionably fancied, or dragged out of its tomb to scare those old enough to remember the Cold War. It seems the one thing we aren’t able to do with Communism is take it seriously.

But even stripped of its radical ideology (in fact, especially when stripped of its ideology) the raw visual power of Communist propaganda art is impossible to deny. The Soviets were such masters of the printed image, it seems now that the only thing holding the USSR together was its propaganda, usually in the form of the mass-produced poster, plastered on the bullet-pocked walls of its decaying cities.

The offset press was the perfect mechanism to transmit the ideals of the revolution to a mostly illiterate peasantry, hungry for hope and progress as much as for food. The artists of Soviet Russia created images that mobilized millions to the Communist cause, but what’s more, they created art that has outlasted the cause it sought to promote, art that has undeniably seeped into the cultural consciousness of western popular culture.

At first glance, one could easily dismiss David King’s Red Star Over Russia: A Visual History of the Soviet Union from the Revolution to the Death of Stalin as a work of commie propaganda porn, a celebration and sensualization of images that were created specifically to mask the repression of a failing ideology. Yet even with its artsy, fetishistic trappings, Red Star constantly reminds its readers to see the posters as propaganda as well as art, so that the longview comes into focus... 


Monday, April 30, 2012

KZFR Interview

I got interviewed recently about the weekly writing workshop for homeless youth I host every Wednesday at 6th St. Drop-In Center. This was just before I got the news that my grant from the city was approved to compile a book of writing and art by homeless youth. This project will be a lot of work, but I'm really excited about showcasing these kids' talents, as well as helping them find their voices and examine their lives.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Off to the Races

Someone mentioned this story to me the other day, and I was so happy because I'd completely forgotten how much fun it was to write. "The Goofy Sport of Pigeon Racing"...

“How about 1021, Chameron?” Dave asks. “That one come in for you?”

Chameron looks down at the page and comes up with the bird’s showing, airspeed and distance traveled for the last race, while Dave plucks a bird out one of the cages and holds it up for inspection. He flips it upside down and checks the bird’s belly, unfolds a wing and runs his thumb over its plumage, then holds the bird up in order to peer into its eyes.

“I’m trying to see inside him,” he explains. “I know all these birds—I know what they are going to do, when they’re going to come in. These birds, they’re athletes. That’s what they are, so they get the best of everything.”

With that, Dave trots off to get some more peanuts or something (the pigeons are fed copious amounts of raw Spanish peanuts before each race to give them energy for the flight), and Chameron makes his final choices on which birds to enter in this week’s race.

Chameron’s been racing pigeons with his grandpa for something going on five years now. A couple years back, he raised a champion bird, which is the one that averages the fastest speed over a whole season’s worth of racing. Since he’s talking about the bird in past tense, I ask him where it is now.

“Died,” says Chameron matter-of-factly. “Probably got hit by a power pole or something. They die all the time.”