Today’s news: somewhere between camp and tragedy

Filmmaker John Waters used to express a desire to read about a tragedy in a newspaper in the morning and have a movie made about it in the evening. (He actually succeeded once, with 1970’s “The Diane Linkletter Story,” which is a bit unwatchable, even if you’re a John Waters fan.) Weirdly, the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Advanced Study seems to share that aesthetic to an extent — folks there are developing a talent for converting a national tragedy into an educational curriculum in such short order that Bill McAuliffe of the Star Tribune describes them as “something of a specialty in academic rapid response.” Case in point: They’re debuting a class this fall called “Oil and Water: The Gulf Oil Spill of 2010.” They’ve also offered courses on the Indian Ocean tsunami and the I-35 collapse. One feels certain that these classes are detailed investigations into the incidents, and not expressions of a worldview that can spontaneously turn tragedy into camp, as with Waters.

There’s really no need to turn to tragedy when looking for camp; the daily news is already full of the stuff. Take this brief item, reported by Mara Gottfried of the Pioneer Press, about a 15-year-old girl who was caught shoplifting 44 pairs of underwear from a St. Paul store. When asked why she did it, she answered, “Do you expect me to wear dirty underwear?”

Thank goodness for tales like these, though; without them, news can be such an insistent bummer. Examples: Minnesota’s nurses are planning to strike again; thousands of Minnesotans are about to lose their jobless benefits; a Lino Lakes City Council member is proposing an English-only policy, even though he doesn’t actually know how many residents of Lino Lakes speak other languages (“I never looked into it“); there may be more tornadoes this weekend; Michele Bachmann is claiming Social Security is out of money, which isn’t true.

In fairness, it’s never entirely clear whether Bachmann is on the side of camp or the side of tragedy. She rates highly on Townhall’s ranking of “The 100 Americans the Left Hates Most (PDF), but no matter how much animosity one might feel for her, it’s hard not to be tickled by her antics. The Strib’s Rachel E. Stassen-Berger gets closer to the truth with a story titled “Love to hate ’em?” Alas, the comments of Stassen-Berger’s piece demonstrate that Bachmann is closer to tragedy than camp, at least as far as the political discourse she inspires. Sample: “It is more sensible to hate shameless, idiotic liberal rags like the Red Star.” Is this the free market of ideas we’ve heard so much about? It’s like walking into one of those corner bodegas in New York hoping to buy some aspirin and discovering that there is nothing there but dust-covered cans of 5-year-old tuna and a jar of pickle brine.

Mankato officials expressed some irritation about two young men with what can most charitably be described as a boneheaded hobby: They leap off bridges into the rivers below. Brian Ojanpa of the Mankato Press, republished in the Pioneer Press, quotes an area police officer about the stern talking to he gave the young men: “‘I explained to them about all the resources that got burnt up,’ Stoltman said of two policemen at the scene plus a state trooper and potentially a river rescue team had the act gone horribly wrong.” Good points. Did the the lesson stick? One young man eyed the police and then responded, “If they weren’t here, we’d be doing it right now.”

We have a suggestion for these young men — it’s similarly outre, but not quite as dangerous: Aurora Gardens Retreat near Hixon, Wis., is hoping to get as many people as they possibly can to take off their clothes and get in their 5-acre lake as part of a nationwide attempt to break the world record for largest single-day skinny dip. Chris Vetter of the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram has the story, republished in the PiPress.

In arts: If you’ve ever known any theater people, you know to lock your liquor cabinet when they come over, and to hide the mouthwash, and to throw out any old radiators that can be used to construct makeshift stills, and to make sure there are no overripe berries in the fridge that may be fermenting. Despite this, the local theater scene has never had as many plays on the subject of alcohol as one might expect from a group so famous for their love of the stuff. Until now, that is: Tom Horgan of the Star Tribune reports on “Bye, Bye Liver,” playing at Hennepin Stages and produced by the Actors theater of Minnesota. Its sounds rather irresistible, especially when Horgan’s strongest criticism is that there “are moments when the actors would be smart to project louder in order to drown out the audience’s clanking beer bottles (there are drinking games between sketches).”

Also irresistible-sounding: The Ballet of the Dolls’ “Dance of the Pink Flamingos,” inspired by John Waters (Hey! Him again!), which Caroline Palmer describes in the Strib: “The program includes warnings about the ‘sorta bad,’ ‘really bad’ and ‘blasphemy’ scenes that lie ahead.”

In sports: How’s this for a lede sentence: “A game of soccer turned into a 100-person brawl Saturday night in Coon Rapids.” Leah Beno of KARE11 has the story. Apparently, the patrons were disappointed by the outcome of the soccer match. “They were throwing chairs and coolers, said one witness, “it was nuts.”

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by ken roberts on 06/25/2010 - 09:57 am.

    Max –

    The Coon Rapids soccer story was on FOX 9, not the Kare Bears.

    Ken

  2. Submitted by Tim Walker on 06/25/2010 - 11:19 am.

    Also, Max, you misspelt “lead” in that final story.

  3. Submitted by Christine Hansen on 06/25/2010 - 11:46 am.

    At its simplest, lede can be seen as an odd spelling of “lead”- what is the lead/lede of your story? What is the main (first) paragraph? This is your “lede.” The quirky spelling comes from early printers, who needed to distinguish it from other, similar words such as lead (the metal). This word is most common in newspaper publishing, but can also be used in the magazine industry.

  4. Submitted by Jane Cracraft on 06/25/2010 - 11:46 am.

    Actually, “lede” is the correct spelling in that context. Weird, but true.

    It does refer to the lead sentence, but the word is sometimes spelled lede in the journalism industry.

  5. Submitted by Tim Walker on 06/25/2010 - 01:28 pm.

    Jane, Cristine:

    With my M.A. in journalism, I know the history of the word and when and how it’s used by my fellow ink- and pixel-stained wretches.

    And I deem “lede” to be pretentious journalistic jargon.

    As Double E would often say: That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  6. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 06/25/2010 - 02:13 pm.

    And I proclaim the use of the word deem to be significantly more pretentious than the use of journalism jargon in a news summary post read by media junkies.

    But then I don’t have a degree in anything and so obviously know nothing about nuttin’.

    Fwiw, Max Sparber is currently writing the best daily online news summary post in the metro area, and I should know because I pioneered that concept in 2003 at City Pages. (If, in fact, being the first to port an old idea to a new medium counts for anything.)

    Max has got a good thing going here. Leave Max aloooooooone!

  7. Submitted by Tim Walker on 06/25/2010 - 03:27 pm.

    Mark G. wrote: “Fwiw, Max Sparber is currently writing the best daily online news summary post in the metro area …”

    I agree 100%, and I hope that my teasing him (for indeed, that’s all it is) about using THAT WORD is not being taken as a sign that I don’t like his work.

    Because I do like his work. A lot.

  8. Submitted by Jane Cracraft on 06/25/2010 - 05:18 pm.

    I don’t love “lede” either, Tim, but I work in the news industry and they use it all the time; it’s so commonly used that at least within internal communication it would look strange if I saw “lead” sted “lede.”

    “Sted” is another one, as well as “graph” (paragraph). Ridiculous outside the industry, but totally acceptable within. Granted, lede is the only one that would look weird spelled as lead.

    Also granted, Max’s wonderful Glean isn’t for industry insiders, so your teasing is kinda fair.

  9. Submitted by Max Sparber on 06/26/2010 - 07:22 am.

    Lede is far and away the least weird word I use.

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