Nota Bene: ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ in Japan

Fiddler On The Roof Playbill.jpg

Fiddler on the Roof premiered on Broadway in 1964, proving that an nontraditional musical about an Eastern European shtetl family being wrenched apart by the struggle over tradition and fears of the next pogrom could play to massive audiences. It still does today.

Last year marked the 50th anniversary of its first production in Japan. Since then it has become that country’s most popular American musical.

Joseph Stein, who wrote the book for Fiddler—stitching together the musical’s characters and themes from the work of Sholem Aleichem—remembered bringing the show to Japan in 1967. He had this incredible exchange about the universality of some works of art:

Japan was the first non-English production and I was very nervous about how it would be received in a completely foreign environment. I got there just during the rehearsal period and the Japanese producer asked me, “Do they understand this show in America?” And I said, “Yes, of course, we wrote it for America. Why do you ask?” And he said, “Because it’s so Japanese”…

Nota Bene: Are You in the Midwest?

minneapolis
Yes, this is the Midwest

In David Montgomery’s great CityLab article, he tries to delineate the boundaries of that fungible region known as the Midwest. In response to a survey, he finds broad agreement:

…there is a core area that most everyone agrees is Midwestern, including cities like Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Omaha, Indianapolis, Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus, St. Louis, and Kansas City.

But things get complicated when you start talking about the “fuzzy boundary regions”:

…places where people are more divided about their alleged Midwesternness. This includes cities like Pittsburgh and Buffalo, New York, where respondents were torn between Midwest and East Coast allegiance; cities like Louisville and Oklahoma City, where Midwestern and Southern or Southwestern identities are in conflict; and places like Rapid City, South Dakota, where the Midwest becomes the West.

Buffalo might not be the East Coast, but Midwest seems a stretch.

Nota Bene: Skip Prime Day?

Next Monday and Tuesday, Amazon is having its annual Prime Day sale (shouldn’t that be Prime Days?).

For many, this provides an opportunity to load up on all the consumer goods they want and don’t need (100″ TV, voice-operated device that records everything you say and sends it back to Amazon’s server farms for future use by…?). For others it’s an understandably good time to save a few well-needed dollars buying essentials they actually need (diapers, clothes for the kids, food).

But of course, it’s not so simple as a great deal. John Oliver recently broke down what it’s like to work at an Amazon warehouse, where things get particularly Dickensian during the run-up to Prime Day(s):

And now some workers at Amazon’s facility in Shakopee, Minnesota are planning a strike to protest working conditions.

Over at Moby Lives, Ryan Harrington—who noted that some white-collar Amazon workers are flying to Shakopee to join the strike—used the situation to make a helpful suggestion for what to do come Prime Day: Maybe shop somewhere else that day(s).

That applies particularly to books. The American Booksellers Association noted a number of things that your local indie store provides that Amazon, whatever your feelings about them, simply cannot (union labor, drag queen storytime, a cute place to get engaged).

One thing not on their list that absolutely should be: Bookstore cats.

Nota Bene: Everyday Socialism

A little late for May Day, but still worth reading. This New Statesman piece looks at the rise of non-utopian socialists who redefine the fight as more of a struggle to simply help people survive the time-sucking grind of modern capitalism. Per Freud: “converting hysterical misery into ordinary unhappiness.”

From Jacobin founder Bhaskar Sunkara:

Imagine ordinary people, with ordinary abilities, having time after their 28-hour work week to explore whatever interests or hobbies strike their fancy (or simply enjoy their right to be bored). The deluge of bad poetry, strange philosophical blog posts, and terrible abstract art will be a sure sign of progress…

Nota Bene: Movies About Writers, Why?

From Anthony Lane’s despairing review of the biopic Tolkien:

Why do people keep making films about writers? And why do people watch them? It’s not as if writers do anything of interest. Unless you’re Byron or Stendhal, a successful day is one in which you don’t fall asleep with your head on the space bar. An honest film about a writer would be an inaction-packed six-hour trudge, a one-person epic of mooch and mumblecore, the highlights being an overflowing bath, the reheating of cold coffee, and a pageant of aimless curses that are melted into air, into thin air…

Nota Bene: Joy Division

Last month in the Los Angeles Times, Henry Rollins published a beautiful appreciation of Jon Savage’s brilliant new oral history of Joy Division: This Searing Light, the Sun and Everything Else. He included this description of the band’s music, which sums it up better than just about anyone else ever has:

Joy Division’s music doesn’t “rock” in the classic sense as much as shudder, roar and convulse. The songs are readings of temperature, light and lack of light. They walk silently for hours on city streets and return alone to small rooms with full ashtrays and no messages on the machine. It’s a fantastically difficult question to answer: Why do you like Joy Division? The more dedicated the listener, the more likely you’ll get an inhaled breath held for a few seconds, an exhale and a shrug…

Now go listen to Closer about 10 times and you will see what Hank means.

Nota Bene: Twitter, Neo-Nazis, and the GOP

In March of this year, Twitter had an all-hands meeting at which an employee asked why the company can’t do as good a job of keeping white supremacist material off the site as they have done with ISIS propaganda?

According to Motherboard, another employee provided a simple explanation:

With every sort of content filter, there is a tradeoff, he explained. When a platform aggressively enforces against ISIS content, for instance, it can also flag innocent accounts as well, such as Arabic language broadcasters. Society, in general, accepts the benefit of banning ISIS for inconveniencing some others, he said…

The employee argued that, on a technical level, content from Republican politicians could get swept up by algorithms aggressively removing white supremacist material. Banning politicians wouldn’t be accepted by society as a trade-off for flagging all of the white supremacist propaganda, he argued…