Subversive Love Notes

By: Grainne Rhuad

In honor of the month of February, you know love month as sold to us by chocolatiers and stationers everywhere, I thought I would do a little list.
So searching the catalog of my extensively educated mind, I also thought it would be nice to include the title of our nice little start-up magazine into my love letter. After All, I love this place! So what I came up with was this
10 Subversive Personalities/Groups/Individuals and why I love them. Some of these folks are dead, some are semi-alive and kicking, some have names you will immediately recognize. Others don’t but all of them are folks-or groups as the case may be that you definitely should get to know.
1. Boudicca
Perhaps my very favorite Subversive Personality of all time is Boudicca.
Boudicca was the female war leader of the British Isle tribes who stood up to the Emperor Nero and his armies. Okay, she didn’t stand up to him personally. He never actually set foot on the British Isles. But he sent someone from his posse. A very trusted and actually quite good General by the name of Gaius Suetonius Paulinus. While Boudicca has been the victim of a great deal of fantastic poetic license, she did lead the Iceni -a tribe which lived in what is now modern day East Anglia and their allies the Trinovantes. She and her warriors managed a sustained attack of guerrilla warfare which severely depleted both the moral and purse of the Roman Government. Nero even considered pulling out of Britannia all together. However the lure of Britannia’s mineral riches was too much for Rome and they stuck with the war eventually defeating everyone up to the Scottish Border where they built Hadrian’s Wall. Those wild Scotts were just a bit too much for them to take on.
While women in warfare was not a new thing for the Welsh, Celts and Pictish tribes who inhabited Britannia, the fact that the Roman army was being walloped by a Woman was a great embarrassment and led rise to lots of speculation about their manhood throughout the empire. It is quite possible that this murmuring led other nations under their thumb to begin to plan their eventual downfall. In addition to being by all accounts an excellent tactician Boudicca rode to war at the front of her hoard inciting her own men and women to fury and wrath in the cause of keeping their lands. They eschewed the modern conveniences that seduced their lower British brethren who sold their souls and lands for things like baths and forks and wine. I gotta have respect for a noble woman who will sleep on the ground and drink mead alongside her compatriots giving up the comforts that were afforded her station to keep her land free. It is this very spirit that inspirited future Queens like Elizabeth and Victoria, who actually insinuated she was the spirit of Boudicca come back to protect England.

2. Members of The Droplift Project.
In July 2000 people belonging to this artistic revolutionary project walked into record stores around the United States and secretly placed homegrown music, produced recorded and edited completely outside of the mainstream music scene. This music that they left was cleverly disguised as commercial music. The point? In their own words “art, social commentary, parody, and contemporary criticism coming at you when you least expect it. When I read about this I was reminded of a character in a Rob Brezney novel that snuck into stores and hid $100 bills in mac and cheese boxes, candy bars and top ramen. All for the sake of changing the thoughts of one single individual, while practicing the ultimate non-attachment by not taking credit. It gives me a little high just to think about it. Granted these artists have a press release and a website, so they are not entirely altruistic. But what they did do is make a point that the monotony of Top 40 popular music as well as its country cousins is shite and needs to be augmented somehow with something else. Ah the thrill of swiping record company sales and maybe expanding young minds at the same time. Or, if minds are unwilling to expand, at least they are made aware. There is a world of music and art out there that is probably better than what we are being spoon fed. It’s all about the discussion which gives me chills. Artists once again encouraging discussion, what a beautiful thing! You can visit their website and download their songs for your listening pleasure here: http://www.droplift.org/.

3. Marc Fischer
While we’re on the subject of dropping things, let’s take a look at Marc Fischer. Marc is the mastermind behind The Library Project. This project kills two birds with one stone. It gives libraries hundreds of brand new books that they cannot afford to purchase without any kind of bureaucratic headaches, while bringing with uniquely educational materials of obscure, subversive, self-published, hand-made, or limited edition works by underexposed artists to a wider audience.
Sounds like a win-win situation to me. Marc Fischer initiated this project in the largest public library in the United States, The Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago. In his words Marc Sais “Putting these books in Harold Washington is not meant as an act of aggression toward the library. None of the library’s current holdings have been damaged or altered in any way. We are only adding books and objects, not taking away or changing anything that was already there. The project and some of the books it includes may cause a little confusion on the part of patrons. The clerks that reshelf books or work the circulation desks may discover a few genuine oddities and surprises. No harm is intended. “
No harm indeed but hopefully more than one mind will be expanded. In addition most of the authors and artists whose books were a part of this project were unknowns and also benefitted from having their work in circulation. Which is all for the good. I applaud this brilliant idea and indeed all the time and effort put into making each of these donations of the highest quality so as to streamline with the library’s current collection.
One might ask the question “Why not just donate books to the library.” The answer would probably be that no matter how much we love and trust our libraries and librarians, they still censor stuff. This way artistic works will be available to the public until there is a complaint. In addition if they are pulled from the shelf they will most probably be sold at a Friends of the Library book sale and garner money for the library anyway.
I like to think Marc just likes being sneaky and subversive. That’s the story I’m sticking to.
For Marc’s own write up on the project along with flyers, etc. go here: http://www.temporaryservices.org/library_project_essay.html.

4. The Sentinelese Tribe

Recently while reading an article about the very few places on earth not yet explored I ran across a small overview of a tribe known as the Sentinelese. The people of this tribe of natives from a small island in the Bay of Bengal are my new heroes.

Check this out, in this day and age of gadgetry, satellite imaging, smart weapons and diplomatic finesse (I can hardly write that without snickering) nobody knows how many Sentinelese exist. That’s because this little tribe kicks ass and takes no prisoners.

Technically a part of India, the Indian government refuses to go near the island. Apparently these folks don’t want to give up their own way of life and attack any comers threatening and non. They have attacked government officials, adventurers, and in 1974 a crew of documentary film personnel. In 2004 the Indian Government thought that they may have had the Sentinelese licked through the happy coincidence of a Tsunami, but no such luck. The most recent report of attack came from some fishermen who got too close in 2006. These unlucky fishermen got too close and were killed apparently shot by arrows from the shore, however helicopters dispatched by the Indian government were unable to get in there and collect the bodies.

I love it! I am incredibly intrigued. Talk about being subversive! But it does make one wonder…..what’s going on, on that island? Are they protecting the Arc of the Covenant or maybe the Golden Fleece? Is it even a place on this Earth or some island in time? What is so great about North Sentinel Island that makes its inhabitants want to protect it so?

5. Nicolaus Copernicus

Who says the Polish are stupid? Not Nicolaus Copernicus. This guy pissed off the Holy Roman church with his Hobby. I know what you’re thinking, who doesn’t piss of the Holy Roman Church with their Hobby? But Copernicus’ publication of his findings which were built on ancient understandings of the universe was a huge dent in the rust armor of the Church. They wanted to keep a handle on their supreme all knowingness the renaissance was under swing and people were starting to think for themselves. Along comes Copernicus writing books about the Earth not being the center of the universe and what’s worse, people start believing his argument.
I love Copernicus for one reason because his name is really fun to say. But more importantly because it just goes to show that there are no unimportant pass-times. Copernicus was a Governor, diplomat, mathematician, jurist, military leader and more. His astronomy hobby was really only one of the smaller things he did with his days off, and yet is this insubordination against popular belief and doctrine that we still remember him for.

6. The Subversive Historian~Gabrielle San Roman

Gabrielle is my newest object of affection and I will give you the reasons in Gabrielle’s own words “The “Subversive Historian” was launched on August, 6th 2008 to bring daily reminders to the people of their history in rebellion. Audio commentaries filed by Gabriel San Roman and aired on Uprising Radio in Los Angeles take a look back at important dates in our social struggle. Realizing that the history of now is lived not studied, San Roman’s subversive histories bring the past to the present by illustrating the relevancy of our movement legacies. The absurdity of establishment history and the fallacies of right-wing rhetoric is also underscored by the conclusions of his anti-myth mantras.”
How can I not be in love with someone with that outlook? I am also massively turned on by the amount of research and study that goes into all of the commentaries given by The Subversive Historian. Entries cover all areas from Zulu warriors to addressing inconsistencies in Barack Obama’s camp. Get to know the Subversive Historian, you won’t be sorry. Blogs can be found at MySpace http://www.myspace.com/subversivehistorian and at http://donpalabraz.com/2009/01/

7. Carrotmob

Earlier in 2008 I became aware of and subsequently enamored of the subversive hi-jinks of the Carrotmob. The Carrotmob believes in shopping, which is all good right? We Americans obviously love to shop and I have been told the ladies love to shop even more. So what the organizers of Carrotmob decided to do was organize guerilla shopping. That’s right, taking warfare to the aisles in an attempt to make a difference.
I like their ideas. People are not going to stop buying, we need, well our liquor and maybe some Ben and Jerry’s too. But what if we can buy what we want and still make a difference? Currently their emphasis is on impacting energy use and they have had some small success. By talking to neighborhood markets in the San Francisco area and offering to bring in crowds of customers if the stores make simple changes in their energy use, things like green light bulbs and putting solar panels on the roof. One store responded and Carrotmob delivered the crowd. It was a win-win for all. So far this is the only event they have staged. But I have high hopes that if we as normal everyday consumers can start using some of these tactics we can make sure that our neighborhood stores are what we want them to be. Then I have a dream…..that one day we can run all big box stores outta town. We don’t like their kind around here anyway. For more on Carrotmob see their site at http://www.carrotmob.org/

8. Jimmy Wales, and Angela Beesley Starling, The Creators of Wikipedia

This is a love hate thing. First of all I hate Wikipedia. It is a pet peeve of mine when people quote it as a source of information, particularly in professional and academic articles. There are so many completely reputable places to get information, not the least of which the actual encyclopedia, that I find it lazy and misinformed to head out to Wikipedia. However, the idea of it I love; People collectively making meanings about real-life things, anyone being able to get an account and edit history. This is Brilliant! Not to mention incredibly subversive. Taking the ability to tell our history as well as anyone else’s we want and average everyday people site your view in their papers and articles. It is both frightening and funny in the extreme.

9. Lon Jack and Robert W. Pittman- creators of MTV

Say what you like about where MTV has gone. But in 1981 the creators of this network launched it with words that 26 years later are never uttered on the station. “Ladies and Gentlemen….Rock and Roll.” For those of us who were teens and tweens at the time this was a godsend. A new way to get under our parent’s skin with our music that they had never dreamed of. At first MTV programming was limited both in content and the amount of time that it was on. But we didn’t care. What it meant to us was we didn’t have to recycle orange crush and RC bottles in order to rent our own suitcase sized VCR and the Michael Jackson Video Thriller. We could watch it over and over and over gleefully high fiving each other when the frequent trips to the refrigerator our parents made resulted in empty boxes of Gallo which our parents then had to head to the store to replace. They thought they were getting away from the house and “the evil of the thriller.” Instead we had successfully figured out how to get some non-parent time. A successful subversive action if ever there was.
But MTV succeeded in doing other things to before it sold out to reality TV moguls. They introduced a new way of marketing music which much like the internet is doing now, brought new music to our attention. No longer did upcoming stars have to rely so much on payola but their creativity in presentation could make them. Particularly since there were many call-in segments in the beginning years in which we could request the videos we liked. In short old-school rockers like Rod Stewart had to get off their asses and do something. Some rose to the occasion like David Bowie who had the acumen to use what MTV had to offer. Some fell by the wayside like boring ass-Crosby Stills and Nash. We did not want to see more clips of Woodstock, mostly because we were afraid we would be able to pick out our parents naked in the crowd.
Then like magic, just as our kids were reaching the rebellious age, MTV worked in our favor again, changing their programming from largely music video to All Celebreality all the time. To which our kids said” Eww… we don’t want to see some aging rocker older than our parents messing around with kids our age! “, And promptly turned to YouTube.

10. Shel Silverstein

While he has become best known for his off-beat rhyming children’s collections which are thrown at children by teachers on a daily basis…..to read silly, Shel was a lot more than a rhyming educator. His ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’ fans might be surprised to learn that he began his career as a writer for Stars and Stripes, which is quite a ways off from where his writing took him. He was also a song writer penning well known songs such as ‘A Boy named Sue’ and ‘The cover of the Rolling Stone.’

In fact his writing of children’s books was a happy accident and occurred because a friend introduced him to a children’s publisher who challenged him to give it a try.

Amongst my personal favorites are some of his more adult works. As a playwright he produced Shell’s Shorts which are a long ways from ‘I’m being swallowed by a boa constrictor’. In these Shel shows his sinister side. His sarcasm, irreverence and darkness shine through in a collection of skits that are both revolutionary and ridiculous, much like the man himself.

But the real reason why I love Shel and he is on this list is because of the effect he had on my own life. When I was in fifth grade Mr. Silverstein, I’m sure on a book tour, came and visited our school. How he got booked at our little mountain school I will never know, but it is quite possible that looking over our area he picked the smallest most remote grade school and said. “I’ll do that one.”

On this particular day Shel looked tired. He seemed less than animated nor was he particularly excited about reading his own poetry. What did get his attention was the question and answer time. He seemed to come more alive when answering what most adults might have thought silly questions. One thing he said to the crowd which has stayed with me my whole life and landed him her on my list is that we should always hold on to the way we are as kids. Be silly, Have fun. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE MAKE SENSE. He told us that if we find ourselves making sense, fitting in, being grown up, we should reverse our direction immediately. NEVER EVER GROW UP!
While this is not verbatim, I was after all 10 years old, I remember the message. Do not try to fit it. It is not everything that the world tells you it is. Be an individual. For which I am ever grateful to Shel