Artists of the Year

12 Rods, Jon Stewart, Howard Stern, Quentin Tarantino, Garrison Keillor, MF Doom, Lawrence Lessig, Randi Rhodes...

Put it this way: Troy Duffy, goddammit, is the fucking face of American cinema. No, fuck that: He's the fucking face of America, bitch. He's a 10-ton SUV of fucking filmmaking force. Better buy his DVD on amazon.com, you pussy. Autographed screenplay for $25 at theboondocksaints.com/store; click on "Hot deals" and get the fuckin' Brothers Rosary Package for $79--or $67 each if you fuckin' buy two or more. Now fuck off and die while I go spend my capital.

Rob Nelson is film editor at City Pages.

 

Nicholas Parsons
by Michael Tortorello

Kindly put down what you're doing. Look at the second hand on your watch. If you don't have a watch with a second hand, I would urge you to consider getting one. When I prompt you, please start speaking for one minute without hesitation, repetition, or deviation. Allow me, please, to elaborate. Talk aloud for 60 seconds without pausing or umming, without using any single word twice, and without departing from the assigned topic.

The topic you will be speaking on is, How to Avoid Bad News. You have 60 seconds...starting now.

How did it go, gentle reader? Did you make it to 30 seconds? No? How about 15? Did anyone make it past 5? I didn't think so.

Now, if you would, imagine that you just attempted that exercise on a live stage, with three other players waiting to hit a buzzer whenever you faltered. Or whenever you repeated the word "mammary" or "kumquat" or maybe just "yes." Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the same culture that gave us caning, blood pudding, and colonialism has turned this quirky form of torture into public sport.

For 37 years now, British actors, comedians, and other silver-tongued souls have taken their turn at the stopwatch on the BBC 4 radio show Just a Minute. When the contestants run out of things to say, they frequently find a ready target right in front of their eyes--the show's chair (or host) Nicholas Parsons. He's a consummate dart-catcher. Or to turn the analogy around, Parsons is the guy lobbing the ball into the plate during a home-run derby. For having played the straight man for 780 episodes--he has never missed a second of Just a Minute--Parsons was knighted last January. A new coat of arms for the designated stuffed shirt.

Babbling extemporaneously, it turns out, doesn't lead people to solve the humanitarian crisis in the Congo or to invent new cures for drug-resistant tuberculosis. Which is all right because what I realized in 2004 is that at our precise moment in American history, no one is going to do anything about any of those things anyway. What 60 seconds of logorrhea is good for is clever improvisation, inspired tomfoolery, and structured anarchy.

While you wait to listen to Just a Minute--a new series of shows begins in January at BBC Radio--perhaps you'd like to take another turn at the stopwatch. Without hesitation, repetition, or deviation, talk about Frivolous and Witty Pleasures that Bring Great Mirth to a Debased World for 60 seconds...starting now.

Michael Tortorello is managing editor at City Pages.

 

Lawrence Lessig
by Keith Harris

Two of my leading runners-up for Artist of the Year work, by necessity, outside the law. DJ Danger Mouse could never have secured the rights to the Beatles material he reconfigured for The Grey Album; clearing the innumerable samples in Strictly Kev's astounding collage "Raiding the 20th Century--a History of the Cutup" is an equally inconceivable feat. Big whoop, shrug partisans on both sides of the copyright war.
Cyber-anarchists who trumpet absolute freedom of information deem legalities irrelevant, while corporate shills--set on monopolizing intellectual property--invariably place profit above creativity.

But my winner, Lawrence Lessig, works within the law, reasoning subtly against both extremes. Lessig's Free Culture, a plainspoken defense of the ever-shrinking public domain in Bush's "ownership society," should be read by anyone who's affected by the way that our access to information is regulated. (Pssst--that means you.) Picking up where his excellent book The Future of Ideas left off, Lessig stresses the pragmatic nature of intellectual property law; the U.S. Constitution offers limited protection to artists and inventors less out of inalienable right, after all, than as an incentive to create.

Theft and piracy are strong words, far more resonant than copyright infringement--which is why extremists get all the press. Lessig remains calm even when his arguments point to potential cataclysm. But he's so fluid a writer that by the time you remember how much all this legal crap bores you, you're already alongside him, nudging intellectual property theory forward, hoping the law catches up with advances in art and technology before the big media oligarchs do.

Keith Harris is a Philadelphia-based writer and frequent contributor to City Pages.

 

Rem Koolhaas
by Jamie Hook

Silliness and architecture generally don't mix: Big round glasses and liver spots hardly project the image of jollity. On its own very material terms, architecture is cast as heavy, dense, immobile--the stuff of sincerity and presence. No one likes to think of his or her buildings as disposable or temporal. Taking inspiration from the Greeks, most architects secretly long to see their work last into ruin; indeed, architecture is the only art form in which active decrepitude is a form of greatness.

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