From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Just Do It Over (6)—Etch-a-Sketch

[a] Etch tu, Brutus? RF
I ordered myself an Etch-a-Sketch® a few minutes ago. I couldn't help it, and am not exactly sure why I remembered the wonderful do-over-ishness of this childhood toy. I might have heard something on the news, but I quickly found myself off the smooth pavement of the present and onto the uneven cobblestones of memory lane. It could be said that all toys have a little bit of "do-over" in them. You can always play a second or third round of CandyLand®, and it is hardly unknown for a tyke (or adult) to re-craft that ol' Lego® tower. Nothing, though, says impermanence like the Etch-a-Sketch. I missed mine so much that I logged onto and ordered one. I can't wait to see if I can make a curved line as nicely as I thought I did in 1969. Then I will shake it up and start all over again. The way I remember it (imagine the focus of a child here), I wore out my first Etch-a-Sketch with hours of drawing...and erasing...and redrawing...various shades of dark, straight lines on a light gray background.

[b] Detour RF
It's all about shades of gray. That's the way I see it.

If you think that I have anything political to say about this, think again. This blog focuses on society, culture, history, and the intersection between what people often see as irreconcilable opposites (like east and west, round and square, left and right...). Oops.

The Etch-a-Sketch is an oddly fascinating little toy. The political firestorm that has surrounded it since Wednesday morning has nothing to do with outsourcing (the little plastic sketchpad has been made in China since 2000) or economics or even union jobs in Ohio.

It is all about just doing it over.

And culture and personality. And multimedia and, well, politics. A particular Republican candidate's Rorschach moment has appeared in the form of the Etch-a-Sketch. What has fascinated me today is the way that almost everyone who has heard of the Romney campaign's etcha moment has reacted strongly. These strong reactions range from "liar" to "Kinsley gaffe" to "these sound bites are what's wrong with politics." What fewer people have pointed out, however, is that the moment truly resonated beyond almost anything since Joe the Plumber. So far.

[c] Moment(ous) RF
Since I truly have no interest on this blog of getting into the messiness of politics, it is difficult to find contextual pieces for the "gotcha/do-over" dynamics here. I have selected the actual "event" on CNN, as well as coverage in the Wall Street Journal (blog), New York Times, and the morning political show that seems to find balance in an otherwise combative world, Mourning Zhou.

There is much, much more stuff out there. For better or worse, it has hit a nerve, so go ahead and search if you wish. I plan to take another angle as we wrap up this very odd and timely "Just Do It Over" post. I wish to consider the relationship between craft and permanence. The Etch-a-Sketch is known for impermanence, but it is capable of quite detailed works of...well, craft. Take a look at several YouTube "drawings" that might surprise you if you haven't thought about that little red, plastic, drawing board since Walter Cronkite was on television every night.

[d] Canvas RF
So what is the relationship between a sketch and posterity? It is a certainty that more doodling has made it into the archives than has Etch-a-Sketch art. While YouTube now makes some kind of immortality possible, I still wonder what the parents of etch-artists did when little Timmy would show up with a drawing of the Eiffel Tower or the Agricultural Building from the World Columbian Exposition of 1893. Did they put an Etch-a-Sketch holder on the refrigerator? It is almost like performance art. Or should we even use the word almost? It is a thing of the moment, but it can be made to last, at least for a while.

That sounds to me a whole lot like politics.

Maybe we would do well to think more generally about the relationship between statements etched into this moment or that...and longevity. The relative permanence of a particular political candidate's positions will be hashed, rehashed, and hash-tagged for days, but most words do not long linger. Readers of Round and Square, while surely holding political positions of their own (and no doubt having great fun or dismay with today's particulars), owe it to themselves to think about politics, sketches, statements, and posterity. Politics has always been, and always will be, about do-overs

So let's think about the culture of politics just as much as we argue over the politics of culture. There is fertile ground to be tilled, here, and I venture to say that a great deal of it is all about just doing it over (and over).
[e] Do overs (1932, 1936, 1940, 1944) RF

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