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An Interview With Anne Trubek, Author of ‘The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting’

Author Anne Trubek

As digital supplants print as our default medium, and writing by hand goes the way of the dinosaur — whether you remember your penmanship classes from grade school, or were already keyboarding by the time you were ten — chances are good you have an opinion on handwriting. As Anne Trubek shows us in her vigorous new book, The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting, it’s a subject people have had strong feelings about for a long time.

Trubek, a former Oberlin professor, acts as an unsentimental tour guide through handwriting’s history, from the earliest impressions in clay to a modern American classroom, where second graders learn both to type on a keyboard and write by hand. At the Morgan Library & Museum in New York, she has the pleasure of holding a clay Sumerian cuneiform tablet in her hand, just as the person who wrote on it with a stylus did some 5,000 years ago. (It’s surprisingly small and comfortable to hold, not unlike her smartphone.)

The author shows us how medieval scribes copied out manuscripts by hand, and tells us what happened when the printing press came along to make their work obsolete: Interestingly, the new technology didn’t immediately replace the old one, and “scores” of manuscript books were made after the production of printed books began. We also learn that by the 16th and 17th centuries, Europeans had a variety of scripts that denoted social class, gender, and profession. In fact, the few English women who were taught during the 16-19th centuries learned a special script called Italian hand, “a simpler script for the simpler sex.”

In looking toward handwriting’s “uncertain future,” Trubek seems to decide it’s not all that uncertain: It’s on its way out, though it will probably take a very long time to go. Many people find this time of flux disturbing, and long for the human-ness of handwriting, a fact Trubek reports without scorn — though she’s dismissive of recent research that has come out from several universities suggesting that handwriting is cognitively superior to typing in various ways, calling the science “fuzzy.”

Though much has changed, all of the concerns Trubek touches on in her history of handwriting — class and gender, culture and tradition — have resonance for us today. Even the desire to return to the warmth and authenticity of handwriting has a recent historical precedent, she writes. One hundred years ago, William Morris and friends revived medieval calligraphy methods as a response to the industrial revolution, “with its machines and smog and printed letters.” Just as letterpress printing is considered an art form today, those revivalists called their illuminated pages artworks, preserving their beauty for a world that no longer needed them for communication.

Interview With Anne Trubek

Katie Haegele: I’ve followed the debate over handwriting in recent years, and find it interesting to see people’s varied (and emotional) responses to the changes taking place. Apparently this is nothing new. You even open your book with a funny quotation from Erasmus that’s 500 years old: “I never saw a hotter argument on so unexciting a subject.” Why do you suppose the subject is such a sensitive one for people?

Anne Trubek: Our relationship to handwriting reflects our larger culture. So when Erasmus made that comment, he thought Gothic script, used by Germans, was “barbaric" — so you can see how handwriting represents national and cultural values. The italics / humanist script Erasmus preferred was associated with Renaissance values, and he deemed the cramped Gothic script as less civilized.

For Americans today, we carry certain connotations about handwriting, and you can even see those shifting over the past few years. Five, ten years ago people worried that the loss of handwriting signaled a robotic, techno-dystopia future; today, people are more concerned about supposed claims that handwriting “makes you smarter” neurologically, and that it connects you to history.

KH: Yes, and I have read a bit about those studies you cite in the book. I admit to finding some of those ideas exciting, at least the thought that there could be a connection between writing by hand and other kinds of creativity. I think of the artist Lynda Barry, who has talked about having writer’s block and getting out her paintbrush to paint the words instead of using her computer, which was the way she was able to finish her novel. Maybe forming words with a pen (or paintbrush) isn’t superior to typing them, but it is different, right?

I found it interesting to read what you wrote about Johannes Trithemius, who believed that writing by hand was "a form of religious devotion" that the mechanical act of setting type on a printing press could never be. That argument chimes with ideas people have now, that there’s some inherent value in the effort and care put it into writing by hand that’s lost when we type instead.

AT: As for the studies, I've made my position on that clear: There is nothing definitive. If people want to focus on creativity that comes from fine motor skills, they could teach all kids piano instead.

I think the key here is "effort and care.” It takes more time, and thus now signals something more meaningful — to us today. But it's not the act of writing per se, it's the effort and care. So, for instance, if you bake someone chocolate chip cookies, or knit them a scarf, instead of sending an email on a birthday, that would signal effort and care just as a handwritten note would. For many of us today, taking more time is more meaningful.

KH: Well, it interests me that writing by hand, at least for artists and writers, can provide access to ideas in a way that typing on a keyboard doesn’t. I wish the way in which the two processes are different were better understood.

AT: Yes, the science that is conclusive is that people with poor handwriting are graded lower than people with better handwriting.

KH: You talk about this disparity in the book. Like you, my father was left-handed, and he was made to feel inadequate and even stupid for his “poor" handwriting. I like the idea that typing on a keyboard levels that playing field, provided kids in school all have equal access to those resources. Could you talk about what you see as the democratizing effect of typing in the classroom?

AT: Studies have shown that if a teacher reads the identical essay in two different handwritings — one sloppy, one neat — the neater one receives a higher score. So students with bad handwriting are penalized academically, and unfairly. In addition, many students struggle with handwriting because they have disabilities. Keyboards enable many students with disabilities, as well as those with poorer handwriting, to have their letters look identical to those with neat handwriting. Seen in this light, assessing students’ typed work is more just, and keyboards democratizing.

KH: So much of your book is the history of handwriting as it has developed over the last several thousand years. What first sparked your interest in this as a research subject?

AT: When I was a professor, my research was on the history of writing, and how the digital age was changing how we write. When my son was in second and third grade, he had enormous difficulties in school because he struggled with handwriting. He had to stay in for recess, I was brought in for ‘interventions' — teachers were worried he would fail the state proficiency tests because scorers would not be able to read his handwriting. I thought there was a misplaced emphasis on handwriting given how little he would have to do it as he grew up, and I knew how, during transitions in writing technology, historically, similar issues had played out. So I wanted to write about the long history of handwriting to provide historical perspective to changes happening today.

KH: Regarding those transitions, maybe the most useful idea I took away from the book was the reminder that there is always some overlap of the old and the new as things change. I got a kick out of your footnote inviting us to do further reading about the coexistence of printed books and manuscript books in Sven Birket’s book The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age — available in print, on the Web, or via e-reader.

AT: Yes! And the transitions are long. Very long. Hundreds of years long!

Video Premiere: Auditorium – “Fire Fire Ocean Liner”


Utne Reader is proud to premiere the music video for “Fire Fire Ocean Liner” from Auditorium.

Panicked parents drive their injured daughter to the hospital. Her leg is wounded and when the bandage is removed by the doctor a cluster of moths appear and flutter there. The woman then drifts into a snow-covered woodland dream. The special effects are astonishing.

The song, “Fire Fire Ocean Liner” by Auditorium, is equally impressive as the visual effects. Spencer Berger, songwriter, instrumentalist, and singer, displays his penchant for powerful vocals as he sings, “Feel no pain now, feel no fear.” With his album The First Music (out January 27), Berger confronts a deeply personal tragedy, dark aspects of his family history, and current world events. Despite the intensity of these themes, the 15-song album provides a sense of hope in the end.

Speaking of the music video for ‘Fire Fire Ocean Liner,’ Berger says, “While Ben Barnes was preparing to direct the video, we met up multiple times and would always wind up chatting for hours — but I never once told him what inspired the song’s lyrics, because I didn’t want to limit his interpretation. I remember sitting in a bar in Los Angeles, listening to him describe how he wanted to tell this unbelievable story about a young woman with moths growing inside of her leg. It sounded almost impossible to pull off — but I’d been a fan of Ben’s work for years, and knew if anyone could do it, it was him.”

JASH is an award-winning studio, digital network and comedy community.

Led by Emmy-nominated producer Daniel Kellison (Jimmy Kimmel Live, Late Show with David Letterman), Emmy-nominated producer Douglas DeLuca (Jimmy Kimmel Live) and vet digital video producer Mickey Meyer JASH was founded in partnership with comedians Sarah Silverman, Michael Cera, Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim, and Reggie Watts. JASH’s portfolio of work includes creating digital and linear series’ which have been picked up by Comedy Central, MTV, Time, and Verizon’s go90. The business was founded in 2013, as part of YouTube’s Original Channels Initiative, and is headquartered in Los Angeles.

A Hidden Literary Treasure in Oklahoma

Neustadt Prize for Literature

The Neustadt Prize for Literature combines prestigious honors with educational opportunities.

Since 1970, the magazine World Literature Today, working under the auspices of the University of Oklahoma, has been the home of a hidden treasure in the South Central United States: The Neustadt International Prize for Literature. The Neustadt Prize recognizes authors around the world for creating valuable works of poetry, prose and drama, nominated by a jury of fellow writers, translators and scholars. It’s considered one of several awards that help determine laureates of even more prestigious accolades — sometimes called “The American Nobel,” the Neustadt boasts 32 prize recipients, finalists and jurors over a 45-year history who have gone on to win Nobel prizes.

The 2016 Neustadt honoree is Dubravka Ugrešić, a novelist and essayist born and raised in the former Yugoslavia. World Literature Today and the University of Oklahoma held a three-day festival October 26-29 to celebrate Ugrešić’s work, with roundtables, receptions, and a dramatic adaptation of the author’s work, culminating in an award ceremony on the closing night.

Ugrešić is the winner of several other major literary prizes in addition to the Neustadt, including the Austrian State Prize for European Literature, and the Jean Amery Essay prize, in addition to being a finalist for the 2009 Man Booker International prize. An outspoken critic of the war which broke out in her homeland of Croatia in 1991, Ugrešić left her home in 1993, after a long period of media harassment and ostracism. Much of Ugrešić’s work since has focused on the experience of exile and displacement — her novel on the subject, The Museum of Unconditional Surrender, was the submitted text for the award. She has also written several books of essays, characterized by her trademark ironic wit, on globalization and popular culture.

The Neustadt festival is a unique event in that it includes free events which are open to the public, as well as several educational opportunities for OU students. Events this year included presentations on Ugrešić’s role in shaping contemporary European literature, a round-table discussion about Europe’s refugee crisis, and a dramatic presentation of Ugrešić’s short story Who Am I, adapted and directed by OU drama professor Dr. Judith Pender. For students, exposure to the Neustadt prize’s highlighted authors goes beyond the festival. A seminar offered each year covers the works of all finalists for the prize.

The Neustadt prize is offered in even-numbered years. Its sister prize, the NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature, highlights outstanding writers of work for young readers, and is offered in odd-numbered years. The 2017 recipient of the NSK Neustadt prize is poet, translator and children’s author Marilyn Nelson, whose works include How I Discovered Poetry, Sweethearts of Rhythm: The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Swing Band in the World and A Weath for Emmett Till. She will be honored at next year’s festival in Norman.

An Interview with Nathan Rabin

Nathan Rabin is a freelance pop culture writer, the original head writer at pop culture news site The A.V. Club, and the author of five books. His most recent, 7 Days in Ohio: Trump, the Gathering of the Juggalos and the Summer Everything Went Insane, details Rabin’s trip to the 2016 Republican National Convention, combined with his visit to the Gathering of the Juggalos, an annual music festival organized by horrorcore rap group Insane Clown Posse.

Rabin spoke with Utne Reader about his experiences, the connections he discovered between these two seemingly disparate groups, and the importance of empathy in writing about pop culture. 

Read Utne’s review of 7 Days in Ohio here.

Nathan Rabin

Abby Olcese: When you first started working on this project, what connections, if any, did you think you would find between Trump supporters and Juggalos and how did that stack up with what you did find?

Nathan Rabin: I had three sort of overarching conceits between these two groups of people. One was the idea of a family reunion, like (in the case of the Gathering) there’s this group of people who are sort of far-flung who have this intense passion, but who are in very different places when they come together once a year for this great bacchanal.

The other conceit I had was that (The Gathering and the Republican National Convention) were both these kinds of vulgar populist spectacles. Like, Donald Trump is very effective at playing to his base, and very effective at “talking to the common people.” He kind of has this very weird persona, though, and I’m fascinated by the way he communicates.

There are even commonalities like wrestling, which was a big link for me. Donald Trump kind of has the personality of a wrestler. He talks like a 1940s New York Tough Guy, which is crazy, because he’s like Little Lord Fauntleroy. Like, even his hair looks like fake gold.

The third part was that I had my own family reunion, those four days I spent with my brother, who I hadn’t seen in about 17 years.

I had a bunch of different ideas, and I was very happy with the way things turned out. I was sort of hoping that the RNC would, more than ever, look like some sort of dystopian version of Hollywood Squares, and be kind of weird and fringey, and I wanted Insane Clown Posse and the Gathering to be more political and more pointed, and “how can we make a serious and positive change in society.”

I sort of catapulted myself into this situation, I didn’t have a lot of preparation, or even a lot of access to the Republican National Convention, and mostly found myself wandering along the fringes. But, I definitely had some expectations, and it worked out beautifully. There were a lot of things going on, and I just wanted to be part of it all.

AO: You mentioned your brother. He plays an important role in the book. What is your relationship with him like now, since the book’s come out?

NR: That’s the strange thing about writing about real people, like I never go and say, “Hey Vinny I’m going to be writing about you, is that OK? What’s off limits?” And it was kind of unspoken, like there were moments when I definitely talked (to him) about writing about him, about him being someone who I wanted to make part of this story.

There were some parts that were off limits, and those parts were, mainly, other people in our family. He’s pretty open and honest about his own pain and his own struggles, but when it comes to other people that gets tricky.

So, I think he’s happy with it, he’s liked many of the pieces related to it, and shared it. It’s really weird because he’s hung out with me twice, and been illustrated twice, he’s on the cover of the book, and an illustration for an article that ran in MEL Magazine.

But, he wrote this Facebook post referencing it kind of obliquely, where he referenced me as The Robot and himself as The Demon. I think what he was referring to is that I dealt with the traumas and rejections and horrors of my childhood by going inward and becoming really analytical, and writing. Like, I love writing, not just the physical act of it, but also the fact that I’m always thinking about what I’m going to write...That’s how I have fun.

So, I think he was kind of perplexed, because we had this experience together, and I was kind of internalizing and intellectualizing and he was, you know, drinking, and having a more physical, visceral experience. I think I had as much fun, if not more fun, I just have a different way of doing things. For me, overthinking things is a form of pleasure, and writing things and working is a form of pleasure, and for him that seems weird, like, “Stop writing and start having fun.” But for me, if I wasn’t working, I wouldn’t be having fun.

AO: Something I thought was interesting about the book was the way that you showed the appeal of Donald Trump and the appeal of ICP as both coming from a place of brokenness and dissatisfaction with life. Can you talk a little about the differences in the way that Trump addresses that pain, versus the way ICP addresses it?

NR: People become Juggalos or Trump supporters because they’re disenfranchised, because the establishment and the things that are being offered by the mainstream are incredibly unsatisfying, and belong to this world of elites—people who have money, people with power.

With Trump it’s maddening to me because he’s such an insider, but paints himself as such an outsider. In The Art of the Deal he says he’s a maverick capitalist, that there are all these sad shells of men who are tied to their board of directors, their stock price, tied to going public, but (he’s) this Ayn Rand objectivist hero who can avoid everything. Yet, at the same time, a lot of his book is devoted to him seeking tax abatements and working with minor politicians to try and get better terms for his various deals. So it’s very much this paradoxical playing both sides.

And then with Insane Clown Posse, there’s a lot more of a legitimate appeal, where people genuinely hate Juggalos, and sort of the hatred of them is classist in nature, like these are the white people who it’s OK to say are terrible, and nobody’s going to get in trouble for making fun of Juggalos.

So, yeah, I think there’s definitely this populist “us vs them” dynamic at play (in both groups), but with the Juggalos there’s a lot more to it, and a sense of righteousness, and a factor of “we just want to be accepted, we just want a place at the table, we just want to not be considered gang members.” whereas the Trump supporters want to project that anger onto other people. ICP’s anger and rage is directed towards people at the apex of culture and society, at the Donald Trumps and billionaires of the world.

With Trump, the opposite is true. You’ve been fucked over, and the people who are fucking you over are Mexicans, your enemies are transgender people, your enemies are African-Americans in the inner cities. “You’ve been fucked over, poor white America, by non-white America. I, the hero of capitalism, will be your voice.” And that’s incredibly galling and hypocritical.

They’re both really populist appeals, but appeals that head in opposite directions, with opposite goals.

AO: Another thing I’ve found interesting in following your career as a whole is that you tend to be drawn toward these areas of popular and now political culture that have real negative or polarizing connotations. What attracts you to writing on these kinds of topics?

NR: There’s something inherently fascinating about extremes. I think also that a lot of my career has been colored by low self-esteem and insecurity, so I feel like if I go to places that nobody else will, and write about things that nobody else wants to, there will be value there.

And I also think a lot of my career has been dedicated to finding value in things that our culture considers value-less, and Insane Clown Posse, boy, there are few things that our culture considers to have less value than Insane Clown Posse.

And with Donald Trump it’s kind of the same thing as well. There was part of me that thought “What if I have a road to Damascus moment and I change? And I go there and think ‘there’s something here?’” And granted, I had a very strong hunch that this would not happen, that there were many reasons that Trump is someone I despise with every fiber of my being, but there was a one percent chance that I’d go there and think “Oh my god, he’s right! He’s right!”

So yeah, I think I am driven to writing about extremes, partly because it’s more interesting to write about, but also because I felt like an outsider. I felt like someone who didn’t belong and was on the fringes for a long time, so it made sense for me to seek out subject matter in popular culture that reflected that feeling of not belonging, of being forever on the outside looking in.

AO: Since you’ve spent so much time documenting unpopular areas of popular culture, are there other parts of popularly maligned culture or fandom that have caused you to think about those groups differently, or even the role of criticism in determining what society as a whole thinks of as good or bad?

NR: I think it’s made me more empathetic. I remember getting a review of my first book, The Big Rewind about three months after it came out...it was incredibly negative, and basically took me to task for being too mean-spirited of a writer, the reviewer dubbed me “the snarkitect,” which I thought was hilariously ironic, that this person calls me snarky and glib, and then treats other people as targets for their cheap, facile cleverness. I thought “oh, this feels terrible, to get a review like this.” It was in the Washington Post, which really hurt, because it’s a paper of record.

I never want to hurt somebody. I never want it to be personal. There are some exceptions, like, I just reviewed the Tucker Maxx movie, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, and he’s a terrible person. I have no compassion for him whatsoever.

The same thing with Trump. I have no compassion for him because I think he’s a sociopath. He does not think other people have value, he does not value other people’s lives or ideas, he’s horrifically sexist and racist. You don’t have to be tolerant towards hate. You don’t have to be tolerant towards discriminating against other people. In fact, those are things you should not be tolerant of. Those are things you should stand up and fight against.

So, there are people that it’s hard to empathize with, and people I’m incapable of (empathizing with). But what I tried to do with this book was to empathize with people who are attracted to this message. People who saw something in (Trump) that could fix their brokenness. I tried to be empathetic towards people who had lost a lot in their lives, and turned to Donald Trump as this larger-than-life figure who kind of came out of nowhere with this bold plan to change everything.

I have a complicated relationship with white America, particularly white male America. And so much of Donald Trump’s thing is that he’s the voice of the oppressed, of poor white, middle class Christian America...In many ways I fit the demographic of someone who would be his supporter. I grew up in a group home. My mother abandoned me. I recently got laid off from a job after working in my field for 18 years, then realized that I wouldn’t be able to get a staff position or a salaried position in my field. (My wife and I) pay out-of-pocket for our insurance for our baby.

So, I should have every reason to stand up and say “No...I’ve worked really hard, I’ve done everything that society told me I’m supposed to do, and yet I’m still struggling.” But, Mexican immigrants are not responsible for my problems. Muslims immigrating to America are not responsible for my problems. The world is shifting in ways that aren’t always in our favor, and that can be scary, but that doesn’t entitle you to go looking for scapegoats.

It’s complicated, and I think that’s one of the things that gets people fascinated and horrified about Insane Clown Posse… because they’re white, and the overwhelming majority of their fans are white, although they have a lot of black Juggalos and latino Juggalos and lesbian Juggalos. I think people are confused by that, and it’s easier to be critical of them as hip hop artists because they’re white.

They’re kind of a release valve for our country’s hostility and anger towards poor people. When the FBI put Juggalos on their list, they were criminalizing poverty, and having eccentric taste in music, or eccentric taste in clothing and hairstyles. In the keynote speech that Violent J (of Insane Clown Posse) gave, he said something that I thought was really interesting. He said, basically, that our fans are being profiled by the FBI, and being targeted, and we’re alone in speaking out against this.

Other bands aren’t standing up for (them). You don’t see Eddie Vedder standing up and saying it’s wrong and un-american for the FBI to be targeting people based on their hairstyle and their tattoos and the music that they listen to...Even people like Jack White, who’s worked with them in the past, and understands their appeal. They’re going it alone, because despite the advances that they’ve made, it’s still an invitation to mockery to say that you stand behind Insane Clown Posse, and that you feel there’s something important that they have to say.

AO: How much truth do you think there is in the larger cultural representation we’ve seen of these groups?

NR: The fact that the representation of Insane Clown Posse in popular culture remains so overwhelmingly negative, that’s pretty damning. There was a moment, again, in the (Insane Clown Posse) keynote address, where they were talking about the FBI designation of the Juggalos as a gang. When that first happened, I thought this was great for ICP. This gives their brand more of an element of danger. They’re literally outlaws now, there’s a David and Goliath dynamic at play.

But, the more they talked about it, it was more like, no, this is something that they hate. This is something that they feel de-legitimizes everything that they’ve worked towards. (This year) was the 17th Gathering, and it’s amazing that it’s lasted 17 years. Like if it were a human being, it’d be able to get into R-rated movies by itself. But they’re being depicted over and over again as sub-humans, cretins, the worst kind of white people in the world.

I do a column (for Splitsider) called Pod-Canon where I write about the best podcasts, and I was listening to an episode of the Dana Gould Hour...and Dana Gould is a brilliant guy. The entire episode was about Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and going to see it as a 53-year-old man in 2015, and what an intense emotional experience that is for a variety of reasons...It was really lovely and profound. And then, for absolutely no reason, it just went into five minutes of bashing Juggalos. Talking about it like they’re all on meth, and blah blah blah...and I was so disappointed. Because if anybody’s going to get it, it’ll be you people who are so empathetic and smart and incisive when you’re talking about films and music that you love.

(Being glib and sarcastic) is really easy to do. I’ve spent the last three or four or 5 years trying to get people to at least respect what Insane Clown Posse has accomplished on a cultural and business level, and it’s still an upward struggle. I once wrote an essay for the A.V. Club about why Phish was a necessary contribution to popular culture. Then, VICE did an article that said Phish sucks, and they’ve sucked for 30 years, and they’re sucky and their fans are sucky. (The VICE article) literally had 10,000 likes on Facebook. And I just think, this is garbage, this contributes absolutely nothing to the culture, and yet it’s so popular. People just want to have their opinions validated. They just want to hear that they are correct. That’s kind of depressing to know that kind of negativity will always be popular. And to go the opposite route, to say that this thing that everyone says is terrible has worth, that will be the harder road to hoe.

In terms of Trump, his supporters are being depicted as the worst people, as racist, as sexist, and I gotta say, if the shoe fits, wear it. If you support someone who is unqualified, is hugely xenophobic, who has a history of saying unconscionable things...There’s a limit to empathy, and I think I discovered that.

Nathan Rabin’s new book, 7 Days in Ohio: Trump, the Gathering of the Juggalos and the Summer Everything Went Insane, is available now from Amazon

Book Review: 7 Days in Ohio — Trump, The Gathering of the Juggalos and the Summer Everything Went Insane

Most people might not immediately think to equate Donald Trump’s supporters with the Juggalo Family, the devoted fan base of horrorcore rap duo Insane Clown Posse. But most people aren’t Nathan Rabin (read our interview with him here). This past summer, Rabin, a freelance writer and former A.V. Club head writer, spent a week split between the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, and the 17th annual Gathering of the Juggalos three hours away in Thornville.

7 Days in Ohio 

The result is the e-book 7 Days in Ohio: Trump, The Gathering of the Juggalos and the Summer Everything Went Insane, an odyssey that starts as a journey through three “family” reunions--Trump supporters, the Juggalos, and Rabin’s attempt to reconnect with his emotionally troubled half brother Vince at the Gathering. What it becomes is a meditation on tribalism and the importance of knowing your experience matters.

Rabin is far from an objective chronicler (he’s a professed ICP fan who can’t stand Trump). However, his understanding of the Juggalo Family, and being part of a fan community that doubles as a lifestyle choice, gives him a unique perspective on the people he encounters at the RNC.

Both the convention and the Gathering are circuses, to be sure (one political, the other literally involving performers in clown makeup). As Rabin demonstrates, both are also groups whose supporters share a sense of disenfranchisement, a feeling which has come to manifest itself in counterintuitive ways. The Republican Party, once the party of Morning in America, has morphed into inspiring volatile levels of hatred in its supporters. The Juggalos on the other hand, despite being categorized by the FBI as a “loosely-organized hybrid gang,” proclaim faith, humility and their members’ inherent value to society.

While 7 Days in Ohio includes plenty of details from the Gathering, Rabin moves fairly quickly through his time at the RNC. While his thoughts about the ways the two groups express the broken soul of the country are great, his encounters with attendees and supporters in Cleveland are less personal, and feature less interaction, than his encounters with fellow Juggalos at the gathering. It reads less like insightful ground-level perspective and more like a general overview.

7 Days in Ohio may not be a great work of scathing political journalism. It is, however, an emotionally insightful appeal to understand how profoundly broken people seek community. Any group repeatedly told that their needs or experiences don’t matter, Rabin reminds us, will make strides to ensure they are heard. The Juggalos’ antics, though questionable in taste, aren’t meant to cause harm or do permanent damage. The same, the writer argues, might not be said of Trump’s camp.

7 Days in Ohio: Trump, The Gathering of the Juggalos and the Summer Everything Went Insane is currently available through Amazon.

Film Review: Klown Forever

Drafthouse Films describes their newest release, Klown Forever “as though Lars von Trier were directing an especially mortifying episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.” While it may not be quite that bleak, the rest of that description is pretty much right on the money. The film—a continuation of Danish TV comedy series Klown and a 2010 spinoff film of the same name—is filled with bad judgment, appalling behavior and anxiety-inducing comedy that alternately makes you want to laugh hysterically, or cover your eyes. It’s a painful movie, at times shockingly inappropriate. It’s also very, very funny.

Klown Forever reunites viewers with writers and stars Casper Christensen and Frank Hvam, five years after their exploits in the first Klown film. Frank is married, with one young daughter and a newborn son. Casper, his best friend, is still a hard-partying king of impropriety (in one early scene he’s caught bedding the family nanny at a christening party). The growing rift between the two men threatens to destroy their friendship when Casper unexpectedly moves to L.A., and a lonely Frank visits, hoping to convince his friend to return to Denmark. Misadventures, dick jokes and celebrity cameos ensue.

Both Casper and Frank exhibit different, but equally ridiculous, forms of arrested development. With his inflated ego and utter lack of responsibility, Casper actively seeks experiences where he can narrowly escape trouble, dumping the consequences on others. The bespectacled, weak-willed Frank makes an excellent straight man, as a new father who knows he should change his behavior, but can’t quite do it. He still isn’t ready (and may never be ready) to give up his best friend’s influence on his life—even if that influence is about as wholesome as nuclear waste.

But even through the ill-advised hookups, immaturity and foul humor, there’s still a poignancy about Klown Forever and Casper and Frank’s connection that rings true. One of the film’s running bits is that the pair are co-authoring on a book on friendship, but neither man bothers to read the other’s contribution until they’re living on different continents. Klown Forever is about that feeling—the feeling of growing apart from a close friend, and finally realizing the importance of that relationship just as it’s about to dissolve.

Make no mistake, Casper and Frank are not good people, and their lack of tact or taste—as well as their inability to keep it in their pants—is where Klown Forever derives all of its humor. But, for all their nastiness, there’s a sort of sweetness to the men’s relationship that redeems them. After all they’ve been through, and after all they’ve done with and to each other, each man is the only possible best friend the other could ever have. In their own relationship crossroads, Casper and Frank take the path we always knew they would, and that’s a great thing—even if their sticking together poses a massive hazard to everyone else around them.

Book Review: Mr. Green Jeans

In today's fast-paced world, many people feel disconnectedMr. Green Jeans from those around us, as well as from the earth and Mother Nature. Many of us are learning to reconnect with the planet, teaching others as we go along our journeys after catching glimpses of a not-so-wonderful future on a possibly dying planet.

In his debut novel Mr Green Jeans, Chris McGee offers a different take on the fight to save the world, introducing Jack and Lake Creek in this cli-fi (climate fiction, a term coined in the last decade for fiction focused on climate change and the resulting natural disasters) eco-novel. In what may be termed a mid-life crisis, Jack – teacher by day, eco-warrior by night – begins his journey to save Mother Earth by toppling a few billboards along an interstate highway in Missouri, leaving the signature "Mr Green Jeans." After a close call, he tells his wife, Lake, about his nocturnal adventures, and learns she's eager to join the fray. After strategizing, the couple hops into a van (painted green, of course) and take their message on the road.

Instead of continuing the fight against eyesore billboards, they go a more positive route by hanging canvas banners from billboards, buildings and highway bridges – banners containing messages from Mother Earth urging all to take action against climate change and a variety of institutions and beliefs threatening the Earth's well-being.

While the couple believes they are on this journey alone, they are, in fact, supported by family, friends, fellow eco-stewards, and even a few members of the media. Their travels take them from their home in Missouri throughout the Midwest and Great Plains and finally into an embattled Southwest region near Phoenix.

Mr Green Jeans allows one to go along for the ride as Jack and Lake spread the word that the planet is in pain and, while we humans are undoubtedly the cause of that pain, we are also the only possible solution. The novel is well-written, keeping one's attention as Jack and Lake struggle to outrun their opposition, all the while attempting to remain anonymous as their message goes viral on social media platforms.

The ups and downs and close calls experienced by these dedicated and likeable eco-stewards bring the reader to the edge of the seat, as we feel Jack and Lake's sense of urgency and accomplishment, and the hope they are helping the planet and making a difference in the larger picture of today's standoffs between environmental activists and those urging growth at any cost. At the end of the novel, the Creeks see their lives change forever; that may also hold true for the reader.

As an aside, this is the first in a series of books planned by the author to feature Jack, Lake and friends. I, for one, look forward to reading the continuing journey of these eco-stewards.

Whether you are among those taking a more involved approach to helping the environment, or you are contemplating a plan of action, or you simply remember the activism of your youth, you will appreciate the message and the characters of Mr Green Jeans. And you'll have a fine time reading this thrilling and enthralling example of the cli-fi genre.