An essay of mine has just appeared at The Appendix, a new journal for narrative and experimental history. In a radical departure from writing about swindling in capitalist culture, I have written about deception in consumer culture. “The Lady Vanishes” is about an early department store show window that used a live model and a hoary stage magic trick to ensnare viewers–but caught more than it expected. Please do check out the other articles in The Appendix. You can curse me later for all the time you spend falling into its interesting web of stories and images.
Also, did you pause to mourn the death of con man Billie Sol Estes earlier in the month? I posted about the muckraking newspaper exposé that brought him down over at Echoes on Bloomberg, and will have a few other posts there in upcoming weeks.
Norfleet and his nemesis have made an appearance over at Echoes, the economic history blog at Bloomberg, in a swift recounting of Norfleet’s swindle and the nine stages of the big con. And at Slate’s excellent new history blog, The Vault, you can find a broadside from 1887 that testifies to a crucial point in The Mark Inside: the sucker will squeal, loudly if ineffectually, despite the swindler’s belief that he will too cowed by his fleecing to go to do anything about it. If this kind of stuff interests you, then you’ll be glad to know that you are part of a hot trend, what the New York Times calls “Up With Capitalism,”or what I would call a renewed interest in the loopholes of capitalism, the places where it operates in a counterintuitive way.
Richard Nash has written a provocative article at the Virginia Quarterly Review on the state of the publishing industry at the end of an historical arc, in which the age of mechanical reproduction has been transcended by itself. He challenges many of the orthodoxies of the current debate, mainly that The Book is in crisis because it has been supplanted by technology. Read The Rest
The paperback of The Mark Inside publishes today. So I’ve taken the opportunity to add a few things to the website. You’ll find a new Reading Group guide, and some long but good historical newspaper articles on the green goods swindles of the nineteenth century, plus some juicy magazine reading on all things confidence related. And now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to return to Amazon to watch the paperback’s price and sales rank fluctuate wildly.
Over the holidays, my family had an open house. Our old friend Stephen brought his old friend Hazel, and though I had only met her once before and that was about ten years ago, I instantly recognized her. “You were wearing that hat!” I shouted, which rather puzzled her.
Hypothesis #1: Christmas is the ultimate capitalist holiday. It activates our ever-present urge to consume, lowers our threshold of resistance, gives us the excuse we need to click “buy.” Christmas has brainwashed us to regard retail items as tokens of love. It funnels our personal feelings into the well-worn grooves of corporate profit. As a holiday and former holy day, it has been emptied of all festivity, play, and ritual except that which is market-driven. Or to put it another way, Christmas has become the high holy day of capitalism, not Christianity. Read The Rest
When Elisa suddenly slips into a parallel world where her teenage son has not died ten years previously and is now an adult who is estranged from her, you might think, as I did at first, that J. Robert Lennon’s Familiar is going to be a book like The Intuitionist or The City and the City, where the world of the novel is at a slight angle to our own, and the rules governing our reality are ever so gently bent, a kind of suburban magical realism.
Read The Rest
Have you ever been reading an old magazine and been so immersed that when you see an ad for something you want, you reach for a pencil, only to remember that your order will never reach its recipient? The other day, while reading an old issue of The Chautaquan, I realized that if I only had $2.75 worth of 1888 dollars, all my troubles would be solved.