For a few brief months this winter it looked like the balance of power in the UW-Madison campus area housing markets might be tipping ever so slightly toward the students. Upon hearing that Pat McCaughey of McCaughey Properties planned to build a four-story apartment complex on the 400 block of State Street, a small group of students mobilized, creating an organization and Facebook page to protest the plan.
In an ingenious bit of PR strategy, the organization named themselves “Save Mifflin,” a title which brought to mind Matthew Broderick cruising to Chicago in a convertible Ferrari and an undergraduate career full of Saturdays, each year punctuated by the eponymous daylong block party in the sun. Unsurprisingly, the group caught fire. By the time McCaughey’s proposal reached the City Plan commission, almost 6,000 students had indicated that they would be “attending” that meeting – an indication that turned out to be largely meaningless, as the Save Mifflin page was meant only to inform. The members of the organization made the mistake of writing directly on the Facebook page that there was no need for the average student to actually attend the City Plan commission meeting; that simply indicating support by clicking attend would be sufficient.
E: Well, I’m part of a larger real life superhero kind of movement, everybody’s going out around America doing the same thing. I’m a reserve member of a team in Milwaukee -
LW: What does that mean? Reserve member.
E: Basically, I’m not in Milwaukee, so if they ever need me for some specific reason, or if they need advice or something they call me up. I’ve pretty much been to every meeting. Every now and then I can’t get over there. But, you pretty much just try to help people however you can. I do homeless handouts, neighborhood watches, different things like that.
LW: So what does that entail, a neighborhood watch, for instance?
E: Usually we walk around, we just check out things. I had a couple – or I had a – hero here from Milwaukee, Charade. We found a [lowers voice] heroin syringe by the Union down there. Called it in, and a couple police came down and disposed of it, stuff like that. The only reason was, you know, there were a bunch of kids running around, otherwise we probably just would have smashed it somehow, somewhere, or taken it to the police station ourselves. But like I said we don’t really have the gear for things like that. Read more…
In my reading, the primary concern of “Freedom,” the latest novel by Jonathan Franzen, is: what subject matters are deserving of discussion? Should the middle class consume pop-culture? Should the upper class talk about genocide and war? Do individual species of birds deserve as much attention as birds in general, or nature in general, or human population increase? Should Franzen himself be writing this particular book? Are these questions even reasonable ones to ask, or is the very act of asking them implicit to an unforgivably elitist world view? Or maybe is it okay to ask these questions of art but not of life? What about politics?
I’ve touched on these issues a little in my own criticism and I’ll admit, as soon as I identified this as a theme – something that Franzen was going to address head-on, rather than just raising the question for consumers through his own choices (which is the typical and uncomplicated decision of nearly all narrative art; to do otherwise necessarily exposes the artists work to metaphysical complications, Franzen not excepted) – I realized that though I’d enjoy the book, if only for that reason, I’d simultaneously become almost incapable of evaluating it on any other line. And that’s what happened. So I can’t say for sure whether “Freedom” was a “good” book, though I’m fairly sure it was entertaining enough on its surface, because that’s the point: should it have been? Read more…