Episode 119: Negative Capability

The Overthinkers tackle New York Comic-Con and the changing landscape of the American holiday.

Mathew Wrather hosts with Peter Fenzel to discuss the changing landscape of the American holiday, and featuring a special guest segment by Mark Lee about New York Comic-Con, fandom, ILM, and CGI.


→ Download Episode 119 (MP3)

Want new episodes of the Overthinking It Podcast to download automatically? Subscribe in iTunes! (Or grab the podcast RSS feed directly.)

Tell us what you think! Leave a comment, use the contact formemail us or call (203) 285-6401 to leave a voicemail.



Top Cow Comic’s “Asset” by Filip Sablik

Light and Magic: Creating the Impossible, a documentary on ILM on the occasion of their 35th anniversary premieres Nov 12, 9 PM on Encore

11 Comments on “Episode 119: Negative Capability”

  1. Alex #

    Labor Day has always been one of my favorite holidays simply because the form and function intertwine so elegantly. It is a holiday meant to celebrate the battles fought to establish, among other things, the ability for you to have your three day weekend. So what better way is there to celebrate than to kick up your feet, have a couple beers, and appreciate the fact that you’re not working ninety-hour weeks in a garment factory? It’s a beautiful thing.


  2. Timothy J Swann #

    Various thoughts – in Britain, (which is admittedly the exception not the rule) our present government is the first coalition since the war, and I’m pretty sure the first ever peacetime coalition – the Prime Minister probably has more power over the state than the President (something to do with being both executive and legislative, but don’t hold me to it). Some of the ‘bank holidays’ were more religious, like Whitsun, but as they were mostly tradition rather than faith-based (as St. Patrick’s day originally presumably was), and with less people being part of the Church of England, they’ve only persisted as bank holidays. But I think the reason is less to do with state control with their being less interest groups that are specifically ethnic (or gendered etc.) Our Black History Month is less observed, and in general the multi-cultural ‘policy’ is about the assimilation of identity rather than the more dualistic say Italian-American. This may stem from the days of Empire – we’ve been more expansionist and ruled over people than been constituted of a variety of latterly united groups (and so their history is likely our oppression. Then again MLK day and any civil war/emancipation remembrances probably do that too). It’s possible that our right-wing media would create conflict out of a holiday that was say British Asian day (say a state recognition of a religious holiday, poss. Divali, though that would exclude Muslims).

    Still 1 and a half hours of very good overthinking.

    Oh, and finally, a quick ‘well actually’ from the QI elves:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QI_(C_series)#Episode_8_.22Corby.22 (see General Ignorance).
    And a quick BBC riposte: The name America, for example, very probably represents not just a tip of the hat to Amerigo Vespucci but also a multilingual pun that can mean both “born new” and “no-place-land”


    • fenzel #

      I would suggest that one reason the Parliamentary government in Britain has been so stable and the Prime Minister has managed to retain such thorough control of the government up to the present day is because the British government has done a good job of continuing to legitimize itself through public discourse – and because even though Labor and the Tories don’t get along, the government of Britain itself doesn’t admit to rivals.

      It looks like the Cameron coalition has arisen in part because the government itself has lost face, because of Blair’s support of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars against the will of the public and because of the overrealiance in British economic planning on housing and the financial sector.

      How is the coalition working out? Are the tensions troublesome? Is decisionmaking still taking place in a reasonable way that indicates the government is still in control?

      Going from long periods of majority into coalition is a dangerous point for Parliamentary democracies, because the parties maneuvering for power against each other can do a great deal of damage to the efficacy of government (see the California constitution, which is written in crayon by a parody of direct democracy).


      • Timothy J Swann #

        Certainly I feel better about British politics than American politics (even if like all people my age, The Daily Show is the closest I get to news on American politics) – because I feel that corporate interests are more diminished but the power of the press with corporate agendas is strong. But yes, because there are so many people who will vote whichever way they’re persuaded is best for the country, and because the parties aren’t as gulf-divided as in the USA, this is more plausible. And indeed, Cameron can safely praise the right-Labour Blair, since he’s a left-Conservative (well, they’re both very centrist), which you can’t really see – Obama praising Bush for his fiscally liberal Republican spending (even if he spent a lot of money, and not all of it on bad things).

        Cameron also out-charisma-ed Brown, who was a very solid capable man lacking the ability to present himself. Or smile. And being the incumbent government during the start of the recession is impossible to survive – even if they did a good job given how much trouble we were in due to international banking etc. which is not even really taxed, let alone controlled.

        The Coalition is facing its first test with University funding, where fee limits are proposed to be removed – moving from £3,000 a year (what I paid at Oxford) to probably reach £7-12K, whereas the Liberals promised no increases that weren’t strictly progressive (a graduate tax) and its been one of the key vote-winning promises for years. The Conservatives will have to force it through somehow, but with the Opposition and in-Coalition divisions, it could be tricky. The only problems up to know (esp. with school building and child benefit) have been problems with intra-Conservative communication, with different ministers (up to the Prime Minister) saying slightly different things, and reacting hurriedly to poor responses to what should have been planned thoroughly. I think it will last the full term, but I think the Liberals (who have lost half their popularity) will split at the end of it and depending on world economic circumstances there will be majority Labour or Conservative again.

        As for manoeuvring – the Liberals who support the Coalition have powerful jobs. Those who don’t are backbenchers. It’s in the interests of the Coalition to suppress the latter, and in the interests of the former to toe the line. They’ve not had power in so long, this seems to be working.


  3. Wade #

    If the Mr. T Party is the name of the celebration held on Mr. T’s Birthday, what would the day itself be called?

    BaracusMas? B.A. Day? …Mr. T Time?


  4. Hedges #

    Regarding Human Centipede;
    The good people at the Onion AV club have previously assured us that simply taking in the preview for ‘First Sequence’ is a more than adequate substitution to watching the full film. Especially if you’re only interested in understand the shape of ‘Human Centipede’, and don’t have any interest in the director’s own over-thoughts on the project, that is, that the film a complex WWII allegory. (Really)


    Besides, the truly concerning development is ‘Human Centipede- Full Sequence’, the natural continuation of the 3-human proof of concept exercise, into a full 12-person, all British-cast event.


  5. Gab #

    On The Politics of Holidays (you had to go political, so be warned, long comment coming):

    My main disagreement is that while yes, giving a day off for some reason recognizes whatever is being recognized highly, it loses its meaning when those getting the day off don’t realize that’s why. What I mean is, sure, everybody gets excited for getting Labor Day off, but do they even know what Labor Day is meant to recognize, i.e. labor? And by that, I mean do they know what “labor” means, in both the political and broad social context? Do they realize it’s not just unions, but workers in general? And I don’t see much difference between Labor Day or Columbus Day and holidays you said are totally commercialized, like Valentine’s Day, because the former are still highly commercialized, too. Tons of ads in papers and on signs and on TV circulate about the huge Columbus Day sales, or, “In honor of our Veterans, yippitty-yappity, come to our store!” Holidays like that have lost much of their meaning, if not all of it, to the market. So I suppose institutionally, yes, holidays have meaning, but when those affected by said institutions come into play, the meaning is lost. It becomes an excuse for a sale or day off, not a sale or day off AND contemplation and/or understanding.

    That sounded awfully misanthropic, so I’ll also say that I agree, holidays should have more personal involvement. And not just as an excuse to get drunk (oh Lord, the St. Patrick’s Day stuff in Vegas while I was growing up… Wow…), but reflection on why whatever is being recognized deserves it in the first place. I’m a total proponent of more holidays like Breast Cancer Awareness Month, wherein civic involvement is an integral part of the holiday. In my ideal Platonic Form of the world, we’d all have serious discussion and lessons about what we’re celebrating instead of just getting wasted.

    And for the record, I may have Native American ancestry, but I have never taken offense from either Columbus Day or Thanksgiving. As a youth, because that’s just what we did: we learned about how long ago in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue; and Thanksgiving was the day the Native Americans and the Pilgrims came together and ate a bunch of food as a way of saying they would be BFFs! As an adult and after becoming more enlightened to the reality of that history, because I realize what you discuss, Fenzel: the Original Sin of the U.S. Columbus landing in the Pacific may have been the start of what led to the negative history in my personal heritage, but I wouldn’t have been born had that not occurred, so how much right to I really have to bitch and moan?

    By the way… The House passed H.R. 1522 “Expressing support for designation of the last week of September as National Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Week and the last Wednesday of September as Previvor Day” on September 15th. ::cheers::

    But on the 14th, there was H.R. 1571 “Acknowledging and congratulating Miami Dade College on the occasion of its 50th anniversary of service to the students and residents of the state of Florida.” Or how about this little beauty, on the 30th of July: H.R. 1558 “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that fruit and vegetable and commodity producers are encouraged to display the American flag on labels of products grown in the United States, reminding us all to take pride in the healthy bounty produced by American farmers and workers.”* ::crickets::

    However, all are civic examples of strategic politicking. So one could say the study of civics is the study of politics in action. In fact, I’m pretty sure it has been said before- if not directly, at least in so many words.

    Hm, I could *swear* you already came up with a very applicable holiday to promote understanding, good choices, and pitying fools, centered around a particular American hero. See Wade’s comment. Ahem. ;)

    *You wanna talk framing in politics? “…take pride in the healthy bounty produced by American farmers and workers.” Oh my goodness, if that isn’t framing, I don’t know what is. Healthy bounty? Really? Framing is a huge part of every political process, official or not. Heck, it’s part of everyday speech. Even discussions about framing itself are framed.


  6. Rob #

    A few notes re: Holidays –

    As Gab observes, many federal holidays are now a cause for selling stuff. Christmas is of course the big one, but for many years, car dealers and clothing stores have advertised sales for Presidents’ Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, even Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day and the Fourth of July. I am particularly offended by the short shrift that is given to Labor Day – the emphasis on taking a day at the beach is part of a broader hostility on the part of corporate media, who insinuate that all labor unions are corrupt, and who neglect the plight of workers denied the right to organize into labor unions. This hostility is possible because the triumphs being celebrated were in the late 19th / early 20th century, and most Americans are several generations removed from knowing what it was like to work in a sweatshop. So Labor Day can just be another day at the beach, a last chance to wear white clothing, a chance to sell cars, and a chance for us to contribute even more to the inequality of wealth in this country.

    The only federal holiday that I haven’t seen associated with a sale is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day – but I would guess that within another couple of decades, as Dr. King’s contemporaries pass on, his holiday will become commercialized too. (Already Dr. King’s efforts against war and for economic equality of opportunity have been purged from popular consciousness, and folks consider him a fighter against only racial segregation; and even on that matter, his intentions and messages are impeded by the critical mass of idiots in the media who insist that the election of a black president means there’s no more personal or institutional racism.)
    It’s kind of sad that the media don’t encourage us to take time for contemplation or reflection, in fact don’t even permit it. And when there was a real opportunity to encourage Americans to sacrifice for a greater cause, in the Fall of 2001, the Preznit instead just told us all to go shopping. It’s like commercialism has superceded the quest for a more perfect union. Even Thanksgiving – the closest thing to an American holy day – has become obscured in popular media by the looming threat of Christmas shopping.

    Now, where others would see this rampant commercialism as a horrible development, I’ve argued for a few years now that we should embrace it as a means to balance the federal budget. The government should auction off naming rights to federal holidays as a way of balancing the budget. You could have “Labor Day, brought to you by Wal-Mart,” or “Independence Day, brought to you by BP”, or even “Veterans’ Day, brought to you by Halliburton.” In fact, it might make sense to elevate minor holidays to major status, just for revenue’s sake. So you could have Mars Bars Valentine’s Day, or International Paper Arbor Day, etc. The government could grant “official” status to companies that paid enough for product placement – like, say, “Virgin is the official airline of Mother’s Day” – and in fact they could even sponsor government initiatives, like “The WellPoint-Anthem-Blue Cross Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” or “Bechtel-Halliburton Operation Iraqi Freedom”.

    As an epilogue to this rant – I thought this was a clever idea when I got it a few years ago. But a few weeks ago, largely influenced by Perich’s recommendations on this site and on the Podcast, I began reading Infinite Jest, and found out that David Foster Wallace had a similar idea, far before mine. In Wallace’s dystopia, America has become a society so pervasively consumptive and beholden to corporations that naming rights are given for entire calendar years – there’s the “Year of the Trial-Sized Dove Bar”, “Year of the Whopper,” “Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment”, etc. And I guess this is where someone comes on and also tells me that the Simpsons already did this joke too.

    By the way, Perich, I am absolutely loving Infinite Jest, though I admit I have to backtrack every now and then, sometimes because I don’t have frequent chances to read, sometimes because I want to be sure I follow what Wallace is doing. But it’s an amazing book, epic and wonderful and historically important.


    • Gab #



    • Gab #

      Oh yeah, and I hate to rain (more) on your (already wet) parade, but just Google “Martin Luther King Day Sales” and you’ll see the unfortunate truth- I’ll admit, I’m only in my mid-twenties, but I don’t remember a single MLK Jr. Day that didn’t involve a sale in my lifetime.

      But in slight defense of the holiday, while I absolutely, 100% agree his pushes for pacifism and economic equality are all but forgotten when his philosophies are taught (and I love the speeches and writings he has on these topics, btw- a must-read for political theory or philosophy nerds, imo), at least some of them (i.e. his beliefs about racial equality) are still taught at all, which is more depth than one can say is given to Labor Day, etc.


  7. yellojkt #

    Sorry so late, but the unspoken logical conclusion of the holiday discussion is that we should replace Columbus Day with Breast Cancer Awareness Day to be celebrated by feats of athletic achievement.


Add a Comment