On Reading/Being The Believer In the Legal System

The Believer cover, image:believermag.comThe sacrifice I inadvertently made on my first day of jury duty: not being the first (in my widest possible blogroll, anyway) to post about reading The Believer. Felix Salmon beat me to it. Not that Dave Eggers' and Heidi Julavits' ultrasoft-launched book review magazine went unnoticed in the various jury waiting areas during my day-long voir dire. (Sodomy case. Never got interviewed before they filled the jury. Dodged that depressing, 2-week bullet.) One benchmate stared at the title for a while, smirked knowingly, and ultimately asked if I was playing the religious zealot card (my term, not his) to get out of serving. (Heh. As if religious zealotry isn't considered a requirement for working in the justice system these days?) But a Hamish Bowlesly dressed guy later on outed himself as a magazine whore by recognizing it and asking how it was.

(Actually he edits an "uptown lifestyle magazine, your honor," and betrayed no interest in the "life(style) of the mind" The Believer's preaching. It was more a pathetically reflexive need to prove he knew what's new&cool. He had his reward. And don't get all "judge not, let ye be judged" on me; I know from pathetically reflexive need. Also, he was carrying the bag of choice among potential jurors seeking Immediate Dismissal For Classist Tendencies from scrappy defense lawyers, Louis Vuitton. And he was definitely not alone.)

As a jury duty timekiller, The Believer is, frankly, too written to really work. Not poorly or over-written, just written. First, the articles are long. Too long. Second, the sentences are long, too. Not as long as the articles, obviously (well, obvious to fans of G–del, Escher, Bach). But close. Unless you can tune out completely the suspenseful drama of the jury selection process unfolding around you--suspense that directly involves you--it's just not possible to really read a single (agonized-over, paragraph-length) sentence.

It all feels so important. (I'm talking about the articles, now, FWIW.) When Felix dismisses the Rushdie-interviews-Gilliam piece as "straight from the pages of Interview," I say "and a good thing, too." The woman next to me was "reading" Lucky, so the Gilliam interview was a welcome bit of split-the-difference. It was breezy and easy, even when it probed the wholly unnecessary topic of Rushdie's body cavity searches.

Badlands, dir. Terrence Malick, image: cinemateket.orgUltimately, I am The Believer-- in the justice system, that is. I can't bring myself to not care about this annoying juror process. The Believer wants more than my (or your) consumerist magazine-flipping, and I can't afford to commit mentally to its oh-so-important-feeling teachings while I'm supposed to do some tiny thing for the system of rights John Ashcroft and George Bush are so aggressively seeking to dismantle.

That said, I did enjoy Jim Shepard's article using Terrence Malick's movie Badlands as a lens on the sociopathy of that timeless American icon, the Laconic Cowboy With A Gun. Is it irony that when Jim talks about Martin Sheen he means Donald Rumsfeld? Of all magazine teams, this is the one who knows.

Update: Speaking of irony, the Believers must be pleased with the resemblance their magazine's design (colors, line art, author portraits) bears with Barnes & Noble branded merchandise (t-shirts, totes, mugs, etc.). Even if McSweeney's and The Believer never find their ways on that behemoth's shelves, I find it impossible to believe none of their creators has ducked into a B&N bathroom at least once in his travels.

Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

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first published: April 1, 2003.

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