Friday, April 15, 2011

Sacrifice in So-Lame: Librarians, Doom, and the Anodyne of Record Store Day

#Salemia and So-Lame wouldn't exist as tropes (or should we say "memes") if they didn't say something real. For every bit of terrific news like Venti's expansion, there's a greater measure of soul-sucking nonsense.

The latest? You've all probably read about librarians being on the chopping block. We don't have anything much to add, but perhaps to recall Hypatia and the Library of Alexandria. Whacking school librarians isn't the same league, of course, but it sure feels like there's a certain, if non-fatal, philistine impulse behind the cuts.

We're in a dark mood.

It makes us think a little of Ursula LeGuin's take on the scapegoat myth, "The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas." Note the anagram: Omelas = SalemO.
How can I tell you about the people of Omelas? They were not naive and happy children--though their children were, in fact, happy. They were mature, intelligent, passionate adults whose lives were not wretched. O miracle! but I wish I could describe it better. I wish I could convince you. Omelas sounds in my words like a city in a fairy tale, long ago and far away, once upon a time....the people of Omelas are happy people.
But the happiness comes at a cost and when they learn the cost, some leave:
These people go out into the street, and walk down the street alone. They keep walking, and walk straight out of the city of Omelas, through the beautiful gates. They keep walking across the farmlands of Omelas. Each one goes alone, youth or girl, man or woman. Night falls; the traveler must pass down village streets, between the houses with yellow-lit windows, and on out into the darkness of the fields. Each alone, they go west or north, towards the mountains. They go on. They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.
Though Omelas has its own autonomous identity within the text, it is difficult not to read the story also as a comment on Salem.

Though the Cherry City Music Festival was this past weekend, and appeals to a springy optimism, a new record by Witch Mountain offers a doomy counterpoint - that is also a commentary on Salem. NPR even featured one of the songs.

About the map, drummer Nate Carson says:
The fact that Salem has this strong resonance with witch imagery because of the Salem witch trials and the fact that Slayer has the album South of Heaven just made South of Salem resonate with us profoundly.

I had this idea for a weathered map of Oregon — you know how you see a red star over the capital of a state on a map? I had this vision of a red pentagram over Salem, Oregon, with blood down the roads and rivers.
Whether you read it as Wiccan, neopagan, Satanic, or otherwise, the pentagram also visually puns on the star that often signifies a capital city on a map. Things are topsy-turvy here. We don't get a gold star, however golden is our pioneer. It's also a little over-the-top - perhaps even campy? (Your mileage may vary.)

Is there a beer connection? Not really, but the faux-antique map also plays on notions of history, and the reference to Slayer recalls Ninkasi's connection to metal, brewing Sleigh'r and Maiden the Shade. (Wait, there's that hint of camp again!)

Since music is top-of-mind, perhaps the best thing is to remember tomorrow is Record Store Day. Go get some music. Support KMUZ. Create your own Art.

Have a beer.


  1. It's frustrating to me that so many folks believe that this is strictly a Salem problem--excruciating budget decisions. And it's not just statewide. It's nationwide.
    Although, the tax restructuring Oregon voted on in the 80's certainly hasn't helped how we fund education.

  2. Holy cow! A pentagram over Salem! This fits right into my current obsession with Oregon maps.