Mark Greif

Mark Greif is a founding editor of n+1 and an assistant professor of literary studies at the New School.

Recent Articles

The Corporate ABCs

I knew something was odd when Microsoft's spelling checker corrected my typing of Bertelsmann, the German corporation that controls most of the world's English-language trade publishing. It's not your average English word. Neither are Westvaco, Enron, and Supervalu; nor Chevron, Costco, and Ameritech. But all of those semi-words are among the corporate monikers Microsoft has built into the English (U.S.) dictionary of its industry-standard Word 2000, often at the expense of traditional words. Monsanto, Paine Webber, and Citibank are included. So is Microsoft's public relations firm, Waggener Edstrom. But the authentic English noun "wagoner" (someone who drives a wagon) is declared a misspelling. Trademarked products like Trinitron, Twinkies, and Ritalin count as correct. Gaudí, Pasternak, and the Louvre do not. The logic for the dictionary's programmers may be the same as elsewhere: When corporate entities annex big chunks of public life, their...

Democracy in Motion

Focus groups, aux armes! The revolution will be won at last: not in the mechanisms of the state, but in consumer showrooms nationwide. This spring, when DaimlerChrysler makes its new PT Cruiser available to customers, we'll finally see an automobile produced to resemble the mind of the nation. Evidently, the national mind is pretty mixed up. The aim of the car's design was to take whatever citizens in focus groups liked--and then give them plenty of it. "It was a new technique at the time," says DaimlerChrysler research director David Bostwick, who patiently explains the company's unusual surveying methods, in which the French-born psychiatrist G. Clotaire Rapaille gathered data through his unique "archetype study" technique. A prototype car, like the blank from which a key is made, was set down in the midst of a roomful of citizens. The participants were asked to provide their first impressions of, for example, its size, and the feeling...

London: Truth in Satire

LONDON -- Before the start of taping of the Mark Thomas television show, something of the New Britain is already in evidence here at the Bedford Arms in Balham, South London. A decade ago, this pub sat in the middle of a red light district. The chains on the doors of the large back room were sometimes removed to make way for local Labour Party meetings. Those were days of despair -- with Thatcher in ascendancy, representatives of the prostitutes' union coming to lecture, and infighting over who was more socialist than whom. Nowadays, Balham's fortunes have risen, and so has the tenor of the Bedford Arms. The wood and plaster are fresh. The customers are young, and, behind their clouds of cigarette smoke, are utterly accustomed to their place in a new nation. For them, the Labour Party is solidly on top, the economy is chugging ahead, and even the Cool Britannia label of a year ago has been shed as insufficient. As for that notable back room, it's also been...

Potemkin Villages

Works Discussed in this Essay: Celebration, U.S.A.: Living in Disney's Brave New Town , by Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins. Holt, 342 pages, $25.00. The Celebration Chronicles: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Property Values in Disney's New Town , by Andrew Ross. Ballantine, 340 pages, $25.95. Home Town , by Tracy Kidder. Random House, 349 pages, $25.95. When Disney planners stocked their brand new small town of Celebration, Florida, with all the traditional amenities, they left out a cemetery. Of course no one had died yet. But the lack of a customer base hadn't prevented them from installing a shopping district unsustainable by shoppers, a town hall for a community with no real public government, and an official charity without any problems to solve. There was a water tower that dispensed no water and a 70-foot observation tower that couldn't be climbed. Leaving mortality off the blueprint was just the last step in the defiance of ordinary social facts that had begun with...

Devil in the Details

Springtime for Hitler—and the History Channel Most historians agree that the bombing of Dresden on February 13, 1945, was one of the darkest chapters in the Allied struggle to liberate Europe from Nazism. On that day, as many as 135,000 civilians may have been killed, and a city with an irreplaceable architectural heritage was utterly destroyed—all at a point so late in the war that the justification for the carnage seemed painfully lacking. Certainly any documentary that would seek to make sense of the tale would need the guidance of a historian who could convey both the cruelties of war and the horrors of Nazism. Somehow, though, the History Channel came up a bit short when it chose David Irving, the pre-eminent Nazi apologist of the last quarter of the twentieth century, to provide the historical commentary for its recently aired documentary Inferno: The True Story of Dresden. Irving, whom the documentary identifies merely as a "controversial" historian...

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