You know you’re being watched. You wake up and check Facebook, taking some time to support your friends by liking their posts, but also aware in the back of your mind that these digital signals are being recorded and read for some other purpose. At work, you take a break to do some web surfing. Somehow the same ads for Florida vacation spots keep popping up, even though you researched that topic weeks ago and concluded the trip was outside your budget. At the urging of the grocery store chain you use most frequently, you download an app that gives you special access to discount prices. You congratulate yourself on your thrift, but something nags at you. There was all that boilerplate you didn’t read (and couldn’t have understood if you did) when you clicked “I agree” to install the app on your smartphone. What personal information did you just forfeit, and to whom?
Life today requires being the target of a nonstop commercial stakeout. There are ways to try to shield some activities from marketers’ prying eyes, but they are often cumbersome or ineffective. We are constantly being nudged toward advertiser-friendly defaults. Meanwhile, the commercial-surveillance arms race continues. Marketers can now identify individual users from the number of fonts in their browser or the rate at which their particular computer’s battery loses its charge. Digital monopolists like Amazon, Facebook, and Google hungrily expand their trove of consumer dossiers either through partnerships with big companies like the credit-monitoring firm Experian or outright acquisition of other businesses that began with the promise of shielding your data from advertisers.
The caricature artist, like every employee at a theme park, is in the business of customer service. But our relationship with the customer is more charged than that of the ride operator or the cotton candy vendor. A caricature is a symbolic representation of a person’s face. Through cartooning, a caricaturist reduces the features of a person to simplified shapes and reorders them to create an image that represents the person. It’s not a portrait of the person; it’s a portrait of the idea of the person. When you ask for a caricature, you are asking to be confronted by your own appearance or the appearance of your loved one. Drawing caricatures that were both good and benign is a somewhat unnavigable problem.
In early June, 1944, tens of thousands of American troops prepared to storm the beaches of Normandy, France. As they lined up to board the invasion barges, each was issued something less practical than a weapon, but equally precious: a slim, postcard-sized, softcover book.
These were Armed Services Editions, or ASEs—paperbacks specifically designed to fit in a soldier’s pockets and travel with them wherever they went. Between 1943 and 1947, the United States military sent 123 million copies of over 1,000 titles to troops serving overseas. These books improved soldiers’ lives, offering them entertainment and comfort during long deployments. By the time the war ended, they’d also transformed the publishing industry, turning the cheap, lowly paperback into an all-American symbol of democracy and practicality.
Decades later, Joe DeSalvo and Rosemary James opened that room—where Billy Falkner first grew comfortable writing fiction and committed to adding the “u” to his name—to the public as an independent bookstore. Adding to the literary heritage of New Orleans, the DeSalvos, Kenneth Holditch and others, concurrently founded the nonprofit Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society to assist writers and at-risk youth. The plaque on its facade leads with Faulkner and reveals the house was built in 1840 on grounds formerly occupied by a French colonial prison. (Although, as Rosemary points out, the date on the plaque is erroneous; the townhouse was actually built in 1837, according to public records, by Melassie LaBranche, who built several townhouses for herself and other planters who lived primarily upriver.)
“We couldn’t live in such an historic property without sharing it with other book lovers,” Rosemary says.
When it comes to romance, Americans are freer than they’ve ever been. Freer to marry, freer to divorce, freer to have sex when and with whom they like with fewer consequences, freer to cohabitate without getting married, freer to remain single, freer to pursue open relationships or polyamory.
But what if the price of freedom is loneliness? Would you pay it?