Citizenship

empathetic perspectives

Via podcasts, I heard pertinent reminders about how our lives are subtly and not-so-subtlely shaped by bias. The speakers work within the entertainment industry, but seem to operate as formidable intellects and commentators on their own.

Field Negro Guide to Arts & Culture
Hosted by W. Kamau Bell and Vernon Reid, with producer Alex Thornton
Segment on Jeremy Lin/Linsanity and Asian American race and representation.
Episode 32, “Too Many Turnovers,” 2/20/12, 1:00:13-1:17:47

It should be obvious that the casual, semi-oblivious racism surrounding Linsanity, such as ESPN’s “Chink in the Armor” headline, is unacceptable. But Linsanity might be remembered more for people going temporarily insane—not for a point guard—but with race itself. In the recent hubbub, I encountered classic examples of blaming the victim, in which Asian Americans who objected to racist speech were called “sensitive” “pansies.” Bell and Reid help set the record straight.

W. Kamau Bell: It’s a referendum on how racist is our society, because there’s been all these stories of racism around Jeremy Lin, even people supporting him… The Knicks threw up some thing in Madison Square Garden the other night, where it was Lin’s head coming out of a fortune cookie.

Vernon Reid: Oh, no, they didn’t! … Why would— Who would— That’s just— That’s, like, the worst shit ever. What!?

VR [Commenting on a Black sports commentator’s racist tweet]: Anytime you have a group who dominates in a particular thing, if that dominance is threatened, the ugly comes out…. We [Black people] dominate in the NFL… and the NBA. But … now, a Jeremy Lin shows up, and all of the really, really unfortunate, baiting, racist, outsider stuff starts to come out…

WKB: …It’s people who don’t know. That’s how screwed up we are in America. People who are trying to celebrate him end up being racist.

WKB: …the headline was “Chink in the Armor.”

VR: You’re fucking kidding me!

WKB: …The thing is, they don’t think they’re being— …It’s like they just don’t even see it.

VR: …That’s just— That’s just— …for real? … It’s just appalling. Appalling, appalling, appalling.

Considering Reid’s typically judicious and erudite commentary on all matters political and social, his disbelief says it all for me.

Meryl Streep: The Fresh Air  Interview 
2/6/12

This is a great interview, with many poignant moments. Streep is such a composed, accomplished actor, it was shocking to hear her reveal that she made herself more appealing to dates as a teen by withholding opinions. She also described finding her personality by attending a women’s college in the 1970s (I think we are all better for it). Echoing Bell’s comments above, there’s a litmus quality to Streep’s reflections—that it reveals something about progress—and the unreached potentials that remain.

Terry Gross quoted Streep’s commencement speech at Barnard in 2010:

The hardest thing in the world is to persuade a straight male audience to identify with a woman character. It’s easier for women, because we were brought up identifying with male characters in literature. It’s hard for straight boys to identify with Juliet or Wendy in Peter Pan. Whereas girls identify with Romeo or Peter Pan.

Meryl Streep: It became obvious to me that men don’t live through female characters.

Terry Gross: Do you think that women have that double consciousness?

MS: I think it has to do with very deep things. It might be that imagining yourself as a girl is a diminishment.

Heartbreaking. Streep goes on and says that she made movies for 30 years before ever hearing a man say, “I know how you felt.” More often, men’s favorite characters of Streep’s ouvre were of

a particular kind of very feminine, recessive kind of personality…. So they fell in love with her, but they didn’t feel the story through her body. It took, until The Devil Wears Prada, to play someone tough, who had to make hard decisions, who was running an organization,… for a certain kind of man to— empathize. That’s the word. Empathize.

This made me lament first, for my female actor friends, and second, for the diminished stories available to us all.

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Art & Development, Values

Points of Reference

eclipse installation by Pavel Buchler
Pavel Büchler’ Eclipse at Max Wigram Gallery (London)
I love this simple but thoughtful installation.

Maureen Dowd recently remarked in the New York Times that Barack Obama’s election somehow signified that Americans are post-race. What a tremendously privileged point-of-view to take. Artist Kerry James Marshall doesn’t think we’re post-race, and neither do I. Cheers to SFMOMA for commissioning Marshall, and the two for pulling no punches.

I really appreciated Philip Tinari’s “OPENINGS: CHU YUN” in this month’s Artforum as well. It takes a lot of confidence — more than I’m naturally disposed of — to make works that are authentically minimal at the risk of seeming slight. As Tinari puts it, there’s

something subversive… about making works that were barely works.

Visit Chu Yun’s website. I really love the Constellation installation.

Paul Morrison’s exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery is pretty good. I enjoyed the giant 75′ wide b/w hard-edged mural, which combines source images from 19th-century-style engraving and 20th-century cartoons (I think I saw some Smurfs’ flowers?). I don’t think the shifts in scale is as dark or menacing as the curatorial statement suggests, however. And while I appreciate the white-on-white high-relief picture of dandelions, which is reminiscent of Van Gogh’s sunflowers, I also found the white-gold-and-black-acrylic-on-canvas paintings to slip too easily into collectible luxury items. As I learn more about gold and how, like diamonds, its mining and refinement is inseparable from issues of colonialism, inequality and environmentalism, I can’t see how Morrison justifies his use of gold leaf. Terry Gross’ interview with Brook Larmer on “The Real Price of Gold” is elucidating (Fresh Air, January 8, 2009).

Tomorrow, there’ll be a march on Washington against the use of coal. Writing from Manchester — a city spawned by the Industrial Revolution, whose skies were literally blackened by coal smoke, but has since embraced everything green — coal seems like such a 19th-century phenomenon, and it’s hard to imagine that it’s still a necessity today. Stranger still is how the myth of “clean coal” can persist in America today, despite a relatively educated populous.

Podcast of Joseph Kosuth’s Meet the Artist lecture at the Hirshhorn Museum. I’ve found this podcast series extremely inconsistent, with some poor audio quality of in-gallery recordings. But Kosuth excells in providing a smart, well-prepared lecture about his work and Conceptual Art. Cheers for artists talking with precision about art!

The work of two Mancunian conceptually-oriented object-makers:
Nick Crowe
Ian Rawlinson
and their work as a collaborative team

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