Monthly Archives: August 2007

Lite art news commentary


1. Damien Hirst finally sells his Skull. For the full $100 million too. Does this complete its status as artwork, or its tenure? (Previously) (But wait, there’s more!)

2. The good fight to keep the Barnes out of Philly continues. This is why Philadelphia isn’t NY’s sixth borough. Sheldon Silver would have crushed this plan quicker than you could say “tax abatement.”

3. There’s an online debate about whether auction house reporting belongs in the paper’s arts section or its business section. It belongs in the arts section.


John Ashbery and MTV


New York Times: An 80-Year-Old Poet for the MTV Generation

This is troublesome. I’m sure it’s a great laugh for Ashbery, but from there outward it’s a big swamp. The last thing colleges need is more students who are into poetry. And for god’s sake don’t give us any more poets. America already has more poets than it has poetry readers.

Getting more college students to read by having them watch MTV is, well, an unorthodox strategy. It’s more likely MTV’s looking to get kids who like reading to keep watching MTV. College is among the last surviving ecosystems where literature still thrives. That’s because students do actually read in college, and also because the university financially supports literary forms, like poetry, that can’t compete in the marketplace (Ashbery has taught at Brooklyn and Bard Colleges). We don’t need more English majors either (it’s already the largest humanities major); what we need is to educate people to figure out what to do with English majors. Because now too many of them are drifting from graduation into, say, those permanent-freelance entry-level spots at Viacom subsidiaries like MTV or mtvU, where they work long hours for no benefits and symbolic pay. I know, boo hoo for them, but by churning through these idealistic young employees like fossil fuel, Viacom insures for itself that this system doesn’t get fixed from the inside; and by giving the privileged and wealthy a leg up, since they can afford to work for no pay, Viacom keeps the youth culture media firmly in the hands of an established elite.

Richard Lloyd’s study of the culture industry in Chicago, Neo-Bohemia, offered a depressing analysis of the economics behind the production of art and media. The survival of forms of creativity like music and poetry depends on the volunteer or low-pay activity of large numbers of culture workers—called bohemians or hipsters in other contexts—who through their labor make possible the proportionately few musicians or poets who emerge to wider success from these urban neighborhoods (or “scenes”). But these culture workers also through their low pay for high skill work guarantee the vast profits of major media companies like Viacom. (For Lloyd’s study, this included the neighborhood-gentrifying hurricane that was the arrival of the Real World Chicago). Just like it originally depended on the donated labor of musicians, Viacom now requires a constant replenishment of English grad fresh blood to make its products cheaply, and this arrangement with Ashbery is stacked in its favor.


Some oddities from the Times article:
-“The excerpts were chosen by David Kermani, Mr. Ashbery’s business manager, and two interns and an employee, all in their early 20s, in his office. ‘We were just trying to pick lines that were catchy and sort of meaningful in some way.’” Meaningful? You are aware this is John Ashbery, right?

-“But the mtvU gig — which is unpaid — came with few strings attached, and was not very demanding of his time, he said.” Unpaid. Viacom has $25.75 billion in market capitalization and the poet, who is 80 and still has a day job, is going unpaid. Even the music companies aren’t giving MTV their content anymore. Ashbery’s getting worse treatment than the 22-year old coffee gofers.

-“By Melena Ryzik.” Does anything in the Times shout “read skeptically” as clearly? Though this article was some blend of press release and actual news, Ryzik’s usual beat is Style section updates on what crazy hipsters in the outer boroughs are into now, like cocaine or Justin Timberlake.

Related: Student Loan Consolidations with MTVU rewards

Lady Smokers Unite

Mary Louise Parker

Via Grammar Police, I encountered this beautiful dialogue (that’s Susan’s recommendation: don’t say interesting when you mean beautiful) about the strict gender roles surrounding marijuana smokers, or maybe it’s just media representations of marijuana smokers. Women are rarely represented as potheads in film, and when they are their characters are usually baggage-laden or sexually charged.

Marijuana girl

It reminded me of a Slate article by Marisa Meltzer on gender divides in the slacker film genre. With the single exception of Linklater’s work, slacker films—all slacker films—portray women as the responsibility-friendly, worrying heavies who harsh the freethinking, philosophical boys’ mellows but eventually teach them at least some of the benefits of adulthood. There are many overlaps in the slacker and pot genres, but slacker films are in true form a subset of the romantic comedy genre, and as RCs slacker films just want to paint the broad strokes of our gender relations. Pot is a visual accessory, like the couch or the ski cap, and it’s there to show that men are too lazy, and women worry too much, and we need to learn from each other.

This is going to sound like an anecdote, but when my beyonce and I recently attended (required) pre-marriage counseling, every woman in our group, every one, described herself as really uptight, while her boyfriend—who rarely spoke himself—was called easygoing and laid-back. Fine. But then they all went on: “He really grounds me.” So not only do we men get to, you know, take it easy, but we get praised for it. That may be anomalous, but it implies that decades of working toward equality have just made men’s lazy lives even easier, and that’s some trick. So with that in mind I would totally support a massive feminist marijuana uprising.


As generators of most of this media imagery, I blame the Brooks-Florida Creative Class for perpetuating simplistic marijuana stereotypes. They should know better than anyone that marijuana is also a recreation and productivity tool for overly ambitious, workaholic, affluent professionals of both genders, and if they felt so inclined could wave away those outdated stoner clichés.

The Stranger: Toke Like a Girl
Reuters: Young Women Earn More Than Men
Counterevidence: Kirsten Dunst totally admitted she smokes

Ave atque vale


So we’ll go no more a-Roving so late into the night

Update, Fox News Sunday: ‘A week or two ago, there was an article in one of these Hill publications where they quoted the Democrat staffers as saying, “Rove is the big fish.” You know, I feel like I’m Moby Dick and we’ve got a couple people on Capitol Hill auditioning for the role of Captain Ahab…. They’ll keep after me. Let’s face it. I mean, I’m a myth, and they’re — you know, I’m Beowulf. You know, I’m Grendel. I don’t know who I am. But they’re after me.’

More on Maher Arar

So this came out on a quiet summer Friday:

Deported Canadian Was No Threat, Report Shows

According to suppressed portions of a Canadian inquiry recently ordered declassified, Canadian officials knew the U.S. would send Maher Arar abroad to be tortured before turning information on him over, and that both the Americans and Syrians felt he wasn’t a threat (but, complete the sentence, had him tortured anyway). And although the U.S. defense was that Arar was sent to Syria as an immigration matter, this report indicates the CIA handled the transfer.

Some other tidbits:

-‘Fourteen days after Mr. Arar was detained, while changing planes at Kennedy International Airport [so Oct 10, 2002], Jack Hooper, the assistant director of operations at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, wrote, “I think the U.S. would like to get Arar to Jordan, where they can have their way with him.”
The next day, an unidentified Canadian intelligence liaison officer in Washington sent a report to the agency noting that “when the C.I.A. or the F.B.I. cannot legally hold a terrorist suspect, or wish a target questioned in a firm manner, they have them rendered to countries willing to fulfill that role,” the inquiry said. “He said Mr. Arar was a case in point.”’

-‘Once in Syria, Mr. Arar did not impress his Syrian captors. “The Syrians do not appear to view this as a major case and seemed to look upon the matter as more of a nuisance than anything else,” a delegation from the Canadian intelligence agency wrote in an e-mail message from Syria to their head office.’

This last quote prompts the question I have asked here before: Why Syria? With so many torture-friendly allies, with our fondness for doing it ourselves, what trustworthy intelligence did we expect to come from a country we consider a state sponsor of terror? The Syrians, if we are to believe this Canadian intelligence delegate’s finding, didn’t even know why they had Arar. That may be as good an indication we get that we didn’t care about the intelligence, the torture was for its own sake.

Orpheus Summer


From today’s slimmer Times: Four Trips to Hell and Back at the Opera

Orpheus v. Sirens
Jeremy Blake missing