Archives for category: popular culture

If like me you are a diehard lover of cities and the sidewalk, where democracy is formed, you’ll love Chop Shop,  now streaming at Netflix. Ebert says it’s one of the best movies of the oughties. I wouldn’t know, but it has many virtues.

The 12-year-old actor Alejandro Polanco celebrates Willets Point, Queens, in the 2007 neo-realist movie, Chop Shop.

First, it is neo-Marxist. Modernity, it is argued, began in public space with the uprooting of the cobblestones people used to throw at the Bastille. And democracy itself was invented in the plazas of Athens, where citizens gathered to vote on civic matters. Willets Point is not a planned city – so far from being planned it overlooks Rikers Island, the nexus of New York City chaos – and has no sewage system or streetlights. It is an organic, Systeme D — the back channel economy in which half the world’s workers now labor — explosion of auto parts and repair shops where there used to be junk yards.  Visually, cinematically, it is the opposite of the planned, organized, civilized city and much more in the realm of the visual chaos Robert Venturi first discovered in Las Vegas, and Rem Koolhaas celebrates in Lagos.

Willets Point is the urban version of the vast parking lot in which most suburban Americans live, and which academic architecture, who fancy themselves the avatars of modernity, are just beginning to address.  It is not the architecture of reassurance symbolized by Disneyland and everything else Hollywood builds into a set.

The suburbs – I suppose Queens could be considered a suburb of Manhattan – are where all the entry level immigrants now live. The outer boroughs are no longer for white people only, and that clash and ascendancy of cultures is what Chop Shop is partly about. Shea Stadium is right there; the kids sneak into baseball games; everyone in the world wants to own an American muscle car and comes to Willets Point to get one.

Second, the  neo-realist story idea arose from reality. No member of the chattering classes has ever laid eyes on Willets Point, Queens. No Spielberg or Bruckheimer has the nerve to emerge from un-air-conditioned space to regard actuality.

The Iranian-American director Ramin Bahrani, guided there by a roadie who’d had his own car chopped there, spent months hanging out in Willets Point.  He didn’t know what his story was going to be. He waited for the neighborhood to tell him. In the visual chaos, he slowly began to see that there were children who lived and worked there.* That children in America live and work in junk yards is something you’d never know unless you just quietly hung around a place, not re-conforming the reality to make it videogenic. Apprehending, I don’t know, reality.

Third, he had no casting director and basically no lines to memorize, only a carefully rehearsed and diligently pre-shot, shot and re-shot improv script. He found the lumniscent young actors who play the orphaned brother and sister himself. Alejandro Polanco and Isamar Gonzales epitomize the lure of British television and movies to me – indeed Bollywood, Australian, Spanish movies and movies everywhere else but America – they are real faces. Uncut, unBotoxed, shining out light the way no Hollywood mask can.

Gonzales and Polanco live in a crawl space above the chop shop.

Polanco looks, walks, speaks, and acts everything that is good about boys of all ages, and the poignancy of his being 12 years old, a little man — sometimes trudging like a tiny pigeon-toed old man —  is the heart of the story of the working child. Gonzales has the more unsympathetic part, more difficult, perhaps to play than the beautiful boy, but her face in the scene in which she embraces her little brother and swings his legs around in a kickball game is one I will never forget. Then there’s the pigeon scene at the end. Oh me.

Gonzales and Polaco kick ball in Chop Shop.

Finally, there are scenes in the movie, notably one in the subway where Polanco and his much shorter sidekick sell candy, in which there are no actors whatever. Every candy buyer in the subway cars – mostly hard-looking young African-American men – is a real New Yorker caught by Bahrani’s hand-held camera. Bahrani says, “That’s the great thing about New Yorkers is, they’ve seen so many cameras they don’t really care. (Laughter) I’m amazed still. Like, that woman who—not even once does she look into the camera, or even care! No one asked any questions, either, like, “Why is there a camera and five people following?” They just bought their candy and went… It’s amazing, you know? Thank you, because that was like New Yorkers; they allow these things to happen.”

http://www.movingimagesource.us/files/dialogues/3/81269_programs_transcript_html_302.htm

Totally open, and totally cool. The new Jerusalem, the city on the hill for which we left so much behind. Run, comrade. The old world is behind you.

_____________________________________

*The NYT has a wonderful piece about the single, lone legal resident of Willets Point, Joseph Ardizzone,of the auto repair ghetto where so much life goes down.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/17/nyregion/17willets.html?_r=0)

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Eric Hobsbawm, by Karen Robinson for the Guardian.

I was having dinner recently with the assistant to the Macondo state historian, a man of the people, who was the first in his family to have attended college. I brought up the name of Marx, about whom I’ve been thinking for a couple of years as part of my sense that the epochal occurences of the 19th century, and its thinkers, have yet to be dealt with. The 20th century cataclysms, perhaps a result of the 19th century ones, interrupted our taking in of the 19th century.

This feisty self-made PhD. snorted, and said, “Marx is passe.”

Perhaps. Perhaps in the office of the state historian here in Macondo.

But nowhere else, as even I know, I who don’t really believe in history except the way Marxists write it, about women, minorities, children, jazz, material culture, subalterns, Mafiosi, slaves, lives of the obscure, post-colonials, criminals, food, peasant and popular culture, back channel economies, mental illness, Muslims, Cambodians, peasant resistance, labor, prostitutes, modernity, survivors of genocide — people who lived outside of “history”, the tale of 300 white boys in Paris.

Eric Hobsbawm, perhaps the premier Marxist historian,  has died, aged 95, having lived through most of the 20th century, from his birth in the year of the Russian revolution through the 2008 implosion of capitalism.

Some people think he even invented the idea of popular culture.

More than 50 years ago, a bunch of dissident Oxbridge-educated academic historians changed the way the British saw culture. They understood, long before anyone else, that culture is what shapes the world. They also saw that culture is totally democratic and comes from the people. While the official guardians of the arts, such as Kenneth Clark, were praising the “civilisation” of the elite on television and in print, Hobsbawm and co were resurrecting the lost cultures of Luddites, the masked poachers and anyonymous letter writers, of William Blake and John Milton. They discovered and popularised the value of popular culture – something so integral to our lives today it seems bizarre it was ever denigrated.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2012/oct/02/eric-hobsbawm-on-culture

He taught all his life at a working mens’ college in London, of which he became president, and defended Marxism through its darkest hours. He joined the Communist party in 1936 at Cambridge, along with the intellectual arbiters society, the Apostles. He let his CP membership lapse in the 21st century, and said it had been his life.

“I didn’t want to break with the tradition that was my life and with what I thought when I first got into it,” he told The New York Times in 2003. “I still think it was a great cause, the emancipation of humanity. Maybe we got into it the wrong way, maybe we backed the wrong horse, but you have to be in that race, or else human life isn’t worth living.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/02/arts/eric-hobsbawm-british-historian-dies-at-95.html?pagewanted=all

It cost him, though how much only the old atheist could know. During World War II he volunteered to be a spy, as all his Cambridge contemporaries did, but his party affiliation excluded him. He spent the years 1939-1945 building worthless fortifications in East Anglia, making common cause with his working class colleagues. “I did nothing of significance in it,” he wrote of the war, “and was not asked to.” Of his colleagues in the 560 Field Company, he said, “There was something sublime about them and about Britain at that time. That wartime experience converted me to the British working class. They were not very clever, except for the Scots and Welsh, but they were very, very good people.”

If Communism kept him from fighting the war against fascism, it also kept him from writing about the tumultuous 20th century through whose greater part he lived. Only after he was well into his 80s, finally writing his history of the 20th century in The Age of Extremes, did Hobsbawm feel he could write about his own times, “given the strong official Party and Soviet views about the 20th century, one could not write about anything later than 1917 without the strong likelihood of being denounced as a political heretic.”

He wrote, lectured, entertained the chattering classes at tea in Hampstead, and starred as a public intellectual almost until the end. Tony Blair, acknowledging Hobsbawm’s intellectual contributions to Britain’s Labour Party, got him a medal from the Queen in 1998. He always did think of himself as a “Tory communist,” not much admiring the free love communalism of the 1960s.

At the end of his life, he stunned people who think of old men as heroes by defending Stalin’s mass killings.

“Historical understanding is what I’m after, not agreement, approval, or sympathy,” he wrote in his memoir.

In 1994, he shocked viewers when, in an interview with Michael Ignatieff on the BBC, he said that the deaths of millions of Soviet citizens under Stalin would have been worth it if a genuine Communist society had been the result.
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ttp://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/02/arts/eric-hobsbawm-british-historian-dies-at-95.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

Not to fight fascism, not to write about the 20th century, to defend Stalin’s genocides, seems a high price to pay for loyalty. But Hobsbawm paid it. His work on the rise of capitalism made him Britain’s most respected historian, and he died active, thoughtful, well-loved. And writing.

The Banquet of Herod, in which di Panicale invents perspective.

Handsome as a movie star, Wade Guyton hails from Tennessee, can’t draw and had trouble getting NYC art fellowships. Got his start in NYC as a security guard at Dia.
Now his computer generated “paintings”, which he designs using images he scans from books designed by other graphics artists, get a prestigious “mid career” retrospective at the Whitney.

Wade Guyton, by Karsten Moran for the New York Times.

This is the one graf in the whole story which makes me stop screaming ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL.

By Daniel Clowes, from his comic book Eightball.

“I would drag Web pages over other printed materials,” he explained. “What I realized is that Microsoft Word has a structure to it. It has a language and margins. It has functions and a default size and a default color, which is black. And all those presets I decided to use as the structure for making drawings.”
Interesting. Ish. The problem is that the template is Bill Gates’, who will

Unaesthetic doesn’t begin to describe Guyton’s medium. Recent stories about Gates’ anti-innovation business model underline the point.

Jeez, is everything bullshit?
________________________________
*Welcome to Soweto, white boy:
Gates looks back with some amusement at his belated realization that access to technological information might not be the answer to the world’s most serious problems. Microsoft was donating computers to poor communities in Africa in the mid-90’s, and during a visit to Johannesburg, Gates went to Soweto where he was proudly shown the town’s single computer. As he took in his surroundings, he recalls, he said to himself: ”Hey, wait a minute — there’s only one electrical outlet in this whole place.’ And yup, they had plugged in that computer, and when I was there, man, that thing was running and everybody was very thankful. But I looked around and thought, Hmm, computers may not be the highest priority in this particular place. I wondered, Who the heck is going to be really using this thing?”

So, the Duchess of Cambridge’s naked breasts have been photographed and published in an increasing number of tabloids. And Buckingham Palace has responded in unusually vituperative terms, despite the fact that Prince Charles himself was photographed nude years ago — as his other son, and his inlaws make a specialty of it, and the Duchess’ siblings make a specialty of being photographed in louche costumes — James in a French maid’s outfit, Pippa in a toilet paper dress.

One royal source invoked the ghost of Princess Diana, who, as you will recall, lived and died by the sword of the paparazzi:

This is disappointing, saddening and turns the clock back 15 years. We have always maintained the position that the Duke and Duchess deserve their privacy, not least when they are on holiday in their own swimming pool.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/kate-middleton/9542541/Topless-photographs-of-Kate-Middleton-to-be-published-by-French-magazine.html

The official statement from St. James Palace was even more explicit:

“The incident is reminiscent of the worst excesses of the press and paparazzi during the life of Diana, Princess of Wales, and all the more upsetting to The Duke and Duchess for being so,” the statement continues. “Their Royal Highnesses had every expectation of privacy in the remote house. It is unthinkable that anyone should take such photographs, let alone publish them.”
http://www.people.com/people/package/article/0,,20395222_20630081,00.html

It’s my sense that Prince William’s life has been formed and deformed by the paparazzi and that if the British monarchy folds, it will be because William cannot stand the invasion of privacy.

His parents’ marriage seems to have foundered on the fact that Diana could and did sabotage every public appearance Charles made by crossing or uncrossing her legs. Crowds behind the ropes on either side of the walkway the couple strode would groan when Charles came to shake their hands and Diana went the other way. Diana most unwisely told her story of the marriage secretly to Andrew Morton, and then to Martin Bashir. I believe the Martin Bashir interview persuaded the government of Britain that Diana was a loose cannon, like the Duke of Windsor, who needed to be divorced, shamed by the removal of her HRH rank, and sent far away to govern the Bahamas because she was a threat to national security. Within days after the interview, the Queen for the first time was urging Charles and Diana to divorce, something they had not contemplated in the years previous.

In the hours leading up to her death in a car chased by paparazzi, Diana had chosen Dodi Fayed’s drunken driver and security system (possibly believing that any royal security officers were spies) — choosing the very rich, very foolish boyfriend Fayed, possibly, as one biographer speculates, to make a previous Muslim lover jealous. She was complicit in her own death, to be sure. Still, that as a 19 year old she was thrown to the paparazzi without protection at all seems to have been the lesson Prince William learned from day one. Indeed, there are photographs of the young family taken when baby William was learning to walk allegedly so that the crowds and sounds of photographers wouldn’t frighten him, a photo opp suggested by Diana.

William, in his 21st birthday interview, named the invasion of privacy as the most onerous aspect of his fate. He said he spent the years after Diana’s death keeping his head down so no paparazzi would benefit from photographing him. His official birthday photographs were of William slopping the pigs at his father’s country house.

“I was never shy,” he said. “But, it’s very funny. I was called shy because I put my head down so much when I was in public.

“It was never because I was shy. It was a really naive thing that I hadn’t picked up on.

“I know it’s silly and that everyone will laugh at it. But I thought that, when I was in public, if I kept my head down, then I wouldn’t be photographed so much.

“Therefore, I thought, people wouldn’t know what I looked like so I could go about doing my own thing which, of course, frankly was never going to work.

“It was so that people wouldn’t recognise me and I could still go out with friends and things like that.

“So they just saw the top of my head. But usually I was photographed with my eyes looking up through a big blond fringe. It was very silly.

“I wouldn’t say I prefer to be unnoticed because that’s never going to happen.

“But I’m someone who doesn’t particularly like being the centre of attention.”
http://www.princeofwales.gov.uk/newsandgallery/news/prince_william_is_interviewed_for_his_21st_birthday_part_2_501917688.html

I don’t think stealing images of the Duchess’ breast is new or shocking. I think it comes from the war trophy instinct by which the Khmer Rouge string dried fetuses from the eaves of their headquarters, the Chinese threaten to eat their enemy’s liver, the genitalia of Sarah Baartman, the so-called Hottentot Venus are displayed in a formaldehyde jar,  Napoleon’s amputated penis peregrinates the world and Otzi’s is rumored to do so, but actually does not. Long lens photographs are the 21st century version of the formaldehyde jar. The  atavistic French editor who published the topless photographs of the Duchess touches on this war trophy aspect of the photographs when she captioned them, Incredible pictures of the future Queen of England as you’ve never seen her before… and as you will never see her again!

An early 19th century caricature of Sarah Baartman.

I thought Laurence Pieau, who is an employee of the conglomerate owned by the pedophiliac Italian prime minister Berlusconi, an especially loathsome specimen of the long-term French anti-feminist tradition, the same kind of  pimp Frenchwomen like former Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld  or the scholar Mona Ouzouf are famous for being:

The real issue in this story is the bond between Princess Diana and her son, who famously — as she told the reporters — would slide tissues under the bathroom door as the most-photographed woman in the world sobbed.  The thing is William has no choice.

But the Duchess, like Diana, was a volunteer.

Darmstadt

unusual silence, bright sunshine, cloudless cerulean sky and a high wind. at the corner of 18th and church, in the park they’ve made where the church burned down, two girls, one on the steps of the former altar, one stretched out on a bench looking up 18th street, listening to their earphones.

the dog and i walk over to saint matthews cathedral where nothing is happening. we cut back through the alley behind, and the strongest sense of eternity is there — nothing changes life in the alleys. they’re excavating a big hole in back of the church properties on rhode island avenue; earth moving equipment and the wind blowing the dust. red clay like the battlefields of virginia. the latino men are carrying heavy pails full. no shouting, no talking, no laughing, men bending silently to their work in the crystalline air. across the alley the rear entrances of the old brownstones soak up the sun and the branches and their leaves make the only noise i can hear.

on the front steps of the apartment building, the wind has shaken down a microscopic carpet of tiny twigs and dark brown dried calyxes and little green fruits from the crape myrtles. i have one of the perfect little calyxes here on my desk.

all over the city, from connecticut avenue to georgetown to arlington, unusually light traffic and silence.

on the way to the georgetown library, the marigolds and purple petunias in front of the romanian embassy are tossing in the wind. i can’t determine whether or not the romanian flag, like many others, is at half mast. the metro bus is sporting a small american flag on the drivers’ side, as was the rolls royce i saw at 18th and R. up on library hill, i get out and look down on the city, as far as rosslyn, the potomac, TR bridge and beyond to the pentagon. the sky fades out to palest blue on the horizon, the world is far below me, and the sun shines on the just and the unjust.the wind rises and there is a roar in the trees above me; the strong sunshine shines through them and the leaves glitter in the wind.

an old woman in the cherrydale safeway is talking about the firebombing of darmstadt, september 11, 194…something. “just for pure meanness,” she says. “and that was us.” the cherrydale fire department, founded in 1898, is swagged with red white and blue bunting and a god bless america sign. cherrydale very quiet. in my mother’s apartment, the breeze is blowing through the balcony doors, and the tree tops glittering and tossing outside. the wind is tossing the branches of the oak tree outside my window now as i write this.

back through georgetown, across key bridge. six skyscrapers in rosslyn have two story-long flags draped from upper stories facing the bridge. the potomac roughened by the wind and empty of any boats. traffic very light, pedestrians almost non-existent. a few flags in the shop windows. on connecticut, julia’s empanada has a flag leaning in the corner of the window; betsey fisher has beautiful flags as backdrops to undressed white mannequins and incriptions (“Imagine” by John Lennon) in white on the glass.

someone’s briefcase full of papers, some colored, blow across M street in the sunshine, no traffic to trammel them. at new hampshire and 20th the flashing red and blue lights of a police car marking a fender bender catch my attention. a very well set up middle aged man, good gold glasses, beautiful navy suit, immaculate starched shirt, gleaming bald head and firm belly, standing, looking like a stunned bull, waiting for the traffic light at 18th and P with three long-stemmed white carnations in his hand. the little blue and silver pin wheel on my shopping cart spins wildly.

there is no distant sound of traffic as i sit here. i hear someone hammering far away. the shadows of the oak leaves are oscillating on the building across the street, a dazzling optic version of the sound of the wind.

Originally posted September 11. 2002 14:35 at LiveJournal

Just War

i’m very pissed off at bush for using this emotion to float war.

i think i have to think about whether or not it’s a just war. i think it may be.

http://www.mindspring.com/~skazmarek/war/02Crit.htm

it meets three of five criteria — initiated by a duly constituted government (even if you didn’t vote for him),

with right intention, to promote peacewith reluctance.

still questionable:

exhaustion — all other venues, including discussion and negotiation, are not exhausted.

potentiality — does it have a reasonable chance of success, or will there be a pointless loss of life.

Originally posted September 11. 2002 18:54 at LiveJournal

For Bianca

Job, even Job, says

For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold….

Originally posted September 11. 2002 10:15 at LiveJournal

I’ve started reading from its beginning the blog of a young father and artist, who makes his living being one, who is also a big foodie. I’ve known two other fine artists well who also lived to cook, and who were wonderful gardeners. I think it’s the same engagement with materiality rather, I submit, than sensuality. Hmm. Marxist materialism?

I was inspired to read this guy’s blog through Punk Domestics, which concept I’m much interested in. The PD blog is basically about DIY preserving — meat, jam, canning. I was hoping it would have more home-made household cleansers and tips. I am interested to know how it differs from the Gen X peak oil survivalist bunkerites and the competitive tiger moms intent on banning all germs, toxins, and vaccinations from the lives of their autistic children before they give up the SUV. One clue is the punks are urban and arguably exogamous.

Artisanal Brooklyn is strongly implied, with rooftop gardening and urban farming , food coops like Rainbow Grocery run by the grey spikes rather than the grey ponytails, ghetto green guerrillas and communitarian gardens implicated. As opposed to bunkers far away from the scary black people.

An Oakland guerrilla green tells her tale.

I am much concerned about humane meat and am pretty much not reassured by Jamie Oliver’s snuff films, the allegation that that famous empath,  Zuckerberg, kills all his own meat and became a man eating chicken gizzards. Now it is alleged he wants to learn to hunt.

I am not reassured by urban farmers growing turkeys and pigs in their own tiny rowhouse back yards. I am often horrified in the punk/survivalist blogs at the ignorant inhumanity with which domestic animals are treated, exposed to every disease and predator by people who don’t have the money for proper feed, fences, pasture, waste management, and veterinarians. And brag about it. I actually called the humane society in a rural Montana county to sic them on people shamelessly abusing goats. I’m trying to figure out how to do it in France.

I am curious about the punk canning mentality.

This young man now makes his own salami and Edam or Gouda cheese, in the tradition of the hippie generation of chefs like Paul Bertolli, who Italified Chez Panisse,  and the Gen X granny chefs like Mario Batali, Manhattan’s hot chef, whose father retired after 30 years at Boeing to make salami. Punk Domestics had a year-long Charcutepalooza based on Ruhlman’s new meat-curing Bible. These are not your hippie grandpa’s peace-to-all-beings vegetarians. I would suspect their ethics less if they were nicer to their ghetto rowhouse animals, and if they ate more tripe.

I am reassured that Ruhlman et al., if not the punk domestics, have engaged with, and give recipes for, the Marxist materiality of pig’s blood, heads, and ears. It’s not just about the killing, Zuckerberg, or the Ozzy Osbourne machismo of biting the head off  something besides a Whopper. It’s about the dead and respecting every part. It’s about authenticity.

The earliest parts of the young man’s food blog are interestingly concerned with the transformation of leftovers into something else, vegan onion soup into calzones, for example. There was a brief post on the composition and color of the plating of the leftover risotto balls he’d made into arancini. This suggests more an upcycling, hoarding, thrifting, transsubstantiation, magpie, collageur mentality than an actually discriminating palate.

We’ll see. The question is, how much salami do you need in the apocalypse, and whether or not this DIY everything is a full employment mandate scam, as I suspect attachment parenting/breastfeeding the ambulatory is for SAHMs.

Ever since I read this vignette, in 2000, about Bill Gates’ great Eureka, in which he finally ceases to be an entirely white boy, I have been thinking.

Gates looks back with some amusement at his belated realization that access to technological information might not be the answer to the world’s most serious problems. Microsoft was donating computers to poor communities in Africa in the mid-90’s, and during a visit to Johannesburg, Gates went to Soweto where he was proudly shown the town’s single computer. As he took in his surroundings, he recalls, he said to himself: ”Hey, wait a minute — there’s only one electrical outlet in this whole place.’ And yup, they had plugged in that computer, and when I was there, man, that thing was running and everybody was very thankful. But I looked around and thought, Hmm, computers may not be the highest priority in this particular place. I wondered, Who the heck is going to be really using this thing?”
http://www.nytimes.com/2000/04/16/magazine/how-to-give-away-21.8-billion.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

I’ve been collecting a number of pieces of string around this, one being that Gates was so overwhelmed by actually being able to See something among all the invisible men and sockets in Soweto that he missed the picture of Tupac taped to the wall. I imagine the wall to be made of flattened 25-liter cooking oil tins. Maybe the picture is of Diddy or Little Richard or Snoop or Afrika Bambaataa or L’il Kim’s plastic breasts. Maybe it is affixed to the wall with a magnet, or wired to the wall through holes drilled in the tins. Whoever the picture is of, it is not a picture of anything Americans promulgate as American culture. American culture would be the socket they don’t have. The software Gates is trying to sell them.

From that moment, I realized that African Americans are the arbiters of American and thus global popular culture. Just finished reading a book called An Empire  of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood. I await the sequel, about how African Americans — and System D — invented popular culture. And I do believe, as a very old school fan of the O’Jays and their love train, that the hip hop love train energy is what is moving through System D — what the African Francophones call the back channel economy, which now employs half the world’s workers and is the second-largest economy (after ours)  — to save the world. Out of the garbage pile that is Lagos it comes, slouching toward Bethlehem Wall fucking Street.


As usual, the comments on this clip are as important as the clip itself, if not more so.

Now comes this stunning profile of Kuk Harrell, a  black man who is Justin Bieber’s and Rihanna’s vocal producer. He is now my template for culture czar. First thought. It’s all pastiche and technology. Second thought, Romare Bearden is all pastiche and he did it, he sliced up America, Justin Bieber, Bill Gates and Rihanna, listening, as many African American fine artists do, to jazz.

Kuk Harrell, culture arbiter.

Jazz is way too intellectual for me. I suspect it has to do with the heroin-like abstractions of bone-deep existential Cool. I am not cool. I do lurk late though, and so I nearly passed out staring at Bearden’s Tomorrow I May Be Far Away at the National Gallery’s great 2003 retrospective when I saw fragments of wood siding samples pasted into the [entirely modernist] cubist melange. (Was Picasso the first black president?)

I immediately connected them to the collageurs and pastiche masters of African American yard art, in which hub caps are transformed into mandalas and geomancy energy changers, and drive shafts driven into graves into axes mundi. This Bearden did with advertising images he clipped and re-imagined from white Life or black Ebony magazine.

Romare Bearden. Tomorrow I May Be Far Away. 1967

Finally, there’s nothing post-modern about the pastiche. I need to think some more about that. It’s totes modern, and totes Marxist in its deconstruction, or explosion, and synthesis (as Harrell’s biographer puts it) into a Frankensteinian work of cobbled System D art. It’s a total reappropriation by Harrell/Bearden/Frankenstein. I need to think a whole lot more about that, and the interpolation of technology — the mastery of recording technology — with which Harrell mediates, collages, and pastiches a song. You think it’s Bieber? Think again.

For now, hear this. African Americans and Kuk Harrell are your popular cultural arbiters. Nothin’ post-racial about it.

I have to get some more System D and Frenchie philosophy under my belt. I’m still flipping out around the idea that Lacan was a Freudian psychoanalyst. Nothin’ Afro pomo homo about that.

People all over the world? Join hands. Join hands.

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