Culture: September 2002 Archives

I was a Kiki and Herb virgin until tonight. I'm now a convert, and I welcome the mark and the burden that usually accompanies that designation.

The show at The Knitting Factory was a knockout. I told my friends that it was the best theater I had seen in, oh I don't know how long. My memory sags. I said "theater" because it was theater, yet it was in fact a pocket Gesamtkunstwerk joined with more than a dash of very spicy and quite smart political wit. Yea and a thousand times yea! (Barry said that he "thinks our drag sisters have MUCH better politics than the gay community in general." Too bad that, about the community.)

P.S. Herb is even cuter in person than in the photographs, and I would describe his piano and voice as just, well, perfect, except that the adjective might suggest something finite or closed. His art is definitely not.

kiki 2002-09-06 knitting factor

kiki 2002-09-06 knitting factor

kiki 2002-09-06 knitting factor

kiki 2002-09-06 knitting factor

kiki 2002-09-06 knitting factor

We don't want to speak out and we don't want to listen in.

Hlynur Hallsson arrived this summer in Marfa, Tex., with plans, as he put it, to stimulate discussion.

[The first exhibit which the artist assembled at the very respectable Chinati Foundation] — a compilation of other artists' work — did not stir much reaction. His second, four graffiti-style sentences scrawled on a wall, created an uproar.

"The real axis of evil are Israel, USA and the UK," Mr. Hallsson, an artist from Iceland, wrote in English and Spanish. "Ariel Sharon is the top terrorist. George W. Bush is an idiot. And Iceland is banana republic number one."

Hallsson is an attractive young conceptual artist [too bad only the NYTimes hard copy includes pictures] with growing visibility in Iceland and elsewhere in Europe.
He said the first three statements did not reflect his opinions but were taken from comments he had heard in Europe or had seen in the European press. He said the fourth, about Iceland, came from a quotation in an article in The New York Times about plans to build a huge power plant in his home country.

Mr. Hallsson said that he realized the statements were provocative, but that he hoped they would lead to discussion about how the rest of the world sometimes views the United States.

The town went nuts! The Foundation's survival instincts led to the covering of the windows and the artist's proposal for a second part of the exhibit.
"The Axis of Evil is North Korea, Iraq and Iran," he wrote this time, painting over the original statements. "Osama bin Laden is the top terrorist. George W. Bush is a good leader. And Iceland is not a banana republic."

He said of the change, "I just wrote what people want to read."
There was virtually no discussion this time; almost no one came. The Mayor said few locals went because they considered the change patronizing.
Mr. Hallsson left on Tuesday to return to Iceland. His departure was planned before the controversy, and he said he wished he could have stayed "for further discussion."

He also said he was startled that people were so quick to try to clamp down on controversial speech.

"I think quite many Americans don't have interest in free speech," Mr. Hallsson said. "The majority, I don't know. My experience was, quite many people would be happy to give that one away."

Sometimes I feel like I'm doing a sort-of Reader's Digest thing on this weblog, condensing other sources' feelgood and feelbad items for easier accessibility. Well, Harper's goes one step further with it's "Weekly Review," where in a few short minutes you can digest the events of the last seven days. The experience is frighteningly comic--or comically frightening.

For those who aren't enthusiasts already, here is a link to one of the most dependably entertaining (and depressing) sort-of blogs around.

Most of its text reduces complicated stories to one sentence, so these lines pulled from the run-on paragraphs are not typical, only quite rewarding.

... Rumsfeld compared President Bush to Winston Churchill and said that Saddam Hussein was acting like Adolf Hitler. British historians begged to differ. "Churchill is the only Englishman any of them has ever heard of, with the possible exception of Shakespeare if they were hard-working at school," said Ben Pimlott, warden of Goldsmiths College, London. "In fact, there is no comparison between Hitler and Saddam Hussein, who is not an expansionist within the region. Americans admire Churchill's brilliance, his language and oratory, his feline style. But Bush is a Neanderthal with no knowledge of the world. Churchill had a great deal of knowledge." ...
Hey, if we really wanted a president with a brain instead of a cabbage, we probably could have found one!

New York is prett much the nation's capital, if not the capital of the world, in many ways, but until 212 years ago it was in actual fact the political capital of the new nation.

Now they're all coming back, but thankfully, only for a day.

Congress [remember Congress?] will be meeting in New York on Friday for the first time since 1790, when George Washington was president and New York was the capital of the young United States.

Appropriately enough, the session will be held in Federal Hall, located on the site of the original Federal Hall, which served as the temporary home of the House and Senate for two years in the 18th century. The building had been New York’s City Hall, but was on temporary loan to Congress. It was also the site where Washington was inaugurated on April 30, 1789.

All the major players lived nearby: Washington on Cherry Street and later at 39 Broadway; Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton on Wall Street and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson on Maiden Lane. John and Abigail Adams were up in SoHo, on an estate called Richmond Hill.

New York didn’t have a very long run as the capital, however. There was a lot of resentment toward New York as a money-grubbing, immoral and "too British" city [sorry, chaps]. Jefferson called it "a cloacina of all the depravities of human nature."

In the end, such sentiments were not the reason our fair city was abandoned for a healthier home in a Maryland swamp. The move turned on issues of big money and regional rivalries.

John Adams' wife, bless her heart, although not a New Yorker herself, seems to have understood this city better than some of her contemporaries.

It was Abigail Adams who said it best though: She loved Richmond Hill and while she was fine with moving to Philadelphia, [temporary capital while the D.C. was being built] she understood that "when all is done, it will not be Broadway."

It's not the barbeque, and it's certainly not the traffic. It was born as an attempt to appease the working people of America. [Remember the Pullman strike in history class?] Unfortunately it seems to have worked too well.

The observance of Labor Day began over 100 years ago. Conceived by America's labor unions as a testament to their cause, the legislation sanctioning the holiday was shepherded through Congress amid labor unrest and signed by President Grover Cleveland as a reluctant elction-year compromise.
Soon after, when the entire nation became thoroughly frightened by the bugbear of socialism and communism, the movement was de-radicalized. The real Left was gradually marginalized and almost totally eliminated from American culture and society. The workers' movement itself became middle class, before it acquired the material benefits and political power which that adjustment should have delivered. And there it languishes.
In 1898, Samuel Gompers, head of the American Federation of Labor, called it "the day for which the toilers in past centuries looked forward, when their rights and their wrongs would be discussed...that the workers of our day may not only lay down their tools of labor for a holiday, but upon which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it."

Almost a century since Gompers spoke those words, though, Labor Day is seen as the last long weekend of summer rather than a day for political organizing. In 1995, less than 15 percent of American workers belonged to unions, down from a high in the 1950's of nearly 50 percent, though nearly all have benefited from the victories of the Labor movement.

Happy Labor Day, but don't forget.

This page is an archive of entries in the Culture category from September 2002.

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