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Artist JR created these works that depict the eyes of Eric Garner, the man choked to death by NYPD officers, which appeared in yesterday’s Millions March in Manhattan. (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

This week, JR’s eyes in #BlackLivesMatter protest, Republicans and torture, museums and big data, saving Wikipedia, the meaning of graffiti in ancient Rome, and more.

 Why are many Republicans defending the US government’s torture program? Jonathan Chait has a provocative piece about the topic:

The nature of evil has been a Republican obsession since immediately after 9/11. Evil is not only present in our enemies but, at times, their most distinguishing characteristic. (Bush’s “Axis of Evil” conveniently lumped together the otherwise unallied Iran, Iraq, and North Korea.) Human-rights violations are things bad guys do. We’re the good guys. “The United States of America is awesome. We are awesome,” insisted the apparently sincere Fox News host Andrea Tantaros last week. “This administration wants to have this discussion to show us how we’re not awesome.” As a frank display of unreasoning chauvinistic bellicosity, this was, in its own way, awesome. It was also no less sophisticated a response than Dick Cheney’s, who quickly dismissed the Senate’s detail-laden report as “hooey,” “full of crap,” and “a crock.”

 Museums and big data:

Across the country, museums are mining increasingly detailed layers of information about their guests, employing some of the same strategies that companies like Macy’s, Netflix and Wal-Mart have used in recent years to boost sales by tracking customer behavior. Museums are using the visitor data to inform decisions on everything from exhibit design to donor outreach to gift-shop marketing strategies.

… As museums collect more personal information from their guests, privacy advocates warn, they’re opening themselves up to the same kinds of security breaches and potential lawsuits that have roiled companies like Home Depot and eBay. And with data-mining tools able to calculate a show’s most popular artworks, some museum observers worry that curators will choose exhibits that are the most crowd pleasing instead of the most challenging or artistically significant.

 Where is the hip-hop response to Ferguson? Byron Crawford writes:

Chuck D, who once called hip-hop the black CNN, in what’s since become one of the most shopworn cliches in the history of hip-hop journalism, often touted the Internets’ potential in this regard.

J. Cole, to his credit, actually visited Ferguson and also released an ostensibly-touching tribute that may have been the first Mike Brown song to hit the Internets, a little over a week after the shooting. “Be Free” finds the rapper, who’s often verbose to the point where people on Twitter joke about his bars putting people to sleep, singing rather than rapping—and not very well, I might add.

Two weeks after the Mike Brown shooting, The Game released “Don’t Shoot,” featuring himself, Diddy, Rick Ross and maybe 8 or 10 other people. In it, Diddy plugs Ciroc vodka and Rick Ross refers to himself as the Bawse. The song is front-loaded with the most-famous rappers, and I’m hardly familiar with the last few guys. The one time I listened to it, I cut it off after Rawse’s verse. Proceeds will be donated to Mike Brown’s family, if anyone actually buys a copy.

This indifference hasn’t always been the case. It used to be, a rapper wouldn’t just wait until an unarmed black kid was shot dead in the street, or choked out on a sidewalk, to write a song about it. He’d write a song about it before it even happened, and then he’d write another song praising himself for having such foresight. Rap music wasn’t just the black CNN: it was the black Psychic Friends Network. In fact, the history of rap music could be viewed as a litany of complaints about the police that seems to have predicted this current state of unrest.

 The story of YouTube stars that grew up:

Kids who once shot grainy videos in their bedrooms are now uploading fully realized short films, with scripts and costumes and production coordinators. Buffer Festival, held in the same building that hosts the Toronto International Film Festival, felt like a medium flexing its muscles: YouTubers are not just filmmakers, but rich and popular ones who are every bit as deserving of a red carpet treatment and a gala screening as the snotty TIFFcrowd.

 Anti-government street art in Hong Kong:

 Can Wikipedia be saved? From what, you ask? Well:

“The encyclopedia that anyone can edit” is at risk of becoming, in computer scientist Aaron Halfaker’s words, “the encyclopedia that anyone who understands the norms, socializes him or herself, dodges the impersonal wall of semiautomated rejection and still wants to voluntarily contribute his or her time and energy can edit.” An entrenched, stubborn elite of old-timers, a high bar to entry, and a persistent 90/10 gender gap among editors all point to the possibility that Wikipedia is going adrift. Because Wikipedia is so unprecedented, I cut it a lot of slack, but precisely for that reason, it faces unanticipated dangers and no easy solution.

 Chelsea Manning writes about the US government and military denying rights to transgender individuals:

 For many in the trans community, just applying for basic identification documents is a hostile experience. You’re told you don’t belong because you don’t fit into one of the tiny boxes offered by the system. And for those of us in the military, this civil rights violation of trans people’s basic identity is downright life-threatening.

In the United States, the UK and most of Europe, there are only two options available for gender designation on government-issued identification documents: male and female. As a result, trans people are assumed to have a gender that aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth – that is, male for trans women and female for trans men – and those not conforming to either of those choices are assumed not to exist. So trans people are forced to either use a document that does not reflect their identity or to spend the time, effort and money necessary to alter such records. Both situations are frustrating, embarrassing and can expose us to humiliation, ridicule and even violence.

Despite bureaucratic assumptions, we exist.

 How important or significant was graffiti in ancient Roman culture?

Throughout history, unlicensed writing on walls has been linked with anti-establishment behaviour, from schoolboy pranks to full-blown insurgency

Many of these expectations hold good for the Roman world as well. Martial, a poet who made much of the borderline ephemerality of his epigrams, tells one addressee that he won’t waste satirical words on him: he needs to look for some “drunk poet of the dark brothel, who, with crude charcoal and crumbling chalk, writes poems which people read while they shit.” Cicero records that the Sicilians expressed their displeasure with their corrupt governor Verres by scrawling insults about his mistress above the platform where he made his speeches. Emperor Nero’s critics festooned his statues with abusive verses. Rape threats and excremental language may seem all too familiar verbal substitutes for taboo behaviour and public nuisance, but they also speak of a brash society that was used to framing politics, personal relations and public performance in strong sexual and scatological metaphors.

Yet, as Kristina Milnor argues in Graffiti and the Literary Landscape in Roman Pompeii, Pompeian graffiti is not always the naive, unmediated vox populi it seems to be. These amateur scrawls often engage boldly and gleefully with the central productions of high literary culture, are as self-conscious about their materiality and creative powers as more respected literary texts, and collapse traditional distinctions and hierarchies between oral and written and primary and secondary to a confusing degree. Few can compete with the selfreflexivity of the following priceless specimen: “I’m amazed, wall, that you haven’t fallen down in ruins, since you bear the tedious outpourings of so many writers”. But many other graffitists draw superfluous attention to the written nature of their interventions. As well as supplementing other forms of exchange and territory-marking in the ancient townscape, they also stake a claim to unauthorized authorship, even to a precarious kind of immortality.

 Failed Architecture considers the building every New Yorker loves to hate, the Port Authority Bus Terminal:

If the question of the PABT’s terribleness was a true crime novel, the guilty party is everyone involved. That’s right: they all did it. The original Port Authority designers did not anticipate long-term requirements. Robert Moses did his best to destroy it. The economic downturn of the 1970s made crime rampant. The 80s boom ignored social problems. And now, the impossible maintenance costs of a 1.5 million square foot structure with a bad reputation burdens everyone.

The Port Authority Bus Terminal proves that modern monsters are complicated creatures, only as ugly as their resonance is. This next chapter could finally be the one that turns it around, but then again it might be just a $90 million plaster on an infected wound. Either way the sordid past of the PABT is no easy shadow to escape. Especially when the Chinatown Bus is only $10.

 And Hallie Bateman considers why museums are often closed on Mondays and Tuesdays:

Required Reading is published every Sunday morning ET, and is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

The Latest

Required Reading

This week, LA’s new Academy Museum, the intersections of anti-Blackness and anti-fatness, a largely unknown 19th century Black theater in NYC, sign language interpreters, and more.

Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

2 replies on “Required Reading”

  1. First of all, the root is a cultural one. By using the word “black” to describe people, the essence of whatever these “activists” are trying to accomplish is only reinforcing the divisions that create the biases.

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