Required Reading

This week, new public art is unveiled with New York’s new Second Avenue subway, the end of humanism, the US media’s problem with fascism, the gentrification cycle, and more.

New York’s new Second Avenue subway opened today and it features art work by many leading artists, including Chuck Close (which appears here in a rendering), Sarah Sze, Vik Muniz, and Jean Shin. (image courtesy MTA) There is a photo essay from the opening at Gothamist and Business Insider.
  • As a warning sign to us today, the Smithsonian looks how how the US media covered the rise of fascist leaders Mussolini (aka Il Duce) and Hitler in the early 20th century (and it wasn’t the American media’s “finest hour”):
    • The Saturday Evening Post even serialized Il Duce’s autobiography in 1928. Acknowledging that the new “Fascisti movement” was a bit “rough in its methods,” papers ranging from the New York Tribune to the Cleveland Plain Dealer to the Chicago Tribune credited it with saving Italy from the far left and revitalizing its economy. From their perspective, the post-WWI surge of anti-capitalism in Europe was a vastly worse threat than Fascism.
    • Ironically, while the media acknowledged that Fascism was a new “experiment,” papers like The New York Times commonly credited it with returning turbulent Italy to what it called “normalcy.”
  • Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe thinks the age of humanism is ending:
    • At its core, liberal democracy is not compatible with the inner logic of finance capitalism. The clash between these two ideas and principles is likely to be the most signifying event of the first half of a 21st-century political landscape — a landscape shaped less by the rule of reason than by the general release of passions, emotions and affect.
    • In this new landscape, knowledge will be defined as knowledge for the market. The market itself will be re-imagined as the primary mechanism for the validation of truth.
    • As markets themselves are increasingly turning into algorithmic structures and technologies, the only useful knowledge will be algorithmic.
    • Instead of people with body, history and flesh, statistical inferences will be all that count. Statistics and other big data will mostly be derived from computation.
  • These maps tell you where TV programs are most popular. Keeping Up with the Kardashians are popular with latinx in the Southwest and on Indian Reservations (so there goes all the stereotypes you might have):
  • This Rolling Stone interview between Carrie Fisher and Madonna is just brilliant (btw, they used to go to the same therapist):
    • Carrie Fisher: Like producing films? What do you do? Do you option books, or have writers come in and pitched ideas?
    • Madonna: It’s almost never ideas people pitch. One film I want to do is the Frida Kahlo story, which I got interested in because I love her paintings. I started collecting her artwork, and all of a sudden everybody loved Frida.
    • CF: She’s one of the dead people you admire.
    • M: Absolutely. I’d never call myself Frida, though. Now I hear that there are a million people who are all doing Frida projects, but I don’t give a shit.
    • CF: Wasn’t she supposed to be an unattractive woman?
    • M: I don’t think so.
  • The gentrification cycle at work:

  • This tribute to George Michael suggests the pop musician should be claimed as “a black thing”:
    • It was with all of this as a backdrop that young George Michael – a working class kid from Margaret Thatcher’s England and a proud son of disco – began his assent in the game. Yes, disco: the derivative of funk and soul that sprouted up out of New York’s Black, Latin and Gay underground and became the music of the outsider looking for a way in. This often derided music was perfect for Michael’s worldview, because he was an unabashed celebrant of Black Music and his funkiness was obscured by his looks, his glibness and a uniquely potent gift for pop song craft.
  • The argument that liberalism has been undone by a fixation on identity politics receives a good spanking. Rebecca Traister points out that identity issues are essentially economic ones:
    • The postelection period has seen an enormous amount of pushback against so-called identity politics — specifically the campaigns for social justice and representation for women and people of color — as a frustrating distraction from the serious economic concerns that affect a broad swath of Americans. If only we could get away from divisive “social issues,” goes this line of thinking, Democrats could win elections and be able to enact progressive economic policies that would help far more people. But the idea that fights over reproductive freedom, sexual assault and harassment, LGBTQ rights, voting rights, criminal-justice reform, and gender and racial bias can be somehow separated from larger progressive economic stances is a fiction.
  • The prospects for the US media under Trump aren’t rosy, according to NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen. He writes:
    • For a free press as a check on power this is the darkest time in American history since World War I, when there was massive censorship and suppression of dissent. I say this because so many things are happening at once to disarm and disable serious journalism, or to push it out of the frame. Most of these are well known, but it helps to put them all together.
  • This is pretty funny, it’s a joke that a commenter on Quora suggests aptly explains the difference between Democrats and Republicans in the US:

A woman in a hot air balloon realized she was lost. She lowered her altitude and spotted a man in a boat below. She shouted to him:

“Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don’t know where I am.”

The man consulted his portable GPS and replied, “You’re in a hot air balloon, approximately 30 feet above ground elevation of 2,346 feet above sea level. You are at 31 degrees, 14.97 minutes north latitude and 100 degrees, 49.09 minutes west longitude.

She rolled her eyes and said, “You must be an Obama Democrat.

“I am,” replied the man. “How did you know?”

“Well,” answered the balloonist, “everything you told me is technically correct. But I have no idea what to do with your information, and I’m still lost. Frankly, you’ve not been much help to me.”

The man smiled and responded, “You must be a Republican.”

“I am,” replied the balloonist. “How did you know?”

“Well,” said the man, “you don’t know where you are — or where you are going. You’ve risen to where you are , due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. You’re in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but somehow, now it’s my fault.”

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.

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