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Jaume Plensa’s “Behind the Walls” (2018) was unveiled at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan and images of it are quite impressive as it plays with our sense of scale and perspective. Made of resin and marble dust, it is sure to be everywhere on Instagram in the coming weeks and months. (image Frieze Sculpture, Rockefeller Center, New York, 2019 © Jaume Plensa Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co.)

  • If you think art doesn’t have an impact on the real world, then you haven’t been following the fall out from Ava Duverynay’s Netflix docudrama When They See Us about the wrongful 1989 conviction of five boys for the sexual assault of Trisha Meili, the Central Park jogger. One of the chief prosecutors in the case, Linda Fairstein, is now facing repercussions for her role:

I’m not suggesting that prosecutors intentionally try to convict the wrong person, but once their heels are dug in, it’s difficult if not impossible to move them.  Power brings smugness, and prosecutors have a lot of power.

Maybe 30 years after the fact, Linda Fairstein doesn’t deserve the hate mail she’s now receiving.  But I can’t help but think that this comeuppance is a good thing.  After all, she’s had a long, successful career both as a prosecutor and a writer. Her fall from grace will probably be forgotten in two weeks. She’ll continue with her life.

The boys convicted can’t.  They (and their families) continue to suffer the scars of having been in jail that long and having had their youth robbed forever.

If the Fairstein lambasting does anything to encourage prosecutor offices around the country to look over their shoulders, reconsider their initial assumptions, and recognize their own biases — that’s a good thing.

But for thousands of people who retweeted and responded to Zupan’s tweet, the subtext was clear: Look at these vapid influencers, fishing for likes when they should be respecting the tragic nature of the site. Craig Mazin, the writer and producer of the HBO miniseries, responded to the controversy on Twitter. “It’s wonderful that #ChernobylHBO has inspired a wave of tourism to the Zone of Exclusion. But yes, I’ve seen the photos going around,” he wrote. “If you visit, please remember that a terrible tragedy occurred there. Comport yourselves with respect for all who suffered and sacrificed.”

Instagram, with more than 1 billion active users, has become the default way for many, especially young people, to share and document their lives. But people still struggle with how to best format their posts from solemn places. A crying photo will get you ridiculed for being inauthentic or cringey. Present yourself too seriously and you’ll look like you’re “posing for a rap album cover amid the abandoned buildings,” as BuzzFeed put it.

The monetary value of this loss is difficult to calculate. Aronson recalls hearing that the company priced the combined total of lost tape and “loss of artistry” at $150 million. But in historical terms, the dimension of the catastrophe is staggering. It’s impossible to itemize, precisely, what music was on each tape or hard drive in the vault, which had no comprehensive inventory. It cannot be said exactly how many recordings were original masters or what type of master each recording was. But legal documents, UMG reports and the accounts of Aronson and others familiar with the vault’s collection leave little doubt that the losses were profound, taking in a sweeping cross-section of popular music history, from postwar hitmakers to present-day stars.

Among the incinerated Decca masters were recordings by titanic figures in American music: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland. The tape masters for Billie Holiday’s Decca catalog were most likely lost in total. The Decca masters also included recordings by such greats as Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five and Patsy Cline.

The fire most likely claimed most of Chuck Berry’s Chess masters and multitrack masters, a body of work that constitutes Berry’s greatest recordings. The destroyed Chess masters encompassed nearly everything else recorded for the label and its subsidiaries, including most of the Chess output of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Bo Diddley, Etta James, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy and Little Walter. Also very likely lost were master tapes of the first commercially released material by Aretha Franklin, recorded when she was a young teenager performing in the church services of her father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, who made dozens of albums for Chess and its sublabels.

Universal Music disputes this:

In response to a New York Times article recounting a 2008 fire described as “the biggest disaster in the history of the music business” in which thousands of Universal Music Group master recordings were destroyed, the company has issued a statement disputing the characterization of the damage it caused to the company’s archives, saying the article contains “numerous inaccuracies, misleading statements, contradictions and fundamental misunderstandings of the scope of the incident and affected assets.”

“Music preservation is of the highest priority for us and we are proud of our track record,” the statement reads in part. “While there are constraints preventing us from publicly addressing some of the details of the fire that occurred at NBCUniversal Studios facility more than a decade ago, the incident – while deeply unfortunate – never affected the availability of the commercially released music nor impacted artists’ compensation.”

Privacy has its spiritual significance: In Haudenosaunee practice, outsiders who so much as see sacred works violate their spirit, an affront museums here and elsewhere broadly ignored for decades. A set of sacred pieces brought home from the ROM recently were on display there until the late 1980s. It was only the museum’s intention to lend them to The Spirit Sings, an Indigenous exhibition made for the 1988 Calgary Olympics, that prompted outcry loud enough to put them under lock and key.

But there’s also practical purpose to the secrecy, Williams says. Objects of great value held by individuals, not institutions, become vulnerable to temptation.

Obviously, this dadaist parody of class politics is pregnant with contradiction. On the one hand, the right-wing arbiters of authenticity create a near-absolute culturalization of class by insisting that you can be blue-collar simply by, say, stating an opposition to “bureaucracy,” or disliking “political correctness” and “social justice politics,” or by advocating wall-building or Brexit. On the other, such ideological shadowplay depends upon a solid, if somewhat displaced, material referent, specifically the hard-done-by strugglers of West Virginia or the English northeast, or Pas-de-Calais, the former DDR, Wallonia, and so on. There must be people living in significantly straitened circumstances in order to ennoble a corpus of values that are, however unjustly and maliciously, associated with them. In other words, the only time the economic circumstances of the people become important is in their cynical and strategic deployment as cultural signifiers enabling the conspicuous display of a political leader’s putative earthiness.

The awkwardness of the relation between cultural comportment, political persuasion and material circumstance for the Trump-era right becomes particularly apparent when leftist figures emerge who sport actual working-class backgrounds of their own. Exhibit A here is, of course, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Since she defeated ten-term incumbent Joe Crowley in the primaries for New York’s fourteenth congressional district last summer, Ocasio-Cortez has surged into the forefront of left politics. Bernie-ites and DSA partisans hail her unprivileged Bronx upbringing as a crucial set of experiential credentials that permit her to speak to many working-class Americans alienated by Third Way vapidity. And she’s likewise been the target of an unceasing hailstorm of invective from conservatives desperate to expose her as a fraud and a mimic. Because Ocasio-Cortez fails in nearly every way to display the culturally sanctioned political signifiers of blue-collarness, so the logic appears to go, her material circumstances can’t ever have been remotely as bad as she has made them out to be.

  • While I’m not normally a fan of linking to RT, the Russian government-sponsored news channel, this interview by Chris Hedges of Matt Taibbi about the corruption in US corporate media is a must watch:

Shortly after the season-eight premiere in 2016, RuPaul told me that drag was the “antithesis” of the mainstream. “Listen, what you’re witnessing with drag is the most mainstream it will get,” he said. “But it will never be mainstream, because it is completely opposed to fitting in.” Nine Emmys later, Drag Race can no longer claim outsider status. RuPaul now regularly appears on talk shows (recently with a gushing, teary-eyed Anne Hathaway), and the most successful queens from the series have their own makeup lines, TV shows, and fashion campaigns while shilling everything from Starbucks to vodka to McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches. What was once counterculture has simply become the Culture. This has its benefits: Mainstream consumer culture has gotten a little less straight. But in the process, something — maybe the feeling that this was by us and for us, or maybe it was just Alaska saying anus — was lost.

Moscow and Ankara were more clearly at odds over Chechnya, although neither side wanted to let their differences slide out of control. In early 1994, Russia delivered a subtle warning to Turkey that any interference in Chechnya would be countered by support for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a former Soviet client still battling the Turkish government. Taking the hint, Ankara agreed in a series of secret talks to curb support for the Chechens, even as it continued to assail Russia’s conduct in public.32 Moscow returned the favor when PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan was expelled from Syria in 1998 by denying him asylum. He was later captured in Kenya and brought to Turkey, where he remains in jail.

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.

Hrag Vartanian

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