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  • Mark Lamster and Alexandra Lange dole out their unofficial architecture and design awards for 2020. The big winner? N95 masks. But here’s my fave on the list:

The Facebook Award for Loathsome Inescapability: To Zoom, which achieved hegemony — and became a verb — in the war of grid-based meeting platforms. Maybe next year, we’ll see you in person?

It’s a remarkable moment, a swift and scathing indictment of the people Sacco represents—white, settler, Western. This type of self-critique is rare in mainstream Anglo-American journalism, which adheres to the myth of the reporter’s neutrality or else revels in indulgent subjectivity. But rigorous inward-facing critique is common in Sacco’s work. For him, journalism is about asking questions, relaying information, and uncovering truths, not only about one’s subjects but also about oneself. Throughout his books he exposes the mechanics of his process in such a way that the reader can never forget that their narrator is a biased, privileged outsider. He sees it as a matter of ethics. “The important thing for me isn’t so much objectivity, it’s—I want the journalists to admit their contexts, their prejudices somehow,” he has said. “Objectivity to me is a different word than honesty.”

That honesty is a crucial part of Sacco’s decades-long project. Whether covering the lives of Palestinians in the occupied territories, Bosniaks and Serbs in the former Yugoslavia, or the Dene, he seeks out difficult and painful stories and tells tales of war and oppression that many people may not want to hear. Sacco’s oeuvre is built on using words, images, and a potent combination of the two to make visceral the realities of historical trauma. As Hillary Chute wrote in her 2016 book, Disaster Drawn, his work “is about an ethics of attention, not about producing the news.” And as a white Western man, he’s keenly aware of the power his attention holds.

At the hands of these scholars, foreign working class women–tavern keepers, sellers in the markets, freed formerly enslaved women, single mothers–all became “prostitutes” because the men who spoke of them deemed that any woman who wasn’t someone’s wife, and hidden from public view by staying inside or being veiled, or who was selling anything or working at anything must be a whore. That I didn’t understand the brilliance of this scholarship was one of the things that made me appear disrespectful in my professor’s eyes, I think. But didn’t they understand? The women they were talking about were my people, my family. Would scholars 1000 or 2000 years from now take the fragments of my grandmother’s life and decide that she was a prostitute when what they were really saying was that she was nothing more than a whore? 

And what of my step-mother? She remarried, but would she too have been seen by these scholars, whose lives were so removed from her reality, as a scheming prostitute? If they knew of her asking my father about taking care of her boys, would they mention her in their book titled “Whoring Under Contract”? Imagine my step-mom as the subject of an Isaeus speech–fallen woman with 2 children tricks citizen man into making her kids his heirs under the pretense that they are really his. Men of the Jury, do you not all know who she really is? Everyone knows her. She is nothing more than a whore. 

One of the results of the alienation I felt reading this scholarship was a vow that I would not write scholarship on women. Ever. I could not see how anything I would have to say about them would get past the peer review process since I could not bring myself to write about them as nothing other than wives or prostitutes. I turned to the concerns of men–to politics and imperialism.

  • I don’t think we discuss the Indigenous architecture of the US enough, but this Red Nation podcast might be helpful if the topic is new to you.
  • Not to depress you, but … Dani Alexis Ryskamp writes that the life The Simpsons have on the tv show isn’t attainable by most Americans:

The 1996 episode “Much Apu About Nothing” shows Homer’s paycheck. He grosses $479.60 per week, making his annual income about $25,000. My parents’ paychecks in the mid-’90s were similar. So were their educational backgrounds. My father had a two-year degree from the local community college, which he paid for while working nights; my mother had no education beyond high school. Until my parents’ divorce, we were a family of three living primarily on my mother’s salary as a physician’s receptionist, a working-class job like Homer’s.

By 1990—the year my father turned 36 and my mother 34—they were divorced. And significantly, they were both homeowners—an enormous feat for two newly single people.

Neither place was particularly fancy. I’d estimate that the combined square footage of both roughly equaled that of the Simpsons’ home. Their houses were their only source of debt; my parents have never carried a credit-card balance. Within 10 years, they had both paid off their mortgage.

The anger was always framed as a means to an end, part of Chang’s quest to create “the perfect restaurant.” This need for perfection is a deep throughline in the Chang mythology; a child golf prodigy, he won the Virginia state championship two years in a row. When his peers began to catch up as he grew older, he recounts his father sitting him down to “analyze each mistake I’d made.” Chang has embraced this part of his biography, as well as the emotion that arrives when his peers don’t possess his relentless drive, or when he recognizes that his own high standards are, in fact, unreachable: rage.

The first words spoken by Rukmini Callimachi, “the star terrorism reporter” for The New York Times, “how does ISIS prepare you to kill people,” offers us the Orientalist frame through which she would lead her audience through the psychology and geography of “the Islamic State.” ISIS are killers and they turn people into killers. I am not here to suggest that ISIS was anything other than a disgusting and brutal regime of violence that appropriated Islamic theology, jurisprudence, and sunnah (the way of the Prophet Muhammad) to enact their own murderous agenda. What I am here to expose, however, is the way that this podcast relied on Islamophobic and Orientalist framing in order to peddle lies as truth so that it could sell a narrative that fit and corroborated the creators’ own preconceived notions of Islam and Muslims. Callimachi eagerly ingested the fabrications of her native informant because he was telling her what she already knew to be “true” about ISIS. She, her team, and the NYT  worked harder on making the faulty timeline fit their prescribed narrative (episode six) than they did on vetting their source. They also seem to have overlooked the fact that the point of a native informant is to confirm your preexisting beliefs, which they swallowed wholesale. There’s even more here, however.  The larger story of Caliphate isn’t just the need to find evidence that will fit the story you’re selling. It’s the need to make yourself the hero of the story, to be an authority and player in the global War on Terror, and the culture it has spawned.

Calls to action, which denounce the physical destruction of sites, should also spotlight the threat heritage decimation has on people and their cultural livelihoods. The trope of a universal, common heritage that must be saved for future generations is heralded and helps to stir international attention and assistance, but we must equally take into consideration a need to support the people who have a hand in keeping their culture alive and thriving. In addition to contributing humanitarian aid, we should be supporting and creating spaces that allow cultural ingenuity and heritage expression to flourish. While not a perfect solution, this action would give agency back to those who have experienced attacks on their history, heritage and identity.

Required Reading is published every Saturday, and it 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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Required Reading

This week, a Frank Stella is installed as a public artwork in NYC, the women behind some iconic buildings, looting Cambodia, fighting anti-boycott laws, and more.

Hrag Vartanian

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