Talk about Absurdistan: Gary Shteyngart, ”Super Sad True Love Story” (Granta, 2010) is a dystopian novel about America in the immediate future. What a disconcerting book to read during the recent desperate Congressional Debt Debate. The yuan was now our currency. Top Chinese diplomats range the land, laying down the economic laws. Venezuelan naval ships are patrolling the Potomac. (Our National Guard has invaded them, a natural follow up to the Iraq/Afghanistan/Libya tri-defecta.) Home from that fight, tired troops punish the homeless poor minorities. who have invaded Central Park.
Our anti-hero, Lenny Abramov, a 39 year old Russian Jew immigrant from St. Petersburg, runs a Lifetime Extension scam for a Jewish social society. They communicate with each other over the latest Ipod called an Äppäräti that gives them instant Credit and Fuckability scores on themselves and their friends. Abramov’s Diary is the heart of the novel, interacting with his 24 year old Korean lover, Eunice Park, who twitters endlessly with her sister, mother, and college girlfriend over the complexity of adjusting to their disintegrating society. They have an esoteric twittering vocabulary with shortcuts like JBF (just butt fucking, i.e., just fooling around).
Their sex life is mainly oral. (Lenny is too old and fat to be attractive in traditional sex roles.) Life for Lenny is complicated by his boss Joshie (Joshua is too stiff a moniker for these wild men) stealing his Eunice. The eschatological scenario is plausible. The “greatest nation” is falling apart. But I doubt if it will ever be this much fun. It was my first novel written in Twitter. It generally made “social media” sound like kindergarten babble. I wanted sounder counsel on the dystopian collapse of America.
Reminded how much we as a nation had learned over the centuries from DeToqueville’s visiting muse, I was recently enchanted by another visitor’s essay, “Next Frontier for Restless Americans” in the International Herald Tribune (August 12,2011) by one Anand Giridharadas, an Indian pursuing a doctorate at Harvard. Like Fareed Zacharia, another Mumbai immigrant who preceded Anand at Harvard, and is now an editor-at-large at Time magazine as well as a regular on CNN (Global Public Square, Sundays, 0930, EST) these Harvard imports talk common sense re our current dilemmas.
“The American jobs that vanished don’t appear to be returning.
The stock market is plunging. Seemingly everyone, from the guy at the corner bar to the U.S Treasury, is in debt. The country’s credit rating just got knocked. Smart people on television are speaking of a looming ‘lost decade’.” He points out that throughout history millions of people in less prosperous societies come to a similar conclusion: They sail away. (Like they just have, from India. Their inference is disarming: “So could America, that great nation of immigrants, become in harder times a nation of emigrants? Could the metropolises of China one day have Americatowns.”
“Imagine a bustling one in the heart of Beijing. Local Chinese stream past, scratching their heads at those Americans who come just for the money, never learning China’s language or customs, living in their own little world. The signs are all spelled out in Roman letters—even for local outfits like Zhogguo Jianshe Yinhang (China Construction Bank) and Hong Gao Liang (Red Sorghum, a fast food joint.)” The Americans have strange manners: They never share food, and they finish everything on their plates. They always ask locals how many children they have. (The answer is almost always “one”!)
They mostly succeed, with energy, skills, and family networks: ”They run burgers-and-fries joints, English-language academies, fitness centers and even an intercity transport service known as the Americatown bus.” Quoting Isabel Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Suns”:. . .what humans have done for centuries when life becomes untenable—what the pilgrims did under the tyranny of British rule, what the Scotch-Irish did in Oklahoma when the land turned to dust, what the Irish did when there was nothing to eat, what the European Jews did during the spread of Nazism,what the landless in Russia, Italy, China and elsewhere did when something better called to them.” They left! A tough assignment for American brainwashed in that whistling in the dark mentality called Exceptionalism! But an option always open to the brave and clear-headed!
Inevitably, I reminisce about my “one year” scheme to study the Bauhaus as a philosophy for the disadvantaged during 1999, when Weimar was the Cultural Capital of Europe. Ultimately, even as a trained Americanist, the access to European Exceptional Wonders proved irresistible. In the back of my mind I decided I didn’t want a retirement full of violence and disintegration. Dismayed by the temporary flourishing of a rising American middle class (!938-1980) savaged by Ronald Reagan’s empty headed rhetoric for making America safe for billionaires by offshoring production, I noticed how German industrialists defended strong unions and ensured that the lower classes would be educated to be successfully industrious in mass production jobs. Exceptionalist talk is cheap, but the Germans learned from the savage interlude of Nazism.
When I contrast the solid thinking of our new Indian immigrants, it makes the fake anguish of “Super Sad True Love Story” a twittering joke. I spend my dying days learning what Europe and other unexceptional cultures have discovered about the industrial 101 condition. It was sad to sell my Louis Kahn house in Greenbelt Knoll. But with that cash we bought the third floor flat in a 1784 villa at Seifengasse 10. Goethe lived at Seifengasse 1, where every August 28, they still celebrate his birthday. Walt Whitman claimed Goethe’s “Truth and Poetry” turned him on to his vocation. When’s the last time you celebrated Walt’s birthday, May 31, 1819!
Zaller’s connecting the greediness of King’s heirs with the sad but possibly temporary triumph of the American cashocracy is exemplary. But we are all de facto heirs of King’s priceless idealism, a heritage we can affirm every day by emulating him.
Did you know that the famous wit Dorothy Parker (”Men don’t make passes/ At girls who wear glasses”) was arrested and fined for rioting against the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti? And that she left her modest $20,000 “fortune” to Martin Luther King, and her future royalties to the NAACP?
My point is that every one of us can “vote” daily to our allegiance for King’s egalitarianism.
There is always more to see in Paris than you have time for. But this summer is particularly rich for lovers of art. I didn’t see all the shows, but the ones I did see were especially savory. Here’s my pick of the pack.
The very, very best show in Paris this summer is truly astonishing—a replay of the World’s Fair of 1937 “Salon of the Independents.” I have never seen so many unfamiliar artists that pleased me so much. Matisse was on the original poster, and he’s on this one; but see if you don’t discover a dozen artists to whom time has been decidedly unkind. Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris. (Iena stop on the Metro.)
Actually, there are two world-class exhibits, both connected with the golden jubilee of the Fair at MOMA. The other is about the fair itself—its architecture, design, posters—the works. To see the Russian and German pavilions staring each other down with neo-classical bluffery is enough to send you into a funk.
A brisk ten-minute walk up the Avenue Woodrow Wilson is the Palais Chaillot. The Museum of Man there has a dazzling expo on the art of early Peru. Take time enough to have lunch at the Totem, which is reasonable and has an absolutely splendiferous view of the Eiffel Tower and the Seine from its windows. (Trocadero stop.)
In the same building, but in another wing, is the Maritime Museum, with a great show on the role that oceans have played in the history of humankind. Old maps, prow decorations, a tasty smorgasbord of things nautical that will wipe you out like a tsunami.
“Invitation to Travel” at the Union of the Decorative Arts is a feisty exploration of the changing mores and evolving luggage of traveling in Europe since the Renaissance. It’s geared to the donation of the Louis Vuitton collection to the museum. I was especially delighted by the marquetry that Rene Lalique did for Wagon Lit International. (Palais Royal stop.)
The Museum of Advertising on the Rue Paradis is one of my favorite haunts in all Europe. This summer they have chosen the year 1900, the apogee of Art Nouveau, to strut the stuff of their fabulous holdings. Particularly delectable is a sideshow on the emergence of Montmatre as an urbane playground. And get there early enough to ogle the building—it started out as a place where architects of the Belle Epoque came to choose titles for their clients. (Gare du Nord stop.)
National Museum of Photography. There are two luminous special exhibitions—one of the Mexican Revolution and another on the continuing effort to capture movement in still photography. Since there’s a room-size Muybridge, this “moving” show has a special zing for Phillies. (Iena stop.)
Right across the street from MOMA is the Museum of Fashion. It offers a marvelous romp through fashions of the 1930s, part of the 1937 Fair remembrance. Eye-popping in more ways than one is Clare Booth Luce’s modeling some sporty clothes—and no less a muse than Man Ray shooting for Schiaperelli. (Iena stop.)
There’s a marvelous little exhibition on the evolution of Tibetan architecture, which is better if you read French. But you don’t need to read French to relish the Tibetan art that the Guiman Museum has in stunning depth. (Iena, between the Palais Chaillot and the MOMA, on the Place Iena.)
Last, and most, the Musee D’Orsay. It is, to put it straight, the greatest museum, architecturally and in the design of its museology, I’ve ever seen in my museum-crammed life. I told the press bureau chief, after my afternoon ogle of the Art Nouveau and 19th-Century academic sculpture shows, that for the first time I understood why the French think they’re such hot stuff. (Palais Royal stop: that lets you saunter through the Tuileries and then stride across the Seine on the Pont Neuf.)
What a life!
From Welcomat: After Dark, Hazard-at-Large, July 8, 1987
Dan, if this assay is an effort to quiet the ruffled masses who asked the authorities to bust you for your glib rape analysis, it misses its markup. We regular BSR readers know you are a solid libertarian.
But I reject your Alzheimer argument. The pornofication of America has created a booboisie that cheapens male/female relations in a very destructive way. Even our best and brightest are hooking, turning a generation of women into degenerate, unpaid hookers.
Let’s make a clean breast of this contemptible scandal. Sex is for love and procreation, not kicks.
This grungy Alsace textile town, minutes by car from both Germany and Switzerland, is undergoing something of a transformation. Its year-old cultural center/performance space, La Filature (the thread), is a dazzling allusion to the textile industry that first put it on the map.
Now, 100 years after one of the town's most famous Jewish sons, Capt., Alfred Dreyfus, was framed and sent to Devil's Island on trumped-up charges of espionage, La Filature is also the venue for a fascinating take on that cause célèbre.
Dreyfus, an officer in the French army, was at the center of an affair that sent shock waves throughout France and the Jewish world. He was accused of treason, court-martialed, convicted and ultimately pardoned – in a scandal that led to the famous letter from novelist Emile Zola to France’s president, captioned, “J’accuse!”
Printed, on the front pages of one of the country’s leading newspapers, the letter accused Dreyfus’ denouncers of malicious libel and anti-Semitism.
A basis in the Revolution
The Mulhouse exhibition begins by making the point that without the French Revolution, there would never have been a Dreyfus affair.
Before the revolution gave them full and complete citizenship in 1791, Jews eked out precarious livings in villages where the vicissitudes of politics kept them on the move or in hiding.
As full citizens, they could move into Mulhouse, which Alfred Dreyfus’ father did. He eventually succeeded very well in the textile business.
The Franco-Prussian war in 1871 unsettled Alsatian lives still another time, and it was a miracle that Alfred Dreyfus ended up in the French army. The Mulhouse exhibit uses city archive materials for the first time to lay out the basic facts of the Dreyfus family and its shifting fortunes in the volatile textile industry.
The local lore is supplemented by a traveling exhibit of posters and other media ephemera, such as the famous front page of L’Aurore in which Zola threw down his challenge.
It surprises some visitors here to learn that Zola’s appeal to reason and compassion didn’t appear until 1898, four years after the court-martial. The captain was already sweating out a life sentence on the notorious Devil’s Island off the coast of French Guyana.
Bizarre election poster
There is one bizarre poster in the exhibit, pushing the candidacy of A. Willette, who ran for election in 1889 in the ninth arrondissement of Paris openly as a “candidat antisemite.”
His message: “Voters: The Jews are not such big deals – except that we’re on our knees. Get up! They are a mere 50,000 who alone benefit from the bloody work and hopelessness of 30 million Frenchmen who have become trembling slaves. It is not a question of religion. The Jew is of another race and the enemy of ours. Judaism is the enemy! In running for office, I give you an opportunity to protest with me against the Jewish tyranny. Do it then. It would only be for your honor.”
What a way to celebrate the centenary of the French Revolution! In fact, there was an economic crisis beleaguering the country, and the Jews once again were scapegoats.
Yet another exhibit
During this 100th-year observance of the Dreyfus case, another exhibit has been mounted in the City Hall of the 11th arrondissement in Paris. For students of French history, the subway stop is Place Blum, named for the last Popular Front president of the Third Republic, who was blamed for the capitulation to the Nazis because he was a dirty Jew.
The most interesting part of the exhibit (in addition to a splendid catalog, “Une Tragedie de la Belle Epoque: L’Affaire Dreyfus,” available from INALCO, 104 quai de Clichy, 9211; telephone 126.96.36.199) is the way it outlines the rise to prominence and esteem of French Jews in general and Parisian Jews in particular, after they were released from medieval constraints following the revolution.
Those 50,000 mocked by A. Willette apparently took full advantage of their new freedom. But envy and resentment of Jewish achievement apparently fueled the fires of anti-Semitism.
The hassle continues. On the precise date of the Dreyfus centenary, Oct. 15, the French defense minister was interviewed in the left-wing daily, Liberation.
He apologized for the century-old injustice on behalf of the French military, and revealed that he had tried unsuccessfully to persuade military leaders to put up a long-completed – but never displayed – statue dedicated to Dreyfus at the military academy or at Paris headquarters.
Spain's top film awards are called "Goya's"; France's, "Cesar's".
Russian philosophy professor El'mar Sokolov was named by his parents for Engel (E), Lenin (L) and Marx (Mar), Patricia Cohen, "The Limitless Horizon of Russia's Philosophers" IHT 3/17/99, p.20.
When their landlord in New York City assured the new immigrants from Russia that they wouldn't have to put up with Jews in their new apartment, Yehudi Menuhin's parents immediately reacted by naming him "Yehudi" (the Jew).
Letters to the Editor
International Herald Tribune
Tuesday, January 16, 2001
by Patrick D. Hazard
Regarding “Mr. Bush, the World Doesn’t Want to Be American” (Opinion, Dec. 30) by Mikhail Gorbachev:
Amen, Mr. Gorbachev. The greatest danger facing a Bush administration’s managing of our future is the American doctrine of exceptionalism.
It began in the 17th Century with our Puritan divines’ absurd hubris that God had saved the New Continent so that He could have a covenant with them. Back in the days when the new Americans still had a “decent respect for the opinions of mankind,” this had not yet morphed into Manifest Destiny, a secular compact with the same convenient God, although President Thomas Jefferson gave it impetus with his Louisiana Purchase and President James Knox Polk pushed it along mightily with the conquest of Texas and related Southwest properties.
In the Banana Republic phase, indecently rationalized as the “white man’s burden” of Christianizing what President William Howard Taft called “our poor brown brethren”—those Filipinos who had already been Catholicized by the conquistadors—we fronted for United Fruit et alia with Marines and support for corrupt oligarchies.
American exceptionalism means we do not have to pay United Nations dues, join land mine treaties or reduce our huge contributions to the greenhouse effects because we’re God’s gift to globalization. Mr. Gorbachev wisely warns us that this inflated image of our own realities at home will endanger our own civil peace if current trends are not reversed.
Our skulls have become so numbed by material abundance that we do not even realize that our visionaries—Thoreau, Whitman, William James, Millard Fuller—have warned us how dangerous our self-absorption is not only to ourselves but to the rest of the world. It is ironic that we have to learn such simple truths from our former adversary in the Cold War.
Mangel Gallery: The serene lyricism of Will Barnet has appealed to me ever since I gave my daughter Cathy a girl and cat print of his twenty years ago. Strangely, I had never seen a lot of his stuff together, and frankly I was a little edgy about his being just on the edge of kitsch, perhaps just a little too pat in his benign domesticity, and surely he is quite repetitive. Not to worry. He’s no major artist, but he does what he’s been doing for sixty years with conviction and panache.
His charcoal “Midnight” (1985) is a caring madonna quieting her child against the backdrop of a many paned window opening onto giant conifers. His pastel “Madonna of the Garden” (1985) takes the duo outside where she’s teaching a somewhat older child how to love being read to. Her pink gown and black hair play off soothingly to the tan cat with a smoothly curved tail. “Midnight” has the calming sinuosity of the mother’s swooping white sleeve.
“The Reader / Diva When Young” (1979) is rich chromatically, with a deep maroon blanket highlighted by tan, light blue, and brown vertical striped wallpaper, with the swirl this time being the raven tresses of the comfortably reclining young woman. It’s a formula, but I like it! A small world, lovingly rendered.
Arts & Antiques for March 1987 has an interesting piece on his commissioned portraits (which start at 50 G’s!; prints are more modest at $1-8; drawings $5-12; and paintings $20-65). “When I was 12,” WB recalls, “I discovered one of Rembrandt’s portraits; it wasn’t just a painting, it was a memory of a person.” His remind me of Japan more.
Moore College of Art: “Joyce Kozloff: Visionary Ornament” (through April 19) is one of those rare cultural events—don’t miss. I haven’t been so elated since beginning to track down Louis Sullivan’s masterpieces twenty-five years ago. Public art, in my opinion, is rotten with pompous narcissism, punishing us for every Minute Man of a Village Green with an equally indestructible Richard Serra mucking up somebody’s lunch. (Korten steel has a further disadvantage of protecting itself with its own rust; you can’t even look forward to its self-destructing.) Kozloff has found a way to be brilliantly original yet unswervingly faithful to the public artist’s responsibility to please the common viewer without stooping condescendingly.
Her great epiphany began in Mexico in 1973 when she noted that indigenous pretechnological cultures do not exhaust typology with representation and abstraction. She found the glories of ornament in the Third World, often simply as an outcome of the tools and materials available but nonetheless repeated enough to become a tradition.
As I type this, my eye looks up to my Divorce Pots, two pieces I picked after listening to a Spanish decree of dissolution in Juarez. One is horizontally banded with a delectable lack of perfect symmetry; the other is a gourd shaped with vertical deeply incised fluting on a black ground. After twenty years, still ravishing. Analogously, Kozloff started making ceramic tiles that pick up the imagery of a locale—quilts, gravestones, flora of New England for Harvard Square subway station.
Senecan Indian and Art Deco for the new Buffalo subway, an “illumination” of a “D” for Detroit’s People Mover station in the Financial District—with bears chasing bulls’ tails in an endless fiscal frolic.
Kozloff’s curiosity about art history is on a constant cruise for apposite imagery—it results in knockouts like her Galla Placida in the Philadelphia Suburban Station restoration. Her pilasters (of tiles, grout, and plywood) are, simply, to avoid supererogatory analysis, enchanting. Likewise with her King Tut wallpaper. She is playful and witty as in her “East meets West meets East meets West” romp blending chinoiserie from the Brighton Pavilion with arabesqueries form the Great Mosque at Cordoba.
The Age of Individualist Arrogance is over. If we’re lucky, the future of public art belongs to environmentalist landscape reclaimers like Harriet Feigenbaum (PAFA last fall showed a ridge worth of her mountainsides of projects and plans) and icebearers like Joyce Kozloff. Trying to please the public and repair out collective earlier mistakes is not a trivial posture to take—only the callow narcissists of Counter-Philistinism try to live that way.
The squalor of our public places needs more than the social therapy of the Anti-Graffiti Network (though it sure enough needs that as well); they need redeeming. As I see pages from Kozloff’s notebooks chockablock with mnemonic sketches of Frank Furness, I thrill to the possibilities that our city will be renewed still more by her prodigious knowledge and skill. If there’s one show not to miss in your lifetime, it’s JK’s “Visionary Ornament.” She’s a William Blake for our dark Satanic milltown.
Make that “troubles”, plural. But I begin with the grossest betrayal: the simultaneous emergence of the $100,000 super-research professor and the parallel peonization of the teaching A.B.D. Folk opinion has it that the English professor is by definition a Hyperliberal, a judgment I not only agree with but exemplify. But sweet talk is not philosophy nor ethics.
Our betrayal of the underclasses began after World War I, when the NCTE abandoned the IVY-dominated MLA to take over the training of public school teachers. Two Americas emerged: the elite institutions where allegedly best and brightest hungered to succeed in, and the increasingly bedraggled public schools, underfinanced and underprotected. Jefferson’s perceptive remark that a democracy could be no better than its common schools was ignored, to our current dismay.
That trahison des clercs is a major reason I junked a tenured full professorship after only 30 years of teaching, from high school through research university. I’d rather write for an alternative weekly than participate in the farce that our educational system had declined to: cultivator of a few Nobel laureates rather than nurturer of the least of our democratic charges. Such inequities are but a short step down to iniquities.
That intellectual treason led quickly and surely to a pseudo-democracy presided over by barbarians like Rush Limbaugh who prates mindlessly about “Excellence in Broadcasting” and (dis)simulates a conservative think tank while repeatedly alluding on air to Imam Obama all the while expressing his fatuous hope that he will fail. And this malarkey is funded by the richest and most powerful agents trained in this duplicity at our Ivy Towers. From “Every boy can grow up to be President” to Ronald Reagan’s despicable campaign to make it possible in America once more to be rich. I find $100,000 professors a greater ethical disgrace than hyperbonus bankers. We’re supposed to be leading the ethical way.
But leading inevitably to this collapse has been our defective definition of “the Humanities”. By the Arnoldian criterion drilled into us in graduate school, we must see that our charges are exposed to the best that was thought and said in the past. Not until I by chance read the maverick British professor, Raymond Williams, did I learn the essential conclusion to that Arnoldian aphorism-- so that fresh ideas can be brought to bear on our new industrial problems! What a failure of judgment in most of our Professoriate: reducing Matthew Arnold to a flack for upper middle class Culture with a capital C, when it was our small c culture that they were corrupting by their negligence. Inequities are iniquities indeed.
Where did they get off the track? Their first responsibility as guardians of the Humanities is to know what they are: not a booklist for silly exams, but an earnest evaluation of what makes us human, i.e. a sophisticated explanation of what makes us human, viz., our reason and our free will. A valid Humanities curriculum would begin with valid paleographical speculations about how and when mankind achieved the breakthrough first of toolmaking and then the wonder of speech.
Solid speculation contends that agriculture nurtured us physically so much better than the wander and hunt society that our brain grew into speech and conscious culture. That’s where our students must begin, examining critically the many myths and beliefs that led over millennia to our technological present. With constant focus on what we find ethical at every stage of human development, the better to use our two greatest gifts, reason and free will.
When we hear that art speculators have just paid $54 millions for a Matisse when billions of fellow humans are dying from poor nutrition or easily controlled diseases, we must learn that this is a moral outrage. As is, we deploy books as mazes to be threaded for a meaningless degree. That’s inhumanistic behavior.
For millennia we didn’t know the extent of our fellow humans’ sufferings and frustrations. Now we do, and school must teach us how to use our reason and free will to save our newly discovered fellows.
She is a revelation to me. Though I have an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in American Civilization, I had never even heard of the revealing mix of anthropology and archaeology. And her humane character is impressive.
But most of all I value her insight that gender customs blind the researcher.
Let the subjects talk and their biases dissolve like the summer sun does away with fog.
The Museum of Arts and Decoration on the Rue Rivoli has a big Rene Lalique exhibition. While I’ve long been a Lalique freak on the small jewelry, some of his grosser grander stuff turns me off completely. Still, there’s a deliciously huge embossed glass door at the end of the gallery that’s a stunner.
Up on the fifth floor—the new turf of the Musee de la Publicite, or Advertising Museum—there’s a funky show in circa 1900 aperitif posters that were commissioned but never executed. If you’re as into Art Nouveau as I am, you eyeballs will goggle gleefully at these “imaginary” posters for the aperitif Byhrr.
Now walk back toward the Metro entrance for the most accessible entrance to the Louvre. (But don’t fail to savour I.M. Pei’s great glass pyramid of a central entrance. It may turn out to be his chef d’oeuvre.)
I have an unbending rule that I never go to the Louvre except to see something very specific. (Culture drones have been known to drop from utter dehydration from trying to bite off more Louvre than their minds could effectively chew: That’s really what the Mona Lisa is smirking at—culture vultures circling their own cadavers.)
You should save an hour to take in the Louis Kahn show at the Pompidou (Metro 1 / Hotel de Ville). It’s amazing how just the flood of light in the fifth-floor exhibition space made me think I was seeing a significantly different exhibit from when it was shown at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Linger longer at the Pomp over the astonishingly fresh exhibit on Czech Cubism, especially the furniture and the architecture. I knew I had lots of art to Czech out in Prague and Bratislava after seeing that great intro to “The Eight” at the Brooklyn Museum a few years back. Here’s a grand swatch of it.
When you trek back to the Hotel de Ville stop, pause to be harrowed by a terrifyingly true exhibition, “Le Temps Des Rafles” (“The Time of the Roundups”), in the reception room of City Hall. I thought I’d seen and felt the worst of the Holocaust, I was wrong.
To memorialize the 50th anniversary of the first roundup of Jews in Paris, lawyer Serge Klarsfeld has assembled items that will make you quake: the telex Klaus Barbie sent consigning 44 children of Isieux to the camps, demented sociograms in which factotums determine just how Aryan a person is, a canister of Zyklon B, an Auschwitz prisoner’s uniform.
Klarsfeld told me the exhibit will circulate throughout France for the next two years. So if you get to Paris after it closes at City Hall, look for it at the Memorial du Martyr Juif Inconnu, 17 Rue Geoffroy, one stop up on Metro 1 (St. Paul). It will be there until the actual anniversary of the first roundup in July.
And, of course, EuroDisney has just opened. I trekked out there, poison pen in hand, to blast away at my two least favorite PoMo architects, Princeton’s Michael Graves and Columbia’s Robert A.M. Stern. Alas, both of them have hit architectural home runs—well, Stern’s is at least a triple.
Graves’ Hotel New York is a glorious evocation of Deco, with saucy linoleum concourse floors touting up one corridor the METS and down another the YANKS. Period photos of the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig garnish the walls.
Stern’s Hotel Cheyenne is Authentic Hokey, if I may improvise a rubric. As I sought an eye-opening cup of coffee, I blinked at the chalk-scrawled sign greeting me, “HOWDY PARDNER.”
The “hotel” is actually a congeries of theme hotelettes: Sitting Bull, Wyatt Earp and—the one I visited—Annie Oakley. Photos of the markswoman abound. Most of the rooms have a double bunk bed flanking a king-size one for the parents; 75% are handicapped accessible. For traveling families, a launderette is handily nearby.
What really won over my doubting heart: The design level of the gifts is MOMA-worthy. I did all my Christmas shopping in one fell swooperoo. April Fool’s Day indeed.
I haven’t checked out the fantasy parts, but the hotels are bell-ringers.
Reprinted from Welcomat: After Dark, Hazard-at-Large, May 6, 1992
Alan Brinkley’s complex and shrewdly documented “The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2010) reminds me enchantingly of my first serendipitous encounters with the Luce Empire. In my first teaching job at East Lansing, MI High, mesmerized by my college reading of Marshall McLuhan’s “The Mechanical Bride" (1951) I wanted to make my students critical consumers of the new medium of television.
When across the highway Michigan State opened its first UHF station WKAR-TV, they needed programs: so my teenagers provided them with “Everyman Is A Critic” a weekly hour long take on some aspect of teenage leisure. Including my tenth graders assigned to watch an original play,say, by Paddy Chayefsky and write a newspaper review for the next morning’s class. Or my twelfth graders assignment to watch Maurice Evans play “Macbeth”. Those successful assignments prompted me to write in 1954 for “Scholastic Teacher” my first national publication, ”Everyman in Saddle Shoes,” which described the successes and failures of such assignments.
That essay made a splash, which led to my being awarded a Ford Foundation Fellowship (1955-56) to try out my ideas in New York, then still the center of creative television. And when “Scholastic” heard about my award, they asked me to be Radio-TV Editor of “Scholastic Teacher” for the year. It turned out to be six years until in 1961 when I was appointed the first director of the new Institute of American Studies at the East/West Center of the University of Hawaii. “Variety”, the entertainer’s weekly Bible, couldn’t reach me in time. Our little family rented a flat in Flushing Meadows (where the World’s Fair was held), and I got in the New Yorker’s habit of reading the daily New York Times on the subway into Manhattan, where “Scholastic” had its offices across from the Main Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.
One Thursday, late in September, I was surprised to read that there was a media education conference at the Washington Hilton on Saturday! Gotta be there.
As I entered the hotel ballroom I saw two men at the rear in a deep discussion. One was Dr. Ralph Bunche, the black ambassador to the UN. The other was an unknown. With the chutzpah only a Midwest prole could dare, I interrupted them with, "Hi! I’m Pat Hazard from East Lansing High, and I’ve got a For Foundation Fellowship to study how English teachers should deal with the new medium of television.”
There was a stunned silence, as these two celebs decided how to dump this rude rural oaf. Finally the unidentified man said, ”Well how’s it going, Mr. Hazard?” I went on, and on about my unsuccessful efforts to get an interview with Pat Weaver, the innovative head of NBC-TV. At each refusal, his secretary got chillier and chillier!” Finally, the mystery man in a surprisingly friendly voice, identified himself. “I’m Roy Larsen, the publisher of “Time” and I’m on the board of directors of the foundation who gave you your grant. How would you like an office at “Time” to expedite your research?”
GULP. It was my turn to be speechless. “Meet me at “Time” Monday morning at nine, sharp.” “Yes Sir”, I replied, walking off in a daze.
Monday,bright and early I was at the Time/Life/Fortune skyscraper at 45th and Sixth Avenue, showing them the ID card Mr. Larsen had given me. And before you could say “Henry R. Luce” I was in “my office” on the 36th floor, thinking what the fuck do I do now? My eye wandered, until across Sixth Avenue I saw the RCA Building. Hmm! !”Courage, Pat!” I phoned Weaver’s number only to hear once more his secretary’s by now freezing voice. “Mr. Hazard,” she moaned. “This is the beginning of the fall TV season and Mr. Weaver is very, very busy!”
“Yes Ma’m,” I replied with my caricature of a faux humility. “It’s the beginning of my fall fellowship and the sooner I ask for Mr. Weaver’s counsel, the more effective I can be: Just fifteen minutes, whenever.” And I gave her Time’s magic number, Judson 6-2525, and hung up. Ten minutes later, a “Time” secretary hollered, ”Is there a Patrick D. Hazard here today. NBC-TV wants him to meet Pat Weaver at 10 a.m.” “Here I am,” I squealed. And crossed Sixth Avenue.
What a surprise awaited me. He was on a Bongo Board. (New to me, it’s kind of a see saw for a single person!) He said it helped him think faster. Whatever. For two and a half hours he explained how he came up with new programming like “Today” and “Tonight” and “Wide,Wide World”. He was thrilled by the idea of English teachers assigning original teleplays like Rod Serling, Gore Vidal, and Horton Foote. He called Nancy Goldberg in PR, and she cooperated enthusiastically. He introduced me personally to Ed Stanley, director of Public Affairs, who was equally enthusiastic.
Weaver made it possible for me to watch directors like Arthur Penn rehearse a play. In short, Roy Larsen made my fellowship not only possible but productive. They sent me to Chicago to see how “Life” was printed. And I’ll never forget how he arranged for me and the son of the founder of "Der Spiegel, “Time's” clone in Germany, to watch the editor, the photo editor, and text editor put together an issue of “Life”. In short I found the commercial media talent more humanistic than my graduate school Humanities professors, who whined about the media but did nothing positive to improve our common situation.
The same idealism prevailed when I was appointed education adviser (1968-72) for Time-Life Films. I came to New York every Tuesday to mark next week’s “The Listener” so the BBC could tape programs we were theoretically interested in distributing. Then we (me and a few salesmen) would screen the black and white tapes recorded last week. If we liked its potential, we’d ask for a color tape. Sometimes, the boss Peter Roebuck, disagreed with us judges. One day I got an angry letter saying he wasn’t paying me a $1000 a month to look at crap like “Monty Python”! (Ouch! We started each Tuesday with “Monty” for mental health reasons.) Slyly, we made sure WTTW/Chicago got “Pythons” and they sparked a national fad for PBS.
Another fascinating aspect was summer seminars in London mingling with the talent we were peddling. For example, when we previewed the rushes of Jacob Bronowksi’s “The Ascent of Man”, he explained how he’d rather write about Math (his specialty) or William Blake (his love) than make TV. But the director of documentaries bullied him with the Jewish concept of social responsibility to get his assent. He had to learn how to “talk” on TV by sitting at the feet of BBC’s best filmmaker.
After his performance, I told him it reminded me of my favorite aphorism of William Blake: “He who would do me good must do it in minute particulars.” His eyes blazed. “Precisely, precisely.” Later, at a BBC party we palavered wee into the night with the likes of Stephen Hearst, Director of Radio 3, and Martin Esslin, who invented absurdist drama, two Viennese Jews who fled Hitler. When the federal Department of Education sent me to Europe to see why their commercial cultural TV was better than our PBS’s. The answer: Poets like Scotland’s Maurice Lindsay and Wales’ John Ormond did their documentaries—from the inside!
Brinkley’s book on Luce is more than a perceptive biography: It is the clearest description of how media were transformed in twentieth century culture I have yet read. And his highly personal explanations of Luce and his collaborators is exemplary in showing how people and media interact. Many significant American writers like Archibald Macleish, Dwight Macdonald, James Agee and Daniel Bell all cut their teeth on Luce media. Partisan Review eggheads tended to reject Luce media too patly.
This book is intellectually exciting in how it shows the complexity of creating newer media. My exhilarating but admittedly limited interaction with Luce media makes me believe that the American clerisy is more guilty than media innovators for the squalid median of their performance today. Our Ivies abandoned the public schools before World War II when the NCTE separated from defective MLA leadership. The corrupted cashocracy stems from these abandonments. I’ve never understood this fateful isolation as completely before reading Brinkley’s explanations.
The best payment I ever got for an individual lecture was a free lunch at Hull University with the poet Philip Larkin (their librarian). We talked about American jazz which he loved, rather straightly.
I beguiled him with my bipolar jazz gig in Detroit: The Paradise and Eastwood Gardens (which I just now realized was an allusion to its location, East of Woodward off 8 Mile).
Gabriele Münter's house in Murnau, outside and inner (which her lover/leaver filled with folk painted furniture) before he went off half-cocked as an early Abstruse Exhibitionist. (Oh how I hate him for leaving Gabi stranded in Stockholm.)
Every morning at 09:15 except Sunday, I hike five minutes to the Student Center of the Anna Amalia Library to read the Herald Trib and the London Guardian. Seated opposite me for some years now has been one sixtyish retired chemist from Munich doing the German dailies. We’ve gotten in the habit of serving as talking reference books for each other as our reading requires. He’s better than any German dictionary; I readily illuminate “most” American references.
Such as the other day he queried, “Who was Dorothy Parker and what was the Algonquin Round Table?”) I explained that the Round Table at the Algonquin Hotel at 44th and Fifth Avenue was the watering hole of “New Yorker” writers in the 1920’s who relished three hour lunches and liked to dazzle each other with their wit. For example, there was an egghead game in which they asked each other to put strange words in a new sentence. D P at once complied with “horticulture”. “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.”
I always enjoy remembering her half-aphorism: “Men don’t make passes with gals who wear glasses!” Or “One more Martini and I’ll be laying under my host.” Robert Benchley parried: ”I’m getting out of these wet clothes and into a dry Martini.” She was wildly acclaimed when someone brought the news to their table that Cool Cal Coolidge had just died” with “How could they tell?”
The more I blabbed about her wit the more I realized that I knew very little about her life before and after the Round Table. So I did what culture-deprived Americans often do in Germany. I plunked one and a half Euros on the librarian’s desk after interneting the particulars of “The Portable Dorothy Parker”, edited by Marion Meade (Penguin Books, 1976) from that great German aid for wandering Americans, Gemeinsam Bibliothek Verein (Common Library Circle) and in a few days Bremen University had lent its copy to me for six weeks!
Was I ever in for some biographical surprises. Dorothy Rothschild was born in West End, New Jersey on August 22, 1897 to a wealthy business man and his ill wife. She died suddenly of E.Coli in 1902, throwing her father into panic. Dorothy never got on with the stepmother. And she soon died from a stroke.
She had beleaguered the young girl with daily queries: ”Did you love Jesus today?” She had sent Dorothy to the nuns of Blessed Sacrament School. Later in life she teased that the then controversial concept of the Immaculate Conception was a case of “Spontaneous Combustion”! Her father’s brother died on the Titanic, sending him into deep depression. Dorothy finally was on her own.
So superficially happy go lucky Dorothy would go on as an adult to try to commit suicide no fewer than four times! Characteristically, she wrote a poem about her suicidal failures, concluding it was easier to go on living! Her writing career began when she sold “Any Porch” to “Vanity Fair” for $12, a sly riff on the often empty but very diverse conversations heard there.
She parlayed her first “success” into a job writing photo captions for “Vogue” and the “Vanity Fair”. The “Parker” moniker started with a wealthy husband whose marriage didn’t last very long, but she kept for good even when married (twice) to actor Alan Campbell. They tried Hollywood together and by 1937 were earning $5000 a week, an astonishing amount in the middle of the Depression. Dorothy scoffed that the streets of Hollywood “were paved with Goldwyn.”
But the thing that astonished me the most about her life was her leftward drift. In 1927 she became outraged at the imminent execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, the Boston anarchists. She was arrested and fined for her critical maneuvers preceding the execution. She helped organize the Screenwriters Guild, joined the Communist Party, took up with equally aroused lefties like Lillian Hellman. She even had an FBI file over 900 pages long! She was blacklisted in Hollywood during the McCarthyite 50’s.
Would you believe that she willed her modest $20,000 fortune to Martin Luther King, Jr. and dedicated her literary rights to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Indeed, when she died on 6/7/1967, familyless, Hellman saw to it that she was cremated with dignity.
But Lillian forgot to collect her ashes. And after an erratic series of removals from one business desk to another in New York City, her remains in 1988, twenty-one years after her death, were safely ensconced at the Baltimore HQ of the NAACP. Except for her diverse and entertaining literary remains, easily accessible in “The Dorothy Parker Reader”.
We have always been divided in our American aspirations: white, black, brown and red. And the reigning whites differed: Loyalists as well as Colonialists: until the War of 1812. Hamilton vs. Jefferson. Not until Andy Jackson’s presidency did class begin to figure seriously in our diverse intentions. The traumatic Civil War split us permanently, victors and vanquished alike, as we see covert racism prevailing in Tea Party taunts. And the Gilded Age deepened the class splits, as industrialists triumphed with the infrastructure of transcontinental railroads for factories and land grant colleges for modernizing agriculture. Teddy Roosevelt with his New Nationalism and Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom grappled with the new realities of corporations and trade unions.
Alas, the booming 20’s collapsed into the depressed 30’s, prodding FDR to field a New Deal for the dispossessed. But it took a World War for the frozen economy to flourish. Not until JFK’s New Frontier were we temporarily ready to shoot for the moon of abundance for all. The compulsive political rhetoric of New this and New that reveals how much suppressed panic discombobulated US all. Until Ronald Reagan declare it was Good Morning in America once more, but not for the unions whose clout had created an expanding middle class.
He offshored production as well as untaxed profits, thereby raising the disparate incomes of maker and taker from 50 to 500! He successfully crippled the union movement and declared it was now safe again to be rich in America, simultaneously abolishing the FCC Equal Time mandate, turning our reasonably honest broadcast discourse into squalid millionaires media. The Supreme Court followed with its venal decision that corporations were First Amendment “citizens” diminishing our already corrupt political discourse into irredeemably venal propaganda. That is the parlous deadend that threatens us today. Desperately disparate.
In this complex situation, I find the Indian Harvard doctoral student Anand Giridharadas’ essay “The Fraying of a Nation’s Decency” (International Herald Tribune, 9/23/2011, p.2), usefully illuminating. First he innumerates the splendid usefulness of Amazon.com’s recent deliveries to him: over seventeen purchases from a hard drive to a pair of jeans.”Buying these things the traditional way would have meant driving around to many different stores and paying as much as twice the price for some items. What’s more, Amazon knows me. It’s like family. It knows where I live, what I like, my credit card number. Which, come to think of it, makes it closer than family. In a moment rife with talk of American decline, my Amazon experiences provide fleeting mood boosts. They remind me that, for now at least, this remains the most innovative society on earth. And then my bubble burst.”
A perceptive feature in “The Morning Call” (Allentown, PA) revealed why the boxes reach me so fast with such low prices. ”And what the story revealed about Amazon could be said of the country, too: that on the road to high and glorious things, it somehow let go of decency.” The Allentown reporter interviewed 20 people who worked in the Amazon Lehigh Valley warehouse. Temperatures of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit caused several employees to faint and fall ill and the company to maintain ambulances outside. Employees ere hounded to “make rate” meaning to pick or pack 120,125,150 pieces an hour, the rates rising with tenure. Few made tenure since the work force was largely temps from a local agency. Rarely were jobs permanent. So workers toiled even when injured to avoid dismissal. A woman who took a week off to deal with breast cancer returned to find her job “terminated”.
“The image of one man stuck with me. “ Giridharadas wrote. “He was a temp in his 50’s, one of the older ‘pickers’ in his group, charged with fishing items out of storage bins and delivering them to the ‘packers’ who box shipments. He walked at least 13 miles, or 20 kilometers, a day across the floor by his estimate.” 120 items an hour is one piece every 30 seconds. Sometimes it was hard to read the titles in the lower bins so he’d get on his knees. He’d often crawl to the next bin. He guessed he plunged onto his knees 250-300 times a day. Sometimes he found it easier to crawl to the next bin. (He was terminated after seven months!)
“The prevailing American story line right now is seething anger at politicians: that they’re corrupt, or heartless, or socialist, or dumb. But the Amazon story, and many other recent developments, suggest the problem is significantly deeper. Far beyond official Washington we would seem to be witnessing” a fraying of the bonds of empathy, decency, common purpose. It is becoming a country in which people more than disagree. They think in types about others, and assume the worst of types not their own.” Alas, I too sneer too easily at the Tea Party Twits, instead of trying discern what’s bugging them. We’re more and more disparately desperate.
Another insightful prophet of mine, Chris Hedges makes a similar take on farm help in “Tomatoes of Wrath” in Truth Dig.com (9/26,2011). “It is 6 a.m in the parking lot outside the La Fiesta supermarket in Immokalee, Fla. Rodrigo Ortiz, a 26-year-old farmworker, waits forlornly in the half light for work in the tomato fields. White-painted school buses with logos such as ‘P.Cardenas Harvesting’ are slowly filling with fieldworkers. Knots of men and a few women, speaking softly in Spanish or Creole, are clustered on the asphalt or seated at a picnic tables waiting for crew leaders to herd them onto the buses, some of which will travel two hours to fields.” At 7 a.m. Ortiz gives up and returns home with the other losers. Almost 90% of the are young, single, immigrant men. They are only paid for what they pick.
Ortiz has only scored three times this week and doesn’t know how he’s going to pay the rent. He sends home $100 a month to his elderly parents in Mexico. He has no access to the aids for documented American workers. His situation replicates medieval serfdom and often descends into actual slavery. The EPA estimates that of the 2 million farm workers, 300,000 suffer pesticide poisoning each year. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (http://www.ciw-online.org) aims to get supermarket support, chain by chain, that would double the workers take in the $600 million tomato-growing industry.
Workers in the field ear about 50 cents for filling a bucket with about 32 pounds of tomatoes. That comes to about $10-12,000 a year. (That includes supervisor wages so workers actually make less.) Wages have been stagnant since 1980. They must pick 2.25 tons of tomatoes to make the minimum wage for a ten hour day. Most pick about 150 buckets a day. Collective bargaining has been outlawed in Florida to maintain Jim Crow working conditions.
“Trader Joe’s” chain has an elaborate PR campaign alleging the workers whose tomatoes they sell are treated fairly, but CIW disagrees and contests Trader Joe's false PR. It appears there is more “fair trade” for faraway countries than our own. So the duplicity of allowing undocumented workers to fatten the business "take" is one more failure of American compassion.
Other abuses like Walmart’s cynically disallowing full time employment so their temps are reduced to Medicaid is yet another instance of America’s going soft on its forgotten or rejected assumption that there is an escalator for Everyman in America. It is a betrayal that makes liars of us all. Everyman as President? Anybody a peasant is more like it. Desperate in our freely chosen Discrepancies.
A friend once posed me a puzzler: Should she take her two-week vacation in Hong Kong or Greece? In January. My gut reaction was to cheer for Hong Kong, especially since a frozen ferry ride from Brindisi to Patros remains etched in ice on my memory. Still, that frigid departure did lead to a marvelous week in Cortu followed by a still choicer Passion Week in Crete, where I read The Greek Passion by Kazantzakis as I bussed about. So I can see Greece all right.
But I remain in love with Hong Kong. And besides, as the countdown to the 1997 takeover by mainland China quickens, and the geriatrics running China grow more and more obdurate about Governor-General Christopher Patten’s last-minute efforts to further democratize the British colony, you’d better get a crack at Hong Kong while the getting is still good.
I can think of no spritzier mass transport in the world than the Star ferry between Kowloon and Central Hong Kong. So let me tell her why I’d fly to Kai Tak right now.
The Meridien Hotel in the airport is one good reason. Since I’m a rat-packer permanently on the brink of hernia when I travel, it’s a great advantage to have airport luggage carts you can roll right up to the concierge and tell him to park them until an hour before your flight departure time.
I don’t even hold it against the hotel that the first thing that popped on my TV when I arrived, pooped from the flight in from Tokyo, was Rocky. Otherwise, Sly Stallone would be nothing more for me than an image on the Art Museum steps. The hotel also gives you a fistful of passes on its courtesy limo to downtown Kowloon.
Which is where I began to find bargains. The Kowloon Y cost ten U.S. bucks a night for a private room—and a rooftop cafe that not only gives you a dazzling nighttime view of Central Hong Kong but is also a great place to schmooze with the hostel’s mini-UN of backpackers, all with tales to tell and tips to pass on.
Its location—smack between the Peninsular and the Star ferry terminal—is ideal. It’s where I discovered the thrills of two-tier tourism: tea (high) at the Peninsular, and breakfast at the Regency across the street, where a free South China Morning Post competes with the view of the Harbor over a regal breakfast at a peasant’s price.
The Y also stands next to the new Science / Space Museum, a real treat. Hong Kong’s many museums are marvelous, and I didn’t even get out to see the ones at the English and Chinese universities.
The history museum on Kowloon, off Nathan Road, is a splendidly recycled colonial barracks. And the best view in Hong Kong is on the tenth floor of City Hall, which just happens to be their fine art museum. On my last visit, the city promoters took me to see the newest, a tea museum in the recycled governor general’s manse. Frankly, I was a bit skeptical about a tea museum—ignorant as I then was about the centrality of that beverage in so many Asian rituals. It’s actually a don’t-miss.
And scrutinize that South China Morning Post carefully. All kinds of good things are happening where visitors are welcome. For example, I had a marvelous evening at the world premiere of Ah Qing, the first serious feature film produced in the crown colony. As interesting as the film itself—about generational conflict in the public housing high-rises—was the arts crowd that showed up there in droves.
It made me understand for the first time what serious Hong Kongers most fear about 1997: The remarkable renaissance in the arts that this tiny island of almost 6 million has engendered is threatened by the Communist takeover. (Incidentally, the best time to visit Hong Kong is during its late January / early February International Arts Festival; the dates vary with the Chinese New Year.)
At the Star ferry terminal on central Hong Kong, a tourist center provides great info plus high-class, inexpensive souvenirs. There is also a South China Morning Post bookstore that’s an intellectual powerhouse—if you want to shop for ideas rather than gewgaws.
The only better place is the Welfare Gift Shop, next to the Star Ferry on the Kowloon side. I’m typing this article dressed in my all-time favorite souvenir from Hong Kong, a black bathrobe with dragoon doodahs inscribed imperially on its back, for an outrageous $8. You’ll find great handicrafts from the allegedly handicapped, physically and / or sociologically, as this do-good outfit helps the unhelpless out by getting them crafty.
And keep trudging, friend, up Ice House Street, for at its tippling top is the Foreign Correspondents Club, where the drinks and the food are as solid as the company is scrumptious. And the art memorabilia on the walls is worth a long slow ogle as well. Lay your Pen and Pencil Club card on them, and you’re in like Stu.
I have a thing about avoiding Great Tourist Attractions. (I may be the only student on the Beijing trip who didn’t go climb on the Great Wall; instead, I interviewed the editors of Chinese Literature and the staff at China Daily.) So I almost passed up the funicular up the cliff to Victoria Peak. My glee at high places—I’m a certified acrophiliac—overcame my loathing of over-touted bores.
How lucky for me. It’s a gasser during the day, and the restaurant is so romantic at night that you shed 30 years between appetizer and dessert. And here’s an angle: Go up by rail, but return by double-decker bus. It takes three or four times as long to return, but it’s a great way to see “the back” of the island and to snoop at how the upper classes live.
From Welcomat: After-Dark, Hazard at Large, January 20, 1993