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Daily Journal: Wednesday, February 14, 2007

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Why They Hate Us, Pt. 76
Surveying Arab Resentment

Arabs in five countries were asked how they primarily identified themselves—as Muslims (blue), citizens of their own country (pink) or Arabs (green), over three years. Even the Arab world has its resurgent religious right.

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The Grateful and the Damned
In Praise of Jon Swift

Jon Swift launched his merciless blog on December 30, 2005, with predictions, among others, that “Condoleeza Rice will win the 2006 Presidential election,” that “There won’t be a single terrorist attack in Wyoming” (gas drilling in sublime neighborhoods isn’t yet a terrorist act), that “American troops will leave Iraq except for the ones necessary to keep order and prevent civil war,” and that “Robert Novak’s source will turn out to have been the Internet,” all of which proved more than less true (even the one about Condi, since Bush quit sometime in December). Swift has been extracting sunbeams out of conservatism since, reaching heights (and depths) of perfect-pitch satire along the way (“Let's Not Nuke Iran Yet,” “Don't Ask, Don't Trill” and “Declare Supreme Court Justices Enemy Combatants” are among personal favorites I linked to in these pages). His work has no parallel in the mainstream press, where satire is considered too risky (every advertiser would be offended, primarily from not knowing whether to laugh or be offended) and no parallel that I know of among the web's sevety-seven trillion blogs, all of which I read carefully daily. His stylistic skewers are second only to his marketing verve, which has him blogrolled, cited, praised and crossposted as pervasively as those pimply social-networking icons to which even I've surrendered, on web sites liberal, conservative and in between. His secret? Despite being more liberal than Warren Beatty at a union meeting he has every conservative convinced that he's one of theirs, his “moderate” monicker the kicker to every entry visa. It's admittedly not difficult to dupe Reagan-generation conservatives: they dupe themselves for sport. But Swift manages a kind of universal appeal rare in blog-eat-blog jealousies and hyper-sensitivities to the slightest crinkle in the wrong direction. If this sounds like an extended ad, it is: Somehow Jon Swift came across this web site in its earliest and rarely read incarnations (a post about the Olympics, I think, was his hook, the one that Google still insists on listing near the top of a search page by this site's name even though it's a year old) and decided to market it when and where he could—and has, in fact, more generously than I've done in return, and almost as generously as Ohdave. That explains the illustration above. Swift's latest plug was in an interview with Bloggasm's Simon Owen, no marketing slouch himself. When Owen asks his last question, "What are the five blogs you’d recommend to supplement the reading of your own?" Swift replied, in part: “I have no idea why Candide’s Notebook by Pierre Tristam is not on every liberal blogroll. Although I disagree with everything he says [...] I always have to think twice before I dismiss what he says out of hand.” My bewilderment exactly. Then again, read Swift and you'll easily detect why some writers' words travel far while others get stuck in the medium's asteroid belt.

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Adolescent Adulation
Ayn Rand's Teeny Boppers

At last, shrugged

Amy Benfer in In Character: “Few authors inspire the kind of life-changing devotion, blind hatred, or contemptuous dismissal so frequently achieved by Ayn Rand, the founder of “Objectivism” and author of the novels Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, the non-fiction book The Virtue of Selfishness, and nine others. Despite nearly unanimous critical disdain, her books became best-sellers; the combined sales of her work continue to top 500,000 copies every year – more than Philip Roth, way more than, say, Zora Neale Hurston. Objectivism, as dramatized in Rand’s novels and meticulously set out in her non-fiction, glorifies the self-reliant individual (as opposed to the collective), prizes rational thought, and dismisses organized religion of any sort. Politically, it bears some resemblance to libertarianism, though Rand herself dismissed members of that party as “hippies of the right” who “substitute anarchism for reason.” She was buried next to a six-foot-tall dollar sign. It’s easy enough to explain Rand’s appeal to those who adore capitalism, abhor government intervention, and prize individual liberty above all. But the particularly fascinating thing about Rand is that many young women, like Gottlieb, revere the book as teenagers and later come to loathe – or at least laugh at – the novels as adults. In the 2003 movie Lost In Translation, Charlotte, played by Scarlett Johansson, says that every girl goes through a “horse phase” and a “photography phase, where, you know, you take dumb pictures of your feet.” For a certain kind of American girl, the “Ayn Rand phase” is another rite of passage.” See the full essay...

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"Rejoice, O Young Man in Thy Youth"
Platoon Memorial
Oliver Stone, 1986


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Winter's Homage to Woody Allen
If Chicago Had Been a Scene in “Manhattan”
Lake Michigan, on Tuesday. The photo appeared in the Times [Charles Rex Arbogast/AP]


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How the Art World Lost Its Mind
Laissez-Faire Aesthetics

Thornton Willis, Halfspin, 2006

Jed Perl in the February 5 New Republic: “The art world has never been so well-oiled a machine as it is right now. Auction records are toppled practically every month, the big international contemporary art fairs have produced a new breed of high-end shopaholics, and in New York's West Twenties the crowds streaming through the galleries are the most elegant on earth. This art scene, which has been fattened and massaged and emboldened by a boisterous stock market, is certainly a spectacle. So it's no wonder that last fall both Vanity Fair and W got on the bandwagon, devoting special issues to the visual arts. In a Vanity Fair feature on "the auction mystique, the new collectors, and the passion driving it all," Tobias Meyer, who is with Sotheby's, argues that the nosebleed prices being paid for new work in the auction rooms reflect a "democracy of access." What Meyer regards as a democratic principle will strike others as an old-fashioned overheated free-market economy. Vanity Fair's editors seem quite taken with this pay-as-you-go democratic spirit: they find another example in the video portraits that Robert Wilson, the stage designer, is now offering to anybody who can cough up $150,000, a sum that the magazine says "is peanuts in today's through-the-roof art market." As a come-on, Wilson has done something rather undemocratic, turning out videos of movie stars, among them Brad Pitt, who landed on the cover of Vanity Fair with Wilson's ah-sweet-mystery blue light playing over his bare torso and white boxer shorts. 

Of course it didn't take the fall of 2006 to tell us that big money likes flash-in-the-pan art, or that we are in a period--and it's certainly not the first one--when art and fashion and Hollywood are often indistinguishable. Amid the gold-rush atmosphere of recent months, however, something very strange has emerged, something more pertinent to art than to money--a new attitude, now pervasive in the upper echelons of the art world, about the meaning and experience and value of art itself. A great shift has occurred. This has deep and complex origins; but when you come right down to it, the attitude is almost astonishingly easy to grasp. We have entered the age of laissez-faire aesthetics.  The people who are buying and selling the most highly priced contemporary art right now--think of them as the laissez-faire aesthetes--believe that any experience that anyone can have with a work of art is equal to any other. They imagine that the most desirable work of art is the one that inspires a range of absolutely divergent meanings and impressions almost simultaneously. I used to be bemused when Lisa Yuskavage, whose lesbo-bimbo figure paintings were featured at the David Zwirner Gallery in October, was praised for channeling, all at once, Disney cartoons and Giovanni Bellini's altarpieces. And I did not comprehend how admirers of John Currin, who defies accusations of misogyny by making the men in his paintings every bit as repulsive as the women, could believe that he is both the direct descendant of Cranach the Elder and a raunchy comic in the Mad magazine tradition. My problem, I now realize, is not only that I am looking for consistency, it is that I persist in imagining that there is such a thing as inconsistency. The paintings by Currin and Yuskavage that are now going for hundreds of thousands of dollars are engineered for an audience that believes that a work of art can satisfy radically disparate and even contradictory attitudes and appetites, and satisfy them consecutively or concurrently-- it hardly matters. A painting is simply what everybody or anybody says it is, what everybody or anybody wishes it to be.”   See the full essay...

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