Indoctrinated by the relentless, repressive optimism of the Protestant work ethic, Americans don't understand that in order to truly appreciate happiness, you must fully know sadness; and in order to be truly sexy or beautiful, you must have a certain capacity for ugliness that brings your handsome features and charming qualities into sharp relief. This is why conventionally attractive people are widely palatable (i.e. "conventional"), but very seldom sexy or beautiful. Just think of Taylor Swift or Kendall Jenner, both youthful, pretty, leggy, and woefully unmemorable. Or, consider the mystifying success of Brad Pitt, who is a mediocre actor in addition to being a sorry male specimen, whereas his so-called doppelganger, Benicio del Toro, is not only a stellar actor but also incredibly attractive, in a louche, rakish way.
Art, on its own, is powerless to change political realities.
Earlier this week, the video artist and Artforum darling Hannah Black penned an open letter protesting the inclusion of a 2016 Dana Schutz painting in the 2017 Whitney Biennial. Titled “Open Casket,” it depicts the dead body of Emmett Till, a teenager who was tortured and lynched after being falsely accused of flirting with a white woman in 1955 Mississippi. (His mother, Mamie Till, held an open casket funeral for him, so the whole world could come face to face with the horrors of American racism, hence the title of the work.) A dark episode in the nation’s history, it is a reminder, seven decades on, just how little things have changed.
Some unsolicited thoughts on the Milo controversy:
1. The total collapse of entertainment and politics into one another—i.e. The fact that the political arena is now under the umbrella of the entertainment industry as Fran Lebowitz said last Monday in conversation at New York Live Arts—means that we can no longer differentiate between POLITICIANS and ENTERTAINERS. It almost seems silly to mention in hindsight, but we saw this with the cult of Obama, who was “charming” and “adorable” and did things “like a boss,” never mind his merits as a statesman and his hand in paving the way for the Trump Administration, as well as the trickle-down cults of political heartthrobs Cory Booker and Justin Trudeau. (To paraphrase Fran again: politicians aren’t here to entertain you nor are you here to provide an audience for politicians. Their job is to represent your constituency.)
The outrage over Susan Fowler's account of rampant, unchecked sexual harassment and gender discrimination at Uber is a perfect storm of woke sex crime hysteria and corporate lean-in logic. It plays on liberal feminism's tendency for sensationalizing sexual misconduct at the expense of structural inequality and plays to its newly minted role as the handmaiden of technocratic neoliberalism. The fact that media outlets from The New York Times to USA Today are tripping over their dicks to pick up the story—its built-in viral potential—should be a dead giveaway that you are being duped.
Alberto Moravia’s book The Conformist (1951), which was made into the internationally acclaimed and historically significant Bernardo Bertolucci film of the same name (1970), is often described as a psychological sketch of the fascist personality. Aside from being an excellent (and topical!) primer on the rise and fall of fascism, it is, like everything else Moravia, really about the imperiled identity of modern manhood. Although Moravia’s other novels—Conjugal Love (1949), Contempt (1954), Boredom (1960)—are less ambitious in both their scale and scope, preferring to retread the turf of bourgeois psychodrama, they also take as their subject the existential hysteria of an ambitious but blinkered anti-hero struggling in vain to escape his mediocrity.