I’m Just Not Impressed

Am I supposed to be?

Posts Tagged ‘Intelligentsia

The Divided Fifty States.

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A lot of people have been talking about the “divide” in the U.S. lately.  On one side are the Glen Becks, the Rush Limbaughs, the Pat Buchanans. The teabaggers, the birthers, the folks who desperately need a Political Theory class so that they can learn the difference between socialism, communism, National Socialism, fascism and why it is hypocritical to protest against government spending and against inadequate government services at the same time. On the other side are the rest of us.

But that’s not the only divide. In discussions of feminism and rape culture and kyriarchy, it is abundantly clear that there is another deep chasm, between those who think she deserved it and those of us who don’t. Between those of us who think that women are objectified and those of us who think its their right to objectify us. Between those of us who think that the victims of rapists are the real victims and those who think the rapists are the real victims.

The discussion of the false rape allegations at Hofstra taking place at The Sexist today is a glaring example of this divide. And like so many such discussions, it makes me want to throw up a little because the differences in the way we view the world are so fucking obvious that I start to wonder if anything can make a difference and if we ever really can be “United”. Because despite what Buchanan thinks, we never really were.

Written by emandink

September 18, 2009 at 5:15 pm

Fairey Tales

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I have a growing fascination with the Shepard Fairey copyright case.  Part of what makes it so fascinating is that, unlike a lot of copyright cases where a close look at existing law and precedent makes it pretty clear who is likely to win, this one is a crap shoot to my mind.  Cases like this one, and the recent Harry Potter Copyright Trial of Doom, illustrate a trend in the U.S. federal courts to apply nuanced reasoning about what fair use really means and what it truly means to “transform” a work into something new that does not depend on the original.  I don’t think that Fairey will win on his declaratory judgement action.  There are too many questions of law and fact at stake and I suspect that it will require a full trial (provided that it doesn’t settle first).  At full trial, though, I think he has a decent chance.  Then again, so – potentially – does AP.  I suspect, though, that it would tip in his favor, since while his image is clearly derivative, it does not represent a market that AP was likely to exploit, nor does it supersede the value of the original image.  OTOH, he copied it.  AP has made it’s basic case.  Whether Fairey’s Stanford legal team can establish the fair use defense will be the real issue.  It’s a decent case, but not a slam dunk.  Fair use is a defense that applies only after the case for potential copyright infringement has been proven, after all.

In the meantime, how about that Shepard Fairey.  The more I learn about him as an artist, the more I sort of dislike him.  But, boy, is there a lot of interesting stuff there to think about it.  There are three different angles to look at this art through – legal, art criticism and social justice, all of which can lead to far reaching conclusions.

From a legal perspective, my feelings are mixed – on the one hand, probably 30-40% of the art referenced in that first link  is in the public domain and is therefore fair game for any sort of use.  OTOH, a lot of it isn’t.  So we’re back to fair use and whether the use that he’s making really transforms anything, particularly the work that largely shifts perspective on works that were overtly political to begin with and whether his works act as substitutes or damage the market for the original works.

Then there is art criticism – and certainly reasonable people will differ on he question of is this art, although I certainly think it is.  I’m not sure how to categorize it, though.  My first thought is to forget the comparisons to Warhol and Lichtenstein – they copied iconic images, for sure – iconic images that were easily recognizable from their source.  And they transformed them into something else.  Warhol turned household goods into art objects (and did settle a lawsuit with Campbell’s for his trouble).  Lichtenstein took comic images from the 2×2 inch paper booklet and put them on walls.  Obama poster aside (which is somewhat like Warhol’s famous figure works), Fairey takes other people’s propaganda and turns it into…propaganda. 

This recasting of propaganda art from the 60s and 70s is the most problematic part of the work that I’ve seen.  Fairey borrows heavily from works made by people of color to publicize and fight their oppression and commodifies them into something easily consumable by an audience comprised primarily of white hipsters, while simultaneously marketing some of the actual emblems of their oppression right along side.  This is the real insidiousness of this work.  It is an exercise of enormous privilege for a white person to appropriate images by and of people of color for “art”, no matter how politicized and “in tune” with the original message.

Written by emandink

February 16, 2009 at 5:38 pm

Where the Schoolhouse Ends.

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Plans to blog the debate last night were derailed – apologies to anyone who stopped by for live action coverage.

There were three things that stood out at me last night.  The first was that while McCain clearly had some massive coaching from his staff on actually trying to show a modicum of respect to Obama, he really didn’t succeed.  It wasn’t a bad performance – he was definitely smoother than he’s been before, but I actually came away from this one feeling strongly not so much that Obama had won, but that McCain had lost.
His “WA WA my feelings are hurt because you didn’t denounce Lewis as a reverse racist for daring to call Sarah and I out on the fact that we are tacitly encouraging racism and xenophobia, even as we pretend we are against it” was laughable.  Seriously Senator – if you have called out everything you thought was inappropriate about your campaign, then you’re fine with your running mate implying Obama is a terrorist. Good to know.

Second, I thought that it was telling that McCain was criticizing Obama for class warfare, when he evidently doesn’t believe that it is possible that a plumber (named Joe or otherwise) could possibly make $250,000 or more a year. McCain kept harping on the idea that this plumber (read, uneducated, blue collar laborer) would have his taxes raised under Obama’s plan – never addressing his actual income, and implying that gee, if a plumber will have his taxes raised, then what might happen to you, nurse, or you teacher, or you tradesman. How fucking offensive that evidently McCain doesn’t believe – and doesn’t want the American people to believe – that a plumber might be able to make as much as a lawyer or a banker or a politician. If a plumber makes more than the east coast liberal elite, then his whole narrative is blown to bits.

My big issue with the debate – the one that really stuck with me and made me both laugh and want to throw things at the tv was McCain’s education proposal.  McCain, the man whose convention was all about “small town values” and small towns being real America and city dwellers being over-educated elitists, used Washington, DC, New York City and New Orleans as his education examples.  He referred repeatedly to wanting to give every American the sort of choice that the Obamas and the McCains have in terms of where to send their suburban dwelling children.  However, having “school choice” presumes that there are multiple schools to choose from.  So, in an urban area with multiple public schools at a given grade level in the same district and a bumper crop of private and perochial schools to choose from, school choice – be it charters, vouchers, open attendance systems can work.

But what about those “real Americans” in medium and small towns and rural areas?   Just because a school is surrounded by corn fields and small town values, it doesn’t mean that property values and taxes are high enough to maintain high quality schools across the board.  What choice is there but to go to an underfunded consolidated school, if the only other options are 30 miles away and not much better?  I sure didn’t have a whole lot of school choice when I was in high school – it was the cash-starved public school, the Catholic school, the Baptist school or the university lab school (which tended to wildly occilate in quality every few years).  And that was a lot of choice compared to elsewhere in farm country. Poor kids, kids with parents who don’t give a shit about their education, kids who graduate without knowing how to read, kids who need ESOL programs are not limited to urban areas. 

Vouchers do jack for these kids; or for the thousands of kids who don’t win the voucher/charter lottery.  Playing checkers with kids’ education and moving them around the board doesn’t change the fact that the board is warped to begin with.

Written by emandink

October 16, 2008 at 4:01 pm

The Thinking Reed

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So, in having a conversation this morning about Cindy McCain’s $300,000 outfit for a convention in which her husband and his supporters ranted about elitism, I had a bit of a “You keep using that word” moment. The Republican leadership do not seem to be opposed to “practice of or belief in rule by an elite” – that’s who they represent, after all. Nor can I truly believe that they have no “consciousness of or pride in belonging to a select or favored group”.

Then I realized – late to the party, probably – that elitism = intellectualism to this crowd. Which still sort of baffled me, at which point I remembered a conversation my first semester of college with a friend from high school in which she threw “You and your friends are so intellectual” at me like it was the most insulting thing she chould have said to me. Whereas she had a better high school GPA and ACT score than I had and showed no sign of changing that in college, she completely acknowledged that she had no interest in settling down with a carafe of cheap wine and bummed cigarettes for an in depth discussion of whether Kierkegaard was superior to Hagel. While I was firmly of the “hell is other people” crowd and had directed Sartre’s No Exitfor drama class the year before, she was firmly of the “hell is other people who want me to think while I drink” crowd. She did fabulously in school, got a job right out and as far as I know is wonderfully happy. If her politics are anything like what they were when she was avoiding any sort of political discussion with her radical roommate, then she is voting McCain-Palin.

Now, I certainly understood what she meant, in that I know what the words mean and what she was trying to convey. She didn’t want to think about what she had learned after she learned it. She wanted to use it, but she got no rush out of dissecting it. She didn’t like the process of struggling with a concept or not knowing what to think about something. She didn’t like engaging in discussions of the meaning of things. She was secure in her God and in her calling and that was enough for her.

Watching the wealthy, successful republicans, many of whom, I’m sure, attended the same east coast Ivy League schools they deride Obama for attending – and discussing it and chewing it over and analyzing it (of course) – I suddenly put two and two together. What they are talking about and what roomie was talking about are the same phenomena – the issue is not being successful, or even thinking that you are better than others for being successful – that after all is the American Dream.

The issue is actually thinking about what it means to be successful and questioning the status quo. There is also a classism element here – the Republicans are trying to turn that on the Dems, I think – i.e., you have to be well off and cushy to have the luxury of thinking, not doing. But that’s where I think that the ‘Pubs are wrong – they are selling the American people short by assuming that intellectual = advanced education. What they don’t realize is that “east cost intelligentsia” (of which I am one, let’s be honest) don’t own the market on reading and thinking and discussing. A lot of people sell this short, not just the Republicans. It is a mistake to assume that someone needs a college degree to think critically. It is a mistake to assume that someone must work in an office to be interested in politics. The great thing about thinking is that it can be free.  The catch is lowering the cost.

Written by emandink

September 5, 2008 at 3:58 pm