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Category Archives: Zeitgeist Movement
Posted: October 16, 2019 at 5:25 pm
Its been two years since #MeToo became part of the zeitgeist. There have been many stories, personal and in the media, that have motivated the public to confront workplace dynamics between men and women, consent, and the nature of sex itself. While these often-devastating narratives from survivors can inspire us into action or paralyze our senses, there is still much more work to be done.
Founder Tarana Burke remains determined to progress the movement. She speaks at colleges and universities across the country and is preparing the next generation of survivors to do the transformational work of healing.
Although Burke started the Me Too movement in 2006 to address rampant sexual violence, her advocacy work began when she part of youth leadership camps and sister circles as a teen; by her early twenties, she was leading her own. In her words, these healing circles were a place to celebrate your joy and triumph with other people who recognized that these stages are hard to reach. The catharsis comes not only from sharing ones story of abuse, she said, but also what survival can look like after the trauma.
Over the years, shes learned how to assess or reassess what healing looks like and the dangers of conversations that posit abusers at extreme polarities. There are different levels of severity when it comes to harm done, she says, and therefore we have to be mindful, sensitive, and adjust our judgment accordingly.
Burke talked to Vox over the phone about her humble beginnings, Me Toos prominence and pitfalls, 2020 politics, and more. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
I remember reading a profile of you in The Cut a year ago and you were talking about the archetypal story of an abuser. And I have talked about this with friends and others: It feels like when theres a man who is outed as an abuser that they are immediately compared to Weinstein. Theyre not as bad as Weinstein as if, you know, because of that we can breathe a little easier. What is the danger of this framing of an archetypal story of Harvey Weinstein, for example, as the most monstrous abuser there ever was?
Im grateful you asked this question because this is super dangerous, right? So Ill give you an example. When the controversy happened around Joe Biden and it came up about him making Lucy Flores uncomfortable, she never called him a predator. She never even used the word MeToo. She talked about the situation and described how uncomfortable and powerless it made her. I felt it was important to support her and her coming out and her ability to say that.
But the backlash I got was that I was making a big deal out of it and Bidens a good guy Hes no Harvey Weinstein. My response to that was, first of all, I dont dislike Joe Biden. I appreciate some of the things that hes done over time to support womens causes like sexual assault on college campuses and the Violence Against Women Act. Outside of Anita Hill, I think hes been a quintessential good guy around these issues, right? My argument about that archetype is that if we go from zero to Harvey Weinstein if someone like Joe Biden, who is by all intents and purposes a good guy if I cant tell the guy who talks about sexual harassment, the statistics on sexual violence, and who fights for womens rights, that Im uncomfortable with his behavior, how am I supposed to fight a Harvey Weinstein? You dont have to be a Harvey Weinstein in order to make someone uncomfortable and wield your power in ways that make one feel powerless.
That archetype is dangerous because it creates this dynamic of a boogeyman that sexual violence is created by a bad guy or a bad apple and that the everyday average Joe who makes you feel uncomfortable is above reproach. These polarizing dynamics dont create the space for someone to be like, Listen, I know that you mean well but I dont like when you touch me like that.
You also mentioned that you never wanted the Me Too conversation to be a take-down. I thought that that was surprising because I feel like, with me, being a millennial and someone whos on the internet an awful lot, when someone is outed as an alleged abuser, the next thing is to want to take this person down. Im afraid to even ask what restorative justice looks like.
This, again, is about the hyper-polars, right? Sexual violence happens on a spectrum everything from someone making you uncomfortable to an environment is unworkable or unlivable to actual physical violence because that is the truth, then accountability has to happen on a spectrum. We have a long way to go before we have a clear-cut, straightforward response to what restorative justice looks like, but we wont ever get there if we declare that every time someone gets called out for their actions its a witch hunt. And, we also wont get there if the standard is regardless of what they do, we get rid of them.
In your TED Talk, you talked about how sexual violence often happens when people believe that bodily autonomy is not a basic human right. I thought about that in the context of black girls and women we have a legacy in this country and abroad where it wasnt a basic human right for us. And so I think that there are many of us who are still grappling with that and that trauma should never be normalized. Meanwhile, in the media, so much of Me Too is tied to white women. What do you think is missing?
Im going to take my time with this. On the one hand, I think that the lack of representation of black women and women of color or any marginalized group in the media since Me Too has gone viral has been clear and gross. Its been very difficult to have our stories told. But nothing about that surprises me. This is the reality that black women and girls have been living with our whole lives. Its a dual argument. We have to be vigilant that we are represented in these conversations and stories in mainstream media, whatever that looks like.
But I also dont want us to get caught up in white folks validating our pain in their media. Like, for example, there was a huge push for us to talk about R. Kelly, and rightfully so. But some of those same folks who yell and scream about R. Kelly are still going to call black girls fast and ignore issues in our community. We cannot sacrifice the work that has to be done in our community to stop sexual violence for the sake of some representation so that white folks can be like, You know what? Black people also suffer from this. They know. Theyve never prioritized our trauma unless it was to their benefit. And so while we have to make sure that we keep that chorus going with, Dont forget about us, we have to also make sure in tandem that we are being just as serious about the work that has to happen in our communities.
You said youre going to start doing your healing circles again in 2020. Are there any components that youre going to tinker with or add, given Me Too and its prominence?
Thats what were actually working through now. What does it look like to scale up something thats so deeply personal? Were working with a team of professional therapists and social workers and folks who do this. My main concern is being able to vet the people who come to the training to make sure that they are not causing any harm or retraumatizing people. When I was doing healing circles in the community, I was leading them myself. But now, obviously, I cant do that around the country.
I also look at our healing circles as recruitment ground where survivors can move into our survivor leadership training. Another part of their healing can be doing the work of fighting against sexual violence. Those two things are tied together in our programming. Thats not necessarily new, but its certainly a bigger part of how were approaching the work now.
Besides the healing circles, what else do you have on your plate?
One of the things that were building is a digital platform. In 2020, well debut that. Since Ive been doing the work, its been a goal of mine to create a space where all different kinds of survivors can find themselves. By that, I mean race, ethnicity, and religion, but also by whatever stage of healing that youre in. A lot of whats offered in public service to survivors is for immediate health crisis intervention. We want to help survivors wherever they are in their healing journey.
But we also want to push people into action. Part of the work of the digital platform is a tool to be active in the movement. Were also excited about the election. Were waiting on a candidate to tackle what has been one of the largest news stories in the last decade. Nineteen million people tweeted about Me Too in the first year after it went viral.
We are looking at something that in any other field would be classified as a public health crisis and yet we havent had a question even asked in any of the debates about this topic. We are interested in where sexual violence falls in the spectrum of things that candidates are prioritizing.
Morgan Jerkins is the senior editor at ZORA and the author of This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America.
Miranda Barnes is a Caribbean American photographer. She lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
Originally posted here:
Posted: at 5:25 pm
When Charlotte Wood finished writing her furious tour de force, The Natural Way of Things, she declared that for her sanity she would next write a lighter, funnier novel. And so she has in a way. What could possibly be disturbing in a comedy about a group of ageing female friends?
For readers who discovered Wood through The Natural Way of Things, her new novel, The Weekend, may surprise. Those who relished the brilliant dystopia about a disparate group of young women imprisoned in the Australian desert to protect their sexual abusers might expect another diatribe against misogyny. Those who shied away from the bleak fable will wonder if they can open their eyes. Both, if they put aside preconceptions, will enjoy this playful and moving feminist fairytale.
The Natural Way of Things brought Wood sensational success: an Australian bestseller, published internationally, winner of the 2016 Stella prize, a Prime Ministers Literary award, Indie Book of the Year, and shortlistings for the Miles Franklin award, among others.
The novel was both sharply contemporary and timeless in its portrayal of women under duress. Wood perfectly captured the zeitgeist, anticipating not only the TV adaptation of Margaret Atwoods 1985 novel, The Handmaids Tale, but the entire #MeToo movement.
Many writers stall at the challenge of how to proceed from such acclaim. Wood has wisely not tried to outdo her own shock tactics. The Weekend, her sixth novel, returns to the qualities that had already built an admiring readership for her earlier books while being a more domesticated sister to its wild predecessor.
Families, in a broad sense, have always driven her tightly focused dramas. The dynamics of The Children and Animal People, a loosely linked pair of novels about sibling tensions, evolved into the unwilling sisterhood of The Natural Way of Things and the fractured friendships of The Weekend.
The Weekend is more Big Chill than Handmaids Tale, with a dash of Big Little Lies and an echo of Atwoods The Robber Bride. Wood uses the classic theatrical set-up of a house party to concentrate tension in a tight space. If she were Agatha Christie this would lead to murder, but her characters emotional blow-ups are closer to those in David Williamsons Dons Party or Rachel Wards recent film Palm Beach (co-written with Joanna Murray-Smith).
Woods plot brings together three women, longtime friends in their 70s, for three days over Christmas at the beach house owned by a fourth woman who has died. They are there not to celebrate but to empty the house for sale. Along with the junk they unearth old conflicts and a big secret. The women begin to question why they were ever friends.
There is Jude, a former restaurateur, the martyr and the boss, who cooks fabulous meals and wonders why the others cant arrive on time. Shes hanging out for her traditional week in the house with her wealthy lover after the women leave.
There is Wendy, a fading feminist academic, who impossibly but surely looks like Patrick White as she ages, missing her dead husband, alienated from her adult children, devoted to her ancient dog.
And theres Adele, an out-of-work actress with a great body (for your age) and no money, just evicted from her girlfriends home.
The beach house perches on the steep block like a stage, high on its poles, its murky olive weatherboards blurring into the surrounding bush and the pale sky. The women enter one by one via an inclinator, a rusting platform that will later deliver the inevitable disruptors of the weekend in operatic style.
Sylvie, the late owner of the house, is an abstract presence. Her belongings reveal less about her (and her absent partner, Gail) than about the women sorting them. Jude methodically cleans the kitchen while Wendy tosses everything into garbage bags and Adele procrastinates among piles of clothes and records.
The true fourth member of the ensemble is Wendys labradoodle. Demented and deaf, Finn spends the weekend pacing, peeing and threatening Judes cast-off white sofa.
Animals are central to Woods work, as a mirror and a moral test for humans. Here the likeness is explicit: Finns ailments confront the women, whose aching joints and straining hearts blink warnings of mortality. Impatient Jude insists it would be kinder to euthanise him, but she also sees Sylvie in his blank face. There are lessons in his simple creatureliness.
Wood, a mere youngster in her 50s, researched the biology of old age during a fellowship at the University of Sydney and nimbly inhabits these bodies and minds. Symbols are everywhere, from the hose that reminds Jude of her colonoscopy to Sylvies copy of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, which Wendy tosses out as very old hat.
Food also plays a visceral part in the relationships, as usual in Woods fiction as well as her essay collection, Love and Hunger. Every morsel is significant, from the predictable stock cubes and anchovies, tins of lentils in Sylvies pantry, to Judes carefully roasted chicken, and the Wild Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup that Wendy drops into each champagne glass like a blood clot.
Tension builds through an accumulation of intimate details. The Weekend is perhaps a more serious comedy than Wood originally intended because she cant help seeing vulnerability and injustice.
Ageism is another face of sexism: older women are shut out of work, love and financial security; men are still dominant, and now young people are patronising. I know what sourdough bread is, Jude tells a waitress who tries to explain, resting her hands on her knees as you might do when speaking to a pre-schooler. Later, in an allusion dense with meaning, Jude will pick up a mans plate like a waitress, like a handmaid.
Woods disarming lightness of tone also teases the womens many foibles, dancing between empathic close-up and wry distance. This creates some hilarious scenes, such as Adeles elated dawn walk:
She was all body, and at the same time she possessed no body at all.
Except, resting here at last on the low stone wall, her strong heart pulsing, panting here beside the slopping water, she very much needed to wee.
Adeles encounter minutes later with theatre director Joe Gillespie and terrier Coco, the companions of a rival actress, is painfully funny and launches the novels stormy climactic scenes. Behind the laughs there is deep humanity, intellect and spirituality, qualities that mark The Weekend as much more than old-chook lit.
Baby boomers and others will recognise themselves in one or more of these believable characters, whom Wood deftly distinguishes without turning them into caricatures.
Theres a feast of ideas for friends and book clubs to discuss. The Weekend is a novel about decluttering and real estate, about the geometry of friendship, about sexual politics, and about how we change, survive and ultimately die. Wood has captured the zeitgeist again, with a mature ease that entertains even as it nudges our prejudices.
The Weekend by Charlotte Wood is out now through Allen & Unwin
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‘Succession’ Composer Nicholas Britell On the Show’s Hypnotic Theme, Working With Pusha-T, and "L to the O-G" – Complex
Posted: at 5:25 pm
With the timeline still ablaze over this past Sunday's jaw-dropping season finale it's official: Succession is no longer just a show, it isThat Show. (It's even crossed the Unfounded Conspiracy Theory threshold). Of course, for most of us, it's been That Showsince last year. But it's great to see the world slowly but surely beginning to catch up, as the show's popularity crests and itcrosses over into becoming HBO's next hit. A key step in advancingthat master plan came last week, when none other than Pusha fucking T jumped on the show's already hard-hittingtheme music for an offiicial rap remix.
For a series to connect with the zeitgeist it has to have the whole package, and Succession's hypnotic main theme is arguably just as indelible as its performances and plot twists. Beyond just appearing in the opening credits, the theme recurs as a non-diegetic compliment to the narrative in essentially every episode, and for multiple moods at that. Sometimes it's a triumphant backdrop to a successful power play, sometimes it's a sorrowful soundtrack when a power play doesn't go as planned. Either way, it's woven into the show's DNAso much so that composer Nicholas Britell technically scored the series' first Emmy for it earlier this year.
Britell's been scoring our favorite pop culture moments for awhile nowhe's the genius behind the beautiful music that compliments Barry Jenkins' two opuses, Moonlight and If Beale St Could Talk.With fans starting to lobby for Succession as having one of television's all-time great themes already, and the Best Rapper Alive hopping on his Emmy-winning composition, it's safe to say Nicholas is having a moment. And he's just getting started. A self-professed hip-hop head, Britell has a background in experimenting with rap production long before linking up with Pushin fact, we have him in part to thank for the genius of Kendall Roy's "L to the O-G" rap. Who's to say where it might go from here, but we had to check in. Complex caught up with Britell, currently in London, on Facetime Audio ahead of the SuccessionSeason 2 finale, to geek out on the theme's popularity, working with Push, Kendall's "9PM in Dundee" moment, and more.
Congrats on winning the Emmy. It feels rightthat that was the show's first Emmy.I appreciate it, well, you know, it's been an amazing experience working on the show and the whole creative team has just been so supportive and I think every department has really just worked so closely with all the others. So it's been just a fantastic kind of creative collaboration on everything.
One of my favorite things about it isobviously there's a whole soundtracks worth of different compositions for different characters and momentsbutI love the way that the main theme is, like, woven into the showitself and the narrative.Exactly. Well, and it's interesting because every projectwhen I start you never exactly know how you're going to go with it. Like, how you're going to approach it, and you start experimenting with things. And with this one, as I worked on it, it just felt like there was something almost kind of maniacal about the way that everything would keep coming back. And always kind of evolve and be, you knowit's always a little different.And in Season 2 it's been fun toexplore taking it into some left turns as well, where it goes into something very different, then starts to come back again. So it's definitely a part of the framework that I work with to think about 'where does the music go' and'when do we bring in some of those chords?'
Someone tweeted that the Succession theme is an all-timer, because when you hear it on the show, you know someone's about to get like screwed over or score some huge win or something.It's amazing. Oh man. Well, and it's so interesting too because it's now taken on this life of its own with like all these memes, and you know, the KermitTheFrog and I mean there's just all these kinds of places in which the music winds up that I never ever would have anticipated.
There's something almost kind of maniacal about [it]
Why do you think it's resonating so much? We're in an era where there aren't even really that many credit songs to begin with anymore.It's a good question. First, all credit goes to the show itself, which I think operates in this really fascinating kind of in-between zone of tonality where on the one hand the show is quite serious. It's dealing with these real issues of concentrations of wealth and power amongst smaller and smaller groups of people and the effects of that and what is that world.
But then, on the other hand, it's completely absurd at times and embraces this high,comedic, ridiculousness.But it does both of those things at the same time. The show itself has this wavelength that it's hitting that I think is very unique. And maybe the music, I think in some ways, is trying to do something similar where,if you just look at the music, it's quite serious and it's got this pretty hard beat in there and it's got these 808s, and it's got a huge string orchestra and everything. But then at the same time it's got thisbizarrely out of tune piano, and these sleigh bells and things. Sonically there's something almost like curious about itin a way. And for me too, most of the music that I've released over the past five years isclearly orchestralor more clearly in one sort of a zone. And I think the fact that this is actually this very kind of dark classical music, but in the guiseofa hip-hop beat, may enable it to live in more universes than some of my other music.
Andeven with all the memes, I think an official rap remix is kind of like the last thing anyone expected.So from the early days of Season 1when people started recognizing the theme, I started getting people reaching out to me, just tweeting or sending me messages saying, "Hey, when is someone going to rap on this?" And at first I was like, "Oh, that's awesome.Totally cool. Thank you."
But then over time it actually continued, and actually increased until people were like, "When is there going to bea rap version of this track?" And so, I'm very careful with it. If we were going to do it, we really wanted to do it right. And so I said to myself, if we could have our dream come true, who would I love to work with and collaborate on this?And the only choice honestly was Pusha-T. There wasn't even a number two. Or we're not doing it. And through a friend of mine, Tommy Alter, who helped organize all this, I connected with Push and his manager Shiv, and it turned out they were big fans of the show and Push loved the music and right away it actually felt like there was this real opportunity to make it happen.
So honestly it'sa dream come true because it's one of those things where you imagine 'what would be the total,lights-out, we-did-it' version of this? And then Push, he was into it. Andhe was so collaborative with the whole process. I sent himthe instrumental and he went in the studio and put some verses together.And then as soon as I got those back, I realized that I reallywanted the theme to also have its ownnew take for this. So I had this idea of, well, what if I actually sample my own theme into this remix?So that's what I did. I actually sampled the theme and took stems and actually made the beat even harder. I gave it extra hi-hat, gave an extra sub and 808. And actually created some new textures within it while also sampling the string, sampling the piano, bringing all that back in. And as I did that, then I sent that back to Push and then he did more verses. Itwas really this awesome back and forth,iterative collaboration.
That's fire. So were you a fan of his already?Oh my God. Pusha-T? Absolutely. I mean, you know, I turned 13 in 1993 soit wasa good year to be a hip-hop fan early on and I've loved hip-hop since I was a kid. So the opportunity to work with Pusha-T, as one of my hip-hop heroes. And, also I think that the best rappers are really virtuosos, you know? They're virtuosos like a concert violinist on the highest levels of virtuoso and I think there are certain rappers who have that kind of other level of artistry. And for me that's Push.
Yeah, when you guys announced, you mentioned that you had a hip-hop background and I was overjoyed to learn that you, essentially, areSquiggle, the man who "cooked up a beat" for Kendall.Yeah, that is true. That is true. I was in a hip-hop band in collegeit was an instrumental hip-hop band with two rappers. We performed around the Northeast, we were called The Witness Protection Program. And basically I spent most of my time in college, literally most of my waking hours, making beats. It was during that time that I really started writing music every day, actually.
I was a concert pianist when I was young, but it was actually hip-hop that got me into this daily rhythm of writing music all the time and getting a chance to perform it. And so what was interesting was when I found out about episode 8with Kendall rapping, they were like, "Oh, I think we need this to be kind of cringe-worthy, but we also need it to be really well done."
So,again, the show had to be right in between the two tonalities and we were trying to imagine, what was the type of beat that Kendall would want someone to make for him for this scene. And I think there was a bit of a thought of like maybe he would want the type of beat that was his favorite thingfrom when he was back in college or something? So we were thinking maybe early 2000s, late '90s, and I said to the producers, Jesse Armstrong and the team,"Actually, you know, I have like beats from then that I was making at that time," and one of the beats I made years ago for that [became]this, it was kind of like a reinterpretation of a Bach C minor prelude that I did. And I put a beat under it and redid the track andturned it into a hip-hop track. I sent it over to JesseandJeremy Strong, and they just loved it.
Did you help Jeremy get his flow down?Let's just say I worked very closely with Jeremy. He really knocked it out of the park. I mean, he did such a great job and he really practiced it. And we justspent a lot of time both in pre-production andon set thinking about how it would sound and then even in post with a great music editor, Todd Kasow, who helped kind of like weave the mix together in the right way so that it felt really full for the scene. So a lot of work went into that L to the O-G.
With that and nowthe Pushthing, the next logical question then is when are we going to see you producing for rappers actually?You know, I'm actually working on some stuff right now, between us, and I'm starting to put some stuff together and I have some ideas. So it's been something.Music and film and televisionmusic's always been a passion of mine, but as a deep longterm dream, being able to collaborate with incredible rappers is something that I've thought about since I was a kid. So yeah, there's some stuff in the works.
I mean the Succession theme is already hard enough as it was. I can definitely see you giving Push an original beat that hits just as hard.Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely, amen. I would love more of that to happen. And, again, you know, just all respect to Push for coming onto this and for just being such an incredible collaborative on it because without him this wouldn't have been possible.
Nice. So Season 3 has already been greenlit. Are you looking forward to adding any kind of new compositions?It's a good question. For Season 2, I definitely wanted to make sure that the original elements were still present, but that they were an evolution. And one of the first things I said to Jesseabout Season 2 was,"I'm sort of imagining this is like the second movement of a symphony where it's still the same symphony but it's kind of taking you to a different little bit of a different place." So Season 3, I think, yeah, maybe that becomes the third movement of some sort of a symphony whereI don't know anything about season three, so I don't know where I'll go with it, but I definitely feel that I want to keep the DNA of the music, but evolve itsomewhere.
Dope. The show was big last summer when it debuted, but it feels like itincreases in popularity with each passing week this year. What do you think it is about the show, just in a broad sense, that's resonating so deeply?I definitely feel that as well. I think it's connecting in a way to the zeitgeist right now. I think, on a serious level,it raises these big questions that I think are part of the world today that we're facing. These questions of wealth and power inequality in the world and sort of who is in charge of a lot of our lives moment to moment.
But at the same time, I think it's the tone of the show, just every single episode that I feel it goes even further into embracing this sort ofhigh art comedy that it's doing. And again, that's credit to the writers who aredoing such an amazing job.It's something about this like a combination of tones that, with everything going on in the world today, I thinkresonates with that somehow.
Do you have anyupcoming film stuff?I just finished the score forThe King starring Timothee Chalamet, that's premiering on Netflix on November 1st and going intoselect theaters. And I'm alsoworking right now with Barry Jenkins on his Underground Railroad limited series that he's doing with Amazon.I don't know when that's coming out, but I'm in the process with that now, too.
Speaking of Barry, since you're a hip-hop guy, I have to make sureyou know that the Beale Street soundtrack waschopped and slopped by OG Ron C.Ohhhhh yes. Absolutely.Those chopped remixes are incredible. They did it and we talked to them about it forMoonlight as well. There's that Purple Moonlight album, but I'm just... It's such an honor to have them do those remixes and since the time of working on Moonlight, I've become more and more like Barry, where whenever I hear any piece of music I want to chop and screw it, so. I would say, probably like 50% of music I listento isme going in andslowing it down and being like, oh, that sounds pretty nice.
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Posted: at 5:25 pm
Director Todd Phillips has called Joker, his grimy reinterpretation of Batmans iconic nemesis, a way to sneak a real movie in the studio system under the guise of a comic book film. Thats a pretty accurate description. Joker is a comic book story channeling the narratives and aesthetics of several critically acclaimed real movies particularly Martin Scorseses 1982 film The King of Comedy and David Finchers 1999 film Fight Club.
Like Joker, King of Comedy and Fight Club are about men who violently rebel against a society they feel has cheated them. Joker builds directly on The King of Comedys plot and setting, in which a struggling comedian becomes obsessed with a famous talk show host in 1980s New York City. It also draws on Finchers famously sickly cinematic style, and like Fight Club, its protagonist unwittingly inspires an anarchic countercultural movement.
But while Joker borrows a lot from these films, the comparison ultimately feels hollow. That isnt because Joker is bad. Its just a deeply introspective project paying homage to some of cinemas most effective cultural snapshots and it isnt designed to carry that weight.
Spoilers follow for Fight Club, King of Comedy, and Joker.
King of Comedy and Fight Club both capture a particular American zeitgeist: the former is about celebrity worship in the 1980s, while the latter is about the backlash against consumerism in the 1990s. Both feature protagonists who are preoccupied with that cultural moment. King of Comedys Rupert Pupkin wants to be a star comedian who hangs out with celebrities. Fight Clubs unnamed narrator rattles off mass-market brand names and muses about corporations colonizing the galaxy.
Theyre also films about relationships. King of Comedy is driven by a mutual antagonism between Pupkin, TV comedian Jerry Langford, and a terrifyingly intense fellow stalker named Masha. Fight Club is a struggle between the narrator and his anarchic foil Tyler Durden; its also full of vignettes about emotional support groups and meetings of the eponymous Fight Club. The characters are alienated and violent, but at the end of the day, they live in a society.
Joker, meanwhile, is an uncomfortably effective portrait of an isolated man whose very existence unsettles people. His journal contains the occasional vague observation about society, but his desires are modest and insular. At one point in King of Comedy, Pupkin fantasizes about being so rich and famous that Langford begs to hand over his TV show. Joker mirrors this scene with its own Langford surrogate, but Arthur Fleck (the Joker) just wants the guy to be his supportive father figure.
In his real life, though, Fleck fails spectacularly at connecting with anyone at all. Some viewers have speculated that most of Jokers events are just Arthurs hallucinatory delusions after a mental health crisis, and thats an understandable reaction because the film is set in a dream-logic universe that basically exists to torment Fleck. (Yes, his standup routine is bad, but is it really devote a national TV segment to mocking it bad?) Long, mostly silent scenes are spent showcasing Joaquin Phoenixs strangely graceful creepiness, while his conversations are short, awkward, and sometimes imaginary. His most intense screen partner is just himself in a mirror.
All this makes our window into Jokers world necessarily narrow, and the film relies a lot on simple aesthetic shorthand to heighten its sense of fear and claustrophobia. It evokes an old, dangerous New York that was immortalized in countless 70s and 80s films. Flecks first murders mirror the 1984 vigilante subway shooting by Bernhard Goetz. Clown-masked populist protestors raise the specter of hacktivist group Anonymous and the Occupy Wall Street movement. But these are all broad, symbolic renderings of real events. After all, this isnt New York; its Gotham City.
Fight Club and King of Comedy poke at the highly specific oddities of their time. Joker sketches scenes from the great slow-moving tragedies of the last 50 years: stark economic inequality, the dismantling of social services, the marginalization of mentally ill people, and the injustices of low-wage employment. (Also, if youre a New Yorker: rats.) Its a 2019 movie set in a pastiche of the 1980s, but it isnt really about either of those decades at least, not specifically.
Some reviewers have criticized this decision as a cop-out, especially because Joker strips out the fraught, complicated racial tensions that permeated the real 1980s New York. Thats a fair assessment, and director Todd Phillips hasnt done the film any favors by touting its gritty realism. But Jokers vagueness can also seem timeless. Its a melodramatic, darkly compelling persecution fantasy. As my colleague Tasha Robinson writes, it plays not just to its most put-upon, angry, repressed viewers, but to the entire audiences darkest hearts.
Despite the widely expressed fears that Joker will inspire angry men to violence, its not even particularly a film about masculinity. Fight Club is about being part of a generation of men raised by women. King of Comedy contrasts Pupkin with his female counterpart: Masha wants to sleep with Langford, and Pupkin wants to be him. Joker does feature a fantasy romantic relationship between Fleck and a female neighbor. Its a tiny thread of the narrative, though, and shes one of the few people who isnt treated as a source of rage. Many critics have interpreted Flecks entire breakdown as aggrieved male entitlement, but you can just as easily frame it as a universal human response to abuse because theres a long history of using white male characters as unmarked, neutral human beings.
Joker could be aiming for a detailed statement about politics and fame and masculinity, and just failing to deliver. It feels more like a movie in conflict with itself paying homage to films built around cultural systems while putting a close-up lens on a single person falling apart.
Thats an intriguing tension, but it doesnt hold. The last act tries to bring together commentary and character study: after descending into desperate violence, Fleck appears on TV and delivers a manifesto about class and society writ large, then he suddenly finds hes the inspirational hero of a clown-based violent protest movement. Instead of seeming like a moment of catharsis or character development, though, it feels like a forced attempt to make the film feel contemporary. When Fight Club and King of Comedys characters spell out their philosophies about society or politics, its a natural extension of their narrative arc. Flecks speech, with its complaints about how everybody just yells and screams at each other and nobodys civil anymore, just seems cribbed from political think pieces.
Phillips definition of real movie seems like a very specific type of movie: the kind that brutally dissects and examines its own social milieu. Thats a goal Fight Club and King of Comedy both share, even as they approach the idea in extremely different ways. But with Joker, Phillips spends more time looking inward at Arthur than outward at the world hes trying to analyze and find wanting. Hes more interested in portraying his protagonist as a victim of the world than in taking a larger look at what that world has become. He sees the strengths of the movies hes emulating, and he takes plot points and images from them. He just cant commit to their greatest areas of strength.
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Jedediah Purdys 2015 book After Nature is about what we talk about when we talk about nature. Breaking the concept aparthistorically, legally, philosophically, even aestheticallyPurdy makes us see that theres nothing natural about nature, that the world is what humanity has made it. But if After Nature was a profound work of intellectual history, it could be hard to know what to do with it, how to live in nature in the present. Which might be the paradox of the Anthropocene in a nutshell: The more human-made nature becomes, the less power it feels like we have to control our creation. One of Purdys most important takeaways is that nature has too often been a place to run to. But the Anthropocene gives us nowhere to hide.1Ad Policy
Purdys new book, This Land Is Our Land: The Struggle for a New Commonwealth, is shorter, more pointed, and unapologetically polemical. Its about how to live together once weve accepted that there is nothing more natural than living in society with other human beings, in a world in which politics and ecology have come to be one and the same. Its a book to read now and to think from. Its a call to action.2
Purdy is currently a law professor at Columbia University. He was born in a house without electricity or running water, the son of back-to-the-landers who followed a dream of self-sufficiency and independence to Calhoun County, West Virginia. Since his first (and briefly notorious) book, For Common Things: Irony, Trust, and Commitment in America Today, hes drilled deeper into the dreams and idealism that have made American nature what it is, but the through lines are always the same: What can we learn from the past that has made us who we are, and how can we make ourselves something better in the future?3
Along with discussing Wendell Berry, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump, homesteading and the border, I finally got a chance to ask Purdy the questions that really matter: Is Seinfeld bad? And what does Game of Thrones have to tell us about climate change?4
This interview has been edited and condensed.5
Aaron Bady: So what happened after After Nature?7
Jedediah Purdy: When I was writing After Nature, I wondered if there was a version of environmental politics somewhere in the past that got it right and was ripe for recovery, but I didnt really answer the question. But when I started thinking about worker-led industrial health programs, New Deal landscape engineering, and the ecological community-defense impulses of radical miners unions, I came back to what Im calling the Long Environmental Justice Movement. Weve been Anthropocene for a long time, and more self-consciously and constructively than I was able to show in After Nature.8
AB: You dont use the word Anthropocene that much in This Land Is Our Land.9
JP: You could say it was a ladder I threw away for this book, though I needed to climb it first. It crystallizes the idea that the world is deeply made by human activity, that the line between humanity and nature is unstable. But its academic and abstract. You have to make it much more concrete.10
AB: Have the politics of the last four years helped make it more concrete?11
JP: Absolutely. The Trump administration has given a new turn to the politicization of the landscape by siding with right-wing public-lands activists in the West and by making fossil fuel extractionand particularly coalinto elements of his nationalism. Trumpism rolls coal. But efforts like the Green New Deal, the Sunrise Movement, and the Sanders and Warren campaigns more generally have done a lot to make concrete the idea of a truly democratic political economy. Ecology is political economythats a key lesson of the Anthropocene. Im not just talking about democracy as a procedural idea or an abstract commitment to equality. It has a definite political economy: strong social provision, an economic shift to caretaking, repair, and renewal. Commonwealth is my attempt to name an economy where one persons living doesnt degrade other people or wear down the land. Its the ideal that work should help the world to go on, not exhaust it, and its the thought of holding the economy to the standard of that ideal.12The Nation Interview
In a way, This Land goes back to the themes of a short and much more hortatory book that I wrote a long time ago, For Common Things. That book was motivated by a phrase from Wendell Berry about wanting his life to be a thing decent in possibility. But to realize that nice-sounding goal requires a very intense excavation of the harms that youre implicated in simply by virtue of living in the ways you do. It requires basic relearning. And its something you cant do alone, that people cant do just in their heads.13
AB: Youll pardon me if I recall that For Common Things was your Seinfeld is bad book.14
JP: Yeah, and now Im living on 112th Street in Manhattan. On the corner is Toms Diner, the diner in the Seinfeld intro. This is how the zeitgeist deals with its critics: It smothers them in irony.15
AB: I suppose there are worse ways to paraphrase Seinfeld than the harms that were implicated in simply by virtue of living in the ways we do.16
JP: I know you were kidding about Seinfeld, but the argument of that book has turned out to hold. I wish it hadnt. I hate when people say thatits the most obnoxious humblebragbut its true. Part of how we got to this place is the indifference to real political stakes that passed for sophistication in the 1990s. It set us up for the failure of 9/11: Bush and the neocons hijacking politics through an obsession with security, the bipartisan embrace of the War on Terror, ambient Islamophobia and the construction of the surveillance state. The terror attacks were a test, and the country failed.17
We were already decades into treating politics as a kind of entertainment, a kind of likability contest, a kind of joke. So we didnt marshal the seriousness to think about the countrys place in the world, the crimes and dangers of war, the hazards of bigotry and self-righteousness. Instead of reckoning with any of that, Bush welded sentimental and aggressive nationalism onto the check out and go shopping mood of the time and repurposed the state for spying and war. That put nearly a decades delay on the US doing anything about climate change. And Trump! Trump isnt possible without security at the center of US politics, without Islamophobia and xenophobia everywhere, without the crude nationalism of chanting USA!, which we should remember was Bushs move.18
The Obama campaign tried to change the rules, but there was no institutional power or infrastructure to press him to do anything radical in his presidency. Hes often criticized for the corporate and centrist character of his response to the financial crisis and his general policy attitudeand fair enough. But where were the rewards for anything more radical? Where were the policy outlines, even? His presidencys limits were also a function of the political landscape, of the limits of transformative rhetoric with no transformative vision. The sentiment was for a renewing unity, but there was no struggle over political and social visions.19
Politics: not optional. Treating it as optional: dangerous. That was the argument, and it still is. And since then, weve had the much more confrontational and ideologically developed Sanders and Warren campaigns, the Movement for Black Lives, the Democratic Socialists of America, AOC, all the less famous officials and activists whove also come into action in the last few years, and calls to divest from fossil fuels and abolish the industry.20Current Issue
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AB: Thats well and good, but youre avoiding the question: Is Seinfeld bad?21
JP: We dont have to agree. The turkey sandwich at Toms Diner is OK. The Greek salad, however, is not.22
But the real point is that the world we humans have built traps us into continuing to destroy the larger living world. When I was writing After Nature, I dont think I understood how much were a species of our infrastructure. After all, how many of us could survive without the 4,000 tons of built environment and transformed habitat that belong to each of us? The agricultural soil and roads and buildings and things like that? That global average4,000 tonshomogenizes vast and vastly consequential differences. But our human powersof sheltering, feeding, communicating, connecting, creating, moving, and workingtake place through vast built systems that put a very specific ecological price on everything we do. That infrastructure has become the external body of humanity, and its an exoskeleton with a very precise destructive logic, one that isnt really optional for any of us.23
AB: Im particularly interested to hear you say that, given the back-to-the-land movement you grew up with in West Virginia. People in this country have been trying to go back to the land since forever in that distinctly antisocial way that connects homesteaders to preppers, but I see your work as trying to think about a way for a social (even socialist) way back to the land.24
JP: Ive been thinking about the homesteading question recently, because Ive been working my way through Wendell Berrys essays. His writing has mattered to me for a long time, and it influenced how my parents thought about what they were trying to do: living on a small farm in a very poor place, being part of the community, trying to take responsibility for a small, tractable portion of the world. In For Common Things I wanted that experience to stand for an ethic. And some of the environmentalists I worked with in the early 1990s were taking responsibility for interdependence. They were people who had chosen places and were doggedly working for them for the rest of their lives. But in hindsight, a lot of people were running away from interdependence. Living in the country was stylish. When I look at the family albums, the style is really greateven in the hayfield, even while working horses, even without Instagram filters. By the time I was old enough to process status, it wasnt cool anymore, and people like my family really were living on the marginsnot much money, a mix of OK jobs and not-great jobs, people going to jail for growing weed, everything. It wasnt romantic. People who had family money moved on before I understood the difference between us and them. It turns out a lot of people had family money.25
In the end, Berry taught me that the test of an approach is how seriously it takes interdependence. Ecology is one language for doing that. Politics is another.26Related Article
AB: In the book, you describe some of the ways interdependence becomes poisonous: Land is perennially the thing we share that holds us apart, for example, or the way war has taken the place of older collectivities that have been destroyed in the process of creating enemies.27
JP: The continuity between Bushs and Trumps America is deep. And I guess all Global North nationalisms have been connected with imperialism in one way or another, but American nationalism is distinctive: Asserting the defense of the homeland is particularistic and at the same time a claim to universal jurisdiction. Homeland is a boundary in some ways (locking out the people that dont matter), but its also the right to wield the sword (or the drone) over everyone else.28
Our survival makes us complicit in what we destroy and what eventually destroys us, but the boundaries of that us is always shifting. Thats why the pivot is a political we that can turn around and reshape the system itself, the economic order and infrastructure. Politics has to start with the fact that we are one anothers problems, potentially one anothers enemies, and to make ways to become one anothers collaborators, helpers, and friends.29
Thoreau has been one of my touchstones for decades, because he saw political membership as a moral and legal version of infrastructure: a problem you cant get out of. And he was extraordinary on how political sensibility interacts with the natural world: days when you cant see the horizon and also cant think, like in the November and December after Trumps election. The memory of my country spoils my walk, he says, but he doesnt just mean his recreation is soured. He means he can hardly stand to be, knowing what hes part of.30
AB: Is the nation a sufficient framework for building the commonwealth youre describing? I cant think about the nation and not hear borders and the violence theyve come to synonymize.31
JP: People make their own history, but they dont get to choose the conditions in which they make it. The national state is the unchosen condition.32
The basic question in this book is: Democracy or capitalism? Capitalism as it now works is committed to indefinite growth, always-expanding horizons of extraction, dealing out the world to the highest bidder. Following that logic, a lot of fertile land is held by investors planning for food scarcity, while the wealthy are buying land in places they think will be safe from climate change. This economic system not only intensifies the crisis, it guarantees that its effects will fall unequally on the poor and already vulnerable. This is especially true in the Global South, but the class structure in countries like India and China is such that Global South is more of a historical term than a present one. Vast differences among the rich, poor, and middle class cross-cut the world, and most countries have their North and their Souththe United States certainly does, as we saw in New Orleans during Katrina and as I describe in the book writing about Detroit and West Virginia. Only political power can change the shape and trajectory of an economy in an intentional way. At this moment of ecological crisis, that means deciding what will count as value in the economy. It means asking, as Kate Aronoff puts it, who will get to live in the 21st century?33
But at least for now, the levers of political power are institutional and exist in states. For now, that means the national state is the necessary site of political transformation. Of course, the nation doesnt have a special moral claim or anything like that. And the tragedy is that our crises are on a global scale. Nations have built a global capitalism that now imposes its own logic and power on nations themselves. Expanding economic life beyond the scale of political rule insulates capitalist logic from political control.34
But to make the tragedy generative, we have to work where the political platforms exist. The work, then, is to build an internationalism on national platforms; transnational solidarity, coordination, and mobilization are essential. But the power of demonstrations, Blockadia-style protests, self-organizing resistanceit all pales beside the power of the state. To be effective, all these mobilizations and claims have to be translated into uses of state power.35
AB: What happens to our land on the border?36
JP: Everyone should read Greg Grandins book, The End of the Myth, on how the border and the frontier have undercut the possibility of a commonwealth politics throughout US history, pushing expansionism and ethno-nationalism as the answer to every political crisis. For more than a century, the US-Mexico border has divided labor in North America, keeping Mexican workers in low-wage roles while giving capital access to them in the maquiladoras or as extremely vulnerable labor that was not incorporated into any social contract, like agriculture and domestic work.37
At a minimum, the politics of this border should be resistance to terrorizing people who have crossed it and solidarity with them. I also think a commonwealth politics demands truly universal voting by everyone who has to live within a set of economic rules. In conversations recently with friends and collaboratorsAziz Rana, the great legal scholar, and Isaac Villegas, a minister and activist in DurhamIve been feeling more and more strongly that one thing the left should be pushing for is residency voting. If youre here, you should have a part in setting the rules. Otherwise, citizenship is just a caste status, which is exactly what Trump and Trumpism want it to be.38
AB: OK, now heres the big question: Was the Night King in Game of Thrones a metaphor for climate change?39
JP: If hehe?was, then Arya was a Silicon Valley hack, algae-driven fuel or carbon-eating bacteria with no ecological side effects, that dissolved all the political lessons the existential threat seemed to bring. What a disappointment. The Night King was interesting because his threat looked like it would dissolve the petty divisions and force new terms of unity. But then, poof, he was gone, and it was back to business as usual: laughing at the commoners, squabbling over lands, deferring to sententious speeches from Tyrion. The scene where Sam says, What about democracy? and everyone laughs turned my stomach.40
Watching these monarchical fantasies, I think the democratic viewer tends to treat the politics of the fantasy world in a displaced, critical waysay, Cersei as a bleak feminist reflection on the kinds of power women can hold in a misogynist order. But that laughing-at-Sam scene literalized monarchys values. If we think of them as people, then these people are just assholes, like almost all lords throughout history. I guess Im slow on the uptake; I hoped democratic radicalism would arise in the showthe Brotherhood Without Banners, the egalitarian community of farmers where the Hound washed up, the Wildlings, or the commoners generally. In the end, they were just dragon fodder.41
The Night King might show us the limits of climate crisis as a spur to politics. Fighting to live isnt politics; politics is about how to live together. Staving off the White Walker apocalypse didnt bring any insight into what to do with life, particularly political life with other people. And the climate crisis cant bring unity: It calls into question our present structures of division, which throws us back on the work of constructing a political we. So maybe the Night King was a terrible metaphor for climate change, but by failing narratively, he was a very good metonym for the limits of climate politics without a much fullerand more fraughtpicture of what were fighting for and on what grounds.42
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Posted: at 5:25 pm
Sometimes, Hollywood and reality overlap in unexpected ways. WhenJennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon set out to createThe Morning Show, #MeToo hadnt happened yet. But when it did, the trajectory of the AppleTV+ show, set to debut November 1, completely shifted.
Once #MeToo happened, obviously the conversation drastically changed, Aniston said at an October 13 press junket for the show in West Hollywood, California. We all sat and thought about what the tone would be. We wanted it to be raw and honest, and vulnerable and messy, and not black and white.
Witherspoon, dressed to channel an anchorwoman in a pink pantsuit and statement-making dark-framed glasses, added, As we were all stumbling along trying to figure out what it this new narrative, the show was writing itself. The news was helping it.
Aniston explained that she based her own character on a Diane Sawyer kind of archetype, noting that she was able to sit with Sawyer and ask numerous questions to inform the role.
Witherspoon was inspired by the likes of Katie Couric and Meredith Viera. Weve been so lucky to get to know a lot of these women who were so open about their lives, she said, with a tone of seriousness and respect for the women in the real-life roles. Theyre excited for some truth to be told as well.
Witherspoon said that writer Kerry Ehrin did a great job of creating really nuanced and different characters that are established in the pilot. They all come from different backgrounds, different levels of success, they all come from different motivations and different ideologies, and theyre all highly motivated. And theyre all working at cross purposes at all times so when they collide, its fascinating.
TheMorning Showset out to capture the zeitgeist of the #MeToo moment, which is a tall order.Its about this moment when a whole construct explodes, Witherspoon said. It starts so dismantle slowly over the 10 episodes and then it culminates in a gigantic seismic shift In the corporate culture of this one network which is extraordinary and reflects whats happening in the real world.
She explained that writer Ehrins approach to taking real life and synthesizing it into fiction and art creates a vehicle through which we start to understand ourselves.
For her part, Ehrin underscored that her writing decisions were informed not just by the movement itself, but by the complexity of it and indeed of life itself, in particular the female experience. Its impossible to talk about morning news and not talk about #MeToo, Ehrin said. It would be negligent. It is actually just nuanced.
TheThe Morning Showgathering also provided an opportunity for Carrell to voice his admiration for Aniston in a way that seemed to sincerely surprise and charm the actress.
Recalling the first day he saw her at work, on the set of Bruce Almighty, he remembered having a bit of a fanboy moment. I saw her one day across the way in a crowd scene, he said. I was so excited just to be on set with her; to get to be on set with her was the coolest thing ever.
Aniston seemed legitimately moved. Wow, I just blushed, she said. That was the sweetest thing ever.
Carrells reaction to working with Aniston for the first time was a bit of a departure from Witherspoons own memory of working with Aniston for the first time: She recently noted she was downright nervous to encounter Aniston on the set of Friends when she arrived to play her sister as a 23-year-old new mom in the 90s.
Aniston and Witherspoon star in The Morning Showalongside a gaggle of other fantastic actors, including Steve Carrell,Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Billy Crudup, Nstor Carbonell, and Mark Duplass. The scripted series will be one of the first to debut on thenew streaming service.
If youre anything like us, youre definitely going to want to watch it unfold yes, for the entertainment value provided by the incredibly talented actors, but also for the way it holds the mirror up to some of the most salient real-life dramas du jour.
The show, based on Brian Stelters book Top of the Morning,focuses on the cutthroat world of morning news broadcasting, and its not hard to imagine that the shows central conflictsare pulled right from real-life headlines.Specifically, in presenting the experience of women in the newsroom environment, the show deals with many themes that overlap the #MeToo movement. And sigh it will probably get us to subscribe to AppleTV+. How can we resist?
Posted: at 5:25 pm
Posted: at 5:25 pm
Brett AndersonDancehouse Theatre, Manchester10th October 2019
As Brett Anderson launches the second volume of his autobiography, Afternoons With The Blinds Drawn, Ian Corbridge joins the intimate setting of the Dancehouse Theatre to hear Bretts own version of events as he provides a fascinating personal insight into one of the greatest bands to come out of the 1990s.
Brett Andersons first highly acclaimed autobiography, Coal Black Mornings, was published in 2018 charting his years growing up, his early family life and taking us all the way through to the point where Suede were about to break. A little over a year later he now brings us his second volume, Afternoons With The Blinds Drawn, which focuses not only on the rise and decline of Suede, but also provides us with significant personal insight into the events that shaped the life of himself and his fellow band members. Kate Popplewell was on hand to lead the discussion and facilitate questions from the audience within this intimate setting.
The discussion kicked off with Bretts reflections on the book that he didnt want to write, which was seemingly founded on his desire to avoid the conventional rock autobiography. However, Brett clearly enjoyed the whole process surrounding his first book and being in the book world; as a secondary task in his life this gave him the space to enjoy it rather than being totally absorbed in the whole project. Because of this enjoyment he made the decision to write the next chapter but not in a conventional way. Brett saw the entry point to the book to be writing about himself and the journey through the machinery of success and what it did to him, looking at himself almost as a specimen going through that machinery. He feels it is an honest of account of what it is like going through the process of setting up a band and achieving fame and success. His focus was writing about a persona by a real person and not by the persona.
It was noted how the book was underpinned by a total lack of sympathy is his appraisal of his own motivation and how he was very hard on himself, which Brett clearly accepted. Brett loved the self-deprecating tone of the first book and had every intention of carrying this through his second. The fact that he wanted to be the villain in his own story caused amusement amongst the audience as Brett did not feel he was qualified to point the finger at other people for the events that happened. But knowing his own back story, he was happy to luxuriate in his own recrimination as Kate put it, taking inspiration from the words of Oscar Wilde. It was a fun process which also helped to validate those moments when he would self-congratulate himself, noting his pride over songs such as Asphalt World and Europe Is Our Playground.
Brett described how the structured and stylised openings to each chapter, with a scene setting paragraph, were intended to paint a vivid literary picture in lieu of the absence of any photographs in the book. There was also a deliberate approach to avoid slagging anyone off and avoid any proper nouns to avoid the media taking things out of context.The role of Mike Joyce was also covered, having spent around 6 months being in Suede, and Bretts ongoing affection for him was very evident and remains to this day. Mike clearly nurtured the band in their early days and took them under his wing, seeing something in them that maybe the band couldnt even see at the time, which was a tremendous help to the band members.
After referencing the first piece about the band written in Melody Maker and the significant press coverage that followed Suede through those early years, Brett then talked about his views on the reluctant nature of fame and how it affected him through that period. Whilst you can never predict what sort of person you would be now had you not gone through what Brett has experienced, he was very conscious of the fact that his persona was much closer to himself as a person in those early years than it is now, where he sees a much larger differential, especially with the person doing the school run and getting the book bags together in a morning. Brett recognised that being on stage is an act of elitism and you are expected to be extraordinary and this presents a fascinating contrast with the person at home.
Brett was also resigned to the fact that regardless of what he does or achieves now, the public perception of him through the media will always remain one of being arrogant and vain. He considers that you have one public persona which is set in stone immediately you become successful and one which will emerge later in your career depending upon where you take it. Whilst writing books such as this can undermine the mystique, that initial persona remains intact nonetheless. Brett cross referenced this view to Morrissey, generating hearty laughter from the audience, noting that whatever Morrissey does or says now, his early persona will always be revered, and he will still be played on the radio, unless of course he crosses the line.
Kate then threw out the challenge that being in a band does distort personal relationships and Brett noted that had a massive impact on relationships within the band, more especially with Bernard as they were two such different people. The pressures of life in a band merely served to enhance those differences ultimately leading to a breaking point. Too much media exposure too early in their career is something they had to deal with and face the consequences of as it was very much out of their control, but this is just a pact you naturally enter into.
Kate noted that in Suedes early years the media jumped on references to the music of Scott Walker and the writings of JG Ballard, and Brett admitted to not really knowing the works of either at that time but was then of course inspired to check them out. Whilst you cannot be in a position to have listened to or read everything, it is often the case that you can be influenced indirectly through other sources, citing David Bowie as one particular route.
Brett then went on to consider the elements that characterised the band, or the Suedeness as Kate referenced it from the book. Brett recognised that there were times when writing Head Music he stepped over the line, switching off his lyrical brain and going onto auto pilot, trying to do something more oblique and drifting into self-parody more through laziness than anything else. Since getting back together and writing Bloodsports and subsequent albums, it has been a fascinating quest being a middle-aged man but still writing about things that are Suedey. Brett recognised that there was always a central core of emotions that he wrote about but which he clothed differently, such as loneliness, sexuality and isolation. Whilst in the early days he sang about lovers and alienation, he now looks more towards his family for inspiration and motivation, noting that the last album was more about the fear of losing a child.
Brett noted that Suede still remain outside of the mainstream of the music industry but highlighted with great amusement that a song such as Animal Nitrate, which was about drugs and sexual abuse, got A-listed on Radio One and played alongside Boyzone. This felt like a wonderful victory just on the basis of a song having a pop hook and with the majority of people having no clue what they were singing about.
Brett spoke about the creative process behind songs and how much harder it is now to get the nuggets for which any writer naturally craves, but when you do get them it is a beautiful moment. He referenced Life Is Golden from The Blue Hour which when he sings it live, he realises how much it connects with the audience and it is such a powerful thing which he will always carry on trying to chase.
Brett discussed the Britpop era and the New Labour movement, through Tony Blair, who tried to harness the zeitgeist through the infamous invitation to Number Ten, which of course did not include Brett himself for whatever reason. He noted Suede had a complicated relationship with Britpop with Suede documenting the drizzly irrelevant world of John Major, with subsequent bands actually celebrating this period, and therein lied the difference. The one good thing about Britpop was clearly its focus on rejecting the concept of American cultural imperialism.
Speaking about relationships within the band, Brett noted that rocknroll and stability never go hand in hand and the excitement is always about living on the edge and things seemingly ready to explode. Having said that he no longer feels there is a need for that conflict but there will always be a point to prove in whatever Suede does and, as a result, every album feels like a comeback album.
It was evident drugs do cast a shadow over much of the book without ever being named. This Brett felt was not necessary given that people who were interested already knew what had gone on. The main chapter focusing on this period was written more in the third person as if an unconscious attempt to distance himself from a time which Brett was obviously not proud of.
It did not go un-noticed that today was the 25th anniversary of the release of Dog Man Star, a fact which drew loud applause from the audience. Whilst it feels a long time ago, in another sense that time seems to have passed in the blink of an eye, and the great thing for Brett is that the album which at that time was an anti-Britpop record is as relevant now as it has ever been and resonates well with the public right now.
Opening up questions to the floor prompted more interesting debate and discussion, moving from his favourite childrens author, possible forays into fiction which he admitted he had dabbled in, and the risk of killing anyone whilst swinging his microphone on stage. However, Brett could not find an answer to the question why Suede always seem to release their best material when a Conservative government is in power.
The solo years after Suedes break up were noted as a key period for Brett to develop as an artist in his own right without everything being done for him and clearly he feels it helped him to mature in a number of ways. He enjoyed that period and is still proud of the material he released. Future recording plans were covered with Brett noting that after writing two very narrative based albums with a clear theme, he was looking to move away from that concept and merely write songs to produce a more raw rock record.
Overall it proved to be an entertaining, amusing and insightful evening educating us on some of the creative thinking behind Suede as a band and Brett as a songwriter and performer. Whilst it feels like it is the second book in a trilogy, Brett clearly feels like he needs more distance before writing about a period which is much closer to the present so we should not expect another volume any time soon. In the meantime we can enjoy this second volume and look forward to the next musical chapter of Suede when that has been written and recorded. Clearly these are still exciting and creative times in the world of Brett Anderson and Suede.
You can find Suede on Facebook,Twitter and their website.
You can find Brett Anderson on Facebook,Twitter and his website.
All words and photos by Ian Corbridge. You can find more of his writing at his author profile.
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Posted: at 5:25 pm
PUBLISHED: 07:00 13 October 2019
The Specials pop group in chip shop called 'The Parson's Nose' in Bishop Street, Coventry. Photo: John Potter/Mirrorpix/Getty Images
Battered by the bombs and the collapse of its motor industry, the West Midlands hub responded with regeneration through sound. SOPHIA DEBOICK reports.
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Coventry has become near-synonymous with the Blitz. The bombing of the night of November 14, 1940, destroyed the medieval city and was one of the most traumatic domestic events of the war. But out of destruction came renewal, as Donald Gibson, appointed Coventry's first city architect even before the bombings, took this newly wiped-clean slate and created a radical new approach to town planning that would shape the post-war urban landscape not just across Britain but Europe too.
While the pedestrianised city centre was meant to be part of a utopian vision, after the deindustrialisation of a city known for its car industry, the windswept precincts of Coventry would become symbolic of economic decline in the 1970s and 1980s.
Already, in the 1950s, one of Coventry's most famous sons, Philip Larkin, had dismissed it as a non-place in his poem I Remember, I Remember, saying it was "where my childhood was unspent" and "just where I started". But for another kind of artist - musicians - roots in Coventry meant something more profound to their work, its history of rebirth and struggle reflected in the music they made.
One of the earliest signs of Coventry's musical pedigree was the work of Delia Derbyshire of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, who grew up in the city during the war years. Her 1963 theme music for Doctor Who seemed to be the aural counterpart to Sir Basil Spence's space-age Coventry cathedral, consecrated the previous year and built next to the bombed-out ruins of the 14th century original. Just as that modernist masterpiece grew out of destruction, Derbyshire remarked that her "love for abstract sounds" came from the soundscape of the Blitz.
At the end of the next decade, a very different sound from Derbyshire's ethereal electronica was exploding out of Coventry. The Specials' unlikely blending of high-energy Jamaican ska and a very British deadpan take on both political injustice and the banal everyday created a musical revolution as the 1970s rolled over into the 1980s.
It was a fusion that was down to Coventry's industrial history, which depended on cheap immigrant labour, often from the Caribbean, and the economic travails of its post-industrial years, when unemployment and racial tensions hit the young hardest of all.
In a whirlwind of less than two years, the multi-racial Specials ruled the charts with their danceable, political singles which spoke to the concerns of British urban youth with an intelligence and pop sensibility that outstripped punk, and they deservedly remain Coventry's most celebrated musical export.
Today, the city honours them with plaques at key sites, from the Mr George nightclub in the precinct where the band, then named The Automatics, played an early residency, to the Heath Hotel on Foleshill Road, north of the city centre, site of their maiden gig.
The now demolished Horizon Studios on Warwick Road, a stone's throw from the King Henry VIII grammar school attended by The Specials' driving force, Jerry Dammers (Larkin went there too), was key in the band's history. It was there they recorded their debut single, Gangsters, which they put out on their own label, 2 Tone, in May 1979. With a B-side by The Selecter, soon to be fronted by radiographer at Coventry's Walsgrave Hospital, Pauline Black, the release resulted in a signing by Chrysalis Records, who knew a good thing when they saw it, and continued to use the 2 Tone label, its cartoon rude boy and checkerboard stripe as instantly iconic as the hyperactive on-stage presence of Jamaican-born Neville Staple contrasting against Terry Hall's moping quiet menace.
Gangsters reached No.6 in the charts on its re-release in the autumn of 1979 and was rapidly followed by the Dandy Livingstone cover, A Message To You Rudy, which peaked at an unjustifiably low-achieving No.10 the same week in November that The Selecter's On My Radio got to No.8.
A whole new sound had been unleashed on the post-punk charts and, as the 2 Tone stable expanded from humble beginnings at Jerry Dammers' flat near the railway line on Coventry's Albany Road to a wholesale musical movement, Specials bass player Horace Panter was not far off the mark in saying "we sat up in Coventry thinking of ourselves as the UK's Tamla Motown".
Coventry's Locarno, the ballroom opened by Mecca in 1960, had been key to the pre-history of 2 Tone and would be a presence at its demise too. Coventry-born Pete Waterman, The Specials' first manager, had met Neville Staple there when working as its resident soul and reggae DJ (his Soul Hole Records, on the central Hales Street, would also be an important location in Coventry's music history).
The Locarno was also the venue for the recording of the B-side of the band's first No.1, 1980's Too Much Too Young, a ferocious bit of social commentary about teenage pregnancy ("Ain't he cute?/ No he ain't/ He's just another burden/ On the welfare state").
After three more Top 10 hits, Ghost Town hit No.1 in the summer of 1981, and its B-side, Friday Night, Saturday Morning was a sardonic take on Coventry night life, namechecking the Locarno directly. Ghost Town was recorded as the Brixton riots of April were ongoing and referenced the "fighting on the dancefloor" caused by far-right gangs, but it was also both a doom-laden hymn to an economically floundering city and the swansong of a band that was breaking up.
Hall, Staple and guitarist Lynval Golding splintered off from The Specials to form the Fun Boy Three in late 1981, embracing pop with two Top 5 hits with Bananarama, and the 1980s would be a decade when Coventry did a good line in brilliant but short-lived pop acts. Hazel O'Connor, daughter of a Coventry car plant worker, saw three of her punk-pop masterpieces from the 1980 rags to riches rock movie, Breaking Glass, in which she starred, go Top 10.
The band, King, meanwhile, emerged from Coventry's 2 Tone scene, initially in the form of the Reluctant Stereotypes, an experimental outfit with a ska backbone, and they had enjoyed airings on John Peel's radio show and The Old Grey Whistle Test. But it was when they met Perry Haines, the fashion designer and video director behind both Duran Duran's winning sartorial approach and the taste-making i-D magazine, that they really took off. Haines gave the band both a makeover and a gimmick, kitting them out in Dr. Martens boots, seeking to capitalise on the 1980s zeitgeist - style over substance - and for a brief moment they threatened to become something very big indeed.
King's 1985 debut single Love and Pride was an undisputed pop gem and was only kept off No.1 by the tenacity of Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson's I Know Him So Well. Frontman Paul King, a former drama student who had once earned a crust singing at the medieval banquet knights at Coombe Abbey, outside Coventry city centre, had pop star charisma in spades. But despite the inevitable success in Japan, they only managed one other UK Top 10 and shuffled out of view after a little over a year, with Paul King's solo work making hardly any impression on the charts and seeing him instead take up a career as a music TV presenter. Despite being a flash in the pan, King were emblematic of the vibrance and flamboyance of 1980s pop.
Coventry would have a number of short-lived acts from the late 1980s into the 1990s and beyond who nonetheless made a big, if brief, impression. Paul Sampson of the proto-King Reluctant Stereotypes was co-producer of indie band the Primitives' No.6 album, Lovely, and their compellingly cutesy jangle pop single Crash, a No.5 hit in early 1988.
Sampson was well-known enough as a producer by the late 1980s that the Stone Roses wanted him to produce their 1989 debut LP, and the Primitives were briefly music press darlings, Melody Maker describing them as "the perfect band who have just about made the perfect single". Morrissey was even photographed wearing a t-shirt featuring the cover art of their 1987 single, Stop Killing Me.
Ten years later, Coventry-born Billie Myers had a gargantuan transatlantic hit with Kiss the Rain before losing profile, and ten years after that, in a rather different vein, The Enemy's warmed-over Jam material was fleetingly popular, with a No.1 album in We'll Live and Die in These Towns and a No.4 single in the shouty Had Enough.
But Coventry has proved it can do longer-lived and underground too, offering some challenge to Birmingham's title as the Home of Metal with founding member of grindcore pioneers Napalm Death, Nicholas Bullen, going to King Henry VIII School, and early vocalist with the band, the Coventry-born Lee Dorrian, going on to form doom metal kings, Cathedral. Death metal and early grindcore band Bolt Thrower, formed in 1986, add to Coventry's metal cred.
In the run-up to Coventry's year as City of Culture 2021, much emphasis has already been placed on The Specials, including four gigs at the ruined Coventry Cathedral to celebrate the 40th anniversary of 2-Tone earlier this year. In these events that brought together the city's two most well-known icons in a celebration of both the distant and recent past, Coventry was highlighted as a city marked by history but, in its music at least, that is always looking forward.
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Posted: September 28, 2019 at 3:45 am
The Education of Brett Kavanaugh, an investigative book published by the New York Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly last week, has itself become as much a part of the partisan zeitgeist surrounding the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court as the testimonies from Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee last year.
TheWraps J. Clara Chan sat down with Pogrebin and Kelly on Thursday to discuss the books rollout, the reporting process, and what they see as the larger cultural impact of the Kavanaugh case on history.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
TheWrap: Youve spent several months working on this book, and this investigation could have gone on forever. At what point did you feel like, alright, we need to sit down and actually write this?
Robin Pogrebin: We kind of divided up the work where Kate took his high school years as well as Christine Blasey Ford, and I had the college years as well as Deborah Ramirez. We had a clear division of labor early on, and so our work was cut out for us on that front.
I think we both felt like we went as far as we could with those stories and sources. The other areas that we wanted to cover were his career, as well as the confirmation process, which we felt also deserved a closer look. So I think that once we had covered those main areas, we felt that we had a critical mass of material to work with. We couldnt do everything in this book. But those were the things we wanted to accomplish.
TheWrap: The subtitle of the book is an investigation, but for me, its much more than just an investigation the book is also trying to crack into what exactly [the Kavanaugh case] means in this specific piece of history. But as you know from the varied responses to the book, its such a partisan issue. And sexual assault, in many ways, has become a partisan issue. What does this really mean about the cultural climate that were in when there are these two very distinct divides when it comes to evaluating a set of truths and facts?
Pogrebin: This chapter in our history, as well as, frankly, the reception of the book speaks to a moment in our culture where we are intensely divided along partisan lines. Those political allegiances inform peoples perceptions of current events so that, in a way, peoples minds are made up to some extent before they really have given these characters and these events the full benefit of deep inquiry, which we really wanted to bring to this.
We saw that, on the one hand, for example, there are some people who just assumed Brett Kavanaugh was kind of the epitome of the privileged, entitled white man who sort of symbolized everything thats wrong with the idea that men have an easier time in this culture and that theyre guilty before being proven guilty. And on the one on the other hand, I think there are people who looked at Christine Blasey Ford as an example of #MeToo gone too far, that you could dredge up a charge from 36 years ago that could derail a Supreme Court nomination. So I think what you see here is people reading into these events [with] all sorts of agendas.
What we hoped is that by giving people as many of the facts as we could, as well as perspective from kind of a 360-degree view of things, that perhaps we would not necessarily change minds, but certainly open them.
TheWrap: What would you say to the critics who are quick to jump on, Oh, this is just an anti-Kavanaugh book, or This is a pro-Christine [Blasey Ford] book?
Kelly: We always find it disappointing when people have a sort of contempt prior to investigation. We want, ideally, for people to read the book and then make up their minds as to whether we did a good job or not, or whether they feel that we represented the facts wholesomely enough. Everybody comes to this with their own cultural standpoint, everybody has a worldview, and most people have some sort of political sensibility. So youre bringing your own perspective, oftentimes, and projecting it onto the facts that we had last year. Now, Robin, and I would argue we have a lot more facts to share with you.
While we do find, for example, Dr. Ford to be credible after all this research, some of the things in the book, I think, will surprise people. We have a view of Justice Kavanaugh as an adult and as a professional being a pretty upstanding figure who has seriously mentored women. And I think in a lot of cases, in our view, its not clear that he lied. I think a lot of people feel that he lied repeatedly during his hearings, and that may be the case, [but] were not inside his head, so we dont know for sure. But we spent a lot of time parsing his words and looking at what we understood to be true based on the reporting versus how he framed it, and in a lot of cases, he may have been wrong or he may have been putting a spin on something, but its not necessarily obvious that he lied.
Our hope is to come at people in the book gently and say, Heres what we know. Heres what we set out to do. We know that you probably have your own impressions of things already, but go on this journey with us. Let us kind of reconstruct the 1980s for you, Georgetown Prep and Yale and the friendships and the cultural and social dynamics of the time. Let us walk you through Judge Kavanaughs career and then get to the confirmation hearings and the aftermath of it and then see if you still feel the same way.
TheWrap: You both had personal connections, in different ways, to the story the Yale connection [for Pogrebin], the D.C. connection [for Kelly]. Did any point in this entire investigation make you rethink your own experiences of the cultures that youre talking about in this book?
Pogrebin: It did for me, in terms of reporting the Ramirez experience, because I realized that it made me newly sensitive to the idea that not everyone comes to college with the same kind of armor in knowing how to protect themselves against experiences that might be hurtful or damaging or embarrassing, not necessarily knowing how to navigate social situations, and also, frankly, with just a different degree of confidence and sort of sophistication about some of the situations that you can find yourself in college.
For Brett Kavanaugh, coming from an upper-middle-class background in suburban Maryland, and me coming from the New York City and a private school background, it was more of a seamless transition than it is for other people. And its important to be sensitive to the fact that we all dont start out from the same point in life with the same advantages with the same sense of entitlement.
Kelly: It did cause me to rethink growing up in D.C. and the private school scene a little bit. I went to an all-girls school that was in the same network as Georgetown Prep, which was Kavanaughs school, and Holton Arms, which was Blasey Fords school. I do remember the alcohol, I remember stories about Beach Week, I remember yearbook shaming, and I know that kids were sexually active, as kids are all over the place. But I did not hear at the time about sexual assault. And based on the conversations Ive had with people I know since then, Im quite sure that it was happening.
Its just a reminder to me that there was not the awareness that we have today, there was not the openness about these experiences, and, unfortunately, a lot of people facing feelings of shame and guilt didnt report things that happened and they werent addressed.
TheWrap: Its almost like theres a separate story to be said about how this has made elite prep schools rethink how theyre approaching this kind of conversation with their students and fostering that kind of culture.
Kelly: I know that some of those Washington-area schools are actively grappling with that conversation, including my own alma mater, which is nice to see. If theres any silver lining here, hopefully it is the idea of promoting this conversation.
Pogrebin: Ramirez has this quote in our book where she talks about this poem that someone sent to her [that] made her think about the concept of justice. She didnt necessarily set out to derail Kavanaughs nomination; she thought it was important to bring this information to light so that it will inform those who are making a decision about his fitness for the court. Even with him having been confirmed, she said theres so much good thats come out of this, theres so much good thats yet to come I think what she means by that is having contributed to this conversation and taking these experiences out of the shadows and making sure that people feel less shame around them and expose them and talk about them in an honest way.
TheWrap: Have you heard from Kavanaugh since the publication of the book, or are there any plans to pursue follow-up interviews?
Kelly: We havent heard anything from him. We attempted to alert him to all the significant things in the book, approach that with him and his representative in advance, and he hasnt had any comment.
We would certainly welcome a conversation at any point if he wanted to have it. And yes, we have gotten some additional tips and leads since the book came out and Im actively looking into a couple of them, so well see where it goes. I dont think we had any expectation necessarily of continuing on this reporting when the book came out, but were not going to ignore any leads that may come our way. We feel like its our responsibility to continue pursuing things if theyre brought to our attention.
TheWrap: Many current Democratic presidential candidates and other lawmakers on Twitter have also been calling for Kavanaughs impeachment and are using the book as a frame of reference for why Kavanaugh is not fit for the Supreme Court. I know its not in your position to make a judgment on whether that is the case, but whats next after this?
Pogrebin: One of the things that has really struck us in the process of reporting this book is the sense that the judiciary was supposed to be this kind of last branch of government that was non-political, and its clearly become so political, dating back to the Bork hearings, and then Clarence Thomas, and then the Republicans blocking any kind of evaluation of Obamas candidate, Merrick Garland. Perhaps this is a moment where there will be some kind of national reassessment of trying to get back to a [bipartisan] place.
TheWrap: Were you working with New York Times editors when you were doing this book? Or was this a separate editing process entirely?
Pogrebin: This was a separate process entirely. Even though were both New York Times reporters, and this did grow out of our New York Times coverage, it was a separate enterprise. That said, we have colleagues that we have run things by.
I think we also lean on our New York Times principles quite a bit in terms of our standards for reporting and sourcing and just how we go about this. We both are sort of steeped in a certain kind of an ethic in terms of approaching a project like this that our day jobs definitely influenced the execution of the book.
TheWrap: Since there was a bit of controversy with the rollout of the book [and an excerpt featured in the Times]: Is there anything that you wish you would have done differently either through the reporting process or the rollout of this?
Kelly: I think we clearly should have had just better and earlier internal communication about what was happening with the element of the excerpt that became so controversial. We really regret the degree to which people felt like they were missing a critical sentence, which is in our book. We never want our readers to feel like theyre being deprived of information they need.
I think we also just need to have, all of us, a high degree of sensitivity about this subject matter and how painful it is for people, regardless of their perspective. Whether they are a #MeToo activist or whether they are part of the Federalist Society, people feel very strongly about these issues of fairness and due process that were raised by the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, and it was just this whirlwind of cross-currents between the #MeToo movement, the atmosphere created by the Trump administration, the recent history of Supreme Court nominations and confirmations, the partisanship in Washington, the toxic dialogue on social media where anything can be said, anything goes, and it just all came together in a pretty ugly way. Its kind of a sad chapter. But I also think the strong, immediate, and in many cases, uninformed by the actual book reactions that we have seen to the content of the book are emblematic of the issues that were writing about more broadly.
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