Thursday, December 30, 2010

International Performing Arts Lab and Conference: Call for Artists

May 17 - 24, 2011
Leitring bei Leibnitz, Austria

International Performing Arts Lab and Conference is inviting participants to take part in an intensive programme of practical training, lectures, discussions guided by the Russian theatre director and teacher Sergei Ostrenko, and a conference programme with leading experts and teachers from different countries.

Special discounted fees are available for artistic ensembles and their leaders as well as senior students groups and their teachers!

Participants are actors of physical, dramatic, dance, musical theatres, circus performers, directors, choreographers, visual artists, sound and light designers. Talents from different backgrounds, genre and style can draw from Ostrenko's system and develop their skills according to their field of expertise, enlarge personal horizons and create connections with colleagues from all over the world.

The programme is focused on Ostrenko's method of actor’s training, relying on the Russian Theatre Tradition and the newest experiments in performing arts. Participants will practically explore physicality as the principal creative instrument, the key to form, style, atmosphere and emotional palette in contemporary performance, stepping beyond the limits of habitual text-based acting. Performer's physicality in the methods of Stanislavsky, Meyerhold and M.Chekhov, Meyerhold's Biomechanics Etudes, Tai-chi for actors, Training by method of improvisation, scene composition from exercises to performance: these are some of the elements uniquely transformed and combined in Ostrenko's teaching system to suit performers, directors and teachers contemporary needs.

The Lab and Conference are a great opportunity to approach a unique methodological and practical material that will enrich your professional skills and will offer you the possibility to share an intense creative experience at a global level!

The event will take place in the "Green Heart" of Austria, Styria Region, at the historic 15th century castle. Nearest international airports - Graz and Vienna, Austria.
Accommodation and meals are organized.

Registration: candidates should send a letter of motivation stating the Lab dates and CV/résumé with photo to

More details:

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A rapist who dodged jail, or a Palestinian man unjustly accused?: A Discussion, Part Two


A little background in case you haven't been following along: My post about the case of Sabbar Kashur, the Palestinian Israeli man charged with "rape by deception" of an Israeli Jewish woman was inspired by a post on the blog/online magazine +972 (subtitled "Independent commentary from Israel and the Palestinian Territories") written by Lisa Goldman. As I wrote in Part One Goldman, a Canadian-Israeli based in Jaffa, responded to a cover story about the case by Lital Grossman that ran in the Tel Aviv weekly magazine Ha’Ir (The City), in which she questioned the role of anti-Arab racism in Kashur's sentencing. Goldman suggested that since the lesser change of "rape by deception" was a plea-bargain Kashur actually benefited from being Palestinian by using his ethnicity to avoid jail time. The subtext, that excessive Israeli compassion for Palestinians blinds them to their criminality, is a familiar--if mournful-- refrain among "Liberal Zionists", and it was the red flag that drew my attention in the first place.

Before writing about it here at the POMEGRANATE I responded to Goldman on the comment thread following her post at +972. When our interaction went past a few posts I tried to opt out--in my experience the internet often inspires an obsessive tit-for-tat that kills potentially productive discussions. So, rather than dominate her comment thread I wrote my own post and told Goldman she was welcome to continue our interaction here. Unsurprisingly she did not take me up on my offer but I want to reproduce our final exchange anyway as a folow up because it was fruitful in teasing out the multiple threads--gender, race, Orientalism/Islamophobia (which she dismissed as "hackneyed terms" Ha.), sexism , nationalism etc.--that are tangled together in this case. Anyone interested in reading our exchange in its original context should refer to the comment thread following Goldman's post.

ME: Lisa, I don’t want to bicker with you and clog up your comment thread. But: of course I am not suggesting that it is impossible for Kashur to be guilty because he is Palestinian– I am arguing only that the case for rape against him could not be proved. However, once B’s testimony was made widely available Grossman and you (and others around the net) decided that it was credible, despite her universally understood mental instability, which is a bit unnerving. You wrote , “B’s story sounds believable”… Why? And what makes you conclude that Kashur may be guilty of rape after all because he served time on a lesser charge? As I have said, that makes no sense to me. In fact, the only way I can think of to justify your conclusions in the above post is anti-Arab racism.

[...] If you feel I have misrepresented your argument please let me know and I’ll happily note that. In your last response you made a distinction between Grossman’s take on the case and your own that is not clear to me from the original post. I do not want to attribute opinions to you that are better described as Grossman’s, even if I ultimately disagree with the rest of what you have written. I appreciate that you have responded to me and I’ll publish any comment you make over at VS the POMEGRANATE. Does that seem fair?

LISA GOLDMAN: [Responding first to another commenter who'd critiqued my earlier post.] Maayan, you and Joseph are exactly the same types. If you had been born a Palestinian-American, you would have chosen his argument. Neither one of you is capable of seeing beyond your biases to examine a case based on facts. You are both blinded by your agendas and your prejudices.

LISA GOLDMAN: Joseph, if Sabur Kashur had been a Jewish Israeli man, the charges against him would have been dismissed.

However, the charges would have been dismissed not because he was innocent, but because he could not have been charged with rape by deception.

The defense attorney wanted to question the plaintiff about 14 previous incidents of rape and incest. Neither her attorney nor the judge thought she capable of maintaining her composure while she was questioned about previous rapes. At that point, seeing that he was about to lose his conviction, the prosecutor charged Kashur with rape by deception. And even here the ‘deception’ was not only the odious charge that Kashur presented himself as a Jew, but that he presented himself as a *bachelor* Jew, when he was in fact a *married* Palestinian.

My comparison between the judge’s wording of the plea bargain and EM Forster is not sarcastic, by the way; it is literal. The transcripts show that the judge would have convicted on the evidence, but could not legally override the defense’s request to question the plaintiff about her past. But his dissatisfaction with the plea bargain does not make his racist, colonialist wording acceptable.

The physical evidence against Kashur was solid. Police found the victim battered, bleeding and naked in a stairwell. She was taken to a hospital, examined and given a rape kit. Based on that evidence and her statement to the police, charges were brought against Kashur. Based on the transcripts of the trial, her testimony sounds very credible. If the defense attorney had not insisted on his right to question the plaintiff about her past, Kashur would most probably have been convicted on the original charges.

ME: Lisa, Thank for your last response to me (Sunday , December 26, 4:09)– In it, you were much more clear than in your original post, which conflated Grossman’s conclusions with your own. As promised I will integrate it into my own post.

However, based on your response it seems you missed an opportunity with your original post. The fact that the Defense has the right to question an accuser about her past in a rape trial is the point here, *not* the ethnicity of the alleged perpetrator. Under these terms an Israeli Jewish man would have gotten off completely so Kashur’s ethnicity actually worked against him here, which is the exact opposite of what Grossman (and you) suggest. But if you had focused on the fundamental sexism of Israeli rape law and its subsequent role in earning Kashur a reduced sentence you might have really had something here. I cannot help but wonder why you centered your post around Kashur then? Do you blame me for wondering about your motives when, given the opportunity to critique a sexist Israeli law you instead blamed the Palestinian guy? Especially given that Kashur’s conviction was predicated on his ethnicity, since a Jewish Israeli man committing the same crime would have gone free in the same circumstances?

I appreciate your devotion to “facts”, even if you framed your concern for the truth as a dig at me. If your original post about Kashur had been that straightforward and factual I wouldn’t have commented in the first place. But it wasn’t. And that you became so extraordinarily defensive when I pointed out the blind spots and inconsistencies in your post (some of which you still have not addressed) is telling. You have entreated me to “research” your past positions as a way to contextualize this post but if you had written it in such a way that was consistent with the kind of analysis you are clearly capable of, I wouldn’t have to.

Look, you live in a racist society. As an American, so do I. Any analysis of a case involving members of a privileged majority and an oppressed minority that does not engage with that simple fact is flawed at the root, even if it pretends toward “objectivity.” That has been my only point here.

Couple things tough:

1) I am not a “type” I am a man–singular. Don’t you think it is bad form to erase my humanity so summarily? Please note that at no point did I do this to you.
2) I am not Palestinian or Palestinian-American. Or Muslim, if you are wondering.
3) I do not have an “agenda” here beyond holding you accountable for being clear about what you are trying to say.
4) I don’t hate anybody. I’m just not an idiot–when liberals from racist societies (however unintentionally) reproduce racist ideologies in their work I notice. Sometimes if it is important enough I am compelled to comment. That’s all.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

RIP Teena Marie

Dead at 54. Just like my dad. Too young.

Rest in peace Vanilla Starchild. Your music was part of the soundtrack to my youth. Lovergirl was the first fast song at my senior dance. It is hard to imagine a world without you in it.

I was the one
who said tune in tomorrow
I love to the bone marrow, even when I am asleep and
who are you to say
what I did when you weren't around
just because I fell in love with you
Casanova Brown
standing room only, the concerts sold out
everyone's there for the party
the hush turns to a shout
everyone's got a piece
of the pie
of you and I
but nobody knows when the lights dim down
that the tears fall harder than the whole damn crowd

--Casanova Brown

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A rapist who dodged jail, or a Palestinian man unjustly accused?: A Discussion

Sabbar Kashur, on the cover of Ha’Ir (The City) magazine

On Christmas Eve in among the silly holiday tweets on my feed was an RT from Slate's @amandamarcotte that pointed to a blogpost from Israeli blogger Lisa Goldman about Sabbar Kashur, a Palestinian Muslim Israeli man accused of raping a Jewish Israeli woman. Marcotte urged those of us who were "hand-wringing" over the treatment of the Palestinian Kashur by the Israeli court to "go read this", implying that there was new evidence of Kashur's guilt. On December 3rd Ha’Ir (The City), a weekly magazine distributed only in Tel Aviv, published a cover story by Lital Grossman that openly questioned the allegations of anti-Arab racism in light of the details of Kashur's sentence, which was revealed to have been a plea bargain. Grossman's article inspired Goldman's blogpost (and Marcotte's tweet) and all three summarily dismiss the effects of anti-Arab racism on Kashur's case on feminist grounds.

After two years under house arrest Kashur was finally charged earlier this year with "rape by deception", based on the accusation that he had mis-represented himself to his accuser--called "B" by the court to protect her identity--as a single Jewish Israeli rather than the married Palestinian Israeli Muslim he is. The court's decision was openly questioned and sparked debate about the secondary role of Palestinians with Israeli society and their subsequent vulnerability to the law. In response to these criticisms the judge revealed that Kashur's sentence of rape by deception was a plea bargain. The lesser charge, which led to an 18 month sentence for Kashur, was proposed by the prosecution because the more serious rape charge could not be proved. In her unsealed testimony B affirmed,

“He took off my pants and underwear [...] and all of this was done with force, I didn’t agree to anything… I was left in just my shirt. Then he took off his clothes… then he put saliva on his penis and then, it was like full penetration, like, it wasn’t with consent as he claims. He laid me on the floor… and asked to kiss my chest too and then like when I asked him to stop and tried to push him away, he started pressuring me with his arms forcefully on me… when I tried to push him with my hand in his stomach, this happened in a more advanced stage, when he was already inside of me, then he said that if I stay silent and I don’t resist, then it would like end faster and it wouldn’t be, like, he wouldn’t use force. I still resisted him and it was forced.”

The blogger Goldman concludes that B’s story "sounds believable"... although she does not explain why she thinks so. She writes, "Based on her testimony it appears that she was not a racist but rather a terribly vulnerable, emotionally damaged woman who was desperate for affection." So for Goldman B's emotional vulnerability precludes the possibility of her racism, a false binary that disregards the fact that, however desperate her circumstances, B is a member of a privileged ethnic group within Israel and Kashur isn't.

According to Goldman,

“B,” was an emotionally traumatized woman in her 20s who had been raped by her father from the age of six. On the day she met Kashur, she was living in a women’s shelter. Before that, she had worked briefly as a prostitute and spent some time living on the streets. Kashur lured her into the building on Hillel Street with the claim that he worked there and wanted to show her his office; he then assaulted her and raped her, leaving her naked and bleeding – which is how the police discovered her. B. was later hospitalized in a psychiatric institution, where the police questioned her about the rape, which led them to Kashur. During the trial, after it became apparent that B’s past, combined with her emotional state, made her a vulnerable witness, the prosecution came up with a plea bargain of rape by deception.

Goldman sums up her evaluation of Kashur's case, writing, "Kashur was not unjustly punished because he was an Arab, but the opposite: [...] he managed to avoid the punishment he deserved because his ethnicity made it possible to plead guilty to the lesser charge of rape by deception, thus avoiding jail time." This gymnastic logic employs lack of evidence for the greater charge, which would normally be construed as lack of guilt (if not proof of innocence) as the opposite. In other words, for Goldman the fact that the prosecution could not make a case against Kashur for rape is "proof" of his guilt.

Goldman writes,

The judges’ wording of the verdict seemed to be inspired by E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, or an Oriental version of To Kill a Mockingbird, with Kashur as Tom Robinson, the black man unjustly accused of raping a white woman in 1930s Alabama. “If she hadn’t thought the accused was a Jewish bachelor interested in a serious romantic relationship, she would not have cooperated,” wrote the judges. Judge Tsvi Segal added, “The court is obliged to protect the public interest from sophisticated, smooth-tongued criminals who can deceive innocent victims at an unbearable price – the sanctity of their bodies and souls .”

The angle of Goldman's post (and Grossman’s story), that being Palestinian is in any way advantageous in Israel is utterly fantastic… But the notion that minority populations derive benefit from their abject status is a pretty standard charge. She makes light of the obvious comparisons to Forster and Lee’s stories even as she recounts the Israeli court’s description of Kashur as a “sophisticated, smooth-tongued criminal” who preys on “innocent (Jewish, female) victims”, which is pretty much the basic narrative of all the “Darkie Wants Our Women” stories ever written. Further, his accuser's lack of mental coherence, which substantiates her accusations for Grossman, Goldman and Marcotte could also easily disqualify them... And no, it is not "victim blaming" to point that out, especially since all parties involved agree that B is mentally unblanced. Neither is it "rape apology", given the long history of male racial and ethnic "others" getting tortured, killed and/or imprisoned based on the say-so of white women in racist societies. Or white men acting of their behalf, regardless of their wishes. The story of Emmet Till, a black fourteen year old boy who was literally beaten to a pulp because he was alleged to have flirted with a white girl in 1955 Mississippi is emblematic of the special vulnerability of men of color to charges of sexual violence.

Emmett Till, before and after reportedly flirting with a white woman

I would never suggest something as stupid and vile as the idea that men of color are never guilty of sexual violence or that racism (Orientalism, Islamophobia, etc.) is ever an excuse for rape. But racism inevitably shapes the dynamic when the alleged victims are members of a privileged majority, the accused attackers are minorities, and the society in which the charge is made is based on a fundamentally racist distinction between them. A blanket dismissal of such entrenched hierarchies grants free access to a wealth of racist repertoires about "dark"men under the cover of liberal discourses like feminism. If we can agree that allegations of rape should be taken seriously, can we not also agree that institutionalized racism should not be waved away because it complicates the frame in which they are made? This dynamic is especially stark in a country like Israel, whose ethno-nationalist illusions are formalized as law, but it is no less a factor in the United States, with its melting-pot pretensions. It seems clear though, based on Gloria Steinem's remarks during the last election that there is a line of feminist thinking--often espoused by white, middle class, westerners-- which argues the reverse: that gender trumps all other considerations, a proscription that has potentially deadly consequences for men of color.

Goldman writes,

There are few unassailable facts or bottom lines here. A woman who may or may not have been raped is in a psychiatric hospital, traumatized and unable to communicate coherently. Perhaps a rapist who should have have been jailed is now a free man, wandering around Jerusalem shopping malls with his kids while the woman he raped is institutionalized, physically and emotionally traumatized. Or perhaps an innocent man was forced to plead guilty to a crime he did not commit, in order to avoid being sentenced to jail by judges who were biased against Arabs. None of these issues were raised in the original reporting of the affair. None of the reporters covering the story when it first broke, in July, mentioned having applied to the courts to obtain the unsealed testimony. The polarized, angry atmosphere in contemporary Israel seems to make rational, detached analysis nearly impossible. This is a very troubling state of affairs. It is also quite dangerous.

There is no way for anyone to know for certain what went on between B and Kashur, which is why in democracies we depend on the law to guide us to resolution. If proved guilty of B’s rape there is no question that Kashur should be punished, but he wasn’t and he was punished anyway. Goldman's post (and Grossman’s story), which suggest that Kashur’s Palestinian identity earned him a legal advantage purposefully obscures two key points: 1) The court made his ethnicity an issue and the justification for his charge and 2) His ethnicity is only important in the first place because Palestinian Israelis are not equal citizens with their Jewish neighbors. No matter how “macho” Israeli society is--another argument made by Goldman to explain Kashur's reduced sentence-- the notion that Jewish Israeli men feel solidarity or even empathy (!) with a Palestinian man accused of raping a Jewish Israeli woman is too ridiculous to contemplate. Israeli Apartheid precludes the possibility of such collusion.

Goldman is correct when she writes that the particular arrangement of Israeli society make "rational, detached analysis nearly impossible" but she seems to exempt herself from this dynamic. However in raising concerns about Kashur's case without acknowledging the role of institutionalized racism in Israel she perpetuates its most pernicious memes about Arab criminality (which occurs only in a vacuum and never as a response to living within a racist system). Only someone who benefits from it could conclude that a Palestinian accused of a crime that could not be proved has somehow beaten the system by serving eighteen months in an Israeli jail. Goldman is also correct when she describes the situation around Kashur's case as "dangerous."

What is less clear in her analysis is, dangerous for whom?


Lisa Goldman responded to my critique of her post about Kashur on her blog +972. Because this post is already long I have reproduced the key section of our exchange in Part Two.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Rocket wishes you a sleepy Christmas and a relaxing New Year.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Spike Lee Signs His New Book: Do The Right Thing

Spike Lee: Do The Right Thing

By Spike Lee and Jason Matloff

Book Signing

Thursday, December 16, 7–8:30PM

The powerHouse Arena · 37 Main Street (corner of Water & Main St.) · DUMBO, Brooklyn
For more information, please call 718.666.3049

Spike Lee is stopping by The powerHouse Arena to sign copies of Spike Lee: Do The Right Thing, a new book that celebrates the 20th anniversary of the film's seminal debut.

About the book:

Spike Lee: Do The Right Thing is an unprecedented, insider's look at the film, with behind-the-scenes visuals and interviews celebrating the impact of Do The Right Thing on American culture.

Do The Right Thing remains one of the most controversial films of its era. Employing director Spike Lee's hometown of Brooklyn as the essential setting, this explosive film masterfully explores race and class relationships.

Both a critical and popular success, Do The Right Thing became a landmark film that brought serious issues in the African American community to light and established Lee as a major director in American cinema. Lee also wrote the screenplay, produced, and even starred in this deeply personal film, which was applauded for its commanding visuals provided by cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, intense performances by an all-star cast, and an assertive soundtrack featuring Public Enemy's Fight the Power.

The film is even credited with bringing President Barack Obama and the First Lady together on their first date!

About the author:

Spike Lee and his film company, 40 Acres and a Mule, continue to shine the light on controversial subjects through award-winning feature films and documentaries. Lee is also the artistic director of the graduate film program at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

There Is a Policeman Inside All Our Heads: He Must Be Destroyed

Date: Friday, December 10, 2010, 8 pm
Location: The New School Theresa Lang Community and Student Center, Arnhold Hall, 2nd Floor, 55 W 13th St, New York

FREE. No RSVP necessary.

A co-presentation with the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis & the New School

Cabinet, The National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis, and the New School present a screening of There Is a Policeman Inside All Our Heads: He Must Be Destroyed and Eight People Sipping Wine in Kettering, parts 3 and 4 of The Century of the Self, the extraordinary BBC documentary on the intertwined histories of Sigmund Freud, modern consumerism, and representative democracy. At its heart is the idea that public relations and politicians have used Freud's theories to engineer a society of consent.

The screening will be preceded by an introduction by George Prochnik, Cabinet contributor and author of Putnam Camp: Sigmund Freud, James Jackson Putnam, and the Purpose of American Psychology (2006) and In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise (2010). It will be followed by an open discussion with psychoanalyst Martin Bergmann, who is a participant in the documentary.

Parts one and two of the documentary (Happiness Machine and The Engineering of Consent,) were screened on November 12, with a short introduction by Jane Kupersmidt, faculty at the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis and member of the Freudian Society. A transcript of the introduction is available here. The first two parts of the The Century of the Self can be seen online here.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Rumble Ghost: A dance performamce based on Poltergeist

P S 122 presents the WORLD PREMIERE of JACK FERVER’s


Wednesday December 8th - Sunday December 12th

8pm with a late show at 10 pm on Saturday December 11th

Tickets $20, $15 (students/seniors), $11 (with the PS122 Passport - limited availability!)

Tickets can be purchased here
or calling 212-352-3101
PS 122 is located at 150 1rst Ave @ E. 9th Street

Rumble Ghost is a psychological dance-play that channels the classic 80s horror film Poltergeist.

"Horror movies will never be as terrifying and shocking as the human psyche. They act as metaphors – scary stories that offer a release or escape from the more devastating twists and turns of an unquiet mind. Without ghosts to explain haunted houses, we are left with the pain sites of crumbling careers, failing marriages, abused children. In Rumble Ghost, as the flimsy membrane between an American horror movie classic and the fragility of the human condition deteriorates, the darkest place in the world is shown to be right up there: in your mind.

Performed in Jack Ferver’s “hyper-reality” style, seven performers reinterpret the 1982 classic horror film Poltergeist, exploring pop-psychological landscapes with movement, original music, and a highly calibrated script. The Poltergeist theme corrodes and gives way to a group therapy session, created from Ferver’s personal experience with “Inner Child Work”, in a therapy technique aptly called: Psychodrama. As the performers are overtaken by their own child selves, a disturbing spectacle confronts the audience and a fearless exploration of the company’s own personae ensues."

Written and Choreographed by Jack Ferver.

Performed by Benjamin Asriel, Reid Bartelme, Christian Coulson, Carlye Eckert, Jack Ferver, Michelle Mola, Breanna O’Mara

Dramaturgy by Joshua Lubin-Levy
Assistant Dramaturgy by Samara Davis
Original Score by Calder Singer
Costumes by Reid Bartelme

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pretty Things: The Last Generation of American Burlesque Queens

Pretty Things: The Last Generation of American Burlesque Queens
By Liz Goldwyn

WHAT: Paperback Launch Party, Reading, and Signing
WHEN: Wednesday, December 8, 7–9PM
WHERE: The powerHouse Arena · 37 Main Street (corner of Water & Main St.) DUMBO, Brooklyn

For more information, please call 718.666.3049

Training her journalist's eye on the glitter and glamour of American burlesque's greatest generation, Liz Goldwyn takes readers on an enthralling tour of the original queens of the striptease. Goldwyn's incisive exposé is a retrospective of the sights and spectacles of burlesque's golden age—and an intimate look at the women whose sexuality, ambition, and verve brought the cabaret stage to life. Join us for an exclusive reading and paperback launch party for what V Magazine calls "the most comprehensive study on the era of burlesque."

About the book:

Liz Goldwyn's lifelong fascination with the inimitable glamour of classic burlesque inspired her to spend the past eight years corresponding with, visiting, interviewing, receiving striptease lessons from, and forming close relationships with the last generation of the great American burlesque queens. Goldwyn invites us to step back into an era when the hourglass figure was in vogue and striptease was a true art form.

Pretty Things introduces readers to legendary burlesque icons including:

  • Betty "Ball of Fire" Rowland, who was known for her flaming red hair and bump-and-grind routines. (It turns out she once sued the author's grandfather, Samuel Goldwyn Jr., for using her stage name and costume in his Hollywood picture, Ball of Fire.)
  • Sherry Britton, who, with her long black hair and curvy, trim physique, was among the most stunning of the burlesque stars before Mayor LaGuardia outlawed burlesque in New York.
  • Zorita, whose sexually explicit "Consummation of the Wedding of the Snake" dance (performed with a live snake) and other daring performances earned her legendary status.
With Pretty Things, Goldwyn draws back the curtain to reveal the personal journeys of yesteryear's icons of female sexuality and power, restoring their legacy to an age that has all but forgotten them—despite today's resurgence of burlesque. Drawing from hundreds of archival photographs, costume sketches, newspaper clippings, and mementos that Goldwyn has collected along the way, Pretty Things is at once a feast for the eyes, a history of the art of burlesque, and a lovingly documented story of stardom and self-discovery.

About the Author:

Liz Goldwyn has worked in fashion, art, and photography since the age of sixteen. She has produced major fashion shows and art installations, helped establish the fashion department at Sotheby's New York, and was a global consultant for Shiseido America. She writes feature articles for national magazines, and designs her own collection of jewelry. Her documentary film on burlesque queens, Pretty Things, premiered in July 2005 on HBO. Goldwyn lives in Los Angeles.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

DESARROLLAR: A Gallery Exhibition and Solo Performance

[This fascinating exhibition/performance comes via my friend Makram--the fellow in the bit above-- who curated the HOME-LAND show I just did at his space 49B]


by Laura Schwamb and Makram Hamdan

A gallery exhibition and solo performance at Center for Performance Research

A collaboration of visual art and dance, the evening begins with a gallery exhibition of works by Laura Schwamb. Her videos, animated neon, and black and white images set the atmosphere for the performance. Her concept of having a human bridle fabricated was beautifully realized and made possible by Johnny Farah. The exhibition is followed by a solo performance in the main theater by Makram Hamdan. Using the show's theme, conceived by Laura Schwamb, Makram Hamdan engages to push the limits of poetic control, visceral constraint, and physical endurance in a challenging semi-autobiographical performance based on memory.

CPR - Center for Performance Research December 9, 10, and 11. 2010.

Gallery exhibition opens at 7:00pm - Performance begins at 8pm - SHARP

Tickets: $15 - advance purchase recommended -

Directions: 361 Manhattan Avenue, Brooklyn (b/w Jackson St. & Withers St.). L Train to Graham Avenue (3rd Stop in Brooklyn) / Exit right out of turnstile / Left on Graham / Left on Jackson / Right on Manhattan.

General Inquiries (non-press): 718-349-1210

Makram Hamdan (Choreographer and performer) Originally from Lebanon, Makram Hamdan’s emigration to Portland, OR as a teen, initiated his dance training. Subsequently, he graduated from the California Institute of the Arts. Another emigration to France launched his professional dance career, notably with Jean-Claude Gallotta, CCN de Grenoble. While in France, he also began working with Robert Wilson as a performer, then, as choreographer and assistant director both in Europe and at Wilson's Watermill Center in Long Island, NY. With a strong desire to design gardens, he established Makram Hamdan Designs, and began creating grand-scale gardens for private clients. Currently living in Brooklyn's vibrant arts neighborhood of Bushwick, Hamdan founded 49B Studios, an artists' residence loft and exhibition space and recently curated his first exhibition titled HOME-LAND for BETA Spaces 2010 and co-presented with ArteEast. 49B Studios

Laura Schwamb (Visual Artist) Lives in Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York, where she works in different media centered around the day-to-day psychological moments of the experience of being alive, balancing between the physical and the spiritual and the transitions of being and becoming.

Johnny Farah (Leather Goods Designer) Johnny Farah's early influences came from Copenhagen. Living there in the 70’s, he developed a particular interest in the simplicity and practicality of the Scandinavian architecture and furniture design, more specifically in the way different materials like concrete, iron, wood or leather were put to their full formal and functional potential. Following Johnny’s life-changing encounter with architects Arne Jacobson and Hans Wegner, he decided to concentrate on his leather designs, which, up until then, were only a means to support his studies. Johnny Farah has since become a global brand.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Fire in My Belly by David Wojnarowicz, Censored at the Smithsonian

Fire in My Belly, David Wojnarowicz (1987)
Music by Diamanda Galas

David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992) was a painter, writer, filmmaker and performance artist who died of AIDS-related complications in 1992 at 37. In 1990 he won an important lawsuit against conservative Christian Donald Wildmon's American Family Association, who'd appropriated some of his work for one its tracts. The judgment read, in part,
[David Wojnarowicz] earns his living by selling his art works, many of which are assertedly directed at bringing attention to the devastation wrought upon the homosexual community by the AIDS epidemic. Plaintiff attempts through his work to expose what he views as the failure of the United States government and public to confront the AIDS epidemic in any meaningful way. To this end, plaintiff's art at times incorporates sexually explicit images for the avowed purpose of shaping community attitudes towards sexuality. As a result, his works have been the subject of controversy and public debate concerning government funding of non-traditional art.

[...] On or about April 12, 1990, the AFA and Wildmon published and distributed throughout the United States, including the Southern District of New York, the AFA pamphlet (the "pamphlet") in an effort to stop public funding by the NEA of art works such as plaintiff's. The pamphlet was mailed to 523 members of Congress, 3,230 Christian leaders, 947 Christian radio stations and 1,578 newspapers, at least twenty-eight of which were located in this district. Without plaintiff's authorization, Wildmon photographically copied fourteen fragments of plaintiff's works which he believed most offensive to the public and reproduced these fragments in the AFA pamphlet. These fourteen images, with three exceptions, explicitly depict sexual acts. The other three images portray Christ with a hypodermic needle inserted in his arm, and two ambiguous scenes which plaintiff represents as respectively depicting an African purification ritual and two men dancing together.

Wildmon wrote the text of the pamphlet, which is entitled "Your Tax Dollars Helped Pay For These `Works of Art.'" It states in the introductory sentence that "the photographs appearing on this sheet were part of the David Wajnarowicz [sic] 'Tongues of Flame' exhibit catalog." The envelope in which the AFA pamphlet was mailed states that the "[p]hotos enclosed in this envelope were taken from the catalog of the `Tongues of Flame' exhibit" and is marked "Caution — Contains Extremely Offensive Material."

Wojnarowicz only received a dollar when he won the suit, but he succeeded in preventing Wildmon from distributing altered images of his artwork for his hate campaign--and won a rare victory in the early years of the culture wars.

Untitled (1990), David Wojnarowicz
(in collaboration with Phil Zwickler and Rosa von Praunheim)
still from the film "Silence = Death"

Eighteen years after his death Wojnarowicz's art is still disturbing Christian conservatives, who are still arguing that taxpayer money should not support it, only this time he isn't winning... His video Fire in My Belly (1987) appeared in the National Portrait Gallery show Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture until it was removed on November 30th. It had been on display since the show opened a month earlier but objections to an image of ants crawling on a plastic crucifix in it's first few seconds led by Catholic League President William Donohue, who called the video "vile... hate speech," impelled the Smithsonian to remove it from display. The office of Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the presumptive incoming speaker of the House also issued a statement that read, "American families have a right to expect better from recipients of taxpayer funds in a tough economy. While the amount of money involved may be small, it's symbolic of the arrogance Washington routinely applies to thousands of spending decisions involving Americans' hard-earned money." (As part of the Smithsonian the National Gallery receives public funds.) These are shockingly similar to the attacks Wojnarowicz withstood when he was alive and using his art to shock an apathetic public into acknowledging the human cost of the AIDS crisis that ultimately ended his life. The fact that they are still being made is not that shocking considering the enormous percentage of loud, stupid D-bags swarming all over public life in this country like ants on a dropped popsicle. What is shocking is that they still work.

The fact that this happened the day before World AIDS Day is a sickening reminder of how little ground has been gained. The video, which attempts to represent the physical and emotional pain caused by AIDS, is primitive by today's standards. But the punk, DIY quality of it is a visceral reminder that it is a time capsule from 1987, when brilliant artists like David Wojnarowicz were getting sick and dying so, so young. Watch Fire in My Belly above and give it a minute. If you suspend your 21st century cynicism and let the historical context reach you, you may have a brief echo of what it was like to work in the arts then and watch helplessly as people you cared about died all around you for no reason, while the President blithely ignored the crisis.


Diamanda Galás Responds to the Smithsonian’s Removal of David Wojnarowicz’s Work:

Diamanda Galás, the composer and performer of the This is the Law of the Plague (1986), which is the soundtrack to part of Wojnarowicz's Fire in My Belly responded to its removal from the Hide/Seek exhibition by the Smithsonian. She writes,

The cross is a symbol of the CRUCIFIXION, among the cruelest tortures in the world. This is the sentence of slow and horrific death in which the spinal column breaks and the organs rupture. This is the torture for the worst of outlaws – the man who protested that the sick and the poor were not allowed into the church for the crime of being perceived as UNCLEAN, rather than "pristine," and moneyed for his advocacy that the church BE a sanctuary to the sick, rather than a citadel for the rich family man, who comes to exchange invitations for tea and other such serious matters with OTHER rich family men.

David Wojnarowicz was a great artist who died a terrible death in 1992. It was one of the worst times in this country for people with AIDS. My brother, Philip-Dimitri Galas, died six years before him in 1986 of the same disease in San Diego. THERE WAS NO HOPE WHATSEOVER THEN FOR THIS DISEASE.

So what is so shocking about the truth now in 2010? Does it remind the clergy and the lawmakers of what the cross stands for: PUNISHMENT AND SAVAGE CRUELTY, and make ugly with the NICE and FRIENDLY WARM xmas spirit?

WHO in countries other than our own are dying horrific death of AIDS this Christmas? Christmas comes but once a year.

AND YOUR LIFE? It comes to you but once.

Diamanda Galás
NYC, Dec 2 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Eric Lott : A l'assaut du ciel! : Deturning the Twin Towers : August 1974

Eric Lott : A l'assaut du ciel! : Deturning the Twin Towers : August 1974

Wednesday, December 8 · 7:00pm - 9:00pm
721 Broadway, 6th Floor, Room 612

In August 1974, French street performer Philippe Petit made an illegal high-wire walk between the tops of the World Trade Center's newly completed Twin Towers. Petit's response to the Haussmanization of lower Manhattan is a classic Situationist "detournement": not explicitly political, it intervenes in the urban psychogeography of everyday life to reinvent not just the space between the towers but also spatial relations on the ground.

Eric Lott teaches American Studies at the University of Virginia. He has written and lectured widely on the politics of U.S. cultural history. He is currently finishing a study of race and culture in the twentieth century entitled "Tangled Up in Blue: The Cultural Contradictions of American Racism."!/event.php?eid=144029322313586&index=1

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Seven Really Good New(ish) Music Videos (Proving That I Am Not An Oldhead)

I had one of those unbearable, Oldhead conversations a few days ago with the comic genius Anthony DeVito about how, you know, everything used to be better. Before. In this case however, I wasn't wrong because we were talking about music videos, which kind of suck now. We grew up in the Golden Age of Music Video, when a new release would get talked about at school the next day. And rightly so. Visual cliché's aside, they were really exciting. Even artists whose music I wasn't into became compelling for a few minutes at a time based on the originality of their videos (Madonna was the Mayor of that Town). But the 90s pretty much ruined music video. The music changed and didn't really lend itself to images. Unsurprisingly, Jeremy aside, watching Eddie Vedder contort his mouth around an invisible corn-dog as he sang didn't inspire anyone to make the Grunge-thriller, which was probably just as well. Trip-hop, breakbeat, and electronica didn't either. And when Hip Hop turned "Gangster" it rejected all the joy, fun and politics that might have led to great videos. Hype Williams made a handful of good ones and a whole lot of crap ones using the same few tricks: blown out whites, fish eye lenses, shiny, shiny everything...

Anyway, I asked the question: Now that really high quality digital video is within reach for most artists why aren't videos getting better, not worse? If you listed the best music videos ever made you could easily do the top fifty before you got to 1990. Top hundred before '95. As an experiment I decided to--off the top of my head-- come up with seven memorable current (more or less) music videos to stem the tide of nostalgia that was pulling me under. Lists are the purview of the beautiful Beth Mann (see her "10 Reasons Why Everything Was Better 'Back in the Day'", for a timely example) but perhaps she will let me have this one since the results were kind of interesting when I put them all together. This is what I came up with:

"Leave all your love and your longing behind/
You can't carry it with you if you want to survive"

I'm probably going to start hating Florence and the Machine's great, strange Dog Days Are Over any day now given its ubiquity in various you-go-girl marketing campaigns (Gossip Girl? Check. Gray's Anatomy? Check. Tampax, you're up!). But even Julia Roberts doing her White-Lady-Shops-The-World-For-Enlightenment schtick in commercials for Eat Pray Love's DVD release to this song can't undo the greatness of its video. This is actually the second clip created for the song (following a DIY effort you can still find on YouTube that Florence created using Christmas lights and starring her dad poking around in a forest.) This one was directed by Georgie Greville and Geremy Jasper and features a pleasingly disparate mash-up of cultural styles-- 60s girl-group back up singers painted a science fiction-y blue, "tribal" dancers, a native-painted gospel choir... this is the sort of thing that is never less than offensive done badly. But here it completely works for me by underscoring the weird structure of the song itself, which veers from folky harp-plinking to blue-eyed soul to power-pop and back again. Florence is the real thing, I think. If she stays weird she could be the new Annie Lennox.

"It's casual/ Not heartbreaking"

Brooklyn's Here We Go Magic are a fuzzy, lo-fi "psychedelic electro-folk" band formed by Luke Temple and Casual is a track on their sophomore album, Pigeons. Building on the simple lyric, "It's casual/ Not heartbreaking" the video, directed by directing team Peking (aka Nat Livingston Johnson and Gregory Mitnick), is set in an obscure hospital/clinic. Various bloody vignettes illustrate the ordinariness of death, dying and, in a surreal turn, birth. I won't blow the big reveal at the climax but for me the most heartrending image is Temple, writhing in pain on a hospital bed when his face is suddenly suffused by white light... which the camera reveals is only streaming from a newly opened window. Oof. Oh, and NSFW.

"It's only just a crush, it'll go away/It's just like all the others it'll go away/Or maybe this is danger and you just don't know"

The songs on LA-based duo She Wants Revenge's self-titled debut sound like lost 80s New Wave classics, in a good way. Tear You Apart is emblematic of their new-new wave sound with a dark, Bauhus-y synth crackling in the background and an urgent, angsty Ian Curtis-like vocal up front. The actor Joaquin Phoenix directed the video, which owes as much to paranoid 50s sci-fi as 80s teen romances--it's like "Pretty in(vasion) of the Body Snatchers". A couple of years old now, pre-Phoenix's scripted career meltdown, this video pushes the narrative as far as possible, providing subtitles for the short "film" he created to accompany the song.

M.I.A, Born Free from ROMAIN-GAVRAS on Vimeo.

" Yeah I don't want to live for tomorrow/ I push my life today"

I loves me some M.I.A. Born Free is built around a 33 year old sample (ouch) from Ghost Rider by Suicide and the song is propelled forward by its churning panicky energy. The video was directed by Romain-Gavras (son of filmmaker Costa-Gavras) and it caused a huge controversy for overtly referencing indigenous rights struggles from around the world including Palestine (ruh-roh) and Northern Ireland. Crystallizing an M.I.A. backlash in the press that culminated in a New York Times hatchet-job, the clip depicts US government troops terrorizing an unnamed city, rounding up a group of redheaded young men and well--you should watch it for yourself. But be warned if you haven't seen it: it is upsetting. Brilliant but shocking. Also kinda NSFW.

"I’m livin’ in the 21st century/Doin’ something mean to it/
Do it better than anybody you ever seen do it"

What more can you say about Kanye West at this point? He may not be the genius he seems to think he is-- but he still pretty damn good. Kind of a whiner with a nasal voice to match, no one would accuse him of being a great vocalist. And Kanye's smartest lyrics are often drowned out by the overwrought ones (see: Diamonds from Sierra Leone). But his strength has always been his vision, which can sell an oddly personal idea with an unlikely hook, like this one. Power is also built around a sample (hmm) from King Crimson's 1969 21st Century Schizoid Man... which might be the most self-aware reference Kanye has made so far. The video, which Kanye tweeted was like a "moving painting," was directed by the artist Marco Brambilla and features model Irina Shayk. It is peopled with characters from the Major and Minor Arcana of the Etteilla Occult Tarot deck, all interacting in a shiny, slow-motion, prog-rock album cover dystopia.

I actually like the way Kanye (or his tour director) translated the images when he performed this song on SNL as much (if not more) but I decided to keep consistent and list the video itself.

"I'm the spark, make the world explode/
I'm a man-eating machine, I'll make the world explode"

Grace Jones doesn't get a fair shake. Sure, her early disco stuff is largely awful/forgettable. But Jones' New Wave turn produced some of the most memorable sounds and images of that genre. Which I guess is the problem: the images were so arresting that they gave people permission to dismiss the music. But her sound, equal parts French cabaret, Jamaican Dub and icy new wave synth was completely unique. And her covers of Iggy Pop's Nightclubbing, The Normal's Warm Leatherette and Joy Division's She's Lost Control exceed the originals, I think. Jones was ahead of her time--a video star before video, whose look was an integral supplement to her music, which is the regular order of things now whether you are Jack White or Rihanna. Corporate Cannibal was the lead single on 2008's Hurricane, Grace Jones' first new studio album in nineteen years. Unfortunately, the album wasn't released in North America and the single was pretty much ignored by the radio-- but the video, directed by Nick Hooker, was a huge hit online. And it is easy to see why. It's pretty amazing, simultaneously tweaking Jones' image and making it new for this moment. Bottom line: she is so iconic at this point that her entire image can be rendered in an inky digital blur and she is still unmistakable. How many other artists could make that claim?

"What's in the silver locket?/ What's in the silver frame?/
What's that fool around your neck?/ Albatross, albatross, albatross"

Mt. St. Helen's Vietnam Band are from Seattle. They have that crunchy, hippy spookiness I love in bands like Black Mountain and White Magic. I love this song, Albatross, Albatross-- and the video, set in the Pacific Northwest and directed by Matt Daniels, is simple but disturbing. I included it because even though it is a bit more homemade than the others on the list it is darkly suggestive without being pyrotechnic or imposing a clear narrative.

... So there you go. Now get offa my porch!

Friday, November 26, 2010

THE AIDS JAAGO PROJECT: In Observation of World AIDS DAy

THE AIDS JAAGO PROJECT (The AIDS Awake Project): In Observation of World AIDS Day

Tuesday, November 30, 7:00 pm, Wang Center Theater

Four of India’s finest directors aim to dismantle myths and misconceptions about HIV/AIDS, which if ignored will soon reach epidemic proportions in India, in the AIDS Jaago Project. Putting their individualistic stamp on these films and using top Indian movie stars they created four beautifully shot, richly textured stories about the human dimension of the disease in order to change minds and save lives.

Free admission.

The Directors and Films:

Migration by Mira Nair
Blood Brothers by Vishal Bhardwaj
Positive by Farhan Akhtar
The Beginning by Santosh Sivan

Watch Trailer:
For more information:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On the Importance of Being an Arab

On the Importance of Being an Arab

Friday, November 26th
Saturday, November 27th at Theatre Monty in Antwerp.

Friday, December 3rd at Les Halles de Schaerbeek in Brussels.

This performance is based on events in the life of director/performer Ahmed El Attar. In sequences based on his personal archives – love letters, school and university grades, programs of the performances he has attended, work documents and letters etc. – a character is drawn who shares his views on his own perceptions of himself and on how the outside world perceives him.

On the Importance of Being an Arab further develops the performance style that characterizes Attar's recent Temple Independent Company productions – a combination of theatre, music and visual arts. A single intense rhythmic soundtrack accompanies the performance from beginning to end. The music composed for this production by Hassan Khan, with its emphasis on the use of electronics, driving and insistent loops and riffs, and emotional synth workouts is based on contemporary Cairene Shaabi forms. Video clips, also by Khan, are projected behind the performer, making this a multimedia performance in what the company describes as “new and relevant Egyptian theatre that is sensitive to the contemporary context in both form and content”.

On the Importance of Being an Arab was created in 2009 and was presented in Sharjah (UAE), Düsseldorf (Germany), Ivry (France), Groneijen, Rotterdam, Utrecht, and Amsterdam (Holland) in the fall 2009, in Cairo in July 2010 and at the Piccolo theatre in Milano in September 2010.

Ahmed El Attar is an independent theatre director, translator and playwright who lives in Cairo and works in the Middle East and Europe. He is the founder and artistic director of the Temple Independent Theatre Company in Egypt and the founder and managing director of the Studio Emad Eddin Foundation. The studio is a unique space in Egypt and the Arab world, providing rehearsal space and training to performing artists in Cairo, and residencies to visiting trainers and artists. El Attar has a BA in Theatre from the American University in Cairo and an MA in Arts and Cultural Management from Paris III Sorbonne Nouvelle. He is currently a Chevening scholar on the Clore Leadership Programme (UK). El Attar has been chosen by the Arabic edition of Newsweek as one of 42 personalities who influence change in the Arab world. Recent productions include F**K Darwin, How I’ve Learned to Love Socialism (2007), Othello Who’s Afraid of William Shakespeare (2006) and Mother I want to be a Millionaire (2004). His pieces, which address socially relevant themes, have been performed to public and critical acclaim throughout the Arab world and the West.

The performance is 40 minutes long and is subtitled in English.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Suspicious Packages: Liberals, Libertarians and the TSA -or- "Don't Touch My Junk"

Friday Charles Krauthammer wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post titled "Don't Touch My Junk."

Um, okay.

Krauthammer was responding to the recent uproar over the new, aggressive Transportation Security Administration procedures, which include a full-body scan that renders an image of the traveler's naked body or, alternately, a thorough full-body pat down. Very thorough. As in a stranger's hands on your genitals-and-not-in-a-good-way thorough. Perhaps predictably people have begun to freak out over this. Including John Tyner, a San Diego man who refused the scan or the pat down announcing that he would call the police if they "touched [his] junk." All of which he captured on his iphone and posted to You Tube. Krauthammer writes,

...everyone knows that the entire apparatus of the security line is a national homage to political correctness. Nowhere do more people meekly acquiesce to more useless inconvenience and needless indignity for less purpose. Wizened seniors strain to untie their shoes; beltless salesmen struggle comically to hold up their pants; 3-year-olds scream while being searched insanely for explosives - when everyone, everyone, knows that none of these people is a threat to anyone... But we must not bring that up. We pretend that we go through this nonsense as a small price paid to ensure the safety of air travel. Rubbish. This has nothing to do with safety - 95 percent of these inspections, searches, shoe removals and pat-downs are ridiculously unnecessary. The only reason we continue to do this is that people are too cowed to even question the absurd taboo against profiling - when the profile of the airline attacker is narrow, concrete, uniquely definable and universally known. So instead of seeking out terrorists, we seek out tubes of gel in stroller pouches.

This is a dozen kinds of racist and wrong, but entirely within Krauthammer's character and the spirit of his appalling discourse. So, in a sad way, unsurprising. Nevertheless, The American Prospect's Adam Serwer responded to Krauthammer in his own Washington Post op ed titled "Touch His Junk" writing,

Racial profiling is no more statistically accurate than those random searches conservatives always complain about. Thousands of Muslims travel on airplanes every day, and an infinitesimal number actually turn out to be dangerous. But the argument here is pretty clear -- the problem isn't that the violation of privacy isn't worth an unknown gain in security. It's that the TSA should be frisking "Nigerian nutjobs" instead of grandma. Conservatives like Krauthammer aren't angry that the TSA is infringing on individual liberty, just that it's infringing on their individual liberty.

Of course Serwer is right, but something about his response bothered me and I couldn't quite articulate it until I read Avon Snarksdale's supplement to his argument, titled "This Type of Ish Happens Every Day", at Post Bourgie (and subsequently quoted at length by Serwer at The American Prospect). Snarksdale writes,

It should be pointed out that for plenty of people of color in the nation’s inner cities, these kind of uncomfortable, vaguely legal searches — with the stated intent of finding people carrying guns and drugs — are essentially de rigueur... In one four-block section of Brownsville, Brooklyn, the NYPD made 52,000 stops over a four-year period, which averaged out to about one stop for every resident in the area each year. And it’s no more efficient than the profiling Adam decries: for all that scrutiny and all those stops over four years, the police in Brownsville recovered just 25 guns, and less than 1 percent of all those people who were stopped — and questioned and patted down and humiliated as they went about their lives — were ever arrested. (All of the personal info taken during the stops, however, was entered into a citywide database.)

I cosign the spirit of Snarksdale's critique and I completely agree with his analysis of street stops. But his essay (and Serwer’s before it) stops well short of addressing a) the unprecedented legal shift away from civil rights initiated by the Bush Administration and perpetuated under Obama and b) that Arabs and Muslims–regardless of their race–are the disproportionate target of this new legislation. In other words, it is now perfectly legal in the United States for me to be removed from my apartment for writing this blog post and imprisoned indefinitely with no legal right to counsel. And further, for me to be tortured physically, psychologically and sexually at the discretion of my captors, who would suffer no consequences for those acts even if they came to light. That is NOT an “every day” scenario. That is a new, radical abrogation of civil rights and Arabs and Muslims are its unambiguous focus.

Charles Krauthammer is arguing against the TSA’s invasive security theatre in favor of profiling Arabs and Muslims, an increasingly mainstream position. That the main refutation of this argument at Post Bourgie and at The American Prospect is “but it doesn’t work” does not fill me with confidence. So… what if it worked? Would it be okay then? Every couple of years or so when some conservative nutbag advocates fencing off ghettos or forcing women who receive welfare benefits to submit to state-enforced birth control we don’t click our tongues and say “but it wouldn’t work.” We say, “Fuck you for suggesting that we legally dismantle civil rights for your racist political agenda.” So would it kill these guys to take such an unambiguous, ethical stand against targeting Arabs and Muslims? The fact that in the space of two short posts we got from Charles Krauthammer calling for the profiling of Arabs and Muslims in a mainstream newspaper to a complete reframing of his arguments in terms of a Black-White racial dynamic profoundly disturbs me. How is it that Serwer and Snarksdale--putative Liberals-- managed to do what Krauthammer couldn't and made Arabs and Muslims disappear completely?

Snarksdale is quite right that the law is selectively applied to Black people–and that this is exponentially worse for poor Black people. And he is completely right that institutional racism goes down to the bone in US society. And a critique of the responses of old white guys like the pilot who was so shaken by his groping pat down that he refused to fly afterward using a racial lens is valuable and completely valid… But the selective application of civil rights (as in “random” police stops in Brownsville) is *not* the same as legally removing them entirely.

Which is a thing that has happened. Bush did that and Obama has done nothing to undo it.

So let’s be clear. Enduring a humiliating pat down is not the same thing as getting sodomized by a fluorescent light tube (which is another thing that has happened to Arabs and Muslims imprisoned in the “war on terror”). Do violations like that also happen to Black men in police custody? We know that they do. But we also know that when they happen they are completely illegal. Not so for Arabs and Muslims at Bagram, Gitmo, or any of the numerous Black Sites around the globe. When US soldiers screamed at the Arabs and Muslims who were collected almost entirely at random for imprisonment and torture at Guantanamo Bay “You are property of the US Military!” as they sodomized them, it was completely legal. That is a paradigm shift. Period.

Now is it a slippery slope from one to the other? You bet. But that isn’t really what Snarksdale is arguing (If he were believe me, I’d be thrilled) Instead he is saying it “happens every day” to Black folks and so, in some sense, it is not a big deal that it is happening to folks like me. This is a grotesque sentiment that I have unfortunately heard over and over from Black Liberals. (Who have also made the same point about Latinos in the ongoing immigration debate, to similar effect.) But here’s the thing guys: Our experiences are different, mine are not a weak metaphor for yours.

Don't get me wrong, I love Post Bourgie. That I felt free to post a frank response to Snarksdale's essay is a testament to my respect for the intelligence of that community. So if I sound angry it’s only because I AM angry. Posts like Snarksdale's that argue But This Has Always Happened To Black People Anyway are fundamentally dishonest if they do not acknowledge the material circumstances of life for Arabs and Muslims under the USA Patriot Act. There is a fantastic, intersectional analysis of US racism and orientalism/Islamophobia waiting to be written. But that analysis cannot be made if we begin from assumptions like those upon which his essay is based.

Between you, me and the CIA operatives monitoring my internet activity, a better analogy than institutional racism to the USA Patriot Act and its ultimate effects would be Germany’s Enabling Act of 1933, which legally expanded the reach and powers of the government to selectively apply constitutional rights and protections… And we all (I hope) know how that ended up. Still, if Liberal bloggers wrote about Arabs and Muslims by relating our situation to what Black folks endure under institutionalized racism I think that would be great. But if they only want to use us to make a point about their experiences– delegitimizing ours in the process–then I wish they'd do us a favor and please don’t.

Dealing with the Krauthammers of the world, who are not in short supply, is exhausting enough. But, as an Arab, the lack of will to speak out for me among the US Left is at least as frightening as the open hatred among the Right. As far as flying is concerned I have already made the decision to go for the pat down over the scan. They want to feel for a suspicious package? Okay then. We'll see who blinks first.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

49B Studios Presents HOME-LAND: An Exhibition of Middle Eastern Artists

Dear Friends,

Please join me at 49B Studios for the exhibition HOME-LAND, during Arts In Bushwick's one-day event: BETA Spaces, co-presented with ArteEast.

HOME-LAND opens November 14th 2010 from 12pm to 7pm with Installations, Photography, paintings, performances and screenings. My installation, Torture Commissioned By The Emperor For The Good Of The People (2010) (*see below) is part of this exhibition of Middle Eastern artists, curated by Makram Hamdan. All the works in this show were created in response to representations of the idea "homeland."

Participating Artists:
Barrak Alzaid
Omar Amiralay
Faysal Bibi
Rafael Fuchs
Amnon Gutman
Makram Hamdan
Zied Hamdan
Maria Kassab
Leeor Kaufman
Rami Kodeih,
Maryam Najd
Rima Najd
Azadeh Saljooghi
Joseph Shahadi

Take the L train to Morgan Ave.
Exit at rear of train at Harrison Pl/ Bogart St.
Turn right out of station, walk one block to # 49 just past Brooklyn Naturals Deli.


* The Torture Commissioned By The Emperor
For The Good Of The People
Installation detail, Mixed media: Lamb hearts, testes,
straight pins, sewing and upholstery needles

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sunday Music: Ode To Billy Joe (R.I.P. Tyler Clementi)

I'm still thinking about Tyler Clementi.

About two months ago now, overwhelmed by the experience of having his privacy invaded by his roommate, who'd live streamed footage of him having sex with another boy, Clementi-- by all accounts a sensitive, thoughtful kid and talented musician-- threw himself off of the George Washington Bridge. The circumstances around Clementi's tragic death have sparked a much-needed conversation about homophobic bullying, especially since it comes on the heels of the recent suicides of so many other gay teens. I'm glad those conversations are happening-- but I want to focus on another, broader aspect of this tragedy.

The thing that struck me, and haunts me still about Clementi's death is the casual cruelty of his roommate Dhaurun Ravi. On September 19th Ravi tweeted “Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.” Three days later Clementi, unable to process this violation, took his own life.

And I keep asking myself: What made Ravi think it was okay to do something like this?

What essential messages about boundaries did he not receive? How can he have reached young manhood with so little basic, human compassion?

The default explanation for his actions is homophobia, and that may be true... But I don't think it's only that. Why should we assume that Ravi wouldn't have played the same cruel prank on a straight roommate? (Although it's clear that if he had it wouldn't have had the same tragic result.) For me, the fact that Ravi felt empowered to blindly abuse Clementi with no thought of the consequences is a chilling statement about a culture that celebrates cruelty as entertainment. This question brings me squarely into Old Fart territory, but I don't care: In a cultural landscape where people attack one another physically and emotionally for sport, there are no consequences for stupid, dangerous behavior and routine cruelty is openly rewarded how can we expect kids like Dhaurun Ravi to get the message that what he did to Tyler Clementi isn't okay? The most frightening thing to me is the thought that Dhaurun Ravi isn't a monster, but just a kid acting on the premises he has learned up until now.

The tragedy is that Tyler Clementi had to die for him to understand that other people bleed when you cut them.

The wonderful Jo Nubian has addressed another element of this issue--the bullying that is often incited by kids who don't perform "normative" gender roles-- in a terrific post on Race-Talk called, Tolerance, Acceptance and Princesses. Jo writes, as the mom to a little girl who sleeps in her tiara, about Dyson Kiloadavis, the "Princess Boy" who likes dressing in pretty girl's clothes. The video that accompanies her essay is perhaps the anti-Jerry Springer: a healthy, well adjusted family thoughtfully discussing their relationship to a member who is acting differently from them in terms of gender expression. I dare you not to choke up when Dyson's older brother says, of his desire to dress as a princess for Halloween, "Just let him be happy." Amen.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Why You Should Care About Christine O'Donnell's One-Night-Stand (And Why Caring Does NOT Make You A Misogynist)

Christine O'Donnell, contemplating the state of her Ladybug

Last Thursday Gawker posted a story titled "I Had a One-Night-Stand With Christine O'Donnell" written by an anonymous Philadelphia man who recounted a 3 year-old fumbling encounter with recent Tea Party candidate for Delaware Senate--and staunch abstinence advocate--Christine O'Donnell. According to "Anonymous" (who has since been identified as Dustin Dominiak) O'Donnell showed up at his door three Halloweens ago with a friend in tow asking to borrow his bathroom to change into her costume. Dominiak barely knew O'Donnell (he was renting an apartment from her aunt) but went along as she, now dressed as a ladybug, persuaded him to accompany her to a bar on Philadelphia's South Street.

Both drank heavily and later that evening/early that morning found themselves naked in his bed, fooling around. According to Dominiak, O'Donnell seemed sexually unskilled, announced her intention to remain a virgin and sported an all-natural pubic bush, all turn-offs for him. Dominiak, who had to get up early for work cut his losses, rolled over and went to sleep. Despite the awkwardness of their encounter O'Donnell contacted Dominiak and suggested that they get together again. He writes, "I didn't see any reason to try and see her again. But two or three days later, she emailed me to ask me if I wanted to hang out again. I made an excuse. But she didn't take a hint and emailed or called a few more times over the next couple of weeks before I was forced to make it clear to her that I wasn't interested."

So, to review:

Two adults have a consensual sexual encounter that leaves one of them unsatisfied and with no desire to see the other again. Happens every day. If you adjusted for the details what sexually active adult with a history of more than one partner hasn't been on one side of this equation or the other? Or, if we are really being honest... both? Speaking of details, most people are focusing on O'Donnell's alleged all-natural pubic hair situation, but for my dollars the image of Dominiak rousting her in the morning so he can get to work, is the gold here. And not only because it involves a still-drunk, panty-free Christine O'Donnell but because the embarrassing banality of this scenario makes it so ordinary. And if this were a story about any two people trying to connect and failing that would be the end of it.

... But the dump-ee in question here is Christine O'Donnell, a politician whose positions (sorry) are largely derived from an extreme interpretation of Christian doctrine that precludes pre-marital sex, a proscription she famously extended to include even masturbation. Under most circumstances I am completely disinterested in the sex lives of famous people (or, anybody really who I am not having sex with) but Christine O'Donnell long ago blurred the lines between her public and private life by continuously using herself as an example in her activism. O'Donnell, a Catholic convert to evangelical Christianity, has said that looking at pornography is tantamount to adultery, that homosexuality is an identity disorder and has argued for the adoption of a "higher standard than abstinence" as an expression of personal righteousness. As a politician O'Donnell's take on sex and sexuality informs her public stance on multiple issues: she is pro-abstinence education, virulently anti-gay, and opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest. So when a person with such a rigid public stance on sexuality is revealed betraying her stated values in private, it is news. There have been many recent revelations of such hypocrisy from conservative politicians in recent years and this is merely the latest example, right?

Apparently not. The negative response to the Gawker article has been overwhelming, even among people who are deeply opposed to O'Donnell's political agenda. The National Organization of Women (NOW) rushed to defend O'Donnell Thursday when spokesman Terry O’Neill issued a statement describing the Gawker article as a "sexist, misogynist attack." O'Neill clarified, "NOW/PAC has proudly endorsed women's rights champion Chris Coons, O'Donnell's opponent in the Delaware Senate race, and finds O'Donnell's political positions dangerous for women. That does not mean it's acceptable to use slut-shaming against her, or any woman." In the New York Times, David Carr characterized the Gawker article as a "drive-by" that feeds O'Donnell into "the digital wood chipper" in an essay pointedly titled "By Any Means Necessary." The reaction online has been even more knee-jerk as Slate's Jack Shafer describes Gawker's O'Donnell post as a "tawdry... sleazy...nonstory" and Jessica Coen at Gawker's sister-site Jezebel dismisses the entire thing to an anti-female witch hunt. She writes,

If the politician in question were a man, this wouldn't be a story — an anonymous woman probably wouldn't even think to contact a gossip site with her story about how she once played spin-the-bottle with Mr. Candidate. Because who hasn't made out with someone? (With apologies to you, over there, looking sheepish in the corner.) Anyhow, big whoop. Wait — let me revise that a bit: perhaps a lady from Mr. Candidate's innocent past would step forward with such a small faux-scandalous tale, and we'd briefly pay attention to it — but only if Mr. Candidate were viewed as patently ridiculous as is O'Donnell. Really, the dude has got to be captivatingly idiotic in order for this kind of story to be of even the most remote interest. And that brings us back to the Would Never Happen column, because even the most absurd male candidates aren't considered half as loony as their female equivalents are.

Um, what? So, a scandal like this would never happen to a man... Except that it would, but only if he were as nuts as O'Donnell, and that wouldn't happen because men are never considered as nuts as women. And then everyone would forget about it right away anyway so it would be like it never happened. Besides, a woman would never publicly reveal embarrassing details of a sexual encounter with a famous man... because that is a thing that never, ever happens, right? Yeah, I am going to have to call bullshit on the pearl-clutch.

I am also going to save this paragraph forever so that when people ask me what I mean by "straw man argument" I can have one at my fingertips. But aside from being based on--literally--nothing, Cohen's argument relies on a purposeful revision of very recent political history: sadly, there is no shortage of male conservatives who are every inch as batshit crazy as O'Donnell. Am I expected to believe that if, say, Glenn Beck were caught in a similar situation it wouldn't become a giant story? (I know Beck isn't technically a politician, but with the rise of Tea Party politics the line between "pundit" and "politician" has been completely blurred, a la Sarah Palin.) At any rate, we don't need to speculate. There are many, many examples of male public figures--conservative and otherwise-- whose private lives did not match their stated public values and were embarrassed by the revelation of their various indiscretions. Like, oh... Larry Craig, Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggert, Mark Sandford, John Edwards, Bill Clinton, Jim Bakker, Randal David Ankeny, Bob Barr, Parker Bena, Ken Calvert, Mark Foley, Phillip Giordano, Matthew Glavin, Bob Packwood, Ed Schrock, Jim West, Michael Duvall, Mark Souder, Glenn Richardson, Daniel Stout, Roy Ashburn, Jim McGreevey, Gary Condit, David Vitter, George Rekers, Eliot Spitzer, John Ensign, Paul Stanley, Bob Bauman, David Dreier, Jim Kolbe, Jim McCrery, Coy C. Privette, Bob Livingston, Dan Burton, Henry Hyde, Don Sherwood, Tim Mahoney, Vito Fosella, John Ensign, Richard Curtis... By any realistic standard then Christine O'Donnell is not being singled out and treated differently because she is a woman. Rather, she is being treated in exactly the same way as any man in her position would, and the same as many already have, which is pretty much the functional opposite of sexism.

And the charges of misogyny (!) leveled at Dominiak for blowing the whistle on O'Donnell by talking about their night together are completely ludicrous. Exactly how is he expressing any hatred for women? By being honest about not being sexually attracted Christine O'Donnell because of her pubic hair? You may find that a shallow reason to become turned off to someone sexually... but that isn't really yours to judge, now is it? A broad coalition of commenters at Jezebel don't get a vote in who Dustin Dominiak does or doesn't have sex with and why. Here's the thing: Adults get to have sex with whoever they want, as long as their partners are willing and of age, even if their choice of partners and rationale for being sexual with them is very different from yours. So if there's slut-shaming going on here it is being aimed at Dominiak, whose sexual behavior is being judged by other people's standards and found wanting. In reality, his behavior toward O'Donnell was pretty honest and straightforward. He hardly cast himself as a sexual James Bond in their story. They both come off like awkward , sexually unsophisticated young people... except that Dominiak was 25 and O'Donnell was almost 40 at the time of their encounter. What emerges from this story is the image of a woman sexually immature for her years, whose repressed attitudes led her to make reckless personal choices : a similar narrative to a dozen other conservatives who have publicly railed against sex in its various forms only to collapse under the weight of taboo temptations in private.

The most bothersome element of this entire affair is the patronizing assumption that Christine O'Donnell somehow requires protecting. She is a grown woman who entered into a consensual sexual encounter that ended badly. It's only newsworthy because of the extremity of her anti-sex positions. And downplaying the explicit danger posed by those positions in favor of a vision of Christine O'Donnell as some sort of victim is utter bullshit. Her famous pronouncement decrying masturbation is a punchline in 2010... but when it was made in the early 90s it was a direct refutation of Joycelyn Elders' assertion that masturbation might be encouraged as part of safer sex education, a position that cost her the job of Surgeon General of the United States. In those deadly, pre-drug cocktail days safer sex education was a life or death proposition for an entire generation and Christine O'Donnell actively worked against it, telling young people , "Condoms will not protect you from AIDS." So lets not get it twisted, Christine O'Donnell's extreme anti-sex positions are NOT a joke. Or worse, the harmless, kooky ramblings of a misguided girl who needs "our" protection. They are the hateful pronouncements of a death-merchant, whose Christo-Nationalist world-view makes her very fucking dangerous indeed.

... And let's be real, would it even be a question if O'Donnell weren't a middle-class white lady, whose apparent distress activated the white-lady-as-perpetual-victim bat-signal?

Fuck her (or don't).

And if you think it is your job to protect her from the legitimate revelation of her hypocrisy, then fuck you too.