Categorized: Culture

The Jobs Americans Do

Take some of the abundant leisure time that our post-industrial society has afforded you to read a series of nine portraits of working-class men and women in America, published last week in the New York Times Magazine. The article challenges the image of working-class jobs, which today are no longer in manufacturing as they were throughout most of the industrialized twentieth century.

The decline of the old working class has meant both an economic triumph for the nation and a personal tribulation for many of the workers. Technological progress has made American farms and factories more productive than ever, creating great wealth and cutting the cost of food and most other products. But the work no longer requires large numbers of workers.

But it’s not as if there are not any jobs. As we’ve known for decades, the working-class jobs of today are in services: health-care, education, hospitality, transportation, and customer service. Not only have the jobs changed, but they faces so have the faces of the American worker. “The emerging face of the American working class is,” as Binyamin Appelbaum succinctly summarized in the introduction to the article, “a Hispanic woman who has never set foot on a factory floor.”

A different author writes each of the stories. On a personal note, I was thrilled to see that a college chum and fellow KCSB alumnus, Eric Steuer, penned one of the stories, about a customer service representative at Zappos in Las Vegas named Sandi Dolan.

Nicholas Baer: Siegfried Kracauer & the Historical Film at New York University

Partly to torment my students with a long reading, but also to perhaps have them reflect on contemporary issues, I assigned Siegfried Kracauer’s “Mass Ornament” essay to my students in my History of Film class this week.

By a great stroke of luck, Nicholar Baer is delivering a lecture about Kracauer’s writings and film on Wednesday, February 15, at the department of Cinema Studies at New York University. The students in my Tuesday class may get a chance to hear this lecture, but the students in my Wednesday class will not. Our class meets at the same time as this lecture.

The announcement from NYU Cinema Studies is reproduced below.

Abel Gance's Napoleon Playing at Apollo Theater

Nicholas Baer: Siegfried Kracauer & the Historical Film

This presentation will examine how Siegfried Kracauer addressed the relation between history and poetics in his film-theoretical writings. I will argue that insofar as Kracauer came to define the medium’s “basic aesthetic principle” in terms of engagement with the singular and transitory occurrences of physical reality, he obfuscated Aristotle’s opposition between history and poetry, paradoxically locating the poetics of film in its potential as a historian of contemporary life. Notably, however, the genre of the historical film was problematic for Kracauer, given its efforts to visualize a past that is by definition no longer present. Rather than showing “how things actually were,” in Leopold von Ranke’s famous words, the historical film can only envision “things as they could have happened.” An examination of Kracauer’s extensive writings on the historical film will shed new light on his film theory and illuminate significant developments in his thought from Weimar Germany to 1960s New York. Not least, Kracauer’s texts will provide an occasion for considering cinema in relation to historical-philosophical debates on the dissolving distinction between empirical reality and fictional construction, the history and the story, and the true (das Wahre) and the verisimilar (das Wahrscheinliche)—issues of renewed concern in our own “post-truth” era.

Nicholas Baer: Siegfried Kracauer & the Historical Film

  • February 15, 2017
  • Michelson Theater, 721 Broadway, 6 Fl
  • Free

A Week Later

A week ago, it seemed like the US was on the cusp of having its first woman president of the United States. We had been preparing for this moment for a very long time, and as early as May, well before the party nominations were wrapped up, the New York Times published this map. They projected Clinton to carry these states.

It didn't work out this way.

It didn’t work out this way.

As you know, things didn’t turn out that way.

Were Clinton voters and democrats living in a filter bubble, similar to the one Mitt Romney supporters inhabited that made their candidate’s loss in 2012 unthinkable? Did the Democrats think that they could just run anyone against Trump and that the voters would reject an emotionally unstable, intellectually vacuous, and bigoted white man from New York?

The shock of a Trump presidency has been very difficult to process. It’s embarrassing that we as an electorate voted this way. A man who who has been a huckster and a charlatan will be a peer to the Roosevelts, John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson. A man who’s name signified tackiness enshrined in gold will be the chief executive of the country. A man whose companies have declared bankruptcy several times will be the one who will be negotiating treaties and passing budgets. (I wonder what will happen when the debt ceiling will need to be raised in the March 2017: my guess is draconian cuts to spending and an attendant economic recession.)

No matter how embarrassing it is to watch Americans install a caricature of a successful businessman in the White House, the prospect of who will be running the federal government is an even more chilling prospect. Are we setting up to live in an autocracy? It certainly seems feasible with a pliant and spineless Republican Congress who will choose party over country every time. Our only hope is that the petit bureaucrats in Washington do their thing and bring sensible inaction to their jobs, but when did they ever come through for us?

Around here, the election and the aftermath has been a lot like a death. Many of us are in mourning, knowing that a lot of the the progress we made in the last decade will almost certainly evaporate. Many us fear what will come in terms of deportations, anti-semitism, rampant racism, misogyny, science denial, and good old fashioned crony capitalism. And we are stung by the unthinkable reality of an uncertain future as a failed state. As in mourning, emotions overwhelm rational thought.

But once we start to think more clearly, weren’t we unsatisfied with Hillary Clinton as the standard bearer for not only the Democrats but also for American women. Back in the spring, I wondered whether the ascendance of Bernie Sanders as a viable candidate was partly due to women supporting him—not Hillary Clinton—because they were hoping for someone better to be the first woman president. Sanders was more aligned with their interests, despite being a man, than Clinton was simply for being a woman. It reminded me of the days when the Democrats would try to put forward someone like Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton as the first black presidential candidate of their party. We deserved better. And in time, we got Barack Obama. We deserve better than Hillary Clinton and someday we will know who that better candidate will be.

And after this mourning period, we start to move on and begin to see silver linings. One such bright spot Trump’s victory is that the Democrats and the nation have finally gotten rid of the Clintons and their moderate liberalism. They not pulled this country so far right that Richard Nixon could be a liberal Democrat today, as Lawrence Lessig pointed out last Wednesday morning, they unabashedly [sold the party out to Wall Street]. He published that piece hours after many of us awoke to realize that Trump would be the 45th president of the United States, and, at the time, it was cold comfort for what the future could hold. In time, we’ll excitedly move on.

And that is what must happen after the death of a loved one or a similarly stunning loss. We will move on. Things will never be the same again, but we will cope, and as a country, we will get through it.

Lecture: Ernie Gehr at New York University

Tonight, experimental filmmaker Ernie Gehr will be giving the seventh annual Experimental Film Lecture, jointly presented by the departments of Cinema Studies and Undergraduate Film & Television at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. The pre-lecture screening is of his films in 16mm. You might want to see those while you can, lest they burn up in the projector.

The announcement from NYU Cinema Studies is reproduced below.

Gehr web

Ernie Gehr, “What Is an Unfinished Work?”

​For nearly fifty years, artist Ernie Gehr has transformed his deep knowledge of the moving image into a distinct vision of cinema’s potential for interpreting and fragmenting reality. With an astute, often humorous, appreciation for the limits and possibilities of the frame, Gehr has, since the mid-1960s, created a large, radical body of work that continues to challenge and surprise audiences. He uses his camera as a tool for creating new modes of perception. With few words, no characters, and no plots, his films, video work, and installations push us to re-imagine our own relationships to time and space.

There are a multiplicity of adjectives that fit Ernie Gehr’s experimental film and digital work: abstract, beautiful, mysterious, invigorating, utopian.

Manohla Dargis, New York Times, 11/11/11

In Gehr’s hands, the camera seems to take on magical properties, able to transform the most quotidian object or environment—the pattern of sunlight on a wall, a busy street—into marvelous and unexpected phenomena.

Ernie Gehr’s Marvelous Cinema, Harvard Film Archive

Join us for screenings at 5:30 and Gehr’s Experimental Lecture at 7:00.

5:30
Pre-lecture 16mm screening of Serene Velocity (1970), Shift (1972-74) and Rear Window (1986/1991)
6:30
Artist reception
7:00
Experimental Lecture with screenings of Lisa and Suzanne (1968-69), Untitled: Part 1 (l981), Coney Island Boardwalk (2013)

Free and open to the public.

Details

  • October 19, 2016
  • Michelson Theater, 721 Broadway, 6th Fl
  • Free

The One Club’s “Here are all the Black People” on September 30, 2016

The One Club, a non-profit organization devoted to developing creative talent in the advertising industry is hosting its annual multicultural creative career fair, Here Are All the Black People, taking place on Friday, September 30th at The Times Center in New York City.

Although I’m a little confused about The One’s choice in using Cornel West waxing rhapsodically about love in the video above, I am pleased to see the culture industries finally acknowledging their failings in fostering multiculturalism on television, in movies, and in advertising. After all, organized and public protests, such as “Oscars so White,” brought attention to these issues and the industries have little choice but to respond.

I hope this event, and others like it, encourage underrepresented and marginalized peoples to enter these creative fields and effect change in these industries.

Interested students should sign up and attend this event and apply for a stipend to offset any expenses in attending.

The 1980s, One Song at a Time, in Reverse

Another tip of the hat to the staff at The Awl for pointing out something totally awesome.

The long-running MP3 blog Fluxblog has been compiling yearly surveys of music from the 1980s. They posted the first compilation with music from 1989 last September, and every couple of months or so later, another year in reverse-chronlogical order drops. Each survey consists of eight discs and about 150 songs from the decade spanning various genres. Last week, they released the seventh survey with songs from 1983.

I started listening to the first compilation last week, and in my own obsessive-compulsive way, I set a few ground rules for listening to each survey:

  • I listen to each survey in reverse order, just as the curators—if not nature—intended.
  • I listen to each song in full from each survey. No skipping songs.
  • I will not listen to songs from the earlier collections until I get to that year’s survey.
  • I reserve the right to “side bar” to other recordings from the era.
  • And, of course, I allow myself to listen to other things, including music made before or after the 1980s.

Six day in, it’s been an almost all-consuming experience and, yet, I’m only getting through the end of the 1988 survey. To make for a better listening experience, I even bought this pretty solid and inexpensive Bluetooth audio receiver to connect to an older Harmon Kardon HK550 Vxi receiver, which is fittingly from the same era as the music I’m surveying, and to listen throughout the house.

Listening to the 1989 survey, I was surprised to hear song after song that I swore came from the 1990s. I suspect that going backwards in time will put me deep in the quintessential 1980s sounds before I reach the fuzzy transition period of the early 1980s, where pop music simultaneously bore the traits of the 1970s and the 1980s.

Cool.

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Cervantes and Shakespeare T-Shirt

Four hundred years ago this month, Miguel de Cervantes Cortinas and William Shakespeare died. It is almost cosmic that the most celebrated Renaissance writer of Spain and the most celebrated Renaissance writer of England both died on same day: April 23, 1616.

If it seems unlikely that Cervantes and Shakespeare died on the very same day, it is because they did not die on the same day. Cervantes died a day earlier, on April 22, 1616. And because England was still using the Julian calendar in 1616, Shakespeare died 11 days later on May 3, 1616. However, you cannot deny that it makes for a better story if the two did die on the very same day. In fact, the United Nations has—since 1995—observed a World Book and Copyright Day on April 23 to remember the passing of Cervantes and of Shakespeare, as well as that of other writers including Garcilaso de la Vega and Vladimir Nabokov.

To commemorate the quadcentennial, I printed a run of t-shirts.

Shakes-and-Cervantes-discharge

The all-black t-shirts are made from 100% high-quality, ring spun cotton that makes for very soft and comfortable shirt. The artwork is discharged. Unlike most every t-shirt printed today, there is no layer of plastic ink nor is the fabric dyed. Instead, I removed (“discharged”) the black color from the t-shirt, leaving behind the natural color of the all-cotton fabric. On the black t-shirt, the artwork looks sepia-toned. It’s very cool.

The result is the most comfortable t-shirt you’ve worn and because the artwork is not dyed, it will never fade. It might even last until the quincentennial, although the t-shirt might not last that long.

If you’re interested in getting a shirt, order one at my popup online store.

Update: Sales of this shirt are available. Minimum order of two (2) shirts. Allow three-to-five business days.

Buy this t-shirt!

Los Sures Screens and Lives, at NYU

Ten summers ago, I taught a six-week summer class at NYU on New York Independent filmmaking. The class was based on my own interests in New York City as an historical center for independent, experimental, and avant-garde filmmaking. This fact was a key factor in my moving here after college.

Looking back, there were three distinct highlights:

  1. We screened the full three-hour, two-screen diptych of Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls.
  2. Nick Zedd shook me down for money, years after I ran the course, because he had learned that I screened his films in this class.
  3. I saw, for the first time, the Diego Echeverria film Los Sures, a 1984 documentary of the then-Puerto Rican enclave of South Williamsburg. The film’s title is Spanish for “the Southsiders” and refers to the residents who dominated the neighborhood in the 1980s.

Over the years, Los Sures has reemerged through the efforts of Brooklyn-based UnionDocs. UnionDocs remixed the original film and created an immersive documentary project called Living Los Sures. Both films screened at the New York Film Festival in 2014, thirty years after the Echeverria film premiered there.

The original film is remarkable today because it documented a part of Williamsburg that has undergone radical changes over the last thirty-plus years, and the Living Los Sures project attempts to excavate and preserve the culture of the Southside.

Tomorrow, the Cinema Studies Department at NYU, is screening the 1984 film and hosting a presentation about the current and ongoing Living Los Sures project. This is a rare opportunity to see this film. Until the original film is available for purchase, you’ll have to settle for screening a 16mm or VHS copy at the New York Public Library.

Admission to tomorrow’s screening is free, but seating is limited.

Living Los Sures

  • March 3, 2016
  • NYU King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center, 53 Washington Square South
  • Free
  • More Information

Free Museum Admission for Pratt Institute Community

One of the best yet under-advertised features of being an NYU student–or a member of its faculty and staff—is the free admission to New York City–area museums. Some of the highlights include the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of the Moving Image, and the New York Historical Society.

Last week, Pratt Institute announced that its students, faculty, and staff can enjoy free admission to the following museums:

Admission is also extended to alumni at the following museums:

  • Brooklyn Botanic Garden
  • Brooklyn Museum
  • Whitney Museum of American Art

As the weather gradually begins to warm, it’s really tempting to visit a few museums before cycling and softball occupy my free time come spring.

Related: See my earlier blog post about NYU’s Museum Gateway.

Back from the Tombs

On July 29, 2006, at Southpaw, a now-defunct music venue in Park Slope, Brooklyn, my friend Adam invited me to see Rocket from the Tombs. He had met a girl at his sister’s birthday party a few weeks earlier. Named for a season of the year, she was a pretty girl with pale-skin, dark hair trimmed with bangs, and thick-framed black plastic glasses. He was interested in going to the show as I presumed he was trying to bone up on the kind of music she liked. Had he not jumped the queue, I probably would have talked to her first. Oh well: bros before… am I right?

Rocket from the Tombs was a short-lived Cleveland band that formed in the mid-1970s. Their sound, commonly referred to as “proto-punk,” was very heavy, loud and simple, especially compared to flair and multitrack ornamentation of album-oriented rock that populated FM radio during the same period. Though Rocket from the Tombs would only record a few songs, they would influence countless future punk bands and themselves split into two well-regarded bands of the 1980s: Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys.

I’m not sure if Adam and Autumn/Summer confused this band with Rocket from the Crypt, a 1990s San Diego band that enjoyed much greater financial and mainstream success than Rocket from the Tombs ever did, but joining him for this show was one of the best concert decisions I ever made. Having re-formed and despite looking more like jam band than a bunch of “punk,” they absolutely kicked ass and sounded like they had been playing together continuously with aplomb since 1975.

Rocket from the Tombs will return to the New York City area this weekend. They will be at Monty Hall on Saturday, December 5 in Jersey City and at Baby’s All Right on Sunday, December 6 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Not quite ten years later, I look forward to seeing them again.

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