Monday, December 21, 2009

Tiger Woods vs. Terror Attacks

As Mediaite's Glynnis MacNicol points out, the New York Post ran Tiger Woods' infidelity as a cover story for 20 consecutive days as of Friday December 18, 2009. That beats the 9/11 attacks' 19-straight cover stories in 2001. (See the Post's cover archive here.)

Quips MacNicol, "Tiger Woods is apparently just as good, or better, at selling newspapers and magazines due to bad behavior as he is at selling sports paraphernalia due to good golf behavior."

That's true. But what does it say about the Post's 9/11 coverage? Only that it was another hot cover story.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It's Giant Menorah Season

Yes, it's Giant Menorah Season again in Brooklyn. This year, the Caton Avenue overpass on Ocean Parkway featured a new, more modern menorah. In previous years, as longtime readers will recall, the Caton Avenue menorah was lit by Colemen propane lanterns. No more: the menorah has gone electric. Now there's an extension cord running from the menorah, along the chain link fence on the overpass, over the frontage road and into a nearby apartment building's basement window.

And the roofrack menorah below was spotted on Brooklyn's Prospect Park West.

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More on the Bedford Bike Lane

"There are people who are trying to play that the nudity is the issue, but it's not," South Williamsburg resident Leo Moskowitz told the Gothamist blog today. "The main concern is the safety of our kids. There are lot of institutions and families on that Bedford Avenue stretch, and we are always really concerned about the kids being picked up and dropped off. There are sometimes small accidents where the cyclists are violating the law because they don't stop for flashing school buses."

And those small accidents are much less desirable than cyclist deaths like this one. And this one, this one, and this one.

Gothamist also reported that 50 nude and scantily clad bicyclists will ride through the 14 blocks of Bedford Avenue that no longer has a bike lane in protest of its removal.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Bad Review: The New Yorker on Artist Urs Fischer

Since New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl's deliciously nasty review of the Urs Fischer show at the New Museum is so short, I'm posting it in its entirety:
“Why must the show go on?” Noël Coward wondered. The question recurs apropos a desperately ingratiating Urs Fischer exhibition at the New Museum. Frail japes by the mildly talented Swiss-born sculptor—the international art world’s chief gadfly wit since Maurizio Cattelan faded in the role—are jacked up to epic, flauntingly expensive scale. There are huge aluminum casts of tiny clay lumps (you can tell by the giant thumbprints), walls and a ceiling papered with photographs of themselves, and big mirrored blocks that bear images of common objects. When a hole in a wall is approached, a realistic tongue sticks out of it. A faux cake is suspended in the air by hidden magnets. It’s all nicely diverting—but from what? If you spend more than twenty minutes with the three-floor extravaganza, you’re loitering. The New Museum could just as well not have done the show while saying it did. The effect would be roughly the same: expressing a practically reptilian institutional craving for a new art star.
36-year-old Fischer is a Swiss artist who lives and works in New York. The New Museum exhibit is his first solo show in the U.S. The image above shows the detail of Fischer's piece "Noisette," (2009) which the New Museum describes as "a motion-activated plastic tongue
pops out of a hole punched in the wall, in a mischievous slapstick routine."

New York Magazine's art critic Jerry Saltz is kinder than Schjeldahl, but his praise is muted:
"Thrill seekers, be forewarned: There’s bravura work but no drop-dead moment here. Each of Fischer’s three floors is beautiful, and each has an elfin elusiveness and deep material intelligence. They also have dead spots and duds."


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Glenn Beck on Art

Fox News host Glenn Beck played art critic back in September, calling out some old architectural reliefs across Sixth Avenue from News Corp HQ at rival NBC's Rockefeller Center as either fascist or communist. It looks more like an attack on NBC (and his arch enemy, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann, not to mention Rachel Maddow) than an honest look at public art and its meanings then and now.

Beck's meaning is clear: Rockefeller was both a communist sympathizer and fascist (jn this case Mussolini) sympathizer. And that NBC and "progressives" in general continue this legacy.

Beck's hysteria about a pair of reliefs showing one man holding a hammer and another holding a sheaf of wheat and a sickle is a bit like the nonsense about "Nazi" swastikas appearing on Indian-made handbags for the Spanish chain Zara (no, the Indian factory wasn't being anti-Semetic; they don't see swastikas the same way, and Zara didn't catch it until the bags made it to shops). In both cases, we have old symbols that gained very specific meanings for European dictatorships, tainting them for the West for generations.

The reliefs were carved in 1937 by Carl Paul Jennewein, an American born in Germany. Tyler Green of the blog Modern Art Notes explains:
The sickle and the hammer have been used separately to signify agrarian interests and workmen or craftsmen in art respectively since at least the Byzantine period. In the 19th and 20th centuries the hammer and sickle were often fused in a range of European symbology, in both provincial heraldry and in state insignia. It wasn't until 1922 that the Red Army adopted them as a state symbol. (It became the Soviet state symbol in 1923.)
Green can't find any evidence that another Rockefeller Center sculpture, one that Beck connects to Mussolini, has any such connection. That sculpture, "Youth Leading Industry," pictured above, was created out of glass blocks by Attilio Piccirilli in 1936. Piccirilli, a friend of New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, contributed sculptural works to monuments all over the country, including the state capital buildings of Wisconsin and Virginia. Sounds like material for a follow up segment on Beck's show. The imagery in Piccirilli's Rockefeller Center piece is pretty benign. Ironically, notes Green, Piccirilli was picked as an artist because he was an American. There was a public outcry after a previous decision by Rockefeller to use European artists like Picasso and Matisse on such projects. Why would Rockefeller have chosen an American artist, one close to Mayor LaGuardia (who served 1934-1945), only to let him depict Mussolini? It doesn't make sense.

Beck's final target is Diego Rivera, who was commissioned by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in 1934 to create a mural for a Rockefeller Center lobby. The mural was called "Man at the Crossroads" (see detail above). Beck's failure to grasp historical fact becomes painfully clear here: he accuses Rockefeller of literally commissioning a piece of commie art, and yet the mural was famously destroyed the year it was made after it embarrassed the family and the building's management. It was recreated by Rivera the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City later.

But Beck won't let history get in the way of his message.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Williamsburg Bike Lane Debate

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, generally a friend to bicyclists, has helped get new bike lanes added to busy streets all over the City. These narrow lanes are little more than visual buffer zones for bikers, and they may not protect them from getting doored by parked cars, but some statistics say biker injuries and deaths drop significantly when such lanes are painted in.

Bloomberg ordered a lane removed on a section of Bedford Avenue in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn recently. Why? The story goes that the Hasidic community through which the bike lane flowed was offended by the scantily clad hipster women who rode by. Can that possibly be true? It seems too moronic to be real that even very conservative religious people would think that a bike lane would have any real affect on what some young women wear passing through. It's even more unbelievable that a mayor would listen.

But that's how almost all media reports have it. Here's a synopsis from the New York Post in September 2008:
Leaders of South Williamsburg's Hasidic community said yesterday that bike lanes that bring scantily clad cyclists - especially sexy women - peddling through their neighborhood are definitely not kosher.

The red-faced religious sect is calling on city officials to eliminate the car-free lanes on Wythe and Bedford avenues, and to delay construction of a new one planned for Kent Avenue.

"I have to admit, it's a major issue, women passing through here in that dress code," Simon Weisser, a member of Community Board 1 in Williamsburg-Greenpoint, told The Post.
In the beginning of the month, the City announced that 14 blocks of the Bedford lane would be removed, with bikers re-directed to the Kent Avenue lane. About a week ago, bike riders calling themselves "self-hating Jewish hipsters" videotaped themselves re-painting the lane (see video below). They were arrested, charged, and the lane was removed again.

One bike activist (and notice here that all parties are Jewish, both pro-bike lane and anti-bike lane; only in New York), Baruch Herzfeld, who Gothamist describes as "an Orthodox Jew who runs a South Williamsburg bike clubhouse," had this brilliant rant upon Mayor Bloomberg's trip to Denmark for the climate change conference:
"How can Mayor Bloomberg go to Copenhagen and pose as a green mayor after this? He's a hypocrite, and I believe his office directed the DOT to remove this bike lane as a political favor for the rabbis, who want to keep South Williamsburg a ghetto enclave. There was no discussion with the community, like with the Kent Ave bike lane. And this bike lane was just a visual reminder for drivers to keep their eyes open for cyclists. But the rabbis don't want a visual reminder that there are other people in the neighborhood besides the Hasidim.

"One woman asked me if she should go topless [during an upcoming protest] and I told her no, because we're not trying to create more confrontation with the Hasids, who actually hate the rabbis much, much, much more than I do. The Hasids in the community are not the problem; they give me the thumbs up when I bike by, and even Hasidic women have told me they really approve what I'm doing. They hate the rabbis for trying to control their lives, intimidate them and scare them."
An article in the Jewish Daily Forward from August -- the single-best article about this bike lane mess -- explains that part of the problem is that the Satmar sect of Hasidic Jews who live in this part of Williamsburg are not only averse to men and women wearing shorts. They think that bikes are for children. Adults ought not to ride them.

Herzfeld, who was the subject of the Forward story, has little patience for such restrictions: “For the love of God — I’m Jewish, you’re Jewish, borrow a bicycle. Who are we hurting?” His bike club has hundreds of bikes for local residents to borrow.

But the issue for the Satmar Hasidim is really about isolationism. They resent the gentrification by young hipsters, and the fight against the bike lane is one way they've found to resist change.


David Lynch Cares About New York

This "public service announcement" was apparently created by filmmaker David Lynch and photographed by Frederick Elmes, the cinematographer who worked with Lynch on Eraser Head (1977), Blue Velvet (1986), and Wild at Heart (1990).

I remember seeing short films and ads like the famous "Crying Indian" public service announcement in school in the early 80s. Before the "Just Say No to Drugs" campaign (and concurrent with all the PSAs about "Bad Touch" and avoiding strangers in vans), the anti-litter/anti-pollution propaganda was everywhere.

Because these messages sunk in so deep with me and most of my peers, it's jarring to see someone tossing their cigarette pack's cellophane into the breeze. In New York, it's often hard to tell if littering is an act of defiance and protest against a city that doesn't care, or a thoughtless reflex to unburden one's self of waste. Either way, it's common.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Quote of the Day: George Lois

Why do all magazine covers look alike these days? There's a simple formula for many -- it applies to Esquire, Vogue, and Men's Health alike: photo of famous person + cover lines. George Lois, the legendary designer of some of Esquire's best covers from the 60s (including this Andy Warhol cover from 1969), calls this underwhelming committee design process a "group-fucking-grope."

Celebrity covers are a shortcut. With famous people on covers, people who are merely beautiful aren't necessary. And creative design never enters into it -- the only must with a celebrity cover is Photoshop, which is used to trim a woman's waist and pump up a man's arms. We're rewarded for recognizing some popular idiot, then we're pulled in by inanities as "Six Pack Abs!" and "Get a Six Pack: Be a real man," and "Lose Your Gut!" (All on Men's Health covers). And "No exercise diet: what happens when you quit the gym," and "Jennifer Aniston: What Angelina did was very uncool" (both from Vogue).

Lois ranted to Black Book recently. Here are some choice bits:
"Magazine design is almost an oxymoron with most magazines today. It goes for even a great magazine like Vanity Fair. If you get even one inch of white space to breath you’re lucky. Everybody’s just packing in the information. Most magazines you pick up — you choke to death."
Designers are always at odds with editors in the battle for page space. It's even worse now that ad pages are down: editors need every square inch they can get. Lois blames the internet for the need to jam information onto printed pages. It's funny, but the way I've always seen it, just the opposite has been happeneing. Articles have gotten shorter, photos have gotten larger, and magazine writing has been dumbed down. Where else besides the New Yorker among mainstream magazines can you find features longer than 2,500 words? (And often three or four feature longer than 2,500 words in a single issue.)

Here's Lois again:
"The design was the idea. I don’t design, if you know what I mean. If you want Andy Warhol being devoured by his own fame in a can of Cambell’s soup, you just put the can there and you have him drowning in it. Case closed.

"You’re knocked down by the idea, and the fact that it’s got complete clarity visually. Don’t complicate it with busy work.

"That’s the way I do everything. If I was a doing a magazine, it’s not a question of if I’d be having more white space. It’s a question of every third or fourth spread I’d make a spread that would take your breath away — or piss you off. Or something.

"I know, you’re pressured by your editor. If not the editor, the publisher: ‘Look at all this wasted space here.’ Blah, blah, blah. ‘Your readers want information.’

"Well, oh shit. Go fuck yourself."
Now I like that.

Below: covers that don't overwhelm with words or disappoint with pictures. From Vogue, covers from 1939, 1945 and 1952. See more here.

And from Esquire, covers from 1958, 1959, and 1965. See more here.


Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Tiger Woods Mess

The biggest problem with the Tiger Woods media frenzy? It's that the commercial image we have of the golfer, carefully crafted over ten years by his sponsors, is a total sham. He was, and has always been a womanizer at worst and a regular guy at best -- not the family-friendly hero we've been told he was.

Charles P. Pierce, who profiled Woods for Esquire in 1997, giving us a glimpse of the real man, has updated his assessment. Here's an excerpt:
"I can't say I'm surprised — either by the allegations or by what's ensued since Friday's wreck. Back in 1997, one of the worst-kept secrets on the PGA Tour was that Tiger was something of a hound. Everybody knew. Everybody had a story. Occasionally somebody saw it, but nobody wanted to talk about it, except in bar-room whispers late at night. Tiger's People at the International Management Group visibly got the vapors if you even implied anything about it. However, from that moment on, the marketing cocoon around him became almost impenetrable. The Tiger Woods that was constructed for corporate consumption was spotless and smooth, an edgeless brand easily peddled to sheikhs and shakers. The perfect marriage with the perfect kids slipped so easily into the narrative it seemed he'd been born married."
Back in 1997, Pierce was in a limo with Woods when the golfer says to his driver, a former college basketball player, "What I can't figure out is why so many good-looking women hang around baseball and basketball. Is it because, you know, people always say that, like, black guys have big dicks?"

This is Tiger Woods. Brash, awkward, sort of a jerk. (The answer to his question: Women don't hang around golfers because golfers are not athletes.) As amazing as Woods' golf skills are, his acting out may be -- consciously or unconsciously -- a product of all the issues contained in that inappropriate question to his driver: race and sports, race and sex, race and golf. And add to that all of stresses of corporate sponsorship, and it was just a matter of time until he went nuts.


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Choice Excerpts From Recent Negative Reviews

From Alexander Zaitchik's review of the movie 2012 on
"Moments after the entire Indian subcontinent is violently subsumed by water, Emmerich expects us to bunch our fists over the fate of a yappy purse dog. But we don’t. Even the best-trained American audience has by then long transferred its allegiance to the side of apocalypse. It is simply not possible to make it into the second hour of this film and not root for the cosmic clusterfuck to hurry up and finish its business with every last member of the species responsible for Roland Emmerich. Nothing makes a catastrophic polar shift seem overdue like a stylized product placement for Bentley Motors, set against the death of a billion Chinese."
From James Wood's review of Paul Auster's new novel "Invisible" in the New Yorker:
"The classic formulations of postmodernism, by philosophers and theorists like Maurice Blanchot and Ihab Hassan, emphasize the way that contemporary language abuts silence. For Blanchot, as indeed for Beckett, language is always announcing its invalidity. Texts stutter and fragment, shred themselves around a void. Perhaps the strangest element of Auster’s reputation as an American postmodernist is that his language never registers this kind of absence at the level of the sentence. The void is all too speakable in Auster’s work. The pleasing, slightly facile books come out almost every year, as tidy and punctual as postage stamps, and the applauding reviewers line up like eager stamp collectors to get the latest issue. Peter Aaron, the narrator of 'Leviathan,' whose prose is so pressureless, claims that 'I have always been a plodder, a person who anguishes and struggles over each sentence, and even on my best days I do no more than inch along, crawling on my belly like a man lost in the desert. The smallest word is surrounded by acres of silence for me.' Not enough silence, alas."

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