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Photo by Robin Locke Monda

Pat Buchanan’s recurring role on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” has got to be some kind of border violation. And I mean that in the best possible way! It’s great to watch Buchanan trying to apply nuance to his irrational, nativist positions in the face of thinking, intelligent people from both the left and the right. The “Morning Joe” show is proof that, (1) not all Republicans are nut jobs, and (2) not all Democrats shoot themselves in the foot.

MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” models Democrats and Republicans communicating with intelligence, humor and a willingness to listen. Think what could be accomplished in a truly cooperative congressional environment! We could disarm the big mouths of the radical right while repairing America’s foundation and its vision for the future. (more…)

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© David Levinthal / The New York Times

© David Levinthal / The New York Times

I’ve written about artist-photographer David Levinthal on this blog before. Now I’ve discovered he does photo illustrations, too. Regular New York Times readers may have seen his soft-focus photos in the August issues of the Times Sunday Magazine, illustrating “Mrs. Corbett’s Request”, a serialized story by Colin Harrison. Levinthal captures the weary, down-at-the-heel atmosphere of Harrison’s tale perfectly.

Just last week I noticed another Levinthal photo in the October 26, 2008 Travel Section (page 1, top of the fold) accompanying an article on winter vacations. The scene of brightly colored skiers in a clichéd winter landscape feels like a snow globe diorama. (more…)

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"Ghost Station" Ed Roos

October 17, 2008—The Train Is Coming. And With It More Ads, a New York Times article, reports that the MTA plans to sell every NYC subway surface to the highest bidder. They need the money. Advertising — lots of it — is going to appear on every below-ground surface New Yorkers pass, from the round pillars on the subway platforms to the entire interior surface of subway cars. Ad agencies are considering ways to reach even the hardest-to-reach spots with the use of projectors. No surface will go unsold — not even the tunnel surfaces between stations. Advertisers plan to line them with printed ad images that will merge into a movie reel effect as your train zooms along.

Which begs the question: Isn’t advertising on such a massive scale a form of graffiti? Isn’t it a greater transgression than any spray-painted tag? The MTA is making a huge amount of money at the expense of the commuters. Say what you want about graffiti by private citizens, at least it’s varied, surprising — and original! Think of all the influences graffiti has had on art practice and typography. And think of all the influences graphic design has had on graffiti! (more…)

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Photo by Marius Slaustas, cringel.com

Photo by Marius Slaustas, cringel.com

Do not underestimate the power of a single voice to make or break an election. The power is not in the words themselves; it is in the sonic experience.

Everyone has seen—and heard—mainstream media news reduced to pellets of information called “sound bites.” We rabbity news consumers meekly nibble on these empty-calorie hors d’œuvres because we are starving for the taste of real information. Performance artist David Letterman has famously turned the tables by subjecting past presidents, as well as our current one, to the sound bite test. FDR and Kennedy pass with flying colors; Bush ’43 mumbles and stumbles to failure. Sound bites back.

The current presidential campaign is delivered in sound bites. The ads, catch phrases, pundits and talking heads get more air time than the candidates themselves (except for the occasional TV drive-by, when the news camera swoops in on a candidate’s real-time delivery of a speech, then cuts away to more important matters before he has finished speaking.) Sound bites are the news media equivalent of Chicken McNuggets—looks good; tastes lousy; fills us up but leaves us hungry. (more…)

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"The Hat Makes the Man" (1920) Max Ernst

I’m taking my first sound environment course at Hunter College with professor Andrea Polli. Our major text is Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music, edited by Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner. Featured readings come from interviews, essays, magazine articles and manifestos written by theorists, musicians and sound artists like Pierre Schaeffer, Theodor Adorno, Marshall McLuhan, John Cage, Brian Eno, Glenn Gould and Chris Cutler. The readings have been a real eye-opener—or should I say “ear opener”?

I’m a visual specialist. My music knowledge is as shallow as my art background is deep. Sure, I took piano lessons as a kid. But after I learned to play Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” well enough to impress my father, I lost interest. Like a lot of people, I’ve accumulated a “personal soundtrack” based on haphazard exposure to radio stations, TV, advertising jingles, movies and live performances. Unlike most, my personal soundtrack hasn’t been transferred to an MP3 player. It resides solely between my ears, where snippets of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” bubble up through layers of B. B. King, the “Dr. Zhivago” soundtrack and Alka Seltzer’s “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz” jingle.  (more…)

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Performance art, as a practice, may have found its fullest realization in the work of Saturday Night Live (SNL)’s Tina Fey. Fey’s channeling of Sarah Palin’s character is uncanny. In her re-staging of Katie Couric’s Palin interview and Palin’s performance at the Vice Presidential “debate,” Fey has merged the absurd-in-the-real to the really absurd, producing a composite memory of Sarah Palin that defies separation. When Sarah Palin appears on my television screen I see Tina Fey’s performance of Sarah Palin, rather than Sarah Palin’s performance of Sarah Palin. Fey has altered my perception. She—along with Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton and Darrell Hammond as John McCain—has seamlessly infiltrated the mainstream political flabber-jabber.

Saturday Night Live, along with a handful of other comedy shows, has become the best political commentary and performance art ever. Part of its influence comes from the cheerful participation of real politicians in the parodying of their own personas. (more…)

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Sarah Palin’s qualifications for the second most powerful position in the land have nothing to do with her experience (or her lack of it) or the fact that she doesn’t know about the Bush doctrine. Indeed it has nothing to do with the realization that she never met a foreign leader until she visited the UN recently. It has everything to do with the tale she tells and the image she presents. Palin is a consummate performer who asserts her identity perfectly in her hairstyle, her eager grin, her wink, and the way her family—and even McCain himself–become props on her stage. While McCain is faltering, Palin is busy rebranding the Republican Party.

Palin was immediately recognizable to the American people as soon as she appeared at the Republican Convention. For the guys, Palin positioned herself as their high school sweetheart they shouldn’t have let get away. For the gals, Palin became the pal you have fun with on a girls’ night out. Even though she comes from Alaska Palin really emerges from the country’s fictional landscape. She is the mythic pioneer woman who will stop at nothing to protect her family–she can shoot better than any of the guys but still doesn’t mind being asked to dance when she puts on a frilly frock for the local dance. (more…)

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Roland Emmerich. He’s the big-budget director of “Independence Day,” “Universal Soldier” and “Eight-Legged Freaks.” I came across an article on Emmerich and his design aesthetic in the New York Times’ August 7, 2008 Home section.

The Times devoted two whole pages and thirteen photos to the redesign of Emmerich’s townhouse in the “buttoned-up” Knightsbridge section of London. Apparently he redesigned the place primarily to shock his neighbors. It’s not a townhouse anymore; it’s a fun house of cultural and pop-cultural references: Mao Tse-Tung, Pope John Paul II, pseudo Renaissance paintings, Barbie dolls and Philippe Starck chairs… If it shocks the neighbors, he’s happy. Whatever…

But what about the miniaturized diorama tables in the living room? The ones that Emmerich commissioned from his movie prop department. The ones that depict, in the Times’ words, “notorious events”? (more…)

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Just before it closed, I caught Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of “Top Girls,” by British playwright Caryl Churchill. I’d read several favorable or semi-favorable articles and reviews of the play, but it wasn’t until WNYC’s Leonard Lopate interviewed Martha Plimpton about her experience playing Pope Joan and Angie that I was persuaded to buy a ticket (a big investment these days) and check it out for myself.

Plimpton is a wonderful actress. As a devout “Law & Order” fan, I caught her 2006 Emmy-nominated portrayal of a desperately brilliant young woman who fails to capture the love of her even more brilliant, murder-investigating father. I’ve seen re-runs of the “Criminal Intent” episode many times and I still get caught up in Plimpton’s character. (more…)

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A. Culture-Jamming:
Stop watching the SNL Obama / Clinton split “campaign ad.” (Then you won’t laugh so hard you pee yourself.)

B. Performance Art:
Stop watching the Chris Matthews grilling of right-winger Kevin James, who hasn’t got a clue who Neville Chamberlain is. (Then you won’t laugh so hard you wet your pants.)

C. Theater of the Absurd:
Stop thinking about Hillary Clinton’s continuing “campaign” for the presidency. After all, she deserves the nomination, right? Besides, she’s the only one who’s reaching white people. (Really. Stop thinking about it. It’ll just piss you off.)

D. Art Exhibition:
Forget about politics and check out some really good bad art. It ain’t bad when it’s this good. (Besides, it’s hung near the bathroom.)

Above: Running Mates by Anonymous, acrylic on canvas. (I made that up.)

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