T HE COLLEG E H I L L I N D E P E N D E N T
22 SEPTEMBER 2011 VOLUME XXIII ISSUE II BROWN/RISD WEEKLY
T HE COLLEG E H I L L I N D E P E N D E N T WEEK IN REVIEW
DAVID ADLER, ERICA SCHWIEGERSHAUSEN
SNAIL MAIL KATE WELSH
GOP STOPPERS DAVID ADLER, ERICA SCHWIEGERSHAUSEN
CAMP CASTILLO HALEY KOSSEK
Last Thursday, Brown President Ruth Simmons did the Independent the disservice of waiting until 10:46 AM, approximately two hours after the semester’s first issue went to press, to announce her resignation to the Brown community. With another week until the next Indy, it fell to the Brown Daily Herald to analyze the President’s decision with five front-page articles, whose titles ranged from “Iconic 18th president will leave in June” to “A legacy of inspiration and growth” to “A guiding presence beyond College Hill.” We at the Independent strive to cover the city that exists beyond the Van Wickle Gates, but Brown remains Providence’s second-largest employer, and as the Herald never tires to point out, they foot the our bills (well, actually, they repurpose a small portion of our collective tuition money into the paper), so we only feel obligated to point out some of the less inspirational moments of Simmons’s presidency. Even before Simmons was compelled to resign from the board of Goldman Sachs, she drew criticism as the face of a corporation whose investments—still not officially disclosed— include HEI Hotels and Resorts, known for their union-busting efforts and unlivable wages. Simmons herself has consistently opposed the unionization of Brown’s graduate student body, and has engaged in tense negotiations in the past two years with Brown’s library workers and Dining Services staff—particularly notable in light of Simmons’ insistence in her opening address that universities “teach values in the way they hire and treat employees.” Most recently, Simmons oversaw the partnership between Brown’s Urban Education Policy project and Teach for America, an organization that has been repeatedly denounced for its m.o. of funneling unprepared and uncommitted recent undergrads into the country’s most difficult teaching jobs. Sometimes one must look past the face on so many T-shirts to other policies of the last 11 years.
FLOOD BLOCKA CAROLINE SOUSSLOFF
PLACES AND POSES GRACE DUNHAM, ALEXANDRA CORRIGAN
OPINIONS: SLUTS DAYNA TORTORICI
FEATURES: EYEING IRENE MAX WIGGINS
ABOUT FALL 2011 MANAGING EDITORS Malcolm Burnley, Jordan Carter, Emma Whitford • NEWS David Adler, Erica Schwiegershausen, Kate Welsh • METRO Sam Adler-Bell, Grace Dunham, Caroline Soussloff • OPINION Stephen Carmody • FEATURES Belle Cushing, Mimi Dwyer, Max Wiggins • INTERVIEWS Timothy Nassau • ARTS Ana Alvarez, Eve Blazo, Emma Janaskie • SCIENCE Ashton Strait, Joanna Zhang • METABOLICS Chris Cohen • LITERARY Michael Mount, Scout Willis • X PAGE Rachel Benoit, Audrey Fox • LIST Allie Trionfetti •WEB Max Lubin, Jonah Wolf • DESIGN EDITOR Mary-Evelyn Farrior • DESIGN TEAM Andrew Beers, Jared Stern, Joanna Zhang • COVER EDITOR Annika Finne • ILLUSTRATIONS EDITORS Robert Sandler, Becca Levinson • MEGA PORN Katie Barnwell • SENIOR EDITORS Gillian Brassil, Adrian Randall, Erin Schikowski, Dayna Tortorici • MVP Robert Sandler ‘v’ Cover Art: Annika Finne THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT PO BOX 1930, BROWN UNIVERSITY PROVIDENCE, RI 02912 Letters to the editor are welcome distractions. The College Hill Independent is published weekly during the fall and spring semesters and is printed by TCI press in Seekonk, MA. Independent receives support from Campus Progress/ Center for American Progress. Campus Progress works to help young people—advocates, activists, journalists, artists—make their voices heard on issues that matter. Learn more at CampusProgress.org
COMEBACK KID EMMA JANASKIE
BROADCASTING HIPSTERS GILLIAN BRASSIL
INTERVIEW: DALI TIM NASSAU
FOOD: FANCY FEAST CHRIS COHEN
LITERARY: WESTWARD MICHAEL MOUNT
X: PHONE HOME NICO JAAR
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THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
WEEK IN REVIEW
illustration by Annikka Finne
WIKILEAKS LEAKS AGAIN
ust as the WikiLeaks controversy was fading into the distance, last week’s release of the entire WikiLeaks inventory put Julian Assange and his organization back on the map. Although Assange’s well-publicized rape allegations may have damaged his image as a James Bond hacker hero, the new material may help to remedy his public standing. The full, unedited collection of 250,000 confidential cables, now publicly available for download, will not only provide further insight into the inner-workings of the State Department, but will also shed light on the behind the scenes decision-making that produced the refined batch months
by David Adler ago. At the time, the New York Times served as a mediator between WikiLeaks and the State Department, agreeing to a total of 47 redactions in order “to keep from compromising American intelligence efforts or to protect the privacy of ordinary citizens.” Today, it has become clear that the majority of these redactions were related to Libya, a fact that continues to puzzle cable analysts. Back then, the Libyan Revolution— which has raged forward since the spring— had not even begun. However, even in November of last year, passages that highlighted Libyan corruption did not make it into the original release. One 2006 cable
notes the ways in which members of now-ousted Muammar Qaddafi’s family “profit from being able to manipulate the multi-layered and regularly shifting dynamics of governance mechanisms in Libya”—the Times removed this passage. The State Department was also eager to efface a portion of a cable that mentioned that “millions of dollars are distributed to politically connected Libyans and Libyan expatriates via the oil services companies.” Perhaps most curiously, the uncut WikiLeaks reveal a passage that suggests the bisexuality of Qaddafi’s son, Saadi. It seems the State Department had some
stake in preventing you from knowing that “Saadi has a troubled past, including scuffles with police in Europe (especially Italy), abuse of drugs and alcohol, excessive partying, travel abroad in contravention of his father's wishes and profligate affairs with men and women.” Was this some scheme to protect Americans from the evils of bisexuality abroad? Will we ever see the rest of the juicy details of the sex lives of our political leaders? Now that WikiLeaks has sputtered to its end, we can only pray these details come from some new daring vigilante—who will it be?
ANGRY BIRDS IN 3D by Erica Schwiegershausen
f you haven’t already gotten your fill of Angry Birds, you might be excited to hear that a theme park in China recently opened an attraction based on the dangerously addicting cell phone game of the same name. Park visitors get to use a real live slingshot to shoot stuffed, round birds at faux green pigs! It’s just like on your iPhone (or Android), but real. In case you don’t spend multiple hours a day racing through the levels of this unprecedentedly popular mobile app, here’s a primer: Angry Birds is a cell phone game played on a touch screen in which
you shoot wingless round birds in slingshots and hit evil pigs. The related theme park attraction is basically the same deal, except the birds are the size of a basketball and the slingshots appear to require a moderate amount of upper body strength to operate. The attraction opened earlier this month at the Window of the World Park in Changsha, the capital of the Hunan province, as part of the theme park’s month-long stress reduction festival. A park official told the Chinese gaming website Gamersky.com that the Angry
Birds park “serves as a method for people to purge themselves and to gain happiness.” Unfortunately, when planning this elaborate attraction, it apparently it didn’t occur to anyone to ask permission of the owners of Angry Birds, which is, after all, protected by copyright laws. Actually, copyright infringement seems to be a source of confusion all over China, where authorities discovered numerous fake and unauthorized Apple retailers in the southwestern city of Kunming this summer. However, unlike Apple, Rovio, the
Finnish company that brought us this hugely successful video game, doesn’t seem all that upset at Window of the World’s blatant encroachment on intellectual property. Instead, there has been talk of the two forging a profitable partnership, which seems like it would be in everybody’s best interest. The Chinese could keep reducing stress by slingshooting oversized birds, and Rovio could increase its $140 million yearly profits, clearly a win-win.
BERLUSCONI’S BUNGA BUST
talian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s infamous “Bunga Bunga” (read: sex) parties may finally be coming to a close. For years, Berlusconi has played host to a variety of extravagant gatherings at his mansion in Milan,where he has been known to sit atop a king’s throne as throngs of young women parade before him in police uniforms. Earlier this year, controversy erupted over Berlusconi’s eccentric (creepy, vile, coercive) social habits when he was brought to trial for allegedly paying underage Moroccan dancer Karima El Mahroug
by David Adler for sex acts. Yet despite the legal trouble, the Bunga party raged on, with Berlusconi making no apologies for his fun-loving lifestyle. “My private life is not a crime,” Berlusconi insisted. “It is personal, reserved, and irreproachable.” Besides, the parties “were nothing but friendly gatherings.” Months later, the Prime Minister’s whacky antics have come under fire once again. Last Thursday, prosecutors filed indictments that point to a prostitution ring feeding into Berlusconi’s “gatherings.” According to the prosecution, Gianpolo Tarantini, a prosthetic limb salesman
(what?) and close friend of Berlusconi since 2008, has served as the linchpin of the operation. And as of Saturday, this claim is now supported by the release of hours of wiretaps that further illuminate the shady business between Tarantini and Berlusconi. “Last night I had a queue outside the door of the bedroom,” an excited Berlusconi relayed to Tarantini, “I only did eight because I could not do it anymore.” The details of Berlusconi’s bedroom longevity are at once disturbing and impressive for anyone who has seen the lumbering 74-year-old’s plastic face. But the
most damaging information to the Prime Minister is his claim that his girls are “well provided for,”—a quote that will surely be used against him in court as evidence that the “gatherings” are more than just that. For now, Berlusconi isn’t going anywhere; the opposition’s requests for resignation have thus far been ignored. And who knows, maybe Berlusconi’s pal and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is right when he notes that “they criticize [Berlusconi] because they are jealous.”
22 SEPTEMBER 2011
WHATâ€™S A LETTER The battle to save the Post Office by Kate Welsh Illustration by Cecilia Salama
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
The United States Postal Service, America’s second largest employer after Wal-Mart and second largest source of jokes about bureaucracy after the Department of Motor Vehicles, has been flirting with bankruptcy for the past two weeks. Part public agency, part privately funded business, the US Postal Service is an independent branch of the government, and makes its money primarily through the sale of postage stamps. USPS operates similarly to Amtrak, a government owned corporation. However, the president, with approval from the Senate, appoints its Board of Governors. And although the federal government has not subsidized the agency since the early 1980s, it remains micromanaged by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which regulates its prices and how many days a week it must make deliveries. For years the Postal Service has been heading towards insolvency. The main source of its woes is clear: the mail carrier with his sack of paper letters and bills is an archaic figure in an age when people can easily communicate and settle their finances online. Another factor is that employment at the USPS is notoriously cushy. Labor represents 80 percent of the USPS’s costs, compared with 53 percent for UPS and 32 percent at FedEx. Starting salaries are typically about $48,000 annually, and healthcare and retirement plans are also generous—and, as it turns out, unsustainable. The USPS faces a $5.5 billion bill for retiree health benefits, due at the end of this month. Recently the Obama administration gave the agency a three-month reprieve on the payment, but Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe testified that it would likely run out of money entirely by July or August of this yearunless Congress passes legislation to provide a longterm solution for the agency. Some plans include: massive layoffs (in defiance of the multiple no layoff clauses in union contracts), recovering some billions of dollars that the agency claims they overpaid to employees’ pension funds, and doing away with Saturday mail service. These “solutions” are unpalatable. After the debt ceiling fiasco, nobody in
Congress is eager to approach the issue. Post offices are sites of such historical import and employ so many people in communities that politicians are hesitant to shut them down or reconfigure the way that they operate. Like the debt-ceiling crisis, it came as no surprise that the USPS was running out of money. The Washington Post had published an op-ed warning about its impending bankruptcy last January. But it took the September 30 deadline for anyone to address the $5.5 billion in retiree benefits due. While many congressmen are on board to reduce mail service to five days a week, little consensus has emerged on how to overhaul the agency. Increasing revenue is the postal service’s most important strategy for longterm survival. In Europe and India, post offices, in addition to delivering the mail, give micro credit and sell pay-as-you-go cell phones. Federal law prohibits the service from making a profit from anything besides postage, and also prevents also postage prices from rising with inflation, an unrealistic restriction for a service so dependent upon the use of gasoline. Maureen*, a Rhode Island postal worker, said that in her twenty-five years working for USPS, the price of stamps only rose from 25 cents to 44. Still, the agency is considering ideas, like gaining the right to deliver alcohol, allowing commercial advertisements in post offices and on postal trucks, doing more “last mile” deliveries for FedEx and UPS (deliveries from a UPS or FedEx facility to its intended address), and offering special hand delivery services of documents for businesses and law firms for which email is not considered secure enough. WILDCAT STRIKE The last time that the United States Postal Service seemed on the brink of collapse was in 1970, when postal workers across the country went on a so-called “wildcat strike.” Wildcat strikes are strikes that are not authorized by unions, and are illegal in the United States. Before 1970, postal workers were not allowed to collectively bargain, and therefore often had to supplement their income with a second job or even food stamps.
The strike began in New York City, but quickly spread across the country. By its conclusion, 210,000 U.S. postal workers had walked out on their jobs. In New York City and Chicago, the National Guard manned post offices and delivered the mail. In 1970, this was the largest, most successful strike against the federal government in United States history when one compares the before and after union contracts. The mail stoppage successfully immobilized the country. On Wall Street, checks, stock certificates, and bonds all failed to arrive, forcing officials of the New York Stock Exchange to consider a market shutdown. Today, the idea of stocks “failing to arrive” is inconceivable. Businesses that relied upon regular bill payment—like ConEd or newspaper periodicals—were cut off from their major sources of cash. Some 9,000 men in the New York area got a temporary reprieve from the draft, and, since the strike happened around Easter, National Guardsmen found themselves looking after live chicks in Manhattan’s General Post Office The outcome: the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970. Under the legislation,postal unions were able to negotiate on wages, benefits, and working conditions. A year later, five federal postal unions merged to form the American Postal Workers Union, the largest union of postal workers in the world. Since then, the postal service union negotiated a series of contracts that steadily added more benefits for its workers. One includes a clause that does not allow a worker to be fired if they have worked at the postal service for more than six years. Additionally, all employees who perform the same job must be paid the same salary, regardless of regional differences in the cost of living. A decent wage in Southern California is a princely sum in parts of the Midwest. The Postal Service negotiated these costly contracts; now it seeks permission from Congress to break them by laying off employees.
some euphemism for the layoffs of over a hundred thousand workers. Luckily, as this article goes to the press, there are no plans to shut down any Rhode Island post offices. However, she said that she heard that a few in Massachusetts would be closed. As for the planned layoffs, Maureen said that she is “going with the flow.” She hoped that the USPS would stay afloat for reasons greater than just her own job security—she likes the idea of writing letters. “Your generation,” she said, “if they have to sit down and write a letter, they have no concept of how to do it… It would be sad to lose an institution that has been around for such a long time.” Additionally, she said, people like getting mail—even junk mail. On Sundays, Maureen said, “[People] call up and say, ‘Can I get [my mail]? I didn’t get it.’ It sounds stupid to us, but people look forward to it, you know?” HERODOTUS As of the printing of this article, the most popular “solution” presented is shutting down smaller post offices and instatingmail-less Saturdays. The US Post Office may have to reconsider its unofficial slogan, derived from a line in Herodotus’s Histories about the ancient Persians’ courier service: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from their swift completion of their appointed rounds.” KATE WELSH ’12 has freckles in her eyes.
MAUREEN Maureen, the aforementioned Rhode Island postal worker, told The Indy that the only thing she has heard from her higherups was that there were to be “changes”—
GEORGE: Let me ask you something... What do you do for a living, Newman N E W M A N : I’m a United States postal worker. GEORGE: Aren’t those the guys that always go crazy and come back with a gun and shoot everybody? N E W M A N : Sometimes. Why is that? mail never stops. It just keeps coming and coming and N E W M A N : B e c a use thecoming. There’s never a letup. It’s relentless.
E v e r y day it piles up more and more, but the more you get out, the m o r e i t keeps coming. And then the bar code reader breaks. And then it’s Publisher’s Clearinghouse day.
22 SEPTEMBER 2011
GETTIN’ JIGGY WITH HPV HYSTERIA by Erica Schwiegershausen
ichele Bachmann’s political rhetoric reached a new irresponsible extreme at the Tea Party debate last week when she dug into Rick Perry for a mandate he issued as governor of Texas in 2007 which required that Texas girls receive an HPV (Human Papillomavirus) vaccination before entering the sixth grade. Mentioning her motherhoood yet again (she has five children and 23 foster kids), Bachmann argued that to have “innocent little twelve-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong,” calling it a “violation of a liberty interest.” HPV has been identified by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as “the most common sexually transmitted infection,” with close to twenty million American carrying it and 6.2 million newly infected every year. Although most people never realize they carry the virus, HPV leads to cervical cancer for twelve thousand American women each year. Close to four thousand women in the United States die of cervical cancer each year, as well as hundreds of thousands of women in the developing world. At the Tea Party debate in Tampa, Bachmann reiterated a conservative objection to the mandate concerning parental rights, implying that because of the ethical context associated with vaccinating against an STD, parents deserve to have
more of a say. However, Perry’s mandate included a clause which allowed parents to download a form from the Internet to request “conscientious objection” to having their child vaccinated. Bachmann also accused Perry of being bought off, as his former chief of staff, Mike Toomey, was a lobbyist for Merck, the pharmaceutical company which makes Gardasil and has contributed generously to his campaigns. However, as the debate progressed, Bachmann began to confuse these political issues with misguided safety concerns about the vaccine itself, her sensational remarks introducing a dramatic anti-vaccine paranoia. During an appearance on Fox News the following day, Bachmann related a story about a mother who approached her after the debate and told her about her daughter who “suffered mental retardation as a result of that vaccine.” In the wake of Bachmann’s remarks, the American Academy of Pediatrics was quick to release a statement correcting the false claims, asserting that there is no scientific validity behind statements that link the vaccine to mental retardation, and that the vaccination has an excellent safety record. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the only side effects of the HPV vaccines are “pain and redness where the shot is given” (in the arm), “itching,” mild or moderate fever, and occasional fainting, a common
reaction to vaccination. However, Bachmann’s sensational remarks may leave her with the final word. As Denise Grady points out in a recent article in The New York Times, “when politicians or celebrities raise alarms about vaccines, even false alarms, vaccination rates drop.” Even before Bachmann’s misinformed statements, vaccination rates were disturbingly low. Last month, the CDC issued a “call to action” following reports which found that last year only 32 percent of American teenage girls received all three shots necessary to prevent HPV infection. Although Bachmann’s political bullying has prompted Perry to retrospectively call his mandate a “mistake,” claiming “If I had to do it over again, I would have done it different,” he has, until recently, stood behind his original convictions. In a statement to the Texas legislature in 2007, shortly before the mandate was originally overturned, Perry stood his ground. “I challenge legislators to look at these women in the eyes and tell them, ‘We could have prevented this disease for your daughters and granddaughters, but we just didn’t have the gumption to address all the misguided and misleading political rhetoric,’” he said. Too bad no one was listening.
TEA byPARTY ZOMBIES Erica Schwiegershausen
ooking to blow off some political steam? If you’re growing weary of turning GOP debates into drinking games (cue word: “Reagan”), you might want to check out a new online video game, “Tea Party Zombies Must Die.” Appropriately named, players in the game get to run around a courtyard covered in anti-Obama propaganda while attacking a horde of Tea Party politicians and talking heads with a crowbar. Zombies to take down include Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Glenn Beck, all of whom
amble towards you with their arms outstretched. Plus, the game, created by StarvingEyes Advergaming, isn’t just fun – it’s educational. Between levels, the game screen flashes “informative tidbits,” explaining contentious political issues, such as how Obama’s health care plan will actually reduce the national deficit. The game also features quotes such as this one from George Monbiot of the Guardian: “An Astroturf campaign is a fake grassroots movement: it purports to be a spontaneous uprising of concerned citizens, but in
reality it is founded and funded by elite interests.” As you progress through the levels, you can earn a slew of more advanced weaponry, and visit exciting locations such as the “Americans for Prosperity” headquarters, the Fox News Channel, and the Koch Industries, Inc. building. “You got teabagged!” the game screen predictably reads when you die, with a snarky addendum: “P.S. You didn’t have health insurance, so you died.”
WHO SAID THAT? “What Governor Perry has done is he provided in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. Maybe that was an attempt Rick Santorum to attract illegal – I mean Latino – voters.”
“I was watching C-SPAN, and I saw Vice President Dick Cheney… That’s the kind of person I’d like to have [as vice president] – a person of wisdom and Mitt Romney judgment.”
“Governor Romney called [Social Security] a fraud in his book No Apology - I don’t know if that was written by Kurt Cobain John Huntsman, making a largely unappreciated joke or not.” in reference to the Nirvana track “All Apologies.”
“I graduated in the top 10 of my graduating class – of 13.”
by David Adler
OP candidate Rick Santorum isn’t just running a race against his fellow Republicans—he is also running a race against himself. Santorum is currently second place in the definitionof his own last name. “1. The frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex. 2. Senator Rick Santorum,” reads Spreading Santorum, a blog dedicated to promoting the more unsavory use of the word. Eight years ago, when the campaign Spread Santorum began, then-Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum brushed the prank off as childish tomfoolery. But as the Republican primaries heat up, it is becoming clear that this Internet sensation may very well have crippled his presidential hopes. One of the focal points of Santorum’s political platform is his vehement attack on gay rights. His Twitter profile boasts that he is the proud father of seven, and a strong proponent of the Biblical law of marriage that binds man and woman. Back in 2003, his enthusiasm for fighting gay marriage boiled over when he compared homosexuality withto child molestation, incest, and bestiality. In response, sex-columnist Dan Savage spoke out in a New York Times Op-ed piece, soliciting from his audience a new definition for the word Santorum: “There's no better way to memorialize the Santorum scandal,” Savage remarked, “than by attaching his name to a sex act that would make his big, white teeth fall out of his big, empty head.” When the winning definition was chosen, Spreading Santorum was born, using web technology to create the frenzy that ultimately propelled the site to a firstplace position in the Google search. The site has been a thorn in the side of Santorum’s political career ever since, but in recent months, as he tries to rally in a Republican primary that is all about name recognition, Savage’s prank is really taking its toll. The fate of Santorum’s presidential campaign speaks to the larger political climate of the 21st century. Four years ago, it was Howard Dean: in an honest campaign to take the Democratic primary, it was the “Dean Scream” that took down the favored candidate. Today, Santorum, too, is faced with the difficulty of grappling with a technology that can have great political consequences but is almost impossible to control. The lightning pace of the Internet meme has, for better or for worse, created a culture of politics that reflects little of the candidate’s platform, and a lot of his or her unfortunate quirks and bloopers.In this particular case, however, withSantorum refusing torelent in his gaybashing, we have reason to celebrate the democratic nature of the Internet and its ability to Spread frothy Santorum all over his campaign.
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
From Hotel Housekeeping to City Hall with Carmen Castillo by Haley Kossek Illustration by Julietta Cardenas
armen Castillo’s campaign headquarters is no place for an aspiring vegetarian. When I arrive there last Saturday morning for the first round of canvassing in her ward, she wipes grease from her hand before reaching to shake mine, explaining that she has been cooking all morning to feed her batch of hungry volunteers. At lunchtime, we gather to share roasted chickens, hot dogs, and rice with pork. Were the beans cooked with meat? Probably. But Castillo is too busy chatting with every neighbor, community member, co-worker, and volunteer who walks through the door to tell me for sure. Her Potters Avenue home in Providence’s Ward 9 is doubling as campaign central until the special election on October 25th to fill a vacant city council seat. At one point during her hour-long power-mingle, Castillo runs back into the kitchen to make sure there are enough serving utensils for all of the food, and I apologize for standing in the way, indulgently filling my plate with animal product. “Oh, no, no, don’t you worry, honey,” she clucks. “I’ve got to take care of everybody.” That could be a campaign motto for Castillo, a Dominican immigrant, single mother of three, housekeeper at the Westin Hotel, and leader of UNITE HERE! Local 217, the hotel and food service workers’ union in Providence. When asked why she is running for the City Council seat left vacant by the passing of Councilman Miguel Luna in August, she ticks off the reasons on her fingers: “To take care of my community. To take care of my people. To take care of my workers, and take care of my family too.” An early entrant to a six-way Democratic primary in which she will contend with a local housing investor, a former radio host, and a real estate consultant, Castillo is not exaggerating when she says she has “been taking care of this neighborhood for a very long time.” In the eighteen years she has lived in Providence, she has cultivated skills of which few politicians can boast: making fifteen hotel-sized beds a day, feeding three daughters on sub-living wages, and taking on a six-billion-dollar real estate investment company along the way.
its owners, The Procaccianti Group, a private Rhode Island-based real estate conglomerate, unilaterally slashed workers’ wages, increased health care costs, and subcontracted union positions to outside companies in March 2010, citing a drop in tourism revenue amidst the economic recession. Facing a $78 increase in her healthcare payments along with a significant wage cut, Castillo, who is a diabetic, was forced to drop her health insurance. In response, she and her co-workers boycotted the hotel, establishing regular picket lines outside and calling on the public to stop patronizing the business until management came to an agreement with workers. For a year, Westin workers delegated groups planning to hold events at the hotel, asking them to relocate and refuse to patronize the Westin until the labor dispute was settled. At the time, a Procaccianti Group spokesperson described the boycott in The Providence Journal as “the ultimate representation of a self-defeating strategy,” claiming that it would only lead to further layoffs and cutbacks. Eventually, however, the hotel’s owners, bruised by the loss of profitable engagements like Brown University’s Gala dance in Spring 2010, agreed to reverse its cuts and sign a contract with the workers. As a key leader during the drawn-out fight, Castillo always found time and energy to talk with apathetic or dejected co-workers and inspire them to keep up the fight, even after an arduous day’s work scrubbing toilets and stripping sheets. Co-worker and hotel room service attendant Aubrie Ramsay describes Castillo as the person who “everybody at the hotel knows to turn to when they have a problem.” When UNITE HERE! organizer Courtney Smith describes the upcoming primary race as a struggle to preserve “the legacy of Ward 9 as being a fighting community, a working community,” she is referring first to that type of community which Castillo built among her co-workers at the Westin. When asked to comment on Castillo’s run for office, the Westin Hotel, her employer and frequent adversary over the past 16 years, offered oblique support: “We are very proud of all our associates and applaud their involvement in the community.”
A FIGHTING COMMUNITY, A WORKING COMMUNITY Castillo had been a housekeeper at the Westin downtown for fifteen years when
THAT KIND OF ARMY Just six months after the Westin agreement was signed, Castillo’s home is full
of co-workers and neighbors who want to help get her elected to the City Council. Her volunteer corps practices canvassing role-plays in the front hallway, where framed certificates citing her housekeeping certification and activist accomplishments adorn the walls. Young children of volunteers weave about our feet; Castillo’s niece approaches every female in sight asking if she can paint our nails “Ariel-style,” á la The Little Mermaid (I must respectfully decline), while her nononsense older daughter, a regular fixture on Westin picket lines, divvies up neighborhoods for each pair to visit. I am paired with Christopher Cook, a burly Providence native and union vicepresident who works with Castillo and who can’t stop raving about her in his thick Rhode Island accent. “What’s so great about voting for Carmen is that when you get her, you also get her twohundred-person volunteer army of people who will do anything for her,” Cook says, gesturing to himself and me while making the pitch to a potential voter. “Imagine a city councilwoman with that kind of army behind her.” Talking to voters, Cook ticks off the list of initiatives for which Castillo has organized as if they were letters of the alphabet: First Source, a jobs program for Providence residents; the hotel workers’ retention ordinance, which protects workers’ jobs when hotels transition owners; a citywide living-wage ordinance; “right-to-know” laws informing consumers of labor disputes at businesses they patronize; a struggle to protect her daughter’s public elementary school from closure. Castillo’s name recognition seems to be lower among the English-speaking voters we canvassed than those in Spanishspeaking parts of the ward. Several people hastily take a copy of our flyer before insisting they need more time to consider all of the candidates. One resident describes at length every pothole and broken stop sign on his street, before gesturing to the thriving garden in his front yard. “That’s what Carmen should do,” he says. “Plant more trees here.” Near the end of our door knocking shift, Cook and I run into an unanticipated obstacle: after knocking on the door of a home to no response, we realize that behind it lies a walled-off entrance room leading to a second door into the house. Noticing that the first door is unlocked, we share a hesitant glance. After a mo-
ment, Cook reaches for the doorknob decisively. “Well, I want her to win, don’t I?” he asks as he climbs the steps leading into the front room. “We’re going in.” THIS TIME… In a month’s time, Castillo intends to move her work residence five blocks, from the Westin where she cleans rooms to City Hall where she plans to make policy. She is a native Spanish speaker, and says that one of her biggest worries about the campaign is opponents criticizing her English. She has never attended college or university in the United States. She seeks to become only the second woman member of the fifteen-person City Council, and to add “hotel housekeeper” to a list of councilors’ occupations that currently includes intellectual property lawyer, Staples manager, product designer, career politician, city administrator, attorney, and restaurant owner. She is running with the endorsement of Ward 10 Councilman Luis Aponte, who describes this election as key to the maintenance of good jobs in the city, and with the momentum of laborbacked energy from last year’s elections, when community developer Sabina Matos and precocious college student Davian Sanchez took the seats of City Hall loyalists on the Council. A popular Providence online media outlet, GoLocalProv, suggested Castillo could be the race’s top favorite, though in a six-way primary—without any polling data—it’s difficult to know anything for sure. Come Election Day, any number of unpredictable vote-splitting scenarios could determine the outcome. At campaign headquarters, nobody is taking any chances; Castillo has planned a jampacked four weeks of campaigning while still cleaning rooms at the Westin. When asked about her past political accomplishments, Castillo understatedly claims she has done “a lot of political things in [her] life.” But, she adds, “I’ve never [sat] inside, only in the back of the room to listen to the other people. This time… I want to go inside.” HALEY KOSSEK B’13 is part of a hungry two-hundred-person army.
22 SEPTEMBER 2011
urricane Irene slammed the New England coastline on August 28th, disrupting business, delaying school start dates, and rendering over 70 percent of Rhode Islanders without power, some for as long as a week after the storm. However, Rhode Islanders were largely prepared after the media and government’s warnings, resulting in overstocked pantries of canned foods and candles, as if nuclear disaster had been imminent. At over $8.5 million, the bill for the hurricane damage in Rhode Island is a hefty one—especially for a state that is, well, broke. Governor Lincoln Chafee has said Rhode Island can only afford about a quarter of that amount, and on September 3rd, President Obama and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) classified Rhode Island as a disaster area, qualifying the state for extensive financial assistance. Most of the budget has been relegated to debris cleanup. Dollars and branches aside, the general consensus on Irene seems to be that the much-hyped hurricane was largely anticlimactic. In the past, Rhode Islanders haven’t been nearly so lucky. But the state has taken a lesson from history; its experiences with catastrophic hurricanes led to the implementation of life-saving technologies which have mitigated natural disasters’ impact ever since. FOURTEEN FEET UNDER THE SEA Most famously, the Great New England Hurricane (whose nickname, “the Yankee Clipper,” is deceptively quaint) decimated the state on September 21st, 1938. The National Weather Service, which has always have been dubiously accurate in its predictions, had predicted that the storm would bypass most of the East Coast. So it was with surprise and terror that vacationers along Lil Rhody’s shoreline witnessed a 40-foot wall of water speed towards them—then felt it crash down upon them with a force equivalent to that of a major earthquake. Although Connecticut and New York were also impacted, Rhode Island was the locus of the destruction. As Rhode Island residents know all too well, the Ocean State and its capital, which sits only 75 feet above sea level, are singularly prone to flooding. With people going about their daily business on the ground, the hurricane’s surge suddenly engulfed downtown Providence in water nearly fourteen feet deep. Along the coast, people were
Ghost of Hurricanes Past by Caroline Soussloff Illustration by Becca Levinson
swept out to sea inside their homes. In total, 312 Rhode Island residents perished. Thousands of homes were destroyed. The actress Katharine Hepburn, who experienced the hurricane in her family home on the Connecticut coast, described it thusly: “It was something devastating—and unreal—like the beginning of the world—or the end of it—and I slogged or sloshed, crawled through ditches and hung on to keep going somehow.” Though she survived, her house did not. In many ways, the devastation wrought by the hurricane was a product of the inferior technology of its time. After the Weather Service’s initial failure to warn New England of the oncoming storm, last-minute efforts to alert residents were severely hampered by unsophisticated rudimentary communication technology. Indeed, the 1938 hurricane is often cited as the impetus for a massive and much-needed modernizing of the Weather Service. During the hours and days after the storm, a Depression-era narrative unfolded, with looting exacerbated by the economic climate and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) deploying to affected areas for clean up. In weatherman parlance, the Great New England Hurricane would rank, at various points, between a Category 3 and a Category 5 hurricane (the most severe)— the same range as Katrina, 67 years later. Ultimately, the damage it wrought on the East Coast cost what today would amount to around $9 billion, a number that helps put Chafee’s present bind in perspective, A BREAKING POINT, THEN FOX POINT Although the Great New England Hurricane may sound like a once-in-a-lifetime event, less than 20 years later, Rhode Island faced a similar catastrophe. When Hurricane Carol arrived in Rhode Island on August 31, 1954, downtown Providence was again subjected to severe flooding, this time measuring as high as 12 feet. The entire state of Rhode Island lost electrical power, and phone service was unavailable to 95% of households. Worst of all, the state had commenced relief efforts, when a second Category 3 hurricane, Edna, struck a mere eleven days later. And the next August, the high winds and heavy rains of Hurricane Diane wrought havoc on New England, claiming 90 lives. The images from these hurricanes—easily found on YouTube or Google—are jarring: cars submerged
in floodwaters so high that only slivers of their roofs are visible, bobbing above the waves; buildings several stories high knocked to the ground and ripped apart. In 1936, Congress passed the Flood Control Act, authorizing the construction of flood control infrastructure with federal money as part of its New Deal infrastructure projects. Yet by the time of the 1954 and 1955 hurricane seasons, a mere fifth of the projects authorized for New England had come to fruition—a figure less than half the national average. The destruction reinvigorated an initiative across New England to prevent future flooding. In Providence, the Army Corps of Engineers began construction in 1960 on the Fox Point Hurricane Barrier, which was specifically designed to protect the city against the types of storm surges it experienced in 1938 and 1954. Authorized by the 1958 Flood Control Act and financed by the state of Rhode Island, six years later, this hulking concrete structure—700 feet long and 25 feet tall sat completed in the Providence River. Its green arches have been a waterfront landmark ever since, visible just past South Water Street. The Fox Point barrier operates according to two principle mechanisms: three gates and five pumps. On a calm day, the gates are raised to accommodate boat traffic, but when the city is at risk of flooding, the gates lower, cutting the Providence River off from Narragansett Bay. Meanwhile, the pumps transfer water from the riverside to the bayside. This engineering has proven highly effective. Indeed, had the Fox Point barrier been around in 1938, the city would have been spared $61.6 million in damages. Arguably, it has done too good of a job, instilling a false confidence in Providence residents. On the day of Hurricane Irene, Providence police found themselves shooing people off of the barrier, which had been closed in anticipation of the storm. Apparently, for some, Irene was such a letdown that they had determined to seek out some excitement. It is true that we do not seem to fully appreciate the crucial role such infrastructure plays until it fail us. The levees in New Orleans are a prime example of why it is important to look back from time to time. CAROLINE SOUSSLOFF B’12 surfs hurricanes.
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
. WHAT IS THAT? Westminster’s “Turkish” Head by Grace Dunham
owntown Providence has a strange and mysterious guardian. Bearing sharp teeth, squinted eyes, and a drooping mustache, he looms over the circular intersection of Westminster and Weybosset, scowling across the river towards College Hill. They call him “The Turk’s Head,” and he lives between the 3rd and 4th floors of 76 Westminster St—dubbed the Turk’s Head Building in his honor. Sixteen stories of white brick, the Turk’s Head Building was designed by the architecture firm Howells & Stokes and completed in 1913. The inspiration for its V-shaped plan came from Daniel Burnham’s famed Flatiron Building in New York City. The story of the Turk’s Head goes back to 1752, when, according to an 1883 document printed in the Publications of Rhode Island Historical Society Vol. V, a wealthy blacksmith named Jacob Whitman erected “his large two-storied gambrel-roofed house at what subsequently became the junction of Weybosset and
Westminster streets.” The roof of Whitman’s front verandah was adorned with “a renowned Turk’s Head,” which was “the most diabolical head, the nightmare of human imagination…enveloped in a black turban, the eyes enormous…nostrils distended, as if breathing perdition and ruin, the mouth open, with beard and mustache, and the fiery red tongue hanging out broad and long as if to lap up whole schools of humans beings as they passed!” Though the origin of the statue is unclear,its prior location can be traced to the Smith & Sabin shop, a purveyor of “dry goods both East-Indian and WestIndian” on the East side of the Weybosset bridge. At Smith &Sabin, the figure acted as a signpost (these were the days when symbols, not numbers, indicated the shops of tradesman). Before that, some say the sign was the figurehead of a ship owned by the Smith and Sabin shop owners, which bore the name “The Sultan.” From the name of the ship, the figurehead derived the nickname “The Sultan Mustapha,” and then “The Sultan” and then “The
Turk.” Others say the Turk was a replica of a signpost in London. Either way, the “diabolical head”—even then—was a wellknown Providence fixture. The head remained on Whitman’s home until it was blown away by “the great gale” of 1815. Whitman and his thirteen yearold son, George, discovered the missing head while looking through the wreckage in a nearby cove. It was never reinstalled outside Whitman’s home, but instead kept under the cellar stairs of an old Angell Street farmhouse. Nine years later, the head was sent to Montgomery, Alabama, where George Whitman had settled and opened a store. In Montgomery, the Turk also became a noted figure. But, according to the 1883 document, “one night a party of young men in a drunken frolic captured the ‘Turk’s Head,’ packed it in sawdust in a box, and sent it to the Governor of Alabama as the head of as the head of a noted Indian chief for whom a reward had been offered!” Mr. Whitman recovered the head and brought it with him to New Orleans, where it remained outside
his new place of business until its closing, when it was put in a storage warehouse and eventually lost. According to another legend, the head came into the possession of Cherokee Indians who worshipped it as a god. Whatever the truth is, the Turk’s Head was never seen again. Despite the head’s disappearance from Providence, the corner of Weybosset and Westminster was forever christened Turk’s Head Corner. “Probably long before the year 1800,” it says in the 1883 document, “no point in Providence was better known throughout the state.” And so, when 76 Westminster was completed in 1913, the architects made sure to memorialize the Providence legend. Today—carved in granite into the building’s curved façade—he stands Sentinel over the streets of downtown, honoring the Turk who first graced that corner so long ago.
GRACE DUNHAM B’14 IS THE NIGHTMARE OF HUMAN IMAGINATION
YOGA PVD Guide to Styles and Classes in Providence by Alexandra Corrigan
oga, commonly known as only a practice here in the USA, was contentiously debated in ancient Indian philosophy. In Buddhism and Hinduism, it is used (but not required) to prepare the body and mind for higher forms of meditation. A divergent strand of Buddhism, Yogacara, calls day-to-day practice as essential for getting enlightened. A believer of Yogacara, instead of worshiping deities, works on purifying his or her mind through the eight “limbs” or “steps” of the system. The famous Sanskrit description of Yogacara’s goal is “citta-vrittinirodhah”, or, to cultivate a stillness of the mind. (FYI: Memorization of that will impress any teacher). Surprisingly, only one of these arms of Yogacara refers to the physical poses, known as the asanas. This is what yoga teachers mean when they talk about transitioning to the asana practice (as opposed to the other seven “limbs” of yoga). The other parts? One can find breath control (pranayama) and control of the senses (pratyhahara) in some more traditional yoga classes. The other five limbs probably won’t make it into your typical class: morality, personal morality, inner perceptual awareness, devotion, and ultimate meditation. However, the stress-reducing and physical preparation yoga practice gives aren’t limited to the true believers (according to every study). Whether an approach to reality, or a rich part of be-
ing present in your body, the practice can make you a little more in sync. Below is a guide to Providence-based yoga centers and styles ranging from workout classes to more meditative group-work. Physical Practice NOVICE There are many obstacles facing the novice yogi: demanding and unfamiliar workouts, body-exposing spandex, Western guilt, etc. For someone who wants to ease into a simple physical practice, I'd suggest "Basics Flow" at Eyes of the World Studio. One can also try downtown: the owner of the Motion Center downtown characterizes her Iyengar Yoga classes as “simple and alignment-focused.” One can definitely also walk into any Hatha class, which is closest to the stereotype of yoga: the practice holds stretching poses for long periods of time, giving a deep stretch without a ton of sweat. INTERMEDIATE//ADVANCED For those looking for a more intense session, Vinyasa or "flow" types of yoga are a good bet. The most popular classes generally pack lots of sun salutations, up and down movements and shoulder, arm and length strengthening. One can find them on the YAM (Yoga and Mindfulness, at the Brown/RISD Hillel) schedule Tuesday-Friday. A similarly faster-pace yoga
is Ashtanga, offered at almost every yoga studio. Lastly, for the advanced or cardio-obsessed, Bikram yoga is one of the most intense styles for anybody (offered locally only in Cranston). If doing rapid-fire poses in a 105 °F room piques one’s curiosity, there are still a couple concerns to keep in mind. The heat often causes a false sense of flexibility, causing one to overstretch and injure themselves. Bring an empty stomach and a gallon of water. HIGHER PURPOSE Yoga originally derived from the IndoEuropean root yug, meaning to yolk or to join. Joining the breath, the body and the mind gives the physical practice even more of a purpose. Many East Asian traditions practice with the goal to fine-tune the mind to see clearly. See what clearly, you might ask? See through the cloudy, temporary preoccupations and attachments to the body to a more permanent Truth (which some schools refer to as “original nature”). While a couple classes won't make anyone the next incarnation of Buddha, more spiritually bent classes might be appropriate for those seeking stress reduction and spiritual inquiry. NOVICE For the new Yogi, I would recommend
YAM's Back to the Basics classes. Riyad Seervai, the Brown student who teaches it, describes the class as trying “...to provide people with non-commercialized yoga - no music or candles, no props, no special temperature/atmosphere.” Other options include any class with the words “yin” or “mudra” in the description. Such classes involve long stretches for the connective tissue (rather than muscle), to improve conditions for meditation. Skeptical but still want to try some philosophy in your downward-dog? At the Motion Center, Vinyasa and Anusara Yoga classes offer unobtrusive words of wisdom without being too New Age-y. INTERMEDIATE//ADVANCED Any non-basics class with the head teacher of Eyes of the World, Tom Gilette, will definitely challenge and inspire for their 90-minute duration. Every class begins with an intention (yoga-speak meaning goal), and launches into a deep, sweaty investigation into the body's movements. Jivamukti-style Yoga also takes inspiration from Vinyasa with a more liberal understanding of mixing chants, breath control and musical elements. These classes take place during YAM’s Lunch Power-Hour. ALEXANDRA CORRIGAN B’12 has an incredible downward dog
22 SEPTEMBER 2011
BY DAYNA TORTORICI ILLUSTRAION BY ROBERT SANDLER
was prepared to hate SlutWalk Providence, the latest in a sweep of grassroots feminist protests that hit Kennedy Plaza last Saturday, September 17. Responding to over 70 spinoff “SlutWalks” in cities across the country, SlutWalk Providence protested the blamethe-victim rhetoric of rape culture, which asks victims of sexual assault what they could do differently to avoid rape (“not dress like sluts,” for example) rather than asking what motivates its perpetrators. The message is a powerful one, important as ever today. But like other witnesses to this impressive wave of feminist activity, I found it compromised by the medium. Why call it a “SlutWalk”? This medium has included some markers of conventional protest: chants and signs that read, “My outfit is not an open invitation” and “I consent with my voice, not my outfit.” But more often, SlutWalks have hinged on the power of the word “slut.” SlutWalk protesters in Boston, Dallas, Asheville, and elsewhere have stripped down to their underwear and smeared “PROUD SLUT” in marker across their cheeks, busting out bustiers and other burlesque-inspired lingerie to make good on their right to dress however they want without fear of suffering sexual violence. Perhaps for this reason—and for a lack of follow-up on the marches’ momentum— many SlutWalks have been more parade than protest. Although they raised a degree of awareness, they marched once, interacted minimally with their communities, and then called it a day. As a feminist fed-up with the ubiquity of “sex-positive” demonstration and craving a more sophisticated, or at least a different form of feminist activism, I found myself
sympathizing with Rebecca Traister of the New York Times, who wrote critically about the SlutWalks. “At a moment when questions of sex and power, blame and credibility, and gender and justice are so ubiquitous and so urgent,” wrote Traister, “I have mostly felt irritation that stripping down to skivvies and calling ourselves sluts is passing for keen retort.” But upon seeing the 100-odd faces assembled at Kennedy Plaza last Saturday— a paltry turnout compared to the 1,000+ pledged attendees on Facebook, but significant for this city—it was clear that Providence’s SlutWalk was more nuanced than SlutWalks elsewhere—or at least more nuanced than the media depiction of SlutWalks elsewhere. Costumes were scarce; men and women of different ethnicities were present in surprisingly equal numbers; and there were possibly more SlutWalk antagonists and agnostics, like myself, than uncritical supporters bolstering the ranks. It was hard to hate. As the events of the day made clear, the most important thing about the SlutWalk was not its message (though that certainly mattered), nor the efficacy of its delivery, but its potential to attract people with little political feeling or experience and impel them to organize. Using the readymade of the SlutWalk as a point of access to feminism and community organizing, Providence residents came out and showed that they cared about women’s issues—all they needed was a springboard. Despite all its problems, the SlutWalk provided that springboard. “Its not enough to have a SlutWalk,” said event organizer Sarah Quenon, 29, who works at AS220. “It’s not enough to get together and talk about our feelings af-
terwards. We have to take the next steps, and we have to organize and make things happen.” If the protesters make good on the conversation they began last Saturday, it seems like they will make things happen. One hopes that a new local women’s movement will come out of it—surpassing the gimmicks of the national SlutWalks and addressing more community issues—and that in the end, more than just the slutidentifiers will benefit. SLUTS UNDER FIRE The first SlutWalk took place in Toronto this past April, after a police officer told a group of women at a safety conference that they should “avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimized.” The women demanded an apology, and then organized a massive walking protest that attracted over 3,000 participants. Since then, SlutWalks have popped up across the United States and around the world, with satellite SlutWalks in India, Morocco, South Africa, and elsewhere. Although the protests all mobilized under the same name (“SlutWalk [city name]”), no central organization directed them. The SlutWalks have been pure viral activism: men and women see it in one city, figure out how to bring it to their own, then execute. Despite the immense energy behind the SlutWalks, many feminists, and even participants, aren’t sure how they feel about them. Some question whether the word “slut” is too violent and negative to reclaim. Others, as Traister noted, wonder whether protesting in one’s underwear plays too deeply into sexist attitudes to effectively deliver the message. Maia Green, a 21-year-old Providence
local, expressed this sentiment at Slutwalk Providence last Saturday. “I didn’t like the title,” she said. “I still don’t like the title. I feel like the word slut is a distraction. There’s too much hatred behind it.” Angela Hawkes, a senior at Classical High School in Providence who first heard about the SlutWalks on Tumblr, noted how the name might make onlookers take the protest less seriously. “They’ll be like, ‘Oh, a buncha sluts walking down the street—this is hilarious!’” Hawkes added that in Providence especially, women needed to engage people on the issue in a less performative, “more intellectual way” than perhaps the form of the SlutWalk was capable of. Part of this performative quality stems from the political orientation of the SlutWalks’ founding organizers in Toronto, who openly identify as “sex-positive”— meaning they believe that all consensual sexual activities are generally positive, even if they play into structures of domination and subordination. Often, but not always, this orientation towards feminism expresses itself as a sassy, provocative, and self-promoting performance that others find lacks sufficient analysis. While there’s nothing wrong with “sexpos” on its own, many—myself included— despair that this highly visible and theatrical approach to activism has come to be the face of all youthful feminist activity— giving the false impression that all young feminists care about are questions of individual “choice” and sexuality, and that they all share the same perky and upbeat attitude. If detractors see SlutWalks as a “pornification of protest”—as anti-pornography activist Gail Dines noted in the Guardian—it’s easy to understand the relat-
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
ed fear that SlutWalks likewise encourage a “pornification of feminism.” But perhaps the most significant criticism of the SlutWalks “movement” was that it was primarily a “white girl’s movement” or a “middle-class girl’s movement.” As the British feminist Nina Power has pointed out, there is a “middle class assumption that working class women are ‘duped’ into [participating in a] hypersexualized, pornified culture either out of stupidity or dire economic circumstances, whereas middle-class sex-bloggers are in control, emancipated or empowered by their sexuality.” The same could be said for racial and ethnic minorities. It’s much easier to reclaim the word “slut” if you have the privilege of having distance from the term, which many women—for reasons of racist or classist prejudice—do not. One of the speakers at SlutWalk Providence, Franny Choi (B’11), performed a poem about being exoticized specifically as an Asian woman, and afterwards elaborated on this issue. “I think that the costuming [of the typical SlutWalks] and reclaiming the word ‘slut’ is a pretty white thing,” she said. “It’s just a different ballgame for women of color. Some of us have bodies that will always mark us as something like ‘slut,’ and it doesn’t matter what we wear. So I think in some ways to cover up is an act of resistance for certain bodies.” She did concede, however, that, “to protest in costume and to make a scene is sometimes what you need to do to get seen.” NEXT STEPS Despite the SlutWalks’ troubled reputation, Providence residents recognized
their potential to organize people in the community. One protester, Lindsay Goss, a member of the Rhode Island International Socialist Organization (ISO) and a graduate student in Theater and Performance Studies at Brown, called the SlutWalks “one of the more significant mass expressions of women’s anger and frustration” in recent memory—even though the feeling behind it was nothing new. “All this rage is coming out that’s been there,” Goss said. “It’s not new. Everybody’s been feeling this way. That there’s been this outlet for it is incredibly powerful.” Goss suggested that continuing in the “SlutWalk model” of recruiting unorganized people and encouraging them to act on other issues would be the next step towards building a women’s movement in Providence. This self-reflexive stress on the importance of organizing was everywhere at SlutWalk Providence. “What’s the Next Step?” was a common refrain, and even the name of a workshop held at Libertalia Autonomous Space after the march. Angela Hawkes appreciated that the events of SlutWalk Providence were geared more towards the participants than the observers, “getting to the individual people who came to it.” Maia Green agreed. “On the one hand,” she said, “[the SlutWalk] is how you get people’s attention, but there’s a tradeoff. It’s absolutely a first step towards something bigger. We need a lot of these first steps before anyone starts paying attention enough to care. I think the next step could be something a little more removed from the sensationalism.” Statistics suggest the same. According to “Progress & Perils,” a 2003 survey
conducted by the Center for the Advancement of Women, reducing domestic violence and sexual assault ranks highest among women’s priorities, with 92 percent of the 3,000 surveyed women ranking the issue as a “top priority.” But other feminist concerns fall close behind: equal pay for equal work at 90 percent, access to child care at 85 percent, and improving women’s health care at 83 percent. If events like the SlutWalk that call attention to domestic violence and sexual assault galvanize feminists and get people to protest, chances are that organizing communities around other top priorities will closely follow. Another of SlutWalk’s implicit merits is its ability to reach to young people, many of whom have little or no protest experience. Because the SlutWalk addresses an issue one needs little knowledge or expertise to care about—people of all ages witness sexual harassment or experience firsthand—it’s easier to get people behind it than more complex or systemic issues, like labor or reproductive rights. “A lot of the people here, especially a lot of the young women participating, maybe haven’t participated in a protest before,” said Lindsay Goss. Although many of the protesters at SlutWalk Providence had participated in protests before, dozens, including local high school and college students, said they had not. While this proved an organizing advantage, getting more than the usual suspects involved, it wasn’t always a boon to the protest itself. As SlutWalk Providence proceeded through downcity towards 280 Broadway, it charged forward at an almost unreasonable pace—leaving clusters of baffled, curious onlookers in its wake.
Once, after I stopped for a few minutes to explain the SlutWalk to a group of male hotel workers taking a cigarette break, the SlutWalk turned a corner and I lost sight of it completely. With an organization equal parts motivated and inexperienced like this one, little things—like remembering to keep pace, to stick together, and to engage with the public—will be bumps in the road. But more important at this juncture, energy was high. At the end of the “What’s the Next Step?” workshop at Libertalia following the march, protesters brainstormed potential projects to take up following the Slutwalk, including youth outreach initiatives, reading groups, public art pieces, and letter-writing campaigns. As a result, Sarah Quenon, the organizing leader of SlutWalk Providence, has taken some initial steps to organize a “Rhode Island Anti-Sexism League” (RIASL)—a hub for existing feminist resources and organizations in the community. Quenon has promised to keep SlutWalk participants clued in to its progress. “One thing I’ve learned about organizing is that it doesn’t happen if you don’t organize,” Quenon said, to some laughter. Although it’s unclear how long until RIASL is up and active, the message is clear enough: if feminists in Providence want to organize, a door has been opened. The next step is all up to them: getting motivated enough to walk through. DAYNA TORTORICI B’11.5 often, but not always, does not share your perky, upbeat attitude.
22 SEPTEMBER 2011
IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT by Max Wiggins Graphic by Robert Sandler
News corporations use natural disasters as a scare tactic
rect before a green screen, the ABC news anchor stood and announced, “We are witnessing history!” Fantasies of Emmys swam in his glassy eyes. The screen erupted with chaotic imagery—colorful, swirling charts, massive waves and terrible wreckage—as the anchor raved that this storm was “angry,” that it was “merciless.” This World News Report in New York City aired on ABC on August 27th, the day that Hurricane Irene hit North Carolina. The feed transfers to an on-scene reporter standing by in Nags Head. The reporter stood on the North Carolina shore in his black and blue all-weather gear, with the hood of his coat and a lot of good hair blowing in the fierce winds. Giddy, he reported on his adventures with storm chasers, describing rains coming down “that felt like needles sticking us right in the face,” and winds that made it “impossible to walk.” The reporter insisted that in this type of weather, “There's literally no safe place.” The feed cuts from the apocalyptic scene on the shore, back to headquarters to tell viewers of an 11-year old boy who was killed by a tree collapsing on an apartment complex. This is just the type of on-scene reporting that Fred Campanga, head meteorologist at ABC6 admitted “can border on ridiculous.” Fred, with right ankle balanced on left knee, his suspended foot exhibiting a steady amphetamine bounce, asked of this type of on-scene reporting: “What is the point of it?” To answer his own question he offered, “It makes for good television.” Campanga referred to a lot of criticism he’s been hearing about sensationalized media coverage of the storm in the MidAtlantic states, and admitted that he has no problem with it and that “it’s just the way things are done these days.” Irene wasn’t as record-breaking as newsmen characterized. According to Bloomberg, the hurricane took 18 lives and caused three billion dollars in damage.
Hurricane Floyd in 1999—another considerable storm for the East Coast—caused only 750 million dollars in damage, but as it was a stronger, more dangerous storm, took 56 lives. Irene was certainly grave enough to be treated as tragic, but when compared to other hurricanes within the last twenty years, Irene’s death and damage tolls fell around the median average. “From the standpoint of somebody who understands hurricanes, the forecasts were accurate,” Amanda Lynch—a Brown University professor with her Ph. D in meteorology—remarked, “But, between them communicating what the forecast was and the news services selling their product, a news story was created.” By “product” she meant, “They’re trying to fill up the airwaves with stuff that people will watch, and the best way to get people to watch is to whip them into a panic.” Lynch, because of this, refuses to look at the TV during storms, remarking that the way that these stories are reported is “unconscionable.” “It’s dangerous.” Not only dangerous because these reporters are sent into the throes of harsh weather, but also because people take the severity of hurricane weather less seriously in response. “Hurricanes,” Lynch explained, “will kill you. So, either it really is serious and they shouldn’t be there, or it’s not serious and they should stop talking it up.” And, as far as Lynch is concerned, in the case of Irene, “They were talking it up.” WEIRD SCIENCE In response to the massive Chilean earthquake last year, MSNBC published an article originally titled “Is Nature Out of Control?” This article was later re-titled “Big quake question: Are they getting worse?” MSNBC wrote that, although most scientists considered the quake normal, “One scientist, however, says that relative to the time period from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, Earth has been more active over the past 15 years or so.” If not too
cryptic or vague a statement to preclude its possessing any meaning, it seems the first sentence of the article, placing one scientist against all of their peers, is more than sufficient to answer the question the article poses. FLYING KITES IN HURRICANES Campanga relayed Irene’s impact as mostly tree damage and power outages, explaining that the storm caused more outages than any other storm he can recall in the last decade or so. As far as more tragic fates, such as children falling victim to snapping tree limbs, the meteorologist found these instances to be more so the exception than the rule. As far as he was concerned, “Most of the people who ended up dying as a result of [Irene] were putting themselves in harm’s way.” Counter to reports of a storm that offered no safety anywhere, he explained that a lot of the deaths and injuries that Irene brought were in fact due to thrill-seeking spectators and extreme surfer-bros rolling proverbial ‘dice.’ Most of the reporting done on Irene at ABC6 concerned preventative measures, such as amounts of water and other supplies folks should have ready for worstcase-scenario situations. He did, however, speak of some on-scene reporting around Rhode Island. In his talk of on-scene reporting in extreme weather, he explained that the news reporters on the scene are not the individuals actually gathering data on the storm, and that they are “not necessarily expected to know what they’re talking about.” In some news crews, like those at his particular station, a meteorologist is present to relay the most basic information about the storms. One thing you have to always remember, he’s learned in his reporting, is that you never want to get “too scientific.” He explained that, though there is a lot of scientific information that can be conferred about such weather, most of
the audience won’t understand the majority of it. The result appears to be a lot of casual reporting used to fill space. OUR NEW BOOGEYMAN Campanga’s thoughts on warnings of the natural world spinning out of control were more measured than those offered by MSNBC. Apparently he thinks the only real change in our understanding of natural disasters over the past ten years is the advent of camera phones and Youtube. The immediacy of information is an issue, because it allows news sources much more scary and exciting material to ‘spice up’ their broadcasts. He sees a trend in people suggesting that weather at large is worsening, but begs that people consider that technology now avails us to “all of the bad weather,” every natural disaster, everywhere. It is unfortunate that such a sobering view of our livelihood isn’t often coupled with the images of disintegrating houses, raging waters, etc. Dr. Lynch agrees that the weather isn’t getting worse, and that we’re not having more disasters. “It’s just not true.” Lynch asserts, “If you look at most disasters, the number of deaths has gone down dramatically.” “Disaster envy,” she called it. “Wanting your disaster to be worse than it is.” As reporters give in to the desire to portray these disasters as worse than they are, the news reflects that, instead of forecasts alone. “It’s our new boogeyman,” Lynch says of this newfound fear of natural disasters, “Just something new to be afraid of.” It makes sense that Lynch avoids the news at times like these. As for the rest of us, we sit staring, bewildered. It’s scary, and we watch it like strange pornography.
MAX WIGGINS B’12 is obsessed with the Weather Channel.
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
Museums Get Branded
fter existing nearly thirty years in the same building, the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida decided to move a few blocks down the same street. It hired the architectural engineering firm Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabum to construct a virtual mecca to all Dali enthusiasts. When the building opened in January of this year, there was a new and brightly colored museum logo consisting of skewed and slanted letters, as well as a new line of products to mark the occasion. (For example, women’s attire patterned with the same design elements seen in the new building.) After circling the building multiple times in search of an entrance, like lost travelers in search of an oasis from the Florida heat, visitors find that only one entryway exists: through the gift shop. A visitor must pass by the masks of Dali’s face and shelves lined with melting clocks just to buy a ticket. After working though an entire floor dedicated to retail, he or she can finally proceed to the third floor—one half of which is the permanent collection, and the other visiting exhibits. This same pattern of revitalization keeps manifesting itself within the context of older and more established museums. Economic hard times have created an imperative for museums to attract more visitors and win larger profits. To do so, many museums are turning to branding. Branding, a concept well-known in the retail sector of the consumer art world, has crossed over into the museum world with a special sensitivity. “It’s a highly collaborative process…we spend a lot of time at the museums, working with the staff and the board of directors,” says Nick O’Flaherty, a strategy director at major branding firm Wolff-Olins. “We also speak with key donors [and] corporate sponsors and try to get a good feel of the current context.”
by Mary-Evelyn Farrior Illustration by Cecilia Salama
However, the branding of a museum is not confined to a change in letterhead. It is also about redesigning every aspect of the museum experience, even including management style and curatorial practice. Every element must match the mission statement of the museum while also appealing to the visitors. However, branding is more about the implementation than the materials at hand; firms do not go into projects with the mindset of changing everything present, instead it is about unleashing the potential and bringing in a greater audience. O’Flaherty adds, “How can you take the same piece of art and contextualize it and draw connections with the visitors in different ways? It is not about dumbing it down by any means. It’s about throwing out different lifelines and putting it [the art] in different contexts so it has a wider appeal, and then that art can have a difference in that visitor [sic.].” Firms such as Wolff-Olins, who have clients ranging from Mercedes-Benz to Unilever, even offer discounted rates for museums looking for a branding makeover. It is, in fact, the very same group of people who work on the branding of both for-profit and non-profit organizations. O’Flaherty insists that it is still the museum at the heart of the campaigns rather than just the profits: “We aren’t the sort of hardened marketeers who are out there to squeeze equity out of the museum… [what we do] should always reflect the museum, but broaden appeal, create interest. Be relevant - and never be contrived.” THE BIG, BAD WOLFF-OLINS However open to interpretation the ethics of such a process may be, branding has produced real monetary results for museums like the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Tate in London. Part of its effectiveness is due to the newfound ap-
proachability of the museum, as well as a more widespread knowledge of the museum’s existence. “A lot of what we do is a long term perspective,” says O’Flaherty, “building equity in the museum, insuring that it is relevant for generations to come, [and] for a wider group of people as opposed to a small niche of academics.” Branding is not targeted at one group of people, but instead follows a Field of Dreams approach, suggesting that if they work on and build up the museum itself, then the visitors will come. In a society where brand names serve as synecdoche for whole product genres, it makes sense that this same concept is now being applied to museums. A museum’s name, architectural design, and gift shop products are now equally as important and recognizable for visitors as its collection. In addition to attracting visitors, a branded museum also lends itself to a larger retail sector, thus further increasing its income. As Wolff-Olins says in its press release, present-day museums are “bazaars” and no longer “cathedrals”. CASE STUDY OF THE NEW One of the greatest museum branding success stories is The New Museum, who saw a 600% increase in visitors after being branded. Before seeking out WolffOlins, the New Museum was a relatively unknown contemporary museum in New York, frequently mistaken for the Neue Galerie, also in New York City, which specializes in German and Austrian art. Much like the Dali museum, the New Museum decided to revolutionize itself before its 30th anniversary in 2007. They constructed a distinctive new building in downtown Manhattan, resembling six precariously stacked boxes. Pritzer-prize winning architects Sejima and Nishizawa created the new design, which complements the mu-
seum’s ad campaigns and commercial services. Wolff-Olins decided on the phrase “new art, new ideas,” a summary of the museum’s mission statement, to head the branding campaign. After a new brand is formed, it is up to the museum to decide upon advertisements, under the watchful eye of the branding firms. After working with Wolff-Olins, the ‘new’ New Museum turned to advertising agency Droga5 for advertisements, many of which were designed by Google and Facebook creative director Ji Lee. Droga5 put up signs in subway stations, on commandeered billboards, and even on the actual façade of the building. The firm also printed cards that filled phrases in between the words “new” and “museum.” One of cards reads, “new ‘forget’ museum,” and another, “new ‘I could’ve done this’ museum,” This playfulness throws a sort of ‘lifeline’, as O’Flaherty mentioned, to people who may not have considered art before. Accordingly, the museum is branded as an approachable way to experience art. By setting itself apart in advertisements and attitude, the New Museum enhances its public awareness. Following in its footsteps, the Tate has also turned to Wolff-Olins for branding. The modern branch of the museum’s new, swanky extension, designed by architecture firm Herzog & de Muron Architekten, should be complete in time for the 2012 Olympic games in London, which Wolff-Olins also happens to be branding. MARY-EVELYN FARRIOR B’14 wants to work for a branding firm when she grows up.
22 SEPTEMBER 2011
THE RETURN OF THE by Emma Janaskie illustration by Becca Levinson
ow strange it is to be anything at all,” Jeff Mangum mused on the closing line of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea’s title track. The music Mangum made as the bona fide mastermind behind Neutral Milk Hotel—most notably, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea—doesn't have the ubiquitous critical acclaim of other 90s albums like My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless or The Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin. But a record like In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is nothing but guts, and that’s what separates it from anything else that has ever been recorded in the indie music world. Mangum made it okay to broach hefty issues in a determinedly personal way. That’s why his music feels as life-affirming as it does—he stares in the face of all the disgusting shit humans do to each other and explodes it in to music that is weird and beautiful and so very much ours. When it was released in late 1997, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea—which balances brass fanfares and Eastern European choruses with freewheeling, imagistic lyrics— was quickly touted as a work that changed the face of independent music with its emotional frankness and smorgasbordof influences. The album casts indie music before Mangum as obtuse, evasive, and even reticent while kicking Mangum and bald emotion out onto center stage. And yet, amid the success of Aeroplane, it seemed that Mangum always had one foot out the door, waiting for the second he could drop his guitar and duck out of the spotlight. The onslaught of concentrated fame and increasing critical acclaim that ghosted the album begat a bevy of frenzied fans. The attention took its toll on Mangum, who disbanded Neutral Milk Hotel after touring the album in 1999. He made no announcement, just a demure departure. Those close to Mangum supposed he had grown tired of glossy magazines poking and prodding him to explain his creative process and lyrics. Rumors circulated about Mangum’s nervous breakdown
and persistent, almost debilitating night terrors. Fans and critics alike rallied for a new Mangum-orchestrated Neutral Milk Hotel album, and accused him of selfishness and wasting his talent. So it came as a surprise to everyone when, on February 11th of this year, Mangum announced a solo tour during the summer and fall of 2011. I landed myself a ticket to see Mangum at Harvard Square’s Sanders Theater on September 9th. Curiosity—and of course, the excitement of seeing indie music’s very own Salinger in the flesh—had me anxious with anticipation. After a half hour of wandering gazes and nervous coughing at Sanders, the audience welcomed a timid Mangum to the stage with a well of clattery applause. Mangum sheepishly shielded his eyes from the spotlight for a moment, then reached for a guitar from the four that were set up around a single chair. He sat and looked up into the audience and smiled dimly, waiting for a lull in applause. Everyone seemed to settle for a moment. Then Mangum cocked his head and strummed the first few chords of “Oh, Comely,” and that was it—everyone fell back into their own blissful fits. Shouts of recognition, of approval, of a real need to hear these songs drowned out the first 30 seconds. I had heard applause before, but nothing like this. This had an eerie, almost cultish fervor, like it belonged at some explosive metal concert. But there Mangum sat, strumming and singing along all the same. It’s a well-catalogued fact that NMH fans are—to phrase it delicately—passionate. Aeroplane became an instant classic in small indie circles. The people who could get their hands on an album spun it on their record players for hours on end memorizing the songs, then rushed to shows drunk with Mangum fever. The countless other NMH concert goers who come to actually listen to Mangum, however, complain about fans collectively drowning out his music with their gasps and shouts,while Mangum persistently strums from up on
high. It came as no exception that night: as Mangum segued from “Oh, Comely” into “Two-Headed Boy, Part 2” and on through “Naomi” and “Holland, 1945,” each person in the crowd grabbed the songs by their lapels and made them their own, practically rendering Mangum’s songs into little more than echoes. And oddly enough, Mangum—the soft-spoken, self-effacing Mangum—encouraged it. “Sing along, now!” he called, and the audience took charge and led Mangum in a sing-a-long to his own songs. Several times throughout the show, I peeked at the businessman sitting next to me and was surprised to see that he mouthed the lyrics to each and every song. Tilting my head to the right, I was equally surprised to see a couple wearing matching Joy Division shirts clutching each other’s hands and singing with Mangum, never missing a beat. This outpouring of devotion, this profound adulation of Mangum, seemed strange to me. Here I was, sandwiched between an investment banker and two bougie hipkids, singing with Mangum about “taking off my clothes” and watching as “they’ll be placing fingers through the notches” in my spine. It was all so public. Of course I know that NMH’s music is an incredibly important part of indie music history, and loads of people have listened to and adored it, but there’s something funny about its notoriety. Because, despite its importance and acclaim, that music is still irrevocably intimate. When I listened to Mangum that night, he lilted about all the things we all seem to conveniently skirt to save face: the sticky awkwardness of sex, the fleshy wounds and pulp of a two-headed boy stuffed in a jar during some cruel industrial-era experiment, the gruesome and arbitrary violence committed against Anne Frank. So much of the appeal of Mangum’s music is the core of that initial connection—who were you, what mattered to you when you first listened to this album? And the thing is, that kind of question is always relevant.
And that night, Mangum doggedly insisted on vivifying that initial experience we had with the album. That’s why I was sitting next to a middle-aged stockbroker and self-conscious 20-something hipsters in the same room; hell, in the same row. Mangum wants us to confront our own selves with his music, and that night, he gave himself up to the audience—sacrificing, in a way, his own voice to the status of an afterthought as the people who waited so long to sing those songs again shouted, shrieked and sang in that hour and a half of music he gave us. In one of the very few interviews Mangum did consent to—with Pitchfork in 2002—he explained his post-Aeroplane meltdown. He recounted that the songs on Aeroplane represented his own convictions about human nature and that, in the time following Aeroplane, he scrutinized these beliefs to the point that he eroded them completely. It took him years to recover from this crisis, and part of this recovery was recognizing that making music couldn’t ever save him from his own, much less other peoples’, demons. He lost quite a bit of faith in what music could do. But as I listened to “Holland, 1945” that evening, I got the idea that this isprecisely the reason he’s come back. But now we must pick up every piece… Of the life we used to love… Just enough to keep ourselves… At least enough to carry on. I think coming back was Mangum’s way of picking up his pieces, of rising above everything that had whittled him down. He doesn’t need more money, more fame, more whatever. He came to see all of us, teary-eyed and grateful for the people we became when we first popped Aeroplane or On Avery Island into a tape deck, CD,or record player. I don’t expect a new Neutral Milk Hotel album. Mangum’s unassuming gift to me was the sing-a-long of a lifetime in a wooden cathedral. And that’s more than enough. EMMA JANASKIE B’13 is the communist daughter.
THAT’S PROBABLY WHY MANGUM’S MUSIC FEELS AS LIFE-AFFIRMING AS IT DOES—HE LOOKS RIGHT IN THE FACE OF ALL THE DISGUSTING SHIT HUMANS DO TO EACH OTHER AND EXPLODES IT IN MUSIC THAT IS SO WEIRD AND BEAUTIFUL AND SO VERY MUCH OURS
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
N e t w o r k Television Tackles the H-Word by Gillian Brassil Illustration by Annikka Finne
here’s been a good deal of chatter in TV world this fall about the crop of new sitcoms featuring female leads. One such show, 2 Broke Girls, premiered this Monday on CBS. It’s about a prissy rich girl, Caroline, who loses all her money and is forced to go slum it in dirty, dangerous Brooklyn. She finds a job working at a diner, where her sassy fellow-waitress Max initially despises her; inevitably, the two find some common ground and become friends and roommates. Hijinks ensue. Despite all the hype, 2 Broke Girls isn’t notable for its lady leads; after all, the buxom, smack-talking waitress and the ditz who’s smarter than she looks aren’t exactly groundbreaking roles for women. But the show is interesting for an entirely different reason: its weird, warped depiction of hipster culture. The show is set in Williamsburg, an area of Brooklyn that creative types began to colonize in the 1970s. Its gentrification was in full swing by the ‘90s; these days, the rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in one of the neighborhood’s many swanky highrises could easily cost you $2500 a month. But Williamsburg is still presented as edgy and dangerous on 2 Broke Girls; in one scene, Max warns Caroline not to leave the diner in her leather jacket because it will make her a target for mugging—never mind the hoards of bar-goers in bomber jackets roaming the streets in real life. Of course, TV often gets it wrong when it comes to New York (or, frankly, almost any other setting). Friends was set in unrealistically spacious apartments in
Greenwich Village—especially ludicrous since the characters were frequently unemployed. And you almost never see fictional New Yorkers on the subway; as TV would have you believe, young people in the city are all serial cab-hailers. What makes the misrepresentation in 2 Broke Girls different (and therefore intriguing) is that its main subject matter is precisely what it gets so wrong. The show is supposed to be about Caroline kicking it in the hip, mean streets of Brooklyn, but the setting she ends up in—and its inhabitants—is both benign and uncool. I can think of only one other show that fundamentally misunderstands its protagonists: CBS’s wildly popular The Big Bang Theory. It’s about nerds, but the characters’ science and science fiction references aren’t particularly esoteric—they can’t be, or the audience wouldn’t get the joke. Similarly, when Max mocks a ‘hipster’ client at the diner, she has to do so in a way that mainstream American audiences will understand: “I wear knit hats because it’s cold out; you wear knit hats because of Coldplay.” As anyone reading this newspaper knows, Coldplay is just about the last band a hipster would actually listen to, but a reference to Sleigh Bells or Neon Indian would be lost on most people who watch CBS sitcoms. Compare CBS’s portrayal of hipsters to that of premium channels. HBO’s Flight of the Conchords, though never explicitly about hipsters, was pitch-perfect: adults wearing wolf sweaters, playing poorly attended concerts in aquariums, and taking style cues from hallucinations of David
Bowie. Girls, another HBO show currently in development, is also spot-on; in the script for the pilot, the protagonist—a college graduate interning at a publishing company—lives in “a tiny Brooklyn bedroom. Pale pink, with a few carefully curated posters: Whit Stillman’s ‘Metropolitan,’ Bette Midler’s ‘Thighs and Whispers.’ A funny photo of Philip Roth. Jerry Seinfeld & co. in bondage gear on an old Rolling Stone.” These sorts of details would be meaningless to the average American watching network TV, but they’re met with a knowing smile by the smaller, more urban audiences of premium cable. For network television, then, the hipster is something of a paradox: to portray them and make fun of them in a way mainstream audiences will appreciate, you have to change them into something else. But the difference between ‘real’ hipsters and the yuppie hipster stand-ins on 2 Broke Girls may not be as great as it initially seems. Both cultures are ultimately based on consumption; they are group identities grounded in superficial qualities—tastes and appearances—rather than common politics or beliefs. So it doesn’t really matter that the joke is about Coldplay rather than an obscure synth-funk duo: the point is, the dude bought that hat for aesthetic reasons, not practical ones. In effect, by dumbing down certain elements of hipster culture for wide comprehension, the writers of 2 Broke Girls have created a form of double mockery. It’s not just that hipsters are self-involved and wear stupid clothes; it’s that their faults are interchangeable with those of
the yuppies and gentrifiers they so disdain. This is evidenced, in part, by Caroline’s success in fitting in. Her friendship with Max comes about when she displays some unexpected business savvy—she recognizes that Max could be making a killing off her homemade cupcakes. But her smarts shouldn’t come as a surprise: Caroline understands and cares about image and consumption, which are just as relevant in Williamsburg as they are on the Upper East Side. Rich white girls and hip white girls unite on something they both understand: trendy, high-end desserts. (The fact that cupcakes are now passé is similar to the Coldplay reference—actual hipness isn’t the point; the audience reading it as ‘hip’ is.) This argument—that hipsters have a lot in common with yuppies—has already been made in various academic and elitist settings (cf. n+1’s What Was the Hipster?, 2010). But the fact that this kind of critique can come out of a network television show in some ways justifies Middle America’s misunderstanding of the hipster. When suburban moms use the word to refer to anyone with plastic sunglasses or bright stretchy clothing, hipsters no longer have the right to protest, flap their arms, and scream. What 2 Broke Girls seems to be saying—unwittingly or not—is, who cares? It’s all the same shit anyway.
GILLIAN BRASSIL B’12 lives in a midsized Providence bedroom, grey walls, with one carefully curated Drew Foster drawing.
15 I N T E R V I E W
22 SEPTEMBER 2011
36 Questions for Salvador Dali Translated from the French by Timothy Nassau illlustration by Dana Reilly
ali is better than a movie, isn’t he?” the French poet Alain Bosquet overhears someone say in the artist’s luxury apartment overlooking the Rue de Rivoli in Paris. Bosquet, Dali’s friend of over twenty years and a surrealist himself, visited the apartment several times to conduct nine interviews with Dali, which were published in 1966. Over the course of their conversations, Dali furiously signs lithographs brought by his “military attaché.”A muzzled ocelot wanders the room and a constant trickle of young artists, authors, and dancers passes through. One day, Dali dresses up as a Eucharistic Host and makes everyone have a taste. “Aliyah: The Rebirth of Israel,” a series of prints from 1968, are on display through October at Brown/RISD Hillel. Like Bosquet’s interviews, the prints come from a period of Dali’s life that is frequently overlooked, as he arguably produced few great works after World War II. If the exhibition at Hillel makes a case for Dali’s continued aesthetic invention during this time, his dialogues with Bosquet imply, rather, that he had simply moved on to something greater. In those post-war years, Dali came to resemble that great American personality cultist Andy Warhol: holding court, setting himself up as the Divine Dali, happily putting his name on any piece of art he only nominally produced. More than his late etchings and prints, his last great work was himself— Dali not as painter but as life philosophy. At the end of one of their interviews, Dali told Bosquet, “You are a semi-Daliist. After you die, you will be one thousand percent a Daliist.” The following translation is excerpted from the Bosquet’s fifth, sixth, and seventh interviews with Dali, which were originally published together. Bosquetnoted that he and Dali talked lying side by side on a carpet. Alain Bosquet: I’ve written down a few ditties for you to answer, off the cuff. Salvador Dali: Wonderful, I adore machine guns. AB: When will you die? SD: Er… Never! AB: If a statue were dedicated to you in Paris, where would you want it to be, and what of? SD: In the Trocadéro, in the exact spot where the effigy of a bronze rhinoceros once stood. I want it to be a cosmic rhinoceros and, instead of the usual granulations, its behind will hold a sunflower split in two, with a small cauliflower inside it. AB: What do you do with your money?
SD: My greed is considerable. When I possess great quantities of money, I like to have more, then more, and then even more. But, to everyone’s surprise, I am establishing a prize of $10,000 to be awarded each year to intellectuals from any country that advance the study of hibernation. Ultimately, it will make me a profit. AB: If you had to burn all your paintings but one, which would it be? SD: I would burn none of them. You’d need at least a bomb to destroy my paintings. I would like to share an anecdote. Jean Cocteau was asked what he would save from the Prado if it was burning down. I already knew what he would say, because he had said it many times before. In fact, he borrowed it from a Greek author. He said, “If the Prado was burning, I would save the fire.” Cocteau looked at me maliciously as if to ask, “Can Dali come up with something better?” He was sure I couldn’t. But when Dali was asked the same question, he rose to the challenge, saying, “I would not save the fire. I would save the air.” I consider the element of air to be the most original in painting, especially in Velasquez’s Meniñas. You’d have to rescue the air, not the fire. AB: If you meet Jesus Christ, what will you say to him? SD: Nothing, because I don’t know him. I would definitely greet him, though. I would have the attitude of Voltaire, who tipped his hat when he passed by a Eucharist. A surprised friend exclaimed one day, “I thought you were an atheist!” and Voltaire said, more or less, “Listen, God and I, we are not on speaking terms but we do acknowledge one another.” AB: If you met Paul VI in a Turkish bath, what would you say to him? SD: Ah, he does seem to move around a lot, but I am absolutely certain I would never meet him in such an establishment. Your question is no longer valid. AB: If you were the father of fourteen children, would you commit suicide? SD: Never, not even if I was the father of forty children. AB: Could you live anonymously? SD: It would be horribly difficult. And Dali would not remain anonymous for long. AB: When was the last time you cried? SD: A long time ago. I had put down some money for the purchase of a property when I learned it was already sold. AB: What would a Buddhist Dali paint? SD: One of the central ideas of Buddha and Euclid was that perfection and nirvana had the form of an egg. I would paint eggs.
AB: What would a Stalinist Dali paint? SD: Very simple: he would paint the god Vulcan, who forged the arms and cast the shield of Achilles. The myth of Vulcan is incarnated in our modern world by Stalin: he has cast the shield that will protect us against China. AB: Could you live in England for twenty years? SD: I could live anywhere, even in England, which is the most unpleasant place I know of. AB: Have you ever been generous? SD: Very rarely, and not very much; each time I have been generous it has been disastrous. Once, when someone told me how many children he had to feed and made other such complaints, I said, “Why are you asking me for charity when I am methodically preparing a catastrophe that will engulf all of humanity, ourselves included?” AB: Where is the line between genius and folly? SD: This great problem has never been resolved. The most famous psycho-pathologists do not know where folly begins, where genius ends. My own case is even more difficult. I am not only an agent provocateur, but also an agent simulateur. I don’t know when I begin to simulate or when I tell the truth. This is characteristic of my profound being. It happens very often that I say things, convinced of their importance and seriousness; after a year, I see that they are so puerile and devoid of interest as to be lamentable. On the other hand, what I say in jest, to seem intelligent or to amuse, after some time I become convinced that I expressed something beautiful and very important. This alternation confuses me, but I always find a way out. In any case, the public must never know if I am joking or being serious; in fact, I myself should not know. I am under constant interrogation: where does the profound and philosophically valid Dali begin, where does the crazy, crackbrained Dali end? AB: Does staying in lavish hotels hurt your authenticity? SD: On the contrary! In hotels, all aspects of outside life disappear: you need only push a button, the door will open, and you will be brought what you need. Everything is well organized. You can make a phone call and instantly have tickets to the theater. Everything runs seamlessly, all is perfectly taken care of. Folly, in such circumstances, has the greatest chance to show up in a pure state. AB:You have the chance to definitively destroy the works of three contemporary painters: which ones? SD: First, the works of Turner, who I con-
sider to be the worst painter in the world. Secondly, the paintings of Paul Cézanne. Thirdly, the fake paintings of Ingres, painted by a Russian, which are the prototypes of artistic idiocy. AB: I asked about contemporary artists, I mean more modern painters. SD: Gauguin, then. Gauguin and Turner are equally bad. AB: Which living painter is the most inept? SD: Marc Chagall. AB: Do you consider notions of absurdity and disgust to be values? SD:Lautréamont already believed that nothing on earth is comprehensible. The absurd and disgust are only spices, condiments that provoke men and urge them towards a bigger picture. A vaster knowledge of things results or, at least, the illusion a deeper knowledge. If you look closely, absurdity itself does not exist. AB: Who do you consider your equal, or a friend who could tell you anything? SD: Absolutely no one, because the Divine Dali has no equal. AB: How many times has someone attempted to murder you? SD: None and a hundred thousand. AB: You are searching, searching… When will you find yourself completely? SD: When I was three I wanted to be a cook. At five, I already wanted to be Napoleon. My ambition has only grown, and now my ambition is to become Salvador Dali, and nothing else. It’s quite difficult though because as I get close to Salvador Dali he moves further away. AB: Your favorite musician? SD: None. I do not like music! AB: What would you say to God? SD: We cannot speak to him. AB: When will the world end? SD: I do not believe an atomic war would destroy the world. All the bombs would not be enough. The idea of an apocalypse derives more naturally from geology. It will not be a catastrophe made by men and against men. The idea of the world’s end has never frightened me. If the world were to end, even this afternoon, I would gladly play along. But if one person were to survive, it would of course without a doubt be Dali. I would be the last. TIMOTHY NASSAU B’12 speaks lobster.
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
MOLECULAR, MODERNIST,AVANT-GARDE A d v e ntures at the Culinary Cutting Edge
he study of food science--the implementation of new tools and ingredients--goes by many names: molecular gastronomy, avantgarde cuisine, scientific gastronomy, and simply gastronomy. Even though this sort of cooking is hard to define, you know it when you see it: cooks change the traditional tastes and textures of food with exotic chemicals and appropriated laboratory equipment, like centrifuges and flash freezers. It’s typically the preserve of fantastically expensive restaurants with impossible reservations: Alinea in Chicago, the Fat Duck outside of London, and above all, El Bulli, on Spain’s Catalonian coast. Food science has, however, has begun to move out of its temple over the course of the past few months. The Silicon Valley techno-baron Nathan Myhrvold has attempted to codify it for a general audience in his enormous cookbook Modernist Cuisine; El Bulli: Cooking in Progress, a documentary about the Spanish restaurant, is playing this week at Cable Car Cinema on South Main St. Neither will immediately satisfy cravings for otherworldly cuisine, but neither requires a flight to Chicago or a six-month wait. DOCUMENTARY UNDERCOOKED Until it shut its doors at the end of last July, El Bulli was frequently touted as the “Best Restaurant in the World” by Restaurant magazine. There is a distinct mythology around the restaurant and its chef, Ferran Adriá. He became El Bulli’s head chef in 1987 and has since developed his unique approach to cooking, which he prefers to call avant-garde or “techno-emotional” cuisine. It’s one three-hour seating a night, with 35 oft changing and aggressively nontraditional courses. For example, lobster in curry with air foam and cardamom, and kumquat with basil scented spoon. The restaurant gained the maximum three Michelin stars in 1997, one of the highest honors a restaurant can receive (New York boasts only five restaurants that make the cut). Adriá and his team only cook half the year. They shut the restaurant down for six months and retire to a food laboratory in Barcelona to invent new recipes for the coming season. The El Bulli strategy was a success, to say the least—Adriá received 2,000,000 requests for 8,000 available seats for its final season.
by Chris Cohen
illustration by Momo Ishiguro
German documentary filmmaker Geron Wetzel’s El Bulli: Cooking in Progress documents El Bulli in a stark fly-onthe-wall style, from October 2008 to the next summer. It begins in the Barcelona laboratory, where we watch Adriá and his chefs slice, taste, and vacuum pack all sorts of delicacies, though it’s never clear how one preparation relates to another. Vacuum packing is preparing food to be cooked sous-vide--brought up to temperature in a precise water bath. But the audience will be disappointed by the lack of clarity provided by Wetzel’s style: the actual hot water is never shown. The first half hour, which covers the development of new dishes in Barcelona, is essentially one scene: months pass, but the chefs barely leave the laboratory, in a stupefying montage of odd cooking experiments and hushed Spanish. The pace picks up somewhat in the second half, when the restaurant opens for the season. New waiters and sous chefs are brought in and get lecture after lecture on the El Bulli way of doing things. We finally see a complete dish. El Bulli seems to function much like a normal restaurant, only the waiters are more confused by what to call dishes and the clients are happier to be there. The film provides brief glimpses into what makes El Bulli unique: the staff irons the tablecloths directly onto the tables, liquid nitrogen sends plumes of frozen vapor thorough the kitchen. You get the feeling that something special is going on, and that Adriá is no normal chef. But even these glimpses seem superficial: there’s no chance to learn about the whizzes and bangs on screen. I couldn’t begin to guess what was going on in most of the action shots. The viewer is made to accept that they’re watching the leading edge of the culinary avant-garde, but that claim is never really substantiated. Wetzel’s choice to provide no explanation does more than just make the movie boring; it fails to make any substantive analysis of its subject. Rather than unpack any of the mythology surrounding El Bulli, the film uses it as a crutch. It seems like Wetzel assumed his viewers would know El Bulli was “The Best Restaurant”. Because of this, Cooking in Progress is more of a visual companion to everything you might have heard or read about El Bulli, than a self-contained work valuable on its own terms.
FOOD EQUATIONS Former Microsoft Chief Technology Officer and current Intellectual Ventures CEO Nathan Myhrvold threw his two cents into the culinary name game this spring when he published his cookbook Modernist Cuisine. ‘Cookbook’ is a bit of a misnomer: Modernist Cuisine consists of six massive volumes totaling 2,438 pages, and ships complete with a custom built clear plastic case. Amazon offers it for $478. The cost doesn’t seem to be seriously softening the market for the book, though: the book is selling in the tens of thousands, and is entering its third print run. Currently it’s the third best selling cookbook on Amazon, just above the Barefoot Contessa of Food Network fame. My interlibrary loan request at Brown’s Rockefeller Library was denied, predictably enough considering the size, but I had a chance to sit down with MIT’s copy earlier this week. It sits next to a battered copy of the Handbook of Food Additives in the science reference section. The first thing that jumps out about Modernist Cuisine is the physical quality of the book: the photographs are so high resolution and so well printed they seem to be actual physical spaces you could stick your hand into. Next are the recipes: there are an incredible number of them, all of which are presented with a grid detailing weights (in grams, of course), ratios and techniques. The recipes cover exotic sounding creations like “Edible Earth” or “Mozzarella Balloons”, but also creamed spinach and American barbecue. Don’t work up an appetite, though: the majority of the recipies aren’t useful without a commitment to uncommon ingredients and equipment. Myhrvold displays a particular passion for the sousvide technique that’s so prominent in the El Bulli kitchen. Though there are workarounds, this requires hundreds of dollars of equipment to do correctly, and is somewhat impractical if you’re not Ferran Adriá. As I see it, Modernist Cuisine is devoted to two related but distinct tasks. The first is a scientific exploration of what goes on physically and chemically when food is cooked. For example, what happens on a molecular level when I steam broccoli or fry an egg? In this vein, Modernist Cuisine is a textbook and reference for chefs and home cooks, and provides a tremendous amount of information about food
science. The second task is applying that scientific understanding to recipes in order to perfect them. They recommend, for example, 79° Celsius for 35 minutes to cook the ideal hard-boiled egg. The pursuit of perfection, though, leads to Modernist Cuisine’s less useful side. The problem of exotic technique rears its head here, but there’s a deeper issue. I’m sure their hamburger recipe is delicious, but it takes a truly breathtaking amount of labor, fetishizing something that’s supposed to be down to earth and uncomplicated. I already know what I like about hamburgers, and it doesn’t have anything to do with hickory-smoke-infused lettuce or Comté cheese emulsified in wheat ale. Tastes are learned, after all: part of what makes barbecue taste good is that it tastes like the barbecue you had when you were four. Myhrvold is not obsessed with using his complicated technique to challenge conventional tastes. Instead, he’s trying to perfect conventional tastes through the power of science. For me, trying to get closer to the platonic ideal of food that is delicious when cooked simply seems to miss the point. REVOLUTION OR REFINEMENT? The most captivating moments of Cooking in Progress happen when Adriá and his chefs are honing in on a new dish: you can see an almost insane drive to create the completely new. To be sure, what goes on at El Bulli is at least tangentially related to Modernist Cuisine. Myhrvold and Adriá clearly admire one another, and an admiring blurb from the Spanish chef is featured in the cookbook’s marketing. But Myhrvold and Adriá approach cooking in fundamentally different ways. Modernist Cuisine asks you to cook like an engineer: to optimize your kitchen to create the theoretically best cuisine. Adriá can legitimately call his cuisine avant-garde: he wants to challenge tastes, to cook in a completely new way. All of the science is in service of that goal. He might have even been doing something transcendent at El Bulli. But you would have to eat the food, to know. CHRIS COHEN B’12 is down to earth and uncomplicated.
22 SEPTEMBER 2011
GOING WEST by Michael Mount Illustration by Annikka Finne I. In the town I grew up in, nothing happened. Except that I was born. That is important. You must understand that from the beginning I am the only pair of eyeballs in this story. I lived in a small house in a row of small houses in a grid of small houses surrounded by fields. In the summer, dogwood trees dropped white petals and in the fall the air was spicy. In the winter the leaves fell and the trees were bare and rarely was there any color but brown on the rows of small houses. My father was a businessman. He sat in front of the television when he was home and his skin turned the color of mashed potatoes. I never knew what he did in the daytime, but sometimes he brought home a pie that he would put on the table so that we all could take a piece when we wanted. I had one brother and one sister. I was mostly very tired of it all and feeling the walls closing in. There was a train that cut East to West through my town. They said it went all the way to California. At night I heard the wheels clicking, like metal crickets in the woods. One evening I put my clothes in the same backpack that I used to take to school. On the doorway I told my father I was going out. The blue mist of the television glowed on his cheeks. Be careful, he said. Don’t come home too late. I closed the door and walked out. II. The train station was perhaps two miles from my house. The lights glowed like little pearls hanging in the sky. A small sign hung from the door that said Railway. The small man inside was bent over
a desk. Behind him the black hands of a clock spun noiselessly around a white face. The building was old and the man was old. His white eyes glowed like quartz. Where are you going? West. Well you’re lucky. Why? Because the train was supposed to be here half an hour ago, he said. Next one ain’t until tomorrow morning. Any other day and you’d have missed it. I opened my wallet and separated one bill from the others and then I heard the iron roar as the lights approached. I took the ticket from the old man’s brown hand. Go quickly, he said. We ran to the platform and into the train and it began moving again. I watched the old man’s two pearl eyes pressed against the station windowpane, diminishing as the train clattered west on the tracks. III. Well, there’s one more thing. I wasn’t alone in this trip. I knew a friend from school named Kai. We were sitting on the picnic table outside the school, and I was peeling the blue flakes away from the metal. The sun was hot and we watched the other kids leaving, piling on the buses. We were both squinting at the blonde girls on the black road. She’s a good looker, he said. Who? I said. The one with the ass. Oh. When Kai asked me if I wanted to go West with him I was thinking about going to the edge of town. I was not thinking about leaving everyone behind, about riding a train into the night and a lemon
tree sunrise. I was not thinking as far as California. How much money do you have? I don’t know. A hundred dollars? Definitely. Three hundred dollars? Probably. What do you need money for? Well, it’s not for me, he said. It’s for us. And he told me about going West. About catching the train. About not really having a destination but just letting the wind move us around. Like tumbleweeds. What happens when the money runs out? I asked. Don’t you know what’s out there? He brushed the pieces of hair out of his blue eyes. There’s gold out there, man. Not just the nuggets, man. People who go out West get rich. Town’s are growing. They need entrepreneurs. What if the money runs out? Then we come back home. I’ll need a few days to think about it. Everytime I walked into my linoleum floor kitchen I thought about the West. Everytime I saw my wooden television set and my wooden father watching it I thought about the West. Everytime I walked along the rows of houses in the Texas twilight, waiting to hear the call of home, I thought about going West. There was no wolf howl, but something screaming inside me. IV. Well, there’s one more thing. My mother was gone. I could remember her voice and her smell. I could remember one time when she came home and scratched me behind the ears. She left when I was young and all I remember was my father telling
me that she was sick. That she didn’t understand things like raising a family. V. The train was sliding through the night. The blackness on each side was cool and soft, rubbing its worn palms against the running glass windows. We were somewhere in Arizona. When we moved past the lampposts along the track, the stray light cut out pieces from the darkness. At one moment we moved past a depot and a man in overalls was cut of the dark for a second. His face was black and white, for only a second. VII. Orange County, California, where we had lived in dreams. Orange County, California, where the namesake color glowed on green trees, where the Earth was still black. This was the place that we had smelled already without smelling, and seen already without seeing, imagining the citrus perfume dusted on the long rows of white houses, and the black sedans sitting in the driveways. This was the edge of everything I had imagined. And it all unfolded as the train rolled down the hillside, where the railway was cut out of rock and the trees were in the valley below us. Kai leaned towards the window and I could hear the hair on his face bristle close to my ear as he whispered, “Everything I imagined.” We watched as the train rolled over the hill and down into the shadowed valley.
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