THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
03 NOVEMBER 2011 VOLUMEXXIII ISSUE VII BROWN/RISD WEEKLY
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT FR O M T H E E DITORS: Another local publication has brought it to the attention of the Independent that the satirical newspaper The Onion will begin distributing a real-life printed-paper copy in locations around Providence this week. Free Onion newsstands are already in place, and the paper will soon be distributed to restaurants and coffee shops around the city. In the news most recently for causing a fake hostage scare over Twitter (some people believed that Speaker of the House John Boehner had taken a group of schoolchildren hostage for a few trillion dollars), The Onion is a consistent source of LOLs. I must confess that it came as a surprise that The Onion was ever published in print anywhere: I’m more used to stumbling onto its website via Facebook status referrals. In an age of newspaper guttings—the New York Times announced a new round of newsroom cuts last month— it’s exciting to hear about a newspaper expanding, even if its headlines are usually in the vein of “Justin Bieber Found To Be Cleverly Disguised 51-Year-Old Pedophile.” I’m personally a fan of both writing on dead trees and the complaints of the ephemeral “local man,” and we at the Indy are excited to share local shelves.
EP H E M E R A
NEWS WEEK IN REVIEW AVERY HOUSER, AMY LACOUNT, ASHTON STRAIT
LIBYA LATELY MADILYNN CASTILLO
TUNISIA’S TRANSITION MALCOLM BURNLEY
METRO CASTILLO FILLS SEAT HALEY KOSSEK
TENTS, UNIONS SAM ADLER-BELL AND GRAE DUNHAM
ARTS RAPS AND RIFFS
TANA FRANK, SAM ROSENFELD, AND JONAH WOLF
ART INQUIRIES JORDAN CARTER
SCIENCE BJÖRK’S BIOPHILIA DAVID SANCHEZ-AGUILERA
CIGAR STYLIN’ MIMI DWYER
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 ∙ OPINIONS 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 ∙ OCCULT Alexandra Corrigan ∙ X PAGE Rachel Benoit, Audrey Fox ∙ LIST Allie Trionfetti ∙ BLOG Max Lubin, Jonah Wolf ∙ DESIGN EDITOR Mary-Evelyn Farrior ∙ DESIGN TEAM Abigail Cain, Andrew Beers, Jared Stern, Olivia Fialkow, Joanna Zhang ∙ COVER EDITOR Annika Finne ∙ ILLUSTRATIONS EDITORS Robert Sandler, Becca Levison ∙ MEGA PORN Kaitie Barnwell ∙ SENIOR EDITORS Gillian Brassil, Adrian Randall, Erin Schikowski, Dayna Tortorici ∙ MVP: Erica Schwiegershausen ‘v’ Cover Art: Africanus Okokon
INTERVIEWS OMEGLE EXPERIMENT TIMOTHY NASSAU
OPINIONS FAITH AND ACADEMIA CHRISTOPHER UNSETH
FOOD CRITIQUING THE CRITICS BELLE CUSHING
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X UNTITLED ANGELICA ALZONA
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
WEEK IN REVIEW Illustration by Becca Levinson
SECURITY VIOLATED by Ashton Strait
ccording to its website, the Transportation Security Administration’s primary role in the airline industry is to “electronically screen millions of bags for explosives and other dangerous items.” Nowhere on their site do they mention taking a personal interest in the non-explosive contents of passengers’ luggage. But when feminist blogger Jill Filipovic opened her suitcase after a trip on October 24, she found a note from an inspector telling her to “GET YOUR FREAK ON GIRL.” The inspector had apparently spotted Filipovic’s vibrator. Whether this incident strikes you as
an appalling violation of privacy or a hilarious anecdote, it comes on the heels of what has been a very embarrassing year for the TSA. In January, two TSA agents were arrested for grand larceny after stealing $40,000 in cash from someone’s luggage (why someone was traveling with that amount of money might be a story for a different government institution). In April the administration came under fire for the pat-down of a six-year-old girl in New Orleans, and in May a controversial photo of a TSA agent patting down an eight-month-old baby circulated around the internet, reigniting the debate over
the fine line between private rights and public safety. The TSA might have more respect as an enforcer of public safety if not for incidents like what occurred at LAX last Sunday when a loaded gun almost made it onto a flight from Los Angeles to Portland. The gun passed through all security screenings in a checked bag and was only noticed when it fell out of the bag as handlers were loading it onto the plane. TSA spokeswomen Lorie Dankers told the LA Times that the TSA screens for firearms in carry-on bags, but that it is not its responsibility to do so with checked luggage.
Don’t tell your friends who are afraid of flying. The TSA reported that the agent who left the note in Filipovic’s bag has been suspended. And as for Filipovic’s take on the situation? On Wednesday she wrote on the blog Feministe.us that “the problem with the note is that it’s representative of the bigger privacy intrusions that the U.S. government… levels every day… invasion is inherent to the TSA’s mission, regardless of whether a funny note is left behind—the note only serves to highlight the absurdity of all this security theater.”
PAPER TRAIL by Amy LaCount
n October 23, the American health care system was further besieged by scandal. A New York Times story revealed that pads of prescription forms had been stolen from several prominent public New York City hospitals. As of yet, the numbers announced by the State Department of Health are still unclear, but some officials estimate that up to 1.4 million prescription forms have disappeared. The thefts were first noticed in 2008 and initially thought to be individual incidents. However, health officials have since concluded that the thefts were connected in a larger conglomerate. Prescription pads sell for $100 to $300 each, resulting in multi-million dollar losses at hospitals.
How is it possible that so much paper is getting lost in hospital security? “Many times facility staff is unaware of the theft or loss of the prescription forms,” a July 11 memo from the DOH reads, frighteningly enough. Investigators from the Health Department’s Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement ascertain that organized gangs must be involved, while sources identified the gang to Newsday as the Latin Kings, the largest Hispanic gang in the country, which first emerged in the ‘40s in Chicago. According to sources, The Kings sell the prescription pads in underground trafficking rings to forge prescriptions for intense painkillers, especially oxycodone. Yet besides the
illegal distribution of acutely addictive drugs and alarming theft from public hospitals, the most chilling factmight be the Health Department felt no need to inform its citizens of this growing issue for three years. Although nine out of 21 New York City Health and Hospitals Corps facilities reported incidents of theft since 2008, and a memo written by the State Department of Health divulged the investigation of missing pads back in July of 2011, no public announcement was made. Finally, on October 23, the memo from the DOH was released after the situation became too dire to keep under wraps. Director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Jeff
Reynolds deplores, "That much paper getting out into the community, it makes our job harder, but at the end of the day it's taking lives—in record numbers. It's akin to letting the most virulent virus you can find loose in New York State and not telling anyone.”
PENIS PUMP JUSTICE by Avery Houser
ast Tuesday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court permanently stripped former Judge Donald D. Thompson of his pension eligibility, which would have netted him $8,000 annually. Thompson was caught using a penis pump, a device for sexual stimulation, and shaving his genitals during a trial back in 2004. H had appealed for a reinstatement of his pension— after it was originally cut off in 2006—two yearsafter he was convicted of four counts of indecent exposure in violation of cannons 1,2, and 3 of the Code of Judicial Ethics. As the petition for his removal notes,
“Judge Thompson violated these Canons by his repeated use of a device known as a penis pump during non-jury and jury trials in his courtroom and in the presence of court employees.” The petition goes on to state that Lisa K. Foster, who served as Thompson’s court reporter for 15 years,“saw Judge Thompson holding his penis and shaving underneath it with a disposable razor while on the bench.” Other witnesses heard a “ch-ch” sound or saw the pump. And Thompson’s secretary discovered semen in the trashcan underneath the
bench. During Thompson’s trial it came to light that he had used the penis pump in the midst of the testimony of a sobbing man whose grandchild had been murdered. After spending close to 20 months in prison, Thompson requested reinstatement of his judicial retirement benefits upon his release. But his appeal was denied by the Oklahoma County District Court,and now, the Oklahoma Supreme Court as well. Thompson’s attorneys argued that he should only lose the retirement ben-
efits earned in his last term of office. But the Supreme Court ruled that such an arrangement would be unlawful, as it would unfairly benefit officials elected to multiple terms of office—a state employee who works on a non-term basis, for example, loses his entire pension if he violates his oath of office. Given this logic, the court ruled that an elected official should lose his entire pension for a similar violation. In the scales of Great Lady Justice, it appears, the gavel weighs heavier than the penis pump.
03 NOVEMBER 2011
AFTERMATH OF A REVOLUTION CHALLENGES FACE A POST-GADDAFI LIBYA by Madilynn Castillo
lthough Libya was formally declared its liberation on October 23, three days after the death of former leader Moammar Gaddafi, the future of the country’s stability remains uncertain. Violence has continued in the wake of Gaddafi’s death, and rebel forces remain largely autonomous from Libya’s interim government, the National Transitional Council (NTC), and have essentially been operating with impunity. Throughout the revolution, military aid from international forces has been instrumental to the rebels’ success. NATO intervened in Libya on March 23, when it launched operation “Unified Protector” to take “control of all military operations for Libya,” assuming the mission “to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under attack or threat of attack,” according to a NATO brief. The mission delegates the NTC, along with the United Nations, as consultants on its Libya operations. Since the beginning of the revolution, the NTC has packaged itself as the legitimate government of Libya, releasing a Draft Constitutional Charter for the Transitional Phase this March. After NTC prime minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil declared an end to the revolution, President Barack Obama announced that the United States “look[s] forward to working with the NTC and an empowered transitional government as they prepare for the country’s first free and fair elections.” Currently, the NTC plans to hold elections in 20 months. Since the beginning of the revolution in February, the U.S. has provided $135 million in aid to the interim government. In September, the U.S. allocated $700 million of Libya’s frozen assets to the NTC for humanitarian purposes. Assets were frozen by the United States during the revolution to prevent Gaddafi from using them to buy additional weapons. The United States plans on dispensing an additional $37 billion in frozen Libyan assets to the NTC. CRITICISM AND CONFLICT The United Nations, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch have all condemned the unorthodox execution of Gaddafi and his son Muatassim Gaddafi. According to Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, “Finding out how they died matters. It will set the tone for whether the new Libya will be ruled by law or by summary violence.” A warrant for Gaddafi’s arrest was issued July 27, 2011 by the International Criminal Court, and these organizations argue that he should have answered for his crimes rather than been killed in custody. The way the interim government deals with Gaddafi’s killing, and killers, will set the tone for re-integrating former Gaddafi supporters into the new Libya. Four days after the killing, the NTC bowed to international pressure and announced the formation of a committee to investigate Gaddafi’s execution. Speculation places Gaddafi’s envoy trying to escape the city of Sirte when it was attacked
by French air forces. Then Gaddafi and security guards tried to hide from rebels in a nearby sewer pipe, where he was discovered. Reuters reported that Libyan Prime Minister Mahmoud Jabril read the medical examiner’s report at a Tripoli press conference, which claimed, “Gaddafi was taken out of a sewage pipe... he didn't show any resistance. When we started moving him he was hit by a bullet in his right arm and when they put him in a truck he did not have any other injuries.” Jabril implied that the bullet that killed the dictator could have come from pro-Gaddafi fighters, but there are inconsistencies between this account and the video evidence. Videos posted on YouTube by rebel fighters show the dictator’s body being rolled through the streets. Gaddafi was on display in a refrigerator locker in Misatra, along with his son and an aide, for four days before his burial. The NTC claims it will not exhume the body for additional autopsies, and Jabril says that the medical examiner could not determine if the bullet that killed him came from pro-Gaddafi or rebel forces. REBELS AND HUMAN RIGHTS The NTC has yet to quell rebel forces. Human Rights Watch reports that more than 100 militia brigades from Misrata have been operating outside of official military control since Tripoli fell in August. In the wake of Gaddafi’s death, the country has seen widespread human rights violations, including torture of residents in pro-Gaddafi areas. On the day of Gaddafi’s death, 53 suspected Gaddafi loyalists were shot execution style in a hotel in Sirte, and were left to decompose. On October 30, the Associated Foreign Press reported graffiti on a wall near decomposing bodies in Tripoli which listed the names of Misrata-based rebel groups and declared: "If the NTC fails to investigate this crime it will signal that those who fought against Gaddafi can do anything without fear of prosecution." In many areas, residents of pro-Gaddafi towns are being attacked and run out of their homes. Angry Misrata rebels have displaced the entire town of Tawergha, Northern Libya, whose residents are mostly descendents of African slaves. The town is now abandoned, and Human Rights Watch reports that rebels have been burning homes and looting. Tawergha was the epicenter for planning Gaddafi attacks on Misrata, until it was captured in September by rebel forces. Angry Misrata rebels have been committing revenge attacks on the city and its people. Ibrahim Beitelmal, spokesman for Misrata's military council told the Associated Press, “If it was my decision, I would want to see Tawergha gone. It should not exist.” Human Rights Watch reports arbitrary arrests and beatings of Tawerghan detainees, as well as incidents of Misrata militias shooting unarmed Tawerghans. Ibrahim Yusuf bin Ghashir, a representative of the NTC, told Human Rights Watch, “We think it would be better to re-
locate them [the Tawerghans] somewhere else.” Thousands of former Tawerghans are taking refuge in camps near Tripoli, Benghazi, and in the South. According to the United Nations, the number of displaced citizens is on the rise, as the situation in Tawergha mirrors conditions in other pro-Gadaffi cities throughout the country. STABILITY STILL IN QUESTION On October 31, NATO ended its campaign in Libya. Although the NTC had asked that they remain in the country through the end of the year, the United Nations has deemed it unnecessary. However, Libya doesn’t have a strong military infrastructure, largely due to Gaddafi’s fear of a military coup. PostNATO, the military power of the NTC relies on the heavily armed rebel forces whose oft erratic actions are largely out of the council’s control. As Al-Jazeera’s Jonah Hull explained in a recent article, “Gaddafi's death leaves the NTC to fend off disparate fighting groups—some still loyal to Gaddafi—as much of the deposed leader's vast weapons arsenal remains unaccounted for, all without an official military force.” Mahmoud Shammam, an NTC spokesman, told The New York Times that “Nobody wants to give up arms now, and many tribes and cities are accumulating arms ‘just in case.’” On November 2, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon encouraged the NTC to gather weapons and guard warehouses of weapons that could be looted. Abdul-Jalil responded that the NTC would be better able to secure weapons once Libyan assets are unfrozen. In the interim, militias continue to fight, with violence erupting in Tripoli between Zintan and Tripoli militias on November 2. There have been reports of heavy machine gun artillery on both sides of the struggle. NTC military spokesman Col. Ahmed Bani told CNN, "We would like to reorganize our army again. When we have a great and strong army, we are safe.” However, the NTC’s ability to control hundreds of militias under a national military umbrella remains questionable. Now, the NTC finds itself disconnected from regional militias which formed their own military councils and leaders during the fighting, gaining respect and authority within their regions. In order to instill peace in Libya, the NTC needs to unite Libyans and reign in militias. The rampant ownership of military grade weapons and the lack of accountability for rebel fighters is resulting in more civil unrest and bloodshed. In the wake of Gaddafi’s death, the country remains divided along supporter and rebel lines. Until the people of Libya unite under a singular banner, the future remains tenuous. MADILYNN CASTILLO B’14 melts assets.
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
TUNISIA’S TRIUMPH VOTING IN THE FIRST FAIR DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS SINCE 1956 Interview by Malcolm Burnley
ne Tunisian street vendor selfimmolated in December, and thousands responded in revolution; one dictator was disposed of in January, and millions responded at the polls. Hamdi Smaoui, a 19-year-old Tunisian, witnessed them both: he was a photographer and videographer during the revolution, and on October 23, he voted in his country’s first fair democratic elections since the ouster of Zine El Abibdine Ben Ali, who had ruled Tunisia for 24 years. At a primary school in Soukra, a city the size of St. Louis, Smaoui waited five hours in line with friends before voting for The Congress for the Republic (CPR), a center-left and secular party which finished second in the results. 90 percent of registered voters—3.1 million Tunisians—cast their vote in the elections; the Islamic party Ennahda took 90 of the 264 total delegates. Most observers, including domestic and foreign officials, heralded the elections as a success and hope they’re indicative of further fair elections in the Middle East. Tunisia not only sparked the Arab Spring, but has since shown the most lasting democracy and civic stability. Unlike in Egypt, where waves of violence have ebbed and flowed since Mubarak’s overthrow, and Libya, where violence never ceased, Tunisia has remained peaceful up through its elections.
Smaoui says that Tunisians are eager to continue building infrastructures postBen Ali. After a tumultuous winter, he has returned to his studies of computer science at a university in Bizerte, Tunisia. Though Smaoui has previously applied for a US green card, and still harbors hopes of citizenship abroad, he spoke glowingly of his first taste of democracy at home, speaking in English, his third language (Arabic and French). The interview was conducted in exchanges over Skype and Facebook in the week after the election. The Independent: Describe Ennahda, the winning party in Tunisia’s first election. Hamdi Smaoui: It got 90 seats. Ennahda is an Islamic movement but I want religion out of politics. It will cause problems in the future. I don’t want my country to turn into Iran or Afghanistan. Most of the time, they say they are a modern party and
they say they have moderated. Indy: What do detractors not like about Ennahda in particular? HS: You know that Ennahda is an Islamic movement, so for example, alcoholic drinks are not allowed in Islam. And personally, I drink like a pirate. (he laughs out loud) I don’t like that the night clubs and bars will be closed, but recently the leader of that party said on a TV show that these things will not be changed and everything will remain. Indy: Who are Ennahda’s supporters? HS: Most of the people who support that party are old men and women. Maybe they pity Ennahda and its members because Ben Ali hated them and jailed them for many years, so they think it is the most separate party from the old regime of RCD (Ben-Ali 's party). Indy: Why did you vote for CPR? HS: I chose CPR because the leader, Moncef Marzouki, is a man of politics and a smart and good person. He opposed Ben Ali from a long time ago. The CPR has a good agenda, with programs to reform the judiciary, health care, education, and also fight financial corruption. Its ideology is closest to our thoughts and I trust them. Indy: The New York Times ran an article describing Ennahda’s overwhelming financial advantage. Was that apparent? HS: They spent the most money. And I think they got this money from the United States or Qatar. My friend told me that the leader of their party had coffee with John McCain. But France does not support the party. Sarkozy said that “we will watch this party closely, to protect against human rights...” I am worried about this party. Indy: Do you think the US is looking for oil or a stake in the new government? HS: Tunisia was always a partner of the US because Tunisia is a strategic site in north Africa, near Europe and the Middle East. Many US aid personnel and many businessmen have started to invest in Tunisia. But for me, I love the USA and am pleased about that. God bless America and Tunisia. Indy: In your opinion, why has the Tunisian revolution transpired more peace-
fully than others in the region, like Egypt? HS: Tunisia was the first revolution and was the better one. We made it more peacefully and in fewer days. It started on December 17 and Ben-Ali ran from the country on January 14. Indy: Is there a country you believe you should model your democracy off of? HS: It is important for us to make our own democracy. We have our own characteristics and properties. Indy: What are those specific Tunisian characteristics? HS: Tunisia is a very small country and the population is about 11 million. 70 percent of the graduating students are unemployed and we don't have enough jobs. Most Tunisians don't care about politics and religion, they only care about making money and spending money. We are very peaceful, we want to live comfortablly, we want the entertainment and the good life. Indy: How do you compare Ben Ali (now in absentia in Saudia Arabia) to Muhammar Gaddafi and Hosni Mubarak? HS: I don't care about Ben Ali any more, but I still care about the money he stole from us, a huge amount that is still frozen in Swiss bank accounts. Ben Ali was a little bit better of a person than Mubarak and Gaddafi, and he didn't kill as many people. However, I don’t think Gaddafi deserved to die like that. Indy: Do you believe the state of Tunisia will be better off in 20 years? Will democracy last in North Africa? HS: I think Tunisia will be better in the future, and trust me, Tunisia will be the only democratic country in North Africa. Most people in Libya are less educated and illiterate. Egypt is complicated by how many religions they have and how aggressive they are. In my opinion, religion should be out of politics or there will be critical consequences.
03 NOVEMBER 2011
CARMEN CASTILLO WINS WARD 9 Housekeeper and Union Activist Elected in Democratic Primary by Haley Kossek Illustration by Annika FInne
eading up to last week, news headlines pairing the words “housekeeper” and “politician” together tended to refer to scandals like those facing Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Meg Whitman and their respective sexual assault and immigration law transgressions. The news from the Providence City Council reads differently, after voters in the city’s Ward 9 chose Carmen Castillo as the Democratic Party nominee in a special primary election on October 25. Castillo, a hotel room attendant, Dominican immigrant, and Executive Board member of the local hospitality workers’ union UNITE HERE! Local 217 is well-positioned to become the newest Providence City Councilor. Last week she garnered 358 votes in the ward election last week, forty-six ahead of her closest Democratic competitor in a six-way primary that garnered 1,221 votes overall. Castillo’s breakthrough into city politics follows on the heals of another recent victory: earlier this year she and her co-workers at the Westin Hotel in downtown Providence successfully pres-
sured the hotel to settle a lengthy labor dispute. When Castillo—a single mother of three who has worked at the Westin for more than fifteen years—lost her health insurance after a series of cuts to workers’ compensation, she organized her coworkers to call for a public boycott of the hotel. She declared: “With my job at the Westin, I have been able to buy my own home on the South Side of Providence and put my three daughters through school. I could not have done this with the $4.00/ hour factory job I worked before starting at the Westin. I don’t want to lose everything we have worked to build here.” The Westin’s owners, the Proccacianti Group, eventually rescinded plans to increase subcontracting and make cuts to employee health care coverage and wages after the extended protest. Upon winning a new contract after over a year of picket lines, Castillo spoke of her co-workers dedication and bravery. “I am so proud we persevered,” she said. That perseverance translated into electoral victory for Castillo. Over the course of her six-week campaign, she
relied on regular door-knocking from Union members. With support from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Providence Teachers Union, Castillo’s campaign focused on labor-tolabor outreach with voters in her largely working-class ward—consisting of the Elmwood and Washington Park neighborhoods between Broad and Elmwood Street. One janitor and SEIU member, Celsa DelPolzo, explained to reporters before election day that she and other service workers mobilized for Castillo “because she is a worker like us who comes from the bottom and understands what it is to struggle and fight to achieve something.” DelPolzo added that she and other service workers “see ourselves reflected in her and we are inspired that someone like us could aspire to represent working families.” This sentiment resonates especially on a City Council that currently consists of many more career-long city administrators than it does rank-and-file labor movement organizers. Now, the Castillo campaign looks forward to the general election on November
final vote count CARMEN CASTILLO........................ ROCHELLE LEE................................. HECTOR JOSE.................................. JOSE SEVERINO............................... REINALDO CATONE........................ ONASSIS MARTINEZ........................
29, when she will face off with Republican nominee Chris Chirino, a twenty-yearold Community College of Rhode Island student who brags about his penchant for Ayn Rand novels and strong border patrol enforcement on his campaign webpage. (Chirino automatically became his party’s nominee after running unopposed.) In a heavily Democratic ward, this collegeaged conservative is not expected to pose a serious electoral challenge. The night of her nomination, Castillo sent a Spanishlanguage Facebook message to her supporters: “GRASIAS A MI DIOS POR HACERME TAN LUCHADORA.” After struggling from poverty-wage service industry jobs to victory in a highly contested primary race, she stopped to thank God for making her such a fighter.
HALEY KOSSEK B ‘13 is a fighter.
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
ORGANIZED LABOR RALLY IN SUPPORT OF OCCUPY PROVIDENCE by Sam Adler-Bell
here has been a fair amount of ambivalence and ambiguity about organized labor’s relationship to the Occupy movements across the country. From within the movement, activists have questioned whether labor unions—with their institutionalized structures of power, pecuniary marriage to the Democratic Party, and tendency to promote the interests of their members to the disregard and neglect of otherwise aggrieved or oppressed people—have a place in their nonhierarchical movement. Occupiers expressed fear that cooperation with labor unions would lead to cooption. From the outside, right-wing pundits and politicians have decried the movement as a Big Labor farce, poorly manufactured by union veterans (and Obama) to push their radical agenda. In Providence, as in many other cities, labor is joining the movement. What magnitude and impact that support will have remains to be seen. COLABORATION At 5:30pm on October 27, Occupy Providence cut short its daily General Assembly meeting to welcome a group of about 300 union members, leaders, and activists into Burnside Park.While individual union members and some union locals had already participated in and voiced their support for Occupy Providence, Thursday’s rally and march marked a sort of ‘coming-out’ moment for labor to en-
dorse the movement en masse. Scott Duhamel, a business agent for the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), was first to address the crowd. He expressed support for the occupiers and commended their perseverance. “I couldn’t sleep out in this!” he shouted, gesturing to the sky, as rain turned to sleet and snow. Celsa Del Pozo, a janitor and member of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 615, spoke of Occupy Providence and the labor movement as one fight. “We will continue to stand together and to fight to create jobs in America that have good wages, benefits, and treat workers with dignity and respect." After the speaking program, the lowkey rally became a march, as workers and activists poured into the streets, temporarily obstructing traffic along Exchange Terrace. The march stopped briefly at the headquarters of Verizon Wireless on Washington St., where Bill McGowan, a business agent for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 2323, described the egregious benefit cuts that led 45,000 Verizon employees to go on strike this past August. “They have executives making $50,000 a day,” he yelled, standing on the steps of the corporate office, “and they’re asking us to make sacrifices!” This Verizon strike, which lasted two weeks, was the largest
in the United States since 2007. It was a shot-in-the-arm for the labor movement, a reminder that large-scale work stoppage could still be used to fight corporate greed. Though workers in Verizon’s landline division have gone back to work, they have yet to reach a contract agreement with the company. Back at the park, Justin Kelley, an active rank-and-file member of IUPAT, closed out the march with a few short words. Later, Kelley, a tall, tattooed painter from Providence who goes by the nickname “Juice,” explained whathe thought labor had to offer the Occupy movement. “There are lessons to be learned from the labor movement of the past and present,” he told me. “Things like ‘solidarity forever’ and ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’ are not just slogans to us. We’ve lived them, through actions and deeds.”
law forbids solidarity strikes or those occurring during the term of a collective bargaining agreement) have encouraged workers to use their sick days and vacation time to participate. If Oakland’s strike is successful, and other cities follow suit, combining the strategic tactics of America’s oldest economic justice movement with those of its newest, we may soon see whether #occupy can wield enough power to make fundamental change. As Juice put it,“Solidarity is the strength of steel.”And we might just see it tested. SAM ADLER-BELL B ’12.5, is putting his body upon the gears and upon the wheels.
STRIKING CITIES After violent clashes with police at Occupy Oakland last week, the city’s Occupy general assembly voted for a citywide general strike beginning on Wednesday November 2. This is an unprecedented step for the Occupy movement, one that portends an even stronger strategic relationship between unions and occupiers into the future. Unions in Oakland, including the formidable SEIU Local 1021, are supporting the strike and despite contractual and legal restrictions (American labor
OCCUPY KEEPS OCCUPYING City deadline passes in peace by Grace Dunham
n Thursday, October 27 at 2 pm, Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare and Police Detective Theodore Michael calmly entered the Occupy Providence campsite in Burnside Park. For one hour, the two men—neither one in uniform—made their way through the campsite’s maze of tents, taping eviction notices to lampposts and personally distributing them to protestors. “All of a sudden,” says Susan Beatty, who handles tactics and logistics with the Direct Action Working Group, “tents were being unzipped and the Police Commissioner was standing there with a letter.” The letter read, in part, "You are hereby notified that Burnside Park located in Kennedy Plaza, Providence, Rhode Island and every city park in the City of Providence is open 7 days a week, 7:00 am Eastern Standard Time to 9:00 pm Eastern Standard Time. Remaining in the park thereafter is illegal and the City of Providence will seek to enforce this ordinance.” It warned protesters that they had 72 hours to comply. The following day, in an interview with WPRO Morning News, Commissioner Pare announced that if protesters refused to vacate Burnside Park the City would not forcibly remove them. “We’re going to resolve this peacefully and civilly,” he said. “If they believe they have a legal right to remain there, then we’ll resolve that before a court. That’s how it’s done. Not on the streets.”
On October 29, Mayor Angel Taveras released a statement echoing the Commissioner’s sentiments: “If protestors do not vacate Burnside Park on Sunday, the City will NOT follow the actions of other cities like Atlanta, Chicago or Oakland that have resulted in arrests and violence.” Though the Mayor has expressed his support for many of Occupy’s goals and repeatedly thanked them for peacefully cooperating with the City, he still stands firmly behind the eviction. “Permanent occupation of the park,” he said, “is unsafe and unwise for compelling reasons both practical and legal.” Both Mayor Taveras and Commissioner Pare have sighted drugs, fighting, and sex offenders as causes for their concern. "We've had Level 3 sex-offenders here," the Providence Journal quoted the Commissioner as saying on October 26th, “The Park is open. You have people coming in and out, and you have people here sleeping ... When you have that mix, you people should be concerned." According to Susan Beatty and Will Lambek—a member the Media and Outreach Working Group, which manages Occupy Providence’s media and community relations—these concerns are not only unwarranted, but also far from the entire explanation. Two years ago, a tent city called Camp Runamuck sprang up under an abandoned I-95 overpass next to the Providence River. Home to over
80 people, Camp Runamuck was not unlike the Occupy Providence community in Burnside Park. It, too, was a protest (of conditions for homeless people in Rhode Island) and operated under a five-member leadership council and the manifesto, “No one person shall be greater than the will of the whole.” After a drawn out legal back-and-forth, State Officials succeeded in forcing residents to vacate the Camp. “I think in a sort of odd twist of logic,” says Lambek, “They’re deciding, for consistency’s sake, to do the same thing with us. Our position, of course, is that the tent city should have been allowed to stay. As should we.” Following the Sunday deadline, the Police Commissioner was expected to file an injunction: a court order that, if approved, will require a mandatory eviction. Once the injunction is filed, it could take up to three weeks for the Court to reach a decision. Occupy Providence will challenge the injunction on First Amendment grounds, sighting “the right of the people peaceably to assemble” as justification for indefinitely remaining in Burnside Park without a permit. Though the Rhode Island ACLU released a statement acknowledging that there is a Supreme Court precedent which “significantly limits” these First Amendment arguments, Executive Director Steven Brown has announced that it may be “constitutionally problematic” to place a curfew on peaceful First
Amendment activity. On the evening of Sunday October 30, over four hours after the supposed eviction deadline, Occupy Providence showed no signs of vacating. Protestors still gathered at dusk for their nightly General Assembly meeting. Two young women standing at the base of the Ambrose Burnside Statue—a bronze man on horseback, now draped in red fabric—lead the meeting, pausing after every sentence fragment so that the crowd could repeat them in unison, using a “people’s mic” to amplify their words. “Here at Occupy Providence,” one woman said and everyone else echoed, “We strive and struggle…to build a safe space…that means that being here…you are safe from… oppression… discrimination…and other biases.” As of Tuesday, city officials had yet to file an injunction with the Superior Court. GRACE DUNHAM B ’14 will pitch your tent.
03 NOVEMBER 2011
SOCIAL IMPROOVMENT THROUGH HIP HOP
by Sam Rosenfeld and Tana Frank /// Illustration by Robert Sandler
n November 5, PROOV will bring the fundamental elements of hip-hop culture to life in Brown University’s Alumnae Hall. Live DJs are coming to spin everything from classic break beats to fresh new underground rhythms. Unlike ‘Ipod DJs,’ these live artists implement scratching, mixing, and the exploitation of funky breaks to excite audiences. Bboys and Bgirls from across the country, experts in all elements of hip-hop dance, will participate in break dance competitions for cash prizes. They bring skills in popping, locking, breaking, house dancing, and many styles of freeform and choreographed performance. Graffiti artists are preparing to collaborate and create live street art pieces on College Hill to commemorate the original artists who beautified New York City. At PROOV, DJ Dynamik of Providence’s Project 401 and DJ Rox Swift of Los Angeles’s The GR818ERS will
head the turntables to provide a soulful soundtrack that will transform the space into an atmosphere reminiscent of the first hip-hop jams in the 80s and 90s. Dancers of all skill levels will have the chance to vibe out in huge dance ciphers (circles), while Bboy and Bgirl competitive battles will be judged by renowned hip-hop dancers Devious, Eddie Ed and Megatron, three professionals who have shared their talents worldwide from street corners and house parties to television programs and the silver screen. Graffiti artists from RISD and Brown will showcase their work live on a canvas outside of Alumnae Hall to pay homage to the artists in New York City in the early 70s who pioneered a now universally recognized and respected art form. There will also be showcase performances by Brown University dance groups Badmaash and Mezcla. PROOV is hoping to show that hip-hop continues to inspire people the world over
as a vehicle for grassroots organizing and social change. One has to look no farther than hip-hop’s founding fathers, among them DJ Afrika Bambaataa, to see that the movement is rooted in community, positivity and progressive leadership. Bambaataa, a reformed gang leader, is often referred to as the “Grandfather” of hip-hop. Bambaataa began the Universal Zulu Nation and started hosting live hip-hop events, featuring DJs, MCs, dancers, and graffiti artists, to draw youth away from gangs and give them an artistic, open forum for self-expression and community building. Anyone who has listened to Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s “The Message” knows that hip-hop was originally a way of lamenting harsh social conditions in urban environments, and was intended to educate youth. Today, Project 401 and The GR818ERS carry on this spirit of hip-hop as a vehicle for social
by Jonah Wolf
October 30, when, threatened by the rival Rhode Island Blood Bank benefit down the street, the last day of Occustock shriveled into a brief, unamplified open mic before the General Assembly. One woman divided the crowd into three groups to harmonize the phrases "occupy everywhere," "we are the 99 percent," and "we will have our voices heard." Saturday's show also seemed inauspicious at first. The snow had moved the event inside the Whiskey Republic, and kept away a large audience. A woman shouted, "That was beautiful" as Srini Reddy finished tuning his sitar, just like the hippies who applauded Ravi Shankar's tuning at the Concert for Bangladesh. But then Matt thanked everyone who had made the concert possible, and explained that the show was evidence of "what can happen when people just help each other out." Which kind of made sense. There was no reason the Whiskey Republic had to donate their space and nachos, just as there was no reason I had to donate my time, and just as there was no reason Jamie Dimon had to take a $17 million bonus. I had been seeing the Occupy Movement as a stand against inevitable corruption, but when I saw Matt, both of whose parents work in finance in New York, donate his time to the cause, that corruption seemed a little more editable.
SAM ROSENFELD B’12 AND TANA FRANK B’13 want you to PROOV, November 5th, Alumnae Hall, 6 PM-1 AM.
Sometimes the greatest transformations begin simply by walking through the door.
MUSINGS ON OCCUSTOCK his Saturday, I lent my voice to the Occupy movement. The sparse crowd at the Whiskey Republic was nourished by on-the-house nachos and beer courtesy of Occustock organizer Matt Weisberg. Matt and I share a bathroom, and for the past week I had been over-hearing him plan the concert with fellow Brown undergrad Sarah Grimm and Jay Wills, a Seattle native Sarah met at Burnside Park. When Sarah and Jay asked Matt, a member of the Brown Concert Agency, to help plan a three-day music festival, he couldn't say no, and nor could I when Matt asked me to play. I was a little skeptical of the whole endeavor, though. What drew me to the Occupy Movement was how different it was from Woodstock: instead of hippies too stoned to notice they were sleeping in shit, here were radical punks boned up on Adbusters and Howard Zinn. In fact, it was a renegade drum circle that almost got the protesters evicted from Zuccotti Park last week. It was thrilling to hear that hip priest Jeff Mangum had shown up at Zuccotti to sing obscurely about Anne Frank and vegetables. The fact that we didn't already know his politics made Mangum's contribution so much more meaningful than Michael Franti's attempted rhyming of "Three piece suits and bank accounts in Bahamas" with "Wall Street crime will never send you to the slammer" on the same day. These kinds of cringe-worthy lyrics were in evidence at Burnside Park Sunday
change in Providence and Los Angeles, respectively, holding open dance, music, and art workshops. These groups also support city-sponsored efforts to reduce gang violence and increase arts educational opportunities. PROOV aspires to catalyze spontaneous artistic collaboration, break down boundaries, and ultimately rediscover the essence of hip-hop. The event is open to every one of all levels of experience. By bringing local artists to campus, PROOV promises to land on the intersection between art and social engagement.
Take your first step.
Graduate Studies Showcase 2011 Wednesday, November 16, 4:00–7:30pm Register now! www.umb.edu/gradshowcase or 617.287.6000
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
WHAT WILL THE MUSEUM OF THE FUTURE LOOK LIKE? Speculations from the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, France French Version by Catherine Grenier (Chief Curator of Contemporary Collections at the Centre Pompidou) English Translation by Jordan Carter /// Illustration by Annika Finne
he definition of museum: The 20th century museum of fine art was at once a museum, a generator of exhibitions and art-related events and a publishing house. In general, it was outfitted with a documentation archive, a library, a coffee shop and, oftentimes, cinemas and performance spaces. Should some of these functions be further developed or eliminated? If so, which?
The museum and the public: The 19th century museum was a space of study and teaching, serving primarily the purposes of artists, students, and amateurs. The 20th century museum sought to attract a broader and more stated objective of democratizing culture at the risk of a politics of “ratings.” What should the museum of the future offer to the public? Should the expansion of public participation be the museum’s top priority?
In France, are there still distinctions that remain between the museum, regional contemporary art collections and the art center? Are these valid distinctions?
Can you imagine a museum open to the universal public? A museum with a target public? A museum with no public participation?
Should the museum of the future appropriate new features? If so, what?
Should museum programming be directed by the objective of reaching a large public? Only for certain exhibitions?
Should the museum of the future become or host a university? An art school? An educational institute for curators? Why or why not? In what manner should museum collections be constructed? Centrally? Connected? Can you imagine a museum without a collection? Devoid of a permanent collection for routine display? Can you imagine a museum without walls? A nomadic museum? A virtual museum? What impact will the Internet and network culture have on the museum of the future? Will there be a cosmopolitan museum, or a museum of universal domain? What countries would participate? What type of cultural space would it facilitate? Would it have to conceive its own unique museum model? Is the Western model of the museum being altered by globalization? How so? Does globalization solely affect museum content (the collections, the programming), or the general conception of the museum as a whole?
Should the museum practice a form of cultural politics in which public programs are targeted towards specific demographics? Only for certain exhibitions? Should the museum further develop its educational activities? In what sense? Should it pursue the specialization of educational programs for target groups (children, teenagers, communities, etc.)? Could you imagine a museum without established teaching methods? Are artists and scholars an important target audience for the museum? Or are they primordial figures? Are the requirements of the specialized public and the general public compatible? In all cases? Only for certain types of programming and activities? Should the public participate in the conceptualization of the museum? A definition of its activities? In the implementation of its programming? Is the primary function of the museum to entertain? To educate? To question? To testify? Does the museum have an experimental
feature, as was desired in the 1970s? What kind? Should the museum be a mirror of the times? Should it seek to accelerate the times? Should it reflect on the past? Can/should the museum display offensive works or positions? What are the respective roles of aesthetics and history in the museum?
What does it actually provide them? What does the museum expect from artists? Does the museum have a responsibility towards the artist? Or vice versa? Is the museum’s responsibility towards the artist greater than its responsibility to the public at large? Is it less important? Are they comparable?
Should the museum strengthen the presence of history? Should it be a factor in the formation of the collection? Should it play a role in the development of information resources?
Should the museum participate in the training of artists? Indirectly? Directly?
Concurrent with the rise of multidisciplinary museums, which were designed in the 20th century to incorporate disciplines other than fine art, was the emergence of specialized museums (museums of architecture, design, comics, photography, etc.). Should the museum of the future be more of a museum or an interdisciplinary network for the arts?
Can you conceive of a new work relationship between the museum and the artist?
In the case of multidisciplinary museums, should their scope of accepted disciplines be broadened, or should it become more finite in order to cater to the specificity of the visual arts? Should museums pursue the implementation of new institutions abroad (Guggenheim model) or in the same province (Centre Pompidou Metz)? Should they create a new concept for distributing collections under the propriety of their brand (Louvre-Abu Dhabi model)? Should they adopt mobile architectures (Centre Pompidou model)? Or rather, should museums focus on partnerships with existing local structures or projects? Or should the museum of the future adopt various models of development? Should the museum be reformed regularly? Why or why not? The museum and the artist: What do artists expect from the museum?
Should artists participate in the conception of the museum of the future?
How should the museum ensure the lasting quality of the artist’s work? Is it necessary for the museum to protect the artist’s œuvre? To ensure the continuity of the artist’s estate? The museum and the private: What type of relationship should the museum maintain with the art market? What must the museum avoid in its commercial activities? Should the museum accept the financing of the art market (galleries of the artists)? To what extent? What type of relationship should the museum maintain with sponsors and patrons? What should be avoided in their interactions and exchanges? JORDAN CARTER B’12 était stagiaire au Musée Beaubourg.
03 NOVEMBER 2011
BY DAVID SANCHEZ-AGUILERA ILLUSTRATION BY JULIETA CARDENAS
he broadcast date was September 5, 2001. Charlie Rose picked up his cue card and considered his guest—he worried he had lost her from the start. The microphone amplified a stammer. He gathered his bearings and read the following words of acclaim; “each time she releases a new album, it evokes the reaction ‘so, this is what music is going to sound like in a few years,’ and yet here it is.” He stopped abruptly. Have you even heard Björk’s music before, Mr. Rose? But she offered a smile. Beatific. There she was. Ten years after squaring off with Charlie Rose in a Manhattan Studio, Björk is in the midst of a flurry of commentary surrounding the October 10th release of her eighth full-length studio album. Biophilia is an exploration of the interstices between technology, music, and nature. It is also the first fully formed “app album” on record, released in collaboration with Apple as a series of apps for the iPad and iPhone. Björk fans can download the “mother app,” Cosmogony, for free. The app leads fans into an album display depicting a constellation of nine stars—one for each song on the album, allowing the listener to finger through and explore the world of Biophilia. When the constellation appears,
the voice of David Attenborough (narrator of the BBC Life natural history series) croons, “Welcome to Biophilia, the love of nature in all of its manifestations.” The two-minute voiceover introduction includes other words of wisdom, such as, “just as we use music to express parts of us that would otherwise be hidden, so too can we use technology to make visible much of nature’s invisible world”, and “remember that you are a gateway between the universal and the microscopic.” Every star is an app unto itself, for a monetary fee. Each comes equipped with the corresponding song’s original score and lyrics, an interactive game or animation, and an essay explaining Björk’s musical intent. NATURE & MYTHOLOGY The app for the song “Hollow” thrusts fans into the vertiginous depths of a living cell. The graphics were designed by the biomedical animator Drew Barry, who gathered information from techniques like x-ray crystallography to construct the molecular models for protein and DNA depicted in the song’s animation. The story told is one of inheritance. The viewer is placed inside the chaotic nucleus of a cell undergoing the process of DNA replication during the interphase stage of mitosis.
The 3-D computer animation is scientifically solid. The accuracy is established in the early parts of the video: DNA is fed through the protein machinery of DNA helicase, which unzips the DNA double helix to reconfigure into two wholly new double helixes. But the image is warped by Björk’s ghostly entrance. A molecular complex in the shape of Björk’s face, taken from 3-dimensional scans of her head, floats past the replicating DNA and coo’s “hollow, looking for some answers/Generations of mothers sailing in/ Swallows, me up, the trunk of DNA/The trunk of DNA.” The interplay between lyrics and images in the animation reminds the audience that Björk’s face is a genetically inherited mask; that her lyrics pay tribute to generations of Icelandic genomes before her that flicker before the light of her words. The other song apps are no less impressive or bizarre. The “Virus” app allows fans to mediate a love story between a virus and a cell. In keeping with the theme of Biophilia, “Virus” is both musical instrument and educational tool: fans can select a linear “story” mode or create their own music by bouncing little animated virus particles off of the cells they hope to infect. The story mode locks the viewer into a game of trying to stop the viruses from completing their life cycle and
finishing off cells in frenzy driven concupiscence. Intervening to determine the virus’s fate turns off the song and leaves the screen hauntingly frozen. Björk’s message is clear: to be human is to be at all points bound up with nature. In a video taken of Björk in Japan, while on tour for her 2001 album, Vespertine, Björk told a room of reporters, “I’ve always felt very sad with pop culture, especially Andy Warhol. That period… was all about erasing mythology and erasing the past and....shooting the roots into plastic and manufactured and... massmade polka dots… I’ve always thought someone could shoot the roots all the way back— have all the mythology one has from nature and country and still be completely modern”(sic). These same preoccupations have expressed themselves throughout Björk’s music career. MUSICOLOGY Biophilia is also an experimental investigation of sound and music’s formal flexibility and cross-disciplinary potential. In an official interview on her website, Björk expresses that a major concern on Biophilia was “sympathizing with sound, the physics of sounds, how notes in a room behave, how they bounce off objects”. Björk drew the points from musicology—the academic study of music. She
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
saw musicology reflected in lessons from nature. Their derived concepts (those of timing, rhythm, transformation, and intuition) influenced the musical structure of individual songs on Biophilia. Several songs feature unique instruments specially constructed to render natural phenomena into sound. The song “Thunderbolt” uses buzzing noises recorded from several Tesla Coils—a transformer invented by 19th century physicist Nikola Tesla—as inspiration for the rising patterns and arpeggios that form the song’s baseline. In “Solstice,” giant pendulums tracing the earth’s gravitational energy were used to translate the earth’s pulse into melody by striking a harp on each downward stroke. In “Moon,” lunar phases are paired with human biorhythms to change musical structures. This app features a musical sequencer in the form of pearls, strung from spinal vertebrae, which reflect the cycles of the moon. The viewer can change the phases of the lunar cycle by rotating the moon, causing tide to enter or leave the spinal column and thus changing the melodic contours of the tune as pitch rises and falls. But the tune cannot be controlled precisely because the processes that dictate how much fluid enters or leaves the spine are uneven and unpredictable consequences of nature. The app
stresses the importance of rhythm in musical constructions. SPIRITUAL TAKEAWAYS In a recent press release made on her website, Björk stated, “It was time to make a spiritual statement—you come to a certain age and you realize you have to include that.” We should be used to statements of this magnitude coming from her. In the 2003 documentary, Inside Björk, Björk told her studio, One Little Indian Us, “Iceland is organic. The way I sang would just form itself.” She explained that her motivation for writing the 1997 album, Homogenic, was to invent the Icelandic brand of pop music. She told how she hired an engineer to record volcanic beats to incorporate into her nationalistic hymn—the standout single on Homogenic, “Joga.” She contended that natural and mythological spirits can exist in new technology. Björk has always been led by spiritual towers—a desire to be introspective, to evoke the nation, to push the envelope. Biophilia has made it clear that part of this spiritual statement is Björk’s desire to teach and share her process of creating music. These apps—which blend her conceptions of nation, history, and nature—allow fans to create their own music in the intuitive and new ways that have always
interested her. Björk is even adopting a new format for her tours, choosing eight six-week residencies across the globe that will include live performances, scientific expositions, and children’s courses on nature and music. The iPad, of course, will play a central teaching role. In the hour that ensued, Björk attempted to explain her relationship with music to Rose. We hung on her words, though her storytelling technique was circular, her metaphors strange, and her rolling “r’s,” at times, obscene. When asked where she drew inspiration, Björk wondered aloud, “part of me is very academic. You sit down and you collect this kind of flavor until you have a library of a sound family. It’s kind of like being a librarian.” She pauses. “And part of me is the singer—the opposite of that. A force of…”. DAVID SANCHEZ-AGUILERA B’13 is a Björkophiliac.
03 NOVEMBER 2011
STOGIE FEVER the smoky politics of the cigar By Mimi Dwyer
Photos By Michael Mount
eap some tobacco onto a brown leaf, roll it up, stuff it nice and thick. Cut off its tip, poke a hole in it, set it ablaze. Smoke it, don’t inhale, just let it linger in your mouth. Relax. Relaxation is the day’s agenda for six hundred men at the Rhode Island Convention Center. They’re here to, as the Expo website reads, “enjoy cigars as they were meant to be, with fine food and drink, in fine company … take a long draw on luxury, hold it, savor it … at the New England Cigar Expo!” The Expo coordinators advertise Providence as “the ‘Renaissance City’ where haute cuisine, the fine and performing arts, and a lifestyle of refinement and taste are proudly celebrated.” You know, the sort of place where people will spring for a $300 Expo ticket. A signed Sopranos bottle of wine. Twenty sample cigars and a little camaraderie. The patrons, almost exclusively male, huddle around heaters and sofas on the Convention Center’s patio. Health codes have forced them outside, and they are not happy. “Just because of this,” says venture capitalist Charles Lax, “Chafee is a one-term governor! These are six hundred voters, and they’re treating us like shit!” Never mind unemployment— these are the issues that resonate here today. They’ve always represented power: when Columbus pushed two men off his boat onto the shores of Cuba, they returned with tales of tinder and herbs and smoke perfumes. They’d seen, Columbus wrote in his navigation diary, “many people… women and men, with a firebrand in the hand, and certain weeds whose smoke they inhale.” These people did the strangest thing with the firebrands: “burning a part of it, from the other part they suck
or absorb or admit the smoke with breathing.” Columbus brought these smokeleaves back to Spain, and they became exotified objects of opulence, transgressive and powerful at the same time. ¡Viva España! ¡Viva la reina! The European elite could not get enough, and the savageness of tobacco struck fear into conservative hearts: one of Columbus’s Cuban explorers was imprisoned for ten years during the Spanish Inquisition for smoking this “devil’s weed.” Roll it, cut it, light it. Exhale. “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” Sigmund Freud said famously, except there’s no proof he really said that. He smoked more than twenty per day, until the roof of his mouth was riddled with tumors. His patients recalled the stench of his office—leather, wood, fire. “I owe to the cigar a great intensification of my capacity to work and a facilitation of my self-control,” he told his physician shortly before dying of jaw cancer. The smoke in his mouth gave him strength—and killed him. The physicalized symbol that defined his career punctuated his life. By 1900, four out of five men in the United States smoked cigars—everybody who was anybody lit up. They were fat brown wands of power. Boss Tweed kept boxes ready for his guests and secretly ran a cigar-manufacturing company with his political rival, Horace Greely. Bonnie and Clyde smoked them as they ravaged the West. Winston Churchill kept 4000 Cubans in a cellar in his Kent mansion. Think of the photo—Churchill looking out over a terrified England, flashing “V” for victory. In his other hand, if you squint—the nub of a cigar. The Covention Center’s steel-beam in-
terior has been spattered with images of wealth—makeshift curtains, ‘live’ big band music that appears to be coming from a computer. The walls are lined with foldup tables under starchy tablecloths; whiskey and rum distributors pass out samples in Dixie cups. Fritos and pretzels line the cocktail tables. The occasional woman surfaces, hired to promote products. Her miniskirt and stilettos turn her into a prop. “I got an internship smoking cigars,” one girl says. Outside, twenty more tables are lined up against the brick exterior, with a different cigar distributor at each stand. An ever-growing line of Expo-goers looking to cash in on the 20 cigars they’ve been promised. One stand even displays the rolling process—an old Cuban man sitting at a table making stogies by hand. (“A real Cuban!” somebody in front of me whispers.) A girl to his right beckons customers. These are the things, presumably, that the cigar industry has determined its buyers want: women and mild illicitness, a faux-Cuban cigar. A taste of the exotic, the forbidden, just like Columbus. “You have to determine, what are your vices? Crack cocaine?” asks John Lynch, a sweaty Fall River fireman standing towards the back of the patio. “Cigars help you have a better quality of life. Right now I’m at peace with the world. The Indians smoked a peace pipe for a reason, right?” For Lynch, cigars symbolize virility, his youth, the past. “Back in the day, we [firefighters] were a bunch of cigarchompin’, skirt-chasin’, beer-guzzlin’ men,” he says. “Now the guys are more ‘metropolitan’—eatin’ sushi, you know. But, heh, still chasin’ skirt.” These new firefighters aren’t allowed to smoke ci-
gars, he says, but he can because he’s been “grandfathered in.” He puffs on one of his samples, savors it. These stogies mean experience. They distinguish him from the greenhorns, connote his sense of power, though that power is personal, local. After all, cigars are affordable. And today their consumer base is diversified— anybody who considers himself important in his world, regardless of whether or not he’s a member of the one percent. Perhaps that’s how the symbolism of the cigar has changed. The cigar displays satisfaction more than anything, along with a chance to try on the borrowed jewels of wealth. People here take them seriously. Take, for example, the Cigar Rights of America PAC with a stand in between cigar distributors. The self-described “NRA of cigars,” the group travels across America fighting smoking bans and advocating smokers’ rights. Their chairman, Glynn Loope, says that most fundamentally, they’re “all about freedom.” He won’t, however, tell me if he’s ever smoked a Cuban. In the nineties, at the height of yuppie culture which valued success at any cost, cigars made a comeback with a vengeance. Michael Jordan graced the cover of Cigar Aficionado, as did Arnold Schwarzenegger and Claudia Schiffer. Madonna smoked one on Letterman in 1994, saying “fuck” throughout her twenty-minute interview to rattle the FCC. The symbol lives on: in Rick Ross’s 2009 cut “Cigar Music,” he spits, “Fascinated with foreign felines/since I was knee high/this cigar got me buzzin’ like a beehive.” Ross, a Mississippi-born rapper who espouses a playboy persona, promotes the conception of wealth that
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
comes with cigars. The references he make feel somewhat tired: later in the song Ross describes himself as the “downsouth Nas.” None of these pop icons fit into the traditional association of cigars and oldmoney power. Yet in another way they play into it—appropriating a symbol means accepting what it represents as a norm rather than conceiving of changing it. Since cigars are cultural objects with little cultural consistency, they highlight the most basic problem of symbolism: connotations shift. Cigars mean status, but they also gesture towards subversion. They are a symbol of wealth disconnected from traditional “class:” Scott Disick, the ambiguously-employed boyfriend of a Kardashian, uses cigars to look highpowered but lands closer to American Psycho. This disjunctive form of wealth is the real one percent—the famous cigar smokers, disparate as they come, are a good litmus test for the ruling elite. The signifier points to an ambiguous signified. This means a dynamic social hierarchy, but one that values the same things—money, power, respect. The ends justify the means in ways that make us uncomfortable, but this is nothing new. So the wealthy light a cigar and say “suck it,” and the world’s Scott Disicks follow suit. Towards the back of the patio, at the end of the row, are the fancy cigar tables only available to the VIPs—that is, those willing to fork over another $200 for distinction from the other Expo patrons, a few extra cigars, and entrance to the after-party at
Italo American Grill. This, if anything, is the section of the event tailored to the regional bourgeoisie, the one percent of an economically crippled city, whoever they may be. Like, say, Expo host Buddy Cianci, the notorious ex-Mayor of Providence. “Buddy is one of my heroes,” says firefighter Lynch. “Providence used to be no better than Fall River—it’s a destination now. And I don’t think he realized what he was doing. He just wants to make Providence the best it can be. He’s chubby, five feet tall, and comes across as powerful. That’s saying something.” If you’re looking for Buddy on a weeknight, there’s a good chance you’ll find him at his favorite pub on Federal Hill, puffing on a cigar with his associates. The pub is called Tammany Hall, and he loves it despite, or because of, its “bad rap:” say what you will about Boss Tweed, the man knew business and power. “I’ve smoked a cigar there with Rudy Giuliani,” Buddy says. He’s a star at the Providence Tammany; a man among his people, much like the environment at the Convention Center. Buddy mingles through the Expo, his cheekbones rouged and his front pocket stuffed with cigars. People pat him on the back. Smoking “is a very civil thing to do,” he says. “It goes well with cognacs, rum. I like to take one after dinner, like Churchill and Kipling.” The Expo’s other celebrity is Federico Castelluccio, who played stoic hitman Furio Giunta on The Sopranos. He sits on a fold-up stage, a line of Expo patrons waititng for him to sign their limited edition wine bottles and medieval portraits of
Edie Fialco and James Gandolfini. “We smoked a lot of cigars on The Sopranos,” says Castelluccio. “And then we’d go to an event and smoke more. It’s funny—it’s hard to tell if life is imitating art or vice versa.” In one beloved Sopranos scene, Furio breaks his silence when a mobster complains about the “communist fucks” who “want to paint Columbus as a murderer” by protesting Columbus day. “I never liked Columbus,” he says in thickly-accented English. “In Napoli, a lot of people are not so happy for Columbus, because he was from Genoa. The North of Italy always have the money and the power. They punish the South since hundreds of years. Even today, they put up their nose at us, like we're peasants. I hate the North.” Furio values power as a mobster, but doesn’t necessarily identify with the status icons of the past. As the Expo-goers leave the Convention Center, they run into the other thing happening in Providence on October 15: an Occupy Providence march. College kids and locals raising their fists, talking about change through bullhorns on steps. The patrons begin to heckle the protesters, who heckle them right back. In some ways, the movements have more in common than they know: just as Occupy brings suburban moderates and acid-burnout drum-circlers together, the Cigar Expo brings firefighters and iconic politicians together. There’s no cohesive Occupy demographic, and cigars embody not only the values of the detested one percent, but also a more universal smok-
er demographic. Symbols of power, like symbols of rebellion (the Che Guevara tshirt) signify something more diffuse. This makes it difficult for social and political movements to effect change. This generation ascribes less importance to the old symbols—they feel tired, imprecise, beside the point. The fear of the Bomb has become the fear of terrorism and infiltration and surveillance. Fear is scattered, so we find little to unite on. What a list of demands-- #occupyitall, sparsely. We are nodular, webbed. Yet the same question applies to the protested—what real difference will a PAC based on cigars make? In the sixties, Winston Churchill’s cigar-sporting “V” for Victory was appropriated by the counterculture movement to mean peace, an alternative. And what do we appropriate? The women and the mobsters and the sports stars already got to the cigars, and each one of them subverts it in his own way. Rebellion feels personal, not organized. How can we unify if there’s no object to center ourselves on? Without a central bullhorn, no blatant symbol emerges, and personal momentum gets lost in the smoke. MIMI DWYER B’13 is trying really hard to determine her vices.
03 NOVEMBER 2011
OMEGALOPOLIS Talking to the Internet by Tim Nassau
n the front page of omegle.com it says,“When you use Omegle, we pick another user at random and let you have a one-on-one chat with each other.” Though what follows looks like a dialogue, it is in fact a compilation of several dozen different conversations I had on Omegle. Each time, I asked the other person to answer a question and then to write a question: the question they wrote became the one the next person answered. The message that starts the interview (“I am doing an interview project with people on Omegle.”) is how I started each conversation; I myself wrote the first question and answered the last one. It’s a cliché that when talking on the internet, you can be whoever you want to be. It was said of the Greek god Proteus that he knew the secret of everything, and that he would alter his form to evade those who wished to know it; only if you captured him would he teach you the truth. But how do you recognize the true form of someone who can be anything? And what if Proteus knows everything because he could be anyone?
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
COLLEGE HILL CHRISTIANS
Broken identities seeking better answers by Christopher Unseth Illustration by Becca Levinson
any Christians on College Hill identify with the struggle to align a conservative Christian upbringing with the academic atmosphere of the university. Yet some Christian groups realize that the divide between Christians and other students is an imagined one, established by the stereotypes used to characterize faith groups. This barrier diminishes as Christians take it upon themselves to approach the Bible as scholars. For my part, it feels as if a scrawny, pale-faced and beaten boy inside my brain constantly reminds me: “Say something smart.” He’s my withered Christian past, the skeletal remains of a lively childhood spent in church and bible study. GROWING UP To some, I am simply the product of missionary parents; to others I am the quintessential Midwest, non-denominational Christian. I was born into a Christian home. I attended youth group and was told to read my Bible each morning. I lived by these fundamental truths: the Bible is inspired by God, complete, and to be taken literally. Books by C.S. Lewis and other more obscure Christian authors shaped my ideas. I attended Christian concerts, camps, and retreats that rotated from weekend getaways to undulating bouts with the Holy Spirit. I had very little to say against Rush Limbaugh’s radio show on the way to kindergarten each morning. I did not understand the gendered and discriminatory overtones in my language or the language of others. I was never directly exposed to a multicultural world like college. Then I came to college and watched movies like “Jesus Camp” or read Roland Barthes. I coolly condemned my roommate to Hell and silently separated myself from weekend fun—never drinking, dancing, or getting high. I took classes on Karl Marx and post-Colonialism that presented me with alternative worldviews that I had never heard in a sympathetic light. I was called a hypocrite and homophobe, lumped into categories of human beings who were labeled racist or bigoted. And my faith went on life support. There are ways in which we, as students, stereotype this type of person, a conservative Christian. While we rail against reductive stereotypes in the classroom, this one goes overlooked. Christians become a ‘type,’ and not able, in the eyes of others, to overcome their past. I am sometimes compared to Fred Phelps and Pat Robertson, either by friends or indirectly in classrooms, grouped into the rightwing political establishment. Halfhearted apologies are thrown at me from
friends who smoke or drink too much while they stumble down the hallways. I am stereotyped as a moral-do-gooder, but it’s not a helpful epithet: my own story is more complicated than that UNDERGRADS, UNDER GOD Very shortly after arriving at Brown, I joined a small and nascent Christian group. I trudged through rain and snow from Keeney to an old Benefit Street armory that accomodated my groups’ desire to sing songs and talk about God. It felt anonymous and clandestine. Some of my friends thought I was consciously opposed to their activities on Friday nights—and maybe during my first year, I was inclined to agree with them. But this is not the intent of Christian meetings, and as I come closer to graduation, I begin to understand how the stereotypes that divide Christians from the rest of their classmates reify what our teachers have told us of “those Christians”—saying that they are thoughtless, anti-intellectual, and inbred. But Christian meetings, bible studies, and worship nights are never meant to divide the world into the sacred and the secular. That outlook would be counterintuitive to the goals that Christian fellowships aim to accomplish on campuses. Rather, they are places of integration and inclusion, where those who identify strongly with the life of Jesus Christ meet one another and attempt to answer the questions we may have. We sit in a circle to hear the many voices and perspectives on the Trinity, Scripture, and doctrine. It is implicit in our discussion that Christianity has taken many wrong turns throughout its history; this is not a mere footnote but inherent in every point made. We parse the difficult passages, struggle through complicated language and the esoteric doctrines that clouds each passage or comment about Christian living in the 21st century. Bible study is a place of both spiritual and academic exploration. A friend at the meeting concerns himself over the authorship of certain Pauline texts. I share stories in regards to the racist, anti-Semitic nature of Biblical scholarship in Protestantism, especially before World War II. Another friend offers a more mystical theological approach rooted in his experience of the text—one that looks at how the text affects both real and spiritual transformations in his life. The people around me ably quote the Gospels, share from the specialized knowledge of their majors, and describe their identity crises around Christianity on College Hill. Our discussion is not purely academic; it requires us to open up to the spiritual realm in some way. We must acknowledge that certain revelations come not
from our intellectual pursuit, but from a realm where God exists and touches us in ways we sometimes have trouble perceiving. But academia is nevertheless a wonderful door to understanding God and deepening our experience of this unseen realm. BLURRING FAITH AND STUDY Bible study and my Christian journey model my life as a student. My groups’ discussion of faith occurs outside of established Christianity and beyond the status quo. We are twenty-somethings who listen to God-fearing pastors like John Piper, David Platt, and N.T. Wright but with a critical ear. We love the music of Bon Iver as well as Needtobreathe; we remember cassettes from DcTalk and wish you could listen to Jars of Clay. We are students living in the blur between academia and our faith upbringing, confusing the lines between “Christian” culture and world culture. On Sunday mornings, I drive a group of students to church while we listen to Hillsong and grudge the papers we need to write during the afternoon. Much of Christianity has wended complicated postmodern paths to get to this point. As Brown challenged my Christian faith in my sophomore year, indeed the very fabric of my self-identity, I was forced to confront the question: is Christianity right? I had been given the tools to understand texts as products of authors, steeped in their subjectivity and prejudices, while readers were equally subjective and able to draw infinite meaning from texts. Brown taught me to question the words of any text, to understand that each line of text is a complicated series of judgments by the author framed by a worldview. This disturbed me, calling into question the very essence of the Bible, down to its every word. NEW CHRISTIANS, NEW QUESTIONS My experience is not unique. The questions I ask are the questions of 21st century Christians, and require support from the academic world. They require discussion springing from relationships that only occur around the intentional and communal poring over old texts—the very thing we all, as students, accomplish each day. I attended a church in Minnesota while writing a thesis on a community where former, disgruntled Protestants and Catholics come together to discuss Christianity, rather than simply being taught Christianity. While I am usually uncomfortable with leaderless, undirected discussion, I realize that this is an age where my fellow human beings and I must engage in discussion over faith, not being
swayed by what we see on the news and read on blogs. We have serious questions for one another and serious answers that can only happen through dialogue and the relation of our experiences, face-to-face. This means that while my experience at Brown attacked my Christian past, it has also served to open my eyes to the role I play as a Christian with my non-Christian peers. My friends and I practice Christianity centered on the discussion of scripture and its historical life. But we do not lose sight of Christ—his enduring principals that withstand the test of time and the importance of his death and resurrection— bringing us into a new and refreshing life that allows us to explore God’s love, even in school. It is rooted in a view of humanity that suggests each of us has done at least some small wrongs. Only through the perfectly lived life of Christ can we reconcile the difference between our depravity and God’s perfection. We Christians all affirm this! The lines between denominations continue to loosen, while my friends and I relish the ecumenicism that crosses the long-standing border between Protestant and Catholic. Robert Wuthnow, a scholar at Princeton, shows that our generation is borne of a group that fails more and more to distinguish between the differences of Christian denominations and affiliations as we grow up in a world of multiculturalism and diversity. He writes, “fewer people think their own denomination has a better grasp on the truth than other denominations, and fewer denominations themselves impose creedal tests that people must meet in order to become members or participate in church service.” We, as Christians, are in the shared world of Christ-worship, coupling our knowledge and spiritual experience to transcend denominational difference. We need to unite our spiritual and academic experiences. I am shouting this from the mountaintops: they are one and the same! We are all in this together, living as Christians on College Hill who still meet in out-of-sight basements and using our Godgiven minds, trying to speak to our past and always remembering that the world demands intelligent answers. CHRISTOPHER UNSETH B’11.5 wishes you would listen to Jars of Clay.
03 NOVEMBER 2011
A MEAL IS A MEAL IS A MEAL Tracing the Restaurant Critics of the New York Times by Belle Cushing // Illustrations by Annika Finne
n a winter’s night, a New York Times food critic walks into a French restaurant on East 52nd Street. “La Grenouille has a quiet appeal in its…conservative good taste. Each table in the restaurant is admirably graced with fresh roses,” Craig Claiborne penned in his 1962 review. He enjoyed “an absolutely extraordinary fillet of striped bass in beurre blanc…a dish of extravagant goodness such as one rarely remembers outside France.” Ruth Reichl agreed that “the sea bass is simply extraordinary,” but it is a very different fillet served to her 35 years later: “Surrounded by a luxurious sauce, onions and potatoes, the fish melts into something very much like marrow. The chef has used the best quality of the fish, its texture, to create a tapestry of tastes.“ To Mimi Sheraton in 1980, La Grenouille is “clearly the most stylish and graceful of the four-star restaurants,” where the leg of veal is “the snowiest and most tender example of that meat extant.” Claiborne found the frog legs overcooked. 27 years later, Sam Sifton writes that they “are delicate, flavorful, addictive and impossible even in this luxe setting to finish with knife and fork.” Each time, there are flowers. And year after year, there are New York Times restaurant reviewers. Frank Bruni, another Times restaurant critic, also dined amongst opulence and frog legs. However, he did not review this restaurant during his time at the Food desk between 2004 and 2009. He set out multiple times to Midtown, planning to “lovingly refresh three stars,” as he told NYEater. But in the end, the meals were inconsistent. He would have felt obligated to remove one of the restaurant’s longstanding stars. “I was so determined not
to be the one who killed La Grenouille.” Since 1957, when Craig Claiborne became the first Times Food Editor to offer critical gastronomic commentaries, restaurants ranging from the classic La Grenouille to M. Wells, an unembellished and unconventional diner in Queens, were celebrated or devastated by weekly reviews. Claiborne was hired as an authoritative male voice to give weight to the section of the Times that was then known as the women’s page, a section for “Food, Fashion, Family, and Furnishings.” The mid-century style page was where women writers published home-cooking pieces without byline or ambition, and Claiborne came to the desk as the first official Food editor to create a section with masculine prestige. The day Claiborne plopped his typewriter down next to chef Bill Neal, who was preparing shrimp and grits, marked the rise from obscurity of Neal and classic southern cuisine. The name of Alain Ducasse, French chef-extraordinaire, now conjures up more mouth-watering admiration than that of Claiborne, but it was the Food editor who first wrote about Ducasse. He confirmed whisperings that this chef was “worthy of inclusion in the pantheon of great French chefs.” And so Ducasse joined the ranks of Paul Bocuse and Gaston LeNotre, whose shoulders were also originally tapped by the culinary scepter of Craig Claiborne.
Claiborne set the precedent of simultaneously demystifying and fetishizing haute
cuisine, distilling a singular, sometimes lavish, meal into an informative article for the masses while conferring star status on a chosen few. Reviewers of New York restaurants since Claiborne have ranged from stickler to slapstick. Mimi Sheraton, an unyielding Brooklynite with rigid standards of taste, would never go to Brooklyn to wait on line for dinner. Despite the borough’s foodie fame today, in her time as critic from 1975 to 1983, Sheraton did not see merit in the restaurants of her childhood neighborhood, and did not stray far from Manhattan in her reviews. Ruth Reichl came to the desk in 1993 with a personality as unruly as her hair, a trousseau of disguises, and an optimism to rival that of a second-grade teacher. “My friends will tell you that every time I go into a restaurant I say, ‘Oh, this is going to be great!’” she told Salon. “And it’s really got to not be great before I’m willing to say it’s not.” Sam Sifton, the most recent Food Editor, wrote his final review in a two-year reign on October 11 in which he declared Per Se “the best restaurant in New York.” Notoriously expensive, re-reviewed and revered by critics and well-moneyed diners, Chef Thomas Keller’s restaurant in the Time Warner Center is a pinnacle of haute cuisine. In Latin, per se means ‘in itself’—the food should speak for itself. In his last review, Sifton spoke for himself, a final indulgence meant to celebrate his own taste and not for the majority of readers. As an arbiter of taste, Sifton’s presumption in selecting a dinner costing upwards of $500 a head was not entirely well received by readers, judging by scathing references to the one percent on the website’s comment section.
But restaurant reviewers are not entirely objective. Sifton’s taste is not universal, but specific. Besides, he was thoughtful enough to include a shout-out to those without his expense account; diners at Per Se could eat sparingly à la carte for only $100—provided they can get a table, that is. Each reviewer is different, as is each night at a restaurant and each diner who experiences it. Sifton’s approach “has been from the start that restaurants are culture, and that there is no better perch from which to examine our shared values and beliefs, behavior and attitudes, than a seat in a restaurant dining room, observing life’s pageant in the presence of food and drink.” Thus, the “marketing executive with feathered Madonna hair” the next table over at The Fat Radish is just as important an accompaniment as the kabocha squash that “complemented beautifully” the honey-glazed duck. And despite his choice of a four-dollar-sign restaurant for his final four-star review, Sifton brought this approach to neighborhood joints as well as more pricey spots. Mimi Sheraton distances herself from Sam Sifton’s style, which she described in an interview as “food writing for an audience less interested in food and more interested in the experience and the theater of it. I don’t like it at all…I usually skip the first column and a half and get to the food, because that’s what I think it’s about.” Either way, “all criticism is argument,” says Sifton. Despite specific style, and personal taste, food writing becomes a work akin to artistic criticism, only focused on a meal and not a MoMA exhi-
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
bition or collection of short stories. By deeming a critic worthy of commentary, food is deemed an art worthy of criticism. This critical commentary can never be wholly objective. Kant took care to distinguish between physiological taste and a higher sense of judgment in beauty. Food didn’t make the beauty cut, as it has an innate purpose: everyone’s got to eat, and a determination of taste is inextricably tied to a rumbling stomach. But Kant was writing about taste long before food entered the realm of science, and then of art—before food critics began to analyze each technical aspect of a meal despite personal hunger or inclination. The question of a food critic is not whether he likes oeufs en gelée. Commentary is an analysis: a judgment of where imagination meets understanding informed by, but not solely slave to, the whims of one particular tongue. True, one critic’s taste can never be universal. Nonetheless, the genre of restaurant criticism, especially in a city renowned for its innovative cuisine, strives to characterize a dinner as creation, social interaction, and potential masterpiece. Restaurant critics are not necessarily trained chefs. They are writers—Sifton was culture editor at the Times before becoming the restaurant critic, and he will now fill the post of National news editor. While wielding printed stars of debatable power, the critic’s responsibility is to communicate. Ruth Reichl explained to NPR why she wore such elaborate disguises to keep herself from being recognized on the job: “I have a really strong belief that I am there to be your eyes and ears when you're at the restaurant. I'm supposed to
tell you what's going to happen to you, not what happens to the restaurant critic of the New York Times who is getting the best table and the chef is cooking the food specially and the portions are getting bigger and so forth.” Rather, she was Chloe, a blonde divorcée in a black satin suit who ordered wine in a husky whisper. Or Molly, a frumpy Midwesterner who put off an unsophisticated air and generally got shoddy service in return. Ruth-as-Molly is the type of expert defined by Mark Twain: “an ordinary fellow from another town.” No qualifications required except an outsider’s perspective ready to take satisfaction without agenda. Claiborne came from Sunflower, MS to define the tastes of New York. Originally an outsider, he soon suppressed his coming-of-age as a homosexual boy in the small-town South to become the epitome of the in-crowd, drawing out the socialites of Manhattan to regular parties on a lavish East Hampton estate. Reichl transferred from Los Angeles. Like New York, the city is a type of placeless place where restaurants describe not the local flavor, but the best of the best, transplanted from around the world. To review restaurants in New York and Los Angeles is to view local reactions to imported cuisine. But she grew up in Greenwich Village. The food column caters to its own choir, being, in this case, fellow foodies, writers, and restaurateurs of the very restaurants being frequented. Food experts in New York are no more ordinary than they are outsiders. They are treated as celebrities themselves. Reichl’s notorious disguises were born after the realization that her photo was tacked up in every restaurant kitchen in
three boroughs. And these critics are deeply implicated in the food world. At Claiborne’s 60th birthday party, Alice Waters handed out strawberries while Jacques Pépin manned the grill. Their judgments are not of Kantian disinterest. It is rather a knowledgeable albeit fallible taste and the ability to recreate a meal in writing that makes a successful critic. Like Twain’s visitor from out of town, their influence is temporary, their word taken as a transient truth. Frank Bruni was audacious enough to advise one enthusiastic waiter to seek psychiatric treatment, but also understood that his power was temporary and subjective. He commented on his choice of a last review on a moderately priced restaurant by saying, “Two months from now, you guys won't even be able to spell my last name. I didn't want to write a last review that had any insinuation of grandiosity.”
Since Craig Claiborne invented the genre of the restaurant review as it is known today, La Grenouille has served New Yorkers and urbane travelers Tuesday through Saturday. It is a mark of the advent and persistency of high dining in America: born in France, loved in New York. Haute French cuisine may be on the way out, threatened by Malaysian-barbeque fusion and pork belly and foams. Bruni did not want to be the one to destroy an institution with a lackluster review. He assumed that he maintained the power in his weekly column and gifts of stars that he could be the one to bring the frog to its knees. He derives his authority from the trust placed in him during his tenure by the eat-
ers of New York, for, as he muses in a last column, “My judgment—subjective and, no doubt, flawed—was trusted.” A similar menace is looming toward institutionalized restaurant criticism. The democratization of journalism in the face of technology is not specific to food, and its manifestation in the thousands of independent bloggers and Yelpers each giving his own review is a real threat to established criticism. The once venerated opinion of an expert gives way to consensus of Internet users. But restaurant reviewers once felt threatened by the advent of Zagat’s restaurant guide, and the genre has survived. The open forum of online journalism does not have to be an enemy of print. Rather, it can raise the bar of skill and innovation. If anyone can go online and write about a well-cooked steak, then the respected reviewer must write about it better. In the coming weeks, the New York Times will appoint another restaurant critic to replace Sifton. The writer will enter the conversation started by Claiborne and continued by bloggers. This reviewer, like New York Times restaurant critics before him, will have an audience, salivating or disagreeing, but reading nonetheless. BELLE CUSHING B’13 found the frog legs overcooked.
03 NOVEMBER 2011
THIS WILL END WITH A
FRUIT b y D a v id S c o fi
e ld Ill us tr at io n b y Ro b er t Sa nd le r
Petals are swarming in my mouth, I’m savoring an angr y swarm of spring I breathed today to blo w against your thigh. There’s heat left for su ch games. Soon warmth will be more vital Than ritual or color.
The smell of squirming in a room with hard-w ood floors is not for me to tell, but I’ll confide I doze well in the mu sk of glistening oak. And same on gold, it’ s nice to rest without a scent. Soon I may leave my senses malting Somewhere moist - be neath a rock. But I’m holding out to hear you eat a grape. Those clarinets Of spurting juice will marshal me. Oh my, We haven’t shared a fruit down to the core , And it’s getting cold. That’s fine, everything Now is ripe all the tim e. Here I finish With a sneezing oran ge peel in winter.