THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
29 SEPTEMBER 2011 VOLUME XXIII ISSUE II BROWN/RISD WEEKLY
EP H E M E R A
WEEK IN REVIEW STEPHEN CARMODY, BARRY ELKINGTON, ALEX RONAN
The statue on in front of Faunce Steps on Brown University’s Main Green was cast by Henry Moore and given to the University in 1974. Have you sat on it? It is called Bridge Prop. It is a female figure split into three parts. Two of these parts lean against each other and one stands alone. Once you find the head of the figure you see that the other two parts touch at the tips of her two breasts. If you look at the places that the statue interacts with its base, and think about the ways that bridges lift and span off the ground, you can see why it is named Bridge Prop. The functional stress bearing arcs of her organic flesh look like the functional stress bearing arcs used to suspend cars and trains. There are no bronze people or cars or suspension bridges of course. Moore conceptually elevates all of these subjects, the organic woman and the suspending bridges, by translating them into this beautiful and delicately patinated material. Also, it is really heavy. The bronze is practically on tiptoe but weighs over a ton. There is mystery in the contradiction between this heaviness and formal lightness. There is also mystery in why female backs curve (desire? What could cause such desire? Pain? The strain of childbirth?), and this mystery feels deep and satisfyingly mysterious when set against that ferociously masculine pinnacle of engineering. This delicate interplay of masculine and feminine, heavy and light, line and volume, organic and metallic, is totally vaporized when there is suddenly another living body sitting or reclining on the belly of the female body. In contrast to the bronze, this living body is 90% water and 10% flesh and a bunch of other stuff. It is young and not even close to being purposefully trisected. Sometimes it reclines in a weird mimicry of the reclining female form and tries to read something, probably Bourriaud. I am not saying that such an interaction between living flesh and bronze flesh couldn’t be interesting if done purposefully. You could throw into perspective the abstract liberties that Moore has taken with the female form with your own female form, or contrast his curves with your own angular masculinity. If you want to sit on the sculpture, do it naked, be completely still, and don’t do your reading.
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPDENT
CRITICAL MASS 4 JULIAN FRANCIS PARK
A DOODLE DANDY 5 SAM ADLER-BELL
STUDIOS 6 ANA ALVAREZ
EPBHOEUMTE R A A
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BULL RUN 8 RACHEL BENOIT
REV RI 7
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THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
RE VIE W
by Barry Elkinton
Illustration by Annika Finne
In case you missed it, September 19th was International Talk Like a Pirate Day, celebrated on social media sites around the world. As The Atlantic noted, although “ITLPD” is mostly dismissed as part of the “Internet Nerd Movement,” even some conservatives joined in the fun. Republican Congressman Dennis Ross of Tampa Bay took the opportunity to warn about the perils of Obama’s new deficit reduction plan, tweeting: “Perhaps the Pres misunderstood. It is TALK like a pirate day...not ACT like one. Watch ye purses & bury yr loot, the taxman cometh.” Oh, Florida. In Germany, however, this eccentric holiday acquired special significance when, late on the evening of September 18th, the internet-driven Pirate Party claimed a massive victory in German regional elections, securing 15 seats in the Berlin state legislature. Standing on the steps of the parliament building, the newly elected Pirates looked like atypical legislators, sporting overalls, ponytails, and what appears to be a German reinterpretation of the do-rag. Nonetheless, with their commitment to a platform of net neutrality and purposefully nonsensical campaign slogans such as “Privatize Religion,” the Pirates were able to capture 8.9 percent of the vote as well as headlines around the world. Founded in 2006, the German Pirate Party is part of a European-wide Pirate movement, organized under the Pirate Parties International association. Although they have been dubbed the “Internet party,” the Pirate platform is actually quite broad. Apart from efforts to protect online data, fight Internet censorship, and legalize file sharing, the Pirates support the legalization of soft drugs, guaranteed minimum incomes, and free public transportation. Although the Pirates have gained widespread media for their outlandish proposal to host the illegal Pirate Bay file sharing website and its servers inside the Swedish parliament
building, the Berlin elections represent the first major electoral gains by the Pirate Party in Europe. The Pirates’ surprise electoral success is yet another indication that Germans are extremely dissatisfied with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right governing coalition, which has gotten clobbered in six successive regional elections. Currently, Germany remains mired in the Eurozone financial crisis, and there is talk that internal discord within Merkel’s government may lead to the collapse of the coalition. More significantly, the Pirate success reveals that traditional liberal parties in Germany are struggling to meet the needs of young, liberal Germans. With Germans spending an increasing amount of time online, the Pirates seem to have tapped into a demographic that views online issues as paramount, and the older generation as out of touch. Charles Hawley of Der Spiegel attended the post-election celebration of the Pirates at a Berlin discothèque, and describes a telling scene. As the Pirates watched television coverage of their electoral coup, they broke out in laughter when Renate Künast, the leading candidate of the liberal Green Party, described her party as “internet-savvy.” Immediately a spontaneous chant filled the room. “You are old! You are old!” It is unclear if the Pirates are simply an expression of the anti-establishment fervor in Germany or if they intend become a serious force in German politics. Regardless, they certainly seem ready to enjoy their newfound success – multiple newspapers noted that the Pirate postelection party was quite lively. But the Pirates are talking big, as pirates tend to do. “We're not merely trying to push political issues,” said Pirate Party leader Sebastian Nerz to Deutsche Welle. “We want to change the way politics are shaped in Germany.”
by Stephen Carmody The revised version of the Grey Book— the founding manifesto of Deep Springs College—should read, “Ladies and gentlemen, for what came ye to the wilderness?” L.L. Nunn’s progressive two-year institution in the California high desert, after 94 years of existence as all male, will become co-educational. Having spent two years there myself (away from “kid excitement and the picture shows,” as Nunn put it) before coming to Providence, I wasn’t surprised when the coverage of this decision did not erupt into the mainstream public sphere. In part, this is because the college is tiny. Only 26 students attend at a time. The college has always kept a low profile, carefully maintaining a unique educational model in geographic isolation. Students
at Deep Springs, besides engaging in seminar-style academics, also labor on the school’s ranch and farm, and help make administrative decisions for the college in a deliberative political body. At odds with this innovative model, the long-enforced policy of excluding women comes off as anachronistic. From the standpoint of social justice, the decision to change it seems like a no-brainer. But at Deep Springs, previous discussions about going coed—among students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the school’s Board of Trustees—are remembered as traumatic. Co-education is a polarizing issue for some, and it had drawn rifts between the Board and the student body in the 1990s. Yet, when Dave Hitz, the current Chairman of the Board of Trustees,
privately wrote to the Deep Springs community at large in late March of this year to explain that the Board would review the college’s policy again, he set the tone for careful and considerate discussion. Over the summer, the Trustees elicited opinions from the alumni community, holding gatherings in major cities. At the Boston gathering, not many could articulate exactly what the all-male policy added to the experience of Deep Springs, but many worried that any major change could upset the “careful alchemy” of the school. For my part, the worries about co-education increasing the number of exclusive romantic and sexual relationships in such a close-knit community paled in comparison to the opportunity to spend the formative years of my life amongst
both male and female peers. Having heard from alumni, parents, students, faculty, and past Presidents, the Board voted on September 15 to go coed. The six-month process, startlingly fast for a group of people who love to carefully deliberate (read, talk and talk and talk), left some uneasy, even if they agreed with the change. The place we love and hate will be different, and the transition will seem abrupt. Deep Springers of the future (perhaps as soon as summer of 2013) may slide down the dunes naked less, and shower a little bit more. But in the end, irrigation lines will have to be moved, books will have to be read, and decisions will have to be made, by men and women who’ll shape the place for themselves.
Redhead Rejection by Alex Ronan Ron Weasley is not a fad. In a blow to redheads everywhere, the world’s largest sperm bank, Cyros International, recently announced that redheaded sperm donors need not apply. Based in Denmark, Cyros International ships sperm to over 65 countries around the world. MSNBC spoke to Ole Schou, the director of Cyros International, who offered a terse, if predictable, explanation. “We have nothing against redheads,” he said, explaining that demand for carrot-topped babies is just low. According to Schou, requests
for sperm from redheads typically come only from couples in which a redheaded male is sterile, or from single women with a preference for gingers. Schou adds that such requests are unlikely, “especially in the latter case.” “Our stock is about to explode,” Schou said of the 140,000 doses of sperm from redheads in the bank’s freezers. Currently at full capacity with a waitlist of 600 potential donors, Cyros International announced on September 19th that they will no longer be accepting sperm from
redheaded donors. The only exception is redheads with brown eyes, which doesn’t change much since evidence suggests they’re almost as rare as leprechauns. According to Schou, the only country with a reliable demand for sperm from redheads is Ireland, where it sells “like hotcakes,” as he explained to Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet. International House of Hotcakes declined to comment. However, redheads aren’t the only donors collecting dust on the shelf these days. Despite evidence to the contrary in
bars everywhere, blond haired blue-eyed sperm donors aren’t in high demand either. Although they’re not being turned down outright, Arian progeny-to-be are in lower demand at Cyros International than brown-eyed brunettes, which better satisfy the needs of their large customer base in Spain, Greece, and Italy. Tall dark and handsome wins after all.
29 SEPTEMBER 2011
Fighting Roe v. Wade in Mississippi by Anna Matejcek Illustration by Julietta Cardenas
he American Constitution out lines the rights and responsibilities of “persons” without ever defining who exactly constitutes a “person” under the country’s legal system. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, United States Supreme Court rulings slowly established that former slaves, racial minorities and women should be considered “persons” within the context of the law. There remains one large group, however, for whom the status of “person” remains controversially elusive—fetuses and fertilized eggs. Debate over the exact point at which life begins has polarized American politics for decades. In the contentious 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, Justice Harry Blackmun ruled that there is no constitutional basis or legal precedent to suggest that fertilized eggs or fetuses should be considered “persons”— an outcome that outraged many pro-life activists. Justice Blackmun did, however, postulate that if “personhood” were ever to be established for the fetus of fertilized egg, its “right to life would indeed be guaranteed” by the U.S. Constitution. This issue of prenatal “personhood” has recently become the focus of a nationwide pro-life campaign aimed at amending states’ bills of rights and, ultimately, the U.S. Constitution, to explicitly define “personhood” as beginning at the moment of fertilization. The organization most heavily involved in working to pass these amendments is Personhood USA, a grassroots Christian organization with branches across the United States, from Mississippi to Massachusetts. Personhood USA is currently focusing its activities on Mississippi, where prolife activists have successfully collected far more than the ninety-thousand voter signatures necessary to place an amendment to the definition of “personhood” on the next popular ballot, to be held this coming November. The proposed amend-
ment is Measure 26, or the Personhood Amendment, which defines “persons” as “every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional thereof.” If Measure 26 passes and is upheld by the Mississippi Supreme Court, it will essentially criminalize abortion in the state and could also be used to develop legal grounds for the criminalization of some kinds of birth control, embryo stem cell research, and in vetro fertilization—a process in which artificially fertilized eggs that fail to develop are often disposed of. Assigning fertilized eggs the same rights as other “persons” could also create a slew of legal dilemmas regarding exactly how the rights and responsibilities of “personhood” should be applied to the unborn. As Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer working to oppose Measure 26 asked in a recent Huffington Post interview, “What does it [Measure 26] mean for property or inheritance law? What happens when you're trying to make districts for voting, and you have to consider fertilized eggs as legal persons?” Although Personhood USA seems most concerned with securing fertilized eggs’ rights to life and liberty, the status of “personhood” entails much more than just the right to exist. Legally determining that “personhood” begins at fertilization is by no means the endgame for Personhood USA. The organization sees November’s popular ballot as the first step in a long process of overturning what the organization’s website deems the “horribly unjust, immoral, and unconstitutional ruling” of Roe v. Wade, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that women have the right to abort unwanted pregnancies up until the point of “viability”, at which a fetus is "potentially able to live outside the mother's womb, albeit with artificial aid.” In its petition for Measure 26, Personhood USA defined its mission as “return-
ing personhood to the weak and the powerless in order to restore their dignity and right to life as human beings.” Keith Mason, co-founder of Personhood USA, believes that the organization’s campaign is no different from other monumental human rights struggles in American history— from ending segregation, to promoting women’s suffrage, and even gay rights. While Mason stated in a 2009 Los Angeles Times article that he does not “agree with the homosexual agenda,” he admits that he admires “the tenacity of what they have done to fight for what is right.” While Personhood USA’s campaign is popular among the more ardent American pro-life electorate, the organization’s unwillingness to compromise has garnered significant criticism, even from social conservatives. In a recent National Review article, Michael J. New, a political scientist affiliated with the CATO Institute and the Goldwater Institute, asserted that simply “declaring that life begins at conception would not, by itself, stop any abortions.” In order to fully criminalize abortion, the state legislature would have to pass a series of laws outlining punishments for those involved in carrying out abortions”—a process that could take years. In addition, passing Measure 26 would require Mississippians to stand behind the criminalization of abortion even in controversial circumstances such as rape, incest, and births that pose a mortal risk to the mother—a move that would alienate more moderate pro-life voters who support women’s right to abortion in certain extreme cases. GOP ON 26 Although appealing to liberal Republicans’ and Independents’ more permissive views on abortion might assist in taking back the White House, it does not appear to be of primary concern to certain factions of the GOP. Last week, Virginia Republicans passed a set of construction
and design regulations for medical clinics that, according to the Washington Post, will likely result in the closure of most of the state’s abortion clinics. In Ohio a bill that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected has already passed the state House and is currently awaiting assignment to a committee in the Senate. While Personhood USA was not actively involved in these actions, the organization supports basically any campaign that might help overturn Roe v. Wade. Republican presidential candidates Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich have all expressed their support for the Ohio bill, and have called for congressional legislation that would ban abortion nationwide. Mitt Romney and Ron Paul take a different stance, not because they are pro-choice supporters, but because they believe decisions regarding the legality of abortion should be left up to state governments. While some pro-choice optimists point to the failure of similar efforts to redefine “personhood” in Colorado in 2008 and 2010, and conclude that Measure 26 will fail, conservative political scientist Michael New, writing in The National Review, believes that “Personhood advocates probably have a better chance in Mississippi than in any other state.” Mississippi has a large population of conservative Republican voters, an ardent pro-life community, and just one single, remaining abortion clinic. As Keith Mason of Personhood USA stated in a recent Fox News article: “Around eighty percent of the [Mississippi] electorate is pro-life. The only way we could see defeat in Mississippi is if folks just sit at home and do nothing.” ANNA MATEJCEK B’12 is so much more than a fertilized egg.
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
WE’RE NOT BLOCKING TRAFFIC
WE ARE TRAFFIC
Reclaiming the Road for Cyclists
by Julian Francis Park, Caroline Soussloff, and Sam Adler-Bell
ritical Mass—part social gathering, part collective action—is difficult to define, even amongst participants. There is no formal structure organizing the movement, and no uniform message, except perhaps an implicit critique of car culture and a transportation system that privileges those who drive over those who ride. But as Tom Gomes of Dash Bike Shop on Broadway put it, it’s basically just “a big group bike ride.” "The first one [in Providence] that I can remember being called a ‘Critical Mass’ happened in either the summer of 2000 or 2001," Gomes said. "It was a bunch of people who were at the time getting together and forming a small bicycle co-op or collective. We didn't really organize one.” Instead, he says, they put up flyers advertising a group bike ride through the streets of Providence, listing only a meetup place, and the route would be decided on the spot. Soon after, Critical Mass became a monthly event for the Providence cycling community. At an event in June 2001, for example, about 70 riders—or ‘massers’ as participants call themselves—snaked their way from the State House lawn, through downtown traffic, and up to the Westside via Atwells Ave, eventually ending at an art opening at AS220’s Broad Street Studio in South Providence. Bicyclists who participate see cycling as a form of urban expressionism, choosing to get from A to B in a more environmentally and economically sustainable fashion. As Gomes puts it, “It’s a fun community activity to raise a little bit of awareness to drivers and the public about riding bikes as a means of transportation. Just letting people know that bikes are on the road and are a viable form of transportation.” BUILDING MASS Critical Mass, now a global phenomenon, began with the efforts of a few dozen cyclists in San Francisco in 1992. At the time, they referred to themselves by the highly descriptive but considerably less sexy name ‘Commute Clot.’ But by their second ride, the name had been changed
to ‘Critical Mass,’ which has its roots in a method used by Chinese cyclists to negotiate signal-less crossings: crowding together at an intersection until they achieve a “critical mass” capable of stopping car traffic. As the events in San Francisco gained media attention, the idea of mass bike rides that inverted the usual power dynamic of the road—cyclists deferring to the speed and might of the car—proliferated across the country and around the globe. There is no central organization, but many cities have homegrown chapters, with websites, email lists, and flyers that regularly advertise scheduled rides. What early organizers had described as an “unorganized coincidence” developed into a language and an ethic of its own, voiced by posters emblazoned with slogans like “Ride daily, celebrate monthly,” “Free of emissions, free parking, free feeling,” and, most powerfully, “We’re not blocking traffic—we are traffic!” Varying in popularity and frequency from place to place and season to season, some rides barely attracted enough “mass” to hold a lane of traffic, while others have had the strength in numbers to take over entire stretches of road. In Budapest, for example, a twice-yearly Critical Mass attracts tens of thousands of cyclists. HETEROGENEOUS MASS By no means has Critical Mass been a ho mogenous movement. Many self-identified “massers” have dispelled media characterizations of the events as protests, or parts of a social movement. And as one might imagine, the fundamental idea of Critical Mass—the possibility for a collective effort to disrupt the flow of otherwise unstoppable power—is not always conducive to avoiding conflict. There is debate amongst massers about the desirability of more confrontational approaches to dealing with motorists. While some prefer to strictly adhere to the motto of "We're not blocking traffic," others have sought to intimidate drivers or to otherwise take back the streets for bikes by whatever means necessary. A
source who chose to remain anonymous described a ride he participated in a couple years ago in Boston that started off peacefully, but after verbal harassment by an SUV driver, ended with riders using their U-locks to smash its windows. Critical Mass riders often engage in unlawful traffic maneuvers for the sake of maintaining ride cohesion, the maintenance of “mass” being necessary to preserve each cyclist’s safety. For example, some massers briefly block intersections with stationary cyclists while riders in the rear catch up—a tactic called “corking.” In some cities like Montreal and Seattle, where militant Critical Mass rides have inspired several confrontations with drivers and authorities, alternative rides have sprung up, with names like Critical Manners, Courteous Mass, and Ridecivil. These rides seek to promote cycling as a legitimate mode of transport by encouraging harmonious interactions between commuters and strict adherence to traffic laws The occasional volatility of the rides, their tendency to obstruct motor vehicle traffic, and, perhaps, their success as a carnavalesque spectacle have provoked significant police scrutiny at times. At a Critical Mass during the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York, more than 260 riders of the total 5,000 were arrested at random, most on charges of disorderly conduct, despite the fact that the mass was reportedly peaceful apart from the usual traffic violations (which should only have warranted tickets). During the summer of 2004, Critical Mass participants in Kowloon, Hong Kong refused to obtain the police permission required for “public processions.” In their defense, Kowloon’s massers claimed during interviews with the press that there was no one organizer or organization behind the event, and that turnout couldn’t be determined in advance. “We don’t have any slogan or any specified agenda,” one cyclist told the South China Morning Post.
EVENING MASS The Providence rides have not been immune to the ongoing debate about acquiescence versus antagonism. While many massers in Providence initially preferred non-confrontational riding, others were all about causing a disturbance, and forcing people to be aware that way. Gomes is unconvinced that mass rides could ever get away from that. With any ride, he noted, “There will be people with different agendas and different reasons for doing it.” Gomes’ own motivations are idealistic, but not necessarily in the political sense. He views Critical Mass as a “way to get together with a lot more people”, beyond your familiar acquaintances, since it doesn't “really matter what type of biking you’re into,” he says The last Critical Mass that Gomes participated in was about five years ago around Halloween, and, he said, “It wasn't very well attended. Since Providence is such a small city there wasn't much associated with them and they became less eventful as they did them more frequently.” He added that if the events had been a little better advertised, it might have improved turnout. Next Friday, Providence critical massers hope to make a comeback. On October 7 (Saturday, if it rains) they will be gathering at Burnside Park in Kennedy Plaza at 6PM. All Providence residents with two wheels at their disposal are welcome to join them. So put down your books, your pens, pencils and paintbrushes, try to get off work early, call the babysitter, grab some friends, some cycles, and let’s ride. Who knows what route the heterogeneous mass will take.
29 SEPTEMBER 2011
H E Y, , WHAT IS THAT? Born on the Fourth of July, or thereabouts
by Sam Adler-Bell Illustration by Cecilia Salama
t the corner of Wickendon and Governor Streets in Fox Point, right in front of the quirky knick-knack shop Curiosities, stands an obtrusive granite block, out of which protrudes the foppish upper body of the late, great Broadway magnate and star George M. Cohan. The statue, sculpted from sooty bronze, depicts the Providence native mid-utterance, lifting his fedora and graciously extending a hand to an imagined audience, as if to say, “No you, Providence. You!” Born in 1878 to a pair of vaudevillian performers, in what several accounts describe as a “cold-water flat” at 536 Wickendon St., Cohan would grow up to be one of the 20th century’s most renowned and prolific writers and performers of show tunes, authoring such beloved and ubiquitous songs as “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”It was patriotic songs like these, combined with the Cohan family’s insistence that he was indeed born on the Fourth of July (despite a baptismal certificate that suggests otherwise) that helped Cohan to identify himself, as one biographer put it, “with everything elemental to American life.” So incorruptibly American was Cohan’s image, in fact, that many believe the actor James Cagney took on the role of Cohan in the popular biographical musical film Yankee Doodle Dandy(1942) to prove his patriotism and allay rumors that he harbored communist sympathies. After all, no America-hating Commie could possibly portray the man who wrote “For the Flag, For the Home, For the Family”, one of Cohan’s famed patriotic jingles. Indeed, as Cohan once put it, “the American flag is in my heart, and it has done everything for me.”
mittee, told me chidingly, when I naively asked whether Cohan was a Jew. According to biographer John McCabe, Cohan chose to pronounce his name CO-en, as in Cohen, like my Grandma June’s maiden name, instead of Co-HAN, as his Irish Catholic parents said it, as an act of solidarity with the many Jewish performers he worked with and admired in his early years in show business. Dill, who is Jewish, a New York City native who’s lived in Providence for eight years now, told me he got the idea for a statue commemorating Cohan when he and his wife came upon the “little rusting plaque” outside the Fox Point Boys and Girls Club which reads, simply, ‘George M. Cohan born here.’ Dill, who’d grown up in “somewhat of a showbiz family,” was appalled to find out that such a towering figure as Cohan was so inadequately memorialized in the city of his birth. So Dill and his wife Judi got to work raising funds. They quickly identified the corner of Governor and Wickenden, where the city had recently constructed, what Dill calls, a “classic one of those plazas with nothing in it,” as an ideal place for a memorial. In 2009, after a considerable amount of “ballyhoo” on his part, Dill succeeded in getting the city’s go-ahead for the project. Providence commissioned the Massachusetts-based sculptor Robert Shure, who also designed the city’s Irish Famine Memorial. Shure told the Projo that he felt his sculpture compared favorably to the austere, eight-foot tall Cohan likeness in New York’s Duffy Square (designed by Georg John Lober), which depicts the singer standing rigidly with cane in hand, looking, in Shure’s words,“like too much of a politician.”
FAMILY GOY “A lot of people make that mistake!” Sy Dill, the 80-year-old retiree and founder of Providence’s George M. Cohan Com-
NEPHEWS OF UNCLE SAM At the 2009 unveiling ceremony, Curt Columbus, Artistic Director for the Trinity Repertory Company, was given the
first annual George M. Cohan Award for Excellence in Art & Culture. Columbus’s company performs at the site of the historic Majestic Theater, where the Cohan family reportedly once performed their vaudeville act. It was in those days that Cohan, a boy no more than 12-years-old, coined his trademark curtain call: “My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sister thanks you and I thank you." In 2010, the award went to longtime RISD Professor of English Michael Fink, who remembers singing George M. Cohan songs in glee club as a child. Fink told me in an email exchange that growing up in Providence he “always knew that [Cohan] was ours in some sense.” For him, the location of the statue at the corner of Wickenden and Governor, “where immigrants stepped off India Point ships and shared the alleyways of Fox Point,” is an ideal place to commemorate Cohan, a child of Irish immigrants who ultimately helped to “define America.” Indeed, Fox Point’s emergence as an industrial hub in the mid-19th century fueled waves of, initially Irish, immigration to the neighborhood. And by the time Cohan was performing his violin and dance routines in the 1890s, the availability of waterfront and factory work had attracted large numbers of Portuguese, Cape Verdean, and Azorean immigrants as well, all of whom packed their often large families into newly-built tenement housing on Gano Street and the snug triple-decker houses on Williams and John Streets—now so fondly associated with offcampus Brown University parties. According to Fink, who was a boy during World War II, it was Cohan’s songs, with “their messages of love and loyalty and memory,” that held together that potentially turbulent mix of cultures and identities. His unapologetically patriotic music reminded Americans, as we endured “the common fate of depression and [war]” that, in the end—to quote yet
another Cohan lyric—we were all “‘nephews of Uncle Sam.’” “Love of country ain't the fashion anymore,” Fink told me. “It's considered either cliché or cornball, or even worse, ‘reactionary’.”But “that’s what makes [Cohan] fun. Because you have to put up something like a fight to defend his work and his legacy.” PROVIDENCE’S (RELUCTANT) SON Dill, whose George M. Cohan Committee is still raising funds to pay off the formidable expense of the statue, hopes that with the memorial completed, the memory and work of George M. Cohan, whose prominence in the American cultural imagination has waned over the latter half of the 20th century, will begin to “puff back into society” and give this city something to be proud of. “Providence is stuck between Boston and New York,” Dill told me, gesturing with his hands to the front and back of the coffee shop where we spoke. “Those cities attract all the great figures. So we have to be proud of what we’ve got.” And thanks to Dill’s efforts, we’ve certainly got him— scores of shoppers and dog-walkers stroll through George M. Cohan Plaza every day, where an embossed bronze inscription under Cohan’s statue proudly reads, “Son of Providence.” Ironically, it’s not altogether clear George M. Cohan wanted us to have him. Though Cohan vigorously associated himself with all things American, he was apparently not particularly proud of his Ocean State roots. “I was born in Providence, Rhode Island,” Cohan told Theatre Magazine in 1907, “but I am trying to live it down.” Sorry, Georgie. But you’re ours forever! SAM ADLER-BELL B‘12.5 is everything elemental to American life.
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
A NEW CHALLENGE A brief history of local art in the ‘Creative Capital’ by Ana Alvarez Illustration by Alexandra Corrigan
t is time we artists stop harboring false hopes and come to terms with the present deteriorating situation in the arts. We must unite and challenge the entrenched assumptions and premises that now pervade our entire culture. We ourselves must give impetus to solving the problems that confront us today.” So begins the “New Challenge,” a short but defiant document penned in 1982 by Providence artists Umberto Crenca, Steven Emma, and Martha Dempster. All three were disgruntled by their experiences with censorship and elitist favoritism in the contemporary art world. For them, art was no longer “an integral part of [their] society and [had] been relegated to mere processes,” leading to art that was lifeless and stripped of meaning. They were also discontented with the “discriminatory practices of hierarchically interconnected” art associations including galleries, schools, and museums that continually “reek of favoritism.” Instead they wanted to make art that wasn’t valued solely by its technical skill and that didn’t need to be legitimized by an art degree. They wanted to produce work that was “complete, unbridled, [and] uncensored,” whatever form that expression might take. Their grievances against the hierarchical oppression of free expression are the first, and perhaps only, art manifesto ever produced in Providence. That year, Crenca and his friends set out to act out what their manifesto had professed; they took up residence in the bare and decaying studio on 220 Weybossett Street. Their goal was to create a place where artists could collaborate and congregate. A place where artistic expression would be uninterrupted by the tainted art market hierarchy. They named the studio “Alternative Space 220,” today simply known as AS220 and considered the cornerstone of uncensored artistic expression in Providence. Essential to the organization’s mission is the promise to provide artists with affordable space to
both live and work in. As AS220’s history shows, a necessary factor in cultivating an artistic community is cheap space—all it took was one empty downtown studio to turn a couple of artists with a livened manifesto into a thriving, creative community. HOLDING DOWN THE FORT Perhaps taking up Crenca’s challenge, in the 1900s young artists began to flock to Olneyville, a neighborhood located in the outskirts of Providence, to find haven. Back in the 1800s, Olneyville, with its abounding paper and textile mills, was considered the heart of Rhode Island industry. Yet after the second World War, industry dried up—the companies moved down South, the residents emigrated, and all that was left were the vacant and now abandoned factories and mills. Unable to afford studio space in the city, artist began to call Olneyville’s forgotten edifices home. Decades after the “New Challenge”, Olneyville has turned into the hub of underground, alternative art activity that Crenca envisioned. Olneyville’s most infamous artistic enclave is now its most regrettable loss. The legendary Fort Thunder was founded by a handful of RISD dropouts in the mid 1990s, including now well-established artists Mat Brinkman and Brian Chippendale, and soon became the anchor of the Providence underground art scene. Situated in an abandoned brick building on Olneyville’s Eagle Square, the Fort illegally housed over ten artists and musicians, along with studio and performance spaces. They produced alternative comics, made raucous rock music, and held events like bike parades and costumed wrestling matches. But sadly for Providence’s art community, the dream of Fort Thunder was short lived. After gaining more press with an editorial in Nest Magazine and being featured in the 2002 Whitney Bienniale, news came that Fort Thunder’s days were numbered. Since the late 1990s, develop-
ers with plans to revamp Olneyville had set their sights on Fort Thunder as the location for a new supermarket. Uproar ensued as artists and community members, including Crenca, identified the importance and rarity of this artist collective and fought for its survival. Regardless of their struggle, in May 2002 Fort Thunder fell to bulldozers that cleared the abandoned buildings of Eagle Square, setting up strip mall in its wake. Even after its demise, the spirit of the Fort lives on in similar Olneyville art collectives, such as the feminist-art cohort the Dirt Palace or the Hilarious Attic. However, to those working within the community, the closing of Fort Thunder marked the end of an era. “CREATIVE CAPITAL”? The demolition was almost ten years ago. Since then, much has changed. For one, undoubtedly to Crenca’s disappointment, the RISD Museum mounted an exhibition of Olneyville screenprints, raising Fort Thunder out from its underground grave and uncomfortably positioning it into the institutionalized walls of a museum. And what of Olneyville’s up-and-coming status as development hotspot? After the recent economic downturns, with the exception of scattered and seemingly unrelated development projects, it seems to have stalled indefinitely. But most importantly, after driving out what was perhaps the most unique and stirring artistic uprising this city has ever seen, Providence has little credence in calling itself the nation’s “Creative Capital”. Although the Providence’s Arts, Culture and Tourism Department claims to prioritize making affordable living space available to artists as a way to preserve the “vital” arts community, artist still find it difficult to hold down a studio, even in Olneyville. Buck Hastings, a painter who owns a studio in reappropriated factory space on Harris Avenue in Olneyville, said the reason why he stayed around Providence af-
ter graduating from RISD was because, at first, it seemed to provide affordable studio spaces that wouldn’t be attainable if he were to go to New York or LA. Yet this, he says is a double-edged sword. The cheap rent in Olneyville is not there to attract artists, as the local Providence government seems to suggest; instead it is a symptom of a recessed economy where many people can’t find jobs, much less buy art. This makes maintaining a sustainable art community hardly feasible. In Hastings’s case, even with waiting tables and successfully garnering commissions, he is not sure how much longer he will be able keep his studio. Painter Shawn Gilheeney, who also has a studio on Harris Avenue, voices similar concerns. To him, even with the strong support within the artistic community, Providence doesn’t offer nearly enough opportunity to show and sell local art. Art dealer Sara Agniel, who Gilheeney says is one of the few gallery owners in the city to show any interest in local contemporary art, said that the idea of Providence as being a Renaissance city is misfounded. In an interview with the Phoenix, she said if artists cannot even find affordable spaces and a source of sustainable income, then, "what we’re selling is a concept that doesn’t exist." Still, there is a silver lining. Gilheeney explains that, unlike in other wellestablished art centers, “money is ultimately not driving the creative process here. It feels more organic.” And this perhaps is the best iteration of Crenca’s challenge—even thirty years later, artists in Providence continue the New Challenge’s call to let art flourish for its own sake. ANA ALVAREZ B’13 hopes to join the Dirt Palace one day.
29 SEPTEMBER 2011
THE BATTLE THAT WASN’T Rhode Islanders Reenact Revolution by Mimi Dwyer Illustration by Becca Levinson
elcome to a strange time warp. In a low-roofed kitchen, a woman in a nightshift, bonnet, skirt, apron, and Nike socks leans over a hearth. She sticks her hand over the fire into an iron recess in the brick and loads in some dough on tinfoil. A woman to her left is drinking a can of Faygo. “That’s a beehive oven,” says Jim Ignasher, historian of the Smith-Appleby House Museum in Smithfield, Rhode Island. “It was the leading cause of death for women in the 1700s.” In a cupboard across from the hearth, cans of retro Maxwell House coffee and cookie boxes stack the shelves. These are from the house’s last inhabitant, in the late 1950s. She sold them to her rural neighbors. Smith-Appleby is one of the only living history museums in Rhode Island. It was built in 1696 by an intrepid Rhode Islander named Elisha Smith. He journeyed 11 miles from Providence into the Smithfield wilderness and built a tiny thatchroofed home in the middle of a territory that was still struggling to win statehood. His cottage eventually became a country mansion, and his property size increased more than tenfold. His descendants lived in and continued to expand the wood-slat home until 1959. After that, it became the headquarters of the Smithfield Historical Society, its mission to preserve its own past. It remains unclear what, exactly, that preservation means, when the house’s history and lineage span more than two centuries. WHAT ERA OF CHEER? Last weekend, Smith-Appleby held a Revolutionary War reenactment in conjunction with its regular colonial farm living history events--though no battle historically occurred in Smithfield. It’s more of a PR event. Forty reenactors gathered before approximately thirty guests to get their roleplay on. Revolutionary soldiers discussed how to load a musket and the best ‘Japanime’ war games. They wield a liberal and dynamic conception of history, which calls into question how we remember the past. Throughout the day tour guides and reenactors slip in and out of character, answering personal questions both as their modern day and 18th century selves. This willingness to break from a meticulous recreation of the past gives them leeway to explain the house’s anachronisms: this is no purist take on history. The wood
floors have been painted like gray and swirling marble in a colonial style of country wealth. Upstairs, nurse outfits and anti-Japanese propaganda line a room dedicated to WWII. Next door, a Smithfield History room is filled with letter jackets and diplomas. Part of the lenient philosophy of the museum comes from the sheer cost of accurately maintaining a historical building: Smith-Appleby draws a fraction of the foot traffic that larger historical sites like Gettysburg enjoy. Sal Caprichio, a member of the Smith-Appleby Executive Committee, thinks historical sticklerism would run the home into the ground. “Real purists would want you to leave this how it really was then, decaying,” he said. “How do you justify paying twenty thousand for a wooden gutter when you can get an aluminum one that looks exactly the same for three?” Ignasher nods, pushing his silver hair out of his eyes. “I mean, what is technically ‘historically accurate?’ It’s all about perspective. Imagine the conversations that took place here: from ‘Do you think we’re going to beat the British?’ to ‘Is Hitler going to invade America?’ Isn’t that all history? It seems unfair to cut it out.” ALSO FOR THE NIGHTLIFE Suddenly, a shot sounds outside. The battle has begun. It’s time to see the people who have dedicated themselves to this Rhode Island institutional memory. The soldiers’ costumes are impressive, and the chivalrous movement of the regiments unsettling. It looks like a movie set—well-practiced, no contact, a few smoky shots in the air. Nobody dies. The lutes and strings of a band continue to play as the battle rages—Gloria In Excelsis Deo. In no time, the armies walk off the fields and nod to each other. It’s more dance than battle—after all, there was no battle in Smithfield. The real party happens after the skirmish, in the tents behind the house. The reenactors—Tew’s Company of Rhode Island—are drinking something called orange shrub (the “libation of Ben Franklin,” says one). They’ve been drinking it for a while. They are nine or ten fairly drunk white men in period clothing sitting under a cloth canopy. They are the keepers of the Rhode Island past. “We’re fighting for our autonomy! We would never reenact as Brits; they’re peacocks!” says David Martin, a bespectacled Rhode Islander who has been reen-
acting since 1976. Somebody lifts a glass. “We also do this for the nightlife,” he says. “Singing, music, drinking, taverns… There’s a community.” He, like everybody else, has a job, a place in the reenactment world—he’s the blacksmith. He loves reenactment because he loves the past, and because it’s a thing for him to do away from his life as an architect. Plus, as someone who “was there for the sixties,” he loves the “rolling parties” the hobby provides him. “Not the green stuff,” he giggles—this is what they call preparing gunpowder blanks in paper. Dennis Botelho is the Tew’s Company “liquor-maker.” For him, there’s a pride in the drill and precision of battle recreation. “We sleep in tents and straw,” he says. “It could have poured or snowed today and we’d still be here.” As he speaks, it becomes clear that he truly does know his history: he explains American military tactics (the brainchild of German-born General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben) and how a musket fires. The men agree that the overarching reason for getting into reenactment is this interest in history. It enriches the appreciation, they all agree, of the struggle their ancestors underwent. They picked the Revolutionary War because it doesn’t carry some of the animosity or connotations that Civil War reenactment does. Far fewer men died in the Revolutionary War. And men who side with the British today do so because of their ancestry, not because they’re waiting for a chance to Benedict Arnold America. They are friends. “In the local areas here,” says Botelho, “it’s more of a celebration of the sweeter core, of being the cradle of freedom here in the U.S.” “You can’t really compare it to the Civil War, because… they were wearing wool in the summer,” Botelho says. He pauses. “And, it was mass slaughter.” PATRIOT PARTAY A few feet from the camp, a man stands with a musket, looking battle-worn. He cradles the gun in his hand like a trophy. His hair is long and greasy. His name is Paul Burnesci. “They call me Patriot Paul,” he says. “That’s my name on Facebook. You should check it out.” Patriot Paul has season tickets for the New England Patriots. Tew’s Company is an “end-zone militia.” That historical name planted an idea in his head. For ten years, after games, he has crept on to the
field in full revolutionary garb. “I give [the players] my gun so they can carve it,” he says. “I got Tom Brady last year. See it? That’s the crowning jewel.” He points to the initials--TB 12, one of ten or fifteen etchings in the wood—and makes a fist. “They struggle to do it,” he says. “It’s harder than they think. They pull out penknives, you know, and go like they are going to carve it with that thing. I say, no way, man, and pull out the bayonet. You gotta carve with this, I tell ‘em, and you should see them sweat.” A historical object is altered, and the alteration becomes its own historical record. The image of Paul whipping out a bayonet on a football field is somewhat jarring. Similarly, the history that he and his regiment and the Smith-Appleby house all espouse is not a strictly confined one, and it might make a purist cringe. But it embodies the camaraderie and inclusiveness that it’s nice to think America stands for. It melds the America of legend with the America we live in and know. Whether such mythologizing is positive is up for debate. At least for the men of Tew’s Company, this sense of connection to the past fosters patriotism more than any history book ever could. Paul hands the gun to a girl standing nearby snapping pictures. “Here, pose with this for a minute,” he says. “I’ll take the picture.” She husks up, tries to look manly. Posed like a soldier with none of the teeth. Patriot Paul lets out a long, winded whistle. The life and the history and the girl and the gun all meld into one word: “Sexy.” MIMI DWYER B’13 was once a bracefaced colonial reenactor.
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
THE BATTLE OF BULL RUN,REDUX Reliving the Civil War, 150 Years Later
The pounding feet of 39,000 Union, and 32,000 Confederate troops greeted Manassas Virginia’s unsuspecting hills on the morning of July 21,1861. Later christened the Battle of Bull Run by the Union and the First Battle of Manassas by the Confederacy, it would be the bloodiest in American history up to that point, claiming the lives of over 5,000 Americans. One hundred and fifty years later, the air of Manassas once again smelled of turf and gunpowder, greeting the 37,000 reenactors, spectators, and volunteers at this fourth Battle of Manassas. A late-arriving soldier ran past the constant stream of arriving spectators: “Mornin’ ladies, we’ll be defending your honor for Virginia!” A Complicated History Aside from the Battle of Manassas of 1861 and that of 2011 there have been two others (1911 and 1961) each with its own set of historical contexts and political undercurrents. Manassas hosted the first peace rally in America in 1911, fifty years following the original Battle of Bull Run. Union and Confederate Civil War veterans were present who symbolically shook hands on the battlefield. African-American soldiers who had fought alongside them, were not invited to the ceremony. The 1961 reenactment of the Battle of Manassas took place at a time when the outcomes of the Civil War, and the failures and disappointments of the century that followed, were playing themselves out as the Civil Rights Movement raged only seventy miles away in Washington, D.C. That summer the Freedom Rides were at their peak. In her 2011 Jefferson Lecture, Harvard University president and Civil War historian Drew Faust addressed this issue: “The Civil War centennial occurred in the midst of challenges and changes nearly as dramatic as the war itself. Those years in the early 1960s were not just a historic anniversary but themselves a time of history making”. Before this year’s reenactment, the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission addressed the issue of race directly with the conference “Race, Slavery and the Civil War: The Tough Stuff of American History and Memory”. Yet it is still an inescapable fact that 96.8% of re-enactors are male and 97.8% are white. Civil War reenactment is burdened with the social and political implications of aligning oneself with the pro-slavery ideals of the Confederates. Jim Kraft and his wife Joanne have been attending reenactments for about a decade. When asked about the issue of race and reenactment, Kraft answered: “We’ve focused a lot on trying to understand the tragedy of slavery even though we’re both southerners and we feel a close affinity to southern culture. The more we research it the more we see the utter horror that slavery was for all people, both white and black. We’re dedicated to using
by Rachel Benoit live history to help frame reconciliation. If we really want to deal with racism, we need to be honest and face the roots of racism and bring repentance and forgiveness.” The Art of War The clanking of swords and the shouts of men could be heard from the battlefield ahead. A deserter ran from the fight and into the crowd of confused spectators filing down the road that lead from the parking-lot, crying, “Army’s broken, go back, save yourselves, save your homes!” Breaking character, his companion smiled, saying, “Thank y’all for coming out.” Ahead, the charging cavalry had their swords positioned at one another. “Onward!” a leader belted, and his regiment galloped forward. One horseman straggled behind: he had paused to retrieve his fallen hat with his sword. In the original battle, he would have been killed; today, his authentic Civil War era hat cost him upwards of $80, making it well worth the unrealistic halt in action to scoop it from the mud. Authenticity has a price, the average cost of equipment being $1,700 for an infantryman and $2,800 for an officer (the larger investments include the $500 musket and $300 boots). “We make our own gear,” a re-enactor proudly explained, “canteens, everything. And whatever we don’t make we buy ourselves.” The regulations are strict: “everything has to go through the ‘stitch-Nazis,’ nothing out of period.” In keeping with the slogan of the National Civil War Association, “Keeping history alive by living it,” participants (sometimes accompanied by their families) camp out for two nights leading up to the battle. Port-a-potties aside, the encampment is intended to be as accurate as possible: cooking over fires, shaving over a water basin, and the hovering stench of unwashed men and horses. The heavy air, filled with a constant twitter of clicking digital SLRs, was a humid 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The leading cause of casualties this time around was not gunpowder, but the heat. Volunteers distributed bottled water by the truckloads, the afternoon having taken its toll on over 250 spectators and participants who were treated for heat-related illness. The wool coats worn by reenactors during the battle must not have helped, but better to suffer through the sweat than risk being labeled a “farby” – a reenactment term for anything out of period. What does it take to be a reenactor? Civil War reenactment is one of the fastest growing hobbies in America. “Some of the folks just like to dress and play ‘let’s pretend’ and drink beer with guns and feel really cool and tough,” Jim Kraft explained. But for others, participating in a reenactment is more significant. “This is a lot of work and fair amount of expense.” They view themselves as Civil War experts and teachers, and are eager to share
their knowledge, pose for pictures, and let spectators hold their muskets. A reenactor preferring to be quoted as “Captain,” was eager to give a tour of his tent and gear: “I’m a captain, from Wisconsin. You can tell from the gold and black braid on my hat,” he explained stroking the cord. Like any hobby, it is a source of pride, and there is opportunity for improvement and advancement. Off the battlefield, reenactors keep in touch via online forums. Issues range from “Is there a correct style shaving brush for Civil War?” to “I could feel the yarn cords in the 19th-Century machinewoven wool socks I was wearing.” While their 21st-Century selves might be farmers, doctors, and plumbers, that day they were all soldiers standing side by side in battle. The unifying and equalizing aspect of war seems to have translated to the pretend battlefield. Joanne Kraft and her husband had arrived at 4:30 that morning: “While we were setting up we were watching the sun rise, and there was a mist over the field, the smell of the wood fires and wet wool and canvas; for a moment you could feel what it must have been like. A lot of reenactors are chasing those moments.” The two hours spent on the battlefield (instead of the original 10) are narrated by overhead speakers. The most commonly disobeyed rule among reenactors is dying on cue. Risking historical accuracy (one side has to lose eventually), many participants do not want to “die” early in the battle and miss out on the action. After pretending not to hear a fellow re-enactor yelling, “You’ve been shot, I got you. Fall down soldier!” one young soldier finally admitted defeat. He stumbled, fell to his knees, wailed, scuttled over to a grassier patch, and experienced some final compulsions before finally laying to rest. A woman on the field portrays the wife who stood by her husband as he fought. A young reenactor in a tent adjacent to the field read the letter of Baleu, the story of a soldier who would never return home to the wife he wrote to. Accompanied by a droning fiddle, the reading was a welcome reminder of the loss experienced beyond the battlefield, paying tribute to not only the physical, but also the emotional carnage of such a war. Merry reenactors, returning to their camps after a job well done, shouted, “Thanks for coming folks, see you in another 50 years!” Many paused for photographs. “I’m getting shot more here than I did out there!” one said. They were heroes for the day, and they expressed a sincere appreciation to the crowds that had stood in the sweltering heat. Some spectators even took the initiative to get involved. Reverend Clancy Nixon from the Church of the Holy Child in Leesburg, Virginia arrived with his wife Ginger, both clad in authentic and elaborate examples of the era’s garb. “It cost over $1,000 to buy all that. We got the undergarments
and everything. It’s quite a commitment to be authentic.” Reverend Nixon explained. They had come in the early morning to “get these men right with God before they go off to battle.” “In case they died,” his wife Ginger clarified. Re-telling History Reenactment is a physical, kinesthetic way of telling, understanding and remembering history. Yet it risks the danger of influencing our interpretation of a historical event, of numbing some of its more gruesome truths. What is missing is the destructive sense of loss, the violence, the unthinkable stakes that faced the soldiers of 1861. As many participants understood, Bull Run was unlike other battles. Jim Kraft described it as the “stripping of innocence in America; both sides went into it arrogantly thinking that they had right on their side, and that the other would run. There were picnickers that came out to watch the battle. One out of 20 Americans would die in the Civil War. The significance of Bull Run was the first inkling of the horror of Civil War.” The reenactment could only cast a shadow of the original battle’s emotion, meaning, and gravity. To remember history by reliving it is perhaps, more accurately, to selectively forget. The carnage is omitted, the outcome ignored, and the battlefield flanked by bleachers, foodstands, and port-a-potties. A battlefield strewn with nothing more than dead water bottles, evokes but a whisper of the debilitating human cost of war. As Robert Lee himself said: “It is well that war is so terrible, else we should grow too fond of it.” It is the “terrible” that we must try to remember. RACHEL BENOIT B’12 believes that the South should secede.
ALEXANDER WANG BRINGS HAUTE COUTURE DOWN TO EARTH by Eve Marie Blazo
lexander Wang, fashion’s reigning prince of cool, is having a moment. Merging neo-grunge style with cosmopolitan sophistication, Wang has become a defining tastemaker of this generation’s ultra-hip nonchalance, through his ability to rethink and revalue casual-chic style. “Just because you want to wear a $1,200 jacket and a $400 pair of shoes doesn’t mean that you don’t want to get a cheap T-shirt,” Wang told The Last magazine (cheap can be relative, though; you can’t buy a Wang shirt at Walmart). Approaching fashion from two price points, Wang appeals to the downtown hipster set, but also to the posh, Celine tote-carrying crowd. Wang’s insistence on affordability pushes the boundaries of high fashion, and it’s making him millions. At his Spring 2012 runway show, on Saturday, September 10, Wang explored sportswear motifs, without straying far from his signature streetwear edge. The venue, New York’s Pier 94—the raw, industrial space squeezed in between Manhattan’s West Side highway and the river— was styled much like Wang’s aesthetic: understated and grungy yet polished and sleek. Four giant, perpendicular mirrors stood in the center of the space. The allstar audience, propped up in stadium-style bleachers, could check itself out while occasionally observing the collection.
Minutes before the show began, Courtney Love swooshed in, suddenly ensconced by a flock of photographers and flashes of light. She took her front-row seat next to Cecilia Dean, founder of V magazine and a few seats away from Alicia Keys. Straight ahead, the former Editorin-Chief of Vogue Paris, Carine Roitfeld, slid into the space, performing her own runway walk of sorts, as she threw back her shoulders, pushed out her chest, and struck a new pose for the cameras every few seconds. The pre-show crowd looked more like an after-hours fashion party. But that was to happen later that night at Wang’s mock frathouse-themed celebration, in which the pier was outfitted in Astroturf, beer pong tables, blow-up dolls, and glow sticks. DIRTY GIRLS The lights dimmed and Afro-techno beats filled the space. The hungry photographers ceased their celebrity kowtowing and stood at attention in the back row. As the first model swept through the hall of mirrors, her double gliding after her like a lazy shadow, it became clear that this show was a departure from Wang’s more muted, austere collections. Athleticism was a recurring theme: BMX racing jackets, utilitarian anoraks, and touches of mesh. First there were the
dark, perforated mesh bombers layered over bright blue and tangerine technical polos. Rather unexpectedly, bluegray ombré floral prints gave way to silk parachute dresses clad with front-zippers and oversized pockets. The show closed with T-shirt dresses thrown over swimwear and sheer jerseys with tribal motifs, that, according to Style.com, were actually prints of stadium seating maps. Wang took his sports-chic theme even further with models carrying motorcycle helmets and golf-inspired weekenders. For fashion writer Lynn Yaeger, this culminated in a “sad sylph practically collapsing under the weight of a humongous cranberry-colored backpack.” Per usual, Wang could not resist making subtle 90s references: the anklestrapped mules, laser-cut leather bandanas, and baby-doll mini dresses recalled a 90s minimalism crossed with riot grrrl vibe. Makeup artist Diane Kendal, who helped execute Wang’s wet hair-bare face look, told T Magazine she was familiar with this style, having worked for Calvin Klein and Helmut Lang circa 1990, but that “Wang remembers this girl and is now making her his own.” Wang’s dream girl doesn’t mind getting her clothes dirty. The designer took inspiration from “dangerous sports, BMX bikes, skate boarding and protective
gear,” he told Dazed and Confused magazine. Impressively, Wang managed to incorporate sportswear, one of the season’s strongest trends, without losing sight of his signature élan. Even though colorblocking and feminine florals abounded, Wang still retained his sharp, dark streak: the models were purposefully disheveled, replete with smudged eye makeup and greasy-glossy hair, exuding the Wangian ethos of deconstructed, urban cool. Wang’s warrior-woman is ready for battle, but not without her fish-scale stilettos and midriff-bearing leather blouse. The performance art duo The Bumbys fittingly described Wang’s models as “sex-starved zombies with oily hair who treat archery class like it’s the new yoga and gunpowder like it’s the new cocaine.” Only Wang could resurrect a postapocalyptic Tank girl, and make her look fresh and cool again. But even fashion’s golden boy can be accused of over thinking his concept. The layering of sports motifs, paired with the studied insouciance of his models, seemed to contradict his form-follows-function philosophy. Wang’s characteristic privileging of understatement made this collection appear almost flashy and overdetermined. Then again, what’s wrong with being literal? Naturally, one would prefer to carry a rucksack over a purse on a motorcycle.
“UGLY-AS-F—CK”…? Later that night, Odd Future, the culty hip-hop collective, gave a surprise performance at Wang’s after party. According to Women’s Wear Daily, Tyler, the Creator—the group’s leader—repeatedly called out, “My n-gga Alex Wang,” and proclaimed, “If I happen to come in the crowd and just go wild, and you spill your drink on your expensive-ass shirt that’s probably ugly-as-f--k, don’t be mad at me cause I warned you.” Of course, being anti-fashion, or pretending not to care about money and appearances, is just another fashion-performance. For Wang and Tyler, the Creator, their seeming indifference is precisely their fashion statement. Wang is less about being anti-fashion, and more about making hyper-curated dress appear natural, and perfectly undone. For Pulitzer Prize winning fashion critic, Robin Givhan, Wang represents fashion’s current attitude of disinterest toward lavish, high fashion merchandise. “Modern style dictates the need for imperfection. Take a luxury garment and wreck it in some way. Pair a fancy evening gown with bed head. Being too polished, too perfect, reads as fake,” Givhan wrote in her column for The Daily Beast. “Authentic beauty comes when something precious is treated with nonchalance—even disrespect, perhaps even a bit of abuse,” wrote Givhan. “The idea is to show how little you care." Wang constructed the urban uniform of the late 2000s by branding the long, slouchy silhouette and just-thrown-on appearance of models-off-duty. The designer has even managed to make sweatpants, T-shirts, and deconstructed, downtown dress aspirational. Wang’s approach is simple, but not easy to deliver: his goal is to create “clothes that girls want to wear,” the designer told i-D magazine. This is the Wang way: take something familiar and mainstream, recreate it with luxury fabrics and refined silhouettes, and call it high fashion.
SELLING OUT, CASHING IN Although Wang’s exploitation of the justrolled-out-of-bed look exudes a countercultural angst, there’s no denying that Wang is embeddeded within mainstream commercial culture. Corporatization could easily be blamed for draining out the irreverence and iconoclasm of contemporary design. Wang, however, has strategically used fashion’s ties to commercial culture to launch his brand and reach larger audiences. "Sure there’s an element of corporate-ness here, but I think fashion has never been more creative,” blogger BryanBoy told New York Magazine. “Now that everybody is fighting for the consumer, designers are offering more.” Wang is well on his way to crafting a design empire. His commitment to affordability has resulted in a multimillion-dollar business that keeps growing. Wang stands out as a bellwether of fashion forecasting, and his impact can be seen on the racks of Topshop and H&M for a fraction of the price. The designer took wearability to the next level in 2009 with his diffusion line, T by Alexander Wang, dedicated to pre-weathered cotton T-shirts. After T, Wang introduced a menswear line, a footwear collection, an e-commerce site, and opened a flagship store in SoHo. Since launching his first womenswear line in 2007, after dropping out of Parsons School of Design, Wang’s ascension to fashion royalty has been meteoric. In 2008 he won the Council of Fashion Designers in America/Vogue Fashion Fund, and received $200,000 to expand his business. Since then, Wang has collaborated with Uniqlo, Keds, Gap, Dockers, and even created a nail polish line with Sally Hansen. He is currently designing T-shirts printed with an amorphous marking that resembles a spilled cup of coffee for Starbucks’ 40th anniversary. RUNWAY VS. RETAIL But for Cathy Horyn, the controversial and renowned fashion critic for the New
York Times, Wang’s garments do not reach the haute-couture expectations of the runway. Horyn, although very well respected in both the fashion and journalism industries, has been banned from shows for her bitting, pointed reviews. And Wang is not exempt from her criticism. Wang is actually “not a great designer,” Horyn tells the Independent, and is at his best when he stays within his youthful vocabulary; he shouldn’t attempt to do “serious Fashion.” Wang, Horyn maintains, should stick to retail. “When I saw his clothes in the stores…they translated really well in retail,” Horyn says, “but on the runway it was overreaching for what it was.” The high fashion runway should be reserved for “something that is really exceptional, [it should] make you feel something,” says Horyn, “[and] put out things you've not seen before.” For Horyn, where high fashion is avant-garde, Wang is “conventional” and “square” (according to Interview magazine, his favorite film is Clueless). Horyn waxes poetic about the real high fashion designers: Miuccia Prada, Raf Simons, and Phoebe Philo whose companies (all European) have “integrity” and use only the most high quality fabrics and expert pattern makers. Put simply, fashion, like all art, is hierarchal and predicated on exclusivity. “[Azzedine] Alaia is one of the most innovative high fashion designers out there,” Horyn insists, “but you have to see [his clothing] very close up and you have to be in Paris to see it.” To participate in high fashion, then, one needs not only to be a fashion connoisseur, but also moneyed and well-connected enough to afford trips to France to fondle lush fabrics. “You don't want to say to designers 'don't expand out of your universe, don't try to be a high fashion designer,’” Horyn laments. “But there’s no reason for [Wang] to do that… he can be innovative within his realm.” One of Horyn’s favorite items, out of all of New York Fashion Week’s shows, was Wang’s sta-
dium jersey: “jersey is a common form that's been exploited by a lot of people in a lot of different ways, but I thought he brought something fresh to it,” says Horyn. “Women of all ages could participate in what he did for Spring, although they may have some hemline issues.” But was it groundbreaking? “I don’t think so,” says Horyn. Even so, high fashion has acknowledged Wang. According to Vogue UK, as of Tuesday, September 27, Wang was announced as the next designer to be considered for the hallowed seat as head designer for Dior, the historic haute-couture house. Up against established high fashion designers, Marc Jacobs and Riccardo Tisci, Wang is finally playing with the big kids. Wang has made an unprecedented intervention into the fashion stratosphere (with the help of killer business skills and a few model friends in high places), allowing him to unsettle the top-down paradigm of fashion culture. And like a religion, or a rock-star, he’s worshipped for it. “A runway can be like a public street, trampled with other people's ideas,” Horyn said in a Times video post. Innovative design, then, becomes about "knowing what you want to say and being precise about it." Whether in retail or on the runway, Wang triumphs doing just that. EVE MARIE BLAZO ’12 hopes to purchase a Wang stadium jersey…at the next sample sale.
29 SEPTEMBER 2011
AESTHETICS Moneyball, Barry Bonds, and the Beauty of the Game by Taylor Kelley Illustration by Robert Sandler
n the canon of baseball-nerd scripture, Bill James’ Abstracts is the Old Testament, Tom Tango’s The Book is Paul’s epistles, and the gospel is Moneyball. Last Friday, after years of pre-production delays, a revolving door of producers and writers, and a Jonah Hill-for-Demetri Martin deadline trade, the film adaptation was finally released to theaters. The movie, based on the eponymous book by Michael Lewis (who also wrote The Blind Side and The Big Short), follows the Oakland Athletics’ 2002 season. It focuses on general manager Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, and his effort to compete in the league in which his team’s budget is three times less than the wealthiest franchise, the New York Yankees. Frustrated after an offseason of getting outbid for three of the team’s most important players, Beane decides that his team can only sustain success in such unfair circumstances if his process fundamentally differs from his privileged competition. A revelation came to Beane, captured in a climactic scene, during a chance meeting with über-nerd, Assistant GM
Peter Brand (Jonah Hill, obviously). His solution is to prioritize advanced statistical analysis over scouting and traditional stats. Baseball, to a degree, has always used numbers to evaluate players. These pre-computer statistics were valuable mostly because they were easy to count: runs scored, for example, or strikeouts. Advanced stats (called sabermetrics, derived from the acronym for the Society of American Baseball Research) use more up-to-date techniques, like regression analysis, to better model the correlation of individual plays with wins. For example, the ubiquitous stat of batting average counts singles and home runs as equally valuable, whereas its sabermetric analogue would account for the extra value created by the home run. In the movie, Beane and Brand use these techniques to identify players with skills undervalued by teams using more traditional methods, allowing them to construct a winning team within their limited budget. ****
If this were a review of the film, I’d have to explain how two guys looking at spreadsheets and making phone calls to trade marginal major leaguers for obscure minor leaguers makes for compelling drama.” (It does, but you’ll just have to trust me.) I’d like to talk instead about one of the movie’s main themes: the tricky balance between the beauty of the game and its numbers. Throughout the film, Beane asks several times, “How can you not be romantic about baseball?”, despite coming across as a hardened and unemotional professional. His daughter writes him a song that, in the movie’s final moments, reminds him to “just enjoy the show” (“the show” being a nickname for the Major Leagues). Most memorably, Beane is touched when Peter Brand shows him a video from a recent minor league game of an overweight catcher, drafted because of his statistics against the strong objections of Beane’s scouts. In the video, the enormous player stumbles and crashes to the ground while rounding first, realizing that he may have a shot at a rare triple. He awkwardly crawls back to
first base for an embarrassing single. His teammates, though, are in hysterics, and when he looks up he sees the ball has sailed well over the fence. He hit a home run without even realizing. It is easy to imagine Beane, a few days earlier, looking over the stats from the game, noting the home run and moving on. Despite the movie’s glorification of the numbers in baseball, it also suggests that sometimes a home run is more than just a home run. This scene points to a common argument against sabermetrics: that statistical analysis misses the real point of being a sports fan. In a recent column about how he wouldn’t be seeing Moneyball, Fox Sports’ Jason Whitlock complained, “The sabermetricians will punch in the numbers and give you, in their mind, a definitive answer. It’s boring. It’s ruining sports.” Proponents of Whitlock’s traditionalist line of thinking typically identify beauty in baseball with the human. Baseball for them is all about the brotherhood of a cohesive team, the leadership of the star player, the personal sacrifice for the good of one’s teammates and fans. Beloved by these
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traditional are the players that hustle to first after every grounder, attempt lots of diving catches, and, because perceptions typically conform to expectations, tend to be white and good-looking. Fat players, black players, and Spanish-speaking players don’t fit the mold. This narrative is beautiful in its simplicity, but statistics have also been a point of emphasis for even the most traditional baseball fans. Baseball romanticizes certain numbers: 755 home runs, a .300 batting average, the 56-game hitting streak, 300 wins; these carry historical significance and conjure real emotion. (You might notice, for example, that I’ve listed 755 instead of whatever number the current career record holder Barry Bonds, accused of steroid-use, ended up with. As a Braves fan, 755 was the number of one of my players, Hank Aaron, and so it’s the one that will stick with me). When a no-hitter is thrown, the catcher runs out to the mound, dramatically embraces the pitcher, and the game makes the front page the next day. The sabermetrician, however, would be more interested in the actual quality of the game pitched. Minnesota’s Francisco Liriano, for example, threw a no-hitter earlier this year in which he walked six batters, definitely a worse performance than giving up a couple hits and one or two walks (something that happens all the time). But what matters to the traditionalist is the
number—0 hits. Baseball even romanticizes the players that accumulate the traditional stats, but lack the personal qualities typically valued by traditionalists: think Mickey Mantle, twenty time All-Star but a reckless drunk during his playing days. Presumably this is because fans like winners, and stats like batting average and RBIs correlate with winning. Why, though, are these stats prioritized over newer, sabermetric measures with an even stronger correlation with winning, say— wOBA or FIP? (head to Wikipedia to hunt for acronyms). Many traditionalists argue that the newfangled metrics lionized in Moneyball are too abstract and complicated. Not that the old stats aren’t complicated too. Allow me to paraphrase one of baseball’s most traditional statistics, the pitcher win: a pitcher receives a win if they leave the game with their team winning, and that lead is not relinquished by the end of the game. If the pitcher started the game, they must pitch at least five complete innings to be eligible (unless, of course, the game is shortened enough by rain). If the pitcher came in as a reliever with his team tied or trailing and leaves the game with the lead, they are eligible for the win. In a scenario in which the starting pitcher gained the lead, but pitched less than five innings, the official scorer just decides who he felt pitched the best amongst the relievers and awards them the win. The pitcher win, more or less fully understood by all baseball fans, is
both complicated and arbitrary. And this isn’t really a cherry-picked stat; just try to define precisely what events constitute an “at bat”. **** Basically, the old statistics work for Jason Whitlock because they’re old. And that’s fine: I was really hoping Detroit’s Justin Verlander would get his 25th win this year, despite its ineffectiveness as a metric for pitcher performance, because the last time it happened was the year I was born. It’s fun and part of being a fan to participate in baseball mythology. But advanced statistics can cater to this mythology just as easily: Barry Bonds’ spreadsheet of sabermetric numbers is a beautiful sight to behold (I couldn’t care less that he cheated; the numbers are real). While all fans may know that Bonds was a great player, his complete domination of the game can only fully be seen through the advanced metrics. From 2001 to 2004, he was 40% better than the second best player in baseball and about twice as valuable as someone who put up four AllStar quality seasons each of those years. The “advanced defense” numbers show us that, even in his late 30s and weighed down by artificial bulk from steroids and human growth hormone, he was still an above-average fielder. And perhaps most amazingly—and Billy Beane would certainly agree—in that four-year period, he walked over three times as often as he
struck out. To me, and many others, that is as beautiful as the Babe calling his shot, or DiMaggio’s 56-game hit streak. Amongst the sabermetrically inclined, there has been much discussion of whether Moneyball will bring the statistical good news to the people, or whether things will remain the same, with advanced statistics still largely at the nerd fringe of baseball coverage. Either way, there is no doubt that the movie does a good job romanticizing the spreadsheet without losing sight of the more traditional beauties of baseball. There is definitely a delicate balance between the two. After all, despite all the amazing things Bonds did, he was still an asshole. I booed him along with the rest of my city while he chased the career home run record set by Atlanta’s Hank Aaron. I know, though, that Bonds’s numbers will be legendary before too long. Hopefully, though, the Billy Beane revolution comes to pass and his 38% walk percentage will be given as much weight as his 73 home runs. TAYLOR KELLEY B’12 is sabermetrically inclined.
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29 SEPTEMBER 2011
S P A C E BETWEEN
Entering the Rhode Island Prison System
travel to the Rhode Island prison every week as part of my work with Space in Prisons for the Arts and Creative Expression (SPACE). When I arrive, I must present ID, sign a logbook, pass through a metal detector (if I forgot to change out of my underwire bra, I can’t go in), have my bag searched, wait for various doors to be opened from a control panel, and remain unfailingly courteous throughout. These literal obstacles point to the intentional separation of the inmates from the rest of society. Further, the people society singles out in this manner share a common trait: they are overwhelmingly and disproportionately non-white. The history of racism in America, from slavery to Jim Crow, has facilitated and perpetuated the fear of the dark-skinned other. It is easy to condemn someone who looks like a criminal, according to the national consciousness. In so doing, we ignore the host of institutional, economic, and social structures that create and perpetuate segregation in this country. The focus turns to crime as a moral choice. BLIND SPOT Life in prison bears little resemblance to the daily routines outside the barbed wire. Effectively, a term of incarceration says: “For what you’ve done, we don’t want you here anymore, and we’re going to put you somewhere we don’t have to think about you.” To those on the outside, the people who go to prison disappear. The men and women at the Rhode Island Adult Correctional Institute (ACI) have forfeited their freedom; inside the walls, every choice—from when to eat to what kind of undergarment to wear—is circumscribed. They are isolated from children, jobs, and emotional support, and instead gain a community that demands toughness and punishes vulnerability. Post-release, they are expected to re-integrate enough that they will be able to avoid the pitfalls that sent them to prison in the first place. Until then, they are property of the state, their every meal, movement, and medical need paid for with taxpayer money. I began visiting the ACI in January 2010. Every week when I enter, it feels like a revolutionary act—a transgressing of boundaries, a political statement with humanitarian ramifications. At the same time, my willingness to endure the rigmarole of entering the prison indicates respect for their rules. By traveling to the
by Jess Bendit ACI, I accept the system of isolating offenders from society. When I enter the classroom, I become acutely aware of the contrast between my clothing, jewelry, and hairstyle, and the total uniformity of everyone else in the room. I am here to lead an arts workshop. SPACE workshops try to make room for creativity within a system designed to stifle expressions of individuality. We read and write poetry and prose, discuss art and humanity, laugh, and share our aspirations and insecurities. There is no guard in the room, but I never feel unsafe. Yet, throughout the workshop, a thought hangs over my head: despite my best efforts to foster a cooperative community of equals, the fact remains that at the end of these two hours, I will leave, and the women will not. JUSTICE AIN’T BLIND An oft-cited statistic: although the United States has 5% of the world’s population, we hold 25% of its prisoners, a rate of 743 per 100,000 people. This rate is the highest in the world, and about 4 times the international average. Further: one in three African American males born in the US right now will spend some amount of time in a prison. Nothing in the criminal justice complex explicitly acknowledges race. Yet the two defining properties of the system—the massive scale, and the disproportionate number of black and Latino inmates— point to the existence of institutional racism. In some ways, the US’s criminal justice policies construct criminality in terms of race. For example, Congress recently lowered the sentencing disparity between powder and crack cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1, so that a person must be caught with 18 grams of powder cocaine to receive a similar sentence as someone caught with 1 gram of crack cocaine. The two substances are essentially the same, although crack is cheaper to produce, and therefore, obtain. However, crack users are primarily black, while powder cocaine users are majority white and Latino. The impact of this policy is that black cocaine users receive drastically longer sentences than white or Latino users. Racial bias in policing and sentencing, in confluence with the overblown media coverage of crime in America, has created a national inclination to associate blackness with criminality, especially for black males. One example is the “Crack
Illustration by Cecilia Salama Baby” phenomenon of the 90s, in which black women who used crack while pregnant were offered forced sterilization as an alternative to imprisonment, despite the lack of empirical evidence about the drug’s effects on fetuses. Why don’t white suburban moms who abuse prescription drugs receive the same kind of societal condemnation? Why is being “tough on crime” a prerequisite for any aspiring politician? The answer is fear, and, for most middle and upper class Americans, relative insulation from the kinds of crime that land people in prisons. DOING TIME I believe that many people we lock up don’t deserve this exile. I do this work, even while recognizing that, in the long run, it is probably the facilitators who benefit more from SPACE than the participants. I think there are better ways than incarceration to respond to those who break laws; drug treatment, counseling, home confinement, and monetary fines are some examples. It does make me nervous to think about a society where criminal behavior is punished more leniently, but I’ve met too many people at the ACI to believe in the power of incarceration as a deterrent. More than one woman has told me that she appreciates the function of prison as a refuge from the temptation of drugs. One particularly talented SPACE participant, who had developed personal friendships with some of our facilitators, recently recidivated after being out of the prison for a few months. Seeing her in my workshop was a jarring reminder of the limited scope of the program. One week, all three of the women in my workshop revealed that they were sexually abused as children, and had abused drugs and done sex work at some point in their lives. For some, prison is an expected part of their reality; for others, it can be a haven away from the problems of the outside world. Either way, rising incarceration rates have not impacted crime in America, which continues to decline annually. And yet, I volunteer for the ACI. Every semester that SPACE continues to work at the prison, we validate the terms of the prison itself. The staff at the ACI goes above and beyond in their support of SPACE, and they have shown a consistently progressive and thoughtful approach to offender rehabilitation. But their goals as prison administrators do not necessarily line up with my vision for a better criminal
justice system. By improving conditions within the prison, SPACE tacitly agrees to improve the ACI itself. We abide by their rules, and we help improve the inmates’ experience. We work for them. At least one SPACE facilitator has quit the program because he could not reconcile his political ideology with the weekly validation of prison structure. If I envision an America with fewer prisons and better alternatives, why am I trying to make this prison better? BEYOND BARS Of course the work SPACE does is important, and political, if only because there are now slightly more Brown University students who recognize the humanity of the men and women whom our society deems outcasts. And, clearly, there is a difference between improving prisons and improving the experiences of individuals inside them. But we are deluding ourselves if we believe that our work has a more lasting impact than the conditions and choices that precede us. An arts workshop will not help pay bills, provide childcare, or eliminate the temptations of drug abuse. And we are equally delusional if we don’t recognize the paradox of working for a better society within prisons, as opposed to acting to reduce the number of people they hold. SPACE does good work. We break the monotony of prisons for those inside, and we provide a less-structured environment that encourages self-expression. It isn’t enough to address the larger social issues that have created the fundamental injustices of the criminal justice system. And on my worst days, I worry that our work facilitates those injustices. Intellectually, I know that the United States systematically incarcerates poor people of minority background, black men especially. Our prisons have functioned as agents of segregation and oppression since the end of slavery. A flickering of national attention has been brought to the issue, but it will be many decades before our country rights this racial injustice. However, today I feel good about being able to improve someone else’s day through art. Hopefully I’ll be ready for the revolution tomorrow. JESS BENDIT B’12 calls herself a radical.
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
A HEALTHY DOSE OF Trip Through a Deceptive Supermarket by Lily Goodspeed and Ashton Strait illustration by Alexander Dale
ifty years ago, e. coli, salmonella, trans fats, and high fructose corn syrup were concepts known only to select scientists, biologists, and food producers. Now they hold a permanent place in our cultural lexicon. As obesity, type II diabetes, and heart disease have skyrocketed in the past few decades, Americans have become increasingly concerned with their collective diet and nutrition. Journalists and authors like Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser have revealed horrifying truths about our food production system, pushing consumers toward organic and local produce. However, false information often filters into our cultural discourse on sustainability and health. In a sea of food products, each shouting about its nutritional benefits and seemingly wholesome origins, it’s difficult to discern what is true and what is just an advertising ploy. Mega-retailer Wal-mart sells organic food, a practice established in recent years, but which raises concerns among environmentalists and watchdog groups. These groups worry that the company’s vague marketing and apparent mislabeling of products not officially labeled “organic” by the USDA is muddying the definition of the term. Indeed, just a year after Wal-mart began its organic push, the policy research group Cornucopia Institute accused them of “organic fraud” after discovering labeling violations in nearly all of the stores they visited during a survey of Wal-mart’s business practices. Nevertheless, companies that market their goods as “natural” are making large profits off of consumers who want to feel good about their purchases. Still, some businesses are actually doing their part to combat climate change and animal rights violations. A list of ethically sound companies can be found at certifiedhumane.org, a watchdog group that inspects food producers and restaurants, and subsequently bestows its seal of approval on those deemed acceptable. Several big companies, including Costco, go beyond the USDA’s guidelines to personally inspect the facilities and farms that produce their organic products and ensure that they meet the company’s own standards. Admittedly, many of these facilities and farms are overseas--‘USDA
Organic’ doesn’t neccessarily mean local—but at least an effort is made for ethical accountability. READ BETWEEN THE LINES You can’t swing a stick in an American supermarket without hitting a spurious nutritional claim. “Made with Real Fruit”, for example, means that any amount of fruit was used in the product’s creation. Blend a grape into a milkshake, and the milkshake is technically “made with real fruit.” The expression “Made with Whole Grains” is similar, as, according to their website, the FDA “has not defined any claims concerning the grain content of foods”, i.e. any amount of unmilled grain makes a product whole grain. But surely the term “100% Whole Grain” is regulated, right? Unfortunately, this is not the case. The FDA merely “recommend[s] that products labeled with ‘100 percent whole grain’ not contain grain ingredients other than those the agency considers to be whole grains.” Truly whole grains are beneficial because they contain the cereal germ and the bran, along with the endosperm—the starchy part of the grain that constitutes refined flours. These are all significant sources of non-caloric vitamins/minerals and fiber in a cereal grain. Losing endosperm in the refining process depletes white flours of these important nutrients. Therefore, “whole grain” knock-offs could have little to none of this fiber or nutrient content at. Enter the multitude of fiber-supplemented products on the market. Many of these new “high fiber” foods contain added chicory root extract to kick up the fiber content, without adding any of the vitamins and nutrients found naturally in fiber-rich foods (fruits and veggies, people). Chicory root extract, also known as inulin, is one of the primary fiber supplements currently used, because it lacks the chalky mouth feel of most other high-fiber ingredients. However, pregnant women are discouraged from ingesting it because it may cause miscarrage. (It was once used as an abortifacient.) Yet, fiber is being touted as a new cure-all to help lose weight, regulate digestion, and curb appetite. Very few products containing inulin warn of possible side effects. Even worse is the idea of “low-fat.”
First of all, low-fat foods are often loaded with sugar to compensate for the lack of taste. Secondly, some foods labeled as such never had any fat to begin with. For example, oranges are fat free. Therefore orange juice is fat free, but companies slap that badge on their products proudly, belying the fact that many of them contain added sugars or preservatives. Furthermore, many consumers don’t fully understand the importance of fat in a diet. Many studies, such as one published in August, 2004 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition by researchers at Iowa State, show that some amount of fat allows for better absorption of vitamins and minerals. Indeed many vitamins, like lycopene, are fat-soluble (meaning they don’t dissolve easily in the water-based environment of the human gastrointestinal tract) and thus are most readily absorbed when consumed with fat. TRICKY SNACKS Many widely accepted “healthy” choices are deceptively unhealthy. Consumer Reports points out that so-called veggie chips only average 10 fewer calories per serving than potato chips, and the touted veggies are only a supplemental powder or puree. Yogurt-covered raisins are not swaddled in “Chobani” Greek yogurt, but rather a coating of trans-fats and sugar, oil, dry milk, and “yogurt powder.” In fact, after raisins, the first ingredient in Sun Maid’s vanilla yogurt raisins is sugar. A more recent, surreptitious food trickster is the health nuts’ beloved agave syrup (the Trader Joe’s alternative to sugary, deleterious honey). Agave syrup is actually composed of 70-80% fructose— more than the percentage in high fructose corn syrup. The relative sweetness of fructose is much higher than that of sugar. For those misguided individuals who try to convince you that agave syrup is healthier because less is required to sweeten, please see a 2010 survey by researchers at the Princeton Institute of Neuroscience. The survey links significant fructose consumption to metabolic syndrome (a suite of illnesses encompassing insulin resistance, obesity, heart disease, and type II diabetes, to name a few). Animal rights mantras have similarly been muddled by a number of doublespeak slogans. One of the most popular
terms is “free-range,” which calls to mind a wide expanse of greenery where livestock frolic contentedly under the watchful eye of Old MacDonald himself. Unfortunately, Consumer Reports discloses that the term may be applied if the animal is outside for “an undetermined period each day.” Pop the chicken out the window for a minute and it has become a free-range bird. Eating a factory-farmed “free range” bird often means ingesting antibiotics and hormones along with the meat, in addition to higher amounts of fat due to the bird’s diet, and fewer nutrients than would be found in a healthier, more carefully tended animal. Perhaps no greater lesson can be learned than that from margarine. The unappetizing yellow sheen of the butter substitute originally symbolized a healthy and delicious alternative to the evil specter of authentic fat that haunted real butter. Part of margarine’s original appeal was that it could be made using oil rather than dairy products, which were scarce during the First and Second World Wars. Eventually it was revealed that margarine, or rather, oleomargarine (the scientific name whose prefix speaks to its oily origins), is full of trans-fats. Harvard professor Walter Willett conducted a study in the early 1990s showing that women who consumed large amounts of trans fats were twice as likely to have heart attacks. He described the invention of hydrogenation (the process by which liquid unsaturated fats in oils are turned into semi-solid fats like margarine and Crisco) as “the biggest food processing disaster in US history.” So, the next time you peruse the supermarket aisles, don’t be fooled by pastoral advertising and cure-all health campaigns. Pay attention to the man behind the curtain, and think seriously about the ingredients of the food in your cart. After all, when it comes to the stuff that fuels your body, there’s nothing like the real thing. LILY GOODSPEED and ASHTON STRAIT B ’13 are free range and FDA approved.
15 I N T E R V I E W S
29 SEPTEMBER 2011
BRICK-O-LAGE A Conversation with a Lego Artist by Timothy Nassau
o be deemed a master Lego builder, you must first make a sphere out of the toy bricks. The challenge is brilliant, and elegant in its simplicity: take something defined by its blockiness, something that is, by its very essence, square, and use it to make a curve. There’s a mystical element about it—to master the Lego, you must transcend the Lego. On Nathan Sawaya’s website, you can see a sculpture of the solar system that he built. Not one but nine spheres, all built out of Lego, are precariously balanced on top of each other. The sculpture is as tall as a full grown person and the color and relative size of each planet is accurate; Saturn even has Lego rings. Since 2000, Sawaya has worked as a professional Lego builder, one of only a dozen or so in the world. He makes sculptures and mosaics on commission, receiving requests for life-size replicas of cars and Stephen Colbert, while also constructing his own Lego art, which is currently touring America and Australia. I spoke to him about what it’s like to have the job that every child dreams of. Timothy Nassau: Could you start by talking about your background? Did you like Lego as a child? Nathan Sawaya: I had Lego bricks as a
kid; I had very accommodating parents who allowed me to have a 36 square foot Lego city. I think one of the very first “aha” moments for me was when I was about ten years old. I wanted to get a dog and my parents said no. So what did I do? I tore up part of my Lego city and built myself a life-sized dog out of Lego. It was very rectangular, very boxy, so I called it a boxer. That was the first moment when I thought, “Okay, there’s something to this.” TN: How did this toy become the focus of your career? Presumably you didn’t study Lego when you attended NYU… NS: I got out of college and I didn’t really have faith in my art as a career. I ended up practicing law for a few years, but I would come home at the end of the evening and I would need some sort of creative outlet. I would draw, I would write, and sometimes I would sculpt. I would sculpt out of clay, out of wire; I did a series of sculptures out of candy… And then one day I found myself compelled to pull up this toy from my childhood and create a sculpture out of Lego. It got a great response from friends and family, which encouraged me to do future pieces. I eventually put together a website where I could showcase my work and I started getting com-
Zbigniew Libera makes his infamous Lego Concentration Camp, a series of imitation Lego sets designed to resemble the actual sets sold in toy stores. Lego provided him the bricks for free, prompting Libera to put “sponsored by Lego Systems” on the boxes. Presumably unhappy with the idea of children building crematories with their bricks, the Lego Corporation made it clear that it did not endorse the work.
missions from around the world. The day my website crashed from too many hits I realized it was time to leave the law firm behind and go into art full time. TN: Could you walk me through the process of how you build a sculpture from the idea to actually having a finished work? NS: It just depends on the piece… Sometimes it’s as simple as just looking at something and figuring it out as I go. A lot of times I’ll do sketches ahead of time. I use something called brick paper, which is like graph paper, the graph paper we had in math class with the little squares. Brick paper is like that except it has little rectangles the shape of Lego bricks, so I can draw on that and it gives me a sense of the direction I’m going. As I’m building, I glue each piece together one by one. Because I ship things all over the world, I want to make sure it arrives in one piece. I find museums get kind of grumpy when artwork shows up in a crate and it’s just a bunch of loose bricks… TN: You never make instructions, right? So they wouldn’t be able to put it back together? NS: I try not to… it’s a laborious process so I don’t do it.
TN: Because you’re putting glue on every brick does that mean if you make a mistake you’re stuck with it? NS: I’m very good with a chisel and hammer. TN: When you build a sculpture are you only using a few different kinds of bricks? NS: Yeah, generally just rectangular pieces. Those were the pieces I had as a child, so it’s usually just the standard rectangular bricks. TN: Has there ever been a time when there was some kind of brick you wanted that hasn’t been made yet? NS: No. I want to use the standard bricks, standard colors, standard shapes and sizes. Part of that is so when a child goes to one of my exhibitions, if they’re inspired by the work and they want to go home and build themselves, they can get those exact same pieces at a toy store. I’m not using anything special. TN: How many bricks do you have? NS: In my art studio I have a million and a half.
Brendan Powell Smith starts The Brick Testament, recreating Bible stories with Lego. His over 4,000 images from more than 400 stories have been released in several books. If God created human beings in his own image, then one assumes Brendan Powell Smith is yellow and has a bump on his head.
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
TN: Does the Lego company provide you with them? NS: No, I buy my bricks just like everyone else. I have that relationship with the Lego company at this point where I’m a unique client because I buy by the hundreds of thousands. We’ve developed a relationship, which is great, where I can email them and say, “Hey I need 100,000 red two by fours,” and then they’ll ship them over. But I still have to buy them. TN: Could you talk about how much it costs to commission a Lego sculpture? For example, if I wanted a life-size replica of myself, how much would that cost? NS: It depends on complexity, but it goes for 15 to 20 (thousand). TN: And what’s the range of time you spend working on something? NS: Again depending on complexity, a life-size human form is probably going to take two to three weeks. TN: What’s the largest sculpture you’ve ever made? NS: I did a billboard in Hollywood that
was 53 feet long and 16 feet high, used over 500,000 pieces. The largest sculpture would probably be my Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton piece I did for a museum in Australia. It’s twenty feet long and it took an entire summer to create. TN: What about the strangest thing you’ve been asked to build? NS: I get requests that are somewhat out of line… I won’t touch on that, though. Pete Wentz from Fall Out Boy contacted me when he was getting married to Ashlee Simpson and said he needed a four foot tall Lego bumblebee as his wedding gift to her. TN: Do you have any sense of why Lego attracts you so much (as an artistic tool, specifically)? NS: There are many reasons. It’s a medium that can be used to create anything, at least from my perspective. Anything I can imagine I can create out of it. For me, I like seeing people’s reactions to the work. I think it’s very fun to see people’s reactions to artwork created out of this toy they are so familiar with. It’s this childhood toy everyone’s played with. When I hear from people, they go to the museum exhibitions and they see my work, they’re attracted to it because they can relate to
Michel Gondry uses Legos to make the music video for “Fell in Love with a Girl” by The White Stripes. The band contacted Lego to ask if they could include a small set with each copy of the single so that fans could build a tiny Lego Meg and Jack White. The company turned down the idea, saying, “We don’t market our product to people over the age of twelve.”
it on a different level. Someone goes to a museum and they see a big marble statue, they can appreciate it but when they go home that night it’s very doubtful they’re going to have a slab of marble in their living room that they can start chipping away at. But so many times people contact me and say hey, we saw your exhibit, we went home, and we started building with Lego as a family because we got inspired. And that’s kind of special. TN: Who would you say your biggest influences are as a sculptor? NS: Tom Friedman is one of my main influences. When I was a lawyer thinking about if I wanted to leave my job to become an artist full time. I was reading a book of his work. He uses a lot of household items to create fantastic works of art and he was a big inspiration: if he could create these amazing things with paper cups and toothpicks what could I do? I look at Antony Gormley. His human forms are amazing. Those are two right off the top of my head.
dium exhausted? NS: Based on the number of emails I receive alone, from artists and people saying “I’m going to be like you,” “I’m going to do what you do,” or “I’m going to start using Lego in my artwork,” I would expect to see a whole Lego art movement in the next five to ten years. I think it’s far from exhausted, I think it’s just starting. I’ve seen some work from other artists that’s simply amazing, so I think you can just keep pushing the envelope and see what else we can do. When I started out, my whole thing was: let’s take Lego to a new direction, out of the toy store and into the museum. So what’s next? Someone’s going to come up with something else that’s going to be amazing too. You can see pictures of Nathan’s art at blog.theindy.org. Timothy Nassau B’12 prefers to work with Duplo.
TN: Thinking of your sculptures in relation to someone like Michel Gondry, who uses Lego to make music videos, do you think there are other ways to use Legos that people haven’t thought of? Is the me-
Little Artists, the team of John Cake and Darren Neave, begins making miniature versions of famous contemporary art and artists, including works by Damien Hirst, Tracey Emins, Andy Warhol, and Joseph Beuys. Charles Saatchi, the famous patron of the Young British Artists, collects their work, perhaps to put the pieces in a Lego replica of his gallery.
29 SEPTEMBER 2011
I MAY BE PARANOID, BUT NO ANDROID by Lazy Line Painter Jane
* A couple of dots on a grid that intersects in the familiar quadrants of sector “high society.” The wind caused the leaves on his porch to rustle and the bottle to whistle too loudly. Fuck god he thought to himself. * There is no earnestness here. There is only a hoax of hellos and goodbyes. Crowds bumping shoulders and spilling drinks all over their dignity. The packs of cigarettes are never empty, the pack of condoms always on sale. And the loneliness never surpassed. * Short of a sideway glance, I thought I saw her say goodbye but the music was too loud, her melody could have been pain bellowing from her gut exploding between the lips and teeth. A hot mess. Like piles of unwanted laundry. Knotted hair. The armpit stain. Scorching tears seeping with anger. You can feel them smoldering on your cheeks. Those ashes will never cool down. Shattered shit faced shot through the vein piss ass drunk. Be careful with broken glass. Your blood streaming down the shin, dried up blood and sticky hair, your tears dripping from the tip of the chin like a faucet that someone forgot to shut tightly. I will shut myself tightly.
tached to limbs that can walk. That can run. He is in constant motion, allowing himself to be led by the hand through heaps of bad intentions. He worries his limbs about where to move so he wont worry about why he is moving. He empties his own bottles. But they wont be as empty as Judy’s shell lying next to him in the morning. * Please don’t turn the lights on. I don’t want to see myself giving in so easily. I don’t want to see you wipe the corner of your crusty mouth on the sleeve of my unconsciousness. I don’t want to see you heave in and out the gaping hole in my chest. * judy never felt so good except when she was sleeping1 *
down a conveyor belt, pricked by the mechanical limbs of terms like “culture,” “the economy” and “politics.” They adjusted her data, changed her status from “female suffering from dissociative identity disorder” to “single and looking,” modified her mood to match her purse and lipstick. Where was Judy in all of this? Hiding between the gears of her consciousness, in the fetal position at the corner of an empty page, in the gap between the black key and white key of her piano. She learned to ignore the mechanized prodding of the thermosphere, she learned to float away from her android shell and spend her days atop of a traffic light watching dots collide on a grid. * Network cell structure pinned to the landscape of banal interaction. Everyone is hooked up with cables of “web presence” at the base of their brain stem. Commands are typed up in Times New Roman font size 12 and shoved in the gap between your eyeball and your eyelid. Responses are transmitted via vomit. *
Her face like highway desert haze.
Today you wash it off with a long shower, wipe it off with last night’s makeup. You slam the door on it on your way out and stomp it downhill. You objectify it in the museum, stare at it, tilt your head and get a better perspective on it so you can write it down on flammable material and burn it till its nothing but the ashes of your cigarette that you toss in a bush. And even then, when it feels like someone pulled the carpet out from under the pit of your stomach you just blast noise till you can’t hear the creeping notion that says: Something is very wrong with this place.
Sebastian’s had it up to here. The rows of empty bottles are emptier than the shells he carries around his neck called faces. But he won’t stand there, lined up, like a generic trophy. His empty shells are at-
Judy forgot the feeling of being present. Her body was a cyborg cage hurled
9:00- unconscious psyche exploration dis-
* Judy’s head is spinning rapidly by this point, the sugar from the earlier coffee came and dissipated upon approach like the desert highway and haze.
1 Stuart Murdoch, “Judy and the Dream of Horses,” If You Are Feeling Sinister, 1996.
i may be paranoid, but no android2 * Judy didn’t know what it was like to get her hands dirty. Her labor was quantified in measurements, the product wrapped as an email attachment and released into the viscid world wide web-like maze of information, the interactions facilitated through intoxicating grog, the sex sterilized, the foreign affliction and death marginalized to statistics printed in bold on posters asking for money. And Judy was clean, all smudges of guilt or fulfillment purified and packaged in a plastic water bottle, refreshment for sale.
rupted by nuclear holocaust warning bells 9:15- steaming water streaming 9:30- apply mask, wig, and costume. shroud insecurities with cover-up excuses. 10:00-2:00- get talked at. stare at lips and teeth moving. get hungry. 2:00- ingest high fructose corn syrup and cow manure. repress nausea. 2:00-7:00- stare at words. words stare back. 7:00- ingest carbs. force laughter and commentary on the day. 7:30-2:00- “socialize.” be socialized, normalized, dehumanized. * Acted upon, irrelevant, a lame duck. Sebastian could never leave his room and nothing would change. He could go to class and grab some lunch and nothing would change. He could escape the viscid web of urban life and nothing would change. He could pick strawberries for the rest of his life and nothing would change. He could donate 20 dollars to the Red Cross fund and nothing would change. He could snort coke and nothing would change. He could knock Judy up and nothing would change. He could kill his parents and nothing would change. He could kill himself. He could do whatever he wanted and nothing would satisfy * On line to buy drugs at the pharmacy, Judy saw on the magazine stand a headline that read “2045: THE YEAR MAN BECOMES IMMORTAL.” Even the most basic and eternal human connection, death, was being mechanically assaulted, codified and crammed into RAM, rendered automated and irrelevant. Judy wanted to run outside and get hit by a car only to know what dying felt like before it was too late.
2 Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, Colin Greenwood, and * Phil Selway, “Paranoid Android,” Ok Computer, 1997.