I’m putting The Daily Communiqué on hiatus for a couple of reasons. Mostly, it took me away from one true love, reading and writing critically. While I enjoyed the experiment in daily posting, my well-being was in danger of becoming un-well.
Monday was a good day to take about the pitfalls of poorly researched writing encouraging stereotypes of sexual and emotional abuse in the guise of BDSM.
Tuesday I got real about the history of Jesus.
A review of City Light Theater Company’s Eurydice was Wednesday’s spotlight.
Thursday’s commentary was about billionaire vigilante Batman.
One of my favorite authors, Ta-Nehisi Coates featured in Friday’s commentary.
Saturday wrapped the week with a discussion about what to do about the “Problematic Artist,” spurred by the recent banning of Kate Smith by the Philadelphia Flyers.
This commentary is about personal choice, not about policy making, or about judging others who consume entertainment you don’t approve of.
The NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers stopped playing Kate Smith’s “God Bless America” before games, and removed her statue, recently.
Why? Because an anonymous caller told the Flyers’ front office she had a history of singing racist songs.
Before I dig into the facts behind this contretemps, I want to examine this issue of the problematic creative. That is, the artist whose works provide joy to fans unaware of their favorite’s more hideous flaws.
Conversations across many tables about this happen regularly for me. How do we square someone as odious as Orson Scott Card with two of my favorite series, Alvin Maker, and Ender? Or Richard Wagner‘s operatic Ring Cycle (which was co-opted by the Nazis)? Kevin Spacey? Marian Zimmer Bradley?
Everyone has a line they draw, how and where that line gets drawn is obviously an deeply personal choice. It can be heart wrenching. I was so disappointed, and upset, with Kevin Spacey that I realized I could no longer watch any of his work. This brilliantly talented actor whose Richard III must have been glorious to see, and who starred in some of my very favorite movies, made it so that I can’t even look at him.
A conversation with my mentor one day centered on this thorny subject. We have to support creativity, and not censorship. So where does that leave us?
I’ve circled around this so many times I’ve met myself both coming and going. There are no hard and fast rules. And it’s not easy to decide what’s right.
But consider this. What if we didn’t know about the dark secrets of our favorite artists? We’d continue to consume their work without having the burden of weighing our morals every time we pick up a book or watch a movie. My personal library is pretty big and I don’t know a thing about a lot of the authors whose work occupies that space. I’m willing to bet that if I looked hard enough I could find something nasty about some of them.
I don’t have time or energy for that. I want to judge the work based on my enjoyment of what’s between the covers. And believe me, I have no problem bailing on a book if it’s not living up to my expectations. Life’s too short, time’s limited, I gotta get the best I can out of the entertainment I consume.
We all say and do things we wish we hadn’t. In our younger days, our judgement probably wasn’t that sharp. Mine definitely wasn’t and I would hate to be judged on a bad decision I made decades ago that no longer fits who I am. This is not to excuse the serial bad behavior of people. Someone having a really bad day saying something they immediately regret and never say again is one thing. A person who does that on a regular basis and show no understand or regret is a completely different topic.
Kate Smith’s “racist” history amounts to two songs she sang in her 20s when just starting her career. She certainly wasn’t a racist, especially by the time she sang “God Bless America” live at a Flyers playoff game in 1974.
An opinion piece in the Chicago Tribune questions the “moral clarity” in making the choice to boycott Smith. As far as I can tell, this isn’t about moral clarity, it’s about the politics of the day.
Where do people find the energy to stir up such trouble? Wouldn’t fighting actual racism be a better use of time and energy? A woman who sang two songs decades ago, and died in 1986, hardly seems worth all that tsuris. I can barely look after myself most days, so I won’t be spending that much more energy on it.
Enjoy what you enjoy, don’t feel guilty for enjoying it and draw your lines in the most comfortable places for you. And certainly, don’t look to anyone else for guidance. Unless you’re asking for book recommendations …
I’ve said more than once that Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the most important writers today. If not the most important when it comes to matters of race in America. Especially matters of black and male in America.
His book Between the World and Me is written for his son explaining how to survive in a world where, “… navigating his Baltimore neighborhood was rife with literal boundaries and secret codes, any violation of which could get him beat up. Ta-Nehisi Coates attempts to make sense of the senseless. While explaining to his son, it becomes clear that there is a sort of sense in the chaos, but only to those who are so invested in making sure the ‘other’ oppressed.” (7 Stillwell review, January 16, 2017)
Then came The Beautiful Struggle about his chaotic upbringing in Baltimore surrounded by his father’s collection of Black Panther and black power movement books. The only thing I could really identify with was being the nerd wanting to be left alone to read. For Coates, it was comics. For me, books. And we were both greedy for them.
These two books offer an insight into a world I could never know, and never truly understand. But Coates’ writing is eloquent, teaching many things along the way.
During interviews, he is gracious and thoughtful. At one point, he mentioned driving to the venue and seeing a billboard with his face on it. “It’s just unreal,” he said.
There was his infamous Twitter fight with Cornel West, a professor of philosophy at Harvard, and professor emeritus at Princeton. In 2003 (ish) a friend and I were moseying the Stanford Campus when we happened upon a lecture by Dr. West. I found it to be obtuse and inexplicably over-complicated. All I remember of it now is how he would lean into the lectern after a question from the audience and say, “I think the brother (or sister) for asking that question.” And would go off on an answer which made no sense to me. The upper class white people around us nodded their heads in sage agreement. My friend and I looked at each other quizzically.
To be sure I hadn’t missed something, I grabbed a copy of one of his books and diligently slogged my way through it. No wiser than before. Maybe Philosophy just ain’t my thing.
Anyway, Dr. West and Ta-Nehisi Coates got into this righteous Twitter feud which ended with Coates leaving Twitter for good after Dr. West called him a “house n….r.” I still don’t know what to make of that, or understand what prompted that particular epithet.
Coates’ third book, We Were Eight Years in Power languishes on my to be read stacks. Sometimes I nip over to The Atlantic website and read his columns from there.
I was reminded of his work in a Brain Pickings post about Coates, in which Maria Popova highlights the “terror of kindness” where we have been culturally conditioned to expect the worst from those we encounter and must face our disbelief that people can actually just be kind.
This book went right on to my wish list, not because I’m a huge Batman fan, but because I want to read Cory Doctorow’s essay.
“Occupy Gotham, [is] about the terror of letting a billionaire vigilante decide who is and isn’t a criminal …”
My first memories of Batman are of the campy 1960s television series. Eartha Kitt as Catwoman, Otto Preminger as Mr. Freeze, Cesar Romero as The Joker, Burgess Meredith as the Penguin, etc. I remember them fondly.
I didn’t know about comic books then, and I was not yet 10 so just went along for the fun of it. I’ve seen several, not all, of the movies and am currently watching Gotham in my copious amounts of spare time.
That’s where my critical thinking started and stopped. Until a co-worker mentioned he didn’t like Batman because he was a vigilante.
“Huh,” I thought. It stuck with me.
And now that I’m watching Gotham, fascinated by the origin stories and watching the evolution of young master Bruce Wayne, I think about it a lot. Who is Bruce Wayne to be making these decisions? Do we make allowances because Gotham City is so crime-ridden even most of the police are criminals themselves? Do we make allowances because Bruce is obviously working out his parent issues and using his money to do some good for the city?
Yes, it’s fictional and yes, it’s an interesting story. But isn’t this one of the times critical thinking can be used to question the appropriateness of vigilantism in society?
We all want to be rescued from the horrors of our lives, and we want to know that we’re safe because people are generally well-behaved and law enforcement does its job. Batman as guardian is a nice fantasy.
But let’s face it, he’s only Batman because he’s wealthy. He can afford the toys and the time for training and wandering the streets chasing down whoever he deems is a criminal. (As a side note, are his feelings for Selina “Cat” Kyle going to get in the way of treating her as a criminal?) The class system allows Bruce to behave in this manner.
People in a lower socioeconomic class, like Jim Gordon, don’t have the luxury of money. Gordon is a paid civil servant, he can’t compete in Wayne’s class system. The city government is so overwhelmed there’s no money to be used for salaries, equipment, etc.
Gotham City is society’s law-enforcement issues extrapolated to the nth degree. Plus villains one can usually only find in comic books. With bad guys like Penguin and the Falcone family, Gotham’s problems are unique and require unique solutions.
I’m just not sure vigilante is the way to go. And I have no other answers. Maybe Doctorow’s piece will help me figure some of this out.
The original tells of Orpheus and Eurydice and the story of her death, but focuses on Orpheus and his efforts to locate her and bring her back to the world of the living.
Sarah Ruhl‘s Eurydice focuses on what happens to Eurydice in the Underworld.
She dies on her wedding day, kidnapped by the Lord of the Underground who promises her a letter from her dead father.
She arrives, confused and with no memory of life among the living. Her father, who has never forgotten her, finds her and together they rebuild her memories.
Meanwhile, Orpheus tries everything he can think of to get to the Underworld to rescue his beloved wife. His music makes the gatekeepers weep, and he is let in to bargain for her return. There’s a condition for her departure, Orpheus mustn’t turn back. Turning in response to hearing his name called, Eurydice is sent back to the Underworld, where she dies a second time.
San Jose’s City Lights Theatre Company’s bilingual performances in American Sign Language and English provided an exquisite twist to the usual theatre production. Each character was portrayed both by an English and an ASL speaker. The ASL actors made it a sort of play within a play, interacting with their English speaking counterpart and each other. CLTC’s intimate setting is a perfect place to see small productions like this.
It’s been about a week since I attended and I’m still struggling with how to write about it. The theme of love, both filial and romantic made me tear up in unexpected ways. As did themes of memory and communication. To be loved that much, to be cared for that deeply, to be led back to memories and learn better communication … I found it moving, unsettling, challenging, and thought-provoking.
Most memorable for me is Lauren Rhodes as the English speaking Eurydice, whose shouted, “I’m very angry at you!” made me proud. Women are so rarely allowed to show their anger, that to allow Eurydice to express hers is a high note. It’s one that sticks with me even now.
And I must mention Erik Gandolfi (English) and Dane K. Lentz (ASL) who perform the Lord of the Underworld with unhinged glee. Gandolfi’s costume in the underworld features a school boys’ uniform with short pants and a bright red jacket. The eerie little boys’ voice made this performance all the more chilling.
After Orpheus loses Eurydice the second time, he stands at the threshold to the world of the living expressing his anguish and grief. In a cross talk dialogue, he says, “Your timing was always off! I would tell you that if you didn’t come in on the downbeat, you’d lose everything.”
Meanwhile, Eurydice stands in the Underground shouting, “I’m sorry!”
Stephanie Foisy (ASL) added a poignant dimension to the already distraught Orpheus, portrayed by the English speaking Robert Sean Campbell.
As I left, tears in my eyes and my heart filled with unprocessed emotion, I walked past a table with pieces of paper and pens made available for anyone who wanted to write a note to someone who’d died. It occurred to me that I didn’t really get to say a proper goodbye to the friend I’d known for over 30 years who died from cancer nearly five years ago. So I stopped and wrote a little note to him.
Out into the bright Sunday afternoon light, I tried to make sense of how such a performance could have a profound effect on me. A week later, I’m still sorting it out but no longer hurting as deeply as I was then. Emotions wax and wane, it’s their nature. We just gotta hold on for the roller coaster ride.
Among my many interests is ancient religion and the intersection with ancient politics. I regret that there’s not enough time in my lifetime to study this even more deeply.
Karen Armstrong is one of my favorites. Her book, A History of God led to many other interesting books and articles. A former Roman Catholic nun, her thoughtful and carefully researched books, are filled with provocative ideas. Others I’ve read include Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet, and Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths.
Then there’s Bart Ehrman, the once born-again Christian, now atheist New Testament scholar at University of North Caroline at Chapel Hill. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, blew my socks clear across the room. A lot of things I remembered from my youthful days as an Episcopalian made a different kind of sense. I’ve read many of Ehrman’s books and learned a lot about the history, and politics, of the early Christian church.
Reza Aslan is another author whose work I find important. I’ve read Zealot twice. Robin Lane Fox‘s Unauthorized Version: Truth And Fiction in the Bible, Jack Miles, Bishop John Shelby Spong … all important parts of my reading, and library. Were I so inclined, I could go a few rounds with a street preacher. I don’t have the energy or time, and arguing with an ideologue only frustrates us both.
All of this to say, LitHub has a fascinating article by Jay Parini about Paul, the founder of the Christian church. Some of which reinforces what I’ve already learned, and what would upset Evangelicals if they ever bothered to actually learn their history.
Jesus’ last name was not Christ, it was a title. And in Jesus’ time there were many wandering the desert claiming to be the Messiah.
Jesus was not a Christian, nor did he found the Christian church. He was Jewish, trying to set Judaism back on the path of rightness.
Jesus was a rabble-rouser and was killed by the Roman authorities because his views interfered with their ability to govern and collect taxes from the Jews.
It was Paul who codified the teachings of Jesus into what is now recognized as the Christian church, long after Jesus died. Paul traveled the region tirelessly preaching and writing about his interpretation of Jesus’ life.
Parini, like Ehrman, learned Greek (Koine Greek) in order to read the New Testament in the original. What he found there was different from the popular notions of Christianity and the early church.
“This is astonishing. The whole universe of enlightenment will be found within the individual psyche, or soul … . The Christian message is, in effect, a message of reconciliation between the individual and the universe itself … “
This message, the one of being a part of the larger universe is one that speaks to me more thoroughly than any religious ideology. And, I’m finding more and more thoughtful people who find resonance in it too. However we go about making peace with ourselves and the ineffable, it’s important to realize it’s work that must be done in order to survive the chaos that is the world around us.
Lookee here! Three weeks of posting daily. Writing ahead and scheduling hasn’t been working out so I race home after work and write. And for some reason, the scheduling feature on WordPress has stopped working. Neither of the plugins I downloaded work either. So no regularly scheduled posts at 1700 each day. Daily posts when I get to a computer and can push the button.
On Monday, Notre Dame caught fire.
Tuesday, I went pink.
Exploring different ways of chasing the demons away, spurred by a story about a small town in Spain which throws turnips at a monster was the topic on Wednesday.
I discovered a new artist on Thursday. Artemisia Gentileschi by name, and her work is feminist and takes on the patriarchy. Not bad for a 16th century painter.
Friday was fantasize about travel day.
I closed the week by exploring hygiene as a seduction technique.
Over on Twitter, there was a discussion about personal hygiene as a seduction tool. Apparently, because the Viking invaders into what’s now England brushed their hair and cleaned their teeth every day, washed their clothes, and took a bath once a week, the women were leaving their husbands in droves.
“It must be recognized that the Christians of the time avoided bathing specifically because they considered too much cleanliness to be a sign of vanity, which was sin. Thus the infamous smelliness of the medieval period began.” (C. J. Arden, Were the Vikings Dirty? 03/20/2015)
To put this in context, the Viking age was ~793–1066 AD. But what I got to wondering about was, when did we go from cleanliness as a vanity and a sin to cleanliness is next to Godliness?
My brief search led me to John Wesley who, in a sermon in 1778, stated that cleanliness was indeed next to Godliness. (There’s a lot of media and books available by and about him here at the Internet Archive, a cool place in itself.)
But even in 1778 personal hygiene was more difficult than we have today. It’s a good reminder we should never expect our norms to fit history. Things evolve and change. I’m grateful every day for indoor plumbing and hot and cold running water.
In a silly mood recently, I thought there was a joke to be made about how in my more confident days, this was a picture of me taking dictation from my muse. I mean, look at that gorgeous skin …
The painting was used by someone on Twitter and as is my inclination, I went off on a search.
The introduction of Artemisia Gentileschi began with this article which points out if one were to invest in art, one could do worse than investing in her paintings
“She has a position both as a feminist icon, who grappled with the not always beneficial attentions of the opposite sex, but also as an exponent of a robust style of figurative painting.” (
“Wait! Who is that?” I wondered and the search widened.
Artemisia Gentileschi was the daughter of Orazio, himself a painter of some repute. She became known for paintings of strong women taking charge. Her best known painting is probably Judith Slaying Holofernes (below), in response to her own rape by her mentor, Agostino Tassi. Tassi was hired by Artemisia’s father because women weren’t allowed to attend the art academy. (Tassi was eventually convicted of rape.)
Wow. As I read further, I learned about the Power of Women, an artistic trope depicting “an admonitory and often humorous inversion of the male-dominated sexual hierarchy.” (Wikipedia, op cit)
This is the truncated version of how I finally got to know Artemisia Gentileschi and her work. There’s much to sort through and think about while placing her in the realm of feminist icon.
And, the name of the painting finally revealed itself at Robilant + Voena, in an exhibition of works inspired by La Artemisia.