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The Internet Is Exploding: 10 Must-Read Articles This Week 12/13

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The internet was a lot this week but also mostly good. Remembering Casey Goodson. Highlights: Quarantine memes, Chloe x Halle, Christmas decorations, white allyship, Black fathers, Brandon Bernard, cultural politics, class and classical music, the BMA, and why we love the monoliths. 

1. Vulture: Quarantine Brain

A few months ago my mom asked me what my roommate and I did since we can’t go out. I responded that if we aren’t in our studios we stay home, talk, share memes. My mother, utterly disappointed in my answer, simply said, “that sounds boring.”

My roommate and I have always been very online, and when COVID-19 halted gathering as we knew it and “simply moved into the rabbit holes of the internet,” we followed. As E. Alex Jung writes, “we were all extremely online, which felt like hotboxing off bad weed.” My roommate and I are in different, but overlapping corners of the internet: We both spend time on Instagram, but she is on Reddit and I am on Twitter. Our other friend who does not live with us has fallen deep into many TikTok holes during quarantine, and we all communicate with each other via memes, which since March have increasingly “coalesced into events, each one a wave to surf until the next came along.” 

While not considered art, memes have “become increasingly sophisticated and insane, taking the form of video collages, lip-syncs, Photoshopped images, skits. Editing is king. Iteration is constant and delightful, as though a bunch of high-achieving students were attempting to elevate a meme toward its Platonic ideal.” Memes provided not only “representation” but “a feeling of recognition.” Nothing that should make sense makes sense, so “nonsense makes sense,” and memes have taken this form. “There’s a stench of fatalism in the air: Who cares? Everything is stupid, so let’s make stupid art.”

 

2. YouTube: Chloe x Halle: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert

Unsurprisingly, Chloe x Halle continue their amazing quarantine performances with their Tiny Desk (Home) Concert. I took a 20-minute break from a busy day on Thursday to watch this and almost immediately forgot about everything else I had going on. I felt transported to wherever they wanted to take me. The amount of fun Chloe x Halle—and their orchestra—have is palpable. I finished watching this with a grin on my face and happy that I forced myself to take a break. 

 

3. Medium: We Need To Talk About Your Christmas “Decorations”

I CACKLED reading this. Growing up, decorating for Christmas was a big to-do—mostly because my birthday is in mid-December and we waited until after it to decorate everything in a frenzy. The older I’ve gotten (and the more I’ve looked into the history of certain holidays) the less important decorating has become, and the more I recognize how lazy I am and don’t want to put them away. 

Tressie McMillan Cottom “recently moved into what can best be described as a suburban Disneyland,” and has “encountered holiday decorating as subculture and identity” for the first time. The “animated displays, layered twinkle lights and displays set to music” are par for the course in this type of environment—people in my childhood neighborhood and where I currently go to school hire professional decorators. While all of this might seem fine and dandy, Cottom has great concern over the “graveyard of cheerful inflatables. It’s like a crime scene.” Some people chose lights, others chose inflatables that rely on a constant motor to stay alive. Many people that decorate with these turn them off overnight to save power. For Cottom, “maybe there is a good reason you don’t just… blow them up once so children don’t start asking existential questions about life and death and meaning but what do I know.”

I’m fully thinking about (and judging) Christmas decorations differently after reading this. 

 

4. YouTube: THE GRAPEVINE | WHITE ALLYSHIP | GV Quarantine Edition

I know a looooot of white people who need to watch this. While this video does discuss white allyship on a fairly basic level, there are a lot of things included that many white people still don’t know, understand, or see. I was particularly interested in the conversation that happens around 29:20 on white nationalism and white people who say “I’m not racist, but” because a white woman in my graduate program who self-identifies as a “conservative Christian” said that to me in a recent seminar. I also found the last few minutes of the video when the moderators, Ashley Akunna and Donovan Thompson, stayed on for a short debrief particularly relatable, as the post-meeting meeting with only Black or BIPOC people is routine. 

One of the things this video did not get into, however, that I wish it would have is the term allyship itself, as there is a lot of critical discourse around the term, the ally-industrial complex, and the difference between allies and accomplices.

 

 

5. GQ: Visible Men: Black Fathers Talk About Losing Sons to Police Brutality

This article took a long time for me to read, and I still haven’t gotten all the way through it. Mosi Secret spoke to the fathers and father figures of “Michael Brown, Terence Crutcher, Daniel Prude, Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, and Jacob Blake to reflect on the violence that forever altered their families’ lives—and what it means to raise a Black man in America.” Secret did this to counter “a very old myth, hardly questioned now, of the fatherless and thus doomed Black child.” All of these stories and men, “like all Black father figures, fights against the still pervasive stereotype of the absent Black father.” This article, the men lost to police brutality, and the men that raised them deserve and require a great deal of reverence and time. 

 

6. The Cut: The Senseless Killing of Brandon Bernard

The first word I thought of while reading this was gruesome. Then tragic. The senseless killing of Brandon Bernard—who was imprisoned for his involvement in the killings of Stacie and Todd Bagley when he was 18—was tragically gruesome. Bernard was executed and declared dead Thursday night after public outcry and many appeals attempting to stay the execution. He was “the ninth person since July to be executed by the Trump administration. Before then, the federal government had not killed a person incarcerated on death row in 17 years, but Donald Trump has rushed ahead in an unprecedented, ghastly spree: He has four more executions planned before Joe Biden takes office. Bernard was 40 years old.” 

Bernard was one of five teens accused in the murder of the Bagleys, who were robbed, abducted, and then forced into the trunk of a car and shot before the car was set on fire. Bernard’s defense “argued that the prosecution withheld evidence that diminished his role in the crime; he was not a leader, they say, and had set the fire under fear for his life. Five of the sentencing jurors said they would not have sent Bernard to death had they known.” By all accounts, he was remorseful and lived a life of reform. From everything that I have read, his execution was cruel. 

 

7. Mother Jones: What’s the Matter With Cultural Politics?

Recounting nearly five decades of cultural politics, Tommy Craggs explores how the contemporary American political scene and some of its more prophetic movements have been “about race and but it was about class and but it was about culture, the all-at-onceness of oppression in America being met by necessity with the all-at-onceness of liberation.” In this article, Craggs attempts to answer the seemingly never-answered set of questions: “Are cultural issues a set of powerful currents that buffet people around the political spectrum? Or are they a collection of irrelevancies and distractions with no real substance or meaning, lightly worn and easily dismissed? And why is it that the only option for the left here is to concede? Why is the culture war, in this particular vision of cultural conflict, only ever perceived to be won by conservatives, even in the face of all sorts of evidence to the contrary?”

 

8. The New Republic: The Stubborn Classism of Classical Music

I love classical music. I went to art camp beginning at age 10, and then attended a fine art boarding school for the last two years of high school, and that is where my love for the genre began. While the camp and high school are elitist and expensive (and very white), the relationship they fostered between their students in classical music is not. Almost half of all the students there study music, with the majority of those focusing on classical music. 

My interest in classical music began with supporting my friends. I would leave my visual arts studio classes covered in plaster and go to my friends’ chamber music recitals or operettas. I got bored doing my homework and would watch the final round of auditions for the concerto competition. One summer, when teaching at the camp, I got out of class early and happened to run into some friends on their way to a Nathan and Julie Gunn master class and joined. I continued to consume classical music in this way when I lived in Baltimore. At MICA, I got an internship at Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and would frequently attend concerts. I used to live a block away from the Peabody Conservatory and would stumble into those performances as well—often running into friends I went to summer camp or high school with. 

My relationship to classical music is casual. I was fortunate enough to have access to elite institutions from a young age to develop this kind of relationship with classical music. But I also sense a lot of confusion from people for my relationship with classical music. When (mostly white) people hear me listening to or speaking about classical music, they are often shocked and amazed at my knowledge of the subject matter (especially because I don’t play an instrument) or at my presence in what they perceive as their space. When this happens, when I get almost belligerent questions on how I know what I know and why I am where I am, I hold off on saying the magic phrase for as long as possible, knowing that only after I say it will their hostility be subdued. After they have exhausted themselves with their own frustration and biases I finally say it: “I went to Interlochen.” I can see the tension leave their bodies, but this only happens after they learn I attended prestigious institutions for young musicians and artists in the country. 

It is well known that classical music, as with many cultural sectors, has a racial and gender diversity problem, but what is less frequently discussed is how this intersects with class. Historically, western classical music “has relied on monarchs, aristocrats, and wealthy patrons even to exist. We have Haydn because of a prince, Mozart and Beethoven because of a baron, Stravinsky and Copland because of an heiress, and Wagner because of a king… Philanthropists, corporations, and trusts have displaced the kings and barons of yore, but as givers of grants and commissions, they might as well wear a crown,” explains Robert Jackson Wood. He goes on to discuss the history of classical music, particularly in the United States, writing that “prior to the Gilded Age, classical music in this country enjoyed a comparatively democratic existence, performed alongside jugglers and vaudeville tunes in raucous theaters filled with every stratum of society. Italian opera was performed in accessible English. Sex workers solicited business in the balconies. Beer was served.” Many of the rituals around classical music—“formal dress codes and arcane concert rituals—no clapping between movements, no shifting in your seat”—were developed in the mid-19th century as a way of “seeking heightened status by associating with the Continental elite, [as] New York’s newly wealthy industrialists began to prefer their operas in their original and ‘sophisticated’ European languages and with fewer interruptions from the lower-class rabble.”

The beauty of this article is that it is a critique of the whole ecosystem of classical music: the composers, the musicians, the musical directors, the institutions, and maybe most critically its critics. Wood not only goes over the history of classism in classical music, but also how many of its critics today do not treat class as central to the field’s reckoning with race and diversity. Thus, Wood argues that “The issue, then, isn’t anti-racism and diversity per se so much as what happens when those frameworks are sloppily conflated with other issues and allowed to dominate our critical interventions—to say nothing of our politics—at the expense of more comprehensive and structurally rooted visions of equality.” Although Wood’s analysis is in an intersectional lens, in critiquing a critique, the primary metric of diversity here is race—which is major—but other forms of diversity, such as gender, must also be addressed. 

 

9. Washington Post: A Baltimore museum tried to raise money by selling three pricey artworks. It backfired stupendously.

The Baltimore Museum of Art truly made a mess of itself with its most recent deaccessioning attempt. In early October, the BMA announced the sale of three paintings from the museum’s collection “to raise $65 million for diversity and equity efforts.” This announcement was met with immediate backlash from the public, former board members and curators, and many members of the Association of Art Museum Directors. In April, the AAMD loosened restrictions on what money from deaccessioning could be used for, in an attempt to alleviate the pandemic-related financial stress on museums—but the BMA was not financially distressed. Previously, these guidelines articulated that “the funds raised by selling a work should be used only for acquiring new art. The policy was intended to prevent museums — which are nonprofit organizations with favorable tax status — from treating their collections as assets to be monetized. Museums that failed to abide by this policy were reprimanded, shamed and ostracized.” 

While the prominence of the works chosen by museum director Chris Bedford and his curatorial team for deaccessioning was concerning, one of the primary fears, had the sale gone through, was that “the whole philanthropic model sustaining America’s great art museums could collapse. If you could raise $65 million simply by selling three paintings, how could you ever ask anyone for a donation again?”

Here, Sebastian Smee and Peggy McGlone explain the many aspects of why the potential sale was so problematic and how it dramatically fell through. 

 

10. The New Republic: Why We Love the Monolith

The internet has been abuzz the past few weeks with the appearances of mysterious monoliths—although they are technically not monoliths because they are not made from stone—all over the world. The first one, “a three-sided, 11-foot-tall reflective metal object nestled in the orange rock,” was spotted in Utah and “the sheer enigma of this prism’s purpose, along with the atmospheric images posted to social media by the Utah Department of Public Safety, have captured imaginations the world over.”

Many people are trying to figure out how the monoliths came to be, but Josephine Livingstone explains why we love them, arguing that “Because of the simplicity of its form, its sci-fi symbolism, and the way it has sparked people’s wonder against all odds, the Utah monolith is perhaps the breakout artwork of this horrible, unending year. Marketing might be the most likely explanation for our shiny friend’s existence, with banal happenstance coming a close second, but if we keep logic out of the equation, we have a little time left before the dream is ruined.” While “no individual has yet taken credit for the Utah prism’s installation… it is touching to think how many artists and writers have collaborated to underwrite this symbol in our culture.”

 

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