Monday, January 25, 2016

Zygmunt Bauman: “Social media are a trap”

I want to be more private so this blog might shift a bit until I feel/want to shift it back or towards another direction. Below is a short interview with Zygmunt Bauman, that touches on recent movements, state of democracy, and what social media does/does not do in these contexts. Not much to discuss re: agree or disagree but possible nice jump off points of thought for those who are curious to jump off a little.

Zygmunt Bauman: “Social media are a trap”
The Polish-born sociologist is skeptical about the possibilities for political change
Interview with Ricardo Del Querol


Zygmunt Bauman has just celebrated his 90th birthday and taken two flights from his home in the northern British city of Leeds to get to an event in Burgos, northern Spain. He admits to being tired as we begin the interview, but he still manages to express his ideas calmly and clearly, taking his time with each response because he hates giving simple answers to complex questions. Since developing his theory of liquid modernity in the late 1990s – which describes our age as one in which “all agreements are temporary, fleeting, and valid only until further notice” – he has become a leading figure in the field of sociology. His work on inequality and his critique of what he sees as the failure of politics to meet people’s expectations, along with a highly pessimistic view of the future of society, have been picked up by the so-called May 15 “Indignant” movement in Spain – although he has repeatedly highlighted its weaknesses.

Born in Poland in 1925, Bauman’s parents fled to the Soviet Union following the German invasion in 1939. In 1968, after he was stripped of his post as a teacher and expelled from the Communist Party along with thousands of other Jews in the wake of the Six-Day War, he left for the United Kingdom, taking up a post at Leeds University where he is now Emeritus Professor of Sociology. His work has been awarded numerous international prizes, among them Spain’s Prince of Asturias Award, in 2010.

He has outlined his pessimistic world view in books such as 2014’s Does the Richness of the Few Benefit Us All?, which argues that the world is paying a high price for the neoliberal revolution that began in the 1980s and that wealth has not trickled down to the rest of society. In Moral Blindness, published last year, he and co-author Leonidas Donskis warn about the loss of community in our increasingly individualistic world.

Q. You have described inequality as a “metastasis.” Is democracy under threat?

A. We could describe what is going on at the moment as a crisis of democracy, the collapse of trust: the belief that our leaders are not just corrupt or stupid, but inept. Action requires power, to be able to do things, and we need politics, which is the ability to decide what needs to be done. But that marriage between power and politics in the hands of the nation state has ended. Power has been globalized, but politics is as local as before. Politics has had its hands cut off. People no longer believe in the democratic system because it doesn’t keep its promises. We see this, for example, with the migration crisis: it’s a global phenomenon, but we still act parochially. Our democratic institutions were not designed for dealing with situations of interdependence. The current crisis of democracy is a crisis of democratic institutions.

Q. In which direction is the pendulum that you describe between freedom and security swinging at the moment?

A. These are two values that are tremendously difficult to reconcile. If you want more security, you’re going to have to give up a certain amount of freedom; if you want more freedom, you’re going to have to give up security. This dilemma is going to continue forever. Forty years ago we believed that freedom had triumphed and we began an orgy of consumerism. Everything seemed possible by borrowing money: cars, homes… and you just paid for it later. The wakeup call in 2008 was a bitter one, when the loans dried up. The catastrophe, the social collapse that followed hit the middle classes particularly hard, dragging them into a precarious situation where they remain: they don’t know if their company is going to merge with another and they will be laid off, they don’t know if what they have bought really belongs to them… Conflict is no longer between classes, but between each person and society. It isn’t just a lack of security, but a lack of freedom.

Q. You say that progress is a myth, because people no longer believe the future will be better than the past.

A. We are in a period of interregnum, between a time when we had certainties and another when the old ways of doing things no longer work. We don’t know what is going to replace this. We are experimenting with new ways of doing things. Spain tried questioning things through the May 15 (15M) movement, when people took over public spaces, arguing, trying to replace parliamentary procedures with a kind of direct democracy. This hasn’t lasted long. Austerity policies will continue, nobody could stop them, but they could still be relatively effective in finding new ways to do things.

Q. You have argued that the likes of 15M and the global Occupy movement know “how to clear the way, but not how to create something solid.”

A. People set aside their differences for a while in the public squares for a common goal. If that goal is negative, about getting angry with someone, there is more chance of success. In a way it could have been an explosion of solidarity, but explosions are very powerful and short-lived.

Q. You also believe that by their nature, there is no room for leadership in rainbow coalitions.

A. It is precisely because such movements lack leaders that they can survive, but it is also precisely because they lack leaders that they cannot convert their sense of purpose into action.

Q. In Spain, the 15M movement has helped create new political forces.

A. Changing one party for another will not solve the problem. The problem is not that the parties are wrong, but that they don’t control things. Spain’s problems are part of a global problem. It’s a mistake to think you can solve things internally.

Q. What do you think about the Catalan independence project?

A. I think we’re still following the principles of Versailles, when the idea of each nation’s right to self rule was established. But that’s a fiction in today’s world, when there are no more homogeneous territories. Today, every society is just a collection of diasporas. People join the societies to which they are loyal and pay their taxes, but at the same time, they do not want to give up their identity. The connection between where you live and identity has been broken. The situation in Catalonia, as in Scotland or Lombardy, is a contradiction between tribal identity and citizenship. They are Europeans, but they don’t want to talk to Brussels via Madrid, but via Barcelona. The same logic is emerging in almost every country. We are still following the same principles established at the end of World War I, but there have been many changes in the world.

Q. You are skeptical of the way people protest through social media, of so-called “armchair activism,” and say that the internet is dumbing us down with cheap entertainment. So would you say that the social networks are the new opium of the people?

A. The question of identity has changed from being something you are born with to a task: you have to create your own community. But communities aren’t created, and you either have one or you don’t. What the social networks can create is a substitute. The difference between a community and a network is that you belong to a community, but a network belongs to you. You feel in control. You can add friends if you wish, you can delete them if you wish. You are in control of the important people to whom you relate. People feel a little better as a result, because loneliness, abandonment, is the great fear in our individualist age. But it’s so easy to add or remove friends on the internet that people fail to learn the real social skills, which you need when you go to the street, when you go to your workplace, where you find lots of people who you need to enter into sensible interaction with. Pope Francis, who is a great man, gave his first interview after being elected to Eugenio Scalfari, an Italian journalist who is also a self-proclaimed atheist. It was a sign: real dialogue isn’t about talking to people who believe the same things as you. Social media don’t teach us to dialogue because it is so easy to avoid controversy… But most people use social media not to unite, not to open their horizons wider, but on the contrary, to cut themselves a comfort zone where the only sounds they hear are the echoes of their own voice, where the only things they see are the reflections of their own face. Social media are very useful, they provide pleasure, but they are a trap.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Things I Want

The last few months have been strange, full of transitions and big and small events occurring. I have been a bit of an anxious sad sack for a lot of it but I feel like things have turned a corner and I have a feeling that the coming months are going to be just about as fabulous as can be. Changes, good or bad, don’t come from sitting around and waiting, at least not for me, I’m a make things happen type of girl and now that I’m over my mellow dramatic hump I intend to make the most of this city. Below are things that I want in one-way or another. Hopefully I can manage to do at least some of them before my nihilistic existential doom settles back in. If anyone knows how to do any of these things, please send a message my way, we can arrange a trading of skills, albeit you might get the shorter end of that stick.

Ikebana – The meditative art of Japanese flower arranging is something I have wanted to do for years. There are a few courses in New York but they are way too expensive for me and my tight budget but soon, soon, I hope to learn it and be more zen in my ways.

Make a pie – I am not a confident baker and I see no need as I don’t indulge in sweets that much but I would love to learn how to make a good pie. Cherry, keylime and chocolate mousse.

How to Make More Money – At least enough so I can live more then basically and also pay off student loans.

See some mind crushing good art – Been in NYC for two months and have seen only a handful (probably less) good art things. So much art, so much mediocrity, waiting with baited breath for something to wow me.

Dance – Been making an effort to dance more in this city and want to do it even more. Where are the really good, sweaty dance parties?

Dinner Parties – To have and attend.

Exercise Regime – Getting squishy is not a good look. Can someone be my personal trainer? Feel like I do everything wrong when I exercise.

Learn about plants – It would be great to start gardening or something resembling that this summer. Feel like there is a secret to plants and the timing of them but also seems like basic magic. Water, light, then it grows.

Tarot card reading – I friend gave me a deck and I sort of know how to read them but want to really know how to read them. It’s always good to have a party trick.

French Braid – Never learned how too but feel would be good to have in my hair repertoire.

Cook Indian Food – Love it but never cooked it. Spice and vegetable magic.

Go on Dates – Sort of making going on dates a part time job. Will probably get fired from this job though.

Career Job – I want to be a grown up.

Sobriety – It’s amazing how much more one can do without a hangover. Like, amazing.

More Art – I have a new apartment with a lot of walls.

Better Chill at Home Clothes – Wearing baggy everything covered in cat hair is not a cute look.

Volunteer - Because the world sucks, why not make it a little less sucky.

Winter Hat – Winter is here ya’ll.

Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie’s Reflection on Being a New Yorker


I’ve been sitting around today thinking about what to write about and I can’t think of anything because David Bowie has died. I’m not one to post and purge about the famous in life or in passing but the news of this has wacked itself into my brain, letting very little else in our out.

The reason why is probably due to the fact that David Bowie was such a creative force. The last few days, weeks, possibly months I have been gripping and at moments paralyzed with the feeling that art, culture, so much of what is being produced today is limp and vapid. It has burdened me and makes me question what I’m doing in the art world and life in general. Then one thinks about Bowie and how masterful at life and art he was. His type of creativity and being are rare and that’s reassuring. That idea that true, great art and artists are uncommon but when they/it appears you know it and it changes everything.

I thought it fitting to share an article that he wrote about being a New Yorker. For all of us that live in this city, it’s good to be reminded that it’s a beautiful place and full of the most amazing people.

(This article originally appeared in the September 18, 2003 issue of New York Magazine.)

Around the end of 1966, my then manager, Ken Pitt, came back from a trip to the U.S. with two albums he had been given in New York. Since they weren’t particularly his cup of tea, he gave them to me to see what I made of them. The first was a great, rollicking, noisy anarchist-hippie affair by the Fugs — more fun than was healthy, and great drinking-and-getting-stoned music.

The second, a test pressing with the signature warhol scrawled on it, was shattering. Everything I both felt and didn’t know about rock music was opened to me on one unreleased disc. It was The Velvet Underground and Nico.

The first track glided by innocuously enough and didn’t register. However, from that point on, with the opening, throbbing, sarcastic bass and guitar of “I’m Waiting For the Man,” the linchpin, the keystone of my ambition was driven home. This music was so savagely indifferent to my feelings. It didn’t care if I liked it or not. It could give a fuck. It was completely preoccupied with a world unseen by my suburban eyes.

Actually, though only 19, I had seen rather a lot but had accepted it quite enthusiastically as all a bit of a laugh. Apparently, the laughing was now over. I was hearing a degree of cool that I had no idea was humanly sustainable. Ravishing. One after another, tracks squirmed and slid their tentacles around my mind. Evil and sexual, the violin of “Venus in Furs,” like some pre-Christian pagan-revival music. The distant, icy, “Fuck me if you want, I really don’t give a damn” voice of Nico’s “Femme Fatale.” What an extraordinary one-two knockout punch this affair was. By the time “European Son” was done, I was so excited I couldn’t move. It was late in the evening and I couldn’t think of anyone to call, so I played it again and again and again.

That December, my band Buzz broke up, but not without my demanding we play “I’m Waiting For the Man” as one of the encore songs at our last gig. It was the first time a Velvet song had been covered by anyone, anywhere in the world. Lucky me.

I first came here in 1971. The earliest graphic image I have is of Louis Hardin, better known as Moondog, the legendary boho and musical outsider. One of the guys who worked at Mercury Records, with whom I was under contract at the time, took me over to 54th Street, and there, dressed as a sort of Viking, Moondog stood. Usually he would be playing his strange compositions accompanied on a keyboard or some kind of homemade drums, but not this day. I went for sandwiches and coffee, which we consumed as we sat on the sidewalk. He told me something about his life, and it came home to me only after a while that he was completely blind.

One of my most exciting trips happened about a year or so later. Having performed a gig outside London on a Thursday in June 1972, I shot home to sleep, then caught an early-morning flight — getting me to Madison Square Garden about ten minutes after Elvis hit the stage. I had the humiliating experience of walking down the center aisle to my very good RCA-provided seat while Elvis performed “Proud Mary.” As I was in full Ziggy regalia by this time — brilliant red hair and Kabuki platform shoes — I’m sure many of the audience presumed Mary had just arrived.

Elvis was fantastically fit-looking, and his voice was in great shape. I was a little brought down as his show lasted only about 45 minutes. But there he was. At the end, I rushed off to the airport to get the next plane back to the UK, as I myself was working on Saturday night.

On one of my early trips, I wore my “man’s dress.” A wacky designer in London, Michael Fish of kipper-tie fame, produced that little number (three of them in all — I bought the lot), a variant on the medieval knight’s attire. Or a sort of jazzed-up Rossetti, Pre-Raphaelite job. As far as I remember, it went virtually unnoticed at the time. You guys already had Candy Darling and all that drag.

When I first came to New York, I was in my early twenties, discovering a city I had fantasized over since my teens. I saw it with multicolored glasses, to say the least. Also, I rarely got up before noon and hit the sack again around four or five in the morning. Two New Yorks, really.

These days, my buzz can be obtained by just walking, preferably early in the morning, as I am a seriously early riser. The signature of the city changes shape and is fleshed out as more and more people commit to the street. A magical transfer of power from the architectural to the human.

I’m here most of the year now. I leave only if work demands it. (I’ve read the rumors about how I have houses elsewhere, but this is it.) I am not a secretive guy, but I am quite private. I live as a citizen pure and simple. I don’t go for the disguise thing — I’ve never found it necessary, at least not since my real hair color grew in years ago. I suppose wearing jeans is the nearest I get to confounding expectations.

I don’t think I would be able to cope with the celebrity lifestyle at all. The idea of an entourage is anathema to me. I remember meeting a comedian–film star in Hollywood one time who suggested that we leave the film set and take a walk, to talk and have a cigarette. It was like a silent comedy. I heard a small crowd behind us—when we stopped walking, they stopped, too. His whole crew of something like seventeen guys were following at a polite distance. It was insane. The one thing you can depend on with an entourage is that everybody will look at you. I think that’s the idea.

People here are very decent about their interactions with well-knowns. I get the occasional “Yo, Bowie,” but that’s about it. My only rule is to avoid tourist areas. But if I weren’t known, I’d still avoid ’em. In London, the saying goes, life takes place behind doors. Here it’s on the street.

Bowie's New York

In the Club: I’m actually a founding member of Soho House. It got a lot of sneering press before it opened. A lot of locals were, for some reason, hoping it would fold pretty quickly. I knew it would be a success. The Brits often know how to do these style things really well.

Bowie Baedeker: My three favorite places in New York are Washington Square (it’s the emotional history of New York in a quick walk), the Strand bookshop (it’s impossible to find the book you want, but you always find the book you didn’t know you wanted), and Julian Schnabel’s house (the most extraordinary interior and quite beautiful; no one else but Julian could carry it off).

Monday, January 4, 2016

Yup, I'm Single

Haha, it’s the New Year and while I know this blog is supposed to be about art and culture related things - you know, I know- that it sometimes digresses into a very bad episode of Sex in the City (which I have only seen  ~2 episodes of) but yeah, I imagine that that show (like this blog) is at times seen as blatherings by some obsequiously privileged girl/lady who lives in the city.  Anyways, thatsa me! And damnit, I don’t care! Ha! 2016 baby! The year of giving zero fucks. So with that in mind I’m going to talk about whatever the hell I want (as I always do), and this time around I want to talk about being single.

I’m single. This is not that big of a deal but at the moment my singledom has become a ‘thing’ rather then a mere ‘whatever’ that is just a part of life. Obviously age and gender have a whole lot to do with this. I’m a women and I’m 34. Luckily we don’t live in the Middle Ages anymore which being those two things would make me a witch or a dead witch. And although it’s better, especially if you live in New York and doubly so if you are in the art world, it still pretty much sucks.

It sucks for two reasons. One, everyone around you is all coupled up and two, the idea of still being single at a certain age reflects that you are somehow bad at life.

The first thing sucks not because you don’t love your friends and not because they are with someone who rules and obviously makes them super happy – this is totally awesome to witness – what isn’t cool is when you are the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, wheel of anything/everything and also how dynamics of friendships shift.

When you are single and you’re friends with someone of the same or opposite sex and there is some potential for sexual possibility, and that person is in a relationship with someone else, it’s really hard to keep up a friendship. In my case, I’m a women and straight. So if I was friends with a straight male before he got into a relationship then I can still be friends with them but I can only hang out with him once a month (maybe), only text very occasionally during daylight hours and never-ever-ever drunk text or call even if you just saw the most hilarious thing happen that only they would understand.

If you meet a new male who already has a girlfriend and you know you two could be pals, there is not chance in hell you and them will ever hang out without the girlfriend. This is a code. One that makes sense and one that should be respected, but yeah, this means guy friends are tough and complicated to hold onto.

On the other side. When you are single with your girlfriends who are in relationships, then you get to have ‘girl time’ where you are the pied piper of craziness (shots, sex talk, flirting shamelessly, drunk walking to an Uber). This is fun, but exhausting and there’s a line that is felt wherein they talk about their relationship issues and you talk about your issues/issues aka not having a relationship. There’s negatives and positives relayed so that there is a seeming balance between your lives, they complain about the boring sex and boring dinner parties, you complain about them not texting you and not remembering their first name, but in the end you’re single, they’re not and when that Uber comes to drive you to your homes the difference of what awaits you can be a heavy truth. Darkness, darkness, darkness, doom-doom-doom.

All this is oh-so hetero-normative but hey, this is just my take on it from my life. There are of course related and varying degrees of these situations in all spectrums of relationships.

All these little dumb accumulations of things makes one feel compressed in the second reason of why being single sucks. You’re smart, you’re not bad looking, you have personality, you crack jokes, you cook well, you smell nice, you got good teeth, you read books, you can banter with the best of them, so why? Why, why, why, are you still single? So many reasons right? I’m not going to go there but that feeling of  ‘WTF’ when thinking about your love prospect status can sometimes be down right brutal.

I know, I know, all will be well. And I know, I KNOW, being in a relationship can be the absolute worst thing ever. All that familiarity breading contempt, all those stretched out dull silences between bites of food, all that ‘I wanna punch you in the face’ when they do that smirk or say that phrase. But, I guess after being single for a while now, I have forgotten those tedious, mundane trappings. More then anything I feel ready, open, and dare I say able(?) to be in love. Wanting and saying THAT word aloud I know will curse it all but that’s the truth of it.

So, what to do now for myself and for all the other single ladies in New York and in another cities where being in your 30s feels like it has set off some sort of Captain Hook clock that all possible mates seem to be able to hear? I obviously have no idea really but for the time being: Plan A- Go out and about, make eye contact and try to make out with everyone. Plan B - if Plan A fails, move to LA or Berlin as it seems you can’t walk (or drive) a block and not meet someone that wants to madly fall in love with you.