Neoprimitive Thinking: It's What Comes After Postmodern
|Posted by Matilda on January 31, 2019 at 8:10 PM||comments (731)|
As someone who has learned a great deal about anthropology, I find the behavior of humans as documented on YouTube, social media, and elsewhere to be flippin' fascinating.
I will even occasionally watch "Real Housewives" episodes for the cities of Atlanta, Orange County, and New York (as well as those nanny shows, "Wife Swap," and anything involving a failing family business)--in small doses as that's all I can really handle--as a part of my "fieldwork" in my "studies" of contemporary American life, and the "savages" that may operate within it.
And the drama !! And the fightin'. Fascinating.
In any case, I came across this video, and upon watching, questioned the accuracy of the title: "Insane Stage Meltdowns."
Indeed, if you are a neoprimtive thinker, you will agree that most of the behavior on display makes perfect sense when the context is taken into account.
Indeed, the words (and actions) of Billy Joel, Courtney Love, Henry Rollins, Chad Kroeger, Kurt Colbain, Billie Joe Armstrong, and Dave Grohl are only made necessary (and most often appropriate!) when considering the insanity of their overall and specific situations...
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And below, please note the irony of rock stars having to "police" their own fans:
|Posted by Matilda on January 27, 2019 at 7:50 AM||comments (337)|
|Posted by Matilda on January 25, 2019 at 6:55 PM||comments (2729)|
~ CLICK on painting from Van Gogh's Sunflower series ~
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NOTE the Survival of the Fattest album (below) is intended to be obnoxious and kinda offensive--as it is punk rock music from Southern California. And that if you are offended by it, you are missing the point.
The album cover and title is not to criticize any individual overweight person, but to point out that as an overall society we do need to stop consuming so much.
Also note that "Fat Wreck Chords" (the name of the label) ALSO suggests that whoever has the "Fattest" beats and the "Wreck-y-est Chords" will ultimately win out in the evolutionary race.
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~ CLICK on Van Gogh's "Starry Night" painting ~
∞ ∞ ∞
|Posted by Matilda on January 16, 2019 at 1:25 AM||comments (140)|
JACKSON POLLOCK - Neoprimitive Super Genius
But "Super Genius" like the Roadrunner, not the Coyote...
|Posted by Matilda on December 9, 2013 at 7:35 AM||comments (795)|
I always believed it was the things you don't choose that makes you who you are. Your city. Your neighborhood. Your family. People here take pride in these things. Like it was something they'd accomplished. The bodies around their souls. The cities wrapped around those.
I lived on this block my whole life. Most of these people have. When your job is to find people who are missing, it helps to know where they started. I find the people who started in the cracks, and then fell through. This city can be hard.
When I was young, I asked my priest how you could get to heaven and still protect yourself from all the evil in the world. He told me what God said to his children. "You are sheep among wolves, be wise as serpents yet innocent as doves."
—Opening lines from the transcript for Gone, Baby, Gone
Gone, Baby, Gone (2007) is a crime drama directed by Ben Affleck that explores complex issues and offers no easy answers to the hard questions it raises. What the film does do, more importantly and very effectively, is reveal themes that I would call neoprimitive. Whatever you call them, these ideas are emerging in our culture with increasing frequency and force, and offer an appealing alternative to the starkly contrasting approaches of modernism and postmodernism.
The film takes place in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood, a rough but tightly-knit community. Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and his partner/girlfriend Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) grew up in Dorchester. They still live and work there as private investigators when a young girl from the neighborhood is reported on the news as missing. Patrick and Angie are hired by the family to investigate the disappearance and try to locate the missing child, Amanda McCready.
As private investigators, Patrick and Angie work closely with the police captain (Morgan Freeman) who heads missing children investigations and his detectives who are assigned to the case. The police tolerate their involvement as an unavoidable inconvenience but do not make it easy, and they disregard Angie's concerns about the way a ransom exchange is being set up. In a meeting to discuss the plan, Angie asks the police captain an important question: "I'm asking if keeping it quiet is better for Amanda or is it better for us?"
This question points to a theme that is increasingly being explored in contemporary culture, which is to question the role of the "hero/savior of others" that has come to dominate so much of our storytelling, and to bring to light hidden motivations behind acts of “heroic saving”. In other words, is the heroic gesture really about the needs of the "victim" or more about the desires of the "hero", ego-based or otherwise?
As it turns out, there is far more to the motivations of the police than meets the eye. This becomes clear in a barroom scene where Patrick finds himself starring down the barrel of a gun held by a masked man, surrounded by bar patrons who are aghast and unarmed. This is a classic film scenario: nothing new so far. But what is new, and different in a meaningful way, is how Patrick reacts. He knows who the masked man is and immobilizes him by calling him out in front of everyone—by bringing his identity to light. This is another key theme that is emerging in film and other creative works, which is to bring that which is hidden to the surface, and if it is dangerous, to extinguish its force by calling it out into the open—by revealing what is behind the mask for all to see.
Another hero/savior theme worth mention comes at the close of the film. Patrick and Angie's relationship does not survive the investigation, as Patrick decides to take an action that Angie violently disagrees with. Both make compelling arguments to justify their positions, and as with complex issues that influence the real lives of real people, it is hard to say who is "right". But Patrick makes the decision he feels he must (as does Angie by leaving him for it), and it forever changes his life and the life of the child in question as well.
Again, Patrick's reaction here is noteworthy—Instead of withdrawing and walking away at the end of the investigation, he offers to become involved in caring for the child on a routine basis, and in doing so takes personal responsibility for the outcome of his professional choice. This is a notable change from the “professional hero/savior” who intervenes in the heat of a crisis but does not seem to entangle himself with more mundane responsibilities—instead moving onto to the next crisis where the hero can again intervene without long-term involvement—adopting a hard-boiled detachment to buffer the personal losses that come from such dedication to job and to principles, and to protect one's self from such painful introspections.
So, if we should no longer trust the typical hero/savior roles—regardless of which side of the equation we happen to fall on, i.e. are we in need of being saved or are we looking to do the saving?—then how should we conduct ourselves? At what point is Intervention in another person’s life justified, and what if it is done without their permission? Do the ends justify the means—if it is a cop planting evidence to get a guilty but elusive killer, or if someone decides that a mother is unfit to raise her own child? What of the rights of her child to sufficient care, to some baseline amount of food, clothing, and attention? Or to stay with the mother she knows and she loves in spite of such neglect?
Can anyone really save another person, especially without their permission? Do the means inevitably influence the ends—does the inherent violence of an intervention queer its outcome?
The personal and professional relationship between Patrick and Angie, and the way they conduct themselves in the world, provide some insight into these issues. Patrick, who is likely in his 30s but looks much younger, seems like a puppy when compared to the hardened police detectives and gangsters he must deal with. But he is very smart and ably demonstrates an ability to hold his own and push back when things get rough with any of them.
Patrick works as an equal with his partner/girlfriend and accepts that he cannot dominate her, letting Angie speak for herself and on her own terms. Yet Patrick does not hesitate to protect and defend her when she is threatened by a seriously dangerous thug bartender and his barroom regulars. And throughout the film, Patrick does not hesitate to defend himself, verbally and physically, from thugs from the streets or thugs with police badges.
This all points to other neoprimitive themes, including that answers to questions about how to conduct one’s self in the world are contextual, and also deeply personal. No single approach should be applied exclusively and without abandon by all—and certainly not without taking into account where you are and who you are talking to.
These are important neoprimitive ideas: that it is possible and necessary for individuals to make value judgments and take a stand to back them up—but these decisions must be made both within the context of the moment and while taking the long-view into account.
Another related neoprimtive theme is that one can and should defend oneself and others from aggression, which may involve the assertion of force, the redirection of the threatening force, a "diffusion" or "disintegration" of it through these or other means, and perhaps directing other "forces" at the threatening force, so as to disempower it. It could be said that a neoprimitive-thinking person should be able, at times, to think like a liberal and act like a conservative--and there are real benefits to such an approach.
Another important neoprimitive theme is that we should all work to discourage people from mistaking kindnesses for weaknesses, as these instances add up and can weigh heavily upon the soul.
It is also worth mentioning that for both films he has directed and co-screenwritten—one, Baby, Gone (2007) and The Town (2010)—Affleck approaches the character of the drug-addled single mother, disrespected by herself and others, with compassion and insight while avoiding cliché and condensation. Amy Ryan and Blake Lively put on considerable acting chops for these roles, providing honest and empathic portrayals that make it difficult to know if you mostly dislike them for their dysfunctions, which inevitably weigh heavily upon their children, or more strongly resent what has happened to them—the limitations of their circumstances, the stereotypes that confine them, and the absences and excesses that more than anything else seem to have defined their lives.
Affleck's intimate familiarity with Boston has informed his work as a co-screenwriter for these films, as it has for his work on Good Will Hunting (1997). All three films explore the how individual lives are influenced by local culture and personal circumstance, and the importance of the connections of these people to each other and to the places they live.
|Posted by Matilda on May 7, 2012 at 2:35 AM||comments (112)|
Tim Burton presents a version of “Alice in Wonderland” that is perhaps best understood as a shamanistic tale.
The “Wonderland" of Lewis Carroll is, most literally, "Underland" (the term used in Burton's film) —the lower part of the spirit world with it's irrational and maze-like qualities, which can be visited in dreams while sleeping and when in a trance state while awake.
All pre-industrial cultures tell stories of people visiting the spirit worlds: the lower spirit world by falling down a hole, or down a well, or going into a cave, etc. or the upper spirit world by climbing up a beanstalk, or flying on the back of a bird, or climbing a mountain, etc.
In a shamanistic worldview, the spirit world is where the action really is. What we see in ordinary reality is a result of what goes in in the spirit world. In this kind of worldview, ordinary reality, while real, is actually the illusion.
Shamans enter the spirit world while remaining conscious in order to correct an imbalance there that is causing problems in ordinary reality. They may be trying to retrieve a missing soul part (like “not hardly Alice” who returns to Underland having “lost so much of her muchiness”) and/or to do battle with evil forces (as Alice does battle with the evil Jabberwocky on the frabjous day).
"Civilized" writers also tell these kinds of tales or include these themes, although they usually don't know why they do—much like Lewis Carroll who denied any intentional symbolism but also said that meaning often exists beyond the intentions of the writer.
In this case, I suspect Tim Burton (or his screenwriter) has intentionally drawn out the shamanistic elements inherent in the original Alice books. And in any case, I really enjoyed this movie.
Love your take on Alice, Mr. Burton. And Helena Bonham Carter, who never disappoints, is a special treat as an indomitable, yet acutely vulnerable, Queen of Hearts—a deeply tragic figure who reveals for us all the terrifying consequences of fulfilling our most narcissistic desires and dreams of conquest.
|Posted by Matilda on December 1, 2011 at 7:25 PM||comments (103)|
If the term neoprimitive can be used to describe "what comes after postmodern" and postmodernism(s), then what is the neoprimitive and how are we to understand it? As has always been the case, we can look to the artists for insights into such issues, and in this case to the filmmakers in particular.
In The Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky presents a psychodrama that explores perfectionism and performance and the dangers therein. An important characteristic of neoprimitive thought is that it questions the notion of perfectionism: both the wisdom of pursuing it and the consequences of achieving it.
The idea that "perfect" exists at all suggests a static nature to reality that is not accurate, and all too often the quest for perfection is a movement toward death. After all, once perfection has been achieved, where can one go from there but down or out? Perfection can be a harsh mistress: at best, temporary, and at worst, distortive and destructive. Perhaps perfection should be re-conceptualized to acknowledge that it is always changing--is context-dependent and variable--and that "perfect" can take multiple forms.
Another important theme in the film is the idea of the doppelganger (the double), which is suggested by the white and black swans in the ballet performance and also by the ballerinas themselves, Nina (Natalie Portman) and Lily (Mila Kunis) respectively. As a friend, Lily encourages Nina to embrace her dark side and attempts to draw her out of herself, while Nina's mother (Barbara Hershey), a former ballerina herself, does her best to push her back in—to keep Nina innocent and focused exclusively on dancing.
But Nina's unconscious seems determined to reveal her soul as more dimensional than that—and as such, with encouragement (and occasional pressure) from her friend Lily and her (occasionally lecherous) ballet coach, Nina begins a transformation which culminates as she takes on the physical form of a black swan.
In shamanistic terms, this is called transmogrification, and it is not unusual for shamans in primitive societies to claim that they will physically take the shape of an animal (often a jaguar) when they are in a trance state. This allows them to access the powers of that animal and all it represents, symbolically but also literally. In the film, as Nina physically takes on the form of the black swan, she assumes its power and is able to perform both the white and black swans' dances in a way that she herself describes as "perfect".
Does Nina actually become a black swan, or is it just in her mind? And do the other strange occurrences in the movie actually happen, or are they indications of a schizophrenic breakdown in Nina's tenuous sense of self? These are questions that may not be well-suited to direct answers.
Perhaps it is best to refer to the magical realism movement that emerged in literature in the 1970s and continues to this day. Julio Cortezar, Carlos Fuentes, and Russell Hoban as authors have all paved the way for The Black Swan in this sense.
In film, David Lynch has played with many of these themes, particularly in Lost Highway, where the female lead is split into a set of blond and dark-haired doppelgangers, and the male lead transmogrificates into another person while in prison.
"There is only one place," he said, "that place is time, and that time is now. There is no other place." —Russell Hoban
|Posted by Matilda on December 31, 2010 at 5:25 PM||comments (58)|
Here is another art postcard I have posted in my kitchen, from an exhibit at the Issac Delgado Fine Arts Gallery at Delgado Community College featuring new works by Gina Phillips (Sept. 2nd-30th, 2010).
It is a bit scratched up from the mail delivery and has acquired a few splotches since being placed over the stove--as is appropriate for the theme of the art work, as I am calling it ...
The upcoming December homepage will feature an essay called: "In Search of the Neoprimitive." So consider this post a little flirtation, or foreplay if you will, to warm us up to the topic: A vision of a neoprimitive future by artist Gina Phillips, down here in the alluvial plains of the Mississippi River*. Having said that, I feel like I should include a song by Al Green (or Junior Kimbrough!) to accompany this post.
And come to think of it, this track should finish the post nicely:
* Apparently futuristic enough that the Mississippi Delta has processed the effects of the BP oil spill debacle, and rebuilt the fertile swamplands that have been re-engineered by the US Army Corps of Engineers and re-architected by back-to-back Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
|Posted by Matilda on December 31, 2010 at 8:35 AM||comments (66)|
Welcome to the tail-end of 2010 and my final posting for the decade. Well, this site is only a couple months old so that's kind of a joke. In commemoration, I offer this series of art postcards that (intentionally or not) riff on what I would call neoprimitive themes, along with a few comments:
1. The Ouroboros
Sibley Gallery, 3427 Magazine Street, New Orleans, January 15-February 15, 2011
Another indication that I am hardly the only one with "ouroboros" on the brain (the ouroboros is the December 2010 Image of the Month) ...
The light switches can be seen as be a modern version of the ouroboros principle in action. The upward position of both switches suggests open, not closed, circuits ... if the system is properly wired, that is. The subject matter also suggests that it is possible to perceive ancient, sacred concepts in the mundane, profane world that is all around us in the present. And that technology is part of the process--in itself a neutral--potentially illuminating and enlightening, but also potentially destructive and dangerous if the system has faulty wiring.
2. Courses of Empire
Loyola University, Collins C. Diboll Gallery, 6363 St. Charles Avenue, November 9-January 20
Another theme "on the brain" of lots of people nowadays, when even "The Family Guy" slings jokes about America's world dominance as being strictly past-tense. This is a major shift from the 1990s when I sat in a seminar class filled with History majors, and watched the students around the table ruffle with indignation when the professor (orginally from Russia) suggested that America might one day not be "number one" anymore. Nothing like the collapse of a major empire (or two) to kick one's thinking gears into more vigorous motion.
Tulane University, Carroll Gallery in the Woldenbert Art Center, January 30-February 11, 2011
Conscience, and it's attendant values. They offer some attractive alternatives, now that dominating the rest of the world no longer appears to be a realistic option. If perhaps late arrivals to the party, hopefully they are here to stay.
4. Louisiana and Trees: Life Intertwined
Sibley Gallery, 3427 Magazine Street, New Orleans, Opening December 4, 2010
And a final neoprimitive theme shines through: life and trees, intertwined. The "tree peoples" are our natural allies. If we cannot wrap our brains and hearts around this most simple and reciprocal of relationships, then we might as well pack our bags now. Oh, that's right, we have no place else to go.
|Posted by Matilda on December 1, 2010 at 11:25 AM||comments (307)|
- Published in the October 2006 edition of the UNO Driftwood -
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and Brick are both contemporary detective stories that draw from the rich tradition of American film noir and pulp fiction. These two films, recently released on DVD, will interest fans of the noir and pulp genres that call the hills and valleys of the Los Angeles cultural landscape their home.
Think Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, David Lynch’s Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, the Coen brothers’ Barton Fink and The Man Who Wasn’t There. Los Angeles in these films is a place, a dream, a lifestyle, an aesthetic of cool, an endless possibility, an inescapable trap…
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang features Robert Downey Jr. as petty-thief but good-guy Harry Lockhart, who is unexpectedly transplanted from New York to Los Angeles for an acting gig. He’s paired with Val Kilmer, who plays detective Perry Van Shrike, commonly known as “Gay Perry”. In the best performance of the movie, Val Kilmer shines as the unarguably bad-ass, sincerely self-interested, and unabashedly gay detective who is hired to show Harry the detective ropes.
The two team up with Harmony (Michelle Monaghan)—Harry’s long lost best friend and adolescent dream girl—as they investigate a mystery involving (1) a murdered rich girl (2) Johnny Gossamer, a detective in a pulp fiction series and (3) the troubled Harmony’s also-troubled younger sister who is missing.
While I must question the distracting and too-clever visual transitions between several scenes—not to mention the use of incest as a convenient, poorly integrated plot-forwarding device—there are moments in which this movie shines.
Robert Downey Jr. is convincing as a boy-next-door, smooth talking wise ass who is better at taking a beating than dishing one out. Val Kilmer nails his character with aplomb and alone makes the movie worth watching. And the numerous references to pulp throughout the ages are clever and amusing.
But in spite of its considerable charm, the heart of pulp is missing here. It seems like Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is really only dressing up in its parent’s clothing, a kid without the gravitas that comes with adulthood. In the absence of alienation, the pain of separation, indeed, the existential angst that pumps the heart of pulp, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang feels more like a Scary Movie version of American detective thrillers and less of a film in its own right.
Brick is a classic film noir that takes place in a San Clemente high school. The film is unconventional in its context—the Orange County teenagers here speak in the highly stylized language of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. The high school setting and social hierarchy provide a maze that our protagonist, Brendon, must negotiate to locate Emily, his ex-girlfriend who is missing. In the process, the characters reveal clues that Brendon follows like a trail of breadcrumbs through the southern California noir forest.
Each character type in the noir pantheon is represented and the cast for this independent movie is superb. Brendon (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is the conflicted anti-hero who keeps one step ahead of the game by playing all sides against the middle. Emily (Emilie de Ravein) is his ex-girlfriend who reaches out to him, pulling him closer even as she pushes him away and begs him to let her go. Laura (Nora Zehetner) plays a central role in the sidelines as a femme fatale ingénue who brings to mind this nursery rhyme: “There once a girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good she was very, very good…but when she was bad she was horrid.”
Also notable is Lukas Haas, who in the 80s played the young boy in the acclaimed movie Witness. Haas offers another fine performance as the Pin—the dealer to the dealers who lives with his mother and runs his organization from the dark, wood-paneled suburban basement. The Pin’s flunkies line the basement hallway or drink orange juice with his mother upstairs, apparently awaiting his orders or supplies. The Pin provides some of the snappiest dialogue in a movie were there is snappy dialogue in spades.
And then there is Tug (Noah Fleiss), the muscle for the Pin. Tug resembles a very young, very angry Sean Penn. Think Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High if he were tightly wound, completely lacking in humor, and quite possibly insane. In a sunset scene on the beach, the Pin tells Brendon: “I didn’t tell Tug to hit you. He got hot and just hit you. He’s been doing that.” Tug struggles with anger management issues but eventually unclenches long enough to reveal a more sensitive, articulate (albeit still-angry) side of Tug.
Brick is not without its flaws. While the story sometimes strains under its fealty to noir cinema, this debut from writer director Rian Johnson has considerable weight. The film explores the heights and depths of noir tragedy, surrealistic comedy, and ultimately, the fundamental innocence of noir.
Mike Davis writes in The City of Quartz that the idea of culture in LA is somewhat of an oxymoron, and that the only real culture Los Angeles has ever produced is noir. “What about Van Halen and Motley Crue?” I ask, half-joking and half-serious. Well, I guess there’s no accounting for taste.
In any case, support our independent film troops and rent Brick. In fact, rent it and watch it twice to catch all the snappy dialogue. ‘Cause baby, if this is noir, I don’t want to be white.
NOTES FROM THE FIELD: Irony is Not a Coincidence, It is a Driving Force.
The newly released Hollywoodland is the story of the original Superman–-his true end unknown except that it involved a toxic cocktail of typecasting (when test audiences responded with laughter and whispers of “It’s Superman!”, his scenes were cut from the instant classic From Here to Eternity), and cuckolding by a powerful and demanding woman who dictated his career from behind the scenes.
Adrian Brody gives a characteristically fine performance as the LA detective hired to investigate the actor’s death. And it’s a treat to see Molly Parker, who some will know as Alma Garret from HBO’s cult-hit Deadwood, again smoldering as the ex-wife of Adrian Brody’s detective.
Ben Affleck plays the Superman actor George Reeve with the emotive, pensive, far-away stare of the ill-fated, while dressed in natty 40s blazers and tailored slacks. The womens’ clothes in this movie are worth watching as well.
But you know, I have to be honest. I haven’t been able to enjoy Ben Affleck in a serious role since seeing him wake up naked in bed with Eric Cartman and his J-Lo hand puppet in that South Park episode.
In fact, it is being reported by myself—who did not witness the screenings except in my own mind—that test audiences for Hollywoodland laughed and pointed to the screen during early Affleck scenes, murmuring to each other ‘It’s Bennifer!’, ‘Gigli!’ or ‘Taco flavored kisses-for-my-Ben…’.
Kimberly Pratt is an Instructor and PhD student at the University of New Orleans in the School of Urban Planning and Regional Studies
NOTE: Ben Affleck has redeemed himself in this writer's eyes since this review was published. He has since then directed and co-screenwritten Gone, Baby, Gone and The Town--both fine films set in Affleck's native Boston. He also seems to have found happiness as a husband and father with Jennifer Gardner. Sorry about that, Ben. I got carried away.
LATER NOTE: In hindsight, I was also too hard on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. I again got carried away, this time by my enthusiasm for Brick, and chatised the other for not being Brick.
KKBB is still a fine film, worthy of repeat watching. I do recommend it.
|Posted by Matilda on November 15, 2010 at 11:05 AM||comments (165)|
I received this lecture invite in the mail some months ago and posted it above my kitchen countertop. It took a while for it to really sink it, and now it cracks me up every almost time I look at it:
Please note that the arrest occurred in the year that Robert Storr began at New York's Modern Art Museum, where he has remained for over a decade. He is currently an artist, critic, and curator at Yale.
So, apparently "the universe" was able to "secure his attention" with this rather dramatic incident, and "Robert Storr" got his act together in short order.
Pay heed, Neoprimitivists. If there is hope for Robert Storr, there is hope for us all.
FROM INVITE: Robert Storr is an artist, critic and curator who teaches painting and drawing at Yale University School of Art, where he currently serves as Dean. Formerly the Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York where he worked from 1990 to 2002, he was, in addition, the first Rosalie Solow Professor of Modern Art at the Institute for Fine Arts, New York University (2002-2006) and the first American to be appointed Director of the Venice Biennale (2007). His essays and columns appear in Art in America, Artforum, Artpress, and Parkett. He is author of numerous catlogues, articles and books, including monographs on Louise Bourgeois, Gerhard Richter and Philip Guston. He lectures and contributes to museum and exhibition catalogues worldwide.
America's Most Wanted, Robert S., 1998
acrylic and silkscreen on canvas
Courtesy of Paul Kasmin Gallery
|Posted by Matilda on October 30, 2010 at 4:20 AM||comments (1)|
|Posted by Matilda on October 27, 2010 at 2:25 PM||comments (192)|
- Written February 24, 2008 -
Everyone, please pay attention: Britney Spears is not just acting out. She is going down for the count in front of our eyes. Her behavior and the expected outcome have become so severe that major press outlets have prepared obituaries for Britney, who is still only 26 years of age.
Even attorneys have given up on her, finding her to be an incorrigible divorce client and an unexpected liability. Even worse, Britney appears to have given up on herself, saying she doesn’t want custody of her children anymore. Britney now fights for the right to be in their lives at all. And these are only a few of her problems.
Take, for example, that Britney is reported to have appeared at a hip club, reopened that night for her pleasure, without any skirt or pants. She wore only a shirt, shoes, and black fishnet stockings—clearly revealing white panties that were stained with her own blood. A more deeply symbolic image could not have been imagined.
As a result of this and other equally alarming incidents, Britney has now been put into a mental health institution—and it’s not just rehab and it’s not the first time. But it may be the last. And it seems that a throw of the dice could determine if this would be because she never leaves, or because she can manage to never return.
Rolling Stone Magazine offers the most up-to-date and thoughtful coverage of this in the pages behind their February cover story, “Britney Spears: Inside an American Tragedy.” Right now there is no more accurate title for her life.
Britney’s most credible attempt at marriage has been to a backup dancer (Kevin Federline) who worked for her boyfriend (Justin Timberlake) even as the first romance was falling apart. This marriage was messy to start with and deteriorated rapidly from there. It now dies slowly in a painful public death.
Her soon-to-be ex-husband, Kevin Federline, now looks remarkably good when compared to the current Britney. And it does seem that active fatherhood of his two children by Britney has improved him, a process perhaps accelerated by their mother’s collapse.
At best, Britney Spears may have finally made the point that she is, in fact, a woman—one who desperately needs help with very serious, very adult problems that started when she was only a little girl.
But even Britney’s parents, sister, and her lifelong friends—who are showing real concern—have not been able to stop her decline. They seem as in over their heads as she is, and simply don’t know what more to do.
Britney’s problems are also intensified by the attention she often courts and probably needs by now just to feel normal. It appears there is a “comfort zone” she can find only within the glaring spotlight of her own fame. This is certainly good for those who profit from her continued ability to command our full attention. But now it is not clear if Britney will retain command of her own affairs or even full legal custody of her own self.
Clearly, this new Britney—who trembles with anger, saying “I don’t know who you think I am, bitch … but I am not that person,” when politely asked for a picture with a fan while shopping at a mall—is determined to destroy the old Britney.
And it is hard to blame her, now that we can understand the extent to that Britney’s innocent schoolgirl/sexy vixen identity, which seemed such a good fit at the time, was created for her by others—mostly the men who managed her—in the image of their own desires. It is reported in the article that these men even picked out the panties she was to wear, and according to their own tastes.
This creation of Britney as a modern day Lolita to-be-enjoyed-by-others without guilt or consequence was sometimes against her wishes, more often with her consent, and, most importantly, in violation of her best interests as a young person. Indeed, the destruction of “who she was” has been her only heartfelt goal for too long, and Britney has no idea what to do now that she is accomplishing it …
It has also become clear that Britney was rarely allowed to make mistakes she could have learned from, or important decisions about her identity that should have been hers to make. Britney was not given these chances because the stakes were simply too high.
The ability to make good choices is built like a muscle, as most human skills are. It is best developed when encouraged and practiced, and if you do not use it, you will lose it. Human identity is also built over time and requires practice. Young people grow by experimenting with new identities, parts of which are kept or discarded as they continue to develop throughout life.
Since childhood, Britney has been denied the right to make these keystone choices about who she was then and could become now. She began professionally performing in New York as an eight-year-old and came to national attention as a Mousketeer at age twelve.
Britney has been—for at least half of her life—a commodity traded for profitable consumption, with too many people close to her banking on her beauty, talent, and her increasing desire for attention and the affirmation that fame seems to bring her.
This is why she makes such poor decisions now, and why it so difficult for Britney to figure who and how to be next. This is what ails her—not a flawed genetic background worsened by potential inbreeding, as was seriously suggested in the article by some seeking monstrous roots to safety explain away the horror. But this picture of Britney as a crazy, inbred, maladjusted misfit does not ring true with what we can say, with more confidence, about her life so far.
Consider that Britney’s cousin—who grew up with and still works for her—was asked to comment on this frenzied Britney. After some thought, her cousin said that Britney is nice to everyone and never says bad things behind someone’s back, not ever.
Though this comment was characterized in Rolling Stone as a trivial statement, a fallback only used in lieu of something better, it is not a small thing to say about a person who has experienced the fame, fortune, and now the failure that Britney has.
Also think about how her cousin’s statement—which in other words says that Britney cares about people’s feelings (lashing out at fans in the midst of a mall meltdown excepted) is characterized by the journalist as “filler” that really demonstrates a lack of anything more positive, or more important, to say. At the same time, the reporter comments that her cousin seemed quite sincere in making the statement.
It is worth asking why this trivialization of decency-shown-to-others seems reasonable, and for most readers would probably go unnoticed. This says something about our culture—about what we have jointly agreed has value and what we jointly are willing to agree does not—and about how this could have happened to Britney.
Like so much about Britney Spears, the Rolling Stone article about her reveals important truths about us—about what we value, and when values conflict, what we value more—ugly truths that should already be evident to astute observers. It shows that niceness can be characterized as a compensation for some deficiency; that being “too nice” is often taken a sign of weakness, naiveté, or stupidity; and that a person like this deserves pity, and also blame, if taken advantage of—if used and abused by the “smarter” people, who after all, are only trying to make a living in this dog-eat-dog, competitive world.
Britney Spears has proven that she is not insensitive, not without talent, and not lacking a willingness to work harder than most people. But she is in real trouble—and it right now it seems she can barely function at all. The Rolling Stone article further reveals the extent to which Britney has come to rely on drink, drugs and fame to numb her pain. And she appears to be burning through her fortune with the same breathtaking velocity she built it with.
But this does not have to end as a tragedy if it helps her escape the naughty-little-innocent-girl identity she deeply resents and rages against, even while clinging to it as the only thing she knows how to be. And Britney’s alarming and destructive attempts to get out of this trap by any means necessary must be understood in this context if she is to get better and not worse.
Consider that rising star Dave Chappelle went to Africa when he felt overwhelmed by pressure to deliver on his widely discussed big-money contract renewal with Comedy Central for the Chappelle Show—overwhelmed by the pressure to create shows that would be as good or better as those in the wildly successful first two seasons.
When he returned from his retreat to Africa, Chappelle explained his assumed-to-be-bizarre behavior (“How could any sane person walk away from the big money?” America asked, with the national media wrongly speculating that Chappelle was on hard drugs) by saying he left because he felt he no longer knew who he was, and that he just didn’t want to do the show anymore.
So, where can a former pop princess go to recover from such a crisis writ even larger? Fortunately, there are better alternatives for Britney than institutionalizations that threaten to become permanent. Here are a few:
(1) Return to the Louisiana backwoods she worked so hard to escape. They might not seem so bad anymore.
(2) Move to New Orleans, the city that just barely floats below those swamps—the city that care also forgot when it really mattered most—and that, strangely enough, shares a number of Britney’s problems. Consider (a) how New Orleans is able to profitably provoke hidden desires and provide forbidden pleasures—but alone suffers the costs, as visitors go safely home; (b) how New Orleans has suffered the horrified amazement of onlookers, shocked and titillated by a crisis made massive—not by human and environmental natures as some believe—but by specific human problems that have been poorly understood and managed; (c) the complications in New Orleans’ own effort to run itself more competently—while struggling with its own illusions that more of the same could ever help, that maybe negative attention is better than none at all, and that change may be too hard or not even worth the effort; (d) and, baby, we understand in New Orleans that the support needed to overcome the consequences of careless voyeurism; the profiteering of human potential; and the failure to protect human rights and meet the fundamental human needs of our most vulnerable members—can be painfully hard to find in the unflattering light of all of the above.
(3) Visit the south of France, then Spain, then Greece—or maybe go to Costa Rica—for a year, maybe longer.
Of course, Britney also needs capable support and guidance over time, but no more intrusive public interventions like the media shoot staged with Dr. Phil at the last hospital. These surely hurt more than help.
Britney needs people, old and new, to (privately) help her to walk away from this wreckage and emerge stronger and smarter. And she needs to be allowed to make her own mistakes in ways that don’t involve her own destruction.
Britney Spears can build a life of her own, like she has been trying to do all along—ever since she was a young Mousketeer. It will not be easy but life might, eventually, become fun for her again.
Anything would be better for Britney Spears than applying more of the same treatment and expecting a better result. And isn’t that approach, in fact, a commonly accepted definition for insanity?
Rolling Stone Magazine’s coverage can be found online at www.rollingstone.com/news/story/18310562/cover_story_the_tragedy_of_britney_spears (this link no longer works unless you can log in as a subscriber)
NOTE: Since this article was written in 2008, Britney has stepped back from the brink of tragedy and shown increasing stability in her personal life and career. Another Rolling Stone Magazine article published in 2009 questions the appropriateness of the legal conservatorship arrangement established by the court (CLICK HERE for link to article)--but it is a relief to see a stronger and more confident Brintey.