Arts & DesignEssaysMedia/Publics

Rap as News or Art?

“Rap music is the CNN of the ghetto.” – Chuck D

Rap began — Chuck D nailed it — as news from the streets. Rap riffed ghetto life, syncopated in hard rhymes and dense metaphor the raw reality of the ghetto. In Ronald Reagan’s America, blacks in the ghettos from Harlem to Bed Stuy to South Central formed what George Bataille called the heterogeneous element of society — or the unassimable byproduct of a culture, born of that culture, upon which the culture rests. In plain English, rap was the art of the dispossessed, and as the art of the dispossessed, it tells us the truth of the trickle-down economic era from the mouths of those who were held far beneath the place where the trickle dried up. …

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EssaysMedia/Publics

Amusing Ourselves to Life

I am in mourning and in withdrawal. I am losing my two nightly sanity fixes, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. I’m left with my morning fixes: running, swimming and cycling. Sleeping will become more of a problem. I published this piece a number of years ago in Deliberately Considered. I might want to expand on it, exploring the importance of televised political satire and the American social condition. 

Neil Postman was a famous media critic. He thought that the problem with television was not its content but its formal qualities as a medium. It presented a clear and present danger. …

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EssaysMedia/PublicsSex & Gender

Memories of Identities, Identities of Memory

How do memorials shape who we think we are? And how do we “do” identities when we interact with memorials? As Salon.com and others noted, gay men have been using the signature concrete slabs of the Berlin Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe as backdrops to their profile pictures on grindr, a geo-social app that lets those have have logged on find each other that is popular with gay men. In Salon’s account, the combination of the memorial and the anticipation of erotic pleasure is “odd” and “peculiar.” The Memorial appears as a “prop” for self-presentation. The trend is portrayed as equivalent to the EasyJet airline’s 2009 fashion shoot for an in-flight magazine at the memorial. …

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EssaysLiberal Democracy in QuestionMedia/Publics

We Say No to the “Sacred Union”

In the aftermath of the killings at Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher, critical voices have largely been drowned in the general sea of undifferentiated outrage. But this statement by French colleagues, which recently appeared in Le Monde, is a major intervention and a welcome exception.

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Arts & DesignEssaysMedia/Publics

9/11 and the Visual Culture of Disaster

I remember the week after September 11, 2001, when the subway from Brooklyn into Lower Manhattan was back in limited service, getting off at Broadway-Lafayette and feeling somewhat disoriented when my usual landmark indicating south, the World Trade Center, was missing from the downtown skyline. The specter of the World Trade Center was soon enough evoked by Art Speigelman in his September 24, 2001, New Yorker magazine cover of the Twin Towers as black silhouettes against a black background. The Twin Towers haunted the New York skyline again a few months later in the Tribute in Light installation of 88 search lights configured in the buildings’ original footprints and projected upward into the night…

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EssaysMedia/PublicsReligion

Season’s Greetings and the War on Christmas

Consider season’s greetings. For many, these are unselfconscious gestures. But for others, they are loaded with significance. While we can together celebrate Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah after Thanksgiving, along with the new New Year, showing respect for each other, some prefer to exclude. There are the combatants against “the war on Christmas,” fighting valiantly on Fox News.

Indeed, this is the time of year that I often feel like an outsider in my own country. It has felt this way my whole life, though it was much harder as a child. I heard, and learned by osmosis, the Christmas songs, from “White Christmas” to “Silent Night,” and like all American kids, I was charmed. …

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Arts & DesignEssaysMedia/Publics

Pizzas for the People

Directed by Hwang Kim and produced by Festival Bo:m

In the course of a long running ideological conflict North Korea is one of the most culturally isolated countries in the world, which rejects any foreign influences through a tight control of media and communication equipment. To protect the North Korean identity from potential damaging western influences, short wave radios, for example, are banned, while TV receivers are locked to tune only to the 3 official channels. …

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EssaysLiberal Democracy in QuestionMedia/Publics

9/11: A Most Restless Event

The video below was produced between the Fall of 2001 and the Spring of 2002. It was first screened as a final project for the class Semiotics for Digital Producers, taught by professor Paul Ryan, as part of the graduate program in Media Studies of the New School for Public Engagement in New York City. Twelve years later, I revisited it editing and showing it for a second screening on the occasion of the memorial for Ryan in the Orozco room of the New School in April 2014.

I have returned to the video while reading the article “Theorizing the Restlessness of Events” by Professor Robin Wagner-Pacifici, thinking about issues of temporality, event, perception, performance and meaning. …

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EssaysLiberal Democracy in QuestionMedia/PublicsReligion

Banning the Minarets in Switzerland

The limits of the liberal public sphere and the dark side of monstration

There is no problem with Islam in Switzerland. At least, there was none until 2009. But then, confounding poll predictions, and stupefying the Swiss political institutions, religious organizations, as well as mainstream media, 57.5% of the citizen voted a constitutional ban on the construction of minarets. Yet, less than half a million of Muslims lives in the country. The majority of them (90%) comes from Turkey or Central Europe. They amount to eight per cent of the Swiss population. And out of the two hundred Muslim centers in Switzerland, only four mosques had a minaret.

Nonetheless, a Constitutional amendment was necessary, according to the Egerkingen Committee, the promoters of this federal popular initiative. The bill was framed as a preventive strike to stop the “Islamization” of the nation. Western — read “Judeo-Christian” — civilization and women were under the threat of Islam. Thus went the argument. …

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EssaysMedia/Publics

Israeli Hasbara, the Breakdown in Negotiations, and the Consequences

At this point, we can say that things are more or less over: President Obama announced on Friday that the American government is abandoning the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, as neither side has been ready to make “tough decisions.” Basically, Obama was repeating what Secretary of State Baker once said to Israeli Prime Minister Shamir, following an earlier collapse of attempted peace negotiations: “Give us a call if you decide to get serious.” In response, Netanyahu’s office has already complained about the “soft” treatment that the Americans are allegedly giving the Palestinians.

Immediately, the Zionist regime (not my term: that’s how this administration defines itself) has initiated a hasbara campaign — basically, a PR attack — directed at the Israeli public. (“Hasbara,” literally, “explanation,” is the semi-official code in Israel for its propaganda efforts.)…

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