Wednesday, April 1, 2009


I awake today in Louisiana, rather than New York. It is April Fool’s Day. Apparently, the top internet searches for the day, thus far, regard fashion model Heidi Klum’s pretending to be an ordinary worker for the television special “I Get That A Lot”; the story of a woman who starved her son for refusing to say “Amen” at mealtime; Sarah Palin’s replacement by Newt Gingrich for a scheduled Republican dinner; the retirement of automaker General Motors’ chief executive officer; and the death, as a result of heart disease, of actor-singer Andy Hallett (“Angel”). Several of these topics suggest mediocrity of mind—but, then, it is April Fool’s Day.

Yesterday, was Arts Advocacy Day. I have thought often that troubled people require more art not less; and Morris Dickstein’s article on culture during the great economic depression of the 1920 argues that. In today’s Los Angeles Times, cultural critic Morris Dickstein recalls, “The engine of the arts in the ‘30s was not escapism, as we sometimes imagine, but speed, energy and movement at a time of economic stagnation and social malaise. When Warner Bros. -- which avoided bankruptcy with its lively and topical gangster films, backstage musicals and Depression melodramas -- promised a 'New Deal in Entertainment,' it was offering the cultural equivalent of the New Deal, a psychological stimulus package that might energize a shaken public” (“How song, dance and movies bailed us out of the Depression,” April 1, 2009).

Of course, money itself makes up for a lot (if it cannot buy friends, it can help you forget you do not have any). New Scientist, Issue 2700: “In a study to be published soon in the journal Psychological Science, [Kathleen] Vohs and psychologists Xinyue Zhou of Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, China, and Roy Baumeister of Florida State University, Tallahassee, found that people who felt rejected by others, or were subjected to physical pain, were subsequently less likely to give a monetary gift in a game situation. The researchers then went on to show that just handling paper money could reduce the distress associated with social exclusion, and also diminish the physical pain caused by touching very hot water” (Mark Buchanan, “Why Money Messes with Your Mind,” March 18, 2009).

Louisiana has a unique cultural heritage (it has been multicultural always), and is known especially for its food, language, and music; and it is a culture that gets a lot of enthusiasm but not always adequate financial support: and, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal is proposing a budget that makes severe cuts in the state’s arts funding for the coming year; and the Louisiana Partnership for the Arts is asking concerned citizens to write state legislators and ask them to restore arts funding and support the arts.

According to “This spring, from now through May 24, the New Orleans Museum of Art presents ‘A Discourse in Abstraction: Jennifer Odem and NOMA’s Permanent Collection,’ an exhibition of new sculpture by the New Orleans-based artist juxtaposed with modern and contemporary works from the permanent collection.

‘A Discourse in Abstraction’ is the first in a series of exhibitions dedicated to highlighting Louisiana contemporary art. Situated in dialogue with abstract paintings from NOMA’s permanent collection, Odem’s works position themselves at the crossroads between monumentality and playfulness. Combining materials such as Hydro-stone with flocking fiber, Odem’s sculptures walk the line between extreme contrasts.”

The Hollywood Reporter has announced the many of the big media companies are experiencing a decline in the value of their stock. As well, Bloomberg says that Time Warner is no longer the largest media company, in terms of financial returns (that would be Disney, followed by News Corps). And, it is said that Conde Nast is letting a bunch of receptionists go and Forbes is planning staff cuts. It is always sad when hard-working people lose their jobs—it’s less so when billionaires lose a few dollars.

Blender, the music publication, is going out of business. I was not a fan. Its sensibility was relentlessly superficial. The “consumer guide” approach, so affixed to current taste expressed as snark, is part of the reason for the diminishment and disrespect of popular music criticism. Hardley remembered is the tradition of thoughtful criticism and cultural intrepretation—lengthy and logical, explanatory and exploratory.

Even some of the better publications do not serve us well. I think of how the New York Review of Books ignored Barack Obama for months and months and then, when Obama was winning in the presidential campaign, the publication used writer Daryl Pinckney (his books: High Cotton, Out There) to play catch-up and introduce its audience to the man and his ideas. Meanwhile, now, President Obama is in England, meeting with the world’s top foreign leaders (there’s a nice photograph of him and his wife with the queen of England, following his meeting with the British prime minister). In England, there are mass demonstrations against capitalism, against things as they are.