erik lundegaard

Sunday September 19, 2021

The Death of Omar and Why the Battle for BLM

“It was more a comment of how cheap life was and that [Omar] could be got. He had turned his back on someone in the market. He was buying a pack of smokes. He was depleted at that point, too. We didn't want to give him a big gun fight or anything like that—or even what Stringer got, which is the satisfaction of Omar and Brother Mouzone hunting him down. We just didn't want to do that with him. If you recall in that episode, after his death, you cut to the newsroom, and the paper comes across somebody's desk, and they look at it and they throw it in the basket. Outside of his world, he's nothing to anybody. In what we think of as the proper society, and even in the newsroom, he's nothing. 'Throw him in the basket. Put him with all the other guys.' It's like in DC, in The Washington Post, they change the name of it quite frequently—it's been called 'Around the Region' and 'Crime,' but buried in the Metro section are the murders of blacks in the city, and they get a paragraph or maybe two paragraphs, if they're lucky. But if a white person is killed on the other side of town, it makes the front page. What that does is, subconsciously, it puts in the mind of people reading the newspaper, especially young people, that black lives don't in fact matter.”

-- George Pelecanos, Writer/producer on “The Wire,” in the book “All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire,” an oral history by Jonathan Abrams

Posted at 08:26 AM on Sunday September 19, 2021 in category TV   |   Permalink  

Saturday September 18, 2021

Michael K. Williams (1966-2021)

They gave him Malcolm X's original surname, Little, and set him out on an eight-episode arc in the first season of a show about the tragedy of an American city, Baltimore, called “The Wire.” But as with Malcolm, there was nothing little about Omar. He got big, and they kept him on, and they ended that first season with him robbing drug dealers again with his shotgun and a smile. He was everyone's favorite character—even the president of the United States. He was Robin Hood, beloved, feared, arriving out of nowhere in trenchcoat and shotgun, whistling “The Farmer in the Dell.” People scattered but they watched. The kids imitated him. We loved him. He was personable. And the man had a code. He never put no gun on no citizen. The best gangsters have codes. Most of Cagney's gangsters seemed better men than his private citizens, who stayed within the law, within the boundaries, and thus didn't need a personal code to orient themselves. They didn't have the honor the gangsters did.

To the suits, initially, he seemed irrelevant. Add Omar to the list of great movies, TV shows, characters that excecutives wanted to quash. From Jonathan Abrams' oral history, “All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire”:

Early on, HBO executives asked David Simon to cut a seemingly pointless scene featuring a shadowy figure named Omar, who robbed drug dealers. His presence did not seem relevant to them in moving the story along. Simon asked them to wait.

Then they wanted nothing but Omar. If it had been a network show in the '70s, rather than an '00s HBO show, he would've gotten a spinoff (“The Omar Show”; “The Chronicles of Omar”; “Indeed”), but there was no way creator David Simon was going to go there. In the same book, Simon likens the audience to a child. “If you ask the audience what they want, they'll want dessert. They'll say they want ice cream. They'll want cake. ... 'You like Omar?' 'Yeah, I love Omar. Give me more of Omar.' No, I want to tell you a story, and the characters are going to do what they're supposed to do in the story, and that's the job of the writer.” Which is why Omar died the way he did, ingloriously, in the fifth and final season, just some kid at a market when his back was turned, and in the larger world, the whiter world, no one knew or cared. In our world, the opposite: people howled their protests but to deaf ears. Hell, maybe to pleased ears. But it was the right way to send him out.

After Michael K. Williams' death last week at age 54, people kept posting favorite scenes or mentioning favorite lines: Come at the king, best not miss, etc. I immediately thought of him sparring with Avon Barksdale's attorney, Levy, from the witness stand, leaning back, playing all the while with the odd tie the prosecution made him wear, and getting the best of him: “I got the gun, you got the briefcase. It's all in the game, though, right?” I thought of his interactions with Bunk. I saw Williams in a lot, “Boardwalk Empire,” “The Night Of,” “Lovecraft Country,” and it's a testament to his acting that nothing hit as hard as Omar. These others were different roles, different characters, and he played them as what they were. Omar's playfulness wasn't there because they weren't Omar. It would've been so easy to go back to that, to what made him a star, but Williams had a code, too. He created one of the most indelible characters in television history and moved on. Rest in peace.

Posted at 07:36 AM on Saturday September 18, 2021 in category TV   |   Permalink  

Friday September 17, 2021

Norm Macdonald (1959-2021)

One of the great talk show guests, saving us all from boredom and bullshit.

On Tuesday my friend Adam posted a video of Norm Macdonald's final standup on the Letterman show—the last standup anyone did on Letterman—and talked about how great it was and how much it meant to him. I smiled. So Adam. I liked it and moved on. I didn't know why he had posted it. I didn't know it was the first of many eulogies I would see that day for Norm Macdonald, who died that day, age 61, after a very non-public 10-year battle with cancer. I spent much of the day watching those videos. I mourned the death of Norm Macdonald by laughing a lot.

I'd actually done a deep YouTube dive into Norm about a month or two ago. It might've begun with that 1997 Conan show where he and Conan spar over Courtney Thorne-Smith, and Norm triumphs beautifully. Although that's not quit it, is it? They admit to crushes—who didn't have one on Courtney Thorne-Smith in 1997?—but while Conan does his usual “woe is me” bit, Norm keeps hijacking the conversation by disparaging the star of Courtney's new movie, Carrot Top. I don't think many comedians had much respect for Carrot Top. Conan didn't seem to, either. But he's the host, and he's the one with the Courtney crush, and when he asks if there's a scene in the movie where she and him embrace, she plays along, talking it up, saying “Oh yeah, lots of making out. Nothing but making out. It's like '9 1/2 Weeks' but Carrot Top.” To which Norm butts in: “Is it called '9 1/2 Seconds'?” And then the brilliance for me: While everyone is laughing, and people applauding, he says directly what was implied. There's a YouTube video that's just called “Norm Macdonald Explains the Joke” and this is an example of that. He says: “Like he's premature ejaculating.” Man, I love that. That's so my temperature.

And it continues. That's the great thing. Conan asks her what the movie will be called and again Norm butts in with his own idea for a Carrot Top movie title: “Box Office Poison.” At this point, semi-laughing, Courtney objects—it's her movie, too!—and Conan defends her, and eventually she says the title: “Chairman of the Board.” To which Conan says to Norm: “Do something with that, you freak.” And he does. He says “I bet the 'board' is spelled B-O-R-E-D,” and Conan completely loses it. It's one of the many examples of why Norm was considered one of the great talk show guests. Not for nothing, he was right, too: the reviews for “Chairman of the Board” were scathing, and the movie bombed. It's currently got a 2.3 rating on IMDb.

I often thought of Norm as my guy—like Rich Hall in the '80s, another standup who feels like he should've been bigger. A lot of Norm's humor was dry, witty and esoteric but told in an everyman's voice—full of “you know”s and “there”s. Here's Jason Zinoman in The New York Times

My favorite Norm Macdonald joke — and trust me, there's serious competition — is one he told as anchor of Weekend Update on “Saturday Night Live” in the late 1990s. Papers in front of him, he reported with a cheer: “Yippie! Jerry Rubin died this week.” Looking down, he apologized for his mistake and tried again: “That should read: 'Yippie Jerry Rubin died this week.'”

He was famously/infamously fired from “Saturday Night Live” because the head of NBC was an O.J. Simpson fan and Norm made too many O.J. jokes as host of “Weekend Update.” (My favorite: “In a brilliant move during closing arguments, Simpson attorney Johnnie Cochran put on the knit cap prosecutors say O.J. wore the night he committed the murders. Although O.J. may have hurt his case when he suddenly blurted out 'Hey, hey, easy with that, that's my lucky stabbing hat!'”) But in a 2011 interview with Marc Maron on the WTF Podcast, he says the problem was more internal than that. SNL honcho Lorne Michaels, a fellow Canadian, gave orders in an elliptical manner that Norm didn't get. He says he needed Lorne to say specifically what he wanted, Lorne didn't do that, Norm got fired. When he returned to host 18 months later, in his opening monlogue, he shit all over the show with a smile on his face.

It's interesting. In the podcast he seems timid, all but talking into his sleeve; Maron has to keep drawing him out. But a lot of his standup was fearless. I don't think there's anything more fearless than showing up for one of those roasts where everyone is supposed to be vicious with one another and doing antiquated, tepid one-liners. But that's what he did. And he did it because he didn't like the bullshit of the roast. He was told he had to be vicious and he was like, “Oh, I'll do the opposite.” Always a good instinct. But even knowing it going in, I can't watch that routine. It's too painful.

Economiums have been pouring in: Seth Meyers, Bob Saget, Howard Stern. The Hollywood Reporter collected a bunch.

Though he didn't announce he had cancer, a lot of his comedy over the last 10 years dealt with the topic—or the way we deal with the topic. The language we use: “Losing” a battle with cancer, for example. “I'm not a doctor,” Norm said, “but I'm pretty sure if you die, the cancer dies with you. To me, that's a draw.” 

Posted at 06:40 AM on Friday September 17, 2021 in category TV   |   Permalink  

Wednesday September 15, 2021

Mick Tingelhoff (1940-2021)

It was a name I heard all the time from about ages 9 to 15, one of many monumental Minnesota sports names from that period—names you could see chiseled in granite: Killebrew, Tarkenton, Goldsworthy, Hilgenberg, Tingelhoff. We don't get names like that anymore, do we? As Harmon was the only Killebrew in MLB history, Mick was the only Tingelhoff in NFL history. They were singular men.

From the Star-Tribune obit:

Tingelhoff came to the Vikings as an undrafted free agent linebacker from Nebraska in 1962, the Vikings' second season. He shifted to center in the second preseason game, and never missed a regular-season or postseason game over the next 17 seasons. His 240 consecutive starts are a record for an NFL center and second in Vikings' history behind only [Jim] Marshall's 270.

Think about that for a second. He was basically unwanted, had to pivot from his original position, but kept showing up for work. And Vikings history, Star-Trib? Think bigger: NFL history. The only player who has passed Marshall and Tingelhoff for consecutive NFL starts is Green Bay's Brett Favre. Crazier still? Alan Page is still tied for seventh on this list, and—excluding Marshall and Tingelhoff—the others above him all came afterwards. Meaning, for a time, the top three players with the most consecutive NFL starts were all 1960s-70s Minnesota Vikings. Maybe there's something to what Rhoda said: “Eventually I moved to Minneapolis, where it's cold and I figured I'd kept better.” They kept better.

Or were they just tougher? Tingelhoff still holds the consecutive game streak for offensive linemen. Second is Will Shields of KC at 223, a season away, and only one other guy has more than 200. And none of them are centers. 

Tingelhoff didn't just show up, didn't just last, he excelled: six-time Pro Bowler, five-time All Pro, co-captain of those great Vikings teams with Jim Marshall. He was the introvert to Marshall's extrovert. Apparently at 6'2“, 237, he was undersized for a lineman, but he was tough. Football Reference has something called AV, Approximate Value, which is its attempt at WAR, and Tingelhoff had the highest AV rating on the 1966 Minnesota Vikings—as a center!—and the sixth-highest overall in Vikings history. His number 53 is one of five numbers retired by the Vikings. (Not sure why they're waiting on Carl Eller.) He entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015—the ninth center to receive the honor. ”Mick Tingelhoff wasn't a Minnesota Viking,“ Fran Tarkenton said as his HOF presenter. ”Mick Tingelhoff is the Minnesota Viking.“

Tough, durable, monumental, Tingelhoff died this week at age 81 ”after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer's,“ according to the STrib. Such sadness in those words. One wonders if it wasn't football related. The New York Times has it slightly different: ”The cause was Parkinson's disease with dementia." But the same question arises. For now, chisel his name in granite.

Posted at 08:08 AM on Wednesday September 15, 2021 in category Sports   |   Permalink  

Tuesday September 14, 2021

Movie Review: Worth (2021)

WARNING: SPOILERS

“Worth” is a near-worthy movie that gets the law right but not its main character, attorney Kenneth Feinberg (Michael Keaton). It makes him the last man in the room to realize what needs to be done—everyone else is miles ahead of him, including us. Basically they withhold his humanity so he can recover it at the 11th hour, when his humanity was what drove him to seek the thankless task at the start.

At least that’s what I thought after seeing the film. Turns out there’s some truth in it.

This is from William Grimes review of Feinberg’s 2005 book, “What Is Life Worth? The Unprecedented Effort to Compensate the Victims of 9/11”:

Mr. Feinberg confesses that he was unprepared for the emotional experience of counseling angry or grieving relatives. Often he was thrust into bitter family squabbles. In the early days of administering the fund, he addressed audiences in a lawyerly, just-the-facts style that struck many listeners, he writes, as “brusque and callous.” With time, he relied more on his powers of sympathy. Mostly, he listened, and he has included moving accounts of the stories he heard. 

I was also disappointed that the purpose of the film was the bête noire of “The Wire”: the numbers game. We’re told Feinberg and his team need to reach 80% acceptance for the fund to be effective, and he’s far behind that figure 18 months into the project, closing in on the Dec. 2003 deadline. But wait! At the last minute they get a surge of acceptances! Yay!

Didn’t buy it. But again, turns out there’s truth in it:

Thanks to a last-minute flood of applications, the 9/11 fund, which seemed to be teetering on the edge of failure, attracted 97 percent of those eligible for compensation.

So in the wake of these facts, have I revised my opinion of the film? Nah.

Helping Bush get re-elected
I know a little something about Feinberg, a class action and plaintiff’s attorney in Washington, D.C., because in my day job we’ve written about him a few times. The biggest piece, a cover feature in 2008, was called—after Feinberg’s book title—“What Is Life Worth?” which was also the original title of this movie. It’s a better title.

Feinberg was a longtime attorney and mediator who became nationally known when he was appointed the head of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, which was created by Congress in the wake of the 9/11 attacks at the behest of the airline industry. The idea: Instead of wasting years in litigation, while possibly sinking the economy in the process, the federal government can settle with the victims. Airlines aren’t sued, victims and their families get their money now (as opposed to in 10-15 years maybe), and the economy stays strong.

Again, most of this is true, but I don’t quite get the “sinking the economy” argument. From 7,000 lawsuits? Even if it were true, my perspective now is that it would’ve sunk the economy on W.’s watch, which meant he would’ve been less likely to be re-elected in 2004. The movie has Feinberg, a Democrat and one-time aide to Sen. Ted Kennedy, busting his ass to save the presidency of a dipshit, extra-legal Republican.

But the main issue I have with the film is how long it took Feinberg to come around to the idea that sympathy and listening would alleviate a lot of the problems. In the movie, he seems to get it, once, twice, three times, but keeps acting in the same bookish manner. Meanwhile, his mostly female colleagues, Camille Biros and Priya Kundi (Amy Ryan and Shunori Ramanathan), know the right path, as does grassroots organizer Charles Wolf (Stanley Tucci), who objects to the formula Feinberg has created to assess the value of each person. Overall, for most of the movie, our hero is insensitive. How is that good? And that formula of his never really gets its day in court—i.e., with us. Did it make sense? Did it make sense given that the fund had to be administered with different rates for different victims?

There are literally thousands of victims’ stories to tell here and the movie does a good job of making us care about a few of them with just 10-15 seconds of air time. The main victim subplots involve the Donato family, wife Karen and brother Frank (Laura Benanti and Chris Tardio), and the husband/brother/firefighter they lost, and how, oops, he actually had a second family, with two kids, who deserve some of the money, too. Then there’s the gay partner of one of the victims, who is not only not acknowledged by the victim’s parents but dismissed as a parasite. Since this is 2002-03, he has no rights in the matter. The movie stays true to that outcome, though it probably makes Biros, an attorney, care a little too much.

This story, from our 2008 feature, might’ve been worth dramatizing:

One young widow was due $1 million. “I want more,” she told him. “And I want it within 30 days.” She explained that she had cancer and her husband had been preparing to take care of their two small children when she died. Feinberg gave her more money, and within 30 days. Seven weeks later, she died.

Maybe the movie should’ve made empathy less the solution than a path to another problem. How can you listen to so much tragedy and not get swept under it? 

Jewish/not Jewish
Keaton is great. Not Jewish but great. Tucci is both Jewish (for a Jewish role) and great. Amy Ryan always seems real, never a false note. The movie was directed by Sara Colangelo (“The Kindergarten Teacher”), and written by Max Borenstein (the Godzilla/Kong movies), and is worthier than any Godzilla/Kong movie. We watched it the night before the 20th anniversary of 9/11. 

The most startling moment may be at the end, when the movie informs us of the compensation funds Feinstein and Biros have administered since 9/11:

You look at that list of national tragedies, one after the other, and think, “What the fuck is wrong with us?” Maybe that should be the title of the next movie.

Posted at 08:15 AM on Tuesday September 14, 2021 in category Movie Reviews - 2021   |   Permalink  

Monday September 13, 2021

Lancelot Links

  • David Simon talks about the questions the late Michael K. Williams asked before the second season of “The Wire,” and what he asked each subsequent season. The answers to those questions are why “The Wire” is the greatest show in TV history.
  • James Fallows explicates George W. Bush's speech on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and where we've gone wrong since. Yes, there should be a greater mea culpa in this from W., but he's one of the few members of the GOP who's saying what needs to be said: “We have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders, but from violence that gathers within.” I'd say it's the best speech W. has ever given; I wouldn't even know what might compare. 
  • As I mentoned on Twitter, W.'s line “step by step, toward grace” is very much Aeschylus by way of RFK: “drop by drop ... comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
  • Here's a good YouTube discussion between David Chan and Walter Chaw on the merits, such as they are, of Marvel's “Shang-Chi” movie. I'm with Chaw; I was not impressed. I liked the bus scene but the more fantastical it became the more bored I got. And in the end it was too much like a Hong Kong/modern Chinese movie rather than a Hollywood or Marvel movie.
  • The Washington Post's Lily Kuo on how China's crackdown on tech companies, private tutoring, “sissy men,” and actress Zhao Wei, as well as its increased regulation of everything from karaoke songs and park dancing, has many fearing another Cultural Revolution.
  • Singer-songwriter-comedian Nick Lutsko has taken Alex Jones' rants and turned them into a folk song. And it's effin' brilliant.
  • This is a few months back but a goodie: Jonathan Chait on why Tom Brady joining Pres. Biden at the White House and joking about Trump is the sum of all Trump's fears. I didn't know much on their history—Trump ingratiating himself over and over again—nor Brady skipping the 2017 Super Bowl celebration at Trump's White House. Fun. Makes me resent Brady a little less.
  • Another new horrific term to learn: swatting, meaning to call 911 about a fake life-threatening situation to provoke a heavily-armed response from the police. I got it from this Post story. For a covetted Twitter handle, @tennessee, which belonged to Mark Herring, a father, grandfather, and 60-year-old computer programmer, several little shits, in both this country and the UK, harrassed him and others for several months. Then the swatting. They claimed violent, criminal activity at the Herring home when nothing was going on; and when the cops came, guns drawn, Herring suffered a heart attack and died. It's stories like this that make you want to wipe your hands of the whole mob.
Posted at 10:11 AM on Monday September 13, 2021 in category Lancelot Links   |   Permalink  

Sunday September 12, 2021

Celebrating a Big Bronx Defeat

In a world of many small defeats, it's important to celebrate the big defeats of perennial winners like the New York Yankees. 

The Yankees have been a hugely streaky team this year. Predicted by many (including me) to win the AL pennant for the first time since 2009, they started out poorly, revived, dithered, then put together one of the longest win steaks in team history—a lucky 13 games from August 14 to August 27. I was in New York for some of that and I could see fans growing confident again, wearing the caps and shirts again. This was the real Yankees, damnit! But all streaks must come to an end and this one did with a 3-2 loss to Oakland on August 28. “A loss is a loss,” said Aaron Judge, who hit a 2-run homer in the 9th to no avail. “It's time to start another streak, that's all.” Which they did—but not in the way he meant. They lost four in a row. Then they won two. Then they lost seven in a row. The 13-0 team had quickly become a 2-11 team. 

The num-num moment of this period was a four-game series with the Toronto Blue Jays at New Yankee Stadium. The Blue Jays have some of the best young hitters in the game (Vlad Jr., Bichette Jr., Gurriel Jr.) but the team has massively underperformed this year. They've had a huge 100+ run differential but have floundered back of the wild card pack, seemingly out of it. Last Sunday, the day before Labor Day, they were 4.5 games back of the Yankees, whose run differential was less than half theirs.

But the Blue Jays won the first game in resounding fashion, 8-0. They won the second, 5-1, off Yankees ace Gerritt Cole. They won the third 6-3 and were leading the fourth 2-0 in the 6th inning when Anthony Rizzo went deep for the pinstripes to tie it up. Aw, too bad, I thought. But the Jays scored another in the 7th, another in the 8th, and two more in the 9th to win it 6-4 and sweep the Bombers in the Bronx.

That's a rarity. But that's not the big defeat I referenced. The big defeat is this: the Yankees never held the lead in any of those games. 

When was the last time the Yankees lost a four-game series, anywhere, without once holding the lead? Would you believe 1924?

As a result, the AL Wild Card has gotten interesting. Friday night's games tightened things further, with the top three teams (BoSox, Yankees, Blue Jays) losing and the bottom two (A's, my own, young, unheralded, no-name Seattle Mariners) winning, so all five were within two games of each other. Last night the reverse: top three won, bottom two lost. It's going to be a bumpy ride. Three weeks left. 

Posted at 07:45 AM on Sunday September 12, 2021 in category Yankees Suck   |   Permalink  

Saturday September 11, 2021

Day 15: When It Rains, Look for the Rainbow

At our gate at Dulles International Airport for the flight home, I saw a little girl wearing a T-shirt reading WHEN IT RAINS, LOOK FOR THE RAINBOW. It was like a special message for me.

I was happy to be heading home after two weeks amid the crowds in a worldwide pandemic, but I was in a piss-poor mood. My arms and ankles were covered in bug bites (my wife says I'm a cat whisperer but really I'm a mosquito whisperer, and I don't know how to turn it off); and while I'd been enjoying myself sipping a G&T and watching the Boston Red Sox slowly lose a 7-1 lead to the Tampa Bay Rays at the airport bar, the end of the bar we'd had to ourselves slowly filled with: 1) a fedora'ed dude saying a sentence every other minute to, I assume, someone at the other end of his Bluetooth; 2) a barfly who drunkenly tried to strike up a conversation about baseball but had trouble nailing the meaning of the word “pitcher”; and the final straw, 3) a hefty white dude sitting next to me, who apologized for knocking over my suitcase and immediately took off his mask before ordering anything, let alone eating/drinking anything. After that, I downed the rest of my drink and split to the gate, but it wasn't any better there. A row over, a young dude wearing sweatpants, flip-flops and a Seattle Kraken knit cap lounged unmasked with a proud, snarky look on his face—like he was stickin' it to the man. Then across from us: an older red-haired Scandinavian dude, same thing, sans the attitude.

And that's when the girl walked by with the secret message for me. I thought, “I'll try.”

So we boarded the plane and got ready to take off. And got ready. And got ready. And slowly I realized somethingn was wrong. We were all just sitting there, bunched together, breathing each other's air in the midst of a global pandemic. And eventually one of the flight attendants got on the intercom and said we were delayed. The reason? Vague. Later, when I tracked them down, the flight attendants said it wasn't just us, it was wide-ranging. Airport-wide? I asked. Beyond that, they said. All flights. All flights everywhere? I said. was envisioning a 9/11-type attack when they said they were just talking about United Airlines flights. Something about weight measurements? Basically something was off line. Here's how United described it in the texts they sent every half hour we waited:

  • Flight UA326 from Washington to Seattle is delayed because we are resolving an unexpected operational issue. It now departs at 6:10pm on September 6.
  • Flight UA326 from Washington to Seattle is delayed because we are resolving an unexpected operational issue. It now departs at 6:45pm on September 6.

Meanwhile, more and more people were removing their masks to eat this or drink that. I wanted to find that little girl. OK, where's the fucking rainbow? 

I admit I felt old on this trip. I did the math and realized I'm older than my father was when he last went to Rehoboth Beach. I believe he last went in '87, with me, visiting Karen, who was working at Funland during her second college summer and who brought along a bunch of college friends to join her. Dad would've been 55 then; I'm 58 now. I also think of his father, Christian Hans, Bedstefar, visiting us at Rehoboth in either '70 or '73, when he would've been in his 70s. He never went down to the beach; he sat on the boardwalk benches in his suit and watched us. What's the fun in that? I thought. I was 7 or 10, loved Bedtefar, wanted him with us. But I'm getting it now.

There's a statue we saw at the Whitney that speaks to me. My interpretation is all wrong, apparently, but that seems increasingly the case. In the previous room at the Whitney, in the exhibit “Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950–2019,” there's an installation by Liza Lou called “Kitchen,” which is just that: an ordinary American kitchen with tiled floors, a pie in the oven, dishes in the sink, and breakfast cereal like Cap'N Crunch and Frosted Flakes next to the folded newspaper on the small breakfast table. Except it dazzles; it sparkles. The entire thing. I immediately liked the inclusion of the consumerist portion of American life in American art—that's hard to do—and my initial thought was that it was a kind of paean to that life: that the ordinary life can still dazzle. Nope. According to the nearby descriptor, “the cheerfully branded products in Lou's Kitchen expose the contradictions that run throughout the marketing of American household goods, which promises the delights of homemaking while strategically ignoring the gender inequalilty of the traditional division of labor.” 

Sure. Though anyone who thinks marketing cares a whit about any kind of inequality rather than simply selling a product is probably someone who makes a living with arts grants. Plus finding what's wrong in an ordinary, modern American life isn't exactly hard; looking for what's worthwhile in that life seems the tougher, worthier task.

Anyway, while I liked Kitchen, the artwork that spoke to was in the next room: Viola Frey's “Me Man.” I got that one wrong, too, apparently. From the Whitney's website:

Frey first built the clay figure and allowed it to dry. Once hardened, she sawed it apart to produce sections that would fit in the kiln. After each piece had been glazed and fired separately, Frey reassembled and painted the whole sculpture. Her process remains legible in the material itself, with horizontal seams especially visible across Me Man's torso. As was common for Frey's sculptures of men, this one wears a blue suit and gesticulates, as though in the middle of conversation. A representation of the American businessman, Me Man likewise recalls television characters from the 1950s, and evidences Frey's interest in the satiric depiction of the totems of everyday life: in this case, middle-class respectability.

Satirizing “middle-class respectability”? Doesn't the art world know the middle class is dying?

I empathized. Maybe I identified. There was something sad about this man stuffed into a suit and stuck in a corner and trying to articulate something that fell on a deaf world. I think the way he was created exacerbates this. He was literally cut up, hardened, and stuck back together again. Everything about him feels constrained and pieced together. He's not whole. Maybe he once was. He had certainly been soft and malleable, and he might have been anything, but now he's this, and it's too late to change. To be honest, I had a bit of a Cameron and “La Grande Jatte” at the Chicago Art Institute moment. Maybe that's rainbow enough.

Posted at 09:14 AM on Saturday September 11, 2021 in category Travels   |   Permalink  
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