All posts filed under: Culture

Then They Came for Beethoven

This week, Vox published an article titled “How Beethoven’s 5th Symphony put the classism in classical music.” “Since its 1808 premiere, audiences have interpreted [its opening progression] as a metaphor for Beethoven’s personal resilience in the face of his oncoming deafness,” write Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding. But “for some in other groups—women, LGBTQ+ people, people of color—Beethoven’s symphony may be predominantly a reminder of classical music’s history of exclusion and elitism.” In the article, and an accompanying podcast, the two men ask “how Beethoven’s symphony was transformed from a symbol of triumph and freedom into a symbol of exclusion, elitism, and gatekeeping.” The article has been widely mocked on social media—in part because the authors (both white men, from what I can tell) offer no real evidence for their claim. That’s odd given that they are purporting to redefine the cultural meaning of what is arguably the most well-known, widely performed, and beloved composition known to humankind. Hundreds of millions of people have fallen in love with this symphony over the past two centuries—many …

How the Nonbinary Trend Hurts Those with Real Gender Dysphoria

Within the conversation about transgender rights has emerged a debate about whether nonbinary people should be considered transgender. Over time, concerns about nonbinary rights have begun to dominate this discussion in online spaces and within the community. For those in support of nonbinary rights, the belief that someone must experience gender dysphoria and undergo medical transitioning in order to identify as transgender is seen as exclusionary because it requires a certain bar to be cleared in order for an individual to be part of the community. To question whether nonbinary people are the same as trans people is derisively known as “transmedicalism.” I believe it’s important to be compassionate, because in many cases, an individual who identifies as nonbinary is communicating that they are experiencing distress and discomfort. In some cases, a person may legitimately be struggling to figure out their gender, and with that comes much introspection and pain. I don’t believe mockery or making fun of nonbinary people will lead to anyone changing their minds, nor does doing so allow for honest dialogue …

The Dishonest and Misogynistic Hate Campaign Against J.K. Rowling

When J. K. Rowling first outed herself as a gender-critical feminist, my first thought was: If Rowling can be cancelled, anyone can be cancelled. Not only is she one of the best known and best loved authors in the world (the writer of children’s books, for goodness sake), she also has a personal history that ought to make her un-cancellable. This was the mum who escaped an abusive marriage and lived off benefits, writing the first Harry Potter book in an Edinburgh café while rocking her sleeping baby in a pram. This was the woman who became a billionaire, but then lost her billionaire status by giving away so much money to charity. If anyone was safe, Rowling should have been safe. And it turns out that she was, because despite the best efforts of her critics, she hasn’t yet been truly cancelled. Her latest book, the murder mystery (written under the pen-name Robert Galbraith), was published on Tuesday and, as of Thursday, was number four on Amazon’s bestseller list for all literature and fiction. …

Don’t Listen to the Outrage. ‘Cuties’ Is a Great Film

If you’d asked me a month ago what could possibly break through a news cycle dominated by the biggest global pandemic in a century, the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression, and the worst civil unrest in the United States since the Civil Rights Era, a diverse, French arthouse film about four 11-year-old girls trying to win a dance competition wouldn’t have crossed my mind. Yet since its recent release on Netflix, Cuties has broken through the noise, and how. I wish it were for the right reasons: For instance, because Senegalese-French director Maïmouna Doucouré has written and directed a brilliant, award-winning first feature drawn from her experience growing up as an immigrant kid caught between cultures. Or because it’s alive with tenderness and heartache: a grittier, cross-cultural Eighth Grade about friendship, the love of a parent and child, and our longing to fit in, no matter our age, no matter the price. Or because it’s alive to injustice without preaching or judgement. But no. Cuties has broken through because of grotesquely false …

Will Corporate Social-Justice Initiatives Be More Than Just a Fad?

On June 16th, PepsiCo officials tweeted the details of their newly launched “Journey to Racial Equality”—a multi-part $400 million campaign that includes everything from “mandatory unconscious bias training” to adding “100 black associates to our executive ranks.” Previously, the company marketed itself with sunny slogans such as “Joy of Pepsi,” “The Choice of a New Generation,” and “For Those Who Think Young.” But its modern corporate mission, as announced in 2019, is far more ambitious, and requires Pepsi to “integrat[e] purpose into our business strategy and brands whilst doing more for our planet and people.” And while it’s not clear how selling sugary drinks and salty, high-carb snacks serves any particular purpose (except high profits), the company promises that its recent announcements are “only the beginning. Over the next few years, we will expand our pursuit of racial and social justice in communities around the world.” We’re committed to doing our part to help dismantle the systemic racial barriers that block social + economic progress for Black people in this country. Today we’re announcing a …

Neglecting At-Risk Children in the Name of Cultural Sensitivity

It started three years ago: a troubling case for a veteran mental-health professional that involved a young girl with serious health issues and a history of severe trauma. There were a multitude of protection concerns, including the girl’s low functionality, well below her chronological age. She was the equivalent of a five-year-old, but with the appearance of a young teen—a dangerous combination. A succession of partners to her single parent came in and out of her life. She was often the displaced target of their hostility, meant for a partner who was often absent. A string of child protection workers were involved, each less invested in her case than the one before. Phone calls and letters were directed to Toronto’s Children’s Aid Society (CAS), urging that the girl no longer be left at home for hours on end, or allowed to leave the house mid-winter without a hat, coat, or gloves. It was reported that many nights, the girl was making her own supper, and putting herself to bed; or left in the care of …

Remembering Cancel Culture’s 40-Year-Old Stepfather

The worst-case scenario for a film that falls afoul of the morality police is that its release is scrapped after reviewers react negatively. In other cases, movies have been banned on a country-by-country basis. Then there are film projects that fall apart even before would-be censors have had a chance to see the final product: The very idea of the movie is simply too shocking to tolerate. That’s what happened to Rub and Tug, which was shelved in 2018 following outrage over Scarlett Johansson playing the transgender lead. (“While I would have loved the opportunity to bring [American trans gangster Dante “Tex” Gill’s] story and transition to life, I understand why many feel he should be portrayed by a transgender person, and I am thankful that this casting debate, albeit controversial, has sparked a larger conversation about diversity and representation in film,” Johansson told the media.) Then there’s The Hunt, which saw its release scrapped—and then unscrapped—earlier this year, after Donald Trump fanned anger over a plotline that has wealthy elites hunting down poor people …

Remembering Reinaldo Arenas and His Enduring Lessons on Repression, Torment, and Exile

In a scene from Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s iconic Cuban film Memorias del Subdesarrollo (1968), a man looks down from his balcony at Havana’s streets. Only a few years had passed since Fidel Castro had overthrown Fulgencio Batista’s regime, and the prisoners taken during the failed Bay of Pigs invasion had just been put on trial. Like many middle-class Cubans at the time, the parents of Sergio, the film’s protagonist, had fled the country. But Sergio decides to stay. He prefers to anchor himself to his present and watch the revolution play out from his apartment. He uses his telescope to watch people, ships in the bay, places where the Republican-era statues once stood. He contemplates the city’s landscape with a sort of contempt. Sergio wants to become a great novelist, but failing at the task. He lives off the accumulated rent his family earned before the revolution, and so is regarded by the state’s bureaucrats as a parasite. Yet the contempt is unrequited: Sergio is indifferent to the political climate in Cuba. He prefers to …

Denunciation Staged as ‘Dialogue’: A Review of Claudia Rankine’s ‘Help’

On March 10th, just days before the lockdown would shut down the theater business in New York City (and most other places), I had the opportunity to see the premier of Claudia Rankine’s new play, Help. Based in part on the acclaimed poet’s 2019 New York Times magazine article, I Wanted to Know What White Men Thought About Their Privilege. So I Asked, the play was presented as an “investigation into whiteness.” Given the events that have unfolded since the death of George Floyd, it’s obviously a timely subject. And it’s unfortunate for Rankine and her venue, The Shed in Hudson Yards, that COVID-19 shut down her production until further notice. I know of no other artistic production that better captures the theoretical underpinnings of progressives’ well-intentioned but flawed approach to tearing down “whiteness.” “Help is a play in which the Narrator inhabits the category of the Black woman in order to be in dialogue with the category of the white man,” Rankine explained in a writer’s note. She is careful to say “category” because …