All posts filed under: Art

Sabrina the Woke Witch is a Disgrace to Baphomet

Like many Canadian teenage girls who came of age in the 1990s, I grew up on 2% milk, dime-store candy and tales of the occult. I was slightly too old for the Harry Potter craze, falling instead for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and films such as The Craft. One of my special favorites was Sabrina the Teenage Witch, an ABC series about a magical American teenager who lives with her 500-year-old aunts and a talking cat. Witchcraft fascinated me. When girls reach that liminal time between child and woman, our bodies transform—and, with them, our sense of control. It’s a strange thing to go from being cosseted and encouraged to desired and despised. It feels a little like dark magic—though not the kind one can control. Unless, of course, you are a witch. Like the magical artifacts Harry Potter is always stumbling upon, witchcraft offers power. It promises a way to re-shape the world to a girl’s advantage, to gain freedom from parents, to toy with boys’ hearts while numbing one’s own. Male magic fantasies …

Writing for Quillette Ended My Theater Project

It was suggested that I apologize, and that an apology might help. This wasn’t an assurance, but an idea—if I walked back what I had written, there might be a way forward. I looked around the table at these four women who knew me too well to believe that I would apologize for something I had written. Before each of us sat the full length script on which we’d spent several months collaborating. I’d formed this theater collective precisely to make a play based on a killer idea I’d had, and I’d asked each of these talented, thoughtful, intelligent, creative women to work with me. We were only in the first few months of what was meant to be a year-long residency in a theater space in downtown Manhattan. What I wanted most of all was to develop this project. By the time it was suggested that I apologize, I knew full well that I wouldn’t, and that the project, the theater company, and the residency were all dead in the water. At issue was …

Camille Paglia: It’s Time for a New Map of the Gender World

I discovered Camille Paglia’s work when I was pursuing my undergraduate arts education at The University of Adelaide, South Australia, in the early 2000s. I was deeply disillusioned with the courses in my arts degree and their monomaniacal focus on social constructionism, and was looking for criticism of Michel Foucault on the internet. I stumbled across a 1991 op-ed written by Paglia for The New York Times, in which she described the followers of Lacan, Derrida and Foucault, as “fossilized reactionaries,” and “the perfect prophets for the weak, anxious academic personality.” I was hooked. It wasn’t long before I discovered that my university’s library contained each of her books, including the essay collections Vamps and Tramps and Sex, Art and American Culture. For the final year of my arts degree, (before pursuing my studies in psychology) I spent the bulk of my time at the university reading Paglia in the library. She was like a revelation. Her work was subversive but erudite, and she synthesized insights made in the realm of the arts, ancient history and folk biology—something that no other scholar …

Portrait of the Artist as a False Accuser

In 1976 and 1977, New York City was terrorized by one of America’s most infamous serial killers. Before being captured in front of his Yonkers home, David Berkowitz killed six victims, and wounded seven others. Berkowitz claimed he was following the orders of his neighbour’s dog, whom he described as being connected to a demonic figure named Sam. “I am a monster,” Berkowitz wrote in one of the notes he left for police. “I am the ‘Son of Sam.’” Berkowitz was sentenced to six life sentences, and remains in jail to this day. His legacy includes not only the horrific crimes he committed, but also a special kind of legislation inspired by fears that the killer would sell his lurid and sensational story to a publisher or studio. The “Son of Sam” law created by New York State in 1977, which exists in modified form to this day, required that revenues from a criminal’s descriptions of his crimes be deposited in escrow and disbursed to his victims. And while Berkowitz’s crimes were especially horrific, these …

Art, Commerce, and Vision

I’m a novelist and my husband Sabin Howard is a classical figurative sculptor. Currently he’s the sculptor for the National World War I Memorial, which will be a 56 foot long bronze relief set in Pershing Park, Washington D.C. Before Sabin forayed into public art, he sculpted from life models. Over the course of designing soldiers in combat and nurses tending the wounded for the WWI Memorial, he has evolved into an expressive humanist. But for decades he put clay over a steel armature while looking at a flesh-and-bones body in space, hiring models the way Canova or Rodin did. The model in Sabin’s studio was a vehicle both for an individual figure with psychological expression, and for an allegorical one that embodies a higher ideal. Sabin has always been of the view that art elevates us. His body of work includes heroic scale sculptures, including the Aphrodite. Eight women posed for her: a flamenco dancer for the legs, a yoga teacher for the core. I can relate funny anecdotes about the responses from Craig’s List …

The Purity Spiral of Canada’s Music Industry

In 2015, the Canadian music world erupted in controversy when a Calgary post-punk band named Viet Cong came to slight prominence with the release of their debut album. The name was deemed culturally appropriative, insensitive and racist. And the band endured concert cancellations and protests throughout a North American tour for its self-titled debut album, with some activists claiming that the band’s name was enough to cause them full-blown emotional trauma. Finally, in late 2015, members of the band announced they would change the name, unveiling “Preoccupations” in 2016 (under whose banner the band has released two further albums). One might think the band would be lauded for this move: The members took the protests seriously, spoke to those involved—even if they may have bristled at the accusations of outright racism, and pushed back against the level of scorn they were receiving. Having chosen “Viet Cong” in an unserious moment during an early rehearsal session, the band eventually concluded that four guys from Alberta, none with any personal connection to Vietnam, might want to pick …

My Unpopular Opinion: There Are Too Many Mediocre Artists

Every now and again, a friend of mine holds a ‘what’s your unpopular opinion?’ discussion in a club we jointly run. Everyone takes turns to say something not so much outrageous or contrarian (debates are seldom about politics) but bitter – as in ‘bitter truth’. People argue, say, that colonialism is a good idea (when done by the British, of course), or that sometimes historic buildings and artefacts are more important than people (and should by preference be preserved in wartime), or that corporal punishment is probably not such a bad idea for certain sorts of crimes (and criminals). He imposes the Chatham House rule so people aren’t set upon afterwards by mobs of offendotrons trying to get them sacked for wrongthink. Well, I’ve decided to go public with one of my unpopular opinions. There are too many artists, too many people who want to be artists, most of them aren’t very good, and schools should focus on inculcating self-discipline rather than dopey ‘all must have prizes’ creativity. Most people are only ever going to …

The Furore Over a Quebec Theatre Production Has Missed the Point

Quebec is a bastion of North American progressivism. Canada’s only majority-Francophone province is a place where postsecondary education is heavily subsidized, unions remain powerful, the social safety net is thick, and the power grid is fuelled by green hydroelectric energy. Given all this, it might have surprised some outside observers to learn that Quebec briefly played host this summer to a theatrical production described by one prominent artist as “reminiscent of blackface minstrel shows.” The controversy sprang to popular attention when Montreal’s Jazz Festival canceled the remaining performances of SLAV, in which a white star (surrounding by a largely white cast) performed songs composed by black slaves. Director Robert Lepage, a giant of the Quebec stage, denounced the decision as “a direct blow” to his artistic freedom. But activists within Quebec’s black community described the cancelation as necessary. “I am not the type to scream about cultural appropriation, but this project left me with an acrid aftertaste,” Québécois rapper Webster wrote in Le Devoir. “How many will benefit from black cultural heritage set to stage …

Unfabling the East—A Review

A review of Unfabling the East: The Enlightenment’s Encounter with Asia by Jürgen Osterhammel (translated by Robert Savage). Princeton University Press (June, 2018) 696 pages. Late nineteenth century Europeans were arrogantly certain of the inherent superiority of their civilization. Edward Said’s influential book Orientalism (1978) describes representations of the East as inverted projections of Western superiority. Europeans looked down on the East and created myths that flattered the supposedly more advanced and civilized imperialists. Said’s thesis is controversial, but there’s no question that headstrong imperialism was an intellectual force at the apogee of Empire. The problem is that the critique of representation has itself become dogmatic, losing sight of the diversity of historical sources and unable to reflect critically on its own practices. Postmodern critiques either accuse Europeans of ignoring difference, because they are blinded by universalism, or of the opposite: exaggerating difference and creating the stigmatised ‘Other.’ The diagnoses can be diametrically opposed, but the common theme is that Europeans’ prejudices render them unable to understand Asia. Edward Said’s acolytes have become the new …

Censorship and Stereotypes: China’s Hip-Hop Generation

Last year, China was hit by a phenomenon unprecedented in its history. Close to a billion of its citizens tuned in to watch ‘The Rap of China,’ a competition designed to introduce hip-hop to a broader public. It was so successful that several of the show’s participants, many of whom were relative unknowns from the underground, went on to sign lucrative record deals and become mainstream stars. The rising popularity of a genre known for its politically subversive content and heavy use of profanity clearly unnerved some of the more staid, rigid ideologues in the Communist Party who saw the art form’s potential to encourage youngsters to stray from collectivist values. Subsequently two high-profile rappers, GAI and PG One, both competitors in ‘The Rap of China,’ were reprimanded for their misogynistic content. The latter was singled out for particular disapproval by the Communist Youth League for his references to pornography and drug use. A nationwide government crackdown ensued and hip-hop culture was effectively banned from the heavily state-controlled mainstream media on the grounds that it …