Thursday, August 25, 2011

Art and Soul in the West Wing

Last month, Norman Rockwell's painting "The Problem We All Live With" was installed in the West Wing of the White House. Politico carried an article about the installation, and Mediaite followed up with a slide show of other "controversial" art choices made by previous Presidents.

Rockwell's illustration was published in Look magazine in 1964 just two months after the assassination of John F. Kennedy and a month before the Civil Rights Act was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

The painting was based on the story of Ruby Bridges, a six-year-old girl who integrated William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans accompanied by U.S. Marshals sent in by President Eisenhower.

The White House posted this video of President Obama discussing the painting and the incident with Ruby Bridges.

The historic moment was also captured by John Steinbeck in Travels with Charley.

The show opened on time. Sound the sirens. Motorcycle cops. Then two big black cars filled with big men in blond felt hats pulled up in front of the school. The crowd seemed to hold its breath. Four big marshals got out of each car and from somewhere in the automobiles they extracted the littlest negro girl you ever saw, dressed in shining starchy white, with new white shoes on feet so little they were almost round. Her face and little legs were very black against the white. The big marshals stood her on the curb and a jangle of jeering shrieks went up from behind the barricades. The little girl did not look at the howling crowd, but from the side the whites of her eyes showed like those of a frightened fawn. The men turned her around like a doll and then the strange procession moved up the broad walk toward the school, and the child was even more a mite because the men were so big. Then the girl made a curious hop, and I think I know what it was. I think in her whole life she had not gone ten steps without skipping, but now in the middle of her first step, the weight bore her down and her little round feet took measured, reluctant steps between the tall guards. Slowly they climbed the steps and entered the school.

What luck for Rockwell that Steinbeck was on the scene. He drew the same picture with his words.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Bend Your Swords Into Brooms (and Bagpipes)

The rioting in London continues and is spreading throughout Britain. (The BBC online is the best source of up-to-date information.) Doubtful if these brooms can clean up all the broken glass in London or do anything about the torched shops and cars, but what looks to be largely young people with brooms raised as weapons is pretty great political theater and symbolically wrests a little power back from the rioters.

And while we are on the topic of cleaning up, the Wisconsin recall election happens today, in response to the controversial budget priorities of Gov. Scott Walker, including the elimination of collective bargaining for public employees. The political theater of the takeover of the statehouse in Februrary was breathtaking in its contrast to the national narrative, i.e., it's the Tea Party that is supposedly representing angry "average" folks. There is a ton of video of the demonstrations, but the firefighters (who were exempt Walker's collective bargaining crackdown) who showed up in support of the other public employees camped out at the Wisconsin capitol armed with bagpipes is the most soul-stirring. There is nothing like bagpipes to up the emotional ante.

Update: Incredible slide/video show from New York Magazine.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Jackie O M G

Secret tapes Jackie Kennedy Onassis made just months after JFK's death, reveal that she thought LBJ was responsible for the assassination and that she had an affair with William Holden, "in retaliation for her husband's many flings." The Daily Mail has the full story.

"Let me dry your back" indeed.

Gender Sells

Newsweek is getting a lot of attention today for the cover shot of Michele Bachmann that accompanies their profile piece, saying it makes her look crazy. While Newsweek may be creating controversy in order to hawk magazines, the characterization of Bachmann as crazy is not without evidence.

And as Matt Taibbi pointed out in his Rolling Stone Bachmann piece:
"In modern American politics, being the right kind of ignorant and entertainingly crazy is like having a big right hand in boxing; you've always got a puncher's chance."

While the blogosphere is in a tail-spin about the Bachmann cover, the real story seems to be that Tina Brown, since taking over as Editor-in-Chief at Newsweek, has decided that females buy magazines, and thus like to see famous females on the cover, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Between Two Colors

Ff you don't know who Jane White was, you should. The New York Times has a great obit for this bi-racial classical actress and cabaret singer. Her own words are the best part of the piece.
“I’ve just always been too ‘white’ to be ‘black’ and too ‘black’ to be ‘white,’ which, you know, gets to you after a while, particularly when the roles keep passing you by,” she told an interviewer in 1968
"And if nothing else, bringing humanity to the stage makes a difference in the world, she added, “in black face or white face."

Friday, August 5, 2011


Godfrey Reggio, creator of Koyaanisquatsi and Powasqquatsi has made an 8-minute film of children's faces as they watch television. Godfrey says of the film:
Unlike people in a movie theatre, where images are projected onto a screen, television viewers become prey to the television’s own light impulses, they go into an altered state - a transfixed condition where the eyes, the mind, the breathing of the subject is clearly under the control of an outside force. In a poetic sense and without exaggerating one might say that the television technology is eating the subjects who sit before its gaze.

Immediately, this scene from Truffaut's 400 Blows came to mind:

Evidence of the difference between television and LIVE performance?