8/30/2011 1:49:15 PM
Often unrealized by those of us with the ability to hear, Deaf people have forged a unique cultural identity of their own. Most obviously, sign language is the primary form of Deaf communication. But there is also Deaf literature and Deaf journalism, Deaf worship and Deaf humor. In fact some argue that Deafness is an ethnicity, not a medical condition. (See Stefany Anne Goldberg’s “Can You See Me Now?” in the September-October 2011 issue of Utne Reader.)
You wouldn’t think, however, that club dance nights are on the cultural calendars of many Deaf people. Most people need to hear a solid beat (or at least down a few vodka-cranberries) before they muster the courage to publicly shake what their mother gave them. But the promoters behind Sencity, a European dance night series, think that hearing the music is only a small part of a wildly fun evening on the dance floor—and have organized a Deaf-friendly disco party.
“It is all about using all your senses—hearing, touch, sight, smell and taste,” Sencity organizer Nienke van der Peet told the London Evening Standard. “It’s all one big sense-stimulating experience.”
You can get footloose on the “sensefloor,” a vibrating dance floor. And speaking of good vibrations, partygoers can also don a “feel the music suit” that, according to the manufacturer’s website, “identifies and analyzes music in advance, the software reads it and chooses its own pre-programmed vibration patterns to match the music.” The sensory offerings don’t stop at touch. Live video mixing and laser light shows play behind dancers who hand sign the words to the songs. On-site hairdressers and make-up artists make sure everyone is looking sexy. The most unusual component are the “aromajockeys” (see right), who match emotions conveyed by the music to their complementary scent and then waft the smell over the crowd. What does euphoria smell like anyways? (Probably a little like perspiration . . .)
Source: London Evening Standard
Images courtesy of Skyway Programs.
8/25/2011 3:03:58 PM
Growing up, every boy had a set of green toy army men—their feet mired in a puddle of smooth plastic, their guns perpetually cocked. More sadistic boys might burn off the soldiers’ legs, arms, and faces with a powerful magnifying glass. Other soldiers would lose appendages to the family Labrador. The little green men molded by U.K.-based artist collective Dorothy, however, come prepackaged with their limbs blown off. One of them holds his rifle to his own throat.
Another subversive “toy” looks like a snow globe enclosing the four cooling towers of a nuclear power plant. Instead of enchanting white fluffs of snow floating through the globe when shaken, clumps of black ash rain down upon the industrial landscape. Ominously, Dorothy has dubbed these “No Globes.”
Last holiday season, Dorothy packaged up neat boxes of tree ornaments. But their glinting chrome bulbs weren’t smooth orbs of holiday joy—they were shaped like silver hand grenades. Merry Christmas, kids!
“When work like this incites controversy,” writes art magazine Hi-Fructose of Dorothy, “it’s usually for the way it compresses complex political or societal issues into overly cynical or simplistic satire. Dorothy clearly isn’t afraid to offend, but the group never loses its sense of mischievous wit either.”
“Dorothy wants to make us laugh,” Hi-Fructose concludes, “but when the message gets heavier, the group knows only too well that the joke won’t last.”
“Casualties of War”
Images courtesy of Dorothy Collective.
8/23/2011 2:21:58 PM
“Be Prepared.” That’s the motto of one of America’s longest running youth organizations, The Boy Scouts of America. The outdoor adventure and leadership club for boys turned 100 years old last year, and its longevity has piqued the interest of academics and statisticians. Miller-McCune compiled a collection of studies of the boy scouts’ first century, and some of the results may “offer guidance to program leaders for the organization’s next 100 years.”
The first obstacle the scouts face is declining membership. According to Miller-McCune’s Tom Jacobs, “[p]articipation peaked in 1973 with 4.8 million scouts and has since plunged 42 percent, to 2.8 million.” In the same timeframe, the population of America has risen by about 100 million. A number of causes have been attributed to declining membership, including scout masters’ struggle to properly teach outdoors skills to children with less and less exposure to nature and exclusionary, spirituality-based recruitment criteria (the organization bars atheists, agnostics, gays, and girls). Although the Boy Scouts are behind the times culturally, the organization is ahead of the game in regard to America’s number one preoccupation: makin’ moola.
A long established maxim is that boy scouts go on to be more successful than their Honor Badge-less peers. Jacobs points to a 2010 Gallup poll that confirms that:
Twenty-two percent of men who have been Boy Scouts graduate from college compared to 16 percent of non-Scouts; 19 percent of men who have been Boy Scouts achieve a postgraduate education, compared with 13 percent of non-Scouts. Men who have been Boy Scouts also report higher annual incomes.
You’d think that with demographics like these—coupled with our sluggish economy—the ranks of boy scouts would be swelling.
Although many of these studies show interesting trends, the results don’t offer many non-statistical takeaways. “The rap on all this research about Scouts is that little of it has been published in peer-reviewed journals and thus lacks empirical answers to the most important questions,” writes Jacobs. “Does Scouting matter? Do Eagle Scouts achieve greater success than other Scouts? Does the impact of Scouting vary from different eras?”
Image by KOMUnews, licensed under Creative Commons.
8/19/2011 3:01:32 PM
What happened to the days when only punks, criminals, gangsters, and sailors had tattoos? Now you can’t walk into a Culver’s without tripping over 17-year-olds with butterflies inked onto their ankles. Counterculture fought back and pushed the boundaries of socially acceptable body art: Extreme piercings and dermal modifications became more common—as did the once-outré neck, face, and hand tattoos.
Well, the tattoo may have gone mainstream years ago, but only recently has it become a signifier of privilege. “As ink spreads beyond the button-up,” observes Good’s Amanda Hess, “the visible tattoo has emerged as a new middle-class status symbol—a stamp for those rebellious (and privileged) enough to pull it off.”
Hess is referring, of course, to the perceived unemployability of someone with a tattoo anywhere not concealed by their business casual garb—for example, a skull-and-crossbones stamped on the side of their neck. But Hess explains that those who have ample job experience, who aren’t seeking entry-level experience, or who are among the creative class are less likely to miss out on job opportunities because of visible body art than young workers, service-sector employees, or minorities. “Ironically,” a software-industry sales consultant told Hess, “I reckon I’d have more problems getting a job in McDonald’s than doing what I do.”
In other words: Body modification is now a class issue.
Image by kvangijsel, licensed under Creative Commons.
8/18/2011 5:00:27 PM
For the last couple of years there’s been something of a backlash movement against technology. Whether it’s a renewed back-to-the-land spirit, a rise in popularity of local farmers’ markets, people leaving (or vowing to leave) Facebook and Twitter in protest, or manifestos to “unplug” for at least a day, people are looking for ways to get away from their computer screens, both large and small, and get back into the real world. Books like Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford or Made by Hand by Make magazine editor Mark Frauenfelder have served as mouthpieces for a public searching for, as Frauenfelder’s subtitle says, meaning in a throwaway world.
In this vein comes a series of photographs by Todd McLellan entitled Disassembly. Featured in the summer issue of Geist (as well as on the cover), McLellan’s photos are of “discarded technology of the type often found on street curbs and at garage sales.” McLellan told Geist that each photo should “look like if you magically swiped your hands across the image [the pieces] would all fit into place.”
It’s an interesting series in this day and age when we’re told to replace our tech tools every few years, if not sooner.
Images courtesy of Todd McLellan.
8/17/2011 1:49:53 PM
“Sleep is a reward for some, a punishment for others. For all, it is a sanction.”—French modernist poet Isidore Ducasse Comte De Lautréamont.
What shapes a child’s mind, personality, and future? Genetics? Environment? Education? A new clue may lie where the child lays their head to rest.
“When Fabrica [Benetton’s creative laboratory] asked me to come up with an idea for engaging with children’s rights, I found myself thinking about my bedroom,” writes photographer James Mollison, “how significant it was during my childhood, and how it reflected what I had and who I was.”
Mollison is a Kenyan-born English photographer whose portraiture often focuses on people from the global South. His latest project, a children’s book called Where Children Sleep (published by Chris Boot), takes portraits of youngsters from all over the world and from different walks of life and juxtaposes them with a picture of their bedroom—or, in some cases, what approximates as one.
When presented in combo, Mollison’s diptychs show more than a child’s health and sleeping arrangements. The juxtapositions expose systemic differences among cultures, economies, classes, and lifestyles. At the same time, the photographs remind us of the universality of humanity. Writes Mollison:
My thinking was that the bedroom pictures would be inscribed with the children’s material and cultural circumstances—the details that inevitably mark people apart from each other—while the children themselves would appear in the set of portraits as individuals, as equals—just as children.
Kaya, 4, Tokyo, Japan
Joey, 11, Kentucky, USA
Alex, 9, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Jaime, 9, New York, USA
Lamine, 12, Bounkiling village, Senegal
Images courtesy of James Mollison.
8/12/2011 5:40:21 PM
Superman was born from the creative minds of two Jewish teens whose boyhoods were steeped in comic books and science fiction. At age 18, co-creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster first drew the caped superhero that would capture the imagination of future generations. Academics have attributed the boys’ inspiration for Superman to the lofty pages of literature (Shaw), philosophy (Nietzsche), and religion (the Golem). But a far more likely muse, according to Reform Judaism magazine, was something much more accessible to a couple of sci-fi geeks:
[O]f all the speculative theories surrounding the creation of Superman, one exceedingly likely influence has been virtually ignored—a real-life Jewish strongman from Poland who 1. was billed as the “Superman of the Ages”; 2. advertised, on circus posters, as a man able to stop speeding locomotives; 3. wore a cape; 4. looked—with his chiseled movie-star face, wavy hair, and massive upper torso—like the future comic book idol; and 5. performed his death-defying feats in 1923 and 1924 in Cleveland and Toronto, Siegel and Shuster’s respective hometowns, when they were impressionable nine year olds.
Thus Superman’s creation story expands into the utterly accessible realm of a 1920s-era traveling circus strongman named Zisha Breitbart. If you’ve got a little comic book worship in you, check out Breitbart’s life story and his superman stunts of bending iron, wrestling bears, and withstanding beds of nails. And imagine the seeds of America’s favorite superhero being planted in two young minds.
Source: Reform Judaism
Image by greyloch
, licensed under Creative Commons.
8/12/2011 12:15:33 PM
Cats embody different qualities to different people—gods to ancient Egyptians, witches’ familiars to Puritanical Americans, disease carriers and rodent exterminators, howling scourges to writers, cuddly medication to depressives. In the digital age, cats have become cheezburger-craving running punchlines and adorable lunch break distractions.
In short, we’ve become a society obsessed by cats. That doesn’t mean, however, that we had any say in the relationship. “[A]mong all domestic animals cats boast a unique distinction,” writes Tom Chatfield for Prospect, trying to understand Western civilization’s feline affinity, “to the best of our knowledge, it was them who chose us. Or rather, cats chose what humans represented: the plentiful supply of tasty vermin that lived among the stock and refuse of early civilization.”
From a sociological perspective, cat people (this writer included) are fairly irrational. “Vermin-catching skills aside, cats are not useful to humans in any instrumental sense, nor much inclined to put themselves at our service,” says Chatfield, stating the obvious,
In contrast to the empathetic, emphatically useful dog, a cat’s mind is an alien and often unsympathetic mix of impulses. And it’s perhaps this combination of indifference and intimacy that has made it a beast of such ambivalent fascination throughout our history. Felines have been gods, demons, spirits and poppets to humankind over the centuries—and that’s before you reach the maelstrom of the internet and its obsessions. They are, in effect, a blank page onto which we doodle our dreams, fears and obsessions.
It sounds more like Stockholm Syndrome. But Chatfield lucidly acknowledges how the power dynamic might play out in a slightly different world: “I know that [my cat] appreciates the stroking as well as the feeding; but I’m equally certain that, if our sizes were reversed, the only thing that would stop him from eating me instantly would be the pleasure of hunting me first.”
Image by stephenhanafin, licensed under Creative Commons.
8/10/2011 5:41:02 PM
A bibliophile’s personal library might start out neatly contained on bookshelves—perhaps even organized alphabetically within genre—but soon enough more volumes are wedged willy-nilly above the orderly rows, stacked on the floor, jammed into nooks and crannies around the house, and perched atop the refrigerator.
If this describes your home, you’ll appreciate the seven-story tower of books built by visual pop artist Marta Minujín on a pedestrian plaza in Buenos Aires. Composed of 30,000 donated books encased in protective plastic, the art installation spirals 80 feet above passersby, writes 1-800-Recycling.com. Called the Tower of Babel, the artwork stood in the plaza for three weeks, after which it was dismantled and some of its building blocks given away to visitors.
Minujín, who specializes in large-scale “livable” art events that engage the community, conceived the tower to celebrate the Argentinean city’s designation as the 2011 book capital of the world. Many of the volumes were donated by foreign embassies, creating a multilingual piece of art. As Minujín says, “Art needs no translation.”
Gobierno de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires, licensed under Creative Commons.
8/10/2011 10:53:02 AM
Five thousand people streamed through the streets of Manhattan. The crowd marched against the stream of traffic: It made it harder for the NYPD to follow them. Some carried briefcases and umbrellas, having been caught up in the throng on their way home from work or during an afternoon stroll. Others lifted bright placards above their heads. “God Bless You Lyndon For Ending The War,” read one. A smallish man in wire-rimmed glasses and a black military duster led the pack, singing, “I declare the war is over” in an off-pitch, nasal croon.
The man’s name was Phil Ochs, and the Vietnam War wouldn’t actually end for another seven and a half years.
Phil Ochs is an American enigma. He grew up Jewish in El Paso, Texas, with his father, a veteran with crippling post-traumatic stress disorder, and mother, a nouveau riche Scottish immigrant. With only an acoustic guitar, Ochs wrote trenchant protest music and gave the ‘60s counterculture movement its most famous anti-war anthem. John Wayne and Elvis Presley, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan, Victor Jara and Robert F. Kennedy were all among his idols. He drank too much. Alcoholism turned into depression, depression turned into lunacy, and all three drove him to suicide at the age of 35.
Ochs’ meteoric rise and fall are the subject of Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune, a comprehensive documentary of the young musician’s life and passions, released last month on First Run Features. Director Kenneth Bowser charts Ochs’ inspirations through shifting political winds, revolutionary cultural trends, and the abrupt punctuation marks of history. Bowser sketches a sharp portrait of a man devoted to equality, progress, and justice until his untimely death.
Most listeners first hear of Ochs after following a footnote in a Bob Dylan biography. Along with Dylan, Tim Hardin, Dave Van Ronk, and others, Ochs joined the early ‘60s “topical song” movement budding in the brownstones of Greenwich Village, an early hotbed of countercultural art and anti-war activism. Dylan became Ochs’ friend and, ultimately, his hero. “I went to NY to become the best songwriter in the country,” said Ochs, as recalled by his brother Michael, “and then I met Dylan, and I decided I’d be the second best.” But their collaborative relationship quickly developed skewed power dynamics.
In short, Dylan thought Ochs’ music was shallow rubbish, lacking emotion and poetry. (On one famous occasion, Dylan kicked Ochs out of his limousine and yelled after him, “You’re not a singer. You’re a journalist.”) In all fairness, headlines in the New York Times often inspired Ochs’ early songs: He would even go on to name his debut album All the News That’s Fit to Sing, an homage to the Times’ journalistic tagline. Buried at the back of the A-section, real world stories about civil rights abuses, inequality, war, busted economics, and crooked politics made Ochs’ blood boil. By complementing the rigid reportage of the New York Times with progressive moralizing and sardonic humor, Ochs hoped to transform the world around him.
“In every revolution there are clowns that precede the real stuff,” Ochs would say after the “War is Over” march. “And that’s what I am. I’m a pre-revolutionary clown.”
In 1967, Ochs took up with Theater of the Absurd dramatists after leaving New York for Los Angeles to record Pleasures of the Harbor, a stylistic U-turn from the journalistic folk of his earlier work. Straight talk, Ochs found, wasn’t reaching enough people or spurring much political change. “We spent years fighting against the war on a moral basis,” he said, “and the administration doesn’t listen at all. And then you become increasingly aware that you’re not having any effect.” Instead, Ochs planned a rally that was not only hopeful in a cynical age, but could capture the popular imagination.
“It was quite effective,” activist and friend Abbie Hoffman explained in an archival interview, “because in that moment they had to say ‘Well, what would it be like if the war was over?’” From the rally forward, the absurd would define Ochs’ career and personal life.
On the next three albums, Ochs parodied and epitomized stardom, without ever getting too popular. Ever tongue-in-cheek, he donned an Elvis-inspired all-gold lamé suit for the cover of his final album, Greatest Hits. (Despite what the name implies, Greatest Hits featured only original songs—Ochs didn’t have any hits.) He travelled the world, slumming through bordellos in Haiti, recording proto-afro-folk in Kenya, and witnessing first-hand the radical government of Allende’s Chile. It was a last-ditch chance to escape himself, the person he would become.
John Butler Train hung himself with a belt from a hook on his sister’s bathroom door on April 6, 1976.
Ochs chose the pseudonym John Train as he spiraled down what would be his last major depressive cycle. John Train claimed that he had murdered Phil Ochs and was now taking over his life. He feared the CIA was trying to assassinate him, so he carried a weapon at all times. His brother tried to have him committed, but Phil chose a brief life of homelessness instead. After a while, Ochs found his way to Far Rockaway, New York, to live with his sister, Sonny. He wouldn’t leave her house, even to buy cigarettes or booze; he stayed indoors, playing solitaire and the piano melody of “Jim Dean of Indiana” until she got home from teaching each day. One day when she came home, the piano was silent.
Dave Van Ronk visited Sonny’s apartment shortly after the suicide. He had had an argument with Ochs, a drunken affair that cut deep on both sides. Van Ronk felt guilt—for his own falling out with Ochs, and for the family that Phil left behind. “Mistakes are lodged like harpoons and fish hooks in an intelligent person’s soul,” Van Ronk said later. At Ochs’ memorial service, Van Ronk played his song “He Was a Friend of Mine,” and in that context, it was utterly heart-rending.
Ochs’ life was tragic. And like most tragedies, you can see them from a long way off.
Rewind to 1975. American forces lost control of Saigon. Troops were barreling out of Vietnam. A decade of protest had finally paid off—or at least been legitimized. A celebration was in order, and this time around Ochs could truthfully say that the war was over.
More than 100,000 people crowded Central Park. Many felt lost, or confused. The evil that the counterculture movement worked so hard to undo was undone. So, now what? Undoubtedly, Ochs had the same question on his mind. As his brother Michael puts it in the documentary, “that was the last dragon to be slain.” Without a dragon, who needs a knight?
“There But for Fortune,” a hauntingly sad duet performed by Ochs and Joan Baez, was one of the rally’s final performances. It was a eulogy for an era, and for its knight.
Show me the country, where the bombs had to fall
Show me the ruins of the buildings, once so tall
And I'll show you, young land
with so many reasons why
there but for fortune go you and I, you and I.
Images courtesy of First Run Features.
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