You should actually blame America for everything you hate about internet culture

November 21

The tastes of American Internet-users are both well-known and much-derided: Cat videos. Personality quizzes. Lists of things that only people from your generation/alma mater/exact geographic area “understand.”

But in France, it turns out, even viral-content fiends are a bit more … sophistiqués.

“In France, articles about cats do not work,” Buzzfeed’s Scott Lamb told Le Figaro, a leading Parisian paper. Instead, he explained, Buzzfeed’s first year in the country has shown it that “the French love sharing news and politics on social networks – in short, pretty serious stuff.”

This is interesting for two reasons: first, as conclusive proof that the French are irredeemable snobs; second, as a crack in the glossy, understudied facade of what we commonly call “Internet culture.”

When the New York Times’s David Pogue tried to define the term in 2009, he ended up with a series of memes: the “Star Wars” kid, the dancing baby, rickrolling, the exploding whale. Likewise, if you look to anyone who claims to cover the Internet culture space — not only Buzzfeed, but Mashable, Gawker and, yeah, yours truly — their coverage frequently plays on what Lamb calls the “cute and positive” theme. They’re boys who work at Target and have swoopy hair, videos of babies acting like “tiny drunk adults,” hamsters eating burritos and birthday cakes.

That is the meaning we’ve assigned to “Internet culture,” itself an ambiguous term: It’s the fluff and the froth of the global Web.

But Lamb’s observations on Buzzfeed’s international growth would actually seem to suggest something different. Cat memes and other frivolities aren’t the work of an Internet culture. They’re the work of an American one.

American audiences love animals and “light content,” Lamb said, but readers in other countries have reacted differently. Germans were skeptical of the site’s feel-good frivolity, he said, and some Australians were outright “hostile.” Meanwhile, in France — land of la mode and le Michelin — critics immediately complained, right at Buzzfeed’s French launch, that the articles were too fluffy and poorly translated. Instead, Buzzfeed quickly found that readers were more likely to share articles about news, politics and regional identity, particularly in relation to the loved/hated Paris, than they were to share the site’s other fare.

A glance at Buzzfeed’s French page would appear to bear that out. Right now, its top stories “Ça fait le buzz” — that’s making the buzz, for you Americaines — are “21 photos that will make you laugh every time” and “26 images that will make you rethink your whole life.” They’re not making much buzz, though. Neither has earned more than 40,000 clicks — a pittance for the reigning king of virality, particularly in comparison to Buzzfeed’s versions on the English site.

All this goes to show that the things we term “Internet culture” are not necessarily born of the Internet, itself — the Internet is everywhere, but the insatiable thirst for cat videos is not. If you want to complain about dumb memes or clickbait or other apparent instances of socially sanctioned vapidity, blame America: We started it, not the Internet.

Appelons un chat un chat.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2014/11/21/you-should-actually-blame-america-for-everything-you-hate-about-internet-culture/

Every sci-fi movie since Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece has echoed the original in certain unavoidable ways

Kubrick’s indestructible influence: “Interstellar’’ joins the long tradition of borrowing from “2001’’

Kubrick's indestructible influence: "Interstellar’’ joins the long tradition of borrowing from "2001’’
“2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Interstellar” (Credit: Warner Bros./Salon)

When I first heard about Christopher Nolan’s new sci-fi adventure, “Interstellar,” my immediate thought was only this: Here comes the latest filmmaker to take on Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Though it was released more than 40 years ago, ”2001″ remains the benchmark for the “serious” science fiction film: technical excellence married to thematic ambition, and a pervading sense of historic self-importance.

More specifically, I imagined that Nolan would join a long line of challengers to aim squarely at “2001’s” famous Star Gate sequence, where astronaut Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) passes through a dazzling space-time light show and winds up at a waystation en route to his transformation from human being into the quasi-divine Star Child.

The Star Gate scene was developed by special effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull, who modernized an old technique known as slit scan photography (you can learn more about it here). While we’ve long since warp-drived our way beyond the sequence effects-wise (you can now do slit scan on your phone), the Star Gate’s eerie and propulsive quality is still powerful, because it functions as much more than just eye candy. It’s a set piece whose theme is the attempt to transcend set pieces — and character, and narrative and, most of all, the technical limitations of cinema itself.

In “2001,” the Star Gate scene is followed by another scene that also turns up frequently in sci-fi flicks. Bowman arrives at a series of strange rooms, designed in the style of Louis XVI (as interpreted by an alien intelligence), and he watches himself age and die before being reborn. Where is he? Another galaxy? Another dimension? Heaven? Hell? What are the mysterious monoliths that have brought him here? Why?

Let’s call this the Odd Room Scene. Pristine and uncanny, the odd room is the place at the end of the journey where truths of all sorts, profound and pretentious, clear and obscure, are at last revealed. In “The Matrix Reloaded,” for instance, Neo’s Odd Room Scene is his meeting with an insufferable talking suit called the Architect, where he learns the truth about the Matrix. Last summer’s “Snowpiercer,” about a train perpetually carrying the sole survivors of a new Ice Age around the world, follows the lower-class occupants of the tail car as they stage a revolution, fighting and hacking their way through first class toward the train’s engine, an Odd Room where our hero learns the truth about the train.



These final scenes in “2001″ still linger in the collective creative consciousness as inspiration or as crucible. The Star Gate and the Odd Room, particular manifestations of the journey and the revelation, have become two key architectural building blocks of modern sci-fi films. The lure to imitate and try to top these scenes, either separately or together, is apparently too powerful to resist.

Perhaps the most literal of the Star Gate-Odd Room imitators is Robert Zemeckis’s 1997 “Contact.” It’s a straightforward drama about humanity’s efforts to build a large wormhole machine whose plans have been sent by aliens, and the debate over which human should be the first to journey beyond the solar system. The prize falls to Jodie Foster’s agnostic astronomer Ellie Arroway. During the film’s Star Gate sequence, Foster rides a capsule through a wormhole that winds her around distant planets and through a newly forming star. Zemeckis’s knockoff is a decent roller coaster, but nothing more. Arroway is anxious as she goes through the wormhole, but still in control of herself; a deeply distressed Bowman, by contrast, is losing his mind.

Arroway’s wormhole deposits her in an Odd Room that looks to her (and us) like a beach lit by sunlight and moonlight. She is visited by a projection of her dead father, the aliens’ way of appearing to her in a comfortable guise, and she learns the stunning truth about … well, actually, she doesn’t learn much. Her father gives her a Paternal Alien Pep Talk. Yes, there is a lot of life out in the galaxy. No, you can’t hang out with us. No, we’re not going to answer any of your real questions. Just keep working hard down there on planet Earth; you’ll get up here eventually (as long as you all don’t kill each other first).

Brian De Palma tried his own version of the Odd Room at the end of 2000’s “Mission to Mars,” which culminates in a team of astronauts entering a cool, Kubrick-like room in an alien spaceship on Mars and, yes, learning the stunning truth about the origins of life on Earth. De Palma is a skilled practitioner of the mainstream Hollywood set piece, but you can feel the film working up quite a sweat trying and failing to answer “2001,” and early-century digital effects depicting red Martians are, to be charitable, somewhat dated.

But here comes “Interstellar.” This film would appear to be the best shot we’ve had in years to challenge the supremacy of the Star Gate, of “2001″ itself, as a Serious Sci-Fi Film About Serious Ideas. Christopher Nolan should be the perfect candidate to out-Star Gate the Star Gate. Kubrick machined his visuals to impossibly tight tolerances. Nolan (along with his screenwriter brother Jonathan) do much the same to their films’ narratives, manufacturing elaborately conceived contraptions. The film follows a Hail Mary pass to find a planet suitable for the human race as the last crops on earth begin to die out. Matthew McConaughey plays an astronaut tasked with piloting a starship through a wormhole, into another galaxy and onto a potentially habitable planet. “Interstellar” promises a straight-ahead technological realism as well as a sense of conscious “We’re pushing the envelope” ambition. (Hey, even Neil deGrasse Tyson vouches for the film’s science bonafides.) The possibilities and ambiguities of time, one of Nolan’s consistent concerns as a storyteller, is meant, I think, to be the trump card that takes “Interstellar” past “2001.”

But the film is not about fealty to, or the realistic depiction of, relativity theory. It’s about “2001.” And before it can try to usurp the throne, “Interstellar” must first kiss the ring. (And if you haven’t seen “Interstellar” yet, you might want to stop reading now.) So we get the seemingly rational crewmember who proves to be homicidal. The dangerous attempt to manually enter a spaceship. More brazenly, there’s a set piece of one ship docking with another. In “2001,” the stately docking of a spaceship with a wheel-shaped space station, turning gently above the Earth to the strains of the Blue Danube was, quite literally, a waltz, a graceful celestial courtship. It clued us in early that the machines in “2001″ would prove more lively, more human, than the humans. “Interstellar” assays the same moment, only on steroids. It turns that waltz, so rich in subtext, into a violent, vertiginous fandango as a shuttle tries to dock with a mothership that’s pirouetting out of control.

Finally, after a teasing jaunt through a wormhole earlier in the movie, we come to “Interstellar’s” Star Gate moment, as Cooper plummets into a black hole and ultimately into a library-like Odd Room that M.C. Escher might have fancied. It’s visually impressive for a moment, but its imprint quickly fades.

It’s too bad.” Interstellar” wants the stern grandeur of “2001″ and the soft-hearted empathy of Steven Spielberg, but in most respects achieves neither. Visually only a few images impress themselves in your brain — Nolan, as is often the case in his movies, is more successful designing and calibrating his story than at creating visuals worthy of his ambition. Yet the film doesn’t manage the emotional dynamics, either. It’s not for lack of trying. The Nolan brothers are rigorous scenarists, and the concept of dual father-daughter bonds being tested and reaffirmed across space-time is strong enough on the drawing board. (Presumably, familial love is sturdier than romantic love, though the film makes a half-hearted stab at the latter.)

For those with a less sentimental bent, the thematic insistence on the primacy of love might seem hokey, but it’s one way the film tries to advance beyond the chilly humanism of Kubrick toward something more warm-blooded. Besides, when measured against the stupefying vastness of the universe, what other human enterprise besides love really matters? The scale of the universe and its utter silence is almost beyond human concern, anyway.

So I don’t fault a film that suggests that it’s love more than space-age alloys and algorithms that can overcome the bounds of space and time. But the big ideas Nolan is playing with are undercut by too much exposition about what they mean. The final scene between Cooper and his elderly daughter — the triumphant, life-affirming emotional home run — is played all wrong, curt and businesslike. It’s a moment Spielberg would have handled with more aplomb; he would have had us teary-eyed, for sure, even those who might feel angry at having their heartstrings yanked so hard. This is more like having a filmmaker give a lecture on how to pull at the heartstrings without actually doing it.

Look, pulling off these Star Gate-like scenes requires an almost impossible balance. The built-in expectations in the structure of the story itself are unwieldy enough, without the association to one of science fiction’s most enduring scenes. You can make the transcendent completely abstract, like poetry, a string of visual and aural sensations, and hope viewers are in the right space to have their minds blown, but you run the risk of copping out with deliberate obfuscation. (We can level this charge at the Star Gate sequence itself.)

But it’s easy to press too far the other way — to personify the higher power or the larger force at the end of these journeys with a too literal explanation that leaves us underwhelmed. I suppose what we yearn for is just a tiny revelation, one that honors our desire for awe, preserves a larger mystery, but is not entirely inaccessible. It’s a tiny taste of the sublime. There’s an imagined pinpoint here where we would dream of transcendence as a paradox, as having God-like perception and yet still remaining human, perhaps only for a moment before crossing into something new. For viewers, though, the Star Gate scenes ultimately play on our side of that crossroads: To be human is to steal a glimpse of the transcendent, to touch it, without transcending.

While Kubrick didn’t have modern digital effects to craft his visuals with, in retrospect he had the easier time of it. It’s increasingly difficult these days to really blow an audience’s minds. We’ve seen too much. We know too much. The legitimate pleasure we can take in knowledge, in our ability to decode an ever-more-complex array of allusions and references, may not be as pleasurable or meaningful as truly seeing something beyond what we think we know.

Maybe the most successful challenger to Kubrick was Darren Aronofsky and his 2006 film “The Fountain.” The film, a meditation on mortality and immortality, plays out in three thematically-linked stories: A conquistador (Hugh Jackman) searches the new world for the biblical Tree of Life; a scientist (Jackman again) tries to save his cancer-stricken wife (Rachel Weisz), and a shaven-headed, lotus-sitting traveler (Jackman once more) journeys to a distant nebula. It’s the latter that bears the unique “2001″ imprint of journey and revelation: Jackman travels in a bubble containing the Tree of Life, through a milky and golden cosmicscape en route to his death and rebirth. It’s the Star Gate and the Odd Room all in one. Visually, Aronofsky eschewed computer-generated effects for a more organic approach that leans on fluid dynamics. I won’t tell you the film is a masterpiece — its Grand Unifying ending is more than a little inscrutable; again, pulling this stuff of is a real tightrope — but the visuals are wondrous and unsettling, perhaps the closest realization since the original of what the Star Gate sequence is designed to evoke.

Having said that, though, it may be time to turn away from the Star Gate in our quest for the mind-blowing sci-fi cinematic sequence. Filmmakers have thus far tried to imagine something like it, only better, and have mostly failed. It’s harder to imagine something beyond it, something unimaginable. Maybe future films should not be quite so literal in their chasing of those transcendent moments. This might challenge a new generation of filmmakers while also allowing the Star Gate, and “2001″ itself, to lie fallow for awhile, so we can return to it one day with fresh eyes.

It is, after all, when we least suspect it that a story may find a way past our jaded eyes and show us a glimpse of something that really does stir a moment of profound connection. There is one achingly brief moment in “Interstellar” that accomplishes this: Nolan composes a magnificent shot of a small starship, seen from a great distance gliding past Saturn’s awesome rings. The ship glitters in a gentle rhythm as it catches light of the Sun. It’s a throwaway, a transitional moment between one scene and another, merely meant to establish where we are. But its very simplicity and beauty, the power of its scale, invites us for a moment to experience the scale of the unknown and to appreciate our efforts to find a place in it, or beyond it.

http://www.salon.com/2014/11/22/kubricks_indestructible_influence_interstellar_joins_the_long_tradition_of_borrowing_from_2001/?source=newsletter

THE DIVINE COMEDY

Dante Illuminating Florence with his Poemk, by Domenico di Michelino

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.

Dante: The Divine Comedy
Inferno: Canto I

While plumbing the depths of my Kindle seeking World War 2 research materials I discovered Dan Brown’s “Inferno” (2013) amongst the German books. I honestly don’t know how it got there.  But I began reading “Inferno” as a break from all the war material and Brown brought me back to the magical time I spent in Florence, Italy and my days as a scholar of Medieval and Renaissance literature and iconography. I went to Italy to research artistic symbols and images as reflected in literature and Florence was, of course, a major source of material. I even painstakingly translated parts of Dante’s “Divine Comedy” from the Medieval Italian. I miss the person I was back then. My plan was to stay in Florence but life intruded.

DIGITAL MUSIC NEWS

Federal Judge Rejects Sirius XM’s Call

For Summary Judgment In Pre-1972 Case

 

     The Turtles keep on rolling to copyright victory, as a federal judge in New York has ruled against Sirius XM in the ongoing battle to collect royalties on recordings made before 1972. Last Friday (Nov. 14) Judge Colleen McMahon of United States District Court in Manhattan rejected Sirius XM’s motion for summary judgment, saying the Turtles have performing rights to their recordings under New York State law. She gave Sirius XM until Dec. 5 to dispute the remaining facts in the case; otherwise Sirius XM will be ruled liable for infringement.

“General principles of common copyright law dictate that public performance rights in pre-1972 sound recordings do exist,” Judge McMahon wrote in her decision. The ruling comes after a separate win for the Turtles in September, when a federal judge in California found Sirius XM liable for infringement under state laws there. According to The New York Times, that decision was viewed as a major victory for artists and record companies, although its wider impact was unclear because it applied only to that state.

Judge McMahon’s decision strengthened the music industry’s position that pre-1972 recordings are covered under state laws. Still, recording and broadcast industry executives say the potential for widespread confusion over music licensing – for example, it may mean that thousands of AM-FM radio stations, as well as restaurants or sports arenas where music is performed, may have been infringing on recording rights for decades – likely will require clarification from Congress. 

YouTube Launches Music Key In

Already-Crowded Streaming Field

 

     After years of false starts and seemingly endless label negotiations, YouTube’s Music Key launched earlier this week to the ultimate question: will users actually pay $9.99 for something  they previously received free of charge? That’s the monthly rate Google set for its ad-free service that also offers offline functionality, with a company spokesperson telling Billboard, “The goal is more ways to play music on YouTube, giving artists more ways to reach fans and make money.”

So why create a subscription service, especially given the competitive landscape? As Billboard notes, Apple is certain to grow its share of the streaming market, Amazon is going after middle-of-the-road listeners with Music Prime, and Spotify has a head start of 12.5 million U.S. subscribers (28 million worldwide in 2013, according to IFPI).

Still, many industry executives hope Music Key will help YouTube clean up the metadata that often gets lost in uploads of master recordings and drives users to the original composer and purchase links. This has been a core asset of YouTube’s Content ID system, which has disbursed more than $1 billion in revenue to labels and content creators since 2007. 

YouTube Refuses To Remove Songs

By Artists Represented By Azoff’s GMR

 

     YouTube apparently has refused to remove songs composed by artists represented by Irving Azoff’s Global Music Rights (GMR), forcing a showdown between the 42 artists the music icon represents and the Google-owned video site. The dispute stems from YouTube’s claim that it has licensing deals in place with the record labels, while Azoff contends that in order to publicly perform those 42 artists’ songs, the company also has to pay the songwriters, which Azoff says are “massively underpaid” when it comes to digital services.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the primary question here is whether YouTube has a right to perform these songs until proven otherwise. GMR thinks the burden of proving a valid license is on YouTube, which reportedly says it has a multiyear license for the public performance of works represented by GMR. The licensors aren’t identified, but it’s possible that YouTube believes its covered by prior deals made with ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, or a foreign performing rights organization.

Howard King, an attorney representing GMR, says YouTube has failed to comply with demands to stop performing those 20,000 songs. “Obviously, if YouTube contends it has properly licensed any of the songs for public broadcast, a contention we believe to be untrue, demand is hereby made that we be furnished with documentation of such licenses,” he says.

By contrast, a spokesperson for YouTube told THR, “We’ve done deals with labels, publishers, collection societies, and more to bring artists’ music into YouTube Music Key. To achieve our goal of enabling this service’s features on all the music on YouTube, we’ll keep working with both the music community and with the music fans invited to our beta phase.” 

Music Key Could Thwart Apple’s Move

To Reduce Monthly Subscription Fee

 

     It’s no secret that Apple has been engaged in heated discussions with the major record labels to lower the price of on-demand music to $5 per month from the standard $9.99 currently charged by such subscription services as Spotify, Rhapsody, Google, Rdio, and its own Beats Music. According to Forbes, Apple is telling record labels that $5/month for all-you-can-hear on-demand music is the right price because the best iTunes customers spend about $60 per year on music downloads. The obvious thinking here is that this $60 annual revenue per user (ARPU) could be the best record companies can hope to get from those consumers who still actually pay for music.

This may be a convenient talking point for Apple’s negotiators, but – as Forbes points out – two important factors strongly counter that argument. First, for all the talk about monthly subscription fees (and Taylor Swift, below), the vast majority of users of on-demand music services don’t pay for them at all. Second, in 2011 Google introduced

a technology called Content ID that enables copyright owners to make money, if they choose, when users upload content to YouTube. The system detects users’ uploads of copyrighted works and gives copyright owners several options, including to block the uploads or monetize them through ad revenue sharing. By 2011, the major labels had opted to allow many user uploads of their content for monetization, and they also supply their own “official” music videos.

As a result, YouTube is a de facto on-demand music service and, as noted by Forbes, possibly is the biggest one in the game. Market research from Edison Research and Triton Digital suggests that, strictly as a music service, YouTube has about four times the U.S. user base of Spotify, Rhapsody, and Google Play Music All Access combined. No one pays for YouTube, although some may pay for its Music Key service, which will hit that same $10 monthly price point when it comes out of beta. 

Big Machine’s Scott Borchetta: Spotify

Paid Less Than $500,000 To TS Last Year

 

     The verbal fisticuffs between Spotify and Taylor Swift have not let up, with the streaming music service’s Daniel Ek insisting the pop music icon was on track to earn over $6 million in royalties this year. This claim came after a Spotify spokesperson said Swift had been paid a total of $2 million over the last 12 months for the global streaming of her songs. But Scott Borchetta (above left), CEO of Swift’s label Big Machine Records, says that’s nowhere near the truth, maintaining Swift earned less than $500,000 from Spotify streams over the last 12 months.

“The facts show that the music industry was much better off before Spotify hit these shores,” Borchetta told The New York Times. Noting that the amount Spotify paid out over the last year was “the equivalent of less than 50,000 albums sold, he said Swift actually earns more from her videos on Vevo than she did from having her music on Spotify.

While half a million dollars will cause few people to weep, it should be noted that Swift’s most recent album, 1989, became the first this year to sell more than a million copies in a week – a feat only equaled by 18 albums in history. Unlike most performers, she can make millions of dollars from traditional album sales, but by keeping her music away from Spotify even as it begs for her to come back, she and Borchetta say they’re trying to make the larger point that the service doesn’t pay its artists a reasonable fee. “[Taylor Swift] is the most successful artist in music today,” Borchetta says. “What about the rest of the artists out there struggling to make a career?” 

Sony Music Wary Of Ad-Supported

Streaming After Taylor Swift Move

 

     Taylor Swift’s claim that subscription streaming services hurt music sales has caused Sony Music to reconsider its own digital music plans. PC World reports that, during a recent company briefing, Sony Music CFO Kevin Kelleher questioned whether or not the free, ad-supported services are taking away from how quickly, and to what extent, the company can grow those paid services. “That’s something we’re paying attention to… It’s an area that’s gotten everyone’s attention,” he observed.

This is important because, as CD sales and digital music downloads continue to shrink, streaming services offer a potential ray of sunshine for the recorded music industry. Such companies as Pandora and Spotify routinely lose money due to a combination of high royalty fees and low revenue, an imbalance that appears to be due to poor ROI on ad-supported tiers and not enough premium subscribers to sustain a business model.

While Sony says the move by Taylor Swift (not a Sony artist) to pull her music from Spotify made the company sit up and take notice, it isn’t enough to make anyone want to change the dynamics of the digital music business. In fact, Sony says it’s “very encouraged with the pay streaming model.” Approximately 27 million people worldwide pay for streaming subscriptions, Sony says, and the company is focused on helping that number grow.

 

A publication of Bunzel Media Resources © 2014

The meme-ification of Ayn Rand

How the grumpy author became an Internet superstar

“Feminist” T-shirts are her latest viral sensation. Why the objectivist’s writings lend themselves to the Web

, The Daily Dot

The meme-ification of Ayn Rand: How the grumpy author became an Internet superstar
Ayn Rand (Credit: WIkimedia)
This article originally appeared on The Daily Dot.

The Daily Dot Ayn Rand is not a feminist icon, but it speaks volumes about the Internet that some are implicitly characterizing her that way, so much so that she’s even become a ubiquitous force on the meme circuit.

Last week, Maureen O’Connor of The Cut wrote a piece about a popular shirt called the Unstoppable Muscle Tee, which features the quote: “The question isn’t who is going to let me, it’s who is going to stop me.”

As The Quote Investigator determined, this was actually a distortion of a well-known passage from one of Rand’s better-known novels, The Fountainhead:

“Do you mean to tell me that you’re thinking seriously of building that way, when and if you are an architect?”

“Yes.”

“My dear fellow, who will let you?”

“That’s not the point. The point is, who will stop me?”

Ironically, Rand not only isn’t responsible for this trendy girl power mantra, but was actually an avowed enemy of feminism. As The Atlas Society explains in their article about feminism in the philosophy of Objectivism (Rand’s main ideological legacy), Randians may have supported certain political and social freedoms for women—the right to have an abortion, the ability to rise to the head of business based on individual merit—but they subscribed fiercely to cultural gender biases. Referring to herself as a “male chauvinist,” Rand argued that sexually healthy women should feel a sense of “hero worship” for the men in their life, expressed disgust at the idea that any woman would want to be president, and deplored progressive identity-based activist movements as inherently collectivist in nature.



How did Rand get so big on the Internet, which has become a popular place for progressive memory? A Pew Research study from 2005 discovered that: “the percentage of both men and women who go online increases with the amount of household income,” and while both genders are equally likely to engage in heavy Internet use, white men statistically outnumber white women. This is important because Rand, despite iconoclastic eschewing ideological labels herself, is especially popular among libertarians, who are attracted to her pro-business, anti-government, and avowedly individualistic ideology. Self-identified libertarians and libertarian-minded conservatives, in turn, were found by a Pew Research study from 2011 to be disproportionately white, male, and affluent. Indeed, the sub-sect of the conservative movement that Pew determined was most likely to identify with the libertarian label were so-called “Business Conservatives,” who are “the only group in which a majority (67 percent) believes the economic system is fair to most Americans rather than unfairly tilted in favor of the powerful.” They are also very favorably inclined toward the potential presidential candidacy of Rep. Paul Ryan (79 percent), who is well-known within the Beltway as an admirer of Rand’s work (once telling The Weekly Standard that “I give out Atlas Shrugged [by Ayn Rand] as Christmas presents, and I make all my interns read it.”).

Rand’s fans, in other words, are one of the most visible forces on the Internet, and ideally situated to distribute her ideology. Rand’s online popularity is the result of this fortuitous intersection of power and interests among frequent Internet users. If one date can be established as the turning point for the flourishing of Internet libertarianism, it would most likely be May 16, 2007, when footage of former Rep. Ron Paul’s sharp non-interventionist rebuttal to Rudy Giuliani in that night’s Republican presidential debate became a viral hit. Ron Paul’s place in the ideological/cultural milieu that encompasses Randism is undeniable, as evidenced by exposes on their joint influence on college campuses and Paul’s upcoming cameo in the movie Atlas Shrugged: Part 3. During his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, Paul attracted considerable attention for his remarkable ability to raise money through the Internet, and to this day he continues to root his cause in cyberspace through a titular online political opinion channel—while his son, Sen. Rand Paul, has made no secret of his hope to tap into his father’s base for his own likely presidential campaign in 2016. Even though the Pauls don’t share Rand’s views on many issues, the self-identified libertarians that infused energy and cash into their national campaigns are part of the same Internet phenomenon as the growth of Randism.

As the Unstoppable Muscle Tee hiccup makes clear, however, Rand’s Internet fashionability isn’t always tied to libertarianism or Objectivism (the name she gave her own ideology). It also has a great deal to do with the psychology of meme culture. In the words of Annalee Newitz, a writer who frequently comments on the cultural effects of science and technology:

To share a story is in part to take ownership of it, especially because you are often able to comment on a story that you are sharing on social media. If you can share a piece of information that’s an absolute truth—whether that’s how to uninstall apps on your phone, or what the NSA is really doing—you too become a truth teller. And that feels good. Just as good as it does to be the person who has the cutest cat picture on the Internet.

If there is one quality in Rand’s writing that was evident even to her early critics, it was the tone of absolute certainty that dripped from her prose, which manifests itself in the quotes appearing in memes such as “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine,” or  “A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others” and “The ladder of success is best climbed by stepping on the rungs of opportunity.” Another Rand meme revolves around the popular quote: “Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on Earth is the individual).”

What’s particularly noteworthy about these observations, aside from their definitiveness, is the fact that virtually no one adhering to a mainstream Western political ideology would disagree with them. Could you conceive of anyone on the left, right, or middle arguing that they’d accept being forced to live for another’s sake or want another to live solely for their own? Or that their ambitions are not driven by a desire to beat others? Or that they don’t think success comes from seizing on opportunities? Or that they think majorities should be able to vote away the rights of minorities?

These statements are platitudes, compellingly worded rhetorical catch-alls with inspiring messages that are unlikely to be contested when taken solely at face value. Like the erroneously attributed “The question isn’t who is going to let me, it’s who is going to stop me,” they can mean whatever the user wishes for them to mean. Conservatives can and will be found who claim that only they adhere to those values while liberals do not, many liberals will say the same thing about conservatives, and, of course, Rand wrote each of these statements with her own distinctly Objectivist contexts in mind. Because each one contains a generally accepted “absolute truth” (at least insofar as the strict text itself is concerned), they are perfect fodder for those who spread memes through pictures, GIFs, and online merchandise—people who wish to be “truth tellers.”

Future historians may marvel at the perfect storm of cultural conditions that allowed this Rand boom to take place. After all, there is nothing about the rise of Internet libertarianism that automatically guarantees the rise of meming as a trend, or vice versa. In retrospect, however, the fact that both libertarianism and meming are distinct products of the Internet age—one for demographic reasons, the other for psychological ones—made the explosion of Randisms virtually inevitable. Even if they’re destined to be used by movements with which she’d want no part, Ayn Rand isn’t going to fade away from cyberspace anytime soon.

http://www.salon.com/2014/11/18/how_ayn_rand_became_an_internet_superstar_partner/?source=newsletter

Stop calling the Keystone pipeline a job creator! It will create 35 jobs.

Keystone will not create tens of thousands of jobs. The actual number? 35

 

The Keystone myth that refuses to die: Stop calling the pipeline a job creator!

(Credit: MSNBC)

Of all the reasons one might have to support the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline (like, say, a last-minute gambit to save one’s Senate seat), arguing that it’s going to create jobs is the least sensical — because, as the State Department itself determined, it will create only 35 permanent jobs.

Even with the 15 other, temporary jobs the project will create, for inspections and maintenance, that’s still not enough even to employ the 60 senators Mary Landrieu, D-La., needs to pass through approval of the pipeline when it comes to a vote Tuesday evening.

And yet the argument that Keystone will lead to jobs upon jobs upon jobs is perhaps the most pervasive, and fundamentally incorrect, myth surrounding the pipeline controversy.

Only an extremely skewed reading of the job projections could lead Fox News Host Anna Kooiman, for example, to claim that “there would be tens of thousands of jobs created” if the president approved of the pipeline, a claim that Politifact rounded down to “mostly false.” While it’s true that the State Department estimates that 42,100 jobs — many only tangentially related to the pipeline — will be created during its two years of construction, they’re almost all temporary, and include 10,400 seasonal positions that will only last for four to eight months. When you look at that over the course of two years, Politifact explains, that only comes out to 3,900 “average annual” jobs. Most of the construction jobs in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas, through which the pipeline will pass, will rely on specialists brought in from out of state.

TransCanada’s CEO, Russ Girling, further stretched the truth into an outright lie on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday morning, claiming that the State Department called those 42,000 jobs “ongoing” and “enduring.” Again, Politifact corrects the record, explaining that, for the reasons above, those adjectives only apply if you have an incredibly short-sighted definition of “ongoing and enduring” (read: two years or less).



But if you really want to get an idea of how hard the jobs myth is to squash, look no further than lefty news channel MSNBC, where host Joe Scarborough propagated that same false narrative. Questioning a potential decision to delay the pipeline, he laughed: “Their own State Department says it’s going to create 50,000 new jobs.”

Again: not.

You know what already did create tens of thousands of jobs, in nearly every state? Renewable energy, which according to a report from Environmental Entrepreneurs created almost 80,000 of them in 2013 alone. The main thing holding back future growth, that same report found, is “ongoing regulatory uncertainty,” most notably with wind energy tax credits. It’s worth checking out, especially if you happen to be a politician who’s legitimately looking for a way to grow the economy.

Those other persuasive arguments for approving the pipeline, for the record, don’t hold up much better: The part of the State Department review finding that Keystone would have a negligible impact on the environment, for one, is made extremely suspect by the multiple conflicts of interest surrounding it. The local impacts of leaks and the global impacts of emitting any more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere would suggest otherwise; another study evaluating the State Department’s analysis concluded that the report downplays the pipeline’s environmental significance.

Studies have established that the pipeline isn’t going to reduce the United States’ dependence on foreign oil. And over at the Washington Post, Philip Bump has the ultimate explainer for why it isn’t going to lower gas prices in any straightforward way — it some regions, in fact, it could even raise them. What he boils it all down to: “The most direct beneficiaries of Keystone XL won’t be consumers.”

Here’s Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on CNN, trying to wrap his mind around the idea that approving the pipeline would make any kind of sense whatsoever:

Oh, and one other job pushing the pipeline won’t be able to ensure? Sen. Landrieu’s, as voters don’t seem to have been swayed by her pro-Keystone rhetoric. Although, as Salon writers Luke Brinker and Joan Walsh have both pointed out, we can expect to see a brand-new position with the oil lobby created just for her once this is all over.

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

Warhol, Mapplethorpe, Lou Reed, Patti Smith and the greatest New York story ever

Sam Wagstaff was the patron and lover who connected Mapplethorpe and bohemian New York. Here’s how they met

Warhol, Mapplethorpe, Lou Reed, Patti Smith and the greatest New York story ever

Robert Mapplethorpe and Sam Wagstaff, in the cover photo of “Wagstaff: Before and After Mapplethorpe: A Biography”

There are two competing stories about who would introduce Sam Wagstaff to Robert Mapplethorpe during that bygone summer of 1972. Sam Green claimed, as he was wont to take credit for so many things, to have been the official matchmaker—out of spite. “Robert was the most ambitious and insistent person that I knew,” Green said. “He continuously harangued me to see his mediocre art. After my first visit to Robert’s studio, he made it clear he was looking for a male patron. I had an ax to grind with Sam Wagstaff, so I had intended to put them together in Oakleyville.” Still, years later, Green claimed to have been pleased that the introduction was successful. “Sam and Robert were one of the great unions of the twentieth century,” he said. “It worked for everyone. Robert was a master manipulator and he would do anything. When I introduced the two of them, I knew how much they needed each other.”

 But the actual introduction came from another visitor to Sam Green’s beach cottage. David Croland, a tall, slender young artist and model with fine features and dark hair, was a fixture of Andy Warhol’s Factory (by this point the Factory had come to refer to more than the physical studio, at times encompassing the people circulating around Andy, including his “superstars”). Croland had modeled for David Bailey and others in London in the late 1960s before being discovered by the Warhol superstar International Velvet (Susan Bottomly) while shopping at Fiorucci in New York. Croland, like so many gay men who came out gradually in that era, was still in his “bisexual phase” and was romantically involved with Bottomly for a while.

Croland had met Robert Mapplethorpe in 1970 through his friend Tinkerbelle, a contributor to Interview, who knew Mapplethorpe from the back room at Max’s Kansas City. One day Tinkerbelle brought Croland to Mapplethorpe’s loft on West 23rd St, several doors away from the Chelsea Hotel. Robert was living there with Patti Smith, his girlfriend while in art school, whose fame as a poet and rock star would come later. Although Mapplethorpe and Smith had been together for several years, by that point they were more like psychic twins than lovers. Croland and Mapplethorpe soon became lovers, keeping their romance a secret from Smith for almost six months.



In Just Kids, Smith’s memoir about her relationship with Mapplethorpe and their coming-of-age as artists, she evocatively describes a gradual shift in the nature of their bond during the period when they lived near Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, contrasting her need for artistic exploration in the world outside of herself with Robert’s mode of discovery, which was turning increasingly inward. That was when Robert had begun his first homosexual romance, with a young man named Terry, whom he met through a fellow student at Pratt. Robert and Terry were open about their sexuality with Patti, but it was not an easy emotional transition for her. “He had never given me any indication in his behavior that I would have interpreted as homosexual,” Smith writes.

It was Croland who would finally guide Mapplethorpe to the stratum of the art world he had been eager to penetrate. Croland introduced him to Henry Geldzahler, the curator of twentieth-century art at the Metropolitan Museum and a close friend and supporter of Warhol; to John McKendry, curator of prints and photographs at the Metropolitan; and, of course, to Warhol himself, whom Mapplethorpe worshipped from afar and whose cultural status had already eclipsed any other artist of that time. By 1972, Croland and Mapplethorpe had ceased being lovers, but they would remain close friends.

On Sam Green’s deck in Oakleyville one weekend afternoon that summer of 1972, Wagstaff took a flirtatious interest in Croland. The young man might have fit his type in certain ways—young, gaunt, and artistic—but Croland had Semitic features, and he was far too socially charming, animated, and garrulous to conform to the template of Wagstaff’s basic attractions. Still, Sam asked to see Croland again in the city and made a date to look at his drawings the following week.

Croland already knew about Wagstaff by reputation and, of course, about his long friendship with Andy. He was happy to have such an aficionado coming over to see his work. During Sam’s visit to his small apartment on Irving Place in Manhattan, Croland showed him some drawings he had been making as textile designs for Halston and other fashion designers. “These are like paintings,” Wagstaff said, and he ended up buying ten of them. “I’m going to keep some and give some to my sister.” Then, as Wagstaff was leaving the apartment, he spotted on the drafting table a small, framed photo-booth portrait of a young man in a sailor cap. He leaned over to look at the portrait more carefully. “Who is that?” Sam asked, an unmistakable lilt in his voice. “I want to meet him.”

Robert Mapplethorpe was precisely Wagstaff’s physical type— lanky, with taut features, a light complexion, and an unpolished physicality. Ellen Phelan made the astute observation that if Gordon Newton, Richard Tuttle, Michael Heizer, and Robert Mapplethorpe were all assembled in the same room, one would think they were related.15 All had the same chiseled features and coloring; all of them were young artists when Sam first met them; each one was original, inventive, and fierce in the exploration of his own ideas.

Seeing Wagstaff’s response to the portrait, Croland knew he was about to facilitate yet another advantageous introduction for Robert Mapplethorpe. He duly wrote down Robert’s number for Sam. Then, overriding his resentment at Robert for exploiting his connections yet again, Croland called his friend to announce that, this time, a patron unlike any other was about to give him a call.

Aside from an attraction that so far existed in miniature and only on photographic paper, Wagstaff had few other clues about Mapplethorpe. There was his association with David Croland and the proximity it gave him to Warhol’s Factory. Then each phrase David Croland used to describe Mapplethorpe’s work could be repeated over and over: he had described the assemblages as “pornographic constructions with Catholic iconography” that included “naked self-portraits draped with studs and jewelry.”  In the context of the important artwork of the period, whether minimal geometric abstraction, pop iconographic imagery, or the conceptual possibilities in earth art, what Croland told Sam about Mapplethorpe’s subject matter resonated as something distinctly new.

The juxtaposition of sex and Catholicism—the height of Western religious tradition, which stood in stark contrast to Wagstaff’s embrace of Eastern mysticism—was enough to pique his curatorial interest. Sam’s imagination roamed more broadly as he thought about the stranger in the sailor cap so that, by the time he picked up the phone to call Robert, he was already a little bit in love with the idea of the louche young man with a name that, like his own, might have sprung from the underworld of Charles Dickens: David Copperfield, Luke Honeythunder, Paul Sweedlepipe, Robert Mapplethorpe. His mood was playful and his voice flirtatious when Robert answered the phone. “Is this the shy pornographer?” Sam asked.

Mapplethorpe may have been hungry for attention, money, and artistic acknowledgment, and he was nervously eager for a patron who could give him the kind of financial support that would free him to make his art. But, when he heard the clever question delivered in that baritone drawl, he laughed a genuine, happy laugh.

* * *

The twenty-five-year-old Robert Mapplethorpe was stylish, appealingly soft-spoken, but decidedly still rough around the edges. His obvious talent came with an underlying arrogance—not unfamiliar to Wagstaff—that often propels such artistic ambition. Mapplethorpe’s beginnings were uninspired: he was the third of six children in a middle-class Catholic family; his adoring mother suffered from manic depression and his withholding father was missing the parental gene for encouragement. Nevertheless, he had made it to art school, where he developed an imperturbable confidence and an unyielding belief in himself as an artist. “I came from suburban America,” Robert said of his hometown, Floral Park, New York. “It was a safe environment. And it was a good place to come from in that it was a good place to leave.”

Mapplethorpe enrolled at Pratt Institute, one of the preeminent art schools in the country, in 1963. The social upheavals that would come to define the 1960s were barely rumblings at that point, but evident at Pratt and other urban art schools was a visible bohemian repudiation of bourgeois conformity. While the environment there encouraged serious artistic exploration and the course of instruction centered on the high-minded fine art disciplines, the faculty promoted an almost religious belief in painting. Despite the school’s reputation, it failed to provide the rigorous instruction one might have expected. Pratt students, meanwhile, cultivated theatrically personal styles, often aided by recreational drug use and copious sexual experimentation. When Robert arrived, the atmosphere on the Brooklyn campus had not quite yet assumed the quality of a mannered, antic, if not hedonistic, drama; during his years there, it would acquire the sensibility of the Fellini film Satyricon as students went to class in outlandish costumes. Increasingly, the anarchic posture of rock ’n’ roll and the influence of hippie drug culture became evident as the students grew long hair and wore tie-dyed T-shirts and paint-splattered jeans. At the same time, nonconformity was prized as much as creativity, and students could be seen perched by themselves in the corner of the cafeteria or on the front steps of the main building drawing with their Rapidograph pens on large Strathmore pads or blocking out ideas in their journals.

Mapplethorpe, however, entered Pratt intending to fulfill his father’s expectation that he learn a trade that could earn him a living— either in Pratt’s more conservative engineering program, with graphic arts training in the design school, or through courses in the school of library sciences. As a member of Pershing Rifles, an elite military fraternity related to the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps, the teenaged Mapplethorpe cut a surprisingly conventional profile in his first years in art school.

Within two years, though, as the school was becoming more radicalized in the wake of the Vietnam war, Mapplethorpe gravitated to the fine art program. He had been making elaborate drawings from an early age, and art is what he wanted to study. Among Robert’s schoolmates was Robert Wilson, the artist who went on to create with Philip Glass the operatic masterpiece Einstein on the Beach. Sylvia Plachy, Jan Groover, Judy Linn, and Betsey Johnson, each of whom would become prominent in the world of photography or fashion, were also studying at Pratt.

It was here that Mapplethorpe met Patti Smith. In the summer of 1967 she had found her way to Brooklyn not as a student but because she was staying with a friend of a friend after moving to New York from her working-class hometown in southern New Jersey. Smith’s first encounter with Mapplethorpe near the Pratt campus was brief. But, a short time later, purely by coincidence, Robert was standing in Tompkins Square, a junkie-haunted, garbage-strewn park in the East Village where hipsters often congregated in what felt like a perpetual streetwise “happening.” The atmosphere was always at once festive and ominous, street musicians playing their guitars on benches, students looking to buy marijuana, and innocent people getting robbed at knifepoint. Smith, barely twenty years old, sitting early one evening with a first date in the park, had become increasingly uncomfortable in the older man’s company. She recognized Mapplethorpe not only from that chance meeting at Pratt, but also from a more recent encounter, when he had come into Scribner’s, where she worked, and they had briefly chatted. Now, as something of a damsel in distress, she ran up to him to ask if he would rescue her by pretending to be her boyfriend. He agreed and they ran away from her date, to the other side of the park. Indeed, they became a couple that night.

It was an auspicious—and in the end historic—meeting. That night, Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith discovered in each other something profoundly sympathetic. Soon after, they moved in together, sharing a small apartment on Hall Street in Clinton Hill along the southern border of the Pratt campus. Smith would come home from her job as a clerk at Scribner’s, the renowned bookstore on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, and read or draw while Robert fulfilled his assignments for school, developing a style of collage and assemblage out of his own drawings, found photographs, cutouts of artwork from the ancient world, and other found objects. During that period Robert’s style of dress reflected his art school evolution and growing self-consciousness, from sheepskin vests to the more mannered, and fateful, sailor outfit. Smith described it in her memoir: “In his sailor dress and cap, he resonated a Cocteau drawing or the world of Genet’s Robert Querelle.”

Mapplethorpe short-circuited his graduation from Pratt in 1969 by skipping one final course. He and Smith crossed the river into Manhattan and, with a combination of characteristic luck and ambition, found their way to the Chelsea Hotel. The hotel had already been immortalized for them in the 1966 Warhol film Chelsea Girls. They had been told that Stanley Bard, the hotel’s proprietor, would accept a barter of artwork for a room in lieu of cash, and, indeed, the lobby was decorated with the residents’ drawings and paintings, large and small, hanging on the walls in ersatz salon style. Still, when Robert and Patti approached Bard, it was Patti’s employment at Scribner’s that persuaded him to give them one of the smallest rooms in the hotel. The bathroom was in the hallway. He charged them fifty-five dollars per week. Patti’s weekly salary was sixty-four dollars, so they could barely afford it. Robert continued to make artwork and beaded jewelry, but it failed to bring in additional income.

That year, the breakthrough movie Midnight Cowboy was released. The story of a petty thief and a male prostitute scraping by in Times Square, it was shocking in some quarters, but the movie instantly became a classic and was said to give Mapplethorpe the idea of turning sexual favors on 42nd Street to supplement their meager income. It started out as something of a romanticized adventure, but the novelty gave way to the reality of having sex with people who didn’t interest him, and he gave it up.

At the Chelsea Hotel, Robert and Patti as a matter of course came in contact with Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Charles Bukowski, William Burroughs, Janis Joplin, Milos Forman, and Virgil Thomson—whose extended stays or residences there provided a respite from the demands of the public. Most of the hotel patrons were eccentric; they also tended to know about all sorts of interesting or arcane events in the city, sometimes dragging Mapplethorpe and Smith out with them at night on cultural odysseys, exposing them to poetry readings at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery or experimental theater performances. One night it might be a concert at the Fillmore East and a backstage visit with the musicians, another a wild, avant-garde production of Orlando Furioso, by Teatro Libero di Roma, in an enormous tent in Bryant Park, where life-sized wooden puppets on tin horses performed as the audience roamed through a labyrinth where many scenes took place simultaneously.

Soon after settling in at the Chelsea Hotel, Mapplethorpe and Smith found their way to Max’s Kansas City. They may, as young artists, have been poor but it must have felt as if they had arrived in the right place. Just as Montparnasse had replaced Montmartre as the center of the art world in Paris in the 1920s, the art world axis in New York had recently shifted its psychic temperament. In the 1950s, Cedar Tavern on University Place was known for the masculine bravado and philosophical posturing of its patrons—Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Franz Kline—who would argue through many a drunken evening. A little farther south, the San Remo on Bleecker Street attracted an equally intellectually charged but less rowdy group of writers like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara, and Delmore Schwartz. Eventually both gave way to the theatrical androgyny and urban-cowboy swagger of the Chelsea Hotel and Max’s Kansas City.

The shift from Cedar Tavern to Max’s might well represent the evolution in art itself from one decade to another. Abstract expressionism was a Buddhist-influenced process of expressing interior reality at the actual moment of experience, and, at night, the conversation at Cedar Tavern was an ongoing existential argument. Pop art was focused on the iconography of popular culture, so, of course, nightlife at Max’s was a heightened display, in homage to but equally in mockery of the full range of Hollywood tropes.

In Max’s more outre back room, Robert and Patti inched their way into the ethos of Andy Warhol and his superstars, whose nightly soirees proved to be the Algonquin Round Table of the 1970s. Mapplethorpe on occasion would wear his sailor suit, while Smith was not compelled to dress up at all, preferring the uniform of comfort and anonymity—T-shirts and jeans. “They were this couple and they would sit away from everybody, as if they were shy,” said Gerard Malanga, the Factory mainstay who is also a poet.

Among the regulars at Max’s was Robert Smithson, at the time gaining prominence as one of the land artists with his just completed Spiral Jetty in Great Salt Lake, Utah. Smithson would dominate the conversation at one table, often inviting another artist like Richard Serra or John Chamberlain to join him, and everyone would talk about his work. Mapplethorpe met Brice Marden and Robert Indiana there. During that period Marden went to Robert’s studio to look at his work—the assemblages, collages, and framed pieces—and he said he would mention them to Klaus Kertess, his own dealer, at Bykert Gallery. It was in just this way that artists at the time would slowly become known.

Between Max’s Kansas City and the Chelsea Hotel, Mapplethorpe and Smith found themselves at the epicenter of cultural ferment in the art world, two young impoverished artists in waiting, cutting their teeth on what was becoming the very essence of urban cool. Perhaps in homage to Warhol’s Chelsea Girls, Robert agreed to star in a movie filmed at the hotel by fellow resident Sandy Daley. The film bore a self-explanatory title, Robert Having His Nipple Pierced, and was narrated by Patti Smith.

Mapplethorpe’s sexuality had already begun to evolve in those years. He was getting to know Candy Darling, Holly Woodlawn, and Joe Dallesandro—those inhabitants of the back room at Max’s whose gender-obfuscating antics were as much a kind of nose-thumbing challenge to convention as a sincere display of personal desire. Their life-as-art gestures turned out to be of revolutionary significance, paving the way—at least in the media—for a social movement that eventually became known to the mainstream as the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and, much later, transgender community. Lou Reed wrote “Walk on the Wild Side,” about this group in the back room at Max’s, and the song’s seductive and mysterious tone heralded the persona Mapplethorpe was cultivating there, too.

And so, by the time Robert answered the phone and laughed at Wagstaff’s wry opening gambit, he had already received a sterling introduction to the art world demimonde. His ambition had already been fueled and encouraged by his new connections. At the uptown dinner table of John McKendry and his socially prominent wife, Maxime de la Falaise, who had been a fashion model in London in the 1950s, Robert was introduced to an assortment of titled Brits, chic Parisians, and well-placed New Yorkers for whom this attractive, poetic waif from the downtown netherworld was a precious novelty.

Steven Aronson said that Mapplethorpe “was the one you wanted to talk to” at the McKendrys’ table. “He was marvelous looking, absolutely. He had the besmirched beauty of an urchin, and of course that wonderful whiny voice. He was positively languid, but then he began to talk about his work, and he became adrenalized—really, it was the only time he ever came alive. He made you feel as if a visit to his loft was an urgent matter. So you went, and you weren’t sorry.”

Robert had a mischievous sensuality that the art-rock fashions of that period seemed to intensify. With his Mick Jagger–like androgyny, he made himself an object of desire. Still, he had grown weary of the expectations of super-daddy love; the older men whose favors he accepted were not generally attractive to him. Often, as is typical of young artists, Mapplethorpe had to balance a polite regard for his patrons even as he struggled to avoid their affections. It was tantamount to singing in an extended falsetto, and it strained his taste as much as his stamina. “Robert was highly sought after by both men and women,” Smith wrote in Just Kids. A string of secret admirers would come to the Chelsea Hotel, soliciting her permission to pursue Mapplethorpe romantically and even cheekily asking her advice about how to secure his affections. “Love his work,” Smith would tell them, but they ignored her. Sam Wagstaff, she wrote, was “the only one who truly grasped this.”

Losing no time, Wagstaff visited Mapplethorpe’s studio within a day of making the call. The second-floor loft had northern light from the floor-to-ceiling windows that faced a big YMCA sign across the street. There was no running water, but even so Robert and Patti were living there now; they snuck back into the Chelsea Hotel several doors away= as often as they could to shower. The loft was divided in half by several black sheets that hung from a clothesline, separating Robert’s workspace from Patti’s. The rent was one hundred dollars a month, still beyond their means.

The afternoon visit set off a profound upheaval for Wagstaff. A leather motorcycle jacket was hanging on a coatrack near the entrance. Below the jacket hung a pair of jeans. Together they composed a kind of urban scarecrow. Sam could hear muffled murmurs, as if people were having sex somewhere else in the loft. Robert smiled, reached into the pocket of the jacket, and pulled out a tape recorder. The murmurs had been recorded. Sam’s eyes then dropped to what appeared to be an unusual bulge at the crotch in the jeans hanging on the coatrack. Again Robert smiled. “It’s a baguette,” he said.

Wagstaff had encountered impromptu installations by artists in the past, as in the live, walking Dada piece he encountered at Ray Johnson’s apartment in 1959, when Dorothy Podber emerged from the closet with a tea cup and glove. This coatrack tableau was just the kind of thing that Sam would find appealing, an erotic provocation with a diabolical charge. It was sexy, arresting, and thoughtfully conceived, even as there was a strong whiff of adolescent hijinks about it that led Sam’s attention beyond the aesthetic. Sam had his own juvenile streak, which would now and again push through the patina of maturity and accomplishment. Observing the way Sam shed some of his controlled, patrician bearing while he was in Detroit, Susanne Hilberry, his assistant at the DIA, had concluded that the recreational drug use and the sexual freedom of the late 1960s “gave Sam permission to explore the adolescence he never had at Hotchkiss.”

Mapplethorpe suggestively showed Wagstaff a naked self-portrait, an assemblage with three small Polaroid images stacked as a vertical triptych to create a single figure. Over the Polaroids lay wire mesh he had cut out of a brown-paper potato sack and spray-painted purple. It gave the impression that the male nude was standing in a doorway, behind the window of a confessional, or, even, locked behind bars. The viewer had to peer through the mesh to see Robert’s entire naked body. The spectacle of his bare flesh, his nipples and navel, his pubic hair and penis, and the defiant but seductive expression on his face amounted to further provocation for Wagstaff. Mapplethorpe could not have been more overtly seductive; by the end of the visit he had won the patron’s approval.

Wagstaff had turned out to be nothing like the other older men seeking Robert’s affections. His informed interest in Robert’s work was as much a seduction for Robert as the variety of sexual decoys had been for Sam. Klaus Kertess, who was also an art critic, knew Sam Wagstaff quite well, not only from Sam’s visits to his uptown gallery but also as his longtime neighbor in the building at 54 Bond Street. He described Sam’s appeal to any artist: “His eyes would light up when he’d describe something he’d seen. He just took joy in seeing work and being around it,” Kertess said. “That openness, I think, is what drew so many artists to Sam.”

When Wagstaff became the earliest champion of minimal art, it was because he saw something completely new. The same was true when conceptual artists began employing everyday materials, and he saw it as a way into the future for art. He got excited by conceptualism’s offshoots, like fluxus-based mail art, in which he became a participant, receiving Dadaesque letters and odd correspondences through the mail from Ray Johnson and George Brecht. Next, he embraced the highly conceptual and limitless possibilities of earth art. Now, once again, he was confronted with a young artist whose collages and assemblage were both formally rigorous and overtly homoerotic. While the form referred to pop art, Mapplethorpe was doing something Sam had never seen before—addressing his own homosexuality with matter-of-fact ease. It was time for a movement that went beyond painting, and in the ineffable allure of Robert’s experimentation with assemblage and homoerotic imagery, Sam saw a new direction.

Robert sensed he was in a situation fundamentally different from his usual interactions with wealthy men. First of all, Sam’s striking appearance drew repeated comment from virtually everyone who knew him, to the point that it can become tiresome. “You didn’t have to search very far to think why somebody might want to go out with him,” Edmund White, the distinguished novelist, literary essayist, and biographer of Jean Genet, said. “Then he was also very rich, and then he was also very powerful in the art world. Those three things made him quite a catch.”

For Wagstaff, meanwhile, despite all the natural confidence he brought to the moment, the Detroit debacle continued to lurk and he felt something less than his best self; he was uncertain of his future and still somewhat attached to Gordon Newton. According to Patricia Morrisroe, Mapplethorpe’s biographer, it was no secret among Sam’s friends and acquaintances at the time that he was “looking for someone to spoil.”

Robert was natural and at ease in his body, ever so polite and gentle in his solicitation of Sam’s opinions and observations. “If you read books of etiquette in the eighteenth century in France,” said Ed White, “what they all talk about is the importance of naturalness. They say only the greatest aristocrats can respond in a totally quiet, easygoing, natural way. That’s the one quality they all prize, and I think Robert had that.”

Sam and Robert continued on to dinner that night. Falling in love over dinner is not an experience to be missed—even if dinner consisted of scrambled eggs, a Coke, and a Kool cigarette, Mapplethorpe’s standard fare throughout his twenties. Every sip of your drink and every bite of your meal merely restrains the urgency of desire. Robert’s sweetness of manner clashed powerfully with the sharp-edged menace of his sexual candor; he flaunted his carnality in a way that was perhaps too flamboyant even for Sam, but tempered it with a boyishness and physical grace. Sam had a saying “All artists are aristocrats,” but Robert appeared to be something of a sorcerer, too.

Sam, who was never shy about staring at anyone—and was often enough unconscious of the discomfort his penetrating scrutiny induced—stared at Robert now and then throughout the evening. The presence of Robert’s sexual mystique emerging from the freshness of his youth conjured the same feeling of giddy sacrilege that defined his artwork. To Sam, a curator and art historian, Robert’s presence resonated in line with a long tradition of homoeroticism in arts and letters, that of a sexual and artistic partnership between an established older man and a younger one. Like Sergei Diaghilev and Vaclav Nijinsky in the ballet world and the writers Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, the older man sees a kind of talent or genius in his young inamorato. He nurtures it, even if his judgment is clouded by his love (as Ed White has observed, Oscar Wilde thought his young lover Sir Alfred Douglas “was very talented”). Even while Sam and Robert were growing to know each other, there was a contemporary West Coast version of this sort of relationship: the British writer Christopher Isherwood and his Los Angeles–born lover, the painter Don Bachardy, who was three decades his junior. After all, White explained, “Robert was charming in a quiet way. He was an interesting person without being predictably intellectual or pedantic or anything like that. He was an original. Plus he was sexy.”

At dinner that night the two men discovered an extraordinary coincidence, an omen that their meeting was not only inevitable, but, to them, ordained in the mystical realm of astrology: they shared the same Scorpio birthday, November 4. By the end of that first meal, Sam and Robert both felt so enlivened that they went around the corner to David Croland’s apartment, and invited their mutual friend out for a drink. “Robert was seriously smitten,” Croland said, recalling his impression of the two of them that night. “You could see it. It was really very sweet. They were very happy. You could tell that they were together. I noticed that instantly.”

When Wagstaff brought Mapplethorpe home that night, his residence was not what the young artist would have expected. There was no sign of wealth in this long, mostly empty loft with only a few scattered pieces of secondhand furniture. Everywhere was a pack rat’s abundance of paper bags or boxes filled with prints and postcards. The black Tony Smith sculpture Throne dominated the space. Toward the back of the loft was Sam’s unmade bed, which was actually just a mattress on the floor—no better than Robert’s own, and laid out in a tableau much like his own postadolescent disarray. Still, it had the “privileged bohemian” appearance of studied destitution as much as cavalier disregard. It had been only recently, when Wagstaff had reached his late forties, that his stepfather’s inheritance gave him financial freedom, even though the penniless prince, who had first moved in almost a decade before while living on his meager curator’s salary at the Wadsworth Atheneum, had been a prince.

Being perceptive, as he was, Sam was likely attuned to the appraisal going on in Robert’s own mind. For all of Robert’s insouciant charm at dinner, the absence of visible wealth in Sam’s loft and his undergraduate-like living conditions would no doubt have soured the struggling young artist’s mood. In order to rescue the moment, it is possible to imagine that, with characteristic sangfroid, Sam allowed a knowing, mischievous smile, assuring his guest that the state of the loft was by no means representative of his circumstances. It would be just like Sam to then ask Robert if he would like to see a small painting. He would find a package among the pile of papers on the table with a letter on top, indicating it had been shipped from the Art Institute of Chicago, where it had been on loan. He would unwrap the small oil painting on cardboard, small enough to hold in his hands, and they would look at it under a bare lightbulb. Sam would offer the name, Le Jardin Nabi, mentioning that it was a postimpressionist work from one of the Nabi artists, a rebellious group who followed the example of Gauguin at the end of the nineteenth century in France. That might have piqued Robert’s interest enough to ask who painted it. “Oh, Vuillard,” Sam would say casually, prompting Robert to ask whether Sam owned it. It would be just like Wagstaff, ever the understated gentleman, to merely nod, offering just the flicker of reassurance, as well as the dash of glamour, that the young artist needed to understand that things were not exactly as they seemed.

Excerpted from “Wagstaff: Before and After Mapplethorpe: A Biography” by Philip Gefter. Published by Liveright, a division of W.W. Norton and Co., Inc. Copyright 2014 by Liveright Publishing Corporation. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved. 

http://www.salon.com/2014/11/15/warhol_mapplethorpe_lou_reed_patti_smith_and_the_greatest_new_york_story_ever/?source=newsletter

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