“River’s Edge”: The darkest teen film of all time

“River’s Edge” understood ’80s kids — and what they’d do to combat that horrible feeling of emptiness

"River's Edge": The darkest teen film of all time

Keanu Reeves and Crispin Glover in “River’s Edge”

About a year and a half ago, I interviewed Daniel Waters, screenwriter of the enduring and dark teen comedy and media satire “Heathers” for the book (“Twee”) I was researching at the time. The conversation was genial and funny, and I could tell he was what we used to call at my old employer Spin magazine a “quote machine.” Soon, the subject got around to films of the late American auteur John Hughes, particularly his iconic high school trilogy of “Sixteen Candles” (1984), “The Breakfast Club” (1985) and “Pretty in Pink” (the 1986 romantic comedy that he wrote but did not direct). “I felt like Hughes was trying to coddle teenagers and almost suck up to them, idealize them,” Waters said, with almost no fear of reprisal from the many millions who hold these films (and Ferris Bueller … and even, to paraphrase Jeff Daniels in “The Squid and the Whale,” minor Hughes efforts like “Some Kind of Wonderful” and “She’s Having a Baby,” dear), “[With ‘Heathers’) I was more of a terrorist coming after John Hughes. What drove me nuts about the Hughes moves was the third act was always something about how bad adults were. When you grow up your heart dies. Hey, your heart dies when you’re 12!”

One could make an argument for Waters’ “Heathers” (directed as a gauzy, occasionally surrealist morality play by Michael Lehmann) as the darkest teen film of all time. The humor is pitch-black, there’s a body count, a monocle, corn nuts and an utter excoriation of clueless boomers who wonder, as the supremely camp Paul Lynde did a quarter of a century earlier in the film adaptation of “Bye Bye Birdie,” what (in fuck) is the matter with kids today?

But it’s not. Not even close, when compared with a film that preceded it by only three years, the Neal Jimenez-penned, Tim Hunter-directed 1986 drama “River’s Edge,” which is released this month on DVD after years of being difficult to find for home viewing. No other film captures more accurately what it’s like to be dead inside during the end of the Cold War, the height of MTV and the invasion of concerned but impotent parents. “River’s Edge” was the one film that seemed to understand that it wasn’t the rap music, heavy metal music or even drugs that made ’80s kids, it was … nothing. As in the feeling of searching your soul for what you should feel and finding it empty, and slowly, horrifyingly getting used to it to the point that at least one, maybe more of us, will do anything, even commit murder, in order to combat that horrible void. I didn’t want to kill anyone or even myself, but I wanted to disappear, or at least be frozen and wake up in art school in the early ’90s, when bands like Nirvana gave that feeling a voice, and a few anthems.



There’s a lot of Nirvana in “River’s Edge.” Most “what’s the matter with kids today?” films have their juvenile delinquents in some kind of drag: black leather jackets (“Blackboard Jungle,” “The Wild One”) or spiked hair and safety pins and pet rats (“Suburbia,” “Next Stop, Nowhere,” aka “the Punk Rock Quincy episode”). But the kids in “River’s Edge” dress in ripped jeans and T-shirts and chunky, shapeless sweaters. It’s sexless (the only sex scene takes place under a shitty maroon sleeping bag with bullfrogs croaking in the distance and a dead body being simultaneously disposed of not too far off). “The thing about a shark,” Robert Shaw famously observed during the “USS Indianapolis” speech in 1975’s “Jaws” just before all hell breaks loose, “is he’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, he doesn’t even seem to be livin’… till he bites ya.” The kids who populate “River’s Edge,” Keanu Reeves’ Mike, Ione Skye’s Clarissa, Daniel Roebuck’s Samson, etc., don’t seem to be living, buzzed on sixers, many of which they must steal from a harried liquor store cashier (the great, recently late Taylor Negron), as they’re underage. Until they bite you. It’s hard to capture boredom on film without boring an audience (Richard Linklater’s “Suburbia,” for one, tries and fails). What keeps viewers of “River’s Edge” on, well, edge is the sense that these black-eyed, dead creatures in inside-out heavy metal tees (Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, even the band logos are muted) is that they might bite. It’s a sickening feeling and you cannot turn away.

The first thing we see is a preteen kid, Tim (Josh Miller), a juvenile delinquent fast in the making, with an earring, holding an actual doll. We notice, with a little required deduction as he barely reacts, that he is staring across the river at a murderer and his naked, blue-ing victim, while holding the doll he stole from his sister: All four have doll eyes, the corpse (Danyi Deats’ Jamie), the killer (Roebuck) and the doll, which Miller casually drops into the river despite knowing well it’s his little sister’s security object and probably best friend. We are soon with Jamie and Samson after the crime has been committed. Samson is smoking. Despite the occasional feral howl that he knows nobody will hear (except Tim, which is the same thing), it feels like some kind of test for the audience. How much apathy can we weather? How many dead eyes can we stare back at? This is, of course, a testament to the young cast, all of them brilliant and committed (it can’t be easy to portray those bored soulless, can it? You want to react, you want to break). Jamie, a stunned look on her face, lies there, in the cold, also a committed actress, and there is simply nothing like this in any other teen film, or even a teen-populated horror film. Horror films, as the “Scream” franchise would soon remind us, have rules. I wanted to enter the screen, like Jeff Daniels’ genial explorer in Woody Allen’s charming comedy from the previous year, “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” and cover her body somehow. But Hunter forces us to look, which could not be easy for him as an artist, and must have been a challenge for him to ask it of his young cast. In his review, the late Roger Ebert wrote, “The difference is that the film feels a horror that the teenagers apparently did not.”

“Where’s Jamie?” Samson’s crew asks once he leaves the crime scene (for more beer).

“I killed her,” he says.

Most don’t believe him but Layne (Crispin Glover, top billed but unmistakenly launching his freak phase, only a year after playing Michael J. Fox’s bumbling dad in the blockbuster “Back to the Future”). Layne sees the event, the tragedy, as both fait accompli (“You’re gonna bring her back? It’s done!” he squeals in a reedy, wired voice) and a life-changing (and -saving) break in the day-in, day-out living hell; a kind of moral test. He believes Samson, he rallies around Samson, and he tries to motivate his crew to do the same. The corpse is a gift to Layne and Layne returns the favor by pledging his loyalty. He can’t help stifling a smile when he is led to the site. “This is unreal! Completely unreal. It’s like some movie, you know?” Layne enters the movie, doing a reverse “Purple Rose …” Even Samson doesn’t want in. He wants out … of the world, and yet he becomes strangely proud when he displays the body to his group of friends, who borrow a red pickup truck to end their suspicion that they are being jerked around. Most of them instantly recoil at the site of the corpse (still naked!) and cannot get back to the torpor (arcades, sex, beer) quickly enough. Only Reeves’ Mike is conflicted and contemplates going to the cops. Similar terrain was covered in the hit “Stand By Me,” which was released the same year. “You guys wanna see a dead body?” Jerry O’Connell’s Vern asks his pals River Phoenix, Corey Feldman and Wil Wheaton, but they are clearly spooked and remain so into adulthood (as the narrator, Richard Dreyfuss, attests). The kids of this bumfuck town go about their bumfuck business, sleeping through class, hating their non-bio broken-home inhabitants (“Motherfucker, food eater!” Reeves yells at the slob who’s moved in with his mom). They’re not stupid. They’re just … unequipped for reality that does not repeat on a loop, sun up and sun down. Layne, in his makeup, watch cap, black clothes and muscle car is the only one among them who wants to feel “like Starsky and Hutch!”

“River’s Edge” is based, loosely, on reality. In late 1981, a 16-year-old student, Anthony Broussard, from Milpitas High School, near San Jose, California, led a group of his friends and his 8-year-old brother into the hills to see the barely clothed body of the 14-year-old Marcy Renee Conrad, whom he’d strangled days before. “Then instead of reporting the body of their dead school chum to the police,” reporter Claire Spiegel wrotein her coverage of the case, “they went back to class or the local pinball arcade. One went home and fell asleep listening to the radio.” She added, “Their surprising apathy toward murder bothered even hardened homicide detectives.”

Jimenez, then a college student in Santa Clara, California, read about the events and was inspired to begin working on a story based on this behavior. In the age of “Serial,” it’s hard not to see “River’s Edge” as prescient, and when I listened to the podcast last year, I thought a lot about the film. But its power comes not from reality, but from its craft: the script, the performances and the cinematography by David Lynch collaborator Frederick Elmes, who shot “Blue Velvet,” another milestone ’86 release. The beauty of the exteriors (the grainy opening, the murky drink, the perfect blue and shadows when Layne half-heartedly disposes of the body in it) make the ugliness of the behavior all the more disturbing.

Director Tim Hunter knew his way around a “youth gone fucked up” film by ’86. He was the co-writer of “Over the Edge,” known mostly as the film debut of then 14-year-old Matt Dillon who utters the pull-away line, “A kid who tells on another kid is a dead kid.” Loaded with excellent power pop (Cheap Trick’s “Downed,” and “Surrender,” especially), Dillon and his J.D. friends spoil the planned suburban community of “New Granada” on their dirt bikes, shooting off fireworks and BB guns. Dillon starred in Hunter’s directing debut, 1982’s “Tex,” based on a book by go-to wild, but sensitive, youth writer S.E. Hinton. Who knows why he didn’t appear in “River’s Edge.” Maybe it was too easy to see the heart beating under his flannel. Even Judd Nelson’s John Bender has a heart under his, and at the end of John Singleton’s 1991 film “Boyz n the Hood,” Ice Cube’s scowling gang member Doughboy has a monologue that provides evidence that he’s got a big one. (“Turned on the TV this morning. Had this shit on about living in a violent world. Showed all these foreign places, where foreigners live and all. Started thinking, man. Either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood.”)

The parents of New Granada are pretty pissed that their utopia has been vandalized and rally in protest, but the boomers of “River’s Edge” don’t even have the fight in them. There’s no Ms. Fleming from “Heathers” among them. Nobody will call when the shuttle lands. “Fuck you, man,” one of them rages in vain at his class. “You don’t give a damn! I don’t give a damn! No one in this classroom gives a damn that she’s dead. It gives us a chance to feel superior.” “Are we being tested on this shit?” a student asks. Even the media don’t really care. And if the kids themselves are apathetic (“I don’t give a fuck about you and I don’t give a fuck about your laws,” Samson tells Negron’s clerk before brandishing a gun), the new generation cares even less. Not even teenagers; they smoke weed, pack heat and drive big gas guzzlers they can barely see out of, when not speeding through nowheresville on their bikes or shooting trapped crayfish in a barrel, literally. Full disclosure: I was friendly with Josh Miller in Hollywood in the early ’90s. For a time, he was going to star in and produce a pretty decent screenplay I’d co-written, which eventually fell through. In person he was sweet, generous and caring, but I always, always looked at him sideways because he was also … Tim, who utters the following line: “Go get your numchucks and your dad’s car. I know where we can get a gun.”

There’s irony and black humor in “River’s Edge.” I don’t want to portray it as some kind of Fassbender-ish downer, 90 minutes of misery. Samson promises to read Dr. Seuss to his incapacitated aunt. And there’s, of course, Layne, who doesn’t even seem to realize that nearly every line out of his mouth is absolutely ridiculous (which makes him beyond endearing, sociopath that he likely is). When he is rewarded his sixer for chucking the corpse in the river, he complains, “You’d think I’d at least rate Michelob.” I wonder why Reeves became a star (this is only his second film, after a small part in the Rob Lowe hockey drama “Youngblood”) and Ione Skye, more briefly a sought after actress. Perhaps because his albeit belated actions make him as close to a hero as the film has … discounting, of course, Feck.

You know you are dealing with a dark film when its only true beating heart belongs to a crippled biker, weed dealer and fugitive murderer who is in love with a blow-up doll, having blown the head off his previous paramour. Feck lives alone. Feck, at the behest of Layne, briefly hides Samson. And, realizing he is dealing with a soulless and dangerous generation, Feck does what dozens of teachers and parents cannot, and will not do. He reacts. Perhaps it’s a testament to his skill, but Dennis Hopper the man looks genuinely heartbroken at what’s happened to the youth he fought so hard to liberate with his “Easy Rider.” In the midst of a glorious comeback (he’d appear in “Blue Velvet” and receive an Oscar nomination for the basketball film “Hoosiers”). It’s Feck that Samson finally opens up to (“She was dead there in front of me and I felt so fucking alive”). We don’t know why Feck shot his ex, but we do know that he maintains that he loved her. He sees none of that emotion, no emotion at all, in Samson. “I’m dead now,” Samson says. “They’re gonna fry me for sure.” Thanks to Feck, they won’t get the chance.

“River’s Edge” doesn’t end in a trial, but rather a quiet, plain, sparse church funeral and a bit of long-absent dignity returned to the victim. It somehow relieves the viewer. Sanity, as it is, has been restored. No one would call it a feel-good ending but somehow, strangely, bloodily, perversely, love wins in the end. “There was no hope for him. There was no hope at all. He didn’t love her. He didn’t feel a thing. I at least loved [mine],” Feck explains. “I cared for her.”

Released in May of ’87 in limited theaters, the movie quickly made a mark with critics, if not audiences, and began to amass a loyal cult of viewers who appreciated its unique and revolutionary qualities. It beat out Jonathan Demme’s “Swimming to Cambodia,” the acclaimed Spalding Gray monologue film, at the Independent Spirit Awards, as well as John Huston’s final film, “The Dead.” And while far from a box office hit, it effortlessly set a precedent for films about teens. They no longer had to be either good or evil or anything at all. They didn’t have to dress or look like James Dean or Droogs or get off in any way on their heroism and their villainy. “River’s Edge” made all that seem quaint. It’s a singular film that foresaw the ’90s and freed the cinema teen to be a loser … baby.

Turns out “Friends” treated fat people as punch lines and kind of had a homophobia problem

“Chandler’s treatment of his gay father is appalling”: Everything critics realized while watching “Friends” in 2015

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"Chandler's treatment of his gay father is appalling": Everything critics realized while watching "Friends" in 2015

“Friends” hit Netflix for the first time in 2015, and while it’s certainly not the first time people have had the opportunity to rewatch the show since it went off the air in 2004, it has provided a handy excuse for people to ruminate belatedly on the show’s impact — and for crazy super-fans to binge-watch all 10 seasons, obviously — and perhaps learn something new about the gang in the process. And they did! Some revelations were goofy, some light, and others pretty damning. Here’s what the Internet dug up about our favorite sitcom when viewed in the cold harsh light of 2015:

Chandler is the worst, and he’s also pretty homophobic.

As Ruth Graham wrote in Slate: “Chandler’s treatment of his gay father, a Vegas drag queen played by Kathleen Turner, is especially appalling, and it’s not clear the show knows it. It’s one thing for Chandler to recall being embarrassed as a kid, but he is actively resentful and mocking of his loving, involved father right up until his own wedding (to which his father is initially not invited!)… his continuing discomfort now reads as jarringly out of place for a supposedly hip New York thirtysomething — let alone a supposedly good person, period…. When it comes to women, Chandler turns out to be just as retrograde as Joey, but his lust comes with an undercurrent of the kind of bitter desperation that I now recognize as not only gross, but potentially menacing.”

Although, this, of course, is not the first time the show’s homophobia has been addressed:

Refinery29, meanwhile, delved into the issues with the show’s use of “Fat Monica” as a punchline.

“In the show’s storyline, Monica loses weight in college after overhearing Chandler make fun of her size. Shamed into thinness, Fat Monica becomes just Monica — desirable and (finally) human. Monica is many things: funny, uptight, loving, competitive. Fat Monica is just fat… and always hungry. I was grateful for Fat Monica as a kid. She was proof I could overcome my disgusting plumpness and be seen as lovable, too. True, I would always bear the shame of my inflated past, just like Monica did, but I was willing to live with that if it meant I’d be a person instead of a punchline.”



The Globe and Mail’s John Doyle, meanwhile, asked if nostalgia for “Friends” is all about white privilege.

“The issues of race and ‘white privilege’ make some Americans deeply uncomfortable. Maybe, at a time when mainstream U.S. TV is finally airing shows with ensemble casts that look like the ensemble that is America, and after the shooting of Trayvon Martin, and after the shooting and rioting in Ferguson, Mo., and all the attendant questions raised, there’s an instinctive need on the part of some to return to the bubble of white-bread America that is epitomized by ‘Friends.’”

Yet while some griped about the show’s retrograde identity politics, others were able to find a feminist message.

Refinery29 picked out 21 of “Friends’” most surprising feminist moments. Meanwhile, Bustle listed the nine most feminist things about “Friends,” such as:

“When Rachel got pregnant, she turned down marriage proposals from both Joey and Ross. Being married and having a family don’t necessarily have to be connected, and Rachel was the hottest single mom on network television, and everyone respected (and applauded) her decision.”

In an interesting morsel of critical theory, Maggie Wheeler — aka Janice —  suggests her character is a stand-in for the viewer. As she tells EW:

“This crazy girl who is not particularly self-aware who still gets to be at the party. This interloper, this outsider managed to find her way into this little community of friends, and I think that was a vehicle for a lot of viewers who were sitting around in front of their televisions going, ‘Well, how do I hang out with those people?’”

There were also some novel discoveries on a more micro level — like the fact that the Friends intro without music is super creepy:

Perhaps the biggest revelation of all: Some geniuses at Bustle discovered the answer to the age-old question — How was the gang always able to get a seat at Central Perk?

While, as part of their comprehensive friends countdown — which is full of gems —Vulture reminded us that “Friends” actually invented the term “friend zone.” 

There was much discussion about why the Netflix episodes were shorter than the DVD episodes.

Turns out that, back in 2012, co-executive producer and director Kevin S. Brightexplained that the DVDs had a few minutes of extra footage: “The deleted footage was, frankly, added specifically for one home video release,” he said. “If fans are particularly interested in additional footage, those versions are still available. But for this, we wanted something that we, the creators, felt represented the show as we always wanted it to be remembered, which is the original NBC broadcast versions, which have never before been released as that, combined with fantastic new picture and sound, a new documentary and other new features.”

Still, just remember, no matter how these revelations may make you see “Friends” in a new light, it’s still okay to love the show (albeit with a grain of salt”).

As Vulture’s Margaret Lyons wrote in her “Stay Tuned” TV advice column, in response to a reader expressing discomfort with the show’s homophobia: “You can still love ‘Friends,’ but why would you want to love it like you did before? Love it the way you see it now, with the things you know now and the values you have now. I love ‘Friends,’ but I do not love its body or queer politics. Those things can be true at the same time.”

How Israel Covers Up Its Ugly Racial Holy War

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As the incitement to violence by Israeli leaders ramped up, so did racist attacks by Israeli citizens.

The year 2014 will be remembered as a banner year for violence in Israel and Palestine; most of the casualties occurred in the Gaza Strip, and most of these were Palestinian civilians killed by the Israeli army. Six months later, however, these tragic deaths are almost forgotten, chiefly because the powerful propaganda of the Israel lobby is able to explain them away with a well-rehearsed narrative: “Israel only wants to live in peace with its neighbors, but the Palestinians hope to kick us all out of the country, so we have no choice but to retaliate.” Zionist hasbara can be even further condensed, distilled down to just six words: “They hate us for our equality.”

Within Israel, however, the messages emanating from the government have been nothing if not the diametric opposite of these platitudes. Anti-Palestinian incitement has always existed in Israeli politics, but in 2014 this racist discourse took a sharp turn for the worse. When three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered by Palestinian militants in June, Israeli political leaders did not call for the criminals to be caught and convicted. Rather, they demanded that mutilation and mass murder be visited on the general Palestinian population.

Prime Minister Netanyahu called for vengeance, and his coalition partners called for ethnic cleansing and genocide. Government faction whip Ayelet Shaked wrote: “Who is the enemy? The Palestinian people… are all enemy combatants… this also includes the mothers,” while ruling party faction leader Moshe Feiglin wrote: “The civilian population will be concentrated” and “Gaza will become part of… Israel and will be populated by Jews.”

Other public figures were even more specific, calling for sexual violence. A top Israeli academic announced that terrorism could only be averted by threatening to rape the mothers and sister of Palestinian militants. The leader of the largest religious Jewish youth group in the world called for the Israeli army not only to kill at least 300 Palestinians, but to bring back their foreskins as war trophies. The Jerusalem councillor in charge of the city’s securityimplored Jewish youth to “commit acts of Phineas,” a coded call to kill Palestinians and the Jews who befriend them. (Phineas is a reference to the Biblical figure who is said to have murdered an interracial couple in the middle of love-making by skewering their intertwined genitals, some rabbis say.)

As the incitement to violence by top Israeli leaders ramped up, so did the racist attacks by regular Israeli citizens.  Vigilante assaults on Palestinians have been the most common type of attack. A third of all Palestinian bus drivers working in Jerusalem for Israel’s largest bus company Egged have left their jobs since the summer, because racist attacks on them have become a daily occurrence. Hardly any Palestinians venture into downtown Jerusalem at night anymore, for fear of being attacked by gangs of Jewish thugs who patrol the streets, looking for Arabs to assault. In July, Israelis kidnapped a Palestinian teenager, forced gasoline down his throat, and burned him to death from the inside out. The suspects later told police they were inspired by the acts of Phineas.

Another type of racist assault that has become increasingly common in Israel is attacks on Africans. Incitement against the 50,000 non-Jewish Africans who have sought asylum in Israel in recent years, including top government officialscomparing them to cancer and Ebola, has made them a popular target for racist ruffians in Tel Aviv. Locals report it is not uncommon for Israeli youths tothrow dog feces at African mothers nursing their babies. In January, an Israeli man stabbed a one-year-old African baby in the head and later explained to police that he did it because “they said that a black baby, blacks in general, are terrorists.”

A third type of racist assault that is occurring with increasing frequency in Israel is attacks on public spaces which are shared by Jews and non-Jews. There are fewer than 10 integrated schools in all of Israel in which Hebrew-speaking and Arabic-speaking students learn together in the same classrooms, yet these have continuously been the targeted with Hebrew graffiti reading “End the miscegenation,” “There is no coexistence with cancer” and other racist messages. In November, Israelis vandalized the only mixed school in the Jerusalem area, torching schoolbooks and the first-grade classroom.

Increasingly, Jewish Israelis who protest the racist incitement and assaults are also subject to verbal and physical attacks on the streets of Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities. Although these pale in comparison to the threats against Palestinians, Africans and other non-Jewish groups, many of these liberal Israelis are now afraid to express themselves in public or even on the Internet, for fear of losing their friends, their jobs, or worse. Increasing numbers of Israelis are applying for second passports and job opportunities abroad, despairing over the direction the country is headed in and their inability to bring it back from the brink. Instead, they are seeking to save themselves and their families.

Despite painstaking efforts by mainstream media gatekeepers, word of Israeli incitement and racist attacks against non-Jews is finally starting to seep out. Outside observers who had previously assumed that Israel’s war with Palestinians is based on age-old enmity and an intractable battle over land are starting to wonder if a Zionist drive for ethno-religious purity might actually be a main cause of the conflict.

Last year, the European Union announced it would specifically label goods made in Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank, to distinguish them from other Israeli products. In recent months, one European parliament after another has voted in favor of officially recognizing the “State of Palestine”: Sweden, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom.

In North America, progressive churches and labor unions have started supporting the BDS movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel until it treats all citizens equally, ends its military occupations, and solves the problem of Palestinian refugees. With anti-racist advocacy in the United States experiencing a resurgence, communities of color are re-establishing ties with global allies, including Palestinian activists.

The visions of average Americans for the future of Israel and Palestine are also starting to shift. A survey published earlier this month by The Brookings Institution found that a third of all Americans want Israel and Palestine to be a single state with equal rights for all, regardless of race or religion.

Asked which alternative would be preferable if the option of separate sovereign states of Israel and Palestine proves to be impossible, 71% of Americans surveyed (84% of Democrats and 60% of Republicans) said they would prefer that it become a single democratic state. Of the Jewish Americans and Jewish-Israeli Americans surveyed, 61% expressed the same preference; only 34% said they would rather Israel discriminate in favor of Jews and against non-Jews.

In recent years, fearful of losing these last bastions of unqualified international support, Israeli leaders turned to American marketing managers for guidance. The advice of these ad executives was to re-brand “crazy” Israel as “sexy” and “cool.”

To make Israel seem sexy instead of brutal, conventionally attractive Jewish Israeli women would be chosen to represent Israel, sometimes wearing elements of Israeli army uniforms, and often in various states of undress. To make Israel seem cool instead of racist, token Jewish African-Israeli success stories would be said to represent the rule in Israel, when they are only the few exceptions that prove the rule of state racism towards people of color.

I delineated these two tactics, called “sex-washing” and “black-washing,” respectively, in a series of lectures at Florida colleges in October. Israel’s strategic use of sex-washing and black-washing are misogynist and racist in and of themselves, to be sure, but they also harbor deep internal inconsistencies. The woman who best embodies the overlap between both campaigns, the first Black Miss Israel, perfectly illustrates this contradiction. During her hasbara tour of the United States in February, Yityish Aynaw used her limelight to defend Israel’s persecution of non-Jewish African refugees.

As the government rounds Africans, who have committed no crime except for requesting political asylum, off the streets of Tel Aviv into desert detention centers, Aynaw smeared them as rabid rapists, one of the oldest and most disgusting anti-black tropes. Israeli police statistics show that African crime rates, including for violent crimes, are far lower than those of native Israelis.

Likewise, just as Israel’s black-washing strategy contains the seeds of its own anti-blackness, its sex-washing strategy also contains the seeds of its own sexism. Top Israeli politicians smear all Palestinians and Africans as potential domestic abusers, while a long string of sex criminals and alleged sex criminals oozes out of their own ranks: multiple ministers, multiple directors of the Prime Minister’s office and the Prime Minister’s driver and multiple candidates for president and the former president himself, among others.

Rampant rape culture is not confined to political elites in Israel. Studies conducted in 2011 and 2012 found that 20% of Israeli men admit to having forced a woman to have sex, and 61% of Israeli men do not consider forcing a woman to have sex constitutes rape—if she is a previous acquaintance.

The government makes no effort to combat this horrific phenomenon, for which it is at least partially culpable. Just the opposite: it multiplies the misogyny by promoting Jewish Israeli women as sex objects for its own political ends.

On one hand, the government markets the sexual availability of Jewish Israeli women in order to entice a male and mainly non-Jewish audience outside of Israel to support the state. On the other hand, inside the country, state-sponsored groups conduct witch-hunts against the few Jewish Israeli women that have the courage to date non-Jewish men, despite the avalanche of social pressure bearing down on these couples.

These developments may be disturbing, but sadly, they are not unique. In fact, sex-washing was used as a tactic by the official organizations of the Jewish settlement enterprise in Palestine even prior to Israel’s existence. As dramatized in the 2011 British mini-series The Promise, the Yishuv trained Jewish women to court the British soldiers stationed in the country and use their wiles to convince them of the merits of the Zionist idea to establish a Jewish state. At the same time, the Jewish leadership condemned those women who struck up real romantic relationships with non-Jews and ostracized them as race-traitors. Many of these women were threatened and physically attacked, and some were even murdered by anti-miscegenation syndicates.

With every passing day, far-right Members of Knesset are further emboldened, vying to enshrine state-sponsored discrimination in Israeli law, as it already is, de facto. With progressive parliamentarians only holding one-seventh of the seats of the nationalist camp—and this number likely to drop even further in the next Knesset—there seems to be no force in Israeli society that can hold back this frightening tide.

If a coalition of foreign forces finally musters up the courage to call out Israeli leaders on their rampant racism, it will require the ability to see through the state’s deceptive propaganda campaigns. Israel’s friends must realize that the government’s cynical use of Jewish women and people of color are not reasons to shield the regime from judgment, but rather to ramp up criticism of it and demand it end racist incitement and protect all populations, regardless of religion or gender.

 

http://www.alternet.org/world/how-israel-covers-its-ugly-racial-holy-war?akid=12692.265072.rxThMf&rd=1&src=newsletter1030376&t=6

Stirring portrait of aging drag queens at the last gay bar in the Tenderloin

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Donna

San Francisco has changed both rapidly and radically over recent years. As it’s become more appealing both for cosmopolitan urbanites and the exploding tech sector, gentrification has blessed The City by the Bay with the most expensive one-bedroom apartment in America, even surpassing New York. Many mourn the loss of an earlier San Francisco and its formerly affordable counterculture and queer subculture, while San Francisco documentary photographer and filmmaker James Hosking manages to actually catch some of the twilight.

For his series, Beautiful by Night, Hosking documents the lives of three senior drag queens Donna Personna, Collette LeGrande and Olivia Hart, performers at aunt Charlie’s Lounge, the very last gay bar in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. The notoriously seedy Tenderloin has managed to mostly resist gentrification on the merits of its reputation and a concerted effort by inhabitants. Still, without the surrounding culture of a former San Francisco to sustain it, the once vibrant queer scene has faded.

Hosking’s photographs are intimate and unflinching, but the mini-documentary is also an amazing portrait of three drag foremothers. Their reflections and reminiscing are complex but disarmingly at peace, and their performances and beauty rituals are (as expected) hypnotic.


Olivia


Collette LeGrande


Olivia


Collette


Olivia talks to shopkeeper


Gustavo at home


Gustavo/Donna


Gustavo/Donna


Collette performs Ke$ha’s “Tik-Tok”


Donna backstage between sets


Via Feature Shoot

 

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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

“There is but one way out for you”: Read the uncensored letter J. Edgar Hoover wrote to MLK

Historian discovers unredacted copy of longtime FBI chief’s chilling letter

"There is but one way out for you": Read the uncensored letter J. Edgar Hoover wrote to MLK

Martin Luther King, Jr., J. Edgar G. Hoover (Credit: AP)

The mutual contempt between civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and longtime Federal Bureau of Investigation chief J. Edgar Hoover was hardly a well-kept secret. It was 50 years ago this month that Hoover denounced King as “the most notorious liar in the country” after King publicly took the bureau to task for its woefully inadequate enforcement of civil rights protections. In the years since, historians have documented the FBI’s smear campaign against King, which primarily consisted of wiretapping the activist and digging up dirt on his sexual rendezvous. Perhaps the most chilling piece of evidence uncovered in investigating the FBI’s crusade against King was a threatening 1964 letter — confirmed by U.S. Senator Frank Church’s investigative committee as Hoover’s handiwork — in which Hoover, posing as a disillusioned black supporter, warned that King’s “countless acts of adultery and immoral conduct” would be exposed. For the first time, that letter is available in uncensored form.

 Previous versions of the letter redacted details about King’s sexual liaisons, but while conducting research for a biography of Hoover this summer, Yale University historian Beverly Gage happened upon an uncensored version “tucked away in a reprocessed set of his official and confidential files at the National Archives,” she writes in the forthcoming New York Times Magazine.

Containing no fewer than six uses of the word “evil,” the letter assails King as a fraud and appears to have been sent along with a wiretapped recording of the civil rights activist engaged in an extramarital encounter.

“Lend your sexually psychotic ear to the enclosure,” Hoover writes in one passage.

“You know you are a complete fraud and a great liability to all of us Negroes,” the letter reads. “You are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that,” Hoover later adds.

Hoover vows that King will soon be “exposed on the record for all time.”

“Yes, from your various evil playmates on the east coast to [here an individual’s name is redacted because Hoover’s allegations about her have not been confirmed or debunked] and others on the west coast and outside the country you are on the record. King you are done,” Hoover declares.



The letter concludes with a menacing declaration that “there is only one thing left for you to do,” giving King a deadline of 34 days before he would be exposed.

“You are done,” Hoover writes. “There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal, fraudulent self is bared to the nation.”

As Gage notes, King told associates that he was convinced that someone — likely Hoover — was trying to provoke him to commit suicide.

“One oddity of Hoover’s campaign against King is that it mostly flopped, and the F.B.I. never succeeded in seriously damaging King’s public image,” Gage writes. “Half a century later, we look upon King as a model of moral courage and human dignity. Hoover, by contrast, has become almost universally reviled. In this context, perhaps the most surprising aspect of their story is not what the F.B.I. attempted, but what it failed to do.”

Read the letter below, via Gawker:

Luke Brinker is Salon’s deputy politics editor. Follow him on Twitter at @LukeBrinker.

Jian Ghomeshi to #Gamergate: Our culture’s toxic masculinity crisis on display

When do we get to talk seriously about misogyny and violence against women? A list of opportunities we should take

 

Jian Ghomeshi to #Gamergate: Our culture's toxic masculinity crisis on display
Jian Ghomeshi (Credit: Reuters/Mark Blinch)

We don’t often get to talk about misogyny, toxic masculinity and male sexual entitlement outside of certain feminist and progressive spaces, whether those spaces are online or offline. In fact, just use the words “toxic masculinity” in a sentence and you’re bound to lose a lot of people straight out of the gate. People, even people who think rape is bad and that mass shootings are terrifying and preventable and that men shouldn’t threaten women with death for critiquing video games, bristle when you direct these conversations back to what seems to connect most of them, if not all of them.

But try to talk about toxic masculinity and you’re likely to get dismissed as a cynical opportunist pushing an agenda. Or a misandrist. (A “creeping” misandrist, even.) I saw that happen a lot over the weekend when women I follow on Twitter tried to talk about the Seattle shooting, in which a 14-year-old boy killed a girl and badly injured four other students, as part of a pattern we’ve seen before. It was a familiar script. When I wrote about Elliot Rodger’s misogyny after he killed six people in Isla Vista, California, I received a lot of angry emails telling me that I was politicizing a tragedy. It seems that, even when a killer leaves hundreds of pages detailing his racist and misogynistic worldview, we aren’t supposed to talk about those things. (We also aren’t supposed to talk about the data we have showing that 98 percent of shooters are men. Or, as the Guardian’s Jessica Valenti pointed out on Monday, research that shows that responses of “explosive anger” are ”two to three times more likely to occur in male teens, and twice as likely in adult men.”)

There is a dangerous and deadly pattern at play, and every day I read something that I file away as part of the growing list opportunities to talk about toxic masculinity, opportunities we should take. Because these aren’t isolated incidents, but the product of something more insidious and more dangerous. Sometimes, I keep actual lists. This week, my list looked like this:



1. Cop stole arrested women’s nude photos as ‘game’: docs

2. Teenage Boy May Have Shot Up His School Because His Girlfriend Broke Up With Him

3. Is GamerGate About Media Ethics or Harassing Women? Harassment, the Data Shows

4. Oklahoma City police officer accused of sex crimes released from jail for second time

5. CBC fires Jian Ghomeshi over sex allegations

Now unless you are of the belief that men are wired to be violent (I am not), then talking about our culture, how boys are raised to view themselves and others around them, seems pretty important. And to talk about this does not mean that all men are rapists or violent killers. And to talk about allegations of rape does not mean we are convicting men in the “court of public opinion.” It just means that there is something going on here, that these stories tell us something, and that the response to these stories reveal something, too. We need to look at and challenge those things.

So maybe we look at the story of cops stealing photos and treating a gross violation like a fun activity or an Oklahoma cop who is alleged to be a serial rapist and we question abuses of power and abuser dynamics in law enforcement. Maybe that can shape some of our thinking about why women don’t always report sexual violence to the cops. And while it may be impossible to know what drove Jaylen Fryberg to kill another student and himself, we have a very familiar set of circumstances that we can talk about instead of running away from them. We can look to the tragedy in Seattle and situate it as part of a larger pattern of violence that has revealed itself again and again and begin thinking about what addressing that violence might actually look like. Whether it’s gun control or healthy masculinity or both of these things.

And maybe then we can think about Gamergate and the harassment that has come to define this “movement” and we can question why so many people seem willing to look past that and lend credibility to serial harassers who have forced women offline and out of their homes. And while we wait to learn more about the allegations against Ghomeshi, we can still think about where our allegiances reflexively go when we learn about high-profile assault cases. Whom we believe and whom we don’t. We can ask questions about how the details included and excluded in reporting on allegations shape our view of those allegations. And we can listen to women who say that they didn’t speak out about harassment or violence they endured because they were scared that doing so would lead to more harassment.

Answers don’t always come easily. But a willingness to sit with and try to answer difficult questions is a minimum standard. Sadly, it’s one we’re failing to meet again and again and again.

Katie McDonough is Salon’s politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

http://www.salon.com/2014/10/27/jian_ghomeshi_to_gamergate_americas_toxic_masculinity_crisis_on_display/?source=newsletter