Milo Yiannopoulos isn’t ready for “Real Time” and it shows

Bill Maher’s public service:

Most people have no idea who Milo is, except that he claims to be “Dangerous.” Friday night, Bill Maher showed them

Bill Maher's public service: Milo Yiannopoulos isn't ready for "Real Time" and it shows
(Credit: Getty/Drew Angerer/HBO/Salon)

When it was announced that this week’s episode of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” would feature so-called “right-wing provocateur” Milo Yiannopoulos, some people freaked out. Many seemed to believe that bringing Yiannopoulos on the show would legitimize a noxious professional troll, as if that horse hadn’t already escaped the barn when America elected one president.

Journalist Jeremy Scahill, co-founding editor of The Intercept, canceled his own booking in protest. In his one-on-one segment with Maher at the top of the show, Yiannopoulos called that approach out: “If you don’t show up to debate, you lose.” On one hand, not every debate is worth sitting in the makeup chair for. (I’ve seen the Milo show; I’ve seen better.) But Yiannopoulos isn’t leading a political movement; he’s an attention-seeking troll. They don’t feed on legitimacy, but rather scandal and outrage, which Scahill helped deliver. For my part, I was irritated that I’d have to sit through an interview with this guy before getting to Leah Remini’s Scientology Dirt Bag, so it’s not like I had a high horse to climb off of.

It’s easy to forget, if you don’t live on the Internet, that most people in America — and quite possibly most “Real Time” home viewers — likely have no idea who Milo is or if they should care about him at all. (Third *NSync alum from the right?) If their first up-close exposure to Milo Yiannopoulos, C-Lister Famous for Something or Other, was last night’s “Real Time,” I can’t imagine they now understand what all the fuss is about.

Yiannopoulos came out quite saucy and self-satisfied — ain’t I a stinker? — so Maher, ever the comedy veteran, heckled him right out of the gate: “You look like Bruno.” Milo pouted, and then turned his exaggerated frown into a smirk after a beat. “You know I told [the make-up artist] to dial down the contouring.”

Despite their flirty greetings, Maher didn’t let Milo off easy. They agreed on a few things, like how liberals are too easily offended, but throughout the interview, Milo seemed squirmy, a bit flustered and obviously outmatched by his host. Maher wasn’t interested in gossiping about Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer and Sarah Silverman, whom Milo lamely joked were funny before they “contracted feminism.” In fact, he dismissed most of Milo’s low-hanging outrage-bait as just kind of stupid.

Maher’s challenge here was not being cast as Principal Skinner arguing with Bart Simpson, and for the most part, he succeeded. “You’re wrong about certain things,” Maher tells him flatly, giving examples from Milo’s own spiels: “Black Lives Matter is a hate group. There’s no such thing as white privilege.”

Maher, a consistent atheist, also dinged Yiannopoulos for “bullshit stupid thinking” when Milo gave Catholicism a pass he doesn’t extend to other religions.

Yiannopoulos insisted that he’s funny and that his jokes “build bridges.” All he cares about, he claimed, is free speech and free expression, which he described as “now a conservative position.”

“I’m the guy who always defends jokes, right up to the point where they pointlessly hurt people,” Maher said, bringing up the campaign of vicious harassment against “Ghostbusters” star Leslie Jones that got Yiannopoulos banned from Twitter.

Milo’s defense was a mess of facile talking points. “I like to think of myself as a virtuous troll,” he said. He also claimed, “What actually hurts people is murder, violence. Mean words don’t hurt people.”

“Which some people would say you’ve incited,” countered Maher, though he didn’t give any concrete examples.

“They would be idiots,” said Yiannopoulos.

For a couple of years in the 1980s, my family lived in Germany, where Nazi symbols were, for very understandable reasons, forbidden. As an earnest 7-year-old who read a lot of children’s literature set during World War II, it freaked me out to see swastikas scratched and inked into naughty graffiti, presented with as much gravity and political intent as butts-and-boobs doodles were back home. Little kids test social boundaries all the time. They’re drawn to the illicit — like giggling over Nazi symbols, which they know are bad but don’t quite understand — because that which is frightening for abstract reasons can also be thrilling, even titillating. Part of growing up — as I hope the kid at my Catholic school who was responsible for that graffiti did, eventually — is learning how one kid’s abstract illicit thrills can be another person’s concrete and dangerous threats, and adjusting your behavior accordingly.

Yiannopoulos is an intriguing conundrum because even though he’s an out gay man in his 30s, not a doodling child, he refuses to connect his own flippant denigration of gay people as hyper-sexed, druggy and untrustworthy — abstract jokes he’s in on — to the concrete threat of discrimination or even violence that LGBT people face from those who may feel emboldened or justified by those attitudes. Maybe he feels those fears are idiotic. Most of his fans are likely in it for the dark thrill of an illicit giggle alone: the permission to laugh at a gay joke because a gay man made it. But how grotesque of a spotlight-chaser does one have to be to ignore the possibility of the fan that isn’t? And how narcissistic is it to forcibly extend that “in on the joke” intimacy to those who haven’t issued an invitation first, like women, black people or Muslims?

On one hand, it’s a pity Maher didn’t have time to delve that deep into a discussion of the philosophy of “j/k lol” with Yiannopoulos. On the other hand, it’s not like Milo said anything on “Real Time” that indicated he’d be up for a challenging intellectual discussion about where the line is, and what it’s used for.

Throughout the segment, Milo demonstrated that as far as provocateurs go, he’s nowhere near Maher’s level. You can disagree with Maher’s positions on politics and religion, but he’s a pro who can back a gag or a flat statement up with reason and consistency. Milo’s a snarky brunch friend on a second round of Bloodies for people who don’t have snarky brunch friends. (Get off Gab once in a while and buy a round, fanboys! You can get your fill of Lena Dunham jokes in person.) He’s managed to build a public speaking and publishing career on little more than being shameless, disgusting and reasonably attractive at the same time. America, land of opportunity!

Maher closed the segment by scolding his audience. “Stop taking the bait, liberals!” he cried. “You’re all freaking out about this fucking impish British fag! You schoolgirls!”

Maher’s using his words as a blunt instrument here, but the sentiment’s not wrong. Exposing Yiannopoulos as a lightweight “famous for doing nothing” vacuous Twitter celeb on TV — as Maher just did — is likely going to be more effective at limiting his cachet and influence than inadvertently building up his illicit, underground cred through outrage. Pushing a malignant thing like Milo Yiannopoulos out into the spotlight isn’t necessarily normalizing it. Sometimes the cliché is true, and sunlight really is the best disinfectant.

The Trump press conference: A ferocious conflict within the ruling elite


17 February 2017

The news conference given by Donald Trump Thursday afternoon was extraordinary and unprecedented. The event took on a surreal character as, for more than 75 minutes, the US president traded insults with journalists and otherwise engaged in a bitter battle with his nemeses in the media. It is not comparable to anything seen before in modern American history, even at the height of the Watergate crisis.

In witnessing such a spectacle, it is always necessary to uncover the rational content, the underlying political dynamic. In this case, the press conference gave expression to a vicious conflict within the American ruling class over foreign policy as the United States hurtles toward war.

The news conference was initially called to announce Trump’s new pick for labor secretary, but this took up only one minute of the event. Trump began with a litany of achievements and actions he has taken since his inauguration, which was largely directed at the ruling elite in an appeal for support. The stock market has “hit record numbers,” corporate regulations are being eliminated, immigrants are being targeted for deportation, and Trump has ordered a “massive rebuilding” of the US military, among other right-wing measures.

However, from the media, channeling the US intelligence apparatus, questions focused almost exclusively on the ties of the Trump administration to Russia and the circumstances behind the forced resignation earlier this week of Trump’s national security advisor, Michael Flynn, over his pre-inauguration telephone conversation with the Russian ambassador.

Trump responded with a diatribe in which the media served as a stand-in for his real opponents in the US ruling elite, comprising the bulk of the permanent military-intelligence apparatus that really runs the government, regardless of which party controls the White House or majorities in Congress. He repeatedly denounced what he called “illegal leaks” to the media from sources within the intelligence agencies.

It was remarkable that when Trump directly denounced the media as a mouthpiece for the intelligence agencies, there was no attempt to rebut him. Everyone knows it is true. Likewise, when he flatly denied any contact between his campaign and Russian intelligence agencies, not a single reporter could cite evidence to the contrary.

In the course of the press conference, Trump blurted out a number of astonishing comments that point to the extreme dangers facing the entire world.

Responding to questions about what he would do about a Russian ship conducting surveillance operations in international waters off the coast of Connecticut—the same type of operations US warships conduct on a much larger scale off the coasts of Russia and China—Trump said, “The greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship that’s 30 miles off shore right out of the water. Everyone in this country’s going to say ‘oh, it’s so great.’” He continued, “If I was just brutal on Russia right now, just brutal, people would say, you would say, ‘Oh, isn’t that wonderful.’”

Trump pointed out the implications of such a clash, given that Russia and the United States have the two largest nuclear arsenals in the world. “We’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are they,” he said. “I have been briefed. And I can tell you one thing about a briefing that we’re allowed to say because anybody that ever read the most basic book can say it: a nuclear holocaust would be like no other.” In other words, there are ongoing discussions, at the highest levels of the American government, about a potential nuclear war with Russia, for which preparations are well advanced.

When challenged by one reporter on why there was no response by the US government to a series of what he called “provocations” by Russia—largely consisting of incidents provoked by US and NATO war maneuvers along Russia’s borders—Trump replied, “I’m not going to tell you anything about what response I do. I don’t talk about military response.”

He expanded on this theme, declaring that he would not talk about military operations in Iraq, North Korea, Iran or anywhere else. “You know why? Because they shouldn’t know. And eventually, you guys are going to get tired of asking that question.”

Such conflicts within the ruling elite over foreign policy are usually fought out behind the scenes, as with discontent within the military-intelligence apparatus over Obama’s retreat from a direct military intervention in Syria in 2013, when he failed to enforce his so-called “red line” against the government of Bashar al-Assad.

This time, however, the conflict has exploded into the open. Aside from the specific form that the debate within the US state apparatus has taken, it is an expression of an underlying crisis of the entire capitalist order. Twenty-five years of unending war are metastasizing, with extreme rapidity, into a major conflict involving large nation-states. National security journals are full of articles in which there is open discussion about war with Russia, in which the question is not if, but when and how. Trump, on the other hand, has focused his attention on China. In either case, the consequences are incalculable.

What was perhaps most striking is how remote the entire press conference was from the sentiments and concerns of the vast majority of the American population. There was virtually no questioning at the press conference about Trump’s war against immigrant workers or the nationwide day of protest by immigrants and their supporters that was taking place at the same time.

Those participating in the mass protests that have erupted since Trump’s inauguration are not motivated by a desire to launch a war with Russia, but by hatred of Trump’s authoritarian, anti-democratic policies and the oligarchic government that he has set up.

Trump’s critics in the Democratic Party and media, however, are responding to powerful sections of the US ruling elite who welcome Trump’s ultra-reactionary domestic policies—tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, deregulation of corporations, attacks on democratic rights, persecution of immigrants—but regard his posture of seeking better relations with Russia as intolerable.

The Democrats have responded with passive handwringing while Trump has assembled his cabinet of billionaires, ex-generals and right-wing fanatics, and issued a series of reactionary and unconstitutional executive orders. But when given the opportunity to attack Trump as soft on Russia, they engage in savage witch-hunting that recalls nothing so much as McCarthyism.

There is no faction with the American ruling class that is opposed to imperialist war. In the struggle to prevent war, it is up to the working class to intervene independently, opposing both factions in the US ruling elite, both Trump and the line-up of the CIA, the media and the Democratic Party.

Patrick Martin


Why Liberals Are Wrong About Trump

Glenn Rockowitz

author, formerly SNL, delight

Why are the liberals completely overreacting to Trump’s unique style of governing?

They’re not. He’s a fucking sociopath. And here’s a recipe for raspberry scones:

  1. Combine measured flour, 1/4 cup of the sugar, the baking powder, lemon zest, and salt in a large bowl and whisk to break up any lumps. Using a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture until small, pea-sized pieces remain.
  2. Pour in 3/4 cup of the cream and, using your finger, mix until just incorporated and a rough, slightly sticky mound has formed (not all of the flour will be incorporated). Turn the dough and loose flour out onto a work surface and knead until most of the flour is incorporated and the dough just holds together (be careful not to overwork it). Lightly flour a rolling pin and the work surface. Using your hands, roughly form the dough into a rectangle, keeping the long edge toward you. Roll the dough into an 8-by-10-inch rectangle (if the dough cracks, push it back together), again keeping the long edge toward you.
  3. Remove the raspberries from the freezer, evenly arrange them in a single layer over the lower two-thirds of the rectangle, and press them into the dough (it’s OK if some break).
  4. Starting with the top, berryless third, fold the dough lengthwise into thirds, pressing on the layers as you go (use a spatula or pasty scraper if the dough sticks to the work surface).
  5. Flour the rolling pin again and gently roll the dough into an even 1-inch-thick block. If the ends become tapered, square them with your hands. Slice the dough crosswise (do not saw back and forth) into 4 equal pieces. Cut each piece diagonally to form 2 triangles.
  6. Transfer the scones to the floured plate and place in the freezer for 5 minutes.
  7. Remove the scones from the freezer and transfer to the prepared baking sheet, setting them 2 inches apart. Brush a thin layer of the remaining 1 tablespoon cream over the tops of the scones and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Bake until golden brown on the top and bottom, about 20 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

View story at

How to Build an Autocracy


The preconditions are present in the U.S. today. Here’s the playbook Donald Trump could use to set the country down a path toward illiberalism.

It’s 2021, and president Donald Trump will shortly be sworn in for his second term. The 45th president has visibly aged over the past four years. He rests heavily on his daughter Ivanka’s arm during his infrequent public appearances.

Fortunately for him, he did not need to campaign hard for reelection. His has been a popular presidency: Big tax cuts, big spending, and big deficits have worked their familiar expansive magic. Wages have grown strongly in the Trump years, especially for men without a college degree, even if rising inflation is beginning to bite into the gains. The president’s supporters credit his restrictive immigration policies and his TrumpWorks infrastructure program.

Listen to the audio version of this article:

Download the Audm app for your iPhone to listen to more titles.

The president’s critics, meanwhile, have found little hearing for their protests and complaints. A Senate investigation of Russian hacking during the 2016 presidential campaign sputtered into inconclusive partisan wrangling. Concerns about Trump’s purported conflicts of interest excited debate in Washington but never drew much attention from the wider American public.

Allegations of fraud and self-dealing in the TrumpWorks program, and elsewhere, have likewise been shrugged off. The president regularly tweets out news of factory openings and big hiring announcements: “I’m bringing back your jobs,” he has said over and over. Voters seem to have believed him—and are grateful.

Anyway, doesn’t everybody do it? On the eve of the 2018 congressional elections, WikiLeaks released years of investment statements by prominent congressional Democrats indicating that they had long earned above-market returns. As the air filled with allegations of insider trading and crony capitalism, the public subsided into weary cynicism. The Republicans held both houses of Congress that November, and Trump loyalists shouldered aside the pre-Trump leadership.

The business community learned its lesson early. “You work for me, you don’t criticize me,” the president was reported to have told one major federal contractor, after knocking billions off his company’s stock-market valuation with an angry tweet. Wise business leaders take care to credit Trump’s personal leadership for any good news, and to avoid saying anything that might displease the president or his family.

The media have grown noticeably more friendly to Trump as well. The proposed merger of AT&T and Time Warner was delayed for more than a year, during which Time Warner’s CNN unit worked ever harder to meet Trump’s definition of fairness. Under the agreement that settled the Department of Justice’s antitrust complaint against Amazon, the company’s founder, Jeff Bezos, has divested himself of The Washington Post. The paper’s new owner—an investor group based in Slovakia—has closed the printed edition and refocused the paper on municipal politics and lifestyle coverage.



John Waters: ‘A new kind of anarchy is going to happen next’

The Hairspray director is famed for his boundary-trashing B-movies but he hopes Trump’s presidency will inspire the next wave of punk-rock film-makers

Filmmaker, artist and writer John Waters. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

John Waters, the iconic director famously known as the Pope of Trash or the Prince of Puke, has never been one to shy away from a spectacle. When we meet in London’s West End, where he’s recovering from seeing both parts of the Harry Potter play (he’s not a fan himself, he says, but he went with a friend), he’s in a bright purple suit, that famous pencil-thin moustache still present, as it has been since he was a teenager. “I dressed just for you,” he purrs. He’s 70 now and has been in the business for six decades.

Among the many outrageous moments in his movies, his legacy will always be the infamous ending of his 1972 classic Pink Flamingos, which sees Divine – his friend and, until his death in 1988, his regular star – devouring a dog turd on camera. Waters remains as cheerfully provocative as ever but, in the aftermath of the US election, even he is wrestling with how to tell new jokes.

“I’m struggling to think of something funny to say, as all comedians are,” he admits. “I hate liberals who say: ‘I’m leaving the country.’ Oh, like it’s going to matter. You’re not that important, go ahead. But the only thing I can think that’s positive is that a new kind of anarchy is going to happen next.”

Waters has long been associated with a countercultural spirit. His early films in particular usually focused on gangs of outlaws marauding around his home town of Baltimore causing merry criminal chaos. But the re-release of one of his earliest feature films, 1970’s Multiple Maniacs, feels particularly prescient today, offering a snapshot of a time in which the US was in the midst of a wave of domestic terrorist attacks, student uprisings and protests. “You forget, there were skyjackings every day,” he recalls.

Multiple Maniacs was made on a $5,000 budget, a loan from Waters’s father, and it was the only one of his movies that his mother never saw. You can see why: its wild, sprawling plot, if you can call it that, involves the lawless adventures of an acting troupe of hippies and culminates in Divine being raped by a giant lobster. At 100% approval, it is Waters’s highest-rating film on Rotten Tomatoes. “When I look at it today, it’s like: ‘What were you thinking?’” he laughs. “I will be the first to say that it is ridiculous.”

Ridiculous it may be – by his own admission “the camerawork looks terrible”, and when people forgot their lines, he just kept rolling – but, for all of its chaos, it’s a surprisingly familiar and timely picture of growing activism, anti-establishment sentiment and youth rebellion. The film was shot towards the end of 1969, the most radical year in the 20th century, Waters reckons. “It was right before everything ended. Woodstock, Altamont, the Manson murders. It was a movie to comically go against the hippy values.”

Dreamland regulars Mink Stole (left) and Divine in Multiple Maniacs.
Dreamland regulars Mink Stole (left) and Divine in Multiple Maniacs. Photograph: Janus Films

In Multiple Maniacs, the hippies are part of a travelling roadshow called Lady Divine’s Cavalcade of Perversion. Human exhibits include a gerontophile, a woman with hairy armpits, and “two actual queers, kissing each other”. Early in the story, the gang kidnap the Cavalcade’s “straight” audience, tie them up and forcibly inject them with drugs. Waters recalls one screening where this went down particularly well.

“The first time we had the premiere of the restored version was at the Provincetown film festival and this guy came over and said: ‘Acid must have been pretty good back then.’ And it was! People I know did shoot up acid. Even I never did that. Shooting up acid is really radical.” I didn’t know you could. “Oh yeah. You pull it right out of you at the height of the trip. Talk about a rush. My mother always said: ‘Don’t tell young people that stuff.’ And now I’m telling the Guardian!” He looks delighted.

Waters says he has watched Multiple Maniacs with young people after its recent restoration and it still resonates. “I’m not saying it hasn’t dated; it’s dated in way that it might be more appalling today than it was then. It was a punk rock movie. I look back on it now and think: ‘Oh my God, all this stuff about killing cops – not even the most radical group would say anything like that today.’ And you forget, in the 60s, ‘Off The Pig’ was a common slogan on a march, which is shocking today to look back on.”

John Waters in London, January 2017.
John Waters in London, January 2017. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

However, he feels that the humour of radical groups from that era, such as the Weathermen, is the key to finding a new radicalism today. “These are political activists who use humour as terrorism to mortify your opponent. We need that again, and with Trump we’ll probably get it. He’d be an easy person to do it to because he has a short fuse.”

Waters says you could still have a Cavalcade of Perversion. What would be in it? “See transgenders in the bathroom! Or see the President of America! I hate reality television. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a reality show, ever, and now we have one.” He never watched The Apprentice? “Never. No! I hated him before. I hate a hopper. A hair-hopper is someone who pretends they’re rich, who really wasn’t brought up very wealthy but now tries to brag that they’re rich, and they spend too much time on their hair.”

The late Edith Massey maker her debut in Multiple Maniacs.
The late Edith Massey maker her debut in Multiple Maniacs. Photograph: Lawrence Irvin/Janus Films

He doesn’t watch television himself (he reads instead, though says: “I know I’m missing something good”) and yet Waters has had a number of TV development deals in the works. Sadly for fans, none have yet come to fruition and he hasn’t made a feature film since 2004’s A Dirty Shame because it didn’t make enough money. “That’s fair, that’s what Hollywood’s about,” he shrugs.

Has he thought about crowdfunding? He looks mortified. “I own three homes. Am I gonna go out and say: ‘Send me $10?’” Well, rich people often do. “I’m against that. I have too much money to panhandle. They all want you to make a movie for under a million dollars, which I don’t want to. I don’t want to be a faux radical film-maker at 70. I did that. I don’t need to do it again. I can make a movie for $5m, which used to be a routinely low, independent movie, but there’s no such thing as that any more.” But, he says, “I’d make a movie again if they said yes.”

In 1988, Waters had a bona fide hit with Hairspray; it has since spawned so many offshoots that it’s practically an industry of its own. “They change it each time, and that’s why it works each time, hopefully,” he says. “As long as they don’t make a new version exactly like what came before, and don’t change it. That’s when it will stop.” There was the John Travolta-starring 2007 Hollywood remake; a hugely successful stage musical; and a recent live television adaptation in the US, on NBC. But a more surprising part of his legacy has come in the form of an inspirational quote, which has found its way on to posters, memes, T-shirts, mugs and even tapestries: “If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them.”

“It did catch on!” he laughs. He says he’s seen it everywhere. “At the Strand bookshop in New York, there’s an entire display of it! I don’t mind that they did it. Sort of I did. They censored it! They don’t say fuck!” The key letters are starred out. “That’s what infuriated me!” He mentions that a friend of his, the drag queen Lady Bunny, called him out on its veracity. “She said: ‘I thought he [Waters] liked criminals?’ I believe in my own words, but maybe I don’t always practise what I preach.” He laughs again, and offers up a sequel. “Basically, if they’re cute enough, who’s looking at the library?”

Multiple Maniacs is in UK cinemas from Friday 17 February and available to buy on Blu-ray from Monday 20 March

“The OA” Season two is coming, and it could be great

The show should follow the lead of another show with a troubled first season

“The OA” Season two is coming, and it could be great
The OA(Credit: Netflix/Jojo Whilden)

When Netflix released Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij’s metaphysical suburban sci-fi tale, “The OA,” in December, the streaming service billed the show as “a Russian nesting doll of a story.” The tagline was apt. The bulk of the narrative was about Marling’s character’s (The OA’s) years of captivity and was delivered through her nightly telling to a group of estranged children and their teacher. Each unlikely detail begot questions, and then more unlikely details.

By the doll’s fifth layer, let’s just say the pieces began to dance and take on new forms in ways that became polarizing. The unbridled unraveling brought joy and excitement to some viewers and inspired others to wearily raise one eyebrow. But by season’s end the tale was told, the doll opened to its final piece. And so it was hard to imagine what a second season would look like.

The world of streaming, though, is no different than the world of cable and network television: where there is buzz, there are second seasons. This week, Netflix announced that “The OA,” like their other successful 2016 teenage sci-fi show “Stranger Things,” would be coming back for a “Part II.”

Unlike with “Stranger Things,” Netflix didn’t promote the coming of the second season with a Super Bowl ad. And I would presume that critics were less universally on-board. Many critics pilloried the show for the way it reached not for the sky but the heavens, and for doing so without the least bit of self-awareness.

While “The OA’s” ambition did indeed breed problems in Season one, recent television history has shown that the most ambitious shows can gain stronger footing by hitting the reset button in Season two.

The model for how to do so is another mortality-focused sci-fi show, HBO’s “The Leftovers.” The show’s first season, based on Tom Perrotta’s eponymous novel, was both dismal and laughable. Too much time was spent with a group of white-wearing radicals (the Guilty Remnant) who didn’t talk. The New York palettes were too gray. Not enough attention was given to the main characters’ interior lives. And, like “The OA,” the show was grounded in an event that happened in the past (the disappearance of 2 percent of the world’s population) rather than in forward motion.

For its second season, Perrotta and showrunner Damon Lindelof retooled “The Leftovers,” abandoning almost everything other than the inciting event and the central characters. The protagonists, and with them the show, moved from Mapleton, New York, to Jarden, Texas (both fictional), where the sun shone bright, everyone had been spared, and where there was no Guilty Remnant. The show became more playful, too. The season’s best episode, “International Assassin,” was a hilarious but high-stakes jaunt through a purgatory depicted as an absurdist hotel. All in all, it was one of the best seasons of TV in recent memory.

While some of the problems that the first season of “The OA” suffered from were similar to the ones that hampered Season one of “The Leftovers” — incomplete fleshing out of central characters and self-seriousness among them — “The OA” does not need to mimic the reset of “The Leftovers” move for move. Rather, the show would benefit from doing one thing the makers of “The Leftovers” did, which was listening to critics and absorbing their wisest critiques and subverting the others.

Marling and Batmanglij are two of the most ambitious auteurs working in television. Perrotta and Lindelof are proof that with time and feedback it’s possible for such creators to scrap the outer layers of an overstuffed nesting doll and build a more entertaining one.




Classical music performers take a stand against Trump’s travel ban

Budapest Festival Orchestra in New York

By Fred Mazelis
11 February 2017

Performers in the classical music field have joined the widespread protest over the Trump administration’s attempt to ban the entry of refugees and visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries that he has branded the sources of terrorism.

Symphony orchestras in major US cities (and many smaller cities as well) have large and growing numbers of immigrants in their ranks, and the music they perform is international in scope and history. Visiting orchestras, of course, consist almost entirely of non-US citizens.

Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra

In the case of the highly regarded Budapest Festival Orchestra, currently in the midst of a five-city US tour, the travel ban nearly prevented the participation of one of its members. Only the last-minute intervention of BFO conductor Ivan Fischer succeeded in securing the entry into the US of an Iraqi-born Hungarian cellist who is a vital part of the ensemble’s string section. The cellist is a Hungarian citizen, but holds Iraqi citizenship as well.

The Budapest orchestra’s tour brought it to Newark, New York, Boston, Chicago and Ann Arbor, Michigan. Its programs, featuring the Bronx-born Richard Goode, one of the greatest American pianists, consisted of Beethoven symphonies paired with some of his piano concertos.

Ivan Fischer is a Hungarian conductor and composer whose work, especially with the Budapest Festival Orchestra, has attracted acclaim and wide recognition. He is known as an outspoken opponent of extreme nationalism and the growth of ultra-right elements, both in the government of Viktor Orban in Hungary today, and elsewhere as well.

The 66-year-old conductor, of Jewish ancestry, lost some of his grandparents in the Holocaust. He told the New York Times that he saw echoes of the past–when Jewish musicians were removed from such orchestras as the Vienna Philharmonic and Berlin Philharmonic and later exiled or in some cases killed–in the current conditions of the rise of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant hatred. “Having learned this lesson,” he is quoted as saying, “I have a very strong determination not to allow that ever to happen.”

According to the BFO website, the orchestra has for a number of years been performing in abandoned synagogues in Hungarian towns and villages where the Jewish communities were destroyed in the Holocaust. The local community hears a free concert, and also a brief talk about the synagogue and the history of the local community. Fischer sees this as part of an effort to combat the danger of renewed anti-Semitism, along with hostility to immigrants and refugees.

Fischer is also known for his unusual and imaginative attempts to break down barriers that have been allowed to grow between classical music and today’s audiences. These have involved fresh presentations of important classics, without violating the content and spirit of the compositions. In Budapest he has sometimes held concerts where the programs are not announced in advance, and he has also attracted audiences of tens of thousands for open-air performances.

On his current tour, the Times reports, the BFO’s performance of Beethoven’s immortal Fifth Symphony saw music students from New York’s Juilliard School and Bard College suddenly move onto the stage to join with the older musicians in the work’s closing measures. In a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth, choristers appeared in different parts of the auditorium for the Ode to Joy choral finale.

Conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim is also known as a defender of the rights of immigrants and refugees, as well as an opponent of the brutal and longstanding Israeli occupation of the West Bank. He joined Fischer last December for a fund-raising concert for the Budapest ensemble’s “synagogue project.” The orchestra’s official funding was cut back last year, possibly as retribution for its conductor’s outspoken political stance.

American orchestras have issued statements or otherwise indicated their opposition to the travel ban. One of the more prominent examples was the special program presented by the Seattle Symphony on February 8, a program which originated at the initiative of the musicians themselves. The concert, titled “Music Beyond Borders,” consisted entirely of music by composers from among the seven countries targeted by Trump’s travel ban. The composers included two Iranians, an Iraqi, a Sudanese and a Syrian.

The principal trumpet for the Seattle Symphony, introducing one of the works, noted that about one-quarter of the 80 musicians of the orchestra were immigrants, hailing from 15 countries. The music on the program reflected a cross-fertilization between Western and Middle Eastern classical traditions, and included a large number of instruments not usually heard in US concerts, among them an oud (a stringed instrument related to the lute) and a santoor (an Iranian instrument similar to the hammered dulcimer).