Obama To Visual Artists, Writers: De-nied
On Monday night, Obama named the 25 members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, a group tasked with advancing art and culture in the public and private sectors (“showing up at arts events and looking important”). Not a single visual artist, curator, or writer was deemed worthy of pumping up the arts jam; instead, the list included such visionaries as Sarah Jessica Parker (herald of preposterous fashion for the masses), Anna Wintour (herald of preposterous fashion for the masses), and Edward Norton (The Hulk). Classier choices included Pritzker-Prize winning architect Thom Mayne, ballet dancer Damian Woetzel, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma—the latter apparently Obama’s main man for Governmental Shit Needing Classical Musicians.
Considering that the organization is responsible for the National Books Festival and the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, the dearth of members with expertise in, uh, visual art and writing is already causing a stir.
Still, the film-heavy selections—a fifth of them are actors!—fit in nicely with the Committee’s existing staff, including executive director Rachel Goslins, a documentary filmmaker whose movie ‘Bama Girl is apparently not about Obama Girl.
American Girl releases homeless doll
American Girl, purveyors of expensive historical dolls and the expensive shit that goes along with them, released a homeless doll last month.
All AG dolls come with a back story, usually set in a key moment in American history. But in recent years, the company has released one contemporary “Girl of the Year” to complement classics like American Revolution-era Felicity or World War II era Molly.
For $95, parents can buy this year’s Girl, Gwen Thompson, an adorable brown-eyed blonde who lives in parked car and blurs the line between empathy and poor taste. Gwen was initially praised by some homeless advocates like the Los Angeles Mission for raising awareness, then criticized by others like Beyond Shelter when they learned not a penny of her steep price tag would go towards helping real life homeless people.
In response to criticism, American Girl released this statement: “Our singular goal with these stories is to help girls find their inner star by becoming kind, compassionate, and loving people who make a positive and meaningful difference in the world around them.”
So for now, little girls and boys can only buy Gwen for her cool white dress and her psuedo-educational value...much like my white childhood friend who bought the Civil War-era Addie doll “to free her from slavery.”
Levi-Strauss Dies At 100
So begins the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss’s memoir of his Brazilian fieldwork, Tristes Tropiques. He does not let the paradox linger for long: he explains that he hates the genre of the travelogue, the relentless recounting of details, the National Geographic exoticism. The man had a certain disdain for details in general. His interest lay with the overarching structure; he had a vision of the world in which all societies, from the Amazonian tribes to the Western “Monoculture,” arose from various combinations of the same, universal building blocks. All myths, he held, could be reduced to mythemes; basic elements shared throughout all cultures.
At the same time, there is an unintended irony to those opening lines. By the height of his career, Lévi-Strauss had given up on fieldwork, on expeditions in general. Relying on the research of others, he cobbled together a vast structuralist anthropology, glossing over the irregularities, his detractors claimed, for the sake of the elegant system. The student rebels of May 1968 marked the end of structuralism with a slogan: “Structures don’t go out into the streets.”
And so Lévi-Strauss’s death on Friday came as something of an afterthought; his towering Structure seems like an antiquity by now. But it’s a lovely antiquity nonetheless, like Saussure’s elegant linguistics or Frazer’s Golden Bough. When Tristes Tropiques was published in 1955, the Académie Française lamented that it could not award the memoir the prestigious Prix Goncourt: the prize is reserved for works of fiction. Now that Lévi-Strauss’s era is complete--he lived for exactly a century, a perfectionist to the end--we can see how that lament was, in an odd way, prophetic. Structuralism, it seems, was a fiction after all. But it was a seductive and illuminating fiction, one that we’ll be able to appreciate for a very long time.