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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category



In Memory of Robin Williams

Aug18

by: on August 18th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Robin Williams saw us.

Robin Williams heard us.

Robin Williams paid attention.

Robin Williams

Williams wore both dramatic masks of comedy and tragedy in such a way that hid him from us and revealed us to ourselves. This is what great artists do. Credit: Creative Commons-Flickr: Hot Gossip Italia

Too many of us, myself included, see the Other only to the extent that we do not bump into each other as we move from here to there in the course of our day. Too many of us, myself included, do not want to look too closely at the human condition. And, when we do set a steady gaze on our humanity we too often look with shame and blame. We judge with a false consciousness created by a social and cultural system that undergirds a political economy that allows for and justifies economic inequality and an ideology that some people are just better and more deserving than others. We judge with a judgment that tells us that the pain that other human beings feel, that the tragedy they suffer will not touch us because we are different.

The life and death of Robin Williams show us that we are all vulnerable. Williams wore both dramatic masks of comedy and tragedy in such a way that hid him from us and revealed us to ourselves. This is what great artists do. However, Williams did his work with a virtuosity, brilliance, and purity that will cause that work to last through time.

An actor trained at The Juilliard School, Robin Williams was also a stand-up comedian who brought together a legion of characters to make us laugh and think. He was an improvisational genius, doing comedy on the jazz, and like Charlie Parker, he took an art form to an entirely new level. Many comedians do impressions and most are good at improvisation. The late great Jonathan Winters, a mentor and a friend of Williams, presented a comedic stream of consciousness that could cause one to laugh until it hurt. Williams did the same thing with more characters inside more situations at rapid speed. His carried inside his heart and mind a late 20th century and early 21st century global cast of characters that helped us see that our world truly is a global village.

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Palestinians Expressing Empathy for & Solidarity with Protesters in Ferguson

Aug18

by: on August 18th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

The scenes in Ferguson, with unarmed protesters being confronted by militarized police forces, is one Palestinians intimately recognize. Indeed, they even recognize the American-made brand of tear gas being used in Missouri. It’s the same issue Israeli soldiers fire regularly upon unarmed demonstrators in the West Bank, made by CTS in Jamestown, Pennsylvania.

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On the left, an unarmed protester in Ferguson throws a tear gas canister back to St. Louis police.

 

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On the right, an unarmed protester in the West Bank town of Hebron throws a tear gas canister back to soldiers. Photo via Activestills.

 


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The Murder of Mike Brown: A Call To Action

Aug15

by: on August 15th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

The murder of Mike Brown and response by the St. Louis Police Department to nonviolent protestors is emblematic of the persistent racism in our country and disproportionate response to peaceful actions and protests. It was only 13 months ago when a jury acquitted George Zimmerman of murder for his shooting of Trayvon Martin and here we are again, this time with a police officer shooting an unarmed black man as, according to witnesses, his hands were raised — the officer was not in any danger.

And then the St. Louis police department, a week after the incident, finally announces the name of the officer who killed Mike Brown. Why a week? Well, one can only wonder, but during that week they uncovered a video of an African-American man who robbed a convenience store in the neighborhood and shoved the store owner, possibly laying the foundation for a defense case for the officer. Three witnesses to the shooting of Mike Brown say that he had his hands up when he was shot dead. How dare the police department attempt to justify the killing of an unarmed civilian because he might have stolen a box of cigars earlier that night? Once again the victim is being demonized and the very government that is meant to protect and serve ALL is instead unwilling to champion the victims of classism and racism in America.

Why should anyone be surprised? This is not new — Obama abandoned those who voted for him when he bailed out the banks rather than the individual homeowners who were the victims of the scandal, our Congress does it every time it approves more corporate welfare while cutting welfare for individuals and demonizing recipients at the same time, and it is done every time a woman is asked what she was wearing when she was raped.

Institutional racism and perpetuation of blaming the victim is alive and well in our country and results in the murder of innocent African American men and now free speech and assembly, in protest of that racism, is on the butchering block as well.


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We, Thee & Me

Aug12

by: on August 12th, 2014 | No Comments »

I’ve been researching women in the arts and culture for a presentation next week at the Women’s International Study Center’s inaugural symposium. There’s ample information online, and it all tells an unsurprising story (if you’ve been keeping your eyes open).

Credit: Creative Commons

There’s more arts work by women out in the world, and also more work that depicts women as objects for others’ pleasure or service. Compared to a few decades ago, there are significantly more women in galleries, museums, orchestras, theaters, and so on, but nothing like a proportional representation of women in the population. At the upper levels of prestige institutional culture, women are scarce: one conducts a major orchestra, a handful head large dance companies and museums, fewer than half as many get museum and upscale gallery shows as men, etc. There’s more activism all the time, with organizations in every cultural sector working on inclusion, representation, and education to even the score. (There’s a good selection of links at WomenArts.)

Perusing the numbers, my mind leaps to a black-and-white conclusion that men, the gatekeepers, keep women out. But a report done a few years ago on gender bias in theater keeps nagging at me. Some of the findings illustrate the logic of entrenched bias. There are more male playwrights and they submit more scripts, so ipso facto, more scripts by men will be produced. To change that, you have to tinker with the supply side as well as the decision-making process: how to get more women to write and submit scripts — that isn’t exactly rocket science. In fact (albeit more gradually than the pace of change I would like to see), more women become active in each cultural field every year.

But the finding that nags me is this; in a blind study of scripts (the same script was submitted to comparable theaters, half under a man’s name, half under a woman’s), women’s plays were ranked lower in terms of quality, economic prospects, and audience response. The thing is the lower rankings were delivered by women. That’s right. Female artistic directors and literary managers ranked the script lower when a woman’s name was attached, while their male counterparts ranked the woman’s script the same as the man’s.


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Empathy Is Dead in Israel: Effects of a Forever War

Aug8

by: on August 8th, 2014 | 8 Comments »

Israel Defense Forces Gaza border

Israel Defense Forces near the Gaza Border in July Credit: Creative Commons-Flickr Israel Defense Forces

Much has been written about the silencing of anti-war dissent in Israel by a populace almost universally supportive of military action in Gaza. Such support – inspired by feelings of vulnerability amidst rocket fire and informed by the country’s rightward shift – has made speaking out against the violence not just uncomfortable, but dangerous. Not a single anti-war demonstration in the past month has concluded without participants being attacked and beaten by nationalistic counter-protesters.

And yet, while the silencing of anti-war dissent has been a troubling manifestation of Israelis’ support for war, even more troubling has been the societal numbness; the societal disregard for Palestinian suffering which has been manifested in unsettling, and sometimes shocking, ways.

It’s not bombastic to say that empathy is dead in Israel right now from a societal standpoint, a metaphorical casualty of the current violence. Evidence of this isn’t just being seen in statistical polls, but in a seemingly endless stream of incidents. Consider the following three, representative of a real phenomenon few in Israel deny:

  • Israeli soldiers prank called a Gaza hotel, joking about it being bombed.
  • A moment of silence in Jerusalem’s artsy theater for those killed in Gaza is met with shouts of “Shame!” and “You’re raping the audience!

These scenes are just three representing countless such episodes happening online and in everyday life. Of course, they’re not scenes taking place within a vacuum. A conflict is ongoing. Israelis have had to run to bomb shelters with each rocket attack. People are being traumatized by the constant threat of war.


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Reflections on the War in Gaza

Aug7

by: Shmuel Chesed on August 7th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

A Gaza family stands in wreckage.

Images like this have sometimes made the author think, "You are complicit in the death of the innocent!

“You are complicit in the death of the innocent!”

The images call out to me in a personal way. The image of a young dead child being carried by a man near destroyed buildings. Demonstrators in Spain hold up the palms of their hands that they painted red. The images are directed against the silent – against me – screaming that “the blood of innocent is on your hands!”

But, but, but… I can neither dismiss nor accept, with confidence or certainty, the arguments and justifications of Israel’s killing or fighting and the way it is done. A little voice in my head is asking whether these justifications are in fact valid… In fact when I think of most of my Jewish friends or the people I see at shul, I would be reluctant to voice my deep reservations about the justifications. On the other hand, I feel guilty even repeating them privately to myself. It feels like an act of treachery against my Arab friends. “You are defending the indefensible,” one of them said to me some years ago when I publicly repeated some of those arguments at a session with university students.

I am hurting. I feel depressed and heavy. I feel tired and unmotivated.

Accusation. Justification. Refutation. Accusation. Justification. Refutation. Counter-argument. An exhausting dance inside my head.


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Why Are Humans Violent? The Psychological Reason We Hurt Each Other

Aug6

by: Kirk Schneider on August 6th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

(Cross-posted from Alternet by Kirk Schneider)

Credit: Shutterstock.com

From the crises in the Middle East to mass shootings in U.S. schools to the reckless striving for wealth and world domination, there is one overarching theme that almost never gets media coverage—the sense of insignificance that drives destructive acts. As a depth psychologist with many years of experience, I can say emphatically that the sense of being crushed, humiliated and existentially unimportant are the main factors behind so much that we call psychopathology.

Why would it not follow that the same factors are at play in social and cultural upheavals? The emerging science of “terror management theory” shows convincingly that when people feel unimportant they equate those feelings with dying—and they will do everything they can, including becoming extreme and destructive themselves to avoid that feeling.

The sense of insignificance and death anxiety have been shown to play a key role in everything from terrorism to mass shootings to extremist religious and political ideologies to obsessions with materialism and wealth. Just about all that is violent and corrupt in our world seems connected to it.

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Helen Prejean: The ‘Whole Death Penalty System is Botched’

Aug5

by: Viji Sundaram on August 5th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

(Cross-posted from New American Media.Question & Answer,Viji Sundaram)
Credit: New American Media

Editor’s Note: The recent botched executions of three death row inmates – Joseph R.Wood III in Arizona in mid-July, Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma in April and Dennis McGuire in Ohio in January – have brought the death penalty issue under intense scrutiny once again. Wood reportedly gasped for air some 600 times over the course of two hours after being injected. Longtime anti-death penalty crusaderSister Helen Prejean, author ofDead Man Walking,has been a spiritual adviser to many death row inmates in her home state of Louisiana. She shared her thoughts on the latest executions with NAM health editor Viji Sundaram.

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Recording of Yesterday’s Conference Call with Sami Awad

Aug5

by: Tikkun on August 5th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons

On August 4th, we held a conference call for NSP members and Tikkun subscribers with Sami Awad, a Palestinian nonviolent peace activist in Bethlehem, Palestine. Mr. Awad has been working to counter Hamas’s hate talk among his fellow Palestinians. Sami Awad talked about the importance of being visionary – putting forth a vision of the world you want and not something more “realistic.”

He talked about the importance of having prophetic voices in each of the different communities – Jewish, Muslim, Christian-to counter the impression that each community has that there are very few people in the other communities that care about a solution to the Israel/Palestine struggle based on justice, security, and peace.

According to Sami Awad, the assault on Gazans in the past month has caused many people in both Israel and Palestine to doubt the efficacy of many of their own efforts to build local face-to-face peace making between Israelis and Palestinians. Awad thinks one reason for this heightened despair by people who have spent months or even years in building dialogue and trained people in peace-making is that the efforts were grounded in the wrong motives, often out of fear of the other (unless we can tame them, they will hurt us) rather than a genuine deep commitment and care to the well-being of all.

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Mourning for a Judaism Being Murdered by Israel

Aug4

by: on August 4th, 2014 | 29 Comments »

Rabbi Michael Lerner’s article in Salon.com this Monday is being featured on Salon’s home page right now. Below is a fuller and updated version (the Salon article was written on Friday).

Israeli behavior toward Palestinians is destroying Judaism and creating a new kind of hatred of Jews by people who never before had any issue with Jews. Credit: Creative Commons/Jordi Bernabeu Farrús

My heart is broken as I witness the suffering of the Palestinian people and the seeming indifference of Israelis. Tonight (August 4) and tomorrow (August 5), which mark Tisha B’av,the Jewish commemoration of disasters that happened to us through Jewish history, I’m going to be fasting and mourning also for a Judaism being murdered by Israel. No matter who gets blamed for the breakdowns in the cease-fire or for “starting” this latest iteration of a struggle that is at least 140 years old, one of the primary victims of the war between Israel and Hamas is the compassionate and love-oriented Judaism that has held together for several thousand years. Even as Israel withdraws its troops from Gaza, leaving behind immense devastation, over 1,800 dead Gazans, and over four thousand wounded, without adequate medical supplies because of Israel’s continuing blockade, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu refuses to negotiate a cease-fire. He is fearful that he would be seen as “weak” if Israel gave way to Gazans’ demand for an end to the blockade and the freedom of thousands of Palestinian prisoners kidnapped and held in Israeli jails in violation of their human rights.

Let me explain why Israeli behavior toward Palestinians – not just during this latest assault but also throughout the past decades during which Israel militarily enforced its Occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of food and building materials to Gaza – and the cheerleading for such behavior by Jews around the world is destroying Judaism and creating a new kind of hatred of Jews by people who never before had any issue with Jews (not to mention strengthening the hands of the already existing anti-Semites whose hatred of Jews would continue no matter what Israel or Jews do or do not do).

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