John Wilcock column header


The Column of Lasting Insignificance: May 14, 2011

John Wilcock


“Virtually all US senators, and most of the representatives in the House, are members of the top 1% when they arrive, are kept in office by money from the top 1% and know that if they serve the top 1% well, they will be rewarded by the top 1% when they leave office.”
Joseph E. Stiglitz in a hard-hitting piece about the plutocrats who really own this country: “One big part of the reason we have so much inequality is that the top 1% want it this way.”
— from the May Vanity Fair, a magazine that is sometimes under-estimated.


IT WON’T BE LONG before the world comes to appreciate that artist Al Weiwei, is one of the most important people in it. China is a powder keg approaching the “explosion point,” says former Communist Gao Wenquian, now living in New York, who forecasts the artist that could be the match to ignite it. “He had to be snuffed out.” In the style of all important artists with a conscience, Weiwei, 53, has been provoking his government to respect human rights and uncover corruption, and now, not for the first time, he has been arrested. His politics have become his art, writes Barbara Pollack, author of a book about the Chinese art world. “What he has done is really quite heroic,” she told Newsweek. “Many people felt he was emerging as a leader of a protest movement.”

IT SEEMS LIKELY that Harper’s will get a lot of mail from readers this month, most of them relating to Nicholas Baker’s provocative essay about pacifism. Baker, a popular author whose books have dealt with telephone sex and the demise of library filing cards, says flat out he’s a pacifist, repudiating what he calls “the dangerous myth of the Good War.” And, of course, what sensible human being would disagree with his final par:


“When are we going to grasp the essential truth. War never works. It never has worked. It makes everything worse. Wars must be, as Jessie Hughan wrote in 1944, renounced, rejected, declared against, over and over, ‘as an ineffective and inhuman means to any end, however just.’”


But wait a minute; it’s not quite as simple as that. Baker makes a good point about the waning days of WW2 when Hitler still had millions of Jews captive — but still alive. If we had negotiated, he says, instead of continuing the war, maybe they wouldn’t all have been killed. And that’s probably true. But what about the war’s beginning when the Germans were invading one country after another? Negotiations were tried and all they did was delay the onset of the war itself. Nobody has ever been able to solve the problem of how to satisfactorily respond to force without counter force. Yes, Harper’s will surely get a lot of letters.


“Are there any taboos left to break? Some ad buyers predict the nation will soon grow accustomed to hearing so-called swear words without the censor’s ‘bleep’ and that nudity might follow soon afterwards.”
— from a story in Advertising Age about how taboos have been falling about what’s allowable on television


SOME FOLK LOVE graffiti but they’re invariably the same people who would shudder at the idea of having it on their property or even in their own neighborhood. Go make your colorful mess somewhere else and we’ll come there to admire it, pretty much sums up their attitude.

So the Museum of Contemporary Art’s show in downtown Los Angeles has been a big hit, endorsing the museum trustees’ clueless selection of Jeffrey Deitch, a former Manhattan art dealer, as its new boss. The trustees of most museums understand (and keep their distance from) art dealers, only too aware that the primary motive of dealers is money, not art. Thus a show glorifying the work of gang bangers and other social outlaws is certain to bring in the crowds, even if it does little for advancing the aesthetic.

The L.A. art scene has always been in the thrall of people like this with its major ‘benefactor’ being the genuinely philanthropic Eli Broad whose love of art is clearly not because he admires artists and seeks to keep their work at hand, but focuses on assembling collections of it in huge warehouses emblazoned unmistakably with the Broad name. A few dollars directly distributed to the poor and homeless, of course, might surely have more direct benefit than additional examples of the billionaire’s edifice complex.

But to get back to graffiti, whose associations are with defaced property, damaged neighborhoods, and the implied threat of gangs and other anti-social elements. Obviously, most of it is “art” as (in the post-Warhol era) is any honest creative expression. But the overwhelming distaste for this scribbling is surely well known to Deitch, an ex-New Yorker. On the positive side though, where else could would-be graffiti artists find somebody who so clearly welcomes their work? Maybe his home and where he parks his car would be suitable canvases for experimentation?

BEING TRASHED BY Oprah Winfrey would not be everybody’s preferred route to fame, but it worked for author James Frey who, five years ago confessed on the diva’s TV show that his autobiographical ‘memoir’ was not exactly true. Oprah raged that she’d been “duped” but the book, A Million Little Pieces, went on to sell eight million copies and then financed Frey’s sojourn in Paris, to which he fled to escape the furor. Now he’s back and — with the sponsorship of the world’s major art dealer — is peddling a book described as a work of art. Art in America writes that, “In aligning himself with (Larry) Gagosian, Frey has turned his back on the American publishing industry, which, he observed, ‘doesn’t respect my work.’” Nevertheless, Frey’s new work is a book, described as an artwork, a single, unedited version of Final Testament “consisting of 229 inkjet-on-stretched canvas panels” that Gagosian — says Art in America — plans to hang in one of his Manhattan galleries. Modeled on the structure of the Bible, the tale apparently narrates the trials of a present-day Messiah in New York “through the voices of his friends, family, and acquaintances.” A print version, signed by the author, costs $1,000, with a cheaper edition sold at Gagosian galleries for $150.


“The enduring heart of (Ayn) Rand’s totalistic philosophy was Marxism flipped upside down. Rand viewed the capitalists, not the workers, as the producers of all wealth, and the workers, not the capitalists, as useless parasites.”
Jonathan Chait explaining in Newsweek that Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, is “a Rand nut.”


A FEW YEARS AGO tech hounds were swearing they couldn’t live without their Blackberries. Now RIM, the owner company, is worried that sales are falling because they might not be as “relevant;” other companies have brought out models with some additional, pointless gimmick. Will this childish quest for the new ever end? Of course not. There’ll always be millions of sheep-like fools willing to be gullible victims of the capitalistic system. Hey, it’s what makes America great.

MANY OF THOSE GREEDY BILLIONAIRES who would like to correct “a widespread impression that they are too rich/powerful/selfish” to try to alter perceptions with some kind of charitable enterprise in Africa, says Charles Moore. So much time could be saved, he writes in the Spectator, if they could pose beside some London hillside labeled ‘Africa’ with tribal dancers and black babies on call for the occasion. Then business stars such as Barclays Bank $12m boss Bob Diamond, “could fly in for breakfast, get photographed, and be back in London for dinner.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: While America continues robbing the poor to help the rich get richer, the Chinese are….oh, wait!…they’re doing the same thing. Only they call it communism…. Primogeniture, the age-old tradition that the daughter of a sovereign can be bypassed for the succession by a son, may be changed before future queen Kate Middleton gives birth…. Instead of throwing away millions on a (negatively-reviewed) museum monument to himself, Carlos Slim would have served indigent Mexicans better by lowering his rip-off telephone rates which are among the world’s highest….Why aren’t constantly-re-elected senators subject to term limits like other pols?…. “There ought to be one day, just one,” said Will Rogers, “when there is open season on senators”….Having lost the Afghanistan war, Petraeus is now predicted to be a loser once more as head of the CIA …. Calling our Bin Laden raid “a misadventure,” Pakistan’s pissed-off army chief wants us to pull out our military. Hopefully, we’ll take out our $$billions, too….After half a century of unremitting flattery for J.D. Salinger’s books, what may be the start of a revised appraisal has begun with a backlash by the LA TimesMary McNamara describing the writer’s “pretentious talk”…. The biggest food manufacturers switched from sugar to high fructose corn syrup a few years ago but now, discovering that it’s just as bad for you as sugar (if not worse), they’re switching back….What about that other idiot on Celebrity Apprentice, does he ever take off his shades?….Last week, on the 50th anniversary of the blast-off of Freedom 7 carrying Alan Shepard, the first American in space, a Bonham’s auction sold space memorabilia including two astronaut’s suits (although not his)… Abercrombie& Fitch has added “breast enhancement” padding to its bikinis for pre-teenies….Things you can now get from vending machines (a $20bn industry): marihuana (after registering at a clinic and signing in with a fingerprint); gold bars (in Las Vegas and Boca Raton, FL.); earthworms and slugs (from PA Live Bait Vending)….. After somebody wearing a niqab turns out to be an undetected suicide bomber, maybe then the French will know they were right to ban it… National Review’s Rob Long points out that one of Donald Trump’s chocolate lines is called “de-luxe nut”….. The Afghan War, says Extra, costs $4bn a week, has caused the death of over 1,500 troops and tens of thousands of Afghans, “A majority of the US public favors withdrawal, and yet that perspective still can’t find a solid foothold on cable news”…..“In a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end.” — Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-59)