Archive for talk

Ella at Howard Zinn

Posted in Book, ella, People of Color, politics, queer, reading with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

I will just preface this by saying that as someone with a degree in History, yes not your typical socialite trade, nonetheless true…Howard Zinn is my idol. Take that American Idol, last week, while I was paying my dues in the country, Ella went to hear him speak along with a few other visionaries at the 92 street Y. Here’s her report back. R

Entering the 92nd Street Y last Wednesday, I may have been guilty of bringing more than a healthy dose of cynicism. Don’t get me wrong – I cried as much as the next liberal during Obama’s acceptance speech. But, well… I struggle with a lot of the liberal left’s self-righteousness and lack of self-criticism. Especially when confronted with it in its Park Slope post-hippie incarnation. And let’s be honest – if I struggle to stay polite to Park Slope liberals, Upper East Side liberals should entice me to set off fire alarms by smoking Marlboro Reds,  and to loudly proclaim my affection for clubbing baby seals.

Also, taking the subway from Crown Heights to 86th street is such a bizarre exercise in people watching.  Not a situation geared to inspiring faith in the existence of a post-racial America. Even in oh-so-liberal New York.

The high schoolers carrying AP-study guides and the people handing out fliers for every cause and demonstration under the sun did nothing to raise my spirits. I haven’t been grumpier since my mother forced me to take part in a Swedish outdoor Hannukah celebration.

Imagine my surprise when A Young People’s History of the United States
turned out to be the most inspiring and intellectually challenging event I’ve been to in a long time.

Howard Zinn, I shouldn’t have doubted you. Surprisingly tall and gangly, Zinn’s introduction to the evening showed not only that he’s still sharp and funny but also that he can command an audience without bogarting the stage. Despite the fact that the evening tied in with the publication of A Young People’s History of the United States, the self-evidently titled young reader’s version of Zinn’s non-fiction bestseller, it didn’t feel like an excuse to hawk books.

Instead, the evening introduced me to several historical speeches I’m going to have to revisit, and several performers I’m keen to check out again. Tim Robbins has been a long-term favorite of mine, but Avery Brooks is definitely someone I’d love to see act again. And I want to hear Shontina Vernon sing again and Staceyann Chin perform poetry.

For me, one of the very genuine effects of the evening was a return to the feeling that dissent and questioning of the ruling order can be intellectually satisfying. And that this doesn’t have to be done mockingly. The Martin Luther King Jr speech, Where Do We Go from Here?, performed by Brian Jones, was a picture of sincerity, while at the same time addressing the troubling link between race and class which was true in the 60s and has not yet been overcome.

Emphasizing the role of young people in shaping the world, Evann Orleck-Jetter, the twelve year old girl whose testimony helped sway the Vermont state legislature to allow equal marriage rights, read the piece she’d delivered early this year, as well as a document against child labor from 1913. I was worried for a while that this would be gimmicky and embarrassing. Instead, her calm performance was a restrained tear-jerker –- impressive in anyone and incredibly dignified for someone that young –- which highlighted Zinn’s argument that the study of history should inspire people to participate in the struggles of their own age.

The evening inspired me to email one of the poems performed to an old teacher of mine, from back when I was a super idealistic teenager. She wrote back, thanking me, saying she’d needed it that day. I guess the evening brought back those feelings of I matter-ness that otherwise tend to get trapped beneath my everyday life. Maybe, sometimes, the enthusiastic young person in me needs to be given space to push the post-ironic jaded city dweller aside.

By Ella Fitzsimmons

Battlestar Gallactica at the UN with Woopi Goldberg

Posted in People of Color, politics, tv with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 22, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

A Battlestar Galactica discussion, held at the United Nations Economic and Social Council Chamber, moderated by Whoopi Goldberg? It sounds like the premise of a fevered dream or a bad trip. It may well be the first time that the UN’s diligent sign makers had to dedicate their skills to crafting signs with the names of extra-terrestrial places like “Virgon” and “Sagittarion” for the assembled delegates.  It was definitely the first time The Brooklyn Socialite made a dent in the United Nation’s amazing seafood buffet, looking out over the Hudson while chugging industrial-sized whiskeys and thinking about the strangeness of being in a building which, as the wise Whoopi G put it, “is as much an idea as a place”. Which we agree with – especially as it’s an idea that incorporates waiters in tuxes and brings together diplomats, high school students and geeks in a building decorated with tapestry portraits of Secretary Generals past and present.

A team-effort between the UN Department of Public Information and the Sci Fi Channel, the evening was less trippy and more substantial than it sounds. Tying in themes from the science fiction series with the UN’s work, actors Mary McDonnell (who plays President Laura Roslin), Edward James Olmos (the battle-scarred Admiral Adama), producers Ronald Moore and David Eick were joined on the podium by a variety of UN representatives, touching on subjects such as human rights, children in armed conflict, terrorism and religious reconciliation.

Helping the non-Sci Fi geeks in the audience, each segment was introduced by a clip from the series. It quickly became clear that Whoopi hadn’t only done her homework by watching the show, but that she’s a genuine Sci Fi fan (she admitted to using the Battlestar Galactica curse word “fraq” on The View – she works with Elizabeth Hasselbeck, so innovative, non-censored swear words are clearly called for). Deputy director of the NY office of the high commissioner for human rights Craig Mokhiber’s gave an impassioned and witty description of the continued importance of the UN declaration of Human Rights, saying that it is not a quaint idea only held by the liberal softies at the UN, but  what stands between humanity and the slippery slope of moral relativism , which de-humanizes the “other”. Ron Moore seemed to agree, though throughout the evening he hesitated to take a clear stance on any of the moral issues in the show.  Instead, he’d emphasize the complexity of the characters – answers which may have disappointed the avid fan who, delighted to have avoided paying the entrance fee for a Comic Con, wanted the definitive definition of the difference between Cylons and Humans in the show.

No fan’s passion for Battlestar Galactica could match that of Olmos, who seemed to be slipping in to his Adama character throughout the evening. His voice is pretty mesmerizing (he seemed to think so too), so he might be forgiven for some of his more extraordinary statements – at one stage he seemed to be supporting Cheney’s policies on national security, which we all know is more ridiculous than thinking you’re a commander at a floating space colony.  Though to be fair to Adama (Olmos?) he did have some interesting ideas about how fans blogging about the show had caused it to take on a life of its own, to become a cultural phenomenon intelligently addressing current affairs.

The only downer of the evening, actually, was the disinterested girl who, during Radhika Coomaraswamy’s touching presentation about children and armed conflict, sat next to The Brooklyn Socialite playing Brick Breaker on her BlackBerry. Not cool.

By Ella Fitzsimmons

Brianwave @ RMA with Miranda July & George Bonanno

Posted in art with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

After the Fountain art Fair, which this is one of my fav photos from:

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I started wondering along the piers down to 17th street for Miranda July at the Rubin, when I saw this lovely couple. There is nothing quite like artstar hipsters in Love, except of course, me in love.

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With this in mind I continued on and found my press seat, in front of a couple of my other press/real-life buds. They left early and when I asked them why after, they said the talk was pretty terrible. I couldn’t have agreed less, so I just said, “oh.”

This is what I thought about it:

As part of the Brainwave festival , which according to the Rubin, “explores how art, music and meditation affect the human mind,” Miranda July was paired up with a neuropsychologist called George Bonanno. He started by giving a quick powerpoint presentation about how people cope with trauma. Using 9/11 at the main analogy, he graphed the way in which most people actually cope really well with extreme stress.

July was impressed, she said, “I hardly ever see graphs that aren’t ‘Art’. It was kind of exciting that you would put that much effort in.”

He laughed, and we the audience (or some of us) joined into this perfect moment of disconnect. The brainy doctor kind of wanted the artstar to like him and vice-versa. She told him about how she sometimes cries everyday, uncontrollably, and asked if he had any cures in mind for this. He said that no, unfortunately crying was one of things that had hardly been studied. He did know a lot about smiling though. His slides revealed the difference between a fake smile and a real Duchenne smile, the kind that makes your eyes wrinkle. Miranda knew about this, and shared that her shrink had once told her to put a pencil in her mouth and force a huge smile, this would trigger something and make her actually feel happy. Apparently it works sometimes.

George asked Miranda how she was able to create such crazy characters, she reported that in fact she actually knew people like the ones she depicts and that sometimes, they are facets of her. She showed a video called the Hallway of an art work that she did in a museum in Japan. I thought it was quite fabulous and it made me feel slightly better about my own morose works of art! I wish I could show you the Hallway, but YouTube is being unyielding so here is a clip of her at the Kitchen instead:

Joseph O’Neill and James Wood at the Yale Club by Ella Fitzsimmons

Posted in Book with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 2, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

Here is a warm welcome to another wonderful Citizen of the World, Ella Fitzsimmons

Held at the comically WASPy Yale Club, Cambridge University in New York’s “A conversation with James Wood and Joseph O’Neill” narrowly escaped being a love-fest between the critic and the PEN/Faulkner award winner.

No stranger to controversy, famed critic Wood spoke appreciatively of O’Neill’s novel, while pleasantly but firmly defending his views on literature, notably under fire from the likes of Zadie Smith and literary magazine (n +1).

Wood’s approach to literary criticism has been described as ‘aesthetic’ and ‘unideological’ , a classification appreciatively re-iterated by O’Neill. (Though surely not having an ideology is an ideology??).  Agreeing, Wood seemed bewildered by the fact that he’s seen as the standard bearer for Realism in contemporary fiction.
Netherland has been caught in the crossfire between Wood and Smith. O’Neill was surprised by the appearance of Smith’s piece about Netherland in The New York Review of Books in November, as the magazine had already reviewed the book. “Then someone told me ‘You know she’s only getting at James Wood, right?” O’Neill smiled.

Nevertheless, O’Neill, a former lawyer, claimed to be pleased by the ‘multiple entrances to the book’. (A small part of my cynical heart suspected that he was pleased by the controversy. But he seems like a nice guy, so I’m trying to be good about it.)

Emphasizing that he did not try to re-write The Great Gatsby, O’Neill admitted that halfway through the seven year slog that went in to Netherland, he recognized parallels between it and Fitzgerald’s masterpiece.  A tacit agreement with Wood’s reading of the book as a work of post-colonial fiction, rather than a “post- 9/11” novel, perhaps?

Toward the end of the evening, O’Neill touched on how the internet-created, direct relationships with readers could become potentially problematic for writers, resulting in crippling self-consciousness.  This would have been an interesting point to discuss with Wood – as one of the underlying issues in the conflict between Wood and Smith et al is where the authority to criticize and appreciate literature stems from . Is the “Academy” still in charge, or literary criticism being democratized by the internet?  Sadly, the assorted guests were more interested in asking O’Neill about his inclusion of graphic sex scenes, and whether or not he liked the Costner film “Field of Dreams” – and when I discovered that I was much nerdier than a bunch of septuagenarians, I grabbed my last free drink and ran off.

Matha Stewart-Living

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 21, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

Martha Stewart has an amazing ability to ignore any question that she doesn’t want to answer. She is a walking talking-point, anecdote heavy, she will spin almost any question into either a product plug or a self-aggrandizing comment. I can’t really hate on her for doing this though, after all she is a brand. Here is a summary of my favorite Live-Martha Stewart-Living quotes from last night at the 92 Street Y:

When asked what her approach to time-management is, the guru of healthy living said,
“I get up really early and I go to bed really late. Sleep is just not that important to me. It’s not that important, it’s secondary for me, no it’s tertiary.”

When asked if she is tough to work for,

“I have people who have worked for me in my home for 25 years. I have cats who have worked for me for 17 years. That is a job you know, they do work. My dogs have there own blog now, did you know that?”

When asked to respond to comments made about her on Gawker,

“Oh Gawker, do you know how many page views they get? Only about 20, 000 page views a day!” To the interviewer she said, “Only people like you read Gawker. Do you do that on company time? I don’t read Gawker, it’s a waste of my time.”

About TV news,

“I prefer to read newspapers, TV news needs to get better, I get bored when I watch it.”

About the value of being a locavore, she referred to Lamb from New Zealand as, “Soaked in oil,” agreeing with her vegetarian daughter that it is better to buy local.

Concerning  how he market will be a few months from now, she said something to the effect of,  ‘If things turn out the way we think they will, there will be a lot of money to be made.’

After jail, and the plummeting value of stock in her company, she remains optimistic. The more inspiring gems of wisdom that she shared with us were her conviction to reform the prison system, details about the Martha Stewart Living center that she funded/founded in Mount Sinai Hospital  and one final tidbit: not only will Martha, “sweep the floor if there is no one else there to do it,” but she also has a habit of  stopping of at 86th and 3rd for her treat of coconut milk and a hot dog. If you see her there, say hi.

Salmon Rushdie,Irshad Manji, Morality

Posted in People of Color, politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite


At the 92 St Y, on Sunday night, I heard Irshad Manji, aka “Osama bin Laden’s worst nightmare”, interview Salmon Rushdie, aka Padma Lakshmi’s womanizing ex-husband, aaka one of the greatest living writers. The subject of their chat was Moral Courage. In fact, it was the first conversation in a series started by Manji, which aims to tackle the subject of ethical fortitude from several different angles. Manji, a reformist Muslim, questioned Rushdie, an Indian born devout Atheist, about the effects of the Fatwa, which Ayatollah Khomeini passed against him after the publication of his book, The Satanic Verses.

At the time of the book’s release, Islamic fundamentalists took offense at his descriptions of the prophet Mohamed, and the circumstances of his life. The fatwa called for the death of Rushdie, and when it was issued there were serious attempts to assassinate him, initiated by the government of Iran. As a result of this it was dangerous for Rushdie to travel to the Middle East, imposing a form of exile upon the man, although he was already living in the west. The attacks and threats even spilled over into England and were also used to intimidate his publisher and other colleagues. Rushdie was educated in India, then England and has since lived in Pakistan and here in the United States

A lot of my friends don’t like the man. Rushdie although well-versed in upper-class charm, has often been called sexist and elitist for good reason. However, like that old Woody Allen, it’s too hard to hate him, no matter how much I try. He is a great writer. His brilliant way with words is matched by his lucid mind. It is a rare gift to possess the ability to craft such unique characters and give them appropriate language styles, distinguishing one from the next so effectively that the reader can really get lost in the dreamscape of the novel, without remembering to be cynical. Agreeing to judge the artist, above the man (no matter how much he reminds me of Bridshead Revisited), let us move on to what the Muslim-Canadian-Feminist-Lesbian said to the Indian/British/American- Sexist-Atheist-Booker Prize winning Writer…

Although you could sense a note of resistance between the two, there also seemed to be a significant amount of respect flowing both ways. They both oppose censorship and bemoaned the way that our society has slinked into an Orwellian dystopia. They spoke against the type of moral relativism and political-correctness, which dissuades people from speaking out against things like honor killings, stonings and female genital mutilation. Rushdie said that in the past 20 years people have become more afraid to speak out about things. However, he also called our contemporary culture, “a culture of offense.” He claimed that because of the explosion of identity politics, people now define themselves by what they’re angry about. “Who are you if you’re not pissed off by anything?” Rushdie said.

He seems to want it both ways, and maybe we all do. One should be able to shout at someone else for offending their cultural, religious or gender identity, expecting a degree of “tolerance” or political-correctness. Yet, people should not just accept and respect each other, because their practices fit under the veil of some sort of culture. Now this is tricky terrain. I think the main point is that we can disagree, and even vocalize this, but the danger comes when we back our views with violence, whichever side we’re on. But again, the danger, If the US violently intervenes, for instance, when the Taliban oppress and kill women, this is an example of not tolerating or succumbing to moral relativism. When they attack us as infidels, is it the same example reversed? It is as though they are saying, we are Right, so we can use might, they are wrong, and so they can’t. Maintaining a sense of moral superiority is nice, but somehow not an effective argument against others who believe they are also superior. For all his pretty words, I’m curious as to how Rushdie would respond to this, and for all of her moral courage, how would Manji? I welcome their responses.

Angela Davis Recap, AnySpacewhatever Pictures, Halloween

Posted in Book, Guide to What's Good with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2008 by thebrooklynsocialite

The crowd at Angela Davis’ talk last night was pretty spectacular, v. Dyke March NYC meets Critical Resistance, Oakland plus a large helping of Eugene Lang Students and free Mumia activists. The vibe was very serious though, not to many accidental lover pick-ups or new friendships made, the main focus was on the star of the show: Angela Davis. (Definitely on the Good List)

She spoke about another iconic figure who is regarded in a sometimes similar light, our next president, Barak Obama. As a socialist, Davis was not so much advocating for Obama on the merits of his democratic policy proposals or his moderate-left record in office. Instead, she spoke of his power as a real milestone of progress and a symbol of it. The election of the first Black President has a collective significance on our society, which actually overpowers his personal significance as an individual, she asserted.

My favorite moment in this discourse was when she offered her analysis of McCain’s run in with the woman from Minnesota who said, “I can’t trust Obama, he’s an Arab.” Mccain responded, “No mam he is not an Arab. He is a decent family man and a U.S. citizen. This is the very exceptionism which so perfectly defines modern racism. It is as if to say, ‘Well Obama may be black, but he went to Harvard, he’s one of us.’ Or, ‘I am fine with gay people, as long as they don’t try anything on me, I have plenty of gay friends.’ McCain did not address that there was a problem with her anti-Arab racism. The way he attempted to clear Obama’s name was by justifying that he is “decent” and ‘one of us’ because he is a “family man.” Thereby not being Arab, being heterosexual, and being committed to “family values” acquits Obama, and anoints him as a good, normal American.

That was the highlight for me, but she touched on so many good points, essentially, 1. racism is not over, we must know our history, celebrate the milestones, but focus on how much further there is to go. 2. prisons must be abolished and they are systemically racist- dating all the way back to slavery, she also talked a lot about the role that surveillance plays in coloring the prison population. 3 Davis, kind of mocked the internet a bit, hey I resemble that! Other than the quips that implied that google and youtube were sort of un-cool, I have to say Angela Davis has earned the attention of her supporters. I bought her book afterwards, so look forward to a review!

Now for a couple of overdue AnySpaceWhatever pictures.

Liam Gillick

Liam Gillick

a Robyn's eye view

a Robyn's eys view

Are We Evil

Are We Evil

And finally, happy Halloween. I am hiding out at home with a bag of candy, prepared for trick or treaters, so if you know where I live, ring my bell!