Browsing the archives for the Culture tag.

Posting elsewhere: Elections in Hamburg, tycoon politics in Hungary, mixtapes in cyberspace

Culture, European Politics, International Politics, Music, Politics

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Dept. of WTF (your rant of the day)

Culture, US culture

I suppose someone has to write this kind of article about the new Obama age – all chatty and gossipy, and smug about it; even at a magazine like The New Republic. Or maybe especially there, because the deepest minds disappointingly often are also the most snobbish – or rub shoulders with them. And Michelle Cottle always knows just how to do the job – but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

The New Yorker does this to me every time – I’ll read the issue’s feature articles and be left impressed by their depth and empathy, and then read the Talk of the Town section and just be left slack-jawed by the shallow, insular upper class brattiness in some of the items. Left thinking just, who are these people?

A telling moment in Cottle’s article comes when a parent at one of DC’s elite primary schools harrumphs:

It was remarkable how naked the status anxiety became at all the schools under consideration, recalls one dad [..]. Parents would just chatter away, he recalls, about “‘Oh my God, wouldn’t it be just amazing if’–their daughter, fill in the blank, Zoe or Chloe or whatever–‘wouldn’t it be amazing if they had a sleepover at the White House!’ Then they’d envision themselves having to pick up their child and telling people, ‘Oh, I’ve got to go over to the White House!'” He harrumphs, “People would actually say this stuff out loud. It was just embarrassing.”

Right. That’s exactly the reaction I have when I see otherwise smart and intelligent people being quoted saying stuff like this:

Washington old-timers and Obama insiders alike are predicting an urban renaissance of sorts. “There’s a glamour about Barack and Michelle that I think will infuse the capital in a way that we have not seen for some time,” says Holder. “They are both tall, good-looking, striking people with adorable little girls. I can’t help but think that’s going to have an impact.”

Yes, that’s Attorney General-to-be Eric Holder. I mean, WTF? What does that even mean? The Obamas are tall and good-looking and “I can’t help but think that’s going to have an impact”? What – how? 

And think about it – even if there is something there, hidden somewhere behind the nonsequitur, wouldn’t you be embarrassed to even admit it?

There’s superficiality of all kinds. I guess this is just a kind I don’t get, and which invariably gets up my nose. And yes, I hate celeb news too, with its humiliating Janus face of alternated licking and kicking. Its one-two of ingratiating prostration before those who are hot, and mean-spirited assults on those who can be torn down. It seems to me to reveal and condense the worst traits of humanity. And no, it’s probably not the most pressing issue in the Republic right now. But jeez.

Most grating is perhaps the fact that the kind of people being quoted saying embarassing shit like this actually think themselves the cool people who “get it” – you know, instead of feeling moved to temporarily hide underneath an ornamental garden rock. Rich people really are different.

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Barack Obama, pop idol…

Culture, International Politics, Politics, Presidential Elections, US Elections

… in Kenya, that is.

On election night, or rather the morning after as it was 7 AM in Kusumu by that time, reporter Shashank Bengali witnessed the local Luo erupt in celebration:

The young jobless men, the bike taxi drivers who may be Obama’s strongest constituency, the women who clean the place – all cheered and hugged each other. [..]

People are saying, “We won.” Talk show hosts are joking that the fish in Lake Victoria are getting stake because all the fishermen are watching TV. The radio is playing Obama songs in Luo [..]. “George Bush said only John McCain could lead America,” goes one particularly jaunty guitar-and-drum tune, “but the rest of the world said no.” [..] President Mwai Kibaki declared Thursday a national holiday.

But it’s a globalised world, as Bengali realised when watching Al Jazeera in the Kisumu fairgrounds and hearing the pundit say, “I can’t offhand recall how many electoral votes Indiana has.” And the consumer society works just the same the world around:

This is starting to get ridiculous.

Less than a week after the election, you can’t walk 10 feet in Nairobi without seeing Obama’s name. [Y]ou can buy Obama campaign buttons in the supermarkets, beaded Masai bracelets with “Obama” stitched into them [..], souvenir Obama hundred-dollar bills, mini U.S. flags bearing Obama’s face, [..] electronics at one store’s “Obama sale” (not sure what this means exactly) — and the list goes on.

I was at an opening Saturday in Nairobi’s Industrial Area for a talented young Luo artist named Kota Otieno. [..] Kota, 28, was exhibiting about a dozen original works. At least three featured Obama’s name. [..] The one at right is called “The Proffet.”

While I appreciated Kenya’s election-day euphoria as much as the next guy, with the inauguration still 10 weeks away Obama already risks becoming a cliche here — not unlike the endless Man U and Arsenal logos that plaster all the minibus taxis. This is what’s almost happened in South Africa to Nelson Mandela, whose family has tried unsuccessfully to keep his face off of every T-shirt and backpack going. Obama’s not there yet, but it’s coming.

Hey, it’s better than Che tees …

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Riding the red lands: field reports from the media

Media / journalism, Politics, Presidential Elections, US culture, US Elections, US Politics

While the reporters assigned to presidential candidates are condemned to a mix of grind and hype, reporters who get the chance to survey the country often come up with the best stories. Interviewing voters, sampling local opinion, sketching the political geography, they write the field reports, a ubiquitous genre of its own. No self-respecting election-time newspaper is complete without one.

A lot of them, of course, end up being cookie-cutter stuff: a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and done is the day’s work. Here’s a few from the last couple of days I thought more interesting (h/t to the Electoral Map, where I think I found most of these on the “Morning Reading Lists”). The common thread: Obama’s chances to win over red states or counties.

Battling on the Other Side’s Turf
Washington Post
1 November

Best of the bunch: in-deph local flavour from Southside Virginia.

Heartwarming? Yes; moving stories, a hopeful narrative, characters who feel real and alive. Feeling that the reporter understands the local scene? Pretty high. Strategic survey? Not so much; demographic analysis doesnt take much space here. Evocation of historical legacies, racial and/or industrial? Present. Nuanced? Yes. Topical? Yes – US Rep. Virgil Goode, portrayed here as a well-established incumbent, is unexpectedly facing a tight race, according to the latest polls.

Why the New Virginia Is Leaning Toward Obama
Time
27 October

Timely dispatch from exurban Prince William County.

Heartwarming? Not so much. More of an analytical take, and what anecdotes are there are fairly depressing. Feeling that the reporter understands the local scene? High enough; he studied the numbers and knows where to look. Strategic survey? Yes. The choice of location itself is an attempt to pinpoint the very frontier zone where the elections will be decided. Evocation of historical legacies, racial and/or industrial? Not so much. Nuanced? Yes. Topical? There’s the account of a fearmongering McCain coordinator, but you might have seen it already.

Obamalina
The Nation
22 October

Long review of how the Obama campaign made North Carolina into a toss-up state.

Heartwarming? In a combative way. Fuelled more by awe at the campaign’s success than touching personal anecdotes. Feeling that the reporter understands the local scene? High. He’s from there and he’s got the political scars to prove it. Strategic survey? Yes: it’s all about pinning down the overall Obama strategy and why it’s successful (“it’s the economy, stupid”). Evocation of historical legacies, racial and/or industrial? Yes, but of the weary rather than wistful type. Nuanced? Not so much. Topical? No immediate hook beyond the electoral fate of the state itself.

Westmoreland County up for grabs
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
28 October

Gritty impressions from a Pennsylvanian county that went for Bush and loved Hillary.

Heartwarming? Not really. The news is depressing – meet the working class McCain Democrats. But the people are real. Feeling that the reporter understands the local scene? Mwah. You keep wanting her to dig a little deeper. Strategic survey? Not so much. Though the description of how the polarisation between high-income, Republican subdivisions along Route 30 and low-income, Democratic riverside settlements are all muddled up this year should rouse the political geographer in you. Evocation of historical legacies, racial and/or industrial? Some wistful type of the latter. Nuanced? Fairly. Topical? Considering McCain’s decision to stake his fate on Pennsylvania and the racial/cultural resentments there, yes.

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Fictional minority again declared unwelcome by Hungarians

Culture, European culture(s)

The Hungarian TÁRKI Social Research Institute conducts an annual survey on xenophobia. As part of the survey, the sociologists asks respondents whether they would accept or refuse refugees from a list of specific ethnic backgrounds. Standard fare, so far.

Except as control group, they slip in a fictional group: the Pirezians.

Hungarian press agency MTI reports that once again, Hungarians blithely dismissed entry for these obviously no-good Pirezian refugees:

Somewhere there is Piresia, the editors of Uncylopedia helpfully note

"Somewhere there is Piresia", the editors of Uncylopedia helpfully note

Sociologists divide Hungarians into three groups – 25-33 percent who would hermetically seal the country’s borders to all foreigners, 10 percent who would accept everyone with open arms, and the middle group of about 58 percent, who would pick and choose whom to accept, wrote [..] Nepszabadsag, citing a recent survey.

Sociologist Endre Sik pointed out that a key point in the survey [..] concerns the “Pirezians,” a non-existent ethnic group included in the survey as a reality-check. The two extremes on the scale for the pick-and-choose group are Arabs (rejected by 83 percent) and Russians (rejected by 76 percent) on the one side and ethnic Hungarians from neighbouring countries (rejected by 7 percent) on the other. The Pirezians were rejected by 66 percent of the mid-group, down slightly from last year’s 68 percent rejection figure, and up a bit from 59 percent in 2006.

The TARKI data reveal (Hungarian) that the middle, “pick-and-choose” group itself shrunk, while the xenophobic group that would hermetically seal the country’s borders to all foreigners grew in the past two years from 24% to 32%. So the group that would dismiss all foreigners, including those poor Pirezians, grew — and in addition, a larger part of the middle group looked askance at them as well. All in all, then, 70% of Hungarians want none of them Pirezians (Piresians?), against 65% two years ago.

Then again, other foreign peoples should be so lucky… It’s not just the Arabs and Russians that are even more undesired.

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