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Donald Trump Is Napoleon From Animal Farm, and His Supporters Are Just Like Mr. Jones

Guest Contributor

Rachel Ryan, before joining IJ as a Weekly Contributor, wrote regularly for the Huffington Post and reported for political news site FrumForum. A long-term resident of Washington, D.C., she is a government affairs and international relations professional who now resides in Paris, France. 

Here she brilliantly exposes George Orwell as Prophet by comparing Donald Trump to Napoleon the pig in Orwell’s, Animal Farm.

NY Mag: Photo-illustration byBobby Doherty. Trump photograph byMichele Asselin/Contour by Getty Images

Mr. Jones, a 41-year-old man with hard hands and a belly from too much beer, lost his job as an Assembly Technician in 2007, at the dawn of the Great Recession. Like thousands of men across the country who once made a decent living working in factories, Mr. Jones is struggling to regain his footing in a recovering service economy that no longer needs him.

In this new American economy, manufacturing jobs are now outsourced to China, India and other less developed corners of the globe, so Mr. Jones is reduced to toiling in the repair industry, where jobs and money are inconsistent – at best. At worst, he’s competing with less skilled immigrants who will do the same job for less.

In the meantime, his wife won’t stop nagging him about the decaying siding on their house, which he also can’t afford to replace. In addition to the siding, his wife is upset about the browning yard. He doesn’t have time to take care of either because he’s always out working or looking for work. If he did have the money to hire help, the siding repairman and gardener would probably be Mexican – an idea he hates even more than being out of work.

He hates himself for his inability to provide, he hates his wife for nagging him and he hates immigrants for taking the jobs that would be his.

More than anything, Mr. Jones hates the “Republicans and other greedy capitalists who want open borders for cheap labor, and the leftists who want open borders due to their white guilt and hatred of western civilization.”

If only America were like it once was, he’d still have a job, his wife wouldn’t yell at him and America would be great again.

Mr. Jones is a Trump Republican.

Despite a net worth of $4 billion, Donald Trump has tapped into Mr. Jones’ post-Recession, white middle class outrage:

Black lives matter more and illegal immigrants who break the law get a free pass. Evangelicals in this country no longer feel they have the right to religious freedom and have watched what they perceive as a sacred institution in marriage gutted. All the while, politicians they voted for to represent them just plain don’t.

Trump’s xenophobic, racist and misogynist comments are cathartic for men like Mr. Jones – for men, in general, who were hit hardest by the Recession and its impact on manufacturing and construction jobs – not to mention its impact on their marriages, which helps to explain the spike in intimate-partner violence when the Recession hit.

The Mr. Jones in my story is, of course, an allegory, named after the farmer in Orwell’s Animal Farm. Throughout modern history, in totalitarian dictatorships across the globe, George Orwell is known as “the prophet.” From Russia to Afghanistan, Burma, China and North Korea, his fictional portrayal of totalitarianism rings true. And today, for arguably the first time in history, his allegory prophesizes the fate of America. Never has an American politician so epitomized the Orwellian dictator as Donald Trump.

The Orwellian dictator in Animal Farm is the pig, Napoleon, who – through vague promises and brute force – appeals to a desperate contingency; the animals who are desperate for another way. A better way. Another, better life.

Sadly, desperate people like Mr. Jones or the personified characters ofAnimal Farm are the most easily manipulated by politicians offering an alternative… any alternative.

When asked what he will offer in place of the Affordable Care Act, Trump promised to replace it with “something terrific,” echoing Napoleon’s vague rhetoric when debating his arch nemesis, Snowball, about the construction of a windmill on Animal Farm:

When the animals had assembled in the big barn, Snowball stood up and, though occasionally interrupted by bleating from the sheep, set forth his reasons for advocating the building of the windmill. Then Napoleon stood up to reply. He said very quietly that the windmill was nonsense and that he advised nobody to vote for it, and promptly sat down again; he had spoken for barely thirty seconds, and seemed almost indifferent as to the effect he produced.

The debate ends with Napoleon unleashing attack dogs on Snowball and running him out of Animal Farm.

The similarities between Napoleon and Trump are seemingly endless, ranging from their unabashed fear-mongering, obsession with military force, lavish lifestyles and treatment of women (Napoleon impregnated all the sows on Animal Farm). But most worrisome is their rhetorical manipulation of fact; a manipulation that hinges on a restructuring of the past.

Most recently, Trump said he’ll “never say a bad thing about Kanye,” conveniently forgetting he called for a boycott of Kanye in 2009. A harmless enough oversight until you put it in the context of his entire pathology. Fact-checking news site, PolitiFact, rated 78 percent of Trump’s comments “Mostly False,” “False,” or “Pants on Fire” – with 69 percent falling into the latter two categories.

In another of Orwell’s prophetic fictions, 1984, Big Brother’s totalitarian government hinges on the ideology that, “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”

Trump is the most dangerous kind of fiction author; one for whom the facts are debatable. He rewrites the past, controls the present and dictates the future based on his fiction.

With Trump so acutely resembling Orwell’s Napoleon, I can only hope American citizens will resist resembling his bleating sheep. Sadly, with Trump leading in the polls, our fate as sheep seems a prophetic inevitability.

Days of Post Racial America - A Play

Guest Contributor

Morgan McGuire is an actress and playwright based in Brooklyn, NY. She normally writes quippy romantic comedies or sad family drama's about sad societal issues. She's never written an allegory and she is happy to experiment and jump out of her comfort zone with The Curiosituer this month. You can see her full length play The Red Room this July in New York at the TBG Theatre. For more information visit: www.theshelternyc.org 

She has graciously written Days of Post Racial America - A Play, exclusively for The New Intelligentsia Issue. 

 

Days of Post Racial America

A Play

By, Morgan McGuire

 

The Announcer’s voice comes through the darkness:

The Announcer/Director

When we last left our lovers and “Days of Post Racial America”, Wisteria was fighting the scourge of Necrotizing Fasciitis. Handsome british Doctor Forrestman had been forced to remove not one, but both her legs (dramatic pause). Doctor Forrestman has found the necrotizing fasciitis has moved to her small intestine and given Wisteria two weeks to live (dramatic pause). Jackson is beside himself and has run to be at her bedside, but will she take him back? 

Lights up on a sound stage. A pool of light and a lone hospital bed. In it sits a black woman.  She is not well. This is clear. We hear the whirl and beeping of hospital machinery. A white man enters with flowers. 

 

Wisteria/Jennifer

Flowers? 

Jackson/Josh

Wisteria

Wisteria/Jennifer

That’s cheap. Visiting hours are over. 

Jackson/Josh

I’ve got ten minutes. 

Wisteria/Jennifer

You can’t let me die in peace. Can you? 

Jackson/Josh

You’re not dying right now. 

Wisteria/Jennifer

No. Not this exact moment. But apparently in two weeks or so. So can you—

Jackson/Josh

Can you just take the damn flowers? 

Wisteria/Jennifer

No. 

Jackson/Josh

I didn’t come here to fight. I came here to—

Wisteria/Jennifer

I don’t want your cheap flowers. 

Jackson/Josh

Just take the fucking flowers—

Wisteria/Jennifer

I do not want your flowers—

Jackson/Josh

I thought dying people were supposed to suddenly have a grip on what matters? I thought you were suddenly supposed to not hold grudges. 

Wisteria/Jennifer

Jackson, this is not a grudge. Now go. I don’t have time—

Jackson/Josh

We’ve got ten minutes and the rest of your life. 

Wisteria/Jennifer

No. You do not have ten minutes with me. You have ten minutes. I have ten minutes, but together we do not have anything. And since I do not actually have a whole lot of ten minute increments left in my life I do not want to waste them with you. 

Jackson/Josh

Just take the flowers. 

Wisteria/Jennifer

No. 

Jackson/Josh

Why? 

Wisteria/Jennifer

Because. They’re cheap. 

Jackson/Josh

I flew it in from—

Wisteria/Jennifer

My name. You bought Wisteria because it’s my name. And like most things you have no idea what they mean. 

Jackson/Josh

Why is it so offensive that I bought you the flower you’re named after? 

Wisteria/Jennifer

Jackson/Josh, that’s not what is offensive and you know it. Now can you please go? 

Jackson/Josh

Wisteria—

Wisteria/Jennifer

I see that diplomatic overtures will not be working—

Jackson/Josh

I’m only asking for ten minutes—

Wisteria/Jennifer

That I do not want to give you. 

Jackson/Josh

You’re talking to me—

Wisteria/Jennifer

Yes because I cannot get out of this bed because of you— Nurse! Nurse!

Jackson/Josh

Wisteria! Shhh!

Wisteria/Jennifer

No. If you won’t fucking leave I’m calling the fucking nurse and she’s calling security. 

 

The Announcer/Director

Cut. No cursing please Wisteria. If you want the audience on your side you must behave with a bit more decorum.

Nodding in assent. She reaches for the call button hanging on the bed. It is positioned awkwardly. She reaches for it and yet she cannot reach it. From beneath the covers we see two stumps. The rest of her legs are covered in bandages and we see the bandages on her legs covering a fiercely growing necrotizing fasciitis. 

 

Wisteria/Jennifer

Ahhh! 

Jackson/Josh

Let me help you. 

Wisteria/Jennifer

I swear to God if you help me I will—

Jackson/Josh

Please let me help you. 

 

Wisteria/Jennifer tries to move away from Jackson/Josh as he tries to reach over her to get the call button. He falls on her. We hear her shriek and shouted apologies from Jackson/Josh. Wisteria/Jennifer weeps.

 

Jackson/Josh

I’m— I’m so sorry. 

Wisteria/Jennifer weeps and presses her morphine drip. 

 I didn’t mean to—

Wisteria/Jennifer

You never do.

Jackson/Josh

I was trying to help.

Wisteria/Jennifer

You always are.

Jackson/Josh

I should go—

Wisteria/Jennifer

You are such son of a bitch. 

 

The Announcer/Director

Cut. Again, Wisteria/Jennifer the cursing. Now you’ll have to be punished. 

He sends a shock to her bed. It is a small shock. We see her jump at it.

He’s just trying to explain himself. Be less strident or really who is going to want good things for you?

Wisteria/Jennifer

Sure thing. But it’s in the—

The Announcer/Director

    I don’t care. Find a different word or I will have to press the button again. Understood?

Wisteria/Jennifer

Got it.  (looks at Jackson/Josh). Ready?

They resume the scene.

Wisteria/Jennifer

You are such a (searches for a word) toad. 

Jackson/Josh

Please don’t name call. We’re past that.

Wisteria/Jennifer

No. We’re not. You self righteous son of a (she pauses) gun.

 

They both wait for the announcer/director. Nothing. 

 

Jackson/Josh

What? I tried to apologize. I tried to help—

Wisteria/Jennifer

The operative word in there being tried. Were you ever actually helpful or did you ever actually apologize for anything?

The Announcer/Director

Cut. Wisteria, he was actually trying to be helpful. Now if you’re not going to treat him fairly I’m going to have to punish you again. You just didn’t see it as helpful. Let’s take it back?

 

He shocks her. This time with a little more voltage. It hurts. We see her writhe in pain. 

 

Wisteria/Jennifer

Yep. Got it. (to Jackson/Josh) Ready? 

                        He nods.

The operative word there being tried. Did you ever actually apologize?

Jackson/Josh

Well, no because you’re so angry. 

Wisteria/Jennifer

Yes! I’m wildly angry. I hate your guts— absolutely hate your guts—

The Announcer/Director

And if you’re so angry why is he going to want to apologize? 

 

Both Jackson/Josh and Wisteria/Jennifer look to the up left corner where they know he is watching. Jackson/Josh is even made uncomfortable by this interjection as Wisteria/Jennifer seems to have been playing by the rules. She waits to be shocked. 

 

I’m sorry I spoke a little out of turn there. But only a little. Please proceed.

Jackson/Josh

And I don’t get that because I didn’t actually—

Wisteria/Jennifer

Pull the trigger? 

Jackson/Josh

Well, yeah.

Wisteria/Jennifer

It was your gun Jackson. Your stupid automatic weapon.

Jackson/Josh

I know that. 

Wisteria/Jennifer

Something I begged you to get rid of a million times.

Jackson/Josh

I know. But it was my Grandad’s—

Wisteria/Jennifer

And you wanted to keep your toys.

Jackson/Josh

I didn’t know Calhoun would—

Wisteria/Jennifer

It doesn’t matter what Calhoun— It was your gun. You never should have had it to begin  with—

Jackson/Josh

The necrotizing fasciitis—

Wisteria/Jennifer

I wouldn’t be in here if your friend hadn’t shot me with your fucking grandfathers gun—

The Announcer/ Director

Wisteria/Jennifer! Language!

He shocks her. It hurts. She writhes and twitches. 

Wisteria/Jennifer

FUCKING is in the script there. I swear! CHECK IT!

A moment passes.

The Announcer/Director

Indeed it is. But I’d like to strike it. You’re coming across really angry—

Wisteria/Jennifer

Pretty sure I should be angry. The doctor just told me I’m dying from fucking—

The Announcer/Director

Yes, but Jackson didn’t give you the flesh eating bacteria. And really it was his grandad’s gun so—

Wisteria/Jennifer

So I should just shut up and take the guilt flowers.

The Announcer/Director

I wouldn’t look at them as guilt flowers—

Wisteria/Jennifer

Okay. You’re changing the narrative though—

The Announcer/Director

Yes, but it’s more favorable Wisteria. And we need things to be favorable. 

Wisteria/Jennifer

Can we pick it up from fucking grandfather’s gun?

The Announcer/Director

We’re striking that remember.

                        Jennifer presses on. 

Wisteria/Jennifer

I wouldn’t be in here if your friend hadn’t shot me with your (pause) grandfathers gun. And then I wouldn’t have contracted necrotizing fasciitis that has now found its way to my intestine. And I wouldn’t have two weeks to live.

Jackson/Josh

I know that!

Wisteria/Jennifer

Then what are you doing here with stupid WISTERIA!?!?

Jackson/Josh

I didn’t know what else to do. 

Wisteria/Jennifer

So you show up with stupid stupid stupid flowers.

Jackson/Josh

Because I love you—

Wisteria/Jennifer

Enough.

The Announcer/Director

But he loves you—

Wisteria/Jennifer

Enough is in the FUCKING SCRIPT!

The Announcer/Director

(amused)

Cursing again! I should shock you just for that. I know it’s in there, but I’d like to amend it. 

Wisteria/Jennifer

Why?

The Announcer/Director

Because he loves you—

Wisteria/Jennifer

And?

The Announcer/Director

And that’s a nice thing and you should be happy with—

Wisteria/Jennifer

Listen dude bro are you gonna say anything here?

Jackson/Josh

Ummm…

Wisteria/Jennifer

Fucking hell—

The Announcer/Director

Wisteria, we’ve already talked about language. 

               

He shocks her and this time it really hurts. She writhes in pain. We see her pause and then get out of the bed. She removes the sheet that cleverly conceals her actual legs and we see a healthy woman with stage makeup mimicking necrotizing fasciitis covering her thighs. 

 

Wisteria, get back in the bed.

Wisteria/Jennifer

    My name is Jennifer. 

The Announcer/Director

If you don’t—

Wisteria/Jennifer

You’ll shock me? I’m on the floor with Mr. Man so if you shock me you’re shocking stupid mc-stupid silent Sam over here and I have a feeling you won’t do that to the prized pony. 

The Announcer/Director

Get back in the bed—

Wisteria/Jennifer

Eat shit and die. 

Jackson/Josh

Wisteria, maybe—

Wisteria/Jennifer

Asshole, my name is Jennifer. 

Jennifer fully becomes herself dropping all of the trappings of playing wisteria. She will now only appear as Jennifer. 

The Announcer/Director

You are crossing a line. Get back in the bed, now. 

Jackson/Josh

I know Jen, I just… Let’s just finish the scene. 

Jennifer

Yeah, you’re not the one getting shocked. 

Jackson/Josh

Maybe if you did what he asked—

Jennifer

You’re serious aren’t you?

Jackson/Josh

I don’t know. Jen, I just don’t want this to end badly and—

Over the following a large gun begins to loom from where the camera would be. Unaware Jennifer has her back to it. 

Jennifer

Do you know how many times you said fucking during the scene?

Jackson/Josh

I don’t—

Jennifer

Seriously Josh. Do you know how many times?

Josh

No.

Jennifer

You said it three times. And damn once. How many times have you been shocked?

As Josh pleads with a fully realized Jennifer he also drops the trappings of playing Jackson and becomes fully himself. 

Josh

None.

Jennifer

Exactly.

Josh

Jennifer let’s  get back to the scene and we can do this—

Jennifer

    Later?

Josh

    Yes. Later. I think if we do this later we can get further than here on—

Jennifer

When it’s convenient for you? Because this conversation is really inconvenient for you right now so we should just get back to the scene. Because you only want to talk about this when it I convenient for you. Because your convenience and your comfort that’s like paramount. 

Josh

    No. I’m on your side. Let’s just do the scene because—

Jennifer

The scene where your character is completely and totally and utterly at fault because he had an automatic weapon in his home. But I’m supposed to change the narrative and play it like you’re the hero for some unknown reason—

Josh finally seeing the gun. 

Josh

Jennifer stop—

Jennifer

It was a loaded fucking gun. Gonna shock me for that one asshole? 

The loaded gun looming in the background fires a round on Jennifer and miraculously missed Joshua. She falls and writhes on the floor. 

The Announcer/Director

I told you you were crossing a line. 

Josh

Holy shit. Jen.

The Announcer/Director

Joshua, we will have a replacement shortly. Maybe a little fairer or just less mouthy. We’ll be back with you shortly. 

Jennifer

You said fuck three times. It wasn’t even in the script. 

Josh

Can we get some help in here?

Jennifer

You said fuck three times… You could have said something— We didn’t even get to finish the scene. 

Josh

I— Can we get some help in here? Please, someone help us. 

Jennifer

You don’t even know what Wisteria means do you? 

Josh

No—I— Jen—

She whispers in his ear. 

I need some help in here. Please? Someone? Anyone? 

 

No one is coming. Lights fade. 

The announcers voice comes through the darkness. 

 

The Announcer/Director

And those are the days of post racial America. 

                          

End of Play

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Powerful Art of Imanol Aizpuru

Joelle Renee Benoliel

Imanol Azipuru "Fantastical" 40x30cm Ink, watercolor

Imanol Azipuru "Fantastical" 40x30cm Ink, watercolor

Imanol Aizpuru’s art has been considered “a Cross between Kandinsky and Nickelodeon,” which cannot be a more accurate description. With Kandinsky's deeply spiritual and prophetic approach to art and Nickelodeon’s consistent ability to personify illustrated abstract characters, somehow Aizpuru captures it all. His colorful and diversely shaped subjects speak volumes to the viewer through tugging on basic human emotions and revealing a depth that is not readily prevalent.

Upon first appearance some may see Aizpuru’s art as naive or childish, but that is the disarming element that gives his paintings their power. The paintings seem unintimidating and cheerful at first, almost laughable, humorous, but then, there, in that moment, it has it’s hold. Once the viewer has begun to look, the characters themselves begin to speak, a scene and complex drama begins to unfold. When I asked Aizpuru what he is trying to speak and unveil through his art, he explained a process of creating that stems from his own emotional state and world view, but portraying his own perspectives are not the goal nor what ends up being communicated through his art. He described that his viewers end up seeing many things that he himself does not see in these expressive characters,“It really doesn't matter what I think about them but what people want to see in them. That dialogue between my art and viewer's perception is what attracts me.” It happens to be what attracts me to his art as well. Aizpuru has an indefatigable ability to paint a mirror in which the viewer sees the truth about themselves if they only choose to look long enough. There are layers upon layers of stories to be told, though Aizpuru’s narrative art work exists outside of time and space, stories without a beginning or an end.

In Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual In Art, he speaks of the artist that creates from “an internal necessity” being the tip of a forward moving pyramid extending into the future. The artist-prophet alone leads the cultural pack towards what will one day be seen as commonplace and natural, but at the time shocks the world as inconceivable or wrong. Aizpuru delivers his audience into a forward movie enlightenment in a very intimate and personal way through the colorfully  playful characters that grace his canvases. They speak truths of the viewer to the viewer that Aizpuru does not even see. This is the beauty and power of his work. 

Imanol Aizpuru is a contemporary artist living and working in the Basque region of Spain. His Murals can be seen on the walls of ancient streets around St. Sebastian, Bilboa, and Beasain, Spain. He is currently working on a new exploration of screen printing as well as painting his Characters everyday.

Issa Rae and The Power of Social Representation

Guest Contributor

Issa Rae, Creator of "The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl" 

Some prophets are like the false prophets in the Old Testament. They run about in strange outfits and funny hair, screaming and cutting themselves, desperate for attention, childishly reactive, easily excitable. They are usually good for one thing: directing our attention to something important. But they, like false prophets, are usually not good at other things: getting rain to fall, fire to strike, or demonstrating what actual cultural change looks like. They begin conversations dramatically, but often vanish soon after, leave listeners wanting when it comes to the grittier elements of cultural transformation. 

This dramatic attitude has shaped, to a certain extent, the discussion around racial representation in Hollywood. Last January, shortly after the Academy released the list of nominations for this year’s Oscars, Twitter went electric with outcry, organized loosely under the “Oscars So White,” hashtag. The movement quickly moved beyond the virtual world. Sylvester Stallone,  Laurence Fishburne, and George Clooney spoke out. Spike Lee and Jada Smith boycotted the Oscars. Those present heard a mouthful from Chris Rock: “Is Hollywood racist? You’re damn right Hollywood’s racist? But not the racist you’ve grown accustomed to. Hollywood is ‘sorority racist.’” 

The Twitter storm reminded us that racial representation within cultural institutions is important. But it also reminded us how easy it is to fall into the trap of virality: just because something becomes “hot” in the virtual world does not mean we’re any closer to investing the time, reflection, or debate necessary to generate long-lasting cultural transformation. As a result, the solutions that stem from these viral movements tend to be one-dimensional and one-sided. Worse, they tend to encourage solutions that might later be considered hasty and counter-productive. For example, consider that the Academy announced plans to double the presence of blacks and women in film by 2020 and to reduce the voting rights of lifetime members. Similarly, the Screen Actors Guild released diversity rules demanding that fifty percent of all speaking roles go to members of “four protected groups,” including African Americans. 

There have been other voices calling for caution. Steven Spielberg questioned the claim that the Academy is racist, pointing to the 2014 nomination (and award) for Lupita Nyong’o as counterproof. He suggested that greater accountability in hiring practices would do more good than taking votes away from lifetime Academy members.  “Sometimes it takes a long period of time for cultural changes to be reflected in the Academy,” explained producer and director Lionel Chetwynd. “The people who built the Academy were largely white, which reflected the time, and they’re going to be replaced by a new generation of artists. But that doesn’t happen overnight. And it shouldn’t.”Others questioned the claim that blacks are underrepresented at all. Pointed out Adam Baldwin in a Twitter debate with Don Cheadle

“Black actors/actresses at the Oscars in the last 20 years: 10% of best supporting actors winners were black, 20% of best supporting actresses were black, 15% of best leading actors were black and 5% of best leading actresses were black. When you count an average percentage (10+20+15+5):4 you get 12.5%. So black people are almost perfectly represented in winners considering their share in the population is 12.8%!” 

Only time will tell to what extent these efforts will meaningfully diversify the Academy and the Oscars. In the meantime, some artists are showing a less reactive, more proactive path to institutional reform. Comedian Issa Rae is one of them. She’s the 31 year-old creative behind “Awkward Black Girl,” a smash-hit YouTube series that launched in 2011. The show started as a rugged, low budget series that follows “J,” (played by Rae) as she navigates work, relationships, and a new boyfriend as a self-proclaimed “awkward” black girl. By awkward she means someone who likes to read about nerdy topics, someone who wears her hair natural and someone who likes sushi. Basically: A black woman who doesn’t fit the typical stereotypical black women portrayed on television. 

The show went viral shortly after it launched. Rae fueled the first season from her own budget, running out of money so desperately at one point that she couldn’t buy a cup of coffee. In 2011, she launched a Kickstarter for support and $44,000 to produce a second season. Since then, she’s ventured into different ventures including a miniseries called “Firsts,” a podcast, and the Issa Rae Network where she showcases the work of other ethnic comedians and artists. Recently, she released her book, Misadventures of a Black Girl and is collaborating on a TV show with HBO. She’s also collaborated with Pharrell Williams and Tracey Edmonds.  

As a multiracial woman who likes to read and who cut her hair natural shortly after high school, who has been called white by her black peers, and dated white boys, I appreciate Rae’s narrative angle. She talks about issues that lots of black women experience but few hardly represent in film. More than that, she is doing exactly what some argue needs to be done in order to effectuate change in the entertainment industry: offering access to opportunity for black artists and telling underrepresented stories. Rae represents a new way of addressing racial imbalances in the arts. She looks at the lack of diversity in entertainment and gets busy creating an alternative on her own terms, as explained by The New York Times

Rae learned that she had a knack for portraying everyday black life — not made special by its otherness or defined in contrast to whiteness, but treated as a subject worthy of exploration all of its own. ‘‘It was a light bulb, my epiphany moment,’’ she says.  

Andy Crouch writes in his book, Culture Making that changing culture has very little to do with critiquing or complaining. He says cultural change comes as a result of creating better alternatives. If Crouch is right, then cultural change demands more than furious Tweeting. It requires patience, contemplation, and creativity. Rae so far, demonstrates all three. She has jackhammered her way into the industry using the Internet, her own money, friends, and grit. She’s responding to the lack of representation, not by screaming and flailing, not by creating a hashtag, but by descending into the trenches of cultural creation and doing the hard work of telling a better story. 

 

Tiffany Owens is a writer and Journalist living and working in New York City.

Mon Humour - Confessions of a French Comedian

Guest Contributor

See English translation below

Le rire est notre capacité à se jouer du monde, à le mettre à distance.

Une chose que j’ai apprise durant les années ou j’exerçais la profession d’humoriste est qu’il faut se méfier du rire, il est le parfait camouflage. Le rire, faire rire peut paraître anodin et sans conséquence réelle, voir superflu. Et pourtant, je pense n’avoir jamais été autant sincère sur moi même, ce que j’étais, ce que je suis, ce que j’attends du futur et de ma relation avec le monde extérieur que lorsque j’étais sur scène les 5 années ou je jouais mon one man show. En sortant du théâtre (après avoir bien ri j’espère), mon public savait des choses sur moi. Des choses intimes, des vérités, des peurs, des fantasmes dont je n’aurais jamais pu parler à voix haute ou du moins en regardant sérieusement quelqu’un, même un ami, dans les yeux. Mais quelles vérités ?! Voilà la force de l’humour ! L’humour est un faux mensonge déguisé en vérité. « Je peux parfaitement te dire ce que je pense de toi et de ta misérable existence » si le tout est suivi du parfaitement timé : « Naaaaaaannnn  j’decoooonnneee… !! »

Et bien voilà à quoi je jouais les soirs où j’étais sur scène. Je me libérais, je suivais mon analyse, je mettais à nu mes erreurs et mes victoires devant des gens que je ne connaissais pas. Et ils m’applaudissaient ! 

L’humour est protecteur, enveloppant, rassurant. Entendre que les gens riaient de mes névroses les rendait acceptables. Si on en ri, c’est que n’est pas si grave non?

 

Laughter is our ability to  play the world, by creating a distance. 

One thing I've learned in the years I practiced the profession of  humorist, is that one must be wary of laughter, it is the perfect camouflage. Laughter  may seem trivial and of no real consequence, even superfluous; yet I think I have never been so honest about myself, what I was, what I am, what I expect of the future and my relationship with the outside world, then when I was on stage for five years playing my one man show. Leaving the theater (having had a good laugh, I hope) my audience knew things about me. They knew intimate things, truths, fears, fantasies I never could speak aloud or at least seriously looking at someone, even a friend in the eye. But which truths? This is the power of humor! Humor is truth disguised as a funny lie. 

"I can absolutely tell you what I think of you and your miserable existence" if everything is followed by the perfectly timed... "Nnnnaaaaaaa just kidding ... !! "
 

Well, this is what I was playing at the nights I was on stage. I was freeing myself, I followed my analysis, I put bare my mistakes and victories in front of people I did not know and they applauded me! 

Humor is protective, enveloping, reassuring. I would hear people laughing at my neuroses and that somehow made my flaws  acceptable. If we laugh, that means it is not so bad, right?

 

Jérémie Benoliel was a Comedian in Paris, France for ten years. Still living in Paris, he now uses his talents in and through the restaurant industry, charming the public and creating a sense of community through the breaking of bread.

Authenticity is Not a Goal, It's a Consequence

Guest Contributor

Joan Didion, at home in Malibu CA

Joan Didion, at home in Malibu CA

Authenticity is the word of the hour. Somewhere in the last five years, we became obsessed with being authentic. Perhaps it’s a reaction against the social media-induced blitz of picture perfect lives we endure daily. Maybe it’s an expression of our political suspicions or a fatigued response to the withering American Dream. We are confronted by industry disruptions, the rise of new economies, less stable job markets, increased international tensions, and prolonged adolescence; life feels more out of sync. Whatever: authenticity is our motto and it’s not a bad one. The impulse to chase after authenticity reflects an awareness that being human isn’t picture perfect, that jobs don’t always show up after four years of undergrad, that finding love sometimes takes time, that we are a little uncertain. But for all this hand-wringing, authenticity is still elusive, gone in the night like a wanted man. 

Writers especially agonize about authenticity, not just as people, but also in terms of our craft. Writing authentically seems to suggest adopting a certain degree of vulnerability and transparency. Yet writing as a craft demands refining and cutting. It means pacing around the room, organizing our desk several times in procrastination, then sitting down and killing our darlings, sometimes the most authentic ones. This is perhaps one of the greatest paradoxes in storytelling (and also life): the most authentic stories (lives) typically sprout from a place of discipline. But...isn’t discipline antithetical to authenticity? What’s the balance between the two?  

If we were to toss this question in Joan Didion’s general direction, I think she would stare at us cooly, much in the same way that she does from the cover of Slouching Towards Bethlehem. She probably wouldn’t answer the question, but if we insisted, she might say it’s a false conundrum, this perceived tension between living/writing well and living/writing authentically. Her work strikes the reader as authentic because she pays attention to the world, to people. When writing about Las Vegas weddings in “Marrying Absurd,”she notes, “the bride in a veil and white satin pumps, the bridegroom usually in a white dinner jacket, and even an attendant or two, a sister or a best friend in hot-pink peau de soie, a flirtation veil, a carnation nosegay.” Details take work, but because we writers like people, we do the work of noticing them. We notice the way our characters walk, the way they order their coffee, the material of their favorite scarf (ask if you don’t know). We should note if they double dip their chips and where they hide when they are nervous at dinner parties. This kind of reporting on life demands curiosity and ideally leads to more empathetic storytelling. There can be no real, true stories if we fail to pay attention. 

Didion used details to say something truthful about being human. This truth-telling furthers the authentic feel of her work. She reported not just the political and cultural realities of her time, but also truths about cities and relationships. She preserved dialogues, characters, street names, and her own thoughts. She told things just how she saw them. And in her trapping, she makes room for nuance, for silliness, for hidden motives. She reminds us that people sometimes say hurtful things, that cities can break your heart, that we aren’t always loved as well as we think we ought to be, that we are all looking for paradise and coming up short. Didion:

So what’s new in the whiskey business? What could that possibly mean to you? To me it means a blonde in a Pucci bathing suit sitting with a couple of fat men by the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Another man approaches and they all regard one another in silence for a while. “So what’s new in the whiskey business?” One of the fat men finally says by way of a welcome, and the blonde stands up, arches one foot and dips it in the pool, looking all the while at the cabana where Baby Pignatari is talking on the telephone. That is all there is to that, except that several years later, I saw the blonde coming out of Saks Fifth Avenue in New York with her California complexion and a voluminous mink coat. In the harsh wind that day she looked old and irrevocably tired to me, and even the skins in the mink coat were not worked the way they were doing them that year, not the way she would have wanted them done, and there is the point of the story.

Perhaps the best thing about Didion is she doesn’t feel the need to tie up her writing with a sudden jolt of optimism. “The only people around were Don and one of Sue Ann’s macrobiotic friends and somebody who was on his way to a commune in the Santa Lucias, and they didn’t notice Sue Ann screaming at Michael because they were in the kitchen trying to retrieve some very good Moroccan hash which had dropped down through a floorboard damaged in the fire.” This is how Didion ends an article about children enrolled in “High Kindergarten.” Not with any sort of commentary, just an honest portrayal about people trying to live. She knows it doesn’t do anyone any good to live with an inflated sense of things, so she leaves things the way they are, just as they are. She accepts that some characters say dumb things or die in the middle of the story, that semicolons don’t always make sense, and ellipses never find closure. She shows us that listening is sometimes more important than resolution. She shows us that waiting for life to unfold is sometimes more courageous than embarking on five year plans. In a world of well-timed photos, stories with good endings and life plans that actualize, Didion gives our voices permission to trail off into the night and she considers it beautiful. This is the greatest gift she gave to us and maybe one of the greatest gifts we can offer to a generation anxious about never arriving.

Tiffany Owens is a writer and Journalist living and working in New York City.

An Encounter With Self

Guest Contributor

Contributing Editor Morgan McGuire

Contributing Editor Morgan McGuire

I sent an email this morning, which is not abnormal, so I should probably start with the fact that I sent an email to one of my business partners, also not abnormal. I run a theatre company. Someone recently told me that this theatre company was most likely a hobby since none of us had seriously considered moving it to Detroit, yet. Serious making of art is happening in Detroit since New York has become untenable when it comes to rent. I had to consider that this individual might be correct, but I also reminded myself that the benefits of the comforts of New York and my life here far outweighed the isolating experience of moving to Detroit to “really make art”.  If it had to remain a “hobby” in, New York then it would have to remain.  In any event, I sent an email to my partner. The email detailed the need for a contract, specifically a contract for my most current play. The theatre company is producing it in the mid part of 2016 or slated to produce, at least. I am not under a contract yet. Now, this may seem to add weight to the “hobby” comment, but it actually speaks to a deep trust from my partners. They think I am a better person than I am. They assume I won’t back out because well, I want my play produced because in actuality nobody behaves like it’s a “hobby” even if Detroit is not in the picture. Also they believe without a shadow of a doubt that when all else fails I have some sense of fealty to them. They are wrong on all accounts, which is unfortunate for them, but more unfortunate for me.  

In my early twenties in the mid-ought’s I revisited Joan Didion, and by revisited, I mean obsessively read everything I had already read and then everything I had not. I am at most times bleak and thus Joan suits me. Honestly, I think most people pretend to like Didion. She’s wildly depressing and she is always only revealing something deeply personal about herself to make sure the reader is aware of his or her own personal or cultural failing. It’s quite masterful actually, but leaves the reader feeling terrible if appropriately digested. She does it beautifully, which only heightens its impact, and that bad taste left in the mouth is either palatable or the reader feels obligated because someone with an opinion that matters said he or she should. Didion, is not for everyone, but she is indeed for me. In my twenty-eighth year, my obsession continued and as I was wont to do on occasion I revisited Joan Didion, The Art of Fiction No. 71 Interviewed by Linda Kuehl.  As I was reading I noticed the following response, “I was struck a few years ago when a friend of ours—an actress—was having dinner here with us and a couple of other writers. It suddenly occurred to me that she was the only person in the room who couldn’t plan what she was going to do. She had to wait for someone to ask her, which is a strange way to live.” As an actress I suddenly recognized this as true and at the same time horrible so that afternoon I sat down at my computer and wrote my first play. Didion says she writes to understand and in that moment I wrote to understand my place as a creative person who was continually told to wait. Several years later I write less to understand my place in the creative world and write more to understand my place period or more accurately the place of the world around me. And so this is how we have arrived at my present email.

Didion didn’t just give me writing. She gave me those terribly self revealing words meant to reveal that I am indeed maybe not the stellar human that I think I am. The self revealing phrasing that reminds me that I am indeed less selfless than I ought to be. The sentences that remind me that the society that I live in is quite muddled and that nothing is as it seems. The paragraphs that tell me humans need a narrative filled with heroes and sermons to get through the awfulness that is generally living a life. The essays that remind me that the world is never quite as it seems on the surface, that it is indeed cracking underneath the weight of all that we aren’t. So I woke up this morning and realized that I would not deliver this play if not under contract. In A Book of Common Prayer Joan writes that, “you have to pick the places you don’t walk away from”. Isn’t that true. Isn’t the natural course of things to not fight, to let things fall apart and to walk away as if it never happened? Isn’t our natural desire to run and not keep on “nodding terms” with the people we used to be? Isn’t that too hard? So it would be easier to walk away from the play for a host of reason the least of which is that people will eventually have to see it and in all honesty no one really wants that. Knowing myself and all the things that barely hold me together, I would not be opposed to walking away after money has been spent, which might be horrible, but I am surprisingly okay with it.

I don’t quite have the better nature we’d hope for in a human. I am trying to survive and writing often bumps up against that just as life does. See this play, it’s about all those human nature things. It is about those uncomfortable revelations that we should have around the lives we lead. And it is confrontational. It’s hostile and while Joan says that writing is a hostile act I would say I am indeed unready to be hostile with the world. I would rather back out and so I am entirely in need of a contract. My business partners assume I sent that email to maintain good business practices and we will let them continue to assume that, but you and I now know that I am indeed unwilling to continue of my own accord and I guess that is what it is. But some of us have to write to figure out how we think and feel and so here I am at the end of it all, knowing that I am in need of a legal obligation to do the thing I should do anyway. Slightly less than the ideal human we hope for, but maybe more honest.

Morgan McGuire, a playwright and actress living, acting and writing in New York City. She is the head of development at The Shelter. And is currently authoring her first continuous full length play  "The Red Room". She is fun on Instagram as @msmorganm

In Sable and Dark Glasses By Joan Didion

Guest Contributor

The LIFE Images Collection / Getty Julian Wasser

The LIFE Images Collection / Getty Julian Wasser

In Sable and Dark Glasses By Joan Didion

Joan Didion remembers her distaste for being a child and her yearning for a glamorous, grown up life. Featured in Vogue Magazine October 2011

I never had much interest in being a child. As a way of being it seemed flat, failed to engage. When I was in fact a child, six and seven and eight years old, I was utterly baffled by the enthusiasm with which my cousin Brenda, a year and a half younger, accepted her mother’s definition of her as someone who needed to go to bed at six-thirty and finish every bite of three vegetables, one of them yellow, with every meal. Brenda was also encouraged to make a perfect white sauce, and to keep a chart showing a gold star for every time she brushed her teeth. I, meanwhile, was trying to improve the dinner hour by offering what I called “lettuce cocktails” (a single leaf of iceberg lettuce and crushed ice in a stemmed glass), and inventing elaborate scenarios featuring myself as an adult, specifically an adult 24 years old, an age on which I settled because my mother had assured me that 24 was the best, her favorite year. Over those years during which I was determined to bypass childhood, she and I discussed this question of age at a length she must have found tedious, but perhaps she did not: We are talking here about a woman, my mother, who tied what she construed to be her first gray hair in a bow and mailed it to her sister Gloria, she of the yellow-vegetable dictum. I once asked her what made 24 so memorable. It seemed that she had been married when she was 24. It seemed that I had been born when she was 24. It seemed that 24 was (I can hardly believe our discussions of age deteriorated to this, but possibly the lettuce cocktails had edged us both into a casino mode) her “lucky number.”

My own fantasies of what life would be like at 24 tended to the more spectacular. In these dramas of my own devise I was sometimes wearing a sable coat, although I had never seen one. I was wearing this sable coat in an urban setting that looks in retrospect not unlike Shubert Alley. I was at other times walking on a moor, although I had not yet read those English novels in which moors figured heavily. But here is how I most often preferred to visualize myself: not on a moor, not in Shubert Alley, but standing on the steps of a public building somewhere in South America (Argentina comes first to mind, although Argentina was like the sable coat, never actually seen, more concept than reality), wearing dark glasses and avoiding paparazzi. If you were to have asked me why I was standing on the steps of this public building in Argentina, I would have had a ready answer: I was standing on the steps of this public building in Argentina because I was getting a divorce. Hence the dark glasses, hence the paparazzi. I would let other six-year-olds (Brenda, say) imagine their wedding days, their princess dresses, their Juliet caps and seed pearls and clouds of white tulle: I had moved briskly on to the day of my (Buenos Aires) divorce, and the black silk mantilla the occasion would clearly require.   

As a matter of fact I already had a black silk mantilla, dredged by me from one of the many mysterious boxes in which my mother kept the clues to being 24. In another of those boxes I found the Jean Patou cape, red velvet with a white fur collar, that she reported having worn when she left her wedding reception. I also found the ankle-length red lace dress she wore when she “gave teas,” a form of entertainment more popular than anyone might imagine it to have been in the part of rural California in which we then lived. My mother “gave teas” the way other mothers breathed. Her own mother “gave teas.” All of their friends “gave teas,” each involving butter cookies extruded from a metal press and pastel bonbons ordered from See’s. “Giving a tea” was a process that entailed, as I had observed it, arranging translucent slices of lemon on white Wedgwood plates and spreading little pinwheel sandwiches with cream cheese and watercress, per the same Boston Cooking School Cookbook from which Brenda was being taught to make the perfect white sauce. And then, the most important step of all, the key to the eventual effect, the very point of giving a tea: taking that red lace dress from its box and dropping it over its own slip of ivory chiffon.

There were eventually other clues to adult life to be found in my mother’s boxes. There was the white silk shirt strewn with star-shaped silver sequins that she wore when my father was stationed at Peterson Field in Colorado Springs and she took me ice-skating at the Broadmoor Hotel. There was her petit-point evening bag. There was the plaid seersucker suit in which she crossed the country by train when, en route to meet my father in North Carolina in 1942, we traveled from Los Angeles to New Orleans on the Southern Pacific’s Sunset Limited, a transcontinental train so crowded in those early days of World War II that my mother and small brother and I spent much of the trip standing in the couplings between the cars. I remember the rancid smell of the grease in the couplings. I remember a sailor on the train, a survivor of the USS Wasp, who once at a siding somewhere in the Southwest got off the train and came back with a Coca-Cola for my mother and a present for me, a silver-and-turquoise Navajo bracelet. I still today have the bracelet, too small now for my wrist. I also still today have snapshots taken on that trip. In these snapshots, which mainly show my mother and brother and me at moments when we have just missed or are just about to miss one or another key connection, for example looking forlorn between trains in Union Station in Los Angeles or for another example looking somewhat less forlorn between trains on the veranda of the St. Charles Hotel in New Orleans, my mother is wearing the plaid seersucker suit, spectator pumps, and, pinned at her temples, white silk gardenias.   

From the snapshot evidence of the period, which shows me in pleated skirts and handknit cardigans and what appears to have been a Brownie uniform, she would have been less than entirely on board for the sable coat and the Buenos Aires divorce. The sable coat and the Buenos Aires divorce would have been more my grandmother’s territory. It was my grandmother who knit the cardigans, yet it was also my grandmother who presented a more evolved idea of how I should appear to the world. She gave me Stroock vicuña coats, Lilly Daché hats, and flasks of Elizabeth Arden On Dit sealed with translucent paper and gold thread. The Lilly Daché hats were meant to encourage me to go to church. The Elizabeth Arden On Dit was meant to encourage me to get over the mumps. Brenda, as the next oldest granddaughter, was also the beneficiary of this method of child-rearing. When our grandmother took us for the day to San Francisco she ordered us Dungeness Crab Louis at El Prado and bought us dewy bunches of violets at the flower stand across Union Square. Both my mother and her sister Gloria seemed to feel a pro forma obligation to register disapproval of these tactics. “What will they have to look forward to?” I remember Gloria asking my grandmother.

“Let that be the greatest of your worries,” I remember my grandmother answering. 

Meanwhile I made up games to play with Brenda. In one game we were getting on an elevator at I. Magnin in San Francisco when we heard the operator speak. This is what the operator always said: “There is only room for one more.” The operator had a spectral white face and spoke in an eerie voice. The spectral white face and eerie voice should (always) have warned us but we (always) missed the signals: This I. Magnin elevator was of course about to plunge, with Brenda and me on board, to the bottom of its shaft. I recognize this now as one more version of the hoary tale in which some stranger with a spectral face (an elevator operator, a nurse, a hotel clerk, a taxi driver, or, better still, a hearse driver) either does or does not save the life of the protagonist, by delivering the line about “only room for one more.” The best version of this takes place not in an elevator but in a hospital, where the (inevitable) young woman discovers (too late) that the corridor she is about to enter—the corridor, of course, where there is “only room for one more”—leads to the hospital morgue.     

This was Brenda’s favorite game. I am ashamed to say that I could scare her witless with it, and often did. “Do only room for one more again,” she would plead, and I would. My own favorite among our games, and this may or may not say something about the difference between growing up on yellow vegetables and growing up on lettuce cocktails, involved going page by page through an issue of Vogue and choosing what to “buy.” Brenda could buy whatever she wanted from the left-hand pages; I was limited to the right-. The point was to see which of us could assemble, given the options only as they turned up, the most desirable wardrobe. The rules, which I invented even as we turned the glossy pages, were quite strict. Either editorial or advertising pages qualified, but every page had to be considered. Dismissal of a page required a “reason,” provided by me.    

I am mortified to remember that I prevailed on Brenda to play this mindless game for hours. I am also mortified to remember that 20 years later, when I was no longer in danger of being mistaken for a child and Brenda herself was getting married, I was still trying to run the game, make the rules, have it my way. There would be at Brenda’s wedding, I promised her, nothing banal, nothing ordinary. She could forget the princess dress. She could forget the Juliet cap. She could forget the seed pearls, the clouds of white tulle. I had decreed: There would instead be checked gingham and wreaths of daisies. I was the older cousin. We would therefore do it my way. I myself would make the wreaths.   

When the day of the wedding arrived I did make the wreaths, cutting tiny slits in each stem and threading the daisies into one another. Cutting the slits and threading the daisies took longer than I had planned. I was in fact still making the wreaths as the guests were being seated. The bridesmaids waited in their checked gingham dresses. Brenda waited in her own checked gingham dress. Her wedding, she later pointed out, turned out to be one more of my lettuce-cocktail moments. That she might have preferred a yellow-vegetable moment never, not ever, not once, not when I was pressing the gingham dresses and not when I was threading the daisy wreaths, crossed my mind.

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