Culture Clash

'86–'95: From Evangelicals to Trannies, the First Gulf War to Tupac Shakur

The secret history of U.S. government approval of potentially illegal arms sales to Saddam Hussein is only one small part of a larger story that it is now imperative to tell as the U.S. and Iraq prepare for war.


The Bohemian Diaspora

By C.Carr

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February 4, 1992

I've found it harder to track the art margins lately. The climate for things experimental, for things adversarial, has not only worsened; the damage to those "autonomous zones" seems irreparable. That historic institution once called "bohemia" has been so intensively exploited that it's had to become invisible. For the first time in 150 years, bohemia can't be pinpointed on a map. The dematerialization of the artist's milieu has had a devastating impact on the entire culture—more intangible, and therefore more insidious, than the problems posed by shrinking corporate and government funding, the march of the real estate developers, and the debilitating war over free expression.

Dissent cannot happen in a vacuum. Nor can social or aesthetic movements grow in one. Community is the fabric that sustains experiment, stimulating that leap into the void and maybe even cushioning a fall.

Back when subterraneans still had a terrain, the bourgie types might go slumming through a Left Bank or Greenwich Village, but the colonizing process took much longer. No instant condos. No developer-spawned neighborhood acronyms. Now—relentless in its hunt for the Next Big Thing—the media cut such a swath through the demimonde that colonizers follow instantly, destabilizing and destroying. So, the energy that moved from Paris to New York, from West Village to East Village, from Old Bohemia (1830–1930) to New Bohemia (the '60s) to Faux Bohemia (the '80s) has atomized now into trails that can't be followed: the 'zine/cassette network, the living-room performance spaces, the modem-accessed cybersalons, the flight into neighborhoods that will never be Soho.

They're all part of the bohemian diaspora.
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Building the Monolith

Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches
By Michael Feingold

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May 18, 1993

Vast, sprawling, inclusive, and wordy, Angels in America instantly announces itself as American. Its eccentric, catchall bigness, its lofty appeals to end-of-the-world millennial panic, and the cold water it throws on them with flip jokes and blunt biological talk, couldn't have been assembled anywhere but here, in the "melting pot, where nothing melted," as the prologue puts it. Trying to shape a work that includes everything, [Tony] Kushner doesn't hesitate to turn it all upside down as well: The speaker of this prologue is an elderly Orthodox rabbi, played by a younger and distinctly Gentile actress. The blasphemy and gender subversion, like the flip jokes, stave off pomposity, guaranteeing that every notion advanced will also include its opposite.

Though a discomfiting character to Kushner's audience, the rabbi is what elderly Jews usually are in works with epic claims, a fount of wit and wisdom; the absurd casting (asked for in the script) implies, not that he is absurd, but that he and the actress are in some respect identical, that as Americans they share some indefinable essence. And this essence fills Kushner's approach, privileging all the characters with his mellifluous turns of speech and brightness of perception, from the Valium-dazed Mormon wife to the compulsively knowing political fixer Roy Cohn.

In that respect, Angels in America is the best kind of political play. Rather than take an orderly stance on a specific set of issues, it treats politics as a connected and conflicting set of impulses, a moral soup in which we find ourselves swimming. Every move we make, or fail to, defines our position more clearly, but any choice might be unexpectedly disastrous. We're all in the soup together, and it would take a miracle to get us out. Appropriately, Part One of Angels ends with a miracle, the appearance of a heavenly messenger to a gay man dying of AIDS. What comes next to fulfill Kushner's vision, I can't say: It's a confirmation of his gifts that he's made people stand up and scream bravos at the end of what is essentially a three-hour-long first act.
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Northern Exposures

Admit Nothing; Blame Everybody; Be Bitter
By Gary Indiana

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February 18, 1992

Up close, Bill Clinton looks like he's covered in fresh fetal tissue. His skin is virtually poreless. The high, ample hair (a premium commodity in this race of semi-skinheads), the trim, pneumatic body, the tasteful but not unduly elegant suit, everything has been processed into movie star perfection. He could be a retired sports figure like Bruce Jenner, endorsing a home treadmill. Something in the grooming suggests one of those miniature species bred to win show ribbons, a Shetland pony or a toy terrier.

Here amid the authentic wood-grain paneling of the Henry J. Sweeney American Legion Post #2 on Maple Street, in Manchester, a large and not unduly elegant crowd of Clinton people has wedged itself between the floor-level microphone and the cash bar. Someone, I'm not sure who, introduces Legion Post Commander Tom Murphy, "who is gonna do the pleasure of introducing Governor Clinton." . . .

Clinton doesn't wait on too much fanfare. This is an earnest, flesh-pressing, I'm-not-there-yet-and-I-need-each-and-every-one-of-you speech. The point of the exercise is to find a credible way of projecting "concern" that these people are "hurting," Bush's euphemism for broke. What's Clinton's campaign all about? Three words: "fairness, responsibility, and unity." Where do Republicans make their mistake? Well, for one thing, "most poor people get up in the morning and work" and therefore deserve government help. But let's not slip into socialism. This guy wants "to make more millionaires than Reagan and Bush, but the old-fashioned way." Empower those local governments. Crack down on corporations moving jobs out of the country. And let's have boot camps, military style, for some of our less hardened, first-time-felony criminals. While we're at it, let's enforce child support.

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