King Khallid's New Clothes
Peter Noel rises to new heights with his latest piece of agitprop, "The Hunt for Khallid Abdul Muhammad" [October 13], concerning Muhammad's purported actions in the wake of the Million Youth March.
With barely concealed admiration, Noel reports every self-serving claim Muhammad makes. There's Khallid, leaping into the fray to save a beaten man from the police, and being wrestled away by his adoring followers. We see our hero imploring the police " . . . to allow the crowd to disperse peacefully," apparently forgetting his earlier admonition to the crowd to seize the officers' guns. And who can forget the touching scene where he actually shakes the hand of a Jew, Norman Siegel [head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which was instrumental in obtaining a permit for the march]?
One wonders what Noel's reaction might be if a public figure displayed similar prejudice against blacks or Latinos, and then was given a portrait worthy of Prince Valiant. How would he respond to a bedazzled description of David Duke actually shaking the hand of a black man?
Muhammad doesn't use code words or subtexts; he simply rants against whites in general and Jews in particular. Noel venerates a guy who could barely muster a few thousand souls to hear him speak after weeks of headlines, had nothing of any substance to say to his listeners, and ran when the episode was finished.
And this is the man who, in the words of Malik Shabazz quoted in the article, "makes the enemy quiver at night"? After reading Noel's breathless repetition of Muhammad's fantasies, I could barely restrain my urge to laugh.
In Daniel Pinchbeck's profile of me ["Culture Shocker," October 13], Voice critic Gary Indiana is quoted saying that I am "a mean-spirited individual who likes to make nice people unhappy."
Indiana was a guest on my WBAI radio show three times promoting his books.
He was on a panel I organized at Matthew Marks Gallery last year.
When Gary's mother was sick and dying, I was one of the first people to comfort him and listen to his problems.
So when Gary calls me "a mean-spirited individual," he's really describing himself.
Fin De Finch
I was surprised that Daniel Pinchbeck let the porcine, malignant Charlie Finch off the hook so easily. Where on earth did he get the impression that David Bowie's Modern Painters magazine was "esteemed" by anyone besides David Bowie? Or that the endorsement of Walter Robinson, a failed and occasionally curdled East Village painter of yore, was a credible counterweight to the impression that Finch is basically the bilious grease an ungifted WASP's dissolving sense of entitlement becomes in an art world where gays and women--Mr. Finch's primary targets--have a little power?
There is nothing redeeming in Mr. Finch's cretinous preoccupation with other people's personal lives and nothing in his magazine, Coagula, that a 10-year-old couldn't recognize as the embittered effusions of the terminally envious. What is intimidating about Mr. Finch, however, is his physical enormity, which Mr. Pinchbeck failed to fully convey, and Finch's habit of fixating on people he barely knows, imagining them to be enemies or, worse, friends--and, since I have occasionally been hallucinated by Mr. Finch as one of the latter, and have witnessed the rage he goes into when he gets back a fraction of the animus he dishes out, I explicitly told Mr. Pinchbeck, repeatedly, that all but one of my remarks to him was off the record. Alas, not the one he quoted.
A C-plus for Mr. Pinchbeck. Next time he wants to throw someone in front of a runaway train, let him throw himself.
In Mark Schoofs's article "Freud vs. Prozac" [October 20], NYU sociology professor Dorothy Nelkin argues that if we locate psychological troubles solely in the individual's biology, we absolve the individual of blame. Significantly, society and culture are "let off the hook completely."
I share Ms. Nelkin's concern. Having been diagnosed with a depressive illness, I've experimented with many drug therapies, including Prozac. Euphoric one moment, pitched into utter darkness the next, I've rolled along from one of any possible dispositions to the next.
And side effects? One of my faves was billed as "agitation"--an elegant euphemism for looking crazed and shaking too much to operate a car. Most of my male antidepressant-using friends have experienced some form of dick-hard-can't-come syndrome or a sudden disinterest in sex.
The side effect that most concerned me was my indifferent demeanor--just when my drug treatment was deemed most successful. Stepping over a homeless guy en route to a good dinner was still intellectually jarring, but it wasn't gonna ruin my night anymore. I was reassured that this new outlook was not the objective of my treatment, and that much of life is, indeed, sad.
I'm profoundly aware that my depression needs treatment, but wonder if that treatment must preclude a critical eye. Doesn't matter much what I think now; I no longer have health insurance, so I'll have to hope that certain more disturbing aspects of my condition simply ebb.
Hoboken, New Jersey
It's great to see Sharon Lerner bringing attention to the problems with managed health care [HMO Watch, October 20]. It's important that people get to read consumer stories, such as Lou and Anna Fay's difficulties getting coverage from Oxford for home care. Without the legal jargon, the problems seem more real.
Change can only be instituted through legislation. HMO liability is an important policy debate this year. The threat of being sued is the only thing that will get HMOs to listen. Make them liable, and access and quality of care will improve.
I admire Carol Brightman ["Vietnam Lore," October 13], who as editor of Viet-Report was one of the alternative press journalists who brought home the truth about the Vietnam War. That's why I was surprised that she relegated her main critique of the Library of America's Reporting Vietnam: American Journalism 1959-1975 to the last few paragraphs of her review.
That this two-volume set concentrates on the work of mainstream reporters who were eager to find good in the Vietnam atrocity, and largely ignores the work of reporters who weren't cutting the truth to serve corporate media bosses, reveals some basic problems with the editorial thinking behind the Library of America.
It's time for someone to launch a real Library of America. Let's start with a two-volume Reporting the Real Vietnam.
Why did Robert Christgau expect violence at the "Family Values" Tour ["Nothing's Shocking," October 13]?
Christgau's emphasis on Korn's "white male" audience is a direct affront to me. My enjoyment of Korn's music isn't a result of my sex or race. To assume that these things dictate my likes is to deny my value as a human being. I know only one other Korn fan who is white and male. The majority of the fans I know are neither white nor male.
Korn's audience, which I am proud to be a part of, loves Korn because Korn empowers them. In a world where they are objects of disdain and prejudice, Korn gives them a chance to be whole people.
J. M. White
Hoboken, New Jersey
In Gina Arnold's review of the new PJ Harvey album ["Love Taps," October 6], she states that Harvey's oeuvre and the Starr Report are "ignoble" narratives of "obsessive love."
While we're all patting ourselves on the back for our mature, appropriate, committed relationships, let's not forget that "obsessive love" was a primary force behind the works of Petrarch, Dante, Donne, and Shakespeare. We're all potentially vulnerable. It's the unmerciful prying by investigators that looks "delusional and dumb." How about some compassion for commonplace behavior?
Lambertville, New Jersey
I was impressed with Nat Hentoff's column "Kids Left Far Behind" [October 20]. I've felt for a long time that many students are overlooked as liberal white leaders pretend that education has improved and black leaders spout anti-white sentiment. Meanwhile, the children suffer.
It's difficult to support any leadership on education or race issues when those at the forefront are so far from the crux of the issues.
We need more people like Hugh Price, president of the National Urban League, and less Al Sharptons and Bill Clintons.
Re Rebecca Segall's "Holy Daze: Young Lubavitcher Hasidim in a World Without the Rebbe" [October 6]: The good that Lubavitch and its youths do is far greater than the bad. Lubavitch has changed thousands of lives. Lubavitch helps the homeless, offers counseling and youth programs, and is a spiritual haven for all.
Instead of focusing on how some fell after Rebbe Menachem Schneerson's passing, why not focus on how many more rose?
Miami Beach, Florida
Re Item #45 on C. Carr's list of 51 "great" moments in avant-garde history ["A Brief History of Outrage," September 22]: "1988: Guillermo Gómez-Peña's Border Brujo begins to shape the multicultural debate."
Multiculturalism was disastrous to the avant-garde--interdisciplinary and performance art in particular. It was seized upon by curators and administrators who needed a justification for spending the taxpayers' money in the wake of the debate over works by Andres Serrano and Robert Mapplethorpe. It provided them with the illusion that they were contributing to society. It was also embraced by (mostly white) critics who wanted to lay claim to the art scene. It was a distasteful spectacle to watch them play Gertrude Stein to the "savage" artists.
In its application, multiculturalism often meant the artists' "heritage," "ethnicity," or "race" took precedence over their ideas and individuality--this certainly goes against the spirit of the avant-garde as delineated in Carr's list.
Because so much boring community theater and artless social commentary were produced under the banner of multiculturalism, interdisciplinary and performance art stopped being "sexy" to the press as well as the audience. When public funding stopped coming, artists were left without a support system, unable to sell tickets or attract private funders.
Los Angeles, California
Call me A sentimental old Marxist/ Dadaist revolutionary, but I wept that C. Carr's list of the 51 greatest avant-gardisms omitted the '68 Paris Revolt, the Yippies attacking the Stock Exchange with dollar bills, and the Soviet constructivist threat to a capitalist state. Is avant-gardism merely a collection of pranks?
Bushnellsville, New York
I enjoyed Guy Trebay's profile of Dan Savage ["Live From the Wet Spot," October 13]. I was introduced to the Savage Love column last year and try to read it as often as possible. Tell Mr. Savage good luck with his kid, and keep up the good work.
An item by Michael Feingold in last week's Stage Left column misstated the date of singer Lotte Lenya's birth. She was born October 18, 1898.
A street fair celebrating Czech Independence Day will be held Saturday, October 24, at 3 p.m on 83rd Street between Madison and Park avenues. For information, call 516-728-5686.
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