Friday, May 22, 2020

The Final Solution: Is Social Distancing Making You Fat?



Is social distancing making you fat? Do you find yourself noshing before and after a Zoom? These are some of the questions that are being answered by prominent dieticians and cook book authors with first names like Ethel, all across the country. It’s not surprising since what's there to do when you're alone for hours on end, but eat? The fact that your regrets may become so real that you actually think by going over them again and again in your head you can somehow change things is also a product of the pandemic—which has produced a vicious cycle of eating and reliving the past. You know how Word sometimes informs you about the lapse of a particular function. “Not Accessible” signs may begin to pop up when you attempt to remember a particular era of your existence which now seems so far away as to comprise a separate geologic era. Anecdotal evidence suggests that apart from avoiding drugs like hydroxychloroquine, it’s best to remove Ritz and Saltines from your cupboard until the lockdown comes to an end and you can again begin to act out your frustrations on other people and creatures who lack the ability to defend themselves.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Final Solution: White Heat


Have you noticed that you feel irritable and want to take out your feelings of discomfort on creatures smaller and more helpless than you—like ants? If you’re in solitary and it’s a rodent, you simply crush it, rather than let it thrive as you might if you’re were motivated by more halcyon or benevolent spirits. You kill and crush and destroy. It’s no wonder that the Big House is a violent place. Remember the scene in White Heat (1949) where Cagney learns his mother had died. Human beings don’t like being locked up, despite the internet of everything where even coffee pots are intelligent and you can shoot the shit with Alexa, your virtual assistant or old girlfriends like Simi or Zoom yourself into oblivion. Yes Zoom starts to become like talking to yourself in the mirror or one of those dreams where a burglar is stealing your stuff and you try to strike him and your punches do nothing. Zoom is like striking air and it does indeed generate lots of hot air in the one isolated little room from which it emanates. You’re told to accommodate and have patience and not be like those assholes who hope that they can just go about their business and “away go troubles down the drain,” as they used to do in the old Roto-Rooter commercial, but it's hard not to lose your temper. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Final Solution: Podcast


Do you notice that you're feeling more irritable, more easily aggravated than usual and more prone to seeing what's wrong with everything and anybody, particularly if you are lucky enough to be able to break bread with somebody in these socially distant times? Do you notice that you’re starting to look at your significant other, if you have one, through the wrong end of the telescope, seeing only the things you've always hated about them, rather than their good qualities. Not to make light of severe mental disturbances in which people find themselves talking to the adult version of imaginary friends, but there comes a point where settling-in-place can start to feel like a new, virally created Gulag. At first there were hosannas about the newfound methods of teleconferencing that enable people to work at home and have their cake too (ie yoga, therapy and even an occasional tryst). What about a universe with no more rush hour commutes to worry about? Why not let the signpost at the beginning of your day be composed of a set of pixels on a screen, rather than just the flesh and blood of the cop on the corner or the newspaper boy throwing the daily paper on your doorstep? Put another way, will there ever be virtual zoos? Would monkeys and apes be just as happy if there were no House of Apes and they just saw each other’s images on monitors? Man, like his ancestors and predecessors, is a social animal. After the honeymoon with technology ends and you start to realize that you’re alone with spaceship earth being transformed into its lowest common denominator, a little pod of confinement, only slightly larger than one of those ski lifts in the Alps, then you’re understandably going to become seriously upset. Way back in l925 someone named Emory S. Bogardus began research that culminated in his creation of a "social distance scale."

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Final Solution: Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer


"Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer" by Rembrandt
Here is a list of activities which will likely be threatened in the future. It may seem sacrilegious to predict the demise of places which have provided such a source of comfort in the past. Yet, the pandemic is going to literally put the fear of God in everyone. Not the fear of God’s wrath mind you, but the fear of picking something up from God, in the form of a fellow congregant at your church or temple. Of course, congregations provide such a vital function to so great a swath of humanity they will likely be spared the long-term effects of the plague. But what about movie theaters, artists and writers’ colonies, academic institutions (excluding professional schools of medicine or law where clinical practice is the training), chains of gyms becoming unlinked (society will be returned to the 50s when no one exercised)? Forget massage and physical therapy. Brothels, tanning salons and nail polishing salons will all bite the dust. The Metropolitan Opera and legitimate theaters will be affected. If The White House is no longer safe, what is? Trump has done a lot of ventilating, but will he be successful in getting the ventilators that are going to be needed even in the highest office in the land? OK, yes. However, curiously, museums of the most grandiloquent kind (like the Met which allow for social distancing) may be spared. The opening scenes of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch now take on a reality they never had before. Certainly, seeing “Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer” on a virtual tour is unlikely to do it. Department stores? What’s that? Neiman Marcus and J. Crew have both filed for bankruptcy.

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Rules of the Game


In Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game (1939), Octave (played by the director himself) famously intones, “you see in this world there is one awful thing, everyone has his reasons.” The hunt plays a central role in the movie which takes place at La Coliniere, the country estate of the aristocratic Marquis de la Chesnaye (Marcel Dalio). What better place to explore the play of will and self-justified desire--with the great chain of being (from man to animal) that goes along with it. There’s a fine interplay between the hunt as social activity with conventions and mores and the fact that it has  consequences, sometimes tragic for both man and beast. The scenes of the chase itself are painterly with their exquisite landscape of fallen animals and predatory men. In fact, the theme of snaring a poacher plays a literal and figurative role in the film. The Marquis employs the technique on a local thief as he does on Alain Jurieux (Robert Toulain), the famous aviator who’s arrived at the estate to steal his wife, Christine (Nora Gregor). He traps the enemy by befriending him. Significantly in a play put on during a feast at the chateau Octave is dressed up as a bear, a costume he has trouble doffing. One is reminded of the senseless duel in The Three Sisters where the troubled Solyony shoots the Baron in a senseless duel, thereby cutting short Irina's chances for escape. The equally senseless death in the movie is dismissed as an accident, but the disquisition tips it’s hat to Beaumarchais and the 18th century comedy of love, albeit with a darker side. Nicholas Chamfort is cited at one moment in this study of human foibles, “Love as, it exists in society, is nothing but the exchange of two fantasies and the contact of two skins.” The fact that the Marquis is a Jew and that the movie was made on the eve of war adds another level to the play between the film’s frivolous exterior and its profoundly unsettling denouement.

Friday, May 15, 2020

The Final Solution: Return to the Planet of the Apes



Everyone is talking about normalcy, but when you consider the constellation of objects in the universe, a great deal is likely to be changed, once so-called everyday life is resumed. During the pandemic you may have engaged in therapy over a video conferencing medium like Zoom and when it becomes safe to go out, you may find yourself asking why not continue meeting electronically? Saves a subway, cab or bus trip and a helluva a lot of time. Regular doctors had already been experimenting with telemedicine before coronavirus. Perhaps some inventive person will come up with a way that dentists can treat cavities and even root canals remotely. Instead of going in for your six month prophylaxis with the hygienist, you will purchase a robot that sits in your bathroom and occasionally cleans your teeth, an oversized version of your current electronic mouth pick. Let’s say a tooth cleaning runs around $200. You could easily amortize the cost of a  dental hygienist over a reasonable period of time. And from the point of view of care providers, seeing pixilated forms of their patients is going to be a lot cheaper than paying the kind of expensive rents traditionally commanded by professional space. Office rents will spiral down along with the price of oil, which recently attained a negative per barrel value. You're likely never to meet a lawyer or accountant, though you'll probably end up paying the same fees. The gym is a no brainer when you have Peleton. Old-fashioned guys, remember the days when you rushed down to Brown’s Pharmacy to get a sneak peek at the latest Playboy centerfoldWell that’s a good metaphor for just about everything. You’ll neither need a place or a thing in the new post coronavirus world. Why go anywhere when the whole world's at your fingertips?

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Final Solution: The Metropolis Formerly Known as New York

Prince's "Controversy" album
"Manhattan Faces a Reckoning If Working From Home Becomes the Norm,"(NYT, 5/12/20). The Cassandra-like headline hearkened the demise of New York skyline, that almost surreal vision that greets you when you drive home from the airport. The idea was that social distancing has taught us a lesson: it’s easier, cheaper and above all safer to work at home. There’s obviously some practical truth in this recognition, but will Manhattan be turned into a desolate vista of futuristic despoliation out of Mad Max? Will comic book Terminator types bound up and down deserted colossus squats taken over by vampire gangs? This all discountenances one funadamental element: socialization. Man is a social animal and work, like education, is comparable to clinical medicine to the extent that it’s based on a pragmatic approach to learning and practice. But let’s take the worst case scenario with businesses of all forms literally being propagated in computers which can produce cars by way of 3-D printing. Carrying this whole premise to its logical conclusion will people also move their homes on line, with their former apartments being replaced with a Zoom address? What about a world where the body becomes the problem and human consciousness simply exists in computers which are capable of virtual reality? Then no one will either have to make rent or mortgage payments. Remember the "Artist Formerly Known as Prince.” Will there be a "City Formerly Known as New York?"

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Final Solution: Transitional Object


There’s strength in numbers goes the old saw, but the current pandemic presents a situation that's diametrically opposed to the aphorism. The sense of congregation which has historically been the way people meet hardships and crises is not the medicine that anyone would suggest for the current affliction. In fact, social distance and sheltering-in-place are the two memes that are prescribed. When you think about it, coronavirus is unique due to its level of contagion. Remember D. W. Winnicott’s transitional object, usually something that a child employs to give him or her comfort? In essence, it’s become incumbent on most people to become their own transitional object. They have to be their single-minded prayer group. If someone has died, they have to provide a solitary wake. They will sit shiva by themselves. Electronic conferencing provides one outlet, but after engaging in Zoom for days on end, the initial excitement begins to wear thin, as you realize you're further away from those people who have usually been a source of intimacy than ever. There's something unsettling about talking to someone, then watching as their image dissolves right before your eyes as you press the "leave the meeting" button and they exeunt in the oblivion of electronic data that's the legacy of a completed cybernetic transaction. Electronic couplings are a lot like fantasy, even of the Walter Mitty kind.There’s the initial thrill, then the hangover as the chimera  before you vanishes and you’re left with no other alternative then the prospect of a new hit of the cyber-defibrillator to bring the dead back to life.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The Final Solution: Love Story


“Love means never having to say you’re sorry” was the mantra of Erich Segal’s Love Story (1970). You may not be saying you’re sorry, but you may be getting used to saying “no,” both to yourself and others in this era of social distancing. "No!" is a sentence is another common saw of the #MeToo culture, but the problem with saying "no" too much can be that the shoe starts to fit the foot. You feel comfortable. It’s easier to decline something than to involve yourself in the often conflicted process of seeking pleasure. You may have noticed that with sex. You stop doing it and the ability literally atrophies. It’s a little like what has happened with cursive writing which many in this age of keyboards have literally forgotten how to do. So reentry into normal social relationships once the CDC guidelines have been lifted may be easier said than done. You may ask yourself “do I really need to see them?” “is it really that much fun? It’s going to be work to resume the old routines and relationships. One of the few silver linings of the pandemic was to put many of the superficial indignities one faces in going out in the world on the back burner. There was a détente between you and the life of rejection or dejection. The self-protective cocoon you created to fight the disease turned out to be mildly liberating. When the number of new cases goes down and businesses start to open up, you’re also going to have to face the Monday morning blues. Will you be like one of those space capsules that burns up when it re-enters into the atmosphere?

Monday, May 11, 2020

Drive-By-Art

"When" by Toni Ross and Sara Salaway (photograph by Hallie Cohen)
The recent "Drive-By-Art: Public Art In this Moment of Social Distancing" event, organized by Warren Neidich, is an example of an ingenious way of accomodating to the limitations of living life in a pandemic. It’s the artistic version of the old drive-in theater—which by the way could very well make a comeback when and if filmgoers turn out to prefer the safety and comfort of their cars to actually being in multiplex. Legitimate theaters may also soon take advantage of a similar concept, though outdoor theater like Shakespeare in the Park already has a long and storied history. Drive-By-Art is in itself a work of conceptual art to the extent that it proposes an alternative to the very notion of the museum. Who knows what the cultural implications of such a piece of agit prop will be? It could hearken the end of galleries and museums or in a more likely scenario simply turn out to be a practical placeholder giving contemporary artists a venue until the world returns to a modicum of normalcy. On a recent evening Wainscott residents were able to walk down Main Street to see "Nighttime Video Installation," a kaleidoscopic work by Clifford Ross. During the day, Tony Ross and Sarah Salaway's "When," a conceptual piece comprised of a line of stenciled folding metal chairs following a chronology of dates leading to a pileup denotated simply “yesterday,” “today” and “tomorrow” was exhibited nearby on Beach Lane. Eric Fischl, Keith Sonnier, Suzanne Anker and Nina Yankowitz were among the around 50 artists exhibiting their work.

Friday, May 8, 2020

The Final Solution: Looking Back on the Pandemic of 2020


You will hopefully not contract the coronavirus but your grandchildren will no doubt remember back to the pandemic of 2020. There was a second wave of the Spanish flu of l918 which eventually ended-up lasting until 1920 perhaps because of a relaxing of precautions. Katherine Anne Porter's novel Pale Horse, Pale Rider dealt with the legacy of the disease. The sweep of the current pandemic is certainly the stuff of legend. How much of a teaching device it becomes remains to be seen. The Spanish flu affected 500 million people worldwide and is estimated to have caused 50 million deaths with 675, 000 in the US. But beyond the numbers what are the salient characteristics that will be pointed out? Will it be the fact that the illness apparently didn’t spread from China to the U.S but primarily from Europe to NY where it was brought by thousands of air travelers whose arrival went unmonitored until it was already too late. Will “social distancing” or “shelter-in-place” be some of the key words implored by posterity’s internet searches? Of course, getting back to remembrance, it may depend on your family tree? The tenth plague was the murder of all first-born sons and there are families who have experienced unimaginable losses, much like those suffered by victims of Holocaust, the firebombing of Dresden, the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the bombing of the world trade center on 9/11. Even though the pandemic would be looked at as an equal opportunity employer, not discriminating as a result of class or race, economic inequality still has been a factor, with the lower income demographic of many blacks and Hispanics making them more vulnerable by virtue of the inferior health care they receive. Or there's another possibility, that the coronavirus will turn out to pale in comparison to all the other diseases and catastrophes that were the result of global warming and that ended up imperiling the future of life on earth?

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Sperm Count: Real Sex



Real Sex was the name of an HBO series, but never has real sex, at least between strangers, created such a bad vibe. Sites like Chaturbate, now offering the services of unemployed lap dancers, are probably doing a land office business. However, Thy Neighbor’s Wife, the title of Gay Talese’s famous study of sexual infidelity, is definitely not on the table, either in fact, or as a permissible option, however bored one might be getting sheltering-in-place. Chekhov's three sisters dreamt of going to Moscow. Now Bangkok, is as slim an escape possibility as Siam once was in The King and I. How's one to maintain social distance in a massage parlor? Face masks are even more challenging than dental dams which became all the rage in the era when HIV rather than coronavirus was the great fear. Still when one thinks about it, there are still going to be those who ruled by passions, will not be able to follow the CDC guidelines, even with the stakes being so high. Let’s say an unhappily married woman falls for the now unemployed bartender who lives down the block. Will she sneak out from beside her snoring husband in the middle of the night, even with two children sleeping in the next room, to gratify her desires. Tune in next week. Leidenshaft is the German word for passion with its root “leiden” meaning suffering.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

The Final Solution: Coronavirus and Socialization




Human beings are social animals, but how does one connect to humanity in the age of COVID-19? Can Zooming be regarded a substitute for socialization? And conversely what about road rage or getting in a fistfight on the street? Perhaps, looking at a possible silver lining, social distancing mandates will prevent people from having destructive interactions which could ultimately result in manslaughter charges. On a less salubrious note one is left with  Plato’s famed allegory in which elusive ideal forms are only perceivable as shadows on a wall. There's no doubt that the camera image from a computer or laptop only gives a highly abbreviated notion of the person you once knew and it’s debatable whether it contains the signature qualities of even say an old-fashioned hand written letter. In addition, seeing someone on a computer screen is a little like one of those enigmatic messages in a bottle, that washes up on the shore. Zooming is the technology du jour and its praises are routinely sung by the vast audience it now commands. But how can one talk about interaction without the perception of a human body moving along a trajectory in time? The Zoom screen is highly artificial and only a relatively minor advancement from the old-fashioned slide show on which business presentations and family albums were displayed. Encounters between human beings are, in actuality, complex events involving a variety of psychological, neurological (remember mirror neurons) and even spiritual elements. Further one wonders how human beings will acclimate themselves to each other after long periods of isolation in which human contact is limited to digitized forms of communication. There’s no doubt that being alone in a room with another person is far different from being alone with a pixelated image.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

The Final Solution: Did #MeToo Presage Coronavirus?


The current pandemic is not the only event which has shaken up the world and left a universe that's vastly changed. Odysseus returns from his exploits unrecognized except by his faithful Argos, but Everyman is now facing a reverse crisis in which the perception of cherished verites is constantly challenged. In neurology there’s a condition called Capgras syndrome where a familiar looking countenance appears to be occupied by an imposter. There’s also prosopagnosia where faces themselves all elude identification. Even before coronavirus cut its path of destruction, sexual politics in the form of the #MeToo movement had produced watersheds in the history of culture, sweeping aside blatant monsters like Harvey Weinstein while at the same time leaving a legacy of destruction on the cultural landscape that blacklisted huge swathes of men whose work or behavior ran afoul of the thought police—among these Garrison Keillor and Ian Buruma of The New York Review of Books who lost his position simply because he allowed a shunned Canadian journalist a platform in which to speak his piece. Alas, social distancing may turn out to be a survival mechanism for those who march to the beat of a different drummer. The pathetic fallacy is a literary device in which nature mirrors the inner soul. The earth was shaking for some people whose careers were already destroyed when coronavirus struck. Without resorting to mysticism, can it be said that the Pandora's box unlocked by MeToo#, the problems of the environment (including green gas warming) and the generalized excesses of modern life all presaged a condition where the planet itself became totally diseased, leaving human society on the verge of collapse?

Monday, May 4, 2020

Diasporic Dining: The Hungry-Person Selects




Hungry-Man Fried Chicken Selects (photo: Francis Levy)
What's the ideal dish for a catastrophe or even pandemic? What combines the good old days with the innocence of childhood and the memory of a time when brand names were friendly. Remember the Jolly Green Giant and Johnny Roventini, the Philip Morris bellboy with his "call for Philip Morris" (in the days before cigarette smoking was deemed tantamount to suicide)? Remember when you associated Johnson & Johnson with babies (and before there was evidence that their baby powder may have contained asbestos "Johnson&Johnson knew for decades that asbestos lurked in its Baby Powder,"Reuters, 12/14/18)? Remember Esso’s “put a tiger in your tank!” Well sorry H. Rap Brown, but violence isn’t as American as cherry pie.” It’s as American as a TV dinner. If you not sure what the future holds, then there is nothing more comforting than the Hungry-Man Fried Chicken Selects--which also happens to be immune to the problems of meat processing plants closing down since it's frozen. With its little compartments devoted to the main dish, corn, potatoes and even a brownie dessert, you feel totally safe and protected. It's just one step away from the security of asking for separate checks when you go out for dinner with some free spenders. If you’ve ever seen one, you’ll understand that the very design is a like a medieval castle with its moat. It’s going to be exceedingly difficult for anyone to lean over and steal your food. Your piping hot portions sit right before you in  easily defensible spaces and you don’t have to worry about someone hogging the way they do when they keep the platter of meat or the bowl of mashed potatoes on their side of the table. Even the politically incorrect name is somehow reassuring—though watch out Hungry-Man is likely to be putting out a line of Hungry-Person meals aimed at the "affirmative consent" crowd. 

Friday, May 1, 2020

The Final Solution: REM Sleep


Whenever something untoward occurs, the first impulse is to think you’ve been caught in a nightmare from which you have yet to awaken. Dream time is in the eye of the beholder. While the REM sleep in which dreams occur may exist in a fairly circumscribed temporal space (say from l0 minutes to an hour), it can seem like a lifetime, depending on the dream. Certain dreams possess a kind of dimensionality which allows them to increase their oneiric demographic. They become like one of those satellite radio stations that can be picked up anywhere. “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake,” Stephen Daedalus famously said. However, the present nightmare looks like it’s here to stay. No one ever said a dreamer would be spared the executioner’s sword—which may explain how some people die in their sleep. Imagine, however, that you have been trapped in a dream of a pandemic, which the rest of the world has either already awakened from or in fact never actually had. It’s like those carriers of coronavirus who're asymptomatic. You, in the meanwhile, have sheltered-in-place and are even more socially distant than you would normally be (which is saying something if you tend to be the self-isolating sort). “In your dreams," is a line that people use when they’re telling someone to wake up and face reality. But that’s a fait accompli for anyone who shares your perhaps jaundiced view that the world is about to spin off of its axis, taking the whole planet with it. “Wake up, wake up! You’re having a bad dream” is what your partner in likely to intone, when you cry out in the night. You should start to get suspicious, when it turns out they’ve been having the same dream.