The moment you introduce the idea of power into any context, the potential for corruption and abuse is limitless. We may breathe air and live on bread, but we live in a world of numbers.
Numbers are loaded with symbolism, and carry significance and power. They are often wielded to demand all kinds of preferential treatment and privileges by all sorts bodies and organisations that purport to represent people.
Sometimes numbers are not always representational; we under estimate and over estimate things on a regular basis, and like stocks on the exchange, value can be relative to any one single day.
I love the Towleroad blog for its round up of world news and gay issues. It recently reported that a fringe group in the US called 'One Million Moms', which one commentator on the site rightly noted would be more appropriately titled 'A few thousand women who can't count', attempted to start a viral campaign against JC Penny for what they deemed was the organisation's inappropriate use of Ellen DeGeneres as the brand spokesperson given that she was a lesbian and represented non Christian values.
I know many gay people who consider themselves Christian, or Buddhist or Muslim and have no issue in maintaining their values despite how their religions may interpret their teachings or doctrines, good or bad. I think they have grown tired of always having to defend their own faith because of the way other people with similar religious inclinations interpret their own faith. And to JC Penny's credit, they stood by Ellen and ignored the threats of boycott if Ellen wasn't from her post.
Despite that attempt, One Million Moms (their count, not mine) again have expressed outrage, staging an online campaign against Toys R Us for stocking an issue of the famous Archie comic series, whose recent issue depicted a same sex marriage celebration on its cover. Its one thing to ignore or choose not to purchase a product. It's a capitalist idea, and succinctly, the numbers will speak on their own behalf. Its another thing entirely to threaten mass boycotts.
Social media is a powerful tool, one which can be increasingly exploited for good or bad. People power via the internet is fast defining this new decade and powerful (and not so powerful) lobby groups are setting the scene.
Whilst to some extent these online petitions are a logical way in which people can create debate, express themselves and find comfort in like minded company, when they are used to curtail the hard won freedoms of other social groups I find them incredibly distasteful.
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As part of my continuing work with Kunstpedia, a non profit organisation whose mission is to encourage greater public engagement with the arts, I will be visiting a number of exhibitions across Rome over the coming weeks.
Kunstpedia has a number of correspondents across major European cities and in New York and spotlights the historical arts (basically pre-1960s).
I have been covering exhibitions in Rome in recent months and I have generally sought out exhibitions which are a little off from the Italian mainstream, including visiting exhibits from Russia and a recent exhibition focusing on Orientalism.
Upcoming exhibits will be a little more standard fare by Italian standards, but Rome's exhibition scene is constantly evolving, so hopefully there will be some interesting intercultural exhibitions on the horizon in 2012.
I'll be posting soon, but in the meantime you can visit kunstpedia by way of my column page here.
Now that the weather is finally on the up in Rome, I'm starting to wake from my winter slumber and slowly getting out again and rediscovering the city.
The thing that I am finding interesting is that now that I have woken from my winter slumber, the places that are more enticing to me are places that seem to be screaming mid twentieth century; 1950s-1970s.
Rome's deeply layered evolution is well known, but we tend to focus on its Roman era or simply limit ourselves to the centro storico which never ceases to amaze.
But to me, part of Rome's charm is that its strata includes places that are only a few decades old; intact, unrefurbished.
Once upon a time the idea of wood panelling would give me the creeps. And true, I never want to see them in my apartment, but, in order to successfully capture the progressive development of design and the ambience of a city, its important that even the unappreciated design elements are left standing.
This is something that is a bit of a taboo area, particularly in my home country of Australia, where we for years, have been consumed with the idea of continual renewal, refurbishment and redesign. The unfortunate side effect of this is that it seems to wipe out entire decades that we consider unfashionable from the cities that we live in, leaving something of a gap and creating something artificial instead.
Throughout Italy's cities, big and small, establishments that have never been redecorated stand proudly and are frequented based on reputation, on familiarity, on the quality of the products they offer. When I think of a city like Melbourne, which has a relatively short history in comparison, ''hokiness'', that is the idea of something a little outdated and unfashionable sometimes is appreciated in this sense. Think of the fab Vietnamese restaurants on Victoria Street and how after refurbishment and gentrification how they lose something of their charm. Then apply that idea large scale to a city of four million and you get the idea of how charm and heritage are endangered species, that are as succeptable to extinction as any every entity in the natural world.
A few years ago I lived in Kyoto, a city which remains firmly entrenched in my heart. For most Westerners Kyoto is the picturesque Japanese city of dreams, rich in history, steeped in tradition, the home to much of the soul of Japanese culture. When I first visited Kyoto, the city centre struck me as incredibly dated, like something out of the 1960s, full of brass and chrome and windows tinted brown. I didn't initially appreciate it, but once I moved there I did, and I came to love the city as much for its Heian heritage as I did its more challenging legacies.
So now, in Rome and Italy in general, I am back on the appreciation bandwagon. I'm digging places that I will never find in Wallpaper or Architectural Digest, partly because I feel like I am being let in on a secret past, and partly because these are still functional places that pull people in and don't leave any doubts or gaps in my understanding of how the city might have looked thirty or forty years ago, classical and historical buildings not withstanding.
So next time you look for a new place to champion, look beyond the usual deck outs and seek out something a bit more real. You might find a new level of appreciation and perhaps encourage others to make do, rather than encourage them to rip the heart and soul out of their spaces in an attempt to stay relevant.
It's bad enough when friends try and make me go to their children's recitals.
Okay, well, they don't, but I find even the abstract idea absurd that I am supposed to be appreciative of kids and their singing. To me, that's already two strikes.
But more offensive than their parents who want to fill school auditorium seats with bodies of people who are basically being blackmailed and cajoled to make an appearance is when pop artists bring children into the studio and record them for perpetuity.
No. NO. NO!
In Italy, Loredana Berte is a sacred object. Mad, bonkers, kind of like an aged Courtney Love but a better singer. I admit, sometimes she makes me laugh. Like recently at the San Remo festival, she draped a Che Guevera flag over her balcony in the middle of the town to express her solidarity with those being affected by the austerity measures in Italy. That made me chuckle. And the fact that she continues to harp on about her failed marriage to Bjorn Bjorg cracks me up. But seriously, when it comes to her music, which is sacred as to many people in my circle here I have to draw the line. Case in point; Aqua. Not my cup of tea, but tolerable nonsense. That is until those damn kids come in. I mean seriously, what is she doing? Inflicting those annoying prepubescent voices on the world. And people lapping it up? No!
Lauryn Hill you make my list for your involvement in Sister Act. I don't care how young you were at the time. Michael and Janet Jackson flagrant abusers of this type of audio torture whose many offences can not be listed here. Pink Floyd (well I hate them in general anyway), Red Hot Chili Peppers (Aeroplane! Hope it crashes!), Nelly Furtado (Afraid). I'm sure Mariah Carey is on that list somewhere.
Frankly, the only person I will ever forgive for this is Martika. Toy Soldiers was the bomb! And that video where she had a long wig and a school uniform. AMAZING!!!! Too bad she squandered her significant talents! Curse of the children I am sure!
In the last few weeks there has been a global outpouring of grief, disbelief and resignation to Whitney Houston's death.
At her best Whitney was as beautiful as a model, a singer without peer and fascinating both during her significant prime and then seemingly endless self destruction.
The power of music is that it often provides a backdrop to our lives, and if you think about Whitney Houston and consider that commercially she had an almost unassailable decade at the top (1985-1994), its not unusual to expect that a legacy from those years will remain.
But the fact is that Whitney, compared to many of her peers and contemporaries, was often an inferior artist in the overall sense, notwithstanding those amazing vocals from the first half of her career.
Whitney was a consummate singer, a chanteuse who was at her best delivering icy ballads, and for years nobody from her generation could even think to compare vocally. This however was something of a trap for her and her management who repeatedly steered her catalogue towards middle of the road, formulaic muzak.
Unfortunately, much of what Whitney recorded dated very quickly, is often questionable in relation to subject matter (did feminists ever take umbrage in her song choices?) and aside from her sometimes gritty vocals is the kind of schmaltz that is best left back in the 1980s and 1990s.
The phenomenal success of The Bodyguard soundtrack is a case in point. The movie and soundtrack were unequivocal successes, the songs mere showcases for her vocal abilities, but twenty years on act more like old photos to mark a time that has passed rather than attest to any enduring significance. That these songs so completely dominated the airwaves between 1992 and 1994, racking up record breaking sales and chart successes would prove to be a mixed blessing for Whitney.
In a way, The Bodyguard was like a greatest hits album. Once its been released, it somehow marks a decline in the fortunes of the rest of a performer's career. Commercially, this was definitely the case for Whitney; where she once dominated the US charts, the week after her death marked the first time twelve years that she had reached the US Top 40.
Once the 1990s rolled out, we began to see the beginnings of the demise of her vocals for well documented reasons, but Whitney's music also became more interesting. My Love Is Your Love was one of the first credible steps she took towards RnB, after mixed attempts through the 80s How Will I Know, I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me) and 90s I'm Your Baby Tonight, My Name Is Not Susan did little to suggest that she was more than a vocalist on alternatively bubblegum and more generic attempts at RnB and New Jill Swing.
Later releases such as I Look To You hid occasional gems (Call You Tonight) amongst more of the same attempts at balladry, HipHop and RnB stylings, but without the voice we loved so much, Whitney didn't have much else to offer us, and as such, her reality TV fate was sealed.
Have a listen to her Greatest Hits album...see if you can sit through all those ballads and not squirm uncomfortably, or wonder what the hell the neighbours are thinking of you.
Dave Di Vito
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Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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