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BEING THERE: Fetty Wap @ The Foundry

February 12th, 2016



When I climbed into the Uber that would take me to the Fillmore to see Fetty Wap, I had two realistic expectations in mind: getting ‘too turnt,’ and as a result, risking ‘alcohol-exposed’ pregnancy as advised against by the CDC. Ouseman, the Uber driver, had been busy driving degenerates like myself to the sold-out Fillmore all night. He attempted to casually switch his preferred jazz station to a hip hop one that I guess seemed more appropriate for a young trap queen like he assumed I was. Meek Mill began to blare, nearly making us both deaf on the spot. Little did Ouseman know, I’m not exactly a typical Fetty Wap fan. I would have been perfectly content with the jazz station and the conversation he started about our hometowns. We both agreed that Fetty Wap probably wouldn’t be playing in Mali, where he was from, anytime soon. Sadly, you can only bond so much in a three-minute car ride.

My first impression of The Fillmore, the shiny and relatively new venue in town, was that it felt similar to walking through the TSA, except with wall-to-wall Pinterest-inspired décor and 21+ wristband checkpoints everywhere. Waiting in the photo pit for Fetty Wap’s set, I sat through two embarrassing acts of ‘rising stardom’ in 2016— some generic lip-syncing and dancing girl group whose name eludes me at the moment, and Post Malone, who performed a song called “White Iverson” about saucin’ and swaggin’, which he thought up after he got his hair braided in cornrows and figured he looked like a white version of Allen Iverson. He sang another unremarkable but laughable song about wiping away his tears with money. The opening acts were fitting, because the crowd was made of approximately 75 percent white girls and guys with similarly appropriated cornrows, in addition to various basic tattoos like birds and infinity symbols.

At one point, one of Fetty Wap’s hype men walked towards the edge of the stage to where I stood, right in front of the World’s Most Basic Fan Girls, and pulled out a wad of cash. The only time in my life when I wish I’d had a butterfly net at a concert was right then— sometimes rent gets hard to come by. The girls in the crowd tapped me on the shoulder and pointed at money on the ground that they couldn’t reach, begging for me to puhleeeease grab it for them. So naturally, I picked it up, did my best to dramatically wave them around to the beat of the music, and shoved them in my pockets. In that moment, I was prepared to be Crowd Enemy Number One. Indeed, I was on the receiving end of hella side eye, except for one forgiving girl whose hand rose for a high-five. I knew that Fetty Wap’s set was about to begin when another girl grabbed my arm and started hitting me, as though that hilarious time when I kept the two fallen dollars for myself brought us closer than ever.
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CINEMA: American Unexceptionalism

February 12th, 2016

Prepare TO Be Liberated


WHERE TO INVADE NEXT (2015, directed by Michael Moore, 119 minutes, U.S.)

Buskirk AvatarBY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC Screened for critics back in December, Michael Moore’s latest documentary Who To Invade Next, has dramatically changed context in recent weeks.  In December, Moore’s first film in six years seemed like another potent film essay critical of American politics.  Today, the film plays like an impassioned plea for the Presidential candidate who has made the issues discussed within a centerpiece of his campaign, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

Despite the title, the film’s subject is not our military policy, it is is our country’s meager program of social services, consistently under the budget cutters’ knife since the Reagan revolution.  Back in the ’80s it began with cutting society’s safety nets; welfare, social security, and unemployment.  Forty years later U.S. citizens are finding out they don’t deserve libraries, public schools or safe drinking water.

“People think they should get education and health care for free!” the Conservative cry goes, yet across Europe citizens believe that these are the things that their taxes should supply.  Throughout the film the well-upholstered Mr. Moore travels to Germany, France, Italy, Finland, Iceland and beyond to examine social services that seem luxurious in comparison to their U.S. counterparts.

French schoolchildren eat what looks like nutritious fine restaurant fare, Italian have a month off in summer and maintain productivity, Norwegians have lockless, humane jails with low recidivism and the humble little nation of Slovenia, where college is free and they even enroll U.S. and other foreign students free of charge.  The extent of these programs may seem shocking to U.S. eyes but Moore makes the point that so many of these programs were based on U.S. programs that have withered and died in recent decades.

Moore’s humor is still intact and his montages of the madness of American life reverberate with the darkest shade of black humor.   Yet the final effect of Who to Invade Next is one of terrible sadness about a country that doesn’t comprehend that the success or failure of its citizens is the true State of the Nation.

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RIGHT ABOUT NOW: Lee Fields, Funk Soul Brother

February 12th, 2016



BY JONATHAN VALANIA Lee Fields may well be the slowest-rising star in show business — he’s certainly among the sweetest. At 63, an age when most artists of his style and stature have long since been put out to pasture, Fields’ career is just now catching fire, after decades of fits and starts — and even a premature retirement in the 80s — stretching back to his first recording in 1969. Which works out well because everybody knows that happy endings in show biz come to those who see it as a marathon, not a sprint. And by anyone’s measure, Lee Fields is winning, and not just in the Charlie Sheen sense of the word.

Born in the South but having lived most of his life in or around New York City, Fields was blessed with voice that many compared to a young James Brown, so much so that he was dubbed ‘Little JB’. Fields rode out the 70’s with a string of rawboned funk/soul recordings that never quite became hits, but years later would become prized artifacts amongst hardcore soul scholar/collectors. Frustrated by his lack of commercial success and with a family to raise, Fields quit music and went into real estate. But the fire in the belly never really went away.

At his wife’s urging he started performing again in the 90s, eventually finding himself in the employ of Gabe Kaplan and Philippe Lehman, a pair of Brooklyn hipster soul merchants, who were almost single-handedly reviving the classic funk/soul brotherhood with labels like Desco, Soul Fire and Daptone. This led to a hitmaking partnership with French DJ/house music It Boy Martin Solveig in the early aughts and culminated in Faithful Man, his 2012 homage to the Philly International sound. In advance of his Valentine’s Day show at The Foundry on Sunday, we got Mr. Fields on the phone to talk about all the above and then some.

PHAWKER: Tell me about how you learned to sing.Lee-Fields-CROPPED

LEE FIELDS: My mother was a gospel singer, singing in the church. My dad had a band when he was a young man, and had all the latest records and stuff around the house. Between the church and between my dad, it was inevitable. I was destined to do music. But I didn’t take it serious as a singer until I was about fourteen, when I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. I said, “Oh man, that looks like a cool thing to do.” One night I had a dare to go on a talent show. I took my friend up on the dare, and won the talent show. And when I saw the girls going crazy I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
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OK GO: Upside Down & Inside Out

February 11th, 2016

TECH CRUNCH: To create the video, the S7 Airlines plane flew up and down in a wave-like path. This parabolic motion created the sensation of zero gravity for the band members who were free-falling inside the plane. Parabolic flights have been around for decades. They’ve been used to train astronauts, conduct science experience, shoot movies like nasa-parabolic-planeApollo 13, and even conduct photo shoots like Kate Upton’s famous Sports Illustrated Swimsuit ZeroG shoot. During parabolic flights passengers experience periods of hypergravity (typically around 1.8 times gravity) and microgravity (close to 1 millionth the force of gravity you feel while standing on the surface of Earth). Typically, these flights will generate about 20-25 seconds of hypergravity and 25-30 seconds of weightlessness.  If you watch closely, you can point out periods during the OK Go video where the band members are experiencing hypergravity, meaning the plane was beginning to accelerate up the curve of the wave. MORE

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NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When U Can’t

February 10th, 2016



FRESH AIR: I’m Terry Gross. My guest, Zach Galifianakis, stars in the new FX comedy series “Baskets.” He co-created the show with Louis C.K., who’s also one of the executive producers. Galifianakis co-starred in “The Hangover” movies. In “Birdman,” he played the producer and right-hand man of Michael Keaton’s character. Galifianakis created the web series “Between Two Ferns,” a satirical interview show on the Funny Or Die website, in which he plays the disaffected host who asks inappropriate questions to his celebrity guests. The guests are real celebrities who appear as themselves. His most famous guest was President Obama. We’ll talk about that later.

In Galifianakis’s new series, “Baskets,” he plays Chip Baskets whose dream is to be an artistic, poetic clown. In the opening episode, he’s studying in Paris at a French clown academy, but he doesn’t speak French and has no idea what is being said, so he’s learning nothing. That’s typical of how his life is going. He returns home to Bakersfield, Calif., with his new wife, a French woman who’s made it clear she doesn’t love him or even like him. The only reason she has married him is to get a green card. She refuses to live with him. He’s staying at a cheap, rundown motel, and he can’t even afford that. In this scene from episode one, he interviews for a job as a rodeo clown at a small time local rodeo. […] I always thought there was something really sad about clowns. I never really liked clowns as a kid. I thought I was supposed to, but I didn’t. And I thought there’s something really off-putting about clown suits, so I’d like to know what your position is (laughter) about clowns.

GALIFIANAKIS: I’m not really creeped out by clowns. I remember seeing “Short Cuts” – there was a Robert Altman movie and there was a female clown in that. And it was just kind of a matter of fact, you know, she was a clown that just went and performed at kids birthday parties. Kind of a regular, you know, existence – and that to me is more interesting is – it’s just, you know, people that actually have to do it, not the weird extremes clowns can be or how they are portrayed. I think it’s kind of more interesting to see the boring clown sometimes. And to see him with his makeup on and shopping for cheese is kind of the clown world that we wanted to paint. This guy is a clown accidentally. When he’s trying to be a clown at the rodeo, he’s not very good. But when he’s out in the real world, he falls down a lot or things happen to him, but he’s not trying to be a clown. And that’s kind of the thing that’s – the dark cloud that’s over him all the time is he can’t be a clown when the lights are on him. He can only accidentally be a clown, and that was kind of an interesting thing to me, too. MORE

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CINEMA: Citizen Dick

February 10th, 2016

Trump Art Of Deal Funny Or Die copy


NEW YORK TIMES: The humor website Funny or Die on Wednesday began streaming a 50-minute comedy that finds Mr. Depp portraying the businessman turned politician, full-blown comb-over and all. Kept a secret for months — no  small task in Hollywood — “Funny or Die Presents Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie” was released to coincide with Mr. Trump’s victory on Tuesday in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary. “It was a crazy, completely nuts idea that somehow we pulled off,” said Adam McKay, a co-founder of Funny or Die, which also counts Will Ferrell and Judd Apatow as principal partners and produces exclusive material that often features well-known stars. Mr. McKay, the director of “The Big Short,” which is a contender for best picture at the coming Academy Awards, added that the site’s newest skewering of Mr. Trump will “with any luck” annoy the presidential hopeful. “The Art of the Deal,” which takes its title from Mr. Trump’s 1987 best-selling business advice book, may establish a new Hollywood genre: the fake television movie of the week. As a narrator (the director Ron Howard, playing himself) tells viewers at its start, the movie was made in the 1980s and had Mr. Trump as its writer-producer-director-star. But a football game went into overtime, and so an angry Mr. Trump ordered the prime-time special pulled and forever tucked away in a vault. MORE

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BEFORE BLACK LIVES MATTERED: The Clintons & The Cynical Racial Politics Of Mass Incarceration

February 10th, 2016


Artwork by IAN KAY

The love affair between black folks and the Clintons has been going on for a long time. It began back in 1992, when Bill Clinton was running for president. He threw on some shades and played the saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show. It seems silly in retrospect, but many of us fell for that. At a time when a popular slogan was “It’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand,” Bill Clinton seemed to get us. When Toni Morrison dubbed him our first black president, we nodded our heads. We had our boy in the White House. Or at least we thought we did.

Black voters have been remarkably loyal to the Clintons for more than 25 years. It’s true that we eventually lined up behind Barack Obama in 2008, but it’s a measure of the Clinton HillarySettleallure that Hillary led Obama among black voters until he started winning caucuses and primaries. Now Hillary is running again. This time she’s facing a democratic socialist who promises a political revolution that will bring universal healthcare, a living wage, an end to rampant Wall Street greed, and the dismantling of the vast prison state—many of the same goals that Martin Luther King Jr. championed at the end of his life. Even so, black folks are sticking with the Clinton brand. What have the Clintons done to earn such devotion? Did they take extreme political risks to defend the rights of African Americans? Did they courageously stand up to right-wing demagoguery about black communities? Did they help usher in a new era of hope and prosperity for neighborhoods devastated by deindustrialization, globalization, and the disappearance of work? No. Quite the opposite. MORE

THE NEW REPUBLIC: A true paradox lies at the heart of the Clinton legacy. Both Hillary and Bill continue to enjoy enormous popularity among African Americans despite the devastating legacy of a presidency that resulted in the impoverishment and incarceration of hundreds of thousands of poor and working-class black people. Most shockingly, the total numbers of state and federal inmates grew more rapidly under Bill Clinton than under any other president, including the notorious Republican drug warriors Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush. […]

As president, Bill Clinton and his allies embarked on a draconian punishment campaign to outflank the Republicans. “I can be nicked a lot, but no one can say that I’m soft on crime,” he bragged. Roughly a year and a half after the 1992 Los Angeles Rebellion—the largest civil disturbance in U.S. history in which demonstrators took to the streets for six straight days to protest the acquittal of the officers involved in the Rodney King beating—Clinton passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. At its core, this legislation was a federal “three strikes” bill that established a $30.2 billion Crime Trust Fund to allocate monies for state and municipal police and prison expansion. Like its predecessors, starting with Johnson’s Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, the federal government provided funding to accelerate punitive policies at all levels of governance. Specific provisions included monies for placing 100,000 new police on the streets, the expansion of death penalty eligible crimes, lifetime imprisonment for people who committed a third violent federal felony offense with two prior state or federal felony convictions, gang “enhancements” in sentencing for federal defendants, allowing children as young as 13 to be prosecuted as adults in special cases, and the Violence Against Women Act.Prison Pop By Race

Hillary strongly supported this legislation and stood resolutely behind her husband’s punishment campaign. “We need more police, we need more and tougher prison sentences for repeat offenders,” Hillary declared in 1994. “The ‘three strikes and you’re out’ for violent offenders has to be part of the plan. We need more prisons to keep violent offenders for as long as it takes to keep them off the streets,” she added. Elsewhere, she remarked, “We will finally be able to say, loudly and clearly, that for repeat, violent, criminal offenders: three strikes and you’re out.”

Like his notorious Republican predecessors, Clinton imposed a toxic mix of punishment and withdrawal of social welfare, but with a difference. The Democratic president actually implemented these policies on a much larger scale than the Republican New Right. According to New Jim Crow author Michelle Alexander, “Far from resisting the emergence of the new caste system” that Ronald Reagan had codified into law through the Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1986 and 1988, “Clinton escalated the drug war beyond what conservatives had imagined possible a decade earlier.”

In the 1980s and 1990s, incarceration became de facto urban policy for impoverished communities of color in America’s cities. Legislation was passed to impose mandatory minimums, deny public housing to entire families if any member was even suspected of a drug crime, expand federal death penalty-eligible crimes, and impose draconian restrictions of parole. Ultimately, multiple generations of America’s most vulnerable populations, including drug users, African Americans, Latinos, and the very poor found themselves confined to long-term prison sentences and lifelong social and economic marginality. The carceral effects of the New Democrats’ competition with the Republicans vastly increased the ranks of the incarcerated. State and federal prisons imprisoned more people under Clinton’s watch than under any previous administration. During his two terms, the inmate population grew from roughly 1.3 million to 2 million, and the number of executions to 98 by 1999. Significantly, the Democratic president even refused to support the Congressional Black Caucus’s proposed Racial Justice Act, which would have prevented discriminatory application of the death penalty. Despite this terrible record of racialized punishment for political gain, the Clintons’ peculiar ability to reinvent themselves has erased memory of many of their past misdeeds. MORE



RELATED: Ta-Nehisi Coates thinks Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) stance on reparations is questionable, but he still intends to cast his ballot for him. On Wednesday, in an interview with Democracy Now, the writer, journalist and educator declared his support for the Bern. Coates has been critical of Sanders’ aversion to reparations — a topic in which the Atlantic correspondent is very well versed:

If not even an avowed socialist can be bothered to grapple with reparations, if the question really is that far beyond the pale, if Bernie Sanders truly believes that victims of the Tulsa pogrom deserved nothing, that the victims of contract lending deserve nothing, that the victims of debt peonage deserve nothing, that that political plunder of black communities entitle them to nothing, if this is the candidate of the radical left — then expect white supremacy in America to endure well beyond our lifetimes and lifetimes of our children. MORE

Coates Sanders Vote

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Blue Jean Committee Announces Hall & Oates Tour

February 10th, 2016

Hall & Oates play the BB&T Pavillion — formerly known as the Susquehanna Bank Center — in Camden on July 10th. Tickets go on sale on Friday Feb. 12th.

ROLLING STONE: The Blue Jean Committee then reveal they used to tease and prank Hall & Oates because they were from Philadelphia, but there is some lasting bitterness between the two duos. “The minute they hit it big, they just left us in the dust,” Honus says. “They don’t really talk to us anymore, and that was a real Philly thing to do.” MORE

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CALLING ALL NERDS: Win Tix To Star Trek The Ultimate Voyage 50th Anniversary Concert @ Tower

February 9th, 2016

Star Trek Sgt Pepper


The “Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage” concert, which features a live symphony orchestra performing Trek tunes — from Star Trek: The Original Series, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Star Trek: Insurrection, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager — beneath hi-def Trek clips projected on a 40 foot widescreeen, is currently in the midst of a 100-city tour that beams down to the Tower on Friday. And we have a coupla pair of tix to give to some lucky redshirts out there. Time is short, so we will make this real easy: Simply send an email to with the words MAKE IT SO, NUMBA ONE in the subject line. Include your full name and a mobile number for confirmation. Good luck and godspeed!

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WORD: The Case Against The Case Against Bernie

February 9th, 2016



HUFFINGTON POST: If you want to dismiss the Sanders campaign, you can choose between two lines of attack. You can join Paul Krugman at the New York Times, asserting that governing is too hard for an idealistic democratic socialist: Sanders doesn’t seem built for compromise, and his proposals lack detail. And governing, as opposed to campaigning, is all about compromise and detail. Endorsing Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary, the Times editorial board marveled, “Mrs. Clinton has done her homework on pretty much any issue you care to name.” Homework, you see. That’s the ticket; not staying out after dark working up the ruffians and messing with other people’s property. Grow up! is the bottom line here: as Krugman puts it in High Adult tones, “politics, like life, involves trade-offs.”

If that seems a little dreary, you can take the line Alexandra Schwartz presses at the New Yorker. Developing themes that have been in the air for months, Schwartz offer a cultural take on Sanders’s appeal to young voters (who are supporting him by margins of seventy points or more in early primaries and polling). It must be his air of “purity,” and “nostalgia for an imaginary time of simpler, more straightforward politics.” Looking back on her own Wordsworthian “very heaven” of imagining young Barack Obama “entirely pure,” Schwartz urges Sanders’s enthusiasts to find a “passage into political adulthood,” where we give up our idle fantasies about candidates. And about time, since Bernie reminds her of “the nutty great-uncle at the Seder table,” pungent with “hokiness” and rhetorical “staleness,” and of the “false nostalgia for past purity, in fashion or food, for instance.” Away with this iceberg lettuce salad of a candidacy, this sweaty vintage dress, this itchy, unkempt lumbersexual beard of a Democratic primary hopeful! Let’s grow up, release our grip on childish things, and get back to business, which is to say, compromise.

Despite their very different tones and concerns, the two lines of dismissal come around to the same point: adults learn not to take campaigns, promises, or political hopes too seriously. They learn that the real work is tedious, often invisible to the public, and highly constrained. They do their homework. Whether the dismissal comes in an eye-roll or a Nobel prize-winner’s rank-pulling, the lesson is the same: either political campaigns are festivals of feeling, mosh pits of emotional projection and crude fantasizing – about utopias of free stuff, unblemished leaders, or, more darkly, throwing bankers into jail – or they are a chance to choose responsible elites who will always do their homework.

All of this is one version of the lessons of the Obama era. Obama’s post-partisan but unmistakably “progressive” speeches thrilled young voters and former idealists who thought they would never feel that way again. His campaign upended a Clinton game-plan that was supposed to be unstoppable as he promised ecstatic throngs, “We are the people we have been waiting for.” Upon winning, Obama began displaying enormous deference to the designated adults of the early millennium: economists, bankers, and generals, as well as vicious political professionals like Rahm Emanuel (who was known for his contempt for the idealists who put Obama in office). “Look, I know these guys,” President Obama said of the country’s leading bankers early in his first term, “and they’re very savvy businessmen.” MORE

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THIS JUST IN: Wilco @ The Mann 6/4

February 8th, 2016

Wilco Poster44


Tickets go on sale Friday, February 12th at 10AM online via,, 800-745-3000,, & the Mann Center Box Office.

PREVIOUSLY: It has often been said that Wilco is the American Radiohead — an edgy, 21st-century rock band whose audience only seems to grow the more they challenge it. Less remarked on is the more obvious fact that they are also the new Grateful Dead — populist guarantors of the heartland verities of cosmic Americana. Like the Dead, the continuum of Wilco’s concertizing has come to matter far more than their individual albums. For the better part of the last decade, they’ve been more or less permanently on tour, so it should hardly come as a surprise that they’ve become a well-oiled rock ‘n’ roll machine. So it makes perfect sense that Wilco should headline the second night of the XPoNential Music Festival, curated by WXPN, a radio station that has astutely bridged the divide between edgy and crunchy and, like Wilco and Radiohead, commands a mass audience that is more a community than a crowd. On Saturday night at the Susquehanna Bank Center, a big chunk of that audience was on hand — upward of 20,000, by my reckoning — and Wilco rose to the occasion. In short, they were on fire. When you factor in rowdy, celebratory opening sets from the Avett Brothers and local-boys-made-good Dr. Dog, as well as cold beer and a dry summer breeze, the whole evening was pretty much perfect. MORE

Tweedy Globetrotters copy

Watch it HERE

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Q&A w/ Karen Finley, Performance Art Pioneer, Free Speech Martyr, Indomitable Culture Warrior

February 8th, 2016


Karen Finley, Return Of The Chocolate Smeared Woman, circa 1994

JoAnn_Loviglio_Lamb_CroppedBY JOANN LOVIGLIO A quarter-century after its release, Karen Finley’s Shock Treatment still packs a punch. It reads like a self-exorcism. Filled with rage, but also humor and a lot of intelligence, it is a skewering of cultural taboos, patriarchy and privilege. She grew up in the Midwest and was soon drawn to the creative hub of 1970s San Francisco, where she hung out at City Lights with Richard Brautigan and Gregory Corso, and had Kathy Acker as a teacher at the San Francisco Art Institute. Finley isn’t one to wax nostalgic about the good old days, however, and says the art world is more exciting now than the days when Jesse “Moral Majority” Helms and his fellow pearl-clutching bigots saw her work as a sign of the apocalypse. She is a Guggenheim Fellowship-winning poet, performance artist, and professor at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Finley also has a connection to the city — she played Tom Hanks’ doctor in the movie Philadelphia. Finley comes to the Free Library of Philadelphia on Feb. 11 for a reading and book-signing of Shock Treatment.

PHAWKER: Beyond marking the 25th anniversary of Shock Treatment, can you talk about what else prompted you to embark on this tour? And what struck you when you reread the book, I’m guessing it had been a while?

KAREN FINLEY: The book has remained in print for these past 25 years, so I thought that it would be a time to have it reissued with a new introduction. When I reviewed the book, I was surprised that it wasn’t dated — that it was as relevant as ever in terms of the subject matter and some of the social issues. That’s the primary reason but the other impetus is looking at the book as historical document of the times, of the ‘90s and the turn of the century. I was thinking about the history of the artist as Shock Treatment Coverhistorical recorder, the importance of the writer, the artist and activist. Being able to come to a library and talk about the book and introduce it as inspiration for young people and all of us … as a way to be responding to all the events and the social issues that are going on now.

PHAWKER: Shock Treatment really does address subjects we’re still grappling with. Do you feel like we’ve made significant progress, did you think in 1990 that we’d still be dealing with many of the same culture clashes and prejudices in 2016?

KAREN FINLEY: Yes, there’s been progress in terms of gay rights, and the fact that we have a woman running for president, and we have a black president. But the reality is that there’s so much police brutality, misogyny, war, corruption everywhere. What’s happening with the water in Flint, it’s just shocking, so how do we deal with this happening? To be speaking the truth, to have the artist and writer as historical recorder, it’s important for artists, writers, poets, and everyday people to document these things in writing and speak out — even more so than just social media but to have concrete writing on the page.

PHAWKER: It’s interesting to think about the value of the action of writing things on paper, in books, the physical nature of that as opposed to the more ephemeral nature of social media. Protest in the analog versus protest in the digital. Both are important to maintain.

KAREN FINLEY: Absolutely.

PHAWKER: Does it irritate you, or could you care less, when people take this cartoonish view of your work, you know, “the yam lady” kind of thing … is it misogyny at work? You don’t see that kind of a mocking response to the work of the Vienna Actionists or Chris Burden, who also used their bodies to make art.

KAREN FINLEY: When you ask that question right after you ask about the book, then you have an article that becomes about me, and about me minimizing, justifying, denying … that then becomes part of the female packaging in terms of contributions. I think that is true, but I think that the female being reduced, to create this kind of a laughingstock … there isn’t an allowance to be an artist or a contributor to society. I think my career speaks for itself, but sure, that was painful and difficult. If you want to OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAperpetuate these what you can call urban legends about it, it’s a way of censoring my contributions and diminishing or changing it. Kind of like a photobomb (that obscures or changes the intent of an image) … it’s like putting a controversy bomb in front my message. It is what it is. On another level, I look at it in terms of the great privilege that I’ve had, that I was able to say the things in the first place that were censored. For many individuals, there’s an invisibility.

PHAWKER: What kind of work are you doing now?

KAREN FINLEY: I worked on a project called Sext Me If You Can. I’m very concerned about the humiliation and the shaming of people … it goes back to the earlier question of shaming and humiliation, the issues around sexting and the shame that goes along with their discovery, especially for young people. For the project, people with the museum would commission the opportunity to sext me from the museum and then I would create artwork based on that, and they would receive that artwork. Other pieces I’ve been doing recently, I created a support group Artists Anonymous which is a part parody and part serious look at individuals and their difficulties or their challenges with their addiction to art, their problems with the art world, making art, being a creative person. In terms of my teaching, I’m in the (NYU) Department of Art and Public Policy — after my Supreme Court issues, I did go into education. We offer an M.A. in arts politics, so I teach a class in cultural activism and research and I teach performance as well. It’s about the potential for social change through the arts, whether it’s coming from the artists, or whether it’s coming from NGOs, or curating, or writing, or scholarship, or community-based work, or social practice.

PHAWKER: Do you think the Supreme Court decision involving you and the other three members of the so-called “NEA Four” has created a chilling of speech, or have artists just continued doing their work as usual just with the understanding that they shouldn’t be counting on NEA funding?

KAREN FINLEY: It goes further than just the funding itself. The funding is gone so, yes, there’s a dramatic decrease in support for emerging artists and more of an emphasis on the art market and the profitability of art. These objects become value, they become savings accounts, investments. When you look within the strata of museums and the boards, it’s an economy. But I think that what the Supreme Court case was really about was us questioning the vagueness of using the term of applying “decency” when awarding funding. What we were looking at was the idea of the government being able to use vague terms for applying funding. Yes, people are still making art but it does have ramifications. It’s been disastrous when you think about so many small nonprofits that really helped marginalized communities, connected communities and gave them a voice, and that has ended. These small emerging grants aren’t there anymore. What’s been difficult for larger foundations, philanthropic organizations, even for corporations that would give money to the arts is that the National Endowment for the Arts worked as a place for peer review, and it was extensive … so it became a seal of approval. So if an artist or an organization had been Karen Finleypeer reviewed through the NEA, that would let philanthropic organizations know that they had been vetted already. Now that process isn’t there that acted as a clearinghouse and as a way of connecting all these arts organizations and artists.

PHAWKER: How about the art scene in New York? Has the skyrocketing cost of living negatively affected it?

KAREN FINLEY: Definitely. In many neighborhoods the cultural life, the artistic life is evaporating. But artists in the most difficult situations still make art. What I think could happen is the art market is almost outpacing itself. There might be other areas that become havens for artists. … also with social media there can be other ways to think about making art outside these criteria, other ways of looking at creative capital.The good news is that I see a tremendous amount of exciting, inspiring, incredible work going on right now. I don’t necessarily believe in the ‘good old days’ — I believe there’s more social practice art, more younger people having a consciousness and awareness of the art and culture of making a difference. I actually feel that right now is more powerful and more positive with more people being interested in creating art and making a difference and standing up and having the courage to create. From my own students to all over the world, I’m seeing artists creating work about identity, about war, about media. There’s a lot of incredible writing. I feel very positive in terms of looking at artist voices. When I started making art in the ‘70s and ‘80s there would be primarily white male artists making work or being given the opportunity. That still is mostly the case with museums and the upper 1 percent, but I do feel very positive seeing the art that’s being made now.

PHAWKER: Final question: What are your thoughts on the presidential race?

KAREN FINLEY: Certainly there’s a lot of people I don’t want to see become president, which includes all of the Republicans. With the Democrats, I’m more interested in Bernie Sanders. [long pause] Yes, I’m more interested in Bernie Sanders.


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February 5th, 2016



BY CHARLIE TAYLOR In 1990, 22-year-old Christopher McCandless packed up his 1982 Datsun and embarked on an expedition through the Western United States that would ultimately cost him his life. McCandless, an unsettled individual with a spirit that needed to challenge any obstacles his mind could dream up, finished college in 1990 and appeared to be ready to join the never-ending assembly line of college students headed into professional oblivion. Seduced by the freedom and endless possibilities of the open road, McCandless shocked his parents by turning down the $25,000 fund given to him for his post-college pursuits and disappearing in August 1990. He would never see his family again.INTO THE WILD

In the course of his travels, he took to calling himself Alexander Supertramp, worked odd jobs (he manned the deep fryer at the McDonald’s in Bullhead City, Arizona and worked at a grain elevator in Carthage, South Dakota) and took all paths in front of him, regardless of their severity. Eventually his paths led him to Alaska.

An avid hiker, but an inexperienced one, Chris McCandless headed into Alaska’s Stampede Trail equipped with little more than a .22 Remington rifle, a tent, and nine or 10 paperback books. Despite the warning of a truck driver that McCandless had not packed enough for the frigid conditions, the young man was unable to break from his strict idealism and untested confidence in his ability to persevere in the wild.

This hubris proved most costly, as McCandless had difficulty killing large game and preserving the carcass. Upon shooting a moose, the intrepid young adventurer took a picture displaying his amazement and pride at his large kill. McCandless’ naivety proved costly, as five days after he had killed the moose, maggots covered it. McCandless, in his journal, described the mistake as “One of the greatest tragedies of my life.”

However, his final undoing was the flooding of the Teklanika river which effectively cut off his only way out of the wild. Unable to swim, he returned to the rusted out school bus where he had been sheltering for the preceding four months. It was this bus where McCandless would spend the remaining days of his life. Unbeknownst to McCandless, freedom awaited him only about a mile upstream where the river divided into a series of narrower and thereby crossable channels.

Critically acclaimed writer Jon Krakauer (Into Thin Air, Under the Banner of Heaven) had long been fascinated by the theme of man’s hubris in the face of nature’s greatest tests and theINTO THE WILD deadly consequences it invites when he discovered the story of Christopher McCandless a few months after his death 1992. Krakauer published a 9,000-word story in Outside Magazine about McCandless’ life called “The Death Of An Innocent,” and later expanded it into a book titled Into The Wild which was published in 1996 and 11 years late made into a motion picture in major motion picture directed by Sean Penn. Into The Wild is the well-researched account of McCandless’ two years adrift in the vast, unexplored places that still remain in modern America.

“McCandless distrusted the value of things that came easily,” Krakauer writes. “He demanded much more of himself – more, in the end, than he could deliver.” In his last note, McCandless wrote, “S.O.S. I need your help. I am injured, near death, and too weak to hike out of here. I am all alone, this is no joke. In the name of God, please remain to save me. I am out collecting berries close by and shall return this evening. Thank you, Chris McCandless. August?”
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