The Minimalists, who were mostly white men, believed that by removing any trace of their own hands, they could create and operate within a realm of nonpersonal neutrality—a fantasy that often ended up as a whitewashing of their influences. Building something on a foundation of nothingness is itself an old idea and one prominent in Zen Buddhism, which Judd studied. And while Minimalist works were devoid of obvious content, they still had substance: the materials they were made from and the forms they took. Looking critically at many of them reveals conservative values hiding in plain sight, as Anna Chave posited in her 1990 essay “Minimalism and the Rhetoric of Power.” For example, she sees in Richard Serra’s creation of hulking metal forms “the rituals of the industrial magnate who merely lifts the telephone to command laborers to shape tons of steel according to his specifications”; many of Flavin’s light bulbs are plainly phalluses. Chave identifies the two most common qualities of Minimalist art as “unfeelingness and a will to control or dominate.”
In fact, the alleged blankness of Minimalism can serve as a facade that conceals a disturbing reality. An incident that Chayka doesn’t discuss in his book demonstrates this in an extreme way. In 1985, the Cuban American artist Ana Mendieta fell to her death from the thirty-fourth-floor apartment in Greenwich Village that she shared with her husband, the Minimalist sculptor Carl Andre, who’s best known for arranging bricks and metal plates on the ground. Shortly beforehand, the doorman heard a woman yell “No!” several times. Andre, who had scratches on his nose and forearm, told the 911 operator that the two had had a fight and Mendieta “went out the window.” He was tried for murder and acquitted.
Tiger King is, frankly, out of control. “The first unspoilable show,” The Ringer’s Jason Concepion wrote breathlessly last week. “You actually can’t describe it enough to spoil it.” Because it only takes a little bit of time to see for yourself — there are just seven episodes, and each is around 40 minutes — I will not try. The short of it is this: Exotic and Baskin, along with another dodgy big-cat zoo owner named Doc Antle, are locked in a death embrace, fated to war with each other over which is the proper way to promote one’s love for tigers through any means possible. The first three episodes are stacked with so many narrative twists, fascinating visual details, and jaw-dropping interviews that to look away for any 10 seconds risks missing something unmissable.
It’s not that the main characters, who come off as endlessly duplicitous and outlandish, are skilled at lying — marvel at how Baskin not-so-effortlessly parries the ongoing accusations that she had a former husband killed and fedto tigers, which is not even the craziest thing that happens here. But they can’t stop lying, and so the only way to counterpoint their claims is to layer their testimony with those of more clear-headed outside sources (co-workers, investigators, victims) in order to gesture at its falseness. It turns out there’s no law against low-grade deceit, and certainly nothing mandating the deceivers to feel any shame or remorse. The show can’t help but pathologize a bit — again, this is a documentary about a gun-toting, gay, polygamist tiger enthusiast — but its primary method is to heap bullshit on top of bullshit until you can’t help but go, My God, look at these assholes, a reaction that’s helped make Tiger King a viral hit.
- A good reminder for all journalists covering this, and something non-journalists should also read:
Reset. Keep things near you that will remind you of what “normal” looks like. For me, it is a picture of my silly dog. For you, it may be a favorite vacation photo or a love note from your sweetheart. After you have spent time covering whatever unpleasant thing it is you have covered, reset your mind to remember that this situation is not normal. Soldiers and police officers do this. Ask them and you will find they often keep photos of loved ones in their hats and helmets. I know a photographer who keeps a picture of his kids on his press credential lanyard.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, the 1918 flu infected 500 million people worldwide and resulted in 50 million deaths around the globe, 675,000 of which were American. But while viruses don’t discriminate, people do. In cities across the nation, black people struck by the flu were often left to fend for themselves. They received substandard care in segregated hospitals, where they could be relegated to close quarters in basements, or they were only allowed admittance to black-only hospitals. Even in death, black bodies were neglected by white public infrastructure. In Baltimore that year, white sanitation department employees refused to dig graves for black flu victims after the city’s only black cemetery, Mount Auburn, could not accommodate any more graves.
Recently, the federal judge overseeing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s ongoing fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) has ruled that the permit process by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was inadequate through not preparing a sufficient Environmental Impact Statement under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). The litigation is about more than protecting the peoples of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, it is about enforcing processes to safeguard the environment as economic development projects continue throughout the United States.
The attorneys at Earth Justice represent Standing Rock in the litigation and are homing in on the lack of proper measures in place to face the potential devastation that an oil spill would cause.