Required Reading

While it’s impossible to know exactly how much every queen spends to go on the show, I’d estimate—based on conversations with several former contestants and the designers who often dress them—contestants are spending anywhere from $4,000 on the low end to upwards of $20,000 on the higher end. 

“I did not spend a lot of money,” Bob the Drag Queen, who was crowned the winner of Season 8 in 2016, told VICE. “I realistically spent maybe, maybe $3,000 to go on Drag Race.” (Later, she added that she spent an additional $3,000 on her two finale looks, bringing her total to $6,000.) “If I went back on Drag Race now, I’d probably be spending $20–40,000,” she said.

Shortly after Delbo’s sale, DC — which like Marvel long has allowed artists to sell original ink-and-paper drawings used in comic books — sent a notice to artists forbidding the minting of NFTs with DC characters.

“As DC examines the complexities of the NFT marketplace and we work on a reasonable and fair solution for all parties involved, including fans and collectors, please note that the offering for sale of any digital images featuring DC’s intellectual property with or without NFTs, whether rendered for DC’s publications or rendered outside the scope of one’s contractual engagement with DC, is not permitted,” said the letter from Jay Kogan, DC’s senior vice president for legal affairs.

These paradoxes of imperial power do not get much attention in Places of Mind, and its first chapters say frustratingly little about the colonial Middle East or the Cold War U.S. This is a missed opportunity, as the similarities between the two systems would later become crucial to Said’s intellectual and political agenda. Most important, both the British and Americans elevated certain minorities (Christians in the Middle East, Jews in the U.S.) to justify their subjugation of others (Muslims under British rule, Black people and other people of color under white U.S. hegemony). The two cultures also similarly viewed their elites’ culture as universal, a sacred trust they had to bestow upon humanity. Both British and American elites were therefore eager to demonstrate that “outsiders” like Said, who appreciated the brilliance of Western culture, could join their club, as long as they fully assimilated and “overcame” their non-Western origins. It is likely that these parallels informed Said’s later insistence that the U.S. emulated European empires. And it is clear that his effective navigation in both inspired his later claim that colonialism was not just oppressive but also creative, that hegemonic cultures could possess a certain allure even for their victims.       

Everything that was once considered lowbrow is now triumphant. It is still common for people to talk of “guilty” cultural pleasures—TV, dance music—about which no one has felt guilty in decades, and to apologize for them with an enthusiasm that looks a lot like pride. But the pretense of guilt is merely there to increase our pleasure; it adds the excitement of transgression to an otherwise banal activity. Successful artists in “lowbrow” forms now live in the perpetual snit of offended dignity that used to mark a person as a member of the highbrow avant-garde. Recently, a pop star—a rich person, her work fawned over by critics—publicly attacked a well-respected reviewer over a (mainly positive) review of her new record. Also recently, a wealthy, famous author of books for teenage girls engaged in a public feud with a woman student who had, in a college newspaper, described that author’s books, accurately, as books for teenage girls. Several other wealthy, famous authors joined in—to further humiliate the offending student. Artists used to have the decency to conduct such bullying via backchannels: An agent makes a discreet phone call to the offices of Rolling Stone, and a freelancer disappears from its roster. Today’s popular artists don’t scruple to perform these offenses to their own dignity in public. They seem to think that unquestioned deference is simply due them. This is our culture’s face. Its features are too jumbled for anyone to pinpoint where its middlebrow might be. Yet we go on using the term, and often with an affection that its cousins don’t receive. As with “popular artist,” as used in this paragraph, it’s a ghost-term to which we turn in the absence of a vocabulary adequate to our situation.

The most blatant example was Juan Orlando Hernández, the president of Honduras, who in August 2018 was receiving 90% of all the known civic fake engagement in the small Central American country. In August 2018, Zhang uncovered evidence that Hernández’s staff was directly involved in the campaign to boost content on his page with hundreds of thousands of fake likes.

One of the administrators of Hernández’s official Facebook Page was also administering hundreds of other Pages that had been set up to resemble user profiles. The staffer used the dummy Pages to deliver fake likes to Hernández’s posts, the digital equivalent of bussing in a fake crowd for a speech.

The study found that conspiracy theories, when lumped together, accounted for 46 percent of the misinformation mentions. Among those theories was one that emerged in early April suggesting that Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a respected voice on the pandemic, was exaggerating deaths or was a beneficiary of pharmaceutical company efforts to find treatments and vaccines. To look for such stories, they examined social media hashtags, including #FireFauci and #FauciFraud.

Interviews with people in Ma’s circle, officials in Hangzhou and regulators in Beijing show that, even before Ma’s speech in Shanghai veered off track, friction had been growing with Chinese leaders for some time. In particular they had grown tired of Ma always being the star of the show.

“Jack Ma amassed far too much power, this is understood by everyone in China,” says Song Qinghui, an independent economist who contributes to Chinese state media. “Alibaba’s influence grew far too great. It got to the point where it had to be brought under control.”

The Financial Times has reviewed Ma’s early business dealings to understand how in better times he ran rings around foreign shareholders and regulators with few consequences; how he increased his influence in China; and how he pursued a global profile that ultimately made Beijing uneasy. What happens next is far from certain, but the answer will reveal much about where China is heading.

Required Reading is published every Saturday, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

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