April 12, 2013 | by John Reed
Timeline to this Timeline
September 9, 2001, I’m walking down Lafayette Street with my wife. We’re close to my apartment, with the Tribeca sky, the sky of my youth, hovering above our destination. I have a title idea. “Snowball’s Chance,” I say, “there’s something to it.” She isn’t so sure.
Then, 9/11. Then, 9/13, I understand the title. Animal Farm. Snowball returns to the farm, bringing capitalism, which has its own pitfalls. I’ll turn the Cold War allegory on its head—apply Orwell’s thinking to what had happened in the fifty years since the end of World War II. Three weeks later I have a clean draft.
I start to think about publication, and run into a bump: the feeling in the publishing world, in the entertainment world, is that parody is about to lose its protected status in the United States. Several major lawsuits are underway (2 Live Crew, The Wind Done Gone), copyright has been extended indefinitely for major corporations, and the Supreme Court has never looked more conservative. Given the climate, and that parody is not protected in the United Kingdom, the Orwell estate announces itself “hostile” to my manuscript. The book is nevertheless released in 2002 (by a small but longstanding press, Roof Books), and supported in part by a state grant. At the same moment I see fit to attack Animal Farm as a Cold War allegory—an allegory that I see as conservative, xenophobic, and a bludgeon for radical thinking—Christopher Hitchens, who has taken a sharp turn to the right, sees the need to defend it. In Why Orwell Matters, also published in 2002, Hitchens attempted to apply Orwell’s later-life “Cold War,” a term he popularized, to a stance against terrorism. The media picks up on Hitchens, and Snowball as a counterpoint, and the books are accordingly praised or derided.
Nikolai Kostomarov (1817–1885) pens his story Animal Riot, a farmyard allegory that takes as its analog a hypothetical Russian revolution. A century later, in 1988, the English-language Economist will compare Kostomarov’s 8,500-word story to George Orwell’s 20,000-word Russian Revolution allegory, Animal Farm (which, unlike Animal Riot, ends badly), finding numerous points of comparison. For example, a bull in Animal Riot:
October 31, 2012 | by John Reed
As we—like Lady Justice at her scales—weigh the virtues and policies of our presidential candidates, our very future in the balance, it is perhaps not without merit to reflect upon the classical history of democracy, and a fledging nation, now great, which has taken up a banner of representative government as passed down from the Greeks and Romans of antiquity. Perhaps, as well, as the airwaves are electric with the storied truths apropos to this most momentous of elections—this cotterpin in the history of humanity, perhaps the very universe, this year of destiny, of DECISION 2012!—we might look to the birth of our comedic and dramatic tradition, which we will find in the Dionysian festivals of Ancient Greece. Or, wait, is it more of a circus?
Circus it is. Hollywood may claim Aristotle as a father, and Washington may fancy itself an ancestor of the Roman Republic, but don't we all know that our truer father is P. T. Barnum—tabloid king and political boss—and that our truer tradition is the circus, three rings?
Through February 3, Circus and the City: New York, 1793-2010, is on display at the Bard Graduate Center for Decorative Arts, Design, History, Material Culture. The show spans three floors of the Upper West Side Townhouse, and claims New York—and rightly so—as the wellspring of the American Circus (which, alas, isn't just under the bigtop).
October 10, 2012 | by John Reed
At what date on the calendar, at what precise location, did counterculture become pop culture? And who do we mark down in the history books as the hero, or the villain, who masterminded the switch? There is an answer: “The Times Square Show.” In June of 1980, more than a hundred artists, under the auspice and directed by the vision of Colab (Collaborative Projects), took over a four-story building on Forty-first Street and Seventh Avenue and mounted a two-month exhibition. There were big names: Tom Otterness, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kiki Smith, Jenny Holzer, Kenny Scharf, Nan Goldin. But, already, this is a wrong turn; the notion of individual heroism, of the creative ego that strives for and achieves recognition—in other words, a modernist view of the artist—is an anachronistic way to view “The Times Square Show.”
The idea behind “The Times Square Show” was different: a collaborative, self-curated, self-generated group show that transcended trappings of class and cultures. As John Ahearn, a Colab initiator who spotted the location on a Times Square jaunt with Tom Otterness, told the East Village Eye, “Times Square is a crossroads. A lot of different kinds of people come through here. There is a broad spectrum, and we are trying to communicate with society at large.” Ahearn went on to tell the Eye, “There has always been a misdirected consciousness that art belongs to a certain class or intelligence. This show proves there are no classes in art, no differentiation.”