A Tale of Two Cities

Readers take a photo-tour of Paris and Amsterdam.

Featured in Today’s Pictures, the photographs of Africans in Paris, taken in 2001 by Alex Majoli, are intriguing, mesmerizing. Offering a glimpse into this underclass of French society, les sans-papiers, they document the very immigrants whitewashed out of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s portrait of the heavily ethnic 18tharrondissement in the 2001 international box-office hit Amélie.

august offers these observations:

I think this may be the hardest fray to write for. Even though our language is visual, somehow it (or rather, mine) lacks the vocabulary for pictures. I’ve tried to write this post several ways, and each time it comes out like I’m talking about a cartoon.

Through most of the essay on Africans in France I was worried that the images would be of, well, black on tricolor. The only one that really matched that fear that of the Senegalese souvenir salesman in front of Montmartre. Another, of Noureini Tidjani-Serpos, had the Eiffel tower in the background, but my impression differed because the picture conveyed to me prestige (“this is the view from my office”) rather than nationalism (“we are all French”) or overdrawn sentiment ("how can such inequality be seen on the streets of Paris?”).

The quotation is interesting:
“With photography, I like to create fiction out of reality. I try to do this by taking society’s natural prejudice and giving it a twist.”
Martin Parr

I wonder what he means by “natural prejudice”? And I wonder if Majoli’s best images do something different. My favorite is the guy waiting on a train at the Gare du Nord. The captions tell you this is about Africans in Paris, but I like thinking of alternate shows this one could be in. “Suits I have loved.” “Waiting for trains.” “Concrete palettes.” The photograph is of a drab world, but it nevertheless invites me in. And I love the lights on either side, as if the wall were a museum installation. It’s fine photograph, worth thinking about in both its broadest and most quotidian contexts.

On a separate note, rundeep rebaptizes Amsterdam Penis Nation based on Martin Parr’s racy images of the city’s red light district:

I find it sort of refreshing that the “Sex in Amsterdam” pictures involve, predominantly, penises rather than female body parts. In this country, of course, women are exposed to the point of absolute dullness in everything but Saturday morning cartoons, and it’s nice to see the noble male organ revealed as interesting.
On the other hand, I have to say that the pictures reveal to me the reason why women are usually featured over men. The penis is a really strange-looking thing. Not particularly attractive, bizaarely colored, and overall looks to be kind of poorly designed. (that fearful symmetry!)

Mind you, I am certainly fond of the equipment and its uses, but ya know, it’s just not pretty.

This oft-overlooked Fray awaits your contribution. AC6:09pm PDT

Sunday, Sept. 24, 2006

So if you are around, stop in and let us look to how Socrates died at the end. I came into this world in an inarticulate scream; I would like to go out of it doing something better.—Meletus, Goodbye.

The Fray received word over the weekend that one of its finest posters, Meletus, has passed away from lung cancer at the age of 34. Slate welcomes anonymous contributions to its Fray. Meletus availed himself of that anonymity through the very end. We do not know the man who passed away on Sept. 13. We cannot even say with certainty that a corporeal man has died at all. We can say with confidence, however, that his voice will be missed.

We offer our condolences to his cherished wife and family. We haven’t a formal protocol for funerals online, but those who knew him are invited to share their remembrances hereGA11:30am PDT

Saturday, Sept. 23, 2006

Josh Levin’s blistering critique of Zach Braff as both a filmmaker and self-appointed representative of the twentysomething generation prompted fans to react quickly in the star’s defense. Fronk dubs the review “a petty, inappropriate smear on a bright rising star.” For hollydai, Levin’s metawhine “about how annoying other whining twentysomethings are” is “even more annoying.”

Joseph37 points out that criticism of Braff’s oeuvre is premature, “a concentrated attack on a man who is just starting his career. He’s made a couple of movies and already Levin is psychoanalyzing him and his entire fan base: He’s a narcissist because he had too much screen time in Garden State. People like him because he looks ‘doofy.’ “

As for Braff’s representational status, ohigetit characterizes the actor as “Hollywood’s antihero to the other side of his generation: pant-waists-to-the-knees, skateboard riding, meth-addicted young adults who run in same-sex packs oogling the other sex, rather than venturing into the world as adult beings.”

canuckle agrees “it’s a mistake to call Braff the voice of our generation based on an above-average date movie. These are same people that made the mistake of calling Kevin Smith the voice of our generation based on Clerks. Still, above average date movies are hard to come by. Most of them are unwatchable. Give Braff some credit for pulling it off.”

It should be noted, however, that Levin is not without sympathizers in the Assessment Fray. The Zach Braff backlash comes as a comfort to FreddiedeBoer here and to Charles3: “As both a lover of film and a former resident of New Jersey, I passionately loathed every trite and indulgent second of GardenState. Almost all of my friends adored it and I thought I was going crazy.” AC7:05pm PDT

Monday, Sept. 18, 2006

Nancy Grace’s television audience tunes in to revile the hostess, rather than her guests. That’s my hypothesis, judging from reader reaction in The Fray, to “Graceless,” our weekend headliner by Dahlia Lithwick. In a fit of general prosecutorial zeal, Fraysters have indicted everyone but the ham sandwich for Melinda Duckett’s suicide.

In the main court, 3rdChimp submits his case against Grace herself:

Nancy Grace is easy to root for when she’s on the trail of really bad people. Her problem is her dishonesty. Virtually everyone is guilty in her spin. I’m no prosecutor, but I “knew,” from day one that Karr was just a freak show. Not Nancy: she milked that story for all the flogging she could deliver. Kobe and the Duke lacrosse team accusers’ stories made little sense from the start, but no matter to Nancy: the men were guilty. Even if they clearly did not do what they were accused of doing, Nancy did not like whatever the Hell [they] did do. The law and truth be damned: fry’em.

lancemh delivers a devastating closing summary:

Nancy Grace’s “credibility” flows from base sensationalism, as well as the manipulation of people and facts - not sound, objective, and unbiased legal analysis.

GoodSamaratan is bringing conspiracy charges against Grace, Bush, and Netanyahu:

Nancy lost her college sweetheart to a mugger, W’s dad almost killed by Saddam and Bibi’s brother was killed in Entebee. And now they all want to take on the world to tell them how pissed they are and try to bring everyone to justice.

I don’t know what it is about this culture that allows for such bitter people to spew their anger and let all hell break lose regardless of the consequences.

TinaTrent has arraigned the defense bar for the crimes of Nancy Grace:

OK, Nancy Grace is channeling pecans. But she isn’t, as Lithwick argues, “the nation’s foremost legal activist.” That title, and the second, third, fourth and so on, go to those who advocate for the accused, no matter how craven, murderous, rapacious or predatory their clients may be. People don’t flock to law schools to become prosecutors; they imagine themselves, like so many Atticus Finches, saving the poor, benighted, wrongly accused. Many who become prosecutors do so to gain training before moving on to the lucrative and sexy role of defense counsel. To wit, Nancy’s latest TV pal, Josh Ashi, who has moved from Atlanta Prosecutor to celebrity tv defense attorney. Our tax dollars trained him – now he gets to play with the big, pony-tailed boys getting off the same creepy child rapists he used to, allegedly, try to put away. Why wouldn’t this make anybody crazy?

JohnLex7, a defense attorney in his other life, calls the nation’s prosecutors into the stand:

The prosecutor has a duty to the system that defense attorneys do not have. They are charged with enforcing the laws that society has made. That is a large responsibility, and an enormous power. Only those who can truly handle the responsibility and the power should have it. Nancy Grace clearly proved, while she was a prosecutor, and now, that she never should have had that power.

Hopefully, her actions, not just in this instance but throughout her career, might make some prosecutors look in the mirror and wonder, even for a minute, if they are properly exercising the enormous power they have.

Next door, Fingerpuppet draws up a bill of charges against broadcast media:

There’s practically no arena of our civil society that hasn’t been debased by the commercial demands of broadcast media. We’ve already got news and politics being served up on cable talk shows with all the dignity of a high school food fight; why should the justice system be any different? Why waste time on boring details about policies, institutional procedures, history, perspective or nuance? Most viewers want to cut straight to the good stuff—the dirt, the moral lapses of the scum of society, the kind of depravity that lets any schmoe feel the delicious rush of righteous indignation.

Kicking the case upstairs one level of generality, satish_desai has submitted information blaming the modern press for the murder:

Yes, the press has freedom to report and speak out. But they do not have freedom to obstruct justice because justice is part of the freedom of the people other than the press. Their freedom of speech is no more and no less than the freedom of speech of ordinary citizens. […]

For a long time, the reporters have been behaving as if they are above the law, that they can keep their sources secret in the middle of a criminal investigation, that they can assassinate someone’s character to make their talk-show popular, that they can pursue celebrities in their bedrooms and in their restrooms, that they can conduct a public trial on the talk-show. […]

It seems to me that Nancy Grace should be charged with obstruction of justice, for causing concealment or destruction of material evidence in the criminal case of teh disappearance of a toddler. She may also face civil lawsuit from Melinda Duckett’s family for causing unnecessary grief.

Think twice before turning on your television this evening. You don’t want to catch jc_miller’s scathing subpoena of TV viewers.

Almost every time a child is hurt, the perpetrator isn’t a stranger like the one she was kicking around, but instead one of the Moms, Dads, Grandmas, or Uncle Jimmys watching her show. […] Some observers might ask what possible psychological forces exist powerful enough to drive an audience to tolerate the self righteous posturing and moral superiority pouring from the screen. We already have those answers. We experience them viscerally in the rush of sweet, righteous, distracting anger at the villains she gives us, then the relief, the release from anxiety – damn that bastard, he oughta be …. “He”, not us. Every condemnation, every angry judgment carries with it an intoxicating hit of moral superiority that is [an] escape from anxiety around our own moral culpability. […]

“Nancy Grace no more killed the mother of a missing toddler last week than you or I did.” wrote Ms. Lithwick. Exactly right, no more and no less than we did. Ultimately the questions we need to face are more about us than about Ms.Grace. We desperately need “Nancy Grace”, and we will likely see that a woman’s suicide is a small price to pay for a nightly supply of good dope.

Amicus for the court Neill_Q_Hamilton files a supporting affidavit against society:

The problem is that America responds to the simple and the easy. Nancy Grace’s selling point is that it is all so simple. And indeed nothing could be simpler then shouting “You did it!!” over and over. When she had the poor woman on the air she was not interested in the woman’s story or that the situation might be complex. This is a problem.

In Engineering, [there’s] a saying: “For every difficult problem there is a simple solution that is wrong.” The Nancy Grace’s are the endless proponents of the simple and wrong. But it sells. […] Accusations are simple, and work best if you are unwilling to listen to explanations.

So the short answer is Nancy Grace didn’t kill the poor woman, everyone who watches and supports Ms. Grace, and refuses to listen to the complex killed Ms. Duckett. Shame on us all.

As an accomplice to the law, the press, and society in general, I’m thinking I should turn myself in to face the music for all this. Competent counsel will be required in the Jurisprudence Fray.   GA1:40am PDT

Friday, Sept. 15, 2006

Christopher Hitchens writes in to defend former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer against the lingering charge that he told Americans in effect to “watch what they say” in the way of unpatriotic speech after 9/11. The debate in the Fray, initially focused on differences of interpretation, flourished into a broader reflection on the tactics used to instill fear in the public.

For pubbdwriter, the thorough vetting of official White House statements, “combed over by Rove’s office, and, one would suspect, Dick Cheney’s office, among others,” can only mean that Fleischer’s words were intentionally censorious.

After a close textual reading of the transcript, pmohtr concludes:

It’s ambiguous, at best. At the press briefing, Fleischer was asked about Maher, and in reacting and responding to what he was told Maher had said, interjected that, “there was an earlier question about has the President said anything to people in his own party.” Take that phrase out of his answer and there would be no question that Fleischer would have been speaking specifically about Maher and warning others about making similar comment.

That said, the quibble over whether Fleischer’s remarks refer back grammatically to Maher or Cooksey misses the point, says RonB52, as the government has no place sanctioning the speech of its citizens except in extreme circumstances: “The only valid utterance, by the US Government, of the phrase ‘Americans need to remember to watch what they say’ is in relation to the sailing times of Navy ships and the movement of troops in wartime.”

This incident from five years ago is symptomatic of a much larger fear industry in America, of which janeslogin catalogues some recent examples:

This “fear industry” has influences far beyond anything that Hitchens writes about. In an hour here on the internet, probably here on Slate, we are told to fear global warming, obesity, new drugs, sex predators, hackers, preserved foods, unpreserved foods.Outside my apartment there are signs warning of skateboards, roller blades and bicycles.

A couple next door, both criminals on parole, warn their kids not to speak to me.

My doctor says my heart, liver and lungs are failing and my prostate is too big.

Oh, and I almost forgot, a celebrity was seen driving with her kid not strapped in to the car seat properly.

PacificBlue adds to the list:

high blood pressure (a good one to develop due to the subject)
Hilary Clinton
railroad crossings
fish hooks
muggers (don’t hear much about them anymore)
nuclear war

With a stuff upper lip, portorchardkid asks: what climate of fear?

I’m an old guy and something is going to catch up with me sooner or later. Am I afraid? Hell no. And I haven’t met anybody that really is fearful of the terrorist threat. It’s a problem, and our government is trying to solve it the best ways it can.

Debate the means if you will, but don’t insult Americans by saying they are walking around in constant fear. Bah!

More Fighting Words on the matter can be found here. AC3:15pm PDT