When presidents had false teeth but spoke the truth & Texas recruited immigrants


Copyright 2012, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

First published on January 19, 2012. Like what you read? Then please stop “liking” us and help pay for it. Designate your PayPal donation to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or e-mail us at that address to learn about donating in Euros or by check.

FORT WORTH, Texas — Heritage is a messy business, especially in a country built out of multiple heritages. There may be no more vivid microcosm of this principle right now in the United States than that found in the few blocks that make up the Cultural District of this cosmopolis which calls itself “Cowtown” with pride and whose concentration of world-class museums and Western heritage seems to justify the city motto, “Cowboys & Culture.”

Monday at the Will Rogers Memorial Center — named after the American cowboy journalist, humorist, actor and philosopher — the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, running through February 4, celebrated the opening of its 116th year with a Cowboys of Color Rodeo, aptly held on the day honoring Martin Luther King, who did more to emancipate African-Americans than any other American in the 20th century. Across Gendy Street, the Cowgirl Hall of Fame is honoring with her own exhibition (“The cowgirl who became a justice”) retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who, in voting to stop the Florida ballot re-count in the 2000 presidential election, helped enable the disenfranchisement of thousands of African-American voters. Right across the street, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History is hosting an exhibition on George Washington — including the last intact set of his dentures — that acknowledges that the father of our country was also a slave holder, as well as an exhibition which recalls when Texas *campaigned* to bring a million immigrants into the U.S. through the port of Galveston… which was also a major entry for… slaves. And the Rodeo, meanwhile, seems to have forgotten that a founding principle of the nation whose Western heritage it celebrates was freedom of religious expression, which also means that the majority should not impose its religion on the minority; spectators for Cowboys of Color had no choice but to listen to the announcer open the event by invoking Jesus Christ before the first bull even hurtled out of the chute. (Here’s what Will Rogers said about religion: “I was raised predominantly a Methodist, but I have traveled so much, mixed with so many people in all parts of the world, I don’t know just what I am. I know I have never been a non-believer. But I can honestly tell you that I don’t think that any one religion is the religion.”)

Being American is not in itself often thought of as an ethnicity. And yet there seems to be at least one ethnic trait that most Americans have inherited: Bad teeth. This correspondent for one feels a little less self-conscious about his own dilapidated mashers after pondering a set of our founding father’s dentures and reading about his troubled dental history in “Discover the Real George Washington: New Views from Mount Vernon,” a touring exhibition on view at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History through January 22. Most revelatory is the text accompanying the display of dentures (composed, by the way, of ivory, cow teeth, and human teeth; other sets also included hippo teeth — and none of the president’s eight dentures were made of wood). Beset by dental problems from his early 20s, by the time he was sworn in as the first president in 1789 General Washington had only one of his natural teeth remaining in his mouth, a possible explanation for his sallow cheeks, we’re told. (The exhibition also uses computer science to construct life-sized mannequins of the younger Washington from later portraits.) On another occasion, he provided a lesson in resourcefulness that perhaps ought to be included in our history books alongside Valley Forge for health-care strapped contemporary children to consider: Following his dentist’s instructions, Washington used wax and plaster of Paris to make a mold of the inside of his mouth to send away to the dentist. By the time he left office, all of Washington’s original teeth were gone.

Does the exhibition’s attempt to digest Washington as slave-holder have any teeth? Visitors can watch a series of video interviews with African-American scholars and others who differ on the degree to which perceptions of the president should be influenced by his having owned slaves. Most say it taints him, but one suggests that Washington  wanted to free his household’s slaves, but most of them were owned by Martha Washington, and he couldn’t afford to buy their freedom from his wife.

galveston-1From the exhibition Forgotten Gateway: Coming to America Through Galveston Island. Images courtesy Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

“Forgotten Gateway: Coming to America Through Galveston Island,” a massive exhibition running in the gallery next door to ‘Washington’ through April 1, does a much better job of balancing the pride and shame of American heritage related to immigration, devoting almost equal time to the slaves who were hauled in chains through this Texas Gulf port beginning in 1845, and the voluntary immigrants who decamped there through 1924, an immigration not merely welcomed by the nation and later state of Texas, but encouraged. At one point, we’re informed, the state launched a campaign to bring a million immigrants to Galveston. Even the railway companies pitched in, offering free jump on, jump off privileges so that the immigrants could explore the state at their leisure to pick a place to settle, where they could usually find low-cost housing. About the only immigrants who — late in the game, after 1913, when rules became stricter — had a harder time getting in were people like me: Jews, who some immigration officials claimed were shifty. (Perhaps tolerating invocations of Christ at Texas rodeos is one of the costs of our admission.) The exhibition even features a wall with an immigration timeline to which visitors can add their own family’s entry history with handy post-its. The only criticism I have of the exhibition is that it’s heavy on explanatory text, audio, photographs, and reproductions and very light on actual artifacts. A better bet is to head over to the Cattle Raisers Museum, housed in the same building, and into the legacy room, where “legacy drawers” contain photographs as well as personal memorabilia from pioneering cowboys and the occasional cowgirl.


One of the first things immigrant Charlie Hoffman (left) did after debarking at Galveston Island was to don cowboy gear so he could take a picture to send back home. Jewish immigrants (right) found it harder to gain entrance after 1913, with some officials labeling them slackers.

If you thought the cowboy was an artifact, then you’ve never been to the rodeo. I attended my first on Martin Luther King Day, when the 116-year-old Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo — one of the three largest in the U.S., running through Feb. 4 at the Will Rogers Memorial Center — offered as one of its opening events the Cowboys of Color Rodeo. This wasn’t just about token inclusion; a third of the wranglers who settled the West were cowboys and cowgirls of color. I however felt momentarily excluded with the opening prayer invoking “the Lord,” i.e. Jesus Christ.

I was quickly distracted by the bareback riding, in which the cowboys appear to be surfing the horses while straddling their backs (the legs have to start out over the animals’ shoulders). I was just noting how cruel the tie-down roping seems, with the calves quickly and rudely wrestled to the ground and then bound, including around their necks, when the informative announcer pointed out, “For those of you attending your first rodeo who might be thinking [this is cruel], remember this is where your meat comes from, and to do things like give the cows their medicine and get ’em to the doctor, you gotta rope ’em down.”

More pure — and seeming like more of a collaboration between horse and rider — was the thrilling Pony Express Relay Race, which is just what it sounds like, two relay teams racing around barrels, barely slowing for the hand-off of a rolled up parcel until the final rider drops it into a barrel in the center of the arena. The teams were mixed, cowboys and cowgirls; the prior event, pure barrel racing (with the winner being the fastest to get around the barrels and cross the finish line), was all cowgirls, as young as nine, and all fleet. My biggest thrill came during the bull-riding, when a bull the size of a killer whale tried to bolt from the chute above which I was sitting and into the stands. (“Arts journalist mauled by bull.”) This event still struck me as cruel and, as a Taurus, I found myself rooting for the bulls. Not that the combat isn’t dangerous for the human participants, despite that the points were trimmed from these animals’ horns. The performers who seemed to be putting their lives most at risk were the three ‘clowns.’ I put clowns in quotes because don’t let the make-up, floppy costumes, and wigs fool you: their role is serious, to distract raging bulls from fallen cowboys long enough for the cowboys to amscray. One of these jesters, sporting a multi-colored wig, took up his post in a barrel, ducking into it just before a bull charged and pushed the barrel around the grounds with his horns.

After the rodeo I moseyed (sorry) over to the animal barns, avoiding the ‘swine’ hangar and making straight for the boer goats. Except for the occasional “baaaaaaaaaah,” these animals, about the size of deer and just as pretty with white coats, brown heads, and floppy ears, seemed like they’d make ideal pets. Some even propped themselves up with their fore-legs on the fences of their pens. “Are these used for milk?” I asked a middle-aged woman minding one of the goat pens, meaning “cheese” but not wanting to seem too effete. “Meat,” answered the goat-keeper matter-of-factly. I decided maybe it was time to re-think my hankering for a particular recipe from “The Cowboy Grill” cookbook, edited by Cheryl Rogers-Barnett (Roy Rogers and Dale Evans’s daughter), Ken Beck, and Jim Clark: Johnny Cash’s Barbecued Mexican-Style Fiery Goat.

Finally I left the stock show grounds and gamboled towards the giant blue crop-duster plane hovering over the corner of Montgomery Street, turning left towards the Trinity River. I stopped at the empty lot below the railroad tracks to pour a hot cup of java from my ’60s-era red polka-dot German thermos scored for a buck at a Paris garage sale. (“These days, Tex Ben-Itzak does his wrangling at flea markets.”) A sign by the tracks warns, “Many of these trains have no human conductor and will not stop,” but I still like to look up at the mustard-colored engine cars with “Union Pacific” in red letters over the rusted wheels and imagine there’s a real-life conductor making them march forward and go “choo-choo.” I looked up at the thunder clouds in the big 6 o’clock calico sky and decided they’d dubbed the wrong state “Big Sky Country.” Then I lifted up my dark brown working cowboy boots (Fort Worth garage sale, $10 with bandana) and headed towards the underpass and the Trinity, stepping right into a field of wet cement, a wanna-be cowboy grounded by progress.

AV Gallery (from the Archives): The Political Line — Keith Haring in Paris


Keith Haring, “Untitled,” April 9, 1985. Personal collection. Acrylic on canvas, 152.4 x 152.4 cm. Copyright Keith Haring Foundation.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Text copyright 2013, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

The monographic Keith Haring exhibition which closes this week-end at the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris singularly rescues the signature New York artist of the 1980s from play-land by deliberately placing and arraying the work — in this case, nearly 250 oeuvres executed on canvas, tarpaulins, and even subway walls — in the context of the political engagements that mattered to Haring, as the kid who arrived from Pennsylvania and Holly Golightly-like sketched penises in front of Tiffany’s (see elsewhere in these DI – Arts Voyager Archives) grew into and framed the increasingly harrowing world around him, addressing threats to the environment, Apartheid, racism, the specter of nuclear war, homophobia, and the AIDS epidemic which would take his own life at the age of 31 in 1990. It’s a needed reminder that the apparently fanciful expression, so often imitated since by a generation of gobbling Chelsea regurgitators, distilled a much more considered response to his times. Signifying Haring’s particular attachment to the City of Light, in April Sotheby’s in Paris, in conjunction with the Keith Haring Foundation, even auctioned off some of his work to help pay for the restoration of a mural Haring painted on a wall of the city’s University Necker – Enfants Malades hospital.

In all, the exhibition reveals the textural density and intellectual and art-historical depth behind the deceptively simple line of Haring’s figures and the pronounced colors of his palette. Herewith a sampling.

To receive the rest of the article from the Arts Voyager Archives, first published August 16, 2013, including more images, Arts Voyager & Dance Insider subscribers can contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the Arts Voyager & Dance Insider for just $29.95/year ($99 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, employees, company, association and collective members, etc.) and receive full access to our  Archive of 2,000 articles by 150 leading critics on performances, film, and art and culture from five continents published from 1998 through 2017. Just designate your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check or in Euros. Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com .


pinter-belarusBelarus Free Theare in “Being Harold Pinter.” Photo copyright Alexandr Paskannoi.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2011, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

(Author’s note, 2-8-17: On Tuesday, Amnesty International reported that an estimated 13,000 people had been killed by the Syrian government in Syrian prisons in the first four years of the Syrian war. On Friday, United States president Donald Trump attempted to bar the doors of the United States to refugees and other visa-holders from seven predominantly Muslim countries, ranging from Syrian refugees to Iranian doctoral students to 12-year-old Yemenite girls whose parents are American citizens, prompting a national, multi-colored, multi-gendered revolt. On Saturday, addressing a gathering in front of the Stonewall Bar in New York, where in 1969 a raid by authorities ignited the Rainbow Revolution on the same day Judy Garland died, Sex in the City actress Cynthia Nixon, speaking after Egyptian out of the closet refugee Omar Sharif Jr., proclaimed, “We are allies united by our Otherness… And if we didn’t know it before, thanks to Donald Trump we know it now.” All of this evidence that the subject of the piece below, first published on January 14, 2011, is today more crucial and relevant than ever.) (Source for Nixon citation: Democracy Now.)

NEW YORK — In his 2005 work “Puur,” which I caught in Paris that year (see elsewhere in the Dance Insider Archives), the Belgian choreographer Wim Vandekeybus promised “an act of resistance in the face of the violence of the world.” In fact he did little more than replicate the brutality — including acts of barbarism against children — on film, as live dancers writhed about on stage. The film was simply repulsive, the dancers simply not credible; what did they know about torture? And where was the resistance, let alone the tools for resistance, or even proposed mechanisms for coping with such violence? If I’d been familiar with the work then, I might have thought of Devlin’s interrogation of Rebecca in Harold Pinter’s two-person play “Ashes to Ashes”: “What authority do you think you yourself possess which would give you the right to discuss such an atrocity?” To which Rebecca responds: “I have no such authority. Nothing has ever happened to me. Nothing has ever happened to any of my friends. I have never suffered. Nor have my friends.”

By contrast, the members of the Belarus Free Theatre, who last night performed “Being Harold Pinter” at La MaMa, where it continues through Sunday with an added performance Monday at the Public Theater, have authority, authenticity, and even Harold Pinter, a melange of whose plays, notably “Ashes to Ashes” — as well as his 2008 Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance lecture (see elsewhere in these DI Archives) — they mash up with actual testimony from survivors of repression in Belarus, one of the last remaining Soviet-style dictatorships in the former Soviet Union. The work is also a testament to Pinter’s authenticity in that sometimes it’s difficult to tell which sections and text are drawn from his plays and which come from the reality of the country the performers had to literally escape from just to get to New York and present the piece, part of the Under the Radar festival curated by Mark Russell. That they knew they had a venue waiting for them which would attract an audience which would make their escape worth it is also a tribute to Ellen Stewart, who founded La MaMa 50 years ago and whose demise the night before, at the age of 91, was announced on stage last night prior to the performance by Russell and his La MaMa colleagues, each tolling a single bell before they surrendered the stage.

To receive the rest of the article, Arts Voyager & Dance Insider subscribers can contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the Arts Voyager & Dance Insider for just $29.95/year ($99 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, employees, company, association and collective members, etc.) and receive full access to our Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading critics of performances on five continents from 1998 through 2017. Just designate your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check or in Euros. Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com .

A show you won’t see in Donald Trump’s America

iranians-cover Elham Korda in Afsaneh Mahian’s production of Mahin Sadri’s “Every day a little bit more.” Reza Ghaziani photo copyright Reza Ghaziani and courtesy Theatre de la Ville.

Copyright 2015, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

On Friday January 27, 2017, United States president Donald Trump issued an executive order barring from entering the United States for 90 days all citizens from seven countries with majority Muslim populations: Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Syria, and the Sudan. On Friday night, refugees who had already been granted visas were detained at U.S. airports, among them, the New York Times reported, Hameed Khalid Darweesh,  who worked for the U.S. government for 10 years in Iraq. On Saturday, after thousands turned out at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to protest the detentions, a federal judge issued an emergency ruling annuling the detentions, but not the decree. If  Mr. Trump’s order stays in effect, among the artists you’ll never see in the United States are the extraordinary Iranian actresses I had the privilège of seeing and reviewing here in this article first published on November 4, 2015. PS: There are, of course, larger implications of Mr. Trump’s action: On the cusp of World War II, a ship carrying Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler’s Europe was turned away from New York Harbor, the  Jews sent back to face certain death. Never again.

PARIS — As I watched Afseneh Mahian’s production of Mahin Sadri’s reality-based play, “Every day a little bit more,”  unfold Monday night at the Theatre de la Ville’s Abbesses Theater in Montmartre, I could not stop thinking: Why aren’t we seeing this (Iranian production) in the United States? Why is the U.S. instead actually fining the French bank BNP Paribas $8.9 billion for breaking the arbitrary American embargos against Iran and the Sudan, while the French are bringing Iranian artists to Paris to talk about other things besides Islam, terrorism, nuclear weapons, Syria, Shi’ites, Sunnis, Salafism, Wahabiism, Wassabiism, fatwahs, anti-Semitism, ayatollahs, oil, censorship, bans, and other subjects which do exist but which are not the sole facet of the Iranian-Persian (or even Muslim) identity, just as gun violence and white against black racial killings are not the only element of the American identity? Even if  what’s derisively referred to here as “multi-culturalism” may get a bad rap from some sectors of French punditry, fueled by misplaced fear that it dimishes instead of enchancing the national identity, when it comes to cultural vectors —  in this case, director Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota and his Theatre de la Ville team — there’s no contest: the French are infinitely more open to the world. And the pay-off is infinite. Thanks to Demarcy-Mota and these incredibly earnest and sincere artists, now whenever I hear “Iranian nuclear threat” or skepticism about Iran’s motivations in Syria, behind the word “Iranian” I can see not just ayatollic machinations and troglodyte conservativism but a people with the exact same concerns as the rest of us.

Even as I was slipping into my usual critical aloofness Monday and ‘judging’ “Every day a little bit more” on dramatic criteria, I kept pinching myself in disbelief that I was actually watching three Iranian women and their Iranian theater company permitted into the country like any other troupe to depict universal human dramas, something I could never be watching if I were in the United States. (Author’s note, 1/29/2017: When this article was original published in 2015, an American reader disputed this contention. Under Mr. Trump’s new order though, in 2017 there’s no doubt.) You may think I’m exaggerating, but when afterwards I asked Elham Korda (in English; for a people supposedly weaned on hate for “the Great Satan,” they have an amazing proclivity for speaking its mother tongue; among the Iranian contingent at the after-party Monday, English was more pre-dominant than Farsi or French) — who plays the widow of real-life martyr Major General Abbas Doran, who crashed his plane, fatally hit by Iraqi fire, into the Baghdad hotel where Saddam Hussein was planning a meeting of the non-aligned movement to send the message that Iraq was winning its war with Iran — if the play, also touring to Vienna and Brussels, would be going to the United States, she just smiled ironically.

iranians-twoElham Korda and Setareh Eskandari in Afsaneh Mahian’s production of Mahin Sadri’s “Every day a little bit more.” Reza Ghaziani photo copyright Reza Ghaziani and courtesy Theatre de la Ville.

In this context it almost feels banal re-hashing the stories of the three women, involving, besides Korda’s older war widow, Baran Kosari’s mountain-climber and Setareh Eskandari’s mistress of a soccer star / wife murderer. What matters more — and I’m embarassed that my French colleagues won’t feel as obsessed with this point and will feel more free to examine the play itself without being distracted by the political externals — is that, like film-maker Abbas Kiarostami’s 1997 “Taste of the Cherry,” Mahian and Sadri, through the vessels of their credible interpreters and enabled by the Theatre de la Ville reveal Iranians as normal human beings with concerns we can all relate to. (Spoiler alert.)

Tragic ending aside, for example, Kosari’s measuring up to the male rappelers on her team reminded me of the Brady Bunch episode where Marcia decides to join the Boy Scouts for a foraging expedition and holds her own with the guys, only Marcia got more winded that Kosari’s character, based on the real-life story of the first Iranian woman to scale various mountain-tops. Korda’s character (the reason I keep referring to the actresses’ characters is that none of them were given names, just as they never got to consume the scrumptious dinner — you could smell the spicy aromas mounting as the meat sizzled — they prepared live in a real kitchen set up on stage), meanwhile, could have been an American war widow holding out hope that her husband’s body not being recovered meant he could miraculously show up any day. There are particular exceptions, confirming that Iranian women still have a long way to go: Her husband’s pension goes not to her but his father, she getting a quarter of the amount — with the precision that it’s to be devoted to the costs of raising their son, the male life still priming. And while it’s not entirely clear whether she or the soccer hero has killed his wife, Eskandari as his mistress agrees to his request that she take the fall after his ultimately false assurance that he’ll get her spared from the death penalty. But the very noting of these sexist conditions belies the notion that the Iranian government will censure anything critical of its society and policies; “Every day a little bit more” was not only presented at this year’s Tehran International Theater Festival, it won the awards for best original text and best actresses.

If I have a criticism, it’s not of the acting itself, which was appropriately direct and accordingly unembellished and dramatic when called for, but of the oddity that while the three heroines’ stories were interlaced, there wasn’t a lot of actual interaction between them; rather they related their tales directly to the audience. But the correspondence between the three journeys was clear: In one fashion or another, while each was paired with an evident male hero — the soccer player, the male mountaineering champion, the fighter pilot — in each case it could be argued that the woman’s exploits were more enduringly heroic. The mistress paid the price for her lover’s infidelity to and possible murder of his wife (the conviction and horrifyingly graphic precision of her confession makes it hard to tell if she’s making it up to cover him or really committed the act; the text could be more clear here); the mountaineer was the one ostracized (including by her own mother) after her male partner’s fatal decision to allow the participation of a mountaineer not in a state to be climbing in their expedition; and unlike him, even the martyr’s widow didn’t choose her path but had it imposed on her, and given that society treated her almost like a sub-survivor whose suffering wasn’t as important as her father in law’s or son’s, her crucible was more unjust and more enduring. It might even be argued that, in the sense that it required bucking state authority, her refusal to have her husband’s empty uniform buried in his grave for want of a real corpse demanded just as much courage. These are martyrs in their own right whose stories are as meritorious as those of the men to whose orbits they were inevitably tethered.

You Belong to Me: Keith Haring Sketches Penises in front of Tiffany’s, and other dreamquests


Keith Haring. Manhattan Penis Drawings for Ken Hicks, 1978. Graphite on paper. 8 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches (21.6 x 14 cm). ©Keith Haring Foundation. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York. First published on the Arts Voyager in 2012.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Text copyright 2016 Paul Ben-Itzak

Today my  DVD deck on my more or less brand new lap-top broke down just after I’d popped in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” for my annual refresher course in pursuing one’s dreams and fleeing one’s disappointments with panache. Every year Blake Edwards’s film of Truman Capote (note to French media: It’s CA-POE-TEE not CA-POHT)’s novel teaches me something new. Two years ago, I finally understood why George Peppard’s insisting, “You belong to me, Holly” is not misogynistic. (If I told you there would be no need for you to view the film.)

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La canarie dans le mine de charbon: Pourquoi Trump a gagné, et comment la France peut evité un destin pareil

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2016 Paul Ben-Itzak

“The forgotten men and women will be forgotten no longer.” (Fini l’oublie des oubliées.)
— Donald Trump, president-elu des Etats-Unis, le 9 novembre

Je vous demande pardon tout d’abord pour mon francais, mais le contenu de mon message, meme s’il risque d’etre plein des fauts, est tellement importante, que pour une fois dans ses pages il faut que je vous parle dans la langue de ce pays adoptif qui m’est si chere — surtout a l’heure ou mon autre pays risque de tomber dans le neant car on n’as pas assez entendu le cri des ‘petites’ gens qui souffrent, ses delaissés de le mondialisation et le Capitalism néo-liberal.

Car oui, on les n’ont pas entendu.

Si les americains ont elu Barack Obama en 2008, ce n’etait pas parce que le racisme des certains segments de la population americaine a tout a coup fondu. C’est parce que les gens avaient peur. Ils avaient peur de se retrouver SDF, sans de quoi manger, sans futur sur a leguer a leurs enfants. Et comme le candidat Republican de l’epoque — assez moderé, d’ailleurs — n’a pas semblé maitraisé ou meme comprendre la crise economique, ils ont preferé a mettre leur confiance dans le jeune homme, diplomé de la prestigeuse Harvard University Law School, qui leur a semblé le mieux equipé et preparé pour fair face a le situation. Peu importe la couleure de sa peau.

Donc, si aujourd’hui ils ont choisi un homme aux mots racistes, misogynes, anti-immigrants, sans gout, et qui des qu’il se trouve devant un fait qui ne lui convient pas le nie, ce n’etait pas parce qu’ils sont (en majorité)  racistes ou betes. Bien sur que — et malheureusement — il  existe probablement parmi les soutiens de Trump un noyau de 30% (ca vous fait penser à quelq’un?) qui le suit dans ses prejudices. Mais les voteurs qui l’ont donné la marge de la victoire sont les delaissés de la mondialisation et de capitalism néo-liberal. (Je ne dis pas qu’ils avaient raison de penser que c’est un des pires exemplaires du capitalism, M. Trump, qui va les sauver!)

Né dans la Californie, j’ai passé le plupart de mes années adult Etats-Unisian la-bas et a New York. Mais avant de rentrer en France, j’avais vecu 3 années dans le Texas. Bien evidemment j’ai cotoyé pas mal des racistes la-bas (et des gens de bon coeur aussi), et des types plein de haine pour autrui (surtout quand il s’agit des freaks comme moi!). Mais un beau jour, j’ai rencontré un homme de mon age, c’est a dire 50 ans, en train de vendre ses affaires dans un vide maison. (Parmi lesquelles  une photo des soeurs tisseuses a Toulouse prise par un certain John Howard Griffin, autrefois auteur du fameux livre “Black Like Me,” edité pendant les années ’60, et qui raconte l’histoire d’un homme blanc qui a changé le couleur de sa peau en noir pour voir comment les gens le traitait.) C’etait en 2012. Et cet homme — qui autrefois a travailé dans la batiment — etait au chomage depuis 2008, et donc se trouvait forcé de vendre la maison de son pere.

A Paris, j’ai un ami de longue date, artisan-electrician, et qui tend une petite commerce, avec lui-meme comme seule salaire. Depuis des années, il me raconte que il devrais payé tant des impots — jusque presque 60 percent de ces revenues — que des fois c’est moins couteuse de prendre ses vacances que de travailé. Et pour l’assurance santé, c’est pas gagné. On a parlé aprés la vote pour le “Brexit.” Selon lui, c’etait comme (c’est mon phrase mais c’etait le sens de son commentaire) la canarie dans le mine de charbon. Des qu’il y a un commencement de manque d’air dans le mine, c’est la canarie qui tomber d’abord — c’est comme un signalement aux mineurs que ca vas pas dans le mine. Pour lui, la vote pour le Brexit donc n’etait pas forcement un rejet de l’immigration, mais des regulations (austerité, pour example) imposé par Bruxelles. Et il faut, selon lui, que l’EU prendre la vote pour le Brexit comme un avertissement que si on ne veut pas que les autres pays suive, ca devrais changé. Il faut qu’on ecoutet aux ‘petites’ gens. (Ce matin meme, suit aux resultats du scrutin americain, Dominique de Villepin a qualifié les Etats-Unis et la France comme ‘les freres jumeaux.’)

Donc — et comme aux Etats-Unis — soit si c’est les ‘petites’ retraits (comme mes voisins ici dans la Sud de France) qui arrivent a peine a leur fin de mois, soit si c’est les jeunes pour lesquelles souvent la seule embauche est un stage mal ou non-payé, soit si c’est les gens plus agé qui (comme votre serviteur) sont les rejets de la marché d’emploie — oui, les ‘petites’ gens ont peur. Et il faut les entendre.

Mais les bonne nouvelles — car oui, des bonnes nouvelles il y en est, si vous avez la chance de vivre et pouvoir voter en France — c’est que coté democracie, ici c’est pas comme aux Etats-Unis.

Aux Etats-Unis, sachez vous qu’on n’a pas que les Democrats et les Republicans? On a aussi les petites parties, voir les Verts et les Libertarians, mais — au contraire a la France — ils ont etaient exclu des debats televisés (qui sont controlé par les deux grandes parties), et de la media dit ‘mainstream’ en general. Et quand un Socialist atypiquement malin a reussi a entrer quand meme dans le course des primaires Democrats, l’appareil du partie (controlé par des proches à Clinton) a carrement favoré, voir travailé, pour l’election de Hilary… ca que, en fin de compte, n’as pas joué dans sa favour dans le scrutin general car des milliers des jeunes qui ont voté et travailé pour Bernie Sanders, se sentient disenfranchisé, n’ont pas voté.

Cette manque de vrais democracie n’est pas le cas en France.

Vous savez, la ou je vivre en ce moment — dans une petite village en Sud de France — j’ecouter beacoup la radio publique Francaise. Et la, dans cette period pre-presidential, tout les points de vu — tout les candidats et candidates, je veut dire — sont exposé et representé. Uniquement cette semaine sur France Inter et France Culture j’avais deja entendu le chef du parti communiste, Pierre Laurent, le candidat presidential d’Europe Ecologie Yannick Jadot, et Daniel Cohn-Bendit. (On entendre JAMAIS les Communists sans parle les Verts  sur les chaines dit mainstream aux Etats-Unis.) La semaine derniere c’etait Bruno Lemaire. Ce n’etait pas mon ‘rayon’ political ce derniere, *mais* lui, au moins, il a dit avec raison que le probleme centrale qui occupe les francaises c’est pas l’identité national mais le BOULOT. Et donc OUI, ici en France au moins, au contraire aux Etats-Unis on est exposé aux politicians  — et visions — des presque toutes rayons (ou au moins plus des rayons qu’aux Etats-Unis), et c’est bien.

Donc, voici la message — meme leçon, si j’ose dire — que je tienne a tiré et de transmis de la scrutin americain pour mes ami/es francaises:

Si vous ne voulais pas vous trouver encore une fois devant un 21 avril ou (maintainant) un 9 novembre a la francaise — ou, comme a dit Yogi Berra, le baseballer qui a produit autant de pearls de sagesse que home runs, un cas de ‘deja vu all over again’ — arrete de dire, s’il vous plait, “Ils sont tout pourri.”

Parce qu’il y a Benoit Hamon.

Il y a Yannick Jadot.

Il y a Clementine Autain.

Il y a Pierre Laurent.

Il y a Francois Bayrou.

Il y a Emmanuel Macron.

Il y a Bruno Lemaire.

Il y a NKM.

Il y a *meme* Francois Hollande.

Surtout, ne vous resigné pas a dire que si vos compatriots veulent voté pour la Marine, c’est car ils sont des xenophobes. *Montré leur qu’il y a un autre voie possible.* Avant qu’il sera trop tard.

Pour ecouter un radio de gauche Etats-Unisian — genre le La-bas si j’y suis de Daniel Mermet — cliquez ici.

A la MEP, l’Amerique vu par Andres Serrano /At the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, America by Serrano


Andres Serrano, “Blood on the Flag” (9/11), 2001-2004.  © Andres Serrano and courtesy Galerie Nathalie Obadia Paris/ Bruxelles.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Text copyright 2016 Paul Ben-Itzak

In a jaundiced media climate in which too many journalists seem more interested in confirming stereotypes than confronting them, what artists can provide is a perspective guided not by fixed political, racial, national, or societal constructs but by their own inherent acute aesthetic antennae and geographic sensibility. Such is the frank portrait etched of the United States — not incidentally providing a much-needed antidote to the tired stereotypes the American presidential election has enabled much of the French media to regurgitate (we’re just a bunch of Puritan sexists, 60 million of us are in prison, ad nauseum) — by the photographs of Andres Serrano in a major exhibition opening November 9 at the City of Paris’s Maison Européenne de la Photographie, where it continues through January 29.

To access the rest of the article, including more images — among them by pioneering 19th century photographer Gustave Le Gray — subscribers please e-mail paulbenitzak@gmail.com . Not a subscriber? 1-year subscriptions are just $49 or Euros, or $25 or Euros for students and unemployed artists. Just designate your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com , or write us at that address for information on how to pay by check or in British pounds.