Arthur Miller — one of America’s greatest playwrights whose work reflected his affinity for the underdog and who translated his social conscience into political action — was born 100 years ago (October 17, 1915) and died in 2005.
A Miller play is always being performed somewhere in the world, but there’s a remarkable revival of five of his creations about to take place in New York, where he grew up. Next month, A View From the Bridge opens on Broadway, a staging of Incident at Vichy opens Off-Broadway, and a Yiddish version of his most famous work, Death of a Salesman (with English subtitles) is about to open, too.
In the spring, The Crucible, starring Ben Whishaw and Sophie Okonedo, will open in New York as well. Meanwhile, his play Broken Glass recently opened at the Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut.
It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when San Francisco was considered a working-class town. It had always been home to a generous share of bohemians, dilettantes and tycoons, of course – but it had also been the city of unchallenged union power, the general strike and rough-hewn but familial neighborhoods spilling from the Fillmore District to Potrero Hill. It’s where even Jack Kerouac worked as a brakeman for Southern Pacific.
“Anyone who disappears,” says a character in The Picture of Dorian Gray, “is said to be seen at San Francisco. It must be a delightful city and possess all the attractions of the next world.” Generations of Americans in search of reinventing themselves have agreed – along with those simply searching to invent. This latter group of “tech bros, hipsters and yoga yuppies” is the focus of Alexandra Pelosi’s 40-minute documentary, currently viewable on HBO TV and its streaming platforms.
It’s that time of year when I look for my name on the list of MacArthur Fellows, and not finding it once again resolve to keep working and wait until next time. But truly, perusing such a list is as humbling as it is inspiring.
From puppeteers and choreographers to novelists, set designers, economists, chemists, sociologists, journalists, educators, environmentalists and community leaders, the MacArthurs each year offer a who’s who of the best and the brightest, making us feel optimistic about the capabilities of the human mind and spirit.
“These 24 delightfully diverse MacArthur Fellows,” as MacArthur President Julia Stasch states, “are shedding light and making progress on critical issues, pushing the boundaries of their fields, and improving our world in imaginative, unexpected ways.”
And what’s especially unique about the MacArthur Genius grant, as stated on the foundation’s website, is that “the fellowship is not a reward for past accomplishment,
There now is a flow of fresh cultural monuments in Los Angeles that runs from the High School of the Arts over to Disney Hall. This includes, of course, the 36-year-old Museum of Contemporary Art, with which billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad was once deeply involved, and which Broad’s new art museum now competes with. All of a 30-year sudden, we have a cultural downtown center, complete with a hinterland of new bars, stores, costly restos and so on.
Little is left of the downtown of 40 years ago – or of its scruffy arts bohemia. But that is the way of these things: Yupster egg joints are replacing the old Grand Central Market stalls that sold fruit for 20 cents a pound, new buildings arise on former parking lots where dead people sometimes turned up in the cars of those who worked overnight nearby.
The Broad museum (it’s officially called “The Broad”) looks like a mammoth white-enameled Claes Oldenburg version of a Sur La Table cheese grater.
Though we tend to associate it with barbecues and retail sales, Labor Day is a holiday honoring the American labor movement. And an easy way to celebrate the movement that brought us the minimum wage, an 8-hour workday and an end to child labor is by buying Sam Adams, Doritos, and other union-made nosh for Monday’s get-togethers.
All the products listed below are made by unionized workers . You can find a more comprehensive list over at the website Labor 411.
Meat & Buns
Ball Park franks
Hebrew National franks
Oscar Meyer & Boar’s Head hot dogs
Sara Lee buns
One could make the argument that Citizen: An American Lyric, Stephen Sach’s adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s celebrated meditation on race in America currently playing at the Fountain Theatre, could not be better timed. After all, at the same time America unites in its outrage over a lion murdered in Africa, the country is engaged in a hotly divided debate over a string of incidents where police have gunned down African Americans in the concrete jungles here at home. But such a supposition would be missing one of the most important points of Rankine’s work (the book was a finalist for a National Book Award). Because, to believe that somehow that there is some unusual collision of time and circumstance that has engendered the recent slew of acts of racism is to deny the fact that these incidents happen and have been happening—whether by switch, or rope,
…mill hands, farm hands, factory hands…hands….hands…hands…
— Eugene Debs
Ironworker Devonte Merrifield makes sure he takes care of his hands. He jokingly points out that the strength of his marriage depends on two strong – and sometimes soft – hands. “My wife complains because I can’t rub her back anymore because of my calluses. My hands can be a little rough,” he says, lifting his hands and smiling.
Merrifield is in some ways similar to my electrician father who believed that the feel of a person’s hands might indicate something about their character. Shaking my father’s hand was not merely a polite ritual. The absence of thick pads of calluses was, for him, one indication that you might not be contributing much to society.
Merrifield knows that what he does with his hands is deserving of a measure of respect. His identity is partly bound up with what he calls his “working man’s” hands and the confidence drawn from meeting the challenges of apprenticeship.
When Medicare was signed into law on July 30, 1965, nearly half of Americans over 65 had no health insurance, and many more lacked adequate coverage. Today, only 2% of senior citizens in the U.S. are uninsured. To celebrate the success of Medicare and rally for universal expansion of the program, events are being held in more than 2 dozen cities across the country.
The Los Angeles version will predictably have strong entertainment. There will be musical performances by Lili Haydn, who’s been called the “Jimi Hendrix of the violin,” along with Latino Hip-Hop group the Inner City Dwellers and musical parody group Billionaires for Wealthcare.
Also on the program are actor Mike Farrell of M*A*S*H, Richard Montoya of the performance troupe Culture Clash, State Senator Holly Mitchell, L.A. County Supervisors Sheila Kuehl, Hilda Solis, and Mark Ridley-Thomas, Dr.
Since the invention of the movie camera in the late 19th century, filmmaking has seen only a smattering of seminal technical developments. Only the advent of sound and color spawned sea changes in the medium. But in this century, the digital revolution has made it exponentially easier for filmmakers to tell stories. It was only a matter of time, then, before people started filming features using arguably the most ubiquitous technological device of our time.
It would be easy to prematurely dismiss Tangerine as a gimmick. After all, with all the tools of the trade available to film a movie, picking a 4.87-by-2.3-inch iPhone 5s seems not only ambitious but possibly a filmmaker’s folly. Luckily, for writer-director Sean Baker, the phone is a smart choice indeed.
It is the afternoon of Christmas Eve.
The first shot of What Happened, Miss Simone? shows a crowd applauding the appearance of a singer. After years of a self-imposed hiatus, Nina Simone walks onstage, and with one hand on a piano, bows. For a full 10 seconds. She then looks up and out at the rapturous audience. But she is not smiling. Her stare is intense. Some will see fear in her eyes. Others will see indifference. Others might even see loathing. Or all of it.
Once Simone sits at the piano and the applause ends, she does nothing for half a minute. The uncomfortable silence is finally broken by her softy saying “Hello” into the mic, only to be greeted by a fan shouting, “Hi. We are ready!” But is Simone? After seeing Liz Garbus’ documentary, an even better question is, “Was she ever?”
Clocking In is a new online tool from Race Forward, a New York-based group whose self-described goal “is to build awareness, solutions and leadership for racial justice.” Its analysis finds disturbing trends for people of color and women employed in the U.S. service industry. This virtual resource allows service employees to share their real-life job experiences with other workers, consumers, employers and policymakers 24/7.
Clocking In sends participants on a virtual journey while offering activist information on a range of workplace issues. Visitors choose one of three employment portals representing the restaurant, retail or domestic industries.
Clicking the restaurant option, for example, brings up a screen that says: “Workers in the restaurant industry face race and gender discrimination daily! Click ‘Start’ to learn from Race Forward and Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) about how it happens and what YOU can do about it!”
Next is a choice to click a male or female character.
A recent L.A. Times story profiled a fast-food worker who, according to reporter Don Lee, would lose eligibility for Medicaid if his wages were raised to $15. His wage gains could be “wiped out” by the higher health care costs he’d end up paying. Lee’s portrayal was inaccurate and misleading.
The story centers on 53-year-old Douglas Hunter, a Chicago McDonald’s cook and a leader in the Fight for $15, a national movement of fast-food workers who are pushing for $15 in hourly wages and the right to form a union without employer retaliation.
Hunter is currently enrolled in CountyCare, a Medicaid-managed care plan that pays for his health care, including more than $700 per month in medications and supplies he needs to manage his diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure. Contrary to Lee’s assertion, Hunter would still qualify for Medicaid based on his income if his wage were raised to $15.
Some 70 years ago, the song “Rosie the Riveter” crackled over the wireless while a Norman Rockwell illustration of Rosie flexing her bicep popped from the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. By depicting the rivet gun-toting icon on her lunch break, Rockwell hopped aboard the government-fueled propaganda bandwagon that had only one aim: to recruit and train a female workforce capable of churning out munitions, aircraft, tanks and destroyers for a costly, brutal war that spanned two oceans and three continents. Rosie the Riveter did the job, and an estimated 18 million women left the house for the factory (or shipyard) — giving many the freedom to work outside the home for the very first time.
Last week California began accepting applications for the first round of the new film and TV tax credit, which policy makers in Sacramento had beefed up to try and lure film production back to the state. The legislature passed a five-year, $1.65 billion film tax incentive program last year, and with the revamped tax credit program up and running, many entertainment workers throughout California are feeling something not felt in a long time: Hope. For the first time in 15 years, the program feels better equipped to keep our suffering entertainment industry from flatlining and to revive the iconic “Hollywood brand” to its former greatness.
However, not everyone has cause to celebrate. Thousands of California’s post-production workers, including recording musicians, are still shortchanged by the tax credit program,
Move lips, move minds and make new meanings flare.
— Seamus Heaney, “Beacons at Bealtaine”
During a time of political optimism in Northern Ireland when the peace process was beginning to take hold, Irish poet and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney gave a talk at Queens University in Belfast about the potential power of poetic language. In a place where the “idioms of suspicion and accusation” were insidious and entrenched, Heaney hoped that a fluid approach to identity and language might provide an escape route from binary thinking and the “weary twisted emotions” of Northern Ireland’s “troubles.”
Heaney suggested that it was poets and other writers who could provide a “re-angling of perception” that might loosen the stranglehold the sectarian psyche had imposed upon the linguistic and political landscape. Given some room to move, a more unruly vocabulary could surface where Catholics might regard themselves as “Catestants,” and Protestants could see themselves as “Protholics” —
The power of art to effect fundamental social change will be on display in Los Angeles this week as a major 10-day “pop-up” exhibit of visual art and accompanying performances, and workshops opens Friday at a former movie theater in the city’s Baldwin Hills neighborhood.
Called Manifest: Justice, the event will showcase over 250 works from more than 150 artists, along with 30 community events that focus on race and criminal justice reform, inequality, healthy communities and immigration reform. It is being produced with support from the California Endowment and Amnesty International.
Drawn from across the country, the list of participants includes such marquee artist-activists as the godfather of guerilla poster caricaturists, Robbie Conal, and Obama ‘HOPE’ agit-provocateur Shepard Fairey, as well as a host of up-and-coming street muralists and wheatpaste artists, inducling the likes of Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, Favianna Rodriguez and Jesse Hazelip. Also on hand will be big-league gallerists such as collagist-photographer Lyle Ashton Harris and painter-sculptor Eric Fischl.
She was the perfect patriotic icon: Sassy yet dignified, brawny yet feminine – a massive rivet gun cradled on her lap, feet resting on a copy of Mein Kampf. And all the while she holds a sandwich as Old Glory ripples in the background. Mary Doyle Keefe, a Vermont telephone operator who posed for Norman Rockwell’s immortal Rosie the Riveter painting, first publicly seen on a 1943 Saturday Evening Post cover, died Tuesday at the age of 92. At the time of her brush with fame, Keefe was Rockwell’s neighbor and a little embarrassed that the artist had pumped iron into the painted arms of the petite 19-year-old.
Rosie the Riveter had too much whimsy and restraint for it to fade into kitsch or agitprop oblivion. Like J. Howard Miller’s equally famous “We Can Do It!” poster, with which it is sometimes confused,
Fourteen months ago, media giant Comcast announced its plan to buy Time Warner Cable, a merger that would give one company control of 30 percent of television distribution and at least half of high-speed Internet distribution nationally. Here in L.A. County, Comcast would serve 96 percent of residents and, for 72 percent of those residents, it would be the only choice for broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps or faster. This level of national and local consolidation has brought together a broad range of consumer organizations, content creators, programmers and organizations representing diverse communities to oppose this merger. On April 14, these organizations came before the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) at a hearing in downtown Los Angeles to urge state regulators to say no to this deal.
Why is there such opposition? For starters, if the merger is approved Los Angeles residents are almost certain to face higher prices and anti-consumer policies that limit their access to content.
Sometimes the conventional narrative the media tell about a news story feels so wrong I can’t stand it — but I don’t know why until the story’s over. The recent coverage of the labor dispute at the West Coast ports — including Los Angeles and Long Beach — is a case in point. News reports focused on the long, drawn-out negotiation process as an economic disaster waiting to happen, and blamed the entire situation on those dastardly workers and their unions.
The narrative included several key arguments: A union slowdown at the ports was causing a backlog of shipping containers carrying everything America buys, putting all importers at risk and causing a plague on American shoppers. There would be long-term economic damage to our region as a consequence. With the eventual opening of the widened Panama Canal, shippers would skip the West Coast and head to other ports.
“He’s had some statements that to me sound kind of liberal, has taken me aback, has kind of surprised me,” (Sarah Palin on Pope Francis)
“He acts so holy. He made love to every girl in every city in America and he had AIDS. And when he had those AIDS, I went to my synagogue and I prayed for him. I hoped he could live and be well. I didn’t criticize him. I could have.” (Donald Sterling on Magic Johnson)
“Everybody who wants to steal your guns is funded by the unions. Everybody who wants to raise your taxes is funded by the unions. Everybody who wants to borrow too much money is funded by the unions. Whatever center-right issue you care about, the unions are on the other team.” (Grover Norquist)
“The guy who wins the Oscar for Best Actor has a much higher bar to clear than the woman who wins best actress.” (Writer-producer Aaron Sorkin)
“They abort their young children,