Monday, December 4, 2017

Complicity: Totebaggers edition

Riverside Park South, December 3, where apparently spontaneous sculptures rhyming with the remains of old piers have popped out of the rocks.

Remember Congressman Gerry Studds (D-MA), who was censured by the House in 1983 for having an "inappropriate relationship" with a (male) House page and then regularly reelected by the good folk of his South Shore and Cape Cod district six times, till he retired in 1997? NPR brought him up as a kind of bothsiderist counterpoint, I think, to Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore, exemplifying how
Justice has been swift for some of the men accused of sexual harassment in media and entertainment. But in politics the consequences haven't been as swift or decisive. The biggest reason: democracy.
Voters are slow to react, unlike the brave people in public broadcasting—it's been some season for them, with revelations of the abuses of PBS's Charlie Rose, NPR's Garrison Keillor and Michael Oreskes, and WNYC's John Hockenberry, previously thought to have gotten the sack last summer because he was getting so terrible at his job, which was also true (and a miscreant against women on the air, constantly interrupting, dismissing and mansplaining, as listeners could have told and possibly did tell them years ago)—and today's Alabamians are no different from yesteryear's Cape Codders.

Naturally I think there's something else going on there, which is about the march of cultural change in the first place.

In 1983 the exciting movement was the broadening social recognition of lesbian and gay people as humans with rights, and the drama for the good people of Studds's district was the opportunity to show how open and accepting they were of their gay congressman, to the point that they forgot about the kid (who was 17 and testified, in any case, that the relationship was "consensual and not intimidating"). Nowadays we do think about the kids, maybe occasionally more than is warranted (ignoring the words of Monica Lewinsky, say, in favor of a patheticized picture of her as victim without any personal agency, though she was not strictly speaking a kid at all), but Alabamians are really behind the curve, perhaps for tribalist reasons; the Moore stories are really awful, and clearly true, and you have to be willfully blind not to see it.

I had a weird little chill of recognizing complicity in myself over the weekend, over the very distressing story that James Levine, the great conductor who led New York's Metropolitan Opera for decades, has been suspended by the organization over credible allegations of sexual abuse of underage boys, students he should have been protecting, 30 and 40 years ago. Complicity because, unlike in all these cases from Harvey Weinstein to Roy Moore, I actually had heard a rumor about Levine back in the day (I was a hanger-on in public radio myself, jockeying classical-music shifts at an NPR-affiliate college station), and didn't think about the kids, in the way one didn't think about the kid in the Studds case.

Levine himself has been through an entirely different kind of drama over the past ten years or so, with a series of health problems that left him pretty much crippled and eventually unable to work at all for some years, until therapy and a fabulous motorized wheelchair allowed him to return to the Met with a wonderful Così Fan Tutte.

I've spent a lot of very happy time with him over the years, mostly from a mile or so overhead in the Family Circle. He's not necessarily the best interpreter of all the music he does, an incredible range anyway, but extraordinary for the way he works with instrumentalists and singers, who adore him. A couple of months ago I saw an old video in which he was coaching Kathleen Battle in the huge aria from Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos, and overwhelmed by his tenderness with the soprano, and desire to serve her in her art. Are you getting what you need from the orchestra, he kept asking. Am I giving you enough time? Am I giving you enough support?

I'm not looking for the video, too sad to think about watching it anyway, but thinking about the strange coexistence of Levine's extreme artist's generosity with the selfish wickedness described in The Times.

Couldn't find video of Battle singing that aria, but here's a really exquisite performance.

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