Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Pandemic lies

 Nate Silver, on venues where he's frightened of catching COVID-19:

I don't know how commonplace this knowledge is, but in my younger years, when I had a number of opportunities to visit the Louvre, I learned that you shouldn't bother to try to look at the Mona Lisa, because you won't be able to. There are too many bourgeois there with their checklists of things you have to do in Paris, and looking at the Mona Lisa, the all-time no. 1 greatest painting ever, is the thing they need to do, and be photographed doing, when they go to the Louvre, and they've always got it surrounded, whenever you can get into the museum. The biggest and most ironical thing being that right there in the same space was a spectacularly complicated and gorgeous Leonardo that nobody was looking at, depicting a Virgin sitting on her mother's lap as the baby Jesus plays with a baby lamb, and these fantastical landscape configurations, that you can stare at forever.

I believe they're in altogether different spaces nowadays, because the crowds La Joconde brings in are now so large she needs her own gallery, but the point holds even more: experiencing the Mona Lisa could be an aesthetic moment that would change your life forever, but we'll never find out, because that means being in a mob; we'll have a better moment, or many moments, with something else, from among the hundreds of incredible paintings and sculptures that are visible in the other galleries, simply because they're really visible.

Similar goes for the Vatican, where you'll be in a mob hurting your neck in the Sistine Chapel and its famous Michelangelo ceiling (honestly you'll get more out of the digital version), but the Raphael Rooms aren't crowded at all, and what they offer is beyond extraordinary; or MoMA, where noplace is crowded except the blockbuster show of the given moment, where. again, you won't get to see anything anyway (I was at the Picasso portraits exhibition in 1996 when my three-year-old daughter fell asleep in my arms, strollers being not allowed. and I had no choice but to tell my friends to proceed without me, and traverse the whole show at top speed, looking at nothing, until we got to the rooftop sculpture garden and she promptly woke up and started tormenting the elderly visitors).

What I'm saying is, really, that we're seeing celebrity pollster Nate Silver revealed here as one of those helpless bourgeois discussed in the early writings of Pierre Bourdieu, calibrating their artistic lives in terms of the Top of the Pops chart, which I wasn't expecting.

And, worse, that what he's talking about is something other than what he thinks it is, the moral interpretation we saw in the earliest days of the pandemic, when conservatives were getting enraged by the idea that outdoor demonstrations against police brutality were not likely to encourage the spread of COVID-19, and church services were. It was based on the unconscious belief that disease is a just, divinely instituted punishment for sinful behavior: you get STDs because you're a sexual pig, you get gout or diabetes because you're a gastronomic pig. That's what Nate is showing: you should catch COVID if you hang out in these environments of wickedness, casinos and art museums, you shouldn't if you don't get involved in such things. 

It's just shocking that Silver should bring up this kind of thing. 

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