‘Rugrats,’ Grace Kelly, and Identity Politics in Art: Today’s Recommended Reading

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Here at Flavorwire, we pride ourselves on not only writing some of the best content on the internet, but keeping an eye on all of the great writing that other folks on the ‘net are doing, too. Today we have a personal story about the importance of the Nickelodeon cartoon, Rugrats, as well as the weird true story of Grace Kelly’s ascension to princess. Then there’s a long history of how identity politics came to dominate the art world, as well as a humorous and angry look at pop-scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s ability to suck the fun out of everything by reducing it to its science core.

First, at The Atlantic, Edward Delman writes about the importance of Rugrats the cartoon’s trailblazing portrayal of Judaism, especially in a climate of children’s entertainment that either shies away from religion or explores only Christianity.

It may seem small, but those holiday specials and the general Jewishness ofRugrats were groundbreaking for television at the time. Despite the leading role Jews have played in the entertainment industry, proudly Jewish characters have historically been a rare presence on the small screen. In children’s television in particular, Rugrats was one of the few shows I remembering seeing that acknowledged the existence of Jews. The only other notable example was Hey Arnold!—also a Nickelodeon series—that featured an episode about a member of Arnold’s friend group, Harold, having his bar mitzvah.

The story of Grace Kelly is a weird one, a true case of truth being stranger than fiction, given the fact that movies have/should continue to be made about her ascension (should you consider it as much) to royalty. This piece at The New Republic looks not only at the story of Kelly’s marriage to Prince Rainier, but also at her time in Hollywood prior to that marriage, where, in one film, she actually played a woman who married for royal position rather than love.

Alfred Hitchcock said that he was attracted to Kelly’s “sexual elegance” when castingTo Catch a Thief; as she embodied his stated preference for casting women whom he believed exuded a reserved but secretly smoldering sexuality. In an interview with Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock explained how he “deliberately photographed Grace Kelly ice-cold [and] kept cutting to her profile, looking classical, beautiful, and very distant.” For Hitchcock the most interesting women, sexually, were English and other northern Europeans; their exterior reserve made them much more exciting than the (in his opinion) more overtly sexual Italian or French women. “Sex should not be advertised,” he said.

The concept of identity, and the importance of conquering one’s own self-identity, has been central to most (internet-based) discussions, both culturally and politically, for the past few years, at least. It’s so integral to the way we look at art and each other (and ourselves) that it’s hard to imagine a time when these things weren’t integral, and yet such a time did exist — and not too long ago. That transition, and the art show that spurred it, is examined in this very long piece in New York magazine, which has really been upping its art game lately.

We’ve been living so long now in a culture of self-assertion that it may be hard to remember just how new this spirit is. The Impressionists were not overtly making work about “identity” or “the self”; nor were the Cubists, or the Fauvists. The entire engine of modernism, while powered by larger-than-life artistic personalities, subjugated art to work that was primarily “about” form and technique. Fast-forward to the postwar period, and the story is the same: Think of the grandiose universality of Mark Rothko’s Abstract Expressionism or Richard Serra’s and Carl Andre’s materialistic minimalisms. We think we know these artists by looking at their work, and we do; but the work is not about who they are. Even Warhol said, “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface … There’s nothing behind it.” To be sure, this new transformation had roots going further back than the 1990s, especially among artists, who for decades were actively preoccupied with politics, black power, women’s liberation, gay liberation, and more.

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s job as educator of the masses is an important one. Misinformation, especially as to the workings of the world at large, are dangerous not just for individuals but also for society. However, when Tyson makes it his duty to correct science fiction films and remind the world of its own meaninglessness, he reaches beyond his duty as educator and becomes a total bummer. Wired recently republished an essay that takes Tyson to task in a very fun, enraged way.

A decent name for this tendency, for stars and spaceships recast as the instruments of a joyless and pedantic class spite, would be I Fucking Love Science. ‘Science’ here has very little to do with the scientific method itself; it means ontological physicalism, not believing in our Lord Jesus Christ, hating the spectrally stupid, and, more than anything, pretty pictures of nebulae and tree frogs. ‘Science’ comes to metonymically refer to the natural world, the object of science; it’s like describing a crime as ‘the police,’ or the ocean as ‘drinking.’ What ‘I Fucking Love Science’ actually means is ‘I Fucking Love Existing Conditions.’ But because the word ‘science’ still pings about between the limits of a discourse that depends on the exclusion of alternate modes of knowledge, the natural world of I Fucking Love Science is presented as being essentially a series of factual statements. There are no things, there are only truths. The fact that the earth is a sphere is vast and ponderous: you stand on its grinding surface, as that fact carries you on its heavy plod around our nearest star. The fact that the forms of organic life emerge through Darwinian evolution is fractal and distributed, so that little fragments of that fact will bark at you in the street or dart chirping overhead. The fact that there is no God, being a negative statement, is invisible, but you know for certain that it’s out there.