Sam Shepard, Angelyne, Democratic Socialism in Brooklyn: This Week’s Recommended Reading


Here at Flavorwire, we pride ourselves on not only publishing excellent writing, but also keeping an eye on other great work from around the web. This week, we’re looking at a piece on democratic socialism in NYC politics; an article — and a critical response to it — on the identity of L.A. icon Angelyne; tributes to playwright Sam Shepard; and more.

If you’ve lived in L.A. for any amount of time, you may have seen a pink Corvette driving by you, and it may have registered that it belonged to Angelyne, the long-term Hollywood celebrity, celebrated… for being a celebrity (and known for once running for governor of the state, the same year as Schwarzenegger), a precursor to the fast contemporary model of Internet and reality TV show fame. The buxom platinum blonde — who for decades has loomed over the city on billboards, posing with overwrought sensualism in hot shades of pink — has indeed called herself a “Rorschach test in pink,” a sort of cartoonish manifestation of Hollywood fantasy and performative, constructed femininity. A Hollywood Reporter article by Gary Baum, shared widely around the web this week, seemingly revealed the never-before-known identity of the enigmatic self-created figure; such a revelation could sound like cruel tabloid journalism, and her resistance to the revelation does make it an ethically uncomfortable read. The writing, and the subject itself — reconstruction after trauma, but also Jewish self-erasure in old Hollywood — create a nuanced and singular portrait:

Jews had assimilated in the postwar period. Surnames Anglicized, religious observance ebbed, kosher compliance curtailed — both to better conform to their American homeland and, often, as a conscious or unconscious departure from the trauma of their European pasts. They’d arrived and imagined themselves anew. Yet Goldberg becoming Angelyne: That would be a feat far more radical, a leap far more extreme, out of a grim and drab past into a realm of complete fantasy. How fitting it would be for such an act to take place amid the New World shtetl of Hollywood, defined by metamorphosis and make-believe.

To complicate that reading, here’s Matthew Rosza writing for Salon on some of the ethical questions of the publication of the piece:

If a celebrity is harming innocent people (say by committing crimes or domestic abuse) or if their scandal pertains to the career that made them famous (such as a sports star using performance enhancing drugs), that is obviously newsworthy. But what about Angelyne, a celebrity who hasn’t been in the public eye for years, whose personal story in no way pertains to why she was famous, whose leaked information did not involve her hurting anyone — and, most importantly of all, who seems to have strong emotional reasons for not wanting her information known to the public? There are occasions when the curiosity which fuels journalism should be tempered by compassion toward the individuals whose feelings might be trampled in its wake. It isn’t the worst thing in the world for Angelyne to have been unmasked against her will, but its deeper implications are uncomfortable to contemplate.

The New Yorker published a piece by Patti Smith honoring playwright/actor Sam Shepard following his death on July 30. She describes visiting him — and writing alongside him — after he’d begun battling ALS:

We had our routine: Awake. Prepare for the day. Have coffee, a little grub. Set to work, writing. Then a break, outside, to sit in the Adirondack chairs and look at the land. We didn’t have to talk then, and that is real friendship. Never uncomfortable with silence, which, in its welcome form, is yet an extension of conversation. We knew each other for such a long time. Our ways could not be defined or dismissed with a few words describing a careless youth. We were friends; good or bad, we were just ourselves. The passing of time did nothing but strengthen that.

Meanwhile, also for TNY, Hilton Als writes more specifically about Shepard’s work (as derived from certain elements of his history), as well as his plays’ relationship to jazz and hip-hop:

Like hip-hop… Shepard’s first scripts were hopped up on their own language about race and women and guys doing guy stuff that they didn’t understand and didn’t question. The electricity in the dialogue was Shepard’s own; the energy that makes these early plays live, still, keeps the words tumbling out of his characters’ mouths.

Kristy Puchko writes in a reported piece for Vanity Fair about the “gloriously queer afterlife of Death Becomes Her,” the 1992 Robert Zemeckis film in which Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn play rival celebrities whose competition is, quite literally, undying. She speaks with Drag Race Season 5 winner Jerick Hoffer, aka Jinkx Monsoon:

Hoffer ties Helen and Madeline to a lineage of beloved bad women who dared to be both divinely stylish and unrepentantly ambitious. “I think this is a trait that runs throughout the queer community, the obsession with the hyper-feminine female villains,” Hoffer explained. “And we see it in Disney movies and in movies like Death Becomes Her, and in characters like Poison Ivy and Catwoman. Almost all the Disney villain witches are gay icons”—like Sleeping Beauty’s Maleficent, with her cold cackle and cool cape, or The Little Mermaid’s octopussy Ursula, whose design was reportedly inspired by the defiant drag queen Divine.

The Intercept profiles Jabari Brisport — the Green Party candidate the DSA (Democratic Socialists of America) is endorsing for New York’s 35th City Council District. The article, written by Zaid Jilani, details Brisport’s ideas on halting the processes of gentrification in Brooklyn and bringing change into the hands of the community, rather than private developers who end up capitalizing on the displacement of the poor. The article focuses on Brisport, but also uses his politics as a means of addressing how the DSA wants to position itself in the current climate:

“Give more community control,” he suggested, pointing to the redevelopment of the Bedford-Union Armory in Crown Heights. Brisport opposes plans to turn the 138,000-square-foot armory into a bonanza for private developers. Instead, he is supporting residents who want to turn the site into a community land trust. Under such a model, land development would be approved by a nonprofit controlled by the local community. “People from the community organize into a non-profit, and then you can turn over the land to them, instead of wealthy developer,” he explained. “They can choose who they contract out to. Maybe they’ll contract out to a non-profit. Ultimately, they’ll have final say in the negotiations.”

Speaking of New York politics, Maura Ewing has published a piece in The Atlantic on the potential decriminalization of the evasion of subway fares — the policing of which is an element of broken windows strategy (the policy largely implemented by Rudy Giuliani and William Bratton in NYC, facilitating decades of racial/class based discrimination by the NYPD):

Between January and late June, nearly 90 percent of the people arrested for fare beating were black and Latino. And it’s often teenagers who don’t pay: According to Hamilton, 16- and 17-year-olds represented about 70 percent of arrestees last year. … Two state legislators from Brooklyn recently proposed a law that would decriminalize the offense, the latest in a growing wave of local officials who argue that evading a $2.75 subway fare is no reason to land behind bars. Turnstile jumping, or fare beating, is currently considered a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail. “No one should face the nightmare of arrest, a criminal record, loss of housing, or deportation over fare evasion,” said one of the bill’s sponsors, State Senator Jesse Hamilton, at a press conference announcing it last week…Under the law, evasion would be considered a civil offense. Those caught would be charged up to $100, but their criminal records would not be affected; neither would their immigration status if they are undocumented.