Chocolate Remix (by the way)
I've been a regular Guardian reader for more years than I care to remember. If someone chose to put me down as 'just a typical Guardian reader' I wouldn't protest very loudly. And that includes my views on art and culture – old or new. Thus I normally read not only the paper's main news section but also the more magazine-like section called G2.
Almost exactly two years ago the editorship of the paper changed hands. After his 20-year stint, Alan Rusbridger was succeeded by Katharine Viner. At first I noticed little or no change. But more recently I've been finding G2 in particular less and less to my taste. Now I accept that in terms of age I am very far from being an average reader. So perhaps that's all there is to it. Perhaps G2 is just aiming at a younger readership with tastes and interests that I'm too old to share. In the area of contemporary art and culture, for example, I am ready to admit there is much that is lauded and celebrated – in G2 and elsewhere – which I find impossible to admire. Does that make me an old fogey? Not necessarily.
The G2 for a recent issue is a case in point. Allow me to share its contents with you – and make up your own mind.
Page five, as normal, is given over to the thoughts of either a regular or specially invited contributor. Today it's by a recovering alcoholic who had decided to dramatise her break with the past by shearing off all her hair. The piece refers to other women who have chosen to do likewise (I recognise hardly any of the famous names) and goes on to comment on how people react; head-shaving in the past and so on. Marginally interesting at best.
Next is a long, four-page extract from a new book. It is a memoir concerning Caitlyn Jenner's 'journey to transgender womanhood'. Before her transition, she had been married three times – including to a member of the Kardashian family – had fathered six children, and had won an Olympic gold medal in the decathlon. I suppose it is striking that she waited until she was 65 before switching genders, but at a time when stories on the transgender theme are no longer a surprise, I'm far from persuaded that G2 should be giving free publicity to such a vastly profitable and self-serving book.
Over the page is the headline 'The New Opium of the Masses' – a piece by a lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who argues that the solution to what to do with all those made unemployable in a work-free future is the opium of computer games. But the real reason we are hearing about this is, I suspect, what follows. We are told there is nothing new about the idea that living in a 3D virtual reality world would provide 'far more excitement and emotional engagement than the "real world"'. Why? Because 'for thousands of years, billions of people have found meaning in playing virtual reality games. In the past, we have called these virtual reality games "religions"'. Is it only because I have never played a computer game that I find this preposterous?
The health page that follows concerns postpartum psychosis. At least with this I was learning something new. The following three stories make up the arts section – and for me this is where problems really begin. The first one is headlined 'Leviathan: how one artist created a monster'. My instinctive reaction is that art is not about creating monsters. 'The giant squid, democracy, mental health, migration – big beasts one and all. And each plays a role in Leviathan, a cycle of 10 films by artist Shezad Dawood.'
Conceptual art indeed. Described by 'a fellow artist' as 'Grindhouse Derek Jarman' (what does that mean?) the films are characterised by their maker as 'punkish' and 'freaky'. Given that one apparently involves 'monkey-men masturbating to internet porn', his description is no doubt accurate. The good news is that we shall have to wait until 2020 for the box set.
A second arts piece concerns an actor called Mat Fraser who was born with underdeveloped arms because of thalidomide. The headline is 'I'd begun to feel like yesterday's cripple', and the subtext runs, 'He's staged "Thalidomide! A Musical", stormed American TV and starred in an explicit fairytale with his wife. Now, Mat Fraser is raising hell as Richard III – without the hump.' Fraser's comment on Shakespeare's play –'Richard's a nasty, vicious piece of work and he loves it' – no doubt deserves a hearing, but in fact much of the article concerns Fraser's storming of American TV in a drama called 'American Horror Story: Freak Show.'
Under his freak-show alias, Sealo the Seal Boy, he also performs in summer season vaudeville shows in Coney Island. He treats his act, he tells us, 'as a form of brutalist performance art...The sideshows attract a fascinating mix of blue-collar New Yorkers, tattooed lesbians and the occasional British tourists who wander in, recognise me from the television, and react with absolute horror because they think it must be the only work I can get.' The recent fairytale with his wife is a version of 'Beauty and the Beast'. We gather it's 'a scabrously funny, true-life fairytale that climaxes in a riotous parody of an Amsterdam sex-show.' I think I'll give it a miss.
But then I also won't be rushing out to buy a ticket for the forthcoming European tour of Argentinian lesbian artist Chocolate Remix. (I'm not making this up.) The third and final arts feature in this G2 concerns 'lesbian reggaeton' and 'Choco' is described as its 'swaggering pioneer', one of a rising number of female reggaetoneras 'changing the male-dominated genre from within.' 'Choco keeps reggaeton's defining dembow rhythm and perreo (the doggy-style grinding dance culture) but uses the lyrics to satirise machismo and bust the taboos of female pleasure and lesbian sex.' Just how this is done – with or with out 'dembow rhythm' (whatever that is) is made explicit in the rest of the piece.
Despite this bombardment of the outlandish, bizarre and unbalanced in G2, I didn't decide to cancel my lifelong subscription to the Guardian. But I did feel like sitting down to a nice cup of tea.
SR depends entirely on the support of its readers for the magazine's continued survival. Please become a Friend of SR by donating £30 or more. Click here