October 26, 2013.
Louis XI of France was called, behind his back, "The Universal Spider." It was suggested, at times, that Louis wove his web so skillfully he was often the first one caught.
So, too, with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which just announced it had signed an agreement with the City of New York to solve its short-term problem: the Museum has been claiming for a year or more that it's entitled to charge admission, based on a 1970 (or 1971) agreement. Whether 1970 or 1971 makes no difference since there never was a signed agreement to begin with.
Except there is now, and this resolves a minor problem with two ongoing lawsuits charging that the Met has been illegally charging admissions, without the required agreement with the City of New York: now the Museum will only have been charging illegal admissions for the past forty-three years, forget about the present or future. A judge is presently deciding if both cases can go forward, and since part of one case demands compensation for all the admission fees the Met's been charging since 1970, the plaintiffs can argue that today's agreement is the Met's own way of fessing up. The Met's new agreement doesn't answer the more damning charge, that the Met's been sneakily—is sneakily still—demanding an admission fee far above whatever it wasn't then allowed to charge, and wasn't until now. This is the problem that won't go away: The more the Met tries to work itself free, the more it publicizes its own dishonest practices, past and present. The more you struggle in the sticky web of capital, the one you've woven yourself—the sooner the red widow moves in for the kill.
On top of which the Met has finally agreed that it would accept a penny's "voluntary admission" and that any further increases of the official, voluntary kind, will need approval by the City. In other terms: requesting admission of two pennies is now a violation of the City Lease. All those signs suggesting-requesting-demanding $25.00 or so? They're obviously illegal and a violation of the intent of the agreement with the City. The signed one.
There's worse: In this case at least the Bloomberg Administration wasn't able to hand over the keys to the piggie bank in perpetuam: while it's true that the City may grant further increases, it's also true that the City, under the new mayor, might simply revoke the present ones; that will depend, as it always has, on how much of an argument the Met can build that it needs the money. Which it doesn't, by the way.
And by the way: according to the original lease, the City has the right, if it feels the Met is not living up to whatever part of the bargain, to ask the Museum to vacate within six months. I hope we're all down with that, 'cause I can't wait for the moving sale...
October 31, 2013.
I recall seeing, in the good old 'sixties, a call to demonstrate that included the warning, Left-handed hippies need not apply. The warning today should read: Right-handed liberals need not sue, because they'll blow the case anyhow. Judge Shirley Werner (no relation) Kornreich has dismissed one half of the suits brought against the Met, the very small and minor part that argues that the Met may not charge a penny for admission. It was another Pyrrhic victory for the Met, because Judge Shirley also casually suggested that the one-penny admission could be interpreted as meaning that "Admission to the Met is de facto free for all." Two pennies, presumably, would mean something else altogether.
Where the plaintiffs dropped the ball, is in not contesting the interpretation Judge handed down, that the practice itself—the practice of collecting "voluntary" donations—is acceptable because the Met needs the money, because as long as the Met can claim it needs the money it can argue that its practice of excluding or singling out or restricting any number of people for any number of reasons is not what judges call "capricious and arbitrary:" not, for instance, a blatant example of racial or economic discrimination. But of course "racial" and "economic" are quite outside the range of permissible liberal thought, in fact they're what liberal thought is designed to repress.
January 22, 2013.
Another adventure at the Met—an adventure in Ridonkulous. I went up to the perfectly pleasant young woman behind the cash register, handed her a tenner, and told her I wanted to pay a penny. "A penny?" she said. "Yes, I said." "I'm afraid I don't have any change," she said and I could well believe her, it was early in the morning, and right then she was staring into the open drawer of the cash register.
We both paused. Then: "You might try another register," she suggested, which was perfectly reasonable since the Hall was almost empty and there were no lines anywhere. Another pause, then: "Will you take a credit card?—Of course," she said. So she rang up my credit card and issued me a receipt, plus a ticket, plus the duplicate of my signed payment form, all for $0.01.
Perhaps it's time the Met set up a little jar in front of each cash register:
Got a penny? Give a penny! Need a penny? Take a penny!
And if they don't, maybe someone else will...
January 22, 2013.
There's a Ring Lardner story about a writer who's holed up in a hotel room trying to write without distractions, and he's driven crazy by Room Service's inability to send up a large coffee: two small cups of coffee, one small cup, a pot of coffee every morning: as if they're trying to find new ways each day to not send up his order.
I'm getting the same feeling at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: why, it looks as if they're trying to find new ways to not allow me to pay a single penny for admission!
Today I was better prepared than last week: I walked up to the pleasant young man at the cash register and handed him a quarter. "I'd like to pay a penny," I said. "A penny? he said. I don't have change." This said without looking in the register. I looked at the cashier sitting next to him. "Do you have change?" I asked. Without looking she shook her head. There was a third cashier, further back. I assumed she'd heard the exchange, so I didn't bother asking again.
"Well, can I charge this on my credit card? No," said the first young man, "we take a dollar, minimum.—Is that Museum policy?—Yes.—That's funny, because last week I was able to charge a penny at the register upstairs." For a moment I thought to ask them why they never have change to begin with; but I finally handed over the quarter; and I've got my receipt; and some day I'm going to get my money back. Twenny-four cents, and they can keep the penny.
Today I had two experiences that I'd never had before at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: three of the cashiers were of African descent, and one of them was hostile. There's a connection there: the Met has taken up the time-worn strategy of hiring black folks to work the front lines of a discriminatory policy—like black cops in the ghetto, for instance. This shifts the focus away from what's discriminatory about the policy itself, and onto the individual actors. (Structural racism. Look it up.) As an extra bonus, the new hires get defensive or resentful about the work they're doing, and that deflects the resentment of white visitors onto the black employees in an escalating spiral, until the employers find themselves forced to fire the black employees, thereby proving to the employer's satisfaction that "Affirmative action doesn't work." The employees are usually too smart to fall for this; in fact, the Met had an excellent insertion program for a while, taking on hard-to-hire people and bringing them into the workforce. Something tells me these cashiers are being thrown to the wolves.
Anyhow. I'd forgotten, once again, to bring a penny, so I handed the cashier a dollar and told her I'd like to pay a penny. She gave me one of those blank stares: "No change." Unprompted, the cashier next to her shook her head: "No change.—Well, can I charge this?—You can get change at the Information Desk."
I went over to the Information Desk and asked for change, in order to pay admission. "We can give you change, but only in quarters." Well, gosh, I wasn't about to make a fuss for a measly twenty-four cents, except this is the third time you over-charge me, Met. Make that one dollar and forty-seven cents in all, and your tab is starting to add up...
I should mention that I live in a very pleasant part of town, an area where people say "Good Morning" to the driver when they get on the bus, and "Thank You" when they get off. (At least the Old Rich demand as much courtesy from themselves as they expect from others.)
Anyhow. The other day I was behind a nice old lady at the supermarket checkout. Thanks to her coupons and refunds, Nice Old Lady owed ¢ 0.20, and she certainly hoped the clerk didn't mind charging ¢ 0.20 to her credit card: "This must be the smallest amount ever charged!"
"Actually," I blurted out, "I just charged ¢ 0.01 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art!
—Oh! That's sad," Said NOL.
—"Why is that sad?
—Because they need the money..."
In a flash we were two alpha New Yorkers, sizing each other up. But I managed something closer to "I'm sure you're mistaken, Ma'am" than "What the fuck do you know?," and NOL left with a tight little smile.
I turned back to the checkout woman: African-American, late forties I'd say, not particularly stylish in her dress.
"You know, I bet they lose more money paying for all the people who collect those fees, than they make up in tickets...
—You're right. It's not really about the money, it's about keeping certain people out." This said as casually as if we'd been discussing the weather.
—I know what you mean, she said." It was as casual an observation, in return, as if we'd been discussing the weather.
Vox populi, vox Dei. (That's Latin, you know.)
James Jackson Jiveass
"I hope you tackle the various levels of Membership. I joined one year because I wanted to attend openings and meet people. The openings I was privy to with basic membership were, of course, second or third openings, with the real openings (where you might actually meet people and enjoy a glass of wine) secret." — Gavin Keeney.
"Thanks for the heads up. I do plan to address this briefly, though perhaps not in a way that everybody will appreciate. I'm aware that a large number of Museum members are unhappy with the way their membership is structured: they're in the position of poor middle-class Americans (petit-bourgeois if you prefer) who are offered a way to rise above the working class, only to discover that they themselves are still treated like a working class with privileges — a 'house visitor' instead of a 'field visitor'. Incidentally, you're not missing much at those 'real openings,' either."— PW.
"Gramsci's definition of the petit bourgeoisie is slightly different than yours. For him they are the ones who can swing in either direction and are, therefore, dangerous, not merely culpable. 'Either direction' is for or against revolution (based on their own petty interests primarily). Intellectuals are, of course, part of the petit bourgeoisie." — GK.
"Spartakus on. I agree with Gramsci's evaluation, which was also Marx's—it's implicitly stated in the Communist Manifesto. The practical question is, which way does the particular group that filed these lawsuits swing? Both suits show remarkable indifference to the policy of social stratification practiced by the Met, in fact, quite the reverse: the first lawsuit wants the Met to increase stratification by installing 'Pay-for-Entry' days. Unfortunately, Gramsci isn't much help for dealing with this problem, which is mostly about the reproduction of capital through culture."— PW.
PS: Pierre Bourdieu has a particularly cogent answer for today:
Conclusion: The Foundations of Petit-Bourgeois Suffering.
No doubt because the aspirations that underlie the dissatisfactions, disillusionments and tribulations of the petite bourgeoisie, who are pre-eminently the victims of symbolic violence, always seem to owe something to the complicity of the sufferers themselves, and to the mystified, alienated desires by which these modern incarnations of the Heautontimoroumenos [self-torturer] conspire to bring about their own unhappiness. By embarking upon projects that are often too large for them, because they are measured against their aspirations rather than their possibilities, they lock themselves into impossible constraints, with no option but to cope with the consequences of their decisions, at an extraordinary cost in tensions, and, at the same time, to strive to content themselves, as the expression goes, with the judgement reality has passed on their expectations: they thus may spend their whole lives striving to justify misconceived purchases, unfortunate schemes and one-sided contract both to themselves and to their nearest and dearest; or, on another favoured terrain for their investments, the terrain of education, to justify their failures and semi-successes or, worse, deceptive successes leading to complete dead-ends which the education system often reserves for its favoured sons and daughters, the most noteworthy of which is surely a career in teaching itself, doomed as it is to structural decline. [Bourdieu 2005, 184-85]
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"Dear Kate Spaulding: Your request for Plausible Deniability has been rejected. The decision of our committee is final."— The Editors.
"Dear Paul, Shouldn't the word 'class' be capitalized? Looking forward to reading this book."— Cynthia A., art historian.
"Dear Cynthia: Nice catch; however, I made the decision a while ago not to capitalize my titles systematically, in the French manner. This has certain advantages for clarity of meaning. In this case, the non-capitalization of class draws attention to the capitalization of Culture, which in English has a meaning different from culture, similar to the distinction between Kultur and Zivilisation in German. — PW.
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The Universal Museumspider