Drag Them To Filth

Drag Them To Filth: I Didn’t Get COVID-19 So You Could Write A Bad Think Piece Edition (Part 1)

Why hello there, dearest Filthy Dreams readers! Does anyone else feel hot or should I obsessively take my temperature again to make sure I’m not backsliding in my virus? Are you feeling your lungs burning?

Me too! No no, it’s not the COVID-19. At least not anymore…thankfully I haven’t felt a blazing inferno in my chest for weeks now. Just crippling fatigue–fun! Instead of a virus taking a flamethrower to my internal organs, this steamy feeling is much, much more familiar: rage! I don’t remember foaming at the mouth being a symptom of the rone!

That’s right–all through my (unfortunately continued) bout with COVID-19, I’ve had to endure reading some bad, terrible, no good, just goddamn awful think pieces about the virus from which I am currently suffering. And a few of them have made me so m-m-m-m-ad that I figured it was about time to resurrect our bridge burning series on Filthy Dreams: Drag Them To Filth!

And sure, I know what you might be expecting: are you going to mock rabid Fox News commentators like that lunatic Laura Ingraham’s screeching about our rights being taken away by quarantining from a killer virus? Or how about Trump and his denizens’ obsession with sacrificing people to the God of Wall Street? Or even better, the mouth-breathing morons like that sicko Bill O’Reilly who still seem to believe COVID-19 is like a bad flu for anyone who isn’t old and sick (because fuck those people, right?)? Pass. Pass. And pass. While their absence of logic is clear, it’s also just plain boring and even worse, predictable. Plus, the huddled masses demanding access to getting COVID-19 infections have their own charm:

I mean, we can all anticipate their bad takes, so much so that it ends up being dead air. In my view, the worst COVID-19-era think pieces have come from those much closer to home: critics, arts writers and academics. The call is coming from inside the house! And it’s folks that should know better–tsk tsk tsk–but for one reason or another, decided to throw caution and perspective to the wind.

So join me–but not too close, stay a respectable socially distanced six-feet back–as we roast, skewer, incinerate and maybe toast some terrible writing. Now I’ll note that I assume this won’t be the last Drag Them To Filth during the coronavirus pandemic. The candidates just keep coming! And in fact, my rants became so long for each one of these much-loathed pieces that I decided to publish this in multiple parts. As Jerri Blank says, “I’ve got something to say!”

A newspaper headline reads in Pink Flamingos: “The People Around You Can Make You Sick!” And boy, some of these articles make me want to just spew so hate-read on:

1. New Yorker, “What Lessons Does The AIDS Crisis Offer For The Coronavirus Pandemic?”

Oh…Masha, Masha, Masha! Remember Masha Gessen? That oh-so-queer, oh-so-radical Condé Nast-payrolled arbiter of all things “gay enough” who wrote that Mayor Pete Buttigieg wasn’t in fact, a gay presidential candidate, but a “straight politician in a gay man’s body”? Well, they’re baaaaack! And they’ve returned with another horrible take that should have been slashed by an editor multiple rounds of drafts before hitting publish.

Though Masha fled The New Yorker’s own New York City for Cape Cod as like any “good” (read: privileged) New Yorker should do, Gessen still managed to contribute to one of my least favorite COVID-19-related think pieces: the essay comparing the global coronavirus pandemic with the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. Do we really need to do a hot or not with pandemics? Who wore it better? AIDS or Miss Rona?!

Though Gessen is one of many (and I mean, many) writers to do so, the complexities of comparing two pandemics cannot be contained within the restrictive word limits of most mainstream press. Are there similarities that probably could be valuable? Sure. Are there differences that could be unbelievably stupid to ignore? Yes. And are there even more dangerous opportunities to misread and misconstrue history? Naturally, as Masha, shows here in “What Lessons Does The AIDS Crisis Offer For The Coronavirus Pandemic?” (Note that Masha is again teaching us. Thank you so much for your service!).

Because, well, what did Gessen learn from the AIDS pandemic? What was their big takeaway? That it ends! As they write: “So I keep searching my memory for lessons of my own that could be useful. One lesson from aids was about the power of communities coming together to take care of one another, to touch one another, to act, using bodies—often frail bodies, always endangered bodies, sometimes even dead bodies—to fight. This lesson is difficult to apply in the era of social distancing, though some act up veterans are managing to stage direct actions even now, standing six feet apart. Maybe the most important lesson I learned from the AIDS epidemic was that it would end. The world would reconstitute itself.”

Wait…what? Huh? I thought the HIV/AIDS pandemic was still ongoing. Apparently, dearest Filthy Dreams readers, that memo was sent to the wrong address. We missed it!

And if you think that’s not what they meant, well, they repeat it, speaking from personal experience. Noting all the people they knew who died from complications from AIDS, they assert: “Then, for many people, it ended, as suddenly as it had begun. My younger friends have little idea of what living through the AIDS epidemic was like, and neither do my straight friends, or friends who were straight at the time.” When was this? I want a date, Masha!

I had some ‘splainer on Twitter, when I aggressively tried to interrogate Gessen for the year AIDS was over (no response–I’m waiting, Masha!), who scoffed that Gessen obviously meant AIDS ended as a death sentence with the invent of the protease inhibitor cocktail (not to mention people ARE still dying of complications from AIDS in many communities). Well, why didn’t they say so? I see right here: that it would end. It ended. Stop. Period. Done.

Now, Masha did mention the HIV outbreak sparked by blank-eyed dummy Mike Pence in Indiana later in the piece, stating: “In 2015, also in Indiana, Mike Pence, who was then the state’s governor, willfully mishandled an HIV outbreak; now he is the Vice-President, in charge of the coronavirus task force.” This seems like a strange suddenly dropped-in detail given the biggest lesson Masha took from the AIDS crisis is that it would end.

Do I think, if I want to be kind, that Masha may have meant that the enormous death toll of HIV/AIDS decimating entire communities, coupled with innumerable other losses in daily life, haven’t been understood as deeply and as rigorously as they should? Sure…maybe. But perhaps they could have said that, considering the incorrect assumption for many, many people–those straights, has-been straights and younger folk that Masha names and even people outside of Masha-created categories–is that AIDS is over. And it has taken the work of many activists (or those who tend to scream into the void like me) to assert that no, AIDS is not over. No, it wasn’t over in the mid-1990s. And please, stop talking about HIV/AIDS in the past tense or using words like “ended.”

Paging, The New Yorker editors! Or did they all get laid off?

2. New York Magazine, The Last Days of the Art World … and Perhaps the First Days of a New One

When I was at my sickest, in bed, struggling to breathe, you know what I didn’t think about once? Not even for a moment? The insular, privileged art world! Not once did I wonder what would happen to art fairs, art magazines or blue-chip art galleries. You know who is worried about the state of the art world during a global pandemic? Assholes.

I’m sorry, but it’s true. Medical workers can’t get access to PPE. Sick people–like me–can’t get tests. But here, the arts writers are worried about whether or not they’ll have as many galleries to review. I mean, imagine writing pieces about what would happen to the art world because of AIDS (I know, I know I’m making the dreaded comparison). Doesn’t that sound douchey and sociopathic? Exactly.

Look, I get the economic anxiety, although NADA’s plea for a bailout for art galleries as if they’re different than other small businesses was laughable at best. Downright insulting and delusional at worst.

And hey, I thought all your artist statements and gallery press releases said you wanted to dismantle institutions? So…where’s the excitement?! Guess you did like those post-opening dinners after all!

When feverish, red-faced and chilling, I logged onto my Twitter in hopes of maintaining some connection to society and the “oh-god-will-someone-think-of-the-art-world!” essays read to me like people worried that the deck chairs on the Titanic wouldn’t be as artfully arranged as they were previously. And naturally, Jerry Saltz–King of Lacking Perspective, the same writer who thought art was going to get really good under Trump–contributed his own reading of the tea leaves of the art world in New York Magazine. 

You’re no Miss Cleo!

Saltz’s vision for art’s future is based largely on his nostalgic and seemingly half-fictionalized vision of his own past in the the hardscrabble years of the totally-not-privileged 1970s art world. He describes the halcyon days of the 1970s: “I came of age during the last years of the smaller, nonprofessional, non-moneyed 1970s art world, where there were no such things as stable careers, sales, art fairs, big audiences, and auctions. This world ran on the desire and passion of semi-outlaws, vagrants, ne’er-do-wells, visionaries, creeps, geniuses, hangers-on, exiles, gypsies, and aristocratic bohemians. It was a world before the one we know now that has grown so large, hyperactive, circuslike, top-heavy, and professional — all seasoned with obscene amounts of money, however concentrated it is in the hands of a lucky, mostly white 1,500 people.” Wait…ne’er-do-wells like…Leo Castelli? The art world wasn’t all shows at the Mudd Club!

But hey! Maybe that’s the art world he means, away from all those white people (Yuck!): “Mine was a world before we lost “the underground”; before “greed became form,” as curator Francesco Bonami puts it. It was a world where, when I was a young trucker, Paula Cooper and Robert Gober asked me to sit down for coffee and cigarettes with them when I made a delivery to her gallery; where I called the Marian Goodman Gallery to schedule a pickup, she answered the phone, and we did the paperwork together when I got there, and she offered me a snack; where I witnessed the pure art history of John Cage at a diner; where in the late 1970s, I beheld the sum of all things, John and Yoko, creating shock waves of awe as they glided down Madison Avenue.”

I’m only seeing white people, Jerry. And Yoko.

Now, if Jerry’s exhausting reminiscing on his youth wasn’t enough to disqualify him to be the fortuneteller of the art world, his last few paragraphs should be the ones to do it when he seems to see potential in creating around (or after) mass death. There’s nothing like crippling anxiety about your own mortality to really get those creative juices flowing! “Viruses don’t kill art,” he writes. Well, it does kill artists!

He goes on to quote Mike Egan, owner of Ramiken Gallery, who I hope drunk-dialed Saltz, saying: “Art will not survive as some dull thing, some social good that we must support out of consensual responsibility to the social good. Art will explode with the desires of the people to see action play out, with tears, screams, harmonies, and some death.” Hm…some death! Worth it!

Jerry continues to proselytize about art making, which mostly makes little sense but probably sounded good on his eighteenth cup of gas station coffee (lines like: “Whatever happens, we’re all conscripted into the service of art; we’re all volunteers of America.” Huh?). Eventually, he concludes that while things are “bleak,” “the survivors will always have the knowledges of what they learned about themselves as the angel of death walked among us.”

Aw…we’ll always have COVID-19!

To be continued…

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