Check it out.
Check it out.
“Hey comrades,” says Shaun Harkin in a thick Irish accent. “Mornin’.”
It’s 11am on a freezing Saturday morning, and while most Northwestern students are sleeping in after a night of either partying or studying, the comrades in Kresge 4-425 are laying down the political tactics for the next Communist revolution. This is the Midwest Marxism Conference, and Harkin, a Northern Irishman and Socialist activist, is here to speak about Marxism’s political future in America.
That’s right, the most significant gathering of Marxists in the Midwest was held at Northwestern this year. On December 7th, over a hundred mostly white, Obama-hating Midwesterners took over Fisk Hall and other parts of South Campus to plan the eventual toppling of the entire capitalist order. (They hate Obama for “defending capitalism,” of course, not because he’s a closet Communist – if only!)
The conference was organized by the International Socialist Organization, which is headquartered in Chicago. But why did the ISO choose to hold its event in Evanston, home to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and an undeniably bourgeois private university? Well, the ISO saves considerable money by getting its Northwestern student group to book event spaces across campus completely free of charge, even if almost no students attend the conference. And until private property is abolished, this strategy seems like the most reasonable alternative.
Proletarians of the Midwest, unite!
The conference begins at 10am, and despite being held entirely on campus, there are barely any comrades from Northwestern in sight as the attendees stream into Fisk’s ample auditorium. It’s a diverse crowd: there are old academics whose massive beards make them look like Communist Santas, socialist geeks with scraggly beards and baggy jeans, and even some Marxist hipsters. This last group is the most visually striking – they roam about confidently, like true vanguards of the working class, rocking undercuts, Doc Martens, and tight V-necks emblazoned with the hammer-and-sickle.
In the auditorium, Northwestern’s usual corporate feel is gone: Karl Marx is on posters everywhere, radical literature and pamphlets lie scattered on the stands, and above the stage a huge red banner boldly reads the classic Wobbly slogan “an injury to one is an injury to all.”
The motley Marxist crew settles down in its seats at around 10:30; after listening to an organizer introduce the conference’s schedule, the revolutionaries nod their heads and head out to the first session. Let the work commence!
Stormin’ the Heavens
Back at Harkin’s lecture in Kresge (the first of the conference’s two sessions), the talk is getting a little depressing.
Harkin recognizes the traditional Left has lost much ground in the US since the 1970s, and often mentions neoliberalism’s weakening of the working class. “Capitalism is winning right now,” he says bluntly.
Yet Harkin isn’t all doom-and-gloom. As long as Leftists can “get back to Marx,” he says, a happy workers’ state is just around the corner. Harkin, a passionate speaker, gesticulates profusely as he harkens (!) to the working class’ inevitable “stormin’ of the heavens.”
“Class war is gunna shape our humanity,” he says. “And I think we’re gunna win.”
But the lecture is scattered and rambling, and difficult to decode for the uninitiated. Harkin seems to contradict himself a number of times, arguing the radical Left needs to work with everybody (but only certain people) and is in a better state than ever (except that it’s at an all-time low.)
Perhaps Harkin makes the most sense when he says lines like, “our side isn’t really clear about its goals,” “we’re not organized sufficiently,” and “We don’t really have a strategy to win.”
Indeed. Clearly, the struggle is long.
Privilege-Checking and Bus Tipping
The second session of the day, held in Harris’ underground lecture hall, is titled “Intersectionality: Black Feminism and Post-Modernism” and is an attempt by writer and Socialist activist Sharon Smith to rescue intersectionality theory from the identity politics of the postmodern Left.
For those unfamiliar with the term, intersectionality is an academic field which examines oppression not just through the prism of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc, but from the combination of these evils.
To describe this somewhat abstract concept, Smith uses the interesting metaphor of a black woman crossing a busy traffic intersection and getting hit by various vehicles at the same time, with each vehicle representing a different type of oppression. Which car(s) actually injured this poor woman? That’s what intersectionality is for.
But what’s wrong with intersectionality today? It’s not the field itself, which, as a “unifying force” in the fight against racism and sexism, makes it a concept which is “not only part of Marxism but advances Marxism,” says Smith.
No, it’s the more-oppressed-than-thou mentality which “appropriates” intersectionality theory to get in fights on the internet over who is more privileged, Smith argues. This kind of fruitless identity politics destroys working class solidarity and does nothing to upset the capitalist status quo. Smith says the most egregious example of this is the noxious idea of “checking your privilege.”
In privilege-checking, “class is reduced to a detail, and it ends up being very moralistic,” says Smith. Instead of shrieking “check your privilege,” Smith tells activists to chill. “It’s not a new concept if someone’s asking like a jerk to tell them to fuck off,” she says.
But the audience is divided over Smith’s controversial lecture, and the session quickly devolves into an hour-long debate over the merits of privilege-checking.
One of the conference’s organizers, Lauryn, says privilege-checking “is white people self-shaming themselves, and takes the place of more productive organizing.”
Another comrade agrees. “Especially in a revolutionary organization where we’re all committed to overthrowing the system, privilege checking is counter-productive. It should be banned from the ISO!”
But no! One woman, with an Edna-Mode style bowl cut, says only privilege-checkers can explain “why the oppression and exploitation of black womens’ bodies fuels American capitalism,” (a question on many people’s minds in Econ 201.)
Others rush to the defense of privilege-checking. One man says “it captures an aspect of the experience of oppression.” Then, a trembling voice from a self-described “healthcare provider and healer” says privilege checking “is actually founded in compassion” and comes out of “intersections of pain and trauma” suffered by everyone who is not a white, thin, wealthy, cisgender Christian male. One person even suggests ostracizing the privilege-checkers “would be just like how we used called someone bourgeois if we didn’t like what he said!”
And so this sort of thing goes on interminably, so much so that people start apologizing for bringing up privilege-checking before they inevitably share their opinions on the matter.
Smith gets pretty miffed after listening to such an exhausting debate, and starts reminiscing about the good old days when Leftist youths would spend time organizing the working class instead of furiously typing about social justice on Tumblr all day.
She recounts the revolutionary days of her youth, when she rioted against the cops and violently fought for unions by harassing scabs.
“When I was on a picket line we found the bus full of scabs and started rocking it, and it tipped over,” she says nostalgically. “And that’s a feeling of power.”
“I feel so bad that young people today don’t have these experiences,” Smith laments. She ends the lecture on an inclusive note, calling privilege-checking “uncharitable” and “divisive” for assuming all white males are pure evil, instead of partners in the struggle against capitalism.
“We all have pain. Capitalism produces incredible pain,” she says. “Privilege-checking has this assumption that if you’re a white male from a certain class, you don’t feel pain.”
And with that, the lecture is over. But tensions are still seething within the audience even after everyone moves back into Fisk’s auditorium for the final lecture. The Edna Mode lookalike angrily whispers to the person sitting next to her, “I have no confidence whatsoever that our comrades understood what privilege theory is.”
A better question: does anyone?
Is Marxism Dead?
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”
That is, perhaps unsurprisingly, how the final lecture of the Midwest Marxism Conference begins: with the opening lines of the Communist Manifesto. The speaker is Alan Maas, the editor of the ISO’s monthly paper Socialist Worker (and a Medill alum!)
The goal of the final lecture, titled “Why the Working Class,” is to double down on the idea of the working class as the revolutionary party which will overthrow capitalism in America. The idea is ambitious, and sounds a little too turn of the (20th) century to be realistic, but Maas argues our conception of the working class is “fundamentally a myth.”
“The working class is uniquely radical,” he says, and not all of it is made up of blue collar males. According to Maas, anywhere from 2/3 to ¾ of Americans qualify as working class when you includes retail workers, office drones, low-level management positions, teachers, etc.
So if most of America is working class, why isn’t there any realistic prospect of a Marxist revolution, a 21st-century 1917?
Maas is no chump. He knows the Marxist Left has failed to radicalize the working class in America, and holds little actual power in nominally Leftist outfits such as academia and the Democratic Party. Maas even characterizes Obama’s signature healthcare law as a neoliberal compromise doomed to fail: “the whole purpose of Obamacare is to ration down healthcare,” he says. (If it takes a Marxist to recognize something Republicans said was the truth all along, maybe liberals need a refresher.)
In the end, Maas argues there must be more organizing and better strategy; a decisively class-conscious movement, something along the lines of the Arab Spring and Occupy, but tailored to this new American working class.
So Maas continues on, somewhat bitter yet strangely hopeful as he harps on about the next revolution. As his lecture wraps up, it’s hard not to feel the whole conference is a bit surreal. The red banners, the Marx photos, the raised fists, people calling each other “comrade;” in the post-Soviet era, it all sounds like a cult invoking its perennial pipe dream.
In Chicago, the gritty industrial birthplace of American socialism, these Marxists are gathering in a building they’re using for free because they couldn’t afford better, and the event they held was ignored by all news outlets – even though they held it in journalism school. Even the right-wingers at Breitbart couldn’t be bothered to crash the conference like they did last year.
So is Marxism dead?
A tour group passes Fisk Hall. The cheery, upbeat guide describes how great Northwestern is and makes a joke about the frigid weather. The potential students, mostly from wealthy schools in the suburbs, laugh along. Meanwhile, in Fisk, a hundred of the last true believers stare starry-eyed into the great Communist future. They hope that one day, not soon, but one day, the working class will finally wake up and storm the heavens.
It’s hard to realize Allen West isn’t in Congress anymore. Arriving in one of Harris Hall’s dingy basement rooms, the Tea Party firebrand looks ever the politician, wearing a prominently-displayed badge from his Army days on his grey tux.
He’s surrounded by an entourage of several College Republicans and his hurried-looking press secretary, Brittany Zanin. West looks – and is – busier than ever. He’s the head of his own Super PAC, the author of an upcoming book, and a paid talking head on Fox News, among many other things.
But in an exclusive interview with THE CHRONICLE prior to his speech as part of the College Republicans’ Freedom Week, West shrugged off his new role as the head of a one-man Tea Party empire.
“Me? I don’t have an empire. I’m just a regular guy,” he says. “I think I have an incredible ability to speak truth to the American people and come up with solutions to a lot of the problems that we see happening – and it’s a heavy responsibility.”
Despite recent Tea Party congressional losses in Virginia and Alabama, and West’s own failure to be reelected in his home Florida district in 2012, West is betting on the Tea Party’s long-run success.
Like he does with most topics, the former lieutenant colonel speaks about the Tea Party’s current state in military terms. To West, the conservative movement’s decentralized structure “makes it very easy for your adversary to divide and conquer you and attack you.” The Tea Party needs a “focal voice” to unite them, he says, and he doesn’t seem to think Ted Cruz is a prime candidate (West says his “tactics and strategy would have been different” for the government shutdown.) So who will this “focal voice” be in 2016?
Like any good politician, West doesn’t want to address the presidency – for now. Asked by THE CHRONICLE when he’d like to run, West laughs and shoots back: “that’s a loaded question. That’s [like asking], you know, “how often do you beat your wife?”
“Aaaaahh,” goes Brittany, West’s press secretary, exasperated at West’s politically incorrect expression. West gets serious.
“No one should ever say that I’m running for president,” he says. “If God were to lay it upon my heart, I’ll pray about it, I’ll talk to wife and my kids about it, and we’ll go from there.”
Although few consider him a GOP headliner for the presidency, West is one of the Tea Party’s superstars. And more than any other Tea Party candidate, his rise to popularity has been based on his outspoken beliefs on Islam; he’s a prominent advocate of the “Shariah-creep” theory, which stipulates that radical Muslims, led by shady Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups, are slowly imposing Shariah law in America – a prospect West finds realistic.
“Yeah, it very much so could happen,” he says. “All I think you got to do is drive not too far away from here to Dearborn, Michigan and see you already have a little bit of that creep. We have honor killings that are happening in the USA.”
But West doesn’t believe his outspoken stance on Islam is bigoted. He hits back against those who accuse him of Islamophobia, citing his trademark timeline of Islam’s supposedly inherent aggressiveness towards the West.
“If people don’t like me because of the fact that I know history, I can go back and quote from 610AD all the way up to the present, I can talk about all of the different parts of Islamic conquest,” he says. “If that upsets people that’s fine.”
West’s good-vs-evil, West-vs-East historiography is well-known. In his former Florida home district, he is a hero to fervent anti-Islam activists. It’s no surprise, then, that West’s new book capitalizes on his role as an all-American protector against both liberalism and Islam. “Guardian of the Republic: An American Ronin’s Journey to Faith, Family, and Freedom,” will be published in April.
The very title “American Ronin,” says West, comes from his fascination with martial Japanese culture. “As a warrior, as a soldier, I’ve been fascinated with the samurai culture,” he says. “The Ronin concept is very interesting, I explain that in the book and how it applies to me.”
West isn’t done with the military metaphors. When he describes the purpose behind his lecture at a liberal campus like Northwestern’s, he compares himself to a paratrooper (one of the many insignias on his lapel) infiltrating enemy territory. “What do paratroopers do? They jump in behind enemy lines,” he says. “They disrupt, they cause confusion, but they always maintain their goals and objectives.”
West says he’s talking to college students to reveal their dismal future in Obama’s America.
“When you guys walk across the stage here and graduate from Northwestern,” West explains, all Obama’s lofty rhetoric will do is “get you to end up in your parents’ basement.”
The first “Hunger Games” film was a pleasant surprise for me. I was expecting it to be another movie set to please a young female audience in an attempt to capitalize on the financial success of “Twilight.” However, about 10 minutes into the movie, I realized I couldn’t have been more wrong. Of course, with later viewings I noticed a few problems, but I still enjoy the first film for what it was. Still, the shaky cam, forced chemistry between Katniss and Peeta, and important scenes from the book being left out hurt the film. Nevertheless, it was made clear that these movies weren’t going to be dumbed down teen heartthrob material, which raised my expectations.
“Catching Fire” takes place right after the events of the first book with Katniss still struggling to cope with the events of the Hunger Games and often having nightmares over them. After she was able to rescue herself and Peeta, despite the rules stating that there could only be one victor, she is forced by the Capitol to fake an actual relationship with Peeta to simmer down the fire sparked in the districts from Katniss’s actions. Once President Snow realizes that the districts aren’t buying into the relationship, he enlists Game master Plutarch to attempt to resume the Capitol’s dominance, which involves the demise of Katniss.
The entire cast performs admirably and their performances give this film its soul. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss is incredible. However, Lawrence is given even more to work with since Katniss’s character faces a lot more turmoil and shows a lot more emotion both mentally and physically.
In the first movie, I was disappointed with Josh Hutcherson’s portrayal of Peeta, simply because the chemistry between him and Lawrence felt forced. Of course, in the book, they are faking their love for each other even in the first film, but there is supposed to be a layer of ambiguity that Katniss faces that makes her wonder whether or not she really loves Peeta. Safe to say, Hutcherson’s performance is a massive improvement and there were a number of scenes in the film where I really felt for their relationship, even in their sappiest moments.
Other standouts include Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch, Sam Claflin who plays the cocky Finnick, and Jena Malone, who plays the wild and crazy Johanna Mason. I was skeptical when Francis Lawrence (Director of “I Am Legend” and “Constantine”) was asked to replace director Gary Ross. However, he did a great job and executed the action sequences to perfection unlike his predecessor. There were even some surprisingly great artistic shots he took that I wasn’t expecting to see in a blockbuster film of this caliber.
Another great aspect of the film was the tone. This sequel is comparable to films like “The Empire Strikes Back” or “The Dark Knight” in that this movie is a lot darker than its predecessor. The dark tone is kept throughout, even during the seldom-comical moments. There are some scenes in this movie, that I would truly describe as shocking. The subtle details are what really give the viewer an emotional connection to each of the characters.
The biggest strength of these movies are not the actual games, but the scenes before, which convey the Capitol and the entire concept of gaining support to survive. We saw a bunch of teenagers forced to grow up both physically to fight and mentally to please the blood hungry crowds in the first Hunger Games.
In “Catching Fire,” we see a lot more in the first half than just the concept of surviving in a death match and totalitarian government; we see a victor drowning in guilt, forced to seem overjoyed so everything she stands for isn’t destroyed right before her eyes. It is that stress and horror built by the extraordinary Lawrence that makes this film far more than just a holiday blockbuster.
“As we’ve said repeatedly, it’s absolutely false that we postpone reporting due to external or internal pressure,” Winkler said when asked by THE CHRONICLE whether he made a phone call spiking the article following pressure from the Chinese government. “The reporting that was presented to me and top editors just was not ready for publication.”
When asked precisely when the story would be published, Winkler said “when it’s ready.”
Winkler also declined to comment on the fate of journalist Mike Forsyth, who was put on leave from Bloomberg News for leaking the story of the spiking. Forsyth has since been fired from Bloomberg.
In response to a question about whether Western media outlets should self-censor to stay in business in countries like China, Winkler switched the subject to the importance of data journalism. “This is the most important thing,” he said. “If we have the data, all of the data, we can go pretty much anywhere because what we’re about is transparency.”
During his lecture, titled “Truth in the Age of Twitter,” Winkler mostly discussed his book “The Bloomberg Way” and the rise of Bloomberg News to the top of the world’s media companies. He promoted the company’s “Five F-words” strategy: getting in the first word, the fastest word, the “future word,” the factual word, and the final word.
At the beginning of the lecture, Winkler also touted Bloomberg’s commitment to investigative journalism, bringing up a conversation he had with the company’s founder Michael Bloomberg some years ago.
Winkler said he asked “Mike” what would happen if a big company threatened to remove all its Bloomberg terminals due to a sensitive article about its chairman “absconding to Rio.”
“And I said to Mike ‘well, what would you do,’and he didn’t bat an eye. He just smiled and he said, ‘my lawyers will love you,’” said Winkler.
Members of the Northwestern community were shocked to discover on Thursday that their beloved alma mater has been spying on them ever since they took their very first step on campus.
The plot was exposed this week by Jedidiah Springden, a former analyst for the Northwestern Security Agency (NSA), a sub-department of NUIT. In a late-night text to the cell phones of select university officials, Springden announced his plans to resign from the agency and go public with the information.
“i just cant stand abusing every1s trust like this,” the text read. “Those poor students think the things they do at parties r safe from the eyes of people like Morty Shapiro. Its time they knw the truth.”
Prior to his leak, the name “Springden” didn’t mean much to the Northwestern community. His work, deemed top-secret by the administration, was shrouded behind layers of NUPortal-protected login screens. To those who had made his acquaintance, he appeared to be simply a fellow student, albeit one with an annoying habit of friending everyone on Facebook immediately upon learning their full name.
Most of his work consisted of looking through those profiles for people stupid enough to post pictures of drinking, partying and suggestive poses “just begging for violation of academic integrity.”
Sophomore Deon Rael told the Methodist that he was shocked to discover that the frantically scribbling, apparently middle-aged student who sat next to him in class was not in fact striving to keep pace with the TA, but was instead capturing details of everything from his classmates’ online shopping all the way down to their facial expressions and degrees of cross-eyedness.
Springden has been the target of a quiet manhunt for the past two days. Officials from his former department have been quoted saying that the university aims to track him down at all costs, and furthermore will not apologize for its actions.
“All we’ve done is make sure that the interests of our students retain a very special place in our hearts,” wrote NSA Director Allan Reiczsman in a press release this morning. “And in our hard drives.”
Reiczsman continued, saying that he has always been told that the Northwestern community prides itself on its drive and intelligence. “So we started gathering intelligence,” he said.
Springden is now reportedly seeking asylum within the borders of the University of Chicago, which by all accounts has still failed to notice his presence.
When contacted by this paper for comment, UChicago’s Dean of Campus Awareness Ron Guinness replied with an 8-page dissertation on the nature of security and a curt note that he would have written more had time permitted.
“As long as he doesn’t block the bookshelves or the Starbucks line, we don’t really care,” Guinness wrote in his statement.
Springden himself looks optimistically toward his eventual return to society. Chronicling his exile in a blog titled “Overheard at NU 2,” he wrote, “What better place to lay low for a while than Hyde Park? I mean, shit, it’s even in the name and everything.”
Photo by IDF.
Anyone else see these by the Arch?
Ever since Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, the Republican Party has encountered widespread public discontent. Republicans have a steep hill to climb to gain – let alone maintain – ground in the 2014 election. The government shutdown and undue blame has all but obliterated conservative support across the nation.
But now that the Left is severely hemorrhaging from the destructive failure of Obamacare’s implementation, the Republican Party may be able to luck out and reattain the status quo. Unfortunately, the status quo is not as good as it sounds. Since the mid-2000s, the status quo equates to a dominant Democratic Party versus underdog Republicans, who have been given failed chance after failed chance to prove they can be less disconnected, less uncompromising, and less corrupt than their liberal counterparts.
Republicans cannot continue to use the same old arguments over and over again. Recession tactics, in particular, are out of season. The economy is “growing,” and Democrats will be more than ready to take credit for that. The government shutdown will undoubtedly be touted as the pinnacle of conservative efforts to end the public sector completely, much to the dismay of every former, current, or potential recipient of federal welfare. The Republican party cannot and will not ever win the presidency again without the support of at least some of the “47%”.
Winning in 2014 and beyond will require a bold new strategy. Republicans need rebranding, not redefinition, and there is one way to accomplish that. Here is the first step: reject the “establishment.” Let me explain.
Although not entirely, Tea Party conservatives since 2011 have redirected their efforts from challenging President Obama and the Left to challenging the Republican establishment. Even within Congress, there seems to be a deep internal rift among the GOP, and it’s nothing more than a major handicap in winning elections. Mixed signals scare away voters like sound scares away fish. Philosophical consistency among the party is a necessity to put voters at ease and convince them to reconsider Republican candidates. However, aligning the entire message is a long-term goal. It cannot be accomplished overnight, or even in a matter of a few years. For now, the party must realign the core ideal: individualism and limited government.
The Republican Party, on almost every level, has deviated from clearly and eloquently defending its core principles. Regaining that ability may be the most painful step needed for revival. Republicans must reject the establishment, but not in the colloquial sense. To win, they need to disown their symbol of conservatism: Ronald Reagan.
Since Reagan was President, Republicans have not articulated core values well, and many Republican politicians do not even try to do so. The Great Communicator is the modern Republican crutch, yielding the simple and catchy argument “Ronald Reagan,” which is not acceptable or sufficient for winning debates. The ideas Reagan now embodies are the only acceptable arguments a conservative should ever wield. I do not mean to degrade such a great President as Reagan, but he is simply a man, and men are corruptible. By associating the entire core conservative platform of limited government with a single individual, the Republican Party has declared open season on Reagan’s legacy. Every flaw in Reagan’s person, every policy mistake he made in office, every negative figure or misrepresented statistic from his time, all chip away at the Republican platform. As the symbol of Reagan is corrupted, so is the philosophy of conservatism. Democrats need only to rewrite the history of America’s 1980s to secure a liberal dynasty.
It is not Reagan the man, but his ideas, that must live on. He can no longer save this country, but at one time his arguments did. They can again. Republicans must relearn to articulate the essential ideas of conservatism. “Lower taxes and less regulations,” if not properly explained, sounds like a plan to help the rich become richer. In fact, the contemporary image of the GOP is that of rich white men trying to benefit rich white men, and that’s exactly what the GOP will be if Republican politicians continue to talk and argue as they do now. But if they continue to use Reagan as a shield, it will only be a matter of time before the vulnerabilities are exposed completely. Reagan has been used as a punching bag for Democrats, and Republicans should be ashamed for letting that happen to their hero.
Breaking from Reagan will be very difficult for Republicans to stomach, but if the conservative flag is to be carried again, their dislocated shoulder must be put back in place. Overall, this is a minor step in the path to Republican redemption, but a critical first step that must be taken soon before Reagan’s legacy, and conservatism itself, is corrupted completely.
Photo by DonkeyHotey
The Chicago Opera Theater’s production of Orpheus and Euridice features a breathtaking and unusual stage: a shimmering indoor pool surrounded by colored lights and Grecian statues. A boat drifts at one end of the pool which is used to ferry the actors back and forth, allowing for a considerable display of balance on the part of the theatrical players.
Todd Palmer plays an Orpheus who speaks solely through his clarinet playing, and does so with incredible skill. Even when standing in a boat that is being pushed across the pool, he makes the balancing of music and coordination look easy. The narrator of the story, soprano Valerie Vinzant, gives a performance of equal quality. Her voice and the clarinet solos reverberate over the water and into every corner of the stage area. Silent actors act out the life of the main characters with no outlet but their gestures and expressions. With the reflections on the water, the sound of waves, and the help of the Metropolis String Quartet, it’s easy to forget that the action is taking place on a swimming pool.
It’s a spectacular setting- but the story within it is amazingly disappointing. In a word, this opera is boring.
There’s no excuse for this, given the source material. Orpheus and Euridice’s story in ancient mythology is heartbreaking, and thinly sketched enough to allow for a deeper exploration. The tale is simple enough: Orpheus, an ancient Greek singer good enough to outplay the Sirens, lost his wife to a snakebite and descended to the Underworld to bring her back. His music charmed both Hades and Persephone- rulers of the Underworld not renowned for their mercy and goodwill- and they agreed that he could bring Euridice back as long as he walked ahead of her and did not look back until they both reached the land of the living. Unfortunately Orpheus looked back as soon as he got to the surface – his wife hadn’t made it that far and was trapped in the Underworld again, this time permanently.
Given that the entire focus of the myth is Orpheus’s quest to regain his wife, you would expect that a proportionate amount of story time would be spent on his underworld journey. Instead, Ricky Ian Gordon’s Orpheus and Euridice spends more than half the story on the courtship of the two and their lives together.
If this was done to give a sense of loss when Euridice dies, it failed. Despite songs describing the joy of their life, the lyrics do so in details that evoke a Disney montage rather than a tragic myth. We’re told that they meet. That Orpheus was stunned by her beauty. That nature blossomed so beautifully for this couple that flowers seemed to say “hello” even in winter. That people liked going to their house. That “she grew sick. Who knows how.”
Only after forty minutes of this inane narrative do we finally get to see the Underworld, and it’s a truly impressive visual display. The blindfolded actors surrounded by mist and red light in the makeshift River Styx are an eerie sight. Palmer’s clarinet playing coupled with Vinzant’s singing creates an aura of otherworldly power- as long as you don’t pay attention to the words Vinzant is singing. There’s something rather anticlimactic in describing the ultimate loss of Euridice as “She made a weird sound and disappeared.”
In introductory remarks to the opera, the audience was told that the text had been written in a day. If true, it shows badly. The lyrics are astoundingly mediocre, and in many instances laughably bad. There’s no denying that emotion fills this piece, but it’s not structured in any way, and the storytelling suffers for it. There’s no command of the grief and no channel for it in the characters. One singer, even one as skilled as Vinzant, is not enough to make unmapped emotion a good story or even a good opera. And good story is what this beautiful production desperately needed.
If you attend this production only for the setting, it may certainly be the four-star product the Chicago Tribune saw. But if you attend for a tragedy, a myth, or even a story, Orpheus and Euridice will only disappoint. And for this staging, that’s the saddest thing of all.
Ever since winning the “Album of the Year” at the 2011 Grammys for The Suburbs, Arcade Fire has almost achieved a newfound success. At first, it may seem like Arcade Fire is still that simple indie band that delivered us one of the best albums of our generation with Funeral, but after watching their CBS special Here Comes the Night Time (which featured celebrity cameos ranging from Michael Cera to Bono) that aired after their SNL performance, it becomes clear this is the new Arcade Fire.
Whereas many musicians tend to stop taking risks and just cater to their massive fanbase after becoming largely successful, Arcade Fire decides to take even more risks. And it certainly shows in their fourth effort, Reflektor. Collaborating with LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy, Arcade Fire makes what is undeniably their most ambitious and dance-y album yet.
The scope of this album from a production standpoint is absolutely massive.
The title song starts with an almost David Bowie dance rock groove. In fact, David Bowie actually provides additional vocals on this track. However, the track quickly descends into a seamless sound involving electric guitars, synths, and eventually a saxophone, after which we are treated to a neat and almost calming piano riff. It is just this kind of ambition in instrumentation that is found throughout most of this album.
‘Here Comes the Night Time” is another dance ballad and is definitely a monster track from the album. So much so, that the second part of this album starts with the second part of this song, simply titled “Here Comes the Night Time II.” In part 1, Win Butler sounds inviting and ecstatic. However, in part 2, Butler is no longer excited, but afraid and hurt. While the album certainly features a fair share of dance tracks, it also delves into styles emulating different genres. “Normal Person” questions and mocks the very idea of being “normal” on what seems to be a pretty standard rock sound. It tends to be ironic, perhaps just how the band wanted it, but the song is a very exhilarating 4-minute ride.
There are tracks that also channel the band’s inner Pink Floyd and Beatles, such as “Awful Sound” and “Joan of Arc.” It may come to the point where the songs feel more like Beatles/ Pink Floyd songs rather than Arcade Fire songs, which does hurt the originality of those songs, but not to the point where the musicality and top notch songwriting is forgotten. The eerie album closer “Supersymmetry” sounds the most different from the rest of the album, emulating an electronic ambient sound in an album otherwise dedicated to the past sounds of the Talking Heads and David Bowie. When the track ends at about half of its run time, the second half sounds like a distorted rewind of the album, literally like a reflection of the album.
While a lot of the lyrics choices in this album are influenced from musicians like Bowie, Byrne, Cash, etc., they effectively tell a story on each track. Different ideas of life are presented throughout the album, but the biggest theme to take away from the album is identity. “Reflektor” and “Porno” question the loss of it, while “Here Comes the Night Time” embraces it. Does the theme of identity justify the entire 70-minute runtime? Perhaps not, but it doesn’t need to when the album is already full of so many surprises and sounds.
In what has surely been a universally acclaimed and successful career, Arcade Fire looks to take advantage of their success by using it to make even more ambitious and cinematic music. Through their presentation, their albums never come off as just a next project, but as an event that needs to be witnessed. Reflektor serves as Arcade Fire’s hard work reflecting right back at them and to us. And through the paper machete heads, costumes, lights, and Zach Galifianakis, Arcade Fire is still that same band of dedication and consistency.
Best Tracks: “Here Comes the Night Time”, “Supersymmetry”, “Reflektor”, “Normal Person”, “Afterlife”, and “Porno”