Annie, one of the people I met at Jefferson Lab in Virginia, who is studying physics in Mexico, decided to visit NYC for the 4th of July weekend and invited me to show her around and go to some museums. I took the train into the city and went to meet her in Times Square to get her a half-off ticket to a Broadway show. I really dislike Time Square, so I waited in the nearby Renaissance hotel, read a book for a while, and snagged a great shot of the crowd outside.
We then walked a few blocks to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which is apparently free for SUNY students, and looked around the post-impressionist, pop-art, surrealist, and Frank Lloyd Wright exhibits. Personally, I have the most experience with the impressionists and early post-impressionists, so that was definitely the best place for me to start my modern art appreciation career. I definitely need to educate myself more on Wright and architecture in general to really be able to appreciate that exhibit in the future, and I think it will probably take a few more passes through this, and other museums, before I can really appreciate the surrealists and post-impressionists.
One thing that did stick with me though was the very end of the Robert Rauschenberg exhibit. I walked through a lot of his stuff that was really experimental and strange, including sketches and sculptures, as well as his famous plain white canvases that are truly baffling, but towards the end of the exhibit there was a video showing a bizarre, modern ballet that he helped to design, as well as several large print-collage works. Something kind of clicked for me after staring at one of the more visually striking prints, listening to the monotonous ballet music, and reading his statement “I’ve always been attracted and tempted into nearly any situation where the final work was the result of more than one person’s doing. That’s why I like dance, music, theater, and that’s why I like printmaking, because none of these things can exist as solo endeavors.” I’m definitely still a late renaissance and impressionist kind of person, but I anticipate coming back to MoMA in the future and gradually gaining more of an appreciation for the kinds of art that have developed in the last century.
I then walked a mile or so up to Lincoln Center and get a ticket to see Bong Joon-ho’s newest movie, Okja (I know it’s already on Netflix, but I like seeing things in theaters, and honestly the Lincoln Center Film Society has a fantastic theater, and seeing a movie in a place together with a bunch of film nerds just makes it that much better).
Even though I’ve only seen one other movie from him (Snowpiercer from 2014 – my response then, published in The Reflector), I’m beginning to think that Bong Joon Ho is a misanthrope, or at least something like a Mennonite. This movie will make you question normal human ethics (unless you are already vegan or something).
Upon leaving the theater I overheard a few great reactions. One guy said something like “there are only two reactions you can take to this movie, completely forswearing meat, or ignoring it completely” and another, older white guy, said to his wife “you know that everything was portrayed as caricature. No one is really like that.”
Unfortunately I think the first guy is right and the second is wrong. True, the animals we eat are not as intelligent as Okja and they don’t have the same capacity for sentient experience, but the horror and cruelty of the food-industrial complex really is almost as bad as portrayed. Fortunately, I anticipate that meat will very soon be completely replaced by microbe-synthesized equivalent replacements and virtually everything we eat will technically be vegan, but until that time this movie will continue to weigh heavily on my conscience.
Also, all of the actors do amazing jobs and the symbolism and artistry in the writing, directing, and editing are all absolutely wonderful. This is an ideal example of how to use CGI correctly – I think that CGI (or special effects in general) can really only be as bad as the purpose for which it is used.
Central Park and The Natural History Museum
After spending the rest of the night hanging out and staying in Bushwick with some friends, I rejoined Annie in Central Park and walked to the Natural History Museum. On the way over I encountered an interesting scenario that I think is worth thinking about. Three young black boys were being accosted by what appeared to be an upset (maybe Argentinian) family. I watched as this European-looking father accosted and berated these young boys in public, mostly relying on Spanish, and threatening and yelling at the boys to go away. After it became obvious that the boys weren’t that interested in taking his advice I decided to interject my extreme whiteness into the mix to try to diffuse the situation if possible.
The man and his wife indicated to me that she had been breastfeeding her child in public and that one of the boys had made very rude comments and gestures about it. I tried to defend the boys by asking the man to please calm down and leave them alone and by trying to get the boys to stop antagonizing him further. It took a bit for everything to calm down, but in then end I think I was able to contribute something to the situation. I tried to let the boys know that public breastfeeding in places other than the US is much more normal and acceptable and that they needed to be more respectful. I found out that the guys were just in 9th grade, and were visiting the park from The Bronx to get signatures for some school project. I contributed mine and talked with them for a bit, trying to distract them from antagonizing the family any more than they already had.
Unfortunately, I think there were a few factors involved in this conflict. Obviously these boys were being very disrespectful to the woman, and this is a symptom of a larger problem Americans in general have with nudity and the over-sexualization of the female body, which in no way excuses their immaturity about it. Additionally, I was shocked to find that these boys were only in 9th grade – they looked much older – and I think this plays into our racist narrative of the “dangerous” black man. Because of the way these boys looked, I and the family and probably the rest of the onlookers, were under the impression that several men were giving this woman trouble, when in reality it was just several immature children trying to raise support for a project in an extremely public space and reacting inappropriately to breast-feeding.
I’m not trying to justify the boys’ behavior, but the reaction of the family was far in excess of what was appropriate for the boys’ actual perceived crime (especially when placed in the context of our regressive American norms), and the father’s near-violence towards these boys made me extremely uncomfortable, to the extent that I intentionally put myself in-between them and used my whiteness as a buffer to cool it down. I know that this probably wasn’t the smartest thing I could have done, but I figured that if somehow the man became actually violent, our racialized criminal justice system would be likely to make things end up badly for the black boys, but that if a pale, college student, white boy were involved and it ended up similarly that the consequences would be far less severe, on top of it ideally being less likely to reach such a point as a result of a third party being involved. I’m glad that it didn’t turn out badly, and that I got to talk with the boys a bit about their support raising, and that this showed me such an overt example of cultural differences going a long way in driving conflicts. If the boys had been more culturally sensitive on the breast-feeding issue, or if the father had been less culturally presumptuous about the boys’ age, perceived dangerousness, or their disrespectful intentions, then everything could have been avoided.
We eventually got to the Natural History Museum and got to see tons of its exhibits. This museum is truly enormous and would take days to properly explore. Coming in as physicist definitely skewed my appreciation of things, as I am used to far more technical explanations of things, but I do think that getting a broad overview of human and animal history on Earth is equally important as the physicists attention to detail, especially in light of the anti-scientific rhetoric being spewed at the highest levels of government these days that threatens humanity’s fine tuned balance on Earth.
Afterwards, we visited Redeemer Presbyterian Downtown’s evening service and then met up with some new British friends in Williamsburg to get Indian food and go to a Barcade. We played several rounds of 4 person versus Pacman, which is incredibly fun, and then I had to take the late-night LIRR back home. In all it was a great trip, and I definitely had my perspective broadened. Whenever you get the chance you should visit museums, and you should seek out getting to know people that are different from you – it generally doesn’t cost that much and it can have a large impact on your perspective.