Required Reading

This week, debunking Christmas myths, Brian Eno on NFTs, artists we lost in 2021, garbage internet trends, and more.

by Hrag Vartanian

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A holiday card from December 1914 featuring a cozy feline Christmas shopper. (The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection at the New York Public Library; via NYPL Digital Collections)

Q: Why don’t you dabble in NFTs yourself? 

A: I’ve been approached several times to ‘make an NFT’. So far nothing has convinced me that there is anything worth making in that arena. ‘Worth making’ for me implies bringing something into existence that adds value to the world, not just to a bank account. If I had primarily wanted to make money I would have had a different career as a different kind of person. I probably wouldn’t have chosen to be an artist. NFTs seem to me just a way for artists to get a little piece of the action from global capitalism, our own cute little version of financialisation. How sweet – now artists can become little capitalist assholes as well.

And this is why the future, be it NFTs or Memoji or the howling existential horror of the Metaverse, looks so ugly and boring: it reflects the stunted inner lives of the finance and technology professionals who produced it. As the visual manifestation of cryptocurrency, NFT art combines the nuanced social awareness of computer programmers with the soulful whimsy of hedge fund managers. It is art for people whose imaginations have been absolutely captured by a new kind of money you can do on the computer.

It is also obviously a pyramid scheme, in which the need for a salable commodity is imperative and endlessly renewed, but the commodity itself does not matter because it is useless — not even useless the way all art is useless, because you can get the images and whatever grains of nourishment your hungry little soul might find in them for free, but useless the way a canceled stamp is useless, useless like a receipt or an envelope that has been torn open. NFTs are an occasion for commerce masquerading as art, just as so many ostensibly meaningful experiences of the 21st century turn out to be occasions to spend money masquerading as life.

This year, as pandemic deaths ebbed and flowed, a distinctive, eternal beat — that of artist’s deaths — played on as usual, bringing its own waves of collective grief. Some, such as Cicely Tyson and Stephen Sondheim, held the spotlight for generations. Others, like Michael K. Williams and Nai-Ni Chen, left us lamenting careers cut short. Here is a tribute to just a small number of them, in their own words.

Hi, if you are reading this essay then congratulations, you are still alive. And if you are alive, then you have either gotten the COVID-19 vaccine, or you still have the opportunity to get the vaccine against COVID-19. And holy fuck, if you aren’t fucking vaccinated against COVID-19, then you need to get fucking vaccinated right now. I mean, what the fuck? Fuck you. Get vaccinated. Fuck.

The fucking vaccine will not make you magnetic. Are you fucking kidding me? It just fucking won’t. That’s not even a fucking thing, and that lady who tried to pretend the vaccine made her fucking magnetic looked like a real fucking fuckwad and a fucking idiot, so get fucking vaccinated. Jesus. Fuck.

My theory is that our current collective obsession with trends is a response to the massive unpredictability of technology, finance, and health over the past two years, and the fact that the world is so different from what it used to look like. I don’t think it’s just the pandemic; I think the fact that a Chinese-founded internet company took over American smartphones so swiftly and so wholly terrified venture capitalists who felt all too comfortable with the idea that Silicon Valley boy geniuses would control the internet forever. 

That, at least, would explain the frantic and almost uniformly positive early coverage of apps like Clubhouse, whose central premise of live audio-only social media was all too easily replicable by better established companies, or Dispo, an app that asked the question, “what if we took the worst part of disposable cameras — waiting — and put it on your phone.” The tenor of these conversations felt like magical thinking, as though if only another regular ol’ California tech company, no matter how useless, displaced TikTok, things might finally go back to normal. 

[Jeff T.] Green acknowledged that most Mormons are “good people trying to do right,” and blamed the church’s leadership for leading them astray.

“The church leadership is not honest about its history, its finances, and its advocacy,” he said in the 900-word letter. “I believe the Mormon church has hindered global progress in women’s rights, civil rights and racial equality, and LGBTQ+ rights.”

Green announced he would be donating $600,000 to Equality Utah, an LGBTQ organization.

“Almost half of the fund will go to a new scholarship program to help LGBTQ+ students in Utah,” he said, including any who “may need or want to leave [Brigham Young University].”

To the Editor:

Caroline Weber’s self-serving, error-filled review (Dec. 5) of my book, in which she focuses on the minutiae of whether or not Marie Antoinette had an affair, as though “In the Shadow of the Empress” was about that one point and not about Maria Theresa, three of her remarkable daughters and the entire 18th century, demands a response. There’s no way to address all of Weber’s misstatements here so I will confine myself to some of the more egregious examples.

If Weber had read more than the genealogical chart and a footnote on Page 251, she would have seen that Marie Antoinette’s second son was almost certainly conceived during the week that the queen was at the Petit Trianon, planning and throwing a late-night party for the king of Sweden and his entourage, which included Count Fersen. Fersen had at that point been away for 10 months and in addition to coming to the party was known to be a regular visitor to the Petit Trianon whenever he was in town. Louis XVI, on the other hand, was not at the Petit Trianon that entire week, as he followed his regular schedule, which included going to bed alone in his room at the palace of Versailles at precisely 11 every night, as attested to by Madame Campan. So it’s difficult to see how he could have been the father. That’s not gossip or fake news. That’s biology and geography … 

Much of material is being placed on the Internet for the first time, and a lot of it runs counter to the wholesome image of the war’s “greatest generation.”

Raw attitudes on topics including race, women, sex, gender and combat are revealed in 65,000 pages from Army surveys that a Virginia Tech historian found in the National Archives.

Black soldiers had their own views about the men they called Southern “crackers” who couldn’t admit that the Civil War was over. Some soldiers were suspicious of women in the service. A gay soldier wondered why he had been drafted. And several soldiers said they had been in combat too long.

The project is called “The American Soldier in World War II,” and is supported by funding from the university and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and by the work of the National Archives.


short history of the web:

Required Reading is published every Thursday afternoon, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.


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