Sunday, March 17, 2013
How the Manhattan Institute Destroyed Counterculture NYC
As artists, Vincent and I love to dress up in silly ways and find other artists to look at, chat with, and get inspired by. We don't have a lot of time because we both teach all week and always have plenty of papers to grade when we get home, so when we do get to go out and let our freak flags fly, we really want to make it count. Before we moved away from New York, so that I could earn my Ph.D., we had several areas of downtown Manhattan that we could go to to satisfy this need, in addition to areas of Jersey City and Brooklyn. Now that we live in NY proper, downtown Manhattan is usually our choice, but for some reason we simply couldn't see and admit what so many people had already written about, what was right before our eyes: there are no freaks in downtown Manhattan. There we were, all freaked out with no place to go. Oh sure, we hit Kim's and St. Mark's Bookstore, but what we really wanted was to see people, real live freaks.
Yeah, yeah, we know. Go into Brooklyn. I guess what may have kept us out was all the talk about hipsters, but then I thought, well, maybe the word "hipster" is just a derogatory term for artists. Vincent pointed out that the word "hippie" was used as an insult during the '60s. I thought to myself, "Who is making up this language and why have artists been kicked away to the outer-boroughs? Why has it become harder to reach each other now that we don't have a center point to meet in? Who planned that?"
I didn't think about the issue again until today, when I pulled up a video clip on Wall Street Journal Online, where Kay Hymowitz, of the Manhattan Institute, espouses the virtues of being married, but she only espouses this virtue to 20-somethings who are "uneducated." Here's the clip:
She literally says that if you only have a couple of years of college under your belt, are in your 20s, and are planning on having a kid, you should actually think of the consequences of your actions and try to be married. She also says that women who are educated and older don't have to worry about such things. All of her coded language translates to this: If you are poor and of color, your demographic hasn't been thinking about the real consequences of having kids, and you're a mess, while us educated women who - and she literally says this - may have "internships at Conde' Nast" can pretty much do as we will. Hymowitz doesn't question the wealthy folks who marry, have kids, divorce, marry again, have more kids, and divorce again. She goes on and on about the "less educated" women and how they are putting an unnecessary burden on their kids, raising them single, but she doesn't speak of the consequences of the educated and wealthy who raise kids in single-parent households. Oh, yeah, and I almost forgot, she states - this is a QUOTE - that, "Women in their 20s are, by their very nature, unstable." If you can even hear anything after that point, she goes on to claim that everyone - she says about 80% of people - want to be married and feel unstable if they aren't. Well, after hearing that backwards diatribe, I had to find out what this Manhattan Institute is.
The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research is a think tank that financially supports the work of a panel of experts who espouse incredibly conservative ideas. Here is a link to the experts whose work they promote. You'll notice that nearly everyone on the list is of a certain background and/or ethnicity. The two people of color on the panel are John H. McWhorter, who has written articles like, "Do We Really Need Black History Month?" and "How Hip Hop Holds Blacks Back" and "Why Blacks Don't Need Leaders"; and Avik Roy, who you've seen on "Real Time with Bill Maher" and who wrote the op-ed piece, "Marco Rubio's Impressive Response to Obama's State of the Union Address." The Manhattan Institute's honored guests have included Henry Kissinger, Dick Cheney, and Clarence Thomas, among many others you'll recognize. The agenda at the Manhattan Institute, in terms of what its scholars are supposed to write about and promote, is what you'd expect. This article, which was in The New York Times in 1997 (!) highlights a desire to "[savage] open admissions at the City University of New York, [push] hospital privatization, and aggressively [promote] school choice," which translates into promoting charter schools and the voucher system, i.e. privatization of schools. The article also chronicles the Institute's policy of questioning rent control, which has been all but abolished in NYC. I want to emphasize that this article, titled "Turning Intellect Into Influence: Promoting Its Ideas, the Manhattan Institute Has Nudged New York Rightward," was written 16 years ago and pretty much everything that the MI set out to do has happened. It is frightening in its precision.
In order for such an organization to be precise, and to have such complete access to all aspects of media (TV programming, newspapers, online sites) in order to disseminate its agenda, there has to be major funding. A simple Wiki search - the MI does not reveal its funding on its site - shows that major funding comes from the usual suspects: the Koch Family Foundations, Bristol-Myers Squibb, ExxonMobil, Chase Manhattan Bank, and Merrill Lynch. Paul Labarique, in his article "The Manhattan Institute, Neoconservatives' Lab," claims that the Institute has set forth to, "eliminate the counterculture of the 60’s and feminism, but above all, to destroy social services and get African-Americans and poor people out of the big cities." Which brings us back to that kooky lady, Kay Hymowitz, who is clearly just following orders. Do more women need to get married and not raise kids on their own? Hell yeah! Who should they marry? Men, of course! Does this count for women who are in the elite classes? No, of course not! It's interesting how all of her research fits so perfectly into the agenda of the MI. I suspect that even if it didn't, the oh-so-credible-scholar would find a way to make it fit the MI agenda.
The Labarique article also brings us back to why I started this blog entry: the freak. Where are my freaks at? They have been kicked to the curb, that's where. I know that this fact has been written about by so many people before me, but it is a scary thing to see exactly how it was done. Everything changed because articles were written in order to discredit artists and poor people. Just words on paper or words in cyberspace. People were kicked out because the elite promoted specific ideas in the media, ideas that even the poor who were being kicked out believed in. Counterculture ideas, words, people were eliminated, but in order to still feel as though not much had changed, the surface of what they left behind was kept and incorporated into mainstream culture. The surface parts were mashed up into elite culture - you can find a whole host of online fashion and culture sites that will tell you exactly how much counterculture you are allowed to display. Refinery, anyone? What if I don't want to be refined? What if I want the RAW and BROWN sugar, dig?
What is most frightening, however, is not that this happened in one of the cultural centers of our own country - a center that defines what we read about through its publishing industry, or what we see through its television network centers, or what we hear through its music industry, or what we look like through its fashion and textile industry, and ultimately what we think about through all those industries - yeah, that's hyper-sickening-scary, but what is even scarier is found in the opening line of Labarique's article. Antony Fisher, the founder of of the Manhattan Institute, founded 89 more institutes, just like the Manhattan Institute, AROUND THE WORLD. What is Paris like now? What is Istanbul like? Or Madrid? Or maybe even scarier than that is that Fisher isn't even from the United States - he is a "British multimillionaire." Did we ever become independent from Britain?? Or maybe even scarier is that the predecessor of the term "post-racial" was first published in an article in 1978 (!) by one of the MI scholars, George Gilder. Ideas, words that we use today, have been formulated by these think tanks that we are unaware even exist. The next time that you feel like you've done it all on your own, that you have a mind of your own, that you are certain that you came to where you are at because of decisions you made, maybe you should wonder what might have influenced you, what small seed may have been planted in your brain, in your spirit, when you were asleep.
Maybe I have been asleep. Maybe I finally just woke up and noticed that there are no freaks around me. Maybe I am totally alone. Maybe it is better to wear sensible clothing. Maybe I will have less and easier work as an educator if CUNY stops accepting the wide range of students that it has welcomed in the past. Maybe Cooper Union will have a better product if students start paying tuition. Maybe it's true that there is no need for counterculture anymore. Maybe the wars we are in are just. Maybe there is no racism anymore. Maybe there is no sexism anymore.
Or, maybe, sneaky suppression is just as bad as overt repression. Maybe I'm damn lucky to be living in the Bronx because the word "sensible" has no place in the Bronx and my surroundings keep me honest. Maybe there IS racism and sexism that continues to win screenwriting awards. Maybe we still occupy too many countries where we don't speak the language of the people we are supposedly trying to save. Maybe we are cutting the funding of too many humanities in schools, creating a class of people who have no empathy and have no idea how the arts grows dendrites and dreams that imagine solutions for the future. Maybe, just maybe, if I continue being a freak and continue sharing my own ideas, maybe the sensible wall of sensible ideas will start to crack, causing other sleeping freaks to notice and kick a brick.