Recently I’ve been invited to teach a course on exhibitions that changed the world. The class starts in April, and I’ve been doing loads of research on this to prepare. This week I landed on the 1930’s where I inevitably hit upon the infamous “entartete Kunst” or “Degenerate Art” exhibit warning Europeans of the degenerate qualities of modern art. These exhibits were a climax of years of warning the public of “art and race” and the fact that intentions behind avant garde art were equivalent to those of the mentally ill. It’s a very unfortunate period in human history, one that hurts to digest as I have three children who are half Jewish, and I’m married to a lovely Jewish man. Oh and what if the Führer instead had a beef with French Canadian, Irish, Scottish mutts? Then I would be up the creek too.
Pan to the dermatologist’s waiting room yesterday, where I get my best fill on pop culture. There I picked up the February 2 issue of Time Magazine. Besides a pleasant article on mindfulness, and some beautiful photos of macaque monkeys I found a review of the most recent book by Amy Chua (Chinese) and husband Jed Rubenfeld (Jewish). Chua is the author of the unappealing but popular book about how to parent like a bad-ass Chinese person parents, otherwise known as a Tiger Mom. Rubenfeld is an accomplished professor, with a sojourn for two years at Julliard (drama!!!). No doubt his drama training helped with his future book endeavors and parenting adventures in the years to come.
So their latest book in sum: Asians, Cubans Jews, Indians, Nigerians, Mormons, Iranians and Lebanese are better than anyone else in succeeding in America. There is no scientific back up, and there is no discussion of history and circumstances that lead to a more holistic picture, it’s simply that they do it better than you. And because the authors are professors at Yale they have had the book published, and garnered subsequent press on it.
Unfortunately these confident and bright authors, for brevity I’ll call them the Chüahrer, forgot to look at the most recent median household incomes of say New York City and realize that the Chinese have a lower income than Ecuadorians, Haitians and Pakistanis. Nor did they see that the New York City group with the highest percentage of high school graduates are not Chinese or Indian, but Ukranian*.
So back to the “Kunst und Rasse” – the book is racism at its finest – ensconced in the “safe” confines of capitalism and democracy. It is simply racism. Shame on this couple, shame on them truly. The book has been ridiculed by popular press (Time) as well as the left side of things (Slate), and frankly I could barely read through the reviews.
The Chüahrer’s list of criteria that make these groups “better” are that they have a superiority complex, feelings of insecurity and impulse control (sounds like the average new parent). So that’s the recipe according to the Chüahrer. In 1936 the Jews were accused of insolence and incompetence. Aren’t they saying the same things in a backwards manner to the ethnicity and races excluded from these privileged groups described in their book? Having impulse control sounds a hell of a lot like wearing a smart uniform and tight boots. Impulse is one of the most exciting things on the planet, and the most brilliant people have learned to ride it with aplomb.
This is a service announcement to anyone in a position to frame an important topic with your successful flashlight – don’t point to race to create a self-help “you can do it too” business, but simply to the virtues worth paying attention to. The framing with race is simply to sell books and make a stink. Much like the recent trend of claiming to have asperger syndrome because people don’t know how to work with people, this couple has created a thesis in their book based on division. Shame.
So enough on that topic, except to say that I hope Penguin Press will change its tune to publish more impulsive and fantastic authors in the future. And should they venture down the hot seat of race again, please do so with care and attention to whole histories and contexts, it is all so much more complicated than what this books seems to purport.
PS. Very smart review from overseas courtesy of The Gaurdian here.
*According to the NYC department of city planning book, “The Newest New Yorkers”
Tagged: Amy CHua, Books, Degenerate Art, entartete Kunst, Jed Rubenfeld, Penguin Press, race, The Triple Package
We must give as much weight to the arousal of the emotions and to the expression of moral and esthetic values as we now give to science, to invention, to practical organization. One without the other is impotent. – Lewis Mumford