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Monday, October 22, 2018

A conversation on the future of the highest court in the land

Posted By on 10.22.18 at 06:10 PM

CHICAGO IDEAS WEEK
  • Chicago Ideas Week

A crowd bundled in sweaters and scarves against the changing Chicago wind gathered at the Museum of Contemporary Art last Thursday to hear a conversation on the Supreme Court held during Chicago Ideas Week, an annual festival that brings together diverse thinkers to promote sharing of ideas.  

No doubt spurred on by the recent contentious confirmation hearings of now Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh, attendees packed the 296-seat Edlis Neeson Theater to near capacity. Onstage were former Obama White House counsel Kate Shaw; Neal Katyal, a Georgetown University professor who has argued cases before the Supreme Court;  and Geoffrey Stone, law professor and provost of the University of Chicago. Moderated by U.S. district court judge Manish Shah, the conversation took a broad look at the functions of an effective Supreme Court.

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‘Tackling Taboos’: A conversation on redefining our own truths

Posted By on 10.22.18 at 03:38 PM

Yvonne Orji and Luvvie Ajayi - VANESSA BUENGER
  • Vanessa Buenger
  • Yvonne Orji and Luvvie Ajayi


"I honestly feel like telling the truth has become taboo," said author and digital strategist Luvvie Ajayi to an audience at the Chicago Ideas Week event "Tackling Taboos." The night was broken up into three conversations, a performance, and a talk and addressed conventionally taboo subjects including porn, sex, and religion. This allowed audience members—specifically, the high school students who are part of the Chicago Ideas Youth Ambassadors program—to walk away with a new understanding of why it's important to talk about difficult issues transparently.

The first conversation was between Ajayi and Yvonne Orji, a Nigerian-American comedian and actress who currently stars as Molly on HBO's Insecure. She talked about the shift in career plans that occurred when she put her faith in God, or "Daddy," as she calls him. "I don't have daddy issues, don't worry," she joked. When she devoted herself to religion, she dropped her plans of becoming a doctor and took up comedy. This led her down a path of success she didn't know she could have because of the confined lifestyle she'd had growing up in an African household.

When living with African parents, "dreaming is a luxury," Orji said. "Living with Mexican parents too," said one of the teenage girls sitting in front of me. Though Orji had followed her parents' plans up until graduate school, she was able to tackle the taboo of pursuing her own dreams and following her own plans.

Orji also talked about therapy and mental health stigmas within black communities. She and Ajayi joked that their parents would be so much happier if they went to therapy and let go of all the pain and grudges they've held on to for the last 40 years. "Our generation is making it more healthy to seek help," said Orji.

Journalist Emily Witt took the stage next and gave a talk about the contemporary pursuit of sexual pleasure and connection, including topics like porn, orgasmic meditation, webcam sex, and polyamorous couples who schedule sex.

"Our own taboo limits us," she said in regard to how we restrict ourselves from exploring different sexual experiences." What a wonderful thing for teenage girls to learn so early on in their lives, I thought.

Following Witt's talk, comedian Becca Brown sang a song about the lies women tell to get rid of the unwanted attention of certain men, specifically tackling the taboo of periods. "Your fake period got rid of that jerk," she sang. "'Cause you're disgusting and useless when your pussy don't work."

The second conversation of the night was with Michael Arceneaux, author of I Can't Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race and Other Reasons I've Put My Faith in Beyonce. He spoke about the taboo of being gay in a southern, black, Christian family.

"I think religion is very beautiful and very helpful in people's lives, but at the same time, religion tortured me," he said. He thinks the transparency in his book helped tell other people's stories and solidified him as "the Cardi B of lit."

The final conversation featured fashion designer Norma Kamali, whose recent work raises awareness about the unique experiences women face regarding objectification. She said because of how widely accepted harassment and assault were in the fashion industry, she never realized how bad the things she and other models or designers had experienced were. She encouraged everyone to keep talking about assault so it doesn't continue being normalized.

Overall, the event was fun. It opened my eyes to the way my different identities have caused me to view certain truths as taboo and to hope for a future where these truths can be commonplace.

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Friday, October 19, 2018

Pop-Up Magazine redefines the art of storytelling

Posted By on 10.19.18 at 02:15 PM

Rowan Jacobsen performing his piece, "Ghost Flower" - JON SNYDER
  • Jon Snyder
  • Rowan Jacobsen performing his piece, "Ghost Flower"

At the last stop on its fall tour, the live magazine Pop-Up Magazine filled Chicago’s Athenaeum Theatre with a captivating, multisensory experience. The evening consisted of ten pieces read aloud by ten different writers, with each piece accompanied by a different element: photography, graphic art, live music, documentary clips, audio snippets, or a sample scent. While the stories encompassed a wide range of topics, including racial injustice, friendship, immigration, popular culture, and community, in one way or another, they all examined what it means to be a human being in 2018.

Pop-Up Magazine evoked a range of emotions; tears streamed down my cheeks during "Mimi & Brownie," Veena Rao’s story about two lifelong best friends, while the relentless power within Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s slam poem, "You Have the Rite" shook me to my core. Rowan Jacobson’s presentation of "Ghost Flower" created a sense of community among the audience when everyone took a communal whiff of an extinct flower, the mountain hibiscus, a scent no one, aside from Pop-Up’s audience members, has smelled in a century.

While the content of the stories themselves proved to be more than capable of standing on their own, the visual, audible, and olfactory components of the presentations made them even more engaging. I never once had the urge to whip out my phone for some distraction. Pop-Up Magazine introduces a new way of storytelling: it argues that not all stories are best told by one medium whether it be an open-mike reading, an online op-ed, or a documentary film, but rather a combination of multiple media.

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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Staffer Ryan Smith says goodbye to the Reader

Posted By on 10.18.18 at 05:15 PM

Bruce Rauner adopts some culturally liberal causes in service of his cruel economic campaign. - RYAN SMITH
  • Ryan Smith
  • Bruce Rauner adopts some culturally liberal causes in service of his cruel economic campaign.

Shortly after Sun-Times Media bought the Reader, CEO Edwin Eisendrath admitted he didn't really know what an "alternative" publication in Chicago had to offer these days. Alternative to what?

In some ways, he had a point. Alt-weeklies have increasingly become a victim of their own success. The countercultural beat of weed, LGBTQ pride, edgy theater, and punk music that once set the alternative press apart have increasingly become permanently etched into mainstream urban life. The entrenched power structures that used to vehemently oppose the rights of gays—Republicans, the police, and the military—now regularly march at Pride parades. Billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker wants Illinoisians to be able to smoke weed for fun. Riot Fest, punk rock's annual nostalgia fest, doesn't inspire anything resembling a riot.

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Cave return with their first new music in five years, and it’s worth the wait

Posted By on 10.18.18 at 02:31 PM

Cave: Cooper Crain, Rob Frye, Rex McMurry, Jeremy Freeze, and Dan Browning - MICHAEL VALLERA
  • Michael Vallera
  • Cave: Cooper Crain, Rob Frye, Rex McMurry, Jeremy Freeze, and Dan Browning

If you'd asked me earlier this year, I would've assumed Cave was done. Multiple members of the Chicago-based five-piece had moved out of town. Guitarist and organist Cooper Crain was busy with Bitchin Bajas (where he's joined by Cave multi-instrumentalist Rob Frye) and the Haley Fohr collaboration Jackie Lynn, not to mention his work as a recording engineer. As far as I knew, the band had only played one local show in three years. They hadn't put out any new material since the 2013 album Threace—the 2014 odds-and-sods collection Release was all hard-to-find but previously released music.

Some of those members' moves turned out to be temporary, though, and Crain wasn't too busy after all. In July, seemingly out of nowhere, the band released a music video for "San' Yago," a love letter to Chicago-style hot dog shacks—and just like that, Cave were back.

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Rauner and Pritzker tout government transparency while blocking access to records

Posted By on 10.18.18 at 02:08 PM

J.B. Pritzker and Governor Bruce Rauner debate earlier this month in front of the Sun-Times Editorial Board. - RICH HEIN/CHICAGO SUN-TIMES
  • Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times
  • J.B. Pritzker and Governor Bruce Rauner debate earlier this month in front of the Sun-Times Editorial Board.

This story was originally published by ProPublica Illinois.

Since he first entered politics as a candidate five years ago, Illinois governor Bruce Rauner has pledged his commitment to open government.

As he put it during a debate last week with challenger J.B. Pritzker before the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board: "Transparency is great."

As he fights for reelection, making the declaration is a great move on Rauner's part—and an easy one. Voters are demanding more and more information about what their governments are doing with their tax money, and every candidate at every level is wise to speak in favor of sharing it with them.

But what Rauner means when he vows to be transparent isn't so clear, given his administration's habit of fighting against the release of information. The governor's office won't even disclose how often it blocks the release of records sought by the public.

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Peter Bogdanovich explains why Buster Keaton still matters

Posted By on 10.18.18 at 06:00 AM

Bogdanovich - COHEN MEDIA GROUP
  • Cohen Media Group
  • Bogdanovich

Silent movies have been enjoying a revival locally, with frequent offerings from the Chicago Film Society, the Music Box Theatre, and the Gene Siskel Film Center, to name a few. This year the 54th Chicago International Film Festival spotlights Buster Keaton, one of the top comedians and directors of the silent era, with The Great Buster, directed by Peter Bogdanovich. Bogdanovich, 79, began his career as a film critic and a programmer at New York's Museum of Modern Art, which led to forays as an author and actor (he studied with Stella Adler) before he turned to filmmaking. This documentary is his first project for Cohen Media Group, a production and distribution company that also restores classic films; his next will be about Douglas Fairbanks.

In addition to The Great Buster, which he narrates, Bogdanovich can be seen in two other festival entries, the newly-completed The Other Side of the Wind, which was directed by Orson Welles but left unfinished for decades after Welles's death in 1985, and Morgan Neville's documentary about the film, They'll Love Me When I'm Dead. Recently I spoke over the phone to Bogdanovich about this bonanza (full disclosure: I once worked with him years ago when he was a guest cohost on Roger Ebert's TV special If We Picked the Winners, on which I served as producer).

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

#TimesUp: What's Next? Chicago Ideas Week conversation discusses the next steps for the movement

Posted By on 10.17.18 at 05:00 PM

SONA JONES
  • Sona Jones

Earlier this year, the #TimesUp legal initiative was launched to provide steps for women across all career industries who have been sexually harassed in the workplace, but now many women are asking, "where do we go from here?" Chicago Ideas Week hosted a conversation last night titled #TimesUp: What’s Next with activists and experts Amber Tamblyn, Saru Jayamaran, Tina Tchen, and Celeste Headlee to answer this question, offering some suggestions for next steps and examining areas where change needs to occur the most.

Thus far, most of the focus of the movement has been on high profile cases involving celebrities or public figures. Women in Hollywood have stood together at awards show announcing that time was up for abuse and assault on movie sets. "The Screen Actors Guild has changed on-set rules about how women are allowed to be treated and how their bodies can be touched," said Tamblyn, an actress, director, and one of the founding members of the #TimesUp movement.

But there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of inclusivity and diversity within the movement and advocating for women (and men) in all other fields. Tchen, one of the leaders of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, says workplace sexual harassment infects all industries. One of the only ways to implement any real change is to change the workplace culture that has allowed for harassment to grow and continue to be accepted. Opponents of the #TimesUp movement have argued that if companies just followed the law, there wouldn’t be any harassment issues, but those people fail to realize that these laws have not caught up with 2018.

Tchen says these laws do not protect bystanders who report sexual harassment. One change that is occurring, however, is the termination of employees accused of harassment who earlier would've been given a slap on the wrist or made to watch a sexual harassment training video. "Sexual harassment training is really ineffective," she said. Learning about sexual harassment won't change an offender's behavior. It'll only make them more aware of the procedures surrounding the harassment. 

Jayamaran, co-founder and president of the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC-United), shifts the conversation to restaurant workers. "In addition to support for legal challenges, we need to dismantle the systems and structures that lead to sexual harassment in the first place," she said. "Like the system of working for tips."

Jayamaran said the tipping economy is rooted in racism and it came into existence as a way to exploit the labor of slaves. It continues to exploit the labor of people of color and perpetuate power dynamics that result in sexual harassment.

The rest of the conversation focused on the importance of women working together. Though the movement has always placed an emphasis on women supporting women, Tamblyn said that white women especially need to be strong allies. In these spaces devoid of men, some white women are coming face to face with their privilege and the realization that sometimes they may perpetuate the same racism and exclusion as men.

"When you see that there is someone who's missing out of the conversation, you have to do everything you can to make sure they're included," she said.

The panel did a good job of recounting the strides the movement has made and what they're currently working towards but I'm not sure if anything that was said hasn’t already been said before. I would have liked them to highlight sexual assault in other, more vulnerable career fields like the public education system. Though I'm aware that a lot of the work the initiative is doing is geared towards workplace culture, I think discussing how the movement can help young women come forward with their stories, too, would be beneficial and a huge step in moving forward as a collective. Regardless, the conversation was one that we need to keep having in order to see more progress. 

Before the event ended, the four women answered audience questions and offered some tangible advice: Don’t be afraid to be the crazy, difficult bitch in the room and go vote in the midterm elections.

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Sketches from CIFF: a few thoughts on the nature of virtual reality

Posted By on 10.17.18 at 01:00 PM

VR zombies in the AMC River East lobby, afternoon of October 12
  • VR zombies in the AMC River East lobby, afternoon of October 12

The AMC River East isn't exactly Grauman's Chinese Theater and the Chicago International Film Festival isn't Cannes, but over a week and a half each October some of the better new films and many of the people who made them show up at this airport terminal-like multiplex a half mile short of Navy Pier on Illinois Street. When I pitched writing something about the festival this year, I envisioned wandering about and eavesdropping on the excited conversations of film lovers and putting together an impressionistic travelogue-type essay. But in the lobby of the theater on Friday, there were more young festival volunteers in blue t-shirts than anyone else. The line for Will Call was mostly empty and there was a lot more traffic flowing toward the bowling alley/sports bar and newfangled videogame arcade than the movie theater box office on the second floor. I wrote my editor to try to weasel out of my assignment. Then I saw the people in VR goggles.

In a makeshift roped-off area in front of the elevators, a couple of young volunteers were signing people up to try out the goggles. Beyond them, a middle-aged man was doing a sort of clumsy, slo-mo tai chi thing while holding black strap-like controls in each hand. The goggles covered up half his face and protruded several inches in front of his eyes. Two younger men next to him were doing their own version of the dance, each of them looking like a helpless sleepwalker or maybe somebody being controlled, mannequin-like, via invisible strings. And so they were. I don't know which game they were playing or what the goggles were showing them and took no steps to find out. The whole scene made me think very uncharitable thoughts about the human race in late 2018. If waving arms around feebly with a sensory-deprivation helmet is where we're at as a society, then maybe it's time to call it a wrap.

Virpi Suutari during the Q and A after the 3:30 PM screening of Entrepreneur on October 12
  • Virpi Suutari during the Q and A after the 3:30 PM screening of Entrepreneur on October 12

The movie I saw that afternoon went a little ways towards lightening my mood. Entrepreneur is a deep meditation on the profound changes going on in the global society but is told through the very specific personal experiences of just a few people. Set in Finland, it tells the contrasting stories of a family selling smoked meats out of a traveling truck and two young women who start a business selling an oat-based substitute to meat. It's about new and old economies and the way we used to live and the way we will live in the future. Its director, Virpi Suutari, answered questions afterward. She was as thoughtful and inquisitive as her film and I left the screening feeling better about the state of the world. 

I returned to the festival Monday afternoon to watch Melissa Haizlip's documentary, Mr. Soul!, which tells the story of her uncle, Ellis Haizlip, and the great African-American cultural showcase he created for public television in the late 60s and early 70s. Watching clips of Al Green singing, Nikki Giovanni reciting poems, James Baldwin telling it like it is was bittersweet: there's still no complete archive of this amazing TV show and, 50 years on, the issues with race in this country seem no closer to being resolved in any meaningful way.

Melissa Haizlip at the Q and A after the 12:30 PM screening of Mr. Soul! on October 15
  • Melissa Haizlip at the Q and A after the 12:30 PM screening of Mr. Soul! on October 15

During the Q and A afterwards, Haizlip talked a lot about the challenges of documentary filmmaking and, more specifically, the hurdles for a film like hers has to overcome in order to reach the mass audience that it richly deserves.

I had a ticket for a narrative film an hour later but walked out after about 15 minutes. This was no knock on the particular film but more a testament to the power of a good documentary to keep reverberating in the mind long after it's over. In comparison, watching a bunch of actors play make-believe seemed silly.

The three films I watched all the way through at CIFF this year were all documentaries. Entrepreneur and Mr. Soul! were both superlative in the ways in which they illuminated imported facets of the past and present. Mercifully, the VR zombies weren't in the River East lobby Monday. Perhaps they traded in their goggles in favor of using their own eyes, but that might be overly hopeful. I'm just glad that Virpi Suutari and Melissa Haizlip used their eyes and minds to make my life a little richer over the course of those few days.

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Clean-burning rock on the gig poster of the week

Posted By on 10.17.18 at 06:00 AM

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ARTIST: Daniel MacAdam
SHOW: Lucero at Metro on Fri 9/28
MORE INFO: crosshairchicago.com

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