Trevor Noah pans ‘professional tickle monster’ Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign

Late-night hosts discussed the former vice-presidents presidential bid and Trumps angry response to it

Late-night hosts discussed Joe Biden’s presidential campaign and the coup attempt in Venezuela.

Trevor Noah

The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow)

Biden could take a page out of Trump’s book: instead of letting a verbal miscue trip him up, just create a new reality and plow right through!

May 1, 2019

Trevor Noah focused entirely on “former vice-president and professional tickle monster” Joe Biden and his entry into the presidential race, particularly his Pittsburgh rally, on The Daily Show.

Flanked by union workers, Biden hoped to “unify” the country. When Biden began discussing unification, Noah pointed out the oddity it has become. “That’s where America had gotten to. Candidates have to promise that if they get the job, they’ll be the president of the whole country,” Noah said. “Thanks to Trump, that’s not a forgone conclusion any more.”

Mocking Trump with an impersonation of his own, Noah said: “He got into the White House and was like: ‘California, suck a fat dick! New York, same to you! All the people who voted for Hillary, suck my balls! Wisconsin, see you Friday! Florida, every Friday, baby, yeah!’” pairing it with obscene gestures with his hands.

However, Noah observed that Biden had trouble with his speech, often misspeaking and jumbling his words. Threading together all of the clips of when this occurred, the host commented: “It’s one thing to mess up in the middle of a sentence. It’s another thing to stumble when you’re trying to rally the tramps – I mean the troops!” He also mentioned that Trump has already attacked on Biden’s age, calling him “Sleepy Joe” in tweets, further emphasizing the point that Biden cannot afford to slip up.

Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert spent time ridiculing Joe Biden. Biden seems to be running ahead of all his rivals in most polling, with his second-place competitor, Bernie Sanders, almost 20 points behind. Colbert joked: “Looks like the Democrats aren’t feeling the Bern so much as they are jonesing for Joe. Or vibing the Bide’. Or weeping for the former VP-ing.”

But Biden’s rise does not come without consequence: Trump unleashed a barrage of tweets against him, for which the late-night host again leaned into his Trump impersonation. Colbert said criticizing Biden may not be the smartest move, as it puts him and other attacked candidates ahead of the curve or, in the words of one article, “gives them oxygen”. Colbert continued: “At their ages, both Trump and Biden need all the oxygen they can get.”

Despite Biden’s savvy in the race right now, Colbert expressed surprise at one of his moves: the refusal to seek an endorsement from former president Barack Obama. However, Biden has a newly released ad featuring Obama heavily. “Joe Biden could not get any closer to Barack Obama if he was a pair of dad jeans,” said Colbert.

Seth Meyers

Running through international and more localized news, Seth Meyers’ monologue was filled with snappy one-liners regarding the wide range of featured current events. Beginning with the uprising in Venezuela, Meyers showed a tweet from the current vice-president, Mike Pence, in support of the uprising.

The host joked that while Pence tweeted this out, Trump most likely had to Google the location of the country. Meyers also poked fun at Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer for saying they reached an agreement with Trump over infrastructure. “That’s right, they have an agreement with Trump, just like his contractors, the students at Trump University and his first two wives.”

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While You Were Offline: Ted Cruz Wants the Space Force to Fight Space Pirates

You know it's been a rough week when Britney Spears apparently withdraws from performing, Grumpy Cat dies, and a sparkly vampire turns into a bat—and those aren't even the worst stories out there. Elsewhere, the Mueller investigation is still in the news and investigators have finally determined the cause of California's deadly Camp Fire. (Short version: It was electrical transmission lines.) Oh, and the Trump administration is trying to undo birthright citizenship for the adopted children of LGBTQ couples. Already feel like you've missed a lot? While You Were Offline is here to help.

Generation Offred

What Happened: For anyone who cares about whether or not those with wombs have any level of control over their own bodies, last week was a rough one thanks to legislation in several states.

What Really Happened: There's no way to sugarcoat this: The war over abortion has intensified beyond what most would have expected in the past couple of weeks, with new bills being signed into law that significantly limit the freedom of those with wombs in certain states. Two weeks ago, everyone's attention was on Georgia, and certain laws being made in that state—

—but last week, it was Alabama that held everyone's attention, and for good reason.

The Alabama Senate had originally intended to vote on its own controversial abortion restriction earlier in the month, only to have to postpone due to public protest. It's fair to say that the discussion, when it finally happened, was, shall we say, not had at the most learned level.

Such exceptional thoughtfulness and care for the subject was followed by the vote itself.

The result, which effectively outlawed abortion in the state, was shocking to many, including lawmakers outside of Alabama.

Others vowed to take the fight against the new law as far as it can go—which may be what those behind it want.

Hopes that the bill, although passed by the Senate, wouldn't go any further due to the deafening public outcry were quashed a day later, when Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed the bill into law.

So far, so Handmaid’s Tale. (That may sound flip, but can we stop for a second to realize how stunning it is to be able to make that analogy so easily?) And it wasn't just Alabama restricting freedom of choice this week.

Here's what the Missouri governor had to say about things.

And here's what reality had to add.

As the war on women's choice ramped up, a hashtag followed as those who have had abortions told their stories—or, in many cases, chose not to, for the most obvious reasons.

The Takeaway: Please remember that, with Roe v. Wade still in effect, abortion remains a protected right across the United States.

This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land, Especially When I Want to Use It to Make a Geopolitical Point and Ruin Your Livelihood

What Happened: In an international landscape dominated by the idea of America First, some Americans might have to deal with coming in second (or third, or fourth) in order to … well, it's not entirely clear. Let President Trump get a win? Sorry, farmers.

What Really Happened: Somehow, we've ended up back on the subject of tariffs and the US's seemingly inevitable trade war with China.

In a move that broke with the tradition of simply pretending that everything the president wanted to do would work out easily and quickly in Americans' favor, the administration admitted that the trade war would have casualties, and started bolstering support for American farmers with a proposed $15 billion aid package. President Trump took to Twitter to explain the move.

Experts disagreed with his reasoning, and not only because the president doesn't seem to know how tariffs actually work.

Unfortunately, as the week went on, it became more and more apparent that farmers were seeing how badly they'll be affected by the president's plans—and were also beginning to see through Trump's promises that everything would be OK and speaking out about that. Given the crossover between areas in the US reliant on farming for the local economy and areas in the US where Trump support was at a premium in the last election, this could be a significant problem for the commander-in-chief. Unless, that is, you're living inside the president's head:

The Takeaway: Of course, there are those who would still like to argue that all of this is part of a very sophisticated plan.

The Iran Issue

What Happened: Speaking of the Trump administration, did you know that the US might be facing war with Iran?

What Really Happened: Toward the end of last week, reports started to surface that Iran was presenting an increased threat to US interests in the Middle East, in the wake of America withdrawing from the nuclear deal with the country negotiated by President Obama.

As this week began, there were new reports—including one that the US was considering potential military action, prompting pushback from Iranian leaders, as well as reminders of previous US overreach in the region. But, even as the US was warning of increased tension, a leading British military figure made a somewhat surprising announcement at the start of the week.

If that was surprising, what happened next only continued the trend as the Pentagon decided that it couldn't let that kind of commentary go unaddressed.

As if any escalation was needed, the UK Ministry of Defense responded to the US response by defending its general.

Watching this subtle back-and-forth was a surreal experience, but it was also a signifier of the Trump administration's attempt to regain control of the message as it tried to build support for future action against Iran.

And, make no mistake, the Trump administration was clearly planning future action against Iran. The only question was, what kind of action? Many feared it would be a military exercise, especially with hardliner John Bolton as Trump's national security advisor.

The immediate answer to that question may be as simple as, "The president thinks it would be good for him politically," but surely he's not that gullible, is he..? Perhaps so; by midweek, the seeming march to war continued.

That didn't look good. On Thursday, the UK followed suit, despite its earlier comments.

Other parties had also been making moves.

Suffice to say, things are not looking good in the region. Not all hope was lost, though; President Trump publicly stated that he didn't want a war, while new reports started to appear suggesting pushback internally to the idea. It's a difficult, nervous time across the globe right now.

The Takeaway: So what, exactly, is the plan here, anyway? Because it's beginning to look a lot like this:

Whenever Possible, Please Remember to RSVP Your Subpoenas

What Happened: Turns out, it’s really hard to claim that a case is closed when one of your friends keeps reminding people that not all of the witnesses have spoken up about what they saw.

What Really Happened: Another story that took off last week was the fact that Donald Trump Jr. had been subpoenaed to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee, having previously failed to come in twice before. Understandably, the news was something that got a lot of attention, because it was the Republican president's son being subpoenaed by the Republican-held Senate to answer questions about a matter that the Republican leader of the Senate had, days earlier, declared "case closed." No wonder that stories of Republican in-fighting were quick to appear.

While the matter might have been easily brought to a close by Trump Jr. simply answering the subpoena and answering the questions expected of him, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham offered some astonishing advice instead.

Yes, the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee was saying that a Senate-issued subpoena should just be ignored, essentially. If that sounded a little too easy, that's because, well, it was.

Graham's advice caused such a firestorm, a new hashtag was created in response. Although, to be fair, this one might have had multiple reasons to appear, considering.

Back to Don Jr., though. By midweek, the story surrounding the subpoena was becoming less about the subpoena and more about the GOP squabbles that accompanied it.

Finally, everyone struck a deal, bringing the matter to a close.

Now, how much of Donald Trump Jr.'s testimony—which will happen next month, unless he backs out again, setting this whole fight off one more time—will see him taking Graham's advice and pleading the Fifth? Wait and see.

The Takeaway: So, who actually won in this standoff? It's not clear. Maybe we'll know by June.

Ted Cruz Wants Space Force to Fight Space Pirates

What Happened: Because last week wasn't just one long existential horror, we'll close on a moment of joy: Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) talking about just why we need Space Force in our lives.

What Really Happened: Hey, remember Space Force? Ted Cruz does, and not because it's apparently going to be so much more expensive than anyone expected.

It's fair to say, people on Twitter were impressed by this sudden intergalactic inspiration on behalf of the Texas senator.

Still, at least one space-decision-maker was apparently paying attention.

Sadly, Cruz was not amused by the coverage of his comments, which had already gone mainstream, as should be expected.

All joking aside for the briefest of seconds, perhaps we should ask ourselves about Cruz's priorities here.

The Takeaway: Perhaps we're being too hard on the senator, however. Maybe he knows something that we don't.

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Robinson Crusoe at 300: why it’s time to let go of this colonial fairytale

Defoes book has inspired novels, Hollywood movies and games but the shipwrecked slave-trader should never have become a role model

In February 1719, two months before the publication of Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe proposed in the Weekly Journal that the South Sea Company – founded just eight years earlier to manage the national debt and awarded a contract to supply the Spanish colonies in Latin America with several thousand African slaves per year – should oversee the founding of a British colony at the mouth of the River Orinoco on the coast of present day Venezuela. The government would be required “to furnish six Men of War, and 4000 regular Troops, with some Engineers and 100 pieces of Cannon, and military Stores in Proportion for the maintaining and supporting the Design”, but “the Revenue it shall bring to the Kingdom will be a full amends”. Defoe chose to locate the fictional island on which Crusoe is stranded around 40 miles from the mouth of the Orinoco, and furnish it with a kindlier climate than that of the actual island on which Alexander Selkirk, the presumed model for Crusoe, was marooned. His book (no one was calling it a “novel” at the time) was a prospectus for potential investors, lacking only glossy photos of beaches and palm trees.

Bribery and insider dealing combined with public credulity to drive the share price of the South Sea Company unsustainably high, and in 1720 the bubble burst, causing widespread financial ruin. Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe – which recounts, in addition to Crusoe’s diligent labours on the island, his skirmishes with cannibals and a crew of English mutineers, his rescue and a perilous overland journey from Lisbon to bring home the fortune that has been accumulating during his absence – would have been a better investment. By late summer 1719 the book had been reprinted three times and Defoe had published a sequel, The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. A third volume, Serious Reflections During the Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, followed in 1720. By the end of the 19th century, the original Crusoe had been reissued in several hundred editions and the book had come to resemble, as Virginia Woolf wrote, “one of the anonymous productions of the race rather than the effort of a single mind”. During the 20th century, Defoe’s original template was turned upside down and inside out – by, among many others, HG Wells, Jean Giraudoux, William Golding, JG Ballard and Julio Cortázar – in ways that reflected changing attitudes to race, gender, imperialism, rationality and the environment.

In Michel Tournier’s Friday, or, The Other Island (1967), Robinson comes to perceive the island not as “a territory to be exploited but a being, unquestionably feminine”; mandrakes grow on the slope where Robinson has sex with the earth and “a new man seemed to be coming to life within him, wholly alien to the practical administrator”. In Sam Selvon’s Moses Ascending (1975), Moses takes over a run-down house in Shepherd’s Bush and has his practical affairs attended to “by my man Friday, a white immigrant from somewhere in the Midlands … He was a willing worker, eager to learn the ways of the Black man.” In JM Coetzee’s Foe (1986), Susan Barton tells Mr Foe, a writer she has engaged to bring her adventures to book, that “The true story will not be heard till by art we have found a way of giving voice to Friday” – whose tongue has been cut out, either by the slavers who transported him from Africa or by Crusoe himself.

‘How like a kind I look’d’: illustration, from the 1895 edition, by J Finnemore. Photograph: Culture Club/Getty Images

There have also been adaptations for the stage, film, TV and online gaming, but the particular status of Robinson Crusoe in English culture derives chiefly from the early abridgements and retellings published for children. In Émile (1762), Jean-Jacques Rousseau described Crusoe as “the most felicitous treatise on natural education” ever written. However, the text that will provide “both Émile’s instruction and entertainment” is to be “disencumbered of all its rigmarole”. Crusoe’s career as a slave trader and owner of a plantation in Brazil is omitted. Many other educationists agreed that the island narrative of Crusoe was an ideal text for teaching the virtues of self-reliance, careful management of resources and trust in the overall – if a little mysterious, but that’s a part of the appeal – wonderfulness of the Christian God. That the novel could be harnessed to the business of empire was a further recommendation. The introduction to a 1900 Cambridge University Press edition encouraged readers to admire “those qualities of resourcefulness, activity and practical common sense that have made Great Britain the greatest colonising power in the world”. In 1903, Thomas Godolphin Rooper – educated at Harrow and Oxford, a schools inspector for 25 years – declared “Nothing, not even football, will do more to maintain and extend the dominion of the Anglo-Saxon than the spirit of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, which may be summed up in this piece of advice: ‘Never look to others to do for you what you can do for yourself.’”

Did Rooper, I wonder, wash his own clothes, bake his own bread, mend his own roof? His summary of Crusoe-ism is a mockery of the way Defoe’s novel was actually incorporated into the ethos of British public schools, where the earnest Victorian schoolmen who considered Crusoe’s labours on his island to be an exemplary form of self-reliance taught their charges to read Latin and be dependent on the work of servants and women. For all its nod to Crusoe the manufacturer, able to knock up his own furniture and fences (walls are a speciality), the education system’s interest in him had nothing to do with manual labour, skilled or not. It had to do with maintaining the class hierarchy and extending “the dominion of the Anglo-Saxon”.

On his tight little island, Crusoe became a monarch: “My island was now peopled, and I thought myself very rich in subjects; and it was a merry reflection which I frequently made, how like a king I look’d.” The moral of the story appeared to be: work hard and trust in God and you shall have dominion over others. But the promotion of Robinson Crusoe in schools was a con trick: there cannot be kings without subjects, and for most of those doing the work and the trusting in God – even those lucky enough to be born white and male and in the rich west – the promise of dominion is not fulfillable, and never was. At the end of Defoe’s novel Crusoe is rich, but his wealth has accrued not from his own labour but from that of his slaves on his plantation in Brazil.

A chauvinistic take on Robinson Crusoe, a very selective obsession with the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, and complete isolation from the opposite sex: at the posh end of the education system, an end that for generations was reserved exclusively for boys, this was a toxic mix. Long after the British empire had crumbled, it was a recipe designed to perpetuate the racism, sexism and unearned entitlement on which the empire had subsisted. Robinson Crusoe’s place in this mix was abetted by its status as (arguably) the first English novel and by the status accorded to literature within the culture. Simple in design, with strong contrasting colours overriding any psychological shading, Crusoe became a flag for empire and travelled in the luggage of merchants, missionaries and generals.

The early history of the English novel coincided with the expansion of the British empire and literature became a subject for academic study, with all the apparatus of professorships and certificates, when the empire was at its height. The aptly named Walter Raleigh, who was appointed in 1904 to the newly established chair of English literature at Oxford University, wrote with pride about these links: “We have spread ourselves over the surface of the habitable globe, and have established our methods of government in new countries. But the poets are still ahead of us, pointing the way. It was they, and no others, who first conceived the greatness of England’s destinies, and delivered the doctrine that was to inspire her.” Within the academy, this triumphalist habit of thinking was challenged in the 1970s and 80s by critical theory, which argued that literary works cannot be independent of the social and political conditions of their making, and that they propagate the assumptions of dominant status groups. But outside the academy there is still a vague belief that literature is, in some moral if not medicinal way, good for you, and English literature is the best on the market: beware of imitations.

Crusoe: “I descended a little on the side of that delicious vale, surveying it with a secret kind of pleasure (tho’ mixt with my other afflicting thoughts) to think that this was all my own, that I was king and lord of this country indefeasibly, and had a right of possession.” The poster boy: white man, muscular and ageless, lord of his sunlit island by a sort of divine right (and in “delicious vale” and “secret kind of pleasure” there is surely sexual as well as territorial “right of possession” being claimed).

Daniel Defoe. Photograph: GL Archive/Alamy

Crusoe had a great PR team. Billed as an emblematic Englishman, he is barely English (“my father being a foreigner of Bremen”) and is as much an immigrant on his island as the black man he makes his servant. Billed as a homemaker, Crusoe could hardly wait to quit the homes of, first, his parents and then (in The Farther Adventures) his own family. On his island he was hard-working and God-fearing, but he wasn’t an especially good man. Before the island, he was a slave trader; and when he and a Moorish boy, escaping from their Turkish captors, are rescued by a Portuguese ship, Crusoe sells the boy to the ship’s captain. After the island, in The Farther Adventures, his attitude to non-white people remained the same: “I look’d upon these savages as slaves, and people who, had we any work for them to do, we would ha’ used as such, or would ha’ been glad to have transported them to any other part of the world; for our business was to get rid of them, and we would all have been satisfy’d, if they had been sent to any country, so that they had never seen their own.” An English seaman who “had taken a little liberty with a wench” in Madagascar (he raped her) is killed by the local people. In revenge, the English “kill’d or destroy’d about 150 people, men, women, and children, and left not a house standing in the town”; Crusoe thinks they have gone too far, but the boatswain assures him “that they did nothing but what was just, and what the laws of God allow’d to be done to murtherers”.

In 1719, Robinson Crusoe brought on to the page certain assumptions of its time – that slavery is OK and can be squared with Christianity; that the function of women in society is to serve men; that people whose skin colour is not white are savages – and did not challenge them. The book’s lasting popularity, not least among those in a position to decide what should be popular, which books to offer to children (Crusoe) and which not (Moll Flanders), largely derives from this failure to challenge, and the elevation of Robinson Crusoe into the canon of English literature has perpetuated its own assumptions about what is “normal”, which is then argued as the “natural” way of things.

The argument here is not with Defoe, who was a clever and contrary man. His acceptance of slavery as necessary for profitable business is one thing; his belief that Britain is a nation of immigrants and his championing of education for women are others. Nor is the argument with the novel itself, which is just dull: there’s not much of a story and the writing is pedestrian. Walter de la Mare admired Defoe but struggled to defend his style: “The best perhaps that can be said of Defoe’s prose is that it served his multifarious purposes; but as he seldom seems to have attempted feats much beyond his workaday scope, it is apt to sink below a certain level rather than to rise above it.” Robert Louis Stevenson, comparing Robinson Crusoe to Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa, found in Defoe “not a tenth part of the style nor a thousandth part of the wisdom”. EM Forster, rereading Crusoe as an adult, found “No gaiety wit or invention … Boy scout manual.” My quarrel is with the way the novel has been used, and continues to be used to underpin the white male entitlement that is still evident in so many daily transactions in the UK: in who cleans the streets and the sheets and the toilets; who is served, who serves; in the gender pay gap; in the policies of the Conservative party relating not just to immigration but to every aspect of social welfare. Those are obvious examples. There are others buried so deep in the mindset of the past 300 years that most of the time they are invisible.

Crusoe himself is two-dimensional, a cardboard figure on to whom every reader can project their identity. By denying him a sexual dimension and also self-doubt, Defoe infantilised him. Crusoe in turn can infantilise his readers. He saved himself but he couldn’t save others. A man who was stuck on an uninhabited island for 28 years and who traded in slaves and reckoned women should be “proper for service” was never going to be much help as a role model for how to live with others, in society. Let him go.

Good Morning, Mr Crusoe by Jack Robinson (a pen-name of Charles Boyle) is published by CB editions.

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Bringing high culture to Hollywood: Los Angeles Philharmonic turns 100

The most innovative orchestra anywhere celebrates a century of taking musical dangers and seeking to serve its community

Residents of Los Angeles are popularly maligned as shallow and obsessed with the next big thing. But since its first concert in 1919- when the city was more wild west than Hollywood- the LA Philharmonic has brought live, high culture to what is now the second-largest city in the US.

For the opening concert of its centennial season last week, the bold and eclectic LA Phil brought in Coldplay’s Chris Martin and other pop starrings. The performance was emblematic of the orchestra, recognized as amongst the very best in country and which has not been afraid to take risks. That has actually increased during the tenure of its starring conductor, Gustavo Dudamel.

As the orchestra begins its landmark season with an unprecedented 50 commissions and an approximately $125 m budget- the biggest of any orchestra in the US- the Phil’s place in the culture scene is only set to increase.

One hundred years on, the defining factor of this orchestra is its ability to combination genres and styles to generate totally new takes on classical works.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra’s music director, Zubin Mehta, conducts the orchestra, Los Angeles, California, 1967. Photograph: PhotoQuest/ Getty Images

The LA Phil’s new CEO, Simon Woods, a British graft, said it employed an” expansive approach ” towards programming, supposing” genuinely, really hard about the kinds of experiences it provides for people from every different background you can imagine “. That outcomes in shows and events based in classical, pop, jazz and world music.

The orchestra is,” I guess, the most innovative orchestra anywhere with their programming”, said Dr Robert Cutietta, the dean of the USC Thornton school of music, referencing the Phil’s focus on contemporary music and diverse festivals.

Beyond programming, however, Woods sees a deeper mission, given the weight of the Phil as an arts organization in LA.” You have a kind of big moral responsibility to think about how you make the greatest impact in communities beyond paying audiences ,” he said.

And it is here where the Phil’s reach may well turn out to be greatest. Beyond world music-themed events like last year’s CDMX( Mexico) and Reykjavik festivals, and free events like this year’s Celebrate LA !, the Phil runs Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, a music education program for low-income communities.

Gustavo Dudamel, conductor of the LA Phil, which as been recognized as amongst the very best in the country. Photograph: AP-APictureDesk GmbH/ Rex/ Shutterstock

” I insure literally thousands of children on a different and more promising path than they or their families ever imagined ,” said Dudamel, who was a recipient of Venezuela’s El Sistema program and holds a faith in music’s” magic power to transform”, he said.

The Phil’s reach also extends to the art community at large. For Refik Anadol, a Turkish artist who moved the United States six years ago, the institution supported him out of university to manifest “life-transforming” projects that allowed him to open his studio.

For the centennial, he made a visual projection derived from the Phil’s archive- 45 terabytes of data used- which is displayed on the exterior of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in patterns determined by machine learning algorithms.

” The LA Phil is like a dream machine ,” he said.

Cutietta said the orchestra” pervades everything” and is responsible for the” whole atmosphere” of things going on in the music community.

” There is this whole’ can do’ stance here with the arts. The people who are doing classical music are excited about it; it’s not[ only] a chore ,” he said, mentioning several pop-up orchestras and experimental work being done here.

Despite starting more than 75 years after the New York Philharmonic, the LA Phil quickly caught up, thanks to a rich founder, and has always had a knack for enticing top talent from the east coast and around the world, including a listing of guest conductors that includes Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, Leonard Slatkin and Arnold Schoenberg.

The Phil has also developed its own legends, bringing in promising young men in their 20 s and early 30 s including Zubin Mehta, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and the exuberant Dudamel.

The Phil has not had a gilded ride throughout its history, however.

William Andrews Clark Jr, son of one of the wealthiest Americans during that time and a US senator, underwrite the Phil to the tune of $200,000 annually for the first several years.

But the Phil would soon make tough times, along with the rest of the country in the late 1920 s- exacerbated by Clark abruptly deciding to cut his funding. The Phil rebounded after successful fundraising campaigns, though its lucks would continue to yo-yo in the ensuing decades.

The art installation called’ WDCH Dreams’ by media artist Refik Anadol is projected onto the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The projection celebrates the LA Phil’s 100 th anniversary. Photo: Robyn Beck/ AFP/ Getty Images

Reflecting the boom and bust nature of the town when it is necessary to artistic endeavors, mid-century years would see the Hollywood Bowl close and reopen, the creation of a landmark venue, the Music Center, and later experiments featuring contemporary music , notably with Frank Zappa in 1970.

The Phil’s current financial lucks can be traced to initiatives enacted by the executive directors Ernest Fleischmann and then Deborah Borda, which led the way to the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Phil’s current, Frank Gehry-designed home.

Ticket sales at the 17,500 seat Hollywood Bowl, a novel outdoor venue where the orchestra spends its summers, have also been a major source of incomes- one most other orchestras do not have.

Throughout its years, from having a female conductor as early as 1925 to being the first symphony to issue a commercial recording of itself outdoors, the LA Phil has always stood as a representation of Los Angeles beyond Hollywood glitz, with its willingness to take bold hazards, skepticism of accepted practises, and ability to inspire people well beyond its city limits, and within.

” LA is different than other places, and the LA Phil has captured this. They’re not trying to be the Philadelphia orchestra; they know who they are ,” said Cutietta.

Dudamel set it another way:” What they are sensing is our spirit .”

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Madeleine Albright: ‘The things that are happening are genuinely, seriously bad’

Madeleine Albright decries the global rise of authoritarianism in her new book, Fascism: A Warning, and talks about Trump, Putin and the tragedy of Brexit

Madeleine Albright has both made and lived a lot of history. When she talks about a resurgence of fascism, she says it as someone who was born into the age of dictators. She was a small girl when her family fled Czechoslovakia after the Nazis consumed the country in 1939. After 10 days in hiding, her parents escaped Prague for Britain and found refuge in Notting Hill Gate, “before it was fancy”, in an apartment which backed on to Portobello Road. Her first memories of life in London are of disorientation. “I didn’t have a clue. My parents were very continental European and I didn’t have siblings early on. I felt isolated.” As Hitler unleashed the blitz, “every night we went down to the cellar where everybody was sleeping.”

She has since been back to the redbrick block in Notting Hill. “I rang the doorbell of the person who lived in the apartment – it was a lot smaller than I remember it. I asked a stupid question: whether the cellar still existed. They said: ‘Of course the cellar exists.’ So they took me down and I had this moment – the green paint was exactly the same. I remember the green paint.”

It was decades later that she discovered that, though she was raised a Catholic, her parentage was Jewish and many of her family had been murdered in the Holocaust, including three grandparents.

From Notting Hill, the family moved out of central London to Walton-on-Thames, where they shared a house “with some other Czechs”. The bombs fell there too, but she enjoyed “every minute” of this part of her childhood. “I went to school and we spent a lot of time in air raid shelters singing A Hundred Green Bottles Hanging on the Wall.” It was less terrifying than it might have been because “my parents had a capacity of making the abnormal seem normal”.

She became “a movie star”. The Red Cross wanted to do a film about a refugee child. “So I was the refugee child, and they gave me a pink rabbit as my pay.”

The wartime British were “very hospitable” – up to a point. “The British would say: ‘We’re so sorry your country has been taken over by a terrible dictator. You’re welcome here. What can we do to help you and when are you going home?”

Her father, the diplomat Josef Korbel, was with the Czech government-in-exile. She recalls him refusing to take shelter from the bombers because he had to finish writing a broadcast for the BBC. After Hitler’s defeat, Korbel took the family back to their homeland in the belief that Czechoslovakia would re-establish itself as a democracy but the country was soon gripped by another form of totalitarianism. After a Soviet-backed coup installed a communist satellite regime in 1948, the family fled again, this time seeking asylum in America and settling in Colorado. “Maddy”, as her classmates called her, was now 11. In America, people welcomed immigrants by saying: “We’re so sorry your country has been taken over by a terrible system. You’re welcome here. What can we do to help you and when will you become a citizen?” She pauses for a beat, then adds: “And that was different about America at that time.”

Albright’s early work as a journalist and a foreign policy scholar drew her into politics. In 1978, she sat on the National Security Council when Jimmy Carter was president and later represented the US as the country’s ambassador at the United Nations. In 1997, Bill Clinton made her secretary of state, the highest government office achievable under the US constitution by someone not born in America. She was the first woman to lead US foreign policy.

The future US secretary of state Madeleine Korbel with her father, Josef Korbel, photographed in America, 1945. Photograph: The Life Picture Collection/Getty Images

Over four years as America’s chief diplomat, her life and views were again shaped by encounters with tyranny. She engaged with Kim Jong-il, father of North Korea’s current jailer-in-chief, and found him, she recalls in her new book, cordial, courteous and “pretty normal for someone whose father’s birthday is celebrated every year as the ‘Day of the Sun’.” Slobodan Milošević, the Serbian autocrat, “did not fit the stereotype of a fascist villain” and liked to “act the innocent” even as his security forces attempted the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. Hugo Chávez, the late ruler of Venezuela, was “very charismatic” and initially seemed to hold promise for his country when he supplanted “a bunch of tired old men that were very elitist”. When Recep Tayyip Erdoğan first came to power in Turkey, he was a refreshing change from rule by people “who live in big houses, or occasionally the military”. “These people initially did have some feel for the working class and then power went to their heads – all of them.”

One chapter of her new book is about Vladimir Putin, whom she found to be “so cold as to be almost reptilian” but also a man of considerable, if dark, talents. “He’s very smart. He’s played a weak hand really well. He has a larger agenda which is to separate us from our allies and it begins by separating central and eastern Europe from western Europe.”

With the benefit of hindsight, she accepts that the west was slow to understand that Russians felt utterly humiliated after the cold war and ready to succumb to a nationalist strongman promising to make them great again. She recalls a Russian man complaining: “We used to be a superpower and now we’re Bangladesh with missiles.” Putin, she tells me, “has seen himself as the redeemer of that man”.

I wonder whether her first-hand encounters with despots had led her to identify any common personality traits. She laughs: “I’ll tell you – you’ll be surprised when you hear this – they seemed different when I met them.” She cites the example of Viktor Orbán, the self-styled “illiberal democrat” who rules Hungary. She first came to know him in the 1980s during Hungary’s struggle for liberation from communist dictatorship. “He was everybody’s favourite dissident. He was funded by George Soros to go to Oxford. He’s the one who started Fidesz, the youth party. The age limit for the youth party changed as he got older,” she adds with her hallmark waspishness. Orbán’s transformation in office has taken her by surprise. “I didn’t, I don’t think any of us saw this coming.”

Where we might be going is the chilling theme of Fascism: A Warning. The book is a cry of anguish about the global resurgence of authoritarianism and a lament over the decay of the liberal internationalist politics to which Albright has devoted her career. The work is also an act of homage to her father who wrote books about the perils of tyranny and worried that Americans were so accustomed to liberty – so “very, very free,” he wrote – that they might take democracy for granted. She quotes Primo Levi – “Every age has its own fascism” – and makes her case with observations about the autocrats she has dealt with and brisk histories of past dictators and the horrors that they unleashed. A devil’s portrait gallery includes Benito Mussolini, the original fascist, and Adolf Hitler, the most destructive. Then there’s Donald Trump.

She agrees that we ought to be careful not to casually throw around the F-word lest we drain the potency from what should be a powerful term. “I’m not calling Trump a fascist,” she says. Yet she seems to be doing all but that when she puts him in the same company as historical fascists in a book that seeks to sound “an alarm bell” about a fascist revival.

She frequently nudges the reader to make connections between the president of the United States and past dictatorships. She reminds us who first coined the Trumpian phrase “drain the swamp”. It was drenare la palude in the original, Mussolini Italian. She quotes Hitler talking about the secret of his success: “I will tell you what has carried me to the position I have reached. Our political problems appeared complicated. The German people could make nothing of them… I…reduced them to the simplest terms. The masses realised this and followed me.” Sound familiar?

Madeleine Albright with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, Pyongyang,2000, his first ever meeting with a US administration official. Photograph: Chien-Min Chung/AFP/Getty Images

I suggest to her that the book struggles to offer a satisfactory definition of fascism. “Defining fascism is difficult,” she responds. “First of all, I don’t think fascism is an ideology. I think it is a method, it’s a system.”

It is in his methods that Trump can be compared with, if not precisely likened to, the dictators of the 1930s. Fascists are typically masters of political theatre. They feed on and inflame grievances by setting “the people” against their “enemies”. Fascists tell their supporters that there are simple fixes for complex problems. They present as national saviours and conflate themselves with the state. They seek to subvert, discredit and eliminate liberal institutions. She reminds us that they have often ascended to power through the ballot box and then undermined democracy from within. She is especially fond of a Mussolini quote about “plucking a chicken feather by feather” so that people will not notice the loss of their freedoms until it is too late.

In her book, Trump is one nasty plucker. She labels him “the first anti-democratic president in modern US history”. Those Trumpians who know their history might retort that previous American presidents have been accused of being enemies of democracy, including some who have become the most revered holders of the office. Abraham Lincoln was charged with tyranny by his opponents during the civil war. So was Franklin D Roosevelt when he was implementing the New Deal.

Trump is different, she insists. Look at his attacks on the institutions of liberal society as he Twitter-lashes the judiciary and the media. “Outrageous,” says Albright. “It was Stalin who talked about the press being the enemy of the people.

“I also think Trump does act as though he’s above the law.” He lies without shame, she says. He threatens to jail political competitors. He foments bigotry. He lavishes admiration on autocrats like Putin and by doing so encourages the worldwide drift to authoritarianism. Observe also, she adds, how Trump exploits a crowd.

“He uses rallies in a strange way. We all, most of us that are public people, have somebody interrupting our speeches. There’s always somebody yelling something. And the question is: what do you do about it? Sometimes people are just escorted out or you don’t pay any attention to it. What is fascinating in watching Trump is he loves the people yelling and he uses them so that it looks as though he is having conversations with the people on TV. Trump is, I think he’s actually really smart – evil smart, is what I think.”

The founding fathers endowed the US with a constitution that was forged to protect the country from leaders with tyrannical impulses. America has survived some dreadful presidents. When Trump is gone, does she not think it possible that we will eventually look back on him not as a crypto-dictator, but as an embarrassing spasm?

“In the book I write that there are people who say this is alarmist. It is. That’s the purpose. I’m concerned about complacency about it. This is a very deliberate warning.”

The fear that Trump induces in American liberals is matched by the alarm he arouses among the United States’ traditional allies in the democracies. From Nato to the World Trade Organisation, he threatens to rip up institutions that have ordered the planet over many decades. Albright argues that the doctrine of “America First”, which “conceives of the world as a battlefield in which every country is intent on dominating every other”, encourages a Darwinian competition of tribal nationalisms. During her time as Washington’s chief diplomat, Albright was an unabashed exponent of America as the global beacon of liberty: “the indispensable nation”, as she once called her country. Should Europeans conclude that Trumpian America has become an unreliable ally? Regretfully, she agrees.

“At the moment, it is hard to say to any European that the US is a reliable ally, which makes me furious because I do believe in the importance of American engagement. I always thought we were reliable.”

With the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, Budapest, 2000. Photograph: Attila Kovács/AP

True, the international architecture established in the late 1940s does require “refurbishing”. Institutions founded seven decades ago “need fixing”. Trump “does have a point” when he complains that Americans pay a lot more to sustain Nato than do the European countries, which rely on the defence pact for their security. The trouble with Trump, though, is “he sees it all as transactional, as if it were a hotel where you keep raising the price and if you want to stay there, you’re going to have to pay. That is not what it’s about.

“There’s no sin about updating these things, but I don’t understand, I truly don’t, what the purpose is to destroy the system. What is the purpose of having destruction as an ideology?”

The Trumpian rampage through the international order has been particularly challenging for Britain, which clings to a conceit that it has a special bond with the United States. Trying to navigate any sort of relationship, never mind a special one, has been a nightmare for Theresa May. This week Trump will land on these shores, where he will be greeted by hot protests on the streets and British officials in a cold sweat. “It’ll be interesting to see how he deals with the Queen since he really doesn’t like women,” remarks Albright. “He’s unbelievable to Angela Merkel.”

The Queen, who has a lifetime of experience dealing with strange and unsavoury characters, will probably handle Trump with her customary glacial implacability. May is the one facing the biggest challenge of Trump management. Can Albright, who teaches international statecraft at Georgetown University, offer the prime minister some guidance?

“I have no idea,” Albright confesses. “I don’t have advice. The device, theoretically, is to tell him how wonderful he is. And to agree with whatever he says – and that’s distasteful. He is unpredictable except when people flatter him and allow him to dominate. I know what it’s like to be in diplomatic discussions with people that you don’t respect. You do begin in some kind of civilised way, but ultimately you have to say what you think.”

Memo to Mrs May: say what you think. It may not get you anywhere with Trump, but at least you will preserve your self-respect.

Albright is a friend to the country which took in her family when she was a young girl, but believes that true friends owe you their candour. She’s clear that Brexit – “an exercise in economic masochism that Britons will long regret” – is a terrible mistake.

“I happen to think it’s a tragedy. I’m not sure how or why it happened. I think some of it was miscalculation. From an American perspective – and this is somewhat selfish and self-centred – the UK has always been our bridge to the continent and very important in all kinds of aspects.” Burning down that bridge is not sensible. “I think it’s unfortunate, I really do.” Much of politics and diplomacy is a story of “unintended consequences of decisions and this is one of the big ones”.

Had Albright had her way, the world would not be riding the wild rollercoaster that is Trump. He would have been sent back to reality TV and Hillary Clinton would be in the White House. She was a vigorous campaigner for her old friend and Albright’s passion got the better of her when she coined the phrase: “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” That landed her in some trouble during the 2016 campaign. Like many of Hillary’s chums, she is defensive about the campaign’s failure and still struggling to make sense of it. “Hillary did win the popular vote,” she points out.

Campaigning for Hillary Clinton in 2016. ‘There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other,” Albright said. Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

That she did, but it is scant consolation really.

Germany has had a female leader for more than a decade. Britain is on its second female prime minister. A woman has never been president of the United States. Does America have a problem with women in politics?

“Must have,” she replies. “I don’t understand it, frankly. We are very good at being No 1 in many things and yet we are not in this and I don’t know the answer. Because there are certainly very qualified women.

“When my name came up to be secretary of state,” she recalls, “you would think that I was an alien, you know. People actually said: ‘The Arabs won’t deal with a woman.’”

Her friend Hillary was, in CV terms, one of the most qualified people to run for the White House.

“Ever. No question about it. Right.”

More qualified than Trump or indeed Obama.

“I think she would have been a remarkable president. And I think that it’s very disappointing. It’s something that we all talk about. I don’t know the answer.”

At least part of the explanation for Clinton’s defeat was not to do with gender. It was failing to understand the forces powering her opponent. Clinton notoriously called his supporters “the deplorables”. Albright sounds similarly guilty of seeing the world through an elitist’s prism when she writes in her book: “Globalisation… is not an ideological choice, but a fact of life.”

Opponents retort that globalisation is an ideological choice. It was a very good choice for transnational corporations, for prosperous members of western societies, and for many developing countries which have seen their growth accelerated by free trade and the exchange of technology. Globalisation turned out to be – or has certainly come to be seen as being – a very bad choice for less affluent sections of western societies. Many folk felt dislocated and disadvantaged. Lecturing them that globalisation is just “a fact of life” – so suck it up – was surely one of the incitements for those people who voted for Trump, who chose Brexit and who support the rightwing populists surging across Europe.

“It isn’t just favouring the rich,” she insists. “Most of us are beneficiaries of globalisation, but a lot of people were not prepared for it in terms of their skill-set and we didn’t consider that enough.”

She also concedes that globalisation is “faceless” and “everybody wants to have an identity”.

“But it’s one thing to be patriotic, it’s another if my identity hates your identity and then it’s nationalism and hyper-nationalism. That’s the very dangerous part.”

Albright is a sage woman, but also one taken by mortified surprise by the turn the world has taken. In common with most liberal internationalists, she hadn’t expected the arc of history to bend in this dark direction. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, liberal capitalist democracy was thought to be irreversibly triumphant. Francis Fukuyama even wrote a book entitled The End of History.

History had other ideas. I suggest that it is not good enough for liberal internationalists to simply bewail Trump and his fellow travellers. They need to examine what they got wrong. Maybe there were too many complacent assumptions that the world had become permanently safe for democracy.

“I don’t know whether complacent [is the right word],” she says. “We were all initially enthusiastic, but then we became euphoric.” One conclusion she draws is that “democracy is obviously harder than we think.

“Democracy is not the easiest form of government. It does require attention and participation and carrying out the social contract. And it doesn’t deliver immediately. What we have to learn is how to get democracy to deliver because people want to vote and eat. But it just took me 10 minutes to explain it and that’s the problem.

“The things that are happening are genuinely, seriously bad. Some of them are really bad. They’re not to do with Trump; it is the evolution of a number of different trends. All the various problems that we have, they can’t be solved by simple slogans. But it’s easier to listen to some simple slogan.”

Albright is far from alone in worrying about the future of liberal democracy. This anxiety is felt more acutely by a woman who was born in the time of Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin, who reached the peaks of international diplomacy when freedom seemed ascendant and has since observed the unravelling of so much hope. At the end of our conversation, I am left unsure whether she thinks democracy has the resilience to survive this testing time.

“You ask if I’m an optimist or a pessimist,” she responds. “I am an optimist who worries a lot.”

That is probably as sensible a position as any in today’s troubled and troubling world.

Fascism: A Warning is published by William Collins (£16.99). To buy it for £14.44 go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99

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The new tool in the art of spotting forgeries: artificial intelligence

Instead of obsessing over materials, the new technique takes a hard look at the picture itself specifically, the thousands of tiny individual strokes that compose it

In late March, a judge in Wiesbaden, Germany, determined herself playing the uncomfortable role of art critic. On trial before her were two men accused of forging paints by artists including Kazimir Malevich and Wassily Kandinsky, whose angular, abstract compositions can now go for eight-figure costs. The example had been in progress for three and a half years and was insured by many as a test. A successful prosecution could help objective epidemic diseases of forgeries- so-called miracle images that appear from nowhere- that have been besetting the market in avant-garde Russian art.

But as the trial reached its climax, it disintegrated into travesty. One witness, arguably the world’s leading Malevich authority, was contended that the paints were unquestionably fakes. Another witness, whose credentials were equally impeccable, swore that they were authentic. In the end, the forgery indictments “mustve been” dropped; the accused were convicted only on minor charges.

The judge was unimpressed.” Ask 10 different art historians the same question and you get 10 different answers ,” she told the New York Times. Adding a touch of bleak comedy to proceedings, it emerged that the warring experts were at the wrong aim of a bad divorce.

It isn’t a comforting time for art historians. Weeks earlier, in January, the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent, Belgium, was forced to pull 24 works supposedly by many of the same Russian artists- Kandinsky, Malevich, Rodcheko, Filonov- after the Art Newspaper published an expose arguing they were all forged. Just days before, there was uproar when 21 paintings shown at a Modigliani exhibition in Genoa, Italy, were confiscated and labeled as fakes. Runs that had been valued at millions of dollars were abruptly deemed worthless.

The market in old master is also jittery after an alarming series of scandals- the greatest of which was last year’s revelation that paintings handled by the respected collector Giuliano Ruffini were suspect. A Cranach, a Parmigiano, and a Frans Hals were all found to be forged; organizations including the Louvre had been fooled. The auction house Sotheby’s was forced to refund $ 10 m for the Hals alone. Many experts are now reluctant to offer an opinion, in case they’re sued- which, of course, only deepens the problem.

Adding fuel to the fire is another development: Wary of being caught, more and more counterfeiters are copying works from the early to mid-2 0th century. It’s much easier to acquire authentic materials, for one thing, and modern paintings have rocketed in value in recent years.

For many in the industry, it is starting to look like a crisis. Little wonder that galleries and auction homes, desperate to protect themselves, have gone CSI. X-ray fluorescence can see paint and pigment type; infrared reflectography and Raman spectroscopy can peer into a work’s inner layers and detect whether its very component molecules are authentic. Testing the chemistry of a snowflake of paint less than a millimeter broad can disclose deep secrets about where and, crucially, when it was made.

” It’s an arms race ,” says Jennifer Mass, an authentication expert who runs the Delaware-based firm Scientific Analysis of Fine and Decorative Art.” Them against us .”

But what if you didn’t need to go to all that trouble? What if the forger’s handwriting was gazing you in the face, if only you could see it? That’s the hope of researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey, who have pioneered a method that promises to turn art authentication on its head.


Instead of subjecting works to lengthy and hugely expensive materials analysis, hoping a counterfeiter has made a tiny slip-up- a stray fiber, varnish induced utilizing ingredients that wouldn’t have been available in 16 th-century Venice- the new technique is so powerful that it doesn’t even require access to the original work: A digital photo will do. Even more striking, this method is aided by artificial intelligence. A technology whose previous contributions to art history have consisted of some bizarre sub-Salvador Dalis might soon be able to build the tweed-wearing art valuers look like amateurs.

At least that’s the theory, says Ahmed Elgammal, PhD, whose team at Rutgers has developed the new process, which was made public late last year.” It is still very much under developing; we are working all the time. But we think it will be a hugely valuable addition to the arsenal .”

That theory is surely intriguing. Instead of obsessing over materials, the new technique takes a hard look at the picture itself: Specifically, the thousands of tiny individual strokes that compose it.

Every single gesture- shape, curvature, the velocity with which a brush- or pencil-stroke is applied- uncovers something about the artist who stimulated it. Together, they form a telltale fingerprint. Analyze enough works and build up a database, and the idea is that you can find every artist’s fingerprint. Add in a work you’re unsure about, and you’ll be able to tell in minutes whether it’s really a Matisse or if it was completed in a garage in Los Angeles last week. You wouldn’t even require the whole run; an image of one brushstroke could give the game away.

” Strokes capture unintentional process ,” explains Elgammal.” The artist is focused on composition, physical motion, brushes- all those things. But the stroke is the telltale sign .”

The The original painting by Matisse titled Odalisque in Red Pants, left, next to a fake version that was on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Caracas, Venezuela. The original run was swapped with a forgery in 2002. Photograph: Uncredited/ ASSOCIATED PRESS

The paper Elgammal and his colleagues published last November examined 300 authentic draws by Picasso, Matisse, Egon Schiele, and a number of other artists and broke them down into more than 80,000 strokes. Machine-learning techniques refined the data set for each artist; forgers were then commissioned to produce a batch of fakes. To put the algorithm though its paces, the forgeries were fed into the system. When investigating individual strokes, it was over 70% accurate; when whole depicts were examined, the success rate increased to over 80%.( The researchers claim 100% accuracy” in most settings .”)

The researchers are so confident that they included images of originals and fakes alongside each other in the published paper, daring so-called experts to make up their own intellects.( Reader, I scored dismally .) One of Elgammal’s colleagues, Dutch painting curator Milko den Leeuw, compares it to the route we are aware of family members: They look similar, but we’re just not sure why.” Take identical twin ,” he says.” Outsiders can’t separate them, but the parents can. How does that work? It’s the same with a work of art. Why do I recognize that this is a Picasso and that isn’t ?”

The idea of fingerprinting artists via their strokes actually dates back to the 1950 s and a technique developed by Dutch art historian Maurits Michel van Dantzig. Van Dantzig called his approach “pictology”, arguing that because every work of art is a product of the human hand, and every hand is different, it should be possible to identify authorship utilizing these telltale strokes.

The problem, though, was that there was too much data. Even a simple drawing contains hundreds or even thousands of strokes, all of which needed to be examined by the human eye and catalogued. Multiply that by every work, and you see how impractical it was.

” It only wasn’t possible to test it ,” says lair Leeuw, who first became aware of pictology as a student.” I watched many endeavors, but largely it ended in ideas that would never be .”

But can AI now do what humans failed to, and dedicate an art historian’s trained eye some sort of scientific basis? “Exactly,” says den Leeuw.” Very often it’s a gut feeling. We’re trying to unpick the mystery .”

Though Mass says she’s unlikely to throw away her fluorescence gun just yet, she acknowledges to being impressed.” A lot of people in the areas are excited by AI It’s not a magic bullet, but it’ll be another tool. And it’s really valuable when you’re dealing with a sophisticated forger who’s got everything else right- paint, newspaper, filler, all the materials .”


There are issues. So far, the system has been tested mainly on draws from a handful of artists and a brief time period. Paintings, which generally contain thousands more strokes, are a tougher challenge; older paintings, which might contain numerous layers of restoration or overpainting, are tougher still.” It’s challenging, but it doesn’t mean we can’t do it ,” Elgammal says. “I’m confident.”

What about style, though, especially where an artist changes over time? Think of Picasso’s wildly differing periods- blue, African, cubist, classical– or how in the 1920 s Malevich abandoned the elemental abstraction of his black squares for figurative portraits that could almost have been painted by Cezanne( pressure from Stalin was partly responsible ).

Another expert, Charles R Johnson, who teaches computational art history at Cornell, is less persuaded- not so much by the AI as by the hypothesis that lie behind it.” A big problem is that strokes are rarely individualized ,” he says.” Overlap is difficult to unravel. Plus, one must understand the artist’s style changes over their career in order to be allowed to make a judgment .”

In addition, Johnson argues, many artist’s brushwork is essentially invisible, attaining it impossible to unpick; it might be better to focus computer analysis on assessing canvases or newspaper, which can be more rigorously confirmed.” I remain quite skeptical ,” he says.

Elgammal and den Leeuw concede there’s a way to go. Currently they’re working on impressionist paintings- infinitely more complex than Schiele and Picasso line drawings- and hope to publish the results next year. Even with the describes, the machine can’t yet be left to learn on its own; often the algorithms involve human tweaking to make sure the right features are being examined. Artists whose output isn’t large enough to create a reliable data set are also a challenge.

I ask Elgammal if he’s worried about being sued. He laughs, somewhat nervously.” That’s something I think about .”

It’s a reasonable question, especially pressing given the number of fakes that are circulating: What if your database accidentally becomes contaminated? Many people argue that the art marketplace is hopelessly corrupted- so much so that some economists doubt whether calling it a “market” is even fair. Could the algorithm become skewed and run rogue?

” It’s like any system ,” Mass concurs.” Garbage in, garbage out .”

Does she think that’s a possibility? How many fakes are out there?” Set it this route ,” Mass says,” when I go into auction houses- maybe not the big ones, but smaller, local ones- I guess’ buyer beware .’ It might be between 50 and 70% .”

Rival answers are coming down the road. Some have proposed use blockchain technology to guarantee provenance- the history of who has owned a work. Others have called for much greater transparency. Everyone agrees that information systems is violate; some kind of fix is urgent.


Of course, there are big philosophical questions here. When person goes to the effort of detecting exactly the right 17 th-century canvas, dons an antique smock, and paints a near-flawless Franz Hals, it should perhaps attain us reconsider what we mean by the words “real” or “fake”, let alone the title of “artist”. Yet the irony is inescapable. It is hard to think of something more human than art, the definition of our self-expression as a species. But when it comes down to it, humans aren’t actually that good at separating forged and authentic in a painting that has all the hallmarks of, say, a Caravaggio but is simply a stunt doubled. Relying on our eyes, we simply can’t tell one twin from the other. We might even ask: Why do we care?

Forget automobiles that pilot themselves or Alexa teaching herself to voice less like the robot she is- AI seems to understand the secrets of artistic genius better than we do ourselves.

When I speak to den Leeuw, I wonder if he also senses the irony: that, while machines might not yet might be able to make good art, they are getting eerily good at appreciating it.” Yes, it’s true ,” he says thoughtfully.” When it comes to very complex combinations of things, humen are truly not so good .” He chuckles.” We make too many mistakes .”

This article originally appeared on Medium.

Roberto Saviano: ‘I saw my first corpse in secondary school. It didn’t shock me’

The Gomorrah author on his new book about Italys teenage mafia leaders, why he risks his life for his writing, and the UKs shameful corruption

In 2006, Italian author and journalist Roberto Saviano published Gomorrah, an exposé of the organised crime network Camorra; since then he has had to live under police protection. The book was adapted for the big screen in 2008 and for TV in 2014. Other works include ZeroZeroZero, an investigation into the cocaine trade; his new novel, The Piranhas, a story about children’s gangs in Naples, is published on 20 September by Picador.

How did you get the idea for this novel?
It was such a powerful news story: children who suddenly became mafia leaders. Mafias have always employed muschilli – little mosquitoes – in minor roles. But for a few years, in Naples, kids aged between 10 and 19 were in charge: they decided the drug deals, the money laundering, the executions… I wanted to find out more.

Did you find some positive aspects in these characters?
Of course – these kids are highly talented. I interviewed the survivors in jail, and there was great humanity there. They managed zones generating up to half a million euros a weekend, selling weed, huge amounts of cocaine. Imagine a 15-year-old who has to import drugs, set a price, pay the police, pay a percentage to the locals to keep quiet. It’s like giving a 15-year-old the keys to a supermarket and saying: “Manage it.” Someone who can do that has great entrepreneurial spirit – if they’d had a legal opportunity they’d have been incredible businessmen.

What are their motivations?
None of them are doing it out of hunger. They’re pushed by a complicated reality where it’s almost impossible to make money legally: there are no decent jobs, unless a relative recommends you. So those with ambition are drawn to crime, even though they know they’re going to die: “If you die at 90, you die old news. If you die at 20, you die a legend.” Most of the kids the characters in the novel are based on are dead.

What was your childhood in Naples like?
I was born in ’79, and at the end of the 80s there was an incredible Camorra war – 4,000 dead, three or four a day. I saw my first corpse in my first year of secondary school. Since then I’ve seen dozens. They didn’t shock me. As soon as we heard of one, my friends and I would immediately go see it. It was a way of saying, “we’re grownups” – anyone who didn’t look at corpses was still a child. Once we saw a Camorrista drowned in milk, in a mozzarella vat. But for me it was unthinkable to be a Camorrista leader at 15. My family and upbringing protected me. These kids also have an idea of “everything, now” that my generation didn’t have. They live on Facebook and Instagram, boasting about their feats…

Did you feel a responsibility not to glorify this world?
This is something I’m often accused of, but I think it’s exactly the opposite. Criminals build their power on glamour, and you pull that apart not by denying it exists, but by showing what’s behind it: the years in jail, the consequences, the ridiculous theatre of it. Imagine a dark room. You go in, turn on the light, and see a corpse. It’s like blaming the murder on whoever turned on the light.

Do you think books have the power to change what’s happening?
We are constantly immersed in words; the problem is that words have no weight any more. The American president can one day say one thing about Russia, and then the next day overturn it with no consequences. Literature can return a specific weight to words. My battle with books continues, even though everything I’ve written has got me into trouble: Gomorrah when I was 26; ZeroZeroZero was, disastrously, found in the lair of El Chapo. Today, for Italy, it’s even more necessary – we’re in a dramatic situation where maybe books can do something. I’m not sure I’m going to win, but I’m sure this is the way to change things.

What do you find most worrying in Italy at the moment?
This is a dangerous government, which risks being the first clearly authoritarian government in Europe [this century]. Salvini’s words are close to the words of Orbán, of Putin. He based his whole campaign on attacking migrants, while never saying anything against the mafia, of which he understands nothing.

The word “fascism” should be used with caution, but when politicians like Salvini start quoting Mussolini (“so many enemies, so much honour”) is it appropriate?
I realise that the word “fascist” denotes a specific historical period, but there are some expressions, some hints, that bring to mind a continuity with fascism. We don’t have blood yet. In Italy, for now we don’t have night-time arrests, the murders of journalists, as is happening in Russia, Jordan, Venezuela. What we have is isolation, civil and legal attacks – Salvini criticised me [threatening to remove his police protection] as a minister, not as a person, which is unusual. [Salvini’s party] Lega is close to neofascism: from his ridiculous T-shirts to his choice of words, he draws on neofascist ideology, because he doesn’t have one of his own, only a generic street populism, not a doctrine. So the word “fascist” is perhaps too quick, too easy, but it’s not far from describing a genetic link.

What are your thoughts on the collapse of the Morandi bridge in Genoa?
In the past few years in Italy there have been several incidents in which infrastructure collapsed, crushing people, so there are clearly issues with maintenance. What’s not clear is whether people’s safety has been sacrificed only for profit or also for political gain. From the moment the bridge collapsed we’ve seen an unedifying political clash, which advanced like a steamroller over the entire nation’s mourning.

Would you ever go into politics?
Never. My role is different, and it’s possible only because I’m not a politician. If I were to run for office it wouldn’t be the same.

Do you get tired of being the person who has to comment on Italian crime and corruption?
[Laughs] Yes. It tires me to the point where I sometimes feel hopeless. I never manage to stay distant, so I’ve suffered a lot. I would sometimes like to not be who I am any more, to have a decent life, but I do it – some people think out of ambition, others narcissism – for honour. A word that fascists have plundered from us. For me, it’s an honour to fight those who are running the greatest defamatory campaign of recent years, against migrants. I do it knowing full well that it generates hatred, isolation, contempt. There’s no advantage: the easiest thing would be to stay quiet. But I go on.

Which writers or investigative journalists do you admire most?
I have a great respect for Turkish journalist Can Dündar. He was arrested for revealing in his newspaper [Cumhuriyet] that Erdogan was secretly taking part in the war in Syria. I followed Daphne Caruana Galizia’s work, and I’m friends with her sons. In life she was systematically vilified, and in death, the same people started to retract, to speak of a person full of dignity and courage. I’m on the side of whoever, when they write, knows they will pay a price – losing happiness, often freedom – but continues to write.

What do you think of Elena Ferrante’s representation of Naples?
Our cities are both protagonists of our books – Naples is never just a backdrop. But I’m not interested in telling the world about Naples, rather the world through Naples. The relationship dynamics in Ferrante’s works are emotional, so readers recognise themselves in them; I’m obsessed by how humans are crushed by power. That’s our difference. Elena Ferrante provided an endorsement for this book – something she’s never done – and it immediately generated interest. In America they asked me, how come Ferrante gave you this endorsement?

In May 2016 you said the UK was the most corrupt country in the world. Do you still think so?
Absolutely. I’m not sure why, but the UK thinks of itself as not particularly corrupt. It doesn’t have a political class that’s more corrupt than South America or Italy, and it doesn’t have a more corrupt police force than Greece or Morocco. But it’s the country with the dirtiest capital in the world. Because London has no financial rules: money laundering is the primary source of British financial wealth – the money from Russian or South American coke. And it’s all legal. Maybe that’s why Britain doesn’t see it as particularly shameful – creating an economic system substantially based on the absence of financial regulation. It doesn’t matter if it’s blood money, from arms trafficking, from drugs. When I spoke about this in the UK, the perception was that it was something marginal.

What do you like most about Italy?
An Italian would normally answer “food”, with pride. But, rather than food, I want to say that it’s Italy’s humanist tradition, knowing how to spend time together. We’re a country of emigrants. Every year the equivalent of the population of Verona leaves; the south of Italy is almost uninhabited. Italy can only be reborn from migrants, allowing the Mediterranean to have a single citizenship. I’m much closer to the writers of Tunis than London, Algiers than Berlin. It’s an aberration, that the south, the heart of the Mediterranean, can’t be a shared territory. Maybe that’s what I was saying: this capacity to be convivial. This is an Italian quality that rancour, Salvini, and the hell we’re living in still haven’t erased.

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What’s it like to photograph a World Cup?

Getty Images photographer Michael Regan talks about his favourite photos and going behind the scenes

More than 1.5 million images will be taken by photographers working for Getty Images, the photo agency, at this summer’s World Cup – and that’s just a fraction of the total number shot by the entire press pack. Yet only a handful will be recalled in years to come among the tournament’s defining images.

“For me a great football picture is a moment that gets captured that people don’t necessarily appreciate on TV,” says veteran photographer Michael Regan, who’s in Russia for his fourth World Cup. “A little moment like the one of Maradona getting past the Belgium wall [in 1982],” he adds, referencing one of the most iconic and misunderstood images of old. “It’s an example of where football photography can tell it’s own story.”

“I also love the overhead picture of Robert Baggio in 1994 because it just shows you how empty it must have felt for Baggio after he missed that penalty. Another angle wouldn’t show it. And the picture of Nigel de Jong taking out Xabi Alonso in 2010 encapsulates that final and that’s ultimately what you want to do. It’s the only picture you need.”

Brazilian goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel celebrates after Roberto Baggio of Italy missed the crucial penalty during the 1994 World Cup final. Photograph: Mike Powell/Getty Images

Nigel De Jong of the Netherlands tackles Xabi Alonso of Spain during the 2010 World Cup final. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Regan is among a select band of photographers who have special ‘access all areas’ passes to Fifa’s showpiece tournament this summer. From player portraits to pre-match tunnel access to prime positions on the touchlines, his memory cards are being filled with distinctive images.

“It’s been a great tournament to photograph so far,” he says. “I’ve shot 11 games to date including France v Argentina, Germany getting knocked out and the opening Russia game which was such a massive event.

“We were in the tunnel where people were mingling directly before that match and [when they saw Brazil’s Ronaldo] every player was like ‘wow, Ronaldo, Ronaldo!’ They were about to play the biggest game of their lives and they were behaving like excited ballboys.”

Former Brazil player Ronaldo shakes hands with Denis Cheryshev of Russia. Photograph: Michael Regan – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

Regan shares their excitement. A boyhood Leicester City fan, he began his career as a photographer in the 1990s after a stint as an assistant. Those were the days of analogue photography, when film had to be ferried from the pitch to a makeshift darkroom midway through the match.

“I used to have to knock on people’s doors close to the grounds to ask if we could use their kitchen as a darkroom for 15 or 30 quid,” he explains. “So at Villa Park or wherever you were, you’d run off with the films after 15 minutes, develop them in the kitchen and scan three or four of them over. One time at Middlesborough I spilled the chemicals everywhere – it was a nightmare.”

Regan eventually became one of England’s official photographers but with players “suspicious” of the press, candid opportunities were initially limited. The shot he took of Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney in an ice bath was a rare exception.

Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney sharing an ice bath in 2014. Photograph: Michael Regan/The FA / Getty Images

“When Gareth Southgate came in they realised they don’t have anything to hide and that photography can show people they do care, they do work hard,” he adds.

“I really like the picture I took of the squad crowding round watching the under-20s World Cup final last year. Everyone dived into a tiny changing room after training and I managed to get in behind the laptop as they were watching. It struck me as an example of how passionate they are, not just for themselves and their own careers but for the future of the England team.”

England players crowd round after a training session in Paris in 2017 to watch England under-20s beat Venezuela. Photograph: Michael Regan/The FA / Getty Images

Passion and personality are two of the qualities Regan and his colleagues also sought to extract from their subjects as they created a striking array of player portraits prior to the World Cup.

“They loved it!” Regan says of the vibrant studio pics. “Top players like Ronaldo know photography is fun for their social media and they can put over their personality on it. They really embraced it much, much more than they would have done in past tournaments.”

That said, Lionel Messi was less forthcoming. “I said ‘can you hold your hands out?’ and he said ‘no’. So I said ‘what will you do?’ and he said ‘nothing’. But that’s what I expected. That’s everyone’s perception of what Messi’s like – all he cares about is playing football.”

Regan instead created a wide-angle portrait of a stressed-looking Messi which seems to capture the Argentinian’s troubled frame of mind in Russia. “He’s got the ball under his arm and all this space around him that he could be larking around in, like the others did, but he isn’t.”

With two weeks of the tournament remaining and some of the most critical imagery still to be shot – not to mention countless more air miles to clock – Regan says he’s already running on adrenaline.

“Normally when you’re photographing England you’re at home after the first couple of weeks,” he quips. This time, due to Getty’s partnership with Fifa, he’ll be pitchside for the final, hunting as ever for that defining image.

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Here’s what one Holocaust survivor has to say about the rise of the Antifa movement.

At a recent anti-hate rally in Berkeley, Joey Gibson, leader of the extreme right-wing, white supremacist group, Patriot Prayer, strolled immediately in front of me, his three burly bodyguards in tow.

A few people nearby pointed him out, hollering his name.

I had an immediate visceral reaction to the sight of this human, whom I consider to be a neo-Nazi. To my eyes, Gibson and his men were angling for conflict; their swagger left without doubt.

And I stood there shaking, my homemade sign in hand. “Hate speech leads to Holocaust, ” it read.

I am an 80 -year-old Holocaust survivor.

We became aware that the young men and women around us, dressed in all black, were trained not to engage in confrontations, except to protect demonstrators like us if we were attacked by white supremacists like Gibson.

It was my first encounter with Antifa, the movement comprised of young militant antifascists who have been vilified in some of the media for their tactics.

So even though I was afraid of Gibson and his thug, I felt comforted — not by the presence of any police officer that day, but by the presence of the Antifa. I feel gratitude to these young people for being our first line of defense, for being willing to stand up to the hateful actions of neo-Nazis and white patriots like Gibson.

I know from experience what it feels like not to feel protected.

And I’ve watched firsthand potential impacts dislike speech, for the purposes of the guise of free speech, can have. As small children in Nazi Germany, I saw young boys and girls being indoctrinated into becoming mass murderers of their neighbors. Afterward I learned how grown humen, destroyed by fear, were rendered incapable of protecting their loved ones. I learned that a mob could be moved to heinous actions.

From the time I was 5, I was told never be reminded that our mother was Jewish . This was about the time my half-sister, my father’s oldest daughter from his first wedding, unexpectedly came to live with us. She had seen her mother and stepfather violently removed from their home, never to be seen again.

When I was 8, two sinister-looking Gestapo, the secret Nazi police, knocked on the door of our makeshift bomb shelter, a converted coal cellar. Berlin was under the final heavy suicide bombing attack of the Allied Forces. And the men had demanded that my mother accompany them, threatening to set their dog on her and shoot her if she tried to escape.

Everybody in the cellar with us that day knew that my mother’s merely crime in life was being a Jew, defined not by her profession of a dedicated religion predilection but by racial statute.

Yet no one dared to speak up for this mother of three young children.

Nobody said a word of encouragement as she was torn away from her children. Nobody demanded these men desist from sending one more Jew to her death in a concentration camp.

The time without our mother seemed endless. We were scared and hungry in that poorly light, cold, uncomfortable cellar. Some of the neighbours had told us my mother would never return, and they had begun to discuss with which of them each of us infants would have to live.

My mother managed to escape and come back to us. But for the rest of my life, I have recollected the fear that snuck over me as I faced the possibility of never seeing her again .

Soon, the bombing ceased and the Soviet Army liberated our neighborhood. But I find the photos in the paper of some of the millions who had not been as lucky as we had, those who had had no one to protect them.

I could not trust that such its own experience would not repeat itself.

In 1947, my mother, my younger friend and I immigrated to Venezuela and learned there what life was like under a long military Latin American-style dictatorship. Once again, I saw how some people were scared and read how some were detained, deported, and even killed. Again, I was not sure who would defend us if something happened to our family .

And when I came to study in the U.S. in 1955, in what I had erroneously believed was the birthplace of freedom, I had a real-life crash course in the lack of civil right for people of color, the murderous laws still prevalent in many Southern states, and the education, employment, and housing discrimination in the North.

I afterwards learned a startling truth: that the racial laws of the Nazis, which categorized me as a “Jew of the Second Degree”( due to my Jewish mother and Gentile father ), were based on U.S. race statutes. I had fallen for some of the powerful propaganda this country circulates abroad through its mass media.

But I woke up and got involved. I learned to speak up and coordinate for civil rights, against the war in Vietnam and, afterward, against the many intrusions of other countries and ongoing discrimination.

And now here I am, more than 70 years after walking out of that dank cellar in a Berlin neighborhood, faced once again with neo-Nazis spewing and spreading their hate and beliefs about white ascendancy.

Far too many people in this country are still omitted and even killed for reasons that were used during World War II to send populations to the gas chambers. We don’t have official concentration camp as such in the U.S.( anymore ), but the prison-industrial complex is thriving and ever-expanding immigrant detention centers are crowded and inhumane.

So, yes, I am scared of what fascists can do . I have little confidence that local police — ever more heavily armed with military weaponry and unskilled in dealing with the vulnerable in our societies — will protect those confronted by neo-Nazis.

Make no mistake, these neo-Nazis and white supremacists are serious.

The 2017 assassinations in Portland and Charlottesville demonstrate that.

In Europe, different generations of young antifascists committed to preventing acts of violence to vulnerable populations, resurface from time to time.

I feel comforted by the fact that these young antifascists exist here in the U.S ., too.

This narrative originally appeared in YES! Magazine and is reprinted here with permission .

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Meet Germn Garmendia, the Aggressively Normal YouTube Superstar Who Wants It All

German Garmendia can’t meet this month. He couldn’t gratify last month. I won’t be able to see him next month, either. This has been the situation, roughly, for three years.

Garmendia is not a pop star or a reclusive poet. He &# x27; s a YouTuber. OK, a huge one. His main channel, which has 33.8 million subscribers, is ranked one place below Justin Bieber &# x27; s.

If you haven &# x27; t heard of him, that &# x27; s likely because you &# x27; re not Latin American. Garmendia is a Chilean who has expended much of his life in Mexico City. His videos are about aggressively normal stuff, everything from applying for jobs and making new friends to things people do at the gym–all goofily delivered in breathless Spanish.

At meet and greets, thousands and thousands of fans flock to find him. So many people presented up at a 2014 appearance in Mexico City that some fainted from hot exposure.( His handlers halted the event when a riot broke out .) He once posted a video asking fans to stop knocking on his front door, trying to get into his home, scaling walls to peer inside, and slapping their phones against windows to snap pics.

Late last year, Garmendia moved to Los Angeles with the aim of breaking into Hollywood. He wants to write, act, and direct. I &# x27; m in the San Francisco Bay Area , not far away, and have suggested fulfilling him in person for an interview multiple times. No dice.

Maybe he &# x27; s too busy with his creative work. Maybe his management team can &# x27; t keep up.

Or maybe it &# x27; s this: In addition to his YouTube fame, Garmendia has accumulated 18 million Facebook followers, 11.5 million Twitter adherents, and 9.5 million Instagram adherents, all without a significant profile in a major publishing. Perhaps he doesn &# x27; t need us.

He &# x27; s likely right.

Technically I did speak to Garmendia once, on the phone, for about 30 minutes. All it took: dozens of emails, two scheduled phone calls where he stood me up, a chat with a former administrator, a chat with his current administrator, and so many WhatsApp messages I lost counting. I &# x27; ve had an easier period cornering dirty politicians, people with secret identities, and actual assassins.

One of the first things Garmendia noted in our conversation was that he &# x27; s, well, ordinary. “My persona on the internet is an exaggeration of myself, ” he told. “I &# x27; m a pretty normal guy. I have happy days, sad days, high-energy days.”( He speaks perfect English .)

German Alejandro Garmendia Aranis grew up in a small town in northern Chile.( German, for those who no hablan espanol , is pronounced “AirMAHN.”) His father died in a car accident when he was 3, and his mother raised him and his brother. Throughout high school, he was a mediocre student , not particularly interested in going to college, vaguely intrigued by the possibility of a creative career. Then, in 2011, a vlogger friend introduced him to YouTube and persuaded him to make his first video. It was titled “The Obvious Things in Life, ” a sentiment that came to define all of his videos, which he started posting weekly.

The videos on his main channel, HolaSoyGerman( “Hello, I &# x27; m German” ), include skits on what it &# x27; s like to have a brother, the curse of having bad friends, and the lies you tell your mothers. The videos play out like stand-up routines, interspersed with mini-dramatizations representing his phases. He has a second channel, JuegaGerman( “Play German” ), where he uploads videogame play-throughs, reaction videos, and whatever else he feels like.

What distinguishes such quotidian fare is Garmendia &# x27; s delivery. Set his videos on mute and you &# x27; ll still get the general notion.( Even if “youre talking about” a bit of Spanish, he talks so fast you won &# x27; t understand him anyway .) He utilizes only a few cheap props and costumes; his wild gesticulations and contorting face tell most of the story. His eyes open wide. He fakes gargantuan sobbing. Not-real sweat poured off him by the bucketful. His gasp are so guttural it &# x27; s shocking they don &# x27; t make coughing fits.

In other terms: not subtle. In a sketch about food, he dedicates his cat &# x27; s fluffy cheek an magnified lick. In another he plays a “sexy student, ” sucking on a lollipop, batting his eyes, and caressing the lumpy knolls of fabric that he &# x27; s stuffed under his shirt. He rarely leans on snappy punch lines and largely steers clear of cruel or crass jokes. He &# x27; s basically the internet &# x27; s class clown.

And the world does seem to be his classroom. That video about what it &# x27; s like to have a brother? It has 93 million views. HolaSoyGerman is the fourth biggest channel on YouTube; JuegaGerman is the 17 th.

His success, like most internet virality, grew exponentially, inspiring both conspiracy theories about him buying adherents( he denies it) and a deluge of reaction and parody videos. Though he signed with mega-agency William Morris Endeavors–that’s WME to Hollywood insiders–in 2015, he says he entirely controls his brand and continues to write, direct, edit, and post all his own material.

Still confused about why virtually 60 million users around the world subscribe to his videos? His fame constructs more sense in the context of the Latin American media scenery. Clue: ! No lo puedo creer !

To understand the Garmendia phenomenon, it helps to know a little about the dominant form of LatAm entertainment: the telenovela. It got its start in the 1950 s, accommodated from the radio novela format that had become popular in Cuba. Telenovelas quickly saw huge success. The programs melodramatized everyday life–remind you of anyone ?– though they followed largely upper-class characters and the plots were geared toward adults.

By the 1980 s, broadcasters like RCTV in Venezuela began exporting telenovelas around the world, where they became reaches in Europe, Asia, and, more recently, the US. English-language remakes, such as Ugly Betty , Jane the Virgin , and Queen of the South , have done well stateside, as have Spanish-language telenovelas aired on Telemundo or dished out on Netflix.

Between a global market hungry for those select hittings and government incentives to maintain productions local, there wasn &# x27; t much motive for Latin American amusement to branch out. Cable penetration was low until the mid-2 000 s, and most LatAm TV networks were divided by country and either privately controlled by a few big players or government-owned, tells Jorge Granier, cofounder of Pongalo and current managing partner of Aquarius Television. “One or two major broadcasters controlled every country, ” he tells. “I’m talking about 80 to 90 percent of the advertising market.” The only options for viewers were whatever those big players wanted to serve up.

“We talk about Latin America as a single marketplace, but it &# x27; s an amalgamation of dozens of marketplaces, ” says Avinash Gandhi, a former WME agent who represented YouTubers, including Garmendia, and who currently consults for gaming, digital media, and tech companies. “Nationalism is strong, especially among an older generation who grew up with national pride around futbol — soccer–and around local programming.”

What about the younger generation? Hola, YouTube.

As better connectivity spread throughout Latin America, millions went online, especially young people. YouTube is key to this demographic. It &# x27; s the second-most-downloaded app of the states of the region( WhatsApp is first, Facebook third ), and the majority of those users say they log on to YouTube every day. An estimated 80 percent of YouTube &# x27; s views come from outside the US.

Garmendia, it seems, filled a particular need at the nexus of cultural heritage and new media. His videos flirted not only with the exaggerated telenovela style but also with classic LatAm comedies, like the frenetic variety show Sabado Gigante and the 1970 s Mexican sitcom El Chavo del Ocho , a slapstick series about a group of kids in housing projects. Except those children were played, inexplicably, by a cast of adults.

Garmendia was a guy steeped in LatAm style but also genuinely youthful. In his hypercaffeinated normcore ways, fans received an extreme version of themselves. No matter your culture background, you have grandparents or have traveled somewhere or have felt lazy or have listened to music. Garmendia has videos about all of those things.

There &# x27; s an intimacy to Garmendia &# x27; s DIY videos that &# x27; s unmatched by regular television, or even reality Tv. Every week, his viewers hear his relatively unfiltered opinions. The low-production values became a feature–it seemed more real, more immediate, as if you were there in Garmendia &# x27; s bedroom. His comedy is unrestrained and transcends language roadblocks.( When a group of non-Spanish-speaking children from the UK watched his material for a reaction video, their initial embarrassment melted away as they just sat back and enjoyed the display .)

While that may seem like a relatively easy feat–make videos about random stuff, post them at no cost, prosper–it really isn &# x27; t. Behind the scenes, Garmendia, like so many of his fellow YouTubers, hustles at a brain-breaking speed to write, direct, act in, cinema, edit, post, and promote his own material. No matter the video quality, that &# x27; s a lot of work. Oh, and you have to make the content feeling genuine week after week, you have to remain likable, you have to stay out of disagreement, and you have to stay versed in the ways that YouTube is constantly changing.

Garmendia worked extremely hard to make it looking easy, and he thrived. Now millions of his followers think of themselves as more than fans. They insure themselves as his friends. And, in the spirit of the internet, he wasn &# x27; t tied to one location; he was a superstar for all of the Spanish-speaking world.

Now he wants more.

Few musicians induce the transition from YouTube fame to real-world notoriety, and most who do are in music: Karmin, Alessia Cara, Bo Burnham, the Weekend, Biebs. Far more typical is the spectacularly botched crossover, which often takes the form of something like Smosh: The Movie . “There are 50,000 YouTube channels, and we can count on our hands the number of YouTubers who can successfully do a movie and have a fan base that would actually come to see it, ” Ken Treusch, a partner in Bleecker Street Entertainment, told The New York Times in 2015.

Despite their rabidity, web fans can be fickle. There &# x27; s no guarantee that followers interested in your free five-minute skits will pay to watch you in a feature-length cinema or, let &# x27; s be honest, genuinely anywhere else. Some will even resent you for “selling out.”

The other alternative, of course, is remaining put, selling in . In the case of Spanish-speaking YouTube, there &# x27; s a vast market. If you look at the top 25 channels in the world, scattered among hotshots like Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran are Spanish-language channels dedicated to videogames, comedy, and makeup tutorials. Mexican beauty vlogger Yuya( real name: Mariand Castrejon Castaneda) made her YouTube channel in 2009. Today, she has expanded out to all sorts of lifestyle videos and has the 23 rd most subscribed-to channel. Her top video has 46 million views. The Spanish game vloggers Ruben Doblas Gundersen( ElRubiusOMG) and Samuel de Luque( Vegetta7 77) have virtually 41 million subscribers between them. The subscriber counting for Luis Fernando Flores, a Salvadoran who runs a gaming channel called Fernanfloo, is more than four times bigger than the population of El Salvador itself.

As to the question of how, or how well, these so-called influencers get paid–well, that is the question. Rates vary from YouTuber to YouTuber. One Peruvian, Jose Romero( Whatdafaqshow ), told me that where reference is transitioned to vlogging full-time in 2010, it took two years before he saw a penny of ad money.

It &# x27; s better these days, but different marketplaces have differing pay scales. Because Latin American YouTube viewers are seen as having less buying power than American and European audiences, makers get far fewer ad dollars per opinion. Clicks from Latin American countries, particularly Mexico, routinely end up on the bottom of CPM lists–that &# x27; s expense per thousand positions( the M is the Roman numeral for 1,000 ). In 2015, Spanish YouTuber Juan Miguel Flores Martin( JPelirrojo) told El Pais Semanal that he &# x27 ;d heard of some US YouTubers stimulating rates as high as$ 7 per thousand positions. Flores Martin, who, like other Spanish-language channels, has lots of spectators in Latin America, said he made about 40 pennies per thousand views–and that &# x27; s before Google &# x27; s cut, which is typically about 45 percent.

A guy like Garmendia, who has millions of dedicated fans? He may very well make a higher rate.( Even if he doesn &# x27; t, all those views add up .) Plus, Google has a more expensive “Preferred” program for advertisers who want their products to show up only alongside high-performing, prescreened YouTube content. Garmendia &# x27; s videos, which are uncontroversial and kid-friendly, likely appeal to such advertisers.

But Garmendia &# x27; s internet-born fan base rewards him beyond simply liking and subscribing. He has parlayed his YouTube fame into other paying gigs. He had a best-selling book in 2016 called #ChupaElPerro( “suck the dog, ” a Chilean expression that basically means “go to hell” ). He did voice work in the Spanish-language version of Ice Age: Crash Course . He and his brother made a foray into music with their pop-rock band, Ancud( named for a city in Southern Chile ). He lately got a sponsorship deal with Reebok, and LG backed one of his videos. Garmendia, who won Icon of the Year at MTV Latin America &# x27; s 2014 Millennial Awards, even managed to nudge his style onto Forbes &# x27; list of top-earning YouTubers in 2016, with an estimated $5.5 million total that year. Not too shabby–but probably still well below what he &# x27 ;d build if his audience were American.( His management wouldn &# x27; t comment on income .)

So his move to Hollywood could be motivated by finances. Beyond the money, though, Garmendia is nearing 30. He &# x27; s been on YouTube for seven years, practically eternally in internet period. He &# x27; s good at playing the goofball, but he &# x27; s growing up, and his audience is too.

There are those who would be entirely satisfied with regional stardom. But the fact is Garmendia is doing what so many do. He wants to confiscate his moment, come to the US, do the Hollywood thing. As Garmendia &# x27; s manager put it, global artists are English-first artists.

But that doesn’t mean that he requires the American media.

After our one phone call, Garmendia actually said he was game to meet. I expended eight more months and all those WhatsApp messages recommending his administrator to schedule an in-person interview. I got, as they say, nada, nunca, nadie .

Someone close to Garmendia &# x27; s management used to say his small team is stretched so thin that scheming anything becomes nearly impossible. His current manager, Leo Crovi, represents not only Garmendia but nearly all of WME &# x27; s Spanish-language YouTubers. In exasperation, I asked Crovi if they just weren &# x27; t interested. He insisted they were. He even seemed to appreciate my enthusiasm, because there was a time when “the media didn &# x27; t believe” in Garmendia. I believe!

The conceit of the celebrity profile is that celebrities are, by nature, special and removed. For all the hoop-jumping and negotiating it takes on the part of the reporter to wrangle a Hollywood star for an interview over an uneaten salad at the Chateau Marmont, readers are rewarded with a peek behind the curtain, at what they &# x27; re “really like.” What &# x27; s particularly delicious is when they appear to act just like us. She ordered fries !

But when it comes to web celebrities, there isn &# x27; t a curtain. Or there is, but it &# x27; s been flung open. We &# x27; ve already seen inside their homes, gratified their pets and siblings, watched them chuckle and exclaim and everything in between. There &# x27; s very little else. And besides, fans aren &# x27; t waiting around for an inside appear; they &# x27; re proving up at these people &# x27; s doorways, supposing they &# x27; re already BFFs.

Any profile of a web celebrity, then–of the life-on-display breed, anyway–is doomed to failure. By being so graspable, these younger digital natives are always destined to elude the grasp of tradition-bound media. That, demonstrably, is how Garmendia likes it. For the majority of members of his career, he made a phase of not talking to journalists at all. He told me he likes fulfilling his fans and being an entertainer, but he doesn &# x27; t like the other aspects of fame.

For now, Garmendia has stopped posting on HolaSoyGerman, although he insists that it &# x27; s not dead. “If I want to upload, I will, ” he tells. He continues to post at a rapid pace on JuegaGerman, sometimes putting up five videos in a week. Earlier this year, he started posting skits in English on his Facebook page; they &# x27; re similar to everything else he &# x27; s done, if a bit more polished. According to his management, he wants to begin acting soon and has been working on a screenplay. He signed on with a publisher to release a fiction in Spanish afterwards this year.

So: Does he think he &# x27; ll make it? Be one of the rare YouTubers to successfully cross over? Do it on his own terms?

“Maybe the whole thing is changing, ” he tells. “Maybe celebrities don &# x27; t have to be the perfect person who seems perfect in every picture. Maybe it is feasible to the normal guy who works really hard.”

Ordinary answer. Perfectly on-brand. And hey, it &# x27; s not not working. You &# x27; ve merely read 2,800 terms about an almost-famous almost-celebrity who doesn &# x27; t even pretend he wants to talk to journalists. Before long, that might be the most normal thing of all.

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