Required Reading

  • Noblesse Oblige is not a thing. Rich people are stingier than poor people and less empathetic. Michael Mechanic of Mother Jones writes:

Wealthy people are less likely than poor ones, in lab settings at least, to relate to the suffering of others. When people experience compassion, it turns out, our hearts actually slow down. In 2012, Piff’s then-colleagues Michael Kraus and Jennifer Stellar hooked volunteers up to ECG machines and showed them two short videos: a “neutral” video of a woman explaining how to construct a patio wall and a “compassion” video of children receiving chemotherapy treatments for cancer. Relative to the wealthier participants, the poorer ones not only reported feeling greater compassion for the kids but also exhibited a significantly larger slowdown in heart rate from one video to the next.

If affluent people are less moved by the suffering of others, they should be less likely to help those in need, and this too seems to be true both in the lab and outside it. While wealthy families donate significantly more money to charity on average than poor families do, they tend to give away a smaller share of their income. “As wealth goes up, the stinginess seems to increase,” Piff said.

Huntington amassed fabulous wealth in part by inheriting it from his uncle, the ruthless railroad tycoon Collis P. Huntington (who, curiously, was also an abolitionist who supported Booker T. Washington), but also by building out L.A.’s trolley system while speculating the hell out of the real estate that surrounded it. To this end, Huntington saw in organized labor a mortal enemy. His companies hired detectives to trail organizers, fired employees who joined unions and deployed scabs as needed. In a 1919 interview with The Times, he suggested deporting union organizers affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World, describing them as “un-American aliens.” When architect Myron Hunt designed Huntington’s library, he made sure to employ only nonunion contractors. 

Separately, the tycoon maintained a tiered payment system for the workers who labored for him: White workers, many of whom lived on-site, were paid one wage; Mexican laborers, who lived elsewhere — often commuting from San Gabriel — received less. 

“I remember having lunch with my dad, a Mexican immigrant with an eighth-grade education, at the Huntington,” recalls historian Natalia Molina, who is researching the Huntington’s labor history, “and him saying, ‘Our people built this.’”

  • Read this if you want to know what went wrong with digital media and why VC-funded news organizations are a disaster. We have a few in the art field (including Artsy, but also auction-funded Artnet—and don’t forget the and the big money infusion that Penske received from the Saudis to buy Art in America and Artnews), so it will be interesting to see how those evolve:

Have you ever wondered why digital ads, which were fairly sedate 15 years ago, suddenly started taking over your screen or demanding your attention with hideous images? Or why publications let advertisers track you across the web? It’s simple: The chronic oversupply of publications chasing a fixed number of ad dollars has required publishers to continually charge less for ads that demand more of readers. For the biggest players, which scaled up quickly to dominate digital media, there was—at first—enough money to go around. But most digital publications were funded on the premise that scale would eventually lead to dominance and stability, much as it had with technology firms. News publishing, however, doesn’t work that way.

By the middle of the 2010s, the highfliers were still flying high, but their success was mostly an illusion. They were sustained by ongoing infusions of equity investment, all in the hunt for eventual dominance and lock-in. And this is where the real darlings of venture-capital investing, the emerging platform monopolies, came into the picture decisively. Scaling up quickly and wiping out competitors didn’t work in the news business, but it allowed platforms such as Google and Facebook to take control of the advertising industry, and they took an ever-mounting share of its profits for themselves.

Caroline Rugo had expected a grueling environment when she joined Scott Rudin Productions as an executive coordinator in fall 2018. She accepted that her days began at 5 a.m., fielding emails before reporting to the New York office at 6. Given that she lives with Type 1 diabetes, Rugo needed to carve out 30 minutes a day for exercise and provided a doctor’s note signed off on by Rudin that allowed her to work out from 5:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. Even with a narrow margin for an outside life, she was eager to work for the uber-producer behind The Social Network and Broadway’s The Book of Mormon. What she hadn’t anticipated was the onslaught of acts of intimidation.

“He threw a laptop at the window in the conference room and then went into the kitchen and we could hear him beating on the napkin dispenser,” says Rugo. “Then another time he threw a glass bowl at [a colleague]. It’s hard to say if he threw it in the general direction or specifically at [the colleague], but the glass bowl hit the wall and smashed everywhere. The HR person left in an ambulance due to a panic attack. That was the environment.”

Multiple people corroborated the incident involving the HR staffer, who never returned, as well as the laptop and napkin-dispenser episode, which took place in early March 2019 during a meeting with a publicist from SpotCo, a major Broadway ad agency. The following year, SpotCo sued Rudin for $6.3 million for unpaid pre-pandemic work on eight shows, becoming the latest legal action against him that spilled into public view. (The case is still active.) In 2018, the estate of Harper Lee sued Rudin, claiming that the Sorkin script altered characters, the setting and the legal proceeding at the heart of her novel. (The parties later reached a settlement, the details of which were not made public.)

Pandemic precautions taken—Noah himself checked negative test results—the couple ensured that their COVID wedding wasn’t short on style or considered details, even if it was short on guests. Kelly outfitted almost every single person in a specific look from Thom Browne, for whom she is now director of brand relations, because she is, in her own estimation, “insane.” (This is a woman who, raised in Tokyo, in high school wore her uniform with alterations and embellishments that garnered adoration and uniform violations in equal measure. Kelly leaves nothing sartorial to chance.) Noah wore a made-to-measure burgundy suit by Browne, the same color of Ruby, his newly launched hibiscus water beverage, and hand-signed by Thom himself. Kelly dipped into the archive to find a hand-beaded, wood-grain patterned look from Browne’s fall/winter 2018 collection, which she paired with a blue diamond bracelet, a gift from Noah’s mother, Susi, and also “something blue,” as well as Manolo Blahnik heels, though she shortly abandoned them for her Converse sneakers. “I will never forget being this snatched,” she says. Her Biedermeier-style bouquet was a nod to Noah’s German heritage, its white English roses tied into the English lace of her dress, and wrapped in dove gray Thom Browne grosgrain. (Officially, the dress code was, “Don’t fuck this up.” It remains unclear whether this was an homage to RuPaul or simply a threat.)

… Perhaps the only person without an official duty was the mother of the bride, affectionately known everywhere as “Queenie,” who wore a truly killer necklace by Picasso, and earrings by Calder.

The few people who’d worked at other companies reminded us that there was nowhere better. I believed them, even when my technical lead — not my manager, but the man in charge of my day-to-day work — addressed me as “beautiful” and “gorgeous,” even after I asked him to stop. (Finally, I agreed that he could call me “my queen.”) He used many of our one-on-one meetings to ask me to set him up with friends, then said he wanted “A blonde. A tall blonde.” Someone who looked like me.

Saying anything about his behavior meant challenging the story we told ourselves about Google being so special. The company anticipated our every need — nap pods, massage chairs, Q-Tips in the bathroom, a shuttle system to compensate for the Bay Area’s dysfunctional public transportation — until the outside world began to seem hostile. Google was the Garden of Eden; I lived in fear of being cast out.

When I talked to outsiders about the harassment, they couldn’t understand: I had one of the sexiest jobs in the world. How bad could it be? I asked myself this, too. I worried that I was taking things personally and that if anyone knew I was upset, they’d think I wasn’t tough enough to hack it in our intense environment.

Land is power, land is wealth, and, more importantly, land is about race and class. The relationship to land – who owns it, who works it and who cares for it – reflects obscene levels of inequality and legacies of colonialism and white supremacy in the United States, and also the world. Wealth accumulation always goes hand-in-hand with exploitation and dispossession. In this country, enslaved Black labor first built US wealth atop stolen Native land. The 1862 Homestead Act opened up 270m acres of Indigenous territory – which amounts to 10% of US land – for white settlement. Black, Mexican, Asian, and Native people, of course, were categorically excluded from the benefits of a federal program that subsidized and protected generations of white wealth.

… The world’s richest 1% emit double the carbon of the poorest 50%, an 2020 Oxfam study found. According to Forbesthe world’s billionaires saw their wealth swell by $1.9tn in 2020, while more than 22 million US workers(mostly women) lost their jobs.

Like wealth, land ownership is becoming concentrated into fewer and fewer hands, resulting in a greater push for monocultures and more intensive industrial farming techniques to generate greater returns. One per cent of the world’s farms control 70% of the world’s farmlands, one report found. The biggest shift in recent years from small to big farms was in the US.

  • Is oat milk actually unhealthy? Nat Eliason, writing for Almanack, calls the most popular oat milk brand, Oatly, the new Coke:

The problem with this process is that it creates quite a bit of a sugar called maltose, which is why Oatly packaging shows 7g added sugar per serving. Of all the different kinds of sugars you can eat, maltose has the highest glycemic index, with a rating of 105 out of 100. For comparison, table sugar has a rating of 65, and the high-fructose corn syrup you get in a Coca-Cola has a GI around 65-75. There’s less of it, but the sugar in Oatly has a higher gram-for-gram impact on your blood sugar than the HFCS in Coca-Cola.

Putting 12oz of Oatly into your latte and adjusting for the higher GI of maltose means adding almost a tablespoon of table sugar to your drink. Put a tablespoon of sugar next to your coffee next time you have a chance and seriously consider if that’s a decision that’s “made for humans.” 

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

This week, Mister Rogers’s cardigans, the myth of Noblesse Oblige, inequity at a LA museum, digital media’s issues, and more.Read MoreArt, WeekendHyperallergicRead More

Leave a Reply