Responsibility in the time of COVID-19

A partial transcript of Episode 16 of THE ART MOVEMENT. To listen to the full radio show, CLICK HERE.

Pubs reopened in Britain and I saw those photos of the insanely huge crowds of people drinking in Soho, in London, wearing no masks. And this is a country where over 44000 people have died of the coronavirus. What that says to me is that this generation struggles to find a sense of responsibility.

Maybe it’s because there was a time when people were forced into responsibility because it was normal to lead a normal life and start a family from a young age, whereas now people of the western world tend to choose to not start a family until much later in life if indeed they choose to start a family at all. And I say that as a man who doesn’t have a family and who struggles to have a relationship with a lady that lasts longer than a couple of weeks.

So, it seems that the summer, as predicted, has lured people into normalcy and we all know that this is going to lead to a second wave but we currently laugh it off, forgetting that the coronavirus is still around and has not been cured. There is still no vaccine or magic pill. Those little viruses are still among us.

Yet, I do believe it is right for the governments to safeguard the economies by slowly reopening businesses. But ultimately, my thought is that this loosening up of restrictions should not mean that we forget that as citizens of the world, we still have a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable ones among us.

And I understand that it’s not easy to wear a mask in the summer heat. I hate it too. I absolutely hate it. But here is the thing. I’m not much of a sociable guy. I don’t do well at parties I’m terrible at small talk. I’m just an insecure guy when it comes to those types of situations. Worse than that, I get so distracted by work that sometimes it seems like I’m just not very present as a friend and even a family member.

I mean, I’ll be there for you if there’s a reason for me to be there but if you invite me to a barbecue, I’m probably not going to go because first of all, I’m a vegetarian so that already brands me as anti-social and secondly, I’m probably going to drink too much because I get bored talking about nothing. My best friends in life are those with whom I’ve shared creative projects or with whom I currently share creative projects. Otherwise, I’ll be friends with you but let’s text.

In any case, what I am getting at is that I don’t hate people. On the contrary, I love people. So, how do I show people the affection they deserve and how do I express the empathy I feel for them — because I am quite an empath. Right now, the best way that I can do that is if I continue to wear a mask on public transport and in shops and so on. And also, the best thing that I can do is to probably stay away from you as much as I can. Don’t take this the wrong way… I’m doing it because I care about you.

THE ART MOVEMENT – Pilot Episode (radio show)

Welcome to THE ART MOVEMENT, a radio show that revolves around art and culture, where all art and free thought is allowed. This is a pilot episode for a radio show format, with plenty of music, snippets of interviews about the arts, comedy and chat about current events.

Featured on this episode, Kenny Rogers, McCoy Tyner, Fredrik Gertten, social realism, Norm Macdonald, Coronavirus and more.

Matt’s Art Chat #12: Chris Cipollini (PODCAST)

My new episode of Matt’s Art Chat features a conversation with Las Vegas-based poet/author and all-around creative soul, Chris Cipollini. He is actually the first person to make the second appearance on Matt’s Art Chat since I have started the series – though I took a long break before starting it again at the start of this year.

We record our conversation just a few days after the Coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization and every country seems to slowly shut down. Because he is in the States and I am in Europe, we share our experiences of this current situation. But aside from our discussion about COVID-19, we talk about his trip to Paris, France, a few months ago, art and poetry. He even ends the call by reciting one of his very own poems.

Matt’s Art Chat is a series of conversation with artists and interesting people from all over the world. You can watch all episodes of Matt’s Art Chat on Youtube, or listen to them on Spotify, and PodBean.

F. Scott Fitzgerald Coronavirus Hoax and the Danger It Illustrates

Last night, a friend of mine posted a letter allegedly written from F. Scott Fitzgerald while he was quarantined in the South of France during the Spanish Influenza outbreak in 1920.

For context, here is the letter:

Dearest Rosemary,

It was a limpid dreary day, hung as in a basket from a single dull star. I thank you for your letter. Outside, I perceive what may be a collection of fallen leaves tussling against a trash can. It rings like jazz to my ears. The streets are that empty. It seems as though the bulk of the city has retreated to their quarters, rightfully so. At this time, it seems very poignant to avoid all public spaces. Even the bars, as I told Hemingway, but to that he punched me in the stomach, to which I asked if he had washed his hands. He hadn’t. He is much the denier, that one. Why, he considers the virus to be just influenza. I’m curious of his sources.

The officials have alerted us to ensure we have a month’s worth of necessities. Zelda and I have stocked up on red wine, whiskey, rum, vermouth, absinthe, white wine, sherry, gin, and lord, if we need it, brandy. Please pray for us.

You should see the square, oh, it is terrible. I weep for the damned eventualities this future brings. The long afternoons rolling forward slowly on the ever-slick bottomless highball. Z. says it’s no excuse to drink, but I just can’t seem to steady my hand. In the distance, from my brooding perch, the shoreline is cloaked in a dull haze where I can discern an unremitting penance that has been heading this way for a long, long while. And yet, amongst the cracked cloudline of an evening’s cast, I focus on a single strain of light, calling me forth to believe in a better morrow.

Faithfully yours,

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Beautiful, ain’t it? Turns out that, quite predictably, it’s a fake. It’s actually quite obviously a fake and I would have been surprised if it hadn’t been a fake for several reasons – especially the second paragraph.

The post immediately received something like 200 likes, which is worrying. In fact, people seem to be so bored that they absolutely love to share things about the tragedy of the Coronavirus in many ways. There have been people discussing how Russia has been getting in on the fun by promoting the proliferation of fake news to destabilize societies and systems.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if we were to find out that this virus had actually been created on the internet?

What strikes me about this letter is how it perfectly illustrates how fake news is proliferated. While I have nothing against the use of artists and their works to freely illustrate situations, it bothers me that the original creator of this hoax never specified that this was essentially a fantasy. There would have been no harm in that.

Somehow, the need was felt to change history – and when you do it for forms of social media retribution, you may as well be doing it for money or any form of corruption. It is also worrying how nobody thought enough to check the sources and just took it for granted that this touching and inspiring letter had not been written by the man to whom it was accredited.

We also take for granted that those familiar with the great works of F. Scott Fitzgerald should be a little more clever about these things. But it’s not true. While it may seem like such a small thing to get worked up about, I don’t think so. Even things like these contribute to the spreading of the idea that knowledge is something we should take for granted – or that the cultural gatekeepers are merely those who are able to get more likes, or have more money, or have more power (see the connection there?).

Why the Coronavirus Videos of Singing Italians Annoy Me

I have been hit hard by the quarantine period. Stuck in the Czech Republic, where I had traveled to just a few days prior to the announcement of the state of emergency to cover an international documentary film festival, I am forced like many others to stay put and watch the world from afar.

It hasn’t taken long for the internet to come up with a fair share of memes, which act as a defense mechanism during these difficult times. I have never much cared for memes myself, as I find them pandering and obnoxious, like most things that appear to be popular these days – including K-Pop.

Yet, one thing that has particularly annoyed me is a trend that is almost impossible to escape: videos of Italians singing or playing music from their balconies.

This trend annoys me on a number of levels. I have very little time for the kind of virtual storytelling that has arisen with the advent of Instagram, where everything from the filters themselves seem to make abuse of nostalgia as a communicative mechanism.

On a practical and personal level, these videos annoy me because the last thing I would want to hear is somebody else singing or playing music in the flat next door while I am trying to get comfortable in my own flat. In fact, the first thing I check of any flat I rent is that the walls are thick enough for me not to hear sonic intrusions of my next-door neighbour.

I am sure I am not the only one who feels this way and as I accidentally scroll down my social media home page and one of these videos autoplays, I instantly picture men and women in the flats next door rolling their eyes or being legitimately annoyed for much the same reason.

Finally, however, this is just another example of how art comes to the rescue of people or institutions of any kind for reasons that could be considered propagandistic. After the European outbreak of COVID-19, people looked at Italy like the country to avoid at all costs and its image was temporarily damaged (as if the nation hadn’t damaged its own reputation enough by treating the madness of Salvini with a level of legitimation).

Of course, romatic images of singers, whether professional or not, and musicians, whether professional or not, are being used to project an image of Italy abroad of nostalgic romanticism. At home, they serve a similar purpose, countering the harshness of news hysteria, as info about medical staff having to choose whom to cure and whom to let die have started making the rounds.

While I have no doubt that some people are legitimately encouraged by these impromptu performances (though I hardly believe that anything filmed can truly be disinterested in the age of social media gratification), I cannot help be annoyed by something else.

These performances show, once again, that in times of trouble, it is art that comes to the rescue. It is art that people turn to, in order to forget their struggle and be reassured. In these days of social distance, art becomes a very real bridge between people.

Then, why is art so regularly mistreated? Why are artists not given the right attention they desevre? Why do we instead let our artists be replaced by modern monstrous figures like influencers or reality TV stars? Why do so many artists starve, struggle to pay rent or live normal lives?

The thing is that, as I watch these videos, I am reminded of just how jaded I am. When people first began to talk about the Coronavirus, and I heard about its origins, I immediately thought of it as a defense mechanism unleashed by the planet itself.

A few weeks later, it is blatantly clear that the air is clearing up and the world is all the better for it. Sure, people are dying of Coronavirus, but less people are dying for air pollution. Yet another proof of the fact that humanity truly is the problem.

The false sense of community created by these videos are countered by images of empty supermarket aisles and shocking footage of people fighting over toilet rolls. Young people failing to stay put and America still widely seeing the Coronavirus as a European problem.

I may be jaded but I think that quietness and meditation is the only thing that will allow us to establish a legitimate sense of community. It is too early to point out the ways in which we try to stay together even while apart, and support each other even as we can’t even shake hands. It hasn’t been long enough for us to understand how important we are to one another and the future of the planet.

I believe in the intimate power of a surprise phone call or message. I even believe in prayer and meditation. I believe in the intimate rediscovery of a book, an album or a movie. I do not believe in these kinds of eccentric showcases.

I am not totally insensitive to these moments. There is a scene in Casablanca depicting the dueling anthems between French refugees and their German occupants singing “Die Wacht am Rhein.”

It is one of my favorite moments in the film. When this scene was shared prominently in 2016 after the terrorist attack on Paris. I thought it was great because it expressed an outrage that people couldn’t quite express with words and also showed us how violent events constantly repeated and it seems humanity is incapable of changing its course.

In contrast, I could use the example of Italy in the immediate aftermath of the announcement of Coronavirus infections within its borders, when politicians and people seemed to endorse online campaigns preaching to people that they should carry on living as if nothing was happening.

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