Comments: Week of December 1, 2008

1. The most contentious element of New York’s latest issue may have been what we didn’t publish. In Escape to Dubai (November 24), Daniel Smith chronicled the lives of young Americans in the rapidly prospering Middle Eastern emirate, and several readers criticized the story for not addressing the role that low-paid immigrant laborers have played in its economic success. “The only reason Dubai has grown into a baby world financial capital is because it has imported dirt-cheap ‘workers’ from other Muslim countries and Southeast Asia,” wrote one commenter, who asserted that the city’s expats are “making their fortunes off what is essentially slave labor.” A self-identified Dubai resident responded, not so much to disagree with that characterization of the labor situation as to argue for looking at the bigger picture: “I disagree with much of the way Dubai is run but still think its success should be celebrated,” he or she wrote, for its departure from the stagnant, radical-Islam-cultivating model set in other Middle Eastern countries. Another reader who claimed to have done business in the region pointed out that “even lower in the social hierarchy than laborers are the women who service them” (for money), commenting that “sex plays an important role in the country, from the labor camps to the boardrooms … unspoken in the article is the sexual exploitation of the young American businesswomen and men. There is a reason that the young blonde things and their buff boy counterparts enjoy success.”

2. Hey, speaking of sexual politics! Amanda Fortini’s essay about Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, The ‘Bitch’ and the ‘Ditz’  (November 24), also provoked debate by asserting that the stereotyped portrayals of Clinton and Palin in the media amounted to a step backward for women. In addition to vigorous debate, the piece inspired a column from Fran Wood of the Newark Star-Ledger, who assailed what she saw as Fortini’s own stereotyping of the two candidates. Wood assumed (incorrectly) that Fortini shared, rather than detested, the view of those commentators who saw Hillary as an emasculating shrew. Nonetheless, Wood did make a strong argument that women are better off politically now than they were a year ago, observing that Palin wouldn’t have been picked in the first place without Hillary’s primary-season success (which itself owed much to the stereotype-reversing perception that she was “tougher” than Obama) and noting that the number of women serving in the next Congress will be at an all-time high, albeit forming a still far from representative 17 percent of the total.

3. Logan Hill’s interview on our Vulture culture blog with massively popular Indian musician A. R. Rahman, who scored the new film Slumdog Millionaire, made its way immediately across the Interwebs to the subcontinent. English-schooled Indian readers sent some endearingly formal comments back our way. “A. R. Rahman is considered as a demigod of music in India,” wrote a poster who signed his name Ganesh Govin. “His Music is Original, completely different from the so-called typically Bollywood sound, has a divine quality, grows on you and truly a pleasure to listen to!” A seemingly innocuous American Idol reference—the post facetiously mentioned that Rahman’s fans love him almost as much as Vulture loves David Archuleta—triggered many less sanguine, if no less politely phrased, responses. Said a poster with the handle “rahmanfever”: “Mr. Hill, let me clear one thing; we Indians are in love with his divine music for the past 16–20 years! Not ‘almost’ [as beloved as Archuleta], even more than that! Thank you once again. God Bless.”

Photo: Courtesy of Judah Friedlander

Bad Art Under the Gavel

Last week, comedian Judah Friedlander, the dude who wears a trucker hat on 30 Rock, parted with a bunch of terrible art—though he prefers to call it “amazing art”—for the sake of charity. At New York’s second annual Bad Art Auction, Friedlander and his interesting collection brought in an impressive $4,254, which will go to New York Cares.

Clockwise from top left:
(1) Horses and bathing kids sold for $100.
(2) A forest made from yarn (which you can comb) got the winning bid at $200.
(3) Bigfoot on the beach went for $70.
(4) Guy with open shirt had the crowd going wild and sold for $60.

Please send e-mails to:

Comments: Week of December 1, 2008