Recent articles
Issue #029 Published: 30-03-2020 // Written by: Gabrielle Fradin
The Camp and the Farm: On Using the Holocaust
In May 2020 the Netherlands will celebrate the 75th anniversary of its liberation from Nazi terror. Yet, as this is commemorated, Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) and Anonymous for the Voiceless NL, the Dutch branches of global animal rights groups, are posting on social media images comparing the conditions suffered by European Jews during the Holocaust with the current living situation of farm animals. In fact, over the last 20 years, multiple marketing campaigns led by global animal rights organisations featured such chilling comparisons and often sparked waves of criticism. Reminding ourselves, and especially those among us who are vegan, why the slaughter of 6 million Jews isn’t comparable to the daily slaughter and violation of animals is primordial, especially in this time of remembrance. Astonishingly, the link between animal rights and the Holocaust was first made by Holocaust survivors who, after their horrific experience, came out with an extraordinary sense of empathy for all living-beings. Images of the captivity and slaughter of animals triggered dreadful memories for the survivors’ own living conditions in Nazi camps and ghettos. In turn, a few, like Alex Hershaft, the founder of Farm Animal Rights Movement, became fervent defenders of the ethical treatment of animals and started promoting a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. However, the fact that a few Jewish survivors of the Holocaust have done it does not necessarily justify such a comparison. Still, for the sake of the argument and to thoroughly debunk such justifications often used by Animal Rights groups, let’s see how far the comparison goes. Most accounts drawing a parallel between Nazi camps and the lives of industrial farm animals take a very formal perspective on the matter. They make point-by-point technical comparisons about the workings of both systems. While it is true that formally speaking, the brutalisation and commodification of living bodies during the Holocaust bear gruesome similarities with today’s industrial food system, they do not at all compare. Abstaining from comparing the two for the sake of promoting animal rights does not deny their respective suffering; on the contrary, it actually acknowledges it. Reducing the Holocaust to the workings of extermination camps is disturbingly simplifying. Extermination camps were the results of a state-sponsored biological racism and came after centuries of massacres and pogroms against the Jewish population. German and European Jews were gradually stripped of their rights as the fragile post-WWI democracies failed to protect them. Once the Nazis came to power in Germany, they perverted the state into an anti-Semitic extermination machine. None of this can be applied to the contemporary treatment of farm animals. We need to remember the specificities of a historical trajectory whereby the European tradition of anti-Semitism developed into genocidal racism in order to learn from history and prevent what was arguably one of the cruellest chapters of human history from ever happening again. Hence, it is important to distinguish between anti-Semitism and specism. Specism, i.e., the ideology that animal rights activists are trying to debunk, is different from anti-Seminitism in that it does not per se entail hate. Indeed, it includes treating other beings as biologically inferior due to their belonging to a “lower” species. Yet, it also involves upholding double standards varying in time, place and species involved. In this sense, a specist society is not driven by ideological hatred against animals; the domination and violation is of a different order. There is no hate. On the contrary, most people don’t find any contradiction in eating bacon in the morning and going to the petting zoo in the afternoon. This is exactly why a main part of the work carried out by animal rights groups involves the reconnection of our values to our actions thereby rebalancing the deep-rooted cognitive dissonance promoted by the current system. In general, using the Holocaust as comparison always runs the risk of trivializing an unprecedented crime against humanity. It also clearly serves an agenda. In fact, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to imply that at least some of those campaigns were precisely designed to spark public outrage and amplify their media coverage through sensationalism. Isn’t there another way to translate the daily suffering, abuse and slaughter of billions of animals? It seems that by comparing the Holocaust to the abuse perpetrated on farm animals, animal rights groups have sought to struggle against one kind of oppression by capitalizing on the suffering of another.  Doing this weakens what is otherwise a very powerful argument.    
Issue #029 Published: 29-03-2020 // Written by: Nic Burman
Growing Pains as UvA Celebrates its 388th Anniversary
The new year found the University of Amsterdam (UvA) celebrating its 388th anniversary. Its birthday party featured its rector magnificus, Karen Maex, giving a speech arguing for “new and fundamental research in an interdisciplinary context.” Such a turn of phrase inspires fear that specialisations are due further cuts. Interdisciplinarity was intended to encourage researchers from typically distant faculties and fields of interest to collaborate on projects. Such a holistic approach, it was and is hoped, would lead to discoveries/academic progress which could combat the “complex” challenges of the contemporary world such as climate change. The undermining of educational standards could also be seen as one of those challenges. While the notion of interdisciplinary work remains a potentially profitable idea (in both senses), it only works if all involved parties are sufficiently knowledgeable about their fields in the first place. However, interdisciplinarity is increasingly being used as a way to excuse a decrease in the amount and quality of students’ contact time with lecturers, and this trend will only make meaningful interdisciplinary discourse in the future less likely. The UvA isn’t an island, of course, and government policy has a lot to answer for in relation to the arrival of what can be considered a general downgrading of university provisions. The humanities appear under particular pressure from this sleeper threat. Letters sent from the UvA’s Humanities Faculty Student Council (FSR FGw) to the dean (all publicly available) suggest a worrying tale. In September 2019, the FSR warned against proposals to reduce the amount of tracks provided by the Classics & Ancient Civilizations and Archeology courses; a reduction in tracks did take place, albeit with concessions. Reducing tracks means that, while the course exists, students will spend more time during those courses in elective classes which, while fulfilling the promise of promoting interdisciplinarity, will likely have nothing to do with old stuff or digging. A month later, the FSR highlighted that details regarding the implementation of 2015’s austerity programme were fuzzy. “It is unclear which parts of the educational programmes have been lost and which ones have been renewed,” it wrote1. As yet, students and staff are unable to study the exact losses suffered by the faculty since austerity was introduced. Students either working unsocial hours on the minimum wage or getting into debt to pay uni fees are unlikely to be happy that their financial input is unaccounted for. Meanwhile, €250,000 was found to pay for staff to work on the conceptualisation of a new programme (still without content or concrete plans for implementation) called Humanities in Context, whose website asks: “How do we ensure that in 2025, we will still be pioneering and internationally influential in the humanities?” Err. More than one proposed merger between tracks has taken place over the past few years. The Discourse and Communication and Tekst en Communicatie research MAs were combined. One result is that Dutch language students are now unable to receive lectures and seminars on this subject in their native tongue. More recently, it has been suggested that students in the Art & Culture masters could be streamlined into one big course, as if theatre studies, music studies and cultural analysis provide a homogeneous way of thinking, or are even about the same thing. The argument that electives are a great way for students to “choose” their own path would be more persuasive if the system the UvA provides students to pick them with wasn’t such a mess, and if courses weren’t prone to being oversubscribed. In the event that the number of mandatory tracks are reduced, the yearly fee won’t change, meaning that new students would get less for their money in comparison with alumni peers. More students for one lecturer also means less individual time students get to interact with a researcher as part of small workgroups or one to one, even though getting better acquainted with researchers is one of the main reasons people enrol in postgraduate degrees. All in all, a great way to prepare humanities students for 2025! The prohibitive legislation against flat shares and freelance work being introduced over the next couple of years will make Amsterdam a less practical choice for all but the most financially secure prospective students of the future. Relying on locals to make up for the possible upcoming deficit in attendance numbers may not be such a smart idea either, seeing as the UvA has become increasingly anglophone. This will all undoubtedly have an effect on who the students and lecturers are, which is already a contentious point. That the humanities faculty working group on diversity recently dissolved itself in the face of institutional inaction suggests that that conversation is at the bottom of the Uni’s in tray. Whoever remains will need to remind themselves that they are part of an institution which doesn’t keep its promises. Five years ago, those involved in the Maagdenhuis Occupation were promised access to the same building this February in order to reinvigorate the discussion around introducing democratic staff and student involvement into the mechanics of the UvA’s decision making processes. Permission to access was revoked just three weeks before the commemorative event was due to take place. Such an event would help engage all members of the UvA community, as well as alert people to the University’s devaluation of specialised knowledge. That such opportunities for community strengthening are mostly absent from university life is another worrying contemporary trend. If only there were nonpartisan reports about the University’s efforts to provide ever lower-quality higher education, all while selling itself as “part of the living fabric of Amsterdam” and “one of Europe’s most prominent research-led universities,” as its website boasts. Perhaps the UvA should fund some “fundamental research” into itself?   1) Translated from the Dutch by the author.
Issue #029 Published: 27-03-2020 // Written by: Treehouse
In november is op de NDSM-werf in Amsterdam Noord het ‘Treehouse’ geopend
Treehouse verhuurt zo’n 110 atelierruimtes aan kunstenaars en creatieven uit alle kunst- en ontwerp disciplines: theatermakers, schrijvers en muzikanten, schilders, tekenaars, (mode-) ontwerpers, grafisch ontwerpers, video- en beeldend kunstenaars. Elke professional met een creatief beroep kan een atelier huren in het ‘Treehouse’. Naast meer dan 110 individuele ateliers, omvat de mini metropool aan het IJ een centrale bijeenkomstruimte, een gezamenlijke werkhal, een binnenpleintje, een prachtig terras  en een grote expositie- en performance-ruimte. De gebruikers van het Treehouse kunnen hun werk in deze gemeenschappelijke ruimtes tonen aan het publiek. Naast exposities en optredens, worden er ook workshops, festivals en andere publieksevenementen georganiseerd. Iedereen met een nieuw idee is welkom, ook van buiten het Treehouse. De slogan van Treehouse NDSM is dan ook ‘a playground for serious artists’. Het Treehouse is een stedelijke boomhut; een plek waar je kunt dromen, en waar je je concepten realiseert. Een plaats voor vernieuwing en experiment, waar creatief talent zich kan ontwikkelen. Iedereen die een atelier huurt in het Treehouse formuleert dan ook van tevoren een ambitie of een doel in een projectvoorstel om in het Treehouse aan te werken, en stelt een manier voor om het werk onder de aandacht van het publiek te brengen. Op deze manier groeit het Treehouse de komende jaren uit tot een dynamische en internationale gemeenschap waar kunstenaars en andere creatieven elkaar inspireren en bevragen, en een breed publiek uitnodigen om naar hun werk te komen kijken en luisteren. Voor kunstenaars die dit concept aanspreekt zijn nog ateliers beschikbaar. Ga naar www.ndsmtreehouse.nl of – beter – kom langs!
Issue #029 Published: 26-03-2020 // Written by: William Flemming
Memes, Teens, and Dreams: The Inspiring, Infantile, and (very) Online New American Left
A New Energy There’s an undeniable new wind inspiring hope within the US left. Amidst the ascension of a clownishly right-wing global icon as commander in chief, and rising against the increasingly obvious disintegration of the neoliberal conservatism offered by the Democratic party, an energy of reconstructive optimism persists. It is a heterogeneous leftist energy that captures more than the electoral spectacle that many consider ‘politics’ in the US, but it neither ignores the goings on in Washington. When considered against the older, localized in physical space, horizontally organized, and often art-oriented collectivist spirit that predominates Amsterdam’s alternative leftist circles, the emergent American energy seems combative, sometimes even archaic, and often ignorant of the world around. Conversely, that Amsterdam culture might appear almost quaint to those in the states desperately rallying around hope for a political revolution that responds to their enormous medical and student debt burdens. Basic values of shared good, cooperation, and antagonism to the greed and violence of 21st century global capitalism unite diverse international communities which demand and create alternatives while the world smolders into climate catastrophe. Here I’d like to explain and explore a bit of the nascent, (super) online, and often infantile new American left energy, before pondering its possible ties to communities in Amsterdam. It’s important to acknowledge my limitations in fully encapsulating either scene, especially considering my mere 6 months as a resident of this city. But nevertheless, I hope it finds interested readers this explication of a simultaneously serious and goofy political movement around which I’ve come of age. Describing this Particular US Left Before illuminating what is new, let’s acknowledge what is not. Despite their relative impotence, anti-capitalist critique and political action have always existed in the United States. Further, anarchist influenced and artist collectivist energies have devoted unshakable commitment to community-building in major cities (and sometimes remote communes) in the US despite social exclusion, aggressive institutional revilement, and pessimistic outlooks throughout decades of Reaganite economic policy. Often these efforts coincide with centers of queer identity and expression. Admiration for this courageous work can also include recognition of the particularity of this current moment. Now emerges a truly national network of those committed to building alternatives to commercial, profit driven, and growth dependent economic systems. And, despite its problems and peculiarities, for this development to occur in the nation that epitomizes and symbolizes imperialism, hypercapitalism, and neocolonialism, is inspiring and must be appreciated. Let’s begin by explaining my intent behind the descriptors of nascent, online, and infantile. Though seemingly of similar connotation, nascent and infantile refer to distinct qualities. It seems infantile when two anonymous online agitators despairingly argue over the irreconcilable differences in their self-identified commitments to anarchism or communism, as if they were Star Trek and Star Wars acolytes battling it out on an adjacent Internet forum. Meanwhile, this new left is inspiringly nascent when it reflects on its incredible organizing growth, in even just 5 years time. Especially in response to Trump, extensive urban and rural organizing networks have rapidly formed. With the aid of digital communication, insurgent political campaigns and direct action groups have emerged as powerful new voices. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may be the most famous among the radical new representatives, but local figures like Lee Carter, state representative in Virginia, also provide cause for hope in legislative structures. Adding pressure from outside of those institutions, are organizations like the Sunrise Movement which commits to direct action for climate advocacy. These successes are crucial in tempering the more pessimistic factions within the movement, which flirt with ideas of violent revolution. Already you may notice the third quality: online. To highlight this characteristic is to point out the viral potency of creating new discourses on the Internetthat reach national and global audiences. These audiences then rapidly share information and shape strategies for creation and political action. Online is also where the movement indulges in its charmingly goofy qualities of layered irony, quickly united demagoguery of neoliberal political icons and billionaire oligarchs, often by way of meaning-making memes. Often communicating via online forums and social media platforms, the new American left connects and organizes in ways distinct to the 21st century. While suspicion is warranted for a potential detachment from real work, and resignation to the atomized expression of ideology without means or infrastructure to build something on the ground, this online character also presents opportunities. Perhaps an antidote to the alienation of US suburban and rural life, many otherwise isolated young people are able to find welcoming digital spaces for their, for instance, trans identities, struggles with mental health, or social challenges like autism-spectrum disorders. Alongside substantive economic critique, these social subjects are common to see in online spaces. These communities sometimes inspire solidarity projects that promote mutual aid to online leftists struggling to meet their basic needs. It is also in these online spaces where participating individuals express their distinct attitudes to artistic expression. Often suspicious of much of the visual arts world as co-opted by bourgeois sensibilities, online American leftists trade in memes so contextually contingent they seem indecipherable to outsiders. Mirroring the broader US appetite for entertainment, lefty Youtube streamers and “brocialist” podcasters eek out livings catering to this online community’s demands for programming which responds both to their despair and sense of irony. For all its potential pitfalls, notably the risk of a placated group of ideologues content to political commentary from behind a screen, these online qualities certainly allow for a rapid growth of left committed energy previously unseen in the United States. Given the national context in the US-- decades where any remote critique of capitalist greed is met with accusations of the worst failures of totalitarian socialism-- the new left movement is still in development. It is still discovering itself, asking questions, and of course arguing about everything imaginable. It’s impossible not to mention the presidential candidacy of Bernie Sanders; a predominant, but certainly not unanimous, notion sees hope in a previously unheard of Social Democratic platform presented by a self-identified Democratic Socialist, who ultimately wishes to take the reigns of an imperial infrastructure. This candidacy prompts questions: can the United States transform into a progressive project? Can US electoralism be saved? How can we, in our small-scale organizations, begin to create something new? The fragility that comes with this movement’s youth demands some acceptance of difference in ideological spectrum. And so, despite deserved suspicion of hierarchical electoral politics, many gravitate towards a Sanders organization and movement so distinctly “radical” in US context, it may only find parallel in socialist movements prior to the Great Depression. What comes next, as is often the case, may appear as a frightening unknown. But it seems this undeniable energy cannot dissipate while economic and climate crises persist. Finally, it’s necessary to acknowledge this new left movement’s most childish aspects. One often encounters a more nihilistic despair in these circles. While imagining a utopian ideal of some future anarchocommunism, many seem content not to work towards building anything at all. Instead, some seem resigned to pervading violence amid incoming climate catastrophe and languish in morbid, though not completely unwarranted, ruminations on the greatest depravities of US intelligence and military agencies. With some sympathy, I note these darker expressions as exemplifying a subcultural character of this new movement. For some it seems this is an identity more than a course of political action or a way to live. As the movement grows, I hope it can instead become all of these things and continue to direct its potency towards constructive measures. Directions for Cooperation So, how might it all compare to the happenings in Amsterdam’s leftist circles? There are certainly some obvious differences. Here there is a continuous history that informs the present and future. That history has distinct ties to longstanding anarchist and squatting movements. Though it is of course not monolithic, here horizontal organizing is predominant and functions with the benefit of decades of experience. Organized around physical spaces, and the perpetual fight to maintain them amidst urban commercialization, Amsterdam’s communities build collectively owned spaces that promote alternative ways of living together. The context is, of course, much different: where decades of neoliberal economic consensus do slowly erode public good, there is more substantial public good to target. Given a context where access to basic medical care and education is still largely taken for granted, perhaps Amsterdam’s greater embrace of intellectual dialogue and visual artistry makes sense. Again, it’s important not to erase the parallels of Amsterdam’s scene to those similar which have maintained themselves particularly in places like New York and San Francisco. These movements have long been internationally oriented and continue to be so. Take, for example, Extinction Rebellion which sees support and cooperation with many of the communities in Amsterdam. While XR sees frequent criticism in American leftist circles, it also has a substantial presence in many major US cities. So, while distinctions can be made, one must always acknowledge connections and diversities. Nevertheless, I think the palpable energy and enthusiasm of a youthful new left in the United States is something to be celebrated-- it is inspiring to many. I hope this piece can play some small part in opening dialogues and mutual learning between this new and weird movement in the US, and the culture in Amsterdam that I’ve only begun to understand. Afterall, the bleak fears induced by climate emergency and global capitalist machinations are universally felt, and our attempts to build another future require international cooperation.
Issue #029 Published: 26-03-2020 // Written by: Rosie Fawbert Mills
A cheeky one night stand?
De Nieuwe Anita, this February, played host to Playground 3’s ‘One Night Stand’ - one-act plays not all sexually charged, as one might expect from the title, but each with a hint of cheek and intrigue. The opening vaudeville ‘Nap Time’ chronicled the collision between two old rockers over the discovery of a corpse. A tongue in cheek performance which didn’t explode with laughter but did pop and crackle with high jinks. The ‘Seven men of Hanukkah’ offered a highly awkward situation. Katharina, a cat loving eccentric, is desperate to meet a guy. She initiates an audition process with only one casting role and only one casting hopeful (Brian). As their stories unfold, one couldn’t help but be won over by the charming ending. Closing the first half, Quin Mero’s direction of ‘Remote’ by Eric Coble was raucously received by all. Via the offstage television, we discover their hotel room neighbour is in an active hostage situation (cue gunfire). Their perverse desires and indiscretions are revealed: one unashamedly gets-off on the appeal of having a ‘scrolling news reel’ of her life, while the performances of both women at a channel change moment - and the discovery a pornography video - made the audience squeal with laughter. The closing show ‘Pillow Talk’, written by Peter Tolan, was directed by Ben Evans (one star of ‘Nap Time’). Set in Arizona, on a double bed, in a mobile home, the limited space and allusion of heat added to the rising tensions between Charlie Bird and Chris Grabski’s, whose snappy acting made the perfect double act for this narrative. This final intimate act between two friends was fun, quick witted and suitably uncomfortable. It definitely stole the show! It is a hilarious tale of trading places and self reflection. Doug’s immediate discomfort on sharing a bed with his friend is apparent: as the apoplectic guest, he unexpectedly reveals his fear of physical contact. Annoying Aaron, by persistently interrupting his attempts to sleep, he ends up taking a profound journey of self discovery and puts his own neuroses and homosexual insecurities onto Aaron. Replacing his flippant teasing of Doug, Aaron is left wide-eyed and unsettled as he faces the prospect of having to explain himself to his grandmother in the morning, and to avoid the shaming of being called ‘gay’. Throughout the believable verbal sparring, between lights on-light off (a clever cue idea), the animated interplay between the bantering twenty-something friends was brilliant. Beneath this veneer there may be a more subtle discussion about masculinity. For instance, what are our comfort levels when talking about sexuality and identity - have 85% of boys really had a homosexual experience? - and how would we honestly react when faced with ‘sexual’ behaviors as an adult, even if it is a harmless hug in your underwear with your travel buddy in the middle of the night? Experience the comedic merits of ‘Pillow Talk’ for yourself. The show will be coming back in April (24-26) to the CC Amstel, produced by QETC in collaboration with Downstage Left, and with the same outstanding cast of Charlie Bird and Chris Grabski.  This play will be presented in a double bill with a soon-to-be-announced piece by Alan Bennett. Go to www.qetc.nl for tickets on sale end from the end of February.