Category Archives: Provocations

Truth is the first casualty in war, and also in politics. Provocations is a series produced in conjunction with “The Future of the Truth,” a UCI Forum for the Academy and the Public conference taking place in Irvine on February 3 and 4, 2017. This event, staged in partnership with LARB, will look at views of honesty and truth in America today in light of the Trump election, controversies over fake news, and ongoing trends in literature, law, and journalism. The conference will also discuss dictatorships, democracies, and their vexed relationship with truth. What is the future of truth in today’s political world and media environment?

Provocations began as a LARB series produced in conjunction with “What Cannot Be Said: Freedom of Expression in a Changing World,” a conference cosponsored by UCI, USC, and UCLA in January of 2016.

Chilling Debate

This is the seventh in a series of “Provocations,” a LARB series produced in conjunction with “What Cannot Be Said: Freedom of Expression in a Changing World” a conference cosponsored by UCI, USC, and UCLA (January 22 -24, 2016). All contributors are also participants in the conference.

By Nadine Strossen

AT AN IOWA TOWN HALL MEETING last September, President Obama strongly championed campus free speech, even for “language that is offensive to African Americans, or … sends a demeaning signal towards women.” He also repudiated “the idea that you’d have somebody in government making a decision about what you should think … or what you should be taught, and if it’s not the right thought … that … they wouldn’t get funding.” He continued: “I guess that might work in the Soviet Union, but … [t]hat’s not who we are.” Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who was accompanying the President, endorsed these remarks with an unqualified “Amen.” Continue reading

Four Provocations by Matt Bors

This is the sixth of a series of “Provocations,” produced in conjunction with “What Cannot Be Said: Freedom of Expression in a Changing World” a conference cosponsored by UCI, USC, and UCLA (January 22 -24, 2016), scheduled to coincide with the first anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. All contributors are also participants in the conference. As the notion of “provocations” suggests, these contributions, like the cartoons below by Matt Bors, are not the opinions of the editors of LARB; if you feel provoked, please leave a comment.

Matt Bors is a nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist and editor based in Portland, OR. He is the founder of the comics site The Nib and previously worked at Medium. Bors was a 2012 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for his political cartoons, which appear regularly in The Nation, Portland Mercury, and on Daily Kos and Foreign Policy. He will participate in the Freedom of Expression in a Changing World conference. Continue reading

Transcript of a Lost Stand-Up Monologue

This is the fifth in a series of “Provocations,” a LARB series produced in conjunction with “What Cannot Be Said: Freedom of Expression in a Changing World” a conference cosponsored by UCI, USC, and UCLA (January 22 -24, 2016). All contributors are also participants in the conference.

By Richard Burt

Some months ago I checked my email and was excited to find that one had been sent by A** W*****z and was an invitation to me to participate in this conference. I mean, A*y W*l*n*! For reals. Like I say, I was really happy to get the invitation. And of course I was going to accept. Continue reading

12 Things That Are Banned on the Chinese Internet

This is the fourth in a series of “Provocations,” a LARB series produced in conjunction with “What Cannot Be Said: Freedom of Expression in a Changing World” a conference cosponsored by UCI, USC, and UCLA (January 22 -24, 2016). All contributors are also participants in the conference.

By Louisa Lim

1. The Golden Toad

A 72-foot tall golden inflatable toad was supposed to bring “good luck and fortune” to Yuyuantan park in Beijing, which was no doubt hoping to attract crowds with the “biggest aerated toad in Asia.” Instead, it brought mirth to millions of Chinese internet users, who immediately seized upon the toad’s uncanny resemblance to former Communist Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin. The term “toad” has long been used as a proxy to talk about Jiang, and has been banned for Weibo searches since 2011. “Golden toad” was a later addition to the blocked list, which already featured “Chairman Toad,” “Toad + death” and “Toad + critically ill” after rumors spread that Jiang had either died or was on his deathbed (point of fact: he still hasn’t croaked). Other blocked terms include ‘elder’ and ‘prolonging life’. The internet has even spawned self-described “toad fans,” a term used to imply nostalgia for the relatively relaxed era when Jiang Zemin was in power. Continue reading

Two Provocations by Ann Telnaes

This is the third of a series of “Provocations,” produced in conjunction with “What Cannot Be Said: Freedom of Expression in a Changing World” a conference cosponsored by UCI, USC, and UCLA (January 22 -24, 2016), scheduled to coincide with the first anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. All contributors are also participants in the conference. As the notion of “provocations” suggests, these contributions, like the cartoons below by Ann Telnaes, are not the opinions of the editors of LARB; if you feel provoked, please leave a comment.

 

Ann Telnaes creates animated editorial cartoons and a blog of print cartoons, animated gifs, and sketches for the Washington Post. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for her print cartoons. She is one of five cartoonists on a panel at the conference. Continue reading

Why Aren’t You Banned Yet?

This is the second in a series of “Provocations,” produced in conjunction with “What Cannot Be Said: Freedom of Expression in a Changing World” a conference cosponsored by UCI, USC, and UCLA (January 22 -24, 2016), scheduled to coincide with the first anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. All contributors are also participants in the conference. If you feel provoked, please add a comment.

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

My provocation will take the form of a self-criticism. I want to come clean about an incident that haunts me, which found me altering my plans for publishing a commentary due to concern over possible repercussions. Aware that I am a China specialist, you might think you know where this is heading, especially given the intentionally misleading title I’ve chosen for this piece. I’m not, though, going to confess to an act self-censorship carried out due to wanting to maximize my odds of continuing to get visas to go to the Chinese mainland. Instead, I’ll describe a time that I worried about how people living on this side of the Pacific would respond to a U.S.-China comparison that I was convinced some Americans would not appreciate. Continue reading

The Return of a Political Anecdote: Ten Jokes About Vladimir Putin’s Russia

This is the first of “Provocations,” a LARB series produced in conjunction with “What Cannot Be Said: Freedom of Expression in a Changing World” a conference cosponsored by UCI, USC, and UCLA (January 22 -24, 2016). All contributors are also participants in the conference.

By Nina Khrushcheva

All oppressed societies express themselves through street humor. In the Soviet Union, jokes about General Secretaries of the Communist Party—Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev, etc.—were whispered in the kitchen. In fact, evenings around the table would be dedicated to thrashing the authorities through humor. Satire enabled people to overcome their fear of the controlling government. “If we can make fun of the Kremlin, the Kremlin doesn’t have power over us,” they reasoned. It is a well-known societal phenomenon: when accessible political space shrinks, unofficial social space expands. After the collapse of communism and Russia’s attempts to become democratic, political anecdotes almost disappeared as part of the country’s cultural life. But under President Vladimir Putin, political humor has been back with a vengeance. Continue reading