by Jud Laghi || Author's Links
On a brisk November Tuesday, seven members of the entertainment and popular-culture elite found themselves downtown at Cooper Union for a symposium entitled "Style and Culture After." After making their way past a row of guest list checks and metal detectors the audience of college kids and trendy folks were ready to hear from an eclectic and unpredictable crew: Moby, Susan Sarandon, Larry Fink, Diane Von Furstenburg, Wim Wenders, Ross Bleckner and, serving as moderator, Spalding Gray.
Once everyone was seated, a haggard and nonplussed Spalding Gray emerged from behind the curtain to introduce each of the guests.
"I'm going to assume the 'after' is referring to the attacks of the 11th and I think we should start by talking about where we were that day," Gray began. He was an interesting choice as moderator considering he is known primarily for his one-man shows, pontificating on his family and life's minutiae, and he began the debate true to form: he was moving from Sag Harbor to North Hampton while also recovering from injuries he suffered in a car accident.
"After the second plane hit I went to my room and shot up some vitamin B-12." The audience responded with a delayed laugh after looking at one another. Gray passed the totem to Diane von Furstenberg, icon of style and fashion.
"My son called me when the first plane hit and said 'you are witnessing the end of Capitalism.' When the third plane hit, the Pentagon, it just seemed like it all would never come to an end."
"It seemed more real," Gray broke in, holding his clip-on microphone up to his mouth.
"What?" said von Furstenberg.
"A more deserving target," said Gray.
"That's not what I said," Von Furstenberg snapped back, and then turned to allow someone else to speak.
Susan Sarandon brought up the importance of attention finally being paid to the plight of women in Afghanistan. Gray shifted his microphone back onto his shirt and let out an audible sigh.
"Where do we go from here, Susan?" a New York accent from far in the back bellowed.
"Can we turn some lights on the audience?" Sarandon asked.
"Let's save the questions until the end. I want to let everyone have turn to talk about what they experienced that day first." Gray was visibly annoyed.
Wim Wenders had spent the half-hour or so up to that point turned away from the other guests, looking unhappy.
"I am going to end the era of self-absorption myself tonight by not talking about myself or my experiences," an emotional Wenders said. "It is time to look to what I and people like me can do for the future." The crowd broke out in applause.
On the topic of censorship, Moby mentioned that Cat Stevens's entire body of work had been banned by some radio stations in the week after the tragedy. The crowd broke into laughter. Moby and Sarandon looked uncomfortable. Spalding Gray took off his jacket with Diane Von Furstenburg's assistance and then wiped the sweat from his brow and sort of kept his hands up there to massage his face.
The discussion was opened up to the audience and one woman brought up the women of Afghanistan again.
"Sometimes I think all woman should go on strike and control the future by not allowing for a future. But then you cannot keep a woman from getting laid." Laughs for von Furstenberg.
Another audience member asked if the culture of celebrity had been rendered irrelevant by the attacks.
"What do you mean?" Moby asked.
"People magazine, who's going to what clubs, that sort of thing."
"I don't think we need to know who Julia's dating anymore" Ross Bleckner interjected.
"I think people who were in the front row at the beginning are now at the exits. It has always been like this." More laughs for von Furstenberg.
"Celebrities are always going to be here," said Sarandon. "It's unfortunate, but that's how it is. It's what sells. Now the heroes that were involved are the celebrities. People just went out and photographed a bunch of firemen afterwards."
"I love celebrities. People is the first thing I go for at the dentist's office." Moby added before noting, however, that the record-purchasing public aren't going to find much relevance in boy bands or Britney Spears anymore.
"I think whatever the shape of Style and Culture is to come, it is not going to be defined by us." Said Larry Fink, whose photographs hang in the Museum of Modern Art. "We are all established as artists already. It's the people in this room who are going to define what's to come. The young people."
Members of the audience began to file out through the back. "I always attribute the fluidity in the back of the room at these events to the fact that they are free," Gray said, as people continued to leave. "I want to hear what Wim has to say. I can tell he's deep in thought."
Wenders shook his legs up and down under the bridge of his joined hands. What would Wenders, who has been known to have an entire cast hypnotized for the sake of a vision, close with?
"There is a movie called Kandahar," he said, referring to the story of Nelofer Pazira, a Canadian woman originally born in Afghanistan who returns to rescue her suicidal sister, "that you all must see. So you will know who it is, and where it is, that is being bombed right now."
As the publisher of the magazine who sponsored the event closed the evening with thanks and congratulations, a small bespectacled woman emerged from the audience and said something that only he and the panel could hear. The entire room was awash in silence for several seconds until someone came and led her away.
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