The Knowledge Dynasty

A Quick Lesson On What Trigger Warnings Actually Do

The University of Chicago sent a welcome letter to incoming freshmen, posted online Wednesday, where they made it abundantly clear that they do not support “trigger warnings” or “safe spaces” in classes or on campus.

In other words, students who may be susceptible to mental health issues, like post-traumatic stress disorder or panic disorders, are underserving of a warning that a lecture or guest speaker may aggravate those issues or traumatic experiences.

And just below a promise of inclusivity, respect and diversity, the university also stated that it would not provide zones on campus for students to freely visit where they can be sure to avoid hateful and re-traumatizing rhetoric. (In case, say, someone invites George Will, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist who likes to tell college audiences that rape victims are a privileged class on campus.) 

But back to the issue of trigger warnings. Read the letter in full below:

”You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion and even disagreement,” part of the note reads. “At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort.”

The problem with this interpretation of trigger warnings is that it presumes all participants have the same level of privilege. But many discussions are not just intellectual exercises for everyone people who face discrimination, have experienced violence or simply struggle with brain chemistry are at a disadvantage because they’re potentially dealing with a mental health issue. A desire to be warned about potential triggers has nothing to do with people not wanting to “challenge” themselves academically.

What’s more, research clearly shows that atmospheres that promote negative stereotypes can act as barriers to treatment, furthering stigma and causing additional psychological trauma.

A fundamental misunderstanding of triggering

Trigger warnings and safe spaces aren’t a way to avoid disagreement or debate. The clinical version first appeared back in the the early 1900s when psychologists were working to classify “war neurosis,” or the trauma of serving in the military. That led to the more modern discovery of PTSD and what “triggers” those painful memories of war.

Trigger warnings as we know them today gained steam from blogging platforms that emerged with the digital age, Buzzfeed News reported. They were created as a way to protect users from harmful content that may contribute to pre-existing mental health issues (i.e. sharing photos about an eating disorder that might “trigger” or, worse, “inspire” someone who is currently dealing with anorexia). The debate over using warnings filtered into college classrooms in the past few years.

Trigger warnings are potentially lifesaving for people who have dealt with traumas like sexual assault, hate crimes or violence. Eliminating these advisories and zones on campus suggests that someone should have to listen to someone who questions their humanity or experience.

This kind of insensitive rhetoric also implies that mental health issues or traumatic pasts those that require a safe space or a trigger warning render a student weak. And that type of attitude silences those who may be struggling.

Research shows that many people don’t speak up when they’re experiencing complications with their mental wellbeing. Referring to potentially serious, damaging content as something that could cause mere “discomfort” delegitimizes someone’s experience. In reality, it’s more than just feeling a little uncomfortable. Mental health disorders particularly those following trauma can cause panic attacks, difficulty sleeping, problems with concentration and more.

The complicated debate about trigger warnings

The national conversation has been tough on trigger warnings, with many arguing that these advisories have gone too far, impeding academic freedom. Critics of the practice suggest that universities are becoming too “politically correct” with an overuse of trigger warnings, but data suggests that this isn’t necessarily representative of what’s actually occurring on campuses. A 2015 survey found that many professors don’t employ trigger warnings in their classrooms and students aren’t exactly demanding them. 

It’s also important to point out that these warnings don’t censor what’s about to be said. They simply create an alert about content in the discussion that could prompt traumatic memories if a person happened to experience something related in the past.

There is not much research on the effectiveness of advisories, but some experts do recommend that professors at least alert students of the content if it could be triggering.

“Whether or not the warnings are required, I still think that it is ethically responsible to share with students your course content so that they can be prepared, given the high rates of sexual assault among college students,” Elana Newman, a University of Tulsa psychology professor and research director of Columbia University’s Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, told the American Psychological Association in 2014.

At the very least, a small warning about sensitive content isn’t a burden for instructors. A simple message saying “This lecture today pertains to sexual assault,” perhaps, will give students some insight into what’s about to be discussed and those who feel it may influence their mental health will be warned accordingly.

Why the way colleges talk about trigger warnings matters

Despite negative stances on this method of safeguarding psychological wellbeing, mental health is a growing concern for universities. Nearly 30 percent of students in 2014 reported experiencing a psychological health issue that negatively influenced their academic performance. Sexual assault which can lead to PTSD, among other conditions  is also a prevalent issue. Approximately one in five women and one in 16 men will be sexually assaulted while in college.

While many modes of treatment for mental health issues encourage patients to face their traumas instead of avoiding them, classrooms are not therapist’s offices and professors aren’t mental health professionals. This kind of work requires a controlled and private environment outlined by the practicing clinician.

Twitter users who believe in the benefits of warnings and safe zones fired back at the University of Chicago, taking issue with the belittling tone of the letter:

Research from the National Alliance on Mental Illness shows more than 60 percent of college students who dropped out did so because of a mental health issue, which includes cases like PTSD and trauma.

Should every lecture be flagged if it mentions sex or war? No. Should professors and universities use good judgment when it comes to specific, detailed lessons or speakers that dive into sensitive subjects? Yes. If addressing this clear problem is solved with a small warning for class or providing a space for a student to discuss their beliefs without shame, so be it.

University of Chicago responds

In a statement to The Huffington Post, University of Chicago spokesman Jeremy Manier said that the letter wasn’t meant to imply that trigger warnings and safe spaces would be “eliminated,” but didn’t elaborate. 

The university’s statement he shared went on to stress the importance of student support and counseling: 

“Separately from the intellectual values expressed in the letter, the University encourages students to make use of the many support resources that exist on campus,” the statement continued. “The University provides numerous resources for students’ well being, including private counseling and other forms of support. There are also many campus groups that offer mutual support for students and other members of our community.”

It’s commendable that the university is affirming their commitment to students’ mental wellbeing. But the welcome letter’s language is, at best, easy to misinterpret and at worst, a warning that issues of support will be on the university’s terms only.

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I Love Dick is great as a TV show, but you still can’t beat the book

Jill Soloways adaptation of Chris Krauss novel is funny and beautiful in its own way. But it can’t transmit the intense pleasure of the ideas in the original.

Chris Kraus had been describing her 1997 novel I Love Dick as funny for years by the time the news broke, in February, that Transparent creator Jill Soloway was adapting it for TV. Many wouldnt listen. Almost invariably, reviewers praise the book for its embrace of feminine abjection, although I see it more as comedy, she wrote in an essay for the Guardian.

Fair enough: I Love Dick is fun to read. Its minimal plot is propelled by perversity and real-life gossip: a film-maker named Chris Kraus and her husband, an academic who shares a name with Krauss then-spouse Sylvre Lotringer, spend an evening with a colleague of Sylvres. Chris becomes obsessed with their charismatic acquaintance, identified only as Dick ______. (The cultural critic Dick Hebdige, whose cease-and-desist notice led Kraus to excise the characters last name, filled in the blank himself.)

In her promising Amazon pilot, though Soloway heightens the frisson of Chris all-consuming crush, she doesn’t come close to capturing the books intellectual pleasures. Her adaptation transforms I Love Dick into a simple half-hour comedy, with an expanded cast of characters and proper jokes. Some of them are scathing: at an academic gathering, a man blithely refers to Chris as the Holocaust wife a reference to Sylvres research that trivializes her own work and genocide in the same breath. Kathryn Hahn plays Chris as an awkward neurotic, ensuring that the character comes across as humorous and mostly sympathetic rather than fully unhinged.

But I Love Dick, the book, is punctuated by ideas more than events. Halfway through the book, Chris realizes: Through love I am teaching myself how to think. By this point, the torrent of erotic energy drummed up by her crush has given way to a series of essays that re-evaluate the underrated work of feminist artists such as Eleanor Antin and Hannah Wilke, and meditate on the story of American activist Jennifer Harburys marriage to disappeared Guatemalan guerrilla Efran Bmaca Velsquez. Theres suspense in I Love Dick, but its not about whether Chris will finally win Dicks love or what will become of her marriage. As the letters grow into a writing project, the question that emerges is whether this period of intense living will lead Chris to a new level in her art. The books still-growing influence is better proof than its actual resolution that it did.

Feminist criticism has a reputation for being dense and dour, but some of it is electrifying. From Judith Butlers academic treatises to the essays of Audre Lorde and Ellen Willis, the most resonant feminist essays are driven by the authors need to think her way to some form of liberation. And as Willis often wrote, liberation doesnt just mean political equality; its also about womens right to pleasure. Life without pleasure without spontaneity and playfulness, sexuality and sensuality, aesthetic experience, surprise, excitement, ecstasy is a kind of death, she wrote.

Soloway has called Krauss book the invention of the female gaze. Its a puzzling sort of compliment. I Love Dick was published in 1997. If it invented the female gaze, what were the Bronts and Virginia Woolf up to? I Love Dicks real innovation was to make the intellectual thrills of feminist criticism the engine of a novel and to heighten that novels reality through Chriss pursuit of pleasure. Its hybrid form was unique at the time. But now its influence is everywhere in feminist literature, from Sheila Hetis How Should a Person Be?, a novel that brutally deconstructs a real friendship, to Maggie Nelsons X-rated, theory-steeped memoir The Argonauts. Even Jenny Offills less formally subversive Dept of Speculation, narrated by a woman who sacrifices her writing career for family and then learns her husbands cheating, owes a debt to Kraus.

TV has, in the past decade or so, become as effective a medium for serialized narratives as literature. But the I Love Dick pilot proves the rule about television: it cant compete with books when it comes to expressing complex ideas. Jill Soloway is our most intellectual television creator working today. She seems determined to do Krauss text justice. Hahn periodically reads the books epigrams, like every letter is a love letter, as the words flash against a bright red screen. Chris, Sylvre (Griffin Dunne) and Dick (Kevin Bacon) even discuss their professional interests during a tense restaurant scene, though Sylvre and Dicks jargon-filled conversation is clearly meant to sound like pretentious noise.

In the book, Chriss encounter with Dick changes her relationship to art overnight; her understanding of Henry James and the Ramones becomes intensely personal. But a TV show cant capture the thrill of these discoveries because it cant give viewers more than a few seconds per episode of Chris writing down her epiphanies as Hahn reads them in voiceover. So the pilot translates this initial flood of inspiration into a scene of Chris typing on her computer, lost in a fantasy where theyre back at dinner and Dick follows her into the bathroom.

Chris Kraus, author of I Love Dick. Photograph: Reynaldo Rivera

Its an intoxicating scene, shot as a series of woozy, warmly lit closeups punctuated by the occasional still. The dream restaurant serves animals still covered in fur, an image both surreal and primal. Dick is dressed inappropriately for a spot with a tasting menu, in a bad boys white T-shirt, and sticks a hand down his pants. All of Soloways deliriously objectifying shots from earlier in the episode, which show Dick as the cowboy Chris sees when she looks at him, seem lead up to this moment.

This could be the birth of a new aesthetic. Despite feminisms ascendance on TV, with forces like Shonda Rhimes and Jenji Kohan broadening representations of women while pushing progressive gender politics, creators still dont enjoy the stylistic freedom independent feminist filmmakers seized decades ago. I applaud Soloway for trying to insert at least one small reference to those forebears: not a spoiler, but the visual poetry of Julie Dashs Daughters of the Dust, the free-associative anarchy of Vra Chytilovs Daisies, and the obsession with subjectivity that fuels Agns Vardas entire filmography are all forerunners of the two-minute fantasy sequence at the end of this pilot.

It was a kind of hint that Soloway probably knew she could never replicate the intellectual rigor of her source material for television. Instead of attempting the impossible, she made a very good television show. But it doesnt hold a candle to the transcendent experience of reading I Love Dick.

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From the attic to the Smithsonian: black history museum is full of ‘found’ items

When the National Museum of African and African American History and Culture opens in September it will house more than 35,000 artifacts, many of which were donated from the public or found in attics, basements and closets.

One morning in 2009, Lonnie G Bunch III took a phone call from Philadelphia historian Charles Leroy Blockson. Blockson is a well-known collector of African American literature, his Afro-American collection at Temple University, set up in the 1980s, houses 500,000 books, texts and other artifacts items the 82-year-old has accumulated over decades. He had called Bunch to let him know he had rare items that belonged to Harriet Tubman that he wanted to donate to the new Smithsonian museum, the last to be built on the National Mall.

I was convinced that that just wasnt true, recalls Bunch, founding director of the Smithsonians National Museum of African and African American History and Culture. I had been to her house in Mount Auburn, New York, and there were two artifacts.

Bunch headed north thinking hed get only a Philly cheesesteak out of the trip. But when the two met at Temple University, Blockson reached into a small box, and pulled out photographs of Tubmans funeral that Bunch had never seen. That got his attention. Then came a homemade knife and fork Tubman used to eat her meals. Finally, Blockson removed two items that caused a lump to form in Bunchs throat and left tears in his eyes. First was the silk shawl that Queen Victoria gave to Tubman 1897 as an invitation to the Diamond Jubilee.The second was Tubmans hymnal, a powerful reminder that even though she couldnt read, she kept close to her heart the songs that not only moved her spirit, but also helped guide slaves toward the northern US and Canada toward freedom.

An exhibit on black feminism at the Smithsonian National Museum African American History and Culture in Washington. Photograph: Jason Hornick

We were both crying, says Bunch. Then he said: Your museum is a place where the public can remember and learn, so I want to give these to you. His generosity was emblematic of the kind of generosity that we hit over and over again in this country.

When the National Museum of African and African American History and Culture opens on 24 September, visitors will see thousands of artifacts organized across more than a dozen exhibits. But those items represent 10 years of work by museum curators scouring the US, searching attics, basements and boxes, receiving some donations from people like Blockson, while reassuring countless others that the items they have stored in closets for years will be preserved by the Smithsonian and, eventually, become parts of a public story about the history of black America.

We have to talk about how our closet is a different type of closet, and what it means moving something from a familys legacy to a nations legacy, says Michle Gates Moresi, curator of collections at the NMAAHC.

Bunch was no novice to the worlds of scholarship and museum administration when he became founding director of the NMAAHC in 2004. He had been president of the Chicago Historical Society, and before then he had already spent a decade as a curator and administrator in the Smithsonians National Museum of American History. When Bunch started, he had three staffers, including himself and Moresi, who came on as a junior curator in 2006. He had to raise $250m on his own, a sum that would be matched by congressional appropriations. There were no benefactors, no collections and no funds to buy anything. And he was now tasked with finding the artifacts to fill 380,000 square feet of space.

A growing museum staff of curators began contacting collectors, confident that some of them would have items that were a fit for the new museum. Other collectors reached out to museum staff themselves, which is how the NMAAHC ended up with its black fashion collection. The clothing was donated by Joyce A Bailey, whose mother, Lois Alexander-Lane, had founded the Black Fashion Museum in New York City.

The best place for the collection was the new museum, Bailey says. It needed to be some place where it would be cared for properly and where other people would be able to come and see portions of the collection and realize the centuries of contributions made by the women and men of the African diaspora.

Among the items donated from Bailey was the dress Rosa Parks was making when she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus. Getting items like this made the overall task of filling out future museum exhibits easier. But Bunch knew that more of the artifacts for the NMAAHC would come from people who werent diehard collectors.

Rosa Parks riding on the Montgomery Area Transit System bus. Photograph: AP

Early in my career I remember doing collecting and people saying I dont have anything, Bunch says. Then you look in the trunk and theres great stuff. Our belief was there were a lot of people who were waiting to open those trunks.

So the museum put out a nationwide call in 2008 to let people know they were looking for contributions. Bunch and his curators hit the road, holding a series of treasures events in New York, Chicago, Detroit and about 10 other cities. Sometimes people came with donations, but it was more often the case that the connections made at an event would turn into a donation opportunity later on, and a chance for NMAAHC staff to explain what the Smithsonian could provide when it came to protecting items that, in some cases, werent only pieces of a collective black history, but also important articles of individual families histories.

I didnt realize it at the time, but my mom was a pioneer, says Donna Limerick, who had met Moresi and gotten her contact information at one of the early treasures events.

Limericks mother is 103-year-old Mae Reeves, a longtime Philadelphia milliner who owned two ladies hat shops. Reeves opened her first hat shop in 1944, and made choice hats of velvet, feathers, and ribbons for some of the most prominent female singers of the 20th century, including Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald and Marian Anderson. When she retired from hat-making in 2003, her last remaining store lay dormant until 2009, when the roof began leaking. Thats when Limerick finally gave Moresi a call.

Michle said: Donna, Ive been waiting to hear from you, Limerick says. Once the museum got involved I didnt think of it as my moms hats. What shes given to the museum is a lost art form.

Museum curators found artifacts in other ways as well.

As a college student, Joan Mulholland had attended sit-ins and Freedom Rides organized by fellow undergraduates during the civil rights movement. She was 22 when she and several friends drove to Birmingham, Alabama, in September 1963, just days after the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist church that killed four young black girls. On the ground were shards from the churchs glass windows that had been blasted apart by the explosion. Mulholland picked up as many as she could carry, and kept them in a box of her own artifacts from the civil rights movement.

Shards of glass from the 16th street Baptist church bombing will be included in the collection. Photograph: AP

Then, six years ago at the 50th anniversary conference commemorating the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, she met a pair of curators from the new Smithsonian museum. Mulholland invited them to her house in Virginia to not only see the glass shards, but also the other relics from the civil rights era she had kept, such as notices of student protest rallies and posters the Ku Klux Klan had posted around her college town of Tupelo, Mississippi. Then she donated virtually all of her items to the new museum.

I still have some shards, says Mulholland, who will be 75 when the NMAAHC opens. But I wanted to make sure the civil rights things were in a place where they were preserved. Most of my archival stuff went to the museum.

For collectors like Blockson, donating items seemed to be a higher calling. His personal history is interwoven with Tubmans. Tracing his genealogy, Blockson discovered that his great-grandfathers first wife was related to Ben Ross, Tubmans father. His own ancestors escaped slavery from southern Delaware via the Underground Railroad.

The Underground Railroad gets the imagination of people from nine to 90, he says. It had everything: intrigue, murder, brotherhood and sisterhood, geography, hope.

This explains why Tubmans great-great-niece, Meriline Wilkins, gave Tubmans shawl and hymnal to Blockson before she died in 2008. It was divine providence that I received it, that I of all people would inherit it, says Blockson. I knew the perfect place would be the new national African American museum.

Bunch and his curators have collected roughly 37,000 artifacts since they began canvassing the US in 2008; more than 20,000 are photographs. About 3,000 items will be on display inside the NMAAHC when it opens, with another 4,000 to be rotated in over time. The rest will be available to researchers for scholarship, as well as on loan to other museums around the country.

With thousands of artifacts safely stored, Bunch has overcome his greatest fear of these past 10 years: that he would succeed in raising the money he needed to, but would never have enough artifacts to fill the new National Museum of African and African American History and Culture.

You as a leader, you have a dream, and you have ideas of how to get to that dream. But youre never really sure until you see how the public responds, says Bunch. To see people open their doors, open their trunks, open their attics was humbling, and in some ways made me very tearful.

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GOP mega-donor funds group calling pro-Palestine US students ‘Jew haters’

Sheldon Adelson-funded posters named students and professors at a college campus, saying they have allied themselves with Palestinian terrorists.

Sheldon Adelson, the Nevada casino mogul and conservative mega-donor, is leading a campaign against pro-Palestine groups on US college campuses and has funded posters that accuse individual students of supporting terrorism and promoting Jew Hatred.

The multimillion-dollar effort, which has launched at six campuses in California, is targeting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that has become increasingly popular among American university students protesting the Israeli government.

At the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), recent Adelson-funded posters named 16 students and professors, saying they have allied themselves with Palestinian terrorists to perpetuate BDS and Jew Hatred on this campus. It further claimed BDS was a Hamas-inspired genocidal campaign to destroy Israel.

Robert Gardner, a 25-year-old UCLA senior, saw his name on one of the posters outside a grocery market. I was really shocked and felt really disturbed, he said.

They are trying to cast us as antisemitic, that we are somehow a discriminatory group, said the political science student, who is a member of the colleges Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organization. That is a completely spurious accusation. One of our core principles is anti-oppression and anti-racism.

Tensions surrounding Israel-Palestine campus activism have escalated in recent years, but SJP leaders said the posters identifying specific students were particularly aggressive and had led some of them to face online harassment and death threats.

The UCLA poster accusing students and professors of Jew Hatred. Photograph: Handout

Adelson who has poured money into Republican campaigns and last year purchased Nevadas largest newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal recently launched the so-called Maccabee Task Force to combat the BDS Movement through education and meaningful conversation about Israel truths.

The billionaire gambling magnate, who has reportedly supported Donald Trump, helped inject the conflict into the US presidential race.

While Adelson and his new task force have focused on building support for Israel through social media campaigns, partnerships with student groups and subsidized trips to Israel, the tactic of calling out students on public posters and linking them to terrorism has earned widespread condemnation.

This definitely felt like a more direct escalation, said Omar Zahzah, a 28-year-old graduate student at UCLA who was also named in the recent posters. It wasnt just slandering SJP anymore. It was attacking specific individuals.

Zahzah, a comparative literature student, who is Palestinian, added: Its easy to joke about and dismiss. But at the end of the day, its still pretty intimidating, which is the point.

The UCLA posters included the hashtag #StopTheJewHatredOnCampus and linked to the website of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a conservative Los Angeles-based group that has repeatedly been accused of promoting Islamophobia.

David Brog, executive director of the Maccabee Task Force, said in a statement to the Guardian that the group had approved a modest grant to the Horowitz Freedom Center to focus on the true nature of pro-BDS organizations, but we did not ask for or approve the poster campaign that targeted student activists, and were not aware that our money had been used to support it. It should not have been.

The Maccabee Task Force does not believe that focusing on student activists who conduct themselves civilly is an appropriate or effective way to combat the BDS movement on campus, Brog added.

A spokesman declined to disclose the size of the grant but said the Maccabee Task Force plans to expand to 20 additional college campuses this fall.

The Horowitz center and representatives for Adelson did not respond to inquiries on Monday. Horowitz, however, defended the posters in an interview with the Los Angeles Times and said he planned to produce similar ones at other campuses.

SJP and BDS activists have repeatedly argued that their efforts are not antisemitic and that they are simply calling for Israel to be boycotted due to its continued occupation of Palestinian territories.

In recent months, some Black Lives Matter activists have aligned themselves with pro-Palestine groups, which has intensified the campaigns against the BDS movement.

Robin Kelley, a UCLA history professor who was named on the Horowitz poster, said there were many Jewish students who support SJP. He also noted this was not the first time critics had gone after SJP students in a harassing and threatening manner.

Still, he said, for some of them, it was devastating and traumatizing.

To try to destroy a young persons life because you disagree with their politics is reprehensible, said Kelley, who is a member of the advisory board for the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. It can affect their job prospects, their future These kids dont have the capacity to destroy Sheldon Adelsons life.

  • An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of David Brog

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After the party: Rio wakes up to an Olympic hangover

When Brazil won the Olympics in 2009, its future looked bright. Seven years on, as the Games come to a close, Rio’s residents are counting the costs.

The Olympic Games arecoming to a close, having demonstrated once again that Rio de Janeiro knows how to organise and promote big events. But after theparty, and the billions spent to show the world that we deserve a place among the great democracies, comes the hangover; thebills begin to arrive, and we have noway to pay. As the festive air and thetourism subside, and with the Paralympics due to start in a matter ofweeks, the old problems remain.

It is now that the residents of Rio deJaneiro begin to wonder: what will the legacy be? As we present ourselves to the world, have we revealed our faults? Or has the power of our cultural creativity come to the fore? Therein lies the contradiction of Rio: the combination of beauty and poverty, hedonism and inequality, a carnival atmosphere and bloody violence.

Hosting the Olympics in Rio was the latest effort an extreme, titanic one to impose the ideal version of Rio over the complexities and contradictions of real Rio. In real Rio, the state government does not have enough money to keep police vehicles on the roads. Police stations are running out of paper. Hospitals are in a precarious situation. State universities are on strike: so far they have not received a penny towards the costs of the current academic year. Thestates 500,000 public servants havereceived their salaries late. Building work has been interrupted. Unemployment is increasing. Social andeconomic inequalities have become more pronounced. Just before the Olympics, Rio state declared a state ofemergency, shifting all these problems on to the shoulders of the federal government which handed it almost abillion dollars to prevent chaos duringthe Olympics. But Rios anxious population is already wondering not so much how the Gameshave gone as what will happen afterwards?

Eduardo Paes, the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, has done everything to try to stop a parliamentary inquiry commission being opened in the municipal chamber to investigate spending on theOlympics. Of the original promises made by Paes for the Games legacy, mainly involving investment in urban mobility and the reduction of pollution, barely half have been met on time. The Games proposed budget of $13bn was exceeded along time ago but a lack oftransparency over the real costs has fuelled suspicions of corruption. And there is more: in the weeks leading up tothe Games, the mayor was still racing to complete the building programme. Other pledged projects will be left in the in-tray of his successor, to be elected in municipal elections in October. The newly laid asphalt on main roads has already started to fail; on 21 April, a section of cycle path on Avenida Niemyer, along Rios waterfront, collapsed weeks after it was opened, killing two people. Public confidence in City Hall, already low, plummeted further. Today, 57% of Rios population do not trust the mayor.

A mural by Eduardo Kobra depicting an indigenous Brazilian. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

All this is without even factoring in the Zika epidemic, thankfully now less virulent during these cooler winter months. Although not Rio residents most immediate concern, it casts an ever-present shadow, especially given the risk of infected pregnant women passing the virus on to their children, with potentially devastating consequences. Zika started to spread through Brazil in April 2015. From the start of this year up to 28 May, 161,241 probable cases of the virus were registered; of these, 46,027 were in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

For anyone who has lived through Brazils progress over the last two decades, this is a shocking situation. When, on 2 October 2009, Brazil and Rio de Janeiro won the bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games, they did so in the glow of economic success. The enthusiasm of the then president, Luiz Incio Lula da Silva, was contagious: Now is our time! Its here! Of the worlds 10 largest economies, Brazil is the only country that has not hosted the Olympic and Paralympic Games. This will be an unrivalled opportunity for us. It will boost the self-esteem of Brazilians; it will consolidate recent victories; it will stimulate new progress.

In Rio de Janeiro, tens of thousands of people partied on Copacabana beach in the wake of the decision. There seemed plenty of reasons to celebrate. In 2011, Brazil earned its best rating in the Gini inequality index since 1960, the year the index was introduced. Brazil had benefited greatly from a boom in the value of Brazilian exports soy, iron ore, sugar cane and more during this time, and economic growth during the governments of the Workers party president, known as Lula, was accompanied by successful social policies such as the Bolsa Famlia programme, which topped up the income of the poorest families so long as children andadolescents were in school. Other important initiatives included an increase in the minimum wage, and the introduction of policies against racism and the exclusionary effects of poverty.

In 1993, 23% of the Brazilian population lived in extreme poverty, meaning that their income was insufficient forthe minimum number of calories required for healthy survival. By 2009, this figure had fallen to 8.4% still unacceptable, of course, but a dramatic reduction nonetheless. The period from 2003 to 2011 saw 39.6 million Brazilians join the ranks of the so-called new middle class.

But during this time, Brazil also got lucky. In 2006, before the end of Lulas first term in office, the government-owned oil company Petrobras announced the discovery of an oil reserve off the Brazilian coast some 800km long and 200km wide, a substantial chunk of which lies alongside the state of Rio de Janeiro. In the 1990s, Petrobras had been an ailing institution; suddenly, its net profit soared, from $2bn in 2002, to $19bn in 2008. The news of this discovery of one of the worlds biggest reserves of black gold gave Brazilians further optimism: things seemed blessed and glorious. Brazil, and Rio inparticular, had not felt such self-confidence since the late 50s and early 60s. This, of course had been the era ofaccelerated industrialisation, the countrys first football World Cup victory and the construction of Braslia, the new capital and temple of modernist architecture; the age of bossa nova, of Tom Jobim and Joo Gilberto, of Cinema Novo and the great film director Glauber Rocha; of groundbreaking theatre and literature, of socialist dreams. A golden age, violently ruptured by the civil-military coup of 1964, which installed aregime that endured for two decades. Now, in the 2000s, it seemed to many as though that golden age might be reborn.

Children play on a podium erected in front of the Olympic rings. Photograph: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images

Rios culture, after all, had never stopped bubbling with variety and vitality. Music continues to be a strong influence, from sophisticated rock shows to funk dance parties in the favelas. More than a million people went to see the Rolling Stones on the beach at Copacabana, and three million take samba to the streets during the four days of the annual carnival.

This organic connection between artand everyday life, the rhythm that pulses in the favelas and appears in more sophisticated visual art, does not occur by accident. It is the product of the most important cultural project ofBrazil, which started in Rio, where itfound fertile ground. Tropiclia began in 1967 with Hlio Oiticica and moved into the music of Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. A 1967 exhibition of Oiticicas work at Rios museum of modern art, entitled Tropiclia, included the sound and movement ofmusicians and dancers from the favela of Mangueira. By then, though, Brazil was a military dictatorship, andthe idea of black and poor people dancing samba was not accepted by thedirectors of the museum. Oiticica resolved the question by moving into the street with the musicians and dancers. This performance made apermanent mark on the Brazilian imagination; it has served as touchstone and inspiration for generations of artists ever since. In Rio, cultural explosion has always been a form of democratic resistance to racism and inequality.

But the economic boom promised by the discovery of oil was not to materialise. Deep-water oil exploration requires heavy investment in technology and equipment investment that led to excessive debt. Then, in late 2014, the price of oil collapsed and, with the dollar rising to 3.50 reais, the cheap money dried up. In desperation, the government of Dilma Rousseff, Lulas successor, artificially controlled the price of oil to combat inflation, caused by weak fiscal policy and the extraordinary costs of subsidised loans to entrepreneurs selected by arbitrary criteria. The operation cost Petrobras $34bn dollars. Approximately the sameamount was lost by the company through the devaluation of the currency.

The damage done by the halting of construction work on new refineries came to almost $46bn. Another $2bn isestimated to have been leached away in corruption involving members of the federal government, state and municipal governors, and almost 200federal members of congress and senators from across almost all parties. This, the greatest scandal in the history of the Brazilian republic, is still being investigated by the Public Prosecutors Office and the federal police. Its repercussions have been unprecedented. Along with the economic crisis and the governments consequent deep unpopularity, the scandal created the conditions for the impeachment of President Rousseff, still ongoing in the federal senate. Today, Petrobrass debt stands at around $100bn. It is now predicted that production in 2020 will be no more than 2.8m barrels per day.

The optimism of the mid-2000s is now a distant memory particularly in the state of Rio de Janeiro, whose economic expectations are so heavily dependent on oil. Rio has ended up avictim of the so-called oil curse, the paradox of those countries which, despite an abundance of oil reserves, end up with less economic stability, less democracy and worse development than countries without oil. In the wake of the fiscal crisis, the economic depression and the collapse of the state came the social effects: the decrease in the already precarious quality of public services dramatically impacting on healthcare, as the Zika epidemic has sohorrifyingly shown mirrored by increases in unemployment and violence. In February this year, unemployment in Rio had reached 8.2%: serious, although not yet a catastrophe. But after the Olympics and Paralympics, the situation is expected to deteriorate.

There are other worrying trends. In2015, there were 1,202 homicides in thecity and 310 deaths resulting from police action. The first three months of 2016 saw a further 328 homicides and 76 deaths resulting from police action. The two state police forces in the city of Rio, the military (responsible for patrols) and the civil (which carries out investigations), are among the most violent in the world; they also cause the most fatalities. Between 2003 and 2015, 11,343 people were killed by police in the state of Rio, mainly by military police. The overwhelming majority ofvictims are young, black and poor. Investigations, when they do take place, are generally inconclusive. In other words, extrajudicial executions are indirectly authorised bygovernments, institutions and the population itself, with people widely believing that the killings will reduce crime. Yet in the first seven months of 2016, 60 police officers were also killed. Despite the declaration in 1988 of Brazils first truly democratic constitution, committed to human rights and the rejection ofracism, Brazils authoritarian tradition is alive and kicking especially as far as concerns worker exploitation, the selective administration of justice, and the lack of public services and support for the most vulnerable slums and theirperipheries.

A teenager flies a kite past more murals depicting the rings. Photograph: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images

Rio de Janeiro is a traditionally progressive and iconoclastic city, sceptical of establishment interests and critical of power. Now it is more divided than ever, lacking direction and leadership. The masses find consolation in Pentecostal religious fever, now vying with Catholicism for hegemony. This marvellous picture-postcard city, celebrated in poetry and prose as the paradise of tropical hedonism, of beauty, of sensuality, is beginning to button up itscollar and dress demurely. For many people, Sunday is no longer a day for partying and the beach; its new missionary mood, chaste and abstemious, is taking over squares, Bibles under arms and proselytism in hearts and voices.

Paes greatest error in planning the Olympics was arguably to privilege business and, in doing so, turn a deaf ear to society. Instead of introducing public policies for housing, hospitals, transport and schools in the poorer areas, the mayor has invested in the citys more prosperous western zone, providing further incentives for people to move from the already underpopulated central and northern areas.

Territorial expansion, when there is a lack of resources to provide adequate infrastructure, ends up creating pockets of misery. There have been violent forced displacements, in order to build sports arenas whose maintenance cannot be guaranteed by the public administration and which private interests will have no desire to take on.

Despite all this, the Rio Olympics have been a success. What worries me and many residents is what happensthe day after they finish. In ashort while the Olympic Games will be memory, but they will last for us, who live in Rio, as a major object of political dispute and a challenge for thefuture. Rio de Janeiro is good incredible at the spectacular. Our problem is the everyday.

Translation Lucy Greaves and David Linger. Rio de Janeiro: Extreme City by Luiz Eduardo Soares is published by Penguin.

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