Photo: Marco Borggreve

Photo: Marco Borggreve

On November 22, 1963, the musicians of the ‪‎Boston Symphony Orchestra‬ were already onstage for what was to be a routine concert and didn’t know yet there was a unscheduled change in the program. They realized it when they were suddenly handed new sheet music, just a few minutes before starting. The concert, which was also going to be a radio broadcast, was about to become an incredible experience for all those inside the Symphony Hall. Not many, including the radio announcer or people backstage, were aware of what had happened. Ten minutes earlier the conductor, Erich Leinsdorf‬, sent an urgent message to the BSO librarian, which was to run to the archives, put out and distribute the music for Beethoven’s Eroica‬ Symphony. After a few very intense minutes, the librarian found the music and had to rush onto the stage, in front of a packed auditorium, to hand out the scores to the musicians. Only then did they learn what was happening, from him.

Eric Leinsdorf

Then Leinsdorf made his entrance, with his heavy burden, and announced that President Kennedy, who had been shot less than an hour before in Dallas, had in fact died. Only a few had heard the news that he had been shot, but even they didn’t know if he was seriously hurt. Gasps and screams can be heard coming from the audience in the broadcast, but the conductor immediately announced that the orchestra would perform the Funeral March from Beethoven’s third symphony. They began playing with people still in shock and trying to cope with magnitude of the news. Unable to speak or comment, everyone found themselves abruptly on their own, surrounded by Beethoven’s music.

Even though this piece has been used in public funerals, this is a unique case, because the musicians had to perform impromptu, while at the same time dealing psychologically with news of historical proportions and with many in the audience devastated and crying.

Except for a brief episode in happier major key notes, the piece is very dramatic. The performance is charged with meaning and emotion, and acquires a different dimension entirely. Because of this, for me it is one of the most exiting live pieces I have heard.

If you are not familiar with the Eroica Symphony, it was completed in 1803 and Beethoven wanted to dedicate it to Napoleon Bonaparte, a man who for him embodied the ideals of the French Revolution. However, upon learning that Napoleon had proclaimed himself Emperor, he became furious and considered not dedicating it to him after all. When it was first published, in 1806, the name chosen was “Sinfonia Eroica…composta per festeggiare il sovvenire di un grand Uomo”. So, in either case, whether it’s Kennedy or Napoleon, this piece celebrates the memory of a great man.


Babyshark's Minority Report - Washington Mall

In ancient Greece, the agora –which means “gathering place” or “assembly”- was where most of the political, spiritual, artistic and commercial life of a city took place. It was also the marketplace. In Athens, it was 30 acres in size and had stoai –porticos-, theaters, a gymnasium, five temples, a courthouse and even a prison. In ancient Rome, the equivalent was the forum. These were places that were full of life and integrated many different activities, from oratory and philosophy, to justice, politics or athletics. It was the beating heart of the city.

In most of Europe, throughout history, the central square has played this crucial role. Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, for example, has traditionally been the scene of everything from bullfights to football games, from markets to public executions. Today, in a hyper connected world, social networks have become a contemporary, technological equivalent of agoras.  Like their physical predecessor, social networks are important because they offer information and news from businesses, organizations and other people, and support, augment and extend already existing networks.

One of the many fascinating aspects of social networks has been that it has enabled instantaneous fame or relevance. In a time of disillusion and disenchantment with mainstream politics, social networks have empowered the people, and people, in turn, have empowered non-conventional political actors, like comedians, to participate in the debate of ideas. Medieval jesters were familiar figures in the Middle Ages, they were employed by the court to amuse their master and their guests. Frequently this also included mocking or criticizing the master. Records show that jesters entertained Egyptian pharaohs, and that Aztecs also had them in the 14th and 16th century.

Frequently, in literature, the jester represents honesty and common sense. Monarchs depended on them for insight and advice, as in Shakespeare’s King Lear. Today’s comedians don’t work for the political elites since this would immediately discredit them. Instead, they have slowly become an independent force and an increasingly more powerful one too.

Babyshark's Minority Report - Beppe Grillo

This new type of political celebrity is still quite recent, but becoming more and more relevant. The most famous case is that of Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement party, in Italy. In 2013, it was the second most voted list, after the Democratic Party, obtaining a higher share of the vote than opinion polls showed, and winning more votes than any other single party. In the US, comedians like Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher are driving political debate and getting people interested in politics while at the same time entertaining them. In 2010, Jon Stewart hosted a “Rally to Restore Sanity”, with Stephen Colbert, on the Washington Mall. 215,000 people showed up.

Babyshark's Minority Report - Stewart Colbert Maher

While most politicians are totally inept at humor, comedians can be very good at talking about politics, and politicians, articulating and expressing the anger and frustration of the people. This is why they very frequently become uncomfortable for those in power.

Babyshark's Minority Report - Bassem Youssef & Gran Wyoming

Bassem Youssef (above left) is one of the most widely watched comedians in the Arab world and considered by Time magazine one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Apart from being a practicing cardiac surgeon, Youssef is also a comedian with an incredibly successful satirical news program and an enormous following. His humor got him arrested by the Morsi regime and later his show was censured by the military that toppled Morsi, proving that comedians are an incredible force that politicians or rulers simply can’t ignore. But although powerful, even popular public figures like Youssef  can be silenced. Last week he announced that he is ending his successful program due to pressures, presumably from the new Egyptian government, led by Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.

In Spain, José Miguel Monzón, better known as El Gran Wyoming (above right), is also a doctor apart from a comedian. unlike Youssef, however, he does not practice medicine. He does host a popular TV show, “El Intermedio”, which has audiences of up to 3 million. His new book “No estamos locos” (We are not crazy) is a blunt analysis, full of irony, of the current situation of disillusion of Spaniards with their politicians. He is a ferocious critic of abuses of power carried out by the powerful.


Jón Gnarr (above), a popular comedian from Iceland, with more than 72,000 followers on Facebook, was elected in 2010 mayor of Reykjavík, a city that is home to a third of the island’s 320,000 people. His party called Best Party, was created in 2009 and included people with no background in politics. It is really a satirical political party that parodies Icelandic politics. It obtained 34.7% of the vote, clearly a sign of disappointment with establishment politicians. Among other measures, Best Party promised free towels in all swimming pools, a polar bear for the Reykjavík zoo and a drug-free Parliament by 2020. He also announced that he would not enter a coalition government with anyone who had not watched the TV series The Wire. A major supporter of gay rights, as mayor he appeared at the 2010 Gay parade dressed as a drag queen.

There is little doubt that electing Gnarr to city mayor was a protest vote, but voters everywhere are trying new things and, as a professor of political science at the University of Iceland put it, people are ready for anyone, other than the usual suspects. They are empowering the people they consider the most honest, their comedians. Proof of this are the results of the elections for the European Parliament.

Die Partei, a party founded by a former editor-in-chief of a German satirical magazine got 184,525 votes. They ran with slogans such as “Merkel is fat” and defending absurd ideas, like big German tits or building a wall around Switzerland, but they obtained one delegate in the Parliament. They also said that they would rotate their delegate every month so everyone would get a taste of EU money. Disenchanted European citizens also voted extreme right in the UK and in France, and hard left in the PIGS countries. In Spain, Podemos, a party that did not even exist four months ago, was the second most voted party.

Babyshark's Minority Report - Tiririca

Last year, more than 50 clowns ran as candidates in the municipal elections in Brazil. One of them, Francisco Everardo Oliveira Silva, better known by his stage name Tiririca, had a slogan that said “What does a federal deputy do? Truly, I don’t know. But vote for me and I will find out for you!”. Can’t be much more honest than that. In 2010, Tiririca, who has been accused by opponents of being illiterate, which in principle would disqualify him to run for office, became the second-most-voted congressman in Brazil’s history. His political project focused primarily in helping circus artists, funding cultural projects helping fight prejudice against Northeastern people in the Southern regions of Brazil and increasing funds to primary education.

Babyshark's Minority Report - Candigato Morris

In the Mexican city of Xalapa, a cat ran for mayor in last year’s elections. El Candigato Morris. He didn’t get elected, but he obtained more than 160,000 likes on his Facebook page. That’s one way in which voters release their frustration. In Portugal, “Homens Da Luta” (Men of Struggle), a musical parody group with more than half a million Facebook followers, which has participated actively in anti-austerity protests since 2011 ran in the municipal elections held in September 2013.

Babyshark's Minority Report - Dieudonné Anelka

In France, controversial comedian Dieudonné has made headlines recently after a salute that he invented was performed by his friend, footballer Nicolas Anelka, during an English Premier League match. Although he claims the gesture, called quenelle in France, is anti-establishment, many have interpreted it as antisemitic. The comedian, who has been fined on several occasions for inciting racial hatred and hate speech, has even threatened to run for the French presidency.

Babyshark's Minority Report - Russel Brand

Perhaps one of the more visceral and outspoken celebrities around has to be Russell Brand. Articulate and intelligent, the British comedian was once defined as “part Robespierre, part Rimbaud”. Not one to shy away from controversy, the flamboyant and charismatic comedian has openly said he thinks there will be a revolution in England and that he imagines the overthrow of the current political system. He confesses to be disenchanted by politics and considers politicians as frauds and liars. Brand is not very clear about what system he would like to see implemented, he in fact seems to prefer some anarchy and chaos as necessary elements of a transition.

What is clear is that dissatisfaction with the political system is widespread and the omnipresence of social networks and media helps spread the discontent. Our democracies and politicians feel obsolete and dated, and there seems to be a desire for something new. And while the people may get the details wrong they know what they want, and that is more diversity and more representation. They have lost their faith in their political systems, they are frustrated. And they are more than happy to try something new, and it really doesn’t really matter whether they voted a party defending big tits, a green party, a group of euroskeptic xenophobes and racists, a mayor offering free towels in swimming pools who dresses as a drag queen, a clown or a cat. They want change. Now all these new actors have the ball in their court, they’ve got their 15 minutes of fame.

Maybe it’s time that we start taking our comedians more seriously. I say…Conchita for president.

Want a Cool Retirement Home? Build it Yourself.

Trabensol 3

Although there are examples in the 1920s in New York, and similar concepts that date as far back as the 17th century, in Hakka walled villages in northern China, cohousing as a clearly defined idea originated in the 60’s in Denmark as an alternative to impersonal housing solutions and developments in modern cities. These communities were composed of private homes and supplemented by common facilities. There are hundreds of these communities in Denmark today and in other countries of northern Europe and more than 120 in the United States.

Trabensol 4

The concept is now being revisited in Spain. One experiment has just opened in Madrid. In the late 90’s a group of friends thought that it would be fantastic if they could all live together once they retired. By 2000 they already had about one hundred people on board and they created Trabensol (short for Trabajadores en SolidaridadWorkers in Solidarity), a cooperative. The project was meant to be a fun alternative to living in a typical retirement home.

Trabensol 1

After a long search that took them all over Spain they finally chose Torremocha del Jarama, a small town of only 917 residents, located 65 kilometers north of Madrid, that has had the same mayor -from an independent party- since 1979. The recently-finished 6,720m2 complex includes 54 apartments and spacious common areas for different activities. The new residents have already moved in and they invited the people from the village to visit the facilities. They have already registered in the town and in the medical center. The whole idea is to be able to take advantage of all the possibilities of living together and make decisions about their future, which seldom is the case in old age. They did not want to depend on a retirement system which is far from perfect.

Trabensol 2

In the group everything is decided democratically, and every single decision, from the choice of contruction company to the color of the walls was decided by vote. The total construction budget was 5 million euros, 3 of which were from a mortgage credit from ethical bank Fiare –a non profit unit of Italian Banca Popolare Etica. The rest came from their life savings or the sale of properties. Each one paid 145,000 euros to belong to the cooperative. This, however, does not mean you own anything, it just gives you the right to use the premises. If you leave the cooperative, you get your initial money back. If you die, your will determines what happens to that amount. The cost of maintaining the complex is covered by a monthly fee of about 850 euros per person, if living alone, or 1,050 if two people live in the same apartment. This includes food and services.

Trabensol 5

Everything has been designed to be sustainable. The complex has its own central square, orchard and greenhouse. It has areas devoted to therapeutic baths, library and video, meeting rooms, workshops and meditation/exercise rooms. The government of the Region of Madrid subsidized the project with 82,000 euros and energy giant Endesa awarded them a prize in sustainability as well.

Star architects don’t devote any of their time to thinking about the elderly and for many governments they are an afterthought, so this group of retirees decided to design and build the coolest of retirement homes themselves.

This is a documentary about Trabensol.

More info here:

Homeless Hotel in Gothenburg

Faktum Hotels
Despite having a highly developed economy, the world’s eighth highest per capita income, ranking 7th in the United Nation’s Human Develoment Index and being the second most competitive country according to the World Economic Forum, homeless figures are increasing across Sweden. It is not only drug addicts who end up in the streets, now there are also people who lost their homes when their businesses collapsed during the economic crisis. Nationally, the figure is estimated to be approximately 34,000. It’s a problem no one really likes to aknowledge, especially in cities like Gothenburg, Sweden’s second city, where there are more than 3,000 homeless. In Malmö, more than half of the people without a home are women and children.
Faktum Hotels 2
Faktum Hotels offers a unique experience. Guests get to be homeless for a night to get an idea of what it is to sleep with fear, out in the open and in the cold. The options include sleeping on a filthy mattress under a bridge by the junction of the Säve and Göta rivers, a sleeping bag in the park, or simply lying down on some cardboard boxes and newspapers at an abandoned paper mill. Each site, or “room”, has been chosen by a member of the homeless population that collaborates with Faktum, but of course there is no way to guarantee the availability of the rooms. They could actually disappear with no prior notice.

Many people have tried the idea, 1000 rooms so far have already been booked, but most can only stand a few hours.You can also book for a friend. The concept, which is part social commentary and part installation, helps fund Faktum’s non-profit organization and has the objective of raising awareness of the plight and situation of homeless people.

It is always difficult for non-profits to get people to donate money to causes, so they have to be increasingly creative to get the message across to a population desensitised, accustomed to watching the news as entertainment. Faktum has found a way of provoking thought using a format not too different from an artist’s. Below, a picture of an exhibition on Faktum in Gothemburg.

Faktum Hotels 4

Faktum started as a street newspaper, it was founded in 2001 and is sold by people who are homeless in Gothemburg.

Faktum Hotels 3

To visit the sites, environmental sound included, go to their website Faktum Hotels.

VICE Series on HBO

vice logo

VICE is today a media agency that started in Canada, as a magazine called Voice of Montreal. It became VICE when it moved to New York City in 1996. The magazine, which has a presence in 22 countries, was originally about pop culture and the arts, but evolved and now covers more serious and controversial issues, including the war on drugs, mental disorders, economics or the environment. They tell stories from a deeply personal perspective, trying to understand the real reasons and people behind the news that they cover. VICE also produces videos and documentaries which are available, for free, online for their global audience. They now have their very own HBO series. This is the trailer.

Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative

Rolex_Frost-Eno_Babyshark's Minority Report

Rolex is a world-renowned watchmaker. The company was founded in England as Wilsdorf and Davis, in 1905. Its headquarters, since 1919 have been in Geneva. It is considered one of the most valuable global brands, numer 71 according to Forbes magazine.

In the year 2002, the company -always true to its tradition of supporting individual excellence- set up the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, a philanthropic program that brings together internationally recognized masters  and promising young artists, with the objective of contributing to global culture. The program, which runs every two years, has mentors and protégés spending a year in a one-to-one mentorship relationship. The company wanted to do for artists something similar to what it was doing with the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, created in 1976, which support scientists, conservationists and explorers. It came up with the idea of a mentorship, which seemed more appropriate for the arts.

Rolex_Jacir-Zhang Yimou_ Sellars-Zbib

The program has paired some of today’s most important artists and rising young talents; in literature, film, dance, music, theater, visual arts and architecture, and has established a new global community of artists in less than a decade.  Artists like Jessye Norman, Mario Vargas Llosa, Mira Nair, Martin Scorsese, Peter Sellars, Zhang Yimou, Brian Eno or Anish Kapoor have been some of the mentors, which are chosen by a special advisory board which suggests and endorses the potential mentors. When the mentors agree to take part, they work with Rolex to define a profile of protégé they would like to work with. It is therefore a carefully matched relationship. An expert panel identifies suitable potential protégés, who are invited to submit applications. The winner is chosen by the mentor after personal interviews. So far, there have been protégés from 20 countries.

Rolex_Kapoor-Hlobo_Babyshark's Minority Report

Mentors and protégés spend a considerable amount of time together, interacting in many different ways, sometimes even collaborating on a work. Protégés receive a 25,000 Swiss-franc grant during the year and travel and other expenses are also covered. An additional 25,000 Swiss francs is available for each protégé after the year ends to fund a work, a publication, a performance or an event. Mentors are awarded 50,000 Swiss francs. Protégés also obtain international publicity for their work and time to develop their art, free from daily worries.

Protégés can become mentors themselves in future editions of the program. Some have changed disciplines and others have created new works.

(In the photos: Ben Frost & Brian Eno, Annemarie Jacir & Zhang Yimou/ Peter Sellars  & Maya Zbib, Anish Kapoor & Nicholas Hlobo/Hans Magnus Enzensberger & Tracy K. Smith)

TPB AFK – The Pirate Bay documentary

The Pirate Bay - Babyshark's Minority Report

The Berlinale is a truly cultural event and one of the most important dates in the film industry. The Berlin International Film Festival, as it is officially called, is known for giving the same importance to edgy, low-budget movies as to big-studio productions. It shows some 400 movies per year, most of them international or European premieres. Around 300,000 tickets are sold, and is attended by almost 20,000 professional visitors from 130 countries. Every genre, length and format is featured at the Berlinale. Whether its films for young audiences or the avant-garde and unfamiliar, the festival is famous for its unique approach, allowing works that are sometimes hard to classify, at the intersection between film and other creative disciplines. It also likes to feature the work of women and minorities.

This year one of the movies that has premiered at the Berlinale has been “TPB AFK”, a documentary about Swedish filesharing site The Pirate Bay, which offers a behind-the-scenes look at how a handful of very clever internet pioneers found themselves fighting a battle over access to information and creative content against the powerful movie and media companies who relentlessly hounded them. The documentary, by Swedish filmmaker Simon Klose, includes footage shot over four years and one of the central storylines of the film is the trial of Pirate Bay’s four founders. Although the men (Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm and Carl Lundström) were charged with facilitating illegal downloading of copyrighted material and sentenced to a year and hit with a 2.7 million euros fine, the website is still working. Not only that, the website claims to have today more than 25 million active users. It has been blocked by several governments, but access to it is relatively easy because censorship can be circumvented in many countries.

Klose, who does not hide his sympathy for the founders of The Pirate Bay and the ideas they defend, has released the film online under a Creative Commons license, which allows viewers to watch and copy the film for free. Watch the whole movie here: