On Qatar, Joyce Carol Oates And Mimi Parker
The FIFA World Cup has kicked off amid laments about Qatar’s terrible human rights record, and FIFA’s greed in awarding them the Cup hosting rights in the first place. The criticism raining down on Qatar over its murderous treatment of migrant workers and its persecution of its LGBT community have to raise questions about what Qatar thinks it stands to gain from its huge investment in the tournament.
The scale of that investment has been staggering. Reportedly, Qatar has invested $300 billion into staging this World Cup – a sum that utterly dwarfs the combined amounts spent on staging the previous four tournaments in Russia 2018 ($11.6 billion) Brazil 2014 ($15 billion) South Africa, 2010 ($3.6 billion) and the $4.3 billion that Germany spent on staging the event in 2006.
So what does Qatar think it is getting out of that investment ? As a public relations event on the world stage, this World Cup has been delivering – to be charitable - a mixed result so far. The human rights issues may fade as the football kicks in. Even so… By the time the tournament ends, a lot more people around the globe will have come to know about Qatar, but for some of the wrong reasons. All but overlooked in the cost/benefit analysis has been the regional returns for Qatar.
Only seven years ago, Qatar’s neighbours – United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt – had joined in a concerted attempt to cut Qatar down to size by imposing a social and economic boycott of the country aimed at overthrowing its ruling sheikdom. Eventually, the embargo failed, and the Saudis called the whole thing off early in 2021. Although winning the World Cup hosting rights had triggered some of the regional animosity aimed at Qatar, the tournament has– ironically – also healed to heal those divisions. Sport may not bring people together in any significant way… But commerce does.
As soon as the boycott/embargo fell over, this happened:
Qatari officials quietly opened discussions about sharing the World Cup pie. The games, they insisted, would all be staged in Qatar, but its neighbours could partake in the tourism windfall. This made sense in practical as well as political terms: 1.2 million soccer fans are expected to attend the tournament, and Doha can’t accommodate them all, not even by offering rooms in giant cruise ships berthed in the harbor. Why not let them stay in nearby countries and arrange special flights that allow day trips to Qatar for matches?
Among other things, this sharing of the FIFA bounty has involved creating a new network of regional air links connecting Doha to Dubai, Muscat, Riyadh, Jeddah and Kuwait City:
The biggest beneficiary of this arrangement is the UAE, which had been the prime mover of the embargo: Of the more than 90 new daily flights into Qatar, 40 will be from the UAE, and Dubai, a 45-minute hop to Doha, will be the main gateway to the tournament. Saudi Arabia and Oman are counting on a spillover of tourists: If your team is eliminated in the first round, what easier place to console yourself than on a beach along the Red Sea or the Indian Ocean. Other countries to benefit from the World Cup include Turkey and Pakistan, which are supplying police and troops to keep the peace.
For Qatar, that’s not a bad return in validation and renewed goodwill from powerful neighbours who were – until very recently - trying to curb its ambitions and topple its leaders. And in case you’re worried about how FIFA – which has a rare talent for scoring own goals – is doing out of this, worry no more. FIFA stands to reap just over $5 billion in profit, a new record for the organisation. No wonder FIFA president Gianni Infantino is feeling a bit giddy these days:
"Today I have strong feelings. Today I feel Qatari, I feel Arab, I feel African, I feel gay, I feel disabled, I feel a migrant worker."
And rich. He forgot to mention rich.
Maybe some highly sensitive listeners might have had problems with RNZ’s Joyce Carol Oates interview, which has ended up being available only online. Too bad. IMO, it was a fascinating example of an interviewee refusing to be led by the question lines in directions that they found wanting, and this reluctance led to interesting insights into both participants. Ultimately, the prickliness proved to be more valuable than the cosy collusions and easy ‘revelations’ of interviewese, as it is normally spoken.
I’m taking this as an opportunity to recommend what is far and away the best film adaptation of a Joyce Carol Oates work. Namely, the 1985 film Smooth Talk. Laura Dern was only 15 when she got cast in the leading role. Smooth Talk is based on the famous Oates short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” that was referenced in Saturday’s Kim Hill interview, and which Oates dedicated to Bob Dylan – partly as a result of her listening a lot at the time to “Its All Over Now, Baby Blue.”
To mark the re-release of Smooth Talk a couple of years ago at the New York Film Festival, the festival organisers arranged a fascinating, hour long interview/conversation about the film (and the short story) between the film’s director Joyce Chopra, Laura Dern, and Joyce Carol Oates, deftly wrangled by interviewer Alicia Malone. The interview is available here, on Youtube. Stick with it. After the film festival preliminaries, the interview proper finally gets under way at about the four and a half minutes mark. But for fear of spoilers, I strongly suggest you see Smooth Talk first.
Oddly enough, Joyce Chopra was a friend of one of Marilyn Monroe’s husbands (the playwright Arthur Miller) and she lived for a while in the same house that Miller had bought for Marilyn. More to the point, Chopra also directed an earlier two part miniseries based on the same Joyce Carol Oates novel Blonde, that was recently and controversially re-made by Andrew Dominik. There was what seems to have been a key difference. The TV miniseries was scripted by a woman, the producer and screenwriter Joyce Eliason, who died earlier this year at the age of 87. Here’s a recent Hollywood Reporter interview with Chopra, in which she compared and contrasted her mini-series treatment of Blonde with her impressions of the Dominik film:
His film is not something that I could have conceived of. For me, Marilyn was the centre, really. One of the big differences is that Joyce Eliason created a lot of interviews in our script where Marilyn would speak directly, straight to camera, and we’re able to hear from her and connect to her in a very different way. That’s one of the biggest differences in the storytelling, aside from stylistically. For me, Marilyn was a strong character, with all that she went through. In the version that I worked on, Marilyn is smart and she tries as much as she can to do what she wants to do. You could say that she was a victim of the system — and of course, there were a lot of other actresses who went through such horrors at that time and all the way up to the Harvey Weinstein story.
But I guess I just had an entirely different sensibility about it all, because I didn’t see her foremost as a victim. The male gaze is an overused phrase now, but Andrew Dominik just had an entirely different passion. This is somebody who had been trying for 10 years to make his movie, and I deeply respect him for that — to follow through with your vision and your passion like that. I just wouldn’t have made the movie he made, and I didn’t.
Finally…. For decades before she hit her career high with Smooth Talk, Chopra had made documentaries. The most well-known of them would probably have to be Joyce at 34, which deals with the impact that her pregnancy had on her career. The film proved to be a difficult experience for some viewers:
Chopra recalls the amusing story of an investigative journalist storming out of a theatre muttering, “I want my money back. I thought it was a film about James Joyce, not some ugly dame having a baby!”
An earlier Chopra doco called Girls at 12 is an excellent half hour short film about how several girls in one classroom in an American school react to the gender role conditioning that they’re growing up amidst. Now 86, Chopra has just published her memoir, ironically titled Lady Director. Did I mention that her film Smooth Talk is really good?
Mimi Parker RIP
Over the course of three decades, the band Low – essentially, a married couple, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker – issued a series of fine albums that progressed from torchy, low key folk singing to embrace distortion and electronica, yet without ever changing the nature, pace and sensibility of their music. In fact, with their last two albums – Double Negative in 2018 and last year’s Hey What they seemed to be just hitting their stride.
A couple of weeks ago though, Parker died of ovarian cancer. There are literally dozens of tracks I could have picked – “ Monkey” Holy Ghost” Silver Rider” etc etc – and nearly all of them feature their harmonies, which seem to originate from the same shared mind.
For starters, here’s “Shame” from the 1995 album Long Division:
And from last year, here’s the haunting distortion-soaked beauty of “Days Like These…”
Sparhawk and Parker came from Duluth Minnesota. They are/were both lifelong Mormons. Their 1999 Christmas album featured some original seasonal songs, but also included their take on some of the classics. Somehow, they made chestnuts like “The Little Drummer Boy” “Blue Christmas” and “Silent Night” their own, while still being respectful of the tradition. The harmonies on “ “Silent Night” and the little known (to me) third verse make this well worn carol seem (almost) new again. Love’s pure light, indeed.
And finally, because the song and the video are so stunning, here’s “White Horses” from last year.