Powell's first three points there reiterate common complaints about NYPD crackdowns, but that last bit brings it home to the people. What our man, an expert in the field, is saying, is that New Yorkers on the whole aren't as interesting to interact with as they used to be. His implication is that we police ourselves?maybe even applying the broken-windows theory to our personalities?with the strictness of a million little Giulianis. Powell didn't write "yuppies" because he knows the key issue is neither race nor class. Cornballs are made, not born. It's a lifestyle choice, like implanting show tunes into rap songs or subscribing to Time Out. And it's in style.
The question is, how dangerous is it? Hiphop is divided on the issue, with opinions ranging from Powell's blithe lament to the compelling case for armed, Panther-esque resistance expressed on Dead Prez's absolutely unpromoted new album Let's Get Free (Loud). Various positions from between the extremes are represented on Rawkus' even-newer Hip-Hop for Respect maxi-single, which is the fruit of the "We Are the World"-style gathering of hiphop talent orchestrated by Mos Def and Talib Kweli in the wake of the Diallo shooting. The songs, featuring among others Kool G Rap, Pos from De La Soul, Common, Pharoahe Monch, Shabaam Sahdeeq, Breeze, El P and production work by Organized Noize, are hot. Mos Def's contributions are particularly powerful. The new nonprofit organization the single benefits, called the Hip-Hop for Respect Foundation, is planning a high school tour to teach kids all over America "what to do and what not to do if stopped by police." Assuming that "what to do" doesn't include shooting first?in which case they wouldn't get inside many schools?this indicates that the HHFRF is, at least for the moment, down with trying to live with things the way they are, as opposed to dying with 'em. Dead Prez say they'd rather die fighting than wait any longer for a change. Which message do you think is better for kids to hear: "be afraid" or "off the pig"? If the situation is such that American children need lessons on how to get harassed by bluecoats without getting killed, is there really a question? We fought the Red Coats over fuckin' taxes!
Maybe it makes more sense to admit that Rudy isn't as effective a fascist as he is a Museum publicist. It's obvious, really. His oft-stated belief that power resides in the state and is doled out to the people as the state sees fit (the exact opposite of American democracy, and the only thing the Mayor and the First Lady agree on) doesn't go over so well. But every time he mentions an art show, it becomes a hit. That brings up the best argument against works like Hans Haacke's piece (Sanitation) in the Whitney Biennial, which opens Thursday. (3/23, 945 Madison Ave. at 75th St., 570-3676.) What kind of totalitarian government is this, where the dictator can't even suppress?let alone take pride in?public comparisons between himself and more accomplished dictators? I think it's great that so many people recognize Giuliani's ideological kinship with WWII's villains. As a Jew, it makes me feel safe that this observation is enough of a cliche to make it into the Whitey Biennial. Of course, if a few more cornballs saw the Hillary/Evita connection, too, that'd be even better.
The cultural elite isn't so diligent about unmasking the maniacs within its ranks. Take for example the Oscar nomination bestowed upon Michael Mann's preposterously overheated The Insider. The title character's big revelation in this interminable movie?which treats the looting of tobacco companies by trial lawyers with enough gravitas to make Judgment at Nuremberg feel like Oklahoma! by comparison?is that "cigarettes are nothing but a delivery system for nicotine." As if motherfuckers smoked 'em for the fresh scent. God forbid someone in Hollywood or on the Upper West Side speaks out against the selective demonization, for purposes of state and oligarchic power, of the drugs they don't happen to use. Philip Morris should fight back with a drama exposing that Starbucks lattes are nothing but a delivery system for caffeine and martinis are nothing but a delivery system for alcohol. If Insider wins Best Picture (broadcast is Sun., 3/26, 8 p.m., on ABC), it'll prove that Hollywood is nothing but a delivery system for the propagandistic justification of top-down class warfare. (By the way, Judgment at Nuremberg is being screened as part of the Jewish cultural center Makor's series of "Oscar Losers," Weds. & Thurs., 3/22 & 3/23, 7:30 p.m., 35 W. 67th St., betw. Central Park W. & Columbus Ave., 601-1000, $8.)
There'll be plenty of smoldering butts at this week's edition of the Lollapalooza of the political spoken word scene, the Spitfire Tour. Sponsored this time around by Colleges.com, which from the looks of it seems to be a product funded by Business Week and McGraw Hill, Spitfire is unlikely to earn itself the coveted Giuliani Seal of Disapproval. Speakers include Andy Dick on the hazards of drugs, and MTV excreta Kennedy on personal responsibility. No wonder more kids are taking up smoking. If you were a young person out to change the world and this bullshit represented your putative route to activism, you'd prefer slow death too. (Tues., 3/28, 7 p.m. at Wetlands, 161 Hudson St. at Laight St., 386-3600, $15/$12 adv.)
But don't kick the bucket without first attending the four-day "Art of Dying III Conference," lest you perish like a clod. Presented by the Open Center and Tibet House from Friday until Monday, AoD III will resemble Rocky III by similarly combining the excitement of its two predecessors into a single package. Yet, it will differ in that at the conference no gentiles will receive a lesson on the Mourner's Kaddish, and there probably won't be a rampaging black man with a Mohawk running around predicting "pain." I apologize for mocking this well-meaning event, but, then again, come on. A bunch of new-agers powwowing over the most environmentally sensitive way to launch their yoga-toned bodies into the great beyond? Looking for the bright side of death is beyond corny, and New Yorkers of all people should know better. Though there is one African-American, Alice Walker (on ancient cultures' attitudes toward death), and a Jew, Simcha Paull Raphael (on "The Afterlife Journey of the Soul in Jewish Mysticism: Implications for Hospice and Bereavement Work") picking up checks for this event, it seems most of the roster spots reserved for Ethnic Death Experts went to representatives of that most mystical hemisphere of all, the East. Over there, God is really cool?not so uptight about, like, sex and stuff. (3/24-27, at the New York Marriott Hotel, 3 World Trade Center, 800-862-7538, $330, $225 st./s.c.)
Back to planet Earth, and the cornballs. Monday (3/27) initiates "National Clutter Awareness Week," according to the Institute for Business Technology. This Stratford, CT, organization has its briefs in a twist over e-mail, which they say wastes time if not meticulously organizized. "More importantly," they claim, "the cost of e-mail inefficiency for the worker making $20.00 per hour can amount to $10,400.00 annually." That's right, hourly earners: goofing off costs you money. Why not take a moment out of your busy work day to explain to Managing Principal Richard.Wirth@snet.net the hole in IBT's logic? Take your time (and remember that vague subject headers upset him). It's the concerned citizens, after all, who make this the Greatest City on Earth.