The Fall of a Chinese Pop Star, and Calvin Trillin’s Happy Marriage
For some years, Denise Ho was one of the most popular singers in Asia. A Hong Kong native, she performed the style known as Cantopop in mainland China and in foreign countries with Chinese émigré populations. But, as Ho told the staff writer , she began to have qualms about the often-saccharine content of the genre. “Is that all? Is that all I can do with my songs, my career—just for personal wealth, and all that?” She was one of the first stars in China to come out as a lesbian, which the government took in stride; but, when she took part in political demonstrations in Hong Kong, she was arrested on television and detained. Authorities began to cancel her concerts, and to block access to her work on the Internet in China. Her endorsements followed suit. “I expected to be banned from China, but I wasn’t expecting the government to react to it in such a way,” she says. “The main goal is to silence everyone—especially the younger generations—with fear.” Now Denise Ho is trying to rebuild her career as something unfamiliar in China: an underground protest singer. Plus: Kai-Fu Lee on China’s tech sector and the challenge it poses to Silicon Valley; and the longtime staff writer Calvin Trillin, who puts his happy marriage onstage in a new play, “About Alice.” “This play certainly would have failed Drama 101 . . . But you have to write about what you know.”
The Producer dream hampton Talks with Jelani Cobb about “Surviving R. Kelly”
For decades, it’s been an open secret that R. Kelly has allegedly kept young women trapped in abusive relationships through psychological manipulation, fear, and intimidation. His domestic situation has been compared to a sex cult. He was acquitted of child-pornography charges even though a video that appears to show him with a fourteen-year-old girl was circulated around the country. It was described only as the “R. Kelly sex tape.” Why has it taken so long for the reckonings of the #MeToo movement to catch up to him? Lifetime just aired “Surviving R. Kelly,” a six-part documentary by the producer dream hampton that airs the full breadth of the accusations against Kelly. (He continues to deny all charges of illegal behavior.) One young woman featured in the documentary left a relationship with Kelly, whom she met when she was a teen-age supporter outside the Chicago courtroom where he was being tried. “He was cruising eleventh graders on that trial,” hampton tells the New Yorker staff writer . “I mean, the hubris!”
Cobb and hampton discuss the complicated dynamics of accusing R. Kelly. “It’s a deep shame black women have, handing over black men to this system we know to be unjust and that targets them,” she says. “At the same time, black women are black people, and we too are targeted . . . . Most sexual-violence survivors don’t find justice in this system, regardless of race.”
Update: After our program went to air, RCA Records dropped R. Kelly from its roster.
For a French Burglar, Stealing Masterpieces Is Easier Than Selling Them
Vjeran Tomic has been stealing since he was a small child, when he used a ladder to break into a library in his home town, in Bosnia. After moving to Paris, he graduated to lucrative apartment burglaries, living off the jewels he took and often doing time in prison. He became known in the French press as Spider-Man, and he began to steal art. Tomic has a grand sense of his calling as a burglar; he considers it his destiny and has described his robberies as acts of imagination. He eventually carried a truly epic heist: a break-in at the Musée d’Art Moderne, in Paris, in which he left with seventy million dollars’ worth of paintings. But selling these masterpieces proved harder than stealing them, and that’s where Spider-Man’s troubles began. The contributor tells Vjeran Tomic’s story; excerpts from Tomic’s letters from prison are read by the actor Jean Brassard.
How “The Apprentice” Made Donald Trump, and a Boondoggle in Wisconsin
The staff writer Patrick Radden Keefe has reported on “The Apprentice” and its impact on Donald Trump—on how America saw Trump, and how Trump saw himself. Keefe spoke with Jonathon Braun, who was a supervising producer on “The Apprentice,” about how the show’s team reshaped Trump’s image, and how the news media are doing that same work for him now that he is President. Dan Kaufman, the author of “ ,” reads a poem for the New Year.
The Director Boots Riley on “Sorry to Bother You”
Boots Riley’s directorial début, “Sorry to Bother You,” blends a dark strain of comedy with a sci-fi vision of capitalism run amok. The film’s hero, Cassius Green, is a telemarketer who rises quickly in the ranks—eventually becoming a “power caller”—after he learns to use a “white voice” on the phone, mimicking the way white people are supposed to speak. As sharp as the film is on issues of race and identity, “Sorry to Bother You” ultimately takes capitalism, and the way it exploits labor, as its target. “There were a lot of things about capitalism that were forgiven by big media companies while Obama was in office,” Riley tells The New Yorker’s Doreen St. Félix in a live interview at the New Yorker Festival. “Things that we had said we were against under Bush.” “Sorry to Bother You” is, in part, a response to that loss of focus. Riley, who is forty-seven, got his start as a rapper; for many years, he led the political hip-hop band the Coup. He traces his interest in art as activism to an incident from 1989, when police officers in San Francisco beat two children and their mother in front of a housing project. Neighbors began protesting, spilling out onto the street and chanting lyrics from Public Enemy's “Fight the Power.” “It made me see what place music could have,” Riley tells St. Félix. “I knew, This is what I had to do.”