Tamerlane Phillips Presents: Hilt!

This week’s guest: Miss Emily Jerome

Emily Jerome is a New Yorker-born and raised. She hates it when people react to that fact like native New Yorkers are a mythical species of miniature wooly mammoth. She is intent on reminding those people who ask in shock “Really? You are a New Yorker? Born and raised? Never met one a those” that there is a large public and private school system in New York City which reveals that native New Yorkers do, in fact, exist in rather vast abundance. She likes hearing Frank Zappa say “Communism doesn’t work cause people like to own stuff,” reading the John Updike line, “America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy,” and the latest Gary Wagner uttered when watching a mediocre play performed by out of work actors, “I am embarrassed to be human right now.”

Emily is a  journalist slash “more to come individual” whose current interests include Communist Cuba, information technology and its impact on democracy and free speech, Kingston, Jamaica, propaganda, Dries Van Noten’s shell and cork, day-glo jacket, the sex appeal of Robbie Robertson, the fact that Salem Bin Laden hired Syd Meade to design the Al-Saud’s private jet, wearing minks at vegan restaurants, FARC defectors, free dinners at Mr. Chow’s, and the “Happy Birthday Jesus!” sign that is up year round on that big church on the George W. Bush turnpike in Dallas, Texas. Emily seems naturally avoidant of stereotypes- having brought multi-media stories on Cuban Punk Rock music to The Economist, and sometimes freaking friends out by rattling off Mandarin to a Chinese taxi driver.

Tam: So, what do you think of Obama’s election?

Emily: In a way, I’m almost thankful that this country endured the contemptible Bush administration. Ultimately, it seems to have reinvigorated politics in this country. People in America seem to respond well to an enemy. More importantly, and as many people say, I don’t think Obama could have won without the Internet. It’s the re-birth of Populism in the computer age. It’s really incredible and unprecedented. What is most inspiring is that Obama has revealed a basic goodness in people.

Tam: How do you see the phenomenon of Obama’s election relating to the work you did in Cuba this past summer? You were focusing specifically on the impact information technology has on censorship?

Emily: I remember reading some years ago about an incident in southern China in which a collection of townships wished to protest the Chinese government against building a toxic power plant near their homes. As public protests are problematic there, a viral protest spread via text messaging. Over a million text messages were sent in one day contesting the issue, and the power plant was never built. I was always fascinated by this story and became interested in how the miniaturization and globalization of information technologies has allowed for a new kind of transmission of information and free speech, especially in countries where censorship remains the status-quo. In Cuba, I met a famous punk rock musician named Gorki Aguila whose music is scathingly anti-Castro. He was incarcerated in 2002 for nearly four years on account of his beliefs, and he is almost always prevented from performing in public. Instead he uses his home as a concert venue and makeshift recording studio sound-proofed with eggshell cartons. His fame and music, however, has spread through the underground dissemination of digital files, mainly transferred on flash drives. This past summer, he was incarcerated once again on charges of “social dangerousness” as his new album focused on Castro’s aging inner-circle and clearly struck a nerve among the Cuban politburo. International news agencies, human rights forums on the Internet, and his local fan base virulently protested his arrest. Thank God, Aguila was released. If this had been the 1960’s ? In the era of Cuba in which it was illegal to chew gum, have long hair, and there was no such thing as flash drives? Well, Aguila would have most likely died in jail, his voice unheard. Maybe his eyes would’ve been gauged out and sent to his family in a box. Technology hopefully makes free speech a whole different ballgame.

Tam: Do you think there are any pluses to the current global financial crisis?

Emily: Um, well, it certainly is terrible in the vast majority of ways, but I do think the US was undergoing this sort of insidious golden age, late Roman Empire phase. Everything from golden parachutes, to crane-riddled skylines, to inflated and oversaturated contemporary art markets, even to the Paris Hilton phenomenon, something was out of whack. Like unsustainable derivative trades, it seems extreme decadence has no alternative but to correct itself eventually.

Tam: What is the best meal that you’ve ever had?

Emily: This chicken, tofu and vegetable stew that I had at the artist Ai Wei Wei’s restaurant in Beijing. I love northern Beijingnese food. It’s really out of control. I have never ever found it in the states. People in the US really have no idea what any Chinese food is besides Szechuan.

Tam: What is the grossest meal you have ever had abroad?

Emily: Probably sheep’s stomach at a Berber’s house in the Moroccan desert. Woof.

Tam: What bands/songwriters/musicians are you really into right now?

Emily: America, Pure Prairie League, J.D. Souther, Neil Young, Michael Murphy, Lindsay Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood.

Tam: Who is your favorite photographer right now?

Emily: Marc Riboud for his subject-matter, maybe Daido Moriyama for his style and technique. Gursky is always incredible. There are a lot of cool photographers though, and I’m always learning. I do think documentary photography is grossly undervalued in our society.

Tam: Who is one of your favorite actors?

Emily: Richard E. Grant.

Tam: Which journalists do you really respect?

Emily: For documentary? Christiane Amanpour. For print? Tom Friedman, Steve Coll, and Oriana Fallaci.

Tam: Who do you think is the chicest woman?

Emily: Oriana Fallci.

Tam: What is your ideal living situation?

Emily: To be with the best husband ever, a bunch of snuggly kids and dogs, in a spa-like house hanging over an ocean cliff.

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