Archive for the ‘Conspiracy Theories’ Category

Tehching Hsieh’s Lessons for Quarantine

June 2, 2020

Earlier on in #quarantinelife, I was a virtual ideas machine.  Seriously golden nuggets were just falling out of my mouth every time I spoke.  I actually was a little annoyed, because I had more ideas in the span of eight weeks than I had in the previous three years, when I actually had at least a little free time to execute them.  Now that time is basically over, which is sad but also perhaps freeing, in its way.

One of the ideas I had during the brief moment of intellectual fertility was to interview the performance artist Tehching Hsieh about what he has to say about how to live under quarantine.  Hsieh is famous for his series of One Year Performances: for one year each, he punched a time clock every hour on the hour (sometimes called Time Clock Piece), never went indoors, lived in an 11’6″ x 9′ x 8′ cell (Cage Piece) and remained tied by an 8-foot rope to fellow performance artist Linda Montano (Rope Piece), with whom he was not romantically linked at the time and actually didn’t know before the piece began (this feels important to point out).


The one I thought spoke to the most to our current moment was the performance where he lived in the cell, because of the obvious comparison that while we were all feeling cooped up, he was quite literally cooped up: no Netflix, no sourdough starters, no Times digital subscription or Quarantine Chat or anything at all.  He didn’t even make eye contact with the visitors who were allowed in every three weeks (totaling nineteen times a year).  This is how he described his life during that year:

Thinking was the focus of this piece and was also my way of survival.  While doing this piece, thinking was my major job.  It doesn’t matter what I was thinking about, but I had to continue thinking, otherwise I would lose control not only of myself but also of the ability to handle the whole situation.  It was difficult to pass time.  I scratched 365 marks on the wall, one for each day.  I had to calculate time; although I may have broken the rule of no writing, it helped me to know how many days I had passed, how many more days I had to go.  


What I needed was the use of my confined body to carry out the work, while at the same time, my mind, detached from the confinement, was free to think and to advance. I am as free in the cage as outside.  My work here is not focusing on political imprisonment or on the self-cultivation of Zen retreats, but on freedom of thinking and on letting time go by. 


He also talked about dividing his cell into different “rooms” in his mind, and breaking up his day by going on a walk “outside” (aka around the cell) and then returning “home” (his bed).

But then the more I thought about this, the more I realized that for me, actually the most analogous situation was the piece he did with Linda Montano.  I am, after all, not alone in my quarantine, but inside a decently-sized-for-NYC-but-not-big apartment 99% of my time with two small children and my husband (so actually, my version of this would be being tied to another artist and two young monkeys).  I’m sure some young-and-in-love types would hear about this piece and be like, “Oh, that sounds so lovely, being with someone all the time!”  But my response is: OMG no.  And it turns out that actually, Hsieh and Montano ended up really disliking each other.  Hsieh puts it diplomatically (“Linda and I were exposed to each other.  That brought complexity.”) but Marina Abramovic, in supplementary material provided for the publication of the book Out of Now, which chronicles Hsieh’s work, provides more insight:

But with Tehching and Linda there was no love.  I was really puzzled by scratches above their two separate beds where they slept.  Later on, I heard that they didn’t get along and in frustration they scratched the walls with their nails.  They had made this promise and they are both very fatalistic in their work so they didn’t want to break it.  

Interestingly, my husband felt like the piece that best mirrored our current times is the Time Clock Piece.  Why?  Because he is being asked to “clock in” without any sort of actual supervision and without actually going anywhere, I think was the gist.  Not to say that Hsieh didn’t have people to whom he was accountable––usually lawyers or other third parties were in charge of making sure he was doing what he agreed to.  And my husband also pointed out, intelligently, that the homeless populations in cities affected by COVID-19 might be represented by the piece where Hsieh stays outdoors entirely for a year, as many might be trying to actively avoid shelters, where crowding makes contagion even more likely.


So I wrote to Hsieh, asking him if maybe he’d be willing to be interviewed and tell me a bit about how he feels his art relates to this moment, etc.  And he responded quickly!  And nicely!  And said no.

The beginning of his email read: I’m open to the connection you are building between the current situation and my work, at the meantime my work is about passing time, rather than how to pass time, I’m afraid it won’t the best for me to talk about my work in relation to the current situation.

Which reads a little like fancy art world speak for, “You obviously didn’t get my point, plebeian” to me.  But yes, of course I do understand that allowing time to continue on passively is not the same thing as figuring out what to do with your time (eye roll emoji).  That doesn’t negate the obvious question here: what on earth did you think about for an entire year?!

Hope you are doing well, although we all feel constrained in a way, at least we still have free thinking.

Said a person living with two toddlers… never.

Lego Auschwitz

March 29, 2020

Libera, Lego Concentration Camp

From the beginning, Konzentrationslager caused a huge sensation, with viewers split on whether it was an important work or a travesty. Depicting genocide with a toy made people uncomfortable. Some Holocaust activists saw the work as trivializing the experiences of survivors, while others disagreed. The Jewish Museum in New York City displayed the sets for several months in 2002 as part of an exhibit on Nazi imagery in modern art.

Even LEGO joined in the criticism, complaining that [artist Zbigniew] Libera hadn’t told the company what he was intending when it donated the bricks and that this contribution didn’t constitute sponsorship as implied by the packaging’s labeling. LEGO tried to get Libera to stop displaying the work, backing down from its pressure only after the artist hired a lawyer.

From The Cult of Lego by John Baichtal and Joe Meno

The Butlers of Post WWI England Are the Millennial Tech Company Underlings of Today

March 8, 2020

“In fact, a comparison of how I might interpret a ‘distinguished household’ with what the Hayes Society understood by that term illuminates sharply, I believe, the fundamental difference between the values of our generation of butlers and those of the previous generation.  When I say this, I am not merely drawing attention to the fact that our generation had a less snobbish attitude as regards which employers were landed gentry and which were ‘business.’  What I am trying to say –– and I do not think this an unfair comment –– is that we were a much more idealistic generation.  Where our elders might have been concerned with whether or not an employer was titled, or otherwise from one of the ‘old’ families, we tended to concern ourselves much more with the moral status of an employer.  I do not mean by this that we were preoccupied with our employers’ private behavior.  What I mean is that we were ambitious, in a way that would have been unusual a generation before, to serve gentlemen who were, so to speak, furthering the progress of humanity.  It would have been seen as a far worthier calling, for instance, to serve a gentleman such as Mr. George Ketteridge, who, however humble his beginnings, has made an undeniable contribution to the future well-being of the empire, than any gentleman, however aristocratic his origin, who idled away his time in clubs or on golf courses.”

Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day



March 4, 2020

The Coronavirus lewk is this cape with gauze face mask from Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

Inspiration Everywhere!

November 7, 2019

Honestly the LEWK is these Pacific Northwestern Slavic anti-vaccine protestors.

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November 4, 2019

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Obviously TECH EXPERTS say that.

Good-Natured Rant Friday

October 11, 2019

So I stayed up too late last night, and I’m waiting to hear back on about ten things that I’d rather be doing than the things that I’m attempting to plug through that lack external motivators (that is confusing but it’s not really interesting enough to clarify) which means I have to come up with something else to do.  Herewith, an attempt:

Probably about two weeks ago, my husband was walking through midtown when he passed a church, or something––I can’t remember the exact circumstances, but he somehow ended up faced with some non-denominational Christian literature.  Knowing me as well as he does, he grabbed a little pamphlet entitled Keeping Sabbath, by The Reverend Doctor Donna Schaper, prolific author and senior minister at the Judson Memorial Church in Manhattan, which is a Baptist institution with a long history of artistic parishioners and institutional support for the arts.

The Reverend Doctor Schaper is a wonderful writer (I’ve visited her website); the power of her spiritual thought is evident even in her obligatory biography.  It’s really great to see literally anyone grappling with issues of faith in modern life.

And yet and yet and yet… her little pamphlet Keeping Sabbath is really kind of ridiculous!  Let me break down why, using her full text and inserting my comments throughout:

“The scariest thing I ever touched was not a spider or a snake or my family’s frog or a jellyfish in the ocean.  The scariest thing I ever touched was my power to choose wellness or illness, peace or anxiety, chocolate or black raspberry, to sleep longer or to wake sooner, to live for myself or others, to live by the tyrannical ticking of the clock or with a deeper sense of longer time.”

So far, so poetic.  Some might quibble with the idea of choice vis-a-vis “wellness or illness” but I see what she’s getting at.

“Keeping Sabbath is about choosing to live and not just exist.”

I suppose in a 21st century Instagram graphirmation-sense, sure.*

“We live in a time famine––a culture that starves us for time.  Technology encourages us to work 24/7, and the boundaries between home and work have dissolved.”

Yes, 1000%.  But…

“We need to discover some new ways of keeping the Sabbath.”

“New”?  This deserves further investigation.

The Biblical Understanding”

This part is mostly background, so won’t require much explication.

“The Biblical Sabbath is a weekly day of rest commanded by God in the Old Testament.  It is first mentioned in the book of Genesis, where God rests on the seventh day of creation.  The fourth of Ten Commandments calls God’s people to imitate God by keeping the seventh day holy (Exodus 20:8-11).  It is also understood as a remembrance of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:12-15).  It is a day when the Israelites were commanded to stop all work.

“Sabbath observance helped Jews retain their distinctiveness during the Diaspora, a time when they lost their land and homes.  For centuries, Jews, Christians and Muslims continued to set aside a day of the week for rest.  For Christians, this became the first day of the week, in celebration of the resurrection of Christ.

“Six days we work, on the seventh day we rest.  This might be the Biblical ideal, but it is nearly impossible in the world today.”

This, I fear, is a big overstatement.  Just ask me or any member of a religion that adheres to a strict version of the Sabbath, which includes conservative Anabaptists like the Amish, some Mormons, and Orthodox Jews.  Perhaps the Amish are a bad example here, as they are not interested (broadly speaking) in participating in “the world today.”  But within Orthodox Judaism, even from the stringent, insular Satmar world all the way down through people like my family, who are Modern Orthodox, many manage to hold down real jobs in the “secular” world and still uphold the laws of the Sabbath.

“Most of us no longer work agriculturally or even industrially.  Instead, we work online more and more, and our work extends into all of our waking hours.  Even days off can be consumed with busyness, housework, and errands.  We find ourselves ready for a spiritual transition for the realities we face.  We find ourselves seeking––and needing––new ways of keeping Sabbath.”

True, there is an enormous hunger for the peace and sanctity and separateness of the Sabbath.  And there are many, many ventures that attempt to re-package the Sabbath for the spiritual dabbler/burnout millennial/techno-skeptic, many of them engineered by the very people who are responsible for the systemic burnout we’re experiencing: Digital Sabbath, National Day of Unplugging, Camp Grounded and other digital detox retreats, 5:2 Digital Diet––the list goes on and on.

The Essence of Sabbath”

“Sabbath is a time when we are down, not up; receiving, not giving; being, not doing.  It is time set apart that is different from ordinary time.  It is special time, when we reflect on our actions and let their meanings seep into our souls.  Sabbath is moving into the eternal from the daily, to a little bit of heaven from a lot of earth.  It is departure from our biologically allotted time into God’s time.  Sabbath provides the space to remember that all we have comes from God, and our lives are dependent on God, not our own labor.”

Yep, true.

“This time-outside-of-time can be different for different people.  For example, one person might experience gardening as work, whereas for another, it is precious Sabbath time.  Some might be able to set aside a whole day.  For others, Sabbath hours or Sabbath moments throughout one’s week might be more realistic.”

Uh, no.  Of course, a big caveat here is that I’m speaking from an Orthodox Jewish perspective; technically, the rules of Jewish Shabbat do not apply to non-Jews (Jesus famously declared himself as arriving to uproot and supplant halakha).  However, as she made the point about Shabbat being a major factor in Jewish continuity, I feel that it’s important to examine why we’ve been so successful at it critically and thoroughly.

While the Sabbath is characterized by a sense of serenity and freedom, it is not a time during which we relax for relaxation’s sake, or indulge in activities that fit our own personal definitions of relaxation.  What qualifies as appropriate conduct on Shabbat is actually extremely regimented: myriad activities categorized as one of the 39 melachot (“work”), some of them wholly pleasant and totally appropriate during the week, would not be permissible on shabbat.  This includes gardening, for reasons that aren’t worth getting into here (there’s probably a rule of thumb one could come up with, which is like, “If you wonder whether it’s allowed on Shabbat, the answer is likely no”).  Of course, picking your own time for shabbat, and deciding on the duration of said shabbat, would not be allowed, either.

The dirty little secret in religion is that when there are clear expectations of conduct, people rise to the occasion.  We are seeing this play out in religious life all over the world: in Judaism, the more liberal denominations, which emphasize how adherents are not beholden to ___ (insert halakhic stricture here), are essentially hemorrhaging members, while the Orthodox world is booming.  Of course, there are many other factors for this that I don’t mean to deemphasize (the major one being high birth rates) but you cannot discount the fact that an expectation of consistent involvement results in consistent involvement.  Because so much of what is required of us is communal––praying in a group, particularly but not limited to on Shabbat, being just one example, which necessitates living in proximity to a synagogue––we naturally band together, in order to continue to uphold those expectations.  We become an island in a vast sea of cultural difference.  It is because of those clear expectations, and because of that separation from the dominant culture (relative, depending on your sect/denomination), and not in spite of these things, that the Sabbath is for us a lived reality (not a modern “impossibility”) while for others, its value is much coveted, but the thing itself remains out of reach.

“Sabbath Observance Today”

“We may continue to live a frazzled, harried life, or we may decide to live a more peaceful one.  We have choices, not full choice or total freedom, but choices within the narrow places that work and life have become.”

Even as someone who is shomer Shabbat, I’m guilty as charged on this one.

“How might we live optimally in the midst of this twenty-first-century time famine?  How might we experience the gift of Sabbath?”

You do it by… observing the Sabbath!

“If we can’t keep Sabbath the way our ancestors did, perhaps we can figure out something new.  Consider these options, spiritually and practically.  Do not think of them as yet another ‘should’ or obligation, but as options to consider––a quiet ‘may.'”

Uh well, for Jews it is actually a pretty clear obligation.  I’ll admit here to being a Shabbat enthusiast and, if I had it in me, I’d proselytize for it.  I don’t care much when my unaffiliated Jewish friends (of which I have many) don’t keep kosher, but I will admit to finding it sad when they eschew Shabbat.  I think Rev. Dr. Schaper here is pandering, insofar as people in the 21st century very intensely dislike being told they *have* to do something.  But being obligated is not necessarily a bad thing: it increases your chance of follow-through if you feel beholden to a person or a force outside of yourself.  If you make the rules and only you know if you break them, then you are probably not going to care very much if/when you waver.

“1. Give yourself permission to take some Sabbath time.  Tell yourself that you may keep Sabbath, not that you must.  Take Sabbath off your ‘to do’ list and let it emerge from a deeper place in you.”

Counterpoint: think about exercising.  Lots of us (myself included) dislike it.  We dread doing it.  In the minutes before our class begins, we’re asking ourselves why we ever thought this would be a good idea.  But we feel––correctly!––obligated to do it, because we know it’s good for us.  The beginning of the class, we struggle, then in the middle––usually for me this comes around three-quarters of the way through––we reach a place of transcendent focus.  We’re all muscle, no mind.  Afterward, we are always glad we went.

Shabbat is kind of like that.  The lead-up is often very hectic: scrambling to finish the food, rip the toilet paper (it’s a thing), strategically turn off and on the lights, etc.  When we first start observing it, we might find it annoying to abstain from so much, or lonely not being able to call or text anyone.  But as the hours pass, and we move naked through the world, existing with a mindfulness even a Goldman Sachs meditation teacher can’t attain, we rise above.  The feeling COMES FROM the doing, not the other way around.  As the Jews said at Sinai, na’aseh v’nishma: we will do and we will listen.  Scholars have interpreted this to mean that for Jews, the primacy of law takes precedence over understanding.  This is a very anti-millennial idea, but it gets the job done, trust me.

“2. If you have two ‘free’ days a week, designate one for errands and personal maintenance and the other for spiritual leisure.”

If you are not Jewish or don’t have a Shabbat practice, this seems like sound advice.

“This spiritual leisure could be tennis, yoga, or walking, or it could be sitting, reading, or mindlessly watching TV.”

SO.  This.  Well.  Yoga, walking, sitting and reading are all fine by me (and Hashem)!  Tennis could be problematic, depending on certain factors.  TV, though, is wrong by any faith identification.

Obviously for Jews, you cannot watch TV on Shabbat, because it’s muktzah (literally “set aside”).  But I think there’s an argument to be made for outlawing TV even in your DIY Shabbat.  Recall the exercise analogy above.  This is useful here.  A lot of times, the things we *think* will be restorative end up contributing to the problem in the first place.  We don’t want to exercise because we’re tired, so we don’t go on a run, even though it’s been shown that exercise improves overall energy levels.  We want to watch TV because it seems relaxing, but when we’ve finally closed our Netflix six hours later, we feel gross.  To switch analogies, it’s a bit like indulging in cake: it looks delicious and we think it will make us feel nice, and it does in the immediate moment, but when we overindulge (which we do often, as sugar and television––particularly streaming services––are designed to keep us coming back) we feel worse.

There’s another issue here, and that’s the long arm of commerce.  On Shabbat, you get a break from thinking of yourself as a consumer (this is especially important in purchase-happy America); television, to contrast, actively encourages consumerism.  Even on a streaming platform, where you’re often spared commercials or ads, you’re still being prompted to continue to pay for the privilege of watching.  On Shabbat, to contrast, we get to see ourselves as creatures who do not need to deal with money in order to live happily, thereby elevating ourselves onto a higher, less earthly plane.

“3. Practice living intentionally in the present moment, noticing the sounds and sights of the world around you, but also noticing your own thoughts.  The goal of Sabbath keeping is to empty the mind of its obligations and let the non-obligated or seemingly useless flow in.”

Yeah, sure.  Technically speaking, we should be talking about and focusing on spiritual matters, but we’re not perfect (yet) so that doesn’t always happen.  And she’s right to say you should “empty the mind of its obligations”: generally speaking, work-related chatter is frowned upon.

“4. Try imagining the week as twenty-one units––morning, afternoon, and evening each counting as a unit.  Instead of one full day of Sabbath, set aside six units, a couple of afternoons, a couple of evenings, a couple of mornings or even parts thereof.  Reflect on your spiritual accomplishments and do so in a very gentle way.”

This is nice.  I do wonder, though, if you’re setting up your own system, whether or not it would end up falling apart because the demarcation between serendipitous relaxation and “Sabbath-level” relaxation are just too blurry.  When are you idly daydreaming, and when are you having a micro-Sabbath?  This might not matter in the long run for many, but I think if you aren’t a naturally regimented person, you might lose the focus required to sustain a practice with these kinds of vague prompts.  Or you could just think anything nice is Shabbat.  I could see someone arguing, “Well, why can’t you just decide what you like and what works for you?”  Honestly, it’s not nice, but my answer to this is: because generally speaking people are not good at this.  They do all kinds of things in the name of pleasure that are frivolous or pointless or even actively harmful: being lazy, drinking too much, smoking, scrolling through Instagram for hours at a time, and on and on.  I don’t trust people on the whole to make good decisions, without at least some direction.

“5. Custom design your Sabbath practice to fit your job, your family, and your commute.  For example, you might even keep Sabbath on your commute.  Rest, pray, or listen to music.”

Oh boy.  I think we basically covered this one already, but let me say again: Shabbat is not for the sake of your work!  If you engage in this kind of thinking, you are not committing to the paradigm shift necessary to step away from the system that created this burnout-inducing time-famine in the first place.  A Hasidic story, but I don’t know the exact provenance: “A small congregation procured Torah scrolls, but they were too big for the synagogue’s ark.  ‘Should we cut the scrolls to fit the ark?’ parishioners asked. Of course, the answer was no: you build an ark to fit the scrolls.”  And such as it is with the Shabbat: you don’t change it around to fit your life, you change your life so you can have the sabbath.

“6. Ritualize your life.  Do email at set times in the morning or afternoon––or when you decide––and live free of it the rest of the day.  Tell people what you are doing: ‘You can expect an answer after 4:30.'”

Good advice, not really Shabbat-specific though.

“7. Turn off your cell phone and stay away from other technology while on your custom-designed Sabbath(s).”


“8. Ritualize your weekly exercise program.  Let your body and soul say hello to each other in a morning or evening walk.  Take yoga.  Schedule weight lifting.  Make a plan for you.”

Again, good advice, but not about Shabbat.

“9. Eat at least one sit-down meal a day, perhaps with a tablecloth or cloth napkin you keep in your desk drawer.  Refuse to eat take-out food or ‘grab and go’ meals.”

This is a big part of our Shabbat actually!  Observant Jews make an effort to clean their houses before sundown and set out tablecloths or use placemats for the meals.  Meals tend to be formal and leisurely.

“10. Take your time doing something you don’t have to do.  Write a letter to an old friend, clean a corner of your apartment, or dress up really beautifully.  Look at an old photograph album.  Turn the pages slowly and remember yourself at an earlier stage.”

This is confusing to me, but maybe because I don’t find cleaning restful.  It’s also just a definition issue: when are you cleaning for your Sabbath, and when are you cleaning because your house is dirty?  What separates the experience of writing to an old friend because you should from the experience of writing to an old friend because you want to––and what if both things are true?  If you decide what Sabbath is, and it could be anything, isn’t it then really… nothing?

“Sabbath keeping is a way for us to live more deeply, within the constraints that are clear in our lives.  Those who observe a regular Sabbath say that it brings greater presence and depth to their work and to the rest of their lives.  Sabbath is an invitation to grace and peace, each with its source in God’s original time and ways.”

Then there is a short closing prayer which I’m not going to include here because I don’t have anything to say about it.

The ending reiterates some problematic points from earlier in the pamphlet: the idea that we have to accept modernity’s overreach as at least somewhat inevitable, and that the Sabbath is a way for us to renew ourselves for those lives that we are finding difficult enough to seek refuge from in the first place.  To which I say: no.  Shabbat should not be thought of as an exercise in hashtag-wellness, in which we do whatever we feel will best rejuvenate ourselves for the grind of the week ahead, nor should it, or any other faith-based ritual, be thought of as something that can be tailored beyond recognition to fit the zeitgeist, particularly when the zeitgeist is as baldly and grossly capitalistic and dehumanizing as ours is.  As Abraham Joshua Heschel summarized it so eloquently in his book on the subject, Jews consider Shabbat the culmination of the week, the true essence of our lives, not a caesura in our being; we don’t have shabbat for the sake of work, but rather the other way around.  Without experiencing that dramatic shift in valuation, you will not experience true sabbath rest.

And with that, I’m off to shower before candle lighting!  Just want to reiterate that I really admire Schaper––she seems like a profound writer and thinker, seriously!––I just think dumbing down religion and casting off faith’s obligations in the name of filling the pew seats actually backfires in the end!  The numbers bear that out!  Ok, Shabbat Shalom, friends!

*”Graphirmation: my personal portmanteau for artful social media posts that include an affirmation statement, such as, “You’re worth it!”  Example, below:

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More Visuals!

September 5, 2019

I hate to post so many visuals and so few words, but how creepily similar are these Goop-favorite guru twins to those killer yoga twins from Hawaii that made headlines a few years back?

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COINCIDENCE?  I think I’ll be skipping the next manifesting weekend.

My Heroes

September 4, 2019

The subtitle says it all.  If there are any protests of this kind planned for NYC, PLEASE reach out to me––have saw, will travel!


Fact-Checking the L&O SVU Episode Based on Jeffrey Epstein

August 21, 2019

Amidst the relentless coverage of the Jeffrey Epstein case, I had a nagging thought: “Didn’t Law and Order SVU do an episode based on Epstein like, ten years ago?”  Actually, let’s be honest: because I have an encyclopedic knowledge of Law and Order SVU, the thought, more precisely, was, “I am 100% positive Law and Order SVU did an episode based on Jeffrey Epstein.”  So, because I was recently exhausted with nothing better to do (that’s basically my default state these days), and because I felt like everyone else in media is getting eyeballs/money off the Epstein scandal, I should track it down and rewatch it and then blog insipidly about it.

The episode in question is from season 12, which aired in 2011 (Epstein pled guilty to soliciting prostitution in 2010, and was registered as a sex offender in New York in 2011, so it was very much RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES).  The season itself features excellent cameos from Skeet Ulrich (he’s an LA detective with the very detective-y name of Rex Winters), Taryn Manning (kiddie porn ring survivor), Rose McGowan as a beguiling but very facially immobile swinger, and Henry Ian Cusick as a guy who raped his sister when they were kids and then the sister, who he claimed had taken her own life, shows up and… doesn’t have a Scottish accent like Cusick does?  How hard can it be to find an actress to do an accent or just hire, like, a Scottish actress?  Mysteries abound!

Anyway, on to episode 15, titled “Flight”!

We open on a flight to Paris.  An American couple, the wife clearly sparring with Alexander Payne’s heroine in Paris, Je T’aime for worst tourist French ever (love ya, Carol)!  All of a sudden, a screech from across the aisle!  A young girl begins hitting the man in the seat next to her.  She yells something to the flight attendant, and a strapping young gentleman from a few rows back jumps up and slugs the seat mate.  “ZE KID SAID ZEES PAHRVERT TRIED TO RAPE HER!”  (I wanted to add pictures but apparently I’m too low tech to figure out how to screen shot while watching Amazon Prime; I shall do my best to get a little visual aid in here, though.)

Because the girl, whose name is Dominique, has already returned to Paris, Benson and Stabler have to interview her via Skype or whatever the police equivalent of that is.  On the call, Dominique describes going to New York for what she thought was a modeling job, but then being taken to a party hosted by a “billionaire” named Jordan (they didn’t bother to change the first initial; bold move)!  “We were just his presents,” Dominique tells them (a recent disturbing report says Epstein bragged to Virginia Roberts Giuffre that his model agent friend gifted him French triplets for his birthday; unclear whether that was common knowledge when this SVU episode was being workshopped).  At the mansion where the party was happening, Jordan said he wanted a massage and instructed Dominique to take off her clothes.  He rapes her, apparently brutally, as he has to call a doctor to examine her injuries.  When the detectives ask Dominique to return to New York to testify, she responds JAMAIS as she storms out of the gendarmerie (I’m only 10% sure that’s the right word for this).  And like, ok, fair enough, Dominique!


Cue the famous intro.

After everyone’s favorite theme song, we find Benson and Stabler giving some crucial background to Ice-T: the alleged rapist is Jordan Hayes, “a billionaire defense contractor [fictionalized: Epstein worked in money, somehow] and personal friend of just about everyone who has the power to take away our pensions.”  It’s kind of unclear what he’s saying here, but it is true Epstein had a lot of famous friends from a lot of different walks of life (Woody Allen, Donald Trump, Bill Gates and Katie Couric make bedfellows); it does not seem he was well connected within the NYPD, because despite getting a crazy sweetheart deal in 2010, mostly orchestrated in Florida, a New York judge did not allow him to drop from a level three sex offender to a level one.  Yay, New York!


Not the greatest likeness, but they claimed he wasn’t based on anyone!

A bit about Hayes’s birthday bash was published in the newspaper, so the squad, with their best suspicious expressions on, listens to Cragen read the guest list, which includes “a former President” (ahem, Bill Clinton).  Munch then goes to the newfangled giant computer television thing (does any NYPD precinct have as much money as these guys?) and instantly calls up a giant photo of Hayes.

“You know, he owns his own private plane,” Olivia says.

Soon enough, Benson and Stabler are off to Teterboro (where Epstein’s actual private plane flew from) to check the records to confirm Dominique arrived on Jordan’s plane.  The customs guy is super nice!  Honestly, is this not the nicest face you’ve ever seen?


He tells the detectives Hayes often flies over “royalty, dignitaries, celebrities, models” [true: Epstein flew lots of famous people on his plane].  They go through the photos the customs agent took of passengers, and there’s a whole other woman they hadn’t even heard of!  Enter Ghislaine Maxwell, who, in this episode, is not a British socialite but an American trust fund baby named Dahlia Jessup.  The customs guy describes her as Hayes’s “on-again, off-again girlfriend”: “I read Page Six.”

Benson and Stabler go to talk to the all-female flight crew (I could make a joke about feminism here but I won’t), and Benson says, “Something tells me that Hayes’s glass ceiling is the one over his bed.”  GOOD ONE, BENSON.

After getting stonewalled by the flight crew (one flight attendant looked like she was about to blab but the pilot put an end to that), the detectives head over to see Dahlia Jessup.  Jessup is a caricature of a spoiled New York socialite: she barely looks at them, rolling her eyes as she answers their questions, dashing around her atelier (“I just started a clothing line”) hacking with scissors at the hems of dresses that are too dowdy for her tastes.  Would a designer ever do that, even to a piece they hated?  I doubt it.   Anyway, the detectives trick her into the slipping the name of the doctor who treated Dominique the night of the party.  But, there’s a problem: the doctor named Ari in attendance that night was not the guy who treated the girl (“I certainly would have remembered doing a pelvic!)”  Apparently there are 52 doctors named Ari in New York City.  That’s it?  I would have expected more.


Dahlia Jessup is the Ghislaine Maxwell of this episode

In the squad room, they go over some details about Hayes’s life, including that he owns a private island (as we all know now, this is true) and is a big philanthropist (I guess it’s true, too, although he gave to a lot of causes that arguably didn’t need his money, like, uh, Harvard).  Benson reads on something Wikipedia-like that Hayes is a big hypochondriac (is this true?  No idea, but I would not be surprised) and always travels with his physician.  For some reason the ersatz Wiki actually lists the doctor’s name, but as the detectives are walking out to question him, Jordan Hayes exits the elevator followed by two men, one of whom is definitely the Alan Dershowitz stand-in.  It’s about to go down.

Personally I don’t feel that if the producers were really going for a Jeffrey Epstein vibe, Colm Feore was a good choice.  He definitely tries to be menacing, and he’s got the whole ugly-sweater look down, but he’s too cartoonishly evil.  Epstein was said to have been sort of reserved and charming, which allowed him to fly under the radar (well, that, and his fortune, no matter how exaggerated).  I don’t know, maybe I’m just reacting to Feore’s being bald, in contrast to Epstein’s full head of hair.


Anyway, Jordan Hayes shows up at the precinct with a rather bizarre defense: he claims that pubescent Moreau raped HIM.  The detectives have to feign sympathy even though they’re pretty sure he ain’t a victim.  As far as I know, this kind of thing never happened with the actual Epstein, but I wouldn’t put anything past that guy.  The Dershowitz stand-in is a little blustery, but they could have done a lot more with his character.  (Side bar: my mother-in-law once saw Alan Dershowitz playing naked volleyball on a public beach in Martha’s Vineyard about twenty-five years ago.)

So Hayes claims he went into his massage room (Epstein was indeed a massage freak) and thought he was being rubbed down by a gal pal of his (later revealed to be Jessup) but then opened his eyes and saw a stranger.  He couldn’t discern her age in the dark, but he still wanted her to stop.  Instead, she threatened him.  After Benson exits the room in disgust, Stabler thinks he’s pulled a gotcha by telling Hayes that Dominique couldn’t have threatened him, as she doesn’t speak English.  Then Hayes looks up at him with these piercing green eyes and says something in an exaggeratedly villainesque French.  It’s supposed to be an intense moment but comes off a bit corny.  Except that just before he leaves the office, Hayes turns to Stabler and says, “If it hadn’t happened to me, I wouldn’t believe it either,” which is a pretty good parting line.

Munch and Fin go to the house of Dr. Ari Nathan, who looks like an overgrown Mouseketeer, but his assistant tries to avoid telling them where he is.  Turns out, he’s gone to minister to Dahlia Jessup, who’s “accidentally” overdosed on pills.  (Ghislaine Maxwell seems too cool a character to have gone Girl, Interrupted in the face of scrutiny, so I’m betting this is a fudge.)  Munch and Fin haul Ari Nathan down to the station because he’s under arrest for failure to comply with mandatory reporting laws.  While there, he claims that Jordan called him to tend to Dominique Moreau, but it turned out she didn’t have internal injuries, she just got her period.  Benson and Stabler are watching the questioning, realize––duh––that Dahlia Jessup might have actually procured the two French girls herself.  (In real life, Maxwell obviously served as a madam, but the French girls were allegedly gifted to Epstein by Jean-Luc Brunel, the agent.).

Benson and Stabler go to visit Jessup in the hospital.  She’s in scrubs, feeling weepy and vulnerable: the time is nigh!  But then Jordan shows up and stands in the threshold of the doorway like the creeper in a polo that he is.  She goes all gooey like a K-pop fan and says, “Jordy!”  He smiles sweetly and tells the detectives that he has nothing to hide, and she should answer any questions they have.

law & order SVU flight chris meloni mariska hargitay 5.jpg

Paris calls, and tells the detectives they have another witness, the other French girl from the party, Nicole.  She claims that Jordan’s account is correct: the two girls were exploring the house when they came upon Jordan asleep on his massage table, and Dominique went inside, telling her friend she was “going to get rich.”  As far as I know, Epstein never said anything like this happened, although of course people in his camp (ahem, Dershowitz) at times said certain accusers were in it for the money.

The music swells dramatically and the cops look at each other with pained expressions.  TURNING POINT!

This is getting long so I’m going to go into less detail from now on.  YOU’RE WELCOME.

In the next scene, Benson and Stabler are sitting in their car across from Hayes’s mansion.  “I read that Jordan paid $50 million for it,” Benson said [false! $56 million, even though also kind of nothing.]. They’re strategizing how to get to his employees when he knocks on the car window and invites them in.  He walks them through his entranceway, which features many a marble nude (Epstein’s decor was far, far stranger) before taking them to his massage room.  There’s a TV in the room, so Benson idly flicks it on, only to see that it plays… what is happening in the massage room at that moment.  (I’m not fact-checking that because honestly, I don’t want to know.)  Hayes says he needs to record his massages because he’s such an easy target, but alas, the camera wasn’t working the night he was “raped.”

Back to the squad room: the DA (forgettable redhead, not nearly my favorite DA from SVU’s illustrious run) and Cragen are talking about getting a warrant, with the DA being skeptical they can do so to go on a “fishing expedition.”  But my man Munch is up to some good stuff: he’s befriended Dominique Moreau online, and is encouraging her to blog about her rape.  The DA is moved to compassion, and beelines it for her favorite judge, where she asks for a search warrant.  The judge isn’t really buying it, though, and tells them to return when they have greater certainty that such a recording exists.


Back, back to the squad room: Olivia is pi-ssed and looking into the judge’s reelection donations, but Cragen tells her to go home and cool off.  Just as she’s getting ready to leave, a girl walks in, maybe thirteen or fourteen.  She tells the detectives she read Moreau’s blog.  “I’ve been in that massage room,” she says.  Cut to the morning: eight more girls come in to tell their stories after Moreau’s blog goes viral.  (Nothing like this ever seems to have happened.)  Then there’s a montage of these girls talking about what happened: they were approached by a woman (check) who told them they could make some fast cash by giving Hayes a massage (check, check), but they didn’t realize he’d be naked and ask them to undress (check and checkmate).  The last girl says the house manager saw her dressing after the assault (a number of Epstein’s former staffers admitted to seeing young girls in his homes; later in the show, the detectives bring in his house manager, who is British and who is named GILES––c’mon––but the real guy was named Alfredo and was a bit of a sleaze).  She also says she was paid $500.


So hooray, arrest time!  Benson and Stabler nab Hayes outside his manse, but he’s glib about the charges (“I have a massage appointment at 4, I don’t intend to miss it!”).  Best line in the show comes in the next seen, when Hayes is locked up in the squad cell with a frotteur, who says, “It has been a bleak life.”

Munch and Fin question Giles, who feigns ignorance, in true Remains of the Day-style.  Meanwhile, Benson’s working on Dahlia: she’s all, “Why do you even care about him?  You come from money, you don’t need his!”  (True: Ghislaine Maxwell’s father had a boatload of dough, until it was revealed that he, well, didn’t.)  Dahlia says she moved into the Hayes house when she was seventeen (Ghislaine and Epstein met when Maxwell was an adult, so false); Benson tries to convince her she was groomed, but she won’t accept it.


In the squad room, the tech is showing Stabler and Cragen video of the assaults (it does seem likely that Epstein took photographs, but there is no reason to believe he videotaped anything).  They all start making fun of Hayes’s tiny dick and he starts punching the effete subway masturbator until he’s bleeding out his nose.  Benson cuffs Dahlia Jessup, who is surprised to learn Jordan’s lawyers aren’t coming to her defense.  When Olivia starts escorting her to central booking, she bumps into Stabler, taking Hayes to the bathroom.  Just at that moment, his phalanx of lawyers marches in with Cragen, who informs them that the feds have made a deal with Jordan’s lawyers.  “We did all the work!” Olivia protests.  “It’s DONE!” Cragen says.  (Oh, we know aaaaaaall about that deal now.)  Dahlia freaks out and starts to run after Jordan, but he just turns around and coolly says, “You’re gonna be fine.  You’re a survivor, always have been.”  She starts freaking out, saying she’s on the tapes doing perverted things he told her to do (Epstein’s accusers have said Ghislaine Maxwell often joined in); Hayes walks over, cups her face in his hands, and then turns around and walks towards the elevator as she yelps and begs him to come back.

THE END.  And thus ends my informal audition to write the official book guide to Law and Order: SVU.  But for now, I’m out of the Epstein game: I’ve officially burned out on coverage of the case. Wake me when Ghislaine shows up at McDonald’s.