Friday. 24/1/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Robert Bound

What really goes on at Davos

So that was Davos. Notable this year for Donald Trump making an early re-election stump speech, the Prince of Wales being honoured by an audience with Greta Thunberg and some excellent skiing conditions (utilised by the few not the many on such a busy week). In this century the mainstream media knows what it thinks about the World Economic Forum: the world’s CEOs and central bankers are “the elite”, security precautions are “the ring of steel” and big business and environmental activism are staged against each other in a battle royal. Has Davos always been reported in this way?

The short answer is “no”. Previously the WEF was an event largely of interest to the financial press and international newspapers of record; it is now covered – or commented on – by a universe of media using it as a mirror to their own sense of importance. Much of this new breed of coverage comes from a currently fashionable, roughly standardised, sceptical point of view that “Davos man” needs to be taken down a peg. No one’s saying that mining doesn’t leave a hole in the ground but learning a little more might help, kids. I’m reminded of the Tim Robbins character in Team America: World Police, who lampoons both US foreign policy and its celebrity critics. “Let me tell you how it works,” he says. “The corporations sit in their corporation buildings, you see, and they’re all…corporationy… and they make money and uhhh…” While Bloomberg and the BBC enjoy much of the media access at Davos, the WEF is often used as nothing more than a sandwich board for the beliefs of myriad chippy outlets chucking what they believe to be “truth bombs” over the walls of the elite.

For decades, Davos has prospered as a neutral stage for political theatre: Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres taking to the stage hand in hand; east and west German leaders meeting just weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall; Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk shaking hands for the first time outside South Africa. These were memorable, well-managed events that defined their respective decades. Protesters and opinionated anchors won’t scare the forum out of its mountain stronghold but a little more rigour in reporting might help the odd angry media outlet to explain the way the world works – rather than simply wishing it worked another way.

Media / China

News that’s fit to print

For weeks, updates from Chinese state media outlets on the Wuhan coronavirus had been slow and hard to come by. Some newsgroups had even censored information completely (either voluntarily or, perhaps, under state guidance). That left coverage to the international community – until this week. With the number of infections almost doubling in 24 hours and a call by Chinese president Xi Jinping to take the virus “seriously”, state outlets such as Caixin and The Beijing News have suddenly sprung into action. In fact, they are now providing more robust and time-sensitive reporting than their international counterparts, both from the epicentre of the outbreak and beyond. Yesterday, for example, Caixin broke the news that doctors in Wuhan believe that the virus could infect more than 6,000 people and potentially have more lethal results than Sars. Such reports are an indication that vigorous journalism in China is possible – if only official barriers weren’t put in the way.

Migration / Portugal

Warmer welcome

According to new figures from Portuguese immigration authorities, there has been a sudden spike in the number of Brazilians moving to the country. In 2019, 48,627 Brazilians secured residency in Portugal, bringing the number of expats in the country to 150,854. That’s up 43 per cent on figures from 2018, and Brazilians now make up a quarter of all legal migrants. So why the surge? “The people who are coming now are different from the wave of immigrants in the 2000s, who wanted to come for money and return to Brazil,” says Cyntia de Paula from Lisbon-based NGO Casa do Brasil.

“Now I see more families who want to improve their quality of life. And there’s also a rise in the number of people who are not pleased with Brazil’s Bolsonaro government – activists, for example.” It helps that Portugal has proved welcoming: the country has made legal immigration easier in the hope of counteracting its ageing population and boosting its birth rate, which is among the lowest in Europe.

Fashion / France

Final farewell?

Jean Paul Gaultier (pictured) took his final bow on Wednesday night. The French designer described his last show, at Paris Couture, as a “party” to celebrate his 50 years as l’enfant terrible of fashion. His career began in 1970 when he was hired by Parisian couturier Pierre Cardin (despite having no professional training); he went on to launch his first collection six years later. Over the years he’s become known for injecting his designs and shows with a sense of fun and theatricality, and for blurring the lines between men’s and women’s clothing (long before it was common practice) and between high and low culture. He has launched successful fragrance lines, hosted long-running television show Eurotrash and dressed celebrities from Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst to Madonna, for whom he designed an iconic conical bra. His flamboyant looks and cheeky humour will be missed in an industry in which it is increasingly rare for designers to be outspoken – although he’s promised that he will stick around in some capacity. Watch this space: we wouldn’t put it past him to make a surprise return.

Art / Canada

Comfort zone

Arts institutions can seem intimidating and cold to some members of the younger generation but one Canadian museum aims to become more accessible by handing over its reins to student curators. On Saturday, Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) will host the third instalment of All Hours, an all-day, all-ages event with musical performances, art installations and live storytelling based on the wintry theme of hygge, the Danish concept of cultivating cosiness. The programming is by students from the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCADU), one of Canada’s premier art universities, through an ongoing partnership with the AGO. “We’re thinking about how we bring in the community and make [art] accessible and fun for everybody,” says Samantha Hopple, a student in OCADU’s Criticism & Curatorial Practice MFA programme. “What we’re trying to do with the cosiness theme is to make people feel comfortable in this museum environment.”

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