Wednesday 28 June 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 28/6/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Mark Sullivan/ Contour by Getty Images

Opinion / Fernando Augusto Pacheco

Excess of virtue

There’s something alluring about divas, the iconic female performers whose strong personalities have left a mark across the world’s film industries, opera stages and popular music. They have always played a strong part in my life, so it’s gratifying to see that they are now being celebrated in a new blockbuster exhibition, Diva, at London’s V&A.

Though the word means “goddess” in Latin, diva has been used negatively to describe female celebrities whose edgy personalities have been perceived as “difficult” in the male-dominated entertainment industries. The exhibition challenges this view: here, divas are presented as revolutionaries whose hard-headedness and eccentricities have changed societal norms for the better.

Among Diva’s highlights are its collections of dresses worn by 20th-century opera prima donnas and by modern music icons from Maria Callas and Cher (pictured, on left with Elton John and Diana Ross) to Tina Turner and Madonna. These outfits feature bright colours, jewellery, plumes, wings and other contraptions aimed at enhancing the performers’ extravagance and making them stand out. A series of images – of the scintillating Grace Jones, the great Dolly Parton and others – is also projected onto the museum’s walls, creating a sort of planetarium of remarkable women.

Celebrities and role models don’t always have to be nice. Irreverent, powerful and glamorous, divas represent the rejection of dullness, an alternative to a world full of boring conformists. They’re an essential part of the entertainment industry but also of society as a whole. As Mae West put it in her 1933 film I’m No Angel, “When I’m good, I’m very good. But when I’m bad, I’m better.”

Fernando Augusto Pacheco is Monocle Radio’s senior correspondent. Tune in to the ‘Monocle on Culture’ special on ‘Diva’ at the V&A on Monocle Radio. And for more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Thailand

Prime candidate

Thailand’s newly elected politicians are reporting for work this week ahead of Monday’s state opening of parliament – but the question of who will lead the next government remains unresolved. Though a coalition of eight pro-democracy parties led by Move Forward is in pole position, there are growing doubts that the party’s leader, Pita Limjaroenrat (pictured), will be able to secure enough support from other parties or the military-appointed senate to become prime minister.

Yesterday, Limjaroenrat warned senators that it would be dangerous to use his party’s plans to reform the country’s lèse-majesté law against him. The Move Forward-led coalition is due to meet later this week to agree on its preferred choice of house speaker. A contingency plan for the job of prime minister is also needed. Bangkok might be entering its rainy season but, for now, political debate will remain heated.

Image: Shutterstock

Affairs / USA

Trading secrets

Yesterday, US media outlets aired an audio recording of Donald Trump seeming to acknowledge that he had held on to secret documents that he had not declassified during a 2021 meeting at his Bedminster golf club in New Jersey. The recording sheds new light on the former president’s knowledge of declassification procedures and contradicts his earlier claim that he had only kept declassified documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

“This is a key piece of evidence,” Julie Norman, associate professor in politics and international relations at University College London, tells The Monocle Minute. “If Trump is found guilty, no one can dispute it by claiming that the judge was a liberal.” The latest revelations have made Trump’s defence – and his bid for a return to the White House – much tougher, says Norman. “We could see him going to the primary season with multiple court cases taking place at the same time.”

Transport / Indonesia

Making tracks

Indonesia’s 142km Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway is at last nearing completion – over four years behind schedule and about $1.2bn (€1.1bn) over budget. The railway is China’s highest-profile Belt and Road Initiative project in southeast Asia and is scheduled to open in August with a free trial, though there are murmurs of further delays to come. The discussion has now turned to the line’s extension to the port city of Surabaya – an undertaking that will require laying some 800km of fresh track.

Indonesia’s president, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, has suggested that China will be handed the contract for the extension through direct appointment. Indonesia’s non-aligned foreign policy has allowed it to maintain good relations with both East and West. The more indebted it becomes to Beijing, however, the more difficult that balancing act will be.

Image: Andrea Pugiotto

Design / Italy

Breathing new life

Alcova, the annual furniture showcase staged in disused buildings during Milan Design Week, has announced that its first overseas exhibition will take place in the US later this year. Slated to occur during Miami Art Week in December, the offshoot event will, like the original, seek to showcase design while highlighting the potential of its host city. In Milan, Alcova has turned a former panettone factory and an ex-military hospital into bustling hubs of activity, inviting people to visit locations that are typically closed to the public.

While Alcova’s co-founders, Joseph Grima and Valentina Ciuffi, have yet to announce the precise locations of their Miami endeavour, the city has plenty of sites – from the shuttered 777 International Mall to the abandoned First Church of Christ Scientist – that are ripe for a revival.

Image: Shutterstock

Monocle Radio / The Foreign Desk

The future of Nato

The leaders of Nato member states are gearing up for the group’s Lithuania summit next month. How has the war in Ukraine transformed the military alliance? And what comes next? Andrew Mueller speaks to Ingrida Simonyte, Lithuania’s prime minister; Benedetta Berti-Alberti, head of policy planning at Nato’s Office of the Secretary-General; Kersti Kaljulaid, former president of Estonia, and Swedish political scientist Anna Wieslander.

Monocle Films / Transport

Inside Sweden’s electric flight school

A new electric flight school in Sweden is inspiring a future of emission-free aviation. Monocle takes to the sky, tries out the first fully electric plane to be approved for use in Europe and hears how Skellefteå has become a hotbed of green start-ups.


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