Thursday 28 September 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Thursday. 28/9/2023

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Biden’s historic appearance on a picket line in Belleville, Michigan

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Christopher Cermak

Campaign barrier

This week’s competing appearances by Joe Biden and Donald Trump in front of Detroit’s striking autoworkers had a historic air about them: we saw a president and a former president of rival political parties seeming to side with unions and the plight of their members. The visits marked the symbolic start of campaigning for next year’s presidential election. But did it really have to start this week?

After all, the election is more than a year away. Until then, this country needs to be governed and this week is a particularly consequential one. Unless an improbable budget deal is struck in Congress, the US government will shut down non-essential services on Sunday. Meanwhile, work stoppages have upended iconic industries across the US, from Hollywood to Detroit.

Inequality is a tremendous problem in the US but unions will need to pare back their demands to avoid bankrupting the automakers that employ them (or giving an advantage to their non-unionised competitors). Biden and Trump’s appearances in Detroit make such compromises harder, putting the onus on car-makers to make changes while encouraging unions not to cede ground. Presidents interested in solving the crisis would have met the unions and auto executives, and delivered tough messages. It’s telling that both sides have rejected mediation by Washington.

People in the US are tired and frustrated with politics. They are also anxious about inflation and the state of the economy. Resolving these problems requires compromises between Congress and the White House, and between corporations and their unions. Election season encourages both sides to espouse lofty goals and promises that they won’t be able to keep. The trouble is that Americans still need pragmatism and co-operation to stop the country from coming to a standstill. Can we hold off the electioneering just a little while longer?

Christopher Cermak is Monocle’s Washington correspondent. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.


Romania’s prime minister Marcel Ciolacu

Image: Alamy

Diplomacy / Austria & Romania

Worst of friends

In the latest European tit-for-tat spat, Nato member Romania has blocked the participation of Austria, a non-member, from meetings of the alliance. The move comes in response to Vienna’s opposition to Bucharest’s membership of the Schengen Area, which Austria’s chancellor, Karl Nehammer, says that he will maintain, citing concerns over illegal immigration. Romania’s prime minister, Marcel Ciolacu, claims that his country’s exclusion from the zone has cost it up to 2 per cent of its GDP; he has also warned that he plans to sue Austria at the European Court of Justice.

According to analysts, the quarrel over Schengen has sparked disillusionment and anti-Western sentiment within Romania, where pundits frequently characterise Austria as “Moscow’s Trojan horse” because of its dependence on Russian gas. “It is a symbolic gesture rather than a substantial one,” Quentin Peel, associate fellow of Chatham House’s Europe Programme, tells The Monocle Minute. “But it shows the degree of tension in Europe caused not just by the conflict in Ukraine but by the huge surge of illegal immigration too.”

For more on Romania’s stance against Austria, tune in to Wednesday’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle Radio.

Dior designs on the runway

Image: Alamy

Fashion / Paris

Fairest of the season

A sharply dressed crowd has descended on the Tuileries Garden for Paris Fashion Week’s spring-summer 2024 edition. Dior kicked off the event with a show staged inside a vast, cube-like tent. Inside, a film by Italian artist Elena Bellantoni was screened as models walked in a mostly black collection of lightweight shirts, A-line skirts and combat boots.

Hoping to create a dialogue between the fashion house’s past and present, its creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri, drew inspiration from its archives: the asymmetrical necklines on show were a homage to a 1948 design. Chiuri’s approach has been enormously successful since she took the reins in 2016, with Dior becoming one of LVMH’s biggest commercial successes. Elsewhere, Italian label Marni will be staging its first show in the French capital in a residence once owned by Karl Lagerfeld, while international labels from Bottega Veneta to South Korea’s Wooyoungmi will be celebrating shop openings across the city.

Architecture / Singapore

Adapt and overcome

Archifest, Singapore’s annual architecture festival, returns on Friday for its 17th iteration, which runs until the end of October. The theme of this year’s event, which takes place in the city-state’s Kampong Gelam neighbourhood, is “Interim: Acts of Adaptation”; the organisers hope that this will start conversations about the role of design in a time of environmental crisis. Festivalgoers will be treated to immersive installations, exhibitions, conferences and workshops, as well as the opportunity to hear from speakers such as Heatherwick Studio’s Craig Miller and Ma Yansong of MAD Architects. A new addition is the AF Residency, a programme run in partnership with boutique home operator Figment, in which creatives from around the world will work on projects responding to local architecture. With Singapore already seeing the effects of climate change, from heavier rainfall to higher temperatures, this festival offers the city-state’s architects and designers a chance to come together and think collectively about how to build in an increasingly volatile world.

Beyond the headlines

Q&A / Craig Gillespie

Rising stock

Australian-American director Craig Gillespie’s latest film, Dumb Money, is a biting comedy about the 2021 Gamestop short squeeze. Here, he tells Monocle about assembling the movie’s star-studded cast and setting the film during the coronavirus pandemic.

Image: Getty Images

How did you navigate this big ensemble cast?
I was incredibly fortunate. We’re jumping around between so many characters; it helps that they’re recognisable so that the audience can keep track of them. Paul Dano was the first person I thought of to portray Keith Gill, the main character. He’s such a versatile actor; there’s this vulnerability to him that we really needed for that character. Seth Rogen plays Gabe Plotkin, the hedge-fund guy. You wouldn’t necessarily think of Seth Rogen as the hedge-fund guy and that was amazing. America Ferrera was not originally on my radar but she has such an integrity and a fierceness in her character that made her casting necessary.

How important was it to set the film during the deepest days of the pandemic?
It was such an intense moment. People were forced to have a pause in life, they had to really re-evaluate their priorities, the balance of work and life, the intensity of losing loved ones, of losing jobs and the lack of government aid that was happening. And there was this incredible awareness of the disparity of wealth that’s going on in America. That frustration all managed to channel itself into the stock. It’s the frustration at a system that feels inherently rigged. To be able to hit Wall Street where it hurts – their wallets – and make money on the side was a win-win for everyone.

What was it like to promote the film without its stars (who are participating in the ongoing actors’ strikes)?
It’s hard not having the actors here to work on this, be a part of it and enjoy it but I appreciate that the message of this film is that there is a disparity of wealth and accountability going on and there is also a lack of transparency. And this is happening right now in Hollywood, so it’s part of that conversation.

For our full interview with Craig Gillespie, tune in to the latest episode ofThe Monocle Weekly’, on Monocle Radio.

Monocle Films / Design

Made in Bavaria

Bavaria’s rich manufacturing heritage shows that there is more to the region than the Alps, sausages and beer. Monocle Films takes a tour behind the scenes of renowned art materials manufacturers Faber-Castell, Gmund Papier mill and Theresienthal glassmakers to explore how traditional ways of making have endured thanks to a legacy of familial entrepreneurship.


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