Author: Alex Sheremet

Alex Sheremet is a writer and filmmaker from Belarus. He is the author of A Few Streets More To Kensington, Woody Allen: Reel to Real, and founder of the AUTOMACHINATION literary magazine. He is currently working on his first film, From There to There: Bruce Ario, the Minneapolis Poet, with poet/photographer Joel Parrish. His collected essays can be found at IDEAS ON IDEAS.
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Photos of Maxim D. Shrayer (Максим Д. Шраер), one with "dunce" written on his forehead, one with a Soviet hammer and sickle across his face, and another with the flag of the Khmer Rouge blocking out his ill-shaped head.

Maxim D. Shrayer Is A Post-Soviet Fraud & Murder-Apologist

It’s been years since I’ve written a takedown of a poseur or freak, largely because they are such time-sinks, yet offer so little themselves. They seek unearned attention, and, if attention is given, seek to take one away from deeper aims. To wit: Ben Shapiro (does it not damage my essay that I expect you to know who this was?) might ultimately get exhumed by trivia hunters, but this would only be slightly better than Shapiro’s own goings to and fro on the earth. Coleman Hughes certainly represents a ‘type’, but hasn’t this type been discussed to the point of acquiring its own slur? Such cons are obvious, yet the Russian émigré poet Maxim D. Shrayer lords over a grift many won’t pick up on, not only due to their ignorance of immigrant politics, but also the ease with which nonimmigrants get brow-beaten by American liberals. Shrayer’s recent essay on murdered Palestinian academic Refaat Alareer has exposed this grift, though it requires another ex-Soviet to identify its parts. And so, as I enter a more mindful middle age, I can only justify writing of losers if I also expound upon their fiefdoms—particularly if these are lesser-known fiefdoms with poorly understood dynamics.

Maxim Shrayer, a professor at Boston College, was born in 1967, in Moscow, at the start of the Arab-Israeli Six Day War. This conflict entailed geopolitical re-alignment as the Soviets backed Egypt, America backed Israel, and Russia began to suspect its own Jewish citizens as insufficiently loyal. His father, David Shrayer-Petrov, was (is) a writer, war veteran, and medical researcher stripped of his title upon application for an exit visa in 1978. This was a typical outcome for (upper class) refuseniks, whose contributions to the Soviet Union were deemed too important remit. After years of harassment, Shrayer’s family was allowed to leave for America in 1987, sparing them not only the final years of empire, but the violence and destitution which soon befell Russia. By most metrics, then, Maxim Shrayer is one of the truly fortunate. Moving from the Pale of Settlement, to postwar Leningrad, to Moscow—Russia’s wealthiest city—his family, unlike most Soviet Jews, even had the foresight to skip Israel in favor of joining the academic elite of Rhode Island, where they were quickly accepted. This is unlike the treatment most refugees get, since they are not educated, not (passing) white, and not easily used to score political points. One of his first bits of self-description (‘refusenik’) recycles his father’s identity, while his flaunting of an Israeli flag must be especially galling to an ethnostate which has ‘lost’ Shrayer to America. His career focuses on the Jewish experience, Russian translation, the writing of (bad) poetry, a devotion to the overrated Vladimir Nabokov, and, most recently, the justification of Israeli war crimes. Indeed: take away the accidents of birth and Shrayer could have been quite comfortable as a Soviet functionary. He has no personal center, no obvious gifts, and would already be forgotten if it weren’t for his willingness to patsy for a dying regime. As an apparatchik, however, Maxim D. Shrayer hasn’t quite learned that merely separating oneself from the hoi polloi is not really individualism, but an absurd mix of might-makes-right, on the one hand, and Nietzschean slave-morality on the other. Put another way, he is encouraged to speak as a victim, then leverages real-world assets to punch down. […]

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A stylized photo of the al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, with English and Arabic text on its arch, before the explosion.

Why Israel Hinges Its Identity on the Gaza Hospital Attack

Yesterday, the al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza was hit by an IDF airstrike or a “failed rocket” launched by Palestinian militants. In some ways, this felt like an existential moment for Israel—much more so than even the Hamas massacres on Israeli territory two weeks prior. That’s because despite America’s claims of an “existential threat” from terrorism in 2001, or Israel’s perceived security needs in keeping a stateless population at bay, terrorism rarely poses serious (i.e., existential) danger to nations, and most terror campaigns fail. Of course, there are exceptions. Jewish terrorism in Mandatory Palestine forced Britain to disengage in the midst of hotel bombings, political assassinations, and kidnappings, for which Israel was awarded the legal right to statehood. Palestinians soon adopted these tactics, yet lacked the strength, and, until recently, sufficient public opinion to achieve their aims. In the meantime, Israel has become a nuclear-tipped hegemon with an identity crisis. Many young Jews want nothing to do with what the UN and human rights groups call an apartheid state, while Israel itself has become increasingly corrupt, right-wing, and religious. So when news broke of (yet another) potential war crime in Gaza, Israel needed to respond—and quickly. […]

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A film poster for Alex Sheremet's and Joel Parrish's first film, "From There to There: Bruce Ario, the Minneapolis Poet", on the life and work and Bruce Ario. It features the title and subtitle, a sunlike object in the sky, and a male figure walking down a snowy Minneapolis scene.

TRAILER: “From There to There – Bruce Ario, the Minneapolis Poet” (2024)

Bruce Ario (1955 – 2022) was a poet and novelist from Minneapolis. A car accident and traumatic brain injury in his mid-20s forced Bruce to drop out of law school, which was followed by a period of homelessness, drug addiction, and mental illness. His health began to improve with a religious awakening, therapy, volunteer work (which included time in Haiti), and, most importantly to Bruce and his legacy, a lifelong interest in writing.

From There to There: Bruce Ario, the Minneapolis Poet is an upcoming (2024) documentary film on Bruce’s life and work. It will be shot in Minneapolis, where Bruce Ario spent his life, and will include footage of scenes described in Bruce’s writing. It will also feature interviews with artists and those who knew him. This fundraiser will help cover some costs associated with the project: video equipment, travel expenses, advertising, labor and production. Any additional money raised will be used to fund the publication of Bruce Ario’s books. […]

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A stylized snapshot from Rob Reiner's "This Is Spinal Tap", where the group performs "Gimme Some Money".

POEM: “Thought Our Film Would Say It All”

THOUGHT OUR FILM WOULD SAY IT ALL

And then some scumbag wanted money for the footage
Of my friend. Well, HIS friend, as a fact
Was a ponderer’s poet, while he cannot

Think. Well, he IS thinking
Of himself, bobbing down a perfect sea
Storm loosened from the surface

Of our lens. Guess which had a brain
Injury and you’d guess wrong. Say CHEESE
Bitch! Or that’s what HE did at any rate

Offered. Not even poets deserve riches. […]

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A stylized portrait of Lord, a lilac-colored Scottish Fold with orange eyes who lived between 2010 and 2023.

Like The Last Words Of A House Cat (Lord’s Story)

After Lord had made his decision, he wished to see the world a little. One might as well, he thought. Ever since the arrival of Cookie, he felt agitated, if only with himself. Lord had never been a jealous cat, but watching King—his older brother—groom Cookie, and chase her, and beat her up, he suddenly missed the rough of King’s tongue. He missed the sound of Dad cleaning loosened hair. He missed how Mom would separate them, for he never took this as a punishment. After all, Lord loved to think, and right now, the season was pensive. Yes, summer was ongoing, but the longest day was long behind, and each sunrise felt a little colder. It would soon be Grandmother’s birthday. Had it really been that long? A cat uses up its days so quickly, though there is still so much to do. Lord understood he would not have time to start anything new, but why, he wondered, is everyone obsessed only with beginnings? His mind was of one project—one map—and he intended to complete it. […]

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Stylized photos of Robin DiAngelo next to pop-art generated portraits of women and female humanoids.

White Guilt, White Fragility: Why Robin DiAngelo Doesn’t Understand Race

In 2011, an academic named Robin DiAngelo coined the phrase “white fragility” in reference to white people’s perceived defensiveness over questions of race. It didn’t explain this defensiveness—it only gave it a name. And it named only a small part of a more general condition. We’ll get to the condition of the white race in a bit, but for now, suffice to say that there are many types of white person. Some are just as fragile, yet break in a less predictable direction. Under the right circumstances, they could pressure themselves into joining a revolution. In more stagnant periods, they reach out to anyone willing to touch them. This is still fragility because it is unstable, because it is easy to recruit, because it is so common. Yet Robin DiAngelo—who is technically a scholar of ‘whiteness studies’—has little space for it. This means that ‘whiteness’ itself is not really being examined, and in failing to explain whiteness, or to give a credible story of what it means to be white, she cannot properly deal with race. Her work alludes to her own racial anxiety, but will not make sense of it. Her theory of racism is a theory of rugged individualism—and this is why it’s popular. The individual is tasked with the burdens of racism. So the individual, as under all right-wing systems, is forced to kneel. […]

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A stylized depiction of four Soviet and Russian bards: Vladimir Vysotsky - Владимир Высоцкий - Oleg Gazmanov - Олег Газманов - Ada Yukasheva - Ада Якушева - Yuri Vizbor - Юрий Визбор.

Russian Bard, Soviet Poet: Inverting A Century Of Tradition

Of all the art-objects I had consumed as a child, only a few made it with me into adulthood. At 4, I was given a tape-player, a pair of headphones, and several cassettes of Soviet music—luxury items, by any metric, in the Belarusian summer of 1991, just as they would be for the kids I’d soon meet in New York. The tapes were of varying quality, often veering into bad pop and propaganda, though even these had a level of craftiness and fun missing from most pop. Sometimes, however, I’d come across an artist or a song I’d (much later) recognize as great. This would usually happen as I sat on a park bench alone with my music and a loaf of keks. Because I was rarely at school or had my time accounted for by anyone, there were opportunities to wander, all on my own schedule. My life of absenteeism—that is, my wish to be in my own little corner, of my own construct—probably arose in this period. In retrospect, it helped that the music I was unwittingly feeding my tape-player so often celebrated a rich inner life. This might surprise Western readers, but the advent of Russian bard music brought forth a level of creative disobedience not seen in decades. The effect of musical agitprop—most obvious via Alexander Alexandrov’s “The Sacred War”—was, on the one hand, something for the state to tap, but on the other, would inevitably find its way into the grip of ordinary people. That guitars and voice lessons were hard to come by proved not only irrelevant, but downright supportive of the new art. If this sounds counterintuitive, a deeper understanding of the Soviet bard tradition can help explain some broader principles of art, so that today’s bards (almost always a posthumous honorific) can be better recognized. […]

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A stylized shot of director Alex Winter discussing his 2015 documentary, "Deep Web".

Libertarian-American: Alex Winter’s “Deep Web” (2015)

Let’s get aesthetics out of the way, first. If a film about a drug boss starts with an anarchic proclamation, it needs- at a minimum- for that proclamation to be well-phrased. This will at least offset some of the political clichés surrounding drug prohibition, and might make it easier to repeat them without hurting the film on more substantive grounds. But if after engaging with the writing- “giant Fuck You to the system”, “fascists”, “real base of power lies with us”- one wonders WHY the film was even made, that question IS a relevant lens through which to view the film’s subject. I mean, just consider any other work on any other drug dealer: from the experts’ self-pillory in Mr. Untouchable, to the dread and ennui of Mean Streets, to the dum-dum brutality of American Gangster, the world’s mobsters are rarely presented as unequivocal heroes. In most cases, they aren’t allowed to have childhoods, nor to wax philosophical from home videos (although, in the coming decade, some will). They do not earn science degrees, and certainly were not nurtured by a loving family driven to exonerate them. In fact, if they were street-peddlers, their stories simply gain no traction at all, and cannot, on an individual basis, ever be the face of a grassroots political movement. That Ross Ulbricht, the incarcerated founder of darknet website Silk Road, gets to enjoy all of these things, and more, is a story far more interesting than Alex Winter’s Deep Web allows it to be. Indeed, one ought to ask why Ross Ulbricht is a cult figure for so many libertarians, if only because the answer sheds light on how awful the parsing of more important questions has become. The war on drugs, I’m afraid, attracts dupes and hypocrites on both sides, and by stripping his film of all artistic appeal, Alex Winter gives an inadvertent glimpse into how both sides conduct themselves. […]