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Russia’s Maddening Patience – Why Doesn’t She Strike Back When Attacked?

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Orlov is one of our favorite essayists on Russia and all sorts of other things. He moved to the US as a child, and lives in the Boston area.

He is one of the better-known thinkers The New Yorker has dubbed ‘The Dystopians’ in an excellent 2009 profile, along with James Howard Kunstler, another regular contributor to RI (archive). These theorists believe that modern society is headed for a jarring and painful crack-up.

He is best known for his 2011 book comparing Soviet and American collapse (he thinks America’s will be worse). He is a prolific author on a wide array of subjects, and you can see his work by searching him on Amazon.

He has a large following on the web, and on Patreon, and we urge you to support him there, as Russia Insider does.

His current project is organizing the production of affordable house boats for living on. He lives on a boat himself.

If you haven’t discovered his work yet, please take a look at his archive of articles on RI. They are a real treasure, full of invaluable insight into both the US and Russia and how they are related.


A lot of commentators noticed a curious fact: during the May 9 parade in the Red Square in Moscow, Putin appeared in the presence of Israeli prime minister Netanyahu. Around that same time, Israeli air force was firing rockets at Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria (lots of which the Syrian air defenses shot down) and the Syrians were firing back at Israeli positions on the Golan Heights (which are occupied Syrian territory, so it didn’t count as an attack on Israel proper).

Why didn’t Russia rise to the defense of its ally Syria? Moreover, there was talk of selling Russia’s very powerful S-300 air defense system to Syria, and that offer was subsequently withdrawn. Is this really how an ally behaves?

Or take another example: relations between Russia and the Ukraine has been in a downward spiral ever since the 2014 Kiev putsch which overthrew the constitutional government. There is a festering sore of a military standoff in the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, a constant drumbeat of Ukrainian provocations against Russia, and Russia has been saddled with economic and political sanctions by the US and the EU supposedly in response to the annexation of Crimea and the unsettled conflict in the Donbass that has claimed some ten thousand lives.

And yet the Ukraine’s largest trading partner remains… Russia. Not only does Russia continue to trade with the Ukraine, but it has also absorbed an exodus of economic refugees from the collapsed Ukrainian economy which numbers in the millions. Russia has resettled these refugees, allowed them to find work, and is allowing them to send money back to their relatives in the Ukraine. Also, Russia has declined to give political recognition to the two separatist republics in eastern Ukraine.

The only real stand Russia has taken with regard to the Ukraine is in claiming Crimea as its own. But this is more or less cut and dried: Crimea was part of Russia ever since 1783, and the transfer of Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, which occurred under Nikita Khrushchev in 1954, violated the constitution of the USSR that was in effect at the time.

Yet another example: the US, with the European Union acting as its obedient servant, have been imposing various kinds of sanctions on Russia ever since the Magnitsky Act in 2012 which was pushed through by the fantastically corrupt oligarch William Browder. These sanctions have been sometimes somewhat damaging, sometimes helpful (stimulating import replacement within Russia) and sometimes simply annoying. Russia is too big, too important and too powerful for anyone, even an entity as large as the US and the EU combined, to isolate it or to bend it to its will by imposing sanctions.

In some cases, there is a powerful boomerang effect that causes more pain for the sanctioners than the sanctioned. But Russia really hasn’t done much in response—other than working on import replacement and establishing trade relationships with other, friendlier nations. It could have actually hurt the US, for instance, by blocking the sale of titanium parts without which Boeing wouldn’t be able to build its planes.

Or it could prohibit the sale of rocket engines to the US, and the US would then be unable to launch satellites. But Russia hasn’t done any of that; instead, it just kept repeating that these sanctions are unproductive and unhelpful.

One more: in violation of agreements that Russia and the NATO nations have entered into, NATO has expanded all the way to the Russian border and has recently turned the tiny Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into a sort of militaristic playpen, holding military exercises right next to the Russian border, stationing thousands of troops there and training them to… attack Russia.

Russia has complained about this, but has continued to trade with all of the countries involved. In particular, it has continued to supply the Baltic states with electricity and to use Baltic ports to ship out its products.

When recently Latvia banned the use of Russian in schools (a third of Latvia’s population is Russian) and started violating the rights of Lithuanian Russians who tried fighting back against this affront, the Russians took even this blatant act of anti-Russian discrimination in stride. In Latvia, the lights are still on and the loaded Russian freight trains are still rolling in across the border.

“Why is that?” you might ask. “Why such a passive attitude against these numerous sleights, offenses and injuries?” It can’t be said that Russia is too big to hurt. The sanctions in 2012 were a piffle, but in 2014 the Russian economy did take a hit (though mostly from lower energy prices, not from sanctions). The ruble lost half its value and Russia’s poverty rate crept up. What’s going on, then?

To understand that, you have to take a step back and look at the overall context.

• Russia is the largest country in the world in size, but certainly not in population. Its borders are very well defended, but they stretch over 61 thousand kilometers.

• The Russian Federation is Russian in name, but it includes over a hundred different nations, with ethnic Russians making up just over 80%, and with six other nations that are each over a million strong.

• It borders 16 sovereign states—more than any other country—including two maritime boundaries (with Japan and the US), and two more internationally unrecognized states (Abkhazia and South Ossetia).

• It has the largest diaspora in the world, with between 20 and 40 million Russians (depending on how you count them) living outside of Russia proper. The largest Russian community overseas is in the US at around 3 million.

• Russian peacekeeping troops have served in numerous countries around Russia itself and across the world— Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Armenia, Transnistria, Tadjikistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Angola, Chad, Sierra Leone, Sudan—and remain instrumental in keeping latent conflicts from escalating to war.

• Russia’s huge landmass and enormous wealth in natural resources make it one of the main purveyors of economically essential products to the world, especially oil, gas, uranium and coal, which keep the lights on and the pipes from freezing in dozens of countries. No matter what goes wrong in international relations, it must remain a stable and reliable supplier.

In this environment, countering hostile (and mostly futile) gestures emanating from across the ocean with hostile (and mostly futile) gestures of one’s own would be counterproductive: some people would get hurt, and there is some likelihood that they would be Russian.

Thus, part of the winning approach is to just muddle through, maintaining the best relations achievable with as many countries as possible, the neighbors especially, talking to every side in every conflict and trying to defuse it and carefully balancing the disparate interests of all involved. Russia has good relations with both Iran and Saudi Arabia, who are sworn enemies, and with both Syria and Israel, who are shooting at each other.

The other part of the winning approach to confronting an increasingly hostile outside world is to move in the direction of limited autarky; not closing itself off to the world, but taking measured steps to become relatively invulnerable to its vicissitudes. Russia is already self-sufficient in energy, making strides in becoming self-sufficient in food, and the next challenge is to reach self-sufficiency in technology and finance.

Viewed in this context, Russia’s seeming failures to act forcefully turn out to be parts of a careful balancing act:

Israelis bomb Syria while Netanyahu sits at a place of honor during the parade in Moscow. Syria strikes back by bombing its own territory in the Golan Heights. Then Russia decides not to sell the S-300 system to Syria. What just happened? Well, Israel just recognized Victory Day—May 9th—as its own national holiday. A third of Israelis are in fact Russian, and a lot of them felt very proud to be Russian that day, and took part in big parades that were broadcast on Russian television. In the face of a rising wave of antisemitism in Europe and with neo-Nazis running amok in the Ukraine, Russia and Israel stand united.

Then there is the fact that Israel doesn’t like the fact that there are Iranians in Syria. It certainly has the right to feel that way, given the fact that the Iranians keep talking about how Israel should be destroyed. But Iranian presence in Syria is by invitation, so that’s not Russia’s concern. Having Israel bomb Syria isn’t helpful to Russia, but this wasn’t the first time and won’t be the last.

Syria successfully shooting down Israeli missiles and then firing on Israelis in the Golan Heights was a new development, and an escalation, and escalations are always bad. Selling the S-300 system to the Syrians would have enabled Syria to shoot down anything in the air over all of Israel, and since they had just escalated, giving them the ability to escalate even further would seem to be wrong.

The Ukraine continuously provokes Russia and violates the rights of the eight million Russians living there, and yet Russia remains the Ukraine’s largest trading partner. What gives? Well, there is the unpleasant fact that the Ukraine is currently ruled by people who are, to use a very specific Russian term, “inadequate.” It is an illegal, immensely corrupt regime that is supported by another regime that’s across the ocean, which is, by the way, also rather “inadequate”—headed by a ridiculous buffoon who is in turn being thwarted at every turn by an immensely corrupt “deep state.”

But these are temporary facts, and in no way do they override the permanent fact that the Russians and the Ukrainians are essentially the same people (with the exception of a few tribes that mainly inhabit the west of the country that was for centuries a Central European no man’s land—next door to Transylvania, where the vampires come from).

The Russians and the Ukrainians are genetically indistinguishable, and there are numerous nations within Russia that are far more culturally different from the Russians than the Ukrainians. The winning strategy in this case is to avoid hurting the Ukraine, because it is already hurting itself quite enough, and because doing so would in essence just hurt some Russians.

Instead, it makes more sense to simply be patient and wait things out. Eventually, the people in the Ukraine will have had enough and will take matters into their own hands, throw the bums out together with their overseas handlers, and the relationship will eventually become more normal.

On the Western sanctions, Russia has imposed some counter-sanctions, and they were clever ones. Russia banned various categories of food imports from the EU. This made it possible to ramp up food production within Russia and to move Russia toward self-sufficiency in food. Since within the EU farmers are politically quite powerful, this made US sanctions unpopular in Europe.

Add to this the fact that the US now wants to sanction Russian energy imports in Europe, forcing the Europeans to buy from the US, whose supplies are much more expensive and far less reliable, and you can see why the Europeans have by now had enough of Washington’s meddling. Of course, having surrendered much of their sovereignty a long time ago, the Europeans face fantastic difficulties in trying to claw it back, but at least they are starting to think about it.

This is already a win for Russia: it needs independent, sovereign nations for neighbors, not a bunch of Washington’s feckless vassals. As far as imposing countersanctions on the US itself, that would just cause some more economic damage without securing any political advantages.

On NATO encroachment on Russian borders, anti-Russian slights by the Baltic midgets and NATO troops training to “attack Russia”—well, frankly, the Russians are a little bit insulted, but they are not exactly afraid. Everybody knows that NATO is part of the American defense establishment racket. Its purpose is to steal boatloads of money, not to make weapons that work or to train armies that can fight. There is now quite a bit of NATO armor and manpower prepositioned in the Baltics, but not enough to actually invade Russia in any meaningful way.

And if they ever do, they will get lonely very quickly. You see, NATO armor doesn’t fit under most bridges and can’t move large distances over rough terrain like Russian armor can. It has to be transported to the field of battle by train or on flatbed trucks over federal highways. Or it has to be shipped in via deepwater ports.

So, all that Russia has to do is take out some bridges and some port facilities by launching rockets from pretty much anywhere, then kettle and destroy the relatively small contingent of invaders, and it will be game over. NATO knows this, and so all of this activity in the Baltics is just a way to funnel some money to the economically anemic and rapidly depopulating Baltic states.

They are suffering already; why hurt them more? As for the rights of the Russians in Latvia, one might think that they don’t really mind having them violated—or they’d be moving to Russia where there is plenty of room for them. They deserve lots of moral support, of course, but it’s really their battle, not Russia’s.

This doesn’t make the most exciting reading in the world, but so be it. People search the internet for stories about dramatic turns of events, mostly because they are bored. It often happens that the most important developments fail to thrill, but this doesn’t make them any less important. For example, Russia is reducing its defense spending, because it will soon be fully rearmed.

Can the US and NATO do the same? No! If they ever tried, the American defense establishment would get a new set of congressmen and senators voted in, and the profligate spending would resume forthwith. And so the Russians can just sit calmly, arms folded, and watch the US bankrupt itself.

That will certainly be a dramatic turn of events; you’ll just have to wait for it.

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History: El Argar, the great society that mysteriously vanished | Culture

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3D recreation of La Bastida, near present-day Totana (Murcia), one of the main settlements of the Argaric culture.
3D recreation of La Bastida, near present-day Totana (Murcia), one of the main settlements of the Argaric culture.Dani Méndez-REVIVES

El Argar, an early Bronze Age culture that was based within modern Spain, is one of the great enigmas of Spanish and world archaeology. After emerging in 2200 BC, it disappeared 650 years later. Experts debate that it collapsed in 1550 BC either because of the depletion of the natural resource that sustained it – which resulted in the population fleeing or dying of starvation — or because of a massive popular revolt against the ruling class.

The Argaric culture was “the first society divided into classes in the Iberian Peninsula” – as defined by the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) – and the creator of the world’s first Parliament. Following its demise, the civilization vanished from memory… until an archaeologist named Rogelio de Inchaurrandieta came across Argaric artefacts in 1869 and began to ask questions.

Inchaurrandieta exhibited his discovery at the International Archeology Congress in Copenhagen (1866-1912). He spoke of an unknown civilization from the Bronze Age that he had found on a steep hill in the municipality of Totana, in Spain’s Region of Murcia. He displayed gold and silver objects and spoke of a large, fortified city that lacked any type of connection with known historical societies. Nobody believed him.

But in 1877, the Belgian brothers Luis and Enrique Siret arrived in Murcia in search of mining prospects. They ended up confirming the existence of the unknown society, including what had been its large urban center, which extended 35,000 square kilometres through the southeast of the Iberian Peninsula. This site was methodically excavated: agricultural tools, precious metals and even the remains of princesses were preserved.

The study El Argar: The Formation of a Class Society, by archaeologists Vicente Lull, Rafael Micó, Roberto Risch and Cristina Rihuete Herrada from UAB, points out that El Argar “is one of the emblematic cultures of the early Bronze Age in Europe. The large settlements on its hills, the abundance of well-preserved [tombs] in the subsoil of the towns, as well as the quantity, variety and uniqueness of the artefacts, have since attracted the attention of numerous researchers.”

Vicente Lull, professor of Prehistory at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and one of the world’s most recognized experts on this society, admits that the Argaric “is in fashion.” “Specialists come from all over the world to take an interest in this unique civilization… it is unparalleled, with first-rate technological development, which left nothing in its wake, but advanced everything. It’s like searching for the lost civilization.”

Experts agree that the discovery of El Argar marked a break with respect to the preceding Copper Age, regarding technological development, economic relations, urban and territorial organization patterns and funerary rites.

The Sirets, at the end of the 19th century, excavated ten Argaric sites and opened more than a thousand tombs, resulting in the destruction of the human remains. However, they carefully drew everything they found.

“The culture of El Argar is the first [class-based] society in the Iberian Peninsula. The central settlements accumulated an important part of the production surpluses and the work force. The effects of said control are manifested in the normalization of ceramic and metallurgical products and in the restricted circulation and use, above all, of metallic products,” assert the experts from UAB.

But not all the inhabitants of these cities accumulated wealth to the same extent, as evidenced by the exhumed goods of the ruling class. In 1984, Vicente Lull and Jordi Estévez distinguished three social groups. The most powerful class – made up of 10 percent of the population – enjoyed “all the privileges and the richest trappings, including weapons such as halberds and swords.” 50 percent of individuals, meanwhile, were of modest means and had recognized social-political rights, while 40 percent of residents were condemned to servitude or slavery.

“One of the characteristics of this society is that it was closed in on itself. Its defenses not only served as protection, but also created a cloistered society dominated by an oppressive ruling class,” Lull notes. Such aristocratic oppression likely could have triggered the end of the civilization.

The end of El Argar gave way to the late-Bronze Age. The causes of the collapse of Argaric society seem to have been various socio-economic and ecological factors. Possibly, the overexploitation of the environment led to ecological degradation that made economic and social reproduction unfeasible. The end of El Argar is characterized by the depletion of natural resources, work tools and the workforce, the latter in the form of high infant mortality and more diseases. Perhaps this situation led to an unprecedented social explosion and complete disappearance of this civilization, as evidenced by the fact that many of the unearthed buildings show signs of having been burned on all four sides.

Following the destruction, there was complete silence, only broken by the permanence in Alicante and Granada of some small Argaric groups – populated by the fleeing ruling classes – that survived another century.

Of the hundreds of Argaric tombs studied, one stands out that archaeologists call the Princess of La Almoloya, a young woman who died in the year 1635 BC. She was buried at the head of a unique building with her linens, ceramics and thirty valuable objects made of gold, silver, amber and copper. Beneath her grave, the body of a man who had died years before was found.

About 100 kilometres from Pliego, in Antas – the economic and political center of El Argar – a building was found that included a large room, with benches and a podium. It could accommodate 50 people. The researchers assume that it was a kind of parliament, perhaps the first in the world.

“We will never know what was discussed there,” says Lull, “because the Argarics, despite their development, did not master writing. It’s a mystery about a mystery.”

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Olivia Newton-John, the ‘Grease’ star who became a global icon | Culture

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She always felt more comfortable as a singer than as an actress, but it was her role as Sandy in the musical Grease (1978) that made her a global icon. Olivia Newton-John died Monday at the age of 73 from breast cancer at her ranch in California. The news was confirmed by her husband.

In a statement posted on social media, her widower John Easterling said: “Dame Olivia Newton-John (73) passed away peacefully at her Ranch in Southern California this morning, surrounded by family and friends. We ask that everyone please respect the family’s privacy during this very difficult time.”

“Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer. Her healing inspiration and pioneering experience with plant medicine continues with the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund, dedicated to researching plant medicine and cancer.”

Olivia Newton-John was the granddaughter of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Born, a Jew exiled to the United Kingdom from Nazi Germany. She was born in Cambridge, England, in 1948, and when she was only five years old, her family moved to Melbourne in Australia, where her father worked as a German teacher. She started out very young in the world of music, performing first with a group of schoolmates and then as a solo singer. At the age of 17, she won a talent contest on Australian television, which saw her move to the United Kingdom, where at 18 she recorded her first single.

While living in England, the singer was briefly performed with Pat Carroll. After separating (he had to return to Australia when his visa expired), she released her first album in 1971, If Not for You. The title paid tribute to a Bob Dylan song that had also been recorded by George Harrison.

Olivia Newton-John, during a concert in Hong Kong, in August 2000.
Olivia Newton-John, during a concert in Hong Kong, in August 2000.Reuters Photographer (REUTERS)

Newton-John represented the United Kingdom at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, with the song Long Live Love, chosen by popular vote among six options. She came fourth, while ABBA won the contest with the song Waterloo.

The British-Australian actress is known worldwide for starring in the 1978 musical Grease, alongside John Travolta. Her role as Sandy catapulted her to fame with songs such as You’re the One that I Want, Summer Nights and Hopelessly Devoted to You. Newton-John was initially reluctant to accept the role that would make her career. She wasn’t sure she wanted to be an actress and also felt that, at 28 years of age, she wasn’t the best fit for a high school student.

Finally, after several screen tests and at the insistence of Travolta, who was 23 at the time, but already a star thanks to the movie Saturday Night Fever, she accepted. “I couldn’t have done the film if I hadn’t met John, because I wasn’t sure about doing it. He convinced me,” confessed Newton-John in an interview conducted in early 2019. The film script was changed slightly to account for the singer’s Australian accent.

The actress maintained a lifelong friendship with Travolta, who posted a message mourning her death on social media on Monday: “My dearest Olivia, you made our lives so much better. Your impact was incredible. I love you so much. We will see you down the road and we will all be together again. Yours from the first moment I saw you and forever! Your Danny, your John!” The two appeared in public for the last time in December 2019, dressed as their characters from Grease.

Grease was the highest-grossing film of the year of its release and its soundtrack, which is also the soundtrack of an entire generation, remained at the top of the charts for weeks. The actress was nominated for a Golden Globe and appeared at the Oscars ceremony the following year singing Hopelessly Devoted to You, which was nominated for Best Song.

Before Grease shot her to worldwide fame, Newton-John released the song Let Me Be There, which won her a Grammy for best female country vocal performance.

The album cover for ‘Physical.’
The album cover for ‘Physical.’

After Grease, she starred in films such as Xanadu and topped the charts with songs such as Physical, from 1981. The same-named album was the first to have a music video for each song. As a singer, she won four Grammy Awards, although she was never very popular with critics.

From 1984 to 1995, Newton-John was married to actor Matt Lattanzi, with whom she had a daughter, Chloe Rose. Her next partner, camera operator Patrick McDermott, who disappeared at sea in 2005. In 2008, she married tycoon John Easterling, the founder of Amazon Herb Company.

In 2019, Newton-John was diagnosed again with stage four breast cancer with metastases in the back. The actress, who had battled the disease in 1992 and in 2013, told the television show 60 Minutes Australia that she did not know how long she had left to live. “For me, psychologically, it’s better not to have any idea of what they expect or what the last person that has what you have lived, so I don’t, I don’t tune in,” she said.

Newton-John called on Australia to allow the use of marijuana for medicinal and palliative use, in line with California, where she lived. Her daughter has a cannabis farm in Oregon.

Her loved ones also recognize her fundraising work for cancer research. In one of her most famous campaigns, the singer auctioned off some of her personal clothes, including outfits she wore on Grease.

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Justified: Generation Z doesn’t like Justin Timberlake anymore: the ‘new king of pop’ apologized too late | Culture

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Twenty years ago, Rolling Stone magazine crowned Justin Timberlake (Memphis, Tennessee, 41 years old) “the new king of pop.” This summer, a video of the singer dancing at Washington’s Something in the Water festival accumulated millions of views on social networks, but not for the reasons he would like. Commenters called the star “creepy,” “hilarious” and “embarrassing.”. “Justin Timberlake still thinking he has any swag left while wearing those Old Navy khakis on stage,” jeered one Twitter user. “This is the height of gentrification,” wrote another. When did Justin Timberlake, once the biggest star on the planet, the world’s best pop dancer and the coolest man in the entertainment industry, become a pop culture piñata? Timberlake has been irritating public opinion for 20 years. Now, all the backlash is hitting him at once.

Timberlake released his first solo album, Justified, in 2002 at the age of 21. The promotional campaign coincided with his breakup with Britney Spears. He used the “Cry Me A River” music video, which featured a lookalike of the pop singer, to make it clear that she had cheated on him. Timberlake revealed on two different radio shows that he had had sexual relations with Spears, despite the fact that during their courtship both had proclaimed their intention to be virgins at marriage.

Timberlake continued talking about Spears over the years. In 2013, he referred to her in a Saturday Night Live sketch about his ancestors’ wishes for their descendents: “He’ll date a popular female singer. Publicly they’ll claim to be virgins, but privately, he’ll hit it.” At a 2007 concert, while Spears was in a rehabilitation center for her mental problems and addictions, he alluded to her more indirectly: he ended “Cry Me A River” singing the chorus of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab.”

In 2004, Timberlake participated in the Super Bowl halftime show alongside Janet Jackson. At the end of the performance he uncovered her breast for 9/16 of a second before an audience of 143 million viewers. More than 200,000 viewers complained to CBS. In the midst of the Iraq war, the so-called Nipplegate incident occupied ample space in the conservative media, which fueled the controversy to the point of sinking Jackson’s career. Radio and television channels stopped broadcasting her, ABC canceled a movie about Lena Horne that she was going to star in and Disney World removed a statue of Mickey Mouse dressed as Jackson.

Justin Timberlake at Something In The Water festival, in Washington, last june.
Justin Timberlake at Something In The Water festival, in Washington, last june.2021SHANNONFINNEY (WireImage)

Timberlake, by contrast, suffered no consequences. The Grammys canceled Jackson’s planned appearance, but Timberlake did perform, winning two awards and using his speech to apologize. He didn’t mention his stage partner. At no time did Timberlake publicly defend, support or apologize to her. What he did do was criticize the singer’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, in which Jackson claimed to have felt betrayed by Timberlake. Many fans believe he insulted her on the song “Give It To Me:” “Could you speak up and stop the mumbling? I don’t think you’re getting clear. Sitting on the top it’s hard to hear you from way up here. I saw you trying to act cute on TV. Just let me clear the air. We missed you on the charts last week. Damn that’s right, you wasn’t there.” “Give It To Me” reached number one on the United States’ charts.

Timberlake’s album Future Sex/Love Sounds was the third best-selling album of 2006. Three of its songs went on to reach number one: “Sexyback,” “My Love” and “What Goes Around Comes Around,” which also attacks Spears.

His wedding to actress Jessica Biel in 2012 generated controversy. A video, orchestrated by one of his friends to be projected during the reception, was leaked in which several homeless people from Los Angeles congratulated Timberlake and expressed their regret at not being able to attend the event, which was held in Puglia (Italy) and cost six million euros. The friend in question paid €30 to each homeless person for their participation. That month, Shriners Children’s Hospital announced the end of its relationship with Timberlake.

The current of public opinion definitively turned against him until 2016. Grey’s Anatomy actor Jesse Williams gave a speech at the BET gala about the need to rebel against cultural appropriation: “we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment.” Timberlake reacted by tweeting “#inspired,” to which journalist Ernest Owens replied, “Does this mean you are going to stop appropriating our music and culture? And apologize to Janet.” “Oh, you sweet soul,” replied the singer. “The more you realize that we are the same, the more we can have a conversation. Bye.” Given the controversy, Timberlake deleted the tweet but insisted that “we are all one…one human race.”

Justin Timberlake y Britney Spears.
Justin Timberlake y Britney Spears.James Devaney (WireImage)

That exchange sparked a media conversation about cultural appropriation and the well-intentioned passivity of white celebrities. Timberlake has built his career drawing on black aesthetics, musicians and culture. His sound has oscillated between R&B, hip hop, funk and soul, but for him, as Candance McDuffy wrote in Glamour, “black culture is a lucrative disguise that he can remove as soon as it ceases to benefit him.” Or as Luria Freeman summed it up in Vibe, “Justin owes his voice to the black community, but he remains silent.”

In early 2018, Timberlake released his fourth album, Man Of The Woods. He traded his image as a neo-Sinatra heartthrob for flannel, jeans, and fur coats, finding himself in the wilderness of the Wild West (the singer has a ranch in Montana). Criticism raged against the project. “Justin Timberlake relaunches his brand, now as a white man,” The Outline headlined. “Montanans laughed at the notion that a multimillion-dollar home at a private ski resort, filled with other non-Montanans, would evoke ‘the Wild West’; others suggested that he’d watched The Revenant or listened to Bon Iver once and co-opted the signifiers,” observed Anne Helen Petersen on Buzzfeed.

Critics saw Justin Timberlake’s reinvention as another disguise. “Justin Timberlake hasn’t suddenly reclaimed his white masculinity for the first time with Man of the Woods. It’s been with him all along. It’s just that now it’s become impossible to ignore,” wrote Constance Grady for Vox.

The night Justin Timberlake performed at the 2018 Super Bowl halftime show, becoming the first person to take that stage three times, #JusticeForJanet was a trending topic on Twitter. While Jackson’s career remained in shambles 14 years after Nipplegate, Timberlake returned to the scene in style. In addition, many fans considered Prince’s appearance in a giant hologram yet another jab by Timberlake at black culture and an act of disrespect towards Prince, who had stipulated that he did not wish to appear in holograms because he considered them demonic. The press considered it one of the least memorable intermissions of the Super Bowl.

At the beginning of last year, the documentary series The New York Times Presents devoted an episode to Britney Spears’ career and another to the collapse of Janet Jackson’s career after the Super Bowl. In both, perhaps the two most emblematic episodes of misogyny in 2000s pop culture, Timberlake played an antagonistic role. And in both he went unpunished. “Timberlake’s shine has worn off, leaving behind an uncomfortable tale of a man who enjoyed continued success at the expense of other people’s losses,” wrote journalist Chelsea McLaughlin.

Last month, Rolling Stone, the same magazine that two decades ago proclaimed him the new king of pop, analyzed Timberlake’s viral dance in Washington. It blamed Generation Z for the singer’s new status. “Zoomers, particularly those on TikTok, are really good at making previously lauded white men seem remarkably uncool. This is a curse that has now befallen Justin Timberlake, the once pop prince.” But singer’s decline in popularity goes beyond social media run-ins. “The new reckoning around him feels like a cultural exorcism, a chance to use the boy band vessel to purge ourselves of the evils he now represents to many,” writes Maria Sherman at Slate.com. “Timberlake has become the perfect emblem of a bygone era that rewarded guys exactly like him—until it didn’t.”



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