Campus News

Matt Taibbi headlines UB’s Humanities Festival

Concept of democracy: multiple simple figures with eyes in shades of red and blue.

Democracy is the theme of this year's Buffalo Humanities Festival.

By BERT GAMBINI

Published September 12, 2019

Portrait of UB Humanities Institute Director David Castillo.
“What could be more important these days than democracy?”
David Castillo, director
UB Humanities Institute
Matt Taibbi.

Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi, a National Magazine Award-winning columnist and author of the forthcoming book “Hate Inc.: Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another,” will be the keynote speaker at this year’s Buffalo Humanities Festival. Taibbi will speak at 8 p.m. on Sept. 20 in Asbury Hall in Babeville, 341 Delaware Ave., Buffalo.

His talk is the centerpiece for the three-day annual event organized by UB’s Humanities Institute (HI) in partnership with SUNY Buffalo State, Canisius College, Niagara University, and Humanities New York. This year’s festival takes place Sept. 19-21 at various community locations.

The festival’s theme is Democracy, the latest component in a five-year arc of urgent and timely topics that began with Environments and Revolutions in 2017 and 2018, and will continue next year and in 2021 with Utopia and Life.

“The festival creates a vehicle for interactions between academics and the community on the most important issues of our time,” says David Castillo, UB professor of Romance languages and literatures and HI director. “What could be more important these days than democracy?”

“Having these kinds of conversations in a presidential campaign year is crucial,” adds Christina Milletti, an associate professor in UB’s English department and the HI’s executive director. “The range of presentations we’ve scheduled pressure our ideas about democracy in provocative ways.”

General admission tickets for Taibbi’s spotlight talk are $20 for the public and $15 for students. There is a separate VIP reception with Taibbi in Babeville’s Ninth Ward. The VIP reception is included with the purchase of a VIP Full Festival Pass, which is $60 for the public and $40 for students.

Tickets are available online at http://www.ubevents.org/events/buffalohumanities19.

Taibbi, who in 2002 co-founded the Buffalo-based alternative weekly “The Beast,” will discuss his forthcoming book, available in October. This is the latest in a succession of New York Times Bestsellers, such as “Insane Clown President,” “The Divide,” “Griftopia,” and “The Great Derangement.”

“Hate Inc.” explores how media in the digital age have monetized anger and paranoia into a misshapen representation of “the news” that more closely resembles an internet- inspired sideshow than the presentation of thoughtful journalism.

“We must begin to think more carefully about the mission of the traditional press as central to the proper functioning of democracy, and how that mission is evolving in the context of new digital media, the social media effect on the news cycle, and the creation of media silos that allow users to shop for and frame their own reality,” says Castillo.

“Matt’s book is perfect for our focus on informational media in the context of democracy and how we can reclaim the mission of the press as a significant player in the maintenance and health of our democracy.”

The festival opens on Sept. 19 at 6:30 p.m. in Asbury Hall with a conversation titled “Democracy and the Legacy of Racism,” featuring New York Times bestselling author Ibram X. Kendi, professor of history and international relations at American University and the founding director of The Antiracist Research & Policy Center, and Chenjerai Kumanyika, assistant professor of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University and co-host of the podcast “Uncivil.”

The Sept. 19 events are free and open to the public, but online registration is required at http://www.ubevents.org/events/buffalohumanities19.

Saturday is a full day of talks, panels and performances featuring local educators, media representatives, artists, thought leaders, change agents and community organizers.

The day opens at 10:30 a.m. with “Don’t Stop the Presses!” in which Jody Biehl, director of the Journalism Certificate program at UB, will lead a plenary panel that includes Taibbi and members of the local media.

Eleven other talks will be presented throughout the day, offering attendees a variety of paths to explore democracy’s range through historical, political, artistic and legal explorations of the festival’s theme.

Saturday only passes are $20 for the public and $10 for UB students and include lunch provided by the West Side Bazaar if purchased by 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 15. Passes are available at http://www.ubevents.org/events/buffalohumanities19.

“This is all part of our public humanities priority at the institute,” says Milletti. “We want to engage the community in a dialogue about the issues we’re discussing on campus. By getting everyone in the same room, we create connectivity and collaboration and keep those conversations moving meaningfully forward.”

The festival is part of a humanistic vision of education and community engagement, according to Castillo, “not top-down communication, but a dialogue.”

“It’s face-to-face interaction, cooperation, inquiry and debate that are essential to democracy. This form of government simply cannot survive without free-thinking participants and we cannot have free-thinking participants without information that is evidence-based and knowledge-based.”