A blog dedicated to art, entertainment, language, and culture.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Adult Conversation at a Children's Art Museum

I was struck by one NPR news story today titled "Palestinian Kids' Art Deemed Unsuitable for Children."  Firstly, that's a wonderful title brimming with irony and you can figure out very quickly what the report is going to be about.  The reporter discussed a cancelled exhibit of artwork created by Palestinian children that would be displayed at the Oakland Museum of Children's Art.  The artwork was described as violent and depicted Israel (and by extension Judaism) in a demonizing fashion.

I can see why strong supporters of Israel and Jewish activists would find the art offensive, but it seemed one of the voices against the art did not quite understand that it was created by children:
"First of all, we believe the content of the exhibit, which is intended for children, was extreme, was violent, and it defames an entire ethnic and religious group, both Israel's and Jews... There's no attempt to provide a picture of the suffering on both the Palestinian side and the Israeli side of the conflict.  This is a bias, one-sided perspective that was being organized by an advocacy organization that really was trying to take advantage of the good will of this children's museum."
The Rabbi speaking was probably attempting to be critical of the organizers first and not the child artists at all.  But it does seem strange to assume that artwork created entirely by Palestinian children would be fair and even-handed.  It, of course, would be biased against Israel and insensitive toward Judaism.  This art exhibit could probably have been suited for an adult audience.  Walking through a museum and seeing images depicting Israeli oppressors would be alarming to adults (knowing all we know of history and global politics).  Those images being created by children could display how racism and jingoism are formed at such young ages and the terrible plight of children in war-torn and bloodied regions of the world.  It would be a great lesson for grown-ups.

I'm not sure what age groups the Oakland Museum of Children's Art aims to receive, but I do think children as well as adults should be allowed to see that sort of artwork, especially together.  Parents should be glad to expose their children to things that help strengthen their understanding of the world.  They could communicate with each other, talk about important things.  Just because it's called "adult conversation" doesn't mean adults are the only people doing it.

Clearly a three-year-old shouldn't go see that sort of art.  A three-year-old can't really grasp the point of any art.  I'm not exactly sure what age would be the most suitable to take to the exhibit.  Children develop at vastly different speeds.  Some might be ready for artwork depicting Israeli/Palestinian conflict at a younger age than others.  The decision to take a child to the museum would need to be based on whether or not the parent feels one is ready for that exposure.  If they get there and the child responds poorly then it's probably wise to take the kid home and watch The Goofy Movie or something (maybe go to the park or read a book together.)

I never like art censorship even for children.  It seems even more ridiculous to censor children's art from children.  Obviously not every child is ready for disturbing, violent imagery.  So don't take them.  If the kids that are ready would go and see that exhibit they would learn something, especially if there they were allowed an open and honest discourse about it.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Words and Booing at a Republican Debate

I don't think I have the power to sit through a Republican Presidential Debate without becoming slightly horrified.  The most recent instance was when boos could be heard after a question was presented by a gay serviceman about a potential reinstatement of Don't Ask Don't Tell.  Of course, I thought the typical things: "Republicans are horrible bigots" etc.  But that's a silly and small initial reaction in need of being tempered with some common sense.  Slate helped provide some of that common sense as it pointed out one blogger in the audience's observation:
"The person who booed was just a few rows in front of us. The booing got an immediate and angry reaction from nearly everyone sitting around him, who hissed and shushed at him. Lots of loud gasps, 'Shhhh!' 'No!' 'Shut up, you idiot!' etc."
 The real interesting thing, to me at least, became the candidate responses.  The soldier's question was aimed at Rick Santorum whose reply seemed strange and meandering.  His initial statement follows:
"I would say any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military. The fact they are making a point to include it as a provision within the military that we are going to recognize a group of people and give them a special privilege to, and removing don't ask don’t tell. I think tries to inject social policy into the military. And the military's job is to do one thing: to defend our country..."
Rick Santorum, pictured on left.

The first sentence uttered is "I would say any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military," and that line taken by itself might be an attempt to avoid answering the question, but it doesn't really make much sense.  Santorum seems to believe that military persons should lack all sexuality (including hetero) and I think you would be hard pressed to find a handful of people that appeals to.

He then proceeds to show either a lack of understanding of the issue or displays an attempt to create some sort of straw man by stating: "The fact they are making a point to include it as a provision within the military that we are going to recognize a group of people and give them a special privilege..."

The first problem here is that Rick is not specifying a "they."  Contextually the only they that has been previously brought up is "the military," but the they in his second sentence is influencing the military.  He could be referring to homosexuals or liberals, but he never brought them up before "they."  It's really just a classic case of othering.  It doesn't matter if this they is real.

Secondly, he says there is some kind of provision being included, but repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell is not actually "providing" anything.  It's repealing.  By repealing DADT no "special privileges" were being provided to homosexuals that heterosexuals didn't already have.  In fact, before the repeal heterosexuals had the special privileges.

Then he mentions how repealing DADT is injecting social policy into the military... but it actually removes a social policy.  Santorum either had no idea what he was talking about or he was lying.

John Huntsman and Governor Perry also used peculiar language when asked about the audience response after the debate.  They both used the word "unfortunate."  Unfortunate is a very, very vague word. It doesn't express disgust.  It's not something you can exclaim.  When you here a distant relative just died that you had only met once you might say, "Oh!  That's unfortunate.  How are her kid's holding up?"  If you work retail and a person comes up to you and asks for something that you just ran out of you might say "Unfortunately we're out of that kind, but we have some others in this color."  Unfortunate is usually used passively and distantly.  It's non-confrontational.  Perry and Huntsman said "unfortunate" because they wanted to sound sympathetic, but they didn't care.

If they cared about reprimanding a bigot they could have said the booing was unbelievable, immature, offensive, disrespectful, wrong, or in poor taste.  Any of those words would have shown they cared even a little, especially about a serviceman.  At least the booing man gave an open and honest opinion on the matter and it's pretty pathetic when presidential candidates can be unfavorably compared to a bigot.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

When Jesus Accidentally Approved of Punching Pregnant Women

The execution of Troy Davis raises old questions about whether the death penalty is a fair action to pursue against a convicted felon, especially when that felon might have been wrongfully prosecuted.  I am not an informed opinion when discussing the life of Troy Davis.  I've heard two NPR reports on him in the past two days so I'm not going to be making any sweeping judgments about the man.  But I do find execution to be an outdated and barbaric practice that many Americans zealously cling to as if the act of execution was a divine right.  I remember watching a recent Republican Presidential debate and being shocked at the enthusiastic applause given to nothing more than the suggestion of executing hundreds of people.

I lived with a very nice, liberal Christian named Colin for about a year in college.  He is among the most vocal detractors of the death penalty and execution I have met (and this is not often the popular voice among Christians).  I very often associate Judeo-Christian values with genocide, the destruction of priceless works of arts, and setting fire to the last remaining copies of potential literary genius, but that's me.  I like to take the occasional quick jab at Biblical teachings, so I want to point to a quick back-n-forth Colin and I had on the facebook (the modern eras soapbox for crazy, uninformed opinions).

Colin: I will never understand how we came to the realization that the best punishment for murder is murder.
Myself: ‎"Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed" (Gen 9:6). The Bible tells us so.
Colin: ‎"You have heard it said, 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer." (Matthew [5:]38-39)

Now originally I was going to use that passage Colin's verse calls out: "eye of eye, tooth for tooth" etc.  But I made sure to look at it before using.  It doesn't actually apply to the situation above.  In fact, Jesus, in Matthew, is inaccurately quoting scripture.  Let's look at it:
"If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise." - Exodus 21:22-25
See, this Bible verse is about accidentally hitting a pregnant woman.  You could argue that it is making a greater allusion to a broader violence, but it doesn't apply to adult conflicts in any literal sense.
"If a man hits a manservant or maidservant in the eye and destroys it, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the eye. And if he knocks out the tooth of a manservant or maidservant, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the tooth." - Exodus 21:26-27
Immediately after 21:22-25 no eye is taken for an eye or tooth for tooth.  It's an eye for compensation and a tooth for compensation.  In 21:22-25 it's only really discussing what happens if a pregnant woman miscarries (or dies with child) because of injury brought about by violence.  

Jesus' famous statement in Matthew 5:38-39 is about kindness and indeed does promote non-violence.  Based on Matthew 5:38-42 alone all Christians should be completely passive, helpful, and peaceful.  It's a great thought.  But it has nothing to do with what the scripture he is quoting really says...oh wait...unless...

Do you think Jesus meant to tell people not to press charges for violence against pregnant women?  
"And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well." - Matthew 5:40
"...the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows." - Ex. 21:22b
Everyone's using legal language here.  Is Jesus saying, and this is just speculation, that if a man punches a woman in the gut and she has a miscarriage, she should not put forward actions against the man?  That's a pretty radical belief there, Jesus.  Maybe you should think about the woman's feelings.  At least when they were beating slaves back in the Torah they were telling people to compensate them for the injuries.  You're just telling the poor slave to take it with a grain of salt.

I get the verses in Matthew are promoting passivity and that you can't solve violence with more violence, I agree with that view.  But Jesus, Jesus, you're quoting the wrong scripture.  Quote from Genesis!  It's a better choice.  "An eye for an eye" makes a great sound-bite, but we don't want to endorse punching pregnant women!  So these are the verses that define much of contemporary, western belief on the matter of execution and violence.  Passages about punching women and a misreading of Exodus.  No, no, something's not right here...

Monday, September 19, 2011

This Plague Upon Our Nation

I want to open with a discussion of perhaps the most devastating plague upon our nation: Urinal Art.  Over the last year I have heard a surprisingly large amount (2 things on the internet) about art influenced by urinals, and considering I lived my entire life without reading news articles about urinals that is a staggering number.  A two-hundred percent increase in stories about urinal art.  A troubling statistic I fear will only grow.

That's a slight exaggeration.  Urinals probably aren't plaguing our fair nation, especially since I live in the US and neither of the recent pieces of urinal art have anything to do with the US.  And just to get it out of the way, I really like urinals.  That statement needs explanation.  I really like the fact that when you travel around the world everyone has a different idea of what a urinal should look like.  I've visited a lot of airports and a lot of strange backwoods locations in different countries and have found that urinals can vary greatly.  This has always fascinated me ever since my first trip outside the States, and I've given serious thought to dedicating my life to documenting the different types of urinals across the world.

Marcel Duchamp's Famous Fountain
Instead of doing that, I spent the better half of my day doing research online about urinals... so let's dig in to those articles, shall we:

The most recent article about urinal art was yesterday on jezebel.com where the discovery of urinals in a bar shaped like lipstick lined mouths provoked some controversy.  The argument against the urinals was that they promoted misogyny by symbolically peeing in the mouths of women.  The argument for was a slightly less stable stance that they were "funny" and could also be "the Rolling Stones lips."  The other occurrence of urinal art was back in June with a strange dress based on the Duchamp's Fountain.

I can't help but find the second piece (the Duchamp dress) significantly more disturbing and misogynistic than the first.  Duchamp's Fountain was a controversial work of art.  It was presenting something that was not public at all (urinals) and shoving it forward for the world to see.  That would have been new and mind-blowing back in the 1910s.  It was also a very early work of found art.  The artist didn't really "make" the piece as much as he discovered it.  This added to the question "what is art?"  Based on Duchamp's Fountain the answer to that question seems firmly locked in the eyes of the beholder and not the creator.

The Duchamp Dress
Almost a hundred years after Duchamp's urinal adventure we came to an ugly dress slapped onto some poor, undernourished woman made out of sequins.  I somehow feel the original intent of Duchamp's Fountain is lost here (if he really had some original intent).  Duchamp turned something nobody thought about as art into high art.  This dress takes something like fashion and turns it into a urinal.  Instead of making something everyone thinks is ugly and turning it beautiful we have a designer turning beautiful sequins into something ugly...and creepy.

I can't help but view that dress as a woman wearing a urinal (exactly what it is).  It seems misogynistic to me because it isn't far enough away from what is literally a woman for me to separate the two. The woman and the urinal occupy the same space.  They are essentially one.  This becomes only more uncomfortable with that painted teardrop hanging from the model's eye.  Why is she crying?!  Is it because people are peeing on her?!  Probably...

The O2's Lip-Shaped Urinals
The lip-shaped urinals are much more like Duchamp's Fountain than the creepy dress.  It seemed like the bar owners just found these urinals and they were kind of surprised by how bizarre they were.  If you walked into a men's restroom and came across bright red urinals shaped like human mouths you are going to take pause.  People walking in might look at them and be surprised, maybe laugh, maybe decide to use the toilet instead.  In a way, they provoke thought.  They are so abstract that it's hard to relate them to a gender upon initial glance, at least for me it was.  The urinals have a "shock value" that makes them surprisingly artistic and interesting.  I'm not sure it really matters if they are misogynistic or not, because no one's really going to take them seriously.  Feel free to disagree.  I would love to hear other opinion on them.

But as I stated before, I love urinals!  Let's look at some now:

Flower Urinals!
The world going down the drain!
Nature's Urinal!