What we see when we narrow our focus, and minds
First, they came for the public art — and since the only public art I’d ever presented was an abstract chalk drawing from the sixth grade … I hardly was in a position to kick up dust.
Next, they came for the video games — and since I’d lost interest in video games shortly after Pong and Zork … I hardly was in a position to wave a joystick in defiance.
Then, they came for “The Diary of Anne Frank” — and since I wasn’t a 13-year-old Jewish girl writing a journal while hiding in an attic space in the Netherlands for two years before being discovered, then taken to a concentration camp and dying of typhus, only to have attempts made to tarnish my legacy by conspiracy theorists who (in a demonic and destructive attempt at historical ethnic cleansing) would wipe not only Anne, but her relevance to the story of the Holocaust from the annals with their spurious claims that such events were simply propaganda force-fed to generations in an attempt to brainwash us … I hardly was in a position to …
… oh, snap.
The day the clowns cried at the entrance to the Collaborative Theatre Project handing out diary-debunking “research” pamphlets filled with cobbled-together bunk — complete with references to “the Jewish ‘Holocaust’ propagandists” and “maudlin, emotion-laden sympathy for the poor, persecuted Jews” — before tucking tail and lock-stepping out of there before authorities arrived, crystalized the cynical conceit of criticism that circles the drain these days.
Attacks on the arts don’t follow any set of rules or regulations ...rather, it’s the manner in which we object, rational or otherwise, that reveals less about the artist than the critic. Recent examples cover the spectrum of motivations, refracting aesthetic and political viewpoints.
In Ashland, the vox populi appears vexed by the installation of “Threshold,” a public sculpture created by a Seattle artist at the cost of $100,000 and common sense.
The 22-foot “Threshold” was deemed an acceptable replacement for “Gather,” the artist’s first attempt at satisfying Ashland’s soap-box builders that was rejected at first sight. If you look at the two sculptures side by side, it isn’t difficult to imagine that the individual metal rails of “Gather” were disassembled, twisted into Escher-ish strands of DNA, then raised toward the heavens.
Which, to me, makes sense. If “Gather” was to reflect the artist’s first visit to Ashland — individual pieces coming together to join at a communal apex — then a convoluted re-imagining woven into the genetic code that hoists the hoi polloi on their own petards to look down on passersby certainly could represent an artistic depiction of those who rejected the first design.
It’s an old joke — I’ve used it once or twice myself — but perhaps the perfect piece of public art to represent Ashland would be an empty space — representing the city’s inability to come to consensus on anything that would please its citizenry.
That hasn’t stopped the self-anointed from casting aspersions … but offering no alternatives, except that they want … well, something else.
In Washington, President Trump convened a meeting over the violent nature of video games and, reportedly, whether watching or playing such games desensitizes young minds to violence.
Now, before you start wondering what sort of video entertainment the president watched that has desensitized him — to, well, pick the group that has felt the sting of the Trumpotus’s sharp tongue and/or Twitter-fingers — there’s something to be said for looking at the correlation between being exposed to violence and committing horrendous acts.
Then-President Barack Obama, for instance, voiced similar thoughts following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, when that mass-murderer was found to have been deeply entwined with violent games.
And, even though there has been no scientific study that links video games to gun violence, there’s significant anecdotal evidence to conclude that blaming video games — or mental illness, or eating too much sugar, or the failure to enforce existing laws — is the road most often taken in a yellow-bellied wood when trying to account for mass shootings.
In Medford, it wasn’t a surprise to see Holocaust deniers show up to disrupt, however briefly, the start of the CTP’s performance of “Anne Frank.” After all, there are often nuts in the strudel — even if some might suggest there are some “very fine people” on both sides of the issue.
We should be more surprised, honestly, that we weren’t surprised. Our capacity for critical thinking has withered to the extent that brazen bigotry has become comfortable cowering under the cloak of free speech. That one-night stand by tinfoil-hat tubthumpers in Medford might seem insignificant; but it should serve as a reminder that those who attack the artistic depiction of history seek to alter the nature of both.
We can dismiss and belittle an artist’s creation; or attempt to use an art form as the fall-guy for a larger cultural issue; or challenge the very fabric from which a story is held together. Varying levels and legitimacy of response ... each meriting reflection.
And each in need of a mirror.
Reach Mail Tribune senior designer Robert Galvin at email@example.com.