Thursday, April 27, 2006

Loathing Fear

We interrupt our regularly scheduled art program for this brief political announcement (well, we do advertize "politics" in the banner).

When I hear the excuses of Americans willing to give up their civil liberties or, worse yet, let other people in some far off land get blown to smithereens to ensure the terrorists are occupied "over there" rather than here, I wonder what the f*ck they thought the world was like before 9/11? What fantasy of security had they allowed themselves to be lulled into? Were they really so convinced of their invincibility beforehand that the attacks changed everything? Weren't they aware that the world has always been totally fraught with such dangers, that people are murdered around the clock in every quarter of the planet, and that billions still ... STILL ... yearn to breathe FREE? I don't mind saying I think that being a gay man, and having to watch my back to avoid being bashed, has, thankfully, denied me that same false sense of security that I sense in some other Americans. The world has always been scary to me. You deal with it.

Surely, 9/11 rocked my world a bit more than the average day, but at no point since have I thought for even one moment that it's worth letting the government listen to my phone conversations, or check up on which books I've taken out, or even check my bag going into the subway to ensure it doesn't happen again, let alone grant the incompetent fool in the White House the power to grab me off the street for any reason he deems justified, ship me off on a CIA-chartered jet to some country where torture is standard operating procedure, and strip away any means whatsoever I might have once had to contest such actions. But this is what our world has come to. And make no mistake, anyone who voted for Bush last time around is complicit in those exact situations.

I've confronted the people I know who did vote for Bush on these issues, and almost unanimously they offer the same defense: it's worth it to prevent another 9/11. In other words, they're cowards. More than that, they're not worthy of the freedoms countless Americans before them died to protect.

In case you can't tell, I'm positively sick of seeing fear in the eyes of my fellow citizens. Sick of hearing them make excuses ("Well, if you're not carrying a bomb, why not let them check your bag? Only the guilty have anything to worry about."). Sick of hearing them justify the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis as OK because of some imagined threat to us or the insanely laughable lie that we're bringing them Democracy (yeah, like we're still the authorities on what that is).

Where did all this anger come from, you wonder? Partly it rose to the surface in response to the truly excellent
series on the "Dada" exhibition at the National Gallery that Tyler's been posting. From the first post, titled "Dada: Art about war":
"Dada" is a terrific exhibition about a terrible time. Just as important: It is a celebration of the power artists have to portray horrors, as well as a celebration of the voice they have in condemning the circumstances that produced those horrors. On view in Washington at a time when our nation is questioning the Bush administration's conduct before and during war in Iraq, it is a rare -- very rare -- instance of an exhibition at our National Gallery of Art bumping up against the news of the day.
And partly it's a response to this article about an artist arrested in London:

A woman who describes herself as an artist was arrested after a series of suspect packages sparked a security alert in west London, police in the British capital said today.

A number of suspicious items—apparently meant to be art installations—were left unattended at five locations in the busy Shepherd's Bush and Hammersmith areas just after 8:00 am local time.

As police closed a number of roads, prompting traffic chaos, and bomb disposal specialists were called in, a 36-year-old woman walked into a local police station.

"The woman, who is from the Shepherd's Bush area and who described herself as an artist, was then arrested on suspicion of causing a public nuisance and taken into custody where she remains whilst enquiries continue," police said.
Now, I'm not arguing that it's particularly clever of anyone to leave packages lying around in a city that's still reeling from a deadly terrorist attack, and I suspect the authorities are being as professional and level headed in their response as can be expected, but damn it, here's what the artist left at one location:
One in Shepherd's Bush consisted of three cardboard tubes supporting a polystyrene "altar" on which stood some flowers and a note lamenting the loss of a certain "Pelagius."

"Your absence has gone through us like thread through a needle. Everything we do is stitched with its color," the note read.
It's not even as transgressive as the piece here in New York, where an artist named Clinton Boisvert left boxes spray-painted black with the word "Fear" stenciled on them around the Union Square subway station (and again, I'm not arguing that the piece was brilliant, but it was essentially a valid critique). In that instance, as well, the police responded sensibily, not like some jack-booted thugs squashing the artist or throwing him in prison, so I'm not criticizing the city authorities here...I'm criticizing the national response that has led to the situation in which we're afraid of art. It's shameful.

Consider the massive response to the bombings in Madrid to see why. I'll let two pictures (one, two) tell the tale here.

This is how a people who treasure their freedom respond to terrorist attacks, by marching a million strong to say we will not cower. We will not live in fear. We will confront you en masse and let you know in no uncertain terms that these are our streets...our cities...our country. Boxes with "fear" on them left in Madrid that day would have been trampled into pulp by citizens marching together to demonstrate they were not afraid.

Yes, the world is a scary place. It freakin' always has been and forever will be. That's only tragic if you let it change your commitment to live freely despite the risks.


Anonymous pc said...

Ed, I'm impressed. I agree,the way to fight terror is with courage, not fear!

4/27/2006 09:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your voice on politics is missed! Wonderful.

And may I add there is a huge march against the War this Saturday in NYC at noon. It will start in Union Square and march down Broadway. Be there!

4/27/2006 10:16:00 AM  
Anonymous edna said...

great post.

4/27/2006 10:26:00 AM  
Anonymous onesock creeganite said...

I think the fear factor game this administration has been playing is waning. I know this country is essentially a fearful one (cuz we have so much lose?), but it varies.

I have become less fearful of our govt since retired generals and the media are starting to speak out. Now is the time to march!

The last 2 days I have been addicted to Google Earth (its free!). It really is amazing and makes one feel the grandness and fragiltiy of everything simultaneously.

4/27/2006 10:49:00 AM  
Anonymous jen d said...

thank you ed. you rule

4/27/2006 11:03:00 AM  
Blogger Paula Manning-Lewis said...

All I can say is...RIGHT ON ED! I agree completely!

4/27/2006 11:17:00 AM  
Blogger James Wolanin said...

Great post Edward!

Our government uses fear to control the public. Keep the citizens scared, and they will be more willing to surrender their freedoms for protection. It's time for us as a nation to turn off the television and stop acting like scared sheep listening to whatever bull crap the Bush administration spewing.

4/27/2006 11:21:00 AM  
Anonymous ml said...

The only thing to fear is fearmongering itself.

4/27/2006 12:22:00 PM  
Blogger JD said...

Yes, yes yes!!! Very eloquent post. And please, everyone, do come to the march this Saturday. Here's a link:

4/27/2006 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger Hungry Hyaena said...

Due to my inability to withstand crowds, I avoid marches and demonstrations at all costs. That said, I share your sentiment. It's baffled how willing people are to fear that which they can not control. Sure, be frightened of your own missteps and attempt to make good use of your dollar, muscle and spirit, but to buy into a culture of's weak and all too easy.

Your last paragraph is excellent. I'm happy to see a little vitriol, Edward. It resonates that much more given your usually tempered presentation.

4/27/2006 03:41:00 PM  
Blogger Art Soldier said...

More posts like this please!

I can personally speak to this loss of a "fantasy of security," as I was living in mid-America around the time of the attacks. While New York is an international, cosmopolitan city full of immigrants, we have to remember that most of our nation is still primarily isolationist. Isolationism breeds fear.

The real horror that 9/11 produced for most non-NYers or non-DCers is that it disrupted their culture of ignorant bliss. Most would love nothing more than to return to this state. But the flipside is that, for the first time in their lives, many have been forced to consider what it means to be a citizen of the world. As ignorance of our international neighbors disappears, this stronghold of fear will weaken.

This has already begun. Bush may have brilliantly, yet cynically, exploited American fears up to this point, but the tide is slowly turning. Anger is replacing fear, and will be in evidence as members of Congress face judgment in the upcoming mid-term elections. Those facing re-election will regret any misplaced association with the Bush administration's numerous abuses.

At least ... that's what I'm hoping for.

4/27/2006 04:24:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Yeah, excellent post. It is so ignorant of Americans to cash in their civil liberties chips so quickly... but we are living in very strange times.

I have been writing about the other side of the fear coin--the left's fearmongering approach to global warming education and outreach. I think it's all part of the same beast. There's a lot of powerlessness in the air. It's important to recognize it and not continue as if everything is normal and we still have a repesentative government and everything.


PS wish I could make your opening tonight.

4/27/2006 07:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

very well said, ed! i couldn't agree more.

4/27/2006 09:21:00 PM  
Blogger DilettanteVentures said...

In the US roughly 3000 people were killed on 9/11. 10,000 die EVERY year in car crashes. 10,000 die EVERY year from the flu. Rewriting/ignoring the constitution because of one spectacular (as in specatcle, NOT meant in a laudatory way) event is irrational. It's like people who won't fly, but drive to work every day. Highly publicized statistically improbable events trump invisible more statistically likely events. Rational fear is a good thing, prevents all sorts of nasty things from happening to us, irrational fear is debilitating.

4/27/2006 11:17:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Bush may have brilliantly, yet cynically, exploited American fears...

The idea of Bush doing anything brilliantly is a stretch for me. I do think he has brilliant yet cynical handlers.

4/28/2006 09:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Oriane said...

Right on, Ed!

4/28/2006 10:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Oriane said...

ps good show last night!

4/28/2006 10:42:00 AM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

Living in New York is, itself, an act of defiance against terror. I wish people in the Red States would remember that before they start slamming New Yorkers as "unpatriotic" for caring about things like, well, the Constitution.

4/28/2006 10:57:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

people in the Red States...

I guess the concept of Red States and Blue states was probably invented as an easy way to visualize election results, since most states are winner-take-all for electoral votes. But I don't think it accurately describes people's views.

Ohio in the last election went Red, though the votes were a pretty even split. New York could be probably be described as a Red City (don't you have a Republican mayor?). Even here in California, where almost everyone I know would considered themselves liberal, we somehow have a Republican governor. (Though he's also a movie star and his wife is a Kennedy, so it really gets confusing.)

I once had an exhibition at a small museum in Montana, and was amazed at how very unconservative the people I met at the opening seemed. At the end of the night the curator told me I had met every single Democrat in the whole state.

4/28/2006 12:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It really bothers me that everyone seems to agree here.

Also, it's funny how Winkleman uses the crowd as some sort of emblem for the right kind of thinking and behavior. Ever read MANIAS, PANICS and CRASHES? What about lynch mobs? Herd behavior? Groupthink?

4/28/2006 03:31:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I'm happy that someone has finally disagreed, actually, anonymous, as I know there are holes in the arguments I've made, but you seem to have leaped over the more obvious ones and landed on a rather odd suggestion of one, IMO. Having marched in a protest in Madrid about one year before the bombings (an anti-war march at the time), I can say that there was nothing even approaching a lynch mob mentality to the crowd. In fact, the crowd that time was a joyous, pan-generational, family-oriented group that really seemed to appreciate the fact that after years of oppression under Franco they could now do this at all. Knowing how they approached that protest, I can't imagine the darker associations you've dredged up would have applied to the protest after the bombings, but I wasn't there, so I can't say. The fact that the protests were peaceful, though, suggests you're grasping at straws here.

The question you raise tangentially, though, is important. Is it better for a people who feel shaken after an attack to withdraw and thereby only increase their suspicions about the "others" around them, or to come together and find comfort in knowing that the attackers were a small twisted minority and that the overwhelming majority of the "others" they'll see in the coming weeks and months are good people who were as shaken as they were, as vulnerable as they are, and as in need of comfort as they are? To suggest it's better to not come together for fear of some "groupthink" emerging seems selfish and short-sighted in my opinion. I'm sure not everyone would find comfort participating in the march, but I can't imagine anyone missing the message it sent that the people of Madrid would not cower.

4/28/2006 03:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps the mob in Madrid is really more like a church congregation...

4/28/2006 05:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Karl Zipser said...

Why is it that the political discussion seems like a break from the art discussion? Are art and politics appropriately separated? Or has art been channeled into a non-political zone, or a sanitized political zone, for the sake of commercialism?

Is it that the moment it becomes necessary to tell a real story, photographs take the place of art?

And yes, you are right: "land of the free, home of the brave" is a thing of the past, it seems.

4/29/2006 03:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All the thought in the world will not do 1 penny good until pennies fall from heaven.
Until the penny drops.


4/29/2006 09:13:00 AM  
Blogger Karl Zipser said...

Dear Edward Winkleman,

This is an email rather than a comment. I posted on the question, Why is it so difficult to be an artist? Some of the response comments were compelling, and not especially positive about the role of collectors and dealers. I wonder if you can offer a balancing view?

Best regards,


5/01/2006 04:26:00 AM  

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