Censorship for Good in Art and Politics

Apparently, we now live in a climate of dastardly deeds for noble causes. There are elaborate arguments to justify suppressing this or that person in the name of morality, and it is supposed that we will be sufficiently wooed or intimidated by these arguments to not notice the tactics themselves are sinister.

If you pan back and don’t get caught up in the ever-so-confusing verbiage, and just look at the precedent used, these tactics violate the simplest moral ideas we were taught as school children: actions speak louder than words; don’t judge a book by its cover; and do onto others as you’d have them do to you.

The first case of hitting below the belt while calling foul comes from CNN. CNN was morally outraged because some dude had the audacity to use his computer to make an animated GIF of Trump beating up CNN. Well, it was some old promotional wrestling footage of Trump acting like he’s pummeling an opponent, and the dude just put CNN’s logo over the victim’s face. That’s it folks. See for yourself.

Whether you like Trump or not – I know, I know, you HATE him – this GIF animation seems pretty innocuous. It’s pro-Trump, and anti-CNN, and is most likely connected with “fake news”. CNN was, for lack of the more internet-appropriate word, butthurt.

Maybe I don’t know what America is anymore. I thought I had a general grasp of it, and in my conception you were pretty safe making fun of big businesses, politicians, and other public figures. Seems I’ve been seeing that sort of thing my entire life, and it’s one of the defining characteristics of American culture. I mean, you sure can take a shit on presidents, including Trump. You can make tiny hands and tiny penis sculptures of him, place them in public, and it’s cool. I’ll spare you having to look at that again. But check out THIS animated GIF, which everyone was fine with (I shared it on Facebook myself):

CNN is arguing that the wrestling GIF encourages violence against CNN and its reporters or staff. The GIF where Trump is sent sprawling – after his “grab the pussy” boast – significantly doesn’t encourage violence against his individual person. I smell a double standard.

What CNN elected to do was track down the individual who took it upon himself to make the GIF and threaten him. Turns out it was a guy by the moniker, “HanAssholeSolo”, who originally posted the GIF on Reddit. Here’s what CNN had to say about how they judiciously handled this delicate matter:

“CNN is not publishing “HanA**holeSolo’s” name because he is a private citizen who has issued an extensive statement of apology, showed his remorse by saying he has taken down all his offending posts, and because he said he is not going to repeat this ugly behavior on social media again. In addition, he said his statement could serve as an example to others not to do the same.

CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”

It couldn’t have worked out better for the government of China CNN. They completely crushed their target and exacted a lengthy apology. He took down ALL of his offending posts and promised not to exhibit any ugly behavior on any social media for the rest of his life. And should he dare slip-up, CNN reserves the right to publish his identity.

If you don’t know (I only learned this in the last couple years), when you publish someone’s identity on the internet, it’s called doxxing, and part of the problem of this, which CNN offered themselves, has to do with safety: the doxxed individual becomes vulnerable to harassment or even violence.

If we connect these two dots just sitting next to each other and holding hands, we can see CNN threatening to expose an individual to violence, and perhaps there were legal threats, in order to completely silence criticism.

This policy by CNN makes them look far worse than any GIF anyone could ever make, and pretty much retroactively justifies the criticism of them in the first place. What kind of organization isolates an individual in the public and singles him out to make an example of for making a funny GIF about the rift between Trump and themselves?

The precedent here is that any news organization, or any organization, can squash an average American citizen for criticizing them on the internet. Imagine if Trump were to use this same power to crush all the people who made micro-penis paintings or sculptures of him, GIFs, or caricatures.

Trump, er, by me.

I just had to try my hand at a caricature. It’s irresistible.

This all reminds me of when W was our Commander and Chimp, as I used to call him (‘cuz he made those unfortunate chimp faces). I saw him about the way people see Trump now. I made Photoshopped hybrid Bush/monkeys, and even started a cartoon strip called “Disarm Dubya”.

I made a flash animation of his brain jumping out of his head and flipping him the bird. This was BEFORE the war started, and as an American citizen I was dragged into that war kicking and screaming. Incidentally, if I knew better, there’s no excuses for people like Hillary, whose job it was to know better, to not see what was obvious to me, when I was spending most my days doing temp work at the time.

After 9/11, Freedom Fries, flags materializing everywhere, and politicians falling like dominoes in a row to support a comically bogus justification for war – culminating in W giving Saddam and his sons two days to get out of Dodge City – I started to get nervous criticizing a guy who could smash countries if it made him hard. I thought that if something happened to me, nobody would really know or care. I wasn’t famous and didn’t work for a news outlet. Nobody was going to get my back.

Even back then, I thought I was just being paranoid. But NOW, when CNN got away with crushing an average Joe, there’s a new template in place. You best not say anything at all controversial or you can be steamrolled.


Everything seems backwards, hypocritical, and a double standard. It’s no longer a question of what is right, but of who is right. And if you are the who that is in the right, you can get away with murder.


The second case of censorship isn’t of a pro-Trump political statement, which is a category of free expression a lot of people could turn a blind eye to being smothered: it’s a painting.

Before I launch into the specific issue, it’s important to know that those protesting the painting would take serious exception to their demands being characterized as censorship. Censorship is not censorship if the meek practice it against the powerful, in which case it is not oppressive because it is fighting against the oppressor. It’s the opposite of censorship, or something.

So, a while ago certain radical activists took serious exception to a painting by Dana Schutz in the progressive-themed Whitney Biennale. Having gone to a vehemently politically correct & identity politics focused graduate art program, this just struck me as splitting hairs over critical theory. That’s what we did in all our critiques, so, quite naturally, many an artist or liberal arts major would take that inclination into the world outside of school. You’ve been trained for years to rip the shit out of your peers’ art for incidental or accidental or even non-existent sociopolitical faux-pas [is there a plural form of faux-pas?], in which case you are seen as top moral dog, and then you take this orientation to art and the universe and try to fashion a career for yourself doing this as your calling in life. That’s what it looked like to me. That sounds dismissive though, so I should qualify that I also think there’s something legit in the objections.

Here’s the reviled painting:

Schutz’ painting, “Open Casket,” which was shown in the Whitney Biennial.

If you follow my blog you know I’ve analyzed the living crap out of this, and you are doubtlessly sick of me flogging a dead horse. Well, this will be an abbreviated version with more focus on the newer protest, which I believe is much harder to defend.

For anyone who doesn’t know already, the painting is of Emmett Till in his casket, and he was tortured and murdered when he was 14 years old by some white, racist, knuckle-draggers because he was alleged to have attempted to flirt with a white woman. This happened back in the 50’s. Emmett’s mother decided to have an “open casket” so the world could see the horrors white supremacy visited on her innocent son. The photo circulated in black publications, and has the kind of iconic historical significance that the photo of Ann Frank might have for a sizable section of the Jewish population.

The artist says she was upset by the killing of unarmed black suspects by cops she’d heard about, including through the activism of Black Lives Matter, and decided to channel her emotions into a painting indicting white supremacy. She chose the historical image of Emmett Till to work from, and painted him more or less in her standard, signature style. The painting was chosen by the Asian curators for it’s positive social message, but, alas, her heartfelt painting giving the finger to white supremacists backfired, Big Time.

Black activist artists began to protest it, with one woman (at least 25% black herself) writing a petition that began as follows:

“I am writing to ask you to remove Dana Schutz’s painting Open Casket and with the urgent recommendation that the painting be destroyed and not entered into any market or museum … because it is not acceptable for a white person to transmute Black suffering into profit and fun, though the practice has been normalized for a long time.” ~ artist, Hannah Black.

You can’t miss her request that the painting be DESTROYED, not just removed (but don’t call this censorship). Another important idea here is not that the painting is itself inherently offensive (though some have argued it is) , but rather that a white person can’t be the one to paint it. In the same show it was OK for a black artist, for example, to paint the shooting of Philando Castile, which is much more current in everyone’s minds. I suppose an easy and oversimplified way to think of this is that a white person wouldn’t be the best candidate to teach a class on black history…

“The Times Thay Aint a Changing, Fast Enough!” by Henry Taylor.

There’s more to it, of course. Because the painting uses a benchmark event in black history, and a highly emotionally charged one at that, there’s a contest over what the image means, and what it means for a white person to paint it. That could be an interesting and enlightening discussion without the punitive measures.

The Whitney didn’t destroy or remove the painting, but what surprised me was the number of articles in art magazines supporting the protester’s call to destroy the work, which I see as a dangerous precedent. When it comes to splitting hairs in critical theory and ethics, I can get out my own magnifying glass, X-ACTO blade, and make some pretty good arguments why this protest might be a tad hypocritical. That’s more complicated and I’ve recently delved into that treacherous water here, but the second round of protests are pretty easy to dismantle. I will focus on that.

Currently, the artist has a solo show which has been in the planning for a couple years, and does not include the controversial painting. Nevertheless, and despite the shit-storm the artist already endured via the art world and social media – it’s never good to become a poster child for white supremacy – a new batch of protesters are demanding that the show be pulled because the artist needs to suffer consequences. Here a line has been crossed in the moral sand.

It’s one thing to claim that the painting didn’t mean what the artist intended, and in fact, from a black perspective, was pretty damned offensive, in which case it didn’t belong in a progressive art exhibit. In this case it is the unintended artifact that is offensive, NOT the artist herself.

It is something else entirely to seek to punish the artist herself by suppressing her other work and her career. This is chilling. In the past people who objected to a work of art would write a scathing piece of art criticism, not seek to exact revenge on the artist.

What is the precedent? Anyone can impose an interpretation on a painting, even if it is diametrically opposed to the artist’s intent, assign some deplorable moral transgression to the artist, demand the destruction of the offending work, and continue to persecute the artist throughout his or her career. Anything you paint can or will be used against you in a court of arbitrary and capricious condemnation.

Just imagine this in what you would see as the wrong hands. Perhaps the president or his cabinet decide that your painting supports terrorism, is anti-American, or is corrupting the youth (a catch-all demonization which was used on Socrates), demand it be destroyed, and that your career be suppressed because of your sins.

Because a painting doesn’t use words, you can easily superimposes whatever ridiculous interpretation you want, and then take action against the artist because of it.


One of these attempts to censor and punish a citizen issues from the neoliberal center, and the other from the radical left. Once the conservative right sees it is open season on artists and anyone who makes a GIF or other graphic, they too can jump in and start picking off individuals as well. It’s a free for all. You might think you are safe because you’re on the left, right now, or you follow whatever you watch on Rachel Maddow, but I don’t see how anyone is safe whose work touches on any sociopolitical content.

Alternatively, we could NOT makes excuses for WHO is allowed to censor (or, if you don’t like that word, we can just say suppress or destroy work and squash the individual), and instead stick to our principles. This censoring with impunity bullshit has gotten way out of hand, and seems to be a growing trend.

Do we want to debate our ideological adversaries (or people who just hold a different opinion), or do we want to be able to squash them like bugs? If you want the latter (see CNN and the current protest against Dana Schutz) than it’s a good sign you don’t deserve that power. We’d better all just agree to using argument, and not force, because, there may not be such a thing as a benevolent dictator.

~ Ends

 

 

 

 

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19 thoughts on “Censorship for Good in Art and Politics

  1. G’day Eric,
    You wrote “If you follow my blog you know I’ve analyzed the living crap out of this, and you are doubtlessly sick of me flogging a dead horse.” could not agree more, but this is the first occasion that you have really made sense about the issues you see spinning about, from Dana Schutz’ painting “Open Casket”. Given the historical meaning of Censor “1533. 1… magistrates in ancient Rome, who drew up the census of the citizen, etc. and had the supervision of public morals” (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary) I agree that those “protesting the painting would take serious exception to their demands being characterized as censorship.” is a fair complaint, you would have been far more accurate to characterise demands as ; bigoted persecution of innocent (professional incompetent maybe) individual. A judgement definitely underlined by the mobs vilification of Dana in unhinged vendetta mounted against her exhibition.
    Got admit reading some of these articles is a bad-trip through the looking-glass into an insane land indeed.

    That guy in the antipodeans.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe my thinking on the topic is getting more clear and crispy and I can deliver a more distilled, less belabored tincture. Writing about al lthis BS helps me to think it through. It’s getting more and more clear to me, but I have to be careful I’m not getting further and further out on a limb. It doesn’t seem to be the case, though. I don’t think these current protests or the bullying from CNN are at all defensible.

      Thanks for reading.

      Cheers.

      Like

  2. As an outsider, not american black or white, i totally understand asking that the artist and the institution to remove (but not destroy) the painting. The timing of that painting hitting the art scene is a crucial part of the story. The woman who claimed till made advances towards was in the news at the same time. She was dying and wanted to come clean — she said the boy neither ogled, whistled at, or touched her. She made the shit up. So i totally understand the anger — another white woman putting till on parade just didn’t sit right, no matter her reason. Then too, there was the mess around black lives matter. It was at the same time that those protests were going on. And black ppl were angry — if u were in the states at the time, i think you would understand their pain and frustration. Destroying the painting was going too far. But removing it? No that was understandable, even if you din’t agree with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would go along with the artist deciding that her painting was being received in a way she didn’t intend, and offending people she didn’t want to offend, and then in that case removing it. I might do that myself, and on reflection, it might have been the smartest thing she could have done. However, I do not agree with with the politics or the worldview or motives of the protesters, who, at this point, are seeking to use censorship as a way to punish an artist for a painting that isn’t even in the show. Note that the original protester against “Open Casket” forbid white people from signing her petition. These protesters have an ideology and an agenda which includes censorship of art and punishing people for perceived transgressions, and this is based on race. Wouldn’t want those tactics or mentality in the wrong hands. Though, I would argue, if those are the tactics someone is using, than they are automatically in the wrong hands.

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      1. Huh. I missed that part about forbidding white ppl to sign the petition – though it doesn’t surprise me. Are u still living abroad, Eric? If u are, u need to b here to feel the vibe — ppl are polarized on race, politics, art, religion, etc., more than ever b4. But they r focusing on the wrong things and while they are doing that, their representatives in washington, d.c. are pushing agenda that will make this a worse, not better, place to live.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hi, Kay. I’m not in the US and thanking my lucky stars. Your assessment of the situation there is about as bad as it appears from over here, but I was hoping that was a media creation and it wasn’t so bad on the ground. When I last lived in the US (over a decade ago) I lived in Brooklyn, worked in Manhattan, and took the subway at least 10 times a week. Never witnessed a single conflict based on race or religion. Maybe I was lucky, or sheltered, but things seemed relatively chill between citizens (not so with 9/11 and our wars). So, why, I wonder, have things gotten so much worse now.

          You say people are getting polarized, and at the same time we hear about “confirmation bias” and “echo chambers” in social media. I just read an article about how smart phones have impacted a generation of kids, leading to unprecedented levels of mental health issues, including suicide. The smart phones came out in 2007, and since then people are glued to social media all day. I was thinking that the race stuff is a media driven, click-driven, self-fulfilling prophecy, and now I can link that with the emergence of the smart phone. But, I also suspect that very clever folk in the upper echelons are craftily manipulating all this for their personal benefit. Well, that’s all just wild guesses and tin-foil hat speculation on my part, but I’m suspicious that the population is just getting more tribalistic and hateful on their own, out of the blue, and without anyone masterminding this for ulterior purposes (ex., the classic “divide and conquer”). It used to be the 99% vs. the 1%. Now the heat is off the 1% and the enemy is each other.

          Like I said, I’m just glad I’m not there for all this hatred, suspicion, and antipathy.

          Like

          1. I do think the 1 percent is manipulating our society and I start with the wretched koch brothers and that murdoch guy. As for the rest of us who are outside of the 1 percent, we have gotten greedier and greedier and we buy into the american dream crap of must have this and must have that no matter the cost. Oh and din’t get me started on the cost of anything to do with health care. Americans are so selfish, that they just look at it in terms of themselves and not as something that all should have, not as a privilege, but as a right. The exorbitant, prohibitive costs of anything to do with health is plain ridiculous. I know someone whose mom had early onset alzheimer’s. Within 3-4 yrs. she blew through her widowed mom’s retirement funds, a half a million u.s. $, and now looking at medicaid or medicare or whatever it is the indigent in our society have (for now). How is it right, that 3-4 yrs. of health care should cost that much?
            My own mom worked her ass off. Came from jamaica and cleaned up after old ppl in homes and private settings. No nest egg like my friend’s mom. She lost her home partially because of early alzheimer’s — anyway, she spent her last few yrs in an assisted living facility that catered to 6-8 ppl at a time. She was comfortable and it didn’t cost $500k to take care of her for 3 yrs. there is a real disconnect in this country; ppl don’t understand getting value for their money when it comes to health care. They accept these phenomenal prices as though they are normal. They are not normal. They r beyond ridiculous. Do u kno how ling it would take the average person earning minimum wages to earn (not save) $500k? They probably wouldn’t even earn that in an entire lifetime, yet that much and more is required for health care? Dumb.

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            1. I’m with you on universal health care, which is just one of the reasons I was for Bernie. I’m also big on free college, or at least community college (which was free when I took my first classes there). I also think the combo of universal health care, access to higher education, and an increased minimum wage would do more than most anything else to dissolve racial and other social tension in the US. At least everyone could feel they had a decent chance, could support themselves if there were willing to work, and their entire life couldn’t be destroyed over an illness or accident.

              Like

              1. Yes, the trouble with America though, is that they see these things as privileges, not rights. Bring up any of those two things as rights for the masses and even the masses start screaming about socialism. There is a super-conflation of democracy and capitalism here. America seems to think both theories are one and the same. One percent, or 98 percent, you din’t need all the shit you think you do but you do need an educated and healthy (in mind, spirit and body) populace. Anything less and you are in the same position as the third world, minus their general attitude towards life which is that it is for living.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Yeah, to me it seems amazing how brainwashed Americans are about all that. Y’know, “freebies”. Well, I’m sick of giving “freebies” to the military industrial complex, and bailing out too-big-to-fail banks. Besides which, last time I paid taces in America I paid over 30%, so, seems to me like I was paying for my freebies. Plus, you look at the countries with the highest standard of living, and they have those things.

                  Nevertheless, a lot of the art world and the left was for Hillary, so, I guess they were just counting on making it into the big leagues or were voting for her ovaries.

                  And then, howe many Americans went to public school? Socialism! Basically, it’s the rich brainwashing the poor to think they don’t want those basic rights because they would be taxed for them.

                  Like

  3. I don’t even understand the call for boycotting her work, her entire oeuvre. Objecting to the Till piece at the time they did, i’m okay with that. But what does that one piece have to do with her entire life’s work? But see? That is what i mean by ppl here getting riled up and focusing on the wrong thing(s). Welcome to our new and unimproved America.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, this new protest doesn’t make sense and seems mean-spirited. However, a lot of people believe in it, and the art magazines published articles about it. I’m sure the U.S. has multiple problems, but this one has a lot to do with identity politics becoming more radical or even militant, and the art world becoming more and more about politics and social justice, etc. Artists could always engage in politics outside of their art, so I see no reason or art to be fused to politics, but it was when I was in grad school, and now the world seems to have caught up. But I had huge problems with this stuff in grad school, a quarter century ago, and still do. People look back now and laugh at some of the more virulent apostles of feminism, for example, that I used to have to read in college, such as Andrea Dwarkin, who basically make masculinity automatically toxic, in which case if you are a boy, you are BAD, end of story. Sure, patriarchy and chauvinism is bad, but so is the reverse.

      The problem in the U.S. seems to be people becoming more tribalistic, and that’s just going to keep accelerating until we put the breaks on it. It seems so stupid to me – all about judging books by their covers – than it doesn’t make any sense in 2017. We are bringing back racism and all other forms of prejudice, and they are going in every direction. And part of the problem with the protests against Dana are people actually believe she is a BAD person, and we know she’s bad because she’s white. Too much reductionism justified with ridiculous arguments. Nuts.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ignoring Eric Wayne and the new media puppets.

    Censorship, Manipulation, and Sensitive Art.

    Using the internet to brainwash and “sensitize” Eric Wayne’s generation.

    Like

    1. I can’t make any sense out of your comment. At first I thought it was SPAM, because often SPAM is translated into multiple languages, poorly, and incoherently. Then I thought English might not be your first language, or maybe you used Google translate to get the English and something was lost in translation.

      If it’s not the above, and it is an attack, than an incoherent attack is kinda’ like your amunition blowing up in your face. Can you elaborate on whatever it is you were saying?

      Like

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