Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Whose wall is it anyway?

I feel the need to take a break from all the good political news this week, and find something to get outraged about.  How about last week's decision by the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Los Angeles (where I work)  to whitewash a mural the museum had commissioned from the artist known as Blu, on the ground that it might be offensive to veterans?  Walls may be temporary, but the internet is forever, so in the interests of artistic freedom, I am going to post the offending piece of art here for posterity.  If you don't like it, click away.

Is this a case of balancing the rights of veterans not to have to view the possibly offending work vs. the free speech rights of artists?   The answer is none of the above.  Legally speaking, the artist has no rights in this case, because the work was commissioned by the museum, and presumably the contract gave the museum the right to do whatever they want with it, including painting it over, and presumably the artist was aware of that.  OK, so then the rights of any offended veterans should win.  I say no to that also, because veterans don't have any such rights.  If they are offended by a work of art, I would tell them that that is a legitimate reaction to any work of art.  In this case, the artist probably anticipated that some people might be offended, or at least provoked, by the work of art.  That is the whole point, isn't it?  I also wonder how many veterans would be easily offended by a controversial work of art.  I'm guessing that most veterans have seen lots of things more offensive than pictures of coffins draped with dollar bills.

But here is what I really want to say.  I'm frequently offended by a lot of the stuff I have to look at.  Bus ads, for example, are all pretty offensive to me.  In fact, I find advertising of almost any kind offensive.  And what about those television sets in every airport and every hospital waiting room?  Not to mention that they are now cropping up over gas pumps!  I have no desire to watch, but I cannot escape.   People who drive too slowly, or too fast, are also offensive to me.  As are people who take too long to pick out their food in the buffet line, or to count their change from their purses in the supermarket checkout line.  And people who stand on escalator steps without moving to the right to let those of us who do not like to break stride pass; that's another pet peeve of mine.  Glenn Beck, I find offensive, as with most of the crew on Fox News.  And to be fair, I have to say that Keith Olbermann can be annoying at times also.  John McCain has gotten quite offensive lately.  And Haley Barbour's comments on the Civil Rights era: Highly offensive! (I knew I'd find a way to tie this post in with the political themes of this blog.)

It seems to me that the people who are causing all of this offense to me have as much right to continue their offensive behavior as the artist who created the supposedly offending mural.  What I want to know is, why doesn't anyone who owns the public or private spaces in which these offending behaviors are tolerated feel compelled to make it stop, in the way that the MOCA director felt compelled to whitewash the wall before the paint on the mural was even dry?  Why don't these owners care about offending the sensibilities of people like me?  Is it because I am not a veteran?  Granted, we owe a special debt of gratitude to veterans, but do we owe them the right not to have to look at things that might offend some of them?  If we owe them that, then maybe we should do more to make VA hospital facilities more attractive, because I'm sure veterans find substandard facilities highly offensive.  At the same time, do we owe no consideration to ordinary citizens such as myself, who might be offended by lots of stuff that is allowed to go on in front of my face every day?  Just saying.


  1. Well, Joe, it just seems as if there are some of us who have more influence over things than others. A prime example of this happened a few months back when Palin went off the rails when Rahm Emanuel used the word retarded in a way that was not related to special needs kids. She got lots of attention for pretending to be offended, even connecting Rahm's use of the word to her kid. Limbaugh used the word on his show, and we heard nothing but crickets from Palin.

    As for the art piece, I like it. It says several things to me. First, we're losing our citizens in needless wars. Second, the money that we're spending on military operations could help our citizens at home and save the lives of our service persons. Third, the companies like Xe are making out like bandits, getting rich off of the misery, suffering, and deaths of our service persons. And finally, war is hell.

    Thanks so much for showing this art piece here, Joe. I would have never seen, or known, about it or its removal otherwise. I've always been a lover of art, and so is my daughter who majored in Art History in college.

  2. I couldn't agree more about the free speech rights of artists and that war is hell. Perhaps Blu has some original sketch work or canvas that the MOCA can hang inside. Or he can make greeting cards and reach an even greater audience. Gary Larson accomplished both with his art work from "The Far Side". I do think Doonesbury's political messages are more thoughtful and Trudeau manages to do that on a near daily basis.

    Dec 5th re: Taliban

    Dec 14th to 17th and Dec 20th to 22nd on DADT

  3. I guess majii is outraged that the Obama administration outsources to private companies to pilot the predator drones that kill hundreds of innocent people.

    As for the mural, if you don't like it, don't look at it.