Friday, December 10, 2010

Hello darkness my old friend...

"So, the blog has been silent again."

With very few exceptions I have come to regard this as the most popular sentence in the blogosphere.

In some cases because the novelty has worn off and folks have moved on to new methods of baring their souls to the world.

In others it is because people have run out of things to say.

In yet others because people have come to realize that, as in a good conversation, talking constantly is not always a good thing.

I've bounced in and out of this space. First so that I would get myself on the path of doing some kind of personal writing every single day. Now, so that I have a place to play around with ideas and, frankly, to vent about those things that lose most folks attention within the first few minutes of my speaking about them.

Hmmmmm. If only I had an example to use. If only, if only, if only.

Oh. Wait. How about this?

For the link averse, here's the deal.

The Smithsonian Portrait Gallery - a museum that, because it is not on the Mall, is often overlooked by those tourists hoping to get their DC culture ticket punched as fast as possible so they can get on to the important things like the Hard Rock Cafe and the Pentagon City Mall - has recently mounted an exhibition titled called Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. The exhibition included a video by the artist David Wojnarowicz that included 11 seconds of footage where ants crawled over a crucifix.

The full work, as described by the artist and those familiar with the work, is about Wojnarowicz's lover's death from AIDs.

Cultural giants and art experts like Republican Representatives John Boehner (Ohio) and Eric Cantor (Va.) immediately came forward to denounce the work and remind anyone that thought that we were past the Mapplethorpe years that the culture wars are alive and well and living in the minds of the narrow minded and ill-informed. A refreshingly short-lived push was made to take away the Smithsonian's federal funding despite the fact that the exhibition was privately funded.

This did not keep on political player from asserting that it is impossible to say that the show was privately funded because it used electric and heat and cooling from federal dollars (1), and going on to say - and you're going to love this - that he sees no reason for taxpayers to be funding a museum (2) when most would rather go to a game or a sports activity and...wait for it...we don't fund stadiums with public money (3).

My greatest disappointment being that no one called Boehner and company out on their desire to keep Americans from seeing the original Star Spangled Banner or the Constitution or the books from Thomas Jefferson's library. That they wanted to pull the funding from a zoo that does holiday events for children and from places where kids can learn about science by visiting with spaceships and dinosaurs.

Yep. That's what's in all those elitist museums. Stupid history. Dumb records of American achievement.

Who the heck is interested in that crap?

I will also count myself amongst the creative types furious that the Smithsonian removed the work. I'm even more incensed by the fact that a protestor (who had the genius to strap an iPad to himself and stand in the gallery playing the video...you sir, are not only amazing but probably deserving of grant funding...) was banned from the Portrait Gallery for life.

No. I'm not kidding. For life.

Here's the deal kids. I have no blind love for the current administration. I certainly pledge no allegiance to the Republican party. But, if you're willing to have an intelligent conversation with me, I will happily engage with you. I recently had a student write an essay defending a stance I whole heartily disagree with. I thought - in terms of her argument - she was being naive, privileged and short-sighted.

But instead of telling her why I thought she was wrong, I'm currently working with her to write a stronger, better essay. That's the deal that we've made. I'm not there to tell her what to think. My job, as a a teacher, is to help her tell others what it is she thinks.

What I have no patience for, however, is ignorance. And really, when you make the "museums are for the elite" argument...particularly a museum system like the Smithsonian that is free and open practically every day of the year, truly serving the role of being America's attic...then I have no time for you. You are, and I have no other way to say this, an ignoramus. And for the leadership at the Smithsonian to cave in and change any single element of its programming based on the petty, uninformed grievances of an ignoramus makes me sad beyond words.

We are heading into strange times, certainly not for the first time.

I can't help but hope that it might be for the last.

Which most certainly makes me as naive as my student.

1. This line of reasoning being somewhat...what's the word...insane to those of us who work in fundraising and deal with divisions between funding streams and restricted and unrestricted funding on a daily basis.
2. Seriously, emphasis his.
3. Um. Yes you do.