Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Rockwell Parody Poster for "Muhammad Art Exhibit"

As I've discussed before, Rockwell's work is often parodied.  The most recent parody (that I've heard about) was the publicity poster for the recent "Muhammad Art Exhibit" in Texas.  You can see the poster here.  It's pretty standard: take a beloved Rockwell image and try to update it.  I'm not much in the business of trying to guess what Rockwell would make of contemporary happenings.  (Would he have voted for Obama or Romney?  Would he......? etc)  But I am pretty confident that he wouldn't have approved of this event.  He was a very kindhearted man, and he didn't much go in for mockery.

I myself am of two minds about it.  Of course, artists have the right to create virtually anything they like, including images banned by religious authority--Muslim or otherwise.  Moreover, in a world where making such pictures can draw down the wrath of Islamic murderers on you, it does take a certain amount of bravado to go ahead and do it.  It's not like mocking Christ--that's easy.  Mocking Muhammad might put you at risk.

On the other hand, there's no avoiding the conclusion, I'm afraid, that the whole thing is pretty juvenile.  I mean, the prize-winning image from the event sums it up: a cartoon of a cartoonist's hands drawing a sword-wielding Mohammed, who says "you can't draw me," to which the cartoonist replies "that's why I draw you."  One thinks of Johnny.  "Whaddya Got?"  The defiance is there, but it is a little petulant. 

Even the bravado I mentioned above is a funny kind.  Artificial.  It involves a deliberate and pointless courting of danger.  Really, it's likely that the vice of rashness is far more on display here than the virtue of courage.  

The news should be avoided ("read not the Times," said Thoreau, "read the eternities"--it's gratifying to find something said by Thoreau that I agree with), so I can't say I've followed the coverage of this event closely.  I read a few online pieces about it as I thought about this blog post, but that's about it.  One pretty outrageous response, though, was published in the LA Times.  

"Pamela Geller, president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, which organized the Muhammad Art Exhibit & Contest near Dallas that led to a fatal shooting Sunday, is a staunch supporter of the cherished American freedom to do something stupid.

The former Manhattan socialite proves it almost any time she opens her mouth, and she proved it yet again by organizing an art contest to determine who could produce a cartoon about the prophet of Islam — knowing that many Muslims consider this to be sacrilege.

Now two people are dead."

The last bit, of course, is the outrageous part.  Yes, two people are dead.  Those two people are adults who decided to take up arms and (attempted to) commit mass murder in response to this silly show.  Those two people didn't die because of Pamela Geller.  They died because they chose to die.  Let's not forget that the people at this art show were the (intended) victims of a terrorist attack, not the perpetrators.  It shouldn't be a difficult stunt to keep those two roles clear.  Somehow, Christopher Knight of the LA Times just about manages to mix them up.  

All that said, I still think the show was a monumentally bad idea.  It seems to me to completely misunderstand where we are and how serious the situation really is.  We're not going to improve anything by making pictures that Muslims consider to be blasphemous.

I'm not for a moment suggesting that there is something wrong with confronting Islamism.  The problem with this art show isn't that it attempted to confront Islamism.  The problem is that it did so in a silly way.  There are, however, virtuous ways to confront Islamism.  As in every other case, the examples of the saints can be our guide.

St. Francis's way to confront Islamism was to walk through the lines of the Crusaders and preach the Gospel to the Sultan.

St. Thomas's way was to argue with real charity and precision against their philosophers.

St. Louis's way was to take up the sword.  It may be fashionable to condemn the Crusades, but the truth is that sometimes fighting is indeed called for.  It was only the presence of courageous armed men that stopped these terrorists from successfully committing their mass murder.

Courage is a virtue, which, as Aristotle tells us, is a mean.  Courage is the mean that falls between rashness on one side, and cowardice on the other.  It's always difficult to find the mean.  Perhaps we should start the search with prayer and fasting.

Edit: This is an art blog, not a current events or social commentary blog.  So I was prompted to write this post really only because of the Rockwell parody.  (Note the title, which I never got around to changing once the piece grew bigger than I had first intended!)  Anyway, as I mentioned in the post itself, I haven't done a lot of reading about the event, and was frankly largely unaware of all the chatter out there.  So just a few minutes ago, I happened across an article that I wanted to mention quickly.

The author, Robert Spencer, decries some of the calls for legal limits on free speech that are coming out as a result of this terrorist attack.  I join him in that.  When I say that the art show was a monumentally bad idea, the very last thing that I mean to say is that there ought to be some government agency involving itself in overseeing such matters.  As I said at the outset, artists have every right to make images mocking Islam or anything else they choose.  Eviscerating the First Amendment in order to appease Islamists is not one of the paths I suggested.  (It's a path of cowardice, in fact.)

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