Ideological clichés are deadly. In 1989, the end of the short twentieth century (1917 – 1989) with all its horrors, I thought this simple proposition was something that had been learned, broadly across the political spectrum . I was wrong, and the evidence has been overwhelming. This was my biggest mistake as a sociologist of the politics and culture.
When Soviet Communism collapsed, I thought it had come to be generally understood that simple ideological explanations that purported to provide complete understanding of past, present and future, and the grounds for solving the problems of the human condition, were destined for the dustbin of history. The fantasies of race and class theory resulted in profound human suffering. I thought there was global awareness that modern magical thinking about human affairs should and would come to an end.
My first indication I had that I was mistaken came quickly, December 31, 1989, to be precise. It came in the form of an op ed. piece by Milton Friedman. While celebrating the demise of socialism in the Soviet bloc, he called for its demise in the United States, which he asserted was forty-five per cent socialist, highlighting the post office, the military (a necessary evil to his mind) and education. He called for a domestic roll back of the socialist threat now that the foreign threat had been vanquished. Friedman knew with absolute certainty that only capitalism promoted freedom, and he consequentially promoted radical privatization as a solution to all social problems. This was an early battle cry for the neo-liberal assault of the post-cold war era.
The assault seemed particularly silly to me, and hit close to home, since I heard Friedman lecture when . . .
Read more: My Big Mistake: The End of Ideology, Then and Now
With mixed feelings I rushed to PS1, to see its September 11 show. The promise was indeed intriguing and somehow relieving: in a lavish shower of commemorative events, PS1 curator Peter Eleey wrote in his statement on the show that “the exhibition considers the ways in which 9/11 has altered how we see and experience the world in its wake.” The public commemorations seemed to be unthinking. Perhaps art would present a rich alternative.
Yet, I went to the show with some trepidation. I’m getting more and more uncomfortable with contemporary art curatorial projects: less for professional reasons, while working with an artist often invited to group shows, more personal reasons, as a viewer. Following Sontag, I might decry interpretation. Yet, I must add an important qualification. Art critics are not the problem. Curators are.
I find contemporary art all too often trapped in labeling, paradigm-itizing and contextualizing; as if the death of universal values art had been addressing for centuries became conclusive with the need of pinning down the reading of art and awarding more or less random collections of artworks under common thematic, paradigmatic labels.
It does not mean that I don’t appreciate interesting juxtapositions of artworks, revealing their unexpected meanings, which have been proposed by some curators of group shows. The issue starts when these juxtapositions are radicalized, with artworks only used as a mere illustration of a curator’s statement. The art curator becoming the artist, placed somewhere between film director and writer, seems to me to be a corrupted idea. I’m sure many curators would disagree with me, and I would like to underline that it doesn’t apply to the profession in general. Rather, I address the . . .
Read more: “Nine-elevenism” and My Discontents
Sitting quietly at my desk yesterday, thinking my thoughts about earthquakes, hurricanes, and the glorious Libya campaign, I was awakened by a phone call. A radio reporter from one of our major Chicago stations called, asking for my opinion about a newly minted coloring book that is designed to help children remember the “truth” of 9/11. This effort from a company named “Really Big Coloring Books” is what they describe as a “graphic coloring novel.” Perhaps we should think of this as a “Mickey Maus” effort.
While the coloring book, rated PG by corporate description, aims at teaching children “the facts surrounding 9/11,” it is not without its red-state politics. The company claims proudly that “Our Coloring Books are made in the USA. Since 1988.” The production of coloring books has not, yet, been outsourced to Vietnam. The book, We Shall Never Forget 9/11: The Kids’ Book of Freedom, has as its target audience a group that can, in fact, never remember 9/11, but only know of the day through the visceral accounts that we provide. According to the publisher, “The book was created with honesty, integrity, reverence, respect and does not shy away from the truth.” When a publisher (no author is listed) suggests that a work does not “shy away” from the truth, he is suggesting that others are doing that very shying and that the truth is both unambiguous and uncomfortable.
The book is filled with accounts of brave Americans and dangerous Arabs, and the text reminds its readers, “Children, the truth is these terrorist acts were done by freedom-hating radical Islamic Muslim extremists. These crazy people hate the American way of life because we are FREE and our society is FREE.” Nice touch, particularly on the page in which “the coward” Bin Laden is shot, while using women and children as a shield. One wonders which age child is captivated both by Crayolas and by the moral philosophy of human shields.
But my argument is less about . . .
Read more: Forgetting 9/11