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> > >Artistic Sign Language: Symbols of the Coming Bush Fall
> > >By Bernard Weiner
> > >The Crisis Papers
> > >Sign is symbol, symbol is sign. Consider:
> > >
> > >
> > >*Powell goes to the United Nations so that the missile attacks on
Baghdad
> > >and
> > >Basra can begin -- and, in the lobby of that grand building, Picasso's
> > >"Guernica" painting, which depicts the horrific results of the Nazi
> bombing
> > >of that Spanish town, is covered over prior to Powell's arrival. No use
> > >embarrassing the U.S. by reminding folks of what's in store for Iraqi
> > >civilians.
> > >
> > >*Ashcroft, in his police-state zeal, begins shredding the
Constitution's
> > >Bill
> > >of Rights with its guarantees of due-process of law, and, early on, has
> the
> > >huge lobby statue of the Goddess of Justice draped and covered over
> because
> > >of its exposed breast. How appropriate to shroud Justice so that she
> can't
> > >see what's being done in her name.
> > >
> > >*First Lady Laura Bush cancels a poetry workshop at the White House
> because
> > >she suspects that a number of America's high-profile poets, in the
sacred
> > >grounds of that seat of power, will raise the issue of the coming war
> with
> > >Iraq.
> > >
> > >Did you notice the thread that unites these events? In all three cases,
> > >symbolic shrouds are placed over art, so that nobody will notice the
bad
> > >things that are being done in American citizens' names.
> > >But art knows. Art sees beyond, often before the general public is
aware
> of
> > >what's going on. (Often before the artists themselves are conscious of
> what
> > >they're revealing.) Art points us in new directions that make us think
> and
> > >question.
> > >To those inclined more to rigid-order mentality, art is a virus that
> needs
> > >to be stamped out, or, at the least, tightly controlled. ("When I hear
> the
> > >word culture," said Nazi leader Goebbels, "I reach for my revolver.")
> > >It's all part of the so-called "cultural civil war." Those who control
> the
> > >signs and symbols control the polity. Thus, minions are trotted out to
> > >denounce artists and their tendency to look for complexity, ironies,
> > >hypocrisies, hidden humor. To incipient fascists, the world is a
> Manichean
> > >one, divided into black and white, those who are Good and those who are
> Evil
> > >("You're either for us or against us").
> > >And since they are certain that God obviously favors their side, it
> follows
> > >that those in opposition -- or even (or especially) those who point the
> way
> > >to other visions of complex reality -- are part of the enemy forces and
> must
> > >be dealt with.
> > >One problem with authoritarianism -- whatever brand comes along:
Stalin's
> > >communism, or Hitler's fascism, or Islamic Talibanism, or whatever
we're
> > >moving into in America right now -- is that it makes art more delicious
> and
> > >tempting. The public is not dumb and eventually comes to figure out
that
> the
> > >"truth" being propounded by the frightened rulers does not match the
> world
> > >most citizens actually live in. And so they begin to seek out and
support
> > >art and artists and, most of all, comedians -- those sly artisans,
those
> > >holy fools, that can shake the foundations of power with a well-aimed
> dart.
> > >Musicians, playwrights, poets, painters, sculptors, dancers, novelists,
> > >filmmakers, online satirists, comics -- everything these artists do in
an
> > >authoritarian society comes to be seen by the public in the light of
the
> > >repression visited from above.
> > >A story to illustrate this point: American avant-garde theater artist
> George
> > >Coates was invited to bring his visual extravaganzas to Poland during
the
> > >dark times there. One of the huge slide projections used by Coates was
of
> a
> > >manhole cover, which image covered the entire staging area. Various
human
> > >forms emerged from the holes -- i.e., real actors came out of holes in
> the
> > >stage, but, given the projection, they appeared to be emerging from the
> > >holes in the manhole cover.
> > >The audience took this in with rapt silence and then a few brave souls
> began
> > >clapping. Then waves and waves of applause and cheering washed over the
> > >actors. Coates was mystified by the audience reaction. Audiences in the
> U.S.
> > >loved this bit of theatrical magic, to be sure, but nothing like this
> Polish
> > >crowd.
> > >After the show, various Polish theater artists came backstage to talk
to
> > >Coates and his cast. They nudged Coates in the ribs and whispered their
> > >admiration for his willingness to confront the Polish Communist rulers
by
> > >celebrating the "underground." Yes, what was merely an interesting use
of
> a
> > >visual image for Coates was a cunning reference to the underground
> > >resistance of a budding Solidarity movement. After a few attempts at
> > >explaining himself, Coates simply smiled and nodded as the Poles heaped
> > >praise on his revolutionary "political" art.
> > >Art has power. Art unmasks. Art tells lies in the service of truth.
> (Whereas
> > >governments lie in order to conceal truth.)
> > >The more lies authoritarian governments tell their citizens, the more a
> sub
> > >rosa consciousness bubbles up from the culture's artists and then from
> its
> > >ordinary citizens. It's a slow-growing and, at times, dangerous
> movement --
> > >which is why the forces of reaction try so hard to stomp on it -- but
it
> is
> > >an amazingly strong and vital and resilient force.
> > >Because totalitarian governments rest on fake foundations, when those
> > >regimes fall, they fall with amazing quickness and ferocity. One day
> there's
> > >a wall, the next day it's torn down and the celebrations begin. One day
> > >there is officially sanctioned art, the next day those huge statues are
> > >toppled. One day, the culture arbiters and censors are in control, the
> next
> > >day they are in disgrace -- or in jail.
> > >Americans, still gripped by fear from 9/11, have tended to be in a
state
> of
> > >animated numbness, putting up little resistance to the machinations of
> the
> > >authoritarian rulers. Similarly, out of great sympathy for the
> > >post-9/11United States, various nations around the world bowed to the
> wishes
> > >of the Bush government.
> > >Bush&Co., meeting little resistance, interpreted this relative lack of
> > >opposition as full support for their programs, foreign and domestic.
And
> so
> > >they've continued to want more, tighten the screws more, reach and then
> > >over-reach for more. Their motto and guiding principle seems to be: "We
> > >can't be stopped, so let's just go take it all."
> > >Suddenly, though, Bush&Co. are running into overt opposition. Their
> allies
> > >abroad are telling them -- to their face -- that current American
> policies
> > >are mad, wrong, dangerous. More and more conservative allies at home
are
> > >warning the Bush Administration that their dash toward imperial rule
> abroad
> > >and draconian Constitution-shredding at home is a violation of what
> America
> > >stands for, and will bring the United States (and, given the economic
> > >interweavings between nations, much of the world as well) nothing but
> > >disaster.
> > >The current U.S. rulers will not alter their course. It's war with
Iraq,
> > >full speed ahead and to hell with the rest of you -- especially
ignorant
> > >"old Europe," and American dissidents at home. It's a proposed
extension
> of
> > >the so-called USA Patriot Act, to give the federal government even more
> > >martial-law-like police powers in controlling the society -- the
"cover"
> is
> > >hunting for terrorists, of course -- and to hell with the protections
> > >guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.
> > >These Bush&Co. leaders are so arrogant, so rude, so greedy and
> power-hungry,
> > >so taken with themselves as God's mesengers and as the world's only
> > >Superpower, so convinced they are right in the tunnel-vision
> black-and-white
> > >world they inhabit, that it's clear their days are numbered. It may
take
> a
> > >bit longer to build to critical mass -- and there is going to be death
> and
> > >destruction and persecution while that momentum is being built up --
but
> > >when the time for their fall arrives, it's going to be quick and nasty.
> And
> > >we'll finally all wake up from this nightmare that has crushed our
> economy,
> > >diminished our moral light in the world, disgraced our beloved
> Constitution
> > >and country.
> > >And at the vanguard of this movement away from the shadow America and
> back
> > >into the light will be our our poets, our comedians, our painters, our
> > >playwrights, our novelists, and so on -- "dangerous" artists all, even
> when
> > >they're not political. They simply see too much, too clearly.
> > >A toast to their hungry vision.
> > >-------
> > >Bernard Weiner, a Ph.D. in government & international relations, has
> taught
> > >at various universities, served as theater critic for the San Francisco
> > >Chronicle, and written widely for progressive journals. He is co-editor
> of
> > >The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org).