Friday, February 17, 2017

Writers & Artists Can’t Retreat From Threats Or Violence

The Museum of the Moving Image put up a controversial art installation on January 20th – the day Donald Trump was sworn in as our 45th president – but was yanked just three weeks later amidst controversy and safety concerns.  Is this all it takes to silence free speech or the display of art – just complain or threaten others and it disappears?  The museum needs a backbone.

The museum is reacting to a real concern, to be fair to them.  The exhibit, called He Will Not Divide Us, was a collaborative effort between actor Shia LaBeouf and artists, Luke Turner and Natsja Sada Ronko.  It was intended to provide a video forum to criticize the president.  The exhibit consisted of a video camera mounted on the outside wall of the museum.  Passers-by were invited to spew on Trump’s presidency and to repeat the phrase “he will not divide us.” It appears the exhibit divided us.

But it’s not into dividing between pro-Trump and anti-Trump.  No, it’s something bigger – there are pro-speech, pro-art defenders pitted against a growing faction that doesn’t believe in defending such rights and freedoms.

LaBeouf was arrested for confronting opponents.  Dozens of threats of violence were cited by the museum as its reason to fold the exhibit up.  Sure the museum doesn’t want people to physically fight on the street over this, but why should it run away from this golden opportunity to promote a debate on art and the First Amendment?  It appears the museum needs a primer for itself.

The art was supposed to be substituted for people punching each other in the face.  People can let out steam by participating in or viewing the video.  Maybe its existence actually helped avoid some fights.

By shutting art down and closing off a debate, it appears a blame-the-victim mentality is at play here.  We know not to deride a rape victim because her dress or beauty invited it.  And we don’t blame Americans for being attacked on 9/11simply because they displaced or expressed a lifestyle that terrorists disagreed with.  And when the Charlie Hebdo shooting took place we didn’t say the Islamist terrorists were in their right to silence a newspaper because it disagreed with its right to speak freely and engage in a conversation through political art.  No, we must protect free speech at all costs.

We know that liberals hate the idea the country is run by a man-baby, self-destructive narcissist.  Conservatives don’t like that too many whiny liberals complain while he gets to carrying out his elected mandate. Is art the new battleground – and not Capitol Hill?

The NEA is under threat.  The news media is under fire. Trumpwellian statements come out of the White House without apology or embarrassment.  And a simple art installation can’t survive a few verbal threats.  This is pathetic.

What if, instead of the crowd-sourced video art exhibit there was an effort to create a book through the contributions and comments of hundreds or thousands of strangers but the book was never published or it was and then yanked from bookstores because others didn’t like it, because they threatened bodily harm?  Will artists and writers simply be bullied?

Of course, it’s easy for me to have this debate safely from my blog.  I don’t have any consequences to deal with.  People aren’t sending me death threats or menacing contributors to a book or art installation.  But don’t we need to take a stand?  Don’t we need to not see cancelling art, a book, or a public appearance as not the solution to a problem?

By having books, free media, and public art we can challenge ideas with ideas.  Once we go straight to violence, chaos breaks out.  If artists can be threatened, do those who make these threats understand they are also subject to violence or arrest?  

To keep the peace, we need more art – not less.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2017©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby 

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