Thomas Paine:

“Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.”

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Progressive's Rorschach Test

What do you see in this picture,
and what does it make you
think about?

      In her most recent post at Toddlerspit (well worth reading), Jen wrote about an interview she heard on NPR: “...He was talking about how the new books were inspired by a drawing his five-year-old made on a restaurant napkin, of an elephant dropping flowers on the head of a pig. ‘Why is he dropping those flowers on the pig?’ Breathed asked. ‘Because the pig is sad, and doesn't know it,’ answered his daughter.”
      I mention this because, as most of us know, lacking an explanation from the artist, it is impossible to make sense of art, without projecting ourselves —our wishes, dreams, fears and personal meanings— onto it.
      So here comes my copy of The Progressive this month—McCain and Obama kissing. “Yay!” I said to myself. They got it so right! Perfect. Brilliant. And McCain is clearly enjoying it the most. I thought, “That’s The Progressive’s best, all-time cover,” and I could hardly wait to read the cover story.
      But, I couldn’t find a cover story. I looked and looked, searching for that one article to fulfill my expectations—about how McCain and Obama have merged in a big wet one over increasing the military budget, nuclear power, bailouts for Wall Street, war, increasing troops, continued occupation, tolerance of Blackwater, FISA/immunity, Israel, corporate allegiances, offshore drilling, “clean” coal, the Patriot Act, closed debates, industry-centered healthcare plans, the ignoring of police-state repressions during both conventions, and making various populist noises which always turn out to be lies.
      Other than a few mentions here and there of Obama’s move to the right, that one article wasn’t there.
      I searched for my other possibility— about the Obama-McCain clique, where all the other candidates are excluded from the debates, from the circle of love—media attention, how the election system itself is exclusive and anti-democratic.
      But no. Nothing focused on that, either. (though the article about the Cynthia McKinney campaign does touch on this issue and Obama as a “status quo” candidate.)

Later in the week, I got opinions on the cover from Jen and Nancy, both great people, both Phd.s.

Jen, who adores Obama: “Is that real? Or did you make that? Yeah, it looks like Obama’s sort of forcing himself to do it. McCain looks like he’s been waiting for it. For a long time.”
Nancy: “1. It’s hard for me to believe it doesn’t plan on a kind of homophobia-induced shock for effect, and I find that problematic. I’m sure it merits more reflection. 2. A lovers’ embrace seems like a pretty heavy handed overstatement of their similarities, especially right now. The image is not good especially if there is no clear cover story. 3. I nevertheless agree with the two things you would have liked to have seen.”

      See, we didn't know if there was an elephant in the room, or flowers, or if the pig was sad or happy. And we couldn't find out. All we could do was project, as I did, our wishes, our biases, our fears, and wonder.
      But, the beauty of it all, of putting the illustration out there without a cover story, was to discover just how many literal-minded liberals, Democrats, and progressives would be disturbed about the notion of a black man and a white man kissing. Perhaps —mixing my metaphors a bit here— it was a good time to shake that thing loose and see what fell out, that thing being the unconscious, or unspoken and denied, racism that surely will play a part in the election ....or?


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