Forty-one years ago, R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. and a handful of college students founded a campus conservative magazine in one of the most liberal towns in the Midwest.
That publication (which you are currently reading) moved to Washington long ago, but the town — Bloomington, Indiana, remains as reflexively radical as ever.
So much so, that for the past few months, visitors to the home of Indiana University had the opportunity to view an art installation featuring such incendiary statements as “democracy in the U.S. is a lie,” “democracy is the official brand of U.S. imperialism,” “democracy has been destroyed by the U.S. military” and “this is what democracy looks like” next to an image of a burning American flag.
While it is no secret that Bloomington has long been a liberal oasis, it is still disturbing when one learns the piece in question was not on display at an independently owned gallery or at a symposium privately held by a left-leaning organization, but was proudly displayed in the front lobby of the town’s city hall.
The garish structure consisted of several, eight-feet high, make-shift walls totaling 76 feet in length, covered in statements, drawings and thousands of other similar doodles. (One is tempted to use the term graffiti, but incredibly, to do so would do such artistes injustice.)
Anyone familiar with Bloomington might guess the childish work in question to be a collaborative effort on the part of the students at Harmony School, a private, unaccredited K-12 school which prides itself on “creating community, celebrating diversity and caring for the environment.”
Instead, the conceptualization of the piece was the work of Joe LaMantia, a local artist (who, incidentally, has also taught at Harmony School). LaMantia left 19 blank panels around the city and asked residents to answer the apparently nagging question, “What is Democracy?”
While a few of the blank panels were left in front of City Hall, the majority were left at numerous sites on the Indiana University campus. Accordingly, as disturbing as it is to contemplate, these are not the thoughts and expressions of angry ninth graders fresh from their poli-sci class at Harmony School or first viewing of Fahrenheit 9/11 but, rather, those of working adults and college students.
And from the minds of these grown men and women came delightful inanities such as “Socialism = Democracy!”, “Democracy = Inequality” and “Your safety since 9/11 brought to you by carefully staged photo-ops” as well as less topical, but no less thoughtful declarations such as “Free Sex” and a drawing of the Van Halen logo.
Other deep insights included “Global warming does not care about Democracy” and one that could be called the liberal algebra of fascism: “W + Dick= Satin” (sic).
In one corner of the instillation Plato’s maxim that “ignorance is the root of all evil” is paraphrased. If the Greek philosopher was correct, the mural in question might just be the Devil himself; if Canadian scholar Marshall McLuhan’s adage that “the medium is the message” also holds any truth, this masterpiece never succeeded in rising above the scatological.
All of this leaves one to ponder why not a single citizen was opposed to the public display of this creation. Was there not one person in the city who considered the display of a mural which labels 9/11 as staged and the U.S. a fascist dictatorship in the front lobby of city hall inappropriate?
It is also worth asking what the reaction would be if there was a similar installation featuring 76-feet worth of conservative slogans. What if every “Bush = Satan” had been replaced by a “Bush = Hero”? Or instead of slurring our military, participants had written “Support Our Troops: Join the Army”? Or if for every “Give Peace a Chance” there was “Give Democracy a Chance”? These are, of course, rhetorical questions: such a work of art would be removed at the hands of an angry mob.
A participant writes “Democracy depends on an educated public,” which one might deduce is sadly lacking in Bloomington after a quick inspection of this work. Yet, thinking charitably, one hopes that this is not an accurate reflection of the town’s citizens and perhaps the reason more people were not opposed to this was their ignorance of its existence. However, letters sent to the editor of the local newspaper, the Herald Times, and city officials in the hope of raising public awareness went predictably unpublished and unanswered.
Similarly, emails and phone calls to Mayor Mark Kruzan were also ignored — which does not seem particularly democratic. But perhaps it does not matter — after all, as the instillation itself says, maybe “democracy is overrated.”