What is Art…anyway?

It’s a thin line between freedom of speech and sedition…
The Southern Trees bear a strange fruit
Blood at the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the Southern Breeze
Strange Fruit hanging off the poplar trees…

When I woke up on Wednesday and saw the news about the attacks in Benghazi, Libya that resulted in the death four U.S. diplomats including Libyan Ambassador Chris Stevens, I didn’t really think about it much immediately.

But when I found out that the reason for all hell breaking loose was an anti-Islamic film that portrayed the prophet Muhammad as a womanizer and showing him having sex and attempting to wage wars, I thought about this song, the Billie Holiday classic “Strange Fruit”, and the above it.

Now I took this particular picture at the Democratic National Convention last week. It is, in case you’re at all confused, a gallows filled with unfortunate people who have met the hangman’s noose.

(In case you’re wondering, the black-ish looking man with the presidential seal above his portion of the gallows is President Barack Obama.)

I wouldn’t have noticed this particular parade float in the Carnival that was the DNC were it not for the reaction it received from passersby, reaction that ranged from “Oh, yeah motherfucker! I dare you to bring that to my neighborhood! We’ll see how bad you are then!” to the sight of a visibly upset reporter friend of mine who was having flashbacks of her activist father’s targeting by government agents during the bad old days of COINTELPRO.

(For those of you here in the Mad (political) Science Lab who don’t know what COINTELPRO is, go into the Google, type in “COINTELPRO”, and read about a government spy program designed to put targets on the back of anyone brave enough to call for true liberty and justice for all…)

I felt it deserved being memorialized via Instagram two reasons: one, I’m a reporter and that’s what I do and 2, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen President Obama hanging from a noose in recent weeks.

I don’t always reach out to my bud with Secret Service access when I see stuff on Facebook, but when I do…

Now because I post this blog on my Facebook page and I have some Facebook friends who might not quite understand why these pictures represent an offense that many folks should result in charges of treason of sedition, I’m sure that I’ll have at least one person tell me “This is art. I don’t know why you want to abridge this person’s freedom of speech.”

Because these pictures, at least to some of us, represent a crossing of the line between freedom of speech and yelling fire!, as loudly as you can, in a movie theater filled with people. Now if the people yelling at the guy with the truck filled with lynched people had bum rushed that truck, taken the guy driving it out, and beaten the shit out of him, they would have been arrested. And while assault is illegal, I wouldn’t have been mad at them at all because when you drive a truck with a representation of the first African American president hanging from a rope and you do it at a time and in a place crawling with African Americans, you’re asking for that ass beating.

Which is kind of why I’m more than a little pissed off at Sam Bacile, the “genius” whose film Innocence of Muslims started all of this rigamarole. Here’s the trailer…

Bacile, the name this dude is using because according to numerous news reports this guy has told more lies about his identity than Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan has told about Medicare, claims to have made this film, shown it to an audience of…no one, and put it on a shelf where someone found it, translated it into Arabic, and put it on YouTube.

Yeah. Right. Okay.

My guess is that Bacile, and Egyptian Christian who is a United States citizen, made this flick, got tired of his anti-Muslim treatise sitting in mothballs, decided that it needed to get out there, and made sure it went out in a language that would piss off the maximum amount of people.

(He also got the Rev. Terry Jones of “I’m gonna burn a Koran” fame to help him distribute his treatise here in the States. No comment on that.)

Now I understand that art on some level is supposed to provoke. I mean hey, were it not for the whole “supposed to provoke” thing, some of the best music and art that we’ve had access to in the world just wouldn’t be. If such things as Prince’s “Darling Nikki”, and Picasso’s “Guernica” didn’t exist, we’d be living in a pretty sterile world, right?

But while my Christian friends saw only the reaction of Muslims in Libya when it came to the attack on our embassy, I saw a chance to play Devil’s Advocate by asking them “If this movie were about Jesus, how would you feel?”

The room got silent.

Now don’t get me wrong. There’s better ways to express your anger with something than killing someone. You can boycott. You can write a letter to the country’s officials and be listened to, especially if the leader of said country has shown a propensity to listen. There’s ways other than Molotov cocktails to get your point across.

But when your purpose is to piss off the maximum amount of people, it can sometimes backfire.

What I find unfair about this is that the United States was hit by the backlash, not the guy who made the film. Meanwhile, this guy is hiding behind our skirts, acting like that kid who’s hiding behind Mommy in hopes of not getting his ass beat by Daddy for breaking the lamp. Were it up to me, I’d make sure that President Obama took the advice of the Seattle Times when it comes to this “cinematic genius”…

People in the Muslim world should understand that this man’s movie is him talking, and not the opinions of 300 million Americans. In the United States he is free to say what he will — that is our culture — and we are free to condemn him. Which we do. His movie is trash and he is vermin for having made it. Provoking rage among the devout might be allowed under the First Amendment, but that doesn’t mean people should do it.

While I’m totally down with freedom of speech, when you’re irresponsible enough with that freedom that it winds up costing folks their lives, you need to take a seat.

The title of this post comes from a favorite song of mine from the 80s.

I leave you now with Howard Jones’s “What is Love?

 


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