RSS 2.0 Follow Us!
 

Related Posts

“Capitalist Piglet” Defender…Shock Art is Good & Our Reaction is Bad

Scott on March 20, 2006 at 11:40 am

In response to the ongoing “Capitalist Piglet” fiasco, John and I both received the same email from someone named Jesse Selkirk. We’re not sure who Jesse is, because he doesn’t tell us. But he is obviously interested in sharing his views on “shock art” as relates to the “Capitalist Piglet” cartoon and in an effort to defend Jeff MacDonald, the artist who created “Piglet.”

I decided to post Jesse’s email, and to include the excellent response that John sent back to him. At the end, I share what I sent on to Jesse.

On March 18, Jesse Selkirk wrote:

Allow me to preface this article by acknowledging that there is undoubtedly something to be said for “keeping the peace”. It is an admirable thing to be aware of another person’s boundaries, and to respect them. For example; some people consider it a sign of disrespect to wear a hat indoors. To others this may seem completely unnecessary and arbitrary. Arbitrary or not, however, if you knowingly cross someone’s boundary, it is disrespectful. This fact, though, does not necessarily diminish the value of what could be dubbed as “Shock Art”.

Shock Art could be generally defined as any art which pushes the envelope of what is considered decent, or in good taste. Conversely it could be said that Shock Art is any art that broad sections of the public are likely to find offensive. Marilyn Manson, The Trailer Park Boys, or indeed Elvis Presley could all be considered Shock Art. It is the opinion of the author that these and other artists that many people find offensive are in fact performing a vital and important function in society.

One of the first and foremost values of Shock Art is to engender discourse. Any art that masses of people find offensive will raise all sorts of moral/ethical issues, from topical issues that the artist brings up, to broader social values such as freedom of speech. Getting people’s interest aroused, and inspiring debate around these issues is an important facet of a functioning democracy. Nominally at least, our entire system is based on dialogue, and Shock Art is a good way of helping people to define where they stand.

Another important function of Shock Art is to push the boundary of what a society considers acceptable. This is how a culture can grow and evolve. If Elvis had never shaken his hips because it might offend people, chances are good that our culture would still be mired in the sexual repression of the nineteen fifties. Indeed, if Elvis hadn’t done it someone else would have. What people at the time considered shocking and dirty is now something that most people take for granted as a natural – in fact, integral – part of life.

Finally, Shock Art is a highly effective way of delineating the emotionally stunted individual from one who is psychologically mature. It is the innate right of every human being to look at something that offends them, to shake their heads wondering how anyone could be such an idiot as to enjoy this, and to walk away. The people who go screaming through the streets that this musician/painter/cartoonist/writer should be drawn and quartered are clearly not mature human beings. An emotional child needs to have everything his own way. No one can think differently from him. His way is the right way, and the only right way.

A real adult on the other hand, can look at something that he finds offensive and let it go. He can recognize that other people find different things entertaining, funny, or inspiring. He can choose not to be a part of something, and leave it at that. In the end, if you are so offended by something that you are incited to violence – either verbal, or physical – then the problem most likely lies with you, and not with the artist. But once again, the mature person will recognize the right of someone to go screaming through the streets about something that offends them, if that’s what they choose to do.

On March 19 John Sexton wrote:

Jesse,

If you feel that strongly you could have posted this on the blog. That’s the point really, to have a public discussion.

For the record, Jeff assured everyone in his mea culpa letter in the Sheaf that the cartoon was definitely not “shock art.” Your letter seems to assume he was lying about that. Very well. Truth be told, I think he was lying too. At least now I do. I didn’t know what to think at first. That was what intrigued me. If — as he claimed — he never intended to be shocking, what was his reason? What good did he intend to serve? This was the question that Scott and I were curious about.

To find out, we engaged Jeff in a dialogue. Our criticism of the cartoon was extremely even-handed. Jeff himself commented on the reasonableness of my comments twice. So I’m sorry but painting my response to Jeff’s cartoon as a prude’s tantrum won’t fly. I even offered Jeff suggestions on how he might have made the cartoon better without toning it down.

After going back and forth with Jeff becoming increasingly evasive, Scott had had enough. He wrote one post criticizing him, calling him out for refusing to answer some basic questions about his motives. As it turned out this little bit of hip-shaking “shock art” was just what was needed. After a week of “repressing” his true motives beneath a lot of hooey about empathy and understanding, Jeff’s response revealed the truth, i.e. Jeff is an arrogant, Christian-bashing bigot with a foul mouth and chip on his shoulder. Why the cartoon? Now we know. Now everyone knows. The public good has been served.

I suppose you’re right though. If Jeff had been more “psychologically mature” he could have chosen to either ignore the criticism or argue his case reasonably. But as you say “An emotional child needs to have everything his own way.”

True, dat.

John
Verum Serum

On March 20, Scott wrote:

Jesse,

I took the liberty of posting the email that you sent to John and I because I found your view to be interesting and engaging. As John said in his response to you, I do wonder why you didn’t just post it on the blog. I think that John’s response to your email is very eloquent. He explains the position we took on the “Capitalist Piglet” cartoon and points out how, when backed against the wall, Jeff showed his true colors. He was no innocent victim, nor was he a frustrated and misunderstood “do gooder.” As John said, Jeff’s final comments showed him to be “an arrogant, Christian-bashing bigot with a foul mouth and a chip on his shoulder.”

I would like to address your assumptions about “shock art” and about how people react to such artistic expression.

First of all, if you don’t mind sharing, I am curious to know who you are and if you have some sort of connection to Jeff MacDonald (friend, associate, teacher, parent, etc). Your email to us came “out of the blue” with no explanation. Also, the general tone of the first part of your email is almost “tutorial” in nature, and since you refer to what you wrote as an “article” and refer to yourself as “the author,” I am wondering if what you sent to John and I is part of a larger piece that you wrote and/or published at some point?

You give “shock art” three values or functions:

1) One of the first and foremost values of Shock Art is to engender discourse.

I agree completely. Discourse is always good, and especially discourse of disagreement. Few things that are interesting or lasting come out of discourse of agreement. You simply agree on a subject without engaging anything challenging. But discourse of disagreement generates thought. It forces one to think and rethink a position and to even become something of an apologist/defender of a thought/concept/idea. Discourse of disagreement also forces one to acknowledge the other side and to address the other side as “present” and as viable, even if one disagrees with it.

“Capitalist Piglet” did generate discourse of disagreement. It generated thought and emotion and conflict. By that definition it did what “shock art” is supposed to do.

And yet, Jeff MacDonald nullified the “shock art” effect by claiming that was not his intent. He claimed to not want the cartoon published. He claimed to have created it out of a desire to instruct and educate the editors of the student paper The Sheaf. I’m sure you would agree that intent is an important component of “shock art.” If Jeff MacDonald was telling the truth about his intent, then “Capitalist Piglet” is not “shock art ” because Jeff didn’t intend it to be so. It is merely shocking, not “shock art.”

Now, if you believe that Jeff MacDonald was lying in his early posts and comments and protestations and that he did intend on having the cartoon printed because he did want to shock and insult and frustrate and engender discussion, then “Capitalist Piglet” was indeed shock art, but Jeff MacDonald becomes a spineless artist. If his INTENT was to create “shock art,” he obviously lost his nerve because he spent the next week or so denying any intent. So then, again, does this qualify as “shock art” when the artist doesn’t have the courage of his convictions to stand by his piece?

2) Another important function of Shock Art is to push the boundary of what a society considers acceptable.

Here I would disagree with you. I believe that art is a mirror into the soul of a society. It reflects what is there and then can lead to discourse (ala point #1 above). Society “evolves” on its own. It has it’s own catalysts that push things forward or pull things back politics, religion, medicine, education, etc. Art may connect some of these points and may move through them as they influence society, but these types of things are those that exert force on a society and stimulate growth and change.

Art is not there to primarily serve that purpose. By their nature, artists are creative entities who think outside the norms, outside the box. But society does not look to artists as being leaders. Society never asks its artists to “show us where we need to go.” If an artist views himself or herself in that way, that artist has a highly overdeveloped sense of self-worth. Individuals and groups may look to art for inspiration, but not transformation.

You used Elvis as an example, saying that “If Elvis had never shaken his hips because it might offend people, chances are good that our culture would still be mired in the sexual repression of the nineteen fifties.

You seem to misunderstand Elvis and his place in society and culture. Elvis didn’t stimulate the change. Elvis was a symptom of the change that had begun in the mid-to-late 1940s. You said, “Indeed, if Elvis hadn’t done it someone else would have.” Sorry Jeff, but SOMEONE DID! Jerry Lee Lewis! Little Richard! Come on, you need to learn your history!

These three musicians simply reflected society’s transformation in the 1950′s, just like art and music in the 60′s reflected another change, and art and music in the 70′s, 80′s, and 90′s reflected other changes.

3) Finally, Shock Art is a highly effective way of delineating the emotionally stunted individual from one who is psychologically mature.

Pardon me, but that is SO LAME! That is the argument that any artist uses when someone “doesn’t get” their work. How elitist and how effete! Artists and those who love art disagree on the value of “shock art.” There are well-respected art historians and art critics who classify modern “shock art” as crap, imitations of earlier, more insightful innovations from the 60s and 70s. Just because someone doesn’t like or even appreciate shock art means that they are “emotionally stunted” and psychologically immature? WOW! And what if someone doesn’t like the atonal music of Arnold Shonberg? They must be an intellectual Philistine?!?

At the risk of being slightly self-centered here (and pardon me if I am being just that), but I get the impression that your last point was aimed more at me than at my partner John. My response to “Capitalist Piglet” was much more verbal than John’s exchanges with Jeff MacDonald. I was going for more of an angle that accessed humor and irony and sarcasm than John was in his exchange with Jeff.

You said that, “The people who go screaming through the streets that this musician/painter/cartoonist/writer should be drawn and quartered are clearly not mature human beings. An emotional child needs to have everything his own way. No one can think differently from him. His way is the right way, and the only right way.” I would agree. I would put the thousands upon thousands of angry, screaming, rioting Muslims who reacted to the Mohammed cartoons in that category. I don’t believe that my reaction or John’s was emotional or angry. We didn’t call for any sort of violence. We didn’t claim that our view was the only view. We asked for honesty and clarity in thought and discussion. At least on my part, when I didn’t see that honesty and clarity and in fact saw dishonesty, I called Jeff on it. I challenged him in a way to see if I could elicit a response (which I obviously got).

If you were to read over our blog posts from the last few months, you would see that both John and I are reasonable people who enjoy the ideas that we agree with AND the ideas that challenge us. Our blog is eclectic, covering a gamut of topics and angles. Sometimes we agree with each other and sometimes we don’t. But what we do agree with is that when we see something that we think is wrong or hypocritical or suspicious, we say something.

“Saying something” is not being emotionally immature or narrow minded. It is being open and honest and welcoming the discourse of disagreement (which you claim is a valuable component of shock art). It is the height of hypocrisy to say that disagreement is good in connection with a discussion of shock art, but to then turn around and say that you can’t express strong disagreement with the content or subtext of that same shock art. That is the weak-minded thinking of relativism that claims that there are no absolutes so it is wrong to have a discussion based on the assumption that there are.

You say, “In the end, if you are so offended by something that you are incited to violence – either verbal, or physical – then the problem most likely lies with you, and not with the artist.” You seem to be defining “verbal violence” as disagreement in any way, shape, or form. There is a HUGE difference between physical violence as a way of protesting a cartoon and voicing an opinion that is in opposition to what that cartoon conveys.

In the end, it would seem that the emotionally immature and psychologically stunted person would be the one who can’t abide the thought of someone expressing disagreement with something that they said or did or created (like a cartoon).

I can only end by agreeing with John’s conclusion that he shared with you

I suppose you’re right though. If Jeff had been more “psychologically mature” he could have chosen to either ignore the criticism or argue his case reasonably. But as you say “An emotional child needs to have everything his own way.”

Thanks for your thoughts, Jesse. Good luck with your Shock Art.

Scott (Verum Serum)

Post to Twitter

Category: News |

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.