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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

That’s the bomb


“If you ask me, Jeeves, art is responsible for most of the trouble in the world.” (Bertie Wooster)
Creation, by Carol L. Douglas. Today's illustrations are three paintings from when I was younger and more cynical.
In the wake of last week’s horrifying shooting in Parkland, Florida, Rochester educators have had a jittery week. “I’m coming tomorrow morning and I’m going to shoot all of ya bitches,” 21-year-old Abigail Hernandez, an adult student with disabilities, allegedly posted on East High’s Facebook page. A 23-year-old rapper, Randy Ross, was arrested for making a video called School Shooter, which he filmed on Greece Central School property. Officers deemed the video a terroristic threat. I’ll get back to that.

On Monday, employees at the Mary Cariola Children’s Center received a package via FedEx. It included cryptic, “ranting and raving” text and a device that looked like a bomb. Mary Cariola Center is a much-loved cultural institution in Rochester, because it serves children with multiple, complex disabilities. There were about a hundred clients there that day. They were evacuated and the bomb squad secured and disarmed the package.

The package contained a wooden box with homemade electrical components, including a power source, switches, a circuit board and lights. It was not a bomb. It was a work of art.

Man, by Carol L. Douglas
According to Rochester Police, the package was misdelivered. Its intended recipient was an arts organization in Rochester. They expected it and wouldn’t have been discomfited in the least by its message. Those ravings? They were the title: Baby Go Boom.

No one is going to be arrested for this snafu. No word yet, either, about whether the package was insured. But I have a grudging respect for the artist, even if I don’t like the theme. The piece was convincing enough that, outside the gallery context, rational people mistook it for a real bomb.

Artists have made work from the point of view of the anti-hero since Shakespeare wrote Richard III (and probably earlier). Such literature is often uncomfortable, but until recently, nobody questioned whether it was art. The line was blurred by Eminem. He talked about drug use, sex, mental illness, poverty and divorce, in language his audience understood. Still, he seemed to romanticize violence, particularly against women.

Confusion, by Carol L. Douglas
Even if Randy Ross is a rotten artist, his School Shooter is probably art, not threat. I’m not interested in creating art that celebrates nihilism; in fact, I abhor it. Still, I respect the right to create it.

We’re so focused on the Second Amendment these days that we’ve lost sight of the Fourth Amendment and the idea of probable cause. For example, your son makes a stupid joke about a square root sign looking like a gun, and your house is tossed by law enforcement. The more we are driven by fear, the more likely we are to ignore the niceties of our Constitution. Unfortunately, they’re the bedrock on which our legal system stands.

Set against this is the powerful need to root out violence. I’m no closer to an answer than anyone else, but I keep coming back to the idea that a society without values and aspirations is ungovernable. Our culture speaks to the lowest common denominator. Is it any wonder that it is also corrupt?

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