'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

On 'War President' 

Given this image's inflammatory nature, I posted it with a great deal of trepidation. I had a hard time deciding if it was the right thing to do and I am still not sure. No, I didn't have the consent of the families of those pictured, and I apologize for any additional pain that this image causes them. That said, I must say that it is my belief that one distinguishing characteristic between art and other forms of speech is that art takes risks, and if we, as a society, value art we must allow it more leeway than other modes of expression to incite or offend.

'War President' is meant to be a satirical commentary, informed by the whole project of using the dead as political props. I'm not making a dime off the image, and never will attempt to do so. Given this lack of financial or other crass motives, other recent instances of the politicization of the dead strike me as more morally questionable: the coffins of the victims of 9/11 showing up in a political advertisement, the continued suppression of images of the funerals of those lost in Iraq from the mainstream American media, and images of the 9/11 disaster in a campaign ad. A certain party stands to benefit greatly from all three of those instances of politicization.

I'd also like to point out that 'War President' is an image. It is not a textual statement or rhetorical argument. An image is like an empty room and any message that one reads in that room necessarily came in the baggage one carried when one walked in the door. If I made a mosaic of George Washington composed of images of the American dead from the revolution, would viewers likely take that image as an indictment of Washington? I submit that they would not. It would be viewed as a monument to the dead and a celebration of a great leader, a somewhat maudlin monument maybe but surely not offensive. The fact that 'War President' is not viewed such a manner is not due to any intrinsic property of 'War President' but lies somewhere else.

I'm getting a lot of requests about usage rights etc. Use 'War President' however you want, but don't use it for monetary benefit, and please don't
alter or modify it.

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