Saturday, June 05, 2010

Knuckle-dragging, Prescott edition.

"Knuckle-dragger" is one of those insults that works. It's not mere scatology, nor a nonsequitur about somebody's mother's occupation, and far more evocative than the more easily brushed-off stupid. Of late it's been a faddish delight among free-marketeers to point out when leftists are advocating a folk economics rooted more in instincts that, however bizarre in a capitalist society, could be adaptive for hunter-gatherers.

We can make fun of Jane Brewer demanding, despite those evil foreigners being so sneaky as to leave the border regions one of the safest places in America, that the border be "secured" but not asking for the comprehensive immigration reforms that would make that easier and cheaper. When tribal brutishness goes from silly to ugly, it's less easy to laugh. But nonetheless what's going on in Prescott is hilarious.

Jennifer Fang, a new 'blogger on Blog For Arizona, sums it up well. A mural celebrating "green transportation" is being painted on the wall of the Miller Valley Elementary School. Have a look at the Prescott Courier's photos. It's bad art. It doesn't look like "graffiti in LA" but it does look like trashy street art, the sort I remember seeing on Freret Street buildings in New Orleans but without the (thin) excuse of "authenticity". It's a flubbed caricature of the visually grating, intelligence-insulting worst of the New Deal WPA murals, and the outsized boy so centrally featured makes it 3 times worse than it would have been otherwise. (I made up the number. You get the point. And at least the WPA murals weren't mere labels for the buildings. This one is "happy healthy children here, and support green transportation!" Absurd in a literate society.) Not only is it grotesque, it matches the Prescott aesthetic--and by that I don't mean the fake waterfalls of the new development--about as well as would the Eiffel Tower. Intrinsically ugly, out of place, and amateurish on top of that, it ruins the neighborhood ambiance and has the potential to depress property values.

But that's not the gripe that's making the news. According to the muralist in his interview with the Prescott Daily Courier, for two months people have been driving by shouting things like "You're desecrating our school," "Get the nigger off the wall," and "Get the spick off the wall." Yes, people are bothered not so much by the art but because a dark-skinned Hispanic boy at the school was the model for the featured grotesque.

I have enough ties to Prescott now (come Oct. I can say that's where my "in-laws" live) that this disappoints but doesn't surprise me. The area has for a long time been dominated by old folks, and a large minority of those are the sort to whom bigotry comes as naturally as calculus does to a physicist. Putting one of those low-status colored people on the wall, and not the godawful ugliness of the piece, somehow is a "desecration".

No word about this from the model himself. The poor kid was painted to look like he had a bad lymph node disorder; on top of that finding out that people--his neighbors, given that Prescott is still a rather small city--hate him for no reason except that he didn't have the good sense to choose 100% European ancestors has probably been a bit traumatic.

As the Courier noted in its editorial, it's 2010 and this is just a mural; in other words, the controversy is based on nonsense.

Contrary to rumor, it doesn't seem that Miller Valley principal Jeff Lane wanted the skin-tones lightened but rather wanted the piece touched up for aesthetic reasons. Councilman Steve Blair (again reported by the Courier), on the other hand, took the nonsense to higher levels:
On his May 21 show, for instance, Blair said, "I am not a racist individual, but I will tell you depicting a black guy in the middle of that mural, based upon who's President of the United States today and based upon the history of this community, when I grew up we had four black families - who I have been very good friends with for years - to depict the biggest picture on that building as a black person, I would have to ask the question, 'Why?'"

Why not? And what does Barack Obama have to do with this? Further down:
Blair said he has received a number of calls from long-time Prescott residents who ask, "Who authorized that graffiti on the wall?" He added: "What these people don't like is somebody forcing diversity down their throats."

I see. Depicting one of the students at the school on the mural is a (perhaps sexual) act of dominance. Plenty of room for explaining that with current sociobiological theories of racism; I'll leave that up to the reader.

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