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Old Weird America

I just got back from the opening of The Old, Weird America, a show that includes my Nineteen Lincolns, at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. I had a fabulous time thanks to Toby Kamps the Senior Curator of the show and the CAMH and Linda Shearer the CAMH Director. They threw a great big ol’ Texas BBQ before the opening with music, drinks and great conversation due to the fantastic arts scene in Houston. I didn’t know Houston was so much fun!

The Old, Weird America explore’s the resurgence of folk imagery and history in American contemporary art and examines ingrained cultural forces and overlooked histories. The show features approximately 75 recent paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, installations, and video works from nearly 20 artists and collaborative groups, including Eric Beltz, Jeremy Blake, Sam Durant, Barnaby Furnas, Brad Kahlhamer, David McDermott and Peter McGough, Aaron Morse, Cynthia Norton (a.k.a. Ninny), Greta Pratt, Dario Robleto, Allison Smith, Kara Walker, and Charlie White.

The CAMH also produced an amazingly, beautiful catalog for the show which features work by all the artists and essays by Kamps, Michael Duncan and Colleen Sheehy from the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, where the show will be from August 2008 to Jan 2009.





He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.
– George Orwell

I think that quote is so appropriate for what is happening in our country right now and is for a large part of what my work in general is about. The present and the past is a story told by whoever has the power to control the telling.

To understand how this is being done in broad daylight read “Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand” by David Barstow published in the New York Times on April 20, 2008. The article outlines how Donald Rumsfeld, the Pentagon, and the Bush Administration manipulated the telling of facts about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the progress of the war in Iraq by using retired military personnel, many of whom were on the boards of military contractors, as puppets to spout their carefully scripted rhetoric in the name of objective journalism.

Here are some highlights:

To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.

Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance.

Records and interviews show how the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse — an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.

In turn, members of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated. Some analysts acknowledge they suppressed doubts because they feared jeopardizing their access.

A few expressed regret for participating in what they regarded as an effort to dupe the American public with propaganda dressed as independent military analysis.

By early 2002, detailed planning for a possible Iraq invasion was under way, yet an obstacle loomed. Many Americans, polls showed, were uneasy about invading a country with no clear connection to the Sept. 11 attacks. Pentagon and White House officials believed the military analysts could play a crucial role in helping overcome this resistance.

The analysts, they noticed, often got more airtime than network reporters, and they were not merely explaining the capabilities of Apache helicopters. They were framing how viewers ought to interpret events.

The group was heavily represented by men involved in the business of helping companies win military contracts. Several held senior positions with contractors that gave them direct responsibility for winning new Pentagon business.

In the fall and winter leading up to the invasion, the Pentagon armed its analysts with talking points portraying Iraq as an urgent threat. The basic case became a familiar mantra: Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons, was developing nuclear weapons, and might one day slip some to Al Qaeda; an invasion would be a relatively quick and inexpensive “war of liberation.”

At the Pentagon, … staff marveled at the way the analysts seamlessly incorporated material from talking points and briefings as if it was their own.

Internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts as “message force multipliers” or “surrogates” who could be counted on to deliver administration “themes and messages” to millions of Americans “in the form of their own opinions.”





Eye Opening

It is funny the things around us that we don’t notice in the rush of everyday life. Awhile ago I came across this article, “United We Stand: Fresh Hoagies Daily” by Carrie Rentschler, Carol Stabile and Jonathan Sterne on the web site “Bad Subjects.” All I can say is I wish I had noticed this and photographed it. The article starts:

Driving around Pittsburgh the week after September 11th, we couldn’t help but notice that something had changed in the roadside landscape: the signs. Where roadside marquees once announced the arrival of new managers at tire shops and $.99 “values” at fast food restaurants, they now combine those messages with short, patriotic expressions — mostly cliches or variations on cliches. The sign from which this essay takes its name is a great example: a convenience store advertises its own brand of fast food, with its own brand of patriotism. These signs can be found all over the Pittsburgh landscape. The pictures that accompany this essay were taken in late October on a strip of highway leading from Butler, PA into Pittsburgh, and within the city itself. Roadside marquees can only say a little to passers-by, but as a pervasive cultural phenomenon, they can be read more deeply.

Upside Down


The Desmoines Register

Lately I have noticed a lot of stories in the news about people flying the US flag upside down to protest the war in Iraq. There is Terri Jones who was flying the flag the whole time her son, army reservist Jason Cooper was fighting in Iraq but after he came home, suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and committed suicide she turned her flag upside down. A few months later someone came over, when she was gone, and turned her flag right side up and about a week after that she received an anonymous note.

“I’ve noticed for quite some time now that you fly your American flag upside down . . .. Please don’t disrespect those who have fought and died on our soil preserving your very freedom and mine. . . . Let’s rally behind our troops and if they don’t believe in what they’re doing, let them voice it. Every single person in the armed forces today signed on the dotted line. . . . I know your flag is sending out a message that you might not have though it was sending. So I felt compelled to tell you what I thought.”
It was signed, “An extremely sincere fellow American citizen and proud of it.”
And in the P.S., the person added: “If it truly is that you hate living in this country and are ashamed of our freedom, then by all means, sir, why do you live here?”

Then there is Corydon Iowa farmer Dale Klyn who had been flying the flag right side up for 6 years before he turned it upside down, partly to show solidarity for Terri Jones, and was arrested for disorderly conduct. Not only was he arrested but it seems most of his small farming community has turned against him. The local Case equipment dealer told him, “I’ve lost all respect for you. I’ll buy you a one-way ticket anywhere you want to go out of the country,” Klyn recalls.

He faces death threats from a forum on a Marine vets’ website,, which calls itself the “Marine Corps Community for USMC Veterans. That forum contained the following remarks from four different Marines:

“Any scout snipers live in Corydon, Iowa???”
“Corn hole ’m.”
“Fly him under it upside down.”
“If the flag is flying upside down, it means he is in trouble, right? I think we Marines should show up and get him ‘out’ of trouble.”

What I continue to find disturbing is the proliferation of flag imagery, on advertising, chatchkees made in China, inexpensive lawn ornaments, etc, items and uses that are explicitly against the US flag code, and no one seems to care while flying the flag upside down brings death threats. We wouldn’t have a country if our forefathers did not question the ruling government. When did it become unpatriotic to stand up for what you believe in and voice your opinion and why are tacky China made chatchkees considered patriotic?

How Things Change

In October 1968, Activist Abbie Hoffman wearing a shirt, bought at Sears, that resembled the American flag was arrested and jailed for flag desecration. In May of 2005, Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Richard Myers wore a very similar shirt, resembling the American flag, to a Memorial Day rally in Washington DC and he was deemed patriotic.

hoffman.jpg myers.jpg
In 1968, most states had laws that prohibited flag desecration. In 1989 and 1990 the Supreme Court struck down the flag desecration laws. Although it is not illegal, both shirts go against the U.S. Flag Code, which is a set of guidelines that govern flag usage. Interestingly, the Flag Code was originally written in the 1880’s to protest the use of the flags in advertising.
Click here for a link to All Things Considered on NPR that gives some history of the Flag code.

Informal Survey

As every working mother knows it is sometimes hard to keep up with every thing. Lately the kids have been complaining, “There’s nothing to eat here, we want Pop tarts.” So I decided get over to the local Farm Fresh and stock up. I see so many flag stickers on cars and trucks that I thought, while I was there, I would do an informal survey and see how many shoppers with cars parked at Farm Fresh had a flag, of some kind, on their car.



Only five flags, I was a little surprised by that, granted it was the middle of the day during the middle of the workweek. But I wondered how many flags I would find on cars across the street at Wal-Mart. I drove over and did a quick peruse of the parking lot.


Wal-Mart 13
Farm fresh 5
Not intended to be scientifically accurate, just an informal survey.