It seems that every day we read headlines of terrorists committing hate crimes and employing treachery in bombing schools, churches, concerts, and killing unarmed seniors, women and children. There was a time when men went into battle, and one of the first things they did was to ask all unarmed civilians to leave the area. These days, terrorists go out of their way to seek places where innocents congregate to do maximum damage.
Unfortunately, some of the shock art we see these days only serve to inflame the passions of those who would cross the line towards hate crime. Even Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. opined in 1919 that shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater is not protected by free speech rights. Hate crimes and treachery goe against the sense of fair play we have learned in our families, schools, churches, sports, and our history. Everyone who has played a sport or a game knows there are certain rules we need to observe in order to compete. Like never kicking a person who is already down.
The mistake many make these days is in thinking that these rules do not apply to the art world, particularly in a very politically polarized society. It really doesn’t help to show a decapitated politician’s bloody head or his murder in a stage play and classify it as art. That’s like saying a lighter is harmless when you’re in a room full of explosives. Context is everything. Surely there are ways to show a political point (whether left or right) without threatening (or even implying) violence, especially in situations where the political context is already a powder keg ready to explode.
Society has gone on to glorify the deviant. The one who stands out because he is different for the sake of being different. Maybe it is time to focus art to show the value of men who have, instead of going against time honored codes of chivalry, celebrated it. We can find many examples in our midst and in history of role models, if we look hard enough. Previous events and personalities such as those from the Spanish American War, World War I and World War II are filled with stories worth emulating. History and our communities are filled with men and women who have the integrity and the courage to say no to treachery and hate, and who settle their differences with honor.
Does violent shock art incite hate crime? Maybe. The point is, artists should also look at how to prevent a societal meltdown instead of giving ideas to insane members of society just waiting for an excuse to cross the line.
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