Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Cindy Sherman Effect

Now at an echoing Cindy Sherman exhibit where she takes photos of herself dressed as different people doing different things. Funny how the mind of an artist can stretch one's own mind. I say this because the show reminds me of a friend of mine who was an artist of sorts.

No, she was a victim of that endless Facebook scroll. An addict to the likes of friends and family. Jobless, she sent out a million job resumes before she finally decided to run out her money with selfies. At first it was the usual bourgeois life style, captioned sardonically. "I'm making ramen," with a lyric from a song du jour.

Soon, however, she found that one way to maximize followers was through the daring: leaning over the edge of a building, waving flags of so called enemy countries and so on.

Then she inadvertently stepped [1] into activism. It started when she photoshopped herself doing the mundane over historic photos. For example she started with her selfie with Marylyn Monroe. Then the Kennedys. Then the Hindenburg accident. Then those famous Vietnam war photos. Then she did it on various atrocities or with known war criminals.

Friends and family were aghast, but she didn't get as much fanfare as when she posed in a bikini suit with an ISIS flag. Oh my, the Greek Chorus that followed was certainly beyond enraged; they had been waiting for this moment, knowing that since she had crossed some line of society's decorum she would step into something they could truly sink their teeth into. That she wouldn't apologize only added fuel to the fire. [2]

But her reaction, that of a true individual, was to simply double down and highlight their ignorance with witty remarks. That was her youth speaking, for the wiser amongst us could have advised her that the truth never works. Especially when faced with a mob.

And now I'll take back my earlier statement for it was at this time that she truly became an artist. Call me old-fashioned, but that's my definition of an artist: one who churns up enough detestation through their work that their unawakened brethren are certain to silence them.

But, like I said before, doubling down on highlighting a mob's ignorance never works. A rabid animal the mob is, and it's never going to take the insolence of a single human, to say nothing of a human creating ethereal art; for the mob is about power.

I, of course, was delighted. I would scroll through picture after picture of her posing with ISIS, or placing the heroes of the mob along with ISIS, or, sometimes, the detractors themselves.

It didn't end well. As anyone will tell you, freedom isn't free, or rather free speech isn't free. And in our country the only freedom is usually used to bludgeon the weaker ones.

No, I'm not pontificating, just repeating what she said as the realization dawned upon her. Nor did she miss the point of hitching one's wagon with some power of the land so as to make sure to afford some protection. What I'm trying to say, reader, is that they struck her down in a howl of anger—of pure sick hatred.

First, it was the launch of a thousand libel suits, followed by the social media companies deleting her accounts—to include email.

They were suffocating her. Even I, trying to reach out for moral support, could not reach her. Then somehow, through our cowardly national security laws, the DOJ came after her.

Soon they found her washed up on the side of the Hudson River. Suicide, it was reported, and the press claimed a victory. And all I could do to keep up the controversy was save her photos, print them on stickers and tag them all over the world.

So it goes, the cynics may say, but why, is what I ask. Why do us apes react in such a manner to our fellow humans?

All of us, I suppose, are alone, happy when anything can bring us together, even if it is hate. And so we seek and reach out for another human, for sharing a hatred is better than never sharing anything at all. And if that hatred leads to the death of another, so be it.

Or maybe as we travel through a world we can only approximate, we need to come up with facades to tie ourselves with others, with the world, and when someone tries to disrupt that—no matter how trivially—we lash out wildly, foolishly even, no matter how it hurts or destroys that someone. After all, they're only an approximation in this world of ours.

I'm rambling now. Sorry. I tend to do that when the world I've known lets me down, destroys a beautiful flower which could have saved us—if only for a moment.  I should have learned by now, but I always hold out for better.

Update: Some of you may have heard the recent news: that said artist/photographer was not dead but in fact had faked it for exposure. Enough exposure that she's living happily in St. Tropez. Good times, and I suppose one cannot begrudge another human of their living—especially if its creatively gained.

[1] There is some speculation that it wasn't some conscious decision and merely her running out of funds and thus becoming more extremist. I'll let you decide which one mattered the most to her.

[2] I won't even get into the details of how her being a female only seemed to make her "treason" seem worse, and made her detractors angrier. 

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