Saturday, November 27, 2010

Artist Mark Sinckler, 7/7, Islam and the West

In Western democracies like Britain, artists are overwhelmingly expected to condemn Christianity but remain completely uncritical of Islam. Artists should also demonstrate that even if they are appalled by the actions of Islamist terrorists, they still acknowledge that they have "legitimate grievances".

It usually doesn't go much further than that. But here's a case in which it does: A Muslim artist from Bristol called Mark Sinckler has unveiled an artwork that exploits the 7/7 bombings in London. It seems to celebrate these acts of violence, and appears to represent the terrorists as angels.

The unveiling has been timed to coincide with the Coroner's Inquest into the bombings, which has brought the issue into the media spotlight once again. Needless to say the artwork has caused much outrage and condemnation.

A lot of people think the work should be banned. But I don't. It reveals not only Sinckler's craven, malignant mindset but also the cowardice and hypocrisy that pervade the arts world. While some surely think of him as a hero bravely championing freedom of speech, it just reveals him to be a cynical opportunist.

I mean, if an artist were to draw or paint a kind of anti-Muslim mirror image of Sinckler's work then not only would his career be toast, he'd probably be prosecuted for hate speech by the state - not to mention marked for death by crazed Islamists. Now, why aren't the so-called freedom of speech advocates in the arts world even grumbling about that?

Because of his attitude and allegiances, Sinckler can exploit Britain's pervasive cynicism - not to mention evil capitalism - to flog product and fill his bank account. He's also taking advantage of that nation's great tradition of protecting free expression (at least selectively), as well as the rule of law. He can't lose.

A lot of pretentious arty types are surely rolling their eyes at the outraged reaction to his work, saying: "But can't these philistines see, he's being ironic. He's just trying to make people think."

But the irony it truly reveals (and that he seems oblivious to) is a much bigger one. It's the irony of Islam in the West. He clearly sympathizes with al-Qaeda's agenda (or at least doesn't seem to have any problem with it). But what if their ultimate aim of establishing a very severe form of Islam in countries including Britain were to become a reality? His freedom to offend - along with a whole lot of other freedoms - would simply disappear. (Actually, he'd probably disappear too, after being tortured for a few days!)

It always amazes me that people like Sinckler don't actually realize this. Even if they do, they don't seem to be worried by it.

I suppose that's the reaction you have if you really don't believe in anything much - aside from the right to annoy and offend, of course. But what a sad place to be, particularly for an artist. Aren't they supposed to have integrity, and be passionate, engaged, and courageous?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Portia De Rossi's Aussie man ban is sexist, cynical and childish

The left-liberal film and TV stars of Hollywood are a pretty overrated bunch. Convinced that they are political heavy hitters on the world stage they are widely seen as colossal bores by their own countrymen, and nothing more than useful idiots by the ugly regimes they so often support. And they're usually not the brilliant actors they think they are, since it's often their political posturing as much as their talent as performers that attracts the spotlight and feeds their celebrity. But they are certainly world class when it comes to narcissistic hypocrisy, and capable of consistently surreal levels of politically correct sanctimony.

Take Portia De Rossi's recent requirement that she only be interviewed by women journalists in Australia. As Sunrise co-host Kochie, one of the unfortunate blokes to fall foul of this imperious diktat (or should that be no-diktat?) so accurately pointed out, if a male had done something similar there'd be outrage. But there's little condemnation from his fellow journos, male or female. That's the supine, right-on Australian media for you. (Actually, I suspect it might be more likely that it's Kochie who cops a shellacking - for his homophobia!)

Remember the almighty ruckus that occurred when Gordon Ramsay joked that Tracy Grimshaw was a pig. There were howls of outrage from all quarters, and the boorish Brit was forced to make a full apology.

But De Rossi's demands were arguably worse since she was being serious and was discriminating against an entire gender.

The stance is not only sexist but childish as well. She seems to have the emotional maturity of a kindergarten brat, revolted by the possibility she might catch "boy germs". At a time when gay rights activists are demanding all the rights of heterosexual grownups (like marriage for example) this is probably not such a great thing to have done.

There seems to be a geo-specific element in her posturing, too. Some Googling reveals no evidence of her making a similar demand back in America. The likely reason: Doing so might be deleterious career-wise. But it's worth the risk Down Under, since any offense caused will not be felt directly back in Hollywood.

Considering the pervasive anti-Americanism in Aussie journalism, maybe this implication that we are of no consequence when compared to the USA might be the thing to rile Aussie hacks? It will be interesting to see ...

In any case her behavior shows other inconsistencies: Being the poster girl for gay marriage, and a self-described champion of gay rights, you'd think that she might lift her man ban in the case of gay male journos, wouldn't you? They suffer enough discrimination already, surely!

And if she finds talking to blokes so abhorrent, then why does she continue to act opposite them? Well again, that would be career suicide ... She may be a misandrist, but she's still mighty fond of money! (Actually, I can imagine some of her fellow lesbian activists, even more zealous than she is, being more than a little miffed at this particular double standard. They probably consider her a traitor to the cause for not working exclusively on projects written, produced, performed and ultimately only watched by, er, wimmin.)

It's all pretty silly, and about par for the course when it comes to celebrity activism these days. But De Rossi's man ban reveals where she and her liberal fellow travellers are coming from most of the time. Their behavior is routinely childish, cynical and opportunistic; almost never principled and consistent. This is ironic, since they invariably claim their political statements and actions come from deeply held convictions, not mere ego.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Oleg Mavromati truly suffers for his art

There are several cliches about what makes an artist great. One of the main ones is that he must have suffered deeply somehow.

Notable painters in particular seem to have lived pain-filled lives more often than not. Take Van Gogh. While he was definitely hugely talented and his art spoke for itself, I doubt very much that he would now be held in such high esteem had he not been such a tortured and miserable bastard.

It's a weird phenomenon. But I think it's basically because the idea of someone doggedly honing his craft for decades on end and at great pains to himself (and those around him) is widely seen as romantic and exciting. People (often mistakenly) believe that all the blood, sweat and tears that went into the artist's work necessarily gives it substantially more gravitas and depth.

I think that's part of the reason so many artists and performers are addicts of some sort. It's not just that they have little self restraint or need to self medicate. Some of them indulge so heavily in drugs or alcohol (or both) almost as a career decision. They are consciously (or rather, semi-consciously) tapping into that image of danger, risk, and ultimately suffering that is so often associated with great artists.

That said, in most cases the suffering they put themselves and others through is not central to the art they produce. It tends to occur in their personal lives and while it's part of the emotional stew they draw from in producing their work, it's not an overt part of it.

But here's a case which bucks that trend. Suffering is a big part of the artwork itself. A Russian by the name of Oleg Mavromati has set up a strange and disturbing living art installation featuring himself. He's hooked himself up to the internet and whenever 100 online viewers vote for him to be given an electric shock, he actually receives one. It's his way of making a statement against religious oppression.

I don't doubt his sincerity. And he certainly seems much more courageous than most artists in the west, who rarely suffer any negative consequences for their art no matter how provocative it is. (Mavromati has so angered the Russian Orthodox church in the past that he had to flee to Bulgaria.)

But I have to ask, where's the art? Call me old fashioned, but Mavromati hasn't really created anything. He's just performing a masochistic public stunt. It's something anyone could do if they were committed (or crazy!) enough.

Still, it's garnered him a lot of publicity, and will certainly add to his reputation as a cutting edge artist. It's got suffering in spades, after all. It also employs shock value. That's clearly another crucial requirement for art nowadays - even if the person the art shocks the most is the artist himself.