Progressive political and cultural elites are pissing on you

August 31, 2017

Mike F. Brown

By MIKE BROWN

The recent furor over the destruction of  Confederate war memorials is a reminder that public art has serious meaning and can profoundly affect the feelings of people, both when it is originally  commissioned and later upon our collective memories, even after hundreds or thousands of years.

A civilization’s monumental public art and architecture summarize its values, moral aspirations, and historical achievement. Egyptian monuments and painting, classical Greek sculpture, Gothic cathedrals, the Alhambra Palace,  Mesoamerican pyramids, 20th Century suspension bridges, and even the fanciful Santa Barbara County Courthouse  provide testimony about what people were thinking as well as their level of  technical and artistic development.

Two examples:  What do Berkeley’s “Guardian” and Orange County’s “Bad Dog” sculptures tell us about aspirations and taste in contemporary California?

The “Guardian” sculpture commands the prominent terminus of a divided landscaped boulevard at the western end of the City’s University Avenue and points to the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco skyline across San Francisco Bay – one of America’s most iconic views.

The Guardian – Berkeley Marina Park – was installed in the 1980’s without the city’s permission. It remains an example of the “plop art” movement, which is art that is anonymously installed at night on public property without approval.

When it rains, water enters the mouth of the creature and is then piped to the statue’s penis, where it simulates an animal peeing. Berkeley politicians cherish the statue and maintain it.

More recently, and with official support, the “Bad Dog” sculpture was installed at the Orange County Museum of Art in 2013 – and yes, he is peeing on the Museum.

Suffice to say these monuments pretty accurately sum up what California’s dominant political classes and cultural elites think of our civilization and those conservative citizens who celebrate traditional values.  That’s right – “piss on you.”

A contrasting example: What about General Sherman’s statue?

General William Tecumseh Sherman Memorial NYC, 1900

Sherman is being led by the Goddess of Victory. Note the decline in skill, refinement, and taste that have occurred over the past 100 years. Notwithstanding the invention of iPhones and penicillin, from both a cultural anthropological point of view and an archeological point of view (how artifacts show social and historical changes), the difference between the Sherman statue and the two modern examples visited above, evince the general decay of society during a very short interval, when considered on a historical basis.

If 2000 years from now archeologists were to uncover these three statues, with little else to go on, what would they conclude about the state of society over the 100 year period which elapsed from the creation of the Sherman statue to the Guardian? They might theorize that some horrible plague or other calamity had caused such a sudden and major regression and decay.

Sherman was instrumental in defeating the Confederacy. He severed the southeastern Confederacy and burnt the cities of Atlanta and Columbia. He was an advocate of total warfare – that is not only destruction of the enemy’s military assets, but also his industrial and economic ability to wage war.

Sherman systematically destroyed plantations (many a southern matron’s silver became heirlooms in northern dining rooms), towns, railroads, bridges, and factories, severely crippling not only the Confederacy’s ability to wage war but its peoples’ will as well.

Although a Union hero, in contrast to Robert E Lee, he also expressed very strong and well-documented racist views in both speeches and writings. Wonder if this statue is coming down?  Often, and throughout history, it is those who were defeated, whose monuments are purged from history. What of the victors? In any case, both will be pissed on.

Sherman burns Georgia and frees the slaves

Mike Brown is the Government Affairs Director of the Coalition of Labor Agriculture and Business (COLAB of San Luis Obispo County. He had a 42-year career as a city manager and county executive officer in four states including California. He can be reached at mike@colabslo.org.







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21 Comments

  1. injustice_to_bees says:

    Only the bloviating Mike Brown could concoct a defense of Confederate statuary by claiming his conservative sensibilities are under attack from….horrors….contemporary art. Except one of your examples is not contemporary at all. The Guardian in Berkeley is the artist’s take on a Buddhist statue in Penang Malaysia. So clearly, the monks in Malaysia must be part of “California’s dominant political classes and cultural elites”…..or maybe you just resent or fear the multi-culturalism that Berkeley embodies.
    Maybe its animal phalluses that scare you. Perhaps we should only have alabaster-white cherubs peeing into fountains so that we uphold your cherished personal vision of conservative norms.

    (-9) 39 Total Votes - 15 up - 24 down
  2. just the facts says:

    George Orwell, 1984

    “Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”

    (13) 25 Total Votes - 19 up - 6 down
    • modernwelding says:

      Calling the Confederacy a “states rights” issue or those that served the Confederacy “merely protecting their homes” IS the history rewrite.

      The Confederacy was founded to continue the institution of slavery where women were legally raped, and children and adults tortured, and an entire group of people beaten into submission and sold off at will. Jim Crow laws were passed to continue racisim.

      Per Alexander Hamilton Stephens, Confederate vice president, “The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us; the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.”

      (-7) 29 Total Votes - 11 up - 18 down
  3. calcoastdan says:

    I enjoyed your comments, Mr Yan. I think you did a good job af making a solid argument concerning the underlying racism in confederate statues, while making it clear that Mr. Brown is not racist. To often the left is quick to call it racism, when it is often insensitivity to an hurtful issue. The dialogue in this country could use more temperament, and I applaud your approach.

    (-7) 17 Total Votes - 5 up - 12 down
    • modernwelding says:

      No one is calling Mike a racist but he is doing what the Republican Party does. Cueing racists that their attitudes are acceptable and mainstream.

      (-8) 28 Total Votes - 10 up - 18 down
      • modernwelding says:

        BTW Trump’s transgender ban … that’s cueing or dog whistling homophobes.
        And the Fox news commentators always sitting legs exposed at the end of the table in camera view, you know, the one’s that are poured into their red dresses … well I guess you know who that’s cueing.
        The point is … COLAB and the Republican Party needs a good sheep dip.

        (-2) 16 Total Votes - 7 up - 9 down
  4. MrYan says:

    Artistic tastes change over time Mike. Is that a conspiracy of the left because it occurs? From the tone of your article I think it is.

    Art is often appreciated, or valued, more after the period in which it was created. Some of the greats of our time lived a life of poverty and were dejected never to revel in their greatness.

    With this in mind your piece has little weight. It is like comparing aged wine to newly bottled wine. With the aged wine its’ greatness is established, but with the newly bottled wine greatness could have been achieved but only in time would we know for sure.

    As for your attempt for a comparison to Union statues there is one simple difference.

    Those statues are of a traitor’s, not patriots to the USA, and they were put up primarily to inflame and intimidate black citizens of the USA.

    The statues you write in defense of were not put up during reconstruction to promote national healing either. You cannot make a legitimate claim otherwise knowing when they were placed.

    They were put up during Jim Crow era, with lynching rampant, when laws to disenfranchise black votes were being enacted throughout the south.

    These are the types of statues being taken down and you know it. And these are the ones you come running to defend.

    How does the republican party rid itself, of small but active minority, of Nazi’s and White Nationals in there midst? You can start by not running to the defense of issues that are near and dear to their hearts.

    While not being a racist yourself, Mike, you should be able to see the legitimacy of how race could play a roll in one’s perception of this issue?

    Your lack of racism isn’t at issue, but your blindness to racism may be. It is at play here, no denying it.

    It is not a an issue of race to YOU, but it is for others (on both side :-). And given the known history of when and why these statues were enacted your defense of them is a tacit defense of the racist motivations behind their enactment. Is that hard to see?

    Attempting to make this a progressive – conservative issue or left vs. right does this country of disservice.

    At it’s core this is an issue about race not about art appreciation. To me it is pretty simple if Nazi’s and White Nationalists are for something I am going to be against them.

    Even if this recent movement impinges on our “history and culture” – racists don’t get a pass and they don’t get to own our past.

    Time to take ’em down Mr. Brown.

    (2) 34 Total Votes - 18 up - 16 down
  5. modernwelding says:

    The Guardian statue is meaningful as a mockery of vain glorious military adventures. Too bad ISIS “warriors” and Kim Jong-Un do not see it. Maybe they might reflect a little bit, but I doubt it. It is an excellent piece of modern art. Many traditional art critics thought Picasso, Van Gogh and Monet were worthless. Art is in the essence of what the piece invokes.
    The dog pissing … stupid, juvenile. Perhaps the effort is to be comical.
    Sherman’s statue is appropriate for a mausoleum but as art … gaudy.
    Yard art and statuary are difficult to compose. One needs to broaden one’s viewpoint and expand beyond traditional art monumentalizing.

    Confederates were traitors. They rejected this country to keep their slaves. They supported the ownership of people who were raped, tortured, and beaten into submission. Slave children were ripped from their families and sold. Families destroyed. Next the Reichstag Right and so called “conservatives” will be protecting monuments to Benedict Arnold. Mussolini was such a snappy dresser.

    (1) 57 Total Votes - 29 up - 28 down
  6. Otis says:

    To be consistent in their cultural cleansing, “California’s dominant political classes and cultural elites”, and their anti-confederate contemporaries in the USA, should ban and eliminate the Atlantic Slave Trader John Newton (1725–1807) and his hymn, “Amazing Grace”.

    (-3) 23 Total Votes - 10 up - 13 down
    • modernwelding says:

      John Newton’s song Amazing Grace was about God’s forgiveness towards his participation in the slave trade. … “That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found. Was blind but now I see.” The Confederate states reinstituted slavery via Jim Crow laws. They didn’t repent. John Newton did.

      (17) 25 Total Votes - 21 up - 4 down
      • Otis says:

        Newton in 1748 was subjected to his spiritual conversion. He continued his slave trading career until 1754 or 1755. There is no evidence that his conversion was based on his guilt as a slave trader. Nor should Newton be penalized today for his role as a slave trader. The descendants of those he brought to the United States should be grateful and not critical of his role in their heritage.

        (1) 5 Total Votes - 3 up - 2 down
  7. Slosum says:

    Good job Mike. My dad was a Westpointer. He served in the Army Air-corps in WWII. He was from Texas. He had no racial prejudices. He spoke of the honor of both Grant and Lee (both Westpointers) and their allegiance to their states. That is why Lee declined to lead the north as asked. He was a Virginian and a noble and fine man. It had nothing to do with slavery and everything to do with a devotion to their heritage. Grant was an Ohioan, so he naturally supported the north. Both Grant and Lee owned slaves as did many northerners. The main issue was about preserving the union, which Lincoln held most high. That’s what the fight was about. And so many lost their lives because of it. Not slavery, but the preservation of the union versus states rights and secession. We’ve lost much or our history and continue to loose more as we try to eradicate the remnants of it. And of course, if we fail to know our history, we are doomed to repeat it. So dogs pissing on monuments may be cute, but real culture celebrates the good, the bad… and learns from it.

    (-1) 29 Total Votes - 14 up - 15 down
    • RonHolt says:

      The “preservation of the union” theory of the Civil War is correct. As is the Confederacy view of “preservation of state’s rights.” As is the “abolition of slavery.” All three were factors and there were a couple of lesser factors involved as well. One can’t honestly separate out any one of them and say it was exclusively this or that.

      I don’t have a problem with the statues of Confederate leaders being preserved in museums with appropriate discussions about their background and meanings. However, they were (for the most part) erected in public places at least 30 years after the Civil War as a way for the supporters of the Confederacy to say “we’re back” and to let people (especially black people) know that their loss on the battlefield didn’t mean permanent defeat. They need to be removed from public places so that their racist supporters know that they can’t revive their white supremacist society.

      (4) 24 Total Votes - 14 up - 10 down
  8. SLOnative says:

    The Taliban started this by blowing up those ancient Buddha statues carved into an Afghan cliff.

    I just received this from a college buddy this morning:

    WHAAAAAAAAAT ?????​

    I WONDER HOW LONG BEFORE​ ​PEOPLE FINALLY REALIZE THAT:

    FT BENNING
    FT STEWART
    FT LEE
    FT JACKSON
    FT BRAGG
    FT HOOD
    FT POLK
    ARE ALL US ARMY INSTALLATIONS NAMED AFTER CONFEDERATE GENERALS.
    Toooooooo funny!

    (16) 46 Total Votes - 31 up - 15 down
  9. Liberty1948 says:

    Well stated, Mike. One can also observe this phenomenon when studying the Roman Empire.
    Earlier works, such as the Forum, Colosseum, and Appian Way compared with the later structures that were mostly wooden and are now gone. The Western world forgot how to make cement to form concrete. The Romans used it.

    (18) 62 Total Votes - 40 up - 22 down
    • Ricky2 says:

      Liberty, Mike’s talking about art, and your faulty history doesn’t apply there. Ancient Greek art and literature, during their classic period when literature, art, philosophy, architecture and science thrived, was as bawdy and naughty as anything today. During the “early” Roman period you cite favorably, Roman culture was also bawdy and naughty. Ever been to Pompeii? All those stone phalluses hanging above front doors? All the “dirty” paintings inside? Mike’s lament is about an imaginary bygone age. He lacks a sense of humor. Plop art is democracy in action, making art relevant. I also don’t get the point of the dog peeing on the building, but nonetheless, folks, don’t be so darned uptight. We live in amazing times. And if you don’t like the art produced by others, make some yourselves in a style you approve of. We’ll all be the richer for it.

      (11) 21 Total Votes - 16 up - 5 down

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