Lynching the Flag

Among the trends on college campuses today is "political art". Political art can be classified as conceptual art; i.e., the idea is the medium. The difference between real art and political art is that the former requires ability whereas the latter only requires a gimmick costumed as an attitude. As political art is politically correct, the subjects it targets are governed by political correctness.

American men are acceptable targets of political art as evidenced by Eve Ensler’s play, "The Vagina Monologues." This play begins with actresses making vulgar, sophomoric references to vaginas and eventually segues into a shrill diatribe against men’s victimization of women. In many parts of the country, this odious play is produced every Valentines day and supporters claim that this trend will continue until men stop victimizing women.

Political art attacks on religion are usually limited to Catholics and Protestant Fundamentalists. Political art that vilifies either of these two groups, regardless of how extreme or tasteless, is acceptable. On the other hand, political art attacking Jews or Muslims is strictly forbidden.

Famous examples of conceptual art are Serrano’s depiction of the crucified Christ immersed in a jar of urine and a similar work of "art" entitled "Sacraments: A Hillbilly Catholic tragedy". This work consists of a picture of a crucifix immersed in a jar of moonshine. The Brooklyn Museum of Art exhibited a work entitled, "The Holy Virgin Mary," a depiction of a woman covered with elephant dung. The primary funding for many of these projects comes from taxpayers.

Southern heritage has been added to the list of viable targets. One such project is scheduled for September 3rd through the 26th at Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, Pa. The artist, John Sims, is an African-American originally from Detroit and currently on the faculty of Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, Fla. His exhibit has been called a "Lynching of the Confederate Flag"; its official title being; "The Proper Way to Hang a Confederate Flag." Gettysburg College has invited Sims to bring his "lynching" exhibit to the campus.

Mr. Sims’s "Confederate Flag" has been altered to red, green and black, the colors of the African liberation movement. To add to his affront to Southern heritage, Sims also designed two "drag flags" in lavender and pink with sparkles and furs. Another of his creations is the "Floridian Rebel Flag" which is surrounded by three of the actual voting booths used in Florida’s controversial 2000 presidential election.

John Sims states that his exhibit "is about visual terrorism, respect and collective self-esteem issues." Opening night will include a reading of the "Recoloration Proclamation: The Gettysburg Redress" which is Sims version of The Gettysburg Address. The exhibit will also include Sims’ "Dixie Remix Project," the artist’s various parody versions of the song "Dixie." Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, Assistant Professor of Art History and Afro-American studies at Harvard University, will present a lecture on Sims: "Razing the Flag: Nationalism and Dissent in Contemporary Art." The exhibition will open and close with a ceremonial lynching of the re-colored Confederate Flag. For this ceremonial lynching, Gettysburg College has erected a 13-foot high outdoor gallows on college grounds.

Because political art is usually not the result of artistic talent, it must be embellished with fancy language. This verbal enhancement is supplied by so-called art critics such as Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw. It appears that Ms. Shaw couldn’t write a grocery list without a Thesaurus. Her comments about the art of John Sims read like the satire of art criticism.

Some excerpts: "What does it mean to change the colors of a politically charged icon of racist rebellion? — to re-imagine the icon of racism using the African freedom colors? — the color adjustment could easily be read as a wry comment on the jingoistic and generational nature of rebellion itself — all of the various Confederate flags are potent symbols of terror and ‘recoloring’ them is a way to colonize their power — the project’s title alludes to the emancipatory act that this subversion of chromatic motif achieves — Sims work is especially prescient because it moves beyond interrogating a single symbol — (let me get this straight: first Sims colonizes the flag, then he interrogates it) — John Sims continually demonstrates a penchant for breaking artistic boundaries. He is an artist who cannot be quantified or stereotyped."

To the contrary, Sims can be stereotyped. He is a politically correct posturing phony with an agenda. But he cannot be taken seriously. His bogus exhibit brings to mind that other piece of racial theater: the Tawana Brawley Hoax.

What is particularly annoying is that types like Sims and Shaw have such a limited grasp of facts. Statistics on lynching in America from 1882 to 1968, indicate that one-third of the victims were white and two-thirds were black. And lynching was not restricted to Southern states. It occurred in most states of the Union. During this 86-year period, 3,400 blacks were lynched nationwide. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report for 2002 shows that 2900 blacks were murdered that year by other blacks. So black on black homicides for one year is almost equal to total number of blacks lynched from 1882 to 1968.

And, it is a fact that a black male would have been much safer in the old Confederacy in the 19th century than in the city of Detroit in the current century.

I suspect that Sims and Shaw are not aware of these facts, even though both are college professors. They are eager to trash the Confederate flag because some groups have used it inappropriately. But these groups most often hoisted the American flag and they also used the Christian cross in their ceremonies. But Sims sidesteps these facts because they conflict with contemporary stereotypes.

Southerners who admire their heritage and symbols are justifiably incensed over Sims’ flag-lynching project — especially because they know that it doesn’t represent research or reflect truth. It is also a fact that we Southerners cannot respond in kind without being charged with perpetrating a hate crime. You know that this is what would happen if a Southern "artist" held an exhibit that included the burning of the African flag; a lampoon mockery of Dr. King’s "I have a dream" speech, or a minstrel troupe in blackface singing "We shall overcome."

© 2004 Victoria Jarvis

Finally, as a concession to devotees of the paranormal, I must mention that Gettysburg Cemetery is reputed to be "the most haunted place in America." The Internet contains numerous websites exploring the battlefield’s supernatural phenomena with purported photos of ghosts of dead soldiers. Like all battlefields, Gettysburg is the sacred province of the souls of the valiant men who fought and died there. Sims exhibit will desecrate this sacred province. One can well imagine the ghosts of dead Confederate soldiers, many of whom were black, railing against the opening night ceremony when the Confederate flag is being lynched. Could the collective psychic agitation of these tormented spirits disturb the elements enough to excite hazardous weather conditions sufficient to disrupt the lynching ceremony? We can only hope so.