Free speech and bad art at Wellesley

Wake up!!!

Wake up!!!

Have any of you been following the fracas over the temporary installation of Tony Matelli’s “Sleepwalker” statue on the Wellesley College campus?  Lenore Skenazy published a faux-outraged commentary in the Wall Street Journal that summarizes the controversy and predictably makes fun of the campus feminists who object to the statue, rather than questioning the aesthetic judgment of the art museum director who decided to put up this crummy piece of art in the first place:

“Wellesley should be a safe place for their students, not a triggering one,” wrote one petition-signer, as if the statue actually made the campus dangerous. That’s a brand-new way of looking at—and trying to legislate—the world. So I checked in with Robert Shibley, senior vice president at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, about the Wellesley panic. “It’s the idea that any kind of discomfort is a form of assault,” he noted.

Once we equate making people feel bad with actually attacking them, free expression is basically obsolete, since anything a person does, makes or says could be interpreted as abuse.

Lisa Fischman, director of the art museum on campus, wrote an open letter to students explaining that, to her, the Matelli statue depicts a vulnerable, pathetic stranger. (He’s sleepwalking in his skivvies in the snow, after all.) But to the petition-signers, her point of view is apparently not worthy. One wrote that Ms. Fischman’s letter, like the sculpture itself, “should occupy a less intrusive place.”

Yet another wrote: “A school endorsing the decision to expose its female students to this . . . violates civil rights laws.” I’ll stop quoting these petition-signers now—their words are triggering some of my own fears.

Since when is it a “civil right” not to feel disturbed by a piece of art? And who gets to decide which art we chuck? You don’t like the “Sleepwalker,” but I don’t like “Winged Victory.” It stirs scary thoughts of decapitation. Dear Louvre, please stash that headless gal in the attic.

Yes, it’s over-the-top to describe an inanimate piece of sculpture as an assault.  But it’s also ridiculous to say that questioning Fischman’s judgment assaults liberty of speech as well.  (They submitted a petition; they didn’t occupy the museum and hold her at gunpoint in her office until she had the sculpture removed.  What the hell–it was a good effort to try to sell more copies of Skenazy’s four-year old book!) Continue reading

Victorian Secrets by Sarah A. Chrisman (2013): perhaps some things are better kept under wraps.

victoriansecretschrismanBecause of my clear fascination with historical shapewear and undergarments, a number of people have recommended that I read Victorian Secrets:  What a Corset Taught Me about the Past, the Present, and Myself by Sarah A. Chrisman (New York:  Skyhorse Publishing, 2013).  Although I am deeply interested in clothing and historical costume, and although I incorporate this kind of material culture into my work as a historian, I have never been tempted to become a historical re-enactor.  Ever.  Perhaps because of my utter disinterest in wearing historical clothing myself, I was eager to read Chrisman’s book, which is an autobiographical account of a relationship between a 30-year old woman  and her corset.  Chrisman is very insightful about the ways in which corseting herself forces changes in her body, posture, and wardrobe.  However, she is much less thoughtful about how the people of Seattle respond to her experiment in corsetry.

Chrisman and her husband Gabriel enjoy wearing real vintage clothing from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and she describes their growing involvement with the reenactor community in Washington state.  In wearing a corset, Chrisman reports that she was able to leave her tall, slouchy, not model-thin body behind and finally to feel at home in her body for the first time in her life.  Her breasts were relieved of the pressure of her bra straps, and for once her curves were flattering.  Furthermore, her corset limited the amount of food she could consume at any given time, removing another source of anxiety about her body:  “It was no longer a matter of biology, but of simple physics:  my stomach could not expand past the diameter of my corset.  If I started the day with my corset at twenty-eight, or twenty-four, or twenty inches, as long as I did not loosen it, I would have the exact same measurement at the end of the day, no matter what I ate or what I did in the interim.  I could eat until I was full at every meal,” (120-21).

However, Chrisman approaches her interests in corsetry and historical costume like a buff, not a historian.  And like many buffs, she displays an astonishing intolerance for any fellow buffs whose interest in historic costume isn’t as accurate as Chrisman believes it should be.  Continue reading

Sochi 2014 opening ceremonies: the fashion beatdown

OLY-2014-OPENING-CEREMONY

Lifties, terrorists, or Team Ireland?

You have to feel some sympathy for the designers of the team uniforms for the opening ceremonies for the winter Olympics.  After all, it’s an all cold weather sports event held at midwinter in the Northern hemisphere, so the team look has to be built around parkas, and perhaps accessorized with touqes and mufflers.  Aside from that, you need to find a look that’s flattering (or at least not deeply un-flattering) to people whose body types range in both sexes from tiny figure skaters to thick-thighed speed skaters and to ginormous hockey players and curlers.

But, honestly friends:  can’t we do any better than to make most of the international teams look like lifties or Teletubbies (see Argentina for the former, and Germany for the latter)?  And Ireland:  did you want to make your team look like IRA terrorists?

sochimexico

Team Mexico: kind of awesome

Mexico is getting slammed by some, but I thought their getups were pretty stylin’.  I like team uniforms that try to connect to the national identity of the country represented, and it’s quite a challenge when you have a tropical or subtropical country.  Cross your eyes a little bit and they look like matadors in traditional costume.  The U.S. uniforms probably seemed like a good idea when viewed in isolation, but having 200+ people in a great mass wearing that getup was just ugly and confusing. Continue reading

Mooks talking MOOCs: Our AHA MOOC panel comments are now online at Perspectives

cowgirlropeAnd guess how I learned this?  Through the Twitter machine, when I saw Jonathan Rees tweet a link to his contribution, “The Taylorization of the Historians’ Workplace.”  (Regular readers will recall that Jonathan put together a panel on “How Should Historians Respond to MOOCs” at 2014 annual conference of the American Historical Association in Washington, D.C., last month.)

Our panel comments–slightly tweaked and edited–are now available at Perspectives.  Many thanks to editor Allen Mikaelian for his patient editing and great title suggestions for my contribution, “Can Teaching Be Taken ‘to Scale’?”  (Check it out–I quote William F. Buckley approvingly!)  I also quote one of you I saw at AHA who said to me something like Continue reading

Tuesday roundup: hellz to the FAIL, or CU booze & loser cruise, and who’s screwed by CSU-Pueblo

colorfulcoloradoHowdy, friends, and as the sign says, “Welcome to Colorful Colorado!”  Heck’sapoppin’ out here on the high plains, where the cold and the snow apparently will never cease this winter.  Oh, well:  I’ve got my horse to keep me warm–here’s hoping that you have someone to keep you warm, too.  Some in-state news and views you can use (or at least laugh at):

From crisis to between covers in 19 months: Congratulations, Flavia!

confessionsoffaithIt’s true:  our friend Flavia from Ferule and Fescue has a real, live, codex book in her delicate hands as of yesterday!  Some of you may remember that she was in crisis mode just 19 months ago, when after two years and two rounds of reviews solicited not together but seriatum, her would-be publisher dropped her project like a hot rock.  Oh noes!!!  Penn Press must have snapped her project up in a Philadelphia minute, and here it is:  Confessions of Faith in Early Modern England.  Order it for yourself or or university’s library now! Continue reading