Raging Bull

Kerry's a wuss. Dubya's a doof. How can anybody vote for either of these clowns?

With the entire cultural machine in lockstep, is it any wonder that the pursuit of truth through art has been replaced by propaganda?

No one rang the bell on that account like Michael Moore, who will speak in Phoenix the afternoon of the presidential debate.

Millions flocked to and cheered the loathsome Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. A propaganda movie as distorted as any of Leni Riefenstahl's odes to Adolf Hitler, the film reinvented the war in Iraq and spared liberals any troubling questions.

ASU student art by Christopher Chen stresses Iraqi 
Jackie Mercandetti
ASU student art by Christopher Chen stresses Iraqi casualties.
A poster by Professor Leaños calls Pat Tillman's hero 
status into question, asserting that the war on terror's 
based on "flawed perceptions."
Jackie Mercandetti
A poster by Professor Leaños calls Pat Tillman's hero status into question, asserting that the war on terror's based on "flawed perceptions."

Nowhere in Moore's reptilian work does he address the horrific genocide Saddam Hussein inflicted upon his people.

How is it possible to make a "documentary" about Iraq and not mention the hundreds of thousands of "disappeareds" or the nearly 300 mass graves?

I want to ask all those people I witnessed cheering in the several screenings of Fahrenheit 9/11 that I attended, I want to ask all of my acquaintances who assume so smugly that I and they must vote for Kerry: What if the war in Iraq is correct, unintentionally, the same way that WWII was correct, unintentionally, because both put an end to an unconscionable level of genocide?

A perfect storm of biased cultural critique, joined with a refusal to confront the moral implications of Hussein's genocide, festers in the halls of higher education at Arizona State, the university hosting the presidential debate.

Assistant professor John Jota Leaños coached his students at ASU into an overwhelming demonstration against the war in Iraq and against President Bush. As part of the first component of this class in Chicana and Chicano Studies, the teacher assigned a reading list about the war.

"We needed to inform ourselves about Iraq," explained a student.

Once they were thoroughly grounded in their reading, the students were required to make protest posters in the rich tradition of Mexican artists. The students chose overwhelmingly to voice their opposition to Bush and the war.

The artwork hung on building walls in downtown Phoenix as part of the First Friday celebration on October 1, less than two weeks before Kerry and Bush were to conclude the debates in Tempe.

I first learned of this activism from a student who occasionally baby-sits my kids. She claimed professor Leaños steered the class to manufacture anti-war, anti-Bush art, and she felt extremely uncomfortable having a political position forced down her throat.

The studious and demure Leaños (whose card reads, "artist, cultural worker, assistant professor") is contemptuous of the campus, and First Friday, too, because he does not see enough stridency in either setting.

He noted that ASU is often identified as one of America's top party schools by Playboy and other publications. But he said he was astounded when Mother Jones recently labeled the university one of the top 10 activist campuses in the nation, one step in front of Berkeley.

"Maybe they count right-wing activism," joked Leaños, passing along the observation of a friend whose sentiments obviously matched Leaños' that only one sort of political thought counts as thinking.

The professor works diligently to correct these shortcomings. At the end of the day, on September 23, I met with the instructor and three of his students, Joaquin Lopez, 24; Violeta Tamayo, 25; and Moshe Novakoff, 24.

I wanted to see what all of them thought about Hussein's genocide and Bush's preemptive war.

The professor began our conversation, however, by attacking New Times for its coverage of "Democracy in America," the exhibition of art with a political theme timed to coincide with the debate and the election.

In a recent two-part series, New Times staff writer Joe Watson documented the remarkable pressure brought to bear upon this exhibition at ASU's art museum. When it became obvious that the current art was overwhelmingly anti-Bush, school administrators, who were contractually obligated by the debate guidelines to remain neutral on the candidates, turned the screws in favor of a more balanced collection.

Are we supposed to believe that the armed forces of America have toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan, invaded Iraq, run a genocidal dictator into a spider hole and suggested democracy for the Middle East, and yet if a quota for anti-Kerry art is not fulfilled, a presidential debate would be canceled?

It would appear that college administrators have lost sight of where artists fit in the world.

At first, the art museum's director, Marilyn Zeitlin, promised that there would be no censorship. She said that no art already selected, despite its anti-Bush slant, would be removed. Instead, she claimed she would scour the nation for anti-Kerry art.

Having unearthed six months' worth of e-mails and correspondence with the legal leverage of a FOIA demand, New Times' Watson made it clear the sort of pressure Zeitlin faced.

"There is no exhibit at this stage," warned Stacey Shaw, Director of Communication, Herberger College of Fine Arts. She concluded, with a sort of Soviet insouciance, "If the show isn't balanced, 'Democracy in America' will not happen."

Leaños felt New Times should not have exposed the administration's heavy-handed attempts to dictate the contents of an art exhibition. He argued that the story should have been suppressed and the controversy ignored until the show was finally mounted. He felt the story egged on administrators to push even harder for fair and balanced.

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