Art for prez
Sit down with a couple of anti-Bush artist/activists and a pro-Bush children's book author, and you get what you play for: lots of debate about politics, war, and the election, and not so much about artistic motivation or choice of medium. At least Emma Kratz, whose new single, "You're Going Down, Bushy," is a diatribe against George W., finally took off her mask, which she swears she wears to protect herself against attacks from pro-Bush fanatics. And Lieutenant Colonel Phil Johnson (Bush fan and author of the just-published I Think Sadi Arabia Suks, a book about kids' views on war) and local artist Scott McKenzie (whose "Bush: I Lied" posters are popping up all over town) never came to blows. But the only thing that these three Phoenicians could agree on is that art matters, especially in a war against the president.
New Times: Emma, your "You're Going Down, Bushy" is sort of a protest song gone berserk.
Emma Kratz: It had to be heard! It's more important than ever to get Bush out of there. I haven't been politically active since the Sixties, but I had to do something. The CD came about because my husband grew tired of hearing me scream each time Bush came on the television. I knew I needed to turn that anger into something more positive.
NT: And so of course you wrote an anti-Bush song, sung to the tune of "Hello, Dolly!"
Kratz: Yes. I hadn't been in the recording studio in years -- I had a brief career in my 20s, but decided I didn't want to be a starving artist -- but with this Bush thing I had to do something. I'm pretty good at parody, and I listened to a lot of songs and wrote some new words, and the rest is history.
NT: Phil, your book, I Think Sadi Arabia Suks, isn't Bush-specific, but you're a Bush supporter whose new book does sort of promote war, and was published at a time when your favored candidate is being criticized for his pro-war policies.
Phil Johnson: It's more specific to the issue of war. We've had two Gulf wars in the last ten years, and fortunately we've won both of them. I wrote the book because I was in Saudi Arabia, I was in Kuwait, and I know what goes on in war. And I know the attitudes of our troops. And people speaking out against our president only encourages our enemy. Which isn't to say we shouldn't have a legitimate debate in this country about who we'll elect as president and the different issues that come up. But just because this president has led us into war -- and I think rightly so -- doesn't mean his campaign should suffer.
NT: So it's no coincidence that your book is coming out now.
Johnson: A lot of people who protest against Bush and against the war, they don't know what it's like. I'd venture to say that 80 percent of them haven't had any war experience. I think it's great that we haven't had a draft since Vietnam, but we have got to unite the way we did after 9/11, instead of divide.
NT: Your book is made up of letters from kids who wrote to you while you were on active duty on the Arabian Gulf, and your commentary on them.
Johnson: I was over there, and a teacher friend of mine had her grade school classes write to me. There's so much compassion and hate for war in those letters. It's a lighthearted look at what kids think of war these days.
NT: I'm confused. In their letters the kids tell you how much they love American troops but they hate the war.
Johnson: I know. Don't they sound just like the Democrats?
Kratz: You're funny.
NT: You mention that you were touched by the kids' disgust about the war. But you're a military man.
Johnson: I don't feel they're contradicting themselves, because they're young and they're just discovering their opinions about war. A lot of the boys wrote about their love of airplanes, and the girls primarily talked about the "weird clothing" that the women had to wear. But the message of the book is a good one to get out right now.
NT: Scott, your George Bush "I Lied" posters and flyers are all over downtown Phoenix and Tempe.
Scott McKenzie: The whole mindset behind the poster started because -- and I have to disagree with Phil -- it's not a war with Iraq, it's an invasion of Iraq. I wanted to do a commentary on how [in the U.S.] we have the luxury of seeing things from a wider perspective.
Johnson: We live in the greatest country going, and a lot of people here don't know how good we really have it.
McKenzie: We're perceived as a bunch of tyrants by people in other countries, and I have to agree with them. I don't think that [Bush] had the Iraqi people's best interest at heart.
Kratz: He had the interest of American contractors at heart. All the stockholders of all the defense companies are in the government. (To Phil:) Where do you own stock, Halliburton or one of the other defense contractors?
Johnson: I am a defense contractor.
Kratz: Well, I rest my case.
NT: Hey, you guys! We're here to talk about art.
McKenzie: Sorry. Yeah. So, I was messing around on the computer one night, and I designed this poster that I decided I was going to put out there. Because there's a lot of Bush posters and stickers out there, but unfortunately not a lot of Kerry stuff.
Kratz: True, true!
McKenzie: The real message is that you may not be for any particular candidate, but the poster is meant to represent how very many people out there are adamantly opposed to Bush. I really was surprised at how the posters took off.
NT: They've been bootlegged!
McKenzie: I know -- and that was the whole concept. The artwork went out over the Internet, and pretty soon people were making their own posters from my design. Which is great. I want people to copy it and distribute it everywhere.
NT: Your tag line is "I Lied." But which Bush lie are you referring to?
McKenzie: I made the poster right after the 9/11 Commission Report came out, which was proof that [the Bush administration] was caught red-handed in a lie.
NT: It's a great design, but I could just tear the "I Lied" part off the bottom, and it would be a nice photo of President Bush that I could use to promote his campaign.
McKenzie: Ironically, some people have done that. Which, again, is entirely another opinion and one that people are entitled to. I don't mind people turning my anti-Bush poster into a pro-Bush poster. I'm not out to start a militia, live in Minnesota, and buy a bunch of rifles.
NT: You don't appear to be. Emma, how'd you decide to set your song to the tune of "Hello, Dolly!"?
Kratz: I wish I could tell you. The ragtime theme reminded me of political elections in general -- the whole "Happy times are here again" thing. I guess that was part of it.
NT: Does Jerry Herman know you've done this to his song?
Kratz: I figure I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. I guess Jerry won't be mad, because he's not losing any income -- it's a not-for-profit project, and I'm soliciting donations to the Kerry campaign. I'm the writer, the artist, the producer, and the distributor of this CD, and its proceeds are my personal donation to the Kerry campaign. I've gone online and I've e-mailed this song to as many places as I could think of, including CNN, MSNBC, local politicians, Michael Moore. I haven't gotten much coverage yet, but --
Johnson: Maybe you need a defense contractor to market it for you.
Kratz: Ha ha.
Johnson: I'm a capitalist, is that okay with you?
Kratz: I'd hire you to promote it as long as you understood that all the money was going to John Kerry.
Johnson: I don't care where the money goes, as long as I'm paid for my services.
Kratz: That's very nice. I want to get this CD out there, because I want President Bush to know he's going down.
NT: You could do a whole album. You could do "I'm Gonna Wash That Bush Right Outa My Hair." And "Don't Cry For Me, You Iraqis"!
Kratz: I could! And I would love to perform my song at Rock the Vote.
NT: I believe that's a punk concert. Are you joking?
Kratz: Well, I really do believe that, with art, humor is the best approach, especially in an election year. Everyone is so serious. My candidate, John Kerry, is the most deadpan guy I've ever seen. He could use a laugh.
NT: There's certainly a lot to be unhappy about lately.
Kratz: There are a lot of things that aren't funny, like the guys dying in Iraq. And the breach of security that [Bush] has created in our country isn't very funny.
McKenzie: Terrorism is up 35 percent from where it was in 2001.
NT: You guys are covered in statistics! But do you really believe that a poster, a CD, a book will go a long way toward changing people's minds about election issues?
McKenzie: It might stop them for a moment. They may not change straightaway, but the art may possibly spark an interest and they'll look further into the idea presented in the art. Americans by and large do not know how the political system works. They don't look into the links that politicians have to large corporations, and that's something that I find detestable -- that Americans aren't more politically active about the people they're electing to run their country.
Kratz: Scott's work and my work -- no offense to you, Phil -- is art, and art sometimes works by osmosis. You're not thinking about the song, but you hear "You're Going Down, Bushy" on the radio, and the message sinks in. You're driving down the street and you see a picture of Bush with the slogan "I Lied," and your brain registers it. Osmosis.
McKenzie: There are a lot of people out there who don't like Bush, and unfortunately, if you talk negatively about him, it's considered unpatriotic, and you're accused of not backing up our country's efforts to democratize its war-torn regions. So a lot of people don't say anything. And so posters and CDs are a way of people tipping their hats to someone else without saying something out loud.
NT: Which is a nice way of saying a lot of people are chicken shit. Are you guys voting for Kerry, or against Bush?
McKenzie: I'm voting against Bush. I'm not a huge proponent of Kerry, but at this point anyone other than Bush is good.
Kratz: I wish I could be more enthusiastic about my candidate, but what I'm all about is anti-President Bush.
NT: What if he wins? Will you continue to dog him with your art?
McKenzie: You know, if there were some brilliant change in Mr. Bush's foreign policy plans, or if he suddenly denounced all the corporations he's so intimately tied with, then maybe I'd change my opinion. I'm not really concerned with Bush in the overall sense; he's just the president. If he wins, he's only got four more years, and hopefully they won't lead to something catastrophic. What I'm saying is I don't want him any more. He wasn't elected by the people in the first place.
Johnson: Neither was Clinton, who never got more than 40 percent of the vote. But the rules we have are the rules we have. Popular vote, electoral vote --
McKenzie: Whatever. Bush got in on a fluke, and we don't need him.
NT: Now, about art -- is anyone doing pro-Bush art here locally?
Kratz: Not that I know of. Scott, your "I Lied" slogan is good, because that's how President Bush does all his business -- if he says enough things that aren't true, then people are going to believe him.
NT: He's a politician!
Johnson: "I did not have sex with that woman!" is another kind of lie.
Kratz: Nobody died from that blowjob, as far as I know.
Johnson: Not yet, anyway.
NT: This is disgusting. I'm turning off my tape recorder.
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