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Flag and Country Bumpkins

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Jacobsen's learning-experience malarkey insults what little intelligence the aging Legionnaires still possess. And when you condescend to the veterans, you reinforce what they already believe: that a cultural elite runs places like the Phoenix Art Museum. That's the exact phrase Newt Gingrich used when he castigated the show last week.

And Newt and the Legionnaires are correct. They are not going to see their political values reflected in a museum show of Right to Life Art.

There is a cultural elite that puts on these kinds of shows. I can live with that. The Legionnaires got all the politicians.

Instead of telling the veterans what time it is--letting them know that their artistic opinions don't mean squat to the people who run museums--Jacobsen explained to the Legionnaires that no one likes the Kate Millett piece.

Well, Christ.
While Jacobsen tried to create a coffee-klatsch environment, other museum types lost their composure entirely.

Curator David S. Rubin, who put the show together, went out to address the wattle-necked warriors at a demonstration outside the museum on March 24. As soon as one of the retired veterans raised his voice, Rubin bolted from the plaza, heading for the sanctuary of the museum. But Rubin didn't have a key to let himself back in.

So he started power-pummeling the glass with his fists, like Judy Garland with a locked bathroom door between her and her meds.

The demonstration this past Sunday was much larger than the March affair; some estimates put the count at 2,500 people, pro and con, who wanted to fight about the exhibit.

The demonstration was about what these things always are about--speechifying. There was some fearful music by a group of kids with that shaved, Anglo-Saxon hair thing that's going around. They and their scoutmaster leader belted out, "It fills my heart with rapture that God gave to me."

It was hotter than hell outside, and there wasn't a cold beer within walking distance. One MIT graduate bobby-pinned a couple of paper towels to her hair, thinking that might cool off her about-to-explode skull. Luckily, none of the geezers went into cardiac arrest.

We were duly warned that "they" want to take Bibles out of school and put condoms in.

By the time the statewide president of the Elks said he hoped he would "never see such a provocative display again," people were beelining for the air-conditioned museum.

And that's when the fun started.
I know it's not polite to mock the way someone looks. But it is kind of fun, and, frankly, a lot of these people looked like they crawled out of the pages of an R. Crumb comic book. You just couldn't help but stare. One old veteran standing near the museum entry had cob webs tattooed on both elbows. (Now, I like tattoos, but here's a message for all you teens out there: When you get old and your skin goes all flappy, tattoos are some somber reminders of the time when you still got hickeys.)

The vet was venting when I wandered in.
"I'm not going in there," he said, indicating the rooms with the flag exhibit.

Referring to the flag stuffed in the loo, he explained, "If I go in there, I know I'm going to pull it out."

Two seconds later, he marched up to the Kate Millett piece.
He read the sign describing Millett and learned she was a feminist. "Didn't that just figure?" he said out loud.

After a pause, he asked his sidekick, "Are you ready to go to jail?"
"It wouldn't be the first time," came the reply, and I thought, "Oh boy, hear come the salty road-dog stories."

Instead, the first vet reached between the cell bars of Millett's piece and extracted the flag, which he folded smartly and stored on the top of the artist's display.

Laura Mumby, probably a feminist, reached up, unfolded the flag and jammed it back into Millett's toilet. People cheered.

An artist herself, Mumby said she was furious on previous visits to the show when the flags had been absent from the Millett and Scott displays because veterans had removed them.

"I thought the museum was lame to let these people get away with that," said Mumby. So she and fellow artists camped out at the exhibit with the idea of protecting the work from the veterans. They were not alone.

An incensed witness accused the Legionnaires of acting like Fascist book burners.

"Why don't you go back to Jerusalem, or Ethiopia?" came the rejoinder from yet another vet, who now began to argue loudly with anyone who wasn't a nearly dead veteran.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey