Art in the Age of Terrorism

   We are very fortunate to live in a world that is governed by fear, where we turn our freedoms over to people who devote their lives to protecting (or, perhaps, to exploiting) us. What a luxury it is to put away our critical thinking and to just let the government engage in its important work!

Dick Cheney recently described liberals as "intellectuals with Masters Degrees." I can only assume that this means that he is critical of people who have devoted their lives to expanding their knowledge and to reaching conclusions based on a critical analysis of the facts. I can see why Cheney would have a problem with this approach, since his administration has clearly designed its Iraq policies without any critical analysis of the facts.

Just today I read a statement by a Republican senator who assured the American public that people who criticize the president's unwarranted wiretap program are nothing more than enemies of freedom. In other words, if we don't give up our freedoms with the proper amount of enthusiasm we are anti-freedom. This is like saying that people who would like for their local fire departments to do a better job are pro-fire.

The arts have become an interesting battleground in this issue. After all, art is a form of communication. It can be used to express opinions. That is dangerous stuff in the modern world, where we are assured that everything will be fine as long as we stop paying attention to the government, stop forming those pesky opinions, and, instead, spend our time shopping.

Art just doesn't make sense in this new age of security. I had an experience that reminded me of this fact last week. I was taking some photographs in downtown Cleveland. I got a few images of the bridges that stretch over the Cuyahoga River and a couple of photos of a homeless guy standing in front of an historic old church. Later, I wandered into The Galleria. The Galleria is a troubled project for the City of Cleveland. The politicians cut a lot of red tape so the giant luxury mall could be built right in the busy downtown area. The idea was that the mall would attract wealthy people who actually enjoy paying way too much money for everyday items. Of course, the place has struggled to stay alive for the last several years because there are only about three wealthy people left in Cleveland and they can only buy so many $300 sweaters.

I went into The Galleria and started taking photos of the curved glass ceiling, which tosses the light around in all kinds of interesting directions. After just a few minutes, however, I heard a stern voice saying, "Sir?! Sir!" I turned to find three security guards staring at me. Their leader was a small woman who leaned in at me like a chihuahua straining on a leash. She was flanked by two large African American men in matching uniforms. "Shouldn't these people be spread out to cover more area?" I thought.

"What are you doing with that camera?," the lead guard asked me.

"I'm just taking a few pictures," I said. This was met with a disgusted silence. "Art," I added, unconvincingly.

I was tempted to explain that I am experimenting with long-exposure images that capture light patterns in busy public places. I stopped myself. Explaining art to security guards is like explaining tolerance to a suicide bomber.

"There is no photography allowed in this building," the lead guard barked. "I'm afraid you are going to have to write down your name and number so we can do a background check on you."

This was followed by a lot of awkward fumbling about. Finally the guard looked at me with less confidence. "Um... Do you have a piece of paper and a pen?," she asked.

While I did have a piece of paper and a pen, I decided that this was not one of those moments when it was a good idea to be helpful. "No," I said, trying to look disappointed in myself.

The lead guard turned to the two follower guards and asked if either of them had a piece of paper or a pen. They both looked away with embarrassment. The security guards had probably trained for years for the opportunity to nab a potential terrorist like me and things weren't going nearly as well as they had in the training videos.

"If you don't have a pen and paper then you are going to have to go down to the security office and register your name with them," the lead guard said, with renewed confidence. "It is room 315 at the end of this hall."

"Okay, I'll head over there now," I said. This seemed to please the guards very much and they all walked away, looking as if they were feeling good about a job well done. A potential terror attack had been averted. Thanks to their heroic work The Galleria could continue to sell its $300 sweaters to the three remaining wealthy people in Cleveland without threat of being blown to bits by any artists who claim to be taking "pictures of light." I took a few more pictures and then left the building without going to room 315.

Somewhere in Cleveland there was a terrorist on the loose again.

© 2006 Zozo

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