Saturday, August 24, 2019

Just When You Think We’ve Reached the End of Outrage

“Political power, properly so called, is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another.” - Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto

Controversy is swirling around an art event in Grand Rapids. An art festival is bringing a Down’s syndrome drag show from Britain, called Drag Syndrome, to town. The controversy isn’t aimed at Daniel Vais the London-based group’s founder and artistic director. Nor is it aimed at DisArt, the group organizing their Grand Rapids appearance but rather at Peter Meijer, the owner of the venue who has decided he doesn’t wish to make his establishment available for this freak show.

And before you direct your outrage at me, the messenger, let me be clear: I am NOT calling the cast members freaks, any more than Peter Meijer is.  I’m calling the show that is exploiting them in pursuit of a political agenda and passing it off as “art” a freak show.

Image result for drag syndromeIf you don’t think this is P.T. Barnum-worthy freak show I can’t help you

The media and art community however sees not problem with somebody who would take a group of people born with a chromosome abnormality and further confuse them with gender issues in pursuit of “Queer Art.”. No, save the outrage for the uptight, privileged, cisgendered, patriarchy enablers who think there’s something wrong with promoting this kind of deviant art.

Before we go any further allow me to present a few facts “on background.”

1. ArtPrize

Originally held as an annual event this is an open, independently organized international art competition which began 10 years ago and now takes place for 19 days every other fall in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The event was founded and initially funded by Rick DeVos, grandson of Amway founder and local philanthropist Rich DeVos and the son of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The New York Times described the exhibit, which is spread over dozens of venues in downtown Grand Rapids, as “one of the art world’s most peculiar and richest competitions.” That means that the grand prize winner is selected by the voting public, not a group of art elitists. “Over a three-week period, this city hosts ArtPrize, which displays entries in public spaces around town and lets viewers choose the winners of half its $500,000 purse.” Those are hefty prizes in the art world.

Because ArtPrize is still primarily funded by the DeVos family, supporters of President Trump, it has of course become political with a hefty number of entries in the last 2 competitions presenting anti-Trump, progressive pieces such as this gem:

‘Sineater’ - 2017 ArtPrize entry of Patricia Constantine, Professor of Illustration, Kendall College of Art and Design

The mixed-media painting depicts Ms. Constantine as a carnival freak suffering for the perceived misdeeds of Ms. DeVos and President Trump. But Ms. DeVos isn’t just your everyday target in Michigan: She and her family provide major financial support to the ArtPrize awards that might honor the very works that skewer her. - NYT

During the competition’s off-year a public art event called Project 1 by ArtPrize is held. The Drag Syndrome show is part of this event.

2. Peter Meijer

Mr. Meijer is the grandson of the late Grand Rapids retail giant and philanthropist, Fred Meijer, and is one of several GOP candidates running for Justin Amash’s congressional seat. Justin, as you may recall has been disinvited from membership in the Republican party for publicly calling for the impeachment of his party’s duly elected President.

3. Drag Syndrome  

Truly an act worthy of P.T. Barnum: Downs syndrome people performing as drag kings and queens. And in case you wondered, no, they didn’t come up with the concept on their own, somebody else did that for them. That would normally be a cut and dried case of exploitation:

Daniel Vais is the artistic director of Culture Device, a London-based experimental performance and dance company that works with artists who have Down syndrome…the company has put on everything from ballets to fashion shoots…In December 2017, Vais brought one of his Culture Device performers to watch a show in London that included drag queens. Vais, noting the performer’s enthusiasm for the show, asked her and the rest of the artists in Culture Device if they would be interested in performing drag some day. They jumped at the idea, Vais says.

But when the idea is conceived by someone like Vais and coaxed out of his differently abled charges, it’s “art.” The rest, as they say, is history. Video Warning: language, exploitation, perversion. Watch at your own peril. What has been seen cannot be unseen.

And now back to the controversy. Local media seems appalled that Peter Meijer’s would pull his venue for this lofty piece of performance art. They’ve published his entire letter on the subject, believing it somehow supports their outrage.

(Please note: any irony engendered by the name of the street where Mr. Meijer’s performance venue is located, and the source of the name for the business entity that owns Tanglewood -  Straight Ave LLC – is, while unfortunate, most assuredly coincidental and not intended to offend anyone.)

Cue the outrage machine. Make the one sane person in the room the object of your scorn while encouraging the lunatics who promote this sort of freak show of depravity.

The organizers are of course appalled; and disingenuous:

“Today we were informed that Peter Meijer, the owner of Tanglefoot, the venue Drag Syndrome had been guaranteed for Project 1, made a decision that the Artists of Drag Syndrome would not be allowed to perform on September 7, because they have Down syndrome.

Um, no. Not because they have Down’s syndrome. Because they are being exploited. Did you not read Mr. Meijer’s letter?

“We are deeply saddened, angered and appalled…

Well get in line mister, because so are we.

Image result for downs syndrome drag show

“For the past 50 years, in addition to the advocacy that brought the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law, a cultural movement has been taking place. Artists with disabilities have been working to raise the voice, visibility and value of all Disabled people.

I completely fail to see exactly how this is raising the value of Disabled people.

Image result for downs syndrome drag show

“Exclusion is discrimination, it is self-preservation, it is exploitation for political gain. It is not protection.” according to a DisArt statement. - MLive

I have to ask, who’s zooming who here? Your exploitation for political gain is as ignoble as anyone’s. I rather think even Karl Marx would agree.

*sigh* I now know what Thomas Wolfe meant when he said you can never go home again.