if ideas are enough ...
family life is killing us
I first moved back to Oregon, what I knew to be vaguely true sank
in even further: New York City isn't "America" in quite
the same way as most everywhere else.
Coming back gave me a taste of what is really
the American lifestyle just in general terms, if you will.
I was used to being out on the streets with all kinds of colors
and languages and agendas in my face.
Here in Portland no doubt more Brave New
World than most towns I find things a lot more enclosed.
People tend to walk from their houses to their cars and when they
want to talk to someone, they ring them up on the phone. What
you are in contact with is very select and controlled. The biggest
pipeline to any ideas or newness at all is through the media,
and much of it is about the glorification of families and consumption.
I am not against families, but "family life"
as it has been sold to us is killing our future. There's our personal
family and what it needs. But there's also that big "family"
out there that no one wants to take responsibility for.
I am outraged when President Bush says that certain
things will not be condoned by Americans, that we "deserve"
certain things. He is not talking about me, that's for sure. Such
selfishness and irresponsible gluttony saddens me and makes me
real cynical of any concerned pretense.
For instance: The Oregonian received a Pulitzer
for a series of articles about a boy with disfigurement and all
his surgeries. To me, the interest in the piece and the piece
itself were hard to
trust; I know that no one really gives a shit, save in the safety
of their normality. As a voyeur, they can dig it as someone
who can anonymously look out the window. But they crave their
consumption and feel that they deserve it and really, they want
nothing more. They would do their best to cross the street if
the boy were approaching and then, if they were safe to do so,
they would yell and torment and throw something at him.
My anger seems sophomoric, like the dawning of a
19-year-old. But I am almost 45 and still very much on the outside
in many of these matters. Seeing an exhibition called Everyday
Sunshine at PICA brought it all back to me in a different light,
and I found I was still very much in touch with my Inner Outraged
The artist, Harrell Fletcher, celebrates what seems
to him like the everyday life of Portland. He spends a residency
here and comes up with a multimedia show of photographs, paintings,
sculpture and video of Portland people's babies specifically,
and families in general.
Sounds sweet and right and nothing to offend. So
why was I put off? At first I thought it was all the various media,
which to me said: "Look! I learned it all in art school
sort of covering all my bases here" ... without
a commitment to excellence at anything. As if ideas are enough.
But I had to admit to myself that I just didn't
like the subject matter and it took me weeks, thinking back, to
understand why. For whatever reasons, I am not a part of the Lake
Oswego world (or even Gresham or Beaverton).
When you're young, it's par for the course. But
when you're my age, you are in a small minority. To have it shoved
into my face at an art space was more than I could take.
I also felt the artist was into nepotism, stroking
what and who needed to be stroked. Yet isn't this just too choice
and too true for the art world, and the world beyond it? Maybe
indeed the artist wasn't so sweet and sunshine after all.
Maybe he was just making some very unattached observations
about the community here, about how it works and who gets what
not just the art community of course, but what he saw in
Art and pop culture are so intertwined that where
one stops and the other begins is unclear. But the permeating
message is that as long as it's about the family, it's beyond
It's also a priority that sees very little real
criticism and some of the coolest people don't want to hear that
they may have anything to do with it. "Family Life"
is an opiate that defends insular decisions and turns many crimes
into business as usual: joyful, necessary evils.