Cheat-Seeking Missles

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Not So Powerful Imagery

Are the Kartoonistan images causing outrage throughout the Muslim world because of some innate power of art, or in the words of Michael Kimmelman in NYT, because they have a "totemic power: the power of representation ... transcend[ing] logic or aesthetics ... [causing] genuine pain?"

Kimmelman strains mightily to relate Kartoonistan to moments of controvery in modern art, including the protests caused by this painting by Chris Ofili, of the Virgin Mary with cutouts from porno mags and clumps of elephant dung.

He describes the clammor over this painting, as "comically tame by comparison" to Kartoonistan, but never gets to the why Christians didn't protest like Muslims do, other than to note that "the Muslim world has no tradition of, or tolerance for, religious irony in its art." (And that's not all they're lacking tolerance of!)

Kimmelmann's cluelessnes is not for lack of asking provocative questions, like why didn't the real-life photos of Abu Ghraib raise as much of a rucus as the stylized Muhammed sketches? His inability to answer is provocative in its own right, showing that he has a great ability to judge art, but no ability to make uncomfortable conclusions about society.

Abu Ghraib didn't result in deaths and riots because throughout the Muslim world, people knew their nation's prisons were much, much worse. Many had family or friends who were whisked of to some dank dungeon never to return, or to return maimed. So they half-heartedly mouthed outrage.

The Muhammed images, like the Koran-dunking rumors, are free of these connections, which make them ideal tools for Islamists who benefit from whipping up the masses.

Kimmelman doesn't see the cold war that's waging. He doesn't see that the riots are being used to build allegiance to the radical side of Islam, and to frighten the West -- and that the presense of this conflict removes the entire matter from a stately discussion of art.

He doesn't notice that the Iranians missed the point by kicking off a national contest for Holocaust cartoons. He should have pointed out that the Iranians should be asking for Biblical cartoons; that's the parallel, not the Holocaust.

It's another case of blue state blindness, of intellectualism obscuring the obvious, of not facing up to the reality of the significance of what's going on.