Best Bets: Eros and art, news coverage and choice

Posted: Thursday, February 06, 2003

What did you do last weekend? I saw "Chicago," went to the symphony and danced to the Panhandle Crabgrass Revival Band. I had fun, but I admit I also felt guilty.

I mean, really, how can you do anything but stay glued to your set, when the news stations suspend all programming to bring us minute-by-minute, Sept. 11-style coverage of the Columbia explosion for an entire day?

I watched for a good hour and then I turned off the TV and went to the movies. Like dozens of you who sat by me in the theater, I lost myself in the razzle-dazzle of "Chicago," (which, by the way, you should see if you haven't already). I secretly wondered if it was wrong not to be in my living room watching Peter Jennings, even though there were no story developments, just speculation on the sad, solid fact that seven astronauts died painful, public deaths.

I don't like the expectation that we should grieve by watching television. If I were to die a public death, I would welcome people's prayers, but I wouldn't want my end replayed over and over between commercials for Crest White Strips. Saturday's coverage turned the tragic news into a weird sort of entertainment - an endless, horrible reality TV show.

When you can't turn on the television without seeing images of the space shuttle exploding, you basically are forced to emote because not to would be callous. It is not that we don't need to be informed. We do. But, I only need to see the footage once. After that, we should get to chose how we engage. I say turn off the TV and process national tragedy at your own pace, without newscaster narration. Go to the movies, the symphony, a play. Think about the astronauts before you go to sleep, or when you are driving down Egan Drive - that is the best memorial.

In a weird way all of this reminds me of an interview I had this week with Mark Daughhetee, Ken DeRoux and Paul Gardinier, who are making art for the Juneau Arts and Humanities "Eros & Art" show. The artists have all created work that displays the human body sensually, or even erotically, depending on who's describing it. Daughhtee took striking abstract nude photos, DeRoux made multi-media paintings that incorporated images from the Kama Sutra, and Gardinier made a satirical penis-shaped pull-toy.

We all chatted for a while about what makes some nude images artistic, while others are clearly pornographic. The question sounds simple, but if you think about it, aside from issues of style, a nude body is a nude body, right? When does the meaning of a nude change from something society can generally accept to something that makes people uncomfortable?

DeRoux said the test of what makes art is time, and whether the piece will resonate with people 100 years from now. He also said erotic or sensual art is separate from pornography because of the intention of the artist. Gardinier and Daughhetee said the question is complicated because sometimes though an artist intends to make art, not pornography, he or she can't help it if his art is erotic. Eroticism also can be a tool artists might use to make the audience pay attention, Gardinier said.

"Think about how many people remember Monica Lewinsky vs. how many remember Kenneth Lay," Gardinier said, making the point that the American public was outraged by President Clinton's extramarital affair in part because the scandal was sexual and it got their attention. President's Bush's closeness to Kenneth Lay and his corrupt company Enron simply was not as "sexy" of a scandal.

Pornography is also mostly offensive to people who come into contact with it when they don't want to. Like the Columbia exploding on TV, it occurred to me that sexual images should be something people can chose not to see. News people, like artists, might have good intentions, but they can't anticipate what might be too much for some people. So that is why with both, you should know that you always have a choice.

Anyway, Daughhetee supplied us with a photo, a classical nude torso that showed a lot of thigh and belly and a tiny edge of the goodies. It was all slated to run with my article on the art show, but at the last minute we decided not to run it because some people felt funny. At first I was against this, but then I reflected on my everybody-gets-to-choose policy. You and your 10-year-old should be able to read This Week without having to see belly and thigh if you don't want to.

This week I will recommend that you go to "Eros & Art," if you want to. (And, I bet now you're curious). I also will recommend "The Cockettes," a movie about the drag scene of the 1960s, which might make some people uncomfortable, but I think it will be worth it.

"Eros & Art" is part of the First Friday Art Walk that begins at 4:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7, in downtown Juneau. Red balloons mark participating stores and galleries. "The Cockettes" starts Friday, Feb. 7 and plays all weekend. See page 9 for showtimes. Thanks for reading.

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