Booking It: Side Quest

Nov. 23, 2016 | Jeremy Benson

Image above: Jeremy Benson
I’m going off-trail for the month, as an emergency has popped up to which we all must attend.

Like you, I’ve been saddened and alarmed by the reports of intimidation and violence against women, people of color, Muslims, and Jews in the last few weeks—they’re popping up all over, like chicken pox on a map of America. I’ve had chicken pox over Christmas break: it’s not cool, America.

I was especially consternated after seeing a cell phone video from a middle school in Michigan that showed a group of students shouting “build the wall!” while latino students sat silent and horrified. A week later administrators at the school found a noose in a student bathroom. What hit home was that I recognized the cafeteria room behind the students—it was the same room in which I once ate my peanut butter and jelly.

When I attended the school, it was not yet Royal Oak Middle School. It was called George A. Dondero High School, and though it had its share of bullies and racial slurs, and a token Strom Thurmond-obsessed student, we prided ourselves in a culture of respect and inclusivity. You weren’t tolerated by other students if you didn’t respect all the students for who they were.

What’s ironic is that George A. Dondero, the Michigan representative for whom the school was named, was himself an incredibly intolerant, exclusive person. Dondero was a supporter of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s absurd witch hunt of artists, writers, and thinkers accused of sympathizing with communists. Dondero’s personal mission, however, was to attack modern art, telling Congress that it too was a Communist plot. More irony: the communists he was so enraged against felt exactly the same way he did about modern art, and any art that challenged audiences or the status quo, and in every communist, totalitarian regime, art has been censored to one extent or the other.

Sometimes I think about how certain actions draw lines, which like a wall between East and West Berlin, or a wall between Mexico and the U.S., keep people out.

I think often of a girl I knew, who was possibly incredibly shy and fearful herself. In large groups of people, she would tell jokes to only a select few, effectively telling the rest of us we weren’t cool enough to be in on the joke. When I was with her I tried hard to tell jokes that would draw the line around us all, so all of us could laugh together. Maybe I’m not really that funny.

My point is to encourage you, the artists of Napa, to keep on doing art that is absurd, that challenges our government, that expands your audiences’ minds and experiences. Make art that draws its lines expansively, wrapping in as many as possible, pulling together all of us, whatever colors we paint.

And I encourage us to stand up with each other.


The views expressed in blogs and guest posts are those solely of the author and do not reflect the views of Arts Council Napa Valley. 

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Arts Council Napa Valley 501(c)3 is funded in part by the California Arts Council, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.


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