April 16, 2007

America Decomposed


In the hands of the media, art can be a powerful distraction vehicle.

I was particluarly interested in the lead-in to this week’s NYT Mag cover story: The Greening of Geopolitics.  It reads: What does America need to regain its global stature? Environmental leadership.

It’s great that geo- and now petro-political seer, Thomas Friedman, can so easily conceive catchy metaphors to describe, imagine and connect-the-dots to an American-led, world-wide green revolution. There’s only one problem, however.  It’s called denial.

Ultimately, the crisis here — as telegraphed by the lead line — has far less to do with energy or economics or petronomics or flatonomics than it has to do with the basic and non-complicated toxication of America’s political environment.  That’s why the commissioning of artists to envision an “environmentally-cleansed” — and therefore, more stature and leadership-friendly — American flag is ultimately a self-deluded and even collusive one.

By equating the problem with stature, the compulsion to re-envision the American flag serves as little more than distraction from the fact that we have so fundamentally soiled the actual one.  What’s the message?  Those colors do run, so we must also?

Well, we don’t need to re-envision the flag so much as we need to compost the people who poisoned it.  And, as much as we should embrace environmentalism, God knows we should not have to jump on it or plug it in simply as a transplant or “do over” for a failed commitment to the world community.

Of the various flags offered up, I found the one above particularly suggestive.  Beyond its earthiness, it seems to embody the extent to which America has been stripped (or bleached) of its stature, strength and authority.

Actually, it looks like surrender.

You can see four of the flags at the beginning of this NYT video; three on the article’s lead page; and two more on the second page of the article.  Either click through, or try here and here.  (I found the last one, by Casey Reas, particularly unusual.  …Weeds The People?)

(image: Dwight Eschliman for The New York Times.  flag: Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec.  April 11, 2007.  nytimes.com.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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