Artistic freedom, like academic freedom, is at risk from the social justice / identity politics takeover of our universities.
What is a poor social justice warrior student to do when confronted with a piece of campus artwork which causes them “mental harm”?
Simple! Just send a snivelling email to the entire student body complaining about how your feelings have been hurt and how you have been made to feel unsafe in your own community. And if you attend one of those academic institutions which has already completely capitulated to the identity politics/social justice coup, you need do nothing else – the offending artwork will be removed or modified at once, without so much as a hearing. And what’s more the artist will be glad to be corrected, just as Dmitri Shostakovich was so very thankful for Pravda’s denunciation of his opera “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk”.
This time we are back in California, specifically Pitzer College, one of the liberal Claremont Colleges, and the “triggering” artwork was an homage to the famous Vietnam war protest image of a hippie placing a carnation into the barrel of a national guardsman’s rifle.
The Claremont Independent reports:
Early Monday morning, Gregory Ochiagha (PZ ’18), a Student Senator at Pitzer College, sent out an email to the student body criticizing a mural recently painted on campus. The mural, painted by Selena Spier (PZ ’19), depicts a handgun with flowers coming out of the end and was approved by the Pitzer College aesthetics committee.
“It’s truly in bad taste to have a large depiction of a gun in a dorm space—especially when students of color also reside there,” states Ochiagha. “Now let’s imagine there were countless videos of white teenagers, white teenagers that look like you, or your brother or your sister, get shot to death by police officers. Imagine scrolling down Facebook everyday and seeing a new video of the same thing, over and over again. Really put yourself in that headspace. Then ask yourself whether it’s the brightest idea to have white teenagers, who have a very real fear of getting shot, see a large gun every time they want to get food from the dinning [sic] hall.”
Ochiagha continues, “My Black Mental and Emotional Health Matters. I shouldn’t be reminded every time I leave my dorm room of how easy my life can be taken away, or how many Black lives have been taken away because of police brutality. This is emotionally triggering for very obvious reasons. And if you want to belittle or invalidate by [sic] black experience, I live in Atherton, come thru, let’s have that idiotic conversation.”
This being a Claremont college stuffed to the brim with students who live and breathe identity politics 24/7, of course where was zero pushback to Ochiaga’s demands. In fact, Selena Spier (the artist) willingly consulted with the offended party to agree changes to her creation that would keep him happy, all the while chastising herself in repentance for her privilege:
Spier plans to modify her mural. “I spoke with Gregory earlier and we agreed on a modification that preserves the integrity of the original piece while avoiding any potentially triggering content—it’s a change I was absolutely happy to make in the interest of creating a safe and inclusive environment for everyone in my community,” Spier told the Claremont Independent. “I have absolutely no right to decide whether or not my artwork is offensive to marginalized communities—nor does anyone else in a position of privilege, racial or otherwise.”
In other words, Spier offered her version of a “Soviet artist’s creative response to justified criticism“.
Re-education is not even necessary at Spitzer College. The student body is so perfectly drilled in the lore and language of social justice that everyone knows the correct protocol to follow when accused of unfairly exercising their privilege – they are to throw their hands up in surrender, accept the criticism unquestioningly, gratefully thank their accuser for sharing their pain and immediately modify their errant behaviour.
At no point, according to this new regime, is there to be any critical discussion as to whether the objection is valid or the offence warranted – as Spier herself confesses, “I have absolutely no right to decide whether or not my artwork is offensive to marginalized communities”. In other words, Spier is content for anything which she creates at any point in the future to be summarily labelled heretical by some wobbly-lipped social justice crybaby, and then either removed or altered to comply with her accuser’s demands.
Rod Dreher is equally unimpressed with accuser and artist:
I don’t know whether to pity Spier or to be revolted by her supine eagerness to satisfy and completely unreasonable request made by someone, simply because of the color of the complainer’s skin. It’s one thing for a gutless campus administration to silence free speech and expression on campus, but when the speakers and artists can be talked into silencing themselves, you know things are pretty damn hopeless. Conformists to the marrow, the lot.
But even an unwilling artist would likely have been forced against their will to bend to the demands of this social justice victimhood power play. In Social Justice Land, offending artists (together with campus conservatives) are given little practical choice but to conform or stay silent, hiding their true opinions and suppressing their creativity.
Imagine that instead of sitting down with this petty student tyrant, Spier had instead told him to go jump into a running jet engine, and that under no circumstances would she modify her piece of artwork from the original conception. If the artist had stood unrepentantly behind her own creation in this way, it is not difficult to see how this situation would have quickly escalated to a Twitter campaign, a sit-in at the dean’s office, a protest outside her own dorm room…
The Soviets used the threat of exile or execution to keep their artists in line. The cult of social justice and identity politics borrows from the same playbook, using the threat of social ostracisation, protest and even intimidation to force willing cultists and heretics alike to bend the knee.
And so it is worth remembering that academic freedom is not the only thing at stake in this attempted social justice coup of our universities. Artistic freedom is also very much at risk from a movement which values “lived experience” over objective truth, and in which the limits of one’s free speech are determined by the position one supposedly occupies in the social justice hierarchy of privilege.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty