September 25, 2008

Poisoned Fruit

by Jerome du Bois

It is established fact that the $160 million Chicago Annenberg Challenge did not bear the fruit of its ostensible intentions. As Steve Diamond of Global Labor and Politics wrote in his post "Behind the Annenberg Gate: Inside the Chicago Annenberg Challenge Records,"

The CAC also funded a third arm, the Consortium of Chicago School Research (CCSR), in parallel with the two operational arms, the Board and the Collaborative. This arm was to conduct research on the impact of the CAC’s funding.

In 2003 the final technical report of the CCSR on the CAC was published. The results were not pretty. The “bottom line” according to the report was that the CAC did not achieve its goal of improvement in student academic achievement and nonacademic outcomes. While student test scores improved in the so-called Annenberg Schools that received some of the $150 million disbursed in the six years from 1995 to 2001,

“This was similar to improvement across the system . . . .There were no statistically significant differences in student achievement between Annenberg schools and demographically similar non-Annenberg schools. This indicates that there was no Annenberg effect on achievement.”

But now, as we learn more about where the money went --to ACORN instead of algebra, for example-- this outcome should come as no surprise. Bill Ayers, Mike Klonsky, and Barack Obama, along with other collaborators, put the money where they wanted it, in programs to promote the social justice dispositions. And in that, they bore plenty of poisoned fruit.

As I wrote before, this has been Ayers's agenda for most of his adult life. He teaches teachers, and what he teaches them reaches far beyond Chicago. Social justice teaching started before the CAC, and it flourishes today. We've run across it many times here in Phoenix, in people like Neal Lester, Beverly McIver, John Jota Leanos, Michael Crow, and Joe Baker --all at ASU. That's at the college level. We wrote about skewed, anti-American multiculturalism on the secondary level in "Turning Arizona Schools Into Muslim Madrassas" --with a couple of follow-ups-- three years ago.

I have two more examples, thanks to Catherine. They're about field trips.

Catherine came across this squib in the latest issue of Phoenix New Times:

For the past few weeks, Valley schoolchildren have taken perhaps the first field trip in history to feature the phrase, “I am an accused terrorist spy and I am a patriotic American.” We would expect no less from the Icehouse, Phoenix’s favorite venue for the out-there of the art world. Helen Hestenes’ space reaffirms its avant-garde status with the première of the “I Am An American: Video Portraits of Unsafe U.S. Citizens” installation by artist/filmmaker Cynthia Weber, which opens to the public at 7 tonight following a period of school tours.

The exhibit showcases the lives and stories of Americans impacted directly or indirectly by the war on terror. These include survivors of Hurricane Katrina, the children of illegal immigrants, and the aforementioned accused terrorist spy.

From just these two paragraphs it's easy to infer the political orientation of Cynthia Weber, but just to be sure, I did my homework on her. In 2007 she "appropriated" (stole) the theme of the American Ad Council's series of patriotic TV spots, which ran in the months after 9/11. She calls her own series a "critical remake." She spent nine months going around filming various people. She didn't do this on her own dime, of course; she worked the system:

This research was supported by grants from the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust, by a Visiting Scholar position at the University of Arizona, and by Lancaster University.

She writes:

The stories told here are in no way meant to speak for all US Americans and their lived experiences of citizenship and identity in the post-9/11 US. Rather, they are a sample, albeit an often troubling one. Yet as worrying as this sample may be, what I find more disturbing are the numerous stories not included here, told to me by ordinary US Americans caught up in extraordinary circumstances who are too afraid to tell their stories on-camera. There is no better evidence of the distorting focus of the American Ad Council's self-portrait of the US expressed in its post-9/11 advertising campaign than what has become increasingly evident in the ensuing six years: the fear of ordinary US Americans who cannot safely say "I am an American" with a difference.

I wonder where she found those fearful Americans. The "different" Americans are yelling all over the place, from DailyKos to Democratic Underground to MSNBC. And there are the ones who emerged, a year after her project, at the Conventions, replete with Recreate68, Code Pink, and the anarchists, camera-hoggers all. The "accused terrorist spy" is Captain James Yee, who, at the time of filming, had been exonerated --cleared-- of all charges, so his statement is untrue. As for the Hurricane Katrina victims, that's a stretch, but since we're in distortion mode, may I bring up Barack Obama, who diverted Katrina funds to the Bridge to Nowhere?

Anyway, teachers all over the Valley seem to be happy to haul their charges down to the skanky Icehouse to foist this propaganda on them. I wonder, though, if they will balance this presentation with, for example, The Path to 9/11 or Flight 93?

The other example goes back almost five years, and was covered by Catherine in the first part of her review of the art exhibition Hairstories, which has the inimitable title, "Just 'Fro Stories: How SMoCA and New Times Jump Right in Da Guilted Frame; or, Don't Blame Your Bad Black Hair Days on My White Skin."

Oh, we know, you don't have to tell us: If you're white, and you call a black racist a racist, then you're racist. That's called stacking the deck with race cards. Even though it's not true that we're racist. Catherine's example comes courtesy of Kathleen Vanesian, a compliant dispenser of the dispositions. Here it is (scroll down in Catherine's article for the photos mentioned):

Big Bad Art Critic Joins Art Museum Inside Guilted White Frame

From Kathleen Vanesian's latest Phoenix New Times art column:

HairStories is a potent reminder that it's been less than 40 years since the civil rights movement [sic] in this country began the long, painful process of weeding out long-entrenched prejudices that forced African-Americans to use separate rest rooms, to attend separate schools and to straighten their hair with white-hot, death-defying instruments of torture, including chemicals and potions like lye, kerosene and axle grease -- or to hide it with wigs -- so that they would look whiter and, thus, be socially more acceptable.[my emphasis]

Vanesian uses the same overwrought tone in her standup foldup review as the writers of the essays in the catalogue. I thought she told her readers, a few reviews ago, that she was going to be so formidable --the bitch is back, no PR flack, and so on-- but here there's no criticism from this critic. Consider this excerpt:

I eavesdropped on one docent, who pointed to a series of black-and-white photographic self-portraits titled "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful" (1996) by Cynthia Wiggins, the title a takeoff on the Kelly LeBrock shampoo commercial from several years ago. The well-executed images are unrelenting close-ups of Wiggins' less than perfect complexion and mane of untamed hair, which has been allowed to grow in naturally.

"Who thinks the lady in the photos is beautiful?" chirps a graying, white male docent (who deserves a Best Explanation of a Difficult Social Issue Award) to his all-white, obviously middle-class, fourth-grade entourage. Two, then three hands tentatively rise.

"And who thinks the lady is not beautiful?" All the boys thrust their hands skyward. With an almost imperceptible sigh, but unflagging cheerfulness, the dogged docent begins a lesson that should have been learned long ago from parents, school and church:

"Where do we learn what is beautiful? And who sets the standard of what is beautiful?"

[Cynthia Wiggins photo]

Herd those white schoolkids right in to Da Guilted Frame! What disingenuous propagandizing! It is inappropriate for the art museum docents to be using scripts that prompt white, obviously middle-class, little boys to make judgments about female beauty (sexual attractiveness) just to prove the racist agenda of the show's organizers.

Why is the administration okaying a script that is trying to draw adult responses from little boys selected for their racial and social characteristics? Most of these little boys weren't even alive or aware when the commercial this piece riffs on was made. Is it fair to lead them with questions the responses to which are going to be used to condemn them? Because Cynthia Wiggins appears multiplied six times before them, looking her worst, unkempt and unadorned, we are to blame the little white boys for not finding her beautiful? Nobody told them that Ms. Wiggins's face had been "purposefully darkened by make-up (she is light-skinned) [page14]." Why not? And why did she do that? The implications behind this overheard exchange are racist and unethical.

Beverly McIver, hogging a whole wall elsewhere in the show, appearing in her trademark clown shtick, longing to be embraced, costume, black greasepaint and all --yech!-- poses a similar ridiculous dilemma: "Do You Think I Am Pretty?" -- and apparently, if one isn't turned on by the Fat Clown Look, then one is racist against black women. Just because Cynthia Wiggins and Beverly McIver have no pride in their appearances, how is that our fault?

If our star recipient of the Best Explanation of a Difficult Social Issue Award had turned his little group of fourth-graders ninety degrees to the right they would have seen, in a more modest scale and without duplication, another photographic portrait, this one of the stone cold gorgeous Kathleen Cleaver. [Not available for reproduction, but look below.]

[Kathleen Cleaver photo]

If our disingenuous docent (I'm taking back his award) had been honest enough to ask the boys if they found Kathleen Cleaver beautiful, I am quite sure they would have, unanimously. But then, that would not be the answer or the response sought by the organizers of HairStories. So, point the kids toward a frumpy woman or a freak, and then feel racially vindicated when the white middle-classers prefer a different aesthetic. See? We told you so!

It's a trap. Ms. Wiggins is already trying to be ugly on purpose --the makeup, the title-- and it has nothing to do with her race. (Ditto with Ms. McIver.) The little boys were ambushed. Why didn't she put on some real makeup and fix her hair before presenting her multiple self? Oh, am I being sexist? And the docent with his suggestive, leading questions wasn't? And what ever happened to the incisive art critic? Not there; just some dumb-ass fool smiling warmly like an indulgent aunt.

End of excerpt. I can't add much more, except I'm proud of stand-up American woman Catherine King, who knows poisoned fruit when she sees it.

Posted by Jerome at September 25, 2008 03:17 PM | TrackBack