TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

US Vs. John Lennon: Art's Place in a Democracy

The United States as a War Machine
Last night Jon Stewart had, as usual, a thought provoking show. He talked about the "Real" America versus the "Fake" America in response to Sarah Palin's constant reference to small towns as havens of patriotism and "correct" values. A couple of funny skits fleshed out this concept, then Stewart brought on his guest, Eugene Jarecki.

Jarecki addressed our historical inability to live in peace, saying that in the last 200 years, we have maybe had a total of a year or two when we have not been engaged in war. This war machine that we have constructed drives the political choices that we make and has embedded itself deeply into many facets of our economic engine. Jarecki says that this is not a party specific agenda, but rather that both Republican and Democratic leaders have fed this engine equally.

Eugene Jarecki believes our society is destroying itself by trying to obtain perfect security. Guest on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, October 20, 2008

I have often been told by family and friends that I criticize the United States too much. On the contrary, I think that I don't speak out enough! This desire to point to our national flaws comes from a sincere wish to see it live up to its potential. It also comes from a place of fear. Fear that if we speak out and truly seek peace, we will be shot, incarcerated or somehow erased. Growing up under a military dictatorship probably did something to my psyche, but seeing the constant destruction that we as a country inflict on peace activists and on other countries has more to do with it.

Taking a stance against war is dangerous both here as well as in other countries. Easily labeled as unpatriotic, weak, or living in la-la-land, peacemakers are first ridiculed, then discredited, then possibly threatened with loss of property or even of life. I think back on all of the leaders who have been killed or persecuted during my lifetime... it's a long list.

As I chewed on these thoughts, I channel surfed a bit and found a documentary on John Lennon that I had not seen before: The U.S. vs. John Lennon. Should have gone to bed, but, no... stayed up only to find myself even more profoundly disturbed. A night of bad dreams...

John Lennon and Peace versus Nixon and Victory

U.S. Vs. Lennon Trailer

I have seen tons of Beatles and Lennon documentaries in my life. But, somehow, either my memory erases knowledge with time, or I just never really got the connection of how profoundly John Lennon influenced the peace movement in the late 1960's and early 70's. I remember when he died, I grew up hearing the Beatles, knew about Yoko Ono and John's protests, but somehow I thought they were pretty much ignored by the government. Easily dismissed as pot heads and rabble-rousers by my parent's generation, I was struck by how politically astute Lennon was in the documentary.

How long ago did all of this happen now? 35 Years!!??? And, it's still relevant? I sat there, riveted, watching all of this old footage and it could have been scenes from today, just different characters. And, a lot less of a turn out on the street. Do we ever learn anything or are we just destined to keep repeating the same story over and over and over and over?

Nixon was actually scared of Lennon. He thought that Lennon's following was large enough to disrupt his presidency. So, he tried to kick him out of the United States. Lennon felt that his place was here, that this was his home and that he had a contribution to make.
In the end, Nixon need not have feared John Lennon as he brought on his own destruction. Sometimes the bad guys do get caught. John Lennon took Nixon's victory symbol and made it into one of peace. This is what artists can do: translate our language into something new, confusing tradition, questioning authority, and offering new templates for life.

Unfortunately, even as Nixon was exposed, we also lost a brilliant voice in the artist community when John Lennon was shot down. His message lives on through his music, his actions, and all the influence he left behind. I wonder what he would be up to today if he were still here...

Is Art Dangerous?

What about today? Are artists who speaking up about peace in any danger? Does Bono need to watch his back? I am not the only one disturbed by the state of our democracy. Things seem to be OK on the surface, but we have lost so many civil rights in the last eight years that we probably don't know who is being watched and to what extent. Morna (Wrapped in the Flag) posted about a group of journalists who were attacked and arrested at the Republican Convention. Horrifying!

I try to keep up with the news and with what is going on around the world, but I feel like a sieve, where there is so much information that it all just kind of leaks out with no real substance left behind. Instead, I just feel uneasy...

I don't really understand why we choose war over peace, violence over generosity, ignorance over understanding. Some say it is all about money, but as much money can be made through peaceful means as through violent ones. I have come to understand that "sin" is separation from God. If God is all that is life, beauty, and love, and our natural state of existence is separation from that, then maybe these choices make sense. Unfortunately, some of the biggest propagators for the violent way are also screaming that all of this must be done in the name of God. Hence, confusion. Symbols and language get mixed up into a tossed salad of nonsensical ideologies.

The political artist sees this mess and translates it. Is art dangerous? It obviously has been for many artists who have died or been exiled because of their message, but the biggest danger is to mute these voices who challenge us to live more honestly, and hopefully, with peace. As we go around the world, waging war in the name of democracy, art must have its place, and that place must be a safe one.



  1. Brilliant, insightful, thought provoking...bravo (again)

  2. I really enjoyed reading your blog. I receive Google alerts on John Lennon, so I clicked on the link to your site. Thanks for writing something insightful and positive to start my day.

  3. As a big fan of John Lennon and someone who is way on the left on the American political spectrum, I definitely want to see this.

  4. I happened upon your blog doing research for a Lennon portrait I'm doing. I loved this movie, and it was a real eye opener for me as well. I'm growing increasingly alarmed with current events in the political realm, and I really would like to read the book this author spoke of on Stewart's show. Thanks for the beautifully written and heart felt blog. I like your style, will be watching for your updates. Peace!


“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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