michelel72 (michelel72) wrote,

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"But it's Art!"

So Tom Menino and the Boston Police Department are being heavily criticized for their reaction to the "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" publicity stunt. They overreacted, they can't admit their error, they're persecuting these guys rather than admit their overreaction ... whatever. As Keith Olbermann pointed out on his show last night, you cannot fault the people who first reported the suspicious devices or the initial responders for taking the possibility of a threat seriously.

I'll agree that the police and city reaction after that point might have been overdone. The mayor could perhaps chill. The perpetrators very likely did not anticipate this reaction and almost certainly intended no harm.

But they are not saints, not blameless, not unfairly targeted innocents. They placed cryptic electronic devices on bridge supports. By all reports, they did not contact any city officials to mention that they did so, before the placement of the devices or during the scare itself, which means that city officials had no reason to assume immediately that the devices were innocent. That omission was negligent. It might not rise to the level of criminal negligence, but it was negligent.

Yet some people are rushing to defend them unconditionally on the grounds that "but it's Art!":
People are going to say the Cartoon Network and their contractors had it coming, that they should have thought ahead more. That what they did was reckless. Even people who are defending them are probably going to say what they did was not very smart, not careful enough. Just as people were very angry with Clinton [Boisvert] for his art prank.

I call bullshit. What these artists did was not reckless, it was playful. It was not stupid, it was a goof. And if this whole country is going to opt for fear instead of fun, for pain instead of play, for bombs instead of art — if our default stance is going to be a fearful crouch from here on out — I won’t stand by and accept it.
I counter-call bullshit.

Calling something "Art" does not automatically excuse it from all considerations or restrictions. Just because someone calls something "Art" does not mean that that something is not reckless (which this was) or not stupid (which this was). That something is not automatically clever, innocent, inoffensive, fun, goofy, worthy, desirable, valuable, or anything else just because it's "Art". [Clarity edit:] This all reminds me of the recent Pixnit nonsense. "It's a light-skinned woman using stencils, so it's not graffiti!" [End clarity edit] Calling a criminal activity "Art" does not somehow transform it; it's still criminal.

By the way? This particular stunt was not art. It was a "guerrilla advertising campaign". It was a commercial pursuit accomplished by defacing public property. These yahoos -- who cheerfully waved at the cameras in the courtroom, who snapped at the reporters at a press conference to stop interrupting them with questions because they wanted to perform a skit in the form of a discussion about hair -- may call themselves artists, but this was just an idiotic ad campaign.

It would be one thing if they or their supporters were willing to accept the consequences. Using the "but it's Art!" assertion as a defense, to try to escape the consequences, only cheapens art by association.

As it happens, Turner Broadcasting is reportedly taking responsibility and offering to repay the city's costs. There remains some question of their involvement in attempting to conceal the nature and origin of the devices, but the offer itself is a responsible first step. That I can respect. The people rushing to portray the perpetrators as innocent, blameless Artists? Not so much.

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