tagReviews & EssaysImages of Bigotry

Images of Bigotry

byneonlyte©

I submit this work in the form of a dialogue relating to censorship and bigotry, an all to common occurrence in the workplace and our lives.

*

"You can't put that up in here Sonny."

"What?"

"That! It's a piece of filth 'init. You can't hang that up in here."

"Want to watch me? This work is part of the exhibition."

"I don't care if it's part of the bleedin' Queen's Collection, it ain't going on these walls. We don't want that kind of filth where women and children and see it."

"This is a piece of art, it's part of... "

"That ain't art. That's a woman pulling her drawers up. And it ain't going on my walls."

"She's pulling them down actually. Who are you again?"

"Caretaker."

"And your authority in deciding what hangs in an exhibition is...?"

"It's my Hall and if you put that muck on the wall, I'll take it down."

"Listen. I don't know who you are and quite frankly I don't care. This photograph was chosen by the Council's Art Officer for the exhibition opening tomorrow and it is going up on the wall."

"Yeh... well he's a fucking poofter who doesn't know his arse from his elbow. Fucking liberal queer! He should be sacked."

"I'll let him know your opinion when I speak with him. Better still, you can tell him yourself, he'll be here shortly."

"Oh nancy-boy is coming here is he? I'm surprised he's got the nerve after last time."

The boy ignored him and concentrated on adjusting the wire hanger on the back of the framed photograph checking the height between the hanger and the top edge of the frame to ensure the photograph would hang at the right height.

"I don't understand you kids. Why do you have to make pictures of porn? Look and that fucking girl... what's her name... Tracy something... "

"What about her?"

"Fucking disgusting... that's what about her. That fucking bed with her dirty knickers and used condoms. Right little whore. Disgraceful putting that rubbish on an exhibition. She should be locked away 'til she's learnt how to behave. So should the bastards who run that fucking gallery for that matter."

The boy leant the photograph against the wall and turned to face the caretaker. To describe him as late middle-aged would be generous; he was nearer to retirement age than middle-age, grey haired, dapper despite his khaki overall, with its coloured tipped pens in the breast pocket, buttoned over the neatly pressed trousers that brushed on highly polished black shoes.

"So you're a connoisseur of 'the arts' are you."

The caretaker shrugged his shoulders.

"I know what I like and I know what's decent to show in public... and it's not that filth you call art or what that Tracy girl does."

"Tracy Ermin."

"What?"

"Tracy Ermin, that's her name. She's a very fine and successful artist."

"Yeh... well the public don't want to see that kind of shite... "

"How do you know that? Done a survey have you?"

"Stands to reason. Ordinary people, the common man, isn't interested in seeing that kind of filth. It's porn musk... mastke... masquerading as art just so people like you can get your rocks off."

"You're an idiot!" The boy mumbled to himself turning away.

"I heard that. I may be old but I'm not fucking deaf. Who are you calling an idiot, you young fucking whipper-snapper. If I were a few years younger I'd whip your hide."

The boy turned back to his photograph.

"Say sorry! You fucking apologise to me."

"I'm not going to apologise to someone who keeps swearing at me all the time."

"You fucking apologise or I'll have you thrown out of here."

"No, I'm not apologising. Now leave me alone before I call the Art's Officer."

"Don't make me fucking laugh, that nancy-boy don't hold no sway round here. This my hall and I'm not having your fucking filth on my walls."

The boy put the photograph down again.

"What is your problem?" He said turning to face the caretaker. "What gives you the right to say what is Art? How do you get to be the moral judge of society?"

"I fought in the war, I did... "

"You're not old enough to have fought in the war. Your old, but you're not that old."

"You cheeky little bastard. I fought in the Falklands."

The boy looked at him feeling slightly uncomfortable."

"I'm sorry. I thought you meant the Second World War. Even so, that doesn't give you're the right to dictate what is Art. Just because you fought in a battle over somewhere not really very important doesn't give you the right to dictate moral values. Anyway, all war is iniquitous."

The caretaker was silent for a moment.

"What's that supposed to mean? Iniqu...thing" The caretaker asked.

"Iniquitous? Immoral, wrong."

"I should have known. You're one of those lefty fucking liberals. Fucking girls you lot are. Bet you've never done a days hard work in your life. Nancy-boys like you make me want to throw up. Fucking tossers! I don't know what this country is coming to. Thank Christ we didn't have to depend on your lot for winning the war."

"Stupid sending men all that way, lives lost just to defend a rock in the south Atlantic."

"You'd have just given it away would you? Thank fuck you weren't around when the Nazi's were invading."

"That was different. It's a question of degrees. It's like Art, there is a borderline between Art and porn and educated people know where it is, just like educated people know the Falklands war was about winning an election. To hell with the lives that were lost, all those hundreds of men drowned with the Belgrano, let alone our own soldiers."

"Don't talk bollocks! The Falklands is ours, not the fucking Argies and we had every right to take to it back. What you call art is just a load of filth. Why can't you take pictures that people want to look at instead some tart with her knickers half way down her legs?"

"Have you looked at this photograph?"

"I've seen it. It's dirty."

"Well since I only brought it here an hour ago and the nearest you've been to it is about three metres, you can't really have seen it.

"Listen Sonny... "

"No you listen. Take a look at the photograph. Tell me what you see."

"It's a girl with her knickers down, she's looking at her fanny."

"How do you know she's looking at her 'fanny' as you choose to call it. You can't even see her pubis from the angle of the photograph. You can't see breasts, the hair falls over them. You can't really see a face other than the puzzled look on the eyes and the furrowed brow, its mostly masked by the hair. And the bottom is only really in silhouette. There is no anatomical detail and you assume it's a woman because of the long hair. You are making judgments without even looking at the photograph. You're allowing your bigotry and prejudices to cloud your vision. You don't even try to see."

The caretaker walked up to the photograph taking a sideways glance at the boy and leaned forward to study the framed image where it rested against the wall. He gave every impression of looking though he studied the image for less than ten seconds.

"You're a fucking pervert you are. If that's a bloke you're a fucking pervert just like that queer bastard Arts Officer."

The boy smiled at him.

"You are so gullible. Even the slightest suggestion kicks your bigotry into life. Look at the panties. What man would wear panties like that with a delicate lace border?"

"Your fucking sort for sure. Nancy-boys." He said, stooping again to look at the picture.

The caretaker stood and faced the boy his face purple with rage.

"You are fucking disgusting. That's it. I'm going to call the police. They can throw the book at you. Fucking obscene bastard."

"Ah you noticed. Finally you've seen something."

"Yeh I've seen it. You're fucking loco. You should be locked up."

"So what is your problem now?"

"You can't show a photograph of a young girl with... that."

"Menstruating, is that what you mean, having her period. So now it's not a man, it's a young girl."

"Of course it's a young girl! Anyone can see that. That is the most disgusting thing I've ever seen. You should be fucking ashamed of yourself. If I was younger, I'd knock you into next week. Dirty bastard!"

"So if I tell you that is not a young girl but my wife, who happens to be twenty-four, you'd be quite surprised."

"Don't care who the fuck it is. If that's your wife, she's as big a slag as you are."

The boy frowned. "I'll pretend you didn't say that."

The caretaker stood looking at the boy, his face carrying a slightly shamed expression. Both were silent for a minute or so.

"Is that really your wife?"

"Yes."

"Why did she pose like that? It's demeaning."

"No. It's not demeaning. It's a perfectly normal bodily function experienced by every woman, but we, particularly men, prefer not to acknowledge it. Tell me something. What newspaper do you read?"

"What the fuck has that got to do with anything?"

"I'm just interested. What newspaper do you read?"

"The Sun." "Ah... so the page three girls in The Sun are not demeaning themselves yet most of them are younger than twenty-one and all of them show their breasts."

"It's different. Anyway I don't look at the pictures."

"You buy it for its decisive political analysis and in-depth economic commentary. Of course you look at the pictures! Don't be a hypocrite."

"Hey Sonny, you watch who are calling fucking names... "

"I've had enough of this! You are the most bigoted individual I've ever met. You know nothing about Art yet demand to have a say in what is exhibited and you can't tell the difference between soft porn in a newspaper and a photograph that shows no anatomical details."

"I know filth! And what you're showing is filth. That picture is disgusting. Why show something like that?"

The boy looked at him and shook his head.

"You really want to know? I'll tell you. Art is about more than just making pretty pictures. It is a record and a commentary of the times in which we live. All those pictures in the National Portrait Gallery are not just paintings of famous people they are statement about social order, status, and power. They tell historians many things about life in those times, the clothing, the backgrounds, the books on the library shelves, the countryside. They record past times, just as much as books on history.

"Any modern artist whether they are a painter or sculptor, writer or photographer strives to capture and record the world in which we live, particularly if working figuratively and literally. We stretch at the boundaries of the acceptable, not to gain notoriety for ourselves, though I admit some do, but to gain the attention of the audience and pass on our message.

This photograph touches the boundary of decency, it has to in order to deliver it's message. The world is full of images, you have to push at the boundary; the trick is to know when to stop."

"So what's the message?"

"It is about the deception we practice on our daughters by not explaining to them the on-set of menstruation. It's about that precise moment when a young girl passes into womanhood and assumes the greatest gift of our species. It's about responsibility and recognising that from this moment you take control over your body. Despite all our efforts, childhood pregnancies are rising, heterosexual AIDS is rising, and treatable sexually transmitted diseases are rising. It's to remind parents that little girls grow into women."

The caretaker shook his head. "And that's your wife? She don't look old enough to be married."

"That's her natural beauty and my expert camerawork."

"Well if I were you, I'd write a fucking notice and put it next to it, 'cos no one is going to get that. It's just a dirty fucking picture as far as I'm concerned. I'm going to lunch."

'Philistine,' the boy mumbled as the caretaker moved away down the hall. He crouched down and unwrapped the second photograph. It showed his four-year old daughter, backlit, crouched down, hair framed by curls, in a child's dress trimmed with lace ruching, and passing to her mother a tampon.

'He'll have a heart attack when he sees this,' the boy thought.

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