Dear Fellow Starvelings,
April has come and gone, a sodden sodding mess. Now the sun has decided to shine and I’m ready to go dancing in the streets!
But before that, let me describe to you a very tricky situation a friend finds herself in. This friend (we shall call her MM, for “Miss Moral” because moral she tries to be, even though the moral path is sometimes not the most obvious one).
Here are a few facts about our MM:
She is a painter. She is also passionately political.
She belongs to an association of painters, all of whom are very nice people. It is a well organized association, with a President and a Board of Directors and lots of committees.
Recently MM received a notification from the Association that she needed to add her signature to its by-laws, as this was required of all members. Our poor MM had not been aware of this requirement; she had not even been aware that the association had by-laws. Wanting to be a good member, she found the by-laws, read them once, read them again, and then again, shaking her head in bafflement. Most of the document was just as she’d expected, but one clause gave her pause. It was undoubtedly the most well intended of all the sections, but she worried that its inclusion might force her not to sign, thereby resigning her membership.
What was it that worried MM so? It was the insertion into the by-laws a statement asserting that the member would not make art “that defames or vilifies any person, people, races, religion or religious group and is not obscene, pornographic, indecent, harassing, threatening, harmful, invasive of privacy or publicity rights, abusive, inflammatory or otherwise objectionable.”
Well, of course this sounds perfectly fine on first reading. MM would never ever ever make art that could be considered racist or sexist or homophobic or ageist … but wait a minute… MM considered the content of some of her political paintings. She made fun of certain political groups. She made fun of religion in general. She vilified racists, sexists, homophobes, ageists and others of their ilk quite strongly in some of her pieces. She sometimes included likenesses of well-known politicians or celebrities in her work, and not in a flattering way. She pondered the meaning of even including privacy rights and publicity rights in the by-laws. But as she understood it, art trumped these, at least when applied to public figures.
The more she thought about it, the more confused she became. Surely some of her paintings could be regarded as indecent, maybe even inflammatory, and “otherwise objectionable” — she was sure at least some part of the population would object to many of her pieces.
So, though she deeply respects the intentions of the agreement, she still hasn’t signed it. And the vast world of possibilities seems to be getting smaller and smaller as she considers some of the pieces she has planned – what might be indecent, what might be inflammatory, what might be otherwise objectionable.