Is racist language still acceptable in the United States? As with most things in social science, the answer depends on the situation and people involved. Recently, the television program on the CBS network “Big Brother” self-censored an episode where two contestants used a derogatory term to describe fellow contestants who were of Mexican descent, as well as making anti-gay remarks. Compare this incident with former Georgia Senator and Governor Zell Miller’s statement that President Obama should be prevented from making trips abroad by fixing him in place using “Gorilla Glue.” Quoting Miller:
“Our globe-trotting president needs to stop and take a break and quit gallivanting all around. I think (chief of staff) Rahm Emanuel ought to get some Gorilla Glue and put it in that chair in the Oval Office and say ‘Sit here awhile.’”
This is a real product, but the racial overtones are hard to ignore. Some have questioned Miller’s use of this terminology (instead of using the more traditional reference to “Krazy Glue”). Clearly, racial slurs, whether overt or covert, are still used frequently. But they seem to be much more likely to get negative attention than ever before. Sociologist Eileen O’Brien explores this issue and writes on why people choose to adopt “antiracist” stances.
From Antiracism to Antiracisms by Eileen O’Brien
The British and Greek negotiations over the ownership of art pieces from the Parthenon (also known as the Elgin Marbles) illustrates the interconnection of culture and politics. Claims of authenticity, rightful ownership, display and the handling of artistic pieces are always essentially political. Ministers of Culture are appointed by heads of state, certain kinds of art are recognized as “national treasures” while others are banned or ignored for subversive contents. The recent dispute (see article below) over the Elgin Marbles are ultimately questions of history and politics rather than artistic preservation and authenticity.
By framing the argument in terms of national pride and original ownership, the Greek government is articulating a conflation of Greek culture with modern nation-state boundaries. Against this, the British are challenging the parameters of an imperialist past with a cosmopolitan sense of artistic authenticity. While both sides present compelling arguments, the heart of the matter remains firmly rooted in the complicated intersections of politics and culture.
Perhaps one of the most influential theorists of this intersection, Walter Benjamin’s work in the Frankfurt School provocatively questions the role of politics in questions of authenticity, ownership, and visual experience. Does the reproduction of the Elgin Marbles challenge the authenticity of their Greek history? Or, is the art itself secondary to more nuanced questions of national sovereignty, politics, and legality? In the end we must remind ourselves that questions of art and culture are always already political.
NY Times article: The Elgin Marbles
Blackwell Companion to Art Theory