Gag Me With Calhoun

by Corey Robin on July 27, 2016

After weeks of embarrassing publicity and political mobilization, Yale University has been forced to rehire Corey Menafee, an African American employee who was fired for smashing a stained glass window at Yale’s Calhoun College that depicted slaves shouldering bales of cotton. For over a year, Calhoun College has been the subject of intense national controversy because it is named after one of America’s foremost defenders of slavery and white supremacy. Menafee’s actions, firing, and now rehiring gave expression, and amplification, to the controversy.

But now there’s a new source of controversy: one of the conditions of Menafee’s rehiring is that he keep his mouth shut about the case.

But in a move more familiar in corporate labor proceedings than in an academic setting dedicated to free discourse, the university included in the agreement to rehire Menafee a provision that he will no longer be able to speak publicly about his case, the university confirmed….Provision #8 in the agreement reads: “The parties agree that neither Mr. Menafee, the Union, nor the University, nor counsel for any of these, will make any further statements to the public.”

The provision sparked outrage from demonstrators who stood in support of Menafee over the past two weeks.


While gag orders like this are indeed routine in corporate litigation and settlements, the restriction on employee speech is even more routine in workplaces across America. Indeed, for workers in the United States, it is the rule rather than the exception.

But that’s not what makes this particular gag order so interesting.

Throughout the controversy over Calhoun College I’ve maintained that the mistaken premise of both sides of the argument is that Calhoun is a voice from the nation’s past, a defender of slavery and thus a relic of the 19th century. But Calhoun’s real significance, I’ve argued, is that he was a theoretician of white supremacy, the proponent of racism as a way for whites to feel that they are the superior class, a racism that outlasted slavery and persists to this day. “His was less the voice of a dying institution,” I wrote, “than a vision of the future that was only just being born.”

But Yale’s gag order of Menafee evokes the long shadow of John C. Calhoun in another way.

Beginning in the 1830s, abolitionists sought to present petitions to Congress seeking restrictions or outright bans on slavery. John Quincy Adams, the retired sixth president of the United States and now sitting representative in the House, was at the forefront of this movement.

In response, pro-slavery forces imposed a series of escalating “gag rules,” which eventually were formalized as a standing rule against Congress even hearing these petitions. John C. Calhoun, Andrew Jackson’s former vice president and now leader of the pro-slavery faction in the Senate, was at the forefront of this movement.

It was in response to an effort to introduce such a petition to the Senate that Calhoun first offered, in 1837 on the Senate floor, his famous formulation that far from being an evil, slavery was in fact “a good—a positive good.” Here’s what he said about the dangers of allowing anti-slavery speech to be heard in the world’s greatest deliberative body:

Encroachments must be met at the beginning…those who act on the opposite principle are prepared to become slaves. In this case, in particular, I hold concession or compromise to be fatal. If we concede an inch, concession would follow concession—compromise would follow compromise, until our ranks would be so broken that effectual resistance would be impossible….The most unquestionable right may be rendered doubtful if once admitted to be a subject of controversy, and that would be the case in the present instance….As widely as this incendiary spirit has spread, it has not yet infected this body, or the great mass of the intelligent and business portion of the North: but unless it be speedily stopped, it will spread and work upwards…

Calhoun lost that vote. But almost 15 years later, in his last major address to that body, he would return to it, like an old sore.
Had my voice been heeded…the agitation which followed would have been prevented, and the fanatical zeal that gives impulse to the agitation, and which has brought us to our present perilous condition, would have become extinguished, from the want of something to feed the flame.

As I characterized that speech in The Reactionary Mind:
In his last major address to the Senate, John C. Calhoun, former vice president and chief spokesman of the Southern cause, identified the decision by Congress in the 1830s to receive abolitionist petitions as the moment when the nation set itself on an irreversible course of confrontation over slavery. In a four-decade career that had seen such defeats to the slaveholder position as the Tariff of Abominations, the Nullification Crisis, and the Force Bill, the mere appearance of slave speech in the nation’s capitol stood out for the dying Calhoun as the sign that that the revolution had begun.

Why, after all these years, did it so agitate him? As I argued in the book:
Every once in a while, however, the subordinates of this world contest their fates. They protest their conditions, write letters and petitions, join movements, and make demands. Their goals may be minimal and discrete…but in voicing them, they raise the specter of a more fundamental change of power. They cease to be servants or supplicants and become agents, speaking and acting on their own behalf. More than the reforms themselves, it is this assertion of agency by the subject class—the appearance of an insistent and independent voice of demand—that vexes their superiors.

Fast-forward to 2016.

After months of watching his social betters at Yale and throughout the nation politely debate the virtues of naming a residential college after a man who not only defended slavery but sought to impose a gag rule on any negative mention of it on the Senate floor, a black dishwasher at Yale decides to take matters into his own hands and smash a stained-glass icon of slavery. After weeks of bad publicity and even worse optics, Yale—an institution that fashions itself, like the Senate over which John C. Calhoun presided, to be a universal bastion of open exchange and deliberative reason—rehires this man. On the condition that he never speak publicly of this wrong again.

There’s a reason Yale decided to keep that name “Calhoun.”

{ 188 comments }

1

Rich Puchalsky 07.27.16 at 2:58 pm

You might or might not want to mention “ag-gag” laws as well.

2

goli 07.27.16 at 2:58 pm

I am a Brandt-Schmidt-vintage-German-style social democrat (without being German), and so I may well be naive about contemporary America, but whatever else this case is, it appears to be a case of criminal damage perpetrated by an employee. I’m sure there are some early modern (1500-1800) genre paintings in the New York Met, or in the London National Gallery, which could be deemed to be politically offensive — is it suggested that museum guards are entitled to take razor blades to items in the collection as suits them?

3

EB 07.27.16 at 3:10 pm

That was a great recap of the gag rule struggle led by John Quincy Adams. I sympathize with Corey Menafee, especially after having spend many hours in museums recently where women were either naked (amidst fully clothed men), victimize, subservient, or absent. However, I see his action not so much as vandalism (although it was that too) as civil disobedience. When you knowingly break a law in order to make a point, the effect is lost if you don’t accept the punishment. Now, maybe he acted not according to a plan but in the heat of the moment — that would certainly be understandable. He probably needs that job, and needs the charges to be dropped. But I do not expect Yale to sit by if more workers (or students) decide to try similar acts of protest.

4

DeHavilan 07.27.16 at 3:10 pm

@2 I’m inclined to find some agreement. Someone can champion a good cause, but do so with an incorrect methodology. I think a more powerful move from Yale would have been to stand their ground on the termination of Menafee’s employment, and begun a process to consider the renaming of the college.

Maybe I’m living in fantasy though.

5

JJ 07.27.16 at 3:22 pm

Menafee wants his job back. Yale wants to put this particular incident to bed. Menafee gets his job back, Yale gets a guarantee that he won’t seek to enflame the story after he is rehired. This is not a “gag order.” It’s an agreement between two parties to let an ugly incident settle in the past.

I’m all in favor of shoving the relics of these monsters and their monstrous way of life in a museum basement somewhere, but Corey Menafee is not an activist and he’s not a symbol. He’s a dude who had a bad day and took it out on his boss’s stuff. I’m glad he got his job back, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable for his employer to insist that he promise not to raise this incident publicly going forward.

6

Brett 07.27.16 at 3:42 pm

@EB

He did supposedly accept the punishment, so getting reinstated was a happier-than-expected outcome.

I sympathize with Corey Menafee, especially after having spend many hours in museums recently where women were either naked (amidst fully clothed men), victimize, subservient, or absent.

That’s what worries me. Do we really want to open up the Iconoclasm Door? It’s all fun and strident until some white supremacists deface or burn black churches.

7

Marc 07.27.16 at 4:07 pm

This has a real Year 0 feel to it – that if someone objects deeply enough to something, they’re entitled to destroy it. These rules don’t end up just getting applied to targets that you approve of; it’s the same logic used by the Taliban and ISIS in destroying millennia-old buildings and artwork that they believe to be heretical.

8

Robespierre 07.27.16 at 5:02 pm

That, and I don’t see how it would be even conceivable in Europe, given that virtually all our history and art was produced in, and depicts, conditions of blatant social injustice.

9

Cervantes 07.27.16 at 6:30 pm

BTW, when I was a youth the master of Calhoun college was Charles Davis, father of the composer Anthony Davis and my college classmate Kip Davis. The “master” lives in a nice apartment in the college. I visited several times and had dinner with the family. They were of course African American. At the time I didn’t know who the college was named after and the matter didn’t come up, but I imagine they must have been very conscious of it.

And no, I don’t actually know the reason Yale insists on keeping the name. If they want to stimulate discussion, they can change the name to Douglass college and put up a plaque about Calhoun.

10

Phil 07.27.16 at 6:49 pm

More than the reforms themselves, it is this assertion of agency by the subject class—the appearance of an insistent and independent voice of demand—that vexes their superiors.

“Il y a de la révolte à s’imaginer qu’on puisse se révolter”

11

William Burns 07.27.16 at 7:27 pm

“Intense national controversy”= a few people at New Haven and a few more people on the internet.

12

parse 07.27.16 at 7:34 pm

It’s interesting that none of the people who have commented willing to defend the punishment of Menafee wants to even mention the gag order, which I think is the point of the post.

13

CJColucci 07.27.16 at 8:06 pm

This looks like a negotiated deal between consenting adults: Yale didn’t have to keep a vandal on its staff, but also didn’t like the public uproar, even if no one could “make” Yale rehire Menafee. Menafee wanted a job, but had no way of getting it if Yale stood firm. Yale gave back the job and Menafee promised to help keep a lid on the public uproar.

14

Collin Street 07.27.16 at 8:28 pm

All political problems are mental-health ones.

Whenever you examine any controversial political issue, anything that’s run for years with no resolution or real progress, when you strip away the “let’s see all sides” and “let’s not be too hasty” or people who’re acting as part of a coalition of interest but who aren’t that fussed about the issue directly, and look at the hard core of people who are actually willing to advocate for one position or another solely to promote that position, invariably — this isn’t a narrow or heavilly-hedged claim — you find that one camp is entirely occupied by people who can be seen to have some pretty significant cognitive, socialisation or mental-health problems: people who are noticibly “odd”, whose behaviour causes needless problems and seems ill-motivated to achieve their, or any, ends.

I mean, other positions have the full spectrum of the population, for sure. It’s just that there’s one — almost always the right-wing position — that doesn’t, that’s so thin in well-adjusted people they basically aren’t there.

Gag laws are a manifestation of this, an attempt to shut down conversations that people can’t cope with having.

15

cassander 07.27.16 at 9:06 pm

@Collin

>Gag laws are a manifestation of this, an attempt to shut down conversations that people can’t cope with having.

And what is smashing windows a manifestation of ? Just understandable, if excessive, exuberance in the face of injustice?

16

J-D 07.27.16 at 9:31 pm

Brett 07.27.16 at 3:42 pm
That’s what worries me. Do we really want to open up the Iconoclasm Door? It’s all fun and strident until some white supremacists deface or burn black churches.

That’s a very important point. We surely don’t want to live in a world where that kind of thing happens. How lucky we are to have avoided it so far! We must strictly maintain laws against that kind of behaviour, because that will prevent it from happening.

17

Marc 07.27.16 at 9:57 pm

I’m OK with taboos against destroying art on political grounds.

18

Hindu Friend 07.27.16 at 10:04 pm

So, can I go around India and be a hero by smashing all the mosques that are made out of pieces of old Hindu and Jain temples? Why is “white supremacy” of Calhoun so vebotwn but Islamic supremacy which wrecked classical India ok?

19

Rich Puchalsky 07.27.16 at 10:44 pm

I have my doubts about whether the window really qualified as art, but I don’t think breaking it was a good thing to do. The guy breaking it being fired does not seem like a great miscarriage of justice to me. That’s a separate matter from the gag order, though.

My favorite iconoclasted piece of art is the original Haymarket memorial statue, which depicts a policeman with his arm upraised. It was destroyed by a streetcar driver who disliked it so much that he took his streetcar off the tracks to smash into it. (I don’t know whether he was fired.) Later, after it was restored, it was blown up by Weathermen twice and was put under 24-hour police guard. Finally it was moved inside various police buildings where it would presumably be safe. The empty pedestal where it used to be was an anarchist landmark.

20

Derek Bowman 07.28.16 at 1:41 am

The gag order is especially ironic in the face of Yale’s defense of keeping the name Calhoun College in order to promote awareness/dialogue about the college’s/our-nation’s past.

21

Anarcissie 07.28.16 at 2:18 am

I don’t think an institution which names an important part of itself after John C. Calhoun is worthy of having its windows smashed. I wish Mr. Menafee could find a more worthy target for his righteous wrath; but the world is as it is, and he needed a job, and still probably needs a job, which he will now have his face rubbed in.

As for the gag order, it’s just bourgeois business as usual: ‘”Shut up,” he explained.’

22

Ebenezer Scrooge 07.28.16 at 2:18 am

When Yale decided to keep “Calhoun” and eliminate “master”, it got things bass-ackward. The retention of “Calhoun” was an offense against history; the elimination of “master” was an offense against the English language.

But I still don’t see what Menafee’s deal with Yale has to do with Calhoun’s gag rule. I guess I need a better sense of outrage.

23

kidneystones 07.28.16 at 2:20 am

I’m all in favor of historical context; however, I’m not pleased at all that Menafee has been rewarded for his destructive act. Nobody who destroys historically important public/property should be. Iconoclasm is not new, as Hindu Friend, and others here point out. The glass can and should be replaced and the cost Menafee and others. More on that to follow

Menafee should not be gagged. Instead, he should encouraged to make his act of political performance theater a central feature of his resume and explain that his next prospective employers that they are not just hiring a dishwasher/kitchen worker (both jobs I’ve done and value), but an aspiring journalist.

The answers to how and why Menafee decided to scale a series of boxes to break a window he evidently knew nothing about are contained in an earlier article in the same New Haven Independent Corey cites in the OP. Here’s what Menafee actually said when his supervisors called the police:

“According to the report, Menafee told officers he was alerted to the presence of the racially charged panels by an alumnus attending a reunion event with his young daughter in early June. On June 13, Menafee was moving boxes in the dining hall when he climbed atop a table and began battering the panel with a five-foot-long broomstick whose head he had removed in order to expose a metal screw…Dining Hall Manager Samuel Feliciano — one of two people in the dining hall who witnessed the incident — alerted Yale Police, who arrived at the scene about 20 minutes later to gather evidence and interview Menafee. Asked whether he might destroy other property he found offensive, Menafee replied, “I can’t predict the future,” according to the report.”

“I can’t predict the future” sounds a great deal more like a threat than a statement of contrition to me. It’s entirely possible that Menafee’s conversation with the alumnus had no bearing on his decision. That said, this report available below is important, in my view, and allows people here some understanding of the actual events.

http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/menafee_3/

It shouldn’t need saying, but I want to stress that I do not think that Corey had any knowledge of/ or contact with anyone connected to Menafee. His own status as a Yale alumnus and keen critic of Calhoun really is, I’m certain, entirely coincidental.

Menafee should pay for the window and name the alumnus who put him up what may be a career-ending stunt. I sincerely do hope that Menafee finds a good job. The Yale alumnus could have climbed up on the table to break the window, instead Menafee looks to pay the price/reap the rewards.

No wonder Yale imposed the gag order.

24

kidneystones 07.28.16 at 2:22 am

Should read “climb a table” not “scale boxes.”

25

derrida derider 07.28.16 at 2:24 am

Surely it’s a mistake by Yale in taking the vandal back – the purpose of punishment is deterrence, not revenge, and they’ve undermined that. But conditional on that mistake I can’t see what is wrong in requiring him to not incite further vandalism.

And no, you don’t get to smash things because you don’t like them.

26

kidneystones 07.28.16 at 2:37 am

That’s it, other than to note that the ongoing ‘discussion’ of racism ongoing elsewhere is so lacking in historical context and actual content as render it nothing but a collection of zeros and ones.

Here’s Gobineau’s The Moral and Intellectual Diversity of Races’ one of the essential texts in English. The great virtue (ahem) of the text is that Gobineau is one of the great intellectuals of the 19th century. You can download the pdf and read the arguments Gobineau deployed against Mungo Park and others arguing that all peoples are, in fact, equal.

https://books.google.co.jp/books?id=cx9mAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=race+Gobineau+1856&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwibip3IjpXOAhVBLmMKHf8PBL4Q6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q=race%20Gobineau%201856&f=false

27

Brett 07.28.16 at 5:34 am

@14 J-D

That they do a bad job of enforcing said laws isn’t an indictment of said rules.

28

J-D 07.28.16 at 8:40 am

Brett 07.28.16 at 5:34 am
@14 J-D

That they do a bad job of enforcing said laws isn’t an indictment of said rules.

True. But do you understand my lack of confidence that penalising people for deeds like Corey Menafee’s will help in preventing attacks on black churches?

29

Collin Street 07.28.16 at 8:45 am

And no, you don’t get to smash things because you don’t like them.

Bush got to smash iraq because he didn’t like it.

30

Anarcissie 07.28.16 at 2:00 pm

cassander 07.27.16 at 9:06 pm @ 15 —
Smashing a stained-glass window depicting slaves at Calhoun College, an organic part of an extremely important bourgeois* institution specifically named to honor a famous defender of slavery, and one which benefited substantially from slavery back in the day (or so I have read), is somewhat different from smashing any old stained-glass window in any old location. Naming a residential college for Calhoun, and doubling down on that act by explicitly depicting slaves through an art mostly reserved for religious iconography, is a political act calling for a political response. It might have been better to remove the window (after renaming the college, and exhibiting due repentance publicly) and to park it in some dusty archive where such things are kept only to remind people of their former ills and sins, but that option was not open to Mr. Menafee. He did what he could, and all many of you can think about is how to punish him.

How would you all like a window depicting people raping and dismembering children, or one showing Nazis stuffing Jews into ovens? Because that’s exactly what slavery was — an abomination. It’s shocking that I have to bother to remind people.

*By ‘bourgeois’ I mean ‘oriented towards the purposes of the state and its ruling class’, not some kind of vague cultural thing like philistinism.

31

Manta 07.28.16 at 2:28 pm

32

Manta 07.28.16 at 2:30 pm

“How would you all like a window depicting people raping and dismembering children”
Let’s destroy this too

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e6/Duccio_di_Buoninsegna_056.jpg

33

AcademicLurker 07.28.16 at 2:36 pm

I only smash bourgeois windows. Aristocratic windows get a pass.

34

Manta 07.28.16 at 2:43 pm

Are we allowed to keep the Colosseum (built by slaves, and where slaves where killed for the entertainment of the spectators)?
Should we destroy Trajan’s Column, or it is enough that we lock it inside some museum?
All the writing on historical buildings celebrating this or that tyrant should be deleted, or the fact that they are in Latin is enough to protect them from opprobrium?

35

Manta 07.28.16 at 2:45 pm

What about statues, Lurker?
This guy, for instance: I’ve heard you find many statues celebrating him in France
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/49/Statue_aux_invalides.jpg

36

Stan 07.28.16 at 2:51 pm

How about painting a memorial tank pink?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monument_to_Soviet_Tank_Crews

Vandalizing art on political grounds? Absolutely.

Is it OK? I think its great.

37

AcademicLurker 07.28.16 at 2:52 pm

Manta@35: Bonaparte was an upstart pretender and not a real aristocrat at all. Smash it I say!

38

Manta 07.28.16 at 3:07 pm

Stan,
maybe you mean “vandalizing art on political grounds you approve of”?

39

Manta 07.28.16 at 3:19 pm

I’m also curious to know of what people defending vandalism because it was a political act think of these acts of political vandalism:

http://www.jta.org/2016/05/30/news-opinion/united-states/vandalism-at-3-new-england-synagogues-aims-to-intimidate-community-adl-regional-leader-says

40

stevenjohnson 07.28.16 at 3:53 pm

There is an ambiguity in smashing visual evidence of slavery, especially evidence that Harvard University approved. It’s apologists for slavery who want to hide the slave quarters, the auction blocks, the coffles, the grinding misery of labor. The window’s gone. After Harvard changes the name of the college, it’ll be like Calhoun was never approved at that august institution.

I think the real moral is that symbolic victories are not worth as much as real victories, because symbolism is like beauty.

41

Patrick 07.28.16 at 4:04 pm

Well, obviously, political vandalism is only ok when it’s in service of our politics. Neutral rules against political vandalism are silly- not all ideologies are similarly situated. Specifically, ours is right and others are wrong. The idea that neutral rules still have value because not everyone agrees on everything and “nobody smashes anything” is a good compromise that everyone can accept is silly too, because the diversity of human opinion is also not similarly situated- our opinions are right and there’s are wrong so the best solution is just to use coercive tools to make people stop having wrong opinions. Besides, everyone knows that neutral rules benefit those in power the most because every rule gets broken once in a while and The System will come down hardest on those who break rules in service of unpopular causes. What’s that? You’re saying that power distorts outcomes in all systems, including wars of all against all? And that neutral rules are comparatively better for minority viewpoints because the moral force of a neutral rule can compel protection of minority rights in a way that isn’t available if everyone just does whatever they like up to and including just smashing things that aren’t theirs if they feel like it? You’re saying that the fact that we’re so willing to accept a system where people just smash stuff they don’t like and we use private shaming and coercion to punish the ones who do so in service of politics we don’t like is itself a prima facie argument to the effect that our politics are not as marginalized as we’re saying? Pssh. This one time a thing happened and our side lost and this other time a thing happened and we only got most of what we wanted instead of all of it, which is what we should have gotten because we’re right and other people aren’t. So that proves we don’t have the political power we’re actively using right now.

42

AcademicLurker 07.28.16 at 4:11 pm

Patrick@41:

You’re over thinking this. The rule supplied in 30 – that it’s OK to smash windows that are sufficiently bourgeois – provides a nice clean solution that should cover most cases.

43

parse 07.28.16 at 4:51 pm

Thirty more comments and still none of the defenders of Yale’s action seem moved to criticize the gag order silencing Menafee. That’s interesting, given that so many people think his attack on the window is still worth discussing, and that the world will benefit from hearing their opinion of it–but apparently aren’t moved to insist that the world would likewise benefit from hearing more from Menafee’s.

It’s particularly ironic that so many commenters are bemoaning Menafee’s crime against free expression while remaining silent about Yale’s move to shut down discussion.

44

Marc 07.28.16 at 5:12 pm

@43: Why is this a gotcha? There is a full spectrum of outcomes in cases like these: nothing for the employee; a settlement between them; an apology and compensation from the employer (e.g. nothing for the employer), or anything in between. For intermediate cases, you’re usually trading compensation of some sort for an end to bad PR.

If you don’t think that this sort of outcome should be permitted, you’re effectively requiring that all cases end up in lengthy court proceedings dragging on for years (as the defendants have much less incentive to settle). There are cases where that’s the right outcome, but there are real costs to plaintiffs. Gag rules can be abused, but agreements of this sort also allow face-saving ways for real people to get something back without waiting a decade or more, and that’s not worthless.

On the other hand, if you think that Yale failed to defend some important principles out of cowardice, then you are more concerned about the original offense than you are about the global justice of legal agreements. This could be right or wrong, but it’s hardly incoherent.

45

JJ 07.28.16 at 5:15 pm

Parse@43

Not a “Yale defender,” but I did address this way back in comment 5.

Despite the loose use of the term throughout the OP and comments, Menafee is not under a “gag order.” A gag order is a condition imposed by a court on a person subject to its jurisdiction. The person upon whom the gag is imposed usually doesn’t get a say in the matter. In this respect, it’s similar to what Menafee did at the beginning: he didn’t like what the window stood for, so he imposed his will on it.

Anyway, Menafee and Yale reached an agreement. He got his job back (which Yale was not obligated to provide, legally or morally), and he agreed to not discuss this particular incident in public any further (which he was not obligated to do, legally or morally).

Notice the lack of imposition; notice the presence of mutual assent. This is what a functional dispute resolution process looks like. Part of dispute resolution is putting the dispute to rest. It’s difficult to put disputes to rest when both sides are free to disparage each other publicly after a settlement is reached.

46

Manta 07.28.16 at 5:41 pm

JJ@45,
what is best for the parties may not be best for the public. An academic institution has some (moral?) obligation that a private citizen does not have; in particular, of fostering intellectual discussion on matters of public concern.

47

Trader Joe 07.28.16 at 7:33 pm

@43 re: gag order

As far as I can tell from the news coverage, Mr. Menafee was hardly silent during his jobless period and managed to draft the support of a union as well as a cadre of well spoken and distinguished supporters (all this from the news links). Interestingly, none of these ‘supporters’ found it in themselves to offer Mr. Menafee alternative employment.

I’d make both Yale and Menafee as equally stupid for their initial responses. Firstly breaking a largely unknown window, as many have noted, is weak symbolic vandalism. The only way it works is if Yale does something stupid too like haul the guy up on charges and fire him, which is of course what they did to turn what (from Yale’s perspective) should have been a molehill into a mountain.

By the time you get to deals (rather than court orders) its down to negotiating – the deal itself smacks of equal positions (trading X for Y) rather than one where there was leverage on one side or the other.

What surprises me is that Menafee, with the popular support he seemed to have, decided he (symbolically?) wanted his job back enough to take the deal. I’d have said, by this point, Yale needed silence more than Menafee should have needed to look for work and he should have been able to cut a sweeter deal, although doubtfully one that would have avoided a gag order- where were all of his backers in keeping him employed so that the flame of dispute he started could stay lit? Maybe Menafee’s supporters should face the fact – despite the righteousness of his cause – he sold it out.

48

Art Deco 07.28.16 at 8:34 pm

He willfully smashed an antique stained-glass window and he gets his job back? And your complaint is that there’s a condition attached that he not do what people seldom do under any circumstances, which is chatter with reporters? Does anyone whose opinion you care about ever tell you that you’re somewhat disoriented?

49

J-D 07.28.16 at 9:01 pm

The first link in the original post goes to a page where there is (among other things) a video clip of Corey Menafee being interviewed (before the reinstatement and the gag order).

He says himself that he regrets breaking the window and that he would not recommend anybody to break property that doesn’t belong to them. It’s common enough for people to do things which they later regret and would not recommend (I know I have), and surely it can be useful to discuss why people do such things?

50

Anarcissie 07.28.16 at 9:49 pm

Manta 07.28.16 at 2:28 pm @ 32 ff —
The difference between a window and college celebrating Calhoun and something celebrating some event attached to the Roman Empire, etc., stuck in a museum, should be obvious. The Roman Empire, etc., are long dead and gone. White supremacy, however, is alive and active, and we are still living with (and some of us, dying from) the consequence of slavery and the quasi-slavery which followed it. In the United States, these are major, living political issues, not classical museum fare.

However, I did not suggest that anyone smash anything. I said that Yale University was not worthy to have its window smashed. Mr. Menafee’s just anger will bounce off its impervious, complacent walls and minds, and they will go on celebrating Calhoun and his slavery. Mr. Menafee should find better targets and better modes of expression.

51

cassander 07.28.16 at 9:49 pm

@Anarcissie

>Smashing a stained-glass window depicting slaves at Calhoun College, an organic part of an extremely important bourgeois* institution

Are you sure you didn’t mean to say kulak? Cause we need to get those fuckers, wreckers all!

>is somewhat different from smashing any old stained-glass window in any old location.

I’d say kudos for being willing to admit that your special pleading is nothing but special pleading, but somehow I doubt you’re being that self aware. No, it isn’t different.

>He did what he could,

He couldn’t quit? request a transfer to a different dining hall? Petition the college to move it?

> How would you all like a window depicting people raping and dismembering children, or one showing Nazis stuffing Jews into ovens? Because that’s exactly what slavery was — an abomination.

I’d quit, or request a transfer to a different dining hall, or petition the college to move it….

>It’s shocking that I have to bother to remind people.

you don’t have to. No one here is defending Calhoun or slavery. You choose to because it makes you feel self righteous. But that doens’t make it a good argument.

52

cassander 07.28.16 at 10:00 pm

@Anarcissie 07.28.16 at 9:49 pm

>The difference between a window and college celebrating Calhoun and something celebrating some event attached to the Roman Empire, etc., stuck in a museum, should be obvious. The Roman Empire, etc., are long dead and gone.

Very well, then, what about Nelson’s column? Surely, the legacy of the British empire is still with us, if slavery is. Or anything speaking of the USSR and communism, entities and ideas that enslaved far more people than southern planters ever dreamed of owning? Would you defend me if I started going into people’s houses and destroying their Pulitzer Prizes?

> Mr. Menafee’s just anger will bounce off its impervious, complacent walls and minds, and they will go on celebrating Calhoun and his slavery. Mr. Menafee should find better targets and better modes of expression.

Ah, yes, Ivy League universities. I forgot how they were fonts of southern pride and reactionary thinking.

53

Anarcissie 07.28.16 at 10:19 pm

cassander 07.28.16 at 10:00 pm —
I would certainly defend your destroying a public monument to Stalin, especially one supported and protected by a living power. A good deal of that sort of thing was in fact carried out in the territories he once commanded, and may I register some doubt that you disapproved? Or maybe you did. They were, after all, ‘art’. But again, there might be better uses. Komar and Melamid collected hundreds of little Lenin busts that had once adorned pious Soviet mantels and pianos, and made a rather impressive (if oppressive) installation from them in a New York City gallery. I seem to remember it being in a basement, but maybe that was just the atmosphere.

54

christian_h 07.28.16 at 10:53 pm

What a bizarre thread. Corey, thanks for the post. Anarcissie, thanks for fighting the good fight.

55

Waiting for Godot 07.28.16 at 11:16 pm

Since I believe that history is a living thing and that it contains truth only when that truth is exposed in the present, then, for me, all the apologists for Yale stand exposed as apologists for slavery and want only to remove the actions of Corey Menafee from their historical context. The truth of slavery and the history that carries that truth is alive thanks to Citizen Menafee and the irony of Yale trying to impose a gag order to hid it.

56

Waiting for Godot 07.28.16 at 11:16 pm

Since I believe that history is a living thing and that it contains truth only when that truth is exposed in the present, then, for me, all the apologists for Yale stand exposed as apologists for slavery and want only to remove the actions of Corey Menafee from their historical context. The truth of slavery and the history that carries that truth is alive thanks to Citizen Menafee and the irony of Yale trying to impose a gag order to hid it.

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F. Foundling 07.28.16 at 11:19 pm

@Anarcissie 07.28.16 at 10:19 pm
>I would certainly defend your destroying a public monument to Stalin, especially one supported and protected by a living power.

I’m no fan of Stalin, but if you want to remove a public monument in a democracy, you vote for people who will remove it. If you can’t get the majority of the *public* on your side, you can’t do anything, that’s why the property is called *public*. Also, destroying or desacrating something that is in some sense sacred to many people is usually seen as a d**k move; if it is so very controversial, it can be moved to a museum.

When Euromaidan activists started toppling Lenin statues, these were defended by crowds in Eastern Ukraine: for whatever reason, the unenlightened Russian-speaking population was attached to them: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26313792. Even in Kiev/Kyiv, a survey showed that an overwhelming majority of the citizens disapproved of the toppling: http://rb.com.ua/PR_Lenin_2013_engl.pdf.

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Sebastian H 07.28.16 at 11:25 pm

Ugh. I don’t know if the history is any good, but the reporting on the present is terrible.

It isn’t a gag order, it is a negotiated confidentiality agreement. Why is that an important distinction? Because there are legitimate policy reasons to be concerned about negotiated confidentiality agreements but none of them apply to this case.

The time to be concerned about confidentiality agreements is when some entity does wrong, injures someone else and then uses confidentiality agreements paired with a pay off to make it difficult to prove systemic abuse or ongoing problems. So if someone poisons a well and pays off only the injured people who figure it out while putting them under a confidentiality agreement, that can be a problem if it lets them continue to poison the well or if it lets other poisoned people who didn’t figure it out continue to be damaged.

It can be troubling when it covers up a pattern of abuse, like in sexual harassment cases where the company won’t fire or rein in the harasser so each new plaintiff seems like they are the first because the others can’t talk about it.

Probably our court system needs some of these confidentiality agreements to promote good settlements, but they are troubling.

This case has none of those features. In this case we have an employee who does the kind of thing that should get you fired even under much more employee-friendly regimes than we actually have almost anywhere in the US. Even a federal employee who intentionally destroyed an art piece would likely be fired and they have more protections than almost anyone. (Hell maybe even a police officer who admitted to intentionally destroying an art piece). It was an embarrassing art piece though, and the school would rather downplay the publicity about it. So to convince him not to talk about it, they offered him his job back–something that they didn’t have to do at all. This has none of the troubling characteristics of actually problematic confidentiality clauses in settlements. Anyone who wants to report on the publicly known facts can still do so. Anyone who wants to report on what the employee has already said may continue to do so. The fact that the college is named “Calhoun” is still discoverable by anyone who can read. The facts about Calhoun’s past are well known and can be talked about freely.

The guy wanted his job back, which he completely deserved to lose, and had essentially nothing else to offer.

As for the rest of the thread, it is troubling to see so many left-wingers defending the underlying political destruction of art. You would think the Serrano, Maplethorpe and Buddhas of Bamiyan cases would have taught something, but some people are impervious.

59

stevenjohnson 07.28.16 at 11:31 pm

Oh, yes, as to the gag order: The absent window silently speaks. The question is, what does anyone who listens hear? If it speaks clearly, the gag order is nothing.

60

Waiting for Godot 07.28.16 at 11:56 pm

@58

“It isn’t a gag order, it’s a negotiated confidentiality agreement….It can be troubling when it covers up a pattern of abuse…”

And Yale’s “confidentiality agreement” what is it that they are trying to cover up?

61

Waiting for Godot 07.28.16 at 11:57 pm

@58

“Troubling” indeed.

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Anarcissie 07.29.16 at 12:01 am

F. Foundling 07.28.16 at 11:19 pm —
Yes, the window could have been moved to a museum, along with John C. Calhoun. Unfortunately no museum, and no democracy, was available to Mr. Menafee, so he did what he thought he could.

Sebastian H 07.28.16 at 11:25 pm —
There are different ways of taking art. You can see it as a set of mummified quasi-religious artifacts which are to be placed on shelves or in cases in august institutions with marble floors and quietly contemplated from a distance. Or in some cases you can see it as a living thing which comes out into the agora and struggles politically, as some art certainly does. Had John C. Calhoun and his window been moved to an institution of Bad Old Things, I would have been against their destruction. But in memorializing and celebrating Calhoun in a political atmosphere where there is and has long been a lively conflict about White supremacy and slavery, Yale — a powerful, significant part of the state — made them living things, part of the political discourse, and as such I think they should take their political lumps like everyone and everything else there. In this sense they are completely different from Serrano, Mapplethorpe, and the Buddhas of Bamiyan. The first two refer to displays in museums and pages in books and on web sites where no one who doesn’t want to has to look at them, and the Buddhas were even more obscure religiously, politically and artistically.

63

AcademicLurker 07.29.16 at 12:04 am

thanks for fighting the good fight.

The fight against bourgeois windows must be carried on to the end!

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F. Foundling 07.29.16 at 12:50 am

@Anarcissie 07.29.16 at 12:01 am
> Yes, the window could have been moved to a museum, along with John C. Calhoun. Unfortunately no museum, and no democracy, was available to Mr. Menafee, so he did what he thought he could.

Well, true democracy is perhaps not common in our world, but the US government is still elected, and, through legislative measures, that elected government can ban depictions of slavery, or propaganda of slavery (which I doubt the window was supposed to be in any case), or the use of names such as Calhoun’s. I understand Yale is a private college, so I suppose curtaling its right to promote slavery might require a constitutional amendment? Now, it’s true that its function is de facto public, which is why the whole things is a problem (nobody would care if someone were to engage discreetly in glorification of slavery on their private property, with their blinds closed). The principled solution to this situation is, of course, to nationalise colleges. Or perhaps the promotion of slavery could be argued to result in a discriminating work environment in a potential lawsuit? Or, finally, one may just launch a campaign, protest, make a lot of noise and embarrass them until they balk, which seems to be the currently prevailing and most realistic approach. Really, whatever option you choose, and however imperfect the current bourgeois order, everyone’s just destroying whatever public or private property they want to destroy is not a solution; it does not result in equity, but in chaos and the law of the jungle, where the strongest win.

65

F. Foundling 07.29.16 at 1:04 am

Keeping the name ‘Calhoun’ was wrong, since it is inevitably interpreted as honouring Calhoun. The vandalism was wrong for all the reasons that other commenters have highlighted (FGS). Rehiring a man who had committed vandalism was wrong, since it will encourage vandalism. The ‘gag order’ was wrong, because it limits freedom of speech.

Now that this has been got out of the way – dishwashers must be well-paid, get decent healthcare when they get sick, be able to raise their children healthy and provide them with a decent education, and generally live their lives with dignity and in a fulfilling way. Race should have no bearing on whether one ends up working as a dishwasher or in mass communications (which is what Mr. Menafee holds a degree in). If the world depicted in that stained glass window still bears more than a passing resemblance to our contemporary reality, what needs to be changed is not the window, it’s the reality.

66

F. Foundling 07.29.16 at 1:37 am

@EB 07.27.16 at 3:10 pm
>I sympathize with Corey Menafee, especially after having spend many hours in museums recently where women were either naked (amidst fully clothed men), victimize, subservient, or absent. … I see his action … as civil disobedience.

Yes, I’m sure you were just itching to destroy all of those outrageous misogynistic paintings like Susanna and the Elders (both Van Dyck’s and Rembrandt’s), Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, not to mention things like The Last Supper or Starry Night that don’t even contain a single woman – basically all the paintings from the last ten centuries that you saw were infuriating. Destroy all art that, in one way or another, might be said to reflect iniquities – or perhaps limiting this ‘only’ to iniquities that are in some sense still present, as some have suggested. Well, all I can say is that I’m glad the expected punishment deterred you from engaging in ‘civil disobedience’ in this particular case, and I sincerely hope it continues to deter you in the future.

67

Anarcissie 07.29.16 at 1:39 am

F. Foundling 07.29.16 at 12:50 am —
Yes, it’s too bad we weren’t there to advise Mr. Menafee. Too bad he was alone while confronting the abomination.

68

Shmoo 07.29.16 at 1:54 am

The sad thing is, I spent four years at Calhoun and never once noticed the window, or reflected for a single moment about whom the college was named after. I’m pretty humiliated by that. There was a movement afoot to advocate for renaming the college after Rosey Thompson, an African-American Rhodes scholar from Calhoun who died in a car crash his senior year. That went nowhere. Large institutions can be awfully cowardly sometimes.

@60: it’s obvious, I think, that Yale isn’t trying to “cover up” anything – it seems, as an institution, both embarrassed about the Calhoun renaming flap and unwilling to do anything about it, and just wants the bad publicity to go away. I think it’s possible that Mr Menafee had more leverage that it seems, and that Yale may have even preemptively offered him the job back as an inducement to shut up.

If that’s the way it went down, you can’t really blame Mr. Menafee for taking the offer, even though it provides the appearance of rewarding bad behavior. Clearly, it’s not in Yale’s best interest to play that get-out-of-jail-if-you’ll-just-shut-up card, but embarrassed cowards do stupid things sometimes.

69

kidneystones 07.29.16 at 2:03 am

@ 67 @ 66 The instigator of the entire episode seems to me to be the Yale alumnus who according to Mr. Menafee, approached Mr. Menafee to ‘engage’ him on the topic of the window – painful reminder of oppression. Had this nameless innocent not approached Mr. Menafee the window might still be intact. Now, we don’t know the ethnicity of the alumnus so we can’t speculate what role ethnicity played in the discussion. Class, however, clearly did.

Indeed, we can easily view this incident as an exercise in class manipulation – in which Mr. Menafee assumes the identity of one of the exploited depicted in the image – carrying instead of a bale of cotton for his exploiter, a bale of rhetorical bunting for the alumnus – the same ‘well-meaning’ Yale alumnus who very nearly cost Mr. Menafee his job.

Everyone can make a mistake. I’ve read of no evidence anywhere to suggest that Mr. Menafee is anything but a fine employee, co-worker, and graduate. I’d be very surprised to read of Mr. Menafee committing any act of vandalism for any reason based on what we’ve read of him, had he simply been left alone.

Instead, an artifact of some modest significance is destroyed, several appalling precedents set, and Mr. Menafee’s employment prospects perhaps damaged. All because some nameless Yale alumnus decided to step out of his elite Ivy League life for five minutes, cross class boundaries and meddle in Mr. Menafee’s world.

I’m certain the ‘gag’ order Yale imposed has absolutely nothing to do with protecting the identity of the hitherto mystery alumnus.

70

Lawrence Stuart 07.29.16 at 2:44 am

@ 38 Manta ‘maybe you mean “vandalizing art on political grounds you approve of”?’

Isn’t that what historical judgement is all about? Aren’t we always justifying transgressions against artifacts, monuments, and ideas from the past on the basis of our expectations and hopes for the future? The intentions behind the acts do indeed matter.

There are only the remotest of similarities between, say, ISIS destroying Assyrian monuments, and the smashing of a window at Yale by a dishwasher.

Why — and what — one attacks also matter.

The fact that Mr. Menafee could find a window depicting slaves at a College named after a vile racist apologist for slavery — now, in 2016– speaks to the stunted state of the necessary political conversation surrounding race, particularly blackness, in the U.S. I’d condemn Menafee’s act because, with the gag order, it seems to have been largely ineffective in moving this dialogue forward.

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Sebastian H 07.29.16 at 4:43 am

Anarcissie: ” In this sense they are completely different from Serrano, Mapplethorpe, and the Buddhas of Bamiyan. The first two refer to displays in museums and pages in books and on web sites where no one who doesn’t want to has to look at them, and the Buddhas were even more obscure religiously, politically and artistically.”

They don’t seem completely different to me. The similarity to the Bamiyan case is especially striking. In both cases the art destroyers were attacking old symbols that gave reverence to an old evil. Those who protested Serrano and Mapplethorpe (note: not destroyed the works of Serrano and Mapplethorpe) were similarly attacking what they perceived to be a corrupting reverence for something they saw as evil.

I’m especially confused by the idea that the strongest protections are to be reserved for museum art. That would seem to be the art that needs it least.

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Sebastian H 07.29.16 at 4:45 am

“Aren’t we always justifying transgressions against artifacts, monuments, and ideas from the past on the basis of our expectations and hopes for the future? The intentions behind the acts do indeed matter. “

And the vanguards always believe that they are right about what should be destroyed and that they don’t need input from anyone else. Which is exactly how the Buddhas of Bamiyan were destroyed.

Next let’s have a long discussion about which books we ought to be burning.

73

Ice 07.29.16 at 5:53 am

@Anarcissie,

Don’t you understand that the window was Private Property and quite possibly Important Ancient Art and thus inviolate?

Menafee clearly should have hobnobbed with his wealthy, influential, elite social group – perhaps hired a lawyer or two – and instead lobbied to remove the window.

What? He was born without those connections and resources? And he’s African-American?

Total coincidence, I’m sure. It’s too bad he wasn’t able to read Crooked Timber threads before his horrible rash action. Then he would know how privileged white intellectuals would perceive his action could have learned from his betters about what not to do.

74

faustusnotes 07.29.16 at 6:46 am

This is my review of how we should deal with these art problems. (I wrote it when I was in Venice, sick, and bored of stupid misogynist art that isn’t even good).

75

Stephen 07.29.16 at 7:14 am

Possibly relevant case. Dublin is, I believe, the only European capital with a public statue to a prominent Nazi collaborator: Sean Russell, chief of staff of the IRA, who died aboard a U-boat on his way back from Germany, where he had been trained in sabotage. In 2004 an unidentified group, who felt strongly about the Nazi treatment of the Jews, removed the head and arm of the statue, and left a message denouncing Russell and the Nazis alike. The statue has since been replaced.

Now, the destruction of the original statue was certainly not democratically approved. Was it justified? If not, why not? Was the replacement justified?

76

Kiwanda 07.29.16 at 8:08 am

“Even a federal employee who intentionally destroyed an art piece would likely be fired and they have more protections than almost anyone. (Hell maybe even a police officer who admitted to intentionally destroying an art piece)”

Not if the art piece failed to comply with the officer’s lawful order, and the officer felt threatened. As you can see in the report, the art piece was reaching for something that appeared to be a weapon. While the officer’s body camera might give some corroboration, unfortunately it was malfunctioning at the time.

77

faustusnotes 07.29.16 at 8:27 am

… or if it gets broken while being transported in the van, and although three cops were in with the statue its none of their fault …

78

novakant 07.29.16 at 9:40 am

I’m not sure about the window, of course it’s no good to just destroy stuff though maybe understandable, but there might be good arguments for its removal from an institution that is supposed to be inclusive – you can always put it in a museum with some context.

Much more obvious to me is the problem with the name of the college and I have no idea why many people don’t seem to even notice how offensive it is – it is just disgusting to honor someone who was not merely a “man of his times” or an apologist but an outspoken ideological propagandist for slavery and racism.

A similar case is Cecil Rhodes whose name is on one of the most prestigious scholarships in the world and who has a little statue in Oxford in his honour.

And the argument that renaming institutions and places or removing statues eradicates historical memory is simply incorrect: e.g. Germany has done this twice (1945 / 1990 ff.) in a major way and went about it with its proverbial thoroughness, but it would be just silly to argue that historical memory has been suppressed, quite the opposite.

79

ZM 07.29.16 at 11:15 am

This is a topic very close to my heart, due to so many indie musicians writing cruel and inappropriate songs about me without asking since I was 19 in 1998, and lying to the media and their audience about doing so the entire time, and being part of a secret indie band Sado-Masochistic Sex Ring for most of the time with drug use and I think blackmail as well since I can’t work out why some musicians wrote cruel songs about me unless the sadist ring leader blackmailed them into doing so.

I am going to take legal action to get all the songs and film clips and books etc that refer to me in any way withdrawn from sale and circulation, and damages from their sale and circulation to date (as well as taking criminal legal action against the perpetrators).

I can’t break all of them myself, it would take too long and I would get arrested going around breaking CDs at record stores.

I don’t think I could get a court to order everyone who bought copies already between 1998 and 2016 to destroy their copies. It seems to me like a court wouldn’t agree to order all the customers to destroy their property even if the property illegally stalks and sexually harasses me and ruined my life for 10 1/2 years since I was 27. I have never heard of a court ordering customers to do that, apart from if a product is unsafe sometimes companies have to recall the products. Maybe I could get all the products recalled? I don’t have a lawyer yet, so I am not 100% sure.

A gag order is a good idea as well.

I am sick of all these lying musicians writing untrue things about me, and deliberately hurting me by writing cruel things about me, and dragging me into their lives by singing about me when I don’t know them. I want to get a restraining order crossed with a gag order so they have to leave me alone and stop stalking me and sexually harassing me with products and services etc.

They have referred to me in their work for 18 years and won’t stop even when I complain to them and tell them to stop stalking me and give me an explanation. Even when I sent Cease And Desist letters they won’t stop referring to me.

And they won’t give me an explanation and keep lying, like they have lied for the whole 18 years now.

The indie music scene has a huge issue, lots of people in indie music seem to have known about these musician referring to me and known about the indie band Sado -Masochistic Sex Ring, but kept these secret from the media and the public, and as well as this lots of people in indie music seem to think it is okay to illegally stalk and sexually harass me over a long period. The whole indie music scene must have turned completely dysfunctional since the time when I really liked indie music in the mid 1990s.

I am okay with the products being archived for historical and musicology etc research in universities, but they shouldn’t be sold anymore, or available on internet sites like YouTube etc. And I want selling them secondhand or circulating them to be illegal as well, apart from they can be circulated in university libraries for academic research purposes only and kept in the Special Collections section.

Also the governance of the Creative Industries needs to change. People need to be educated criminal and civil laws about speech now everyone can be published. There needs to be positive regulations about getting people’s consent to write about them in any sort of ongoing way. There needs to be laws about Creative Industries companies having to take complaints like normal companies. There needs to be a Civil Tribunal where people like me can go to resolve civil legal issues with Creative Industries contractors and companies since the laws are now unfair and favour wealthy people and companies who can afford to hire lawyers to sue other parties and otherwise you have to keep asking law firms to represent you for free. And I can think of some other reforms as well.

80

J-D 07.29.16 at 11:57 am

There’s something I’ve often wondered about confidentiality clauses.

Suppose I sue Gigantic Evilcorp, alleging that the terrible medical problems suffered by my children were caused by the release of toxins into the environment by Gigantic Evilcorp. Possibly Gigantic Evilcorp begins by denying everything, including my children’s medical problems, the release of toxins into the environment, and their own address. But possibly they go on to decide that fighting me through the courts could cost a lot of legal fees, and I’ll bring my children into court to show their terrible medical problems, which could be damaging to the reputation (and, hence, the future profitability) of Gigantic Evilcorp, and, who knows, I might even win in court. So let’s say Gigantic Evilcorp offers me a deal: they’ll pay me an amount of money that’s attractive to me but not hugely burdensome for them, on condition I enter into a legally binding agreement not to say anything more about it (so as not to damage their reputation any more, and so as not to attract the attention of anybody else who might have a case to sue Gigantic Evilcorp).

So here’s my question: once I’ve got the money, what is there to stop me from breaking the agreement and telling the world how much Gigantic Evilcorp paid me? what redress is available to Gigantic Evilcorp? Sure, they might sue me for breaking the agreement and demand their money back, but perhaps I don’t have it any more, having spent it on treating my children’s medical problems, and even if they can recover a large chunk after a court case (with, presumably, expensive legal fees cutting into that), that will still have exactly the effect they were trying to avoid, of attracting a lot of attention which will be bad for their reputation and may also give other people the idea of suing them.

Is there something I’m missing here?

The analogy in this case would be: what if Corey Menafee breaks the agreement by starting up with more public statements? What redress would be available to Yale? Presumably they could fire him again, but surely that’s only going to have precisely the effect they’re trying to avoid, of making them look bad?

81

Ronan(rf) 07.29.16 at 12:10 pm

Sean Russell wasnt really a Nazi collaborator. He was a nationalist who made an alliance of convenience to attain his groups (non fascist) goals. He probably needed some perspective, but Nazi collaborator is ott.
The interesting (I guess) related question from recent irish history is the ira blowing up Nelsons pillar. To them this was a symbol of British Imperialism and British domination of ireland, to others it was a symbol of a lost , meaningful relationship in a country that was becoming more parochkal and limited in who belonged to the nation, in reality it was probably somewhere in between these two positions. Do I trust the left and various other ideologues to destroy political symbols in an optimal, coherent and sensible manner, and replace them with something more inclusive and politically/historically sophisticated ? I do not. They will destroy the symbols of the old regime, build statues to their historical martyrs, and demand obediance from their political rivals.

82

Manta 07.29.16 at 12:51 pm

This discussion is really surreal: lots of academics plauding the destruction of art on the basis of political reasons. And when told “that’s exactly the kind of acts they condemn when done by ISIS, say “but it’s different! it’s MY vandal doing the destruction, not their vandals”.

83

Manta 07.29.16 at 1:00 pm

By the way, here is a list of monuments we should also destroy http://www.myromeapartment.com/rome-city-guide/fascist-architecture/
“The word DVCE appears ad nauseam in the mosaics, and the huge marble obelisk that marks the entrance to the Foro Italico still bears its original inscription, MVSSOLINI covered with wonderfully entertaining (and remarkably well-preserved) 1930s mosaics of model fascist DVX.”

84

ZM 07.29.16 at 1:06 pm

Manta,

It depends I guess if the argument against ISIS is:

A. the destruction of any sort of art at all is always wrong ; or

B. that ISIS is destroying the wrong art and only only certain sorts of art should be destroyed, and these are of type i, ii, iii, etc.

I don’t think you can argue for option A unless you are against any sort of regulations for art making at all. I think there aren’t too many people in this category of wanting no regulations for the art sector. Why should the art sector not have regulations when other sectors do have regulations?

And I really find it hard to believe you really think there should be no regulations about art. For example, snuff films are films, which are an art form, but I never heard of people saying snuff films should be legal and it is wrong to destroy them. Everyone seems okay with snuff films being illegal. Would you want to legalise snuff films?

I guess ISIS do make snuff films since they behead people, and then they destroy other sorts of art which are better than snuff films like Lamassu statues. Their judgment about art seems quite wrongheaded like you might expect from a cult of violence, in favour of making and circulating snuff films, and against protective Lamassu statues which they destroy.

85

Manta 07.29.16 at 1:19 pm

ZM,
What kind of illegal act was performed in the production of the window?

86

Manta 07.29.16 at 1:33 pm

Let’s be clear: the vandal destroyed the window because he didn’t like its message; many people here are justifying the destruction of art when they don’t like its message.

*That* I find utterly repelling, and no different than what ISIS and the Talibans (and every authoritarian regime) do.

87

Art Deco 07.29.16 at 1:52 pm

Let’s be clear: the vandal destroyed the window because he didn’t like its message;

There was no message. It was a stylized depiction of two people carrying bushels of picked cotton.

https://josdaily.files.wordpress.com/2016/07/cnhytajucaaxuxe.jpg?w=797&h=1077

It wouldn’t bother anyone who hadn’t been snookered by a campus SJW, who, in turn, are playing status games. (Something you can see in abundance above).

88

ZM 07.29.16 at 2:08 pm

Manta,

I don’t know if any laws were broken by the stained glass window. This is the first time I heard about the case.

I was more commenting on the OP since so many musicians wrote about me which is stalking and sexual harassment which are crimes, and I want to get all the records withdrawn from sale and damages. So I think that the Creative Industries are not sufficiently regulated for this to happen to me, what people did to me is against criminal and civil law, but the companies allowed it and sold the records anyhow. And I think the government should educate people about laws relating to speech since now anyone can make art and distribute it globally easily.

Corey Menafee said he broke the window since he shouldn’t have to go to work and see stained glass windows favourably depicting slavery.

“Menafee was helping to clean a dining hall at Calhoun College, which has been at the center of discussions about race, when he said he had the urge to break the window.
“It’s 2016; I shouldn’t have to come to work and see things like that,” he told the New Haven Independent, adding: “I just said, ‘That thing’s coming down today. I’m tired of it.’ I put myself in a position to do it, and did it.”
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2016/07/12/yale-dishwasher-resigns-after-smashing-racist-very-degrading-stained-glass-window/

“But it appears his actions successfully spurred the school to a few concessions, after a longstanding debate among students failed to strike Calhoun’s name from the dormitory.
An email issued by the Head of Calhoun College Julia Adams last Tuesday stated the stained glass windows depicting the slave owner would be removed from the common room.
The glass panels will be stored at the Yale University Art Gallery and replaced with tinted panes until the school commissions an artist to create new designs.
The dining hall will also be renamed after Roosevelt Thompson, an African American Yale alum who died shortly after his graduation in 1984.

YALE’S STAINED GLASS WINDOWS
One panel, titled ‘Negro with a watermelon’ was removed from the Sterling Memorial Library after employees complained in the 90s.
Another panel at the library references ‘Heathen Chinee’, a narrative poem that was intended as a satire, but instead reinforced racist sentiments.
A stained glass depiction of a shackled slave kneeling before Calhoun was removed from the dorm’s common room in 1992 following a student campaign.
Menafee broke a stained glass panel showing two slaves carrying picked cotton in the fields.”
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3685715/Dishwasher-breaks-degrading-stained-glass-window-Yale-depicting-slaves-working-cotton-fields.html#ixzz4Fo2m1RaR

Maybe Yale should have put up explanatory plaques saying how wrong and illegal slavery is near the stained glass window, or else it might be racial harassment for a worker. Menafee said he shouldn’t have to see something like that at work, so I guess it is sort of racial harassment by a stained glass window. If it is racial harassment at work, then I think the stained glass window violates the Civil Rights Act of 1991, so Yale might have been breaking the law.

Breaking the window was probably wrong though, if it violated the Civil Rights Act 1991 then there should have been a court case, not just breaking the window. But he might not have been able to afford a lawyer.

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faustusnotes 07.29.16 at 2:43 pm

Is the window art? I know van Gogh painted some crappy pictures of people with potatoes or something but is a pair of dudes carrying bushels art? Especially when it’s stained glass? I mean, stained glass is cool and all but it’s essentially a mediaeval kind of thing (we have movies and shit now, they’re better) so really the only importance attached to any stained glass made after about 1500 or something is that it memorializes something important (usually Jesus). Typically the thing memorialized in the stained glass is important to the institution whose building the stained glass … stains … e.g. churches think Jesus was important for some weird reason.

So in this case we have some piece of naff stained glass that you would sneer at if a hippy had it on their window that is really probably not much better than a dream-catcher or one of those stick on transparent multi-colored dolphin thingies, which is “art” (sweety dahling) entirely on account of its being in an expensive building for whose owners it means something. In that case, if it’s entire value is in its symbolic meaning, then surely trashing the thing is just … well, it doesn’t really seem like a big deal. The owners of Yay Slavery College could just replace it with something that was actually art, like a nice window or something.

As an example: in 2003 when those guys pulled down Saddam Hussein’s statue in the central square in Baghdad, they weren’t destroying art. They were destroying a crappy statue of a crappy dude. I don’t remember anyone complaining about the art or the artist or anything, everyone just said “Yay, stupid dictator’s stupid statue got smashed.” Everyone understood that it wasn’t a good thing to have that statue there, and everyone understood that nothing important was being lost.

The reason that people got pissed about the Bamiyan buddhas is because they’re important to everyone and the Talibaan are a pack of arseholes, and arseholes destroying something important is always and everywhere a terrible thing. I don’t think anyone for a moment believed that from their perspective the Talibaan were doing anything wrong – everyone just thought that the Talibaan’s perspective is a fucked up waste of space, and it’s sad to see something ancient and important destroyed by a bunch of arseholes.

If ISIS commission the greatest artist in the world to build a statue of al-Baghdadi in Mosul, and then a bunch of Americans drive over it with a tank or blow it up from orbit or something, no one is going to be complaining about the valuable lost art. Everyone will just say “jeez that artist should find better patrons” and move on.

So first: was this window art, or was it just a naff window presenting a horrible image in service to a nasty bunch of slavery-glorifiers?

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faustusnotes 07.29.16 at 2:45 pm

So yes, I just googled it, and I challenge anyone on earth to willingly put that piece of crap on their wall and call it art. It’s not. It’s crappy propaganda in service to a crappy ideal. Now, propaganda has an important place in museums, so we can see what kind of nasty stuff fascists use to advertise nasty things. But on a modern university window? What a completely insane idea.

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bianca steele 07.29.16 at 2:57 pm

Yale and other northern institutions need to confront how much they’ve catered to Southern and generally racist sensibilities–and don’t doubt, this has been justified by the need not to piss off an important segment of US culture–but not by individuals taking it upon themselves to destroy stuff. What’s next? “Hiding” library books you don’t like? The guy made a mistake, he has his job back, and he should have the right to be left alone. This isn’t the right way to go about making sure people who work for employers have free speech.

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novakant 07.29.16 at 3:08 pm

The “democracy now” video at CRs link is quite illuminating:

http://www.democracynow.org/2016/7/15/exclusive_meet_yale_dishwasher_corey_menafee

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Art Deco 07.29.16 at 3:10 pm

The guy made a mistake,

The ‘mistake’ is called ‘criminal mischief’ in the New York Penal Law and likely something similar in Connecticut statutes. It is properly prosecuted.

So yes, I just googled it, and I challenge anyone on earth

I’m invariably confused here as to which posts are the parodies and which are the straight pieces.

Yale and other northern institutions need to confront how much they’ve catered to Southern and generally racist sensibilities

Define ‘catered’.

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faustusnotes 07.29.16 at 3:13 pm

Art Deco, none of the comments are parodies. Is that shit art? Just answer the question.

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Anarcissie 07.29.16 at 3:15 pm

It would be more interesting if some of you had actually read my arguments and come up with something, but I suppose swinging the blunt instrument of sarcasm and reciting dogma are more fun and easier on the unexercised mind. I’m a bit disappointed, but I concede the temptation must be difficult to resist, especially in the hot weather.

As to the gag order, my guess is that Yale University knows that professing the name of Calhoun is indefensible and that if Mr. Menafee were to continue his activism against it he could probably collect a lot of support. Hence I must suppose they confronted him with the traditional carrot (a buyoff) and stick (various punishments not hard to imagine). It is easy for the great to overpower the powerless. To me, the more interesting question here is why Yale is so fanatically conservative. Why did they not change the name when overt allegiance to White supremacy became unfashionable? Maybe it’s just academic habit? A few years ago, after an absence of about 50 years from such locales, I spent a few hours at an academic function at Princeton, and it seemed that nothing had changed in all that time: not the characters, not the clothes, not the gestures, not the subjects of conversation. (They did have a female Korean pianist who was pretty good; I suppose that would not have been possible back in the day.) Continuing to advertise White supremacy and slavery at Yale may just be the done thing because it was always the done thing; if the holy name of John C. Calhoun be allowed to slip away, the world will come to an end. You tell me.

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Manta 07.29.16 at 3:15 pm

faustusnotes,
is conceptual art really art? to me it seems a bunch of puerile crap, but your mileage may vary…

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bianca steele 07.29.16 at 3:20 pm

The ‘mistake’ is called ‘criminal mischief’ in the New York Penal Law and likely something similar in Connecticut statutes. It is properly prosecuted.

What, is this nitpick day? Yale was the one harmed, they had the choice whether to prosecute and did not, they had the choice whether to fire him and did, and then chose to decide he’d already paid enough and gave him his job back. A lot of employers would probably decide firing is enough, and prosecuting is vindictive and a waste of time and energy. “Made a mistake” is also a common phrase in these sorts of cases, and I don’t know what kind of vindictive or misguided person would actually object to it.

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Manta 07.29.16 at 3:20 pm

Anarcisse, you asked “How would you all like a window depicting people raping and dismembering children”:
I linked a picture of a famous painting, in a church, depicting that: I did read your argument, and found it lacking

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faustusnotes 07.29.16 at 3:21 pm

Funnily enough Manta, it doesn’t matter whether conceptual art is art or not because nobody wants to destroy it, because it isn’t providing a propagandistic service to an organization that seems to value the historical “contributions” of a slaveholder. If the art isn’t offending anyone, the question of whether it is art or not is irrelevant.

Was the piss-christ art? Was the dude wrong to smash it? I don’t think anyone for a moment believes he was wrong to smash it – they just think his reasons for smashing it were really stupid. Sure the art establishment think it was art, so then it’s an issue, but these are the same people who think that a dude who copied the display of a Plymouth bait shop is worth millions because he displays pickled cows. Why would we listen to them? We all know what art is, and we all agree that a crappy window pane depicting people being abused is not art.

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Manta 07.29.16 at 3:24 pm

“I don’t think anyone for a moment believes he was wrong to smash it..”

you think wrongly.

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faustusnotes 07.29.16 at 3:27 pm

No I don’t Manta. There is art out there that you would think is perfectly reasonable to be banned or smashed. You in favor of kiddy porn? Didn’t think so – you’re in favour of smashing some art. The only question that matters is whether the reasons for smashing it are your reasons.

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oldster 07.29.16 at 3:28 pm

Another aspect of the question posed by faustusnotes:

When we hear of “stained glass,” we inevitably think of medieval treasures, of Chartres or the like.

It’s worth keeping mind that the window in question, like all of Yales’ “colleges”, dates from no earlier than the 1930s. Yale paid good money (or at least a lot of money) to give itself an air of gentility, and bought the best faux-Gothic and faux-Georgian schlock it could afford. Campus rumor has it that the builders even broke some panes of glass and re-leaded them in order to make them look older.

This is not a hallowed artistic heritage. This is yesterday’s garage sale kitsch.

I love it when people defend their lawn jockey statues by saying that they are the Buddhas of Bamiyan.

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kidneystones 07.29.16 at 3:29 pm

The window is more artifact than art, not that it matters much in this discussion.

We don’t get to destroy anything that does not belong to us. Period. You’d think that most people would understand that much.

Most do, but not everybody.

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faustusnotes 07.29.16 at 3:32 pm

So kidneystones, if ISIS erect a giant statue of al-Baghdadi fucking a Yazidi baby, it has to stay right where it is, no damage, Peshmerga posted 24/7 to make sure now Yazidi radical smashes it down?

Yes, that’s the world we all want to live in.

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Manta 07.29.16 at 3:34 pm

Your statement

“Was the piss-christ art? Was the dude wrong to smash it? I don’t think anyone for a moment believes he was wrong to smash it”
Many people do think exactly that, and you know it very well; so stop making stuff up.
But, in the unlikely case that you are serious:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piss_Christ#Reception
“The work was vandalized at the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, and gallery officials reported receiving death threats in response to Piss Christ. Supporters argued that the controversy over Piss Christ is an issue of artistic freedom and freedom of speech.”

Also, disparaging those who don’t share your artistic tastes does not strengthen your argument…

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Aidian 07.29.16 at 3:35 pm

When I first became aware of this, a couple of days after dude broke the window, I did a little googling to find a picture of the window in question. Somehow, I wound up on a page devoted to Calhoun college dining staff. There were a lot of pictures of staffers on that page, though the vandal in question had already been pulled from the site, and the one thing that struck me about them is that they were almost entirely black people.

I don’t know what the demographics of Calhoun are, or Yale as a whole, but I’d guess they’re pretty pale. And thinking about what it must be like as a black man in his 30s working as a dishwasher for all the privileged young people who would soon graduate into positions where they are responsible for directing the very society that has spent 400 years oppressing me, and shows every sign of continuing to do so in the future, made me think: what took him so long?

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bianca steele 07.29.16 at 3:42 pm

Yale and other northern institutions need to confront how much they’ve catered to Southern and generally racist sensibilities

Define ‘catered’.

Seriously? You don’t believe it’s true?

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Manta 07.29.16 at 3:43 pm

faustusnotes @103:
You may have noticed that “we” are at war with ISIS: destroying property and people is what war is about. If you think we should live in a state of war in Connecticut, let us know. Otherwise, what kidneystones @102 says applies in full.

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Ronan(rf) 07.29.16 at 3:43 pm

On the point of the OP. I’m glad the man got his job back. I don’t really care much about the gagging order , the importance of which appears to be to help Corey draw out not particularly relevant historical parallels. Should he have been fired in the first place? I say not. A virtous and honourable elite would turn half a blind eye, say something like,”we understand the anger and frustration, but wind your neck.in.” Perhaps a first warning would suffice. Problem these days seems to be we’re run by petty , tyranical , self righteous children like art deco. More’s the shame.
Should the United states and these academic institutions acknowledge their history, the wealth they extracted from oppressed and enslaved people? That, I guess, is up to the citizens of the United states. My own position is closer to David rieff’s, that there’s more to be said for forgetting, and getting on with solving the problems of today*. As the saying goes'”build a monument to amnesia and forget where you put it.” Though if pushed on it, I would rename these buildings and remove these monuments. Building no. 4 and a parking spot would be worthy replacements.

*yes, I understand in a convoluted and at times trivial enough way, slavery is still relevant to the problems of today in the US. But not really. Imo.

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AcademicLurker 07.29.16 at 3:52 pm

Manta@106: I know a few New Yorkers who might favor declaring war on Connecticut.

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faustusnotes 07.29.16 at 3:54 pm

Manta, “we” were in a state of war in Connecticut – the American civil war, which involved a lot of destruction of property in defense of the union, against a bunch of traitors who committed treason in defense of slavery. “We” won that war, and 100 years later a bunch of rich dudes paid to build a crappy window in honour of the losers. In any other place and time that would be considered poor taste even if the art was good (which it clearly isn’t). If you don’t want your window broken, here’s a top tip: don’t make it an insult to a nation’s honourable struggle.

As for the piss-christ being art: yes, I’m aware of what a bunch of self-serving art critics think. The rest of us think it’s not art; simultaneously we think “hey ho! Look at that Serrano dude sticking it to a bunch of mediaeval narcissists”. Then someone smashes it and we think “fair dos, good thing it wasn’t art.”

That’s the difference between the kiddy-fiddlers and rapists that Manta put up earlier, and Serrano’s work. When they made their crappy pictures they were cutting edge paedophiles, so we preserve and revere it for that reason, but nobody believes for a moment (I sincerely hope) that they were producing that crap out of anything except propagandistic reasons. If someone produced the same rough-hewn rubbish today in honour of Trump we’d laugh at it (even Trump does – he refused to pay the Freedom Kids!) The reason we don’t burn those kiddy-fiddlers’ pictures is their historical significance. If someone produced the same picture today they’d be in prison.

Which brings us to the point: The picture on the Calhoun window is not art, it’s propaganda.

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bianca steele 07.29.16 at 3:58 pm

I don’t think it’s right to go into a gallery and destroy art. I can imagine there are people who do believe it’s okay. I imagine most of them realize that there are people who disagree with them. (Serrano’s “Piss Christ” piece was a photograph, so it was “slashed,” not “smashed”.) I’m more concerned about people who don’t believe other people sincerely disagree with them–though I only have random internet commenters’ word that they exist–than about people who think some art is so bad it deserves to be destroyed.

There are still people angry that in the 16th century the Protestants whitewashed the frescoes in the English churches, though for all we know they’d be horrified themselves at what those frescoes actually showed, and how people in the villages actually worshipped. Some day the murals in the Boston Public Library (the ones that show the blindfolded woman representing “the Synagogue”) will lose even their historical interest and they’ll be painted over. That doesn’t mean some IDF lunatic would be right to go in and firebomb them. We’re only about as distant from the Civil War now as William and Mary’s time was from the Reformation, and it hasn’t helped that intellectuals have continually played up the resemblance.

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Manta 07.29.16 at 4:03 pm

“The reason we don’t burn those kiddy-fiddlers’ pictures is their historical significance.”
WTF?
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massacre_of_the_Innocents#In_the_arts
I suppose that Giotto was not artist enough for your tastes

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Manta 07.29.16 at 4:04 pm

And you are seriously advocating putting people in prison for a painting?

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faustusnotes 07.29.16 at 4:06 pm

What are you talking about Manta, that Giotto picture is crap. And most modern states put people in prison for child porn. Where do you live?

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bianca steele 07.29.16 at 4:08 pm

It’s worth keeping mind that the window in question, like all of Yales’ “colleges”, dates from no earlier than the 1930s. Yale paid good money (or at least a lot of money) to give itself an air of gentility, and bought the best faux-Gothic and faux-Georgian schlock it could afford. Campus rumor has it that the builders even broke some panes of glass and re-leaded them in order to make them look older.

I love the idea that the problem with Yale is that it isn’t as authentically old/conservative as Oxbridge. All that fashion for pseudo-Gothic, how pathetic that we needed Europe to give us Bauhaus when obviously the US should have been building that way, way back in 1800.

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Manta 07.29.16 at 4:11 pm

“When they made their crappy pictures they were cutting edge paedophiles, so we preserve and revere it for that reason, but nobody believes for a moment (I sincerely hope) that they were producing that crap out of anything except propagandistic reasons”

On what planet are you living?
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rape_of_the_Sabine_Women#Artistic_representations

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Manta 07.29.16 at 4:20 pm

I hope Bernini is artist enough for your tastes, faustus
https://id14withmamquevedo.wordpress.com/2012/03/12/apollo-and-daphne-love-in-vain/

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faustusnotes 07.29.16 at 4:21 pm

Manta, there’s no sense in which that story is anything except a comfort women kind of deception. Try going to Korea today with a big picture entitled “The rape of the Korean women.” It’s propaganda. Sure, if you see the Romans and Greeks as irrelevant to the renaissance then it’s just a crappy bit of rape culture art, but nobody thinks that. The reason it’s important is its import to the culture of the time, combined with its place in art history. I don’t think we’re disagreeing here; the reason that this picture is different to the Calhoun window is precisely its place in the history of art – its role as art – not its propagandistic value or lack thereof. But if in the current era someone decided to go to a coeducational college and put a big picture of a bunch of women being raped, painted in the same style, it would be interpreted very differently. Why do you think that is?

To be clear, I don’t think anyone should smash any art and I don’t think people should break other people’s property. I also don’t think people should break their boss’s shit. But if Calhoun had any respect for America, for their employees, or for their black employees, they would a) never have commissioned that crappy window or b) taken it down around about 1960. Brandishing an openly treasonous and offensive picture that has been lifted out of time to give it a faux sense of gravity is an offense to art, to reason, to honour, to patriotism and to any morality worth staking a claim to. What a pack of morons.

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Manta 07.29.16 at 4:26 pm

“The reason it’s important is its import to the culture of the time, combined with its place in art history. I don’t think we’re disagreeing here;”

No we are very much disagreeing here.
They are beautiful work of arts, independently of when or why they were produced.
Knowing the culture of the time and so on helps us understand them better, but that’s it.

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Will G-R 07.29.16 at 4:29 pm

In Europe 100 miles is a long way, in America 100 years is a long time.

Also, if I saw that windowpane for sale at Goodwill with a $5 price tag as a glass suncatcher, I’d put it back without a second glance. Speaking as someone with a fondness for eye-catching propaganda kitsch of all sorts of historical regimes. IMO in terms of priceless cultural and artistic heritage or whatever, this is closer to scribbling a Hitler mustache and devil horns on a portrait of Bush than tearing down a statue of Stalin, let alone Palmyra or the Bamiyan Buddhas.

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faustusnotes 07.29.16 at 4:29 pm

So you think that if some dude painted a rapey picture in the same style on the wall of a girls’ college it would be A-okay, no problem nothing to see here? The chicks would dig it?

If you can’t see these pictures in the context of the misogynist, colonialist and war-mongering politics of their time then you aren’t really trying to understand their importance as art. You’re also not understanding anything about how art becomes propaganda, and when and how that’s an issue.

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bianca steele 07.29.16 at 4:33 pm

faustusnotes:

You sound like an old-timey immigrant rabbi or priest, railing against decadent secular art. If you want to say the painting is trash because the subject it depicts is trash, that’s fine. If you want to say “everybody” agrees the painting is trash, well, you’re wrong. Your choices, as I see them are: dissent from the mainstream culture; persuade people to change the mainstream culture; claim to be a recognized subculture; take over the mainstream culture. Most people are okay with the setup where some people think elite art is really trash and some people think it isn’t, and where the people who like high art get protected against mob actions and stuff.

As for whether the people who painted about stories, 1500 years before they were born, had any clear idea even about who was on what side, is pretty hard to figure out. How it could be “propaganda” for the Romans against the Sabines is hard to see. I have to guess it was instead propaganda for mercy and fair treatment of prisoners.

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Manta 07.29.16 at 4:34 pm

A dude painted a bunch of naked people on the ceiling of a chapel…

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniele_da_Volterra#The_loincloths_in_Michelangelo.27s_Last_Judgment

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faustusnotes 07.29.16 at 4:35 pm

You can keep putting pictures of old rapists and nudists up here, Manta, but it doesn’t answer any of the points at issue.

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Manta 07.29.16 at 4:38 pm

Maybe Yale should have hired Il Braghettone to redraw the window panel, and avoid the controversy…

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Manta 07.29.16 at 4:40 pm

Lol, now Michelangelo’s Judgement is “pictures of nudists”?
Thanks for the fun.

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faustusnotes 07.29.16 at 4:43 pm

Bianca, I’m happy with all or none of those choices; I get angry about the way that stupid bed or the pickled cows make millions while someone who works in a shop doing far more valuable work gets paid barely a living wage, but I understand that’s the way our world works and it’s not art’s fault, though the people who pretend Tracey Emin or the cow dude are artists are clearly self-serving wankers and there is nothing good that should ever be said about them. But I understand this kind of crust on real art is inevitable, and I don’t really care, in the end.

BUT, I think this idea that art didn’t serve as propaganda back in the day is complete rubbish, it’s historically inaccurate and straight-out offensive. I posted my little critical review above, perhaps you didn’t read it (you should, it’s really cool!); this art was produced in a deeply misogynist, religiously repressive world where basically if you wanted to tow the line you had to paint this shit and nothing else. That’s why the Academy in Venice is full of these pictures of skeezy dudes perving on a virgin mother. This isn’t some mysterious fact; the main church in Venice makes clear (and so does the Hagia Sophia, which I also visited, it’s way cooler) that rich dudes at the time commissioned paintings of themselves with Jesus or Mary because it lifted their cachet. Jesus was a propaganda tool, and these pictures were propaganda. The reason they’re valuable to us now is a mixture of misplaced pride about the intensely misogynistic, genocidal origins of our modern culture, and awareness of the development of art history. But if you tried to paint similar pictures today and market them as art you’d probably end up in prison, or at least a controversial and/or laughable figure who produces weird stupid paintings of dubiously young women with dubiously old men pawing at them. This crap has been reduced to pr0n in the modern world.

There’s a reason for that; we’ve developed. We’re better than we used to be. It’s good to keep our crappy art around so we can see how our good art developed, and so we can understand just how horrible we were as a culture. But that doesn’t mean that the art is objectively anything except disgusting.

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Manta 07.29.16 at 4:43 pm

Anyway, you mentioned an imaginary fresco on a girl’s college depicting a rape. I told you what people of the time thought about an actual fresco in a chapel depicting naked people.

I think it was clear that I think the people of the time were censorious asshats: I leave as an exercise what I think about your arguments.

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faustusnotes 07.29.16 at 4:46 pm

Manta the point at issue here is what someone thinks now of a post-hoc fake crappy glass imprint of two slaves, in a building named after an advocate of slavery, long after the slaveholders showed themselves to be treasonous little bitches. If you think that piece of art is the same as, e.g. some piece of stained glass that Sherman destroyed back in 18-whatever, that depicted the same thing (but probably better, and definitely more authentically) then I think you’re either ignorant of art or disingenuous. This window was propaganda for treason and horror; the same window painted 200 years earlier would be historically valuable. Do you get the difference?

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Manta 07.29.16 at 4:53 pm

Last picture for the fun, faustus:
“But if you tried to paint similar pictures today and market them as art you’d probably end up in prison, or at least a controversial and/or laughable figure who produces weird stupid paintings of dubiously young women with dubiously old men pawing at them. This crap has been reduced to pr0n in the modern world.”

I suppose you have heard of it
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_D%C3%A9jeuner_sur_l%E2%80%99herbe

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Manta 07.29.16 at 4:57 pm

“BUT, I think this idea that art didn’t serve as propaganda back in the day is complete rubbish, it’s historically inaccurate and straight-out offensive. “

Please do tell who hold that position. (For that matter, why only “back in the day”?)

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novakant 07.29.16 at 5:26 pm

129

lol, Bow Wow Wow got in big trouble for their ‘version’ …

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bianca steele 07.29.16 at 5:28 pm

fn,

I kind of like the cow dude; maybe I’ll get around to writing the post I’ve been mulling on why, though yes, the money involved is problematic.

I don’t agree that all art is propaganda (Manta does seem to agree with you, I guess). You’re making a lot of assumptions about what art is, what religion is, etc., and you’ve changed the subject a whole bunch of times. Why does it matter why old men 500 years ago depicted themselves as Joseph with much-younger women as Mary? Why are we talking about whether Western art is in cahoots with Christendom to promote misogyny? I don’t think it matters much what the stained glass depicted. It was a window in a building and you just don’t break windows (we don’t actually see large numbers of people attacking art–one every few years is all). But what it did depict was a past, pastoral reality for the parents and grandparents of a good number of undergraduates, at the time it was put up and later. It was seen as a banal depiction of the way things were in the old days, in the always-seen-as-virtuous countryside. It doesn’t have much in common with Serrano or Hirst.

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Manta 07.29.16 at 5:43 pm

Oh, I maybe I misunderstood fn: I never meant that ALL art is (or was at a certain point) propaganda; nor I think that is what fn meant (but it may be that bianca understood it better).
Many works of art are also works of propaganda, though.

Anyway, the idea “this work is propaganda for an idea I don’t like, or depicts something that I find disturbing: thus, it’s OK to destroy it” is quite pernicious, and with the few links I posted to work of “disturbing” art should remind people why. We would be much poorer today, if we followed the action of Mr Manafee, or the ideas of faustusnotes.
Or better, we ARE much poorer today because people exposing the ideas of fn got to power far too many times, and found the Manafees willing to do the job of destructing humanity’s treasures.

136

Ogden Wernstrom 07.29.16 at 5:57 pm

“…this is closer to scribbling a Hitler mustache and devil horns on a portrait of Bush…”

Note to self: start GoFundMe account to make a replacement window featuring an alumnus, and donate that window to Yale.

137

Ronan(rf) 07.29.16 at 6:00 pm

My two cents: all art should be destroyed in mass rituals to cleanse our societies of historical perversions , except for piss Christ, which should become a site of mandatory pilgrimage.

138

Lawrence Stuart 07.29.16 at 6:31 pm

There are some interesting arguments that come out of this case. But distinguishing Corey Menafee from ISIS is really not one of them — the equation of the two is simply rhetorical hyperbole.

Anyway, one thing I do find interesting is the question of when, if ever, civil disobedience resulting in property damage is justified.

Let me make a case for Menafee. He is a citizen of the USA, a state founded on revolution against the legally constituted authority of the British Crown. The justification for this act of political violence was, among other things, the idea that “all men are created equal, and endowed with certain inalienable rights … ” etc. In other words, the act of revolution is justified by a promise — the new polity promises to treat its citizens as equals before it, and implied also is the promise that citizens should, in civil society at the very least, show one another the respect due to an equal.

The fact that this promise has not been kept, for many, many groups including black people, means there is a debt to the future that is outstanding. Some of the debt, by the abolition of slavery, the end of Jim Crow and the successes of the civil rights movement, etc., has been paid. But this payment does not render the remainder of the bill a trivial amount.

The police shootings in this terrible year have brought the issue of this debt back to the fore. The tension and conflict stem from a righteous anger at the failure of the American polity to live up to its own promises. That window in that college at that university was a sign of the failure to acknowledge the debt.

Smashing it was, literally, payback. And thus, within the very specific circumstances of American political life, an act of justified anger.

I’ve got a lot more to say about this, much of it equivocating this argument, but I’ll leave it here and see where this goes.

139

AcademicLurker 07.29.16 at 6:34 pm

I think Ronan(rf) in comment 135 has said pretty much everything that needs to be said here.

140

Salem 07.29.16 at 6:47 pm

It’s much easier to destroy than create.

We can’t just have everyone go around smashing everything they don’t like. Soon there will be nothing left. This is why we can’t have nice things. If you want to get rid of a work of art, you at least need the owner’s approval (or democratic approval if it’s publicly owned). I’m amazed at the pushback against Manta’s obvious common sense.

The vandal here regrets his actions and apologised. Good for him. It’s amusing that others are so willing to die on a hill that the perpetrator has long since abandoned.

141

Will G-R 07.29.16 at 9:06 pm

“The vandal here regrets his actions and apologised.”

Smarm is unwarranted, the “vandal” here is a low-wage employee for whom publicly expressing regret and apologizing allows him to resume drawing a paycheck. He may or may not sincerely regret his actions, but whether he publicly expresses regret tells us essentially nothing about whether he actually does.

142

William Pate 07.29.16 at 10:00 pm

On the subject of Calhoun . . .

My wife is a Bay Area liberal living in the Deep South for the first time — New Orleans.

The culture down here frightens here.

She went back and read through the family history her aunt collected and found — to her horror — that much of her family came from the South. A good bit of it from Benton County, Alabama, which was renamed Calhoun County after Benton turned out to be insufficiently pro-slavery.

Just had to share that.

143

Yama 07.29.16 at 10:34 pm

I like the window. If the dude had not smashed it, I would never have seen it. Streisand, call yer office.

I am pleased he has his job back, at least.

144

Yama 07.29.16 at 10:36 pm

Oh, I like the comment K’s link. The window should be replaced with piece depicting Menafee smashing it.

145

Art Deco 07.29.16 at 10:45 pm

Art Deco, none of the comments are parodies. Is that shit art? Just answer the question.

1. Yes it is art.

2. Telling me your remarks are in earnest is self-indicting. Cannot help you. Will press charges if you break anything of mine.

146

Art Deco 07.29.16 at 10:46 pm

What, is this nitpick day?

Whose nitpicking? It’s a misdemeanor. That’s why we have municipal courts.

147

Art Deco 07.29.16 at 10:48 pm

Seriously? You don’t believe it’s true?

What’s true? I asked you to put up or shut up.

148

Art Deco 07.29.16 at 10:51 pm

Smashing it was, literally, payback.

Only in the addled heads of people whose judgment is too impaired to be trusted with any responsibility. The window was the property of his employer and his employer had done him no injury known to anyone on this board.

149

kidneystones 07.30.16 at 12:10 am

@ 102 Oldster. You’re completely right on the artistic value of the window and to draw attention to the fact that it seems to have been put in place in the 1930s. Indeed, that’s what makes it so important. Nothing speaks quite as eloquently to the normality of bigotry and racism in everyday life as a lawn jockey, which is why these invaluable historical artifacts should be treated with the utmost respect.

The window, like the lawn jockey allows people to get a tactile sense of this ‘normal’ bigotry in ways that period books, newspapers, and other print records do not. Recall the abolitionists decision to commission the construction of a wood scale model of a slave ship that people could experience in three dimensions – as a physical object.

Bianca Steele @ 91 hits the nail. The window is an invaluable historical artifact and should at all cost be preserved. Yes, by all means erect a plaque visible to all with Mr. Menafee’s name featured prominently. Do not rename the building, but instead ensure that construction, naming, and funding for the building be set in its correct historical context – the 1930s – during a time when large segments of America’s elite were defiantly and openly racist and at a time when Standard Oil, Ford, and the Firestone company et al were benefiting from American colonialism. All individuals and process’s involved can be studied into an elective undergraduate course designed to educate and give current and future donors fits.

The controversy surrounding the Calhoun building and this window, as Corey notes, is as much about the present and future, as it is about the past. Preserve the history and use it.

150

Art Deco 07.30.16 at 1:00 am

The window, like the lawn jockey allows people to get a tactile sense of this ‘normal’ bigotry in ways that period books, newspapers, and other print records do not.

Not outside the static infested space between your ears. It’s a depiction of two people carrying cotton. Nothing more, nothing less. A lawn jockey is a goofy ornament, only offensive to people who elect to be offended.

151

Faustusnotes 07.30.16 at 1:15 am

To be clear (and I think I said this last night) I’m not in favor of breaking stuff as a form of political protest, even if the stuff is low grade propaganda. I would assume that everyone here accepts that sometimes political action necessitates breaking stuff, though, and monuments glorifying treason in defense of slavery would seem to be pretty clear candidates for that treatment.

I also don’t think all art is propaganda, although it usually, historically at least, has served to reproduce terrible moral ideas. However in this case the window is not art at all, it is commissioned propaganda. My point above was that propaganda does not deserve the same protection as art – we throw away nazi pamphlets, we don’t frame them. We ban advocacy for child pron, we don’t treat it the same as Renaissance kiddy pron. in this case the first responsibility of people who want to make this case about a attack on art rather than just a simple criminal damage case is to prove its actually art. It’s not art just because a rich racist commissioned it.

152

Lawrence Stuart 07.30.16 at 1:26 am

@147 Art Deco

Hey, this is fun! You do Creon and I’ll do Antigone.

My moral outrages trumps your formalistic justice!

But we know that story ends badly for both parties. How about an alternative — your law recognizes the debt I feel must be paid, and I recognize the legitimacy of the law and the necessity for the institutionalization of conflict?

153

kidneystones 07.30.16 at 1:31 am

@ 149 Let’s keep this civil, shall we.

I’ll gently remind that there isn’t a single art critic-theorist of any age, or any nation that I’m aware of who’d support any notion that the meaning of any cultural artifact is static/stable and not subject to context, audience, and is open to multiple interpretations.

J-L David, for example, erected mirrors opposite his paintings and charged admission, in part, so that people could place themselves among the figures depicted upon the canvas.

154

kidneystones 07.30.16 at 1:31 am

Should read ‘not open to multiple interpretations.’

Nap time.

155

J-D 07.30.16 at 2:37 am

Will G-R 07.29.16 at 9:06 pm
“The vandal here regrets his actions and apologised.”

Smarm is unwarranted, the “vandal” here is a low-wage employee for whom publicly expressing regret and apologizing allows him to resume drawing a paycheck. He may or may not sincerely regret his actions, but whether he publicly expresses regret tells us essentially nothing about whether he actually does.

Have you watched the clip of him being interviewed that I mentioned above? It’s clear he’s not expressing regret as a condition of getting his job back. I suppose it’s possible that he was expressing regret as a way of angling to get his job back, but it appears nothing like that to me. He maintains that his feelings were/are shared by many, but avers that breaking things is not the right way to seek change and he would never recommend it, that people should use their intellectual resources instead; it is obviously possible that he’s insincere, but I detect no signs of it.

156

Faustusnotes 07.30.16 at 5:07 am

Kidneystones, one of trumps gentler criticisms of Clinton is that she is “low energy” because she needs lots of naps. Just sayin’!

157

Ice 07.30.16 at 6:01 am

@Manta

158

Ice 07.30.16 at 6:15 am

I’m glad he broke the window. People should break more of those windows.

There’s no supremely granted right to property nor is the US legal system ordained by the laws of science. These are conveniences of civilization, and if the civilization is so screwed up that assholes name college buildings after racists, put up art celebrating their racist lives, and don’t really feel like changing it – those assholes deserve to have their windows broken, even if it’s “against the law”.

I’ve seen a couple people talk about what they “would have done” in the same circumstances. After a few decades on this planet, experience has taught me that “what people would have done” usually bears very little resemblence to what they actually do when confronted by a similar situation. I speak for myself as well, sadly enough.

And what makes those putative actions even less meaningful is that the people talking about this particular incident will NEVER be in that situation, because they haven’t spent much of their lifetime living as an underclass citizen and without the resources to challenge oppression.

I prefer the Mighty Mighty Bosstones sentiments – at least they express some uncertainty.

Have you ever been close to tragedy? Or been close to folks who have?
Have you ever felt the pain so powerful, so heavy you collapse?
I’ve never had to knock on wood, but I know someone who has.
Which makes me wonder if I could.
It makes me wonder if I’ve never had to knock on wood.
And I’m glad I haven’t yet because I’m sure it isn’t good,
That’s the impression that I get.

159

kidneystones 07.30.16 at 6:40 am

@ 155 You’ve been watching teh Donald, again. Bad you.

Don Jr. is going to gin up some more headlines for his Dad for a few days, and then his Dad will walk everything back to dominate the news cycle, again. Nate Silver has two interesting pieces on where things go from here.

As for me, it’s 30° plus in our space with gorgeous sunshine baking down. I love it. A nap is what normal people do during the hottest part of the day. Those ‘other’ people you claim to care about so much have strange, exotic names for the practice. Now, I’m just on my way out for a long run.

Try this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-6ruyZFfZs

160

Meredith 07.30.16 at 6:42 am

I stopped reading comments after a while because my blood was boiling. A Black dishwasher at Yale had to work under that abominable portrayal, day in day out, no doubt at a crummy wage. He lost it one day and stuck a broom handle through a window that should have been removed years ago to the museum, to be viewed by students studying the history of this country (and their own institution), or stained glass, or whatever — ideally, the window would have been preserved, for reasons like that. Yale could have arranged for that years ago, if it really gave a shit. It did not give a shit. Broom handle, please.

161

kidneystones 07.30.16 at 7:08 am

@ 159 When I worked in restaurants as a dishwasher/kitchen staff I got lunch. Others can describe better the heaven that is to clean tables and toilets at Yale, (again, both jobs I’ve done and value). Here’s what I could find out easily about the last contract for local 35, Mr. Menafee’s union: (your “Black dishwasher” is actually a person with a name. You know?)

“The new contracts, which will succeed current contracts expiring in January 2013, address all aspects of employment for the unions’ combined 4,700 members — from wages and health benefits to career development initiatives and local hiring programs, union officials said. UNITE HERE Locals 34 and 35 represent Yale’s technical, clerical and dining hall employees, and according to Michael Peel, the University’s vice president for human resources and administration, the new agreement’s 3 percent annual wage increases will put union pay above the 90th percentile of comparable jobs.”

Mr. Menafee destroyed university property whilst working at a job he’s very clearly happy to have. Yale is currently contesting parts of the contract with Locals 34 and 35. I’m sure all those laid-off employees and those about to lose their jobs wonder how many windows they’d have to break to regain secure employment. Mr. Menafee didn’t ‘lose it one day’ and he didn’t ‘need’ to break the window. He wants to go back to work in a building named after a racist oppressor Calhoun. So, I guess he’s managed to find a way to fight through the pain.

Because when a graduate with a communications degree is working as a dishwasher, the window and the name of the building really is the biggest problem Mr. Menafee and the rest of us face, isn’t it?

162

Ice 07.30.16 at 7:39 am

@kidneystones

Aah, so easy for you to dismiss someone else’s experience. It’s almost as if it’s something that could never happen to you! So maybe you don’t really understand someone else’s experience!

OTOH, if this really just boils down to laws and private property from your perspective, and you are unable to even contemplate why you are trapped in that paradigm – well, there’s probably not much point in responding to you.

163

kidneystones 07.30.16 at 9:46 am

@161 I’ll have to find a way to live with that. Wish me luck!

164

Manta 07.30.16 at 12:18 pm

I don’t particularly condemn the vandal: he expressed regrets for his action, and I am willing to defer to his employer’s judgement that he won’t do it again.

However, I am depressed in finding so many people justifying and encouraging vandalism against the “enemy” art du jour.
I should know better, since destruction of the memories of the past and of degenerate art is nothing new.

165

Manta 07.30.16 at 12:33 pm

“A Black dishwasher at Yale had to work under that abominable portrayal, day in day out, no doubt at a crummy wage. “

I suppose you would encourage a woman cleaner working at an art museum to destroy a “misogynistic” painting or two? Faustusnotes could give a list of possible targets from his trip to Venice, if you want.

166

Manta 07.30.16 at 12:40 pm

Or maybe you are willing to give extra protection to art which is safely hidden inside some museum. Would a Jew be justified in destroying this?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arch_of_Titus

167

AcademicLurker 07.30.16 at 1:17 pm

Manta@164: However, I am depressed in finding so many people justifying and encouraging vandalism against the “enemy” art du jour.

If middle aged academics can’t fantasize about how they’re totally down for smashing sh*t up, dude! on CT, where can they do it? You wouldn’t want to deny people their small pleasures, would you?

168

Sebastian H 07.30.16 at 2:57 pm

“There’s no supremely granted right to property nor is the US legal system ordained by the laws of science. These are conveniences of civilization, and if the civilization is so screwed up that assholes name college buildings after racists, put up art celebrating their racist lives, and don’t really feel like changing it – those assholes deserve to have their windows broken, even if it’s “against the law”.”

You realize that you sound quite a bit like Donald Trump here right?

169

faustusnotes 07.30.16 at 3:00 pm

And yet Manta, people don’t destroy misogynist art from long ago. It’s as if they understand the balance between its value, its artistic importance, and its shitty message. But in this case we have a crappy window that is so “artistic” that no one even knows the name of the person who made it. It’s not art – it’s kitsch propaganda paid for by rich old men who wanted to glorify treason.

170

Manta 07.30.16 at 3:18 pm

Don’t worry, fn, it’s quite clear that you are quite happy to destroy contemporary art (or at least, contemporary art that doesn’t fit your tastes). You even gave an explicit example:

“As for the piss-christ being art: yes, I’m aware of what a bunch of self-serving art critics think. The rest of us think it’s not art; simultaneously we think “hey ho! Look at that Serrano dude sticking it to a bunch of mediaeval narcissists”. Then someone smashes it and we think “fair dos, good thing it wasn’t art.”

But what about Meredith? and the other? do they share the conviction that degenerate art (as long as it’s not too old, or too “artsy”) can be happily destroyed by some random vandal that doesn’t like its message?

171

Anarcissie 07.30.16 at 3:26 pm

Manta 07.29.16 at 3:20 pm @ 98:
‘Anarcisse, you asked “How would you all like a window depicting people raping and dismembering children”: I linked a picture of a famous painting, in a church, depicting that: I did read your argument, and found it lacking’

I had not intended to reenter this rather futile discussion — there is no use arguing with liberals about the sanctity of property and the authority of state institutions — but I see that I might have been unclear. Above, I should not have said ‘depicting’ but ‘advertising’ or ‘celebrating’ or ‘promoting’. Or all three. That is what Yale does with resolute persistence by naming one of its residential colleges for John C. Calhoun, because John C. Calhoun was the great arch-advocate of slavery and White supremacy, and slavery and White supremacy, in the United States at least, have included among many other things raping and dismembering children. You could do anything you wanted to a slave as long as the slave was your property, or had the owner’s permission, and some of them did things like that. Now, if that window had been just some old dead stuff in a museum, there would be no need to attack it. But it isn’t. It’s the deliberate, considered activity of a powerful institution in a community still fighting over White supremacy and slavery. The window was part of that living struggle along with the whole ‘Calhoun College’ thing, not just ‘art’ in the liberal sense of something dead and stuck in a museum for the ruling class to view its powers and possessions through. I hope this breaks it down enough for you to grasp, but I am as pessimistic as my arguments are tedious.

172

Manta 07.30.16 at 3:39 pm

Triumphal arcs and statues are celebratory enough for you, Anarcisse?
How many would survive your criteria for deciding what stays and what gets demolished?
I linked to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arch_of_Titus, celebrating the destruction of the temple and the massacre of the rebels, for an example.
But you can also take the Rape of the Sabine as a theme.
Or the Crusades.

Yours is nothing more than special pleading: you particularly dislike the message, so deem the destruction of the art “celebrating” it justified.

173

Manta 07.30.16 at 3:40 pm

The distinction between “old dead stuff” (which get protection) and “art which is still relevant” (which can be freely destroyed) is particularly idiotic.

174

Mapper 07.30.16 at 3:52 pm

Anarcissie,

Is that what Calhoun is? The name really is one that is promoting, celebrating, advertising slavery? I’ve heard that same argument in Russia, where there is a view that because the Baltic states opposed their union with the Soviet Union, and some/many actively sided with the Nazis/Germans when the Soviet territory was captured during the War, anything that promotes an independent Baltic state is in fact promoting the aims of Nazis. I’ve been surprised how often I’ve heard that. Are you with the Russians who have this view, or do you support Nazis?

175

Anarcissie 07.30.16 at 4:12 pm

Manta 07.30.16 at 3:39 pm @ 172 and 173 —
OK, I give up. One clutches one’s pearls, the other casts them before swine.

Here’s a funny story about destroying art: Man Ray once pasted a photographic representation of Lee Miller’s eye on a metronome, and called it ‘Object To Be Destroyed’. (He was very angry with her, or maybe with himself.) It apparently sat around for years before it occurred to some students to go into the gallery where it was then residing, carry it off, and destroy it. Man Ray then made dozens of copies of it, for it was now notorious, and sold them at a good price, but now called ‘Indestructible Object’ I believe.

176

Manta 07.30.16 at 4:59 pm

I understood your argument Anarcisse, slavery was very very bad.

I’ve heard quite a few Scots have still bad feelings about this guy
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_William,_Duke_of_Cumberland

We should encourage them to destroy the monuments to him. Let’s start with this one:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_William,_Duke_of_Cumberland#/media/File:CumberlandObelisk.jpg

177

Manta 07.30.16 at 5:04 pm

This one cannot surely escape destruction
https://www.flickr.com/photos/23671090@N06/2659345279
(the M stands for Mussolini)

178

Manta 07.30.16 at 5:13 pm

There is a column in Chicago celebrating fascism: someone living nearby want to vandalize it?
http://chicago-outdoor-sculptures.blogspot.it/2009/04/balbo-monument.html

THIS COLUMN TWENTY CENTURIES OLD ERECTED ON THE SHORES OF OSTIA
PORT OF IMPERIAL ROME … FASCIST ITALY BY COMMAND OF BENITO MUSSOLINI etc.

179

Ice 07.30.16 at 5:21 pm

@Sebastian

I don’t happen to think that I sound like Donald Trump with that statement, but it’s not really relevant (“You breathe air? So did Hitler!”).

The statement is on its own merits. It is always oh so easy for those who benefit from a particular system of laws and customs to say “let’s all take it easy now and talk this over like reasonable people”.

Commenters on this thread (not all, of course, but more than one) have made this “point” about how Menafee’s actions were Against The Law. And part of what I’m opining is that being Against The Law is _not_, ipso facto, enough to condemn an action. Murder is Against The Law – and it’s really terrible. Personal use of marijuana is also Against The Law (in many states in this country), and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it (for the record, I myself don’t smoke weed).

Menafee is a member of a disempowered class in this country. For all its nods to political correctness, Yale (and the Ivy League schools write large) represents the core of male white privilege. The name of the school comes from a white man who made his fortune exploiting others (many who just happened to have a different skin tone…). It’s a power imbalance that exists every hour of every day of every week of every year for the last 400 years on this continent.

Menafee did not steal something of monetary value for himself to keep. He was not trying to cover up laziness. This is across the spectrum from individuals who are really just out to enrich themselves but cloak it as a political statement. He really did just destroy a window in anger.

And I think that anger, whether or not he repents it/regrets it now, is justifiable. It is not fair, nor just, nor moral that we live in a society that treats some members better than others strictly because of skin tone. It is an outrage every day.

It’s just a window. It doesn’t even belong to a person who saddens at the loss. Menafee probably inconvenienced a maintenance manager or something, but the idea that he’s caused someone immense harm is of course hyperbole. Yale has a few billions in its endowment, and enough of it has been made by ripping off the disenfranchised that it’s pathetic when anyone (see: kidneystones) acts as if some awful crime was committed. If the window had been broken by an errant baseball no tears would have been shed.

So yeah, I stick by my statement that you quote. You suggest there’s some sort of moral relativism at work here (“You sound like Donald Trump!!!”) but there really isn’t. Some systems are fairer than other; some laws are better than others; some customs are better than others. We all make our own judgments about this but there’s little that’s more obvious from history than that as long as nobody is ever willing to point out that an existing law/custom is wrong, nothing will ever change.

180

Art Deco 07.30.16 at 6:08 pm

And what makes those putative actions even less meaningful is that the people talking about this particular incident will NEVER be in that situation, because they haven’t spent much of their lifetime living as an underclass citizen and without the resources to challenge oppression.

Corey Menafee earns a living working in food service. There is no reason to believe he is anything but what he appears to be, an impecunious tertiary sector wage-earner, not a member of the ‘underclass’. As an employee of Yale, he likely does have medical insurance and a TIAA-CREF account. He was born in 1978 and is living in Connecticut; he appears to have had a period of residency in or around Richmond, Va. In the past, he’s had digs on Sherman Avenue, Sherman Parkway, and Sheffield Avenue. All are within walking distance from the Yale campus. The first two addresses are just over the border into the insecure sections of the city, the 3d is not.

His personal circumstances could be better than they are. He’s not ‘oppressed’ bar in the imagination of people who confuse their social fictions for the world around them.

181

Art Deco 07.30.16 at 6:12 pm

Menafee is a member of a disempowered class in this country.

A comfortable majority of the population has little ‘power’ over anything but their own household. Neither do they have leverage or immunities.

182

Sebastian H 07.30.16 at 6:30 pm

“Some systems are fairer than other; some laws are better than others; some customs are better than others. We all make our own judgments about this but there’s little that’s more obvious from history than that as long as nobody is ever willing to point out that an existing law/custom is wrong, nothing will ever change.”

I swear I heard the exact same argument from Christians about piss Christ and Mapplethorpe. You think that the similarity isn’t important, but if you can’t distinguish yourself from the Taliban I don’t see why I should either.

183

Ice 07.31.16 at 5:26 pm

@Sebastian – Two can play at that game!

I swear I read your exact same arguments from slavery apologists in the 1820s.

Am I reading you wrong? You’re saying that if this was the pre-Civil War South, and the incident was an enslaved black man trying to escape from a plantation, you’d say that the man acted wrongly? After all, he would be Breaking The Law, no? He can’t just go making up his own rules! Shit, he doesn’t even have rights – he’s property!

Is this fun with relativism? Or are you just an avowed authoritarian?

Yale is in the wrong. It doesn’t matter if they are a private institution. I am not talking about the law – sure, Yale has a legal right to name the building after an asshole racist, and they have the legal right to display the art that they did.

And yes, Menafee broke the Law when he broke the window.

But I’m talking about right and wrong. Do right-wing Christians believe that they are doing God’s work if they blow up abortion clinics? I’m sure they do. But they are wrong, and Menafee was in the right. If your retreat from the confusion of “he-said but then she-said” morality is to proclaim that ultimately it’s the rule of law that matters, then odds are very high you are in the class of people for whom the laws and customs of the contemporary US might be inconvenient, but don’t really affect your life all that much. I’m genuinely interested if you fall outside that category.

This is how things get changed. People make stands; people get fed up with bad actors. If you act like a racist all the time, then don’t be surprised when someone hits you in the face every now and then. You can retreat to your rules all you want, but as I said at the beginning – that’s your own construction, and there’s no physical rule (e.g. gravtiy) that obliges others to follow them. You need to convince your community that we all benefit from following them. You are doing a really poor job of convincing me.

@Art Deco

You are (intentionally? unwittingly?) making my point for me. It is DIFFERENT being a dark-skinned person in this country. Even if you happen to have a blue-collar job just like a lot of light-skinned people do. And unless you yourself are a person of color with some life experience, it is complete and utter bullshit for you to imagine that you are able to understand the effects of a lifetime of being treated as a lesser person.

Also – just because there are people who have it worse off than Menafee does not make it OK.

184

Art Deco 07.31.16 at 11:01 pm

You are (intentionally? unwittingly?) making my point for me.

I’m doing nothing of the kind, but if it helps you feel better to fancy I did, go with that. No skin off my nose.

It is DIFFERENT being a dark-skinned person in this country. Even if you happen to have a blue-collar job just like a lot of light-skinned people do. And unless you yourself are a person of color with some life experience, it is complete and utter bullshit for you to imagine that you are able to understand the effects of a lifetime of being treated as a lesser person.

As a human being, Corey Menafee does not exist for you. He’s just a point of departure for you to engage in pop-sociology. That’s a dopey self-aggrandizing exercise that does no one any good.

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ZM 08.01.16 at 3:10 am

Meredith,

“I stopped reading comments after a while because my blood was boiling. A Black dishwasher at Yale had to work under that abominable portrayal, day in day out, no doubt at a crummy wage. He lost it one day and stuck a broom handle through a window that should have been removed years ago to the museum…”

Yes it must have been really horrible for him day after day. One of the articles I read said Corey Menafee had gone to university at a college in Virginia that had a long and proud history educating emancipated slaves, so working at Yale with that college named after Calhoun and stained glass windows picturing slavery positively must have been really hard for him. One of the best universities not only in America but in the world, and it couldn’t even put stained glass windows picturing slavery favourably in a museum.

I think the what is art question is a bit of a detour. It isn’t about whether the stained glass window is art, its about whether the art is racial harassment at someone’s work place or place of education.

The issue is the racist favourable portrayal of slavery in the architecture of the current Yale campus. The art industry should be regulated like any other industry, there is nothing special about artists that make them too good to be regulated. You can’t have racism at work places, it was made illegal in the 1991 Civil Rights Act in the USA, and was possibly illegal before then but the case law seems to be rather muddy on the question up to the 1991 statutory law clarifying things.

The older brother of someone I went to school with recently put his own painting on exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. This was a pretty funny mix of painting and performance art.

https://youtu.be/hVR1U5ZcBgI

He put up a description of the work as well “We live in an age where monolithic cultural institutions no longer have a monopoly over the distribution of ideas,” the label he affixed next to his work reads. “Media that was once only accessible to a privileged few is now freely available to the masses, and direct action and self-publishing are now unprecedentedly possible. In Self-Fulfilment, the artist decides to install his own painting into the National Gallery of Victoria, bringing gasps of delight to the viewing public.”

It isn’t about whether the stained glass window is art, its about whether art is regulated, and art clearly is subject to regulation like any other product or industry. But from my own experience I think the regulations and governance of the art industry could be improved a good deal.

Architecture is an interesting art since it is public art. If you had a racist sky scraper you couldn’t put it in a museum very easily. But it is quite easy for Yale to take down racist stained glass windows to put in the museums and archives and replace them with other windows. Windows are easy to take out of buildings there is no problem with replacing them. And the same with the name, it is easy to replace a name on a building. Find a wealthy philanthropist that wants to remodel the building to take out all the racist stained glass windows and improve the building in some way and then name the college after him or her. This happens at universities all the time without any fuss, buildings get named after philanthropists.

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Meredith 08.01.16 at 6:28 am

As a classics prof, I think a lot about all the “art” that has been lost. It haunts me. (More the written texts, actually, but that’s me. And the music. I’d love to hear the music!) I also think about the contours of what has been preserved, and why…. Believe me, I am for saving all we can. BUT. Is “art” (god, what a strange word that has become) some end unto itself? The god arisen from the Englightenment death of god? No! Isn’t that obvious? Maybe because I am a musician (art!) rather than a visually oriented person (Art! cocktails in the atrium!), I value performance — people doing. (Btw, there are a lot of visually oriented people who are into like, performance. Architects here, by definition. Don’t want to turn this into a silly visual-v- aural thing or something.)

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Gerard MacDonell 08.01.16 at 2:34 pm

An important premise of much of the discussion in comments seems to be that there is an essential thing called “art” that we must understand. Then, after we have understood it, we can argue about what that understanding implies.

I think we could clarify — if not simplify– by just taking art out of the debate. For example, if art is important because it embodies beauty, freedom of expression, history or whatever, then argue about the importance of those atributes. And put them up against racial equality, working conditions, or whatever other values you might put into the balance. You could probably regress a few stages further too. For example, maybe you could argue about what beauty is. That is inconvenient, admittedly. But the world is complicated.

Using art as an absolute, an essence, a unique class, a trump card or however you want to put it may seem like a convenient bracketing. But it probably won’t convince anybody who does not already agree with you. Art is emergent in this context, I think.

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Anarcissie 08.01.16 at 2:48 pm

Mapper 07.30.16 at 3:52 pm @ 174:
‘Anarcissie, Is that what Calhoun is? The name really is one that is promoting, celebrating, advertising slavery?’

That’s what it means to me. What does it mean to you? How does the name of Calhoun function in a context where the effects of Negro slavery still weigh heavily upon us and White supremacy is still a living issue? Why does Yale desire this function to continue?

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