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The Shame of the Mural Censors — Why Art and History Matter

Victor Arnautoff's mural about George Washington is squarely on the side of the oppressed. The notion that today's adolescents need protection from history or reality is deeply patronizing.



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Arnautoff's murals are indictments of America's failings. They are not as dramatic or tragic as the Mexico City and Cuernavaca murals that Arnautoff helped Diego Rivera paint, full of armored, mounted conquistadores battling hand-to-hand with jaguar-costumed Aztecs wielding obsidian knives, or tortured, lashed Indians at the missions. Thus, they are more ambiguous in their sympathies to the casual viewer. They are on the side of the oppressed, however, while simultaneously giving Washington his due without sanctimoniously demonizing him for being of his time, not ours.

Thirdly and finally, the notion that adolescents are excessively delicate and need protection from reality and history is deeply repugnant and patronizing. Even the most temperate of the anti-muralists seems to assume that Americans are not able to handle the inconvenient truth that people do bad things to other people in the names of God, justice, empire, or mere self-interest. Arnautoff's stately mural, even with its hints of America's dirty hands, is no rival for the breathless farrago of mass shootings and abusive drivel that bombards us 24/7.

Remember H.G. Wells' bestial Morlocks and elfin Eloi from his novel The Time Machine? Given the challenges that we face today, we cannot afford a younger generation trained to accept virtuous passivity. We need revolutionaries with smarts and moxie, and considerable skill at critical thinking — not just in being unthinkingly critical as instructed at the latest Two Minutes Hate. 

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