Category: Art Activism

Heartfield, Badiucao and the Beijing Olympics

Screen grab from video showing Dutch reporter at Beijing Olympics dragged away by communist security.

Screen grab from video showing Dutch reporter at Beijing Olympics dragged away by communist security.

During the Feb. 4, 2022 opening of the Beijing Olympics, many people did not see footage of the Opening Ceremony. Instead they saw film of a red armband wearing communist security guard dragging away a Dutch reporter covering the event. It was the perfect glimpse of Olympic Games held by a totalitarian regime.

For at least a year Chinese dissidents and human rights activists around the world have called for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics hosted by the dictatorial Chinese Communist Party (CCP), I supported that call and the reasons are obvious. The CCP is the brutal colonial master of Tibet, it strangled democracy in Hong Kong, it carries out genocide against the Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region of China, and it threatens a full scale invasion of democratic Taiwan. The CCP unashamedly denies free speech, a free press, and free elections to the people of China. It persecutes Christians and other faiths with impunity, and relentlessly jails untold thousands of dissidents.

The CCP unleashed Covid-19 upon the world—intentionally or not, by locking down all domestic air traffic internally by the end of Jan. 2020, while keeping air flight travel open to foreign destinations until the end of March, 2020. Thousands of unsuspecting Chinese tourists undoubtably infected with Covid, flew to Western cities; Rome, Madrid, Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles.

And let us not forget that the Chinese Communist Party massacred 1000’s of unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989; since then the CCP has only grown more despotic. The CCP runs the most advanced surveillance system in the world, outdoing anything George Orwell wrote about in his novel, 1984. The CCP uses millions of facial recognition cameras all across China to identify individuals, read their emotions, and monitor their every move. Other high-tech tools intercept smartphones, giving the CCP complete access to everything on a phone. These invasive technologies are now focused on the Olympic athletes from 90 nations who came to Beijing.

As an artist I take special notice of the shameful conditions hoisted upon my fellow artists under CCP rule. Those who criticize communism find themselves in grave danger, Ai Weiwei is a good example. Lauded by the Western art world, China’s controlled media regards Ai Weiwei as little more than a criminal. The regime tenaciously attacked him, threatened his life and wellbeing, bulldozed his studio, arrested and imprisoned him without charges, conjured trumped-up charges of tax evasion against him, and seized his passport—forbidding him overseas travel. When the CCP eventually issued him an international passport he fled his homeland to relocate in Berlin, Germany.

China’s National Stadium, the “Bird Nest Stadium.” Photo: Gilgamesh, Creative Commons.

China’s National Stadium, the “Bird Nest Stadium.” Photo: Gilgamesh, Creative Commons.

Because the persecuted Ai Weiwei has become a non-person in Communist China, it is indeed a great irony that he was the artistic consultant behind the design of Beijing’s National Stadium, the “Bird Nest Stadium,” where the Beijing Olympics are being held. On Feb. 2, 2022, Japan’s Kyodo News conducted an interview with Ai Weiwei, who expressed sorrow that the CCP is using his Bird Nest design for propaganda purposes. Ai noted that Joe Biden’s diplomatic boycott was “meaningless” and “wouldn’t have any effect at all, whether on China or on Western society.”

Joe Biden announced that his administration would conduct a “diplomatic boycott” of the Beijing Olympics, meaning, he will send US athletes to compete in the games, but he will not send an official US delegation. The initial response from the Chinese Communist Party was a belly laugh. Hu Xijin, the chief editor of the CCP mouthpiece Global Times, stated: “Why the fuss? If US officials don’t come, let it be. China didn’t invite them anyway. Only super narcissistic people will regard their absence as a powerful boycott.”

Soon after the CCP issued a more ominous statement through its Foreign Ministry: “Out of ideological bias and based on lies and rumors, the US is trying to disrupt the Beijing Winter Olympics. This will only expose its sinister intention and further erode its moral authority and credibility. The wrong move of the US has undermined the foundation and atmosphere for China-US sports exchanges and Olympic cooperation. It has shot itself in the foot. The US should understand the grave consequences of its move.”

Which brings me back to the subject of the CCP Olympics and my focus on two artists, the German John Heartfield (1891-1968) and the Chinese Badiucao—exiled from China and now living in Australia. Both reacted strongly to the distortion of the Olympics by tyrants, and left us artworks documenting the savagery of the strongmen.

John Heartfield was one of the first to successfully use photomontage as a means of artistic communication. A type of collage made by merging dissimilar photos together to form a narrative, it was a medium Germany’s anti-art Dadaist movement had been toying with. In 1916 Helmut Franz Josef Herzfeld anglicized his name to John Heartfield as a protest against the anti-British sentiment then sweeping Germany. In 1917 Heartfield joined Berlin’s Club Dada, a notorious brood known for inciting provocative aesthetic disruptions. In 1918 Heartfield would join the newly founded Communist Party of Germany.

Heartfield is best remembered for the photomontages he created for Berlin’s Workers Illustrated Newspaper, a hard-left magazine published between 1924 and 1933. By 1930 it became the most widely read socialist pictorial newspaper in the country, with over 350,000 readers. George Grosz, Käthe Kollwitz, and playwrights George Bernard Shaw and Maxim Gorki contributed to the paper. The final issue of Workers Illustrated Newspaper published in Germany came out on March 5, 1933, as Hitler was consolidating his grip on power. The Nazi SS raided Heartfield’s Berlin studio in 1933, he escaped by leaping from his balcony to make his way to Czechoslovakia on foot. The publication also moved to Czechoslovakia where its readership fell to 12,000. When the Nazis invaded and occupied that country in 1939, the publication fled to Paris, France. When the Nazis invaded Paris on June 14, 1940, the paper ceased publication.

"Program of the Berlin Olympics 1936." John Heartfield’s graphic from the Nov. 1935 special Olympic edition of the Workers Illustrated Newspaper (Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung).

"Program of the Berlin Olympics 1936." John Heartfield’s graphic from the Nov. 1935 special Olympic edition of the Workers Illustrated Newspaper (Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung).

In the postwar period Heartfield, still a loyal communist, moved to Stalinist East Berlin where he died on April 26, 1968. Whatever one may think of Heartfield’s communist politics, his stridently anti-Nazi works are historic for documenting and condemning the rise of Hitler and Germany’s slide into barbarism. Regrettably, some of his works remain all too relevant today, like his bitter parody poster Program of the Berlin Olympics 1936, published in the Nov. 1935 issue of Workers Illustrated Newspaper. The newspaper was smuggled into Germany from Czechoslovakia.

Program of the Berlin Olympics 1936 mocked the Nazi Olympiad by illustrating fictional Nazi sporting events to be held in Berlin’s newly constructed Olympic Stadium. It is hard to imagine the type of courage it took to publish, distribute, and possess the satiric graphic. Workers Illustrated Newspaper featured it as a centerfold poster. Under its bold headline the poster featured eight excruciating photomontage images. I will feature two of those graphics in this essay.

“Ax Swinging.” John Heartfield. Photomontage, 1935.

“Ax Swinging.” John Heartfield. Photomontage, 1935.

Ax Swinging depicted black robed judges hurling axes. After Hitler took power in 1933, the nazification of the justice system began. Professionals involved in jurisprudence were required to join the National Socialist League of German Jurists. One of the first antisemitic laws passed by the Nazis banned Jewish lawyers, judges, and other professionals from joining the court system. Those not aliened with the Nazi party were excluded from the League. Dissidents, political opponents, Christians, Jews, ethnic minorities and others faced arbitrary arrest, torture, imprisonment in concentration camps, and extermination at the hands of the Nazi police state, and the courts were part of the death machine.

Given that the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China describes the country as “a socialist state under the people’s democratic dictatorship,” the Chinese Communist Party clearly is in control of jurisprudence. Today it is China’s police state that conducts endless mass surveillance of the people. Dissidents, political opponents, Christians, Muslims and others face arbitrary arrest, torture, and imprisonment in concentration camps run by the CCP.

“Spear Throwing.” John Heartfield. Photomontage, 1935.

“Spear Throwing.” John Heartfield. Photomontage, 1935.

Spear Throwing depicts Hermann Göring chucking a spear at the crucified Christ.  Immediately after seizing power in 1933, Hitler and the Nazis began persecuting Christians and Catholics. At the time two thirds of Germans were Protestant and one third were Catholic. Believing the church was a threat to their absolute control, the Nazis began the Kirchenkampf (church struggle), a campaign to absorb and nazify Christian churches, and suppress churches that resisted.

The Nazis established the German Evangelical Church (Deutsche Evangelische Kirche or Reichskirche), which replaced the Bible with Hitler’s Mein Kampf and substituted the Christian cross with the swastika. By 1936 the Nazis began taking down Christian cross in all churches, Christian prayers were being replaced with Nazi sanctified pagan rituals. Churches, monasteries, convents, and religious schools were closed. Many priests were assassinated by the Nazis. Thousands of Christian and Catholic clergy, nuns, and monks were arrested and sent to concentration camps. By 1940 the Nazis had established a barracks at Dachau concentration camp to hold clergymen, there were 2,720 of them; the overwhelming majority were Roman Catholics.

Xinhua, official news agency of the Chinese Communist Party, reported that President Xi Jinping addressed a National Religious Affairs Meeting on Dec. 4, 2021. He said religious leaders must push “efforts to keep enhancing the recognition of the motherland, the Chinese nation, the Chinese culture, the Chinese Communist Party, and socialism with Chinese characteristics among religious personages and believers.” It was also reported that Xi “demanded efforts to rally vast religious believers around the Communist Party and government,” and that Chinese Christian churches must “cultivate core socialist values.”

The Chinese Communist Party has torn down churches and confiscated Bibles, and it has removed crosses from thousands of church steeples. President Xi has directed the Communist Party to “resolutely guard against overseas infiltrations via religious means.” The faithful are required to attend government registered churches where sermons are edited by the CCP. As a result millions of Christians attend underground unregulated churches—which the authorities consider “illegal.” The communists are waging a war against China’s 100 million Christians. In other words the CCP is waging its own Kirchenkampf, with Chinese characteristics of course.

After creating his Program of the Berlin Olympics 1936, Heartfield created two more photomontage works on the subject of the Nazi Olympics, the 1936 Berlin Summons to the Olympic Games, and Come And See Germany! These were published respectively by Workers Illustrated Newspaper in June and July 1936, just weeks before the August 1, 1936 Opening Ceremony of the Nazi Olympics.

john_heartfield_olympiade

"Berlin Summons to the Olympic Games." John Heartfield. Photomontage, 1936.

Berlin Summons to the Olympic Games depicted a bone breaking meat cleaver with a small embossed swastika emblazoned on its bloody, scarred blade. The Nazi axe is entwined with the iconic five interlaced rings that are the symbol of the Olympics. At bottom of the poster are the words: “Reply to this summons: the Olympics special issue of AIZ next week (AIZ being short for Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung, the German for the Workers Illustrated Newspaper).

The original Olympic symbol was first presented in 1913, the icon was meant to represent the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world. With his 1938 graphic Heartfield was desperately saying Hitler had turned the dream of the Olympics into a nightmare, an obfuscation for carnage and holocaust. In retrospect, Heartfield was absolutely correct. With what we now know about the outrageous bloody crimes committed by the Nazi regime, does anyone today think it was a good idea the US participated in Hitler’s charade? Let me reframe the question, who thinks it is a good idea to participate in the Beijing Olympics, hosted by the Chinese Communist Party as it actively engages in committing genocide?

“Olympic Guests - Forward March!” John Heartfield. Photomontage, 1936.

“Olympic Guests - Forward March!” John Heartfield. Photomontage, 1936.

Come And See Germany! was published by Workers Illustrated Newspaper in a special edition assailing Hitler’s 1936 Olympics. The edition featured a two-page map that showed the location of Nazi prisons, torture centers, and concentration camps located throughout Germany. Come And See Germany! was an especially savage attack. It featured Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels leading international athletes with a leash attached to the Olympic rings in their noses. The text was in English and German, with the bottom portion reading: “The point of it all… Olympic Guests — forward march!”

Goebbels was Hitler’s most loyal follower. He joined the Nazi Party in 1924 and soon became leader of its Berlin branch. In 1926 Goebbels called Berlin “the reddest city in Europe besides Moscow” (I covered this period in my essay The Truth About Babylon Berlin). When given control over the Nazi SA (Storm Detachment) and the SS (Protection Squadron), he succeeded in nazifying Berlin by intimidation, riot, and murder. He played a key role in planning the 1936 Olympics, and in 1937 organized the Degenerate Art Exhibit (see my essay Paul Fuhrmann’s “War Profiteer”). But Goebbels was born with a deformed right foot and had to wear a metal brace and a special shoe on his shortened leg in order to walk. Heartfield gleefully depicted the right foot of Goebbels as cloven hoofed, a blunt way of saying Goebbels was Satanic.

Despite Heartfield’s failings, his anti-Nazi photomontage works were a heroic effort to inform the uninformed about the jackbooted thugs who would launch genocide in Germany, but who would also eventually drown the world in blood. Heartfield’s powerful voice was barely heard in the United States; few listened, even fewer acted. However, the American cartoonist Jerry Doyle was one of those who got John Heartfield’s message.

“The Modern Mercury.” Editorial cartoon by Jerry Doyle, Dec. 7, 1935.

“The Modern Mercury.” Editorial cartoon by Jerry Doyle, Dec. 7, 1935.

Jerry Doyle was a leading US political cartoonist whose works appeared in the Philadelphia Record and the Philadelphia Daily News from the 1930s to the early 1980s. Doyle was a working class Irish-Catholic aligned with the Democratic Party. He was an anti-communist classical liberal, the kind not found today. He was one of the very first American cartoonists to attack German fascism and Hitler’s rise. In his cartoon The Modern Mercury, Doyle lambasted the idea of an Olympiad hosted by Hitler and his Nazi regime.

The Modern Mercury cartoon depicts the shadow of Mercury—messenger of the gods, in the background bearing the label: “Olympic ideals of sportsmanship and international good will.” The foreground image depicts Adolph Hitler as a torch bearing athlete carrying a banner reading “Intolerance and discrimination.” His sports jersey reads “1936 Olympics.” Instead of Mercury’s caduceus, Hitler carries a shaft decorated with a swastika upon which a poisonous snake has wrapped itself. Published a year before the German Olympics, the cartoon appeared in The Philadelphia Record, Dec 7, 1935. Imagine such a cartoon rebuking the 2022 Beijing Olympics being published in a liberal newspaper today!

On Feb. 3, 2022, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), testified at the Congressional Executive Commission on China regarding human rights abuses in China. Pelosi told the hearing: “I would say to our athletes, you’re there to compete–do not risk incurring the anger of the Chinese government because they are ruthless. I know there is a temptation on the part of some to speak out while they are there. I respect that, but I also worry about what the Chinese government might do to their reputations, to their families.”

Madame Speaker enunciated the very reason why the US should have boycotted the Beijing Olympics—the ruthlessness of the Chinese Communist Party. Its abhorrence of democratic governance and its merciless oppression of the Chinese people; its pitiless cruelty toward Tibet and Hong Kong. Its truculence regarding Taiwan, its heavy-handed ill will towards Christians, and its barbarous treatment of the Uyghur Muslims.

But Madame Speaker’s advice to US athletes is exactly what the Chinese Communist Party wants to hear—a high ranking US politician saying that we should fear the power of the People’s Republic of China. When have Americans ever been told not to spit in the face of tyrants? To the CCP Pelosi’s words were an expression of weakness and faintheartedness, they were no doubt emboldened by her utterances.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts) who leads the Congressional Executive Commission on China, said this about the Beijing Olympics: “If given a choice, I believe no athlete would want to compete in a country committing genocide and crimes against humanity. But that is what they are forced to do because of the feckless IOC and its corporate sponsors.”

Representative McGovern is wrong, US athletes were not forced to participate because of the “feckless IOC and its corporate sponsors.” They participate because President Quid pro Joe simply decided not to boycott the games. We wouldn’t want to incur “the anger of the Chinese government” now would we? If the United States had withdrawn from the Beijing Olympics, it would have set an example for other nations to follow. Instead Biden handed communist China—the biggest violator of human rights in the entire world, an enormous propaganda victory. Is that Build Back Better?

Detail of Badiucao graphic depicting China’s dictator Xi Jinping conjuring up the ghost of Chairman Mao Zedong (1893-1976), founding member of the Chinese Communist Party.

Detail of Badiucao's graphic depicting China’s dictator Xi Jinping conjuring up the ghost of Chairman Mao Zedong (1893-1976), founding member of the Chinese Communist Party.

Last but not least is the Chinese artist named Badiucao. He was born in  Shanghai, China in 1986. Pushed into exile by the Chinese Communist Party, he now lives in Australia. He has gone through great personal risk to openly defy the CCP with his art. His graphics, largely created with digital media like photoshop, are clean and crisp with bright bold colors—they are more akin to editorial cartooning and 60‘s style modernist advertisements than fine art. But there is something oddly reminiscent about his graphic approach; it possesses a faint aesthetic link to the work of some German Expressionists from the 1930s and 1940s. It also hints at the propaganda posters of China’s Cultural Revolution, albeit with heaps of sardonic humor.

In 2021 Badiucao received the Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent. The award is given to those “who exhibit bravery, creativity, and artistic innovation in standing up against dictatorships.” Havel was the Czech dissident playwright that played a substantial role in bringing down Czechoslovakia’s Soviet satellite regime during the Velvet Revolution of 1989 (you can read about Havel’s involvement in the revolution at the end of my essay, Toppling Rock Icons like Confederate Statues). At the 2021 award ceremony Badiucao delivered a moving public address that everyone should listen to.

“Resistance.” Digital media. Badiucao.

“Resistance.” Digital media. Badiucao.

I discovered Badiucao’s art when closely watching the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong that took place in 2019 and 2020. The artist created wonderfully provocative street art that extolled the demonstrators and lambasted the CCP-aligned police for crushing the Hong Kongers. One of Badiucao’s digital images that caught my eye was titled Resistance. Like many of the artist’s graphics it has a minimalist aesthetic, but also undertones of classical Chinese graphic art.

Resistance depicts a protestor in a yellow raincoat, wearing a construction helmet and gas mask, carrying a yellow umbrella and lobbing back a police tear gas canister; the design is a stunning abstraction. Hong Kong protestors wore raincoats and carried umbrellas to protect themselves from the pepper spray and tear gas of the CCP-aligned police. Umbrellas were also used to prevent being identified by the over 50,000 closed circuit television cameras that surveil Hong Kong. The color scheme of the artwork is yellow to honor of the pro-democracy activist Marco Leung, 35. On June 15, 2019, wearing a yellow raincoat, Leung was hanging an anti-CCP banner on the 4th floor of a building when he fell to his death; yellow became the color of the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement.

“Boycott Mulan.” Digital media. Badiucao. 2020.

“Boycott Mulan.” Digital media. Badiucao. 2020.

Another of my favorite Badiucao graphics is Boycott Mulan. He made the digital artwork to support the boycott campaign aimed at Disney’s 2020 live action Mulan—a remake of the studio’s 1998 animated Mulan film. Boycott Mulan was a simple graphic with a complex message. The first thing one thinks of is “Tank Man.”

He was the hero who stopped a column of communist army tanks on their way to Tiananmen Square after the “People’s Liberation Army” (PLA) massacred thousands of pro-democracy activists in the square. But Badiucao gave Tank Man a yellow umbrella, a subtle message that the same brigands who crushed liberty in Tiananmen Square would do the same thing in Hong Kong.

In Badiucao’s Boycott Mulan the tank driver is not a PLA soldier, but the warrior princess from Disney’s 1998 animated Mulan. She waves her sword and scolds the Hong Konger Tank Man. At the height of Hong Kong’s protests when CCP-aligned police were brutally beating demonstrators, Liu Yifei, who played Mulan in the live action film, posted to China’s Weibo social media platform: “I support the Hong Kong police.” People’s Daily—the official mouthpiece of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, republished her remark. Liu Yifei’s co-star Donnie Yen, who played Commander Tung in the live action Mulan, shared tweets calling the Hong Kong protestors “terrorists.” Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement immediately called for a boycott of the live action Mulan, and Badiucao created his graphic in support.

But there is one more twist to Badiucao’s Boycott Mulan. Disney choose to film its live action Mulan in China’s Xinjiang province, the same area where the CCP has interned some one million Uyghur Muslims in concentration camps where they are subjected to torture and forced labor. In the camps Uyghur women are made to endure forced abortion and sterilization by the hundreds of thousands—in other words, cultural genocide. Making matters worse, in the credits of their live action Mulan film, Disney thanked the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda department of Xinjiang province for allowing the studio to film in the region!

Disney Studio is not the only US film company that colludes with the CCP. In 2020 Pen America published an extensive, eye-opening report titled Made in Hollywood, Censored by Beijing. It detailed the CCP’s influence over the US film industry, and how US movie studios submit to communist censors in order to gain assess to China’s huge box office market. Here are two quotes from the report:

“As US film studios compete for the opportunity to access Chinese audiences, many are making difficult and troubling compromises on free expression: changing the content of films intended for international—including American—audiences; engaging in self-censorship; agreeing to provide a censored version of a movie for screening in China; and in some instances directly inviting Chinese government censors onto their film sets to advise them on how to avoid tripping the censors’ wires. These concessions to the power of the Chinese market have happened mostly quietly, with little attention and, often, little debate.”

“Beijing has sent a clear message to the filmmaking world, that filmmakers who criticize China will be punished, but that those who play ball with its censorship strictures will be rewarded. The Chinese Communist Party, in fact, holds major sway over whether a Hollywood movie will be profitable or not—and studio executives know it. The result is a system in which Beijing bureaucrats can demand changes to Hollywood movies—or expect Hollywood insiders to anticipate and make these changes, unprompted—without any significant hue or cry over such censorship.”

It should also be mentioned that US companies Airbnb, Intel, Visa, Procter & Gamble, and Coca-Cola are official sponsors of the 2022 Beijing Olympics; by doing so they became apologists for the human rights abuses committed by the Chinese Communist Party.

Badiucao and I definitely have one thing in common, a deep and abiding respect for the German Expressionist artist Käthe Kollwitz. Both of us were profoundly influenced by the social realism of Kollwitz. I was blessed to visit the Käthe Kollwitz Museum Köln in Germany some years ago, taking in the massive collection was the thrill of a lifetime. While I veer closer to Kollwitz in terms of my commitment to figurative realism in painting, drawing, and prints, Badiucao has absorbed Kollwitz’s artistic philosophy that art should also tell the story of common people. As Badiucao has put it, art can be “a voice for the voiceless.”

And so this article comes full circle with an examination of what I believe is Badiucao’s most important work, a suite of five digital drawings titled Beijing 2022. I consider his suite comparable to John Heartfield’s photomontage works against the 1936 Berlin Olympics hosted by Adolph Hitler and the Nazis. This is certainly true on a historic level. With extremely dark acerbic humor, Heartfield and Badiucao captured consequential events with their images. They exposed the truth behind Olympic games hosted by dictators. Heartfield’s conceptions were foreboding portents of a conflagration that actually came to be. I have the terrible feeling that Badiucao’s Beijing 2022 is a harbinger for the disaster that looms on the horizon. Friends, there is still time… but the hour is getting late.

This article will close with an examination of Badiucao’s five digital drawings from the Beijing 2022 suite; Snowboard, Curling, Hockey, Skating, and Biathlon.

“Snowboard - Beijing Olympics 2022.” Image courtesy of Badiucao.

“Snowboard - Beijing Olympics 2022.” Image courtesy of Badiucao.

Snowboard, like all five drawings in Badiucao’s Beijing 2022 suite, is reminiscent of an old fashion travel poster that attracts tourists to a fun filled destination. At first glance the blue color scheme and swirling snow design promises a winter wonderland, and the energetic stance of the snowboarder hints at exciting winter sports… then you notice the surveillance camera.

More than half of all surveillance cameras in the world are found in China, and the CCP uses biometric surveillance cameras with facial recognition software to identify and track their citizens. The CCP also uses advanced technologies to hijack smartphones, giving them total access to all information on an individual’s cell phone.

Amassing personal information on China’s people enables the CCP to expand its already extensive “social credit system” (SCS), which rank’s an individual’s behavior with points. By examining online activity, corporate records, court documents, shopping habits, surveillance, and cellphone records, the CCP adds or subtracts points from a person’s SCS. Those with high scores are placed first for jobs and university enrollment, receive discounts on air travel and hotels, are given loans with ease, and other perks. Those with low scores are denied employment and entry into universities, are given slow internet speeds and flight bans, and are punished in other ways. Needless to say, dissidents are blacklisted. Welcome to the “People’s Republic.”

The funny thing is, the Beijing Winter Olympics will be using 100% artificial snow produced by 300 snow-cannons and more than 100 snow generating machines. On Feb. 1, 2022 NASA released some revealing images taken from its Landsat 8 satellite. The photos show China’s Winter Olympic zones as dry arid terrain, but Olympic venues are covered in snow. An estimated two million gallons of water—or 800 Olympic size swimming pools, were used to create the fake snow. And why not, everything else about the Genocide Olympics is artificial.

“Curling - Beijing Olympics 2022.” Image courtesy of Badiucao.

“Curling - Beijing Olympics 2022.” Image courtesy of Badiucao.

Curling is an Olympic ice sport where athletes use long handled curling brooms to sweep 44 pound polished granite stones over the ice towards a target known as a house. A curling stone has a handle on top that allows a player to grip and rotate the stone on release, making the stone uniquely turn or “curl.” Historically the game came from Scotland, was played with brooms, and dates back to the 1500’s. One of my favorite Renaissance artists, the Dutch Pieter Bruegel the Elder, created a beautiful oil painting in 1565 he titled Hunters in the snow. In that immense landscape, one can see the detail of three men playing curling on a frozen pond. By 1880 curling was a well established game with rules and it first entered the Olympics in 1924.

In Badiucao’s Curling, the artist has replaced the polished granite stone with the now iconic image of the Covid-19 virus. The CCP athlete has just released the virus, sending it curling over the ice to its target… you.

“Hockey - Beijing Olympics 2022.” Image courtesy of Badiucao. “Ask the Dalai Lama in the hills of Tibet, how many monks did the Chinese get?”

“Hockey - Beijing Olympics 2022.” Image courtesy of Badiucao. “Ask the Dalai Lama in the hills of Tibet, how many monks did the Chinese get?”

Hockey depicts a hockey player assaulting a Tibetan monk, whose blood has splattered across the player’s face shield. It is easy to imagine the player as a stand-in for a communist soldier of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The image is a striking metaphor for China’s oppression of Tibet. The CCP seized control of Tibet in 1950 in what they call “the Peaceful Liberation.” Since then Tibetans have struggled for freedom while Beijing has done everything it can to destroy Tibet’s traditions and culture, with the goal of absorbing the region.

I remember the pro-independence Tibetan uprising of 1987 and 1989—it started off small but quickly grew in size as it spread throughout Tibet. In March 1989 monks, nuns, and laypeople gathered in Tibet’s capital of Lhasa to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1959 uprising.

PLA soldiers fired at them killing 11 and wounding 100. Riots exploded as the CCP called a state of emergency and expelled foreign journalists. The PLA is said to have killed nearly 400 Tibetans. The international Free Tibet movement was born in the aftermath. I recall seeing hundreds of FREE TIBET bumper stickers in Los Angeles during that time, what happened to the concern for Tibet? Where are those bumper stickers today?

And so it goes, Tibetans continue to resist and the CCP continues to repress. In the first week of Feb 2022, Tibetans protested the Genocide Games in Beijing. They marched on the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee in Switzerland and held protests in Los Angeles, California and New Delhi, India. In 1980 the UK punk rock band The Clash performed their song Washington Bullets, it contained the lyrics: “Ask the Dalai Lama in the hills of Tibet, how many monks did the Chinese get?” That question still cannot be answered.

“Skating - Beijing Olympics 2022.” Image courtesy of Badiucao.

“Skating - Beijing Olympics 2022.” Image courtesy of Badiucao.

Skating shows a CCP athlete skating across the symbol that represents the city of Hong Kong—the flower of the Hong Kong Orchid Tree (Bauhinia blakeana). In the graphic the bleeding flower has been sliced to ribbons; the skater has its blood on the blades of his skating boots. Once a colony of the British Empire, the UK returned the city to China in 1997. Hong Kong then developed independently as one of the most prosperous cities on earth, and until recently the CCP cautiously tolerated the autonomy of their “special administrative region.”

After Hong Kongers staged pro-Democracy protests in 2019-20, communist China cracked down and imposed a punishing “National Security Law” that strips Hong Kong of its independence and freedoms. Now, Hong Kongers convicted of wrong think… activists, artists, journalists and many others, are being convicted and extradited to mainland China in numbers not seen before.

The Hong Kong Orchid Tree originated in Hong Kong and can grow up to 40 feet high. With leaves shaped like a butterfly or heart, Hong Kongers think the leaf a symbol of wisdom. The tree’s orchid-like blossoms are purplish red and pink; the flowers are so impressive one appears on the flag of Hong Kong—though depicted in white on a red background. Badiucao’s Skating is a poetic-like image that tells of liberty being crushed in Hong Kong as an indifferent world turns a blind eye.

Biathlon was developed in Scandinavian countries during the 18th century as a military exercise; an exhausting combination of cross-country skiing and marksmanship with heavy caliber bolt-action rifles. It was officially included in the 1960 Winter Olympics held in Squaw Valley, California. In 1978 the rules were standardized to use 8 pound rifles that fired .22 LR cartridges.

Badiucao’s most shocking image from his Beijing 2022 series is Biathlon, a metaphorical depiction of an unfolding genocide. It shows a Chinese communist Biathlete aiming a rifle at a Uyghur Muslim, who is wrapped in the colors of the East Turkestan flag—the banner that has come to represent the Uyghur people.

“Biathlon - Beijing Olympics 2022.” Image courtesy of Badiucao.

“Biathlon - Beijing Olympics 2022.” Image courtesy of Badiucao.

When the communists took control of China in 1949, they folded East Turkestan into their newly founded People’s Republic of China. The CCP refers to this as the “Peaceful Liberation of Xinjiang,” In 1955 they named the area the “Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.” The problem is the great majority of people in China are Han Chinese, this is reflected in China both culturally and linguistically; as for religion, the CCP thoroughly discourages it. The Uyghurs however are Turkic culturally, ethnically, and linguistically; they practice Islam. The CCP’s current policies regarding the Uyghur people have became absolutely maniacal. A 2018 report from the US Congress Commission on China put it this way:

“Uyghurs and other primarily Muslim ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have been subjected to arbitrary detention, torture, egregious restrictions on religious practice and culture, and a digitized surveillance system so pervasive that every aspect of daily life is monitored—through facial recognition cameras, mobile phone scans, DNA collection, and an extensive and intrusive police presence. There are credible reports that as many as a million people are or have been detained in what are being called ‘political reeducation’ centers, the largest mass incarceration of an ethnic minority population in the world today.”

A 2020 report by China expert Adrian Zenz targets “the CCP’s campaign to suppress Uyghur birthrates in Xinjiang” through sterilizations, IUDs, and mandatory birth control. In an interview conducted by NPR and broadcast on July 4, 2020, Zenz noted that “the suppression of birth” is one of the “five criteria set forth by the United Nations Convention for the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide.” The full report by Mr. Zenz can be read on the Jamestown Foundation website.

The International Olympic Committee should never have picked China’s totalitarian regime as host for the 2022 Winter Olympics. The US government should have withdrawn from the games over China’s massive violations of human rights and its ongoing genocide of the Uyghur people. The National Broadcasting Company (NBC), has exclusive rights to broadcast the Olympics; they should have refused to air the Beijing games. Instead the network gave the CCP an international propaganda platform. NBC should change their name to the National Beijing Corporation and be done with it. I will not watch NBC’s broadcast of the games. We saw all of this during the Berlin Olympic Games of 1936, you might think we should have learned a lesson from the experience.

In 1980 US President Carter led 65 countries in boycotting the 1980 summer Olympics held in Moscow because the Soviet Union had invaded and occupied Afghanistan starting in Feb. 1979. The Soviets and 14 allied countries boycotted the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, their reason being “anti-Soviet hysteria whipped up in the US” made it dangerous for athletes. The irony is that the US invaded and occupied Afghanistan starting in Oct. 2001. The US/Soviet clash was a breaking point of Cold War hysteria, but the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics presents us with an ongoing genocide. It all comes back to Hitler’s 1936 Olympics; crimes against humanity were taking place in German concentration camps that year. The US should have boycotted the Berlin Olympics.

At any rate, rather than watching the CCP disfigure the Olympic spirit, my time was better spent writing this essay about Badiucao’s truthful Beijing 2022 artworks.

The Ice Cream Follies: PECAN RESIST!

Screen shot from Ben & Jerry's "Pecan Resist" video advertisement, featuring package design by Favianna Rodriquez.

Screen shot from Ben & Jerry's "Pecan Resist" video advertisement, featuring package design by Favianna Rodriquez.

Yes, this is a turning point. President Trump is finished. The walls are closing in. Impeachment is just around the corner. No, I’m not ranting about the results of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian collusion investigation, I’m talking about Ben & Jerry’s new ice cream flavor… Pecan Resist. No, I’m not kidding.

Believe it or not, Ben & Jerry’s launched Pecan Resist on October 30, 2018, in the First Amendment Room of the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. That apparently is what the National Press Club thinks the First Amendment is for—marketing and product placement. That’s the first lesson of the ice cream follies.

The second lesson is that everything in the Trump era has become politicized, even a frozen dessert. At the National Press Club, Ben & Jerry’s let all consumers know that their Pecan Resist flavor will help “lick injustice and champion those fighting to create a more just and equitable nation for us all.” Good grief, this essentially means that “Pecan Resist” equals “We Can Resist.”

Just in case you missed the point, Ben & Jerry’s clarified their marketing campaign: “The company cannot be silent in the face of President Trump’s policies that attack and attempt to roll back decades of progress on racial and gender equity, climate change, LGBTQ rights and refugee and immigrant rights – all issues that have been at the core of the company’s social mission for 40 years.” So buy our ice cream, it’s for the revolution, don’t cha know.

Oct. 30, 2018 Twitter post announcing Ben & Jerry's launch of "Pecan Resist."

Oct. 30, 2018 Twitter post announcing Ben & Jerry's launch of "Pecan Resist."

But why am I writing about ice cream, and what does any of this have to do with art? Because, as the Press Release from Ben & Jerry’s notes; “The Pecan Resist campaign graphics and pint design were developed by Bay Area artist and activist Favianna Rodriguez.” In the Press Release for Pecan Resist, Rodriguez made the following statement:

“As an artist, I know well the power of culture and I recognize when a business is using its platform to push for love, justice and a green planet. Let’s declare our resistance, march in the streets, and elect a new generation of change makers.”

Hmm, I remember a time when the left would NEVER have collaborated with a multinational corporation, let alone take its money. That would have made one complicit with monopoly capitalism. But now that the left has changed its rulebook by throwing the white working class under the bus, they might as well violate their rules against teaming up with huge and powerful corporations.

Here’s a surprise for Ms. Rodriguez, there is no Ben & Jerry’s. It’s a fully owned subsidiary of the British-Dutch transnational corporation, Unilever. The largest consumer goods company in the world, it owns over 400 brands and has assets that totaled $70.278 billion in 2017. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield founded their ice cream company in 1978, but their business became just another corporate acquisition for Unilever, which purchased the company in 2000.

The products still say “Ben & Jerry’s,” but Cohen and Greenfield do not hold board or management positions in the Unilever Ben & Jerry’s. In a 2017 interview, Greenfield described their current role in Ben & Jerry’s: “We have no responsibility, no authority, and very little influence.” The New York Times in 2000 reported that Unilever acquired Ben & Jerry’s for around $326 million in cash.

On October 23, 2018, Reuters reported that the Unilever Ben & Jerry’s spent lots of money buying ads on Facebook ahead of the Nov. 6, 2018 midterm elections in the U.S.  According to Reuters, the company “spent more than $401,000 since May on various ads, including one supporting a Florida ballot measure that would let felons vote” (incidentally, that ballot measure won). Wow… that could inspire a brand new Ben & Jerry’s flavor. Two scoops of “Felons Truffle Kerfuffle” anyone? Or maybe “Faux Russian Collusion Cookie Core” would be more fitting?

Book-cover for April 1, 2007 edition of "Yo! Whatever Happened To Peace?" The cover also served as a stencil.

April 1, 2007 edition of "Yo! Whatever Happened To Peace?" The book-cover also served as a stencil.

It seems like a million years ago, but on Saturday, July 28th, 2007, I spoke at an artist’s forum with Favianna Rodriguez that celebrated the official Los Angeles debut of the newly published art book, Yo! What Happened to Peace? The book was a collection of hand-made prints created by over 120 artists in opposition to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq—it included works by Rodriguez and yours truly. The forum, held at the Continental Gallery in downtown Los Angeles, was a lively evening of art, music and dialogue well attended by over 500 people.

Since then Ms. Rodriguez has made quite a name for herself in the Oakland Bay Area and beyond. Her colorful graphic print works offer a decidedly left-wing feminist view on the issues of immigration, gender, economic inequality, LGBTQ rights, and climate change—all with a laser focus on women of color. Ms. Rodriguez, to put it mildly, has ardently embraced identity politics. Thus, her works have brought her acclaim and celebrity from like-minded people. Obviously her works were favored by Unilever.

Altogether now, let’s recite the following in our best Borg Collective drone voice, “You will be assimilated—resistance is futile.”

"I'm a Slut. I Vote." Favianna Rodriquez. Digital Print 2012. Offered by Rodriguez as a free download.

"I'm a Slut. I Vote." Favianna Rodriquez. Digital Print 2012. Offered by Rodriguez as a free download.

‘Scuse me while this cisgendered lug does some art-splaining. I began to question the political approach of Rodriguez when she printed a series of militant silkscreen prints promoting women’s rights. On June 8, 2012 Ms. Rodriguez announced that these posters would be available as free downloads so that they could be “shared far and wide.” She called her suite of prints, the “pussy-power, poontang-celebrating, patriarchy-defeating, slut-positive posters.”

Mind you, having created a fair amount of provocative art myself, I appreciate the role of angry aesthetics, and I’m most certainly in favor of advancing women’s rights. However, these particular posters by Rodriguez utterly fail as visual arguments in favor of a noble cause. They will undoubtably appeal to small circles of seasoned radical feminists, but their surly, confrontational nature will send everyone else running. It should be obvious to most people that the great majority of American women will not appreciate being called a slut.

"Yo Pussy Power." Favianna Rodriguez. Digital Print 2012. Offered by Rodriguez as a free download.

"Yo Pussy Power." Favianna Rodriguez. Digital Print 2012. Offered by Rodriguez as a free download.

Furthermore, rather than offering a rational, persuasive argument to men, the artist resorts to abuse and invective. Calling men “Misogynist, Crusty, F**k Heads” will not garner their support—but it will most definitely turn them away. In other words, these posters comprise a monumental propaganda disaster. Conservatives will point at the “slut” themed posters and rightly say “that’s today’s left,” and they won’t even have to bother parodying the posters.

The same can also be said for the Pecan Resist package design. Normal people associate ice cream with fun, parties, festive occasions, and the like. But these days it seems “no fun” has become the mantra of a stern, stridently politically correct, and very humorless left.

With Pecan Resist you are transported to a street protest where three angry looking women are scowling, most likely because you’re not carrying a “F**k Trump” placard. The outraged “sisters” are presumably shouting “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, (insert grievance here), Has Got To Go!” Unilever even created an animated ad using the Pecan Resist art (yes, there’s a YouTube campaign), presenting one of the cartoon women breathing fire—along with stock footage of marching irate protestors. Ah, such joy, it just makes you want to eat ice cream, doesn’t it?

But “inclusivity” only goes so far—sorry vegans, there isn’t a non-dairy Pecan Resist.  And as for “intersectionality” being the tool that guides the pseudo-politics of a faddish left, ponder the following. What can be said about the brilliant minds behind the Pecan Resist marketing campaign who are totally ignorant of the fact that up to 75% of African Americans and Native Americans, and 90% of Asian Americans, are lactose intolerant? And these geniuses want to combat racism.

Not surprisingly, the Pecan Resist video isn’t doing so well. On the day of its Oct. 30, 2018 launch, it received hundreds of negative comments, so many in fact that Unilever was forced to disable comments altogether in order to avoid embarrassment. I did manage to jot down a few barbs before they disappeared; “You couldn’t resist the urge to lose business, could you” and “Politics in ice cream? Get woke, go broke” pretty much summed up the feedback.

There were 14 up-votes and a whopping 952 down-votes registered when the company disabled comments. But wait, it gets even better. On the official Ben & Jerry’s website product page for Pecan Resist, the “Ratings & Reviews” section has been removed. That section exists for every other flavor at the bottom of each page, and it’s where customers leave extensive comments and rate their favorite flavor. Oh well, “This Is What Democracy Looks Like!”

Another new Ben & Jerry’s flavor could very well be, “Culture Wars Cheesecake Cataclysm.”

Ms. Rodriguez’ twitter announcement about her art gracing Ben & Jerry’s latest product didn’t fare any better; many of the comments were pretty icy: “it’s only 1/1024th cocoa but identifies as chocolate” and “Ah yes, using the political climate to promote your personal capitalism. Amazingly capitalist regime of you” were typical retorts. But then there were the truly injurious snubs, like “You went to the Jim Carey (sic) school of art I see.”

In its Press Release for the launch of Pecan Resist, the Unilever Ben & Jerry’s announced that it was donating $25,000 each to four groups “focused on freedom, belonging, community, and justice.” One of those groups is the Women’s March, described as having a commitment to “harnessing the political power of diverse women.” In fact the Press Release features a group photo that includes artist Favianna Rodriquez standing next to the co-chair of the Women’s March, the Palestinian-American-Muslim Linda Sarsour.

To say that Linda Sarsour is a lightning rod of controversy would be an understatement. In 2011 she tweeted that “sharia law is reasonable and once u (sic) read into the details it makes a lot of sense.” That may be so for the patriarchal Islamic extremists who use sharia to oppress women, but this is coming from an activist who supposedly defends women’s rights.

The political and economic support given to the Women’s March by Ben & Jerry’s has raised the hackles of many. Even the rabidly anti-Trump New York Post ran an article titled; “Don’t join this year’s Women’s March unless you’re good with anti-Semitism.

The progressive Huffington Post is also known as a Trump hating platform, but HuffPo published a 2016 article titled “As Long As There Is Sharia Law, Women Will Not Have Human Rights.” Written by Indian-American Muslim Deeba Abedi, the essay should make any decent minded person squirm over the atrocities committed by sharia against the basic human rights of women.

Linda Sarsour and fellow Women’s March leaders Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez, have ties to Louis Farrakhan, the head of the Nation of Islam (NOI). Mr. Farrakhan needs no introduction, he’s a hardened anti-Semite with a very long history of preaching hate against Jews, Whites, and Gays. But then comes his most recent perfidious exploit.

The Mehr News Agency, one of the official news agencies of Iran, reported that Louis Farrakhan visited the country on Nov. 4, 2018 as the Islamic Republic celebrated the 39th anniversary of the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. That’s when, for 444 days, radical Islamists held 50 U.S. diplomates and embassy staff hostage. Farrakhan’s solidarity visit was also timed to protest President Trump’s Nov. 5th renewal of sanctions against the Islamic regime. Farrakhan led an auditorium of law students gathered at the University of Tehran in chants of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” in Farsi.

In 2015 Mr. Farrakhan invited Sarsour, Mallory, and Perez to participate in the Nation of Islam organized “Justice Or Else” rally in Washington, D.C. Sarsour was a keynote speaker at the gathering. If any of you progressives out there doubt the reactionary nature of Farrakhan, then watch and listen to this video of his speech to a Nation of Islam gathering in 1993. He boasted that the Nation of Islam murdered Malcolm X, saying “we dealt with him the way a nation deals with a traitor.” Since Ms. Rodriguez issued a silkscreen poster of Malcolm X in 2010, perhaps she would considered reissuing the print using the Farrakhan quote?

In September 2018, Linda Sarsour addressed the Islamic Society of North America conference where she lectured Muslim Americans for being “complicit” in the murder of Palestinians. She told her audience they must never “humanize the oppressor,” meaning of course, all Israeli Jews. We know what happens when a people are dehumanized—every crime against them can be justified.

Which brings me to another Women’s March leader, the 69-year-old Palestinian Rasmea Yousef Odeh. She helped organize the Women’s March in the U.S. capital that took place on March 8, 2016 after Trump’s inauguration. Odeh co-wrote “Women of America: we’re going on strike. Join us so Trump will see our power,” an open letter published by The Guardian announcing the protest.

In 1969 Odeh belonged to the Marxist oriented “Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine” (PFLP). She planted a powerful bomb in an Israeli supermarket that killed two young men shopping for groceries—Leon Kanner, 21, and Eddie Joffe, 22. Nine other people were wounded. Odeh was sentenced to life in prison, but served 10 years before being released in a prisoner exchange. In 1995 she entered the U.S. but failed to tell U.S. authorities she had served a prison sentence for murder and terrorism; she eventually received American citizenship.

When U.S. immigration authorities discovered Odeh’s deliberate deception, she was charged with immigration fraud for lying on her visa and citizenship forms. In March of 2017, she accepted a plea bargain that stripped her of U.S. citizenship. In a final act of “resistance” on U.S. soil, in April of 2017 Odeh was the keynote speaker at the “Jewish Voice for Peace” summit in Chicago. Linda Sarsour shared the stage with Odeh, and said she was “honored and privileged to be here in this space, and honored to be on this stage with Rasmea.” In Sept., 2017, Rasmea Yousef Odeh was deported to Jordan.

Ben & Jerry’s Israel branch announced it has no intention of carrying or selling Pecan Resist. Israelis are incensed over Linda Sarsour’s support for Rasmea Yousef Odeh, and for her and other Women’s March leaders backing Louis Farrakhan. But then, Sarsour said we should never “humanize the oppressor.” For Sarsour and those who think like her, the thoughts of Israeli Jews are entirely irrelevant and never to be considered.

For those in the U.S. who insist that opposition to the Women’s March is driven by conservatives, think again. A major socialist institution in Germany, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, withdrew their Nov. 12, 2018 presentation of its Human Rights Award to the Women’s March, citing the antisemitism of the women’s organization as the reason. The Friedrich Ebert Foundation (Friedrich Ebert Stiftung or FES), is a German political foundation with ties to the Social Democratic Party (SPD). Founded in 1863, the SPD is one of Germany’s two major political parties; it was one of the first mass organizations in the world to be influenced by Marxism. Founded in 1925 the FES promotes the peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism by electoral means. It has projects in over 100 countries and maintains fraternal ties with the Workers Party of Brazil.

Scholars and alumni of FES wrote an open letter denouncing the Women’s March, with a special focus on Linda Sarsour. You can read the entire document here. The statement in part reads: “We believe that the Women’s March USA does not meet the criteria of this award, as its organizers have repeatedly attracted attention through antisemitic statements, the trivialization of antisemitism and the exclusion of Zionists and Jews since Women’s March USA’s establishment in 2017. Women’s March USA does not constitute an inclusive alliance.” As a result the Friedrich Ebert Foundation suspended the award ceremony to “to allow an independent body to investigate the matter.”

Favianna Rodriguez, her benefactors at Unilever Ben & Jerry’s, and all those who think buying Pecan Resist actually constitutes a step towards a better society, should read the declaration composed by the left intellectuals of FES.

I can’t imagine why Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield would donate $25,000 to the Women’s March, not with Linda Sarsour at the helm. And I also can’t imagine why Favianna Rodriguez would stand with Sarsour. However, what I CAN imagine is Sarsour, her cohorts in the Islamic Society of North America, and the Palestinian people, responding with open disgust if they were ever to see Rodriguez’ “pussy power, poontang” graphics.

I’ve always maintained that artists should avoid endorsing political parties, candidates, and celebrity figures. Not because I’m a contrarian, but for the reason that I believe art and artists are better off as autonomous observers and critics. For the majority of my career I have strived for artistic and political independence, and I am entirely unencumbered because of that stance.

Conversely, with very few exceptions, when artists lambast individual political figures, they simply provide a distraction from systemic problems; which is to say, artists should battle ideas, not people.

Becoming entangled in political activism also has its pitfalls; nothing kills the spirit of art quicker than blind allegiance to political ideology. But another conundrum faces the political artist; what happens when the political ideal, alliance, or figure you promoted with your art proves to be corrupted? That’s what I think when pondering the fate of Favianna Rodriguez, she now has a millstone around her neck that is engraved with the name, Linda Sarsour.

In the 1960s postmodern thought achieved major inroads into the art world. In no small way Andy Warhol helped engineer the concept-model that contemporary artists follow today, that of business as the one true art. Warhol called it “Business Art,” where the artist is willingly transformed into a commodity to be marketed and sold. According to this purview it was not Warhol’s prints, paintings, and films that had value—they were secondary. It was his carefully constructed and marketed persona that held value. This notion has become one of the highest expressions of capitalist thought in today’s cultural milieu.

It goes without saying that Warhol’s “Business Art” is not the only model an artist can—or should—pursue. Chicano art icon Gilbert “Magú” Luján (1940-2011) knew of a different path. Toward the end of his life he told me that in the past McDonald’s wanted to use his art in advertising campaigns targeting the “Hispanic” community, and that the multinational was willing to pay him a substantial sum for the partnering. Magú firmly turned down the offer, he did not want his name associated with junk food flooding the Latino community. Millennials need to seek out and embrace those who possess this type of integrity… especially those involved in the arts.

What we see in the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream follies is a perfect example of “Business Art,” which bears similarities to “Free Enterprise Painting,” the moniker given to Abstract Expressionism in the 1950s by Nelson Rockefeller. These appellations define art that is dressed in the accouterment of rebellion, but nevertheless serves the interests of powerful elites; in essence I’m talking about the aesthetics and politics of co-optation. “Hope” and “Change” anyone?

Postmodernism conjures up, then appropriates “Resist,” giving us the “equitable tomorrow” of “Pecan Resist,” and all for only $7 a pint. The spectacle commodity society is in full bloom, and comrades, it’s eating you alive. But the last laugh is on those who are assimilated into the system they once struggled against.

– // –

UPDATE: 9/19/2019

On Sept. 16, 2019, the Women’s March announced it was cutting ties with board members Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, and Bob Bland—members accused of anti-Semitism. Sarsour and Mallory had refused to condemn Louis Farrakhan, the anti-Semitic leader of the Nation of Islam. On Sept. 18, 2019, the Women’s March also fired a new board member, Zahra Billoo, just two days after her appointment. Billoo, a Palestinian Muslim, had tweeted the FBI were recruiting “mentally ill young people” as “recruits to join ISIS.” She also said Israeli soldiers were “no better than ISIS.”

UPDATE: 11/27/2018

On November 19, 2018 Teresa Shook, the founder of Women’s March, denounced Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, and Carmen Perez. She accused them of allowing “anti-Semitism, anti- LBGTQIA sentiment and hateful, racist rhetoric to become a part of the platform by their refusal to separate themselves from groups that espouse these racist, hateful beliefs.” Shook asked Sarsour and company to “step down.” Read Shook’s full statement here.

I Did Not

The artist with his parents at Disneyland's Tomorrowland, 1959. "We're a happy family, me mom and daddy." Photographer unknown.

The artist with his parents at Disneyland's Tomorrowland, 1959. "We're a happy family, me mom and daddy." Photographer unknown.

I did not start my American life at Disneyland
but it was a close starting point
I was born September 7, 1953
Disneyland opened in California in 1955
my parents took me there in 1959
I was six-years-old.

That same year Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev
was denied permission to visit Disneyland
I liked Tomorrowland
where I rode the look-alike U.S. Navy nuclear submarines
I liked the Rocket to the Moon ride with its space age astronauts
I did not like Mickey Mouse.

The comedy album The First Family, was one of the most popular records in the United States in 1962. A lighthearted parody of President Kennedy and his family, the album was recorded on the very evening that J.F.K. made his Cuban Missile Crisis speech. The album sold nearly eight million copies, more than the debut album of Peter, Paul, and Mary. I bought the album as soon as it was released, and in the above photo I am pictured listening to it on my portable record player. Photo by the artist's father, Joe Vallen.

The comedy album "The First Family," was one of the most popular records in the United States in 1962. A lighthearted parody of President Kennedy and his family, the album was recorded on the very evening that J.F.K. made his Cuban Missile Crisis speech. The album sold nearly eight million copies, more than the debut album of Peter, Paul, and Mary. I bought the album as soon as it was released, and in the above photo I am pictured listening to it on my portable record player. Photo by the artist's father, Joe Vallen.

In 1963 at the age of ten
my parents gave me a wooden palette box
with oil paints and brushes
I painted a portrait of President Kennedy
right after he was cut down by an assassin
My painting is lost, but I did not misplace
the wooden palette box
I use it to store my paints today.

In 1967 I was fourteen when
President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke
at L.A.’s ritzy Century Plaza Hotel
outside 10,000 people protesting the Vietnam war
chanted “Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”
they were attacked by a phalanx of 1,300 club swinging LAPD officers
I did not attend that protest, but it moved me just the same.

It would be a short time later
that I would attend my first political demonstration
a massive protest against the Vietnam war
where thousands of people snaked their way down Wilshire Boulevard.

My father took this black & white Polaroid camera snapshot of my mother and I as we marched in the huge anti-Vietnam war demonstration that took place on L.A.'s Wilshire Boulevard in 1967.

My father took this black & white Polaroid camera snapshot of my mother and I as we marched in the huge anti-Vietnam war demonstration that took place on L.A.'s Wilshire Boulevard in 1967. The placard carried behind us that reads "Bring the Troops Home," was the theme of the march.

In 1968 I was fifteen-years-old
The Vietnam war was escalating
Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated
So was Bobby Kennedy, at the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard
At the Democratic Party National convention in Chicago
police beat and tear gassed thousands of antiwar protestors
I did not go “Clean for Gene.”

When I was sixteen in 1969
I convinced my parents to donate food
to the Free Breakfast for Children program
run by the LA chapter of the Black Panther Party
We drove the family car full of food stuff
to the L.A. Panther headquarters at 41st and Central
A week later on December 8, 1969 the Panther H.Q.
was raided by officers of the LAPD SWAT team
They dropped a bomb on the rooftop of the Panther H.Q.
It was the first military operation by a SWAT team in the U.S.

On August 29, 1970 I watched live TV coverage
of the Chicano Moratorium in East Los Angeles
30,000 Mexican-Americans marched against the Vietnam war
The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department attacked the people who
gathered in Laguna Park to listen to speeches
Police gunfire killed four that day:
Brown Berets José Diaz and Lyn Ward
a Jewish supporter of the movement named Gustav Montag
and L.A. Times reporter Rubén Salazar
Salazar was shot in the head with a wall-piercing teargas canister
as he calmly sat in the Silver Dollar Bar and Café on Whittier Blvd.
I was seventeen-years-old and my blood boiled.

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Yours truly at eighteen years of age, standing on my home turf of Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, California, 1971. Photographer unknown.

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My first public art exhibit, an open-air display of pen drawings, watercolors, and collage. The art was displayed at a 1971 counterculture festival sponsored by the L.A. Free Press that took place in the San Fernando Valley. The art included tributes to Hippie, Native Americans, psychedelic rock, and the Black Panthers. I was eighteen at the time, and yes, I made the tie dye backdrops myself. Photo/Mark Vallen ©

In 1971 I published my first street poster
a pre-Watergate print titled “Evict Nixon
I did not vote for George McGovern
In 1972 when traveling in Europe
To avoid the condemning stares of an unapproving public
I hid my ponytail under my collar
Appropriately, I was standing in the Roman Coliseum
when I got the news that Richard Nixon had been re-elected
The Italians were furious; I told them I was Canadian.

In 1973, a U.S. backed fascist coup destroyed Chile’s democracy
sending shock waves around the world
A Chilean family friend told me the coup made her feel “secure”
I did not concur. I preferred Victor Jara.

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"Self Portrait" - Mark Vallen. Pencil on paper. 1973 ©

At twenty-years-old I ate tofu, wheat germ, sprouts, and yogurt
before they could be found in mainstream grocery stores
The fast food culture was driving me insane,
I had a growing interest in T.Rex and David Bowie.

In 1975 the war in Vietnam finally ended
The alternative culture flew apart
I was twenty-two-years-old
A new conformity began to rise
I did not think it would be long before another war started
In 1976 I did not vote for Jimmy Carter.

When I was twenty-four in 1977
I did not listen to the Bee Gees or the Eagles
To provoke the condemning stares of an unapproving public
I writhed and frothed in the birth of LA’s
nihilistic punk rock scene
my hair whacked off and my clothes torn to shreds.

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"Self Portrait" - Photo/Mark Vallen Feb. 1983 © Punk rock portrait on Sunset Blvd near L.A.'s infamous Whisky a Go Go.

By 1984 Orwell’s words had already come true
I made art against the policies of President Ronald Reagan
I feared the world would end in a nuclear holocaust
I did not vote for Walter Mondale.

In 1985 I created the silkscreen print, Free South Africa
a poster created to support the anti-apartheid movement
I worked with UCLA students that demanded the
university divest its funds from apartheid South Africa.
Despite the “Reagan Revolution”
I did not vote for Michael Dukakis in 1988.

I was thirty-eight in 1991
I made art against President George H.W. Bush’s Gulf War
I became a vegetarian
In 1992 I did not vote for Bill Clinton
And with the indigenous people of the Western hemisphere
I condemned 500 years of colonialism in the Americas.

In 1996 I was forty-three-years-old
I worked at a top advertising agency
I offered to build the company’s website,
saying the internet was the wave of the future
The CEOs told me the internet was a “passing fad”
There was no future for me in the 9 to 5 world
I did not vote for Clinton’s re-election.

I was forty-five-years-old in 1999
In the spring of that year, I made art against
the war President Clinton waged on Yugoslavia

I liked the film Wag the Dog
and was amused by “The Billionaires for Bush or Gore
I did not vote for Al Gore
In 2000 my chad was not hanging.

My grief was not a cry for war in 2001
I made art against the war in Iraq
In 2003 I joined 100,000 anti-war protesters
on the star studded Hollywood Blvd Walk of Fame
distributing my artwork Not Our Children, Not Their Children
I did not vote for John Kerry in 2004, the former “anti-war” activist
known in the UK as “The Haunted Tree”.

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I am pictured standing before a John Heartfield reproduction at the 2006 J. Paul Getty Museum exhibit, "Agitated Images: John Heartfield and German Photomontage." Photo/Jeannine Thorpe 2006 ©

In 2008, friends and associates asked me
to create and exhibit artworks to support
the presidential campaign of Senator Obama
I declined, and I did not vote for Obama
but dared not publicly say so until now.

I was fifty-eight-years-old in 2011 when President Obama
without Congressional approval, began a war against Libya
Antiwar activists said the war would being democracy to Libya
I lost friends because I thought the war illegal & unwise
Today Libya is overrun by al Qaeda affiliates and ISIS

In 2012 I attended the first day of Occupy Los Angeles
then got back on the subway and went home
The movement coined the phrase “We Are the 99%”
but in L.A. it degenerated into a squabble about
camping on the lawn of City Hall. Another missed opportunity
I did not vote for Obama’s re-election.

I will be sixty-two on September 7, 2015
I make no apologies for my life thus far
I am the most un-Baby Boomer person in existence
born between the execution of the Rosenbergs
and the premiere of the radioactive monster-movie, Godzilla
Given my crown of thorns in the punk rock summer of hate in 1977
This is not a nostalgic poem
all of this and more made me what I am.

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Yours truly at sixty-two years of age, still standing on Ventura Boulevard, but it is now an "upscale" street awash with corporate logos. Photo/Jeannine Thorpe 2015 ©

I’m still clawing my way to the bottom,
as an artist and a counterculturalist
because “radical” means “the roots”
Sometimes saying “no” is not a negative but a positive.
Just think of what I will be writing about after
the lyrics to the Beatles’ song When I’m Sixty-Four
actually fully apply to me.

All this started for me years ago
when people were optimistic enough
to work at creating a new world
While that optimism has lapsed for many
the need continues to be great
This is what inspires me to create my art
to transform horrible circumstances into a world at last livable.
So dear reader, I am not a cynic after all
I did not think that at this late date
I would still be saying
“be more than a witness.”

– // –

All photos and text are the property of artist Mark Vallen ©

Manifesto for World Revolution?

Vallen finds inspiration in the pages of Adbusters. Photo/Jeannine Thorpe ©

Vallen finds inspiration in the pages of Adbusters. Photo/Jeannine Thorpe ©

The front cover of the latest edition of Adbusters magazine, is a photograph of a surfer “shooting the tube,” that is, riding his surfboard through the hollow part of a large wave as it crests over itself and makes a tunnel. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and I have spent much of my life on Southern California beaches… so I know this stuff. The photo is a bitchin image of primo, off the Richter, gnarlatious awesomeness (more obligatory surfer lingo).

But trouble is brewing in paradise. Beneath the eye-popping ADBUSTERS masthead that looks like a garish headline from a 60s B-movie sci-fi flick, a mysterious subhead hovers in the wave’s curl like so much kelp and non-biodegradable beach trash, it reads… Living Without Dead Time. It is a revolutionary proclamation from our past, and if we are lucky, from our future.

To unlock the profound meaning of the text, one has to read carefully while thumbing through the pages of the subversive rag and “art novella.” Hey, this ain’t no trendy, bourgeois gazette I’m talkin about here, this is a mag that promotes itself as a “Manifesto for World Revolution Pt. III.” Zounds! I think they are actually serious!

Adbusters contacted me in April seeking permission to reprint my 1980 silkscreen poster, Whatever Happened To The Future! The publication hoped to use my print in a “dystopic photo album” covering events in the 20th-21st century. Ah! Dystopia! I began to smile broadly.

"Whatever Happened to the Future!" Mark Vallen 1980 © Silkscreen print. Published in the July/August 2015 issue of Adbusters.

"Whatever Happened to the Future!" Mark Vallen 1980 © Silkscreen print. Published in the July/August 2015 issue of Adbusters.

When I was informed that anarchism would be the “overarching theme” of the issue, my ear to ear grin was joined with a sinister twinkle in my eye. Advised that the issue would cover, among other things, a “history of uprisings in the 20th-21st centuries” and an essay on “post-post-modernism,” I began to experience mystical self-transcendence!

I was simultaneously brought back to earth and thrown for a loop when told that Adbusters would like to place my image “right before the history section. We are featuring many old anarchist and situationist comics and cartoons, and would be honored to have your image run as a full page.”

Visions of Guy Debord, the Situationists, the Paris 68 uprising, and those brilliant posters created by the anonymous students and workers of the Paris 68 Atelier Populare galloped through my mind. Of course I did not refuse Adbusters request, which is why I am writing this screed.

Whatever Happened To The Future! has been shown at the MOCA Geffen Contemporary in Los Angeles and the Pasadena Museum of California Art, but Adbusters provided the proper historic context for my print.

Adbusters front cover, "Living Without Dead Time" issue. July/August 2015

Adbusters front cover, "Living Without Dead Time" issue. July/August 2015

Aesthetically, Living Without Dead Time is a poke in the eye, especially when compared to the à la mode commercial hipster garbage one finds on newsstands these days. Adbusters’ philosophy of art squares perfectly with that of situationism and its bugbear offspring, punk rock. In fact the publication is somewhat evocative of the rough and tumble punk aesthetic of L.A.’s Slash magazine, that “monthly manifesto of angry refusal” that rose from the polluted urban despair of 1977 to become the city’s first punk publication and an internationally influential journal.

Adbusters has taken the nihilistic graphic style of punk, and polished it up quite a bit. It maintains the punk spirit but meshes it with an overtly anti-consumerism political stance. In the summer of 2011 Adbusters championed a citizens’ “occupation” of Wall Street, and presto, the Occupy movement was born. Adbusters did not create nor control the Occupy offensive, but its contributions are undeniable. In their latest issue they announced they are “planning a #billionpeoplemarch in December” as a stand “against a world order which refuses to produce tangible action in the face of impending climate disaster.”

I do have some criticisms of Adbusters. I was an initial supporter of the Occupy movement, but soon found it rife with opportunists and social democrats. Bill Clinton’s former U.S. Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, was invited to speak at an Occupy rally outside of L.A. City Hall; Reich’s presence only served to fold people back into the Democratic Party orbit. Likewise, the liberal political commentator and PBS host Tavis Smiley was also invited to address Occupy at L.A. City Hall. With a net worth of some $10 million, Smiley was firmly within the 1% circle that Occupy supposedly opposed. Inviting Reich and Smiley was a major political failing for an ostensibly anti-corporate movement.

When Occupy seized the lawns around L.A. City Hall, the campaign degenerated into a fight over the “right” to camp on City Hall grounds; opportunities to make alliances with working people were squandered over a tussle regarding camping. This can only be attributed to naiveté and a lack of actual working class politics. Adbusters excelled at “culture jamming” but hit the skids when laying the groundwork for political opposition against the entrenched financial aristocracy.

There is one article in the Living Without Dead Time issue of Adbusters that I must give an emphatic thumbs down to, a piece on the Euromaidan “revolution” that occurred in Ukraine in February 2014. It is a hack-job that does nothing but contribute to the jumble of Russophobic Cold War nonsense presented nonstop by the corporate media. It is a lazy minded essay that plays into the war hysteria that seems to be growing by the day.

At Airstrip One, a prole secretly looks at Adbusters before participating in the Two Minute Hate on the telescreen. Photo, E. Goldstein.

At Airstrip One, a prole secretly looks at Adbusters before participating in the Two Minute Hate on the telescreen. Photo/E. Goldstein.

The Adbusters Ukraine article did not once mention NATO, the EU, or the enforced austerity programs of the IMF and the World Bank. The article paints the crypto fascist Dmytro Yarosh as a popular revolutionary leader, when in reality he is the boss of the right-wing, ultra-nationalist Right Sector organization. Yarosh is on record as having written, “I wonder how it came to pass that most of the billionaires in Ukraine are Jews?” [1] The word “fascist” is used in the Adbusters article, but it is decried as a Russian propaganda term used to malign the democratic project in Ukraine.

Democratic Congressman John Conyers Jr. and Republican Congressman Ted Yoho wrote amendments to ban U.S. troops from training a Ukrainian neo-Nazi militia unit known as the Azov Battalion, which is integrated into the Ukraine National Guard and the army. The Azov flag is a variation of the infamous “Wolfsangel” symbol used by the Waffen-SS. In early June 2015 the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the amendment blocking assistance to the Azov Battalion. I understand that this story broke as Adbusters was going to press, but credible reports of the fascist threat in Ukraine have been circulating for some time, even on this weblog. The Adbusters Ukraine article did not even come close to mentioning this.

The socialist stalwarts at Jacobin magazine have a harsh assessment of Adbusters. Published in 2013, their critique titled Adbusted poses some tough questions about the politics and philosophy of the anti-consumerist publication; these are unsettling queries that demand answers.

I am not an anarchist, marxist, or a democrat, and I am certainly not a republican. The only identity I embrace is that of dissident artist, my humanist politics are fully on display in my art. To be honest, I am happy to be published by Adbusters, my criticism of them not withstanding, just as I would be gratified to be published in Jacobin. It is all part of the essential conversation so needed at this juncture in history.

The final image published in Adbusters is a photo that spreads over two facing pages, in this case the next to the last and the final inside page. It is a grainy black and white snapshot of masked protestors on a nighttime street. It is an ominous vignette laden with tension. Hostage-letter style text floats across the photograph, it reads…

May love and revolution rise from the ashes of this dying civilization.

– // –

Signed prints of Whatever Happened to the Future! can be purchased here.

[1] Practice for a Russian Invasion: Ukrainian Civilians Take Up Arms. Spiegel Online. April 16, 2014.