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People Lose Their Minds Over Obama’s Art History Apology

by Hrag Vartanian on February 20, 2014

US President Barack Obama’s apology to art historian Ann Collins Johns has created a frenzy of media coverage, including some inexplicably strange responses. When was the last time you heard art history discussed in mainstream news publications and news channels? Crickets. Exactly.

Felix Salmon of Reuters had one of the most thoughtful posts on the topic and outed himself as an art history major (GASP!), posing the question: “Is There Opportunity in Art History?” In the piece, he writes:

I’m very sympathetic to the art historians here, and not only because that’s what I studied. The subject is almost ideal for teaching the kind of abstract-thinking skills that the next generation of graduates are going to need, in a world where a lot of number-crunching jobs are becoming rapidly automated. Studying art history means moving back and forth between words and ideas and images all the time, putting them together in novel ways while building on the work of countless smart people who came before you. I can hardly imagine a better qualification for much of the high-level knowledge work and ideation which will power the 21st century economy.

And the Daily Mail obviously had too much coffee yesterday when they titled their piece on the matter:

Barack Obama writes grovelling apology after being taken to task by art history professor for suggesting that degree in subject was pointless

Then there’s the very trolly comment from Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine, who concludes his post with:

The Obama apology tour continues! Basically, any group of people that hates America and gets worked up about it — Europeans, Muslims, art history majors — Obama will apologize to you.

Chait’s ridiculousness seemed to fall like manna from the heavens for the right-wing media, and various outlets took the bait. PJMedia’s Ed Driscoll asks: “Do Art History Majors Hate America?” In what only can be described as unbelievable, Ed Driscoll vomits:

But do the bulk of art history majors hate America? Or perhaps we should ask the flip-side of the equation: which college majors aren’t being taught to hate the nation?

Or the lede from the Hot Air blog:

Leave it to this guy to finally uncork a mea culpa on the very least of his sins as president, in a matter where he actually had half a point.

And World News had to go there:

Marco Rubio wants Obama to stand his ground in the artworld.

One of the high points was that some commentators used the opportunity to pepper their prose with an art historical turn of phrase or two, like Peter Grier of the Christian Science Monitor‘s Decoder Buzz blog, who seemed to relish all of it:

Such as, how hard it is to stay awake when art history is right after lunch, and they dim the lights and show a million slides on the differences between Byzantine and Romanesque architecture.

Sorry, the president didn’t actually say that last bit. That was our own memory leaching into the narrative.

… and:

After that, the Botticelli hit the fan. [Good one, Peter.]

The news item even made it onto MSNBC’s Hardball (02:00 mark in this segment):

Then there were the flurry of comments on stories of Senator Marco Rubio’s silly tweet calling Obama’s apology “pathetic.” The interwebz were having none of it, and the Politico commenters were the most worked up:

What’s pathetic about an apology for disparaging someone’s profession? Would Rubio have been happy if Obama wrote a note saying, “Yea, f— you and the profession you love.”

We get it Marco Rubio, immigration reform has killed your 2016 hopes and so you have to act tough and lash out to win over the ignorant boobs hell bent on Obama hatred that infest the conservative base.  [Politico]

Marco Rubio, a political science major, thinks art history is a useless major? Seriously? [Politico]

It’s funny to hear ANYONE from the right stand up for the Arts, considering how consistently they have voted to defund any support for arts and culture. [Politico]

Thank you Rubio for pointing out how pathetic Obama’s apology was, Obama now stands NO chance of being reelected! Good Job Rubio!!!! [Politico]

“Look at me, pay attention to me. I can say hysterical and stupid things just as well as Ted Cruz or Rand Paul.”
- the JUNIOR Senator from Florida, Marco Rubio [Politico]

Weak tea, Rubio. Try again. Recommendation: Benghazi!!! [Politico]

Obama: “The sky is blue.”

Fox News: “Controversy swirls around Obama’s latest remarks about the color of the sky! Many people say he is lying! We will be back with Charles Krauthammer and other experts to discuss Obama’s latest prevarications!” [Politico]

Marco really tackling the tough issues of the day………..zzzzzzzzzzzzzz… [Politico]

W/o Art History majors there would be no liberal blogosphere. Just add a dash of alcoholism and college experimentation with lesbian sex and you have everything Salon’s ever published. [Politico]

You wish you had more experience with lesbian sex and alcoholism in college. [response to above comment on Politico]

And any conversation about this should be followed with a read of this Bloomberg article last month by Virginia Postrel, “How Art History Majors Power the U.S. Economy.” Booyah!

In case you’d forgotten, here are Obama’s original remarks that started all this:

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  • tarandfeatherthecrooks

    But he has never apologized for calling Taxed Enough already, Patriot, Home Schoolers, Veterans, or Christians, who uphold the Constitution and Bill of Rights, TEABAGGERS. Keeping it in perspective, this shows a trend, doesn’t it.

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