A couple weeks ago after making breakfast for myself and my youngest daughter, I did two things I thought I’d never do: 1) I visited Breitbart news online; 2) I searched the words “refugees flesh-eating.”
A New York Times article, “Anxiety About Muslim Refugees Is Stoked Online by the Far-Right Media,” had me reeling. It cites several very specific examples of the apocalyptic views fueled by the extreme-right media of humans succumbing to diseases carried by refugees and Muslims. I was curious to see just how much “stoking” was being done.
For some perspective, visit The Wall Street Journal online and search the words “refugees flesh-eating,” and you turn up no results. Interestingly, the same “0 results found for” also pops up for Fox News online (of all places). The Washington Post yields several results, but the first is about the clash of religious views and the potential mistreatment of Muslims in a Bible Belt town; the others are about radioactive boars in Japan, food trucks, and famine, and one result that deals with civil-war horror in South Sudan. But the number of results for this two-word combo on Breitbart news is staggering.
Breitbart links refugees to disease, contagion, and uncontrollable outbreak with a kind of World War Z sense of urgency. Please note, it’s not disease per se, but “flesh-eating” disease, the kind that turns us all into mindless cannibals that chase Brad Pitt and his family en masse, usher the “other” into the city walls, and turn a perfectly okay capitalist machine into a tomb.
As if this weren’t enough, Breitbart also illustrates many of these pieces with photos of children, women, and men whose heads, faces, and arms have some sort of indiscriminate gnawed-out-looking body part. “They’re coming to get you Barbara…They’re coming for you, Barbara. “
Art can do a lot of things, but right now the best thing it can do is haunt us out of now. If this kind of wacko fear-mongering is part of the new American norm, I think the best thing art can do is spook us out of this existence.
During the weeks before the inauguration, when I was thinking about what forms of action and engagement to take, I came up with “Drawings for Donald”—a drawing a day for the next 365 days. For now, each is a text-based drawing beginning with the words “Dear Donald.” My intention is that they are sometimes funny, often odd, occasionally topical and that they posses some poetic intrigue. I want these drawings to haunt Donald. And haunt us all into another place.
As our language gets stripped of its nuances, niceties and niches by this current administration, we need to keep it supple. If we won’t be custodians of words and images, who will?