It may shock you to hear that I received some blowback over my recent opinion piece about an artist suing the Smithsonian because they wouldn’t hang his gargantuan, terrible work of Trumpian political propaganda in the National Portrait Gallery. I indeed received a few all-caps emails demanding that I account for myself as a journalist — which of course, I need not do, in the case of an opinion piece. But luckily, this week we can set our differences aside and make friends across the aisle, because today featured the debut of a highly conservative political artist who, unlike poor Julian Raven and his need for a participation trophy, really knows how to get a positive opinion out of this art critic. I refer, of course, to Senator Mike Lee (R—UT), who took to the Senate floor on Tuesday to dispute the validity of the Democrat’s Green New Deal package with a poster featuring an image by artist Jason Heuser of President Ronald Reagan riding a dinosaur while firing a machine gun.
Now, let me first say, I would much prefer for our nation’s politicians to produce the outcomes of this proposal, including guarantee of a job for all at a living wage, paid family and medical leave, vacation time and retirement security, health care for all, access to higher education, and repairing or replacing our aging infrastructure. But since we know that the grossly corrupt and venal majority of politicians will never prioritize the good of the many over the greed of the few, I am thrilled to note they are at least producing some terrific propaganda out of scathing political satire. Because Sen. Lee’s behavior can only be interpreted as a kind of performance piece, rather than doing his elected work of legitimately debating proposed legislation.
Though I maintain that calling Julian Raven’s work “shitty” was a fair assessment, if he and his defenders would like some deeper criticism: I found it pretty tiresome that he chose as his symbols the flag, an eagle, and the yawning soulless collection of evil atoms that have taken the shape of our standing president. You know, the literal symbols of the United States of America — thus, plagiarism, at best. I think the only vaguely original part of the composition was setting it in outer space, and that was clearly just to be able to accommodate Trump’s ego at scale. But Lee! The beauty! The artistry! Though the image turns out to be the work of Heuser, a political satirist, part of me wants to believe the guy directly authored this image, because the idea of him sitting up late in his office, feverishly photoshopping a few of his Favorite Things together into the most powerful political trifecta imaginable frankly delights me. Reagan! Dinosaur!! Machine gun!!! Quit drilling, Lee, you hit oil — and you know how Republicans love oil!!
In this effort to deride the seriousness of the Green New Deal, which also calls for making all energy consumed in the United States emission-free, adding new energy-efficient buildings, and eliminating manufacturing that causes pollution, Lee presented a further series of imagined images, including a Tauntaun from Star Wars — which is all that Alaskans will have for means of transportation if the GND successfully limits air travel. But the VelociReagan was the true piece de resistance, so it’s surprising that Lee felt the need to nonetheless get out ahead of his critics.
“Critics might quibble with this depiction of the climactic battle of the Cold War, because, while awesome, in real life there was no climactic battle,” Lee told the Salt Lake Tribune. “There was no battle with or without velociraptors,” Lee said. “The Cold War, as we all know, was won without firing a shot.” But that’s what makes it art, Mike. The flag is tattered, for fuck’s sake! It’s a visual metaphor!
In fact, as obviously the most dangerous opinion-haver in the burgeoning genre of “things I can’t believe our political system spends its time on while 1 in 6 children goes to bed hungry,” I want to offer some real words of encouragement here. Mike Lee, I think you have a true artistic spirit, and should definitely quit your job as Senator, where you can do nothing but make the patently fucking unhelpful suggestion that families bring more unsupported young lives into an ecosystem already full to groaning under the exigencies of its current population. Seriously. Get out of politics and give your performance art the space it needs to flourish. And while you’re being helpful, please take Julian Raven on as an apprentice and teach him your ways. Preferably as far from the rest of society as possible.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.