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Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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The Offensitive

Should be a word. Offensitive: adj. One who is easily offended. Highly sensitive to perceived offense.

Have you seen the sculpture at Wellesley College in Massachusetts that’s been causing such a stir? “Sleepwalker” is a lifelike depiction of a rather–OK, very–unappealing male sleepwalking in nothing but a pair of “tighty whities”. The appearance of the sculpture has created a spasm of outrage among the offensitive, those especially prone to being offended. It’s gone as far as a petition demanding the removal of the statue because its very presence is a kind of assault, a violation of the civil rights of the offended.

Think about that for a minute: art that offends, or even art that only provokes a bit of discomfort, is a violation of some sort of civil right.

What have we become when a statue that should be met with ridicule and contempt because it is actually quite banal is rather invoking reactions that imply some sort of assault on the collective population of Wellesley? Is it the topic, the subject, a nearly naked man, skinny fat with a paunch and a frog butt that fails to fill his skivvies? It does make one wonder, what with the venomous attacks on those who were offended some years ago by sculptures of a Crucifix covered with excrement, or years before that by various desecrations of the American flag. Have we succumbed to some sort of spiraling weakness of spirit or character in the ensuing years, a collective fragility driven by the growing population of the offensitive, ¬†or is there some qualitative difference in the “art”, who it offends, and how they are offended that is at issue?

That last part is a question that is probably above my pay grade, the relative effect of art on different audiences. There are a couple of things I do understand, though. Art, in all of its forms, is meant to provoke some sort of response in those who consume it. It’s my considered opinion that BETTER art makes you work a bit harder in its appreciation in order that you arrive at your own response; being bludgeoned by the artist’s intent markedly reduces my appreciation of any particular work. Some art makes some people uncomfortable, sometimes on purpose. I’m quite sure there’s a line beyond which it stops being art and truly does become an assault–free speech, after all, famously does not include the right to yell “FIRE” in a crowded theatre”–but “Sleepwalker” is as benign in this respect as it is banal.

The other question, that of our thin-skinned tendency to declare anything that makes us feel bad as some sort of assault, is something I also understand. We are trending as a society, at least at a certain educato-economic strata, to a level of offensitivity that threatens the fabric of our collective. Not only is there a greater tendency to be offended by ever tinier actions, but there is also a corresponding ratcheting up of the response to any offense. Call it the “offendedness arms race” if you will. Something that produces discomfort or offends is now something so much more. I mean, seriously, “Sleepwalker” violates civil rights laws? Other, even more trivial pieces of art have spawned lawsuits and public condemnation of any who have the audacity to question the fortitude of the offended. It’s all so silly. Have we in Western society so little to contend with in the prosecution of our daily survival that we have both the time and the energy to be offended by “Sleepwalker” and its ilk?

I dunno. Maybe it would have been different if “Sleepwalker” had been a CrossFitter.

 

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4 Responses to “The Offensitive”

  1. February 17th, 2014 at 9:27 pm

    Sandy Hurst says:

    Good one, Darrell!
    Well said, well reasoned, to the point, and, of course, I agree with you!!!

  2. February 18th, 2014 at 9:25 pm

    Dr. Darrell White says:

    Thanks Sandy!

  3. April 27th, 2016 at 6:28 pm

    Pamela says:

    Well put. It’s really tough to express an opinion in this society without someone feeling personally attacked, even if that opinion is well informed and a polite disagreement with someone else’s opinion or personal choices. It’s like everyone seeks external validation from all sources at all times. Boring and frustrating.

  4. April 27th, 2016 at 11:30 pm

    drwhite says:

    I agree Pamela. It’s as if there’s been a shift to a position of offended first, think, well, maybe later. Man, the discussions we had around the kitchen table in my house would get my mother kicked out of every college in the country, even though she brought out dessert at the end! Cheers.

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