Monday, October 22, 2007

Project Proposal!

In 1989, the artist 'Dred' Scott Tyler showed the piece "What is the Proper Way to Display the American Flag?" in an exhibition at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, igniting a heated debate about patriotism and free speech. The installation included a picture hanging on the wall that depicted flag-draped coffins and people burning the American flag. Below the picture was a guest book, where every viewer was invited to record their thoughts. However, in order to reach the book, a person would have to step on a flag that was laid on the ground, essentially choosing between their loyalty to free speech or the flag as a symbol. Despite being eventually shut down, it exposed an important problem almost every society faces, including ours. Exactly what is patriotism; an unswerving dedication to the United States government, or constant analysis of the constitutionality of its every move?

I want to explore the exact meaning of patriotism today, and how that relates to free speech and artistic expression. According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, patriotism is the "love for or devotion to one's country," but we all know that there is much more to it today. Recently, for example, Barack Obama's patriotism has been questioned because of his failure to wear a flag pin, which although ludicrous, is seriously considered by some as an indication of one's love of the United States. I believe there has been an increase in the dedication to our country as a symbol, and a decrease in the discussion of the United States now as compared to what it should be. Add to this blind patriotism a heaping serving of fear, and you get the "either you are with us, or you are a terrorist" notion as phrased by George W. Bush nine days after September 11 (in a speech ironically called "Freedom at War with Fear").

So exactly what is wrong with believing you should either wave the flag or leave the country? In a very small nutshell, we are all entitled to use our constitutional freedoms however we please, including using those freedoms to criticize our home country. Labeling those who dissent as "un-American" is uncomfortably similar to those totalitarian regimes we wish to distance ourselves from, and has been a nasty habit ever since the beginning of the United States. From the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 (which contains eerily similar circumstances to that of today, including a 'quasi-war' and the deportation of aliens, among other things), to the House Un-American Activities Committee's role in numerous issues such as McCarthyism and Japanese Internment Camps, the United States has a track record of attempting to silence the free speech of all those who represent different view points and ideologies all in the name of patriotism. However, this is not something that is talked about openly: if someone in America is silenced, it can't be our fault, right?

At the end of my project, I hope to have completely explained the meaning of patriotism to Americans today, and how this affects free speech and artistic expression. Through both historical references and recent facts, I hope to show that a limited view of what it is to be loyal to America is directly equal to contributing to the oppression of the freedoms that one purports to love.


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