Monday, April 02, 2007

Next: Kucinich as the Baby Jesus?

According to an AP story today, a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago has sculpted a papier mache figure of Barack Obama in full messianic regalia: white robe, orange drape slung over his shoulder, wide welcoming smile, and a big blue halo. His hand is raised in a benediction, or perhaps merely a vote-getting wave. Actually, the figure looks like an advertisement for a black cartoon version of Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

To a sophisticated viewer, it should be evident that the artist, David Cordero, was making a sarcastic comment about media attention and pseudo-religiosity in politics. In fact, Cordero said that his work was a response to “the idea that Barack is a sort of a potential savior that might come and absolve the country of all its sins.” The sculpture is clearly an indirect criticism of those journalists who assign, in Cordero's words, “all these inflated expectations.”

Of course, the media doesn’t see itself this way. Instead, newspapers and TV stations nationwide have slyly chosen to sensationalize the statue, despite the fact that it’s just, after all, a student project. But now, it’s big news. The AP story has been picked up by dozens of dailies all over the country, including The New York Times.

Never ones to miss a publicity opportunity, the Obama camp has chimed in. The candidate’s spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, released a statement supporting the artist’s First Amendment rights, but implying that the statue might be viewed as “art that offends religious sensibilities.” Interestingly, the campaign made no attempt to deny that Obama might, indeed, be a savior.

Of course, the mosquitoes in the reportial world immediately set about trying to draw blood. They contacted a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Chicago, who wisely (surprise!) refused — at least for the time being — to comment. But why not stir up some religious trouble anyway? The article ends by comparing the student’s piece to the anatomically correct Choco-Christ sculpture banned last week from a New York City art gallery. As an atheist, I rarely find myself in the position of disparaging the media for trying to bait the theocrats, but come on. The reporter’s attempt to get the over-sensitive Christians whining again is pretty lame. After all, Obama’s privates remain demurely covered in Cordero’s work. Also, the senator’s sculpted body doesn’t appear to be edible.

So why am I writing about the thing? Because it’s quirky and funny, and the artist seems, implicitly anyway, to share my view that messiahs of all kinds should be kept out of government.

I wonder: will Hillary now insist that someone portray her as the virgin Mary?