Tag Archives: art

The Tragic Art of George W. Bush

5 Apr

merkelToday, former President George W. Bush opens a public exhibit of his works – more than 24 portraits of world leaders he met while president. Painting has been the primary extra-curricular activity of his post-White House years; he paints daily, and receives a lesson once a week. Bush told his art instructor to help him “unleash his inner Rembrandt,” and these 24 paintings are the result.

A friend remarked to me that is was nice to see the former president “humanized” by this new hobby. But to me, this turn of events seems downright sad.

Certainly, there’s the tragic waste of potential. Former President Jimmy Carter travels the globe building houses for Habitat For Humanity, eradicating disease, and fighting for human rights in third world countries, for which he received the 2002 Nobel Peace prize. Former President Bill Clinton may be a spotlight-seeking fame-junky, but he’s wielded his influence to the tune of 2,800 Commitments to Action, worth $88 billion, to improve some 430 million lives around the world.

George W. Bush has spent 5 years creating an amateur pastel of Angela Merkel.

Now, unless you get sentenced to community service, no one is required to do good things for others. But being a former Leader of the Free World is a rare opportunity. Spider-Man once said that “with great power comes great responsibility.” For George W. Bush, with great power comes a ranch in Texas where you can golf, clear brush, and paint.

Perhaps it is the stark contrast to the image he presented as President that makes this new artistic pursuit so queer. George W. Bush was a cowboy. He was The Decider. The Commander-in-Chief who proudly stood in his flight suit in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner after his rousing military conquest of Baghdad, liberating the people of Iraq.

Of course, those images were always something of a ruse. Bush was not a cowboy; he was born in New Haven, Connecticut and attended Yale and Harvard. He was not a warrior; he had avoided deployments to Vietnam while his peers fought and died. He did not liberate the people of Iraq; on the contrary, hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis died in the bloodshed following the American invasion of that country. Bush was a man who, whether aware of it or not, seemed to be wearing costumes that did not fit the reality of the skills and passions he actually possessed. Perhaps we should not be surprised then to see him abscond from power and turn toward other pursuits. While his old contemporary Vladimir Putin still gets to invade countries and command armies, George has slinked off to the sidelines. He is no longer an invader; he just paints them.

This image — of a man fleeing from his towering station, and turning to, of all things, art — seemed eerily familiar. And then it struck me: We’ve seen this character before, in none other than Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. The book’s primary antagonist, architect Peter Keating, is a spoiled rich kid who skates though school, rising to the highest levels of society through nepotism, cronyism, and the guiding hand of a powerful parent, despite having no real talent of his own. While he is rewarded with wealth and accolades, he winds up empty inside, knowing he was forced into a profession that others chose for him, when what he really dreamed of all along was to become a painter. Late in life, after years spent causing misery and even death, Keating brings his artwork to his architectural rival, Howard Roark, desperate for his opinion:

“I haven’t shown it to anyone.” His fingers fumbled, opening the straps. “Not to mother or Ellsworth Toohey … I just want you to tell me if there’s any …”

He handed to Roark six of his canvases.

Roark looked at them, one after another. He took a longer time than he needed. When he could trust himself to lift his eyes he shook his head in silent answer to the word Keating had not pronounced.

“It’s too late, Peter,” he said gently.

Keating nodded. “Guess I … knew that.”

When Keating had gone, Roark leaned against the door, closing his eyes. He was sick with pity.

He had never felt this before … the complete awareness of a man without worth or hope, this sense of finality, of the not to be redeemed. 

For better or worse, George W. Bush will be remembered by history. Presiding over 9/11, two wars, hundreds of thousands of dead and the near collapse of the global economy will earn you that honor. But through it all, he seemed to be more pawn than king. Not an evil man, but a man miscast by history, in a role he never fit and was eager to abandon. So it comes as only half-shock that while others go on to play large roles in world affairs after leaving the White House, Bush is showing us that he has other things to offer society, passions closer to his heart. Like painting. This, it seems, is what George W. Bush may actually have been destined for, had fate not played a cruel joke on him, and I suppose, the planet as a whole.

Bush has embraced this new opportunity. What’s done is done; he’s ready to be true to himself, to start fresh. He has put his art on display in Dallas for all to see. He wants to know: what do we think?

It’s too late, George.

 

 

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I’m Gay For Evolution!

10 Mar

If Mother Nature is constantly selecting genes that help people survive and reproduce, why the heck are there so many gay people? In theory, same-sex couples don’t reproduce at all, so you’d figure the trait would die off. But the opposite is true…homosexuals comprise an estimated 6-10% of the population. The only answer is that homosexuality must confer some genetic benefit. So what is it? Gay guys are great with interior design, but that’s more of an advantage in the Castro than it was in caves 50,000 years ago (although we all love a tastefully adorned, post-modern cave).

First, let’s remember that natural selection promotes survival of the fittest genes, not the fittest individuals. Individuals just carry the genes, and they aren’t the only ones who carry them. For instance, if you have an identical twin, they have 100% of the genes that you have. Non-identical siblings have 50% of your genes. First cousins, 12.5%. In other words, your genes are passed on not only through yourself, but also your family.

With that in mind, a leading theory on homosexuality is that it confers a benefit to the kin of the homosexual individual. For instance, if gays or lesbians don’t reproduce, but they somehow help their siblings reproduce successfully, then homosexuality will be selected for. A gay guy might not have kids, but if his sister (with whom he shares 50% of his genes) has a shitload of kids, she will pass on some of his gay gene and, in the next generation, there will actually be MORE gay kids, despite the fact that the gay brother didn’t reproduce. There is new evidence to support this: a 2009 study in Italy found that the maternal relatives of gay men have more children on average than maternal relatives of straight men.

There are other hypotheses as well. The one I like most is “The Johnny Depp Theory.” It goes something like this: Typical gay guys are handsome, sensitive, stylish and nurturing. In other words, all the things women love. But what if you could be—oh, let’s say, “80% gay.” That is, gay enough to have many of those qualities women find attractive, but still straight enough to like chicks? Well, my friend, this would make you quite sexually successful. Take for example Johnny Depp, Justin Bieber, and other incredibly hot guys who are, as we say in the scientific community, “kinda faggy.” Thus, homosexuality in men might be something of an over-reaction to selecting for the traits women love. So catch .22 for gay guys…you’re really hot, but you got so damn attractive you forgot to like vagina!

This could certainly be part of the puzzle, but it doesn’t explain some important facts: A) Not all gay guys are “feminine.” B) What about lesbians? “Butch” chicks aren’t particularly attractive to men (sorry, Martina Navratilova!)

So I look deeper. Turns out gay people are pretty important in society. For instance, two of my five favorite musicians of all time are gay (Freddie Mercury and Elton John). And as anyone who took theater in high school knows, there’s also a bajillion gay actors…and by the way, I’m including closeted gay guys like John Travolta, Tom Cruise and Kevin Spacey, to name a few. You can fool TMZ, but not natural selection! Mark my words…Suri Cruise will be a female golfer. Benjamin Travolta will study ballet.

And politicians! I know you’re thinking: “Really? All I can think of is Barney Frank.” Yeah, he’s the only openly gay politician in America. But what about outed congressmen like Mark Foley (the sexting teenage boys guy) or Larry Craig (the gay airport bathroom guy)? And how about Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney and Alan Keyes? Gay? No. Carrying the gay gene? Yup! Newt has a lesbian sister, Dick and Alan lesbian daughters. Ah, Republicans. Why don’t you all just form a boy band and get it over with.

And don’t get me started on organized religion. Gay guys love the priesthood like fat people love Hometown Buffet.

Furthermore, imagine how many gays and lesbians we might be seeing in these areas if we didn’t live in a Judeo-Christian society that persecuted and vilified homosexuals for the past two thousand years. Most of the people I’ve mentioned thus far didn’t even come out of the closet until late in life, if at all…homosexuality is essentially forbidden in politics and religion. And contrary to popular belief, it ain’t that accepted yet in the arts either…the only thing they’ve let Ricky Martin sing since he came out is a cancer commercial. And yet, despite the obstacles, homosexuality persists.

Art, music, politics, religion…gays and lesbians are giving pop culture quite the reach-around. As always, I refuse to see coincidence, only Darwinian providence.

Writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell has surmised that today’s artists, actors and musicians were yesterdays cave painters, storytellers and shamans. It wasn’t all hunting and gathering 100,000 years ago…even before language, there was art. And while it may not seem like much, the simple paintings we find on ancient cave walls begin to occur just as human innovation exploded in size and scope. What was it about art and culture that helped humans survive? It created no food, killed no predators. But perhaps it helped us explain mysteries of life that science and religion were not around to address. Did the crude murals we find at ancient burial sites help early humans deal with the death of loved ones, giving them renewed strength to persevere in the face of tragic loss? Did drums and music create powerful bonds in tribes, bonds that fostered cooperation and love? Did storytellers use humor and drama to keep spirits high and to relate valuable lessons? Did shamans, in creating religion and mysticism, begin to fill that spiritual void we’re all still trying to fill today?

Was Andy Warhol the descendant of such a cave painter? Elton John the descendant of early musicians? Ellen Degeneres a latter day storyteller? Outed Pastor Ted Haggard a contemporary shaman?

And if these rare but important individuals were truly valuable to the tribe, then I wonder if their lack of offspring isn’t so much a negative side-effect, but rather an intended adaptation. Don’t forget that 100,000 years ago, just like today, the most energy and time consuming thing you could do was have kids. Children required sharing precious food and resources, and if you were a good parent, sometimes even sacrificing your own life to save your child’s. I ask you: Is it possibly better for the clan if the most important people don’t have kids to take care of?

Nowadays, of course, you can be queer and have children. There’s adoption, surrogate mothers, and if you’re not quite ready for that, small annoying poodles. So modern homosexuals get the best of both worlds…hotness that makes them sexually attractive, skills that make them invaluable to art and society, and the freedom to experience the joys of child-rearing. And as long as your siblings keep getting knocked up, your faaaaabulous genes get passed on too. As Darwin might say, you get to have your cock and eat it too.

Mazel tov!