Monday, January 19, 2009

Sculpted Stereotypes

I thought the only person who could antagonize most of Europe at once was George Bush. Now a Czech artist has given it a try.

In Brussels where the European Union is headquartered, it's the Czech Republic's turn to take over the presidency of the EU. To mark the occasion, the Czech government commissioned homeboy artist David Cerny to collaborate on a work of art with artists from the other 26 EU countries.

Even before the formal unveiling of the 172-square-foot sculpture inside an EU building, Cerny had proved he'd taken the concept of a free society to heart and then some.

The brochure he presented to his government describing all 27 artists was as fraudulent as the Hitler Diaries. Cerny and a few friends had actually created the entire sculpture.

"We knew the truth would come out," Cerny told the BBC. "But before that we wanted to find out if Europe is able to laugh at itself."

There's a lot to laugh at. Called "Entropa," the satirical sculpture looks like an unassembled plastic modeling kit, with pieces shaped like the EU nations, all 27 of which receive a lampooning.

Belgium is depicted as a half-full box of partially eaten chocolates, while a strike banner covers France. Entropa presents Romania as a Dracula theme park. Germany is a network of highways somewhat resembling a swastika, according to some observers, and England isn't even present, a nod to its aloofness toward integrating with Europe.

Bulgaria is represented by a series of connected squat toilets. Bulgaria is not happy about this. The government summoned the Czech ambassador to register its official disapproval. I bet government officials spitefully wouldn't let the ambassador use their facilities.

And then there's Poland. In Entropa, Poland is presented as a group of Catholic priests hoisting the rainbow flag Iwo-Jima style.

I'll just let you absorb that image for a minute.

Yup, clergy raising the gay flag in deeply Catholic Poland. I wonder what the late Pope John Paul II, a native Pole, would have to say about that.

In the recent past Poland has been anything but gay-supportive. Polish President Lech Kaczynski has been the leading light of homophobia, forbidding Pride marches when he was mayor of Warsaw and last March railing on national TV against the EU's proposed new charter of fundamental rights because it could—insert the Polish word for gasp here—lead to same-sex marriage in Poland.

When casting about for some national characteristic to make fun of, Cerny chose this for Poland, the overheated relationship between the nation, Catholic Church, and gays. I imagine Czech diplomats took one look at that piece of the sculpture and braced themselves for a rant from Warsaw. Or Rome.

At this writing, neither has happened. More surprisingly, the Polish people don't seem offended. Wikipedia cites an online poll of Poles in which 64% said Poland's portrayal was "spot on," and just 13% decreed it "an insult to Polish people." Perhaps they're just glad they escaped Bulgaria's toilet treatment.

There's another group that could be offended: American veterans. Some wouldn't like the iconic image showing up in satire; others would be specifically irked that it's the gay flag being raised. But since Americans generally don't pay much attention to goings-on abroad, Czech diplomats probably need not lose sleep over an angry reaction from the American Legion.

Last fall the Lithuanian foreign minister admitted that EU critics are correct in calling Lithuania the most homophobic country in Europe. But in Cerny's sculpture, Lithuania consists of figures peeing on their eastern neighbors.

Very educational, this sculpture. If Americans should want to start learning more about Europe, this might be the place to start.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Caught in My Own Web

I am a techno-phobe.

I'd be a card-carrying one, if I knew how to make a card on my computer.

My inability to cope with technology is now officially hurting my career. A columnist needs readers, and in this era readers find columns on the Internet.

But my Web site has fallen and can't get up.

It's amazing that I even have a Web site, but I do. All I know is I annually fork over some money to pay for domain names. I don't ask any questions. That would seem like prying.

In the past after I had finished a column and dispatched it to the gay publications, I would then religiously send it to a friend of mine who slapped the column up on my Web site. Marjorie, a musician, empathized with having a career that generated little money, so she kindly used her computer skills to do whatever it is people do to stick something on a site.

Once in a cobalt moon I could pay her; usually I couldn't. Sometimes she wasn't able to get to the task for months. But the columns arrived on my Web site eventually, and my mother would finally stop asking when she could read me.

But all good—meaning free--things must end, and Marjorie became too busy to tend to my site. Recognizing how precious her time had become, I, with a hand to my brow, nobly freed her from helping me. Martyr-wise, Joan of Arc would've been impressed.

I can do this, I told myself. I should learn how to maintain a Web site. It would be a great skill to possess. Besides, there's no way I can pay anybody to do it, so I have to learn. Yes, I'll get the hang of it! I'll overcome my fears and lack of skill and do it myself!

And dachshunds will fly.

I walked around in this fog of wild optimism for a long time. The fog lifted when I realized I hadn't done a thing to learn about Web sites, probably wouldn't, and the columns on my site were older than Monticello.

For the record, I want to state that I come by ineptitude honestly: I inherited it from my father. During World War II the army assigned him to carry a tripod upon which a machine gun was supposed to go. He couldn't set up the tripod, let alone the machine gun. My family believes, had he not been re-assigned to create programming for a radio network, the wrong side would've won the war.

Later, as a novelist, he couldn't negotiate the jump from manual to electric typewriters. Obviously from Dad I inherited both the writing gene and the technical incompetence gene. It seems to me the two go together with notable frequency.

So here I am now, still regularly producing columns for an LGBT audience. Columns that are all dressed up with nowhere to go. Yes, they land in publications and on some Web sites other than my own, but they don't grace the space specifically devoted to them. I picture my Web site as a lost astronaut floating around in cyberspace, no longer tethered to anything. Space junk. Jet-packed flotsam.

This can't go on. I need a homeport so readers can find me. So when people ask where they can read my stuff I don't mumble something about space debris.

I need a person with more technological ability than I—say, your average 7-year-old—who has the time and desire to help bring my Web site up-to-date. And who will do it for free. And then I'd like world peace and a pony.