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Adventures at Camp Dad

by Matt McKinnon

Image 1Against the advice of my wife (a licensed educator), I am attempting to keep my three sons—ages four, six, and fifteen—home with me this summer.  (I use the present progressive tense along with the verb “to attempt” because, while the action is ongoing, it may not be ongoing for long, as my wife keeps threatening to close “Camp Dad” for the season.)

This really shouldn’t be a problem, or so my thinking goes.  After all, I work from home and, owing to my wife’s hectic work schedule, do much of the kid-watching during the school year, taking them to and from school and shuttling them to various soccer practices and games throughout central Illinois.

“Why should we spend the money,” I argued, “When I can take care of them here at home for free?”

Why indeed?

Why oh why?!

Image 2We are only three weeks in to the official “Camp Dad: Summer 2013” season and already I have lost two of the kids, though for only a brief period of time.  The first, my four-year-old, I feared had chased after the dog who had escaped into the woods behind our house.  Once I had corralled the mutt (the dog, not my son) with the help of a neighbor, I noticed that the littlest was missing.

As I ran through the neighborhood frantically calling his name, gathering neighbors for an impromptu search party, I heard the car alarm going off and knew immediately where he was: locked in the SUV and trying to open the door with the alarm set.

Image 3

And there he was, safe and sound, and had been—playing a stupid video game, oblivious to the cries of his father—sitting peacefully and calmly while I was screaming my head off, calling his name, and making a spectacle of myself to the neighbors.

And casting real suspicion over this whole “Camp Dad” idea.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, I lost the middle son the next week.  Though again, only for a brief period of time.

Image 4

 We were all going to the local “Safety Town,” inappropriately named it would seem, where kids can ride their bikes and parents can sit in the shade and watch.  Since my two oldest are proficient at bike-riding and my youngest is not, my fifteen-year-old rode ahead along the trail with my six-year-old.  They would go on to the park while my four-year-old and I walked.

The oldest had his phone.  He is marginally reliable.  What could go wrong?

What could go wrong indeed.

They arrived at the park and my oldest son called: all was well.

Image 5My youngest and I arrived by foot some ten minutes later, and I took my place under the shade of a tree, eyes peeled for my six-year-old in his new bike helmet, conspicuous enough with a red plastic Mohawk down the center.

There were a lot of kids, so the first five minutes of not being able to locate him seemed normal.  But five became ten and so I asked my oldest where he was.

Ten became fifteen as my oldest son rode around the park looking for him and I, once again, resorted to the parenting tool I know best and use most often: screaming his name at the top of my lungs.

Image 6

But to no avail.  No relieving sounds of a car alarm to signal where he was.  Nothing.  Just a park full of kids on bikes, but none of them my now-missing six-year-old.

As my eldest continued his futile search of the park on bike, I grabbed by youngest and bolted out the back towards the trail—the Rock Island trail to be exact, a 26-mile rail-to-trail project that runs from Peoria to Only-God-Knows-Where, Illinois.  If he was on that trail, he could be half way to Rock Island for all I knew.

And then my cell phone rang.  There was a lady on the other end.  “We have Lucas” she said calmly and sweetly.

“Oh thank you!” I exclaimed, not even contemplating that she could have meant something more sinister by her words, something out of Liam Neeson’s “Taken” perhaps.  A rather sweet ransom call.

Image 7Luckily, she was no Albanian gangster, but rather a mother out for a walk with her own mother and her seven-year-old son, who was now comforting my lost child.

Evidently, not seeing his older brother, my son decided to ride back to find us, going out the back of the park as we were coming in.  Needless to say, this was not in the itinerary for Camp Dad.

We soon reunited and all was well again.

BUT THIS WAS ONLY WEEK TWO!

I shudder to think what can, or rather will happen next at Camp Dad, where our official motto has become: “Has Anyone Seen My Kids?”

And yet I am steadfast in my resolve, determined that Camp Dad will go on.

My wife, on the other hand, threatens that Camp Dad is about to close, pending legal action.

Parenthood in Norway

by Carrie Levesque

Norwegian Dads

Norwegian Dads

An American-in-Norway I know was coming back into Norway after traveling abroad and was nervous because her residency visa had expired.  She had not yet received her new visa in the mail and was traveling with only a paper from her local police station attesting to her permanent residence.  At customs, an official started questioning her about her paperwork.  He appeared distracted and it worried her that he seemed to not really be listening to her answers.   She was traveling with a small baby and feared what kind of hassle and delay might await her.

But her anxiety turned to relief when the customs official began, with more urgency, another line of questioning:

“Is that a Manduca baby carrier you’re using?”

When she replied that it was, he began to barrage her with questions about how she liked it, about the different ways of wearing it, and so on.  He had just ordered one for himself and was glad to compare notes with someone who was already using one.  With that, he welcomed a relieved, and slightly amused, mother and child back to Norway.

A Manduca Promotional Image Featuring A Babywearing Dad

Manduca Promotional Image Featuring A Baby-Wearing Dad

As anyone who’s taken BLS 385: American Motherhood knows, Scandinavian men are known for being more hands-on fathers than men are anywhere else in the world.  Not to knock the participation of American dads (see own our Jay Parr’s baby-wearing profile picture), but thanks to the world’s most generous paternity and maternity benefits, Scandinavian men have a considerable advantage when it comes to being able to take time to bond with and care for their children in those critical early months of parenthood.  According to studies discussed in Ann Crittenden’s The Price of Motherhood, this bonding often means that Scandinavian fathers are more likely to be more actively involved throughout their children’s lives, even if the parents separate.

After leading discussions on the Crittenden readings every term, I was anxious to see how parenting in Scandinavia looked on the ground, firsthand.  The first thing one notices is that the number of men pushing strollers on the city streets—alone or in pairs—is far greater than what you will see anywhere in the US.  But less immediately visible is the difference greater paternal participation makes for Norwegian mothers.  Does more equality necessarily mean radically better conditions for Norwegian mothers compared to their American counterparts, as we often assume in BLS 385?

A Group of Baby-Wearing Dads

A Group of Baby-Wearing Dads

There’s no question Norway’s generous leave benefits help families with small children, particularly in the first year of parenthood.  One parent can receive either 100% of his/her salary for 47 weeks or 80% for 57 weeks after the birth of a child.  Twelve of these weeks must be used by the father, but parents cannot use their leave at the same time (see more here).  This system provides both parents the opportunity to bond with the child and develop parenting skills without the added stress of having to balance the demands of the workplace at the same time.

Yet, it’s also apparent to me that after this first year, the decision whether to become a stay-at-home parent or to put one’s child in daycare and return to work is no less controversial in Norway than it is in the US.  Perhaps the only difference is how many men involve themselves in the debate.

A Typical Barnehage.

A Typical Barnehage.

Most childcare in Norway takes place in “barnehage” (which translates to kindergarten, but they are structured more like US daycare centers).  It is not as common here, at least in the cities, for children to be cared for by family members or in a home daycare setup.  Due in part to a push from the government to get more taxpaying Norwegians working, and working more hours, more Norwegian children are spending more time in barnehage at a younger age.  60,000 new barnehage slots have been added across the country in the last 8 years.  While 44% of children under the age of two went to barnehage ten years ago, columnist Susanne Kaluza writes that now that number is 80%.

Because quality childcare is so widely available (and all parents are eligible to receive government stipends to help pay for it, regardless of income), there is considerable social pressure on mothers who would choose to stay home with their young children.  Once your baby is over a year old, he or she belongs in barnehage, one argument goes, where he or she will learn the collective values of Norwegian society.  In her most recent editorial, responding to criticism of stay-at-home mothers from the newly-elected leader of Norway’s largest labor organization, Kaluza writes that only 4% of Norwegian women between the ages of 20 and 66 stay at home.  As she exposes the absurdity of the claim that mothers leaving the workforce to ‘bake and decorate’ is a worrying ‘trend’ in the Norwegian labor force, Kaluza insists that, in Norway, “the housewife is dead.”  Compulsory working parenthood is clearly the recent dominant trend in Norway.

Children and Caregivers at a Barnehage

Children and Caregivers at a Barnehage

In the steady debate in the local newspaper since late February, editorials from both mothers and fathers argue that children start barnehage too young and are deprived of critical time at home as the state seeks to increase its income tax base, potentially at children’s expense.  The barnehage, meanwhile, defensively argue that babies enjoy barnehage and proper methods are in place to help them adjust to the change from their parents’ care to public daycare.

Often the debate is framed as a matter of barnehage quality or child-caregiver ratios, but from where I sit, it is clearly a problem of choice.  It seems the problem is the same here as it is in the American “Mommy Wars”: the need to push a ‘one solution fits all’ answer rather than giving parents the freedom to choose what’s best for their family.

Lastly, it bears asking: is Scandinavian culture really so different from our own when these debates are still framed around mothers’ participation in the workforce?  As Kaluza points out, many of these Norwegian women are rushing back to jobs where they face the same gender gap in earnings that American women struggle to overcome.  An abundance of stroller-pushing dads and a sweet maternity leave check are all well and good, but they can also distract from larger, persistent issues of gender equality and family choice.

Dr. Levesque With Her Daughters in Bergen, Norway

Dr. Levesque With Her Daughters in Bergen, Norway

Sticker Shock! The Cost of Living in Norway

by Carrie Levesque

220px-The_Scream

Edvard Munch “The Scream” (1895).

When I first moved to Norway and started brainstorming blog topics, I knew I had to write one on the cost of living, a matter that shocked me daily our first month here and still manages to shock me seven months in.  Sure, I’d heard talk of Norway as one of the most expensive countries in the world, but talk does little to prepare you for the reality of a $7 carton of eggs, a $4 half-gallon of milk or chicken at nearly $10 per pound.

I was also quite surprised at my options the first time I needed cash.  The smallest withdrawal you can make at a Norwegian ATM is the equivalent of 70 US dollars.  The next smallest amount: $175.  Norwegians walk around with some serious Benjamins in their pockets (or Munchs, as the case may be).  Norwegian expressionist painter Edvard Munch’s image graces the 1000 kroner ($175) banknote.  I suspect his famous painting The Scream, thought to represent “the universal anxiety of modern man,” in truth depicts the anxiety of foreigners shopping for necessities in Norway (I just paid WHAT for that?).

1000 Kr Note With Portrait of Edvard Munch

1000 Kr Note With Portrait of Edvard Munch

But over the last few months, I’ve adjusted and mostly started to see things more as the locals do.  As a Scottish friend who’s lived here 11 years recently advised me, “Never complain to Norwegians about how expensive things are here- that’s just BORing!”

American translation: “It is what it is, so it’s stupid to complain about it.”

And she’s right.  After researching on the web, not entirely successfully, why the cost of living in Norway is so high (it’s more than just the high taxes), I came across more interesting perspectives on Norway and its economy.  Like how it is, at a time when the rest of the world is flailing through a seemingly interminable economic crisis, the Norwegian economy is going strong.  Unemployment is around 3%.  Real estate prices are on the rise.   Signs of poverty are extremely hard to find in this country, where everyone gets a good education and there are no low-wage jobs.  (Go on, take a moment to absorb that: There are no low-wage jobs in Norway.  Entry-level jobs pay about the equivalent of $50,000/year).  What gives?  Yes, those massive state oil revenues play a large role, but they don’t tell the whole story.

Norway owes much of its success to its fervent national pride (which could just as easily be a liability, but so far, so good) and a strong sense of responsibility toward the common good.  On the world stage, Norway largely goes its own way.  Having gained its full independence only in 1905, Norway has twice voted against joining the European Union.  After 400 years of Danish-Swedish subjugation, Norwegians have little enthusiasm for any further “unions.”

Even Storm Troopers are Norwegian Patriots

Even Storm Troopers are Norwegian Patriots

While other oil-rich European nations blew through their massive surpluses during the boom years, Norway stood mostly alone, saving up one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds.  Though oil revenues represent about 20 percent of government revenues, only 4% of that money is allowed to be spent on current needs, while the rest is banked for that rainy day when the oil runs out.  Saving for the future, what a novel idea!

Norwegian Currency

Norwegian Currency

Speaking of banking, another way Norway bucks the international trends and exhibits a concern for societal stability: According to the New York Times, “banks represent just 2 percent of the economy and tight public oversight over their lending practices have kept Norwegian banks from taking on the risk that has brought down” other European counterparts (“Thriving Norway Provides an Economic Lesson”).  Compare this to the US, where business media reported last April that America’s five largest banks held assets equal to 56% of the US economy (“Big Banks: Now Even Too Bigger to Fail“).   Yeah, that’s been working out pretty well.

Norwegians appreciate that they got lucky when oil was discovered offshore in the late 1960s, and they take very seriously the need to manage well this relatively newfound wealth.  Norwegians feel, “If you are given a lot, you have a lot of responsibility” (New York Times).  Reading through some of the highlighted comments on the Times article, certain phrases jumped out at me as being highly representative of Norwegian values: caring about “greater social good through delayed gratification” and the belief that “Everyone deserves to live as concern-free as possible.”  By managing their wealth well now and not binding their economy too tightly to anyone else’s problems, Norwegians have created a system whereby living within their means today helps to ensure security for future generations.

And so far, that’s working out pretty well for them.

Life Becomes Art: Modeling for Joel-Peter Witkin

by Ann Millett-Gallant

Joel-Peter Witkin, "Retablo (New Mexico)" (2007)

Joel-Peter Witkin, “Retablo (New Mexico)” (2007).

In 2010, I published my first book, The Disabled Body in Contemporary Art.  In it, I analyze the artworks of contemporary disabled artists, many of which are self-portraits and performance, in comparison with images of disabled bodies by non-disabled, contemporary artists.  I also place such contemporary work in comparison with images from the history of body displays in art and visual culture, such as fine art painting, medical photographs, freakshow displays, documentary photographs, and popular culture.  I was very proud when the book was called the first to cross the disciplines of art history with disability studies and am happy that it has been adopted as required reading for courses on a variety of subjects related to visual culture, disability studies, and cultural studies.

Joel-Peter Witkin, "First Casting for Milo" (2005), as used for the cover of The Disabled Body in Contemporary Art.

Joel-Peter Witkin, “First Casting for Milo” (2005), as used for the cover of Ann Millett-Gallant’s book, The Disabled Body in Contemporary Art.

The book overlaps with subjects of many of my online courses at UNCG.  In it, I discuss the work of Frida Kahlo, which, although it precedes the time period on which the book focuses, set much precedence for the self-portrait and performative work of contemporary disabled, as well as many non-disabled, women artists.  We discuss such work in my online Art 100 course in a unit about feminist art and notions of arts and crafts.  Much of the artwork I analyze in my book is photography, which relates directly to my BLS course: Photography: Contexts and Illusions.  I also discuss performance, which is a major subject of my BLS course: Representing Women, as well as The Art of Life.  The Art of Life course focuses on the intersections between art and everyday life in a variety of ways, which is also a theme of this book.  In all three of these BLS classes, we debate the implications of self-display on the part of artists.  I delivered a talk about my book for the art department of UNCG in Fall of 2010 and again at the Multicultural Resource Center in Fall of 2012.  At both meetings I received a lot of interested feedback and compelling questions, as well as generous praise.  I am interested in teaching an online course centered on the subjects of my book in the future.

Frida Kahlo in 1931

Frida Kahlo in 1931, six years after the bus accident that left her in lifelong pain.

The subject matter of this book has proved to be personal to me in more ways than one, and in some ways unexpected.  I have been physically disabled since birth, involved in studying and making art since childhood, and interested in bridging these subjects in my teaching and writing as an academic professional.  And there is more.  While researching the beginnings of this book in New York City in the Fall of 2004, I visited the Ricco Maresca Gallery for a Joel-Peter Witkin exhibit (examples of Witkin’s work may be viewed at the Catherine Edelman Gallery and the Etherton Gallery).

I viewed the gallery and met the photography curator, Sarah Hasted, who was as enthusiastic about Witkin’s controversial work as I was and was also a personal friend of his.  She thought that because of my interest in his work, knowledge of art history, experiences (personal and scholarly) with disability, and, above all, because of my body, Joel and I should meet and collaborate on a photograph.  I was eager to serve as his model.  I felt that while arguing that self-display for disabled people, as well as other individuals, can be a liberating personal and political act, I felt that I should have the experience, or in other words, I should put my body where my mouth was.  After much correspondence and many sketches later, in the Spring of 2007, I traveled to Albuquerque, NM to meet him and to become a performing agent in one of his tableaux.

WitkinSelf1995

Witkin self portrait (1995).

I wrote about my many experiences in my journal and later in my book.  The long weekend is now a blur, but I recall specific details: visiting with Witkin’s horses and dogs earlier on the day of the shoot; befriending his wife, Barbara; taking off my prosthesis and my clothes, yet feeling no embarrassment; being painted white to replicate the color of marble sculpture; and posing beside another nude model for different shots.  Covered in body paint, I almost felt costumed, and as time passed and I posed with other models and in front of photography professionals, I felt less self-conscious.  Being posed as an eye catching detail in the photograph, I felt picturesque.  I remember how Witkin would become animated: “That’s it!” he’d exclaim, with almost orgasmic excitement.  Yet it was all business for him.  He was creating his work, which was the source of his fiery pleasure, and we were actors playing roles.

The resulting photograph is titled Retablo (New Mexico) (2007), referencing Latin American, Catholic folk art traditions (and, for me, many self-portraits by Frida Kahlo).  The image was conceived when Witkin saw a retablo image featuring two lesbians embracing, wearing only thongs, and posing above the following retablo prayer:

San Sebastian, I offer you this retablo because Veronica agreed to come live with me. We are thankful to you for granting us this happiness without having to hide from society to have our relationship. Sylvia M. (translation)

Ann Millett-Gallant at her computer

Ann Millett-Gallant at her computer.

Witkin’s photograph also contains this prayer and, of course, fabulist imagery.  It is based on this and other similar retablos, printed in France, of homosexuals giving thanks to God and to saints for graces received in their lives. In Witkin’s version, Duccio’s Christ resists Lucifer’s temptations after viewing the future of the world, which includes the tragedy of 9/11.  Witkin’s composition features a triumphant female nude figure as Vernocia, displaying her corporeal glory and gazing down at her lover, Sylvia, a seated nude figure (me), beside her.  We are staged on a pedestal covered in flowing drapery and in front of an elaborate backdrop, which includes a photograph of the same model in a characteristic St Sebastian pose and a painted, shadowed, and winged form confronting a hand of salvation.  An iconographic reminder of death and a warning symbol of righteousness, a skeleton, lounges comically on the left side of the scene.  I cannot logically explain the photograph, as it defies a central narrative.  It is far more sensory than sensible.  I have my back to the camera and am seated on my two shorted legs (one congenitally amputated above the knee and one below), as I extend my “deformed,” or here fabulist/fabulous arms.  The female figures are opposing in the positions – one flaunting the front of her nude body, the other much smaller and flaunting her back.  The two bodies complement one another and complete a disfigured, heavenly narrative. Witkin said he especially, aesthetically admired my back, which inspired the pose.  This seated figure that is me is magical and all-powerful; as viewers stare at my back, I stare back.  Like the other models in my book, I perform for my readers/viewers.  Life becomes art.  The photograph epitomizes the Art of Life for me.

Today, a print of the photograph hangs in my living room, while another image of Witkin’s graces the cover of my book, I refer to the photographer as Joel, and Paul, my companion on the trip who served as Joel’s assistant, is now my husband.

It’s So Bad it’s Good.

By Claude Tate

I devoted one of my blog entries last fall to a movie, Raise the Red Lantern,  which I felt was not only an excellent movie in and of itself, but a movie of educational value in that it provided a window onto traditional Confucian society in early 20th century China.  In fact, I liked it so much I’ve used it a number of times in classes and recommended it on numerous occasions to my BLS students.

Gong Li in Raise the Red Lantern

Gong Li in Raise the Red Lantern

This blog is also devoted to a movie, but a very different kind of movie. This movie is far removed from an excellent movie. It’s a bad movie. A very bad movie. The general consensus is that it is the worst movie ever made.  In fact, it is so bad that even some critics see it as good.  For example, Phil Hall on his film review site, Rotten Tomatoes, said the exceptionally poor quality of the movie made him laugh so much, he could not put it at the top of his ‘worst of’ list.  Another source, Videohound’s Complete Guide to Cult Flicks and Trash Pics, states that, “In fact, the film has become so famous for its own badness that it’s now beyond criticism.”

Also, this movie does not have the clear educational value that “Lantern” has. But if one defines educational value somewhat loosely—strike that, very loosely—it is not without some value.  In fact, I used it on several occasions in a face to face class I used to teach entitled “US History Since 1945″.  Since we had time in that class to go beyond the high points that one is limited to in the broad surveys, I tried to include things that would allow students to re-imagine what everyday life was like. Toward that end, when I covered the 1950s, among other things, I brought in clips of some of the old classic TV shows as well as some movies.  The atomic bomb and the possibility of nuclear annihilation became a part of our lives during the ’50s, so there were a number of movies made that were built around that theme. Some were good, while others were not so good. We also really became very much aware of space during this ’50s, so a number of movies were made devoted to that theme. Again, some were good, while others were bad. While I mainly used clips, when there was time, I would try to work in an entire movie using one or both of those themes. I tried a couple of the really good ones, but film-making has changed quite a bit since then, so students didn’t seem to appreciate the quality of what they were seeing. So I decided to look for stinkers.  Luckily, I not only found a stinker, the stench from this ‘masterpiece’ could encircle the earth several times over. Students generally really liked the movie, so I thought I would suggest it here.

Plan_9_poster

Plan 9 From Outer Space original poster

It is (music please) Plan 9 From Outer Space (made in 1956, released in 1959). It is a horror movie that incorporated an invasion from outer space theme as aliens planned to conquer the earth by raising the dead against us. It was conceived, produced, written, and directed by the infamous Edward D. Wood, Jr.  After years of criticism, in 1980 Michael Medved and Harry Medved named it the “worst movie ever made” and awarded it their Golden Turkey Award.  That same year Ed Wood (who died in 1978) was also posthumously awarded the Golden Turkey Award as the worst director ever.  I don’t know whether any of the actors in the movie received any ‘worst’ awards for their performances, but a number of them should have. It also played at a Worst Films Festival in New Orleans, figured prominently in an episode of Seinfeld, and was the centerpiece of the movie, Ed Wood, (1994) which was directed and produced by Tim Burton and starred Johnny Depp.

Johnny Depp as Ed Wood

Johnny Depp as Ed Wood

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, I don’t want to spoil the beauty of it by saying too much about the number of ‘gems’ it contains. But a few hints will not hurt.  Bela Lugosi was going to make a comeback with this movie, but died after only a few test shots. Ed, ‘ingeniously’ included those few shots on a number of occasions in the movie. For other shots, his wife’s chiropractor, who looked nothing like Lugosi, was the stand in. That is why the DVD released through Image Entertainment, states “Almost Starring Bela Lugosi” on the cover.  The special effects are also a thing of beauty as the flying saucers are campy even for the ’50s.  And one just has to love how night turns to day and back to night in back to back scenes. But if you wish to know more, a plot summary can be found on “The Movie Club Annuals…” website.

I own the DVD. I just had to have a physical copy. But it is in the public domain, and can be accessed on YouTube here.   You should also be able to download it from other sources.

Ed Wood

Ed Wood

By the way, Ed Wood made movies before and after this one.  I have not seen them so I cannot attest to their quality, but given his talent for movie making he showed in Plan 9 and the titles, I would assume they are bad also.  But movies evidently weren’t his only passion.  He wrote a large number of books, which I have not read nor intend to, but from the sampling of titles I’ve seen, he seems to have been just as good at writing books as making movies. Ed also led an interesting personal life which you get some hint of in the movie, Ed Wood.  If you want to find out more about Ed or his other “artistic” endeavors, you’re on your own.  I’m only recommending Plan 9 From Outer Space.

If you plan to watch Plan 9, I would suggest you watch Ed Wood first.  I think it will help you understand and appreciate both Ed and Plan 9 since it focuses on Ed’s early career and the making of this ‘masterpiece’.  By the way, Ed Wood is a very good movie. It won two Academy Award, one for Best Supporting Actor (Martin Landau), and one for Best Makeup (Rick Baker, Ve Neill, and Yonlanda Tousseing).  Unfortunately, this movie is not in the public domain so you will need to rent it.

Vampira (Maila Nurmi) in Plan 9

Vampira (Maila Nurmi) in Plan 9 From Outer Space

I would also suggest you watch it with friends. It’s always more fun to see an awful flick with friends as they may see things to make fun of you may miss. So I guess it has value beyond just its dubious educational value. It’s a great excuse for friends to get together.

SECAC Art Conference: Coming to Greensboro in 2013

by Ann Millett-Gallant

SECACSECAC, the Southeast College Art Conference, was founded as a regional arts organization in 1942 and now hosts an annual, national conference for artists, art educators and scholars, and art museum professionals.

The organization also publishes The SECAC Review, presents awards for excellence in teaching, museum exhibitions, and artist works, and posts opportunities and jobs for art professionals.  I have attended and presented at numerous SECAC conferences in the past, in Little Rock, AR, Norfolk, VA, Columbia, SC, and Savannah, GA.  The 2012 conference was held in my hometown, Durham, NC and sponsored by Meredith College.  Conference panels are proposed and selected by panel chairs, and this year, I chaired a panel titled “Disability and Performance: Bodies on Display.”  This topic is central to my research and especially my book, The Disabled Body in Contemporary Art.

millett-gallant_book

The Disabled Body in Contemporary Art

My panelists gave presentations on independent films; the canonical painting by Thomas Eakins, “The Gross Clinic,” 1875, and comparable images of disabled war veterans; and the collection of freak show photographs in the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, CN.  This was my second experience chairing a panel on disability and disability studies at a SECAC conference, topics that are still somewhat new for art historians and professionals.  The panel went well and sparked much interest and lively conversation.

I also attended a panel on Doppelgangers, or images of doubles or identical pairs, which engaged art historical examples from diverse contexts and time periods, as well as a panel on self-taught, or outsider artists.  This latter panel was of special interest to me, because my good friend from graduate school at UNC Chapel Hill, Leisa Rundquist, presented a paper on the work of Henry Darger (the link is to works by Darger in the Folk Art Museum, whose administration and education employees hosted the panel).  Leisa is now a professor of art history of UNC Asheville, so the conference was also a chance to see her.  I especially enjoy SECAC conferences, because I see a lot of old friends and usually meet new and like-minded people.

Thomas Eakins, “The Gross Clinic,” 1875

Thomas Eakins, “The Gross Clinic,” 1875

I didn’t attend as much of the conference as I usually do, ironically, because it was too close to home.  On the day before my presentation, my refrigerator broke, so I returned home right after the panel to wait for a new refrigerator to arrive.  I attended two panels the next day and caught up with friends over glasses of wine at the bar.  I didn’t participate in any of the organized tours of local museums and art venues, as I can see them whenever I want.  It was nice not to have to pack for and travel to the conference, especially in light of how stressful and expensive flying has become, but there is something nice about going to conferences out of town, staying at the conference hotel, and immersing yourself in the atmosphere and activities.

This Fall, the conference will be held in Greensboro, NC, so hopefully I will see many of my colleagues from UNCG and the Weatherspoon Art Museum there, as well as, perhaps, my students.  I will be chairing a panel titled “Photographing the Body.”

Congressional Redistricting: Where the Real Power Lies

By Claude Tate

We hear the names of those who sway influence in America every day. We are familiar with those who lead our federal government. The President and the Executive Branch obviously have a major impact, as do the members of Congress and the Supreme Court. We are also familiar with the leaders of our state and local governments. And of course the CEOs of our major corporations, banks, etc. are also powerful in terms of shaping our future.  We even hear about people who develop new technologies that impact our lives. But there are others who also impact our lives in major ways that are not in the news every day.  In fact, I would say that few of us even know they exist. They are the people who toil behind the scenes to shape the choices we have when we go to the polls. They are, according to an article by Robert Draper in the October issue of The Atlantic magazine, “The League of Dangerous Mapmakers”.

Tom Hofeller

Tom Hofeller

Draper’s article focuses on one of those mapmakers, Tom Hofeller.  As the article states in its opening paragraph, every ten years following just behind the census takers, “Tom Holfeller takes up anew his quest to destroy Democrats. He packs his bag and his laptop with its special Maptitude software, kisses his wife of 46 years, pats his West Highland white terrier, Kara, and departs his home in Alexandria, Virginia, for a United States that he will help carve into a jigsaw of disunity.”

As allowed by the Constitution, every 10 years following the census, the 435 congressional districts are redrawn (normally by the state legislatures) so they represent population increases, decreases, and shifts. The framers of the Constitution allowed this so as to “keep democracy’s electoral scales balanced”.  But from the beginning; redistricting has been a “blood sport” that has used to keep some in power and others out of power. As Draper notes, in 1788 Patrick Henry engineered the creation of a district in Virginia that he felt would prevent James Madison from winning a seat in Congress by putting him in the same district as James Monroe, who he felt would defeat Madison. Madison won anyway, penned the Bill of Rights, and became President.  And when Madison’s second vice president, Elbridge Gerry, was governor of Massachusetts, he helped create a district shaped like a salamander so as to benefit his party, thus the origin of the term, gerrymander.

Elbridge Gerry

So redistricting has had a long history in America. And it has been practiced by both parties. But today there is a difference. Thanks to people like Tom Holfeller the process has become far more precise. In the weeks leading up to the 2012 election, I saw a poll that concluded only about 50 or so seats out of 435 were even in contention. I saw other polls which put the number even smaller. In those other approximately 400 districts, they were going to go Democrat or Republican regardless of who was running.  What that means is that the candidates in those ‘safe’ districts do not have to listen to the other side. They do not even have to appeal to ‘the center’. So we are electing representatives who do not have to compromise once they get into office. In fact, in the recent elections, a number of veteran members of Congress lost because they had the gall to listen to the other side and compromise.  I recently saw a statement by a candidate, and I cannot recall off-hand who it was, who proudly stated he would never compromise. Our government cannot function without compromise.  It’s interesting how polls show an extreme dissatisfaction with Congress for this attitude which produces gridlock, yet we continue to elect the people who only represent the extremes. And that is due in large part to folks like Holfeller (he works for Republicans, but Democrats have their ‘Holfellers’ too).

“The Gerry-Mander”

The article caught my attention because it focused on the redrawing of districts in Texas and North Carolina. The new Republican legislature in North Carolina hired Holfeller to redraw our lines while Texas did not. Due to our past, both states must have their districts approved by the Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act to show the new districts are not discriminatory.  Texas has run into a number of problems. But in NC, while cases have been brought claiming discrimination, things are far more calm because Holfeller makes it a point to not get too greedy. There are still several ‘safe’ Democratic districts.  Mel Watt’s 12th district is safe, as is G.K. Butterfield’s 1st district.  David Price’s 4th district was also preserved as a safe Democratic district.  (Butterfield, Watt, and Price won re-election). But Price’s district was restructured dramatically so as to remove much of the Democratic base from Brad Miller’s 13th district.  With his prospects for re-election in the new 13th district dim, Brad Miller decided not to run. A Republican, George Holding, now represents the new 13th district.  Moderate (Blue Dog) Democrats such as Mike McIntyre (7th district) and Heath Shuler (11th district) were put in districts less favorable to re-election.  McIntyre chose to run in the new district. (As of this writing, with all precincts reporting, McIntyre was holding a 378 vote lead, but I’m sure there will be a recount.)  Heath Shuler’s district had included the entire southwest mountains.  While the majority of that area votes Republican, Asheville and the Swannanoa valley to Black Mountain normally votes Democratic, and were responsible in large part for Rep. Shuler’s two election victories.  Holfeller and the NC legislature took those Democratic leaning areas out of the mountains and put them into a district with Gastonia, Rutherfordton, Shelby, etc., which is solidly Republican. Asheville may have little in common with the communities in their new district, but that does not matter.  What matters is that a Republican will be guaranteed to represent the new 11th district. (Mark Meadows, a Republican, is the new Representative from the 11th district.)  And with Asheville and the Swannanoa valley now in the 10th district, Asheville’s power to impact congressional elections has been taken away. (Patrick McHenry, a Republican, won re-election in the new 10th.)  Another moderate Democrat, Larry Kissell (8th district), decided to run, but the environment is far less favorable to a Democrat in his new district.  (He was beaten by Republican Richard Hudson.)  Due to the work of Holfeller and the Republican-led legislature, our congressional delegation has shifted dramatically in favor of Republicans.  Before the 2012 election our delegation was composed of 7 Democrats and 6 Republicans. Now there are 4 Democrats (including McIntyre) and 9 Republicans. Holfeller did his job well.

NC Congressional Districts per S.L. 2011-403

And since the legislature also draws up the districts for the NC House of Representative and NC Senate, barring a major shift in population or a major event, the new districts that were drawn based on the 2010 census will ensure Republicans will maintain power in Raleigh, and in our congressional delegation, probably for the next decade.  And since the legislature is involved in the process in some form in the majority of the other states, the party that gained the majority in 2010 will likely shape their state and its congressional delegations for some time to come also.  And nowhere will they be looking at balancing the districts so both Republicans and Democrats will have an equal shot at winning office.

It is obvious that there are problems with how we handle redistricting. But what is the solution? Some have suggested that bipartisan commissions be created to handle the process. Various models of bipartisan commissions are used in some states now. Five states use an ‘advisory commission’ to draw the state maps, which are then presented to the legislature.  Ohio and Rhode Island use an advisory commission for their congressional districts also.  However, in most cases, the legislature is not bound by their maps.  And some states use backup commissions who will draw the maps if the legislature fails to pass a plan. Seven states use ‘politician commissions’ where certain elected officials separate from the legislature are chosen to devise the maps. And six states use what is called ‘independent commissions’ that minimize the input of elected officials by forbidding both legislators and other elected officials from serving.  An explanation of the various models and how each state determines the legislative districts can be found at http://redistricting.lls.edu/who.php. But partisanship makes its way into each of those processes also. Those who make the decisions have their own political views, and the outside consultants they all utilize, even if they do not work for either a Republican or Democratic organization, also have their personal political views. Maybe we just need to hope that Holfeller is correct when he says the system will correct itself.

NC 12th Congressional District

So while the news may give attention to those traditional power brokers, keep in mind that the real power may indeed lie with those anonymous mapmakers like 69 year old Tom Holfeller who are major forces in shaping who gets elected to our state legislatures, and who in turn, shape who gets elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.