It’s hot, I’m slow, I only got to this story this morning, but I was not exactly charmed by it:
STEAL a toddler’s lollipop and he’s bound to start bawling, was photographer Jill Greenberg’s thinking. So that’s just what Greenberg did to elicit tears from the 27 or so 2- and 3-year-olds featured in her latest exhibition, “End Times,” recently at the Paul Kopeikin Gallery in Los Angeles. The children’s cherubic faces, illuminated against a blue-white studio backdrop, suggest abject betrayal far beyond the loss of a Tootsie Pop; sometimes tears spill onto naked shoulders and bellies.
The work depicts how children would feel if they knew the state of the world they’re set to inherit, explained Greenberg, whose own daughter is featured in the show. “Our government is so corrupt, with all the cronyism and corporate lobbyists,” she said. “I just feel that our world is being ruined. And the environment — when I was pregnant, I kept thinking that I’d love to have a tuna fish sandwich, but I couldn’t because we’ve ruined our oceans.”
What nonsense! Jill Greenberg is living in the lap of the lap of luxury, and she thinks it’s “end times.” What a gassy title for her exhibit — claiming for herself the final word before the curtain comes down.
Oh, how I wish there was a time machine, so I could take Greenberg back to, say, New York in the so-called Gilded Age, or London in the 1830s, or really almost anytime in history prior to her own cozy lifespan. Mozart had six siblings; he was one of two to survive infancy, and that was a common ratio, even among relatively comfortable families like his, until only about 100 years ago. If a stolen lollipop is Greenberg’s metaphor for the cruelties that our society will visit upon the next generation of children, she is completely ignorant of history.
The future’s so bright for our society’s kids, on the whole, they won’t even notice the lollipop is missing. There is plenty to worry about, of course, and any parent worries for their child’s fate. 9/11 will happen again. Wars won’t stop, and the weapons of mass destruction loom as a threat. And then, as Kurt Vonnegut put it, there’s “plain old death,” dogging all our steps. But as a society, we are heading into a period of unimaginable prosperity, when many festering problems will find sustainable solutions.
Before you get the vapors, be assured: I’m no denier of global warming. We have a lot of environmental problems, serious ones. And fortunately, we have serious people investing their lives in addressing them. On this blog, I honor the scientists who are working to understand, characterize and hopefully reverse global warming. But I have less respect for people like Jill Greenberg, who prefer to wallow in the apocalypse.
In terms of human impact, the environmental conditions that Jill Greenberg or her toddler are likely to encounter anytime in their lives will be enviable compared with what most people in the history of the world have faced. The bleakest environments are in the poorest countries, there is no scenario in which her child will face those conditions unless she volunteers to do so. There is such hubris in her saying “we’ve ruined our oceans.” Sure, the oceans are polluted. But be grateful that your child is growing up at a time when scientists are able to monitor environmental conditions, and people can organize globally for change. Greenberg acts like she’s just discovered this problem — epiphanies of a tunafish sandwich — and nothing’s being done. Which is partly true. She, herself, is doing nothing. She’s taking pictures and trying to depress people. What good does that do?
Likewise the incantations of “corrupt…cronyism…corporate lobbyists..,” like that’s something new and unique to our era. Is she serious? Is she saying this in a national publication like the LA Times? Let me throw a few names at her: Boss Tweed. Mark Hanna. J.P. Morgan. Albert Fall. Billy Sol Estes. Bobby Baker. Richard Nixon. Spiro Agnew. Thomas Keating. All of these names and many more are in Wikipedia if she wants to look them up.
Just to pick a juicy one: Is she familiar with Sam Giancana? One president, Eisenhower, used the murderous Mafia chieftain in an attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro. Another future president’s father, Joseph Kennedy, got Giancana to help him wrangle labor votes for John Kennedy’s successful 1960 election. When Giancana was found years later with a bullet in his head, the CIA chief actually had to deny having anything to do with it. If there is a political scandal today that rivals two presidents trucking with a Mafia capo, I want to know about it.
Anywhere in the vicinity of money or power, Ms. Greenberg, you will find corruption, and that’s been true for 3,000 years. And yet, somehow, we keep making babies, and most of them grow up to enjoy the blessings of this rare and unusual planet.
Okay, but the story’s absurdity doesn’t stop there. It seems like the Internet has gotten ahold of Greenberg long before I did. The complaint? That she’s hopelessly naive? That she’s spoiled by prosperity? That’s she a doom-porn addict? No. They’re mad at her because she took the lollipops away from the kids before she photographed them in order to make them cry.
Bloggers such as Andrew Peterson called Greenberg’s lollipop technique abusive and exploitative, while Greenberg, her husband, Robert Green, and gallery owner Paul Kopeikin defended the work, the process and one another. The conversation, cycling between rational and hyperbolic, says as much about Net communication as about the art in question.
“Jill Greenberg is a Sick Woman Who Should Be Arrested and Charged With Child Abuse,” Peterson wrote under his pseudonym Thomas Hawk at ThomasHawk.com, a blog that focuses on new media and technology. For Peterson, Greenberg’s technique was “evil.”
At this point, I change sides, and become Jill Greenberg’s defender. Child abuse? Is this man insane? When you pollute the English language by relating something as benign as a photographer’s trick to the hideous violence and cruelty visited upon children all over the world by abusive parents and other authority figures, you dishonor the real victims.
But the vortex of stupidity didn’t stop there. Greenberg’s husband, Robert Green was so offended by the comments on ThomasHawk.com that he searched until he found the real identity of the previously anonymous blogger, and outed him. As if the idiocy of his comments wasn’t enough to hang him! He had to be cyber-stalked?
We’re in a bad stretch in the politicized culture of America. It might not be the “end times,” but I still wish I had my lollipop.