“I don't know where the artificial stops and the real starts,” Andy Warhol once wrote. (I've got Warhol on the brain because I just wrote an essay about a show of his work at the Dayton Art Institute.)
When the George Zimmerman verdict happened, I had all of this stuff swirling around in my head: Warhol , Skittles and gunshots, TV outrage, a murdered kid and the murderer going off scott-free. At the time, when the verdict came out, I was kind of overwhelmed and exhausted by it. Sick really of the whole stupid thing because it just seemed so awful. The image of George Zimmerman, obviously having comforted himself by overeating, sitting in a suit, on the verge of tears because of relief but also a dread of having to live the rest of his life in hiding, and then the images of Trayvon Martin, all kind of strangely symbolic, from the hoodie to the Skittles, from being hugged and kissed by his dad to blowing pot-smoke-rings and showing off a hand-gun, all of it just a bunch of images that seemed to have been appropriated, Warhol-style, and transformed into what people wanted them to be on Facebook, Twitter, whatever platform you name.
This whole situation has played out like an art project in a lot of ways. Which is really a rotten thing to say but true none-the-less. A political cluster-fuck got fueled by bite-size fruit candies, canned iced tea, neighborhood-watch zealotry, and scrapes on the back of the head. All the moments were turned into political stances, and everyone on TV and everywhere else have used the killing as a way to proclaim how they want to be seen and understood.
“I don't know where the artificial stops and the real starts.”
Yup. Warhol. "The artificial" and "the real" feed into one another, until everything has a sort of squalid glamor, but the true feeling gets eaten alive by the way you are supposed to feel. I kept tripping myself up philosophically, thinking about the jury and the stand-your-ground bull-shit and Zimmerman's sad-sack existence, and Martin's not having any kind of existence anymore outside of the images we want to associate with him. Skittles versus hand-guns. Little boy lost versus thug.
I really want to feel just sad.
It's just plain sad.
But that's outside of the real, outside even of the artificial. Feeling sad is a response to the confusion caused by not wanting to be a part of the circus and the silly, messed-up way politics are both practiced and represented. A boy got killed. He might not have been innocent but who is? And an idiot with a gun, a Barney-Fife-in-waiting, made a huge and impossible mistake. I guess you can use the situation for anything you want, but I want to use it as a way to mourn not just death, but the whole godforsaken universe.
And then President Obama yesterday stuns the world by kind of saying the same things I'm trying to say. Here, the last portion of his talk yesterday:
It's kind of a ramble and not. He was stumbling through because I think he really meant everything he was saying and yet there really isn't a way to convey what he was trying to get at in the context of "politics" and "press briefings." As he says, it's not really productive when politicians "try to organize conversations." No soundbites or federal programs are going to make any difference, he seems to be saying, unless we start separating the "artificial" from the "real."
Everybody has to shut up, reinvent their brains, and come at it anew.
I don't know if that will ever happen. I don't think President Obama does either. Which is why I think he might be the only leader who can make anything happen. Not because he's African American, or because he "could have been Trayvon Martin." But because he seems to sad and lost, and I think that's where we all should be coming from right now. We all just need to be sad and lost together for a while, and then start trying to find our way out together, without propaganda and without artifice. We need to get real.