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Pilgrim’s Progress

Apr 23, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 30 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Every now and then The Scrapbook is pleased to report on an outbreak of common sense in our increasingly diversified and multicultural society, and that is what we are doing here. We must warn readers, however, that the intervention of common sense (as often happens) occurs only in the wake of an appalling sequence of events. 

Photo of Pilgrim High School mural

Pilgrim High School mural: Prepare to be offended.

The scene is Warwick, Rhode Island, and the place is Pilgrim High School, where 17-year-old Liz Bierendy had been commissioned to paint a mural in one of the school’s corridors. It was suggested to her that she depict the various stages in a boy’s life, from early childhood to early adulthood, and she did. Her final scene depicted the boy as a young married man with intertwined wedding bands hanging in the air above the couple.

The Scrapbook, at this juncture, is constrained to point out that the married couple depicted in Miss Bierendy’s mural comprises a man and a woman—and therein lies the problem. According to the Providence Journal, Pilgrim High School officials had the marriage portion of the mural “painted over because there was some concern that the traditional ending might offend some people with alternative lifestyles.” 

Allow The Scrapbook to repeat the details: A student’s mural depicting a married man and woman was destroyed at the behest of school officials because “some people with alternative lifestyles” might walk by and take offense. 

Of course, apart from the fact that school officials here seemed to be searching for a problem that didn’t exist—and were swift to take action to meet a nonexistent standard—this does raise some intriguing questions. Are fully clothed museum visitors in Florence apt to take offense at the sight of Michelangelo’s David? Do non-farm families feel excluded when they see Grant Wood’s American Gothic on display at the Art Institute of Chicago? How about the feelings of Nixon voters when they land at Kennedy Airport? The idea that someone—anyone—might be offended by a high school student’s innocent depiction of a married man and woman is so preposterous, so outrageous, so inconceivably stupid, that it could only have been conceived by veteran school administrators.

Which leads to our happy ending. Once word got around on local talk radio, Warwick school superintendent Peter Horoschak swiftly overruled the Pilgrim officials. He declared that Miss Bierendy’s idea had been approved in advance, that the depiction of a married man and woman did not violate any school policies, and “we should respect that artist’s vision. .  .  . If somebody has a different idea, then they have the right to express it.” All of which seems self-evident to The Scrapbook; but these days, such commonsensical reactions are the exception, not the norm. Full marks to Mr. Horoschak. 

We are pleased to report that Liz Bierendy is finishing her mural as she intended to finish it. And the one or two people who reportedly complained to school officials about her married couple are, in Horoschak’s words, free to express their “different idea.” Any suggestions?

How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth . . .

So in addition to being a talented actor, it turns out Ryan Gosling is a real hero. A woman, who is by her own account “kind of an idiot,” walked out into traffic in Manhattan without looking before the Canadian hunk yanked her back to safety. What’s more, the gal he rescued happens to be a journalist, Laurie Penny, who writes for British lefty publications like the New Statesman and the Independent. Unfortunately, Penny felt compelled to write about what happened in just about the most obnoxious way possible:

Americans are very strange. They can and do hyperventilate about the most everyday happenings as if they are the most important thing in the world, and then they act completely normal when public conversations are had about war on Iran and war on women’s bodies and when Rick Santorum is considered a serious presidential candidate. The real heroes I’ve met in America are risking everything to make sure that the United States doesn’t slide further into bigotry, inequality and violence whilst everyone is distracted by the everyday doings of celebrities.

What’s more, I really do object to being framed as the ditzy damsel in distress in this story. I do not mean any disrespect to Ryan Gosling, who is an excellent actor and, by all accounts, a personable and decent chap. I thought he was marvelous in The Ides of March, and will feel weird about objectifying him in future now that I have encountered him briefly as an actual human.

But as a feminist, a writer, and a gentlewoman of fortune, I refuse to be cast in any sort of boring supporting female role, even though I have occasional trouble crossing the road, and even though I did swoon the teeniest tiniest bit when I realized it was him.

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