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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.

Is it really that hard to express humble gratitude to someone who may have saved your life? Further, how difficult is it to accept that when she found herself face-to-face with a guy famous for being handsome she reacted the way one might expect a young woman to react? Heaven forfend we pause long enough to thank a guy for acting in a rather dashing and selfless fashion, because that’s not “important” at a time when Rick Santorum is waging a war on women’s bodies. (We presume that the driver that nearly plowed over Laurie would have been comparatively respectful of her corporeal autonomy.) 

But before this descends further into the realm of self-parody, The Scrapbook couldn’t help but notice that in February Penny authored a blog post for the New Statesman headlined: “So, it turns out feminism is a CIA plot to undermine the left.” In recent years we’ve despaired a bit about the competence of our intelligence apparatus, but if tone-deaf feminists such as Penny do turn out to be the product of a CIA conspiracy to discredit the left—in that case, we have to say, well done, Langley!

Department of Insults, Well Delivered

"Mr. Wilson, by contrast, seems to recognize little unique about the German situation. -Hitler, ‘in his racial discrimination, was simply being normal,’ the author suggests. ‘The United States and the British Empire were both racist through and through.’ This is a stupendously undergraduate generalization—even if it contains some measure of truth.” (Carl Rollyson, reviewing Hitler, by A.N. Wilson, the Wall Street Journal, April 7, 2012.)

Recommended Reading

The April/May edition of Policy Review, the Hoover Institution’s incomparable six-times-yearly journal, has arrived in The Scrapbook’s inbox, and we commend it to you unreservedly. Editor Tod Lindberg has assembled a symposium marking the tenth anniversary of Robert Kagan’s famous essay on the United States and Europe, “Power and Weakness.” Kagan’s Policy Review essay, improbably for a profound work on international affairs, later became a bestselling book, Of Paradise and Power.

Equally improbably for a work of such trenchancy, Kagan managed to encapsulate his thesis in a one-liner that was both deep and witty: “Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus.” Comments from Lindberg and Kagan (both Weekly Standard contributing editors) bookend the contributions from the 10 Policy Review symposiasts.

A short sample from Kagan to give you a taste of the proceedings:

The essay, and the book that followed, have been viewed as a part of the Bush era, a response to or justification of the transatlantic split that opened over Iraq, a defense or inspiration for Bush’s supposed “unilateralism.” In fact, however, the essay was really a product of the 1990s. The world I was reflecting on was not the world of Bush and de Villepin. It was the world of Clinton and Védrine.

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